My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden


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Trees for Every Living Creature

Creature

Trees worldwide deserve our utmost care and attention. Planting a tree, be it in our garden or in a forest, is an action that breathes life the environment. Destroying a tree is an action that disrupts the cycle of life. We are part of a dimension of life that is greater than ourselves. 

Ancient trees are our links to life lived before our time. A tree revered by Maori and of national importance  in New Zealand is Tane Mahuta Lord of the Forest, a 2000-year old Kauri tree in the Waipoua Forest. It was a seedling tree well before people arrived in this country. It is a parent tree that has seeded a forest, creating living habitats for countless lifeforms. It is a taonga, so precious that it, and other Kauri trees, now requires protection from human interaction. Imagine if the father of this forest could speak. What might it tell of New Zealand’s extinct flightless birds that once roamed the forest? What secrets lie beneath centuries of tree litter?

Kauri Tree in Waipoua Forest

Trees give protection from the wind and sun. They soak up carbon from polluted air. They provide food and fuel. Their visual amenity softens harsh urban development.

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Magnolia ‘Star Wars’ is about to flower in February! Tree is a visual delight in my garden when in full bloom.

Boundary Shelter Belt Tree

Boundary shelter belt tree Cypress Leylandii being felled because it was overgrown and dying off.

On my lifestyle block, we have had to cull storm felled or old, diseased, overgrown shelter belt trees that crowded our driveway and boundaries. Branches can be hazardous when left as they rot and break off. When we fell such trees, we mulch their branches and make compost for my garden. 

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Tree mulch in the compost bin. Another truckload of mulch was added after this photo was taken. Pure garden gold.

My replanting focus has been to choose low growing trees as food sources for beneficial insects and birds. For my garden, I selected fruit trees grafted onto dwarf root stocks which makes them easier to manage. I am protective of the many native Totara trees on our land, several of which are about 80 to 100 years,. They protect the water in our stream.

Vibrant trees provide safe habitats for every living creature.

 

 

 


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Hope is on the Horizon for Kākahi and other Freshwater Dwellers

Horizon

Pukeko and ducks have been feasting in the shallows of the streambed, leaving dozens of empty Kākahi shells, tops bitten off, scattered on the coarse silty sediment. I counted. And I know this has not always been so. I also tried to count the outer rings on one of the larger mussel shells to get a possible indication of age. I am no expert, but I think nine or more rings means a possible age of nine or more years.  The stream is a favourite and tranquil place to stroll. It has become second-nature to look out for eels and other freshwater life. Freshwater habitats in New Zealand have been under threat for a range of reasons. The outlook in my rural backyard is promising.

Stream

Empty freshwater mussel shells in the water on the stream-bed. Left there by the Pukeko.

Imagine if you will, Kākahi, a teeny-weeny freshwater mussel larva, latching onto Kōaro, a host native fish, for the migratory swim of its life. The journey may take a few weeks. Destination. Upstream to clear, shallow freshwater that flows unimpeded, shaded by overhanging Totara trees. The young hitchhiker will hop off the bus to make itself comfortable in its new digs. For this is where it will settle to live an independent life and to grow for decades if the watery conditions stay favourable. I may not see it for some time until it is bigger. Nine years is a long time to wait. 

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Kākahi Freshly opened mussel grown to about 90mm. Possibly nine years of age.

It has been hard work for more than ten years to clear dumped, inorganic materials, fallen trees and pest plants. I am delighted to think that the increase in the mussel shell numbers might, just might, be in a small way, a result of us having committed to cleaning up the stream when we first came here.  I am proud of the way native ferns are regenerating  along the stream bank. The water now flows more freely.  We  put water troughs in each paddock for animals to drink from. Electric fencing is our way of keeping animals off the streambank. We have not built a permanent fence because of bad experiences with damaged fences during storm-related flooding.

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Cleared area. Upstream water spills over a rocky ledge.

I hope the Kākahi and their Kōaro will have an extended stay in the shallow water and the coarse silty sediment under the ferns and the streambank overhangs. I am hopeful we will be able to think beyond a nine-year lifespan No more declining species. The freshwater creatures have support from afar. Change is happening. There is political support for campaigns to clean up New Zealand’s waterways.  Stream protection means

“if you have water supplied by a stream, you have an obligation to safeguard the quality of the water leaving your property – for downstream users and for other stream life.”

Hope for our rivers, lakes and streams is on the horizon.


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Bumblebees ~ these furry foragers are welcome in my garden

Today, as I showed a friend round my garden, we stopped by the self-sown pumpkin plants that have scrambled freely over a sunny spot. It was a visual delight as bumblebees, two to three at a time, crawled deep into the throats of the pollen-rich golden yellow flowers. Bumblebees flitted from flower to flower in their continual quest for nectar. Each precious insect played its essential ecological role for our benefit. Such hard-workers. I like these furry foragers, working in my garden. They are very welcome.

In January 2007.  I got lost in thought about the value of the beneficial insects. Years ago, Himself and I cleared a rambling Buddleia (B.davidii), an invasive pest plant, from our roadside boundary. Unfortunately, we disturbed a large colony of bumblebees nesting in the ground among the sprawling tangled root system. Beautiful bumblebees by the hundreds flew into the air as the tractor pulled the enormous trunk from the ground.

The prolific Buddleia flowers were obviously a great food source of pollen proteins and sugary nectar. The bumblebees were kind to us that day when in our ignorance we wrecked their nest. Quite a different story though when we’ve encountered and dealt to aggressive wasps in their nests.

I appreciate how various beneficial insects pollinate edible plants. Like the pumpkin blooms, the courgette, the cucumber and the watermelon flowers also seem to be attracting the bumblebees.

“Bumblebees rely almost entirely on flowering plants for food and their very existence is dependent on gaining adequate supplies of nectar and pollen, or `bee bread.’ Bumblebees work very long hours, foraging from dawn to dusk in search of nectar and pollen even on cold, rainy or foggy days which prevent other insects from flying.”

I read that to encourage bumblebees to live and work in my garden a permanent nesting box is part of the answer as does growing a diversity of flowering food-source plants across the seasons.


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My Garden ~ the bees aren’t buzzing like they did last year

The bee is more honored than other animals, not because she labors, but because she labors for others. St. John Chrysostom

Bees seem to have vanished from my garden. I’m not getting much of a buzz. My orchard is a feast for the senses. The plum, apple and quince trees are smothered with sweet nectar-filled white blossoms. The calendula, broad beans, borage and lavender and other companion plantings under my fruit trees are gaudy in their their orange, yellow, purple and blue scented array. Spring has well and truly arrived here. In my blog (September 2007), I couldn’t ignore the buzzing in my garden. But now, one year later, I see and hear only a handful of bees working among the blossoms. Where is the rest of the horde? It has been the wettest of winters. And I know the varroa mite has wreaked havoc on the nation’s hives. The silence in my garden scares me.

 

Transfixed as we are by the seriousness of  economic woes and global credit crunch fallout, there’s a serious ecological problem that has just as far-reaching and potentially devastating consequences for people everywhere. We must pay attenion to the chain of events happening in our food producing habitats. Prescient words echo down the decades in a quote (15 April 1964) from Rachel Carson’s obituary published in The New York Times.

 

“Now, I truly believe, that we in this generation, must come to terms with nature, and I think we’re challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves.” 

www.rachelcarson.org/RachelCarson.ASPX

 

Earlier this year when Mum was dying of cancer, my brothers, sister and I recalled how when we were kids, DDT was mixed into the fertilizer that was spread by agricultural top-dressing trucks and planes in white billowing dust clouds over the local farms. I can still ‘smell’ the DDT as I write this. There was the economic imperative to develop farms in those days. I’m not exactly sure what made Dad change his farming practice, but he did so by the 1960s. Others in Mum’s age group in the district have succumbed to the same cancer. We haven’t been able to get conclusive answers that may link the cancer to DDT. There seems to be a wall of silence. I have digressed somewhat from the vanished bees. One consequence of the application of this insecticide is that DDT remains in the soil. It may be residual DDT is part of the explanation for the silence of the bees.

 

The health of honey bees is critical to the well-being of humans. In my blog (September 2007), I mentioned how Mum was buoyed by a book The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton Porter. So I was interested during my web search to read Joe Brewer, (25 August, 2007), Rockridge Institute, Berkeley, CA. Bee Keeper’s Wisdom for Human Flourishing.  www.celsias.com/article/bee-keepers-wisdom-for-human-flourishing.

 

Back to bringing a buzz back into my garden. I’m not alone in my concerns about vanishing bees. An article (October 8, 2008) gives pointers and describes Californian farmers work in re-developing native bee habitats.

 

“With honeybee populations weakened by disease and the mysterious malady known as Colony Collapse Disorder, farmers place new focus on work to benefit native pollinators. Decisions by farmers and ranchers to replace bare ground along irrigation ditches and roadways with native plants, trees and grasses, in order to encourage beneficial insects and eliminate weeds, have evolved into a movement to bring native bees back to the farming landscape.”

www.cfbf.com/agalert/AgAlertStory.cfm?ID=1147&ck=A1D50185E7426CBB0ACAD1E6CA74B9AA

 

I trawled the net for advice and insights to the nature of my gardening problem with the thought there must be something further I can do in my backyard. There’s any number of websites and blogs about colony collapse disorder and bees.

 

NZ newspaper item (6 October 2008) Fears that bee colony disease is here.

www.times-age.co.nz/localnews/storydisplay.cfm?storyid=3786935&thesection=localnews

 

National Beekeepers’ Association of New Zealand (25 September 2008) posted a Radio NZ report on the declining bee numbers. www.nba.org.nz

 

Linda Moulton Howe (31 August 2008) wrote about the poor health of honey bees. www.earthfiles.com/news.php?ID=1466&category=Environment

 


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My Garden ~ Birds’ Nests, Lazy Cats and Granddaughter’s First Post

When she was a toddler, Granddaughter and I made up scrapbooks about anything and everything when she and her twin brother stayed with us. We’d do drawings, paste in leaves and flowers, and pictures and the like. I’d scribe the dictated little stories about what we’d been doing that day. These battered books are now tomorrow’s treasures. It’s the school holidays and today, blogging is the new scrapbook.  We had fun choosing a new photo of our countryside for the header. This is her first post. 

Nana and I thought how clever birds are when they make their nests. The thrush used the grasses to make a warm nest. Her nest looked like part of the clump of the same grass on the driveway bank. Pukeko is nesting in the long grass near the electric fence in front of the house. We took some photos and I wrote about them.

 

Sometimes the cats come for a walk with us. We didn’t want to stay near the birds’ nests for too long, otherwise the cats might sniff out an easy meal.


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My Garden ~ no-dig approach to growing soil and vegetables

 

 

The basic tenet of my gardening actions is to care for the soil. I so appreciate the value of the living organisms that function sight unseen beneath the ground. I suppose it’s a biological partnership that we enter into when we garden. Worms recycle humus and produce vermicast as they dig and delve beneath our feet. That’s why I try to tread lightly – and when, like we do here, keep a few animals for grazing purposes, it gets difficult at times to walk with a light footprint. I seek to grow healthy soil and to establish gardens with minimal input.

In Permaculture Ethics in Introduction to Permaculture, Bill Mollison with Reny Mia Slay (pg. 3. 1995), wrote

Care of the earth means care of all living and nonliving things: soils, species and their varieties, atmosphere, forests, micro-habitats, animals, and waters. it implies harmless and rehabilitative activities, active conservation, ethical and frugal use of resources, and “right livelihood” (working for useful and beneficial systems.

I am concerned about the long-term consequences of hoof pugging by our animals. We don’t have a large herd in the commercial sense (that’s another and broader-issue). I have to think of sustainable solutions for our place. Do we use the tractor to plough the soil? The machinery would further compact the soil and cut up the micro-animal life beneath the ground. I prefer (idealistically some might say) to do my best to grow soil with the biomass we have naturally to hand. We rotate our animals away from wet paddocks and fence off stream-banks to minimise erosion. On the up side, our cattle provide manure that attracts the worms that transform it into vermicast. Trees or branches that are felled during stormy weather are a recyclable source of bio-degradable matter. But then chainsaws and chipper machinery uses fuel energy. And so it it goes weighing up the pros and cons.

I guess at this point, I use my energy where it produces fresh food. I’ll let my photos do the rest of the talking.