My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

"I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o'er vales and hills," William Wordsworth


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Apples ~ a crisp and crunchy heritage

When we were kids and if we were hungry, my brothers, sister and I would venture down the paddock and into a large old orchard at the site of the original farm homestead, planted by the settler-owner at about the start of the 20th century, more than fifty years before our family lived on the farm. People grew and preserved their own food back then. What was remarkable about this old overgrown orchard was the range of varieties. Local old folk spoke of the deep interest by the original owners, who had had no children, had in gardening.

Large untended trees still produced some fruit in season of a variety of plums, white fleshed, crimson-skinned nectarines, large golden peaches (we referred to them as the ‘million dollar peach’ – I’ve not seen this variety since. Mum said it was easy to preserve because it was freestone), black grapes, Chinese Gooseberries (now called Kiwi fruit), Yellow Banana Passionfruit, lemons,  navel oranges, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples. We climbed high into those old trees to pick the fruit.

No, I’m not imaging or idealising the unique qualities of those fruits.  I have it straight from the horse’s mouth about the deliciousness of apples. Once when eating a Golden delicious apple, I turned to see Queenie our horse trot up behind me on the other side of the fence, reach over and snatch the apple out of my hand. We didn’t know it then how spoiled we were to have access to these organically grown heirloom fruits.

Post-WWII pastoral farming practices commanded the efficient use of arable land. Grass was king. Cows grazed grass that converted into income earning creamy milk to make what New Zealand became so good at doing, churning out butter, cheese and milk powder.  Dad cleared the old orchard and a newly grassed paddock meant extra grazing for more cows. A new orchard was planted next to our house. Queenie could no longer reach over the fence from the horse paddock to munch an apple.

In 2001, I ordered and planted heirloom fruit trees, grafted onto rootstock from parent trees certified as being true to label. I selected Northern Spy apple tree rootstock which meant I could expect a vigorous tree that would tolerate our poor clay soil. We transformed a disused commercial nursery site into the sheltered orchard we have today. I pick-axed through a deep layer of scoria down to the clay base. Dolomite was applied to help break down the clay. Compost was used to build up each planting area. A windbreak border of medium height flaxes continues to protect the fruit trees from prevailing westerly wind. Comfrey was under-planted to act as a living mulch. Pelletised sheep manure gave the trees a good start.  Chickens now scratch away at the weeds and apply  the fertiliser.

Fifteen years later, our apple trees have grown true to description. Again, our family is snacking on heritage fruit picked from our own trees, preserving  and popping apples into the grandkids’ school lunchboxes.

Red Delicious which is a good pollen donor and crops more heavily when grown with other apples, ripens in March, has dark red apples with deep striping on the skin and is juicy and aromatic. We prefer to eat this apple fresh. it holds its shape when cooked. Golden Delicious crops best when grown with Red Delicious, ripens in mid-March has a golden colour, is thin skinned, and is a crisp, juicy, sweet, taste treat when left to ripen on the tree. This apple cooks well without sugar. Another disease resistant apple we grow and just love is Captain Kidd. It ripens earlier, is very crisp, juicy, sweet and is a good all-round keeping, eating and cooking fruit.

 

 


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Lemons Three ‘olden’ ways

Was it really fifty years or more since I attended cooking class at school? I felt quite ancient when 11-year old grandson talked about his first food technology class and his first recipe for a Fruit Smoothie, a printout pasted into his exercise book. The blender was put to work and the smoothie made an excellent after-school drink. But, he was not really that interested in Nana’s old school handwritten cooking exercise book, or the recipes. It must have looked like lots of hard work.

In 1958, I used non-electronic kitchen equipment and we measured in pounds and ounces.  Girls at my age  were used to cooking at home with our mothers. The boys did carpentry and metalwork instead. For fun, I revisited two recipes, one from my old schoolbook and the other from a recipe given to me when I was first married. The third way with lemons is about hand care, something my mother routinely did in the kitchen.

Lemon Honey, or Lemon Curd as some call it, is delicious. Living on a farm, we kept hens, lemon trees grew well and butter was cheap. Lemon Honey was commonly made. This recipe makes about one and a half cups. I store it in the fridge. It never lasts long in this family. It can be rippled through creamy icecream, swirled through yoghurt, made into lemon tarts or as I did today, added to the centre of lemon muffins.

Lemon Cordial is another oldie. My mother-in-law made it when Himself was a child. My sister-in-law and I continue to make this drink. It becomes a  refreshing summertime drink when made up with finely julienned fresh ginger straws, crushed mint, ice and chilled soda.

Lemons are nature’s cleanser. I can see Mum now, at the kitchen bench, rubbing a cut lemon over her skin and around her nails before dipping her hands into oatmeal and rubbing this all over her skin. Oatmeal leaves a soft feel to the skin.

 


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Garden gate is open ~ come for a stroll

Garden Gate

Garden gate and fencepost

Come for a stroll with me. I won’t be long. I need to check a few things. It’s quite dry underfoot and there’s a cool breeze blowing.

Mind, be careful, don’t touch the electric fence wire and gate tapes are switched on. We won’t go into that paddock. The animals are friendly but they can get frisky when people are about as they expect to be hand fed goodies. They don’t realise they’re not pet calves anymore.

Gosh, the grass has grown fast even though the cattle ate the paddock out a week ago. The growing conditions are good. The paddock gets topped with the tractor and mower after the cattle are shifted.

Mmm! Just noticed that the cattle troughs  need cleaning out. Leaf litter and twigs fell into the water when we had that last lot of windy weather. I’ll have to do that soon. The liquid amber is showing its colours. Leaf  fall later during autumn means work.

Woops!  Didn’t mean for us to disturb the mother Pukeko on her nest. The native swamp hens hide their nests well in the grass so we don’t always see them.

Stream reflectionMy favourite place anytime along the stream. We see eels and freshwater mussels in the stream.

It’s always tranquil and cool under the totara trees. I’m proud of the way native ferns are regenerating along the stream bank. It’s taken lots of hard work over the years to clear inorganic rubbish and pest plants from this area.

Stream protection in New Zealand 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.” 

There’s a couple dead rats over there. An unpleasant fact of life. I can’t bring myself to photograph these creatures. These pests seem to live well off creatures in the stream. We need to reset the poison bait traps. It’s an ongoing battle against these pests that also want the yummy food we put out for the chooks. We have predator proof netting on the chook house.

The dwarf heritage Captain Kidd and Golden Delicious apple trees look healthy and happy in the sun. I’m hoping the branches don’t break under the load of the fruit. The pears and quinces are looking good.

Himself made this footbridge across the drain as a shortcut to and from the back paddock. Trouble is that the grapevine is claiming the garden gate. I keep meaning to prune the vine back. Meanwhile, it’s hard to shut the gate after us.

 

 

 

 


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Plums ~ under threat from possum pests

It is that time of the year again when the branches of the Luisa plum tree hang low, heavily loaded with large, luscious, blushing yellow-fleshed fruit, best eaten fresh from the tree. Kids love to pick and snack on the juicy sweet fruit. And so do possums. These pest animals are picky eaters of the ripest part of the fruit.

In previous posts I mentioned how possums are a pest animal in New Zealand. They roam  and forage during the night ravage a range of native forest species as well as bird eggs and chicks. Home gardens and orchards are not immune.

Possum control is ongoing. For safety reasons, we neither lay poison nor night shoot with a spotlight. We set Timms traps which kill a single possum at a time. Before I bait a trap with cinnamon-dusted apple, I put the cats inside and shut the hens in their coop while the traps are set. Doggy neighbours have an friendly woofy role in our life. Dog ownership has expenses and responsibilities that we choose not to take up even though we know the presence of a dog acts as a pest deterrent.

Our older son had a flourishing orchard until his dog Rosy became ill early in 2015. She hated possums and took her guard duty seriously at night and was quite the goofy family pet by day. Unimpeded after Rosy’s death, possums stripped many mature fruit trees bare of leaves and fruit buds. A heritage peach tree later died. Since late last year, son’s new two-year old dog, Chief, has been  quick to pick up Rosy’s mantle of Pest Control Officer and is guarding ‘his’ orchard with success. Most of the fruit trees are showing signs of recovery. 

Picking and preserving under-ripe plums is at the top of my To Do list.

 


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Celebrate the New Year with a Peach

Nothing like eating a hand-picked, juicy ripe sweet peach from my orchard. My Red Haven peaches usually start ripening as the New Year approaches. Trouble is that the possums and the birds know this and think the fruit is grown for them! Simple solution. Tonight, we picked the tree clean even though many peaches were not fully ripe or were half-pecked. We love fresh seasonal produce. Enjoy the simple things in life. Happy gardening New Year to you all.

Peaches

Peachhaven

 


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Nature’s early spring blossoms beauty wow factor is a tonic after our dreary, long, muddy and wet winter. It’s time to enjoy the random bursts of blue flowers and bee-friendly plants.

Bees love the manuka

Manuka provides food for the bees

Drift of ground cover on driveway bank

Drift of ground cover on driveway bank

Bromeliad

Bromeliads – my rescue plants

Omega plums are great for freezing and cooking

Reminded that Omega plums are great for freezing and cooking

Brighten up a dreary drain area. Plan to plant more next season.

Brightening a dreary drain area. Plan to plant more next season.

Bees love the herbs

Bees love herbs. Growing thyme among spring flowers.


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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