Plums and Pohutukawa ~ it must be Christmas

Nothing says, ‘it must be Christmas’, to me more than the seasonal appearance of red  Christmas plums in my home orchard and of the full glory of New Zealand’s iconic crimson blooms on pohutukawa trees.

In the current high temperatures, green plums reddened overnight. This morning, waxeyes, pukeko and possums all left signs of having tasted-tested the ripest part of the fruit, the side facing the morning sun. Half-eaten plums lay on the grass and broken twigs dangled from branches. Much as I love to pick sun-ripened fruit, the reality is that I must pick the near-ripened fruit if we are to enjoy any of the crop at all. I will put the ripest plums in the fruit bowl, free-flow freeze some for later use and stew some to be served as a dessert.

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Christmas plums picked at half-ripened state

Possums also wreaked destruction on my heritage Strawberry apple tree. It is a delightful small early apple that ripens just before Christmas.  We trapped several possums this week. We expect to trap more in the weeks to come. In other posts, I have described how possums are pests in New Zealand. They roam at night and also ravage native foliage,  such as pohutukawa trees, and eat native bird eggs and chicks.

Putting possums and plums behind us for a while, Himself and I enjoyed coffee at a waterfront cafe overlooking the local marina. It is a happy place where people walk or socialise.

Crimson pohutukawa blooms feature in New Zealand Christmas images. With Christmas on my mind, I wish for peace and harmony, happiness and joy, and good health in your lives everywhere.

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Pohutukawa trees in full bloom at the Town Basin Marina

 

 

 

 

Herbal Offerings from My Garden

Comfrey
Comfrey flowering under our Captain Kidd New Zealand heritage apple tree

Comfrey, sage, chives, wormwood and borage are flourishing companions under my fruit trees. The daffodils have died down in readiness for their next spring show. Kitchen herbs are also grown in raised beds in my vegetable garden. 

Wormwood under Heritage Red Delicious Apple Tree
Wormwood about to flower under our heritage Red Delicious apple tree. Borage is also establishing.

Shakespeare enriched expressions of feelings in his writings with the language of herbs adding depth of meaning to garden lore that has passed on through the ages. I like that sense of Shakesperian connection when we say the perfume and colours of the flowers are a joy.

At my fingertips are the natural healthy ingredients for well-being. For years, I have not added salt to my cooking, relying instead on freshly picked herbs to add flavour to meals. Growing plants for the benefit of people and now, small animal life, is a positive gardening outcome.

It particularly pleases me to see the bees busy at work among the different herbal flowers. This is another reason I like to grow as many herbs a s possible. Every morning, the hens peck at the oregano and comfrey that grows near their hen-house run. Silverbeet is their big treat. To keep the chooks out, I erected a fence to enclose the vegetable garden beds. Fortunately they prefer to forage freely in the paddocks and the among the herbal growth under the fruit trees. They have their foraging routine which by the end of the day now finishes in the orchard near the rabbit hutches. The hens stand and squawk noisily, protesting as I give yummy green feed to these furry intruders to their world. They will not be bribed by an early feed of night grain in their cage. They prefer to cluck and line up by the hutch. They are such bird-brains.

Rabbits are herbivores and wild rabbits self-select from a variety of pasture plants. I do not want any rabbits eating directly out of my garden. I put together a herbal bouquet for the domestic mother rabbit and her two kits. A woody twig with leaves from one of my heritage apple trees, a leafy stem of borage with bright blue flowers, long-stemmed large strawberry leaves, parsley, sprigs of oregano, a small stalk of young comfrey leaves and flowers. The addition of herbs to their green feed makes for variety in their diet. So far, they seem to like my garden herb offerings.

Foraging
Brown Shaver hen and Paws forage near the comfrey plant under the Captain Kidd apple tree.

Bunnies’ first nibble of vegetables

Each day has a new happening in the rabbit hutch. Day 21 and two little bunnies hopped towards the cage door, reared on their hind paws, reached and sniffed the fresh grass and leaf matter in my hand I was about to feed to their mother. This evening, the kits took baby nibbles of their first vegetable, the silverbeet leaf and stalk, organically grown in my garden, was intended for their mother. Meanwhile. Mama Oreo was absorbed eating freshly picked puha and young thistles. Nothing but the best freshly picked home grown produce for these small creatures.

Kit tastes silverbeet for the first time.
Kits sniffing and tasting vegetables. Very curious and friendly.
Bunnies are Groomed by Mum
After tasting the vegetable feed, mini-lop bunnies are groomed by Mum.

Pean ~ a heritage vegetable

In October, a friend gave me six vegetable seedlings. She described them as a cross between a Pea and a Bean, a heritage vegetable brought to New Zealand by Dalmatian people who settled in this country more than 100 years ago.

The seedlings have flourished and are growing skywards on the bean frame next to my scarlet runner beans. We pick young Peans and enjoy eating them raw. It is hard to say whether the Pean is a cross or whether it is a distinctive vegetable in its own right. I’ll let some pods grow large and see what eventuates.

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Young Pean, pod and seed, is nice to eat raw
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Pean: leafy plant, young pods and delicate white flowers

As is the way in summer, we now have a proliferation of beans. Tired and hot at the end of a busy week, I had no idea what dish I might create as I picked the green, butter and runner beans, Peans and green chilli for dinner tonight.

However, a recipe evolved and Friday night dinner happened for three adults, and three grandkids who must have sausages and sauce. Kids and vegetables – that is another story.

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Colourful medley of vegetables including Peans
  1. Slice 1 onion and saute in olive oil until soft
  2. Add 2 crushed cloves of garlic and 1 green chilli finely chopped
  3. Slice 1 red pepper (normally I would char-grill beforehand and peel) and saute with the onion
  4. Add 1 450g tin of chopped tomatoes. Stir and simmer.
  5. Top and tail and cut the beans and Peans.  Add to tomato mixture.
  6. Simmer gently until the vegetables are cooked to your liking.
  7. Season to taste.

I added some leftover black Kalamata olives that had been marinated in a chilli and red capsicum dressing and then served  this dish with crusty ciabatta bread.

As an after thought – I could have added some crumbled feta cheese. But – next time.

The Pean has earned its place in my vegetable garden and kitchen.

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.

 

 

ANZAC Day 25 April, “We will remember them”

Flanders poppies grow among the graves of soldiers who were killed in northern France. Grandson learned about 100 years of ANZAC history and in 2015, applied his knowledge to create a poppy remembrance garden for a school agricultural project.

Grandson knows 25 April is New Zealand’s national day to remember those fought and who died serving New Zealand during times of war. He knows his great-Grandfather fought in WWII and his ancestors fought in WWI.  He knows that in 1915, Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed at Gallipoli in Turkey, the site of New Zealand’s first major battle of World War One with the loss of over 2,700 New Zealand soldiers. He knows that since the first commemorative services in 1916,  Kiwis attend ANZAC services across the world, from dawn until dusk.

 

My childhood ANZAC commemoration memories are of services held over the years in the local rural community hall, of the silent stillness of the local people watching, moved by the drummer’s tapping accompanied by the tramp, tramp of the veterans’ feet  as they  marched in formation down the road past my grandfather’s house. I see the New Zealand flag fluttering at half-mast in the breeze. I hear the collective voice of my family, my neighbours, my community as we uttered in unison the words, “we will remember them”.  I hear the bugle sound the Last Post  at the close of our lament for the dead.

After the service, people linger. 25th April is a day to be together, to share, to retell stories.

I see my grandfather standing in silent respect, and later in conversation, he would tell that as a married man with children, he was a reservist and he managed his younger brothers’ farms while they, keen to “do their bit for King and country”, enlisted early in 1915, one of whom was ‘never the same’ after returning home from gas and trench warfare.

I see my great-Aunt, church organist and community stalwart, widowed in the early 1930s, childless and never remarried, after her husband, a WWI veteran turned to alcohol to fight his traumas and to die by his own hand.

I see my mother among a group of other war-brides, chatting about their families ‘back home’, recalling the bombing raids and rationing in wartime England, and I know that her Uncle lies in a marked grave in northern France.

I see Dad standing with an older local couple talking about his mate, their son who in WWII  was a prisoner of war with Dad, and who was shot in a camp. In 1992 at Dad’s funeral, the youngest of the three brothers in that family, delivered the eulogy. In part, he said

After my brother was killed, Ken arranged his funeral and then reclaimed his personal possessions. He carried them with him on that infamous forced march into Germany, and as soon as he arrived back in Walton he gave some of them to my parents. Years later when he felt, the time was right he gave the rest to me. I asked him why he had not thrown them away when he was enduring such extreme hardship himself. He replied, “I looked at them sometimes and thought I’ll do that tomorrow. Tomorrow never came.” Ken proved to our family that he was a true and loyal friend.

No-one ever forgets.

Over time in college, at university and as a teacher, I thought further about the pointlessness and horror of war through the words of poets like Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est.

The Kiwi voice heard in the poem An Elegy for an Unknown Soldier written by James K. Baxter, son of conscientious objector Archibald Baxter, tells the story of a young nation sending antipodean troops to a theatre of war in a distant country, of painful personal realisations and of the futility of war.

An Elegy for an Unknown Soldier

There was a time when I would magnify
His ending; scatter words as if I wept
Tears not by own but man’s; there was a time.
But not now so. He died of a common sickness.

Nor did any new star shine
Upon the day when he came crying out
Of fleshy darkness to a world of pain,
And waxed eyelids let the daylight enter.

So felt and tasted, found earth good enough.
Later he played with stones and wondered
If there was land beyond the dark sea rim
And where the road led out of the farthest paddock.

Awkward at school, he could not master sums.
Could you expect him then to understand
The miracle and menace of his body
That grew as mushrooms grow from dusk to dawn?

He had the weight, though, for a football scrum,
And thought it fine to listen to the cheering
And drink beer with the boys, telling them tall
Stories of girls that he had never known.

So when the War came he was glad and sorry,
But soon enlisted. Then his mother cried
A little, and his father boasted how
He’d let him go, though needed for the farm.

Likely in Egypt he would find out something
About himself, if flies and drunkenness
And deadly heat could tell him much – until
In his first battle a shell splinter caught him.

So crown him with memorial bronze among
The older dead, child of a mountainous island.
Wings of a tarnished victory shadow him
Who born of silence has burned back to silence.

by James K. Baxter

Watermelon eater

Grandson has been watching these grow for ages, now he gets to try them !! Perfect juicy, summery, yummy dessert.

He is becoming quite the gardener and has had a hand in planting and growing most of the veggies in the colander.

Big excitement also was younger brother’s Brown Shaver chicken, Strawberry, is now a big girl and is laying eggs. Nice for breakfast.