My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden


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Waiting is All We Can Do at Present

Present

Today is the calm before the storm.  At 8.30 a.m. it was a still, sunny humid morning in my garden and the best time to take a few before photos.

The oregano and thyme thrive in this summer heat. The crushed herbal leaves in my hand smell divine. All the energy soaked up from the sun to produce the wonderful aroma bursts so evocative of many Greek and Italian dishes we all love.

Oregano sprawling along a garden border.

First thing this morning, I stopped to watch a Monarch caterpillar attach itself to a Lemon Grass leaf as it prepares for its spectacular life change.

Caterpillar attaching itself at 8.30 a.m. to a Lemon Grass leaf.

It is now just after midday. We are home from having sweated in the gym. Outside in the garden, the temperature has risen and the sweat trickles down my face in this humidity. The gym was cooler than this. Mobile in hand ready to take photos, I brave the heat to have another look at the caterpillar. Four hours and we have a chrysalis. Nature has worked its magic.

Transformation about four hours later at 12.30.

Cloud is building to the west of our place. A light breeze can be felt. I do hope the caterpillars and chrysalises will survive whatever nature and the weather gods are about to unleash on us.

For now, the dahlias are blooming and upright. I am enjoying their rich colours and shapes while I can. At this moment, these flowers are doing what they do best in this heat. With their faces turned to the summer sun, they simply show off.

My fruit wars against the Pukeko continue. Earlier this year, they stripped the fruit trees of the ripening apples, peaches and plums. This week, I discovered something. They do not like quinces.  Great news for this quince lover. The tree is a prolific bearer and the branches hang heavily with ripening fruit. I am thinking of recipes for jelly and paste, my Mother-in-law’s quince shortcake, baked and stewed quince preserves, savoury quince with lamb.  Years ago at quince time, M-i-L always came to stay in March when it was time to preserve and bake the fruit. She would commandeer the kitchen to make her shortcake recipe and quince filling. It was the quintessential quince fest. A bit more time spent ripening in the sun is called for. I do hope the quinces can hang on to the branches if the stormy weather hits our area.

Quince

Tree is loaded with ripening fruit

Cyclone Gita, having wreaked havoc on Tonga, is well on its way down the Tasman Sea west of New Zealand. This is one unwelcome visitor that will not be late. Its presence, we are lead to believe, will be particularly felt in the southerly regions of the North Island and the northerly and western regions of the South Island. The Met. Service tells Kiwis to get prepared now. The Northland region might, or might not, feel the lash of Gita’s fury.  Waiting is all we can do at present.

 

 


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Caterpillar Chrysalises in My Garden

Each morning when I feed scraps to the hens before letting them out into the paddock for the day, I hang around to deter the wild ducks from flying in for a free feed. I use this time to check out what is happening my vegetable garden. The To Do list gets longer.

Bumblebees are busy workers. Busier than me in this humidity. The garden looks neglected, shabby and straggly. The Hyssop stems were flattened in the recent stormy weather. Oregano and weeds jostle for dominance under the Scarlet Runner beans. Higher than usual summer temperatures and storm damage wreaked havoc a few days ago. My sister swears she can hear the invasive kikuyu grass following behind her as she pulls weeds. She has a point. Grass growth and garden weeds are rampant in this humidity.

Earlier crops of kale , turnips, tomatoes, cucumber and green beans have self-seeded and the hope is no-effort vegetables. That is a good garden story. Strawberry runners are growing like triffids. The blackbirds make a mess as they scratch up young plants. They flee the crime scene leaving half-eaten tomatoes on the vines. These were not the birds I had in mind when I planted flaxes and native plants to feed native birds and beneficial insects. Such is life in this rural lifestyle neighbourhood. Nature rules.

On a positive note and still on the subject of nature, the Monarch butterflies have been active in the garden. They made a pretty picture in January. Butterflies flitted about and laid their eggs on the Swan plant. The growing caterpillars have since eaten every leaf and are now devouring the seed pods. Food for these colourfully striped creatures is a priority. Today, I went on a rescue mission and transferred caterpillars to seedling Swan plants. I found predatory wasps had made a nest on the plant.  That had to be destroyed manually as spray is harmful to the Monarch caterpillars.

Delicate green and gold trimmed chrysalises also hang in the clump of lemon grass growing nearby. There is a certain delight in being able to observe the natural cycle of caterpillars metamorphosing into butterflies. There is a certain satisfaction knowing beneficial insects are thriving in my garden.

 

 


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Summer Storm

The massive, severe, subtropical weather system that battered much of New Zealand has abated.

All through Thursday night and during Friday the wind howled and whipped our trees into frenzied motion, flinging small branch debris into the air. We got wet, but the sweeping rain did not fall as heavily in our inland area as we expected. The stream filled to its usual level and the rainwater tanks filled. Personally, we dodged the stormy weather bullet.

Any concern must focus on the plight of people affected elsewhere. The destructive forces of the high-tide sea surges and the storm-driven pounding waves combined to inundate east coast communities and to flood homes and roads. Emergency services media posts, callouts and travel cancellations highlighted the dangerous nature of the storm. Holidaymakers, advised to pack up and go home early, did so. Many people became stranded on the Coromandel Peninsula when the Thames coastal road was destroyed.

Meanwhile, back home, Number 2 Son  anxiously and constantly scrolled social media for storm-damage reports and weather forecasts for the coming days. He and his friend have planned to take their four kids camping next week – on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Many years ago, Himself and I with our two sons, used to camp at Stoney Bay and at Fletchers Bay camps both at Department of Conservation Farm parks. My sister, her husband and their sons joined us. We experienced summer storms. No social media alerts back then. We always prepared for such eventuality. Maybe we were lucky.

Anyway, the next generation is packed and ready. Geeky Grandson cannot believe there is no cellphone coverage where they will camp. He ‘refuses’ to accept the usefulness of packing a notebook and pencil as a basic messaging tool. He looked askance at his outdoorsy, practically-minded younger 11-year old brother who is ecstatic at the prospect of learning how to use his hand-held compass we gave him for Christmas. He is aghast at the prospect of no X-Box, of having to either read the book or play games of cards that his Dad made him pack for entertainment. Even worse, it is cold showers only at the camp. He cannot believe we actually used to enjoy such a camping holiday lifestyle. Undoubtedly there will be more revelations. Oh, how I wish I could be a fly on the tent wall to watch Geeky Grandson adapt from his device driven life to that of simple living and spartan but essential amenities. 

On Sunday, Son and his mate will review the camping situation.  

Always have a Plan B.`And C.

 


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Summer

January is the month when New Zealanders enjoy summer days. It is a time when people leave their real world lives to relax, to holiday at beaches, lakes and rivers and to enjoy outdoor activities. It is a time when we are busy in our gardens and enjoy the fruits of our labours. However, nature is having an impact on our environment.

Puddle

Ripples caused by raindrops ahead of heavy rain forecast

But, I can be forgiven for taking childish delight, for now, in watching raindrops splat and ripple onto puddles. It is the promise of the rain needed to fill our watertanks and to raise the stream level back to its regular level. Rain is forecast to keep falling. Heavily. And with high winds for a couple of days. Water will fall and flow everywhere and not as we would wish it. So we are warned. It has been a very dry and unusually warm December. Did I miss spring? Is this climate change at play? Nature is leaving a trail of evidence.

 

Even though heavily mulched, my garden is wilting. Lettuces have bolted and gone to seed. They were tasty while they lasted. Dahlias are showing their hot colours. Yellow butter and other beans are producing well. Defiant heat loving plants remain true to label. Leaves on the liquidamber trees are displaying signs of early autumn colours.

Pukeko Under the Fruit Trees

Pukeko eat the ripening fruit and damage the branches.

Pukeko and rosellas are unrelenting in their assaults on the ripening Captain Kidd heritage apples that should ripen in March. My early Peach Haven is history. It drives me crazy to see a pukeko, apple clamped in its beak, sprint from under the fruit trees across the paddock to its stream-side habitat The birds jump into the trees and damage the branches. The stream level is very low, the soil is rock hard, the plant habitats are parched and I am sure the birds are desperate for food. Earlier this morning, a family of four fruit thieves raided the orchard undercover of a downpour. No summer holiday in my world. It is garden guerilla-warfare.

Cattle

Grass is greener on the other side of the fence

We have our cattle on a sheltered hill paddock which is prone to dryness. They are grizzling because the grass quality is not as good as that on the other side of the gate. The trouble is that the better grass is in a flat paddock that is prone to flash flooding when our stream spills over. Years ago, in our early experiences of coping with bad storms, the cattle either stood in the shallows or huddled under trees. We gave up trying to move them. Wading in fast-moving, waist-high water that sweeps all manner of debris, including fences from neighbouring properties, in its path is not safe. Those animals all survived. Mindful of forecasts, we are now better prepared.  So, these cattle can stay on the hill for two days until the storm blows over.   

Meanwhile, weather forecasters continue to track the sub-tropical storm as it unleashes over New Zealand, to warn of the dangers of heavy rain, king tides, large waves and strong winds and to advise holidaymakers to evacuate.  No doubt the raindrops and the ripples will cease to be delightful as the puddles  flood and reform to flow as a small stream down my driveway.   


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The Chickens are in Deep Disgrace

It was an El Nino stormy start to the 2016 calendar year. The weather radar mapped the heavy rain as it headed our way. The Moon calendar for 01 January recommended a ‘rest day’. So I followed the cat’s example and ‘curled up’ for a day indoors.

This afternoon, the rain eased and the wind died down. I ventured outdoors for some fresh air. It’s great the rainwater has more-or-less re-filled both tanks. I was pleased to see there was no storm damage. I really should have put on wet-weather gear and worked in the garden as the Moon calendar for 02 January recommended and sown beetroot, swede and turnip seeds. But I didn’t. And I wasn’t there to check what the chickens were doing.

I’m not pleased about the carnage caused by sneak avian attacks. It’s official. The chickens are no longer cute! Chickens in Disgrace Jan 2016They are in deep disgrace and have been locked up in their cage. Their crime? They chomped through the kale. A wet day and they were bored! Sigh! That’s one of my green salad items gone to the birds.   Hen-pecked Kale Jan 2016

So much for believing in letting chooks free-range.

What’s more, I spotted blackbirds devour the last of the cherimoyas. This tough green-skinned fruit had been cleanly peeled and the juicy aromatic white flesh exposed for pecking. Cherimoya Jan 2016Our early heritage ‘Strawberry’ apples are being savoured by small native birds. We’re a bit luckier with this fruit tree and have managed to pick the apples as we wanted.

I must think how to protect the pear tree before it begins to ripen in about April. It’s loaded with fruit. Pear Tree Jan 2016 Last year, the pukekos joined in and jumped into the fruit trees in search of juicy fruit. It’s never-ending.  At least we’re enjoying the peaches after we stripped that tree to avoid losing the fruit to the possums and birds.

Ahhh! Himself has just handed me a drink. Forget the angst. Maybe the answer is in the bottom of the glass. Cheers, m’dears!


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My Garden ~ it must be spring

Things are looking up. The daylight hours are longer, the sun has been seen to shine, and wonders of wonders, the slush and the mud is drying out. I actually got into the garden and sowed evergreen Broad Beans directly into the soil. The soil felt warm on my hand. So that’s a good sign. This season, I’m trying out a Dwarf Broad Bean variety. Back indoors, I sowed cherry tomato seeds into a seed raising mix: Baxters Early Bush Cherry Tomato and Black Cherry Tomato. My plan is to pot up and grow these tomato plants in the warmth of the polyhouse. I also sowed cauliflower seeds. I chose a mini variety because it will take less space in the garden and will mature in about 80 days from sowing before the hotter months happen in our part of the world at the end of the year. Pumpkin ‘Triamble’ is my favourite and seeds are being started in the warmth of the polyhouse. Still lots more to do – but it’s a start. 
Even better, I was able to weed the raised strawberry beds. Their dormancy is definitely over. Fresh green leaves and a few white blossoms are happy signs. I gave the plants a good feed of organic sheep pellet fertiliser and a layer of mulch. A great few hours in the garden is an antidote to soggy seasonal affective disorder.        
After work, it’s good to pull the gumboots on and get out in the fresh air. The bird song is uplifting at this time of the day. Three-year old and his little toddler brother love visiting our neighbour and feeding food scraps to the farmyard menagerie. It’s a good opportunity to tire out little legs before the dinner, bath and bed routine. The walk was not without its heart-stopping moments particularly when Turbo-toddler tore towards the stream-bank to throw a stick or stone into the water. Older brother inspected every stick for its potential to be wielded as a light sabre sword. But we did get to our destination as the photos show.         


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My Garden ~ it’s been the wettest winter and a birth is imminent

Mud. Lots of it. Squelchy and squishy.  Officially, we’re told it’s been the wettest winter. The grey rain clouds can go away now. We are no longer lulled by the nightly patter of rain on the roof. In our area, the soil ‘floats’ atop the hardpan pipe-clay. Unsealed local roads and private driveways currently make driving interesting as we dodge the potholes. Once things dry out in the warmer months, we’ll need to re-metal our driveway.

I can only stand and admire nature’s cheerful face of drifts of daffodils. No outdoor gardening is happening at present. This weekend, I want to get some time to sow some seeds to germinate them under cover. And yes, the early potatoes seem to still be growing. Anyway, there’s another reason for no gardening and no blogging. For the last few weeks, I’ve been busy cleaning spare bedrooms, laundering baby clothes, fetching grandkids from daycare and preparing meals. I feel stuffed just looking at this list and I go out to work during the week. The efforts we make to support our families.     

Tomorrow is the due date for a very important little person. Grandchild Number 8. The lucky number and it’s the 8th month of 2008. We’ve got a full house. Son and D-in-law and their two sons are staying with us before they shift into their next house. D-in-law’s Mum flew in from Australia and is also staying with us. Tonight, the newborn baby clothes are sorted and the basinet is made up and aired. Mummy’s finally stopped working and is now on maternity leave. She’s packed her bag at last. Daddy’s reading a story to three-year old son. Three grandparents are under the same roof and on hand to baby-sit the older boys. Wow! Each time, the imminent birth of a grandchild is such a special time. The event draws people together. A little of each of us is embodied in the promise of this precious new life bringing cheer like the daffodils. Now, we wait for nature to take its course.