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.

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.

 

 

My Garden ~ Urenika Potatoes

Urenika or Maori potatoes are easy to grow and can be cultivated for most of the year in our moderate climate. I place the seed potatoes on wilted comfrey leaves over rotted hay on top of clay loam soil and then cover with hay or straw. I like to plant the potatoes in a windy and dry area as protection from mildew or fungal disease. In the six years I have grown these potatoes, I have not needed to spray the plants. These potatoes have flourished despite the weather fluctuations and seem resistant to  disease.

Harvesting the potatoes needs minimal effort as I push the mulch aside. There is much to be said for the no-dig approach to gardening. Clods of soil do not adhere to the potatoes. The soil enriched by worms and humus matter is workable and is ready for planting a different vegetable crop. At this point I will scatter sheep manure over the soil and leave the garden bed to rest a while. Less physical effort for the gardener. Mint finely chopped, freshly ground pepper, butter and salt to taste complement this simple dish.

Urenika potatoes Urenika potatoes