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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My Garden ~ what a difference two days can make

What a difference two days can make in the garden in 90% humidity, sticky nor’-easterly wind and rainy weather. We went away for the weekend and returned to find beans, plums, mini-cabbages, spring onions, zucchini and strawberries all demanding to be picked.

1st-of-the-xmas-plums.jpg Wilson’s Early – “Christmas Plum” ripens early in December. A small fruit with yellow-red skin. The flesh is yellow and juicy. It’s partly self-fertile but I planted it near the Omega plum tree just to be sure about cross-pollination. This tree doesn’t grow too large so is ideal for my orchard situation.

freshly-picked-from-the-garden.jpg Freshly picked bush beans, spring onion, cabbage, zucchini and a variety of chinese cabbage are the basis of stir fried vegetables for tea tonight. I’ll toss freshly grated ginger through.

We’ll have the stir-fry with Pork Spare Ribs which are grilling as I write. They have been marinaded (no particular recipe – I just used ingredients at hand) made from freshly made plum puree, garlic, pepper and olive oil and tossed in sesame seeds.


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My Garden ~ it’s spring

I flew back after four days in Wellington having enjoyed picture postcard spring weather, immaculate botannical gardens, a fashion festival of wearable arts and the NZ symphony orchestra. I came to earth with thud – the climatic difference while I was away.  Himself at home endured heavy weather, flooding – the stormy works and sodden ground in Northland. Today, I ventured into the garden and got busy with the camera to show we might be a bit battered but the garden manages a smile and bursts with promise. The bees were a bit shy but a few hung around for the photo opportunity.

 Stormy spring weather that I missed while away.

 Luisa Plum blossom

 1st of the Captain Kidd Apple blossom

 1st of the Feijoa blossom

 Lavender underplanted near the fruit trees as a companion plant

  Calendula as a companion plant

 Radish going to seed

 Borage, Comfrey and Curry plants interplanted anong the fruit trees

 Broadbeans

 My first white carrot

 Arctotis

 Freesia smell heavenly

 Day lily

 Miniature cyclamen among the weeds

 Clivia

 Neighbour’s lambs remind us to put a spring in our steps

 Finally – a patch of blue sky glimpsed through the flowering peach blossom.


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My Garden ~ Plum Blossom and Bees

Hibernation is over – I can’t ignore the buzzing in my garden anymore.  The plum trees are smothered with blossom and bees each determined to get its quota of pollen. It’s a wonderful sight and this spring I’m looking with fresh eyes. Recently I was able to locate The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton-Porter for my mother whose health is declining. It is a book she’d read long ago in her youth and one she wanted to read again. A soldier wounded during WWI looks outwards as he finds inner strength and peacefulness after he undertakes to care for the Bee Master’s bees.  As the garden is fruitful because of the bees so life becomes meaningful. I shouldn’t be surprised that spring is well and truly arrived here.  The harbinger daffodils have finished, but the calendula, broad beans, borage and lavender also planted as companion plants under my fruit trees are showing off their colours and too are exciting the bees. The buds on the apple, quince and peach trees are bursting – quite the visual feast. Which reminds me – I must get busy with camera.  

Planting an orchard is potentially one of the best investments you could ever make. It’s an investment in your health (keeping in mind that our current western shop diets contain only 3 of the 8 polysaccharides essential for a strong immune system and that they’re actually only present in tree ripened fruit!) and the health of your family, … it’s an investment in your mental, emotional and spiritual health, it’s an investment in the health and future of the planet.” Kay Baxter, 2002          


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My Garden ~ Apple Trees

Today, we took delivery of bare-rooted heirloom apple trees.  The nursery owner uses grafting wood sourced from organically grown or wild trees from old orchards. We asked for the trees to be grafted onto Northern Spy rootstock because it grows well on our clay soils.  The aim is to enjoy different apples across the seasons and also to play our part in preserving the older varieties.

According to the info sheet, Vaile Early is reliable and fruits in January.   I grew Egremont Russett in a previous garden. I love this apple – its golden brown skin and distinctive flavour. Always had good crops, so I have high hopes for my new tree. Priscilla is new to me but it comes recommended as a good mid-saeason variety, as being disease resistant and a good keeper. Two late season varieties new to me are Liberty – an American variety I understand to have been produced by Cornell University orchards about 1978 – which is described as disease resistant in our region and which stores well. Merlin’s Golden Late is described as a local seedling cross between Granny Smith and Golden Delicious.


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My Garden ~ apple trees

 I’m pleased with an early season dwarf apple – Maclear  onto an M9 rootstock. It was a new variety when I bought the tree in 2000.  I had small space I wanted to fill so this tree seemed to suit the situation. Six years later and the heavy crop of apples has been ripening since end of December. The fruit is small to medium size, green skinned with red stripes. It tastes sweet, is juicy and the grandkids like eating this apple _ and yes, so do the birds! The tree seems to be quite hardy and so far, there’s been no codlin moth or blackspot. I’ve had to stake this tree. I underplanted with lavender and comfrey as I did with the other apple trees.

 Maclear Apple Maclear apple

 Another apple variety that we really enjoy is the Captain Kidd. It will ripen in March. It’s grafted onto a rootstock MM106 that suits our conditions and space and holds well in the soil.  It has a red, streaky skin, a good taste and again, seems to be living up to the claim that it’s resistant to blackspot. For the last three to four years, we’ve had regular and heavy crops of apples off this tree.