My Garden ~ something special for Christmas dinner

We’re getting ready to drive south to join my family who live in a dairy farming community near Matamata in the Waikato. This will be the first Xmas we’ll have spent together in my old home since we moved to Northland some years ago. My brother will celebrate a significant birthday in the New Year and I suspect an Uncle may surprise us and fly out from England for the occasion. I want to take something special for Christmas dinner that my family would not normally eat. So right on cue, my heritage potatoes were ready for harvesting this afternoon.  They’ll go nicely with roasted spring lamb. I’ll steam these potatoes with mint leaves and arrange a colourful platter display of the five potato varieties. I like to cook the blue potatoes separately because the colour  ‘runs’ and tends to stain. 

heritage-potatoes.jpg The soil is warm and friable and the potato growth has been prolific. This is the first time I’ve grown these two potato varieties. Top row: Kowiniwini (some refer to this as ‘zebra’).  Bottom row: Maori.

potatoes-for-christmas.jpg I’ve written about Swift (an early variety) and Red Rascal in a previous post. Similarly, I’ve described Urenika (a blue tuber-like potato). I prefer to harvest these at an early stage when they are fairly small before they get too large because I find they tend to be floury when cooked.

My Garden ~ too busy in the vegetable patch to write about much else

It felt hotter outside than the official 20C today. The ground is dry and surface cracks indicate the need for rain. Never-the-less, early summer is here and this gardening month is busy with successive sowings, cultivation and harvesting.    

I checked the growth of my potatoes planted 30 September.  The Kowiniwini, Urenika and Maori  heritage potatoes are about to burst into flower. I was somewhat surprised to find the Swift (early variety for Xmas ) potatoes are almost ready to be harvested. Two-year-old Grandson who became an expert ‘tato inspector last year, inducted baby brother in the art of choosing the biggest and the best ‘tato for dinner tonight. He also picked the very first tiny courgette of the season (as you do) when you’re a connoisseur of baby vegetables. The early potato crop probably thrived because of the thick applications of mulch. The soil around the plants was friable, warm and moist despite no watering and drying conditions. We are careful how we use water because our domestic water supply is from rainwater collection. We pump water from the stream to the troughs for the animals. So gardening for me must be about conserving moisture and mulching. Our predominantly clay soil becomes rock hard in the summer – digging is a no go – hence I follow a permacultural approach to diversity and building up soil to encourage worms and beneficial insects.   

The Calendula are making a great show among the potatoes. With that in mind today, I filled gaps among the other vegetables with more heat-loving flowers as companion  plants Rudbeckia, Zinnia and French Marigolds. That should make the friendly insects giddy with delight (or confused should the pests have pesky intentions).  November here is a great month for flowers – I use different edible flowers in salads and drinks.  

I under-planted the sweet corn with a long green cucumber – my Dad used to do this as a living mulch so I though I’d give it a try this year as well as letting pumpkins sprawl under the corn plants.  I could have used beans – but I have these growing elsewhere. My last tasks today were to plant Sweet Peppers and to stake Beefsteak tomatoes – under-planted with Sweet Basil of course as I have visions of home-made pesto in mind.

My Garden ~ Mulching

The Swift, Kowiniwini and Maori heritage potatoes mentioned in my previous post are showing lots of healthy young leaves. Rather than earth the plants up, I’ll mulch each plant with rotted organic plant material. Our 6.5hp heavy duty petrol -powered chipper/mulcher machine has proved its value for many years (though now in the light of fuel price hikes, I’ll have to think about the cost). We recycle tree prunings (the machine can take branches up to 70mm in diameter) and other plant matter  into mulch – the processed chip size is about 10 to 15mm . We can  either directly feed the shredded matter onto a specific garden site or create a new compost pile. It is this organic matter that I’ll put round the potatoes. Today I’ll plant my Agria seedling potatoes. These are another favourite. They mash or crush well once cooked. The taste is great when combined with extra-virgin olive oil and freshly ground pepper. We sometimes use locally produced avocado oil. Now that’s a treat – we love this oil infused with lime – especially when cooking fish.  

Broad Beans are another wonderful fresh garden taste we’ve been enjoying.  I like to steam the beans with a sprig of savoury and then toss with crisp grilled bacon pieces through a pasta such as fettucini.  The beans are just about finished and my other bean seedlings are ready to transplant. Today, our Labour Day public holiday is a traditional time to plant tomotoes. But the weather doesn’t know that and the winds here are westerly and cooling the temperatures.  I’ll hold hold off planting tomatoes outside for a while. There’s lots of other gardening tasks to do.

My Garden ~ planting and preparing garden beds

My back tells me I’ve shovelled too much compost.  

mesculun-2.JPG chives-and-lettuce.JPG For the last three days, I’ve laboured, clearing garden beds and getting  plants into the soil as well as preparing for later sowings of other vegies . I’m encouraged by the sight of all those wriggly worms, large and small, burrowing and digging for all their worth. I’ve delegated them the task of doing the serious work.  

italian-herbs.JPG strawberry-3.JPG The old strawberry bed has had an overdue tidy-up and the runners now have nice sunny raised beds to grow in. Visions of lots of juicy red strawberries in time for Xmas, and jam-making …..  Still on my To Do List is a make-over of my Italian herbs in the pots.

kowinin-kowiniwini-potato-plot.JPG I’ve mentioned in previous posts I can’t imagine not growing potatoes. I planted Swift as the Xmas new potato. This season, I’m trying Kowiniwini and Maori  potatoes as additions to my small collection of heritage seeds. According to the information I got from the nursery about Kowiniwini is that it’s a good all rounder and keeper, crops well, is purple with white eyes. The Maori is round and large, with no inset eyes,has white flesh and a purple skin. I’ve been trying to get hold of King Edward seed potatoes. My Dad grew these when I was a kid. I’ll also plant Red Rascal later on.

I love to traipse around garden centres to see what’s new, read the labels and so on. Yesterday, I happened on a delightful floribunda rose Betty Boop. It struck a chord because of my mother’s given name and because I recalled her telling us once about similar sounding childhood nickname she was called by her brothers. I searched the history of this rose and found Betty Boop to have been a delightful Paramount pictures cartoon character in the 1930s – the time of Mum’s girlhood in England. I’ll buy this rose for Mum – she needs cheer in her life because of her declining health, and she does love her roses.  

My Garden ~ Second Severe Weather Event

Writing about my garden has taken a backseat in the last few months because of work and family responsibilities. This week our region experienced serious damage caused by very strong winds and flooding. This was the second major storm in about three months. We recorded more than 300mm rainfall at our place during the 48 hour period of the storm. Living had a decidedly chilly blast to it. An irony was that we could not use our firewood because we’re waiting for the installation of a new woodburner unit. All we could do was get the emergency gas bottle and cooker-ring out, cook a warm meal and go to bed. It’s mid-winter here and gets dark about 6 p.m.

I’ve always kept emergency supplies, torches/batteries and bottled water (we have rainwater tanks but need the electric pump to get the water to the house). This is the first time we’ve used these things and I’m so glad we thought it could happen to us. I will add a battery powered radio. We had no power or landline phone for nearly three days so did not know what was happening. We kept our cellphones for essential use – anyway, the help lines were jammed and we couldn’t get through.  

 Our neighbours were blocked in by fallen trees. We and our neighbours have not experienced such howling screaming winds. Our house shook during the night and we did wonder whether our roof would take off. On the first day, we watched as the wind whipped up white-crested waves on the floodwaters in our paddocks.  The power was restored yesterday and we have since found out the scale of damage.  So much tree damage everywhere – trees uprooted, across roads, onto houses, onto powerlines and so on. Floodwaters swamped farms and homes – a repeat scenario of the March floods that I posted earlier. Local neighbourhood damage is light compared to the sufferings of others living further north.  More rain is forecast – but we’re drying out in the meantime. And we’ve all got the chainsaws working.

Yesterday, we pulled on our gumboots and coats and inspected the place. The pictures give some indication of what we found.

storm-debris.jpg tamarillo-fruit.jpg vegie-victims.jpg vegie-survivors.jpg tree-uprooted.jpg polyhouse-damage.jpgcheerful-storm-survivors.jpg Cheerful survivors in my garden include purple sprouting broccoli, mandarins, Earlicheer daffodils, Hebe ‘Wiri Dawn’.

My Garden ~ heirloom seeds

I visited the Koanga Institute last week and as usual, I was inspired by the maturity of the development of their permacultural design of a multi-storied garden. Koanga has built up a rich ecosystem and variety of vegetables, fruits and flowers by sowing and saving heritage seeds and plants. I can’t help but reflect how my gardening techniques and views have changed since I first planted silverbeet and lettuce seedlings in a small, carefully tended weed-free plot. I wanted more fresh food for my children and so over time, I’ve learned to garden without digging and of the importance of creating natural diversity.

“An ecological garden has many layers, from a low herb layer through shrubs and small trees to the large overstory. Each layer can contain ornamental species, varieties for food and other human uses, wildlife plants, and flora for building soil and maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Together the layers provide diverse habitat, many products, and plenty of visual interest.” (T. Hemenway. (2000). Gaia’s Garden: a guide to home-scale permaculture. p. 26).

Organically grown vegetable seeds were the reason for my visit. I like growing different varieties and so buy heirloom seeds with the view to saving my own seeds from plants grown in my garden. For winter crops this year, I’ve sown: Winter Lettuce (wavy fingers for picking through winter), Nutty Celery Apium graveolens (nutty taste, disease resistant, can pick by the stalk through winter), Purple Sprouting Broccoli Brassica oleracea, Salad Pea Pisum sativum (low growing, tasty shellout peas and edible tendrils), White Belgium Carrot (large, sweet taste, fast growing, good in a warm climate), Manglebeet Beta vulgaris (sweet, mild taste, large orange root vegetable).  

My Garden ~ potato harvest

I can’t imagine not growing my own potatoes. There’s always a space somewhere in my garden. As usual, I spread newspaper on a patch of ground and then layered rotted hay. I layed each sprouted seed on a wilted comfrey leaf and covered them with a deep layer of hay. As the shoots grew, I piled more hay around the growing plants. Fertiliser was cow manure collected with the rotted hay from the paddocks.

We enjoy the varieties and flavours. The different textures lend themselves to different ways of cooking. As I mentioned in a previous post, we simply steam Urenika (Maori blue potato) as we do with the early variety ‘Swift’. I add sprigs of mint (and of course there has to be a knob of butter and black pepper over the cooked potatoes).  

I tried growing three varieties new to me this season.

‘Heather’ is described as a main crop with a purple skin, smooth skin and white flesh, great taste and good cooking qualities.

‘Moonlight’ is described as new in 2000, white skin and flesh, high yielding, excellent boiling quality. Excellent drought and wind tolerance.

‘Red Rascal’ is described as improved Desiree with a deep crimson skin and white flesh. Excellent baking and roasting.

Potato Harvest

Today I harvested the crop. All I had to do was pull the hay away – no digging and the potatoes are clean. I left them to dry in the polyhouse before sorting according to size and variety. I keep some aside for the next season’s seed crop. I was pleased to note no blight or disease and minimal physical damage that seems to have been caused by slugs.

I store potatoes in shallow polystyrene boxes (used by growers to transport grapes to supermarkets and then discarded) and keep them in a cool and dark place.