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 and Bridge Aren’t a Fit

My brain has turned to rabbit mush. It has been 22 days since they were born. Newborns in any household bring on that ‘brain mush’ effect. My senses are tuned to responding to the demands and needs of these small creatures.  

It is now routine at 6 a.m. for me to forage under the totara trees along the stream bank for fresh dewy puha, dandelions and thistles. By 7.30 a.m. the rabbit hutch has been cleaned, the kits have a frolic while Oreo, their mother, has her breakfast. Rabbit housekeeping  is repeated for Paws’, the father rabbit, cage. He is let out for a thirty-minute run in the orchard before he too is fed back in his cage.

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Foraging for puha, dandelions and grass along the stream bank

There was the initial burst of enthusiasm for the novelty of rabbit care before school Agricultural Day in October. Paws showed off his moves and earned Grandson an Agricultural Day Certificate. Grandson considers job done. And apparently, 6 a.m. is not a civilised hour to be up and getting wet by the morning dew on the long grass in the paddock. The boys are not impressed that Nana at their age had to herd the cows, no quad bike, from their night paddock to the shed and help her Dad with milking and feed the calves. So last century.  Grandsons of the  household are getting ready for school – so they say with a device in one hand. But they are out the door at 8 a.m.

Hen care is next, the Brown Shavers indignant they have been usurped and made to wait because of these furry intruders. Squawking loudly, they stand and poo in their water dish, peck at and clamber over each other and crowd the opening of the chicken cage run.  I remember to smell the Sweet Peas that scramble over the bean frame in the vegetable garden. The flowers are just glorious at this time of the year. I do a few household chores and get myself ready to rush out the door.

One morning a week, I attend formal lessons for beginning players at the Bridge Club , a fifteen-minute drive into town. It is more like a mad dash through the door just after the lesson has started. We were learning about Responder’s Rebids and having a choice of bidding No Trumps if my hand had no fit with my partner’s suit. So what do I do? Bid like it was a game of 500. I called 6 No Trumps. As the complexity of these lessons increases, I am convinced I will never get the hang of Bridge. Two other players are in a similar situation grandparenting two young dogs and empathise with the challenge to get a fit between small young animal care and learning bridge. Breathe, we tell ourselves. We laugh. Our Bridge instructor is wonderfully patient. 

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.

Easter Monday evening and “The day is done,”

My mother had a good memory and flair for reciting poetry and as a child it was common to hear excerpts inspired by a moment as she went about her household tasks. How could I not hear Mum’s voice as I shut the hens in their coop tonight and enjoyed the cloud formation lit by the rays of Easter Monday’s setting sun.

When cats run home and light is come,
And dew is cold upon the ground,
And the far-off stream is dumb,

excerpt from: Song – The Owl by Alfred Lord Tennyson

The cattle, sated after a long day of grazing grass, languidly bovine and disinclined to poetic gestures, were settling for the night under the Totara trees by the stream.

The day is done, and the darkness
 Falls from the wings of Night,
excerpt from: The Day is Done by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

No Tennyson’s white owl lives in my world. Gertrude clucked her defiance at my attempts to corral her with the other hens in the hen house. Always there is one last worm or one last slater to find. Tastier still would be my Kale seedlings that now must be grown under bird netting in the new raised garden beds.

So I sit in my garden. And I wait for the white hen to go about her routine. After a busy weekend, it is a quiet reflective moment, a chance to enjoy nature’s celebration of Easter Monday evening.

Five visitors stayed overnight so we have had a full house. There were six kids and five adults in all with one extra person who came to dinner on Saturday. The garden hosted the kids’ Easter egg hunt. Kitted out with torches, the sugar-rushed children ventured into the moonlight to explore the night world in their treehut, in the paddocks, under the trees and along the stream.

Eels transformed into alligators, pukeko assumed vulture-like proportions, deep shadows morphed into monsters and grunting possums grrrrd. Oh! How I just love The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree written by Dr Seuss.

 

 

The trees yawn and stretch their limbs to the sun

Early this morning I went for a walk. The cat stopped following me once I left the sanctuary of the garden and sat  down to sun himself by the gate until my return. The chickens gave up following me in disgust because I had no food bucket. A rabbit crouching in the long grass and I startled each other.  A white tail bobbed off at speed under the trees. A bird, hidden high in the branches, made its presence heard. Further along the path, a loud squawk was accompanied by a flapping of wings as a beautifully coloured cock pheasant took flight (or fright) from under the ferns.

No animal life stirred in the stream as the sun gave life to the day and as its fingers of light reached through the trees. Eels have retreated deep into their watery stream bed to dream of their long swim through the rivers to the coast and of their arduous journey to the spawning grounds in the warmer waters of the Pacific Ocean. The trees yawn and stretch their limbs and preen themselves in nature’s mirror, readying for another day.

My humble stream moment makes me think of poems by two esteemed and eloquent New Zealand poets

“The sea, to the mountains, to the river” by Hone Tuwhare

“The river in you” by Brian Turner

Drat! Rats!!!!

“We must”, I proclaimed to Himself as I handed him a mug of coffee, “reset the rat bait stations”, hoping in vain the Man of the House would leave off watching the replay of New Zealand’s Cricket XI Captain Brendon McCullum’s record-breaking fastest test century while batting against the Australians, and do the honours. You get the picture. Weekend sport, replays and all, is a sacred couch cow.

I mentioned in my previous post about a couple dead rats being an unpleasant fact of life and I couldn’t bring myself to take a photograph. Irrational, illogical, I know, I know. Indeed, and if you really must view pictures of Norway ‘black’ and Ship ‘brown’ rats, then google or click on the ‘pest’ link. It’s an ongoing battle against these pests that want the yummy food we put out for the chooks. We have predator proof netting the chook house, but there is the giveaway sign, the tunnel. I shudder.

What am I scared of? It’s only a rodent. Or is it a family of rats? I hate looking at them. What am I going to do if it jumps out at me? I’m such a wimp. I grit my teeth and shudder. You can do this. “If I have to I can do anything … I am invincible I am woman”, Helen Reddy sings in my mind as I don plastic gloves and collect the rat bait. I grab a heavy spade, for just in case.

I can’t think of a single redeeming ratty feature to commend this verminous creature.

  • Rats eat plants and fruits, destroying food sources of native wildlife
  • Rats plunder nests and eat chicks and eggs
  • Rats gnaw, damaging buildings, power cables and water pipes
  • Rats predate small native ground creatures
  • Rats contaminate fresh water
  • Rats transmit disease to humans
  • Rats scavenge on human waste
  • Rats tunnel, climb and hide
  • Rats cost me time and money
  • Rats are not nice to look at
  • Rats exist

I put the poison in the bait station. As I move forward to position the bait station under the chook house, my foot sinks against a tunnel concealed by grass. Horrified, I step back and stand in another tunnel. Geez!! Is there no end to this! I pull a clump of weeds and see the trail disappears under the overgrowth smothering the disused chicken cage. No rats jump out. Now, I feel stronger. I am doing this. ‘No’ to rats!

Himself has left the couch and ventured forth to give a helping hand. Together,  we each take a corner and lift and tip the cage up and out of the long grass.

With perfect theatrical timing, Rattus rattus leaps out of the cage. Seconds of confusion prevailed as Himself, spade in hand, and the rat play a deadly game of chase, while I, weakly in stereotypical female fashion, beat a hasty retreat.

Life’s not always a bowl of peaches in my garden.

Plums ~ under threat from possum pests

It is that time of the year again when the branches of the Luisa plum tree hang low, heavily loaded with large, luscious, blushing yellow-fleshed fruit, best eaten fresh from the tree. Kids love to pick and snack on the juicy sweet fruit. And so do possums. These pest animals are picky eaters of the ripest part of the fruit.

In previous posts I mentioned how possums are a pest animal in New Zealand. They roam  and forage during the night ravage a range of native forest species as well as bird eggs and chicks. Home gardens and orchards are not immune.

Possum control is ongoing. For safety reasons, we neither lay poison nor night shoot with a spotlight. We set Timms traps which kill a single possum at a time. Before I bait a trap with cinnamon-dusted apple, I put the cats inside and shut the hens in their coop while the traps are set. Doggy neighbours have an friendly woofy role in our life. Dog ownership has expenses and responsibilities that we choose not to take up even though we know the presence of a dog acts as a pest deterrent.

Our older son had a flourishing orchard until his dog Rosy became ill early in 2015. She hated possums and took her guard duty seriously at night and was quite the goofy family pet by day. Unimpeded after Rosy’s death, possums stripped many mature fruit trees bare of leaves and fruit buds. A heritage peach tree later died. Since late last year, son’s new two-year old dog, Chief, has been  quick to pick up Rosy’s mantle of Pest Control Officer and is guarding ‘his’ orchard with success. Most of the fruit trees are showing signs of recovery. 

Picking and preserving under-ripe plums is at the top of my To Do list.