The basic tenet of my gardening actions is to care for the soil. I so appreciate the value of the living organisms that function sight unseen beneath the ground. I suppose it’s a biological partnership that we enter into when we garden. Worms recycle humus and produce vermicast as they dig and delve beneath our feet. That’s why I try to tread lightly – and when, like we do here, keep a few animals for grazing purposes, it gets difficult at times to walk with a light footprint. I seek to grow healthy soil and to establish gardens with minimal input.
Care of the earth means care of all living and nonliving things: soils, species and their varieties, atmosphere, forests, micro-habitats, animals, and waters. it implies harmless and rehabilitative activities, active conservation, ethical and frugal use of resources, and “right livelihood” (working for useful and beneficial systems.
I am concerned about the long-term consequences of hoof pugging by our animals. We don’t have a large herd in the commercial sense (that’s another and broader-issue). I have to think of sustainable solutions for our place. Do we use the tractor to plough the soil? The machinery would further compact the soil and cut up the micro-animal life beneath the ground. I prefer (idealistically some might say) to do my best to grow soil with the biomass we have naturally to hand. We rotate our animals away from wet paddocks and fence off stream-banks to minimise erosion. On the up side, our cattle provide manure that attracts the worms that transform it into vermicast. Trees or branches that are felled during stormy weather are a recyclable source of bio-degradable matter. But then chainsaws and chipper machinery uses fuel energy. And so it it goes weighing up the pros and cons.
I guess at this point, I use my energy where it produces fresh food. I’ll let my photos do the rest of the talking.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some years ago, I planted these native plants to act as a windbreak to protect our fruit trees from the prevailing westerlies. The big bonus is that our New Zealand native birds love the food source. The native flax and cabbage trees nectars particularly excite the tuis and waxeyes (some people call these birds Silvereye) at this time of the year. The birds were coy about posing for the camera – so another time. Mind you, there was a deterrent. Mayhem – the Ginger cat, so wanted to be in the photo. He just doesn’t understand that the birds don’t want to be his friends. I love watching the tiny waxeyes – they look so cute after they’ve dipped their heads into the flax flowers and emerge covered with orange pollen.
My potato plants have made rapid progress and I’m still applying mulch rather than earthing up. The spring temperatures are warming up considerable and the other vegies are growing well.
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.
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.
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.
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 roseBetty 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.
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.