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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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.

 


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My Garden ~ away from it for a bit

Happy New Year folks. Himself and I shut the gate and left the garden (and the cat and cattle) in the capable care of our friend Trish. So many things would happen in our absence. I knew the possums would ravage the ripening peaches, that the climber beans would grow like triffids, that the courgettes would mature into marrows. We left rapidly growing grass that would be knee-high when returned and need mowing. C’est la vie! I’d just have to get over it.   

We drove south to the Waikato to join Mum and my family who live near Matamata (Peter Jackson constructed the Hobbiton movie set on a local farm when he produced Lord of the Rings). Tourists still visit the site.  We had a big gathering on my younger brother’s farm (where I grew up) on Christmas Day. Lots of talk and laughs. Different people gathered 02 January to celebrate my other brother’s significant birthday at his newly built home. It was nice for Mum to have her four ‘baby-boomer’ children in one place for a change. For each occasion, both sisters-in-law excelled themselves. Baked hot ham, new potatoes (my steamed heritage potatoes went down well and were subject of interest and conversation), salads, new beans, fresh strawberries, traditional Christmas pudding and custard, pavlova and trifle. The weather was so warm, we sat outside in the shade – cold drinks in hand. In this rural community, the talk inevitably turns to dairy farming.

 Wearing off the Christmas excess is easier in the saying and harder in the doing. Himself and I did some day trips and walked at local tourist spots. If you ever come to New Zealand, Rotorua is a neat place to visit. We used to spend a lot of time there as kids and then later for weekend escapes. When we lived in the Waikato, himself and I used to do quite a bit a trout fishing in this region. Always we soaked in the mineral pools.  The sulphur smells from the boiling mud pools and springs is always there. Below are a few photos snapped during our latest getaway.

historic-government-house.jpg This historic building is a museum.

lakeside-walkway.jpg Lakeside walkway – stay on the path. Great views across the lake of course, boiling sulphur springs and muddy pools. The foliage is Manuka or Tea-tree as it’s sometimes called.

mineral-pools.jpg My favourite place. The spa baths both public and private – different temperatures and minerals. We booked a private lakeside rocky pool (see last three photos) and soaked up the minerals and the view across Rotorua lake and watched the adult birds feed their chicks. It’s a noisy colony. A cold shower, drink lots of water and back in. Bliss. Who wants to garden?

Something really nice when we returned home hot and tired after six hours driving. Someone had mowed all our lawns! I just love my neighbour. What a nice thing to do. It more than made up for the loss of the peaches to the possums.


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My Garden ~ Crimson Christmas Cheer

pohutukawa-collage.jpg 

Hi! My special season’s greetings to you and the people who are special to you and best wishes to you all for a happy and peaceful New Year. 

 pohutukawa-in-flower.jpg

I’m celebrating that the Pohutukawa trees I planted earlier this year are in bloom in time for Christmas. The drifts of white in the collage are the carrot weed flowers (wild carrot) which proliferate in the paddocks at this time of the year.  The cattle love the flower heads and the pukeko gouge and gorge on the roots.

The grandkids and their school-mates sang a neat New Zealand Christmas carol at their end-of-year playcentre and school prize-giving ceremonies – A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree http://folksong.org.nz/nzchristmas/pukeko.html which is sung  to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas.  Enjoy our Kiwi down-under spirit.


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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.  


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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 ~ 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’.


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My Garden ~ planted trees today

Friend Trish and I finally got to the local garden centre’s sale yesterday.  Most of the fruit trees had been well picked over but there were other bargains still to be had.  I had my wish list drawn from the Northland Regional Council publication Trees for the Land: Growing Trees in Northland for Protection, Production and Pleasure  (pp. 30-31) A guide to planting native trees. My best buys included four Kahikatea Dacrycarpus Darydioides trees  at $5 each were normally priced at $29.95. Perfect for the swampy paddock I’m planting up. The garden centre owner said people weren’t interested in buying tall, slow growing, native forest trees.  I won’t see these trees in their maturity at about fifty metres – I’m planting for posterity. Kahikatea may grow about six metres in ten years. Next best buy was two Pukatea Laurelia Novae – Zelandiae at $10 each (half price). Another slow growing tree that is best planted in a wet situation.   Pukatea also grow about six metres in ten years.

In a previous post, I included a Rockyou slideshow showing trees planted in the swampy area. Today as we dug the planting holes, the clay was heavy and ‘gluggy’ and water welled up as we hit an underground rivulet. The Pukatea should lap up their new watery location. Digging holes for the Kahikatea was another story. We dug through the swampy clay loam and then hit the hard-pan clay layer beneath. We used the pick-axe to break it up. Worth the effort as the Kahikatea will be happy in the moist soil. 

Digging in the swamp was easy compared to the digging we’ll do tomorrow on an exposed sunny hillside which has poor soil, rock-hard clay. Why the effort? Pohutukawa Metrosideros Excelsa Lighthouse‘. I bought this tree as a living gift to celebrate the birth of 4-month grandson (sibling to two-year old pea-picker). I’ll also plant Puriri Vitex lucens (bargain price $7.50) as a solitary specimen tree and because the flowers and fruits attract native birds – the wood pigeon (kereru) and tui. Lots of compost will be added to give these young trees good drainage and a good start before next summer. 

The sale was a good start towards meeting my pledge to the UN Plant a Billion Trees Campaign. Trish bought lots of sale-priced trees and shrubs – she’s planting a sanctuary to complement the earthbrick home they’re building on their two-acre lifestyle block.