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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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.

 

 


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Jemima duck waddled into my garden

Jemima seemed most fitting to name our latest feathered friend. She waddled into our lives one morning about three weeks ago. Shy, yet trusting and friendly like Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle Duck, she has let us hand feed her and even give her a cuddle, and she stops, holds her head in a way looking at us that suggests she is listening to us chat to her.

We think she is an escapee, that being from our neighbour’s duck pond across our stream where hundreds of ducks of different breeds live. Bruce happens to like ducks and geese. What child has not loved listening to Beatrix Potter’s stories about garden and farmyard animals being read to them? When they were little, I used to take my grandsons to scatter grain at feeding time. It is fun to stand in the middle of the noisy rush of quacking and honking birds, like a big city rush  hour which I no longer  miss..

In the  relaxed way things happen here, one day, we will wander over to Bruce and ask if he is missing a duck. His answer will be laconic and he will not know or even worry that Jemima has herself a new home. Bruce took on six ducks recently because their owner could no longer care for her pets. Jemima is probably from that small flock. She is earning her keep and is doing a great job scooping up the bugs and slugs in my garden. For now, Jemima can sleepover at our place and be one of the poultry girls.


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Cookery class at school in 1958

In 1958, we were given a small textbook, Home Science Recipes when we were taught cookery in Standards 5 and 6, or what is now called Years 7 and 8. Words and phrases used then make me smile now.

“all parts of the dominion”, “domestic instruction”, “helpful to the small family”, “young housekeeper”, “apron”, “never waste anything”, “Housewifery and Laundry Work”

Wordy echoes of strong colonial and emotional ties to England, preparation of girls for marriage and motherhood, and always, a vivid memory of want and hunger experienced by our parents’ generation during the depression and war years. New Zealand as  a country grows food well. This text was compiled by a generation of educators intent on building a nation of self-sufficient citizens and healthy families.

The ingredients then reflected the predominant farming and small country town lifestyles we lived in the 1950s. I shudder now at the thought of using animal fats of “lard”, “dripping”, “suet“. Beef and mutton were staple foods. Home killed meat roasted in a fat was common.  Dad would butcher a sheep about once a week. I recall how my brothers, sister and I lined up as he did so waiting to grab the knucklebones so we could play the game. No sentimentality then. That is how it was.

My mother and mother-in-law always kept a bowl to store the dripping from roasted beef. My grandparents and parents all loved spreading dripping on bread in preference to butter. They had  lived through food rationing. As if that was not enough to fill growing large baby-boomer families,  New Zealand mothers served baked goodies for morning and afternoon teas and  puddings. All recipes used great quantities of animal fats and sugar. Unpasteurised, creamy milk collected as the cows were milked was drunk daily. Thank goodness our outdoor lifestyles meant we were physically active and hardworking compared to present day.

Essentially, we their daughters in the school cookery classes, were cementing household practices of generations before the 1950s. Incidentally, the Window Cleaner recipe in  Cleaning Materials, still works a treat and is cost effective.


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Watermelon eater

Grandson has been watching these grow for ages, now he gets to try them !! Perfect juicy, summery, yummy dessert.

He is becoming quite the gardener and has had a hand in planting and growing most of the veggies in the colander.

Big excitement also was younger brother’s Brown Shaver chicken, Strawberry, is now a big girl and is laying eggs. Nice for breakfast.


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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.


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Garden gate is open ~ come for a stroll

Garden Gate

Garden gate and fencepost

Come for a stroll with me. I won’t be long. I need to check a few things. It’s quite dry underfoot and there’s a cool breeze blowing.

Mind, be careful, don’t touch the electric fence wire and gate tapes are switched on. We won’t go into that paddock. The animals are friendly but they can get frisky when people are about as they expect to be hand fed goodies. They don’t realise they’re not pet calves anymore.

Gosh, the grass has grown fast even though the cattle ate the paddock out a week ago. The growing conditions are good. The paddock gets topped with the tractor and mower after the cattle are shifted.

Mmm! Just noticed that the cattle troughs  need cleaning out. Leaf litter and twigs fell into the water when we had that last lot of windy weather. I’ll have to do that soon. The liquid amber is showing its colours. Leaf  fall later during autumn means work.

Woops!  Didn’t mean for us to disturb the mother Pukeko on her nest. The native swamp hens hide their nests well in the grass so we don’t always see them.

Stream reflectionMy favourite place anytime along the stream. We see eels and freshwater mussels in the stream.

It’s always tranquil and cool under the totara trees. I’m proud of the way native ferns are regenerating along the stream bank. It’s taken lots of hard work over the years to clear inorganic rubbish and pest plants from this area.

Stream protection in New Zealand means “if you have water supplied by a stream, you have an obligation to safeguard the quality of the water leaving your property – for downstream users and for other stream life.” 

There’s a couple dead rats over there. An unpleasant fact of life. I can’t bring myself to photograph these creatures. These pests seem to live well off creatures in the stream. We need to reset the poison bait traps. It’s an ongoing battle against these pests that also want the yummy food we put out for the chooks. We have predator proof netting on the chook house.

The dwarf heritage Captain Kidd and Golden Delicious apple trees look healthy and happy in the sun. I’m hoping the branches don’t break under the load of the fruit. The pears and quinces are looking good.

Himself made this footbridge across the drain as a shortcut to and from the back paddock. Trouble is that the grapevine is claiming the garden gate. I keep meaning to prune the vine back. Meanwhile, it’s hard to shut the gate after us.

 

 

 

 


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A Balmy Summer Evening

Tonight is as good as it gets on a New Zealand summer evening. Balmy, little cloud cover and the new quarter moon has appeared in the indigo sky. Windless, no traffic, no streetlights in our rural neighbourhood, it is ideal for an after-dinner stroll. The ridges of the western hills are silhouetted against the setting sun, casting deep shadows across the paddocks.

Later once darkness has cloaked the land, we will hear a possum grunt, the raucous squawks of the pukeko, Ruru’s moooorpoooork calls from the trees and the faint replies echoing from the hills as the Moreporks, New Zealand’s owl, go about their nightly hunt for food. Once, while strolling along the streambank, I saw a morepork chick perched on a low branch of a Totara tree. Silent and still, its round unblinking eyes solemnly stared. I’m not sure who watched who that evening.

At different times, we have sat with friends and family in the garden, wine and binoculars at hand and contemplated the mystery and the beauty of the universe, admiring the great Milky splash, the Southern Cross stars that are displayed on the NZ flag. Mars is familiar as are the Pot and the Scorpion. We needed to use the NZ astronomy website to identify other stars such as the seven sisters, Pleiades, or Matariki as Maori call this cluster of stars. In June-July, the re-appearance of Matariki in our southern skies is celebrated because it reminds us of beginnings, the promise of the new growing season. Maori have ancient knowledge of stars and they have many stories to tell. “Swimming across the darkness is Te Ikaroa (the Milky Way), the great fish of Rangi, the Sky Father.”   

In January 2007, as we watched McNaughton’s Comet streak across the western night sky, Sis-in-law mused how stargazing natural universal events links us with all skywatchers beyond our time and in far places.

Who will wonder the universal mysteries and admire this comet when it returns in a million years?