My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden


Caterpillar Chrysalises in My Garden

Each morning when I feed scraps to the hens before letting them out into the paddock for the day, I hang around to deter the wild ducks from flying in for a free feed. I use this time to check out what is happening my vegetable garden. The To Do list gets longer.

Bumblebees are busy workers. Busier than me in this humidity. The garden looks neglected, shabby and straggly. The Hyssop stems were flattened in the recent stormy weather. Oregano and weeds jostle for dominance under the Scarlet Runner beans. Higher than usual summer temperatures and storm damage wreaked havoc a few days ago. My sister swears she can hear the invasive kikuyu grass following behind her as she pulls weeds. She has a point. Grass growth and garden weeds are rampant in this humidity.

Earlier crops of kale , turnips, tomatoes, cucumber and green beans have self-seeded and the hope is no-effort vegetables. That is a good garden story. Strawberry runners are growing like triffids. The blackbirds make a mess as they scratch up young plants. They flee the crime scene leaving half-eaten tomatoes on the vines. These were not the birds I had in mind when I planted flaxes and native plants to feed native birds and beneficial insects. Such is life in this rural lifestyle neighbourhood. Nature rules.

On a positive note and still on the subject of nature, the Monarch butterflies have been active in the garden. They made a pretty picture in January. Butterflies flitted about and laid their eggs on the Swan plant. The growing caterpillars have since eaten every leaf and are now devouring the seed pods. Food for these colourfully striped creatures is a priority. Today, I went on a rescue mission and transferred caterpillars to seedling Swan plants. I found predatory wasps had made a nest on the plant.  That had to be destroyed manually as spray is harmful to the Monarch caterpillars.

Delicate green and gold trimmed chrysalises also hang in the clump of lemon grass growing nearby. There is a certain delight in being able to observe the natural cycle of caterpillars metamorphosing into butterflies. There is a certain satisfaction knowing beneficial insects are thriving in my garden.




My Garden ~ it must be spring

Things are looking up. The daylight hours are longer, the sun has been seen to shine, and wonders of wonders, the slush and the mud is drying out. I actually got into the garden and sowed evergreen Broad Beans directly into the soil. The soil felt warm on my hand. So that’s a good sign. This season, I’m trying out a Dwarf Broad Bean variety. Back indoors, I sowed cherry tomato seeds into a seed raising mix: Baxters Early Bush Cherry Tomato and Black Cherry Tomato. My plan is to pot up and grow these tomato plants in the warmth of the polyhouse. I also sowed cauliflower seeds. I chose a mini variety because it will take less space in the garden and will mature in about 80 days from sowing before the hotter months happen in our part of the world at the end of the year. Pumpkin ‘Triamble’ is my favourite and seeds are being started in the warmth of the polyhouse. Still lots more to do – but it’s a start. 
Even better, I was able to weed the raised strawberry beds. Their dormancy is definitely over. Fresh green leaves and a few white blossoms are happy signs. I gave the plants a good feed of organic sheep pellet fertiliser and a layer of mulch. A great few hours in the garden is an antidote to soggy seasonal affective disorder.        
After work, it’s good to pull the gumboots on and get out in the fresh air. The bird song is uplifting at this time of the day. Three-year old and his little toddler brother love visiting our neighbour and feeding food scraps to the farmyard menagerie. It’s a good opportunity to tire out little legs before the dinner, bath and bed routine. The walk was not without its heart-stopping moments particularly when Turbo-toddler tore towards the stream-bank to throw a stick or stone into the water. Older brother inspected every stick for its potential to be wielded as a light sabre sword. But we did get to our destination as the photos show.         

Leave a comment

My Garden ~ baking with toddler grandson

Another wet weather forecast for yesterday meant another Sunday indoors. Time to cook some comfort food. Toddler grandson bustled about and pushed the step-stool against the bench and climbed up just like he’s seen older brother do. ‘Me’ in toddler-speak translated means it’s my turn to have fun at the kitchen sink. Older brother, now three, was happily ensconced in front of the computer (I’m amazed how easily he uses the mouse and function keys). So, it was Toddler’s time to have the kitchen bench to himself and learn some kitchen skills.

ANZAC Biscuits

A Kiwi icon biscuit recipe that is easy to make. Kids like to add dried fruit – whatever’s to hand, usually raisins.  The basic recipe is found in another Kiwi icon, the Edmonds Recipe Book.  

Mix 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup coconut, 1 cup rolled oats,  1/2 cup raisins into a mixing bowl. Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda in 2 tablespoons of boiling water and add  to 125 grams butter that has been melted with 1 tablespoon Golden Syrup. Pour liquid into dry ingredients and stir in. Place spoonfuls onto a greased or lined baking tray. Flatten slightly with a fork. Bake about 12 minutes at 180 C.

Tonight, while half asleep in front of the fire, Himself mentioned the ‘frost’ word. Oh! Early potatoes – should I risk it? Should I stir myself from my comfort zone? It’s dark, cold and soggy outside. Should I trust the forecasted 5C overnight temperature not to fall any further? Cat was snuggled on Himself’s lap and is a mean critter when disturbed. Himself wasn’t moving. So it was pull on the dampish socks and gumboots and don a jacket. Grab a torch and then slosh down to the shed to grab the frost covering. Clear sky tonight – lots of stars and a new moon – could get frosty. Who knows? Since the first frosty encounter, the early potato plants seem to have recovered and have grown to about 12cm high. They are now snuggly wrapped for the night. A dark shadow darted towards me as I shone the torch-light over the garden. It was the cat. Chasing shadows like a kitten he’s not. Remind me – why do I garden?

1 Comment

My Garden ~ seeds of spring sowings

Eldest son and I phone-tagged tonight as we pored through an online seed catalogue. We decided to order online. This season, we’re sharing packets of seeds and adopting a more economical approach to growing more of our food. He has five kids and had just returned from the supermarket. The price of fresh produce there has really spurred him to get a vegie garden going – now! Yesterday! He’s got fruit trees planted on his new place. He and his wife had a salad picking garden at their previous home. Now, the inflation of their growing family’s appetites is matching economic inflation.

We settled for a seasonal selection for early spring plantings September-October. Our climate is warm enough – but then I said that once before about early potatoes and then there was a light frost.  We’ll use the polyhouse to get seedlings started and potted up later on before transplanting later into our gardens. No 2 son will get involved later on but at present, he’s absorbed with the prospect of becoming a Daddy for the third time.

So what did we order? Eldest son chose Watermelon Moon and Stars and Sweet Corn Honey and Pearl for his kids. I like his thinking about scatter sowing field poppies and a beneficial insect seed blend  in his new orchard. I’d have the lot but reason has to prevail. Such wonderful stories about heritage seeds. I’m inspired by names given to some of the seeds we ordered, like:  Baxters Early Bush Cherry Tomato; Pea Wando Select; Zucchini Costasta Romanesco; Bean Borlotto Fire Tongue;  Beetroot Crosbys Egyptian Flat; Black Cherry Tomato; Squash Orange Dawn. I’m intrigued by Chilli Pasilla Bajio as described in the catalogue, quote:

In Spanish, Pasilla means “little raisin”, an allusion to the deep brown dried pods and raisin like aroma of this flavourful Chilli. The long thin walled glossy dark green fruit at the immature stage ripen to dark chocolate brown with high yields and uniform high quality. When used fresh Pasilla are called chilaca and add a rich flavour to enchilada and chilli sauces.

I’m already thinking what recipes I might use to enjoy the ‘raisin like aroma”. And I was delighted to get hold of heirloom pumpkin seeds. My father used to grow Triamble pumpkin and it’s a good keeper and has a great taste. I can see him now using a small axe to chop through the hard skin.

We’ve battened down for the second major wintery storm of the week and I’ve been curled up in front of the wood-fire reading the jobs to do in August in my latest gardening magazine. I’ve learned that wood ash is beneficial for rhubarb in that it acts somewhat like lime. May be this is why winter happens – so we must wait, rest, reflect on our gardening adventures, and dare to dream how the next growing season might be.


My Garden ~ the ‘no ordinary storm’ has moved on and the power’s back on

The ‘no ordinary storm’ has wreaked its havoc across our part of the country. After a whole day without power we were switched back on about three hours ago. Things haven’t been too bad here. We’re somewhat sheltered by hills from the full brunt of the easterlies that are continuing to sweep down the east coast of the country. We kept the fire going and like others, heeded the advice to stay indoors and sat it out. I did venture out with the camera at the height of the deluge and got soaked for my effort.

Things seemed to quieten in our neighbourhood about mid-afternoon so Himself chose to inspect the fencelines rather than play Scrabble! Just because he doesn’t like playing against someone who uses more than  four letters to make words! So I got the camera out again. This time, it was our fences that took a real battering.  

1 Comment

My Garden ~ no ordinary stormy weekend so we’re battening down the hatches

A severe storm warning is in place for Northland tonight and tomorrow. The magnitude of this storm is described as most unusual. The deepening low forecasted to head our way from tropical Queensland area


… is no ordinary storm.” MetService spokesman Brian Kreft said.


The pressure is expected to drop to 970 hPa. It’s interesting to feel the calm before the storm. Actually, it was quite a nice morning. Himself commented how the hazy cloud cover has been gradually filling in this afternoon.  The media weather pundits have issued the expected weather warnings place and have noted the  destructive potential of the winds. We’ve battened down what we can and put away objects that might take flight. We sold our cattle last week so there’s no worries if it floods. This is not the only stormy event gripping New Zealanders’ attention this weekend.


There’s another no ordinary trans-Tasman storm brewing. The clash between the All Blacks and the Wallabies this weekend. The perfect storm. Sporting rivalry will be thrashed out in Sydney. It’s being billed as the show-down between two rugby coaches. Graham Henry is the national coach of the All Blacks. Robbie Deans – was a popular Kiwi regional rugby coach. The Aussies have made him their own and christened him ‘Dingo’ Deans. He now coaches the Aussie rugby team, the Wallabies. National opinion is heated and fills the air-waves. Rugby fans here continue to be divided about Henry’s reappointment as coach to the All Blacks after the debacle at the World Cup in France when the All Blacks were unexpectedly trounced in the quarter-finals. Fans wanted heads to roll. Many wanted Deans to be our national coach in the lead up to the next Rugby World Cup in NZ in 2011. As things go, Deans flew across the Tasman and is now adulated by the Aussies. The deepening pressure before this rugby game is as intense as the tropical ‘no ordinary storm’. Heaven help us if the ‘no ordinary storm’ takes out the national grid and disrupts the televised broadcast!


And we have a seven year old grandson’s birthday party to attend on Saturday – at a time predicted to be the height of the weather bomb! It’ll be interesting driving there. The back country road where our son lives with his family is prone to slips and floods. We may not get there. Have I mentioned my poor neglected vegetable garden? At least the drainage is still happening. At least plants are growing because the temperatures are relatively benign. Our weekend is shaping up to be quite eventful. 

Leave a comment

My Garden ~ after the stormy weather

A few nights ago at 2.00 a.m. we woke to an almighty thunderous bang. Our first thought was that lightning had struck our roof. A sub-antarctic weather pattern had swept up the country during the night. Multiple lightning strikes lit the sky that night – including a spectacular show of fork lightning. I pulled the duvet over my head – couldn’t be bothered worrying at that time of the night.

There were no floods this time – we recorded about 15 to 16 mm of rain. But the stormy squalls have created squelchy soil conditions. Our problem is to keep the animals off the grass. Heavy animals do real damage to the grass as their hooves sink into the water-logged clay soil. We’d anticipated heavy rain and Himself shifted our cattle the previous day to a sheltered paddock should it rain heavily. We have a hard stand-off area that was once historically a minor rural farm road that runs between our polyhouse and the totara trees. It’s a great windbreak and shelter from the cold rain for the animals.  Even still, the pugging is visible in the paddocks and our concern is the compaction of the soil.  

The blustery westerly wintery fronts continue. Today is the first opportunity I’ve had to get a good look at the vegetable garden after the stormy weather.  However, there’s always something to cheer about and to enjoy. The cyclamen and daffodils are rewarding. I’m relieved to see vegies I planted in May are growing as they should. At least the day and night temperatures are still conducive to growth. Snow doesn’t happen in our region – but we can get a light frost in our valley.

I am always concerned about the life of soil under my gumboots.  I’ve been reading Gaia’s Garden; a guide to home-scale permaculture by Toby Hemenway (2000). Ponder this:

An acre of good pasture may support a horse of two, say about a half-ton of aboveground animals. But living in the soil of that acre may be 2 tons of worms and another 2 tons of bacteria, fungi, and soil animals such as millipedes and mites.  

The health of the myriad of animal life is one heap of responsibility. At present my soil is rich with earthworms. They and all the other mites need humus to feed on in order to rebuild the soil. If we’re to have animals on our lifestyle block then we have to keep the micro live-stock well nourished with humus.