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skiddingtowardsretirement

semi-retiring, work life balance, lifestyle block living

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food

The Garden plot

This morning the man and I dismantled what was left of our vegetable plot. With another summer season of virtually no rain, plus the possums, rabbits, rats and a variety of other pests destroying our plants at every opportunity, it was time to wave the white flag of surrender.

The garden will be converted back to grass and I will buy all my vegetables in this season. Fortunately, there is a local gardener who sells their surplus, and an amazing farmer’s market on a Saturday morning in Whangarei to buy from. I have no doubt these alternatives will be more cost effective too.

I haven’t given up completely on growing vegetables though. I do intend to twist the man’s arm and get him to build me a small raised vegetable garden closer to the house in autumn. This bijou garden will only have things that flourish and that we like to eat. I am over wasting my time, money, and precious water on plants that don’t meet this criteria!

I might have lost the war with vegetables this season, but it looks like I am winning the battle with a lemon tree. This citrus tree was planted about three years ago and became a pathetic, stick-like thing with one or two leaves.

About 8 weeks ago, I dug around it and threw in some worm farm compost and citrus fertiliser in a last ditch effort to save it; or, possibly, kill it. Once I had added the fertiliser, I put the soil back, and watered the tree well. I then put mulch around the base, and left it to its own devices. Today I am happy to report, my once sad lemon is looking healthy with a lovely lot of new growth on it.

Sometimes my gardening efforts pay dividends; other times, they simply don’t.

Paying the price

One of the past owners of our land used to keep a house cow which he milked every day.

I think this is very impressive. I also think keeping a house cow is not for us, no matter how amazing the milk tastes.

All is not lost though as our local shop now sells Bella Vacca milk*. This product tastes and looks like milk did when I was a kid. It also is sold in recyclable glass bottles. A total win, right?

Yes, it is expensive, but the man and I think it is absolutely worth it.

*http://www.bellavacca.co.nz

Olives

When we moved onto the land we were delighted to discover that there were six rather straggly olive trees growing beyond the shelter belt on our property.

I would like to say that from the get-go we harvested and processed the crop in the true spirit of self-sufficiency. This, however, would be totally untrue. The first year they fruited, we did absolutely nothing with the olives.

We have since worked on our attitudes and each year we pick enough fruit for about a dozen and a half jars of olives*. This meets our household’s olive-eating needs, with enough jars left over to gift to family and friends. Perfect.

After harvesting this year, the man decided to finally sort out the trees which had become way too tall. He consulted Mr Google and then with possibly misguided confidence, he reduced their height. We are pleased with the result:

The crop next year, however, will be the true measure of whether his pruning efforts were a success or not! Fingers crossed.

*I use a very simple brine recipe from ‘ The spruce eats’ (https://www.thespruceeats.com/brining-and-curing-olives-1808582.) I leave the stones in and haven’t tried stuffing the olives to date.

Our olives in brine – the evidence!

Foraging – Part 2

Content warning: this post is continuing the foraging theme I began in my blog about blackberries so if you didn’t enjoy that, stop now!

For my readers brave enough, or foolish enough to not heed the content warning, read on.

During the ten weeks I was working from home this year, the man and I would break up the day – and yeah, work the lockdown eating off – by walking up and down the length of the road we live on.

Often we would see the herd manager working on the farm across the road and stop to have a yarn with him. Yes, we discussed the lofty subjects of the weather, the lockdown, and, you know, just general stuff about putting the world to right.

It was during one of these talks that he told us that mushrooms were growing wild in the fields. My ears pricked up: I love mushrooms. The man? Not at all!

Except I didn’t follow up and go picking wild mushrooms. Why? There are lots of types of fungi growing around here, and I wasn’t confident enough to determine what were safe-to-eat mushrooms and which were their deadly doppelgangers . Foraging is not for the feint-hearted.

Next year. Well, next year, I will go picking with someone who knows what’s what mushroom-wise. And to be doubly sure they know their stuff, I will let them eat them first too.

Covid permitting, of course

Food for thought

Driving home from work I saw two women busy picking watercress growing by the side of the road.

Although I have never picked watercress, I have picked blackberries that grew wild beside rural roads in New Zealand. This was back in the day – blackberries growing beside rural roads is as rare as rocking horse poo now as the plant is removed by local councils when spotted.

This could be the end of the story. The end of making blackberry jam. The end of baking blackberry and apple pies. The end of eating the odd juicy blackberry while picking.

Except it isn’t. Blackberries are both grown commercially and by the home gardener in NZ. And these blackberries taste almost as good.

Almost as good? Yes, there was something extra special about eating blackberries foraged from the side of a dusty, rural road. They tasted nicer.

And as I passed those two women busy picking watercress at the side of the road, I knew their watercress would taste nicer too.

Beating Famine

Before I begin the guts of this blog, I need to write an explanation for those of my readers overseas. Northland, New Zealand, where I live has not had a case of Covid-19 since April. We have had only one Level 4 lockdown which was the one the whole of NZ went into on March 26. This lasted for 5 weeks here. I work in a non-medical role in a hospital and continued to work from home until 7 June. I have been back at work since then

Onto the blog..

The decision to go into Lockdown happened very quickly in Aotearoa – one day life was trucking along as normal, albeit we were aware that the Covid numbers were on the rise, the next we were told we would be in Lockdown in less than two days.

Like most places in the world news of Lockdown brought with it a run on toilet paper (TP), flour and yeast. Must-haves in life, apparently. Go figure?

I might laugh at this, but we weren’t exempt from our TP moment either. The man decided that to save us from (imminent) famine, he needed to plant the vegetable garden.

Like TP, bread and yeast, there had been a run on seed purchases and so our famine slaying option was limited to the packet of carrot seeds he found lurking at the back of the laundry cupboard. There was going to be a lack of diversity in our famine diet.

He duly planted these seeds and tended the garden religiously.

Three or so months after Lockdown ended we harvested our carrots.

Here it is.. all that he reaped.

No judgement.

New Life – Growing pains

 

It is Easter weekend and we are almost a month into the Southern Hemisphere’s autumn.

The summer crops in the vegetable garden are almost at an end. A week or two ago, I pulled the tomatoes and courgette plants out. I left the cucumber, chillis and capsicum in as they are still producing, but the end is in sight for them too. Not so with the spinach and rhubarb which are continuing to thrive.

All these crops were a success. The garlic and the corn too. The failures were the lettuce which I never have any luck with, and the beetroot which produced wizened up things the size of a fingernail.

And the chillis. Yes, they were prolific but they were also far too hot for our palates.  I ended up giving most of them to my daughter in law who is a hot chilli fan, and making the rest into sweet chilli sauce, hoping that the other ingredients would ameliorate the fiery experience!

Regardless, most of our meals now have our produce in it. The other major thing that has happened is that we have changed from meat and three veg to at least half our evening meals being meatless. This was not a conscious choice, it just happened and we are both enjoying it.* Go figure?

Quite a lot of the produce we grew I ended up preserving. With the cucumber I made a couple of jars of bread and butter pickles and the next couple, I will use in a mustard pickle recipe I make. Both these pickles go well with cheese, of which I am a great fan.

I also made some tomato sauce. For one lot, I used the recipe of my grandmother’s which incorporated apples and onions. The other recipe I used was essentially an unadulterated tomato sauce recipe I found in a booklet put out by the NZ Gardener magazine.

So what changes have I in mind for next summer? Firstly,  I need to increase the size of my garden, realistically I  probably will  triple  its dimensions (presently 5 metres x 3.5 metres). I see this as being three beds, but maybe it will be four (gardening is addictive).  I want one bed to be for potatoes, another for onions and garlic. I will plant more tomato plants  than I did this year – this year I had 8 heirloom varieties.  I intend to use most of the crop next year for tomato sauces and pasta sauces. I also have promised myself I will be way more on to it dealing with the laterals. My plants weren’t pretty!

Next year the variety of chilli I plant will be less potent. My peppers will be the sweeter red variety, as opposed to this year’s green variety. My two courgette plants worked out well, as did the perpetual spinach and rhubarb so I will stick with these. I will plant more corn. I will persevere with beetroot and lettuce and I will win (maybe). I will also plant pumpkin and rock melon. Maybe the garden needs to be five times its present size?

Meanwhile I am planting my winter crops. I have planted broccoli, cauliflower, and more spinach plants. I am also trying leek and carrots sown into the garden straight from seed.  Hopefully, this won’t end badly. Fingers crossed!

The self-sufficiency goal continues with the introduction of a worm farm and compost system. It took a while for me to sort out how to approach this, but a conversation with my friendly garden guru at Mitre 10 put me on the right track.  Two weeks ago, I purchased all the components for a worm farm and a plastic compost bin too. Most of my vegetable scraps, egg shells and even the inner of toilet rolls go into the worm farm. It is amazing what it takes and if I am in doubt, I resort to Mr Google.

The compost bin which has chicken wire underneath to stop rodents taking up residence is where the garden waste such as tree clippings goes. Rubbish going into the council bag is now significantly reduced (maybe two bread bags full a week?)

I know I haven’t discussed our fruit trees .. .next time! Ooh, and I have discovered we have an avocado tree, a  large, slightly butchered avocado tree, but there is hope apparently, although I may have to buy it a mate!

The fun continues.

*We do buy vegetables in, of course.

** Alexa Johnson’s ‘Ladies a plate: Jams and preserves’  The sweet chilli sauce, Mrs Paykel’s mustard pickle and the Bread and Butter Pickle recipes came from this book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Life – Harvest time

vege garden

Today it is exactly a calendar year since we moved into our new-to- us home in Pataua South, Whangarei.

This means we have experienced four seasons. As a general comment, we think Whangarei is a good 2 degrees hotter than Auckland.  We are also now very attuned to rainfall, or lack of it, as we rely on tank water (again). Strangely, living out on the Heads  seems to mean  the Rain Gods often give us a miss. It will be bucketing down at work, but often when I get home I will find that not one drop has fallen out here.

Needless to say, it is always when we need it the most too. Like in the height of summer when the vege garden could do with a good drenching. Or the time when the man inadvertently filled the troughs but forgot to turn the tap off. In the latter case, Murphy’s Law came into play and the ballcock failed us too.  Yes, it was good bye to more litres of precious water than we care to admit!

But let’s swing back to the state of the vege garden. I am pleased to report that it is doing well, or most things are. We did lose the last lot of lettuce I planted to the slugs. And it was touch and go with the corn and the tomatoes  when a ferocious wind came through about 10 or so days ago and flattened them. Luckily, the corn and tomatoes were able to be saved and are flourishing again!

The crops that are doing well beside the corn and the tomatoes are the garlic, the capsicums, courgettes, lettuce, rhubarb and chillis. These are all down one end of the

scare crow

garden.

The other end has the beetroot, beans, cucumber, and spinach.  These are growing, but unlike the other veges, are not thriving.  The soil here seems to not be as friable, so I figure I need do some research to correct this – maybe add some compost to it or other magic potions? Not sure, but I guess I’ll figure it out.

Which brings me to compost. At the moment I haven’t got a bin. I was slightly put off the idea of compost when a friend told me she had opened hers and found herself eyeball to eyeball with a humongous rat. The pits, right?

However, I have moved past my fear and decided I do want one. In fact, I need one to be Ms Efficient Gardener, so I am going to get one! Actually I am going to twist the man’s arm and get him to make me a wooden affair with three bins in it.  This is going to be one of his summer projects, as is starting on the hens’ accommodation and enclosure.

As for the orchard – well, I pruned in my haphazard learner’s way and started a spray programme a few months back. Yes, this woman had high hopes for bumper crops of plums, apples, nectarines, and peaches.

To date only the plums are ripe. And in spite of having two and a half trees (a past owner cut one tree down which I am now letting regenerate), we have had a miserly crop. I did have concerns that any possum within cooee would have taken up residence in the orchard and feasted on our produce, but there is absolutely no evidence that they are the culprit. No, the sad fact is that our trees have not yielded much at all. So little that I very much doubt that there will be any plum jam made this year.

The apples are another sad story. Last year, the trees were full of codling moth (note Dear Reader, I was going to put an expletive in front of the word ‘codling’ but refrained). This year I was determined to deal to the blighters. I purchased sticky things to pop in a state-of-the-art plastic green thing that a former owner had positioned in one of the apple trees. This sticky pad attracts and traps the male. Once the males start arriving, this then signals to me that I need to swing into action to dissuade the females  from moving into the apple crop. I also sprayed around the two apple trees with Neem oil as this apparently deals to the female before they start to wreck havoc with the fruit.

All well and good right? Well, yes and no. The plan failed miserably because the former owner had the green plastic thing hanging in the wrong tree. They had it on a plum tree, not an apple tree. I therefore had sprayed Neem oil around the base of the wrong tree. By the time I realised my error, the wretched female codling moth had started her quest to damage my fruit.

Of course, I have done some remedial work to try and save some of the produce, but realistically it is touch and go. Next year though, I will win the codling moth war.

I am now pinning all my hopes on the peach and nectarine trees delivering!

Meanwhile in the land of pretend farmers, we are getting ready to say sayonara to two of the lambs. Kayel turned up yesterday and said it was time.  Not so long ago, I struggled with this concept. Now? Well, not so much.

The man and I have grown here. Definitely.

 

 

 

New Life – creating opportunities

The man and I are still of the opinion that the move North is the best thing we have done.

Life up here has added a new dimension to our thinking. We are no longer in a hurry. We have slowed down and are far more patient.

Today we headed North to a small place called Oromahoe. This area lies just shy of the turn off to Paihia on State Highway 10.

We went to this small settlement to visit the Northland Kauri Timber Ltd. We weren’t however after kauri, rather we were after eucalyptus, and they had it.

The entrance to the sawmill is marked by a variety of signs at its gate: sawmill, cheese, kindergarten.  What these things had in common was yet to unfold.

We drove up the long driveway passed a field of sows and piglets, a paddock of horses, and a few houses to the sawmill.

The man parked and went into the office. It was smoko time and the workers were sitting around having a brew.  The man explained why he was there. Unfortunately, the workers couldn’t help him.

Why?

Let me explain.

This is the North and it is a Friday.  This means the owner had gone off hunting for the weekend.

Apparently, the owner’s partner would have been able to help, but as it so happened, she was off at a funeral. The workers suggested we come back later.

Now we are realists – this is a country community, chances were that the funeral’s after match function would be long.

We decided to go to Paihia for a cuppa and come back about 1-ish.

At the duly appointed time we returned.

The wake must have been a good affair because the owner’s wife was still absent.

The man and I decided that instead of getting wood, we would settle for cheese this trip!

We drove less than a 100 metres to a small, boutique cheese factory.  On this short journey we passed a honey place on our left. Our interest was  piqued: up this driveway was a kindy, a cheese factory, a sawmill operation, a working farm and now a honey place.

At Fieldays a couple of years ago, we saw a pretty fabulous portable sawmill in operation (the man and I have a weakness for portable sawmills)  and it was named Mahoe Sawmills (http://www.sawmills.co.nz).  You guessed it – the cheese company was called Mahoe Cheese… was there a connection?

So we asked the young man in the cheese shop. The answer was yes. It was his uncle’s business and  he pointed further down the drive.

He further explained that this 110 hectare property was his grandparents’ originally. Grandma and Granddad had approximately 7 children, give or take (the grandson was pretty vague on this). A lot of these children are now running their own businesses on the land.

The grandson is the third generation working there. How cool is that?

We bought our cheese and purchased some organic sausages. Yes, these too are a product of this land.

We left inspired.

We will return for the wood! And more cheese* which is delish, meat and honey.

ON our next visit, we might even venture further down the drive to the portable sawmill company. We have an obsession to feed, after all!

 

*The cheese is sold at the Whangarei Farmers’ market too.

 

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