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semi-retiring, work life balance, lifestyle block living

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gardening

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 – that Spring feeling

In the last week the weather has turned the corner and it is feeling considerably warmer up here.  Indeed, some days it’s been so hot that I have found myself abandoning my jumper in favour of a short-sleeved tee shirt.

We are, of course, on the cusp of spring  and this is code for ‘unreliable weather’, so I know there will be some days when the barometer plummets and winter woollies will be required day wear, there will be frost on the ground to greet us on waking in the morning, and the need for a fire in the evening will be non-negotiable.

But this is a small price to pay for the arrival of spring the man and I think. Yes, we now have lambs in the paddocks, with more to be born. Having said this, we did have a stillborn lamb. Perfectly formed, it arrived on a very stormy night a couple of weeks ago and was still covered in its membrane when we found it dead the next morning. Nature.

The garden is giving us lots of pleasure. It is sprouting flowers that we never knew we had: freesias, daffodils and other bulbs in hiding since we came in January are pushing through the ground.

The fruit trees have been whipped into order and I’ve started my spraying programme – codling moths: be gone!  In the vegetable garden, the garlic shoots are now visible* and the rest of the garden is being slowly prepared for further plants when my go-to book tells me it is time.

Today I planted the heirloom tomato seeds I got from the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust. Once they have grown into seedlings, I will transfer them into the garden, meanwhile they are sitting in pots on a sunny window sill in my study.

I also have put in the first of the potatoes in the garden, after leaving them in sunlight for the required 7-10 days to sprout. My go-to book says that potatoes can be successfully grown in tyres, and strangely enough I found a couple behind the shed today, so I think I will give that a go too. Or maybe, I should make delightful tyre swan planters out of them? The perfect Christmas gift for a friend or two perhaps?

We are also thinking about putting a couple of hives in. One of our neighbours has bees so we went to see them. It turns out our neighbours are actually hosts, rather than the owners of the hives. For the use of their land, they get paid in honey – more than enough for their needs apparently. This may work perfectly for us, so we will do some investigation.

Meanwhile, the man and I are spending a lot of our days working hard on a new product. Yes, we think it may be the answer to getting the income part of the equation sorted. The man is busy perfecting prototypes and streamlining the process while I am spending a good swag of time sourcing materials at the best possible price from suppliers.  It is very exciting, but the best part is that we are really proud of the product as it is beautifully made and fits in exactly with our buy local philosophy. Watch this space!

Yes, life up north continues to be enjoyable and we remain optimistic!

* The garlic shoots look remarkably like kikuyu grass – a trap for the unwary!

New Life – learning curves

 

Being newbies to this life in country lark, there is so much information to be absorbed.

Even a task like pruning our fruit trees is a totally new experience, and one that this time around fell to me.

I  knew  that if we were to have the best yield possible, I needed to  prune and prune right, so this simple task to many, but not to me, required:

a. a trip to the nursery to talk to our kind garden guru about how it is done,

b. a perusal of all our gardening books and magazines to clarify the above information, hopefully with foolproof diagrams for me to follow,

c. and just to be doubly sure, a quick look at you tube videos to see it actually being done. In real time preferably.

Some of the advice turned out to be confusing including this gem: a bird should be able to fly through the middle of the tree.  Easy as, right? Except it left me wondering whether the bird referred to was an anorexic wax eye or a kereru with an obesity problem?

And, of course, some advice was just plain contradictory.  Sigh.

Regardless, yesterday I took the pruning saw in hand and began on one of  the apple trees.  I started off pruning fairly conservatively. Yes, the trees probably hadn’t seen a pruning saw in the last decade, maybe longer,  but I still felt it prudent to exercise a degree of caution.

However, there is something about cutting off branches that seemed to bring out  confident me.  Admittedly, probably a decidedly unhealthy level  of confidence, but confidence nonetheless.

I loped off branches like there was no tomorrow, following each cut up with a slap of paint. At regular intervals I assessed my handiwork, and worked out my next move.

An hour or so later, I finally stood back and looked at the tree in a smug and satisfied way.  It may not be perfectly pruned, but it was acceptable.

I put my saw away for the day.  I deserved a drink!

Story Two

Our tame  young farm manager popped by to say hi and check on his flock.

We stood chatting to him for a few minutes as we watched a plane land on the farm airfield across from us.

We asked him who was the owner of the farm and its airfield. He replied the owner’s name was Biggles. First name apparently.

The man and I smirked. A polite smirk, mind you! The farm manager looked utterly confused.

We explained that Biggles was a World War One pilot in a kids’ book from our childhood,

We all laughed.

Story three.

A week or so after the Biggles incident, the first of our lambs were born. Twins and a singleton.

About two days after this, the man noticed a newborn lamb abandoned in the paddock; its mother standing way off.

The lamb appeared to be breathing shallowly.

We called our tame farm manager. He told us to stay away from the lamb and he would swing  by in half an hour.

We kept away as instructed, but kept a close eye on the scene – our townie colours truly showing!

When Kayel turned up as promised, our near-dead newborn lamb was standing up  looking decidedly healthy.

The lamb was neither newborn  or about to meet his maker. Our lamb was in fact the singleton born a few days previously and his near-death experience was simply a nap.

Our young farm manager just grinned at us in a very amused farmer-y sort of way.

And we grinned back too. Sheepishly.

Learning curves – a two way street.

 

 

 

 

New Life – shaping up

There is a saying that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I can certainly relate to this!

When we arrived on this property the paddocks were covered in carrot weed and the gardens around the house needed some work.

Six months in and we have made some great headway – often with the help of people who know far more than we do! Yes, Kayel, our tame farm manager, did an awesome job with his hay making and his sheep to bring the paddocks back to something respectable. He actually increased the number of sheep on the property while we were away by another two to nine*. This has made a huge difference to getting the paddocks under control.

sheep.jpg

We still have a couple of patches that need work – one where the old piggery was requires some fencing repairs before we let the sheep lose to eat it back into shape – we have learned the hard way that sheep leave Houdini in the shadows when it comes to escaping!

The second bit that needs some final work is the front paddock which was used to grow bulbs by a former owner. This requires some irrigation and a gravel base to be removed before some re-grassing can take place.

There is also a dam in this same paddock which needs a bit of TLC in the way of some bamboo removed  (who in their right mind ever plants bamboo?), and the dam cleaned out. When we arrived there was a bent and broken windmill beside this waterway. We had it taken away, but the man and I fancy getting a new one to pump the water up to one of the tanks we have.  Eventually. These things cost money and although nice to have, it is not a priority at the moment.

Meanwhile we are continuing to put the  gardens in. Today I planted parsley, thyme, mint, marjoram, chives and sage beside the rosemary I put in last week. I have located this in a sunny spot a few steps away from the kitchen. Nothing like convenience!

I also have started dealing to the overgrown garden where the son found the potatoes growing. This is a mass of horrible weeds so it will take me a while to whip this into shape.

The marmalade making is continuing at pace. This week’s batch contained more lemons than the last lot and I made it less chunky by cutting the pieces a lot smaller. It set a treat – maybe it was the smallness of the pieces or perhaps it was the obligatory whiskey I threw in? Regardless, I have the mystique of marmalade making totally sorted now!

I also cleaned my stove.

No, don’t roll your eyes!

I have always been interested in using other ways to clean than the normal commercial products. I have found oven cleaners and their caustic chemicals get into the back of my throat and are unpleasant, so I decided to give a baking soda and vinegar recipe a shot.

Mr Google provided several such recipes – many of which used hydrogen peroxide too.  I decided I wanted to avoid the hydrogen peroxide so found a recipe that used only a paste of baking soda and water, a bit of elbow grease and a final clean with vinegar. It worked a treat. Goodbye store bought products – I will use baking soda and vinegar from now on.

Lastly I have had my catch up with my tame gardening guru over pruning and spraying. She has given me some sound advice which I will put into practice next week – hopefully I will end up with some amazingly shapely trees which are full of fruit!

Country life – never dull!

*There were actually 11 at their peak, but 2 ended up in the freezer.  We now have 8 pregnant ewes and 1 ram.

New Life – Simply living.

 

I am writing this on a winter’s afternoon. The day is fine but slightly cold, so we have the fire burning slowly in the hearth. The man’s sterling efforts cutting and storing firewood over the summer months means we have no shortage of this resource.

This morning I made marmalade from the fruit grown on our property.  This is the first lot of 50 jars that I want to put down this season. The man is a marmalade fiend. I chucked some whiskey in this batch for good luck.

Yesterday I planted some rosemary. This is the beginning of our herb garden.

Earlier in the week I planted a couple of rows of garlic in the newly resurrected vegetable garden. I will plant another two rows in about a month. And other vegetables too.  Although only ones we like – no point growing produce we won’t eat. The rotary hoe we bought a couple of months back is finally earning its keep!

Last weekend our youngest son and his wife came visiting and he and I cooked a roast for dinner. The potatoes were found in an overgrown garden in the corner of the home paddock. He recognised them; I thought they were weeds!* The  lamb, too, came from our property and although it took me a few days to get my head around this fact, any reservations about the meat’s provenance evaporated at the first mouthful! It was delish.  And that rosemary I planted will be the making of future lamb dishes!

Last week I made guava jelly from the remnants of fruit on our trees. The trees were fruiting when I went away and I thought they would have been well and truly finished by the time I got back. They weren’t. There is definitely a longer growing season up here.

A couple of weeks before that I whipped up a batch of feijoa chutney. Again the fruit came from our land.

Meanwhile plans are afoot for the chickens. I have a bid in for a recycled roost on Trademe and have worked out where the hens will go. I am thinking 6 might be a good number – enough eggs for us and enough to gift to visiting family and friends.

Next week we have to think about pruning the fruit trees and working out what we want to do about spraying.  As we don’t know a lot about it, I will head into the garden centre and get some tips from our favourite shop assistant there (she knows EVERYTHING about plants). It is also the time to plant more fruit trees so we will be talking to her about this too.

In the next month or so, the macadamias should be ready to harvest. Not sure what I’ll do with these; but I’ll figure it out.

Country life. Perfect.

*This is now our official potato growing spot!

** I also have a bid in on a mincer which I think will be great for mincing fruit for marmalade etc.

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