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skiddingtowardsretirement

semi-retiring, work life balance, lifestyle block living

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gardening

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.

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!

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.

Water play

The vegetable garden has been neglected since last summer when an eight or so month drought played havoc with our capacity to water the plants.

This lack of rain had been exacerbated by a connection on one of our tanks failing in mid-winter 2019 while we were overseas. This resulted in the loss of every drop of water in that one tank. Our available water was halved.

Luckily our tame herd manager came to the rescue in our absence, reconnected the hose and kindly ordered a load of water for us. The price of this 10,000 litres was eye-watering high, but hey, we thought spring is around the corner and it always rains in spring and our water problems will be solved.

Spring 2019 was rain-free.

As spring turned into summer, the drought bit and economic or miserly us, depending on your world view, made a pact to conserve water, rather than buy it in. Our tight approach was fashionably in line with the council request to go easy on usage – sad losers, we are not!

Over the summer of 2019/20 we honed our conservation skills. Recycling became our buzz word. We limited flushing the toilet to only when absolutely necessary. We abandoned the dishwasher in favour of washing the dishes in a bucket in the sink. We then popped the used water onto the plants. We caught the first water from the shower while it was heating up and used this too in the garden. We tried collecting the water from the washing machine, but due to reading the litres the machine used incorrectly, I flooded the hall carpet. At that point I gave up that idea.

Our efforts to keep the plants alive over this period weren’t successful. We got a few tomatoes, some potatoes, half-formed corn and some bitter tasting lettuce. With the drought still continuing, I let the garden go to seed.

After lockdown ended we finally had rain. These two events were enough to inspire me to make an half-ass attempt to plant a few winter crops. I planted spinach, cabbage, cauliflower and beetroot. In the depths of winter, I lost the will to tend them.

Subsequently, many of the cabbages and cauliflowers fell victim to vermin and didn’t survive or didn’t survive to look pretty. The spinach flourished and is presently threatening to go to seed. I am not sure why I planted it; the truth is we aren’t overly keen on spinach except when it is used in the occasional spanakopita.

The beetroot.. well, the beetroot is my success story. Today I picked two good specimens. I will boil them, slice them up and pop in vinegar following the Edmonds Cookbook recipe, just like my mother and grandmother did before me.

Beetroot is the perfect accompaniment for a salad, and let’s not forget, hamburgers – beetroot is the absolute making of a homemade hamburger.

Today I planted more beetroot. And tomatoes. And capsicum. And lettuce. And chillis. And courgettes. And cucumber.

I gave the spinach a miss.

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 – 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.

 

 

 

 

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