Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Miscellany of Firewood

For the past week the weather forecasters have been (slightly gleefully) telling us that Winter is about to arrive. There's a polar wind coming up from Antarctica which will apparently make the past few balmy weeks seem positively tropical. I think the forecasts (and the weather warnings) are aimed primarily at the South Island, where the worst of the weather will be (snow down to 300m!) but it will probably be us soft northerners who will complain the most.

So in honour of the upcoming weather we spent a good few hours today stocking up with firewood. We should really have our own firewood block, but what with the vineyard and the native replanting (which is covenanted), we are actually quite restricted for space. 

So instead todays's firewood gathering exercise came from:  a griselinia hedge I wanted removed because of it's aggressive roots taking over one of my annual flower beds; a peach tree in the vegetable garden, whose days have been numbered for a while as the tree is far too susceptible to brown rot; a dead shelter belt tree in the vineyard; and some dead ngaio's in the bush. 

Peach tree fire tree firewood - this has been drying for a while, but I swear the newly cut peach wood did actually smell of peaches. 

However this is our most exotic firewood - and the most expensive. Only a few years ago this wine barrel cost us close to $1500. After it's time in the winery was done the barrel was sawn in half and became two garden planters, and now.... well it actually feels a little sad burning this barrel  after such an illustrious start. But it's ashes will be returned to the soil after they have been composted, so I guess that's a nice full circle. 

Welcome to the change of seasons. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Syrah Harvest

The grapes are finally in! It's been a fairly tough season weather-wise for the grapes. Spring was late, and then disease pressure was high. But we got there, and overall we are happy with the eventual quality. Quantity down on last year.

 Dad's first harvest. Kept thinking he was one of the actual picking crew (that's a good thing).

Here's a standard picking line up. We spread the bins out along the rows, estimating how many we will need. Each picker picks over one bin, and then when the bin is full, leapfrogs down the line to the next bin. Most of them do anyway. Every so often you have a random picker who starts somewhere nonsensical, and I would guide them back to where they should be. While trying not to be too teacher-ish about it.

Here's the bin boy, Alex. His job is to deliver extra bins to the pickers if our estimation is wrong. It's one of the most active jobs, especially as I would often see Alex running down the rows. Here he is picking a bin that was missed. Doesn't happen very often, but always good to check after each row is finished. That's a whole bottle of wine there!

He's growing up, this boy of ours. He's developing a lovely maturity about it, which we are really enjoying. 

Plus he lets me take photos of him. 

Mike on tractor duty. After the small bins are full, the tractor is driven down the rows, and someone walks behind the tractor putting the small bins into the big crate on the back of the tractor. 

We like to leave our grapes out for a while, to develop those lovely peppery fruity flavours that NZ syrah does so well. The berries start to look like 'raisins' when you do this. 

 I do love the look of the grapes all hanging off the vines. Although we will not miss the daily bird patrol.
Here's the child who I am not allowed to take photos of. Or at least only these two photos. I like the fact that she wears a skirt for picking (and it's the one I made her). 

 Here's our international crew of pickers. I did comment on the lack of females, but apparently they had chosen to do a longer job, so that's all ok then. Normally we work with a crew of students from the high school's viticulture programme, but since it's school holidays we got the working holiday backpackers. I did miss the school students though.

And here they are in their big crates waiting for the truck to pick them up and take them to the winery. All morning rain threatened but it didn't come. So relieved!

Here are the vines looking a little bereft without their fruit. Only immediate job now is to take the nets off to put away till next year. 

 And watch the leaves change colour. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Because they are Beautiful

If I had noticed the split one in the middle then I probably would have removed it for the picture. But in a way that cherry tomato represents what is so good about home grown. The split ones will be willingly eaten first round here. That cherry tomato is so ripe it just can't contain it's sweetness and flavour anymore. Those boxed cherry tomatoes won't be splitting. That's because they have been picked way too early to give them a longer shelf life, at the expense of all that luscious juicy flavour.

The plants are looking a little bedraggled now, but I haven't the heart to pull them out while they are still gamely producing such beautiful fruit.

Monday, April 6, 2015

One Vine = Ten Pumpkins

I think I planted 3 pumpkins this year (Must Keep Better Records). But only one survived. Maybe it secretly consumed the other two plants, as it managed to produce ten pumpkins all by itself. they are, minus the one that was eaten for dinner

Until I find the energy/time/space to have a 'proper' pumpkin patch again, I've been restricting myself to just one pumpkin variety - the butternut. I've heard people say they get carried away choosing tomato seeds for the year, with all the amazing descriptions of the different varieties. I'm not sure why, because I'm not actually a huge fan of eating them. Maybe it the survivalist in me who gets some inner satisfaction with having a crop squirreled away - you know, in case of famine, or a nuclear holocaust, or the island being blockaded, or something else equally likely.  Or maybe it's the influence of all the cinderalla-esque fairy tales I read as a child (and are now re-reading with my daughter). 

The butternut is my favourite variety primarily because the fruit are not too daunting to use in the kitchen. They are smaller than a standard pumpkin, so I can use a whole pumpkin in one or two dinners tops. Therefore I'm not accusingly faced with only a 1/4 used pumpkin every time I open the fridge. They are also less intimidating to slice open, which since I now have a Proper kitchen knife with which I could do some serious damage, is not a bad thing. The butternut has the top half which is solid flesh, no seeds, so if I don't want to bother with scraping pumpkin seeds out, I just use the top and put the bit the seedy bottom in the fridge to face another day.

Favourite vegetable recipe book? Tender Volume 1 - Nigel Slater. I don't use it often enough, but whenever to do I like it very much. 

This 'a pumpkin pangrattato with rosemary and orange'. I've ripped out our big rosemary plants as part of the pond project, so I had to take cuttings off the cuttings I have potted up from my Mum's garden (the cuttings are rather small now). Parsley and chilli also from the garden.

Butter not from the garden. But an important ingredient. You can never go wrong with butter.

No picture of the finished product as anything beyond basic food styling is beyond me. Plus the one in the book looks so much better. Partly because I used brown bread for the breadcrumbs, and fried dobs of brown do not look so appealing (but taste just as yum).

Next up by popular request from children: pumpkin soup. But not going to use those pumpkins too fast. In case of a volcanic eruption.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pond Project - Part One

By our front entrance we have a pond. Below is a photo from 2010, four years ago. There were two palms (nasty spiky ones) at the back on either side. I didn't like them (nasty) but Mike did. There was a waterfall down the back of the rock wall. I put the waterlilies in when we first moved here (and some fish). 

We liked our pond, but over time there were some problems. The palms grew and grew and grew. The Japanese irises took over the pond and I couldn't get them out because they had grown down into the pond liner, and ripping them out would destroy the pond. The rock wall was poorly built and looked like it was about to fall down. The waterfall stopped working years ago. There was no room for waterlilies and fish. 

 This is what it looked like at the beginning of November (view looking out from front door).

 (view from driveway - where you arrive. Big palm! (and this is the short one)) 

So a major re-do was needed. We decided to stay with the same basic design, but aim for more of a subtropical look (just for Mike). 

First step was removal of the palms. 'Tractor John' who can do anything you wish with a tractor, did the deed. There were tears (Melina's - "why are you killing a plant - what has it ever done to you!").

But mostly sighs of relief to see them go.  

Thanks to Tractor John. 

Part Two coming soon. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Benefits of a Food Forest

When you have ignored your garden for 6 months, there's not a lot of annual vegetables still producing. I've had to resort to harvesting from the paths where spinach, corn salad and rocket has self seeded.  However my food forest has come to the rescue, making me appreciate the value of perennial crops which don't mind a little (or a lot) of ignoring every so often.

The two tamarillo trees have produced their first crop and a mighty fine crop it is too. I had almost given up trying to grow tamarillos, this is the third time I have planted some. The previous trees had succumbed to mildew. I thought these would too as they did show signs of it, but they toughed it out under my no spray regime and now look remarkably healthy. I'll have to save some seed from the strongest tree and grow some more. Tamarillos are relatively short lived. 

These are the orange variety, sweeter and less acidic, but also less overall flavour. I can however eat them straight, and I don't remember doing that with the red variety. 

We're not huge chutney eaters, which seems to be the standard use for a glut of tamarillos, but I am keen to make some tamarillo sorbet (from Stephanie Alexander's Cook's Companion - mostly because she suggests freezing the shells and then serving the sorbet in them, which has a certain appeal). 

The lime tree has survived another summer - it always looks like it's going to die at the end of the summer as its leaves start curling up. But it's survived to see another year.

Fig trees still going, and the birds seem to have lost interest now. 

Alex's little persimmon tree has started to produce too. Needs netting though. I've strategically turned them around in the photo to hide the peck marks. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

And I'm back!

There's one benefit of leaving your blog for an entire year before posting again - I don't need to change my seasonal title banner.

Despite being autumn, and having had a couple of ex tropical cyclones make themselves felt recently, it is still quite dry in the garden. It's just moist enough to start digging out the remains of the summer vegetable garden. I'm on a mission this Easter to put some semblance of order in place.  I've been so slack I'm resorting to scavenging what I can for dinners as I hate having to buy supermarket vegetables.

One crop I harvested for the first time recently was my Egyptian Walking Onions, also known as Tree Onions. This is the first year I have grown them. I bought my original plants from Ginnys Herbs. I've been impressed by them particularly as they grew easily in some quite poor soil conditions, so I am going to save my entire crop and plant them throughout the food forest this year.

They grow much like shallots. The bulbs produced varied in size quite a lot, most about a typical shallot size.

The bulbs produced at the end of the growing season from one original bulb planted. You pull these apart and either eat them or replant them.

The reason these onions are called 'walking onions, is that they produce these 'topsets' at the top of the flower stalks. They are bulblets that you can plant also. If you leave them the top sets will eventually bend over and touch the ground where they will take root - hence the 'walking onions' name.

I have loads of these bulblets too so looking forward to increasing my yield substantially next year. Might  even have enough to actually eat some!