Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Girl with egg

Feeling a little bit under the weather at the moment but this is enough to cheer me up.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Harvest Fayre

The annual kindergarten fayre was held today. We've had a harvest theme for the past couple of years. It's nice timing for Waiheke, as the grapes are just in. This year has felt even more like harvest time for me with the additional honey harvest, and the first time growing pumpkins which are slowly coming in as the vines die off.

Here's my biggest Musquee De Provence pumpkin - we used it for 'guess the weight' with a bottle of wine for a prize - I couldn't bear to give away my beautiful pumpkin!

I also set up a little display for beekeeping, with the aim of simplifying the process of how you can harvest your own honey. Although I didn't get to stay next to this display, I did have quite a few interesting conversations about beekeeping and learnt some useful info about varroa treatment.

The preserves stall always looks lovely, and inspires me to make more of my own.

We bought some lemon and fig jam - fig jam is Mike's favourite.

And this is what I'm currently lusting after - a handmade copper still to produce your own essential oils and hydrosols, from Alembics. But I do know I have too many other projects on the go at the moment to start something new, as appealing as this is. Have to get that medicinal herb and flower garden completed first...

Friday, March 26, 2010

A tour of my potting benches

My potting area is unusually full at the moment, so I thought that I'd show you the growing that's been going on here over the past few weeks. We still haven't had any significant rain, but it's much easier keeping this lot alive with the hose than the rest of the garden.

Here's my main bench area where I do the potting. I have a wooden frame structure round this area which I've stapled a covering of bird netting to. It works well at this time of year for keeping the white butterflies off the brassica seedlings.

Beetroot and lettuce seedlings - planted aboout 5 weeks ago.

Brassica seedlings - ones on left in paper pots for kindergarten fair, my ones in bigger pots which I will let grow on for a while before planting in the garden.

Random selection of plants that I have yet to find homes for - alpine strawberries (madly sending out runners which keep rooting in neighbouring pots), figwort (sounded interesting), good king henry (a salad plant I bought for the food forest until I figured out that the ducks would eat it), some leeks which I can't decide whether I'm going to plant or not, and some aloe vera.
A lovely peppermint which I really need to find a proper home for, and some 'acacia floribunda' which I've grown from seed to plant in the food forest when the ground is moist.

Peppermint and rose geranium cuttings, growing for the school playground garden.

New passionfruit grown from seed waiting for home, and some variety of large flowered jasmine to replace a tecomanthe which is taking over one of our guest decks.

Lemongrass grown from seed for kindergarten fair, more geranium cuttings, and lemon balm growing for school.
And finally some wormwood, and nz spinach which have yet to find new homes.

The kindergarten fair is in two days time, and I'm looking forward to offloading the approx 300 seedlings and plants. Every year I think I'm not going to do that much again but then always have a good germination rate, and can't bear to throw any away. I do like imagining all my yummy heritage plants growing in different gardens all round the Island though. Every so often someone says to me 'I bought one of your plants, and we've just eaten it', it always makes me smile.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Syrah Harvest

Syrah harvest went well on Monday. We had a large team of pickers and a lighter crop than anticipated so by the time I went down with morning tea they had already finished and moved on to the next job. Mike did a great job organising logistics and managing the pickers so it was very stress free for me!
Some syrah moments before being picked.

650kg in total, about half the volume of last year. This vineyard varies hugely in production. Fruit set was particularly poor this year - people have said it was a cold wet spring which didn't help, although I don't remember it being overly so. I'm keen to start monitoring the weather more and keep records so can compare year to year. I have actually bought a digital rain & temperature gauge but the installation instructions are a bit intimidating and it is still it's box. Need to add to the 'to do' list.

The fruit is looking fantastic though, looking forward to seeing how the wine comes along.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Weekly Diary

This week we:
  • improved pukeko defences for remaining rockmelons
  • collected our first eggs - very exciting
  • put a couple more bales of hay into chook run
  • harvested soybean seeds (a few - left a bit too late)
  • finished pricking out seedlings - brassicas, beetroot, lettuce, spinach, basil, leeks
  • sampled different 'flora' wine and discussed with winemaker what style we would like it made in
  • planted (experimental) dwarf beans
  • planted new small perennial garden with nz spinach, lemongrass, wormwood, & aloe vera (and self-seeded parsley).
  • cleared out corn bed
  • put drippers round ugli fruit tree
  • took out monitoring boards on beehives - no signs of varroa mite
  • harvested the first watermelon, a little early but still good.
  • moved weedmat and pinned down in subtropical foof forest area (using to clear grass).
Next weeks list :
  • harvest syrah grapes - tommorrow, yay! then the rain can come
  • follow up offers of help for dispatching male ducks
  • take net off peach tree
  • weed gardens around entrance
  • clear out soybeans and other beans
  • plant some thyme seed for eventually putting lots of plants on bank below beehives
  • research baiting for wasps
  • direct sow coriander, peas, and carrots
  • sow silverbeet seed
  • spray pyretheum on chilean guavas - they have a bad infestation of something that moves
  • Check bee brood boxes, and put on organic varroa treatment

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Frivolous Gardening

I think I might specialise in frivolous food gardening. I seem to spend far more time, money and effort on crops which are far less essential than potatoes.

But it is fun! At the moment we have copious amounts of rockmelons and berries. By far the best tasting melon so far has been the 'Charentais' melon - that's the smooth skinned one in the front above. And cut in half below, consumed shortly afterwards.

I also quite like 'jenny lind' which is green fleshed. We have redoubled the pukeko protection on the melons, and hopefully there will be some watermelons to harvest soon - but no 'sugar babies' - they had the pukeko popular vote.

The red raspberries are doing amazingly well, given no rain and my haphazard watering. I picked 2 kg this week. The yellow raspberries are more lacklustre this year.

Breakfast. I think I could eat this every day if I didn't know how much butter was in the brioche.

I was also inspired to make a raspberry tart, which was mostly successful. This was from a magazine, where I was lured in by the beautiful pictures, but I should know by now that recipes from newspapers and magazines are not particularly reliable. This took a very long time to set, and I did think it was odd that they said put the raspberries in first and then pour filling over top, but I faithfully followed instructions. Next time I will put the fruit in last, it would look a lot better. The pastry was good though.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Loads of Basil = Pesto

Basil is one of my favourite summer herbs to grow. It's one of those herbs which I'm never sure whether I actually like it - until I go ahead and use it in the kitchen, and it always works. My favourite permutation is the culinary classic pesto. You can make pesto using all sorts of ingredients but I still like the original combination of pinenuts and parmesan. Why change something that is so good? Apart from the price of pine nuts, which is almost, but not quite, enough reason to make me change.

I grew two varieties this year. 'Sweet genovese' is the classic sweet basil, pictured on the right. And then for the first time I also tried 'fino verde' which was described the catalogue as 'one of the finest for pesto'. The leaves were so small though, I was wondering how I actually harvested them to make pesto - or does one leave most of the stalk in there too? I ended up with a bit of stalk in there, without trying to put too much in. But it was fiddly, and the large leaved 'genovese' so much easier that I will just grow that one next year for pesto. The small leaved basil did work well for times when I just wanted to a hint of basil - and the pieces were so small that Melina couldn't be bothered picking them out. So I will still grow a couple of plants next year. And then there is all the other types of basil to try....

Making pesto is one reason I love my food processor. It would be hard going to make in any quantity without a processor.

Here's some for the fridge, ready to go. It doesn't look quite that yellow really - that's the layer of olive oil I poured on top to stop it browning.

This is what I do with most of it - freeze in ice cube trays, then I'll put these in a bag to pull out 3-4 at a time. I don't add cheese to this mix - I read somewhere that it can go stale (?) but also means it's not so bulky to freeze. You have to remember to add the cheese when you defrost it though otherwise it is rather sharp!

Home made potato gnocchi with home made pesto - yum.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Weekly Diary

This week we:
  • harvested our Flora and Pinot Gris grapes
  • harvested first 8 frames of honey
  • did a little more mulching in subtropical food forest, and moved some weed mat which I am using for clearing the grass off the ground
  • started to get to know the personalities of the chooks
  • taught the chooks how to use the automatic 'nosloc' feeder'
  • fed the chooks several giant marrows, and made them a 'dust bath'
  • made loads of paper pots and pricked out a lot of brassica and lettuce seedlings - some for me personally, most for selling at kindergarten fair plant stall in two weeks time
  • despaired at more watermelons demolished by pukeko
  • filled the water tanks from the bore, we still haven't had any rain!
  • harvested a surprising amount of tomatoes given how dead the plants are looking
  • harvested first ever pumpkins - two very cute 'baby bears'
  • harvested the below seed for the Koanga Institute - bulgarian beans
Next weeks list :
  • improve pukeko defences for remaining rockmelons
  • put a couple more bales of hay into chook run
  • follow up offers of help for dispatching male ducks
  • harvest soybean seeds
  • prick out more seedlings
  • plant some thyme seed for eventually putting lots of plants on bank below beehives
  • research baiting for wasps
  • plant last of the dwarf beans
  • clear out corn bed
  • spray pyretheum on chilean guavas - they have a bad infestation of something that moves
  • keep squashing green caterpillars
  • Check bee brood boxes, and put on organic varroa treatment

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Honey Harvest

Meet the latest fledgling beekeeper. She helped with the honey harvest. I love that smile on her face - pure happiness. We took off eight frames a couple of days ago, which will leave about eight frames per hive for the bees over winter, and a couple extra per hive to put into the freezer in case they run out - that's a tip I picked up from the bee club meeting today.

Apparently you can taste test the honey even though you are wearing the full suit.

Since the honey is on old frames that I don't want to keep, I was able to just cut the comb off, so I sliced up one frame to keep for comb honey. Eating comb honey is a strong memory from my childhood - Mum and Dad must have bought some at some stage, and ever since I've always liked the idea. Interestingly Alex likes being able to eat the comb, but Melina who is usually the more adventurous eater, has decided she doesn't like it. I think Mike just thinks it is a little strange.

But I'm sure between Alex and I we will be able to eat it all.

Here is a slightly more sophisticated method of processing honey than simply squeezing by hand through some muslin. You put the honey comb into the the muslin bag inside this bucket, and then wait for it to drain out.

Then you open the tap (I think it is called a 'honey gate'), and watch the honey come out - rather slowly.

So I set it up so I didn't have to hold it. I'm sure Jamie wouldn't mind. I was musing that I shouldn't get distracted because of over flow risk when Mike pointed out that a plate underneath the jar might be sensible. Errr yes.

I haven't strained it all yet, I'm thinking we will have between 10-15 jars of honey, plus the comb. Not quite enough to give away to everyone, but Dad I'm saving some especially for you.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Grape Harvest Part 2

Melina inspecting the quality with our winemaker.

Big bin being lifted up to the press. Our grapes are being whole bunched pressed, rather than crushed first - you get less juice but the quality is better.

Mike providing the manual labour - moving the grapes into the press.

Mike managed to lose a whole kilo in weight while he was up there doing this (he weighed himself before and after on the grape scales).

High pressure water hoses always have willing workers.

Mike pushing the go button.

Watching the juice coming out the bottom of the press.

Using a refractometer to measure the brix. "It's 30 Dad!". Ummm we hope not, that would be rather high.

Freshly squeezed grape juice.

Measuring the brix rather more accurately.

The very sweet juice was popular.

Measuring the pH and acid levels. I can't believe I did titration after titration when studying chemistry and never had a clue what it was actually useful for.

Now that's appealing isn't it. Just need to wait six months......

Syrah harvest looking like next week. Driest February here for 50 years by the way - 5mm rain recorded, average is 94mm. Bad for just about every other kind of farmer I know, but is nice to have one (very) good thing come out of it.