Friday, July 30, 2010

Gardening by Post - and Internet

There are several people I know who think I am slightly weird for keeping a blog about my garden, and bemused by all the pictures I take. I've found actually that the more I do it, the more I'm enjoying it. And one of the unexpected happenings has been some lovely parcels in the post from other keen gardeners. Recently Miriam sent me some amazing garlic, and Gilly sent me some blackboy peach seedlings. (Am wondering about the 'blackboy' name now, seems  a bit un pc?).

 The peach trees arrived safe and sound, all the way from the South Island.

I promptly potted them up. Thank you so much Gilly - and for the gorgeous card.

This spearmint came from Kali, via a request on Ooooby, after I failed to find some locally, again from the South. It's growing well, seemingly none the worse for the postal trek.

I very much like that these gifts are adding to the story of my garden. I like the fact that I don't need to know what the variety of garlic I was sent is - here it will be treasured, saved, re-planted, and always known as Miriam's garlic. And the peaches eaten will remind me of Motueka, a place that I could probably live (and I'm fussy), and a cup of spearmint tea will remind of those tough gardeners down there on the West Coast of the South, and make me appreciate my own mild climate.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Weekly Diary

It's citrus season - I love how they brighten up the winter days. Here's a healthy crop of seville oranges. Unfortunately marmalade doesn't get eaten in this house, but fortunately I know some people who will be happy recipients of this crop.
 Last week we
  • finished weeding old potato patch
  • dug new path through old potato patch
  • mulched new garlic and shallot plantings with straw
  • pricked out poppy seedlings
  • planted out some silverbeet seedlings
Lemonades - a very mild lemon flavour which the children eat straight from the tree, and I squeeze one in  a glass of tepid water every morning.   

 This weeks goals
  • finish planting garlic!!
  • mulch new path through garlic and potato patch with wood chip
  • prune roses, and weed, and fertilise
  • prick out rest of seedlings
but progress may depend on how fast sick child becomes well again.

The lovely Meyer lemon. This year I'm going to freeze some zest, as well as the juice.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Seed Mat Trial

I had a go at making some seed mats with the kids today. I was inspired after reading a 'how to' at Annies Kitchen Garden, found via Thomas's blog. I'm also about to start taking some gardening classes at Alex's school and thought it might be a good rainy day activity for them, so a trial run was in order. Annies instructions provide good detail - here's my abbreviated version.

 Choose your paper - first I used a paper towel that I separated into two pieces - was worried that a 2ply piece might be too thick. Mark your seed spacings with a felt pen. This is for carrots, so I decided about an inch apart. My direct sowing of carrot seed is always rather haphazard, so I'm curious to see if this method works. There's a lot of initial preparation in this, but it may pay off in the long run. I know from experience that thinning carrots can be rather painful.

 Then you put a dot of water soluble glue on each mark.

Then convince your children that it will be fun to wet  a toothpick and pick up the seeds and place each one on a glue dot. Melina liked doing it, Alex wasn't so sure about it. Again no need for so-called educational toys around here - this was fab for hand-eye coordination, the perfect challenge level for a four year old.

Second 'seeding' was of rocket on toilet paper. I'm going to sow one length of paper every couple of weeks to see if I can get a good planting succession going using a minimal amount of space. Will let you know how it works.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Today's Harvest

Beetroot, some carrot thinnings, broccoli , cauliflower and some rogue potatoes

 Not to mention a sink full of nz spinach.

 And not harvested today, but part of dinner, the beautiful 'musquee de provence' pumpkin. When Mike opened up the first one of these, he said "I don't normally get excited about pumpkin, but I did about this one". I don't know how well the photo shows, but it has the most lovely darker orange flesh. And it's easy to cut. So far they are storing well.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Winter White

The bees have been quite busy the last couple of weeks. Despite the colder night temperatures they must like the sunny, still days. I was wondering where they were going when I noticed quite a bit of this:

Some of the manuka has decided it is a good time of year to bloom. It seems to be mainly on the edges of the south facing side of the valley.

 It looks a little like a snow dusting. The closest we'll ever get to snow anyway.

Up close the flowers are beautiful. Unfortunately I don't think they'll be producing much nectar at the moment, a beekeeper told me a while ago that manuka doesn't produce nectar until the temperature reaches 22 C, and it also needs to be humid as the flowers produce minute amounts of nectar. Not exactly the weather conditions at the moment.

I was doing the end of the day chores today and musing about the manuka flowering when I realised that actually the most of the other flowers which are blooming in my garden at the moment are white too.

 White flower carpet roses.

Paper whites - which I will always think of as mid winter bulbs, not spring. 

And white alstromerias.

Waiheke's version of a white winter. I quite like the idea, I might have to plant some more white winter flowers.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A walk around the vege patch

My first proper winter vege patch is bringing me lots of pleasure. Here's some pictures from this afternoon's wander.

My first attempt to grow cabbages, not sure how they'll go, but I'm enjoying the colours of this red variety.  They are withstanding slug and snail attacks remarkably well.

An experiment - this is my fine leaved basil 'fino verde' - I'm seeing if it will grow all year round. It's not looking quite so lush at the moment, and hasn't grown any bigger for a couple of months, but otherwise fine. My 'sweet genovese' basil didn't like the cold - leaves had brown spots then the plants gave up.

I'v been enjoying this colour combination recently - the vibrant 'bulls blood' beetroot leaves, and coriander and parsley. 

One of my cauliflower is looking luscious - the other 6 or so plants haven't shown any curd action yet. 

This little forest of self -seeded fennel seedlings near the front door is making me smile at the moment. 

 Second crop of leeks.

And the first of my 'italian precoe' broccoli is peeking out. I grow these because they are beautiful. They taste more like a cauliflower than a broccoli.

Now off to make some broccoli and blue cheese soup.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bits and Pieces

Well firstly I have finished the grape pruning! The weather has been so great this week that I have been out there every day, as it is so much more pleasant in the sun. I kept thinking it couldn't last. I was even in a t-shirt today. Surprisngly, according to our wee weather station, the weather this week has been the coldest so far this winter - I guess all those clear skies.

Since it has been so mild I thought I would sow some more seeds (see side panel for list), but it is somewhat experimental, I haven't tried sowing seed in July before. Apart from that the only other gardening I did was to redouble my pukeko protection in that garden as yesterday I discovered all my lupin seedlings had been decimated.  My garden is conveniently surrounded by manuka trees so my main method is to poke lots of twiggy branches around the plants.

Mum came and stayed for a night last week, so I was inspired to clear out the freezer of copious amounts of plums and lemon juice. I've got new lemons on the trees now, so definitely need to use up the juice frozen from last year.

I put Mum in charge of jam making as hers turns out better than mine - discovered I boil mine too much. She did like my preserving pan though. I used my surplus of duck eggs to make the lemon curd - managed to use up16 of them. This may well be the first ever duck egg lemon curd. I did have a jar shortage, and had to use some of sauce jars, so now have some very large jars of jam.

I used the rest of the lemon juice to make a concentrated lemon sugar syrup, for drinks. It's a treat drink around here, mixed with soda water and a sprig of mint.  I wasn't quite anticipating that I would end of with 5 litres of the syrup though, ran out of bottles and had to use the above jars. The darker colour of the syrup is beacuse I used an organic sugar that it not as refined as white sugar. You don't notice when it's diluted. I was wondering how long the syrup would keep, as it would take us a long time to consume this much, but then remembered that we're having a mid-winter christmas party in a couple of weeks, so this can be my non-alcoholic drink offering. I've never been so prepared!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Open Garden Preparation: Part 1 of many

This year I offered to open my garden for our annual garden tour fundraiser for the Jassy Dean Charitable Trust. I like the idea that I can support a charity on the Island by doing something that is so much a part of my life that I enjoy so much. The Jassy Dean Trust is fabulous too - they help out sick children and their families in any way that they can, from providing ferry tickets for hospital travel to having your house cleaned. The garden tour will also of course provide huge motivation for me to finish off some projects, although won't be able to do everything on my list! It is exciting, but also nervewracking at the same time. The organisers told me not to worry about making it perfect as 'people like to see works in progress', which is some reassurance, but I do remember once walking around someone's garden during the tour and thinking 'why haven't they deadheaded that rose?'. My roses will be deadheaded, but I'm wondering about the merits of some signs that say ' this area is not looked after, why don't you have a look over there instead'.

I'm only just learning what happens when in my garden, so the idea of planning for maximum impact for the weekend of November 13 & 14 is somewhat elusive. I would love to have a wall of sweet peas flowering, and have planted some already a couple of months ago, and then I planted some more seeds today, and I have no idea if the timing is right for either of them. We shall see!

On area to improve that I made a start on last week was the end of the berry patch. For two reasons - it is a bit of an eyesore, and my one person wide berry paths come to an abrupt end and I had visions of people spending the day saying 'excuse me, excuse me' as they were forced to backtrack along the narrow paths.

Just so my next pictures don't look too bad - here's what some of my vege garden looks like, properly landscaped, nice neat beds.

And here's the end of the berry patch that I wanted to tidy up and create some sort of path to avoid a traffic jam.

After a couple of hours work, here's where I'm up to now. Lots of kikyu dug out (and strawberry runners), some lemon balm and peppermint geraniums planted on the bank, and the pieces of wood are where I think some steps could usefully go. I did feel momentarily enthused to actually construct the steps myself, but the feeling soon passed and I think I'll wait till Mike gets home, he'll do  much better job than me. I'm thinking the easiest way for the path is to lay down some weed mat, then put some wood chip on top. There's also an area up the top where I think I'll plant some of my newly acquired jerusalem artichokes (thank you Gabriella!).

Now to the next job on the rather long list...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Winter Bee Check

There's a balance to be found I think between checking on your hives regularly enough so that you know what state they are in, and leaving them be, so they don't get too upset and disturbed. I'm trying to find that. I'm conscious that with trying to manage varroa organically I need to be more aware of what state the bees and varroa numbers are in, rather than just relying on a chemical control to wipe out the varroa every so often.

I've been imagining all sorts of bad things with the bee hives recently, with this being my first winter with them - mice that have made their home inside, ants taking over, or just very little bees in there. It's hard to tell sometimes, especially on the days when it's windy and rainy and they prefer to stay inside. But a couple of days ago it was sunny and calm and I thought it would be a good day to check them out. I was pleased to see that they were all doing fine. No sign of any queen cells. Eggs still being laid. Good honey supplies, and they are still being busy collecting pollen. My second hive is still the weaker hive, with maybe half the number of bees. But also a very quiet hive, the bees didn't seem disturbed at all while I was poking around.

I did a 'sugar shake' to while I had the hives opened up. This involves sifting icing sugar over the bees, and I think the theory is that as they clean if off themselves they also clean off the varroa mites, which then fall through my mesh bottoms onto sticky boards and can't get back up again. I'm not sure how effective it is, but felt good to be doing something to help out.

Here they are all getting covered. They did seem to quite like it, and provided a good distraction, no bees flying around at all after I did this.

The next day I had a trip into the city, so went to the beekeeping supplies shop and picked up some mesh to make some more mesh bottom boards. I've decided I would like another couple of hives. Not sure yet whether to order some more nucs, or just set them up and wait for a swarm. I got lots of admiring comments about my mesh on the ferry on the way home, though not from anyone who wanted it for beekeeping!

I also bought some new gloves for Mike who has said he will help me with the lifting which is very good of him because he's not at all sure about the bees at the moment. I would like to be one of those beekeepers who don't use gloves but I'm still psyching myself up to it.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Pruning Grapes

It was a glorious day yesterday. Calm, blue sky, sunshine, it made me feel ridicously happy all day. I took my camera down to the vineyard and strung it across my back while I was pruning. This is what I've been spending the past few days doing.

 From this...

 ... to this.

We do two different types of pruning in the vineyard. The white grapes (shown above) are 'spur pruned'. This is faster and easier than the other type which is 'cane pruning'. I'll show you that when I get started on the syrah. For the spur pruning shown above, basically you train the grape to a permanent structure - in this case the 't' shape shown. The top of the 't' is tied down to a wire. Then if you look carefully you'll see the spurs - the small pointing upwards bits along the top of the 't'. These are all from last years growth, and have been pruned back to two buds. So once you have trained your grape to the structure you want, it is relatively easy to prune back to spurs each year.

For a closer look - 
Here is the vine unpruned.  Hopefully you can make out the spur from last year which has behaved itself properly and produced two canes last year. Fruit are produced from these canes.

Here it is pruned. If you can, you should choose the lower cane to be your new spur. This prevents your spurs getting higher and higher each year.

Sometimes the spurs don't behave themselves and only produce one cane, or sometimes none at all. I usually just chop the whole thing off then (take that!).

At the end of the row the ground was looking pretty comfortable so I lay down for a while and was taken with the view from down there. 

I am about 1/3 of the way through doing the 'main cuts'. Feeling like progress. No blisters so far.