Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Blogging when I should be Working

Black and red raspberries picked before the rain came...
It's raining today, and am feeling no motivation towards completing paperwork, so thought I could at least blog about the garden if I can't be out there, athough my brother would probably say that's what raincoats are for. It's nice not to have to be on watering duty at the moment, which for me comprises a complicated coded system for the seven different areas which have different watering systems. Complications also arise from the fact that beacuse it is all gravity fed some drip lines only have enough pressure to be used when the tanks are full. Mike has been a star over the dry spring, making sure that the main tanks are topped up from the bore.

This one's for you Michelle - the jerusalem artichokes have finally started growing.
The tomato stakes are falling over and I can't get them any further into the ground despite the wet. The berries are also a little sad as they don't like the rain and turn to mould/mush very fast. On a more positive note a couple of days ago I cleared out the sweet peas and saved enough seed for a decent showing next year. I've long since given up trying to grow a particular colour/s and now some years I have lots of blues and purples, and some years pinks and maroons. I've also planted out a small corn patch (late I know, I misplaced my seed stash, but found it again eventually, hooray). Spring onions and some shallots grown from seed have also been planted.

We're harvesting our first cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and courgettes. The garden thinks it's summer even if the weather has decided to turn nasty.

Now off to fill in my sustainable winegrowing paperwork. Fun.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


 Purple raspberries

 Eggplant stems

 Eggplant flowers

 Purple basil

Bean flowers

Purple beans

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Plum Picking

Plums are one of my favourite fruit, but rarely bought because they often disappoint. I have about 5 plum trees, but they are young, and only one has fruit on it this year. So I was delighted when a generous friend offered us the chance to go on a plum picking expedition after school today.

I took my camera along, hoping for some lovely shots of plums being placed carefully in picturesque baskets, children with juice running down their faces, and Alex climbing the gnarled trees to reach the highest plums. It didn't quite work out like that. It was raining, but we gamely went anyway. Alex refused to climb the trees after his first aborted attempt due to plum thorns, I'd forgotton about those. The children were far more interested in eating the plums, than helping to pick them, and also enjoyed stomping on those which they had deemed not good enough to pick up anyway. The only one up the tree ended up being me, and Alex was delighted by the 'bombs' that dropped when when I shook the branches. The camera never made it out of it's protected bag.

At home, under cover, the plums were sorted into the eaters (above) and put in the chiller, where they should keep for a few days. The rest were bagged up and put into the freezer to be made into jam at a later date, when I'm feeling a little more motivated.

Next on the wish list: apricots.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Loquat Photo Shoot

Just to make sure I'm not bored, for the last couple of months I've been writing a gardening column for one of our local papers, the 'Waiheke Weekender'.

I've been enjoying it, despite feeling a bit uncomfortable about having my writing being read by so many people I know. Blogging is anonymous in comparison. I've found that I don't like reading what I have written once it has been published, but I am enjoying having another reason to wander round my garden taking photos.

Both of my chidren like being 'famous' by having their picture in the local paper. Melina had a picture of her with some eggs a few weeks ago, so I said to Alex I would do what I could to have his picture in there too. I normally send a selection of pictures to the editor, so never quite sure what is going to be published. I wanted to write about loquats, so took some pics of the kids eating loquats in the orchard.

 Alex was laughing at someting Melina said in these photos. I can't decide which one I like best.

 And Alex got his wish.

 It was satisfying too to see the earth bag seat that we constructed earlier in the year being used how I imagined it.
  Although I didn't pick that standing on the back of it would be the most popular.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Microbe Brews & Summer Crops

My latest garden toy is a kit for making aerobic compost tea. You can just leave compost or manure to soak in water for a few days to make a liquid fertiliser. However to make a supercharged version with loads of live bacteria and fungi you need to provide ideal conditions for them to grow. In this case the setup is a 20 litre bucket with an aquarium pump to aerate, and a heater with a thermostat to keep the temperature at 26 degrees C. You then add your 'starter' microbes, and some food for them, and then breed them for 24 hours.

I'm using the bacteria etc provided with the kit at the moment. It appeals to the ex-science teacher in me, all the measuring and mixing. I was a bit sceptical about it, but checked with a couple of people, including my brothers partner who has just finished her PhD in something to do with bacteria and plants, and they thought that there is validity in it. My main reason for trying it is to deal with fungal diseases in my vege and berry gardens. I have problems with mildews and rust. Previously I would do some copper and sulphur sprays in late winter and early spring to try and combat the diseases. I've had mixed success withthis, as well as feeling uncomfortable with using these sprays in  any quantity. So instead of using a fungicide to kill all fungi (including beneficial ones), I'm dosing them with all the good fungi. It's kind of like taking probiotics instead of an antibiotic. Hopefully the good microbes will colonise the plant and simply not leave space for the bad ones, and I also think they have a role in strengthing the plant's immune systems. Don't quiz me on it though, for I am still kind of hazy on how it is supposed to work.

We've started to get the first of the summer harvests. The strawberries have been producing over the past month, and are doing well this year - they are two year old plants. I picked a large bowl the other day, and thought I might even have enough to make a strawberry tart with, but by morning they were all eaten.

This little cucumber took my by surprise. I've never had much luck with cucumbers before so I'm treasuring every one at the moment. A friend gave me some 'port albert' cucumber seeds to try this year as she had good success with them last year, but they got enthusiastically all planted by the children at school, and I forgot to tell them to label the variety. I took some home, hoping they would be 'port albert', but they are all looking suspiciously green at the moment, rather then the yellow colour of port albert. Sorry M.

How gourmet are these? Baby spring onions made it to the kitchen as I had had enough of pricking them out, and Mike was making fritters for tea.

I have an outside day planned for tomorrow. My main job is to do the 'bud rubbing' in the vineyard. This is taking off all the shoots from the trunks of the garpevines where I don't want them. I'm also hoping to check the bee's honey boxes, sow some seeds and plant my watermelons. And spray my microbes in the evening.