Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cyclone Wilma

We survived. Actually I do like a bit of weather, as long as I get to stay dry and warm and that the house isn't is actually going to be damaged. Cleaning out a flooded house would be awful. Cyclone Wilma looked dramatic on the weather maps, and I was a bit disappointed that the rain was mostly in the night, so I almost feel like I missed out on it. When I went down the driveway this morning you could see a debris line on the gate about 1/2 metre up, so the water must have been rushing over the driveway at quite a depth. Our driveway has been built through a wetland though, so that is only to be expected, we are thankful that the house is higher up the hill. There have been slips all over the Island, and a house that slipped down the hill at a beach a bit further away (Onetangi) even made it onto the national news.

We had our own slip. Well not quite our own, as this is on our neighbours land, but is what greeted us when we walked outside our front door this morning. It's at least 50m across, and there is further smaller slips continuing  along the hillside.

Meanwhile the garden is in desperate need of some loving care and attention, but is loving all the rain. I went to dig a few potatoes for dinner this evening but got distracted by these strawberries.

We have some friends coming for dinner tomorrow and I'm trying to save them for dessert, but they are very tempting.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Comfrey Fertiliser

One of my long term projects/goals is to make my garden more sustainable. One of the ways I'm slowly working on at the moment is to produce all my fertiliser requirements on site, supplemented by seaweed and manure foraging.

I planted some comfrey a couple of years ago around some of my fruit trees a la kay baxter. Given that it is planted into nearly pure clay the comfrey took a while to get going, but now is producing a decent crop of leaves. I've cut it back a couple of times to make some comfrey 'tea'. It's supposed to be incredibly high in nutrients, especially potassium, and a perfect tomato fertiliser.

Without fail the books etc say that if you are making comfrey liquid fertiliser to beware of the smell, which is awful. It has put me off making it for a while, as I've set up my place for making fertilisers right next to my 'on show' vege garden, so that it is convenient. But although I don't mind smells when I know that it is going to be good for the garden, I didn't think others would appreciate it so much. However I came across a few references that advised just putting comfrey leaves in a container to rot, and NOT to add any water. This way it wouldn't smell. So somewhat sceptically I stuffed a 20 litre bucket full of comfrey, put a lid on it, and then put it under the potting bench. A few weeks later I remembered it, opened it up, and look!

Super strong comfrey tea with no smell at all. I strained the liquid out, diluted with water in a watering can, and gave it all to the tomatoes. The remaining solid rotted down comfrey I tucked under the straw mulch next to the toms. I hope they appreciate it.

Buoyed up by success I have given the comfrey another haircut, and filled up two more buckets. On my 2011 list is to divide up the comfrey and plant around a few more trees. I don't know if it is possible to have too much comfrey for a garden my size.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Elephant Garlic Harvest

I bought ten elephant garlic bulbs from Koanga Gardens last year, and gave them their own small patch next to some regular garlic. They all reliably grew, and produced lovely flowers. I did cut some of them off as per reccommendations (I think), but some of them I left and it doesn't seem to have made much difference to the bulbs.

Elephant garlic cloves are really huge, and make my regular garlic look rather puny in comparison. Elephant garlic is, from memory, a closer relative to the leek than to garlic, but it does have a strong garlic aroma.

 I roasted some bulbs yesterday, and they smelled fantastic while cooking. The taste itself is quite mild, but what they did do was give a lovely garlic flavour to the potatoes they were roasting with. I'm going to save most of my small crop for replanting next year. I'm endeavouring to save more of my own seeds/bulbs this year, as well as the cost saving I'm quite keen on the idea of gradually developing stock which grows strongly in our own unique Waiheke conditions.

I'm determined to find time today to harvest the rest of my garlic as the remnants of Tropical Cyclone Vania are forecast to hit us mid next week, which may bring some rain.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I should have paid more attention... sixth form chemistry. Today fractional distallation finally made sense to me. I had an afternoon free of guest duties so somewhat guiltily snuck off to a distillation course held at the gorgeous Waiheke Blue Lavender farm. I should have been spending the time tucking the vines into the wires, but this was so much more fun.

To get to the lavender farm you can wander through a 5 minute bush walk, and then suddenly you arrive in this amazing clearing full of lavender, surrounded by native bush. It is particularly stunning at this time of year as the flowers are due to be harvested in about a weeks time so the air is heavy with fragrance, the honey bees are going crazy, and of course there is that beautiful colour.

But this is what I was here for. I've been smitten by these copper stills ever since I first saw them a couple of years ago. They are imported from Portugal by the lovely Jill and Charlie from Alembics. They are beautiful to look at, but also functional allowing you to produce your own hydrosols, essential oils, and to distill alcohol.

 First you need to harvest your plant material. It helps if you happen to be right next to a lavender farm.

Then you fill the bottom part of the still 2/3rds with water and put on top of a heat source - in this case a gas burner. That's the piece of equipment on the right of the photo above. Then you place your plant material in the 'column' which as a sieve at the bottom to stop the plant material falling into the water. Apologies Jill for my mangled version here - I can't remember the technical names for the pieces of equipment!

The you place the top piece on which has a tube which goes to...

....the condenser, which is kept cool by running some water through it. The steam rises from the water, up throug the plant material and then condenses out into the beaker. The essential oil floats to the top, and the water component is known as a hydrosol. Jill started the course by giving us a glass of diluted clary sage hydrosol to drink. That was a revelation - it never occurred to me that you could drink them. It was like a cooled herbal tea, but much, much better. 

Here's the distillate dripping out of the condensing unit. If you look carefully you can see the layer of oil on top. 
Then Charlie showed us how to distill the alcohol out of a bottle of cheap vino. That's where the previously forgotton memories of sixth form chemistry came in handy. I didn't think that this was so much my thing, but the resulting 30-40% proof alcohol was surprisingly nice.

I came back home inspired to grow more aromatics in my garden and have added a still to my Christmas wish list. If you ever get a chance to attend a workshop by Alembics, I highly recommend it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The ones that got away

I've been away five days, and I did post someone on minimal garden duties, but the courgettes proved too demanding. I picked the above this morning from my two plants, and they are still sitting on the bench while I muse what to do with them. I think a couple can go to the chooks, and I'll make up a batch of soup with the others. I don't like the thought of making soup in this hot sticky weather, but once made, luke warm courgette soup is actually quite nice. I should try it chilled.

The sweet cherry tomatoes have been well picked (and appreciated) in my absence, but I did manage to discover some other tomatoes which were hiding amongst my very overgrown vines.

These are 'tommy toe' I think. They are a bit larger than a small cherry tomato, but still appealing in their small roundness. These will be perfect  roasted for guest breakfasts, drizzled with some fresh basil pesto. 

These are my first succesful 'purple cherokee' 'tomatoes. They are large and luscious and and I am going to see if the corner shop has any fresh mozarella cheese, if so the combination will make a yummy dish for dinner.

And while we are on the topic of large vegetables, check out this 'bull's blood' beetroot (in my hand for scale).

Now off to investigate diseases in vineyard (not happy), and if time I'm keen to start hauling out the garlic which has well and truly flopped over.