24 October 2014

Grow your own tomato plants - growing, selling, planting

It's Labour weekend this weekend, the traditional time for New Zealanders to plant out their tomato plants.

This brings me great relief, because I raised about 60 tomato plants this year - a few for us, but most to sell to raise funds for our local environment society. It was a lot of work, but fun. The seeds were sown in late August, and for a month or so the pots were brought in every night into the warmth, then put outside again each morning. Then the plants had to be repotted as they grew bigger.

My home garden centre.
May I say how fantastic they were? I checked our local garden centre to figure out how much to charge, and we came up with a price that was half theirs, but our plants were twice as good.

What a relief it was to load them into the car yesterday for the market we sold them at. I helped set up the stall, but the selling was done by some faithful supporters, and we raised a bit of cash. Anna came along too, and together we happily inhaled the scent of tomato leaves as we drove there.

A quick aside to mention what tomatoes we're growing: for the market it was Gardener's Delight, a cherry tomato ("sweet grape-like trusses," says the blurb). We kept a couple of them. We've also got Tomaccio, at a mere $5 for just two seeds, but I tasted a friend's last summer, and with the memory of raisin-like sweetness on my taste buds there was no stopping me. Yes, both seeds sprouted and the plants are flowering. Plus we've got another new cultivar for us, Baxter's early bush cherry - tomatoes by Christmas, anyone? - and an old heritage favourite, Brandywine - for sheer flavour power, as the sales blurb goes.

I wrote out an information sheet with tomato-growing tips on it for our tomato purchasers. Maybe the tips are of interest to you? Here they are:

·        Make sure your tomato pot is well watered at least 30 minutes before planting.

·        It’s good to bury the first few centimetres of stem into the soil. When you do this, the tiny hairs on the stem turn into roots, so you get more roots to absorb moisture and nutrients.

·        Mix plenty of compost into the planting hole, and maybe some sheep pellets.

·        Place a tall stake or two next to the plant (about 20 cm away from the stem) at planting time.  As the plant grows tall, tie it to the stake(s) to support it. Cut old clothes and rags into strips to make soft, free plant ties.

·        After planting, water well. When the soil is very moist (ideally after a good rain fall), cover the soil around the plant with mulch (e.g. pea straw, old leaves, or whatever you can get your hands on) and immediately water the mulch so it doesn’t blow away. Mulching keeps the soil and plant much healthier, especially when the weather gets very hot later in the season.

·       Many gardeners pinch off some of the lateral branches. These are the ones that grow out of the plant at about 45 degrees. The emerge in the right angles formed by the stem and a branch that grows straight out. There are different schools of thought on this – you could Google it! But if you let all the branches grow, you’ll need a lot of stakes.

Our winter garden, much of it ready to be farewelled now
that Labour weekend is upon us. The photo is framed by that
quintessential kiwi backyard accessory, the rotary clothesline.
It's utterly practical, if space allows.
Have a lovely Labour weekend, in and out of the garden!

23 October 2014

Gourmet food, virtually for free

If you heard me groaning in pleasure in our back garden the other day, it was nothing untoward. I was just tasting the first strawberry of the season.

It was ugly, yes, and small, but oh, the flavour. I'm not sure how the commercial growers manage to transform strawberries into comparative bags of red water.

Strawberry plant

We have a video of Jack, just turned two, having just eaten the first strawberry from the garden in the first year we lived in this house. He starts running in circles around the back lawn (a barren wasteland compared to the garden jungle it is now), getting faster and faster, while his red-juiced mouth cries 'Stwawwwwberry! Stwawwwwberry!' as all the nerves running from his taste buds to his brain explode with flavour fireworks.

This year, in between the strawberry rows (yes! I planted actual rows of something!), are a new favourite of mine, radishes. Until I tried eating them with butter and salt, I thought I didn't like them. Mostly I eat them with olive oil and salt now, or chopped up in a salad. And they are so fast and easy to grow! Every radish seed sprouts, which is most certainly not a general rule in our garden, and in a month or so there are big pink radishes ready to eat. Gourmet food virtually for free ($3.75 for 250 seeds).

A just-pulled organic radish

Radish with oil and salt

These are some of the flavours that have been coming out of our spring garden, along with herbs, spring onions, gourmet lettuces and parsnips, the latter eaten roasted - so very, very good. Broad beans are also there for the first time, although nothing interesting has come from them yet. I'm going to try to overcome that with this recipe from Nadia Lim.

The other sensation that hits me each spring is the smells. Each year I remember that the smells change so much with this season. Citrus blossom makes me pause beside our house. Old-fashioned roses yank me to a standstill as I walk along the road. Oh, the smells.

Honey bee on orange blossom
A honey bee visits our orange tree.

Orange tree branch in blossom
The orange tree is thick with blossom, despite
being pruned severely over winter.

Spring is good.

16 October 2014

Farewell to a feathered friend

Our magnificent black Orpington died last weekend. She was a heap of beautiful glossy black feathers, her body pushed out of the nest box by brown shavers who desperately wanted the space to lay their eggs.

Black orpington chicken feathers

No one saw that hen without commenting on how big she was. Only a week earlier my brother couldn't tear his eyes away when he visited. "That is a BIG chicken," he said. She was the size of a smallish dog, and probably weighed 4-5 kg.

Child feeding black orpington

She was one of our first batch of chickens, remaining behind when I sold her one of sisters for being too broody and the other for being too mean. She's had two batches of new flockmates since then, all brown shavers (Boring! Utilitarian! But oh, the eggs, the eggs.) The second lot she was mother to, and the third lot grandmother. I kid you not - that's how she behaved. I wrote the story of how she cared for her dearest daughter last year in this post, The old beauty lays again.

With her best pal.
The shock of her sisters and daughters leaving sent her into the nest box: it was her retreat during rough times. And there she went to die.

Why did she die? She was five and a half years old. Chickens of traditional breeds can live for 12 years, and I was planning on her being a well-aged beauty. Yet she hadn't laid one of her distinctive creamy, symmetrically oval eggs since last summer, in spite of coming into breeding condition, so I thought something might be wrong. I was about to worm her, for the first time ever, in case that was the problem. But her plumage was stunning and her comb red and erect, so she wasn't particularly ill.

She did have a swollen 'bumblefoot' again - it had troubled her for a couple of years, on and off. Maybe. Maybe.

I was away for the weekend, by the way, and a neighbour was caring for them. He hadn't realised she was dead!

Anna and I cried a bit, and stroked her still-stunning feathers. Then we plucked the bits of her that weren't wet and maggoty. Her plumes will go to a weaver I met a couple of weeks ago. Chicken feathers are some of the best for beginner weavers of Maori cloaks to use, apparently. When she sees these ones, her eyes will gleam. Never were there more beautiful chicken feathers.

Insulating feathers of black orpington hen
Her inner 'insulating' feathers.
Plucked feathers of black orpington hen for weaving a cloak
In a plastic bag ready for the weaver.
With sadness I dug a hole in the garden for her burial, and planted some peony poppy plants on top. She'll be pushing up poppies instead of daisies, or however the saying goes.

Peony poppies pink
Peony poppies. The image and
the seeds I bought are from
Kings Seeds.

15 October 2014

A jolt from the Dalai Lama

I love this quote. I'm sure I've put it on this blog before, but I just spotted it among my files and it's been so long since I read it that my eyes sprang open wide and I got a bit of a jolt.

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered,

 “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, then dies having never really lived.”

Do you like it too?

6 October 2014

Why Buddhists let possums eat bird eggs

As I've written before, I went on a Buddhist meditation retreat in Easter this year. It was held in a beautiful valley lined with native bush, north-west of Auckland.

The Vipassana meditation centre north of Auckland, NZ.

Had I not been trained during my 10 days there to be equanimous about everything - "This too shall pass" - I would have got more angry at the end. You see, Buddhist won't-kill policy means that they let the possums and rats breed and eat unhindered. Possums wandered around the buildings after dark. "We don't bother them, and they don't bother us," I was told.

Most of the nesting attempts of forest birds in New Zealand end in the eggs being eaten by rats and possums. Considering the setting of the place, birdsong was notably quiet. The exception was the incredible chorus of morepork at night. I suppose carnivorous nocturnal owls are not only awake to see egg-hungry possums, but able to defend their nests. Most forest birds are defenseless at night.

My solution - an instant-kill Timms trap. I caught this possum
near our house last weekend. I'm sure I heard tuis sighing with relief.

When Buddha made the don't-kill call 2500 years ago, humans hadn't brought possums and rats to New Zealand. Today they (and the stoats) have decimated our stunning birdlife, which isn't equipped to deal with such predators.

What do you think? Should the Buddhists exercise their moral muscles, or remain committed to the old teachings?

Postscript: Buddhism is a wise and lovely approach to life and has helped me hugely. I just think this unfortunate conundrum is worth discussing.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...