Bulbs and bionics

It has been a beautiful Autumn weekend. We slept well in the cool night, enjoyed the first Sugar Baby watermelon with grapes and zucchini fritters for lunch, and felt very lucky to be here. Monarch butterflies are floating around and the bees are enjoying the late summer flowers. The vegetable garden is doing as well as can be expected, so I concentrated on planting the first of my bulb orders in this perfect sunny weather.
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Cool Summer

I’ve got myself in a state where I don’t like my photos any more, so I’m using  C’s photos until that changes.

The long hot days of summer have not really materialised this year, and a flock of baby crickets in the bed last night signal the end wIll be starting soon. The weather has been patchy and cool for what should have been the warmest months. We have had mists and rains, while the East coast has been verging on drought. Never-the-less it was a treat to have enough water to water plants that needed it, and there is always something that likes the weather.


Many of our fruit trees are just starting to really produce, including the grape vine, and the cool weather doesn’t seem to have worried them. The plums have been fantastic this year, and I made a beautiful jelly yesterday from the Louisa plums which had fallen off the tree or cracked in the rain. The Satsuma plums have produced heavily and don’t seem to crack. They are delicious dried so we have had the driers running flat out. I’ve made verjuice with the grapes, and it’s lovely.


The misty weather caught us out in a couple of shortcuts we thought we could get away with in our frantic haste this spring. One was to to plant an early Agria potato crop using potatoes left from last year, the other was to re-use last year’s tomato frames without moving them. All spring and early summer we had lots of yummy chips, but a couple weeks ago the potatoes all got blight and had to be dug up, including the Red Fantasy (strange name but a beautiful potato) which could have produced more.

Everything is late, with our first pick of enough tomatoes for sauce only 2 weeks ago, and chillies and peppers just starting to flower. The tomatoes are showing signs of blight, but if we can only have a stretch of warm dryish weather we can still get a crop I think. The parsnips are only small still, however they can last well into winter.

Kumara and Zucchini are doing well, and the watermelons in the greenhouse are getting good sized melons, but our most successful crop this year has been micro/mini greens. We started growing these in the greenhouse in raised beds last Autumn , and it worked so well that we built some more outside. In the photo you can see a newly planted bed and an older one.


We have had fabulous salads all summer with baby amaranth, radish, beetroot, chicory, lettuce, basil, corn salad, coriander, mustard, sorrel, purple cabbage, and pea ‘feathers’. It would be nice to cut them every day, but a big container full lasts all week if kept in the fridge. It does use a lot of seed, so I have been rescuing some of the mini greens when they are finished harvesting and growing them on for seed. This looks a bit messy in the garden, and I have to fight the birds for the brassica seeds, but I have been successful so far with mustard, cabbage, radish, coriander, ruby chard, and beetroot.


artichokes in trug


The artichokes are in full swing now, with enough buds for a good feed each week. We started out with Green Globe and Purple de Jesi seedlings. One of the flowers which was left for the bees turned into a flower full of seedlings – they all just germinated while still in the flower. We planted these and they must have been purple – there don’t seem to be any of the green ones at all anymore. I love to see the bees on the flowers we leave. Sometimes 6 or 7 bumblebees seem to spend the night on a flower – such an extravagant bed.

artichoke on plant

Kumara sweet potatoe

Growing Kumara or Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes or Kumara as they are called in NZ come in a few different types, from quite dry to sweet and moist. We eat them several times a week either roasted, mashed, as wedges or occasionally as chips, which are wonderful but fattening and a bit of effort to make. The leaves are also good in stir fries.

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Red tulips in pots

Tulips, Pumpkins, and Rats

Coming back after 3 weeks away,the daffodils are just starting to come out and the tulips were ready to be moved into a sunny spot to flower, so I think all I missed was 3 weeks of rain and cold. The tulips which were either red or dark purple last year seem to have made a few yellow or yellow and red ones this year. I pulled most of the flower stems off before they could set seed, so I’m confused. I suppose this must mean that some of the little bulbs were from seeds rather than clones? Or more likely some of the mixed batch I planted in the garden several years ago made their way back into the fridge with the potted ones.

The grass is a bit long and the weeds have grown and the citrus has continued to ripen.
And the rats had moved into the hut and had a party, leading to lots of laundry and cleaning of drawers. For some reason they chewed off a large chunk of the rubber seal at the bottom of the door of the little fridge. The fridge was open and empty so I’m not sure what the point of this was.

image Several of the pumpkins (winter squash) which looked perfect on top are going mouldy on the bottom, and the rats have eaten through the skin of another one, so it’s time to make another batch of pumpkin ‘soup’ for the freezer – what we make is more like pumpkin mash which can be made into soup with the addition of milk or stock.
These were self sown from the compost last year, they popped up with the tomato seedlings and I let them grow around the tomatoes. Not ideal for either of them really, I was continually battling back the pumpkin and pushing it off the tomatoes. In the end however the pumpkins did grudgingly take off over the lawn and down the bank and did much better than the year before, probably by stealing food and water from the tomatoes. In fact I’m surprised there were any seeds in the compost to grow from they did so badly the year before. They seem to have stayed true to the type which I think was Ironbark, as I see I have a half used seed pack of these.

Fresh field mushrooms


An inch of rain last week and a centimetre ( half inch ) yesterday have given us two big feeds of mushrooms for breakfast. We might even get another pick tomorrow evening.

The mushrooms are growing in the neighbour’s field on the cold side of the hill. One of the circles is huge and therefore I assume very old – it’s about 10 metres in diameter or maybe more.

I keep trying to get them growing on our place and we did find a few growing on the edge of the driveway, probably from ones we sprinkled around last year. I have tried planting a few of the riper ones again in the asparagus patch and will continue with that as well as on the drive.

Apple cider making

Easter – cider and jelly and the ‘blood moon’

We spent yesterday and Friday making cider and then several years worth of apple jelly with the ‘pomace’. Chili jelly, mint jelly, sage jelly, and normal apple. As I used up about 8 kilos of sugar I listened to a show on National Radio how bad sugar is, and another about making cider (did you know commercial cider has only 30% apples?)

It was rainy for part of the day yesterday, so a good day for making jelly. The day before was fine, so a good day for making cider.

Cider making is so messy and there are lots of buckets and the chopper and the press to be hosed off afterwards so it’s nice to do that outdoors in the sun over some dry part of the garden.

Easter is a great time to do this as it really took the best part of 2 days. In a pinch you could freeze the pomace and do it later though.

Half of the apples we used were frozen apples from last year. These were very ripe when they were frozen. We kept ‘sweating’ them last year while we waited to have time to make the cider. Finally they started going off so we just put them in plastic bags in the freezer. These provided the ‘Sweet’ and most of the raw ones from this year were Grannies and not terribly ripe so that provided the sour. We even put in a few of our crab apples.

The frozen apples made lots of sweet juice – they released the juice much more easily for the cider. I would do this again, even if it’s just putting early sweet apples in the freezer for a month or so.

It’s the sort of thing where most of the time is in the clean up and set up, so you could easily make double or triple the amount. Next time it would be better to cut the apples up before freezing, as they take a lot of freezer space whole. They also tend to clog the chopper so it would be better to mix the raw and frozen from the start.

Using frozen apples meant there was less juice left in the pulp for jelly, which meant a lot of water needed to be added. It still set properly, so the pectin was still there, and it absorbed the mint and Chili flavour well and tasted good. I think it would be fine for pectin too. For the plain apple jelly I used the raw pomace. I couldn’t use all of it so the worms had a good feed as well.

We tried 2 mint jelly recipes – one where you cook the apple with mint and vinegar, the other you just make normal jelly and then drag a bunch of mint in the jelly and add a few drops of green colouring before bottling. Both have chopped mint in the jar. Dragging the mint in the jelly gives a surprising strong fresh mint flavour so we did that for both. We will do a side by side test tonight with lamb roast.

The sage jelly and chili jelly both have a bit of vinegar in them as well. We tried the chile jelly on crackers last night. Quite hot and nice with cream cheese. I used about 12 diced red little hats and 1 green jalapeño all with seeds – initially for one batch, but I added more juice and sugar as it seemed very hot. I suspect it will get milder as time goes past.

I found that a kilo of sugar is about 4 cups, so that’s a lot of jelly, about 30 medium jars. The apple jelly smells like fresh apple juice and is nice on toast.

Apple Jelly

The 14 litres of cider is bubbling away nicely. This will go back to the city to bubble in the dark cupboard under the stairs for the next few months. We also had an extra 3 litres of juice for drinking as we didn’t have another Demi john. This was from about 4 big baskets or bins full of apples – 2 from last year and 2 from this year.

We celebrated by drinking some of the 2 year old cider which was delicious. It’s lighter than wine in alcohol and has a dry sparkling taste. Nothing like the sweet cider you buy. I could drink a lot more of it if we had more apples.

We watched the eclipse, it was clear for long enough to see it disappear slowly over about half an hour.