Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sex on a Sunday in the garden


When I was growing up in a small town in the North Island of New Zealand, my religious father used to tell me that all sorts of things were forbidden on a Sunday, like buying ice creams when we were out on our Sunday afternoon drives. Whenever we asked for one, he'd gasp and say, "not on a Sunday!" as if it was the ultimate in sinfulness, to be found referenced in some hidden part of the Bible which I hadn't yet got around to, but my father had no doubt uncovered during his deep studies of John, Paul and the others. I realise now of course, it was just his frugal ways, but it took many years before I stopped looking sideways at the sinners brazenly licking ice creams on a hot Sunday afternoon.

So what my dad would've made of me leaping out into the garden on a wet Sunday morning to procreate, I have no idea. And this post is about to get very grubby indeed, so parents, if you haven't yet had the birds and the bees talk with your prepubescent children, I'd shield them from this post, unless you are okay about me giving them a wee Science Lesson. Haha.

I have a bit of a thing for pumpkins. Not just any old pumpkin. I have many pumpkins growing in my patch, which will be perfect for pumpkin soup, or if I was American, pumpkin pie, almost enough to supply everyone I know. But this year I am raising a special kind of pumpkin, purely for its seed, which I like to eat raw. You might wonder, why I am going to so much trouble, but have you seen the price of organic pumpkin seeds lately? It's cheaper to get them from China, and even then, I practically need to ring the bank to extend my mortgage even if I am going to buy those, let alone the beautiful large pumpkin seeds locally sourced, which of course are preferable, food miles and all that.

So what's a girl to do, except to take matters into her own hands, as it were, when she's hanging out for some? (Pumpkin seeds, that is). And all would be pretty straightforward if it wasn't for the bees. Because what the bees do is fly around the garden, pollinating things. They flit from male flower to female flower getting bits of pollen on their little leggies and spreading it all around. And no pumpkin is safe for a radius of two kilometres. They could've been getting pollen from my seed pumpkin and ruining the flesh from that other kind of pumpkin all over the neighbourhood, and getting pollen from the pumpkin where you eat the flesh and putting it on the flowers of my seed pumpkins and ruining them.

female pumpkin flower has plump pumpkin fruit forming at base of flower

So that's where I've had to intervene. I have been keeping an eye on those pumpkins, peeking out from under my curtains for any sign of readiness for that kind of thing. And what the sign is, is those great big yellow flowers. But you have to know the difference between the male and the female flowers and here's how to tell: the male has a long thing sticking up.

Bearing in mind that the bees are out there doing their thing any time between 6.30am and 11am spreading all manner of things, you have to be early. So imagine my surprise when I went out at the crack of dawn, to see several large yellow flowers from my prize pumpkin plants, as seen here. And on closer inspection, I could clearly see there were both male and female flowers.

"male part, meet female part!"

I carefully removed a male flower from the plant and removed all the outer petals so that all that was left practically was only the protruding male part. Then I opened the female flower and poked around a bit, making sure that the male part had been well rubbed all over the female part. Sorry to those of delicate disposition for such graphic details, but there really is no way around it. You have just witnessed pumpkin sex.

But I didn't stop there. I then closed the flower with a rubber band, for my work was done, and covered it with a paper bag. This is in case Mr Bumble Bee, who had clearly been having a Sunday lie-in, didn't realise that Ms Pumpkin flower, was already with child as it were, and tried to pollinate from the male flower of another nearby (non-eating-seed) pumpkin, which would produce not quite the result we want, as mentioned a couple of paragraphs earlier: some kind of hybrid pumpkin which is no good for seeds or flesh.

paper bag bee-deterent

Now all that is left to do is watch and wait. I am waiting for those pumpkins to grow, ripen, and then to be able to eat the seeds of course. And in the meantime, I am out there in the garden eagerly watching like a supervisor at a school disco, waiting for any sign of male and female pumpkin flowers at the ready...

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fertilising Friday (my gardening secrets revealed)

my corn patch, well fertilised

My corn and vegetables are looking pretty spectacular right now.

And if I could put it down to anything other than my amazing soil which I have nurtured and treated royally with techniques such as crop rotation, digging in manure and general babying, I would have to thank my variety of home-made fertilisers.

I have a habit of fertilising regularly, on a Friday, and also of adding to my collection of fertilisers on this day.

My beautiful friend Taryn manages a food production place where they regularly go through buckets with very secure lids, and we have spent many a Saturday gathering manure (our best find has been dried sheep pellets from underneath a sheep shearing shed, very easy access and excellent material) or seaweed in these buckets. Makes it much nicer to take home as the lids seal very tightly.

A recent visit from my Wellington bloke, otherwise known as Mr Jules, saw us taking said buckets and scoring lots of seaweed from Duvauchelle and also some nice wormy horse manure from a secret donor, which my other beautiful friend Monique and I discovered. I use the seaweed for fertiliser (I have posted before about how I make it) and add the well-rotted manure directly to the garden.

comfrey leaves for fertiliser

But back to the buckets, once these are empty, they are perfect for brewing fertilisers. I wish I'd had these buckets before I started my fish fertiliser, because that would have kept the smell down. The fish fertiliser is truly very smelly. So smelly that my neighbour wondered if there was a decomposing body inside. The wheelie bin does not hide the smell at all.

instructions for fish fertiliser

But oh, the fish fertiliser is a fantastic source of nitrogen and especially phosperous, which fruit-bearing vegetables, such as tomatoes, pumpkin, eggplants, peppers, zucchini, cucumber etc need. And you should see mine! They are bulging with fruiting vegetables right now. Also fantastic for corn, which needs lots of nitrogen as well. Every Friday my plants get a treat, a drink of any of my array of fertilisers that are suitable for their needs.

home-made gift with a difference, in recycled "milk" containers

In fact, I even gave away little bottles of fertiliser for Christmas to a few lucky loved ones. Well, I hope they felt lucky. Their plants certainly will. It is so strong, it has to be watered down 5:1.

Other fertilisers I have been experimenting with are nettle tea, the "nasty" weed most people avoid due to its sting and the wonderful comfrey, which I have plenty of in the paths of my garden, being careful not to let it spread to the garden beds. Most Fridays I have enough leaves of comfrey to pick to start off a fresh bucket of comfrey tea. And I use the comfrey tea I started weeks earlier for fertilising every plant who wants it. Comfrey can overrun the garden if one doesn't keep on top of it, but it has a fantastic selection of nutrients, perfect for almost every different plant's needs.

So if you are wanting to know what kind of fertilisers to use for your organic garden, try these home-made suggestions, which you can store in recycled containers so you always have something ready to feed your plants with. For more information on how I use them, I have a few posts here you may find interesting.

Monday, January 23, 2012

How to save seeds from lettuces (or get some of mine for free)

Saving Toshi's lettuce seeds

Can you believe, the first lettuce I planted this season have already gone to seed? Lucky for me, since I am an heirloom seed-saver. It was a delicious red salad which I bought from Toshi of Sakura Organics (pictured here) at the Farmers' Market. When I last saw him I told him they were going to seed and checked whether or not they are heirloom plants, because I save seeds and there is no use saving seeds from hybrid plants. I assumed they were safe to save, and he told me they were indeed heirloom.

So, I thought I would demonstrate how to save seeds, because a lot of people want to be seed-savers, but they are not sure how.

lettuce going to seed

First, you have to wait till the plants flower, as this is how the lettuce goes to seed. Before then, most plants get pulled out, because they start dashing and dancing all over the garden and stop looking so orderly.

seed fairies

Then when they flower, they eventually get these wee fluffy fairy-like bits on them. This bit probably has a scientific name, which I'm sure is not anything to do with fairies, but I don't know what it is.

pinching off the seed-fairy

On a dry day, preferably after several days in a row without rain, you simply get in there with a bowl or a paper bag and pinch the little fairy things off and put them into the bowl. Once you pinch them off you will see where the 5 or 6 or maybe more seeds in each flower head, which have been hidden by the fluff. By then they will be quite dry and ready to be blown away.

You'll have a whole bowl of seeds and fluff. I don't bother about the fluff, but some people get in and have a good sort out.

seeds and fluff in a bowl

Take them inside, fold them up in some paper or an envelope and write on the outside the date of the harvest and the type of the seed. This is so important. The reasons are that, in a year or when you are ready to plant the seeds, you will not be able to tell or to remember what kind of seed it was. Also, if two or more years go past, you will want to know when the seed was saved so you can figure out whether or not it will be worth planting them.

So on this envelope I wrote 28 Jan 2012, Toshi's red lettuce. They should be stored in a cool, dry place. They are ready to plant immediately or within a couple of years.

If anyone wants any of my lettuce seeds and you are in New Zealand, send a stamped self-addressed envelope to
PO Box 12270
Christchurch 8242

Friday, January 20, 2012

Lunch for royalty: delicious vegan fast food from my garden

fast food lunch from my garden

I am starting to have a few delicious lunches of boiled potatoes, freshly picked beans thrown in 2 minutes before the potatoes have finished cooking, and everything else raw: grated zuchini, the tomatoes which are just starting and freshly picked salad. Potatoes and a few beans are about the only thing I have which is cooked at the moment because it is summer here and there is so much to eat from my garden and super-kind friends' fruit trees, and even at the organic shops, fruit is just so cheap and delicious.

Remember those potatoes I planted here? Well, this is the potato patch now.

The potatoes get watered three times a week, at least early in the morning, and sometimes later on in the evening if it has been a very hot day. This is because we have water restrictions as a result of damage because of the earthquakes here in Christchurch.

Back to eating potatoes though, I have to say, the difference between bought potatoes, even organic ones purchased from the farmer's market and ones that I have dug from the garden and eaten straight away is great. The texture, the taste, everything about the eating experience is vastly improved when they are dug and eaten straight away. So to eat food fit for a queen, you really do need to have your own garden.

All mixed in with a twist of pepper and a sprinkle of delicious New Zealand sea salt

I do eat the beans raw sometimes, but more often than not, I cut the ends off and plonk them in with the potatoes for no more than two minutes. I do the same thing to asparagus if I happen to find a couple of them in the garden as well. I only have a small asparagus patch left so I am never going to get enough to eat "properly" and as I am the only one here that likes them, that is probably for the best.

a small selection of some of our salad greens with some courgettes I snapped off from the plant

I am also eating a lot of salad greens. We have such a wide variety in my garden to choose from. Often I dig the potatoes and wash them lightly, then while they are boiling (20 minutes is optimum), I pick my salad leaves and tomatoes, courgette and beans and anything else I can find. I am pretty casual with my food preparation. I do wash my salad greens, because I have many birds which enjoy my garden too, and I don't want to accidentally consume something that is not good for me. I have an old salad spinner which I use to dry the leaves, then I loosely rip them into smaller bits, but not too small! I never use any mayonaise, not even a vegan kind. I prefer to squeeze a lemon or drizzle some olive oil over it, toss it around, and a bit of seasoning. I also like ripping up a bit of coriander and tossing that in. It is a simple meat-free, mostly raw lunch, and surprisingly filling, but not so much that one is "stuffed". I always still have plenty of energy left over to go for a bike ride to the shops if I need anything, or to get a load of work done.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Mulching to save precious water

my special pumpkins, which I am growing for the seeds, not the flesh

I've mentioned in the past that we had an earthquake, and as a result, we are only allowed to water three days a week, on designated days, depending which side of the street you live on. The rules are that you are only allowed to water with a hand-held hose, no sprinklers or irrigation systems. Which is fine, as I don't have a sprinkler or irrigation system. (In the past though, I have set my hose onto "spray" and propped it up and left it.

Now I have two chairs strategically positioned in the garden, where I sit and carry out my watering duties. Sometimes I have the dog on my knee and other times my 17 year old daughter sits in the garden to keep me company and have a daily catch-up.

mulch around one of my tomatoes

So a friend of mine dropped around a couple of wool fadges of straw for me to use as mulch.

On my assigned watering day, I held the hose and weeded the garden at the same time. I even washed the soil off the roots of the weeds I had just pulled out. The ground got very nice and deeply wet. Then I soaked some straw and distributed well around the plants. I actually think it looks quite attractive, and it keeps the weeds down too.

[In the old days I would create my own mulch by raking up bags and bags of leaves from public parks. I would then bring them home, pile them on a garden and soak and soak and soak them with water. Then I'd cover them with black plastic. If it rained I would run out and take the black plastic off so they could get even more soaked. Occasionally I would get in with the fork and turn the pile. You need a lot of leaves, so I would keep adding to it and watering it, then eventually I would bag it, soak it again and by mid summer it would be the best mulch ever. But last autumn, leaf-gathering time, I wasn't here because we ran away to Wellington after the quakes and stayed there for nearly 7 months. However, next autumn hopefully I'll remember to do a post on mulching.]

I used to prop the hose up on the bean frame to water, now I do it by hand

And it's given my life a different pace - no longer do I rush out to put the hose on "sprinkle" flow propped up somewhere, now I take my time watering the garden.

the corn and brassicas surrounded by mulch

It's slow-living at its finest: (not that my life is part of the rat-race hustle and bustle), smelling the roses, and keeping an eye on the pumpkins (but that is another blog post).

Summertime, and the living is easy.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Raspberry season again!

raspberries for breakfast

I happened to notice that my new lipstick was about the same colour as the raspberries I have been getting recently, even if the lipstick shade is curiously called Plum.

some of our raspberries three weeks ago

Gradually the raspberries in the garden have grown from this (above) to the ones on my muesli (top photo) - it is so nice have enough for a sprinkling on my raw muesli every morning. In case you are wondering, the hairy thing are sprouted and dehydrated naked oats, which is a variety of oat which doesn't need to be hulled because it grows without a hull so can be eaten raw. We buy ours from Milmore Downs.

this small raspberry plant produced so many happy breakfast times

Delicious. There is nothing like a freshly picked raspberry. Or a new lipstick shade, particularly when for so many years, one has stuck to safe "more natural" shades. Like the impulse lipstick buy, having raspberries every morning feels just a little bit daring.

since then, I have transplanted more into a neat row from a big unruly clump. Roll on next summer's raspberry patch!

Life is good.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My courtyard salad garden and the never-ending seedling trays

chives, always being snipped, and salad greens, always being picked

The thing about growing salad greens is that you eat them. Well, I do anyway. Every day I have a big salad, so I need lots of greens in the garden, and seedlings always on the go.

I also like to eat the usual herbs like chives, coriander, parsley, so I grow them myself as well.

And to be on the safe side, as my salad greens get eaten, I have even more seedlings underway. It's a never-ending exercise which guarantees I always have plenty to eat.

The seedlings above though are probably planted a bit close together, especially the amaranth in the cup in the middle. They're going to be tricky to thin out. So the next step is to probably transplant them now into a bigger planter (still for baby plants) with more room around each other.

At this stage I still keep the soil wet, which means a light spray of water (imitating very gentle rain) very often. They are just babies, and they need to be treated as such with gentle nurturing.
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