Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Oscar — The Dog-Cat!

Meet Oscar. He's a cat who thinks he's a dog!

I'm hardly ever alone in the garden as Oscar always follows me into the garden. He loves it when any of us humans go up there. He loves rolling around in the dirt, on the grass and waving his tail around my legs and chasing skinks. Unfortunately he's not been doing a very good job of keeping the birds out of the plum tree. The fruit is ripening on the tree and the birds are making a mess of it, pecking holes in all the fruit. I might have to dock his pay.

To tell the truth I think he's actually scared of going up there by himself as there are a few stray cats in the surrounding bush. He also takes the opportunity when we go up there to mark his territory, to let them know that this is HIS place and that they should stay away.

When he's in the house at night and he hears a strange noise outside, he growls like a dog. He scratches on the door to go in and out, just like a dog.

But I must admit, he climbs trees better than any dog I know.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Garden Archway

One of the things I always wanted in my garden was an archway. There's something romantic about archways that creates a beautiful ambience in a garden. Besides, my father had an archway in our family garden years ago. I just loved it – it had grapes growing all over it and it was my favourite place in his garden. The archway brings back some happy childhood memories for me, working with my father in the garden. If there's one thing he passed on to me it was his love of gardening.

So I managed to acquire an archway a few years ago and it's been a feature in my garden for some time now. This year I decided to grow passionfruit over it.

I've attached a couple of old bed frames to it. On the one in the foreground I'm growing cucumbers.

The passionfruit flower is spectacular, unlike any other flower I know.

I'm looking forward to tasting the first fruits... that's if I can get to them before my wife and daughter do.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Myoga Ginger

When I was first establishing my garden I promised my wife a special place for her to grow some of her weird Japanese vegetables. One of the first things she ever planted was Myoga Ginger. You can see more pictures here in my post about the 'bottom garden'.

The plants die off and come back every year without us caring for them at all. As with most ginger plants the roots are invasive, so in an effort to contain them I buried some fence pailings to try and stop the roots from taking over the whole garden. When most people see our little ginger plot they think it’s sweetcorn.

It’s only the tender new flower heads that are harvested. You can see one here...

I think you have to be Japanese to truly appreciate them. Izumi slices them up and uses them in asian style salads or as a garnish in noodley soups. This is what they look like when they’re harvested. She often gives her Japanese friends a handful when there’s more than she needs and they always appreciate this little taste from home (you can't buy it in the shops here).

There’s a lot we can learn from the various cultures when it comes to things they eat. 

At the end of the season the crop has all died off again...

But I don't need to do anything. It'll just come back again all by itself next season.


On a visit to a food market in Kanazawa, Japan in September 2012 we came across a store selling Myoga in small bags for ¥150 each (which is about NZ$2.25/US$1.86). 


These are not such a great photos, but you can probably see that the flower heads are quite plump – they’re quite a bit bigger than I’ve ever grown them. Perhaps if I start fertilising mine I can get them to grow a bit bigger. Maybe some Sulphate of Potash for better flowering and fruiting?


(Update: 3 April 2018)

Funny how you learn things about gardening... often it’s quite by accident. Let me explain.
I’ve been wondering for the last 6 years or more how to get my Myoga Ginger to grow bigger like the ones they sell in Japan. Well, I finally figured it out! 

But now I feel a bit dumb because it’s actually REALLY simple. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner. Essentially, the answer was to ignore this plant even more than I normally would. 

Since Izumi passed away I don’t have so many Japanese people visiting my garden and making use of whatever Ginger I might have. Therefore I’ve not been in any hurry to harvest it. I’ve just left them and they just continue getting bigger. I left this one about a month or more longer than normal to the point where the foliage is starting to die off as the plant goes into its dormant period. It’s the first time I’ve left it so late before harvesting.

I used to worry that the bulbs which get a little yellow flower growing out the end of them, if left, would grow and continue to blossom thereby rendering the bulb inedible. Well it seems I was wrong and while this bulb actually had a yellow flower on the end of it, I simply plucked it off and a big plump bulb of ginger remained.


Read more about my Myoga Plant here

See video showing how we harvest Myoga Ginger

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mutant Tomato – Update

This is an update to a post I did back in August 2011(read here). 

At the time, the tomato pictured below (which self-seeded in my garden) was 4 months old and hadn’t shown any signs of breaking down or decomposing. It is now 7 1/2 months old and apart from changing colour it’s still completely whole!

Would you eat it?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Harvesting the Winter Crops

Some of the vegetables I planted over winter this year (around the shortest day) have taken until now to be ready for harvesting. Over the last few weeks I’ve been harvesting my beetroot and cauliflowers (as and when needed).

Beetroot are pretty easy to grow and I love them. They’re high in iron too so they’re really good for you. I gave some to my mate Bruce who boiled his and sliced them up much like the way you buy them in a can. We usually roast them like potatoes.

This year there were a couple of strange white root vegetables amongst the crop which had all green foliage. I thought they were radishes that somehow got mixed up with the beetroot but my wife reckons they’re white beetroot. Huh? I’ve never heard of that before.

This year was the best year I’ve ever had with Cauliflowers. We must have grown about 8 or 9 of them altogether. They seemed to really love the winter garden I built which catches more sun than any other part of the garden over winter. It got to the point we couldn’t keep up with eating them so there was plenty to share with friends. 

One thing I learned was that they take twice as long to reach maturity than brocolli, but they can grow to twice the size too. That probably also explains why they’re usually more expensive than brocolli at the shops — if you have to buy them that is.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bad Memories in the Garden

Saturday, November 5th, 2005 was a bad day in my garden. 
Nov 5th is Guy Fawkes day in New Zealand which is when most people go mad with fire works. It happened to be a Saturday and I’d decided to have a few friends over for a BBQ. Back then my back yard was still in it's original state with no gardens or BBQ properly built yet, there were no lovely steps or paths to walk up, so it was a pretty rough setup, although the bridge had been built by this time. It was just a grassy bank that levelled out at the top which is where we did the BBQ.

Because the garden is surrounded by bush, I made a point of asking our guests to refrain from bringing any fireworks – everything was pretty dry. There were a few families including a number of children who were running around all over the property. As it happened, the neighbors kids who were around the same age (early teens) started showing off and were letting off fireworks on their property. Then one of the neighbors kids appeared with a tennis racquet and lobbed a large firework over some trees and into the trees next to us causing the whole bush on a steep bank to erupt into flames, including a huge pine tree that was towering above us. Within seconds the flames were leaping several metres into the air and making a terrific roaring sound.

Most of my guests stood there stunned while I was thrown into a panic. I was terribly concerned that it would quickly spread and set the whole area on fire endangering the houses. I sprinted to the house and called the fire service, then grabbed as many buckets as I could find and started directing our youngsters to fill them up from a large stormwater tank in the bottom of the gully and ferry them to the base of the fire which was over the brow of the hill.
We managed to get the fire mostly under control by the time the fire engine arrived. But the pine tree was still on fire above us and there was no way we could throw a bucket of water that high.

So within a reasonably short time the fire crew had their hoses on it and managed to put the fire out. Everyone was a bit shaken and I was high on adrenalin. I was hugely impressed with one of the boys (about 14) who was quite heroic in his efforts to help me. It was all rather exciting for the youngsters who got more than they bargained for that night despite being asked to leave their fireworks at home.

While in the process of putting all their hoses away, one of our boys mentioned to one of the firemen how the fire had started. Next thing we know the police turned up to investigate (as far as I know no charges were laid). By this time night was falling...

In the mean time those in charge of our BBQ (which I'd completely forgotten about) had finished cooking all kinds of sausages and what-not and were taking the food back over to the house ready to serve.

One of the guests 'Sharon' was making her way down the bank to the bridge carrying a dish full of cooked sausages, when she slipped down the bank (the grass was still wet from the fire hoses which took the same route). She went skidding down the bank on her bottom, the sausages and dish went bouncing down the bank in all directions. She came to an abrupt stop landing awkwardly on one of her ankles. When we tried to help her up we could see she was in pain and she couldn't put any weight on it. 

One of our boys (the informant) told the fire crew what had happened. One of them came to see if he could help – he appeared to be trained in first aid. He suspected a broken bone, so then he called an ambulance. Sharon ended up on crutches for several weeks after that. 

The neighbours in the surrounding area must certainly have been wondering what was going on at our place that night with all the emergency services turning up one after the other.
Needless to say, I've decided never again to have a BBQ on Guy Fawkes night.

Sharon's little accident was a huge motivator for me to install the steps and landscaping to make the back part of our garden safer, so at least something good eventually came out of it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Making Compost

Around my garden there’s always plenty of garden waste so there’s no shortage of raw material for making great compost. Now that my garden has grown in size, the black plastic compost bin I bought a few years ago isn’t big enough to keep up with demand. So, I knocked together a couple of wooden frames which stack on top of each other and I use the 2 systems in combination which seems to be working pretty well.

The above picture shows the end result, but once I’ve taken all my lovely compost and dug it into the garden, it’s time to start all over again. This is what I do...

Over a period of months I’ve been collecting all our kitchen scraps, lawn clippings and other organic waste into the black bin, plus each year when I do any big garden tidy up, I gather up dead punga branches, hedge trimmings and any other stuff that’s too big and woody to fit in the bin. When gathering this into heaps I usually do it in layers giving each layer a dusting of lime, which controls acidity and encourages insect life. I sometimes add a spade full of soil which I reckon helps in the decomposition process as it’s usually full of all kinds of micro-organisms. I leave it sitting in a pile for about a year in a shady corner of the garden.

Using the wooden frame (which has 4 pointed corner posts which poke into the ground) I use my body weight to dig the stakes into the ground, positioning it wherever I have space. 

Then I start forking the contents of the bin into the box, spreading it evenly in layers.

Each layer I give a dusting of lime as I alternate between the wet mushy contents of the bin and the dryer more twiggy, punga branches etc, which is already partly decomposed, making it like a huge multi-layered sandwich. I reckon the twiggy stuff helps to keep the stack airated which also encourages insect life.
This process of layering serves the same purpose as giving a compost heap a good mixing which is recommended in order to achieve the right consistency, not too wet, not too twiggy and coarse, but crumbly and full of insect life, especially worms. By the time it’s ready to use it will be well on the way to being returned to soil but full of rich goodness and life. 

When I’ve used up all the ingredients I put something over the top to keep the rain off it and then leave it for about 4-6 months. In the mean time I work at filling the bin again and gathering up more branches for the next batch. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Plums & Pollenation

Successful pollenation is all about TIMING and PROXIMITY.

There are a few different pollinators (some say 'pollenizers') for the Black Doris plum. They include the Billington, Sultan, Purple King or Elephant Heart varieties. When I originally planted my Black Doris plum I wasn’t too concerned about which pollenator to get so long as it did the job. I had a few to choose from at the Nursery at the time. Up until recently I couldn't remember which one I actually got. So after doing a bit of research here I've concluded that I must have the Billington variety.

The Billington's plum blossoms earlier than the Black Doris, you might say a little bit too early. As you can see below the Billington Tree (background) is almost finished blossoming before the Black Doris’ flowers (foreground) are ready to open.

There was a slight overlap between the two which this year only lasted a day or 2. Unfortunately, around that time it rained and all the pollen on the remaining blossoms got wet. Thankfully, before the rain arrived I’d plucked off a couple of nice looking blossoms and manually painted them onto the Black Doris blossoms that were open, of which there were only about 4 on the whole tree.

Needless to say, my hopes of having many fruit on the Black Doris this year look pretty slim. One thing I learned about the Billington and it may well be partly the reason why I chose it was that it itself is self-pollenating. The last 2 or 3 years it has fruited tremendously. 

According to one of my neighbors, whose husband planted a Black Doris tree some 30 odd years ago, the tree had never fruited until I planted my Billington. Perhaps because of the size of the neighbors Black Doris tree which is much bigger than mine, there is a sufficient overlap of blossoms to enable pollenation, even though they're about 15 metres apart. You can see where they are in relation to one another in this pic...

I’m hoping the blossom-overlap between my 2 plum trees will get longer as my Black Doris gets bigger. I’m just glad the bees know what they’re doing.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Potted Colour

Winter has a way of making things in the garden look they’ve been abandoned, like this garden planter which has been completely taken over by weeds.

When spring finally arrives it’s time to get out in the garden and get everything back into some kind of order. I started by emptying the planter and giving it a bit of a scrub to clean it up a bit.

Then came the fun bit... filling it with garden mix and a few flowering plants. I chose Pansies, Lobelias and Sweet Williams. I bought them before they’d started flowering as they were cheaper to buy that way, which meant I didn’t know what colours I was going to get until they started flowering.

I probably wouldn’t have chosen pinks and purples if I had the choice but I reckon I probably couldn’t have chosen the colours any better.

It’s amazing how a bit of colour can brighten up your day.

The way it turned out the colours tied in nicely with the orchids which I moved from their storage area, to brighten up the front of the house.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Is it Worth all the Effort?

When I first started growing my own vegetables, this was one of the main questions I kept asking myself.

Up until recently the answer in a monetary sense has mostly been “No”, especially if you factor in the cost of establishing the garden in the first place and of course I’ve only started gardening recently. So I decided to view those costs as an investment into the future viability of this whole endeavour. At least I have the satisfaction of knowing that all my vegetables are organically grown (I don't use pesticides and sprays) and everything we eat from the garden is fresher than you could buy anywhere. I reason that there’s got to be some value in that.

I must confess I don’t even know how much vegetables cost these days, as my wife usually does all the shopping. But I went shopping with her recently and decided to take my camera with me. I decided to take note of the prices of some of the same vegetables that I’m growing in my garden...

To help get it all in perspective I also took a photo of some seedlings I got from the plant shop. In this case it was the new Bunnings store that just opened which has a gardening section. Keep in mind that the price shown is for 6 seedlings.

Now it doesn’t take much math to work out that a half dozen brocolli at 2.99 ea. comes to $17.94 less the price of the seedlings leaves $16.65. The cauliflower cost twice as much @ $2.99 for HALF a cauliflower resulting in a crop of a half dozen cauliflowers worth $34.59. The cabbages work out to $28.71 for 6 whole cabbages. 

You only have to grow a half dozen of each of these 3 kinds of vegies before you’ve saved yourself about $80 at the supermarket. Admittedly these are winter prices and it’s harder for most people to grow vegies in the winter as their gardens are too shady and wet. But under the right circumstances and conditions it’s definitely worth it growing your own.

The cost of pumpkins blew me away. If you read my post here about growing pumpkins last summer you may have seen my comment on the price at the time at $1.50 each. Come mid-winter and the price has rocketed up to almost $9 each. Of the 10 pumpkins we grew last summer we still have 2 left. They keep well and will last all year. On this basis, even if you didn’t grow your own, you should almost buy them in bulk in the summer and store them ‘til the winter.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tony’s Special PRIZE!

I have decided to award my number one supporter (a.k.a. Tony) with a special hand crafted prize.

As some of you may know, I am a Graphic Designer. I run my own Graphic Design business – which is one of the things I do when I’m not in the garden. Gardening for me is just a hobby, albeit: a hobby with huge benefits.

Anyway, Tony is a budding Comic Strip artist. He was the first person to ever comment on my blog when I first started about a year ago and has faithfully supported me ever since. If you haven’t already done so, you might like to check out his blog here. 

So, the special hand crafted prize I created for him was a logo and some fan art for his comic strip "Ratbags"...

I hope you like it Tony, and thanks again for all your support!

I’m thinking of starting a new Blog featuring some of my other artwork. Let me know if you think this is a good idea.

Check out my Zazzle shop where you can buy a button/badge featuring this artwork.
Or if you prefer a t-shirt click here.

I finally got around to getting my creative blog off the ground – See it here

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Blog Marks ONE YEAR!

My Blog has just turned a year old this month.
I didn’t want that milestone to pass without acknowledging and thanking all those who’ve visited my blog, especially those who’ve taken the trouble to make a comment.

As you can see from the stats shown left people are visiting from all over the world. I have been amazed at the interest shown in my posts regarding the sleepout I built earlier this year.

It’s taken me a while to figure out a few things but I’ve noticed that when I make the effort to keep it up to date, readership increases. So I’ll try to post more regularly and keep it as fresh as possible.

Some posts take a bit of time and require a bit of forward planning, but hopefully the effort is worth it so that what I post is of interest and it actually makes sense to you the reader.

Anyway, thanks again for visiting my blog! Come back again soon.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

New Winter Garden

Over the last couple of years since I got serious about gardening I started taking more notice of how the suns daily path changes throughout the seasons. This is quite important in my garden as it's surrounded by trees and during the winter when the sun's lower there's only 1 or 2 spots in the garden that gets any sun and even then for only part of the day.

I often escape to this part of the garden where I built a simple macrocarpa bench to sit on and take in the rays. I decided this would be the perfect spot to build yet another garden (a small one) where I might be able to grow a few vegetables over the winter. 

Using a few lengths of macrocarpa I still had lying around I worked out where the garden was going to go, then started digging up the soil to about a spades depth. As expected there were a few tree roots from the ti-tree right next to the garden but I wasn't too bothered about digging them up and getting rid of them. Ti-trees are pretty tough and can handle it.

I mixed in  some home made compost, plus a few bags of the bought stuff and then planted my seedlings. I made sure to add some all-purpose fertiliser. I put in a half dozen each of lettuces, brocollis and cauliflowers. I planted them a week or so before the shortest day, which fell this year on June 22.

Within a month they were doing really well – much better than the vegetables I tried growing elsewhere in the garden.

About a month after that and we had already eaten 5 out of 6 of the lettuces and I was starting again with more. By then the brocolli was beginning to flower.

About 10 days following this and I was picking the biggest brocolli I've ever grown. 
Look at that thing – it's almost as big as my head!

That was a proud moment, and it tasted great. Izumi steamed it. I smothered mine with cheese sauce.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Plum Blossoms... nearly!

Spring has sprung! Right on time. 

In NZ we expect spring to arrive on September 1st. Our plum tree's a pretty good indicator regarding the arrival of Spring. These photos taken today (Sept 2nd) show the blossoms forming and almost ready to open. A half dozen or so have already opened but I'm looking forward to seeing the whole tree covered in blossoms. 

I'm expecting this to take place within the next few days.
I'll post more photos later.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Good things take time

I was digging around amongst some old stuff and came across a few old photos. This photo was taken back in 1993 which is when we decided to extend our house. Even before the extension was built I had already determined that wherever the house ended that’s where my garden would begin. It all started with a couple of retaining walls and moving heaps of earth all by hand in a wheel barrow.

The shape the garden would eventually take was dictated very much by the sloping section and the need to get from one end to the other hence the need for steps. I decided to make a feature of the steps based on something I'd seen in the bay of Islands in the northern part of NZ. I wanted to include areas for planting which I built out of blue stone rock.

This was the first time I'd ever done anything like this so there was a lot of trial and error involved (especially building the rockery) and it was a rather slow process, but I had a pretty good idea of what I was aiming for. My theory was: Make sure the design or structure was well thought out and the rest should take care of itself.

The whole project took shape slowly over a period of 2 or 3 years. 

Fast forward 15 or so years after the planting had matured and a lawn had been laid and it was looking as good as it ever would. 

This photo was taken a couple of years ago but unfortunately since then the lawn has died off, I had to dig up the garden to underground cables to the sleepout and some of the garden rockery has fallen apart.

It was nice while it lasted. 

One thing I’ve learned is that keeping the garden looking nice is a never ending process, but I haven't got sick of it yet.

Read more about how I rebuilt the rockery here