It's the time of year here at Struan Farm to start saving seeds for next year's gardens. So far I've got a stash of marigold, poppy, delphinium and purple snow pea seeds.
I've tried to save some zucchini seeds on paper towels, but looking at them I'm not so sure that's been a success.... This is pretty much trial and error on my part--I might need to leave a zucchini to get even bigger than those I took these seeds from, they're looking a bit immature. Really just resting up (and practicing up) to save a good stash of heirloom tomato seeds!
Further to last week's post about the latest redevelopment project at Struan Farm, we're starting to acquire the huge quantity of native trees needed to plant this extensive area along the stream down the hill to the Mangaotaki River. So far there are 82 totara, 50 kahikatea, and 50 other varieties sitting shaded under the tawa trees. Everyone is getting watered each night.
John is picking up a carload each week. The nursery will continue to grow, at least until winter when we can (and will) start to plant!
When the going gets tough, the tough make pesto? With very few ripening tomatoes in sight here at Struan Farm, I've had to decide what to do with all of my flourishing basil. I'd had visions of starters of buffalo mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes and basil for weekend dinners this summer, silly me! Now the basil is heading into flower with nary an heirloom tomato ripe, and that would be a waste.
So I spent a rainy afternoon early this week making a few batches of both basil and sun-dried tomato pestos for fridge and freezer. Checked out basil pesto recipes by Jamie Oliver, Annabel Langbein, and Giada de Laurentiis' "Everyday Italian." They were all quite similar in terms of the actual ingredients, but had varying degrees of garlic, cheese and oil. I opted for the Italian in the group, where I also found the recipe for sun-dried tomato pesto.
Pestos are very easy to make, they're just whizzed up in the blender. The quality of your olive oil in particular is important to the flavour, at least to me. I've been a big fan of NZ's River Estate olive oils since discovering them at the Clevedon Farmer's Market years ago. This was well before they became "award winning" and I remain a loyal customer. Fortunately for me they now have a website and will courier oils to Piopio!
The basil pesto we'll use for pasta and pizzas. It's meant to be frozen initially in ice cube trays, then popped into ziplocks for convenience of use and storage. The sun-dried tomato pesto we will most likely use for a dip.
Now that the basil plants have had a decent haircut I think I've bought some time for those tomatoes to catch up, fingers crossed....!
No, this isn't about a Michael Jackson song. Rather I'm starting to harvest beets/beetroots from the veggie gardens at Struan Farm.
For dinner this weekend I tested out a recipe for Carrot & Beetroot Salad using raw grated carrots and beetroot, shallots, toasted cumin seeds, parsley, olive oil and vinegar.
It looked fantastic, and we did "eat our colours" as well as lots of vitamins. However, it was a bit bland. The recipe calls for either sherry or red wine vinegar. I used sherry vinegar.
If I were to make this again, I'd use either red wine or balsamic vinegar, and amp it up considerably. To quote Master Chef, "there just wasn't enough acidity!"
I've got lots of beets/beetroots to harvest and play around with. So later in the week I tried this version instead, "Ripe's Raw Energy Salad. In addition to raw grated beets and carrots, it has mint, toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and raisins. The dressing has olive oil and balsamic vinegar along with orange juice, pomegranate molasses and honey. Crunch and acidity, this second recipe is the keeper (yes, I know the photos look pretty similar, but the taste isn't!).
I'm also thinking about trying to pickle some beets. Haven't pickled anything before so I'm overdue. Will report back when/if that happens.
We can't go for too long without a major infrastructure or redevelopment project here at Struan Farm!
It was decided recently that we need to have a better walking track on the other side of the QEII bush reserve near the pond, one that will enable more intrepid visitors to walk down to the Mangaotaki River and do a loop, coming back up the river track. Right now the route down to the river is either up and down the metal/gravel river track, or via a rather challenging sheep track.
The vision for this has now expanded, with the track planned to pass by a lovely little waterfall, and major fencing along the stream that comes out of the QEII bush and runs down to Paradise Pond and the Mangaotaki River. The area fenced then will be planted with thousands of native trees, no exaggeration on numbers here. It's scrubby, rough territory, so not something that's used for and by grazing sheep (most often they get stuck down there). The concept is to turn messy scrub into more native reserve on the property, and make the stream and waterfall more accessible to people, not stock. It's a good thing for us to be doing in terms of the environment and the waterway.
This past weekend we walked down there to see the immediate area and the planned route. I had never seen the waterfall before, somewhat hard to believe, but it is hidden and access isn't easy. There's also an interesting wee cave, so it's definitely worth detouring the track to have visitors see this area.
Hopefully we aren't biting off more than we can chew. I have visions of us planting trees and native plants on these rugged hillsides for the rest of our days.....!
Friend Mandy shared a post on FB a few days ago with a recipe for an organic DIY weedkiller. The recipe called for 1 gallon of white vinegar, 1/2 cup of salt, and a glug (not a technical term) of dish detergent.
I've never been a big user of chemicals in the garden, and after surviving two bouts of cancer am even less so. The veggie gardens and orchard at Struan Farm are entirely organic. I leave decisions about the farm to my husband and Farmer John, we do use some chemicals to control thistles and blackberry around the property, and drenches on the sheep. For the other gardens chemicals are a last resort; weedkiller is used only after I've tried to dig invasive things out, repeatedly, over time. I've pretty much conquered onion weed and aluminium plant this way (I'm saying this somewhat hesitantly and whispering, hopefully they won't read this....), do have a ways to go with Japanese anemone.
I leave spraying if it needs to happen to my husband.
After reading the DIY recipe, I decided to do a weed killing trial, comparing the effectiveness of the vinegar recipe, Roundup (glyphosate, the usage of which is now banned in the EU and California but not NZ as yet, "we're still reviewing the data"), and boiling water. I'd read about using boiling water to kill weeds, but don't think it's practical for large areas, may be okay for a house in town where you can step out the door with the kettle, assuming it works. We have a strip of weeds running down our driveway that is starting to drive me nuts, so I decided to do the experiment there.
I sprayed Roundup on the first section (yes, wearing protective gloves, etc.), poured boiling water on the second, and sprayed (then dumped) the vinegar and salt recipe on the third. After only several hours, both the Roundup and water sections had started to wilt. But what was even more interesting was that the area I sprayed with vinegar and salt had changed the most, even the thistles:
Hmmm. This DIY recipe actually works! Thanks Mandy!
Popped down to New Plymouth for a day over the long holiday weekend to attend the annual auction of stone sculptures by the Te Kupenga Stone Sculpture Society. Sculptors from around NZ and from overseas have been working away on the New Plymouth foreshore over the past several weeks, including brother-in-law Alan Axten.
We're in the market (sort of) for a sculpture for the gardens at the new(ish) house at Struan Farm. We haven't finished the gardens just yet, and know that we need more structure than we've got right now, some visual focal points. Sculpture is one way of doing this, trellises another.
It was a fun day trip. The prices paid at the auction were slightly above our "ballpark" for something spontaneous, however. If we're going to pay what these sculptures command, we need to know where it would be going, and be agreed on the design. Below are several we liked, including two by Alan:
I favoured either one of Alan's two or the "Kereru" (woodpigeons). (I could see designing gardens around them more easily.)
On the drive back we stopped off at an area called "The Three Sisters," where there are interesting stones and cave formations along the coast, as well as a funky little settlement of bachs (traditional kiwi vacation getaways). One had a quirky wall of jandals/flipflops outside. We also stopped at Mokau, where they were pulling in kowhai (local fish) for dinner.
Long holiday weekend here at Struan Farm, for Auckland Anniversary. I'd seen a recipe for "Favourite Summer Berry Slice" in the NZ Herald not too long ago, and decided it would be fun to give it a try. Piopio Berry Orchard still has strawberries, blueberries and raspberries in season. I'm not sure how much longer that will be the case, so wanted to make the most of the "berry trifecta."
The slice turned out really well, this recipe's a keeper. Almond-y crust at the bottom, moist filling and great berry flavours. I served it with fresh berries and (just a tad) of whipped cream. Yogurt is also an option, although with sour cream in the filling I wasn't sure if that might be too sour. (Having tasted the slice now, it would be good too.)
Of course we needed amazing flowers for the table to accompany this dessert. The brilliant blue pops of cornflowers and "Ella's Nigella" look lovely with the pink and orange, don't they?
I planted a Cape Gooseberry (Physalis peruviana) bush in the backyard at Struan Farm this past spring. It was a bit of a mistake on my part. John always talks about the gooseberries in the garden growing up, and I thought this plant was what his parents had. Nope. It was another type of gooseberry entirely, oops!
Be that as it may, the Cape Gooseberry got planted, and is doing well. It has fruited for the first time, although the berries are still ripening:
The berries are protected by beautiful green paper lanterns, which turn brown as they ripen.
When I saw the paper lanterns encasing the berries, I remembered that these were the very same berries I ate in my grandmother's garden on Red Gate Road (New Vernon, NJ, USA) as a little girl, with another friend. Panic ensued, no one was sure if they were edible or poisonous. We were given a stern lecture: NEVER EAT ANYTHING FROM THE GARDEN UNLESS APPROVED BY AN ADULT. The other girl was just along for the ride, I was the instigator, so you know who really was in trouble, don't you?
So Cape Gooseberries and I have a history. I'm glad to have them here at Struan Farm, where little girls (and boys) can pick and eat them, under close supervision of course!
We're into the real summer heat now here at Struan Farm. John and I noticed a few days ago that the cicadas had started their annual courtship period, buzzing away. So off I went in search of their casings/shells on tree trunks around the farm, and found some straight away:
Cicadas incubate underground in autumn, winter and spring, rising up in summer to abandon their protective shells and buzzing to attract mates. Bizarre but interesting. We find the casings on certain types of large trees but not others, not sure why.
Our beloved vintage David Brown tractor has developed some sort of problem with a "bearing." So a short while ago it was picked up at Struan Farm by flatbed truck and delivered to the specialist repair shop in Te Kuiti. At the time we realised that it had never been off the farm further than Piopio village, 10k away.
When there wasn't quite as much speeding traffic on the main road John or his dad Maurie would drive it into Piopio, with someone behind them in a car with emergency flashers, but those days are long gone.
Rather a big trip for the old boy--we want and need him home soon, feeling better!
John and I went to a wedding recently, which has prompted me to think about love. Right now I'm too tired to garden.
I haven't loved all that many people in my lifetime, really, truly, deeply (we're talking adults here, kids and animals have their own special categories). But I am exceedingly grateful for having the love I do have and have had in my life.
Love often gets muddled up with other things. People sometimes expect you to love them by virtue of a relationship, regardless of how they behave or treat you. I've never been someone who could love just because. That's created complications with people who expected me to love them and do certain things just because. It seemed to be more about their wants and needs. I might have cared a lot, but it wasn't love, it was obligation and sacrifice. My experience is that guilt doesn't make people love you and vice versa. Sometimes people hold on too tightly. Life is busy, people get overwhelmed by the day-to-day stuff, the need to make a living, their own desires and ambitions.
For me love is about being known, understood, and accepted. Warts and all, riding through the times when you and they are grumpy and not the best. Being able to show those parts of yourself that you don't let others see, because you're not all too sure about yourself sometimes. Being able to share, somewhat grudgingly but safely, that maybe you're not always a good person and could do better. Much of this is experienced in a good friendship, but love is different. Love is still standing when a friend might walk away. It gets tested and strengthens over time.
Love is special and rare. It could mean something entirely different for you, and that's fine with me. But if you have it in your life, cherish and protect it. And yes, I do need some rest!
A few months ago granddaughters Ella, Livvy and Emma planted trays of various flower seeds in the glasshouse at Struan Farm. We christened them "Ella's Nigella," "Livvy's Lobelia," and "Emma's Echinacea." All have been planted out in the gardens, but "Ella's Nigella" has been the first to flower, appropriately enough for the eldest child:
The roses in the gardens at Struan Farm are having another major bloom, hooray. Even those I've grown from cuttings in the new garden at the new(ish) house, hip hip hooray. So considerable choice for the flower arrangements right now.
Still in a bit of a rut with pink and orange dahlias and roses, but it's a good one I think.
It's fun to watch the lambs that have just arrived at Struan Farm find their way around the place. There's been lots of baas, and massive runs from one end of the paddock to the next.
We've started to thin out the macrocarpa grove below the new(ish) house. It's started to restrict our view of the hills beyond the Mangaotaki River, and will eventually do so entirely if left to grow. John has wanted to take the trees down for awhile now, but I love their feathery texture. Our compromise is to leave clusters of trees but open up the view by taking some down. Surplus firewood indefinitely!
One came down this weekend, with the firewood taken away by a family friend. The rubbish has been left in a pile, to become a burn pile once seasonal burn restrictions are removed, usually in March. We're also dumping garden rubbish that doesn't go into compost here for now too.
And guess what? The pile has been discovered by the lambs, pets and otherwise. Lots of nibbling going on.
Perhaps they're playing "King of the Hill?"
I like to mix flowers and companion plants with the vegetables in our veggie gardens at Struan Farm, mostly to attract bees, but also to repel pests. This week things are flowering away, and I found myself drawn to the Lemon Bergamot, Hyssop, and seeding Dill, they're looking beautiful!
The Lemon Bergamot looks like a tiered wedding cake. It's also called Mondarda citriodora or "Lemon Bee Balm." Bees love the flowers, and a tea can be made from its leaves. I'd also read somewhere that it helps the flavour of tomatoes too, so have planted it in one of my beds of tomato plants.
Bees, hummingbirds and butterflies love Hyssop. It's flowers and leaves are edible, can be used in salads and soups.
I can never manage to use all of the Dill before it flowers and goes to seed, but it's hard to find fresh here in NZ when you need it for salmon. I'll save the seeds from these heads for next year....
Beans, beans are good for your heart. We don't need to finish that schoolroom ditty, do we?!
I managed to get reacquainted with my veggie gardens over the weekend. We've been so busy with the farmstay over the past few weeks here at Struan Farm that my interaction with the veggie gardens has been mostly a quick sprint out the back door to cut lettuce and herbs for salads. (Okay, I did take a few glances at the ever expanding zucchinis, also at the multitudes of green tomatoes.) But nothing of a work nature happened at all, there was no time for that.
So I was happy to have the time to re-engage and assess the job(s) at hand. After picking zucchinis (lots of zoodles and zucchini bread in our immediate future) I tackled the beans:
The ones that weren't past it have been trimmed, blanched and put into ziplock bags in the freezer. As they say in NZ: beans for Africa!
I've made a few more batches of strawberry jam since blogging about making the first batch of the season at Struan Farm last week.
While my homemade strawberry jam is the favourite by far with both our farmstay guests and grandchildren (I've had guests request a spare jar to take home), I actually prefer my blueberry jam--it's not quite as sweet. It takes a bit more time and effort to make, since the recipe calls for both finely diced apples and lemon juice in addition to blueberries and sugar. It also only makes three jars vs. five with the strawberry.
But it's definitely worth the effort! One more batch to make of this (John and I aren't big toast eaters) and then I'm back to making more strawberry to meet the demand.
We've had a decent first harvest of blackcurrants this year at Struan Farm. I'd intended to make jam with them, but stumbled upon Nigel Slater's Blackcurrant Almond Tart recipe and couldn't get past that. (Note: he spells blackcurrant as one word, so I'm doing the same.) Since John and I have been eating nothing but Piopio Berry Orchard strawberries, blueberries and raspberries for the past two months, it was nice to have a wee change for a weekend dessert, if only briefly!
The sweet pastry dough was quite crumbly, I ended up pressing it into the tart pan since I was unable to roll it out. (This may be due to the heat right now, not sure. But I don't usually have a problem rolling out pastry, scout's honour!) And while he said there was no need to weigh it down with beans or pie weights while pre-baking the pie shell if the pastry had been chilled, I found mine did rise more than I would have liked despite being chilled for the time specified. So I would recommend you weigh it down if you're making the recipe. I might actually try making the pastry in the food processor next time, which is how I usually do it, rather than by hand, to see if that helps.
There's a glorious aroma in the kitchen when this comes out of the oven, reason alone to try it if you can get your hands on some blackcurrants. And like most things Nigel Slater, the tart is delicious, served warm with a bit of whipped cream or yogurt.