Positive finish, positive start

This title might seem back-to-front. It’s about finishing the year by planting – and looking forward to the results in the new year.

On Christmas Day my sister and brother-in-law gave me an intriguing present.

I spent a while trying to guess what it could be. It turned out to be this:

It was a thoughtful gift to allow me to grow things in the hope of keeping them safe from the hens. Before they went on holiday, the family dropped around to put it up for me.

Over the last few days I’ve been thinking about what to plant in it. Today I felt ready, but even when driving to the nearest garden centre I changed my mind, went to the supermarket first and then to a different garden outlet. I often surprise myself with a change of plan. While I was there, my sister rang and we discussed what could be planted. I went home with more than could fit in the planter. Once again, more seems possible than is actually the case. That could be a positive trait. In the end, this is what the planter looks like:

There are snow peas at the top (blown sideways by the north easterly), kale and spinach in the middle and rocket at the bottom. The idea is that these are a-leaf(or pod)-at-a-time picking plants. It’s possible I might have to plant them in the garden under a protective dome if they grow too big.

The gourmet lettuce mix and the pepper plant were squeezed into the greenhouse.

The lettuces will probably grow too big for that pot, but I like those ready-planted lettuce bowls they have at the garden centre. I’ve just made my own.

I did more in the garden than I’d planned: tidied one side of the garden shed and replanted two hanging baskets – with new linings.

I love gardening programmes. Often, in the background, you can see little pots on stakes. Why? I wondered. Are they bug traps? Nearly poking my eye out on a stake and inadvertently stabbing myself in the ribs on another were all it took for the penny to drop. Now I have a rather fetching selection of ‘potted stakes’ too.

In this photo you can see several attempts made to protect plants from my free ranging hens. Ever persistent, ever hopeful applies to both me and the chooks! So, a positive end and a positive outlook.

Happy New Year!

Artichoke, anyone?

In the garden there used to be globe artichokes which produced dramatic silver-green leaves and thistle-like flowers. I meant to try eating them before they flowered, but never did. Those plants disappeared, so I planted two more. They have grown huge – nearly two metres – and are tied up and braced to prevent them toppling over. The flowers are gorgeous and they keep coming, so I cut one bud, and gave it a go.

I vaguely remembered how, many years ago (late 70s early 80s) at the Carey’s Bay home of some hippy-style professionals (veterinarians) who were into all manner of exotic plants, we peeled the leaves off globe artichokes and dipped them in garlic butter. It was a novelty and a pleasant appetiser. Since then I’ve occasionally observed artichoke hearts on antipasto platters – those squishy-looking things which are either left till last or left on the plate untouched.

Digby Law’s A Vegetable Cookbook has various ways of presenting them – including with garlic butter – all beginning with boiling, with salt and lemon juice added to the water. I followed these instructions and then was sad to see two small spiders had been boiled as well, and there were black specks in the water – spider babies? Had I killed a whole spider whanau?

The next step is to take off each leaf, dip it in garlic butter and slide the bottom of the leaf over your teeth to remove the soft base. This was quite enjoyable, apart from the discovery of a small cooked slug. There are several layers of leaves, then the choke emerges, which you cut away, and finally the base (often called the heart) which is the delicacy according to Digby Law.

It was an interesting experience and at least I can say I’ve done it. The garlic butter was the better part of it, perhaps. There’s an after-taste best followed up with something to clear the palate.

My conclusion is that I can rest safe in the knowledge that I’m not missing out on anything, and fully enjoy the wondrous spectacle of the plant in the garden.

Clever Christmas Treats

I thought I had done pretty well making Apricot Chocolate Tidbits as Christmas gifts. I added loads of chocolate chips to the recipe. I printed my own labels for the jars with a photo featuring the troll I bought in Finland.

However, Nola (Grandma), still producing her legendary pavlovas at 91, pips me at the post.

Then the competition takes an upward curve. My sister and brother-in-law made these chocolate reindeer with edible eye balls and pretzel antlers. In a jar full of other yummy treats.

But wait! For sheer class, style and variety, my niece – engaging the help of her Mum – wins the prize! This is despite her busy life, not only working but graduating with a law degree last week. The treats bag includes raspberry jam (with homegrown raspberries), beetroot relish, wholegrain mustard, bagel seasoning, festive rocky road, and tiny dinosaur rose gummies. All homemade and beautifully labelled. Wow!

It doesn’t end there. Tiny iced Christmas trees, fruity chocolate clusters, and locally made muesli and panforte were further delights.

The muesli, with hot milk, rhubarb and yoghurt, was delicious for breakfast today. (I would have added a sprinkle of blueberries if I’d thought of it.)

Almost edible are these “smelly” treats. The Lush products are locally made and personalised with the name of the maker. The bath salts are from my sister’s sister-in-law (or my brother-in-law’s brother’s wife) who is a teacher and made homemade gifts with her students. I love the finishing touches: lace cover and antique spoon tied on with string.

I have to include some reference to chickens. My brother and sister-in-law gave Nola this delightful book. It is written by a celebrity NZ chef, who lives in Arrowtown with her family. From this central Otago town, she runs her business and has a large vegetable garden and a flock of chooks. This story is about the hatching of a little chicken whose egg had been abandoned.

There’s something very special and heart-warming about local and homemade treats!

Blackcurrants for dessert

My nephew told me recently that we evolved to see colour so that we can find ripe berries.

I have two blackcurrant bushes. One has juicy berries, the other has larger but less juicy fruit. I’m hoping the rain we’re having will help to hydrate them.

Yesterday seemed a good time to pick the berries on the first bush near the chicken run. The chooks hovered about, waiting for stray ones to drop. Dora pecked at my toes and ankles if she thought I was being less than generous with my offerings.

The berries weighed in at over 500 grams – as they did last season, I see from a January post.

Half of this was plenty for one pie.

So I made two, using the Gooseberry Shortcake recipe from an ancient Edmonds Cookbook. (I couldn’t find any berries on the gooseberry bushes this year – but I did see Dora eating one… Fortunately, the blackcurrant canes are too high for them to reach and the birds don’t seem to eat them. The blackbirds ate my blueberries, however.)

Delicious for dessert, with icing sugar and a choice of cream or yoghurt.

Eating fruit and vegetables fresh, straight from the garden, is the best thing about this time of year. We had the first six runner beans this week and they were fresh and delicious. The broad beans, sadly, are done. I’m picking rainbow chard and small silver beet, parsley and garlic chives for salads – all cut up with herb scissors, with goat’s cheese feta, fresh tomatoes, kalamata olives, and a sprinkle of toasted seeds. Yum!

Greenhouse Progress

Since I put up the greenhouse in September it’s been going well. Once secured to prevent it from tipping over in the wind, it has provided a good environment for the three tomato plants to get an early start, as I had hoped. It steams up – as my glasses do too if I look inside – and the heat builds up quickly as the day gets warmer.

By November, I had to put in twine supports for the leggy growth, and the plants were flowering prolifically. I worry a little that the pot the Tumbling Tom is in isn’t big enough for the size of the plant. The other two plants are directly in the soil. Because they are all under cover, I have to water regularly, judging how much is needed, and adding liquid tomato food to a bucket of water each fortnight.

The first fruit were appearing on the Sweet Treats plant in November. This month the other two plants have the beginnings of fruit.

Everyday I roll up the door to allow air to move around and to let bees in. The trellis discourages the chooks. The plants have grown right up to the roof.

I found a ladybird – the first I’ve seen in ages. It has only two spots, and my research tells me that this variety was first discovered here in Christchurch in March 1936.

Last week I picked the first ripe tomatoes.

By today, they were filling up the bowl.