Exciting Times

It’s Winter here in New Zealand; a time to hunker down, stoke up the fire and make plans. I’ve been doing a bit of all three but I have to say I’ve never had a busier winter. I’ve been mulching like crazy to keep those pesky weeds under control, and to feed the soil and protect the biennials that are bravely soldiering on in the cut flower garden. My mulch of choice? Mushroom compost at the  moment. Brilliant stuff!

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I’ve been planting up sweet peas, making supports, planting bulbs in the Nuttery and transplanting hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of self sown cerinthe major seedlings to other parts of the garden ready to bloom their magnificent purply bracts in Spring.

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I’ve also moved many narcissi bulbs, bluebells, snow drops and Belladonnas into the Nuttery because we are turning a very unsuccessful island bed back to grass. I can’t bear to waste a single bulb so I’ve been loading up the wheel barrow and moving each and every one to a new home.

All this activity has had a purpose. Not only to create a beautiful environment for my family and an enriching one for insects and birds but also to provide a firm foundation for my new, embryonic business. I’ve always known that growing things made sense. That assisting seeds to full their potential had meaning. That creating beauty meant creating a legacy. What I hadn’t realised was that, perhaps, I may be able to make a living from it…… So, I’m going to unveil my new business called myflowercart…da daaaaaaah!

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Back in the summer I talked to my friend’s hubbie (an amazing builder with a very good eye for up-cycling – something close to my heart). I told him about my idea of a flower cart. I described it as rustic, vintage, tongue and groove wooden sides, a tin roof and all made from up cycled materials. Wow did he deliver!

Firstly we started with an old trailer base that my friend’s brother used to drag her around the paddock in when they were kids! Then the base was built and a cladding applied (old boards from an old house).

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There are windows at the side to let light in and three shelves for optimal display. There was much discussion about the shelves and the windows and I’m so glad there was. I’m not very good at expressing the contents of my mind so it really helped to have practical advice from my friend and Mr Fig and Mr Builder.

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The lower shelf just begs to be full of seedlings and Sunflowers will go in huge buckets down here.

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I’ll fill these galvanised buckets full of blooms….

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…..and use these blackboard tags for clear pricing.

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I love the knot in the wood here.

My wooden cart won’t stop here either. Everyone who knows me will expect there to be bunting (and there will!).

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It will also have vintage blackboards

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I made them myself from an old mirror with a lovely frame

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and an old photo frame from the op shop.

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I’m also thinking rose hip heart decorations and willow wreaths. I’ll be operating an Honesty Box system so will have to trust people to be honest. I’ll also operate a Pay By The Bank App on your Mobile Phone system.

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By the way, Eldest Figlet was responsible for this pricing! Note that the flowers are worth thousands and her baby Figlet brother 10 cents!

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In full growing season there will be galvanised buckets full to bursting with Sweet peas, Larkspur, Foxgloves, anemone, ranunculus, icelandic poppies and mixed posies and bouquets…and that’s just early Spring! Summer will bring peonies, sunflowers, snapdragons, zinnia, clary sage, bells of Ireland, cosmos double click, kiss me over the garden gate, lemon balm, malope and nigella…. It will be a feast for the senses! I just love it and am eternally grateful to know someone who was able to make my dreams a reality (thanks Johnny aka Mr Builder and thanks Soph aka Mrs Builder for sowing the seed in my mind for actually selling my flowers).

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I’ve been busy drawing on my IT skills from a previous life and creating spreadsheets for planting timetables, successional sowing, forecasts, actuals and budgets with the help of Mr Fig and his Financial Mind. We’ve had a happy time trying to outdo each other in the Nerd Stakes!  I’ve been researching pricing, irrigation techniques, marketing and sales. It’s pretty thrilling and daunting but the underlying emotion is complete fulfilment and satisfaction. I’m pretty realistic; from my research it’s obvious that flower farming is best learnt from experience. I’m also not likely to be a millionaire next year (or the one after that).  I’m starting small; just a cart, roadside sales and a couple of florists who liked my flowers last year. But I have plans to expand into the local community and social media and with inspiration from Common Farm Flowers in the UK and Floret Flowers in the US I’m hoping to be a fully fledged Flower Farmer before very long (and a Fig Farmer of course – I’ve been busy propagating and pruning those little trees too).

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So it’s a busy and exciting time here at The Fig Tree. I’ll soon have a new website and blog focussing on the flowers which I’ll blog about as soon as it’s up and running. For now, if you’re interested in the Life of a Flower Farmer then pop over to my new Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/myflowercart. Until then…follow your dreams if you can :-)

Home made crackers

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Junk Free June in the Fig House is going quite well all in all. We’ve have had zero crisps/chips and zero shop bought biscuits woo hoo! However, the Figlets haven’t been missing out. They enjoyed the bird seed slice that I made last week, banana cake, popcorn and veg sticks and hummus. They’ve also developed an obsession with pistachio and cashew nuts. Funny because I thought they’d miss the junk but apparently not :-)

To keep things interesting I’ve been browsing through My Petite Kitchen Cookbook which is chock full of whole food, gluten free recipes. This morning I tried the home made crackers.

Sunflower Herb Crackers
145g sunflower seeds
1 tsp sea salt
3 tsp garlic granules (or three peeled garlic cloves)
75g seseme seeds
1 handful chopped fresh thyme
1 Tbsp olive oil
Water to bind

Preheat the oven to 180c and line a baking sheet 32 x 42cm with baking paper.
Put the sunflower seeds, garlic and salt into a processor and blitz for 2-3 minutes until the sunflower seeds form a dense kind of breadcrumb.

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Add the sesame seeds, thyme and olive oil and process again. Add 3-5 teaspoons of water one at a time as you blitz until the mixture comes together as a dough.

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Transfer the somewhat crumbly mixture onto the lined baking sheet. At this point you need to cover with baking paper and roll to 5mm thickness with a rolling pin. My rolling pin is longer than my tray so I couldn’t roll any further down than the sides of the tray would allow. Therefore, you may find you need to transfer the baking paper onto a work surface to do the rolling. I also found that making a square shape was tricky because this dough is very sticky. That’s why I ended up with the shape of Nebraska…… will aim for a more square shape next time!!

Before popping into the oven, score lines across the dough, then cover with a sheet of baking paper and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Make sure you score quite deeply as this will make it easier to break them up after cooking. Leave to cool completely on the tray then break into pieces and store in an air tight container for up to 2 weeks.

I have to admit that I thought the Figlets would find these too garlicky but they loved them.

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In fact, Mr Fig and the Figlets loved them soooooo much that when I went to take a photo to blog there weren’t many left to photograph!

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Just one and a bit….. I think a double batch might be worth it next time seeing as they can keep for 2 weeks.

I’m wondering if I would be able to make a balsamic vinegar and sea salt flavour? If I have a go I’ll let you know how it turns out. One thing I am realising is that cooking with whole foods is very simple. Once you’ve got all the new ingredients it’s a cinch so don’t be put off if you need to buy a few extras from the supermarket or health food shop. Happy junk free baking!

A Sweet Idea and a Bird Seed Slice

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Although we are now plunged into the deep, dark depths of winter (probably being  a bit over dramatic here but you get my drift) there is still some new, fresh green growth going on in my garden. I have various little pots of cuttings and seeds that I just managed to germinate before the Cold Snap that had us all reaching for the thermals, but the ones I’m most excited about are the Sweet Peas. I’m growing the solstice variety at the moment because these guys are tough. They are the SAS of the Flower World. They laugh in the face of short, dark days and they not only accept the challenge to Flower In Winter, they relish it! Yes! A sweet pea in winter! This is the first time that I’ve tried this variety so I’ll report back. But whether Solstice variety or Spencer variety all sweet peas need good support. Over the years I have always suffered from saggy nets (eek!) dragged down by the tenacious, snaking stems of my sweet peas. This year it’s going to be very different because I had a Lightbulb Moment. Now, these don’t come around very often so I just had to share it. I was toying with the idea of using wire to thread along the top of the netting but I didn’t have any. Rats! As I started mumbling at the dog I noticed a pile of bamboo canes that we harvest frequently because the bamboo is a complete delinquent and threatens to take over not just our garden but the whole world. They looked very light but also very solid and long. Long enough to thread through the netting and balance on top of the posts!

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And lo! The first Bamboo Curtain Support for Sweet Peas was created (as far as I know anyway!!) All looking very neat and tidy and Well Supported!

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It’s just a case of threading the cane through the squares…..

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Mr Fig banged in a couple of nails to stop the bamboo from sliding off the posts and making me really cross. He’s thoughtful like that :-)

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We also constructed a support outside in the vege garden for more sweet peas and planted spinach, silver beet and beetroot in front.

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From the greenhouse to the kitchen….. Not sure if anyone else is doing Junk Free June but I’ve been quite keen to Have A Go. I always feel really guilty buying up processed snacks for the Figlets. I always seem to succumb to the pressure though. I’m always really shocked at the cost of them too (especially as they’re gone in a flash as soon as the Figlets find them). I do quite a bit of baking anyway so I’ve decided to up the baking and try a few new snack ideas to keep the wolves from the door and the Figlets from lynching me :-) Now, I’m interpreting Junk Free as not buying processed foods so the baking ideas I’ll be using do contain sugar (we’re not saints you know). First up is this gorgeous recipe from a fabulous cookery book called Ripe named after the author’s Auckland cafe. Their philosophy is… “simple, fresh, quality, seasonal, healthy food that’s good value for money.” Couldn’t have said it better myself and here’s one of my favourite recipes.

Bird Seed Slice

150g raisins
120g unsalted butter
1/2 cup golden syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
90g smooth peanut butter
150g rolled oats
150g pumpkin seeds
150g sunflower seeds
150g sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 170c. Grease and line a 20 x 30cm tin. In a small bowl cover the raisins with water and leave for 20 minutes to soak and plump up. This helps prevent them from burning.

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Place a small saucepan over a medium heat. Melt together the butter, golden syrup, brown sugar and peanut butter stirring constantly until thick. Remove from the heat. Drain the raisins.

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In a large bowl combine the raisins with the oats and seeds.

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Pour the melted butter mixture over and stir to combine.

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Press the mixture into the tin and cover with baking parchment or foil. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the paper or foil and bake for another 15 minutes or until golden. Cut while still warm and in the tin. Place in fridge and allow to set.

Other snack substitutes that I’m hoping will become the norm include:

Toast with honey
Yoghurts and Suckies
Home made hummus with veg sticks
Sunflower seed pate
Four Seed Crackers
Pizza Crackers
Pistachios, cashews, macadamia, brazil nut mix
Freshly popped popcorn
Fruit

Some of these we have as snacks anyway but I’m looking forward to trying the sunflower seed pate, the crackers and making my own hummus again. Always good to have a challenge. If you have any healthy snack ideas to share please do! I’ll post up the new snack recipes when I’ve tried them out. Happy gardening and baking!

 

Walnut and Maple syrup biscuits

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Sometimes only a biscuit will do and I don’t mean a shop bought one (although custard creams will do at a pinch!) A still warm biccie fresh from the oven can really brighten a cold day or a hard mornings planting bulbs (250 so far….) since it’s raining walnuts here my memory was jogged to remember this recipe for a Walnut and Maple syrup biscuit. It doesn’t contain sugar but is sweetened by Maple Syrup and Rice Syrup. You can use raisins, sultanas, cranberries for the fruit – whatever you have to hand. There’s also no rolling out to do just a quick dollop on the baking tray. It also means that I can use one of my favourite kitchen gadgets – a coffee grinder. Now, I don’t drink coffee so this must be the only coffee grinder that has never ground a single bean. However, it’s been used to grind spices, nuts and even flowers (for my homemade concoctions). A pretty happy grinder all in all. If you don’t have a grinder just use your processor and scrape the sides down until everything is dust or buy ready ground walnuts!

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Mmmmm something very therapeutic about reducing things to rubble :-)

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Recipe

75g raisins/sultanas/cranberries
90g walnuts, ground
100g rolled oats
50g plain white flour
90g wholemeal flour
2 tsp cinnamon, ground
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp fine salt
5 Tblsp vegetable oil
5 Tblsp maple syrup
5 Tbsp brown rice syrup

Add your dried fruit to a small bowl and cover with boiling water to rehydrate them. Grind the walnuts and half of the rolled oats and add to a large bowl. Add all other dry ingredients.

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Then simply mix in the wet ingredients and the raisins and mix to a sticky dough. I always measure out the oil first. I find that the sticky maple syrup and rice syrup slip off the spoon a lot quicker – but maybe that’s just me being ultra impatient….

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Dollop dessert spoonfuls of the dough on to a baking sheet and cook at 180c for 13-15 minutes. I turn halfway through and cover with a sheet of baking paper to stop the edges burning.

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Hey presto! A yummy, chewy (really quite healthy for a biscuit) treat for a hard working gardener or those in need of a little comforting cheer….

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….oh….and a cup of tea :-)

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A Seedy Situation

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Papery trumpets of Bells of Ireland

One of the best things about Autumn is it’s incredible bounty. I spend most of my time here at The Fig Tree harvesting from the fig orchard and pootling down to Te Mata Figs to drop off the produce. I also spend a lot of time harvesting from the other trees around the place; walnut, persimmon, quince, feijoa and lime. It feels never ending as I scoop up a glut one day only to find a heap more the next. I’ve lived in this property long enough now to have my Go To chutney and preserving recipes and I will start sharing some of these as I make them. However, the other job I want to share is one that I’ve only just recently got into and that is seed saving.

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The architectural seed head of Scabiosa Starball

Saving seed makes economic sense (especially if you’re gardening on a large scale) but it also makes horticultural sense. I have found that the seed I have saved has a very high germination rate because it’s fresher. I save seed in the autumn and use it the following spring. This is a real plus point for saving your own. It’s also really easy. All you need are some paper bags, pen, scissors and a bit of time on a warm, dry day and you’re good to go.

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So how do you save seed? Some plants will make a seed pod, some will contain seed within the dying part of the flower and others will have seeds within fruit or berries. The key is to leave the flower on the plant until it goes brown and a bit crunchy. If you harvest too soon the seeds will be immature and won’t germinate. If you’re really organised you can tie a piece of string or ribbon  to particularly strong looking specimens so ensure strong seeds. However, I find that I collect and sow so much seed that I tend not to worry about this too much. Instinctively I tend to go for the larger heads anyway. Some flowers make it really easy-peasy and obvious where their seed is stored like poppies, calendular and nigella.

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The captivating seed head of Nigella

Nigella has the most stunning seed head that brings real interest and texture to posies. It’s well worth growing either the blue or the white variety because it’s flower is just as pretty with it’s feathery fronds as the seed pod. You effectively get two plants in one.

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Inside a Nigella seed pod

Split open the papery casing and you will find hundreds of tiny seeds just ready to be saved for next year. I often sow Nigella directly in autumn after harvesting seed. It’s very hardy and can withstand a bit of cold.

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Unripe seeds within an Honesty seed pod

Honesty is another fascinating seed pod. With the light behind it you can clearly see the large round seeds within. Like a little alien life force – it’s really beautiful.

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Honesty seeds ready to be collected

Wait a bit longer and the seed pod fades from bright green to brown and separates so the seeds can slip innocuously out.

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Iridescent moons

Once the seeds have slipped away it continues to fade to a silvery, gossamer thin disc – an iridescent moon –  perfect in an autumnal arrangement.

Other flowers like snapdragons, scabious and amaranthus are easy too – it’s just a case of waiting for the seed to dry off. Just pop them in a paper bag to dry and all the seed will be caught within the bag.

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Amaranthus Love Lies Bleeding with long tendrils of seed

Once you’ve grown amaranthus once you will never have to buy seed ever again. The long tail like catkins are packed with millions of tiny seed. These just crumble away when rubbed gently between finger and thumb. If seed doesn’t fall away easily then it’s not ready to harvest.

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Tiny amaranthus seed

Make sure you harvest the amaranthus or you will have a jungle next spring!

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Scabious Deep Waters seed pod

The beautiful seed pods of scabious Deep Waters are almost other worldly. As well as saving the seed you can also get another flush of flowers by giving the whole plant a haircut after it has flowered. Scabious is a hardy little trouper!

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Dried Bells of Ireland

There are some flowers who hide their seeds a little bit more than others; namely Bells of Ireland and Zinnia. I love both of these flowers but am often frustrated at the poor germination rates. This year I thought I’d up my chances by saving fresh seed to see if this helps. So grab yourself a handful of Bells and I’ll show you how easy it is to save.

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Dark circle of seed of Bells of Ireland

Once the bracts have turned papery you can see the dark centre. This circle makes up four seeds each of which is a triangle – like a piece of pie.

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Ouch!

Peel bag the papery skin and watch out for the spike behind the bract and tip the seed out into a bag.

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Perfect triangular seeds of Bells of Ireland

 

I am always fascinated by the perfect triangular shape of the seed and the neat way it forms a complete circle until broken apart – very clever.

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Zinnia Lime Green with crispy petals

With zinnia you might think that the centre contains the seeds but in actual fact it’s the dried up petals. Simply snip the petals leaving just a tiny bit to hold onto. Then pull gently and you have seeds.

Top seed Saving Tips

Never collect seed on a rainy day or when the dew is still on the grass

If seed doesn’t fall away easily either snip the whole flower and store in a bag to catch the seed or leave a bit longer

Always use a paper bag to store your seed and keep them away from moisture

Don’t forget to label the bag with the variety and the date. You’ll think that you’ll remember but you won’t!

If you have a glut of seeds try swapping them for other varieties with friends or google Seed Swapping Forums for one local to you

So have a go at saving seed. You’ll find yourself noticing that the fading beauty of flowers is just enchanting and save a bit of cash too.