Edible Garden Show

We are very lucky here in Hawke’s Bay because not only do we get a generous proportion of lovely weather but we also get to enjoy it over a long weekend every year with Hawke’s Bay Anniversary Day and Labour Day straddling a Spring weekend in October. This particular long weekend played host to the NZ Edible Garden Show with a smorgasboard of entertainment from various experts covering topics from Epigenetics to How to keep chickens. I went for the day and managed to see five and a bit talks which were all informative and entertaining too.

Laura Faire

First off the mark was the lovely Laura Faire Sunday Star Times columnist, keen vege gardener, Guest Chef on NZTV’s Good Morning show and Cookery Book author.  The main dish demonstrated here involved that tricky little vegetable the Artichoke.  I’m growing artichokes this year, variety ‘Purple de Jesi’, after being inspired by the River Cottage Garden which had swathes of artichokes which were allowed to merrily, and wantonly, go to seed and flower with bright purple brush tops. However, having seen Laura’s secret weapon for dealing with the armour like coating of an artichoke I might try cooking a few too. Laura’s secret weapon? A rolling pin. Simply bash the outside of the artichoke to release the heart (without destroying it). Gently move the heart back into place and drizzle the inside and outside with olive oil. Grill or barbeque and turn every 5 minutes or so. So simple and a great tension buster to boot! Laura then whipped up a Bagna Cauda dip which is an Italian garlicky hot sauce. I was thrilled to see Laura championing the new Double Cream from Lewis Road Creamery. Since living in New Zealand for the last four years I’ve had to make do with single cream but Not Any More!

Lewis Road Cremery

I treated myself to a copy of Laura’s latest book Limited Edition Cookery. It’s not just a cookbook; it’s a book about Environmental Enlightenment and Doing Your Bit for the planet and going on a bit of an  Eco Journey. Laura’s journey started with the realisation that growing your own vegetables meant providing a ready made “cupboard” of fresh ingredients for cooking and ended with the realisation that making small changes to our lives, whether that be growing herbs on a windowsill or making your own compost, is nourishing to ourselves and our homes. Just my kind of thing. It’s also a little piece of artwork. One page within the book has been lovingly handfinished with gold leaf and it comes with a little packet of bee blend seeds to attract the bees and simultaneously create more produce. There’s also a postcard printed with a recipe to send to a friend and spread the joy. It’s green credentials are pretty impressive too since the whole book is certified carboNZero and printed here in New Zealand.  I’m banning it from my kitchen because, at best, I have a bad habit of splattering cookbooks with sauces and, at worst, burning them…. This cookbook is too lovely for that! I always think that growing your own veges creates a different kind of cook; more practical (you cook what’s in the garden), more inspired (you end up cooking veges you’d never buy) and more creative (surprising what you can come up with when faced with a mountain of courgettes). Also, a dollop of homemade quince jelly or spiced tomato chutney can lift even the humblest of meals to a gastronomic feast. It’s a book for the cook and the gardener alike and I already know what I’m going to cook from it first….but I’ll save that for another post.

ICookbook

I was thrilled to see our own local Celebrity, Janet Luke, talking about how to prepare a meat rabbit, keeping chickens and gardening in small spaces. I wished I had had a copy of Janet’s first book, Green Urban Living, before I set out and planned my vege garden four years ago. I actually gave a copy to my sister for her birthday because she had just acquired an allotment and included a pot of comfrey. I hadn’t even heard of comfrey until reading Janet’s book and I picked up many, many other tips too. Janet’s foray into keeping rabbits to “harvest” for the table holds a certain fascination for me. I would struggle to kill a rabbit yet I eat meat. As Janet points out, it’s not a nice thing to do but her rabbits have had a great life and every scrap is used including the fur so nothing is wasted which is really how it should be.

Janet

Here’s a great way of recycling old clothes; just one of many quirky ideas from Green Urban Living!

Jean Planters

Another talk I thoroughly enjoyed was by Jo Duff from KahiKatea Farm entitled Beyond Companion Planting. I think I’ve got companion planting pretty much sorted in my vege garden. I plant carrots with spring onions, basil with tomatoes and calendular officinalis pretty much everywhere. However, Jo talked about planting Guilds of Plants which are plants that benefit each other in many ways. The most common example is that of the Three Sisters which consists of sweetcorn underplanted with squash and beans. The sweetcorn provides support for the beans and a little shade for the courgettes. Beyond this is the Food forest system which is basically a way of gardening that mimics a real forest thus providing food, medicine, fibres and dyes. If you want to read more see Jo’s very informative website and have a browse through her seed selection for some little gems. I have been aiming (albeit blindly and quite unknowingly) for this Food forest system in my vege garden too. This year will not only have calendular and dahlias but also yarrow, heartsease, borage, comfrey, heaps of herbs plus a few fruit trees. It makes sense to adopt a more permaculture way of thinking when growing vegetables; flowers mean more insects which means more pollination which means more veg. Another really interesting piece of advice concerned letting your garden look a bit messy; let some of your parsley go to seed to encourage more insect life, let your calendular self seed so you get free plants next year. Makes me feel a whole lot better about the state of my vege garden at the moment that’s for sure!

Jo Duff

Linda Hallinan was up next talking about What NOT to do in your Garden. I loved her honesty about how difficult it is to make compost and she advised digging a trench and burying your vege scraps in it then planting on top; not sure my chocolate lab would allow this one though. She also said that people are scared of weeds and never know what to do with them. Quick tip: dig up the weeds, leave on a concrete floor in the sun all day then consign to the compost bin. Other little snippets included grow flowers to fill your vases rather than buying over-sprayed commercial varieties, don’t plant silverbeet (who really eats it anyway?) and DO NOT buy bags of lettuce; they are not good for you at all. Well Said Linda.

Linda Hallinan

The last demo I saw involved making Mozzarella by Farmhouse Kitchen. Now this is not your luscious Buffalo Mozzarella but it is very good none-the-less. It involved heating milk and adding rennet and being Very Accurate with a thermometer. There was also a fair amount of s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g involved. The result was a very tasty mozzarella cheese that would not disgrace the top of a pizza or a salad Tricolour! Farmhouse Kitchen use the Mad Millie Cheesemaking Kits at their Workshops but you can also use them at home. The soft cheeses seem to be the easiest for beginners. Guess what’s on my Christmas List….

Cheese Making

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A Spoonful of Sugar…..

Sugar does indeed make life sweeter in many ways and can certainly help the medicine go down after a particularly fraught day. Sugar has become intricately wound up into our lives in all sorts of ways; who would have a wedding, birthday or christening without a sugary cake confection? Conversely a bit of a sugar hit certainly helps when we’re feeling a bit down or in need of an energy boost. Is there anything wrong with this? Of course not; I love a piece of cake as much as the next person. Concern over our sugar habits only becomes apparent when we compare our sugar use historically.  The use of sugar has been recorded as far back as 1100 in Britain and it was known as White Gold because it was so expensive. These days sugar is relatively cheap and the confectionery giants show no hesitation in loading up chocolate bars and biscuits with the cheap white stuff thus satisfying society’s increasingly sweet tooth and their profit margins. It’s not just the confectionery companies that use sugar; it can be found in vast quantities in so called healthy foods like yoghurt and muesli bars. Sugar is no longer a treat; it’s the norm. And that’s the problem.

I recently went to the River Cottage Autumn Fayre in Devon, England.

Hugh

I got to meet the man himself, Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall and I tried to persuade him to bring River Cottage to New Zealand (he was definitely tempted!)…

Yurt

and I visited the Yurt where Dream Thyme Remedies demonstrated how to use comfrey and nettles in a muscle rub and I attended a very interesting talk about chocolate from Chococo. Chococo are one of the many small chocolate companies that are springing up all over the place who are striving to make good quality, fairtrade chocolate without preservatives and with a lot less sugar than the big commercial giants. They rely on quality chocolate and less sugar. Yes they are more expensive but isn’t that what a treat should be? Something that we can’t have everyday? Something to look forward to? Something that isn’t the norm?

So next time you consider a treat try to Think Outside the (chocolate) Box. We’re well into Spring here in New Zealand and the treats are growing quietly and speedily in a vege bed or farm shop near you; think strawberries, sugar snap peas and cherry tomatoes or fresh avocado spread on crackers with mozzarella and tomato.  Not as quick as ripping open a chocolate bar I agree but I think as a society we have got so spoilt with our demand for instant gratification that we’re in danger of losing out on the simple pleasures in life that may require a bit of effort but are worth it and a lot healthier too. Try these ideas on your kids; you might be surprised when a small bowl of easy-to-eat- veg and cut up fruit disappears in minutes. Or, if your little ones are anything like my Figlets (who are cookie monsters) then you may want to try this sugar free cookie recipe from Sugar free Kids. They are crumbly little bites of delicious-ness…..with no added sugar. Bit Spooky I know…..but give it a try.

Ingredients

Ingredients
1/2 cup dates
1/2 dessicated coconut
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup almonds
3 Tablespoons of butter or Coconut oil (I used coconut oil and it worked really well)
Juice of a small orange

Process the dates, dessicated coconut, oats and almonds to crumbs.

Before Processing  After Processing

Then add the butter (or coconut oil) and orange juice and process again. Roll mixture into small balls and place on a lined baking sheets.

Raw balls  Raw Cookies

Squash each little ball with a fork and bake at 170c for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Tea cup  Cookies

A pretty healthy snack disguised as a naughty little biscuit; what’s not to like?

More Tea Vicar?

close up comfrey

Actually the tea I’m going to blog about today would have you struck off the Parish Flower Arranging Rosta quicker than anything if you offered it to the vicar. Comfrey tea is for the green and leafy amongst us aka plants and it is a miracle fertiliser that I’ve been using on my veges for a couple of years now. It’s so easy to make and once you have a little patch of comfrey in your garden you will always have it! You can find this perennial herb in your local garden centre; it’s real name is Symphytum x uplandicum and you’re after the Russian Bocking 14 variety. If you have a friend with comfrey in their garden simply dig up a bit of root and plant it; you’ll have comfrey plants in no time.

The magic of comfrey can be found within it’s thick, deeply veined leaves which are full to bursting with several minerals including nitrogen and potassium which are vital for flower, seed and fruit production. It’s leaves rot down really quickly so if you have comfrey in your garden you have an ready supply of instant fertiliser for your plants.

You can also use comfrey as a compost activator. Cut some leaves and wilt them in the sun for a few hours then throw on the compost. It will soon heat up the pile and get the compost going.

A word to the wise; choose a home for your comfrey very carefully indeed. It’s a tough little cookie, a real survivor, and possesses a long tap root so, even if you think you may have dug it out completely, any little bit of root left in the soil will soon sprout more leaves and make more plants. This is what’s happening to me at the moment. I merrily planted some comfrey in the tomato bed when I was unaware of it’s Tap Root Growing Ability. I thought I’d dug it out completely but whenever I dig over the bed I discover rubbery bits of root springing up all over the show. It’s like opening up one of those joke tins that contains coiled up paper snakes that spring out forcibly, and rather alarmingly, onto the unsuspecting victim. Even though I know the roots are there I can’t help but emit little cries of alarm as, yet again, another little bit of root pings up from the soil and hits me on the ankle like a rubbery snake. Note to self: avoid similar unsettling experience by planting in the correct location from Day 1.

harvest comfrey

Making comfrey tea is as easy as, well, making tea really but you need to exercise a bit of patience; magical brews take a while to create. Simply take an old bucket or barrel and fill with freshly cut comfrey leaves; quantity isn’t really important but I tend to half fill my bucket. Then fill with water and leave for two weeks.

comfrey in bucket  add water

Some people stir the brew every couple of days to reduce odour and others add a lid. I just leave mine to fester and turn a deep, rich brown and leave it out the way where the smell won’t bother anyone; it’s a pretty potent smell I have to warn you and whatever you do, DON’T splash any on your hands or feet when you come to use it! I did once and I turned into a social pariah in my house despite copious lathering of soap and water…just saying. After the allotted 2 weeks simply dilute the brew 1 part comfrey to 10 parts water or thereabouts and lavish generously on your plants. Tomatoes, curcubits and beans particularly love it but I also use it on squash and this year on fennel for the first time. If you’re feeling creative with your tea making then feel free to add seaweed, farm manure, fish bones and other organic goodies; it’s all good stinky stuff!

comfrey in water   Comfrey Ready

Chickens are also rather partial to some comfrey now and then. I add it to my Chicken Tonic which you can read about here. What a useful herb that brings delight to plant and foul alike and to me; as I wonder about with my watering can full of this elixir I feel as if my plants are sitting up just that little bit straighter, nudging each other and waving their leaves excitedly with a soft chorus of “Me First!” on the breeze. The Figlets don’t call me Crazy Lady for nothing you understand…..the cheek!

October Garden Share Collective

There were a few obstacles in my way when I sat down to write this Garden Share Collective Post; namely the fact that I’ve been away from my garden for 4 whole weeks and secondly that my children keep hi-jacking the ipad when I want to download photos (but that’s a story for another blog!). I’ve also been suffering from Blogger’s Block (I get it too Julie) but I think that’s because of the Jet Lag and the readjustment that always hits me after returning from the UK to NZ. Anyway, what’s been happening in my garden this month?

The biggest and most impressive activity has centred around The Fig Orchard Adventure; the apples have been ripped out to make room for the figs along with a sizable portion of the shelter-break. This last activity was Mr Fig’s idea and we now suddenly have an amazing view of Te Mata Peak and the surrounding hills – what a bonus!

Shelter Belt 1  Going 2   Shelter Belt

We’ll soon be able to plant up the Fig Orchard and then cultivate the remaining paddock into garden; it sounds so simple when written down but it’s a mammoth task! The fig in bud below is just 2 months old, the figs in the photo next to them are 1 year old and the final photo shows figs that are really old!

Fig Bud  New Figs Old Figs

We also got rid of an enormous Weeping Willow that was shedding branches in a most alarming fashion.

Weeping Willow     Willow Down No Willow

More tree shots include my beautiful Quince Tree in all it’s Spring Glory.

Quince Tree Quince Close up

Then a little surprise…..

Passion Fruit

I was lucky enough to catch a Passionfruit flower in all it’s theatrical spectacular exquisiteness.

Seeds

I’ve managed to get in a bit of seed sowing action since I’ve been back (I’m very behind though) and there has been a some growing action going down in the greenhouse; mini cucumbers for the pimm’s bed…

Mini Cucumber

…the great vege companion plant Calendular Nova (and perfect for the potions and lotions I’m planning to make)

Calendular

….Sage Clary, Artichoke, Catmint, Tomatoes but not a sniff of agastache…not even a whiff….not sure why?

Still loads more to sow but that is a pleasure not a chore for the next month….

I finally chose a rose to clamber over the far archway in the vege garden…

Rose

It ticks all the boxes being fragrant, a repeat bloomer and a good cut flower to boot – perfect!

I’ve also been potting up baby horse chestnut trees that have self seeded in an island bed I am in the process of re-sculpting. I spotted some self sown oaks which I’ll pot up as well….might be useful for the paddock and the “Woodland walk” that I have in my head….

Horse Chestnuts

I had a bit of a surreal moment today….I had eaten the last of England’s strawberries last week and now I’m eating the first of New Zealand’s….the World is a very small place indeed 🙂

Strawberries