The Fig Tree and Beyond……

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An email popped into my inbox yesterday announcing that I have to renew my Fig Tree website contract. “That was a quick year I thought.” My next thought was “But I have two blogs now….can I do both?” Writing a blog is a funny thing. I’m sure many people approach it with a much more objective, scientific, ordered train of thought. My approach is more sporadic. I write when I feel inspired and, more recently, when I have the time. Ultimately I began The Fig Tree to connect to my friends and family back in the UK but also as a creative outlet and as a record of how we’re shaping and developing our land. I said in my last post that I love re-reading posts about projects that we’ve achieved and dreams of what else we’d like to do. And, ultimately I’d still like to record all of this. So, the day to day life as I know it will still be recorded here and the new fledgling flower business will be recorded on myflowercart. If you want to know how to become a flower farmer or indeed, how to take chrysanthemum cuttings or be successful at successional sowing then you know where to go!

So, going forward……what on earth is happening in my veggie garden this Spring 2015?! I showed you the little changes I’d made to the vege garden last time. Since then I’ve planted up a load of veg. In New Zealand it’s a time honoured tradition to wait until Labour Weekend to plant your tomatoes (and other tender veg). I was a bit naughty this year and planted them a week before (I know….its the English in me!)

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My toms are looking pretty strong and healthy. They’re also looking very pretty with a stunning backdrop of sweet peas. I’m growing lots of baby toms because I know I have a good chance of eating them as they ripen so quickly! They’re also brilliant in a lunchbox. I’m also growing the larger toms too….because I’m an optimist….but a lot less than usual.

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The cucumbers are nestled securely around an old willow tee pee. I like to grow my cucumbers vertically….because it takes up less space and they don’t drag about in the mud.

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The beans are just beginning to take off as they start their twisty-turny journey up the metal supports. We’ve had an odd Spring. It’s been it’s usual windy self but the temperatures have been crazy. One minute mid 20s the next down to 9c. I don’t like fluctuating temps and nor do plants. I think this is always a frustrating time of year. I always feel that I’m so near yet so far away! I haven’t taken a picture of the peas but they have their first purple flowers. I’m growing Cobra Climbing because they are the most generous bean I know!

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I have a real mixture of courgettes and pumpkins. I am so excited about growing Turks Turban pumpkins and Patty Pan squash I’m almost beside myself! It’s pretty simple this year but I’m growing things that we actually eat. No flowers as yet but they can’t be far away…..

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Herbs like this parsley that I sowed in the winter are doing really well.

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These chives come back every year which I love. Seeing them again is like welcoming back an old friend. I’m still sowing more herb seeds now though to keep it going through the summer. You might be wondering where the lettuce and spinach are? Well, ask the chickens. You’d think I’d have learnt by now to net the veggie garden but I’ve been battling the pukekoes who have been determined to destroy all of the cut flower seedlings! Anyway, lettuce/spinach batch number two on it’s way and will be well netted.

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The cheerful Johnny Jump ups never fail to make me smile. They appear randomly in the strangest of places. The clary sage is one of my all time favourite cut herbs for a vase. It’s so unusual and makes a real statement.

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The plums are starting to grow and it looks like we’re going to get hundreds. I might try thinning them this year so increase the size.

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Tiny baby quinces in all their knobbly glory! I’ll be using these in christmas decorations again this year. They looked wonderful on the wreath I made last year . By December they’ll be coated in a downy, hairy skin.

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Had to include these little chaps. as far as I know they don’t wreak havoc in the cut flower garden so they’re very welcome! They are (I think) quail. They hang out in pairs and they have the funniest call. The photo isn’t great because I had to take it really far away….they are very shy. Love watching them pootling about together. So there you have my Spring garden update. Still lots to do and I have to mention that the single most effective and time saving thing that we’ve done to the garden this year has been the mushroom compost! A few trailer loads (and the rest) has saved us hours (read days) of time weeding. If you only do one thing in your garden this Spring let it be mulching! You won’t regret it 🙂

 

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Step Away from the To Do List…..

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Sometimes I need to remind myself of what I’ve achieved rather than think about what is still on the To Do List. I think to some extent we all do. This blog has been an invaluable resource of how we’ve developed our little slice of Hawke’s Bay. I enjoy re-reading posts of projects that we’ve accomplished and how we’ve chipped away at our little bit of land to mould it and shape it to suit us. We’ve had a fair few projects since we moved here notably the Figs and the Cutting Garden. I sometimes wonder if people think we’re a bit mad to lavish such attention on a garden….but then I have a cup of tea and get my spade out and carry on digging! This post is a bit of a Then and Now post. Looking back and looking forwards.

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One of my most favourite Spring Sights is my Plum Tree. It always has a magnificent covering of blossom and this year it was completely drowning in the honey scented stuff. The bees have been going mad over it.  I stood underneath a little while back and took a good sniff and wished that I could bottle it for it’s scent is fleeting. Here’s my plum tree now after just a week.

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Other Spring Goodies include the bulbs in the Nuttery that I almost broke my back planting!

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The trees in the nuttery are in bud and looking a little taller than last year. I’ve been raking up all the leaves that the oaks, chestnuts and gladitzias have been dropping steadily over autumn and transporting them to the Nuttery to get a good “woodland feel” and add some leaf mould goodness too. I was so happy to see that the three Hawthorne trees that I thought were dead as doornails last Autumn….

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….are actually well and truly Alive! I love the shape of their leaves and I’m hoping to see some evidence of their berries this coming Autumn. In fact, out of all the 60 odd trees that we planted this time last year only one has turned up it’s roots and joined the great Woodland in the Sky  and that was the Eucalyptus. I thought these trees were indestructible but not this one. Just to recognise the progress from last year this is what the Nuttery looked like in September 2014

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And this is the Nuttery now.

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It’s difficult to capture everything that’s going on but there are little patches of foxgloves, bluebells, tulips, ornithagalum and narcissi all over the show. The shrubs have been transplanted from the Annoying Bed (it’s never worked in the 6 years years we’ve lived here so it’s going to be grassed over leaving the trees to stand alone in all their glory and to open up the view). The Nut trees are right at the back including a circle of Hazels and some almonds.

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This was the Cutting Garden in September 2014. The Herb Garden didn’t exist until a few months later…..nor did the Wildflower Meadow. The Wildflowers were sown in November 2014.

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This is the Cutting Garden in September 2015. Definitely more action around the edges, a few biennials that survived and everything nicely mulched ready for the seedlings…

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The Sweet Pea Walk is new. Mr Fig had a great time putting these posts in (ahem!). However, they look fabulous and they will work as a great support for the Sweetpeas as well as being a gorgeous place in which to linger with a cup of tea.

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The Herb Garden September 2015. Work in the Herb Garden tailed off as the heat of summer hit us hard in 2014. However, it was full of scented geraniums, mint, fennel and bee balm. You might be able to make out a small square bed in the the top right of the photo….there will be three more of these to create symmetry and provide beds for basil, chives and other culinary herbs. You might also be wondering about the circular mound of something in the middle? That will be a Chamomile Lawn (with a nod to Mary Wesley). Will need to start again as the weeds laughed in the face of my attempts to smother them with Chamomile…. Mwahahahaha they crowed (nasty weeds).

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The Lime bush/tree has had a Severe Pruning and a good mulch and the semi edible beds have been mulched to within an inch of their lives too (I’m so over weeding that this is my attempt to never have to weed again!).

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I’m using mushroom compost which is working well and feeding the soil too.

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The honeysuckle had a massive haircut so that we could actually enter the Vege Garden without being poked in the eye….

I really neglected the veggies last year. I got a few beans and courgettes and toms but the cucumbers were rubbish and the pickles didn’t make it to become pickles. The butternut squash yielded a desultory harvest and the strawberries were all eaten by the feathered folk. Grrrrr….

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This Year will be Different. What’s the difference? Well, I’ve added heaps of goodies to the soil….chicken poo…..compost……coffee grounds…..yum! I’ve also added netting to most of the beds to protect the veggies from prying beaks. I’ve also tweaked the layout a tiny bit (Mr Fig just groaned then….he’s changed the layout of the vege garden numerous times!).

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All I’ve done is extend the Squash bed because I want to grow these gorgeous little spaceship squash that are essentially courgettes but packaged in a fancier shape. I also want more pumpkins too especially one called Turks Turban that I saw growing at Kew Gardens three years ago and Pumpkin ‘Kent’ which will just remind me of where I used to live.

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Just need to add some compost and other goodies and it’ll be good to go. Must prune those feijoas too and let more light in…..

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I’ve also added a path behind the Shadowy Bed (good for lettuces and coriander that need shade in the heat of summer) for easier harvesting. I often have to wrestle with the honeysuckle to harvest this bed. The semi edible bed has been reduced because the back of the bed is just a Weed Party in the summer. Yep take your Glastonbury Weed Party somewhere else this year thank you very much.

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The old Florence Fennel bed has been weeded and a little path has been started by the green house. Hopefully this will stop weeds growing through the green house and means that I can walk all the way round to harvest this little bed underneath the Greengage tree. Quite shady so, again, a good lettuce/herb bed.

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I’d like to store my pots here in a more organised fashion…..work in progress…..I have faith….I can just see garden tools hung up on nails in an orderly fashion on the side of the compost bins (it’s good to have imagination!).

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I have some peas busily making themselves at home against these home made circular towers. I started the pea seeds in proper pea root trainer pots. Not sure if it’s made much difference but I love the look of the pearly white roots….

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I have also planted out kale and rocket. Inside the house tucked up warm and cosy are some baby tomato seedlings and some rather healthy and rather butch looking beans. The squash and pumpkins are also germinating very, very quietly shhhhh….

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And what about flowers? I’ve been sowing seeds. Quite a lot of them. I felt optimistic enough to sow Zinnia yesterday. They love the warmth so I bring them inside overnight. I planted out my March sown seeds into beds last week. Things like scabious, Clary sage and Nigella. I have a few biennials like Foxgloves, sweet william, larkspur, achillea and Clarkia/Godetia. I totally failed on the biennial front because I left the sowing Too Late. It just felt so hot last February I thought I could leave it till March – No You Can’t. Grrrrr…. However, there’s no point beating myself up about this. You live and learn and next year I will know.

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As well as seeing to the green part of my business I’ve also been busily working away at the admin side too. I have a very talented friend who is not only a Graphic Designer but who also paints the most beautiful portraits of children and animals. Have a look at her website (and in particular at her latest work of Mud the gorgeous Labrador) on her FB page Zoe Reid Portraits. Zoe has been creating my flower cart business cards and generally being a Very Useful and Wise Sounding Board for my little flower business. In return I have been helping her with her Social Media and hopefully also being a Good Sounding Board for her Portrait business! I am so thrilled with the business cards. We (read me) spent ages humming and ah-ing over which type of card to use and I just love the textured card that we plumped for. It has that vintage, timeless quality to it that I love.

Enjoy your garden this Spring/Autumn (wherever you are in the world). If you have a Plum Tree in bloom stand beneath and sniff deeply – it will feed your soul. Happy Gardening!

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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.

Up and running again…..

My laptop blew up a few weeks ago and in true Fig Family style it took us ages to get round to replacing it. However, it’s been well worth the wait as we decided to plump for an Apple Mac. It’s all shiny and sleek and light as air. Rather flash in other words and I’m a little bit intimidated by it! However, turns out its full of fab features including iMovie. So, now I’m up and running again I thought I’d try my hand at compiling a little snippet of a movie featuring some of the jobs that I’ve been getting on with this Autumn. It’s not perfect and is quite possibly a bit cheesy and I’ve learnt a lot (video in landscape in particular). It was a lot of fun though and my eldest figlet really enjoyed laughing at me and telling me that I walk like a zombie and to put more energy into it!

So just a short post today but I’ve got lots to write about (especially collecting seeds) and quite possibly video too. So watch this space!