Archive for 'Gardening'
Summer Comes Alive

Summer Comes Alive

Posted 09 December 2010 | By | Categories: Container Gardening, Flowers, Food, Gardening, Growing Food, Plants, Seagarden, Seasons, Uncategorized, Vegetables | Comments Off on Summer Comes Alive

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Summer has truly come alive. The first tomatoes, brandywine, are plumping up on the vine, and everything’s growing in full and lush.

Loving the fire-like blossoms on the native harakeke (phormium). For the last few days, a new drama has unfolded in the meditation garden outside my office: a blackbird smacks down a large stick insect and proceeds to wrestle it into submission. So far, the blackbird has won every match.

The vertical gardens are a delight this season. The strawberries (chandler, elsanta, gaviota) are doing exceptionally well and sending out runners to the tiers below. I’m still enjoying excellent strawberries from the patch that was planted before I arrived on the scene, but I have read that the plants weaken after a few years and succumb to pests and diseases.

Happy I interspersed lettuce with edible violas in the vertical planters – they’re visually delightful, and the flowers are lovely on salads and dishes. Also happy to see the potatoes planted in the bases are thriving. Will the new nutty celery succeed? Time will tell.

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Strawberries and Snails

Strawberries and Snails

Posted 19 November 2010 | By | Categories: Animals, Food, Gardening, Plants, Seagarden, Seasons | Comments Off on Strawberries and Snails

one strawberry
Sunday, the universe sent me one strawberry valentine.

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By Monday, five glorious fragaria glowed red and ripe.

Now they’re ripening fast and furiously. But I am not the only creature loving this sweet heart of a fruit…

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Enter, the land snail. Enter many snails.
snail in my hand
I picked one up and marvelled at the feeling of its cool wet foot undulating on my hand. It outstretched its tentacles all the way to the end of its eyeballs and then gazed into mine. We sat like that for a while, contemplating each other.

According to Carl Jung, the snail represents ourself in dreams, with the hard shell analagous to the conscious and the insides to the subsconscious. But he also claimed that “No man lives within his own psychic sphere like a snail in its shell, separated from everybody else, but is connected with his fellow-men by his unconscious humanity.” I think he was right about the humans, but clearly he never spent much time watching snails. They’re definitely communing in my garden.

spooning snails in the strawberry bed

What are they doing in there? Well! I’m so glad I asked. A veritable venus in the escargot shell, this well-lubricated gastropod goes through an extensive attraction and courtship dance that can last twenty hours. Most terrestrial snails are hermaphroditic, with an organ system that includes not only a penis and vagina but exciting accessories like love darts and a bursa copulatrix (which I am excited to use in conversation when looking for my “fucking purse”). They can hold onto sperm from multiple partners until it is time to lay eggs, which the snail will place into a hole in the ground when conditions are right.

Helix pomatia reproductive organs illustration by Johannes Meisenheimer

Snail dreams just got a lot more interesting!

Did you come here looking for a way to get rid of them? I’ve come to adore these amorous mollusca and am letting them enjoy what they like of the strawberries this year. There’s plenty for all of us. But if you can’t bear to share, consider harvesting them along with your organic strawberries instead of poisoning them and other animals on down the chain (including yourself). Silver Trails Snails free range snail farm in Hawkes Bay has some intriguing recipes for l’escargot.

Halloween Special: Mummies in your Garden

Halloween Special: Mummies in your Garden

Posted 31 October 2010 | By | Categories: Food, Gardening, Pest control, Plants, Vegetables | Comments Off on Halloween Special: Mummies in your Garden

Vivid tales of parasitic wasps eating mummified aphids from the inside out are but a part of this thought-provoking talk on plant protection using insects and the mass production of benevolent bugs.

A real horror story is that more than 90% of fruits and vegetables examined in NZFSA’s Food Residue Surveillance programme have pesticide residues. This method of natural pest control shown by Shimon Steinberg above could be a part of New Zealand’s strategy to reduce pesticide residues in our produce and soil.

First Day of Spring in the Seagarden

First Day of Spring in the Seagarden

Posted 01 September 2010 | By | Categories: Animals, Container Gardening, Flowers, Gardening, Plants, Seagarden, Seasons | Comments Off on First Day of Spring in the Seagarden

September 1 is the first day of Spring in New Zealand. That’s still hard to wrap my Northern hemisphere-raised head around, but the garden’s been sending signs for a couple of weeks that it’s so. The nights are still cold, but each morning brightens a little earlier, accompanied by the sound of tui birds. Here are some more clues:

3 aeonium
Aeonium Schwarzkopf has provided a trio of synchronized swimming coneheads in daisy bathing caps for us to admire. Let us celebrate the combination of plum and chartreuse, wherever we may find it in nature. Where else can you find it in nature? If you can think of anywhere, let me know in comments.

blueberry blossoms
Blueberry bushes blossoming. Some have pink buds, some have white buds. Even the plants that looked too meagre to flourish are budding.

Clivia Miniata about to bloom
A Clivia Miniata blossom is springing up from the fernery floor. While normally a hardy plant, these were transplanted last year to make way for the tree ferns, and didn’t show much growth afterwards. Happy to see they’re going to make it after all.

Orchid Training
A splendid gift orchid is training dormant ones to revive. All 5 of the dormant phalaenopsis orchids have green leafy bases, but two have dead-looking stems, while three have green stems with buds.

Almond Blossoms
Almond is the first orchard tree to bloom, but I see buds developing on the apricot, nectarine, cherry, orange and apple trees too.

Sarracenia Blossom Sarracenia purpurea, also known as the purple pitcher plant or the side-saddle flower, shot up a foot-high stem in a week, and proceeded to open its lovely blossom yesterday. Pitcher plants derive their nutrition from insects that find their way into the pitchers, filled with liquid digestive enzymes. Does the fluid smell sweet to the insects? I can’t detect an odor, but spiders seem to know what’s going on. A few enterprising arachnids have spun webs across several pitchers, aspiring to intercept the catch. It’s a micro-jungle in here.

Speaking of fauna, I am pleased to note the presence of many earthworms in the composter and a whole universe of creatures in the vegetable patches. Excited to come across this introduction to New Zealand’s giant springtails (Collembola) and look forward to seeing them in the garden. Also, I’m finding this Guide to New Zealand Soil Invertebrates by Massey helpful for identifying the creatures I run across, as well as those that run across me.

What are your favorite signs of Spring?

Cavolo Nero Kale Chips

Cavolo Nero Kale Chips

Posted 24 August 2010 | By | Categories: Cooking, Food, Gardening, Make Things, Vegetables | 3 Comments

My fabulous Aunt Jan introduced me to the addictively delicious treat known as kale chips Stateside in June, making them from a bunch of mature cavolo nero, and serving them up elegantly in a tall glass a la Dan Barber. Now that I’m back in a winter (almost spring!) garden filled with greens, I’m making them almost every other day.

I have been experimenting with all different types of kale, cabbage and greens, and they’re almost all good. Young cavolo nero, also known as lacinato kale, Tuscan kale, and dinosaur kale, is my favorite to use, but curly kale, red Russian kale, squire kale and even savoy cabbage leaves work well too. Mustard greens, not so much. But since they’re taking over the garden, we’ll figure out some great things to make with them by next week. (Your favorite mustard green recipe suggestions are very welcome!)

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Ingredients:
1 bunch cavolo nero, other kale and/or savoy cabbage leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt

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Directions:

  • Wash the leaves and dry them well. To tear or not to tear? I prefer to leave the stems intact — with younger kale, the stems aren’t thick or tough, and they still get crispy and delicious.
  • Toss with olive oil and sea salt.
  • Preheat an oven to 180° C (350° F).
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (optional, but makes for joyfully easy cleanup) and arrange the leaves in a single layer. You may need two baking sheets, depending on leaf size and number.
  • Bake until the edges are crisp but not burned, approximately 10 minutes.

Delicious variations:

  • toss in some apple cider vinegar with the olive oil and salt.
  • add cumin
  • add cayenne pepper
  • add curry powder
  • add finely grated parmesan (or other) cheese

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Enjoy them in a glass, on a plate, crumbled on some popcorn, in your mouth…

Mystery Plant Identity Revealed

Mystery Plant Identity Revealed

Posted 22 August 2010 | By | Categories: Gardening, Links, Plants | Comments Off on Mystery Plant Identity Revealed

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A while back, I sent out a question via Twitter to see if anyone could identify this plant I was seeing explode all over the neighborhood. I asked everyone I passed on my walks if they knew and still couldn’t find the answer, so I printed out the pictures and took them to a meeting of the Wellington Botanical Society for help. (Thank you BotSoc!) I’m pleased to present you these images of Karo, also known as Pittosporum crassifolium.

Though Karo is naturally coastal, it’s apparently new to find it farther South than Poverty Bay. It seems to be doing very well this year on Wellington’s Eastern peninsula. It certainly sounds like a good match for the conditions. According to Trees for Survival, a site with good resources on New Zealand native plants, it’s an excellent shelter plant that’s extremely resistant to wind, and particularly good near the
coast where salt spray makes it hard for other plants to establish.

In traditional Maori medicine, a gum is extracted from the bark and used by itself or together with that of pūhā (Sonchus species) as a cure for bad breath, sore gums or other ailments of the mouth.

Karo - Pittosporum Crassofolium

Karo - Pittosporum Crassofolium near Tarakena Bay

How to identify your own mystery plants

Recently I’ve received a few personal plant ID requests I didn’t recognize – this is one area where all of us is definitely better than one of us. Harness the power of crowdsourcing and cognitive surplus by posting your image and question to a forum for identifying specific plants or a regional botanical or gardening group. Here are some active ones that might be helpful:

Fractalicious Romanesco

Fractalicious Romanesco

Posted 08 May 2010 | By | Categories: Food, Gardening, Plants, Seagarden, Vegetables | Comments Off on Fractalicious Romanesco
fractalicious romanesco

Fancy fractal food: Broccoli Romanesco, Cauliflower Romanesco, or just Romanesco

Today, with great excitement, I harvested my first Romanesco and made a self-similar salad from it by breaking it into Romanesco-shaped pieces and tossing with a little olive oil and kelp granules. Perhaps the most delightfully geeky of all vegetables, the Romanesco is a nearly exact self-similar fractal form that illustrates a Fibonacci sequence. I have seen it in the marketplace as Cauliflower Romanesco and Broccoli Romanesco, and the French call it chou Romanesco, which translates to Cabbage Romanesco, so we’ll just note that it’s a Brassica and refer to it as Romanesco.

This electric chartreuse coloured vegetable offers a more subtle flavour than both cauliflower and broccoli, with a distinctively nutty note. I find it delicious raw, but it can be steamed or prepared in any way that you would with broccoli and cauliflower. And even though the organic ones often seem expensive at the market, I now know they are well worth it.

The Learning Curve

Romanescos at Yunos Farm stand at Abingdon Square Greenmarket, NYC I first became enchanted by Romanesco at the Yunos Farm stand at the Abingdon Square greenmarket in NYC (right), and noted if I ever grew my own vegetables, I would definitely grow this one. What I didn’t know is how much time, energy and water goes into each one. Because it’s always sold with the leaves stripped away, I assumed that the part we buy was the plant. Turns out it’s merely the flower of the plant. A giant plant. (This goes for broccoli and cauliflower too.) I thought I could tuck a few seedlings into the front of the berry patch, but they took over the space entirely for the season (image below).

giant Romanesco plant

The other growing surprise was that amidst an entire orchard, the Brassicas were voted most desirable plant by leaf-munchers and sap-suckers alike. I imagined the insects would go for dessert first, but they chose Romanesco, broccoli and brussels sprouts over berries and grape vines all day long. The most damaging was the hungry green caterpillar of the white cabbage butterfly. Eventually, I caved in and sprayed a trial of the bacteria Bacillus thuringensis Bt, which worked. Many of the plants bounced back entirely and produced beautiful veggies, while a few others never quite got their health back and suffered aphid infestation after the caterpillar menace subsided.

With broccoli, removing the central head stimulates side shoots for later picking. Does Romanesco work the same way? Let me know in comments if you do, and I’ll update when I find out here.

Update: According to Grow Better Veggies, “once the main head is cut, that’s it. You cannot rely on lateral growth for additional minor heads as the season goes on, which is a nice feature of regular broccoli.”

Companion Flower Salad

Flower salad: calendula, hyssop, nasturtium and borage Not only is Romanesco a flower that makes a great companion plant for other edibles in your garden (since everything wants to eat it), but many of the companion plants recommended for growing alongside it (and the rest of the Brassica family) are edible flowers too: (shown at left, clockwise from top right corner) Nasturtium, Hyssop “sweet marigold,” Borage, and Calendula. I don’t know if they distracted a single predator, but they definitely attracted bees, our friends in need, and kept any uninvited plants from crashing the party. They also add colour, beauty and diversity.

How do they taste? I found the Nasturtium too peppery for my palate, but it’s been brilliant in the garden as the earliest to bloom with bright orange blossoms. Borage, the last flower to arrive on the scene after a long period of leaf growth, features delicate blue flowers atop fuzzy stems that taste of cucumber. Hyssop ‘sweet marigold’ has an anise or licorice flavour. Calendula is slightly tangy and bitter and more appreciated for its use in topical tinctures and lotions than cuisine, but its leaves are lovely tossed into salads.

Saturday Seagarden Spoils

Saturday Seagarden Spoils

Posted 17 April 2010 | By | Categories: Art, Gardening, Plants, Seagarden, Vegetables | 3 Comments

Garden Harvest 17.4.2010: 4 large cucumbers and the last of the cucumber plants; 1 glorious white icicle radish; 2 dwarf beans or french beans; 8 large, 11 small and 17 green potatoes; 1 curvy carrot; 13 ripe strawberries; marigolds (to make space for new plantings); and 6 baby beets. Planted: spinach, purple kohlrabi, cauliflower snowball, cauliflower green macerata, cabbage mix, misome and mustard greens.

Very Hungry Caterpillars

Very Hungry Caterpillars

Posted 24 March 2010 | By | Categories: Animals, Books, Gardening, Growing Food, Vegetables | 1 Comment

very hungry caterpillars

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric CarleThis week marks the anniversary of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, one of my favorite books as a child. But one glance at the protagonist’s varied diet (food diary lovingly compiled by the Shrinking Sisters) reveals that it is not Pieris rapae rapae (aka cabbage white butterfly, small white butterfly or just white butterfly), Seagarden’s frequent diner.

These soft green consumers grow up and become white butterflies, who then lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves. The caterpillars hatch and begin to feast on a menu of organic tatsoi, kale, bok choy, broccoli and brussels sprouts, i.e. the brassicaceae — in the case of the tatsoi (below), until it’s entirely devoured.

In the organic garden, the main options for stopping this cycle are physical (removing the caterpillars and eggs), chemical (garlic spray as a preventative), and biological (Bacillus thuringiensis aka BT, dipel and thuricide which is a bacterial stomach poison for all caterpillars).

I regularly apply garlic spray, which I suspect the caterpillars enjoy as a tasty marinade, and my strategic companion plantings of hyssop, nasturtium, calendula and cosmos have been interpreted as gifts of affectionate bouquets. A box of BT (in the form of Organic NO Caterpillars) sits on the shelf, but after buying it I found I really don’t have a strong desire to poison the little beings. I guess I value biodiversity more than a perfect crop. (See Dan Barber’s inspiring TED talk featuring systems-thinking measurements of success, such as the the health of the predators and water purified through the farming process.)

I handpick them in the mornings. And sometimes in the evenings. They rotate their fuzzy faces towards mine and channel Mary Oliver, mouthing “Don’t bother me.
I’ve just been born.”
Once I’ve gathered a handful or so, I fling them gently over the fence, into the puka (or beyond). I won’t be replanting tatsoi. How do you deal with very hungry caterpillars?

Life and Death For The Win

Life and Death For The Win

Posted 12 March 2010 | By | Categories: fungi, Gardening, Inspirations, Plants | 3 Comments

Pictures of Life and Death Garden Ellerslie Flower Show image by Ben Campbell

Delighted to read that “Pictures of Life and Death,” a garden featuring fungi, lichen and moulds by a team from the Christchurch Botanic Gardens took first place at the Ellerslie International Flower Show in Christchurch, New Zealand this week.

Pictures of Life and Death GardenJeremy Hawker, Christchurch Botanic Gardens Botanical Services Team Leader, describes it as a “dramatic, theatrical exhibit where fungi, mould and lichen will thrive. There will be a sense of being below the earth and looking out to a glimpse of blue sky, hence the name Pictures of Life and Death.” Inspired by the mold in Hawker’s coffee cup, the Botanic Gardens’ team spent months foraging for mushrooms throughout the region that they continued to grow on decomposing logs to include in the exhibit.

The Human Flower Project offers this as an example of bellephobia trending. Technically speaking, fear of beauty is “callophobia,” but only a phobophile would care about such details. I’d like to see it as an example of the dawning recognition that indeed, fungi can be exquisitely beautiful. Look at the love shown for the plant life in Avatar (another winner made in New Zealand and undoubtedly influenced by the work of Paul Stamets).

Here are some gorgeous views of the garden and an interview with Sheena Baines, the co lighting designer, who describes it as “The whole sequence is based on death and life and the cycle. We basically destroy the earth with volcanoes and earthquakes and then we rebuild it. It’s kind of death and destruction spawns new life.”

Green Roofs for Auckland

Green Roofs for Auckland

Posted 27 February 2010 | By | Categories: Green Roofs, Growing Food, Health, Make Things, Plants | 1 Comment

Emily Harris Dream to Reality Entry from Emily Harris on Vimeo.

Emily Harris has a wonderful vision of establishing rooftop gardens for Auckland city-dwellers, so that they can grow their own fresh, healthy food, right on the roof of their apartment buildings.

I’d love to see it become a reality. Let’s make it happen in Wellington too! If you like Emily’s plan and want to help make it a reality, vote for it with a thumbs up at HappyZine’s Dream to Reality competition.

Vegetable Sheep

Posted 20 February 2010 | By | Categories: Gardening, Plants, Vegetables | Comments Off on Vegetable Sheep

Captivated by New Zealand’s vegetable sheep via Anne Galloway (Raoulia and Haastia species, not to be confused with sheep made from vegetables). You can listen to the story of one good sheep captured in Canterbury and sent to the Auckland Museum. If you want to grow these “extremely dense, cushion forming perennial with tightly packed rosettes of overlapping, oblong, gray-hairy leaves,” at home, here are cultivation notes. More beautiful photos and notes at botany.cz.

    1. 8 Most Important Doctors by Malcolm Harker via Love PlantLife

    2. 1. Pure oxygen-rich, nutrient dense water and foods
    3. 2. Sunlight and fresh air
    4. 3. Love and laughter
    5. 4. Appropriate exercise
    6. 5. Bare contact with the earth and elements
    7. 6. Firm breathing
    8. 7. Relaxation, meditation, music and sound sleep
    9. 8. Being at peace with oneself and in harmony with the environment
  • The Foodprint Project, a collaboration between Nicola Twilley (Edible Geography) and Sarah Rich, kicks off a series of international conversations on urban foodscapes and opportunities to transform our edible landscape through technology, architecture, legislation and education. First event: Saturday February 27 in NYC.

  • Homegrown Evolution’s self-irrigating planter resources.
Tropical Tuesday

Tropical Tuesday

Posted 10 February 2010 | By | Categories: Container Gardening, Food, Gardening, Health, Plants, Seagarden | Comments Off on Tropical Tuesday

Coffee and bananas are staples — essentials — on my shopping list, papaya and passionfruit whenever in season. But usually, I’m referring to the end produce, not the plant. Today, all four plants found their way into my home.

Is there any scent that puts your heart more at ease than roasting coffee beans? Not for me… that’s the fragrance that wafted through the air of my family’s business across from the Folger’s plant in downtown Kansas City when I was growing up. Apparently though, the scent of flowering coffee resembles jasmine so much that it was first described as Jasminium arabica. And it’s recommended as a plant whose fragrance drifts or wafts on the air. Oh how little I know about my favorite first daily drink (or drug, if you insist). Looking forward to getting to know you in a whole new way, coffee!

Banana plants make gorgeous indoor ornamentals even if they never fruit, but I love the idea of cultivating options beyond the corporate banana monoculture. The passionflower vine twining up the pergola in my NYC Skygarden delighted me with its abundant purple blooms. It was sold as an annual but kept going for years. This golden passionfruit vine aka sweet granadilla looked so beautiful with healthy heart shaped leaves in the store, I hope it can thrive here in the windy Seagarden.

Juicy ripe papayas are divine pleasures, and the green fruits make great som tam (a spicy Thai salad). Alas, the Hawaiian papayas sold in the US are genetically modified and the New Zealand stores are filled with irradiated imports from Australia. Excited to see if they will grow here — the leaves and aroma of the plant itself are lovely regardless.

hibiscusflowermandevilla white fantasyTopping off this tropical Tuesday, my parents arrived bearing flowering mandevilla and hibiscus flower plants.

All of today’s additions will enjoy the comforts of container living, moving indoors or out depending on season and Seatoun weather. If you have any secrets for cultivating any of these exotic beauties outside their native environments, I welcome your suggestions.

  • If you like the scent of roasting coffee wafting over you, Wellington is your town! Cafe L’affare is a delightful cafe (with great daily specials) built around the roaster: 27 College St, Wellington, New Zealand 04 385 9748. Mojo Coffee just opened a new roastery and headquarters at Shed 13 on the Wellington Waterfront. What are your favorites?
Seagarden Log: Weather With You

Seagarden Log: Weather With You

Posted 01 February 2010 | By | Categories: Gardening, Seagarden | 2 Comments

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  • The weather station is up and running (though not yet in its ultimate location) and publishing through Weather Underground. See the day in weather at right. Now where are the beautiful Mac OS Weather Station apps? The Firehouse explores the question in detail, but the answer has not yet revealed itself. Do you know?
  • It thrills me no end to be growing chile peppers — or, as they say here, capsicums. The cayenne is full of beautiful green peppers and the jalapeño is flowering. The orange capsicum has three large peppers on it and the red capsicums are beginning to flower as well. The chiles went into a delicious guacamole and a pot of green chilli that hit the spot on this cold, rainy summer day
  • It was in the red peppers and tomato area that I noticed a profusion of young weta or grasshoppers. Will get a better picture to identify the little jumpers.
  • Testing the EasyBloom Plant Sensor near the meyer lemon tree. Full review coming soon. Check out the little lemons!
  • The blueberries seem to be delighted with recent feedings of organic fertilizer for acid-loving plants and a juniper mulch, as they’ve responded with lots of new leaf and berry growth. The tamarillos are growing huge.
  • Yes, we have tomatoes! And crystal apple cucumbers! And feijoas! Today was my first glimpse of all three.
  • The Chilean guava is full of berries that sure look ripe but aren’t yet ready to release. The blackberries grow in clusters but ripen individually; the few I’ve tasted are sweeter than any I’ve had elsewhere. Oddly, the blackberry plant I purchased hasn’t shown much initiative, the fruit has all been plucked from similar vines that arrived on their own volition.
  • The potato plants springing up through the strawberry patch are growing huge, and the brussels sprouts have started to take off, though they’re getting lots of bites on the leaves as well.
  • In the vegetable garden, the arugula has all gone to seed and the spinach is headed that way. I have been reseeding with many exciting greens, but I suspect that was the last time we shall ever see such an orderly pattern of plants in that area.


cos or romaine lettuce, spinach, kale marigold and nasturtium

Lettuce Begin Early

Posted 31 January 2010 | By | Categories: Gardening, Plants, Seagarden | Comments Off on Lettuce Begin Early

cos or romaine lettuce, spinach, kale marigold and nasturtium

I’d noticed greens harvested early in the morning for omelets tasted better and stayed fresh longer than the greens picked in the afternoon or evening. Now I know why — especially for lettuce — during the night, much of the salt contained within the leaves returns to the roots, as the day gets warmer, the salts return to the leaves. Thanks Backyard Homestead, Mini-Farm and Garden Log Book by John Jeavons.

Pictured above (clockwise from top left): spinach, cosmos, nasturtium, marigold, cos or romaine lettuce, lacinato kale, taken on 17 January 2010 in the vegetable garden.