Hectic and Dry
The extended summer has certainly helped our tomatoes, but the drought has taken its toll on our rhododendrons and, less significantly, our Chinese Artichoke. The announcement that the Botanic Gardens, where we are situated, is experiencing its worst drought since 1864, when records began there, just confirms these observations. Everywhere the soil is dry, even as the air starts to moisten and dews settle over the garden in the early mornings.
Nevertheless, the harvest has been bountiful. For some crops, the harvest is over, and carcasses of tomato plants, cucumbers and basils, browning off in the dry conditions, have all been ripped out. Autumn is here – the most vibrant sign of which being the glamorous persimmon. Its leaves have gone a rich red, and the few fruits that there are have started to go orange (thought they’re at least a month off being ready).
In other areas, the harvest continues. Quinces are still littering the ground, desperate to be turned into quince jelly, and apples rot into the lawn, returning some nutrients to the soil. There are more than ten apple trees here – all of varying usefulness. We’ve given away bags of them, made jellies, made crumbles, and of course cooked them in stir fries, but they are still overwhelming us. The birds appreciate it, though. Elsewhere, cranberries have been occupying my attention, and have recently turned up in a loaf of bread. Rather delicious. The Chinese Quince is ripening, and dropping to the ground, as are the feijoas. These are in a very sunny, north-facing position along the garage wall. Exposed to sun all day long they seem to be very advanced for Christchurch. They are very juicy and tasty – certainly not worried by lack of water. Finally, the figs are beginning to ripen, though of course the birds are into them. Unlike the feijoas, the figs seem a bit dry, though the harvest is prolific.
The tomatoes are just about over, though the bed of Black Krims is still full of ripening fruit. It may be getting a bit cold for them. It is certainly getting too moist for them; increasingly I am finding them rotting on the vine. This is a great shame, but we’re getting more onto it now. The chutneys are over (we’ve run out of jars), but soups are coming on the menu, and oven-dried tomatoes are an excellent option. In olive oil they will last almost indefinitely. The Black Krim has recently been criticised as not having much of a flavour, but oven-dried they are very tasty. A lot of the cherry tomatoes were dried in the oven, and put into a pottle with olive oil, basil leaves, chilies, peppercorns and salt. Delicious!
With all of this harvesting and preserving, there has been little time to make major headway for the winter. Progress has been made, however.
Toward the end of March we investigated one of the compost piles that had been established before we moved in. It was mostly anaerobically decomposed lawn-clippings, with the odd bolt and hinge thrown in, which stank like the most wretched manure (but which was full of earthworms – a rare thing for this property). It was heaved out, and used to top dress a bed under the espaliered apples facing the orchard. It was also put into a new bed by our back door ‘terrace’ area, and has since fed many a yellow calendula. This bed will host winter veges, but may eventually host a kiwifruit vine, or a lemon tree.
Mixed Green Crop
We also sowed a mixed green-crop into the dead raised beds. I have mentioned earlier that we had tried growing corn and other crops in one of these beds, and it was a dismal failure. Guessing that the real problem must be the impoverished soil, it was decided that top priority would be to resuscitate it. A green-crop of blue lupins, hairy vetch, mustard, and tick grass was scattered in two of the beds in the last week of March. A green carpet is now emerging through the dust in one bed. In the bed where we had the corn progress is much slower. The lupins are popping up sparsely, but not a lot else. Perhaps with some more moisture more seed will germinate. I am starting to think, however, that there must be something seriously wrong in that bed.
Once the compost had settled, and been watered in, we planted out several lettuces and some plain silver beet, rainbow silverbeet and spinach seedlings. These have all taken very well. On Anzac Day we sowed several more crops for winter/ early spring: carrots, Japanese turnip, lettuces and spring onions.
The activity involved in harvesting, processing, planting and sowing this month has been taxing but productive. We have got a couple of weeks behind what we would have liked. However, the drought has been in our favour in this regard. The long summer has mitigated our slow efforts. I am told, though, to expect an early winter (unseasonably early frosts have already descended over parts of Canterbury). In the coming year, as more people become involved in maintaining the property, it will hopefully come to run like clockwork. It’s hard work, but we’ll see this acre of organic gardens become an Organic Oasis yet.