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I love my potager: a fenced chicken-proof, rabbit-proof, dog-proof garden about 20 feet by 30 feet (7 metres by 10 metres) with beds laid out in a geometric pattern and lined with untreated hardwood sleepers (the equivalent of railroad ties, only without the creosote). It takes minimal work to weed, as I keep it very thickly underplanted with herbs, spring onions, lettuces, etc, and it's super productive. As this is my first season, it's been a learning experience. My lessons have included:

1. Do not plant snow peas up the fence where the peach tree is. Because snow peas look an awful lot like peach tree leaves. It's a bugger trying to find them. Also, snow peas will grow to more than three metres in height. Crikey! But people LOVE them, so it's never any trouble finding grateful recipients.

2. The colourful gourmet varieties of veggies are sometimes as productive than the 'normal' variety -- and sometimes not. Rainbow silverbeet/swiss chard, yep! It's well worth the packet of seeds to have all those lovely leaves and stems in such an array of vibrant, jeweled tones. Purple podded peas are far less productive than the normal sugar snap peas, so other than the novelty of the colour they're probably not worth the space. But heirloom tomatoes are as productive as the 'supermarket' varieties, and they taste soooooo much better that we only grow the heirlooms now.

3. Speaking of tomatoes: If you have a rectangular garden (as I do) with a bench at the front where you can sit and admire your lovely garden, don't put tomatoes in the front row. They get massively huge and block the view.

4. The stems from the leaves of pumpkin plants, peeled to remove the bristly bits, are really a lovely vegetable to add to stir fries, curries, etc. Cut the stems of medium sized leaves (the little ones aren't worth the trouble, and the huge ones are tough and scarred). Cut off the leaf. Peel the stems the way you would string beans or celery. (Put the strings out in the garden somewhere for the sparrows to use in nest making). Chop the peeled stems into about 1 inch pieces, and voila! They cook quickly and have a mild taste somewhere between pumpkin and beans. You can also chop, cook, and eat the little tender leaves at the very tips of the vines. (I learnt this from my Indian/Pakistani/Nigerian colleagues.)

5. Also, pumpkins take over the planet. One plant can take up a house-sized area. I, um, put in about fifty plants. Oops. They're even growing wild in the paddock: oddly, the cows won't eat the plants, though they will eat the pumpkins themselves.

6. Growing beans for drying (e.g. kidney beans) is easy, and you really do get a fair few, so if you use them it's probably worth taking up some space in the garden. You don't pick them regularly the way you do green beans, butter beans, runner beans; you let them dry on the plant. But each plant ends up producing about 40 bean-seeds, so it only takes a few plants to make a meal.

7. Speaking of beans: the weather has been very bean-friendly this year, and I'm starting to think maybe, just maybe, I planted too many. We've had beans with every meal, I've frozen down enough for about another hundred meals, and I've given away sackfuls of them to everyone and anyone. And still they're going strong. You do have to pick them every day or two, to keep them producing (and to keep them from turning from weenie-beans to oversized inedible monsters), and each day I get half a bucketful. Wow. I'm mightily sick of beans. Maybe planting green beans, dutch heritage beans, yellow runner beans, purple bush beans, and scarlet runner beans was....overkill.

8. No matter how many sugar snap peas you plant, you'll never get enough to freeze down. And they get powdery mildew when the weather turns hot. I'll need to try them again in autumn/winter.

9. I already knew the lesson about how one or two zucchini/courgette plants will produce enough to feed half the country, and you just bloody can't give them away. However, I've found that it's easy to just cube them and freeze them, and in winter they make a nice addition to a mixed steamed vegetable dish, curry, or soup.

10. Broad beans/lima beans/fava beans are only edible if you peel the skins off each one after you've shelled them, even if they're teeny weeny young. That skin is bitter! But the insides are really quite nice; it's the first time I've ever liked this kind of bean. Plus, they make a fabulous base for pesto instead of using nuts (which are madly expensive here). Peeled broad beans, garlic, basil, parsley, and oil, put into a blender (or zippyzappyequivalent; lemon juice optional), and you have a super fab pesto to go on pasta or pretty much anything. I like making meals where everything is produced on our property, so this fits the bill as I don't have walnut or pine nut trees.
31 December 2018 @ 08:33 pm
New Year's Eve here. Another year gone... or, as I like to think, another year closer to retirement!

The good:
Home: The new kitchen garden (fenced potager) has exceeded my wildest hopes and dreams. It's my happy place. It's also producing so much that I can't keep up with it. We eat fresh veggies constantly, and I freeze them down, and still I'm giving cucumbers, courgettes (zucchinis), green beans, snow peas, silverbeet (swiss chard), spring onions, and broad (lima, fava) beans away to friends, neighbours, and students. And it's not even Jan! I am terrified to think what my beans will be doing in Feb. Not to mention the tomatoes, runner beans etc, which are looking very... fecund.

Work: A bit more job security in the day job; more work, more hours, more responsibilities [undergrad teaching! supervising seven PhD students! running an animal research unit! manager for an internationally accredited analytical lab! health and safety compliance officer for a school of 200+ staff! Oh, wait, that's three full-time jobs! never mind....], and (obviously) a lot more multi-tasking, but less likelihood of getting made redundant. At my age, and given the constant restructuring at my Uni, that's a plus. [Too old to change careers, too young to retire and collect superannuation :( ]

Marriage: Still gloriously happy in my relationship: coming up to 20 years together with Dearly Beloved, and celebrating our 5 year legal-wedding anniversary next week by going away to our favourite North Island spot and meeting up with my USA-visiting twenty-something niece and her hubby. I haven't seen said niece since she was a pre-teen, so this will be fun -- introducing a pair of poor clueless Yanks to Godzone with its comprehensive national health care system, strong social network, unilateral superannuation (government retirement) programme, well tended roads, low crime, strict gun control, lack of consumerism, pro-green environment, and minimal racism. If I can convince them to emigrate here, I'll die happy. Plus it's our first time away since our honeymoon, so I'm really looking forward to me and wifey's first holiday in half a decade. (!!!!)

Pets: Sporrin is a fun, gormless, hairy, fairly idiotic Gordon Setter puppy who joined us mid-year. He's barky but cute as heck, eager to please, playful as all get out, dead keen on all kinds of birds (including young chickens, which is a bit of a problem, sigh), impervious to weather, and (happily) sheds water and dirt in microseconds. He's gradually learning not to steal the strawberries out of my garden, but so far is uninterested in peas, beans, etc, bless his heart.

Teaching: My undergrad students have been awesome. All of them passed their classes last semester, and one of my favourite boys (DV), who is also an artist, did a splendid sketch of our Great Dane bitch as a gift to me, which we've hung on the wall next to her couch as a permanent memory. I've encouraged him to go into medical illustration: he's got all the gifts and education necessary, and would be brilliant at it.

Politics: We replaced our inoffensive but right wing Parliament with a strong, young, female, left-leaning Prime Minister who will, I think, do positive things for NZ. Yay Jacinda.

The bad:
We lost our old dog, Max the Great Dane, early in the year. We were blessed to get her littermate sister to tide us over, but nothing can replace the big girl.

The undergrad programme I teach into (Med Lab Sci) was cancelled, so this year I had to farewell my last students ever. It was heartbreaking. The best thing about my job is watching my students walk across the stage at graduation, and next year will be my last. I'm wholly gutted, and have no idea how to replace that.

More good than bad, so I won't complain!
28 October 2018 @ 08:45 pm
Being in the Southern hemisphere, we're back-arsewards to the rest of the world. Here, it's late spring. And my new potager (kitchen garden) is exceeding even my fondest hopes.

It's walled off, so it keeps the chooks out. (I let the dogs 'help' me until today, when Satan-puppy decided to help himself to my ripe strawberries. He is now blackballed forevermore.) The cats aren't interested, and the cattle can't get near it. So other than the berry-thief, all should be well.

All of my tiny little veggies, from carrots to peas to beans to zukes to tomatoes to leeks, are perky and happy. A few months from now, they will be bursting into ripeness, and my cup of happiness will overflow. Meanwhile, I'm pretty danged content. It's glorious just to sit and look at all the burgeoning yummies.

I'll be espaliaring fruit trees (two lemons, limes, nectarines, and peaches each) around the garden, to match the espaliared pip-fruits (two pears, two cherries, and three apples) espaliered up the driveway, to try and make things more productive. The potager also has blueberries and raspberries, along with asparagus, as perennials to match up with the various annuals I'll be growing.

I love gardening. I'll love it even more when I'm retired and have time to keep it all under control :D

And then there is the day job... 'nuf said.... Crikey, I hate said day job.
20 May 2018 @ 07:51 pm
May in NZ brings cold, wind, rain, and gloom. They've all arrived with a vengeance.

We got a new freezer -- yay! -- though sadly not new beef to fill it with. We'll be eating a lot of chicken this year, and somehow I will need to sort out the time, energy, and know-how to get one or both of my cows preggers.

We also have a sort-of-new Great Dane. We pretty much fell over with the loss of our big girl, so the breeders offered to loan us, and then forever-loan us, her sister, who they'd re-acquired due to some abuse issues. New girl is sadly overweight and has arthritis because of that, but she is so sweet and loving and awesome that I hope she lives with us forever. We've got her on a weight-loss diet including analgesics for her shoulders, fish-oil supplemented dog food, and heaps of steamed calorie-free veggies from our garden. And we're actively looking for a puppy -- preferably another Dane, but otherwise anything big and Dane-substitute-ish.

Work chum is doing well on a tyrosine kinase inhibitor drug; it won't cure the cancer, but it should knock it on the head and keep her largely symptom free for years. We're hoping years, plural; five or more would be great. Meanwhile I contribute to her ongoing health by bullying her into more exercise, and cooking her dinner five nights a week to make sure she keeps up with proper nutrition. Apparently I'm a good cook. She says she should have got cancer years ago :)

Work continues to suck, but on the up side I recently attended graduation and got to watch my erstwhile students walk across the stage, first class honours and all that, followed by a parade (I snaggled the rainbow flag to wave, of course), general hugging and yay-ing, and a dinner afterwards. The restaurant was, as per my prior experience, grossly slow, overpriced, and below-average in quality despite being the 'best' restaurant in town. But we had fun anyhow, and I sneaked away early and paid for all my ex-students' dinners as a treat. They were blown away. Apparently that's not the kind of thing boring snobby superior university faculty do. But I do, and so everyone was happy. And now they owe me favours :D
01 April 2018 @ 11:18 am
What a month.

Our lovely big girl, Max the Great Dane, has passed over the rainbow bridge. We are devastated.

Our lovely cattlebeast, which the nice homekill butcher processed for us, produced about 200 kg of prime beef. Then the freezer died. We didn't realise until we were alerted by the odour. We had to bury the lot.

My best friend at work was just diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

My resilience is at pretty low ebb.
17 February 2018 @ 04:49 pm
Can you guess what season it is here in NZ? Yep. It's tomato season.

We have about fifteen tomato plants in the garden; they're a mixture of sungold cherry tomatoes and various heritage tomatoes. In addition, we have five tomato plants in the glasshouse. All are at their peak. And wow, wow, wow. I have buckets, literally, of cherry tomatoes. I have enough big tomatoes that I can think about cooking them down for sauce, sacrilegious though it sounds. And I'm eating tomato slices on everything from toast in the morning, to cheese and crackers in the afternoon, to burgers for dinner.

This weekend we're teaching a course for new beekeepers. We do theory all morning, hands-on practice all afternoon, and a huge BBQ lunch in between. Burgers, sausages, and wild venison steak on the barbie, plus all the trimmings. Including, from us, sliced heritage tomatoes, home made pickles from home grown cukes, home grown lettuce, and homekill beef patties. Another instructor, also a professional butcher, provides the home made sausages and venison steaks. Wow, the attendees (25) were amazed, but what they raved about most was the tomatoes. I'd forgot how different home grown tomatoes are to the store bought ones. It's always nice to be reminded, though! This is why we garden, and garden, and garden.

Which is why we are building a new fenced garden (fenced to keep the chickens out), since our current veg garden is now half-occupied by a glasshouse. So we can grow yet more tomatoes. Because OMG nom nom nom, tomatoes.
31 December 2017 @ 09:25 pm
2017: (IMO, obviously....) Political changes in the US were disastrous. Political forces in NZ did improve. The weather sucked, both here and abroad. Anaemia continues to suck. The day job and its lack of security also continues to suck, although happily our finances remain fairly stable and non-disastrous. And I've stopped following rugby, so I've no idea how the ABs fared. (Come back, Kees Meeuws! MOST AWESOME PROP EVER IN THE HISTORY OF EVERDOM.)

Here's hoping that 2018 will bring everyone all a bit of peace, joy, wealth, health, security, excitement, or whatever it is y'all need the most.

If all else fails, I remain thankful that I live in NZ, which is IMO the most wonderful, beautiful, awesome, civilised country on the planet.
26 December 2017 @ 03:58 pm
#1: Rain! Lovely, soft, gentle, constant, ground-soaking rain. What a great Boxing Day!

#2: 3-way scallops were a hit, with one being particularly great. Crumbed with breadcrumbs, Parmesan, and chopped fresh herbs: 7/10. Skewered on smoked bacon, broiled, with a spritz of fresh lime juice: 8/10. Baked in a mornay (sp?) sauce of milk, cream, flour, garlic, and grated Gruyere with a last-minute grating of pepper: 10/10. DB was VERY happy with her Xmas dinner.

Steak and steamed cauli/zucch wasn't bad on my end, either. And the dog enjoyed the leftovers. (Except for the home-made two year old plum mead, of which there were no leftovers. I drank the whole bottle ::hangs head in shame::. The colour had gone from purple to amber, and the taste had gone from sweet and fruity to OMG THIS IS EFFING AWESOME .)

The best bit? I've convinced DB that shells are not re-usable, so if she wants scallops mornay again, we need to go to the beach to collect more seashells for me to bake the mussels in. WIN!!!!!!

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25 December 2017 @ 05:22 pm
...which is a holiday we don't celebrate. But it is one of several days off work, so WOOHOO!

However, I do fervently hope for peace on Earth, and good will towards humanity. This may or may not require the spontaneous combustion of Trumplethinskin.

It's hot here -- 90-ish, mix of sun and cloud, and humid. The garden and greenhouse are loving it, though some rain would be welcome. We're having one of a few quiet days at home since it's the holiday season. I did some thistle-chopping and bramble-whacking today, moved the hose around on the pumpkin vines, and...yeah, that's about it. Lazy is good. Just us, the dog, the cats, the chickens, the cows, and the bees.

Dinner tonight: beefsteak for me (because I have been diagnosed with stage 2 iron deficiency anaemia due to a weird bio-availability problem, bleh*), and scallops for DB (because she loves them, I'm allergic to them, and I found a dozen in the freezer that the neighbours gave us from their last fishing holiday up north). I don't really grok scallops, so I'm hedging my bets by cooking them three ways: skewered with bacon and broiled with a drizzle of lime sauce; crumbed with breadcrumbs, fresh herbs, and Parmesan; and baked in a Gruyere cheese, garlic, and cream sauce. At least one of them should work!

Plus steamed veg, fresh from the garden: asparagus, zucch/courgette, and cauli/broc. Because they're full of iron.

* **** there is not enough onions and garlic in the world to make liver palatable****. Chicken livers, yeah okay, I can do pate' and enjoy a bit of it with some cheese and crackers. Lamb liver is pretty gag-worthy, even with heaps of fried onions. Beef or pig liver, which are apparently the highest of all in iron, I don't even want to try. But liver in general has got 4 - 5 times more iron than beef, so..... yeah, gotta do my best to eat that shit, at least until my GP can sort things out and get me shots or infusions or something.

Also, it's dead embarrassing to have IDA when you actually teach haematology at Uni to third year clinical med lab students and tell them that IDA is the most common micro-nutrient deficiency and it's the most common form of anaemia and it's largely preventable and... yeah. I hang my head in shame.
18 October 2017 @ 01:16 am
We garden. We grow fruits and veg. We have chooks and cows and honeybees.

But, obviously, some of those will inevitably be problematic, so let's have MORE HOBBIES!

First, a glasshouse. That is DB's lifelong dream. She can raise seedlings, and cuttings, and grafts, and... Yep. We've ordered a glasshouse. The biggest one you can buy. I can't wait to see it. (Though my back will probably have something to say about hefting over half a ton of glass....)

Next, bees. Honeybees are great, but if the neighbours stick a couple hundred hives next door (which they did), and manage them very badly (which they did), such overstocking leads to everyone's failure (which it did). So, leaf cutter bees. They don't make honey, but they (apparently) pollinate like mad. I'm getting fifty leaf cutter bees, in cocoons, as my birthday present. And DB is making houses for them. Cooliebars!

Finally, a potager. Because the glasshouse is going to take up most of the back garden, so the front garden (currently lawn-needing-constantly-mown and land-of-dog-poop) is going to get fenced off, with some raised beds (nicely symmetrical, and pretty!) to grow veg. Yay! That's my lifelong dream.

I REALLY need to retire to keep up with all this.....


(Not that I'm counting or anything....)