It's summer...

...which makes me think I'm a veg-seasonal person. Yeah. I probably am.

The cauliflower, broccoli, broad beans and leeks are having their final fling -- which I appreciate: tonight's dinner is roast chicken + roasted parsnip, carrot, potato, and leeks + steamed broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus. I celebrate the first season's whatever, but also cherish the last season's whatever.

And with home grown tarragon, sage, thyme, and garlic, it will be beautiful. And it'll cost me half nothing, other than a bit of butter, oil and salt. That makes me a happy hamster.

The garden is looking awesome, with everything flowering: tomatoes, capsicums, and raspberries. The rest are sprouting: beans, snow peas, garden peas, pumpkins, zucchini, cucumber and carrots.

Gosh golly wow, how I love gardens. Growing food is so therapeutic. It also makes the very tiny back of my brain think that we're prepared for the zombie apocalypse (assuming that a Great Dane and a Gordon Setter, plus two geriatric cats and an assortment of chickens, can chase off the bulk of the zombies).

It never lasts long

Spring came, prodded the daffodils, and then retreated behind winter's skirts again. It's flirting with a return, and I am pretty sure we won't have more frosts, but the weather is still quite unpredictable.

My success in getting my staff member a pay rise and promotion never bore any actual fruit: Head of HR agreed, wrote it down, and then....nothing happened. I email the head of HR every two weeks to remind him, but it's been radio silence. I know he's a busy bloke, but still, it's hideously unfair and I hate that my hands are tied.

Work overall sucks. I'm just gritting my teeth and sticking it out till retirement, solely for $ purposes. I'm sure there are some good things about my job other than the salary, but I can't think of any offhand.

I have this week off work, just to get away from the dreaded day job for a few days, during which time I'm doing a lot of garden digging, harvesting, planting, uprooting, and general tidy-up. I found a purple cauliflower hiding at the back, nearly big enough to be picked: my high point of the month. Sad, but true.

well, that'll teach me to moan about winter!

And.....it's spring.

Not according to the calendar. But the garden is sure convinced. The stuff blooming is incredible -- wattle, magnolias, daffodils, even poppies. In JULY. (Which, for those of you in the Northern hemisphere, is the equivalent of January.)

The hens are equally convinced. They lay/don't lay based on light/dark hours, but even though we're barely a month out from the shortest day of the year, they're laying up a storm. Five dozen eggs in just this one week! And one of the hens is already sitting on a nest to hatch the eggs. That too doesn't usually begin until September.

And we've had a glorious few days of weather. Sun. As in, SUN! Big yellow thing in the sky! Still, clear, sunny days.....holy crap, my mood has lifted so much it's unbelievable.

Plus, we had a faboo meal this week at a local restaurant (Little Savannah, in case anyone's in the neighbourhood). The beef was perfect, the ostrich sublime, the biltong excellent, the beer/wine list impressive, and the dessert was not just delicious but also free (!) because the restaurant comp'd it due to it being wifey's birthday. (And they served it with a candle in the ice cream, and a slew of staff came out and sang happy birthday to her.)

And... AND (!) (because it's been that kind of week)..... after over a year of banging my head against the wall, begging my boss, begging my boss's PA, begging our HR rep, etc, I finally leapfrogged the whole effing lot of them and went straight to the head of HR/payroll. (It helps that he knows me a bit from some shared committee work, and so he was willing to give me a brief slot in his calendar.) I was prepared for a knock down drag out fight to get one of my staff the promotion/pay rise she is sooooo overdue for. He cut me off at the knees -- before I said a word, he offered me MORE than I was even going to ask for her! Moved up three pay grades, and a $15K raise backdated for a month. I thought I was going to faint.

This has been one of those weeks that restores my faith in people, my job, and my life. Imma happy hamster :D

Winter blues

This winter hasn't been horribly cold but it has been wet, gloomy and depressing. I read about US heat waves with envy.

But, I remind myself:

We've passed the shortest day of the year. Spring is coming.

After three months of our waaaay-too-many hens not laying a single egg, I went out today and found a few dozen in various inconvenient sites. (I also disturbed the egg-thief hawk, who had raked a bunch of eggs from a ground nest and devoured half a dozen or so before flying off when I came near. Hawks are beautiful and majestic, but stealing my eggs does not endear them to me.)

So I had eggs for breakfast. Yum. The flavour of our eggs is totally different to the store bought ones, which is why I refuse to buy eggs even when we don't have any of our own for months on end.

My brassicas have been slow to mature and, in several cases, just kind of went mouldy and slimy, presumably drowned from the excess of rain. But I have a beautiful white cauliflower and an even more beautiful purple broccoli, which I shall pick and cook tonight with the last beef roast from the freezer. My mini cabbages are making little cabbage heads and are sooooo cute!

My daffodils are trying to bloom, as are the camellias. (Unlike too many idiotic humans, they cannot deny the existence of climate change.) We're accepting this weather as the new normal and are trying to adapt our gardens to suit. My daphne is in full bloom (a bit early, but I'm not complaining) and holy crap, the scent is phenomenal. You can smell it from ten feet away. A couple of blossoms perfume the entire house.

We still have lots of firewood in the barn, so we can stay warm. Also, potatoes and pumpkins wrapped in foil and baked in the woodstove are about a billion times more delicious than anything cooked in an oven or microwave. I don't know why, but they're purely glorious.

The limes are ripening on the tree. Lime marmalade, here I come.

Thus, while winter has not yet ended, the end is in sight and things are looking up. And, as I also remind myself, I am blessed beyond belief to live in New Zealand, where I can grow vegetables year round, be surrounded by a citizenry who doesn't care that the prime minister is an unwed mother, and be legally married to my same-sex partner.

Veggie garden 2019 and the top 10 things I have learnt.

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.

And.... It's 2019

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!

spring!

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.

May

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

I could have done without March

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.

Tomatoes x 10Ebillion

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.