Sunday, September 23, 2012

Busy Chitting

I have been everso busy recently, chitting the oca. Chitting, for non gardeners, is the process of exposing tubers to light so that they sprout a bit before planting them so they grow quicker and are less likely to rot in the cold spring ground. It is very complicated. You put them on something airy so they won't rot (wicker basket excellent). You find somewhere light but secluded to leave them, so that cats and children won't play with them, and husbands won't throw them away, thinking they are on the way to the compost. Top of the laundry cupboard, perfect. Then you wait.

And this is absolutely the crucial step. You now have a window of opportunity to do nothing that you don't want to, as in:

Child: Mum, can you iron my terribly complicated tartan kilt with all the pleats that only a complete sadist would include as part of the school uniform?
Me: (lying on the couch reading an Agatha Christie novel) Sorry darling, can't, I 'm too busy chitting the oca.

School Mum: You know there's a P&F meeting on Thursday night, we need to have all hands on deck for the school fair.
Me: Oh, I'd love to, but I have to chit the oca.
School Mum: Does it take long?
Me: Yes, weeks sometimes, I'm terribly behind with it, so sorry....

Of course, you could chit potatoes too, but oca sounds more exotic. Oca is also called the New Zealand yam, but is really a form of oxalis. I buy it from the green grocer in its short season, and eat some and plant some. Some people like to roast them, but I prefer to slice them thinly into stir fries.

And chit them.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Succulent Feast

We have had a week of school holidays, which for me means a week of ferrying Rosy to dance competitions. Luckily it is only a five minute drive, or actually, a three minute drive and ten minute walk, because I believe in stopping just where the free parking does... We need all that fresh air and sunshine due to spending hours in a dark theatre. For a week I get to grab a slice of bread and butter and maybe an apple in between the taxiing. The house slowly disappears under a layer of dust and grime, and the other children live on what they can find, or they bake cupcakes.

So when I finally had a day at home today, I ignored inside, and decided to tackle outside so I could absorb some Vitamin D and not get ricketts. It was all a bit overwhelming though, because Spring has definitely sprung, and everywhere I look there are jobs to do. In the end I decided to go with my trusty technique for cleaning the house when I've been skipping the boring bits for too long, that is, start at one end and just keep going, dealing with absolutely everything as I go, until I fall over from exhaustion or one of the children requires first aid.

I started at one end of the courtyard and pulled out weeds from between the pavers, and washed grimy windows, and brushed out cobwebs, then I came to a bag of bits of succulents that I had brought home from our trip to Bruny Island a couple of weeks ago. Bruny has cottages along the beach with banks of naturalised echiums and succulents cascading down to the sand in wild profusion. I had never imagined that aeoniums had flowers, but here they are, with hundreds of daisy-like, yellow blooms.

I knew that all of these succulents wanted to come home with me, but I was very cruel, and chose only a select few.  I filled a plastic shopping bag with cuttings, then brought them home and stuck them under the table in the courtyard until today. Let me assure you that I am not intentionally mean to plants. I almost always take good care of them and water and feed them, but I think it is only fair to let them know, right from the start, that if they are not tough enough to withstand two weeks in a plastic bag before planting, then they probably won't find life in my garden super enjoyable. Luckily, succulents enjoy tough love. So I emptied them all onto the paving, echiveriums, blue chalk sticks, pig face, aeoniums, and that big grey one whose name I can't recall, we'll call it elephant ears.

Also luckily, the first instruction in gardening manuals for transplanting succulents, is to leave them for twenty four hours to develop a callus on the stem cut to prevent rotting. Two weeks also works. Really, this gardening job couldn't be easier or more fun. I chose pots from my stash, stuck a bit of broken pot over the drainage hole, filled with potting mix, stuck the cuttings in artistically, then mulched with white gravel from the front path. Pretty, pretty.

The bird house is a school project by Rosy. One thing I have discovered about succulents in pots - all mine seem to like having water in their saucers to slowly wick back into the pots. This may be because they are positioned to catch the fierce afternoon sun, but they seem quite happy, and it keeps the table dry. The tiny pots are citronella candle pots. They don't even have drainage holes, I just don't water them as often. These plantings would be about a year old, and are thriving and reproducing, against all the gardening advice I have ever heard...

The tiny blue pot is from The Girl's brief foray into bonsai when she was ten. There was a potted succulent I really liked at our holiday rental, so I took just two little leaves from it, which I am hoping will magically increase into whole plants. Succulents mostly do that..

Well, I have now advanced about eight feet into my Spring garden jobs. Hope all your garden work is going just as splendidly!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Contemplating Calendula

Twelve years ago when we moved into this house, a friend gave me some half packets of flower seeds she didn't want any more. I swear every seed came up, and for years I had garden beds full of continually self-seeding cosmos, calendula and love-in-a-mist, due to the generosity of a friend and the universe. The cosmos got a bit jungly after a few years and I pulled it all out, but the calendula and love-in-a-mist comes back faithfully year after year, even though I pull most of it out after flowering. It pops up in the gravel paths, between paving, all through all the garden beds. I can't quite understand why the whole earth isn't carpeted with calendula. I've been picking and drying it for a week now, and I have a jar full of dried sunshine, with no noticeable dent in the number of flowers in the garden. When the children were little I would make an infusion of calendula flowers in my fat blue teapot whenever they had sticky, weepy eyes with a cold. Bathing their eyes with calendula tea always fixed them up right away. It will take a while to organise the other ingredients I want to make my calendula tea, so I am going to use my dried calendula to make an infused oil. I'm hoping it will be helpful for family members with eczema, also I'd like a moisturiser for summer for my ageing skin!

The love-in-a-mist turns out to be useful too. I discovered that though it is not nigella sativa (black cumin seed), it is nigella damascena, very similar, and also edible, more nutmeg-like, so I collect the seed and use it in naan bread. It is also the most wonderful Arabian-nights bejewelled slipper-like flower, in every colour of blue imaginable.

I love my self-seeding garden. Pretty and useful. And plants itself.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Madam Weeds the Strawberry Bed

My mother always turns up to visit with all sorts of odd bits and bobs she has picked up in various places. This last visit she left these vintage haberdashery items - cards of necklace thread.

The one on the left reads: New Improved Pack of Original Article Which Enables Madam to Securely Rethread Her Own Pearls Exactly to Her Requirements.

Good old Mum, she knows I am always obsessing about ways to rethread my pearls.

During the intervals of the day Madam wasn't mentally rearranging her pearl collection, she was weeding the strawberry bed...

... trimming the rosemary hedge by the back steps (so many bees in the blue..)

... and picking orange calendula flowers for drying to make tea.

There are only two herbal teas that I like at all. One is lemon and ginger, and the other is calendula, lemongrass and spearmint. Upon reading the lemon and ginger packet I have discovered that most of the lemon is lemongrass, with just one percent lemon peel. I would love to make my own teas, and it should be doable, because I drink so little herbal tea I won't have to grow much! Lemongrass and ginger are both tropical plants, but Kate seems to think I can grow lemongrass here if I keep it safe and warm in winter, and I was talking to someone the other day who grows ginger in the same way, just taking it inside in winter. I have asked at the nursery, and they will have lemongrass in a couple of weeks. Now I just need spearmint. I think I saw some while I was walking the other day, in a boggy patch on the riverbank. I will have to take wellies and a trowel to investigate. And maybe a field guide.

So herbal tea prep is going well. I have one out of the four ingredients. It shouldn't take more than a year to grow all the rest. Slow food.

Continuing our mini vegie tour, here is the garlic, growing in a long bed down the side of the house, next to the clothesline. Every day as I hang out the washing, I talk to the garlic. I'm sure it appreciates hearing all the news.


 And last of all, the red chard has finally started to grow. May was way too late to plant anything, and it has sulked all winter. Next year I will be planting all the winter veg in March. However, it is putting on new leaves now, which I am taking right off again to put in salad. Mmm, crunchy, crinkly spring salad leaves.
Madam is obviously too distracted by the vegetable kingdom to be bothered with the pearls today. Maybe tomorrow..