Thursday, May 26, 2016

Letter to the Editor - Feds push engineered grasses

It seemed a harmless enough thing to do, sowing beet seeds across the region's farms – what could go wrong?  Velvet leaf, that's what. 
  The pest plant, one of the most damaging known to farming, arrived in Southland mixed with the beet seeds and set off the emergency bells as soon as it was discovered. The cost of weeding it out was enormous and hasn't ended yet. 
  Two years earlier, it was the turn of swedes, mutagenically altered swede seeds immune to herbicide, sown across Southland farms causing more anxiety, expense and the deaths of hundreds of dairy cows. 
  These agricultural disasters are coming faster and faster, as farming intensifies. 
  Now, it's the turn of genetically-modified pasture grasses. They're not in Southland yet, but they'll be here soon, if Federated Farmers' president Dr William Rolleston gets his way. He has been pushing for the introduction of genetically-engineered grasses into our farmland for some time and now he's increasing the pressure on the New Zealand public to accept these unnatural seeds. 
  Did he miss the news reports about the velvetleaf crisis? Was he not listening when talk down here was all about cows dying after eating mutagenic swedes? 
  Could someone please bring Dr Rolleston up to speed?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Octopus and squid populations are booming...

...and here's why.

Inside out of the rain

I spent the morning locating and tending the apple trees I've planted out on the commons, amongst the weed trees that have populated the overlooked site. They're doing very well. Back home, I set out the dozen or so grape cuttings sent to me by the wonderful woman from Roxburough who rightly guessed that I'd be interested in the rare grapes she grows. Then I divided a galungal plant and transplanted the divisions around the garden until I was too wet to continue (see picture)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Foraging fungi

Autumn's the time for foraging for fungi (perhaps there's a better term than, 'foraging'; it sounds like someone ratting through the odds and ends in the bottom of a drawer, looking for a screwdriver or a bottle opener, but it starts with 'f' the way fungi does, so it has some appeal). The cool and moist weather that's typical of autumn is favoured by fungi and brings their fruiting bodies; the bits we like to eat, to the surface where they display their fungal forms for any fungi-favourers to find. Most wild-mushroom lovers know the field mushroom best and there are many who only know the creamy white buttons that dot pastures on farms across the country, little suspecting that there are other, equally yummy edible, wild mushrooms waiting to be picked. Button or field mushrooms are easily recognised and not readily confused with any other fungi. That makes them safe in the minds of New Zealanders not well versed in hunting wild mushrooms, as people from Europe and America often are. We are new to the practice of frying up fungi that look different and treat new types of mushrooms with great skepticism and caution. Death by toadstool is a deeply-help fear by people in this new land of ours, and learning about and eating novel fungi is a slow process but there are easily identified, great tasting mushrooms popping up this season in a town, village or park near you and once you're confident that what you've found is what you've heard about, you'll be able to join the swelling ranks of mushroom eaters who know more than just the button. Puffballs. They're poisoness, aren't they? Our parents probably encouraged us to think so and certainly wouldn't have urged us to eat any, but the biggest and most visible of the puffballs is a lovely and easily identified treat for the local mushroom fan. I see them growing in pasture, often nearby to sources of nutrients, such a silage stacks. They are large and white, clean and firm. Taking one home, slicing it into steaks and frying those in butter is an easy and safe way to break out of the mono-mushroom habit you may have inherited from your parents. Fried puffball is very tasty however you prepare it. Another relatively common grass-grown mushroom that tastes great is the Lawyer's Wig, or Ink Cap mushroom that pops up in the lawns and grass verges of our towns. These shaggy mushrooms last a short time only and have to be cooked as soon as possible to avoid losing them to a puddle of ink, which is what they become if left lying about too long. They are safe to eat and easy to recognise once you've seen them in a book or in real life. If you've the desire to try some of these new mushrooms, talk to someone who already has and go out foraging with them, if they're willing to reveal their special spots to you; mushrooms of these sort tend to appear in the same sites each autumn and keen collecters might want to keep those secret.  

Saving seeds

By now, most seeds of biennial plants in your garden, will have formed and dried on their stalks. It's time to pick them and bring them into storage, if you hope to multiply your crops in the springtime. Bienniel plants such as fennel, parsley, carrot and parsnip produce their seeds in the second year of their growth and hold them high on stalks that catch the wind, helping with drying and dispersal. If you are not quick, those seeds will be blown away and though they will probably strike and grow, it'll be in a place not of your choosing. Collecting and storing them safely will give you control over how many and where you will grow for the next round. I always collect seed in the late morning, once the moisture from dew or overnight rain has evaporated. Sometimes, in an emergency situation brought on by day after day of rain, I'll collect while the seeds are still damp, but that's far from ideal. Drying on the stalk, out of doors, is always best. Collect into a woven basket, if you have one, and spread your seeds out on newspsper for further drying, indoors and out of the sunlight. If you've got a spare room where you can spread seeds and papers out, you are very fortunate. Once seeds are perfectly dry, consign them to a jar or a tin, then store them in a dark place until spring. I always sow a percentage of autumn-collected bienniel seeds in autumn, out of doors, in soil that is exposed to the winter conditions, knowing that nature does it this way and as an insurance against losing the seeds I've dried and stored inside for any unforseen reason. Those seeds that are safely tucked away in their containers need to be checked occasionally for fungi and insect problems that may have resulted from not quite careful enough preparation. You can ensure against both by giving the seeds a brief, 3 day stay in the freezer. The cold will kill those organisms without harming the seeds. Remember to lable. It's worryingly easy to forget what you sequestered, once 3 or 4 months has gone by.

Not carrot, parsley, parsnip or fennel seeds

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Winter cheer

3 more demijohns filled today. I've included crab apples and Brownlees Russets this time around, along with the most varied mix of apples I've ever assembled for the purpose of cider making.

Can't wait (but will have to)

Sustaining a thrashing

My tree dahlias are being whipped by these tempestuous winds but are standing tall, thanks to my tying them to nearby flaxes , using the tough, strappy flax leaf blades. I'll be surprised if they can take much more of it though. The weather report is not encouraging.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tanya's felt critters

Wonderful felting by Tanya - signage for the Environment Centre. Butterflies too, and a mudfish...
How does she do it??
Tried felting a woolen jersey today. Boiled the living daylights out of it in a jam-pan on the stove top.
We shall see...