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Attracting Techno Colour Tui To Your Garden

Our tui feeders can be viewed here ….. Much to the delight of local tui the Taiwanese Cherry tree in our garden is once again show casing the arrival of spring with a beautiful display of blossoms. During the last few weeks I’ve taken “a little” time out, can’t say how much as I’m supposed […]

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Are You Sure This Tui Feeder Will Attract Tui ?

Are You Sure This Tui Feeder Will Attract Tui ?

That’s the question I was asked one morning several years ago upon receiving a phone call off one of our adverts in the New Zealand Gardener. The caller introduced himself as Pat and then followed on from his opening question with this statement, “aren’t they a bit expensive!”. It was obvious that he wasn’t one […]

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How To Hang Your Tui Feeder in Four Simple Steps

Each week as I pack up our tui feeders for dispatch I wonder if those receiving them will have any difficulty setting them up in their gardens. Having worked in the furniture trade off and on for many years I can turn my hand to most things however I’m aware that some people can not. […]

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Sixteen Interesting Tui Facts

Sixteen Interesting Tui Facts

Tui ( prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) are endemic “native and unique” to New Zealand. They are found on the three main islands and belong to the honey eater family. Tui are a fully protected in New Zealand. The name Tui is derived from the Maori language with the plural being simply tui. Europeans who first colonised New […]

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Starting Your First Vegetable Garden

Beginnings of New Garden

When my wife returned home this evening and saw what I was doing out the back she was some what concerned and asked why was I digging this sinister looking hole in the lawn. I assured her that she need not worry as this was just the beginnings of a second vegetable garden. I think she believed me?

Our current garden is about 36 square metres but its not quite large enough for a good crop of potatoes so I’m digging up a further 30 metres.

Starting a garden is second nature to me as I’ve done it many times before therefore it’s hard to imagine that some folk may not know how to go about it. Because of this my intention is to document the whole process step by step so those first time veggie gardeners can see how easy it really is.

Over the next few weeks hopefully I can answer some of the typical questions that arise.

Questions such as:

  1. Where is the best spot to locate my garden ? more …
  2. What size should I make itmore …
  3. Should I draw up a garden plan ? more …
  4. What tools will I need ?
  5. How much time each week do I need to spend in my garden ?
  6. What type of soil do I have ?
  7. How will I cultivate and prepare the soil ?
  8. Is my garden going to be organic ?
  9. What vegetables can and should I grow ?
  10. Should I raise my plants from seeds or use nursery seedlings ?
  11. When can I start planting ?
  12. How will I protect my garden from natural invaders, pests and disease ?
  13. How often should I water my garden ?
  14. When should I fertilise my garden ?
  15. How do I know when my vegetables are ready to harvest ?
  16. If there is anything I’ve overlooked please feel free to contact me or leave a comment. I will do my best to help.

    Favourite Quotes:
    In all things of nature,there is something of the marvelous. Aristotle

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You’re Such A Cute Little Pest!

Young Rabbit

With Easter fast approaching my timing is spot on for writing about cute little bunnies like this. This photo was taken a couple of weeks ago when I discovered that “Peter Rabbit” and his two siblings had taken refuge under our front deck.

Unfortunately for this trio I wasn’t the only one observing their comings and goings.

Cat Watching for Rabbits

Not long after the rabbits first appeared our neighbour’s cat started making regular visits. Every afternoon like clockwork he would saunter across to find a good vantage point from where he could check out the young rabbits. After about ten days his visits ceased therefore I assumed his mission had been successfully completed.

I’m told he likes young rabbits but probably doesn’t have the speed to catch the bigger adult rabbits which is a pity. Our neighbour was concerned that we would view their cat as a nuisance but to the contrary I’m always pleased to see him as I have no liking for rabbits, be they cute or otherwise.

They’re fine in a stew … really!

Over the years I’ve shot hundreds but that’s no longer possible as our lifestyle block is in a semi built up area. Some months ago I made a humane cage trap for catching rabbits but to every ones amusement I’ve only caught hedgehogs and birds.

Hedgehog In Rabbit Trap

Strangely rabbits don’t cause too many problem in the garden as there is always plenty of fresh new grass to feed on but they ruin our lawn with their continual digging.

The first known release of rabbits in New Zealand was by Captain James Cook on Motuara Island in Queen Charlotte Sound in 1777.

Rabbits were brought to New Zealand as early as the 1830s for food and sport. Their introduction proved to be disastrous as their numbers quickly grew to plague proportions and has cost the country many millions of dollars in control costs and lost production.  Rabbits are still a major threat to New Zealand’s farming industry.

Some quick fire rabbit facts.

  • Common name – European rabbit.
  • Scientific name – Oryctolagus cuniculus.
  • From the Leporidae family.
  • Worldwide there are over 50 species of rabbit.
  • Rabbits are herbivores – eats grasses and plants etc. (eg my lettuces)
  • Rabbits are nocturnal and spend most of their time underground venturing out at twilight to feed which can continue for most of the night.
  • They are capable of living above ground.
  • Females are called does, males are known as bucks.
  • Young are born blind with no fur.
  • Rabbits are prolific breeders, a single female can produce as many as 50 offspring in a year.
  • As many as 7 litters can be produced in one year with a gestation period of 28 to 30 days.
  • Newly born rabbits are called kittens.
  • Does are able to conceive within 12 hours of giving birth, hence the expression “breeding like rabbits”.
  • A group of baby rabbits is known as a kindle.
  • Litters range in size from 3 to 7.
  • In ideal conditions rabbits can breed all year round however the main breeding season is spring to early summer.
  • Sexual maturity is reached at about 3 to 4 months.
  • Rabbits can breed at 5 months of age.
  • Life expectancy is approximately 18 months with mortality usually due to disease or predators (that includes me!)
  • 10 rabbits can eat as much as one ewe (sheep).
  • Annual production losses due to rabbits have been estimated at $50 million.

In 1900 6.5 million rabbit carcasses were exported from New Zealand to the United Kingdom. Rabbit skins peaked at 20 million in 1924. By 1946 there were 100 rabbits boards throughout New Zealand involved in their control. These boards were disbanded in 1989.

Today individual farmers are responsible for controlling rabbits, the costs involved can be in the hundreds of thousand of dollars.

Many urban New Zealanders have an image of rabbits as cute cuddly bunnies snacking on carrots in a back lawn hutch. This is far from reality, just talk to any farmer from central Otago or come check out our back lawn.

Rabbit Diggings

Favourite Quotes:
Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen. John Steinbeck

Feijoas Are A Great Addition To Your Garden

Feijoas

At the time of writing this post, the 4 feijoa trees in our back lawn are laden with a bumper crop of fruit. As children growing up on the farm, we literally ate bucket loads of feijoas as almost everyone had trees in their garden. Often you couldn’t give them away as there was an over supply therefore much of the fruit rotted where it fell.

To a certain extent that still seems to be the case today which surprises me because we as a family love them and devour them as quickly as they fall off the trees.

Without wanting to boast, some of the feijoas I’ve picked in the last couple of days are some of the biggest I’ve seen, around 6cm in width and 9cm in length. The trees were planted about 8 years ago but only now are they flourishing.

Feijoas are very easy to grow and look after. They don’t seem to be affected by pests or diseases, so they can be a wise choice for any garden. A good feed of citrus manure in early spring followed by regular watering during the flowering and fruiting stage is all  that’s required. To achieve the best results, plant several different varieties so they can cross pollinate. In New Zealand the main pollinators of feijoas are blackbirds and mynas.

Feijoa Flower

In previous years pukekos have plundered our trees but this year that hasn’t been such an issue as there are fewer of these cheeky birds about. I know I’m tempting fate by just saying this …

Feijoa Cut In Half

The feijoa is a native of south America and originated from the mountainous areas of southern Brazil, northern Argentina, Columbia and Uruguay. It is also known as the Pineapple Guava or Guavasteen and is named after Joao da Silva Feijo, a Brazilian botanist. The feijoa was introduced into New Zealand in the 1920s. There are many varieties available.

New Zealand’s temperate climate with hot summers, mild winters and fertile soil provides the feijoa with optimal growing conditions. Trees should be planted in an area where they can enjoy full sun and a free draining soil. Pruning is not necessary however I usually give our trees an overall trim after harvesting to increase the next yield and to allow easier access to the fruit. Like all the trees on our block I prune off all the lower branches to lessen the risk of disease plus this allows me to get in close with the ride on mower.

If you don’t have feijoas in your garden June through to August is a good time to plant some. You will be well rewarded for your effort.

Feijoas in Basket

Favourite Quotes:
Unemployment is capitalism’s way of getting you to plant a garden. Orson Scott Card

Cemetery For Garden Tools

From time to time every gardener has to decide what to do with that favourite spade or rake that has given up the ghost. What happens to your garden tools when they have reached the point of “not working” anymore?

Grans Broken Spade

Unlike myself I suspect 99% of gardeners just “turf them out”.

Some years back whilst digging a hole to plant or install “something or other” I broke my treasured steel handled spade. Even though I’m not one of these gardeners who cleans and oils their tools after every outing I still have an appreciation for good tools. This spade was in that category plus it had sentimental value as it had been passed down by my dear old gran. She had probably used it for 30 years prior to giving it to me.

When it came to gardening there wasn’t much that lady didn’t know. Especially loved taking cuttings from other peoples gardens with usually a ninety nine percent success rate.

“Darn it,” that was a good spade … I didn’t quite say that.

As it was now completely kaput and in two halves I had to decide what to do with it?

Can’t throw it out, too much history, too many fond memories.

At the time of this incident I had just finished building a gazebo at the back of our house so I decided to find a pride of place for it there.  After drilling holes in each piece I nailed them to the inside of one of the gazebo’s roof trusses.

Now when I sit there to take time out to meditate or escape the summer heat I always  look up and am reminded of my much loved green fingered grandmother. A big  part of what I’ve learnt about gardening has come about from watching and listening to her.

Since that spade there have been a number of other tools that have found their way to what I now affectionately call my “garden tool cemetery”. Each one has a story to tell.

My petrol powered weed eater has recently packed it in …  where will  I hang that? …  as always your comments are welcome.

Old Hedge Clippers

Old Edge Trimmer

Garden Gazebo

Favourite Quotes:
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monarchs Return As Unwelcome Australians Depart

Adult Monarch Butterfly

Every summer we look forward to a visit from our very special friends the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus). It’s like they’ve become a part of our family.

About three weeks ago I indicated in a previous post that all was not well as the developing caterpillars were being wiped out by a plague of Australian paper wasps. Yes … Australians causing trouble again, do you remember that infamous under arm ball?

I’m pleased to say that these unwelcome visitors have now left and once again our friends are munching away much to their hearts and bellies content. Just within the last few days a number have undergone the change from the caterpillar (larval) stage to the chrysalis (pupal) stage. In a few weeks they will emerge as a butterfly and fly away.

With a month of autumn already gone I’m rather surprised to see the Monarchs still about because most years they depart our garden well before now. March has been a much milder month than usual so I suspect this is the reason why. The weather is due to get much colder very soon therefore I suspect many of the smaller caterpillars will not survive.

Next summer I will endeavour to find the wasp nests and deal to them sooner so that more Monarchs can complete their full life cycle. This hasn’t happened this year with very few making it through.

Is this monarch butterfly male or female … check it out here.

It’s so nice to see them back again!

Monarch Egg

Monarch Caterpillars

Monarch About To Pupate

Monarch Chrysalis

Empty Chrysalis

Bye for now, we will see you again next year.

Post Script: 7th AprilSwan plants now have a mass of large caterpillars feeding on them. Reaching chrysalis and butterfly stages will now be dependent upon the weather. Day light saving has just ended and the nights are getting much colder.

Post Script: 21st April – Caterpillars have stripped the swan plants of all foliage and now have no food. The larger ones like these in the photo are surviving on pumpkin which we are attaching to the bare branches. The smaller ones will ultimately die due to starvation and the worsening weather.

Caterpillars feeding on pumpkin

Post Script: 2nd MayWeather is getting colder now with 8 degrees expected over night. Caterpillars have either died or are at the chrysalis stage. Don’t know if they will survive as its late in the season for them. Sadly this butterfly didn’t survive as it was deformed. Those still to emerge may suffer the same fate or they could die within the chrysalis.

Deformed Monarch

Favourite Quotes:
“How does one become a butterfly?” she asked pensively.”You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.” Trina Paulus

How To Attract Tui To Your Garden

Automatic Birdfeeder

As mentioned in a previous post the bird feeders we have located around our garden attract various types of birds but I’ve not seen native birds using them.

Several weeks ago after purchasing a conventional feeder a client suggested that I should make an automatic version for birds such as Tui, Wood Pigeon, Fantail, Silver Eye and others.

I had already been thinking about designing such a feeder therefore this was just the motivation needed to get the project under way. Several days later the prototype as pictured above was finished.

The central part of the unit consists of a removable wooden box that houses a 1.5 litre plastic bottle filled with a mixture of sugar and water. This flows through small holes drilled in the bottom of the bottle into a plastic tray from which the tuis and other birds will hopefully feed … anyhow that’s the plan?

It’s a simple concept but will it work? … only time will tell.

Where should it be located?

It needed to be in a quiet yet visible part of the property so bird activity could be easily monitored. There are a several clumps of native flax on our further most boundary where the tuis feed so that seemed the most logical spot. The nectar from it’s flowers is one of the tui’s favourite foods.

After bashing a waratah standard into the hard clay the feeder was lowered onto it. A 40cm wooden sleeve attached to the bottom allows this to happen. To position the unit in a different location it’s just a simple matter of pulling out the waratah.

Viewing our expected visitors can now be enjoyed from either our laundry or garage windows. Not easy to see in this photo but it’s a little off centre to the right.

Birdfeeder View From Garage

After sorting out a few initial teething problems, mainly rats (don’t ya hate them), all now seems to be fine. No sightings of any birds feeding yet but keeping all fingers and toes crossed.

These bird feeders will be for sale but not until I’m satisfied that they work satisfactorily.

If you’ve had success in attracting birds to your garden or have any tips you are willing to share I would love to hear from you.

Check out this great website if you’re are looking for extensive information on New Zealand birds.

Favourite Quotes:
Use whatever talent you possess, the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sing the best. Henry Van Dyke

How Can You Be Enthusiastic When Carrots Are Only $1.75kg?

As any gardener will tell you dealing with the occasional failure is just part of the fun and challenge of growing your own vegetables. Gardeners like fishermen will boast about their successes, that massive pumpkin or tomato however a project that doesn’t fare well is normally dug under or quietly finds it’s way into the compost heap.

Supermarket Carrots

Due to my haste to get our garden underway last summer I quickly “threw” in a row of carrots because they are one of those staple vegetables that’s easy to grow and occupies any half decent veggie patch.

What, a garden without carrots? …  it just wouldn’t feel, or look right!

Perhaps it was that haste combined with my unsteady hand that resulted in the mass of carrots that emerged.

As the subsequent weeks passed I kept reminding myself “must thin out the carrots, must thin out the carrots.

It never happened.

No drama, will thin them as we use then. In theory a good idea but when it came to pulling some for salads and coleslaw they just wouldn’t budge. Like early morning commuters on the Tokyo tube they were packed in tight.

When the seed was sown the ground hadn’t been well cultivated and was totally void of any organic matter therefore expecting a good result was probably a little naive on my part. I have grown carrots before but in this case my enthusiasm out weighed my usual common sense.

Carrots need a deep well prepared soil free of stones and other material that can restrict growth and cause deformities. They also need to be positioned where they will receive all day sun. A well worked loam sandy type soil will ensure they grow to an acceptable size, unlike mine.

I know you can’t judge a gardener by the size of his or her carrots but these were embarrassing.

Over the summer I would wander in from the garden proudly showing off lettuces, cabbages, tomatoes, corn etc … carrots didn’t get a mention, not by me at least and needless to say, no photos. When it was time to grate them for salads it was more about where do the finger nails end and the carrot begins.

Last week I had to reluctantly accept my small defeat and very quietly mentioned to our daughter … “pet, can you get some carrots when you’re next at the *#!+=^”.

Funny the things that motivate us … next year there will be no more carrots from the supermarket. Already have another row doing very well and yes “they’ve been thinned out”.

Sure carrots are dirt cheap but you can’t compare  “home grown” to “those others”.

New Carrots

Favourite Quotes:
You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt. – Author Unknown

Unusual Garden Visitor

This morning as I wandered out to check the vegetable garden, now a morning ritual, I spotted a most unusual visitor on one of the seats on our front deck. First thought was to grab the camera but upon closer inspection I could see that the dragonfly was going no where.

It was dead, no need to panic  …

Amazing Dragonfly

How it died and ended up perfectly intact on our deck remains a mystery. It’s wings were covered in early morning dew so I brought it indoors to dry off.  These photos were taken later this afternoon. We don’t normally see many dragonflies around the property, certainly none as big as this. (Approximately 7cm in length with a wingspan of 10cm.)

Prior to posting this I did a little searching in the hope I could identify this amazing insect but no joy.

If you can help to identify this dragonfly it would be greatly appreciated.

Dragonfly Showing Wingspan

Favourite Quotes:

There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly. Buckminster Fuller

My Garden Rocks!

In my last post I mentioned that I had messed up big time and my vegetable garden was not as productive as it should have been. It all came about one Saturday afternoon as I was helping unpack the weekly groceries and casually asked about a lettuce and how much it had cost.

“C’mon pull the other one, you’ve got to be joking”.

“I could grow a better lettuce than that and besides who know what nasties they’ve sprayed on it”.

It looked like your typical picture perfect, blemish free supermarket specimen, too good to be true …  let alone healthy?

Grow a better lettuce?  for sure, but there was one major problem.

We don’t have a garden and already it’s late November. August and September is the time to be turning and preparing the ground.

Say no more … where’s that spade?

Little did I know what lay ahead, or should I say, what lay just below the surface.

Turning The First Turf

As it’s November 21st my plan to get things growing quickly is to dig  just enough ground to get a few rows of veggies under way. After a hurried trip to the garden center I have tomato, cabbage and lettuce seedlings plus a various assortment of seeds. I’m thinking this is just like the good old days when I had a garden to boast about.

Sadly my new found enthusiasm was about to be severely dampened.

I start to dig … Whoa …  what’s that?

Each time I pushed the spade into the lawn I hit what seemed to be rock. After several hours of sweaty back breaking toil (no exaggeration, plus it’s proving to be a hot November) I realise that I’m probably above some old farm track as all the pieces are of a consistent size.

The land here was all used for farming previously and only in recent years has it been subdivided into life style blocks.

Just my misfortune to position my new garden on top of some cow cocky’s track!

Anyhow there’s no stopping now, I’ve a garden to create. Onward and unfortunately downward.

Hard Going

Over the next few weeks Fraser (our youngest son) and I slowly but surely finished turning all the sods and finally we have a garden of sorts. Most of the rocks have been removed but the soil needs more cultivation along with compost and fertilizer.

Time doesn’t allow for this as spring is almost over so it’s a matter of lets see what result we can get. I had already resolved to be more organised for the next gardening season.

The morale to this story, if there is one, don’t leave starting your garden to the eleventh hour and secondly and most importantly “listen to you wife or partner as sometimes they do actually know what they are talking about“.

All the effort, frustration and frivolity has been well worth it as we ended up with a reasonable garden and loads of tasty fresh veg.

I think the rest of the family would agree?

Photo below shows the Dunn’s veggie patch at it’s prime …

If you’ve started your own veggie garden recently feel free to leave a comment as I would be interested to hear about it.

New Garden End Result

Favourite Quotes:
A garden is never so good as it will be next year. Thomas Cooper

Stop Thinking About Starting Your Own Vegetable Garden

As we head into autumn probably the last thing on your mind is starting your own vegetable garden. I hear you say, who has the time plus daylight saving ends in less than 4 weeks. Maybe next year?

I understand where you’re coming from.

Blank Canvas

After almost a 10 year absence I decided in November of 2008 that I would turn some turf and get growing again (above: our back lawn then). With the best of the current gardening season over I wonder why I left it so long.

Now my excuses for doing nothing seem so lame (hope Rose doesn’t read this) as my passion for vegetable gardening has been revived and is stronger and healthier than ever.

Already I’m setting some ambitious goals for a greatly improved garden in 2010.

The hours spent in my new garden over the last 4 months have been been so enjoyable and satisfying as I’ve harvested so much more than a host of beautiful, fresh, tasty home grown veggies.

As if that alone wasn’t enough!

Freshly Picked Corn

My advice to anyone thinking about starting a garden is simply this, “just do it” and join the millions of others who are dusting off their spades and rakes and enjoying the good life.

If you do decide to take up the challenge you need to avoid making the mistake that meant my new garden wasn’t as good as it could have been.

Stay tuned as I will tell you all about it in my next post.

If you need some motivation check out this gardener, he’s just 4 years old.

Sorry,what was your excuse again …

Favourite Quotes:
I have never had so many good ideas day after day as when I worked in the garden. John Erskine