You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2012.

I will finally be travelling again. I am going to Cromwell in early June to attend the Biodynamic Conference! I hope I can arrange to do some field visit at some of the local Summerfruit Orchards in Otago as well. I used to like the idea of just sitting down in Starbucks in Dunedin and enjoy the atmosphere as the day passes me by, or bungee jumping in Queenstown, etc etc, but they don’t seem so appealing to me anymore. Recently, I was even caught saying “this is my happy place!” when I was at a plant nursery!

Today’s post is a late one because we just finished work at 6pm, when the sun gets down and we can’t differentiate between the grapes and our fingers anymore. We are just half an hour from finishing Grape Harvest 2012! Yesterday I was proudly thinking to myself, most of the people have already cut themselves with their secateurs and not me! I cut myself real deep within 10 minutes of starting work this morning. Jinx.

This year, most winegrowers are seeing only half their usual crop, and most of it with with Botrytis. We are seeing one quarter of our usual crop at Okana Vineyard this year, that’s because we changed the pruning system from double canes to single cane in a bid to improve the quality of grapes grown, which of course, will half the tonnage. Overall, my observation on what nature has dealt us beyond our control, poor flowering (less flower = less grape), good fruit set (flower > grape), poor filling up of fruit (tiny grape > big grape). We might have to pay more attention to the pre-flowering foliar spray that encourages good flowering, and seaweed foliar spray on fruiting zone during the filling up of fruit period to encourage good bunch weight. We will also have to keep an eye on individual pruners so that they don’t cheat by reducing the length of fruiting cane to allow for quick and easy wrapping. Overall, we can only help the grapevines to a certain degree, and thereafter it is beyond us.

I have planted my strawberries into the WIP strawberry cloches. 2 day neutral varieties, from front of picture to the back, Temptations > Seascape > Temptations > Seascape > Temptations > Seascape, same layout in all 3 cloches. I raised the bed by at least 10cm with South Hort Compost and Tui NOT 100% weed free Strawberry Mix. Tui should really either remove the 100% weed free label or add a commitment (or your money back) to it. Every bag they have that shouts 100% weed free, you will find weeds germinating in them the very moment you pour the contents out for the first time.

I am now eyeing up Lemon – Yen Ben, Lime – Bears, and Orange – Harwoods Late. I am now checking with Gayle from Country Gardens if she have them available on the dwarf flying dragon root stock. It started with the search for the real lemon. Lemon – Meyer are not acidic enough to do what we expect lemon to do, yet, it is the most promoted variety for lemon!  The search for the true lemon has also led me to obtaining a lime and an orange tree as well. I am going to raise the ex-herb patch and plant the Citrus in there, mulch at the base and companion planted with nitrogen fixing clovers.


Imagine this on a lifestyle block. The entire property surrounded by rabbit fence. Old world roses, thorny raspberries and blackberries, rambling up the fence decorating it with beautiful berries and rose hips, perfuming it with the delightful scent of old world rose, and oh the lovely flowers and foliage! Right behind the fence of thorns, instead of a shelter belt of poplars or macrocarpas, stonefruits and pipfruits of any and every heritage origin, pruned to a lovely vase shape, vastly and chaotically planted to a 15 meter width, and companion planted with lovely natives and ground covers, creates a fruitful barrier to the outside world. And one can probably recycle one leader off the trees for firewood too! That’s just a thought, and exactly what I would do if I have my own lifestyle block. Not to forget I read about blueberry bushes lining the drive way on NZ Gardener!

*snap fingers*

We just got over grape harvest on Bone Hill Vineyard. If you have tried a bottle of Kaituna Valley Pinot Noir Canterbury (Bone Hill Vineyard) 2006, you will know how good the grapes taste even before they turn into wine! I bet they will make good vinegar too! Operationally, plenty went wrong this year, but it just reinforce the thought that how I love working at Kaituna Orchards. Coming from a multinational corporate background, my experience with things going wrong is everyone involved will go all out to cover their arses instead of resolving the actual issue, or just have endless meetings (some issues became a going concern that never get resolved).

Due to assumption issues, we did not attempt to order the SB1 bins from CHEP till almost the few days before harvest. The bins actually somehow show up every year before this without us doing anything. CHEP usually have all sorts of crates and bins ready as and when you need it, needless to say, they are short! Right at this point, my corporate mindset kicked in and I thought oh shit we are not going to be bringing the grapes in this year. Much to  my amazement, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, got on their game to make sure we have the logistics to get the grapes to the winery! To be frank, if this is corporate, the grapes will still be on the vines right now, fermenting.

That’s not the only good news, CHEP put in some pressure and got us plenty of SB1 for the upcoming Okana Vineyard harvest too! And as far as I know, we are the few vineyards this year that was not severely affected by botrytis.

Through suffering we find truth. Through chaos we find perfection.

Here’s an updated view on the tucker patch. I have put up stakes on each cultivation row and sow a variety of broad beans and peas to over-Winter.

Work in Progress: my strawberries cloches, just the base frame here without the double lids. I planted Apple Monty’s Surprise-m106 (back) and Apple Hetlina-m106 (front), prune to 50cm height, set up the trellis frame for training. This is in fact an integrated system with the cloches which takes up ground space while the trellised fruit trees take up air space. The ground is not going to be bare, but companion planted with low-growing flowers, herbs, and veges.

Now I know how fast an hour can go by with me just sitting there, stirring Bio Dynamic Preparation 500 and Cow Pat Pit in a bucket of water with a wooden stake. I cheated. I think you are supposed to prepare P500 and CPP separately. At least, I did stir it for an hour and no less. The stirring involves creating a cyclone, breaking it, and create an anti-cyclone, breaking it, and vice versa. The stirring gets easier and easier, creating the underwater tornadoes get faster and faster with time too! I sprinkle the preparation on everything green in the Orchard Cottage, even the lawn, and the weeds that have taken over the back of the house.

I spotted a white Borage in my wildflowers meadow! They usually comes in blue, but there’s a white variant available as well.

If you watch Game of Thrones, you will be familiar with the saying “Winter is coming”. Indeed, Winter is coming, we have had some light frost early in the morning for the past two days. The temperature sensor reads 1.6 degree Celcius, but the ground temperature would definitely be a lot lower! Its time to fill the wood shed up with firewood.

I spent the last few months preparing for this very day. And there, it just past. Sometimes, we look forward to the destination so much that we forget to enjoy the journey.

Grant and I trucked in 8 cubic meters of compost yesterday from Southern Horticulture. It took us 2 trips in 2 utes and 1 trailer to get the job done. I was nervous when I see the tires sag every time the front end loader tip a bucket of compost onto the trailer. In fact, I was praying, using all of my concentration and consciousness to mentally hold the trailer up which is towed by Grant who was driving in front of me. That’s there, we got the compost onto my tucker patch safe and sound. Until the next time, we’ll have to do 3 trips to load Grant’s garden with compost as well.

I was driving this ute and the tires sagged a bit as well, it was grunting along hard with all that load on.

We used the quadbike to maneuver the trailer into place for unloading. Grant’s multipurpose trailer, for his boat or carrying things in his DIY magic box.

With all the compost in place and spread out, I started planting my fruit trees and berries into their final location. They have been sitting in their pot for weeks because I have this crazy idea of getting them in early to acclimatize to the local micro-climate. For sure, the pear, nashi pear, apples, and plum don’t really like the crazy 30 knots Northerlies gusts. But they will adapt, putting out stronger shoots and leafs.

The design of the tucker patch is to integrate permanent plants with cultivation of vegetables while companion planted with a blend of helpful flowers and herbs. There’s 13 rows for permanent fruiting plants, and 13 rows for cultivation of vegetables of which 3 rows goes to the asparagus. The remaining 10 rows for cultivation of vegetables will be divided into 2 parts for crop rotation purposes.

The line up for the fruit trees and berries, the (by the fence / center of row). The first 3 rows I am rotating peas and runner beans.

  1. Pea Rondo/Bean Painted Lady Runner / Blueberry – Climax
  2. Pea Carouby/Bean Wonder of Venice Runner / Blueberry – Powder Blue
  3. Snow Pea Goliath/Bean King of the Blues Runner / Currants – White
  4. Goji Berry / Currants – Red – Gloria de Versailles
  5. Boysemberry – Tasman / Currants – Black – Magnus
  6. Blackberry – Navaho / Nashi Pear – Nijiseki
  7. Raspberry – Gold – Ivory / Pear – Doyenne du Comice
  8. Raspberry – Lloyd George / Plum – Japanese – Santa Rosa
  9. Raspberry – Black – Ebony / Apricot – GoldBar
  10. Grape – Gold – Matakana Gold / Peach – Yellow Variety
  11. Grape – Pink – Iona / Cherry – Sweet Dark Variety
  12. Grape – Red – Cardinal / Rose – Climbing – Lydia
  13. Grape – Black  – Muscat Hamburg / Rose – Climbing – Summer Breeze

I planted climbing rose on row 12 and 13 so that they can climb up the trees, one of which the previous tenant spray painted his name onto the trunk, of which I am hoping the climbing rose will mask it.

I buried a possum each under the pears and plum. I also buried one each under the apple trees on another patch. I got so engrossed with planting a possum under each tree that when traps set at my house stop landing possums, I set the traps up in the orchard to catch more! I need 3 more possums to bury under the olive, almond, and hazelnut trees which are coming in Winter. It must be quite amusing when I went to the supermarket to buy ONE apple every week. Possums love apple! I am going to keep trapping them, they will also go into my compost bin.

I am not a fan of scorched earth concept exposing bare naked earth to suffer a slow painful death under the sun. I mulched with pea straws anywhere I intend to micro-manage what grows there. For Autumn-Winter 2012, I sowed a cover crop of Lupin and Mustard, the Mustard will die away once bitten by the first frost and rot away returning organic matter to the ground while the Lupin fix nitrogen. For Spring-Summer 2012, I will be putting in Lovage, Borage, Dandelion, Valerian, Yarrow, German Chamomile, Alyssum, Hyssop, Mexican Coriander, Sage, Marigold, Pyrethrum, Wormwood, Chives, Garlic Chives, Carrot, and Basil as a cover crop. Barbara from Kings Seeds will be happy to know that I am going to order all the seeds from them.

In my hunt for heirloom corn seeds, I am now a member of Koanga Institute. I will also be getting heritage potato seeds from there. Apart from that, I am also now a Bio Dynamic Association member! That means 3 times a month I will be stirring something for an hour before spreading it out, and once a month I will have to do it in the wee hours before sun rise. I am going to use Preparation 500, Preparation 501 and CPP. I might cheat and try to do Preparation 500 and CPP together.

*15 Apr 2012 – I am supposed to publish this today but I am unable to upload photos due to some server not responding error. So, I am going to sleep instead, an entire body of muscles are in pain!

Pruning is one key aspect in an orchard. I’ll hang on to every words that Earnscy says when he come around the orchard to look at the trees. Once every few months. There’s many thing to say about pruning, cut here, cut there, tip here, tip there, bench cut, flesh cut, direction, etc etc. I wonder is that what experienced pruners do to intimidate new comers with all these medical-like jargon. I’ve managed to isolate the patterns, what you want is to promote good air flow to lower risk of disease, and maintain a good shape to promote sustainable fruiting year in year out.

Ruthlessness is key. The best way to promote good air flow is to cut off every branch, reducing it to the trunk. Of course then you won’t get any fruit off it and I’ll be sacked by my boss. The key here is spacing, each scaffold branch should not be so close to each other that they end up as layered cake. There’s plenty of diagram on the internet about different shapes to prune to, all you need to do is ask Google, and you shall receive. When I’m out pruning in the orchard, I don’t go by it with mathematical precision down to 99.99% confidence level, 3 scaffold branch a tier exactly 120 degrees from each other, 3 tiers each exactly 50cm apart, that’s too anal. The trick is to get in touch with the tree, have a feel, what is it trying to tell you, does it feel constipated, and go with your feelings. If you still can’t get it, try again after pruning another hundred trees.

Sap flow/Shape. Experts always talk about the understanding of tree physiology. I don’t exactly know what physiology means but I think I know what it means. In lay man English, trees grow up, towards the sun. The foliage growth, is more prone to an upward angle, probably influenced by sap flow. Think of this, a young man out of Harvard, and all he want to do is to climb the corporate ladder, up up and up he goes, all he think about is being the CEO one day reaping in big bonuses by manipulating share price taking the shareholders for fools. You got to slow him down, then he will think about settling down and start his own nest, have a family. You can do that to trees too! If you want a branch to start fruiting, prune the tree so that it will throw out a horizontal shoots, or just tie down branches to horizontal level to slow down the sap flow which promote the formation of flowering buds instead of leaf buds that turn into new shoots. If you want a branch to grow faster, just train it upright and watch it reach for the sky!

How anal can one get? In the orchard, we only want to train the lower two third of the tree by tying them down with twines. What about the top? Just cut them away after the peak of their useful life, 3 years? At the Orchard Cottage, I’ll be so anal that I will train every single branch with mathematical precision. They are pretty much restricted to their 2m height compare to 3.2m-3.6m in the orchard.

Does this then only apply to fruit trees? Air flow. Shape (flowering buds vs lead buds). I don’t think so. However, you will also need to know what type of wood does flowering buds form on, new shoot, one year old, two year old, etc. If its a tree, or a bush, and you can cut it with a pair of secateurs and hack at it with a saw, the concept pretty much applies. I would say, be in touch with the tree and make every cut consciously.

My precious seedlings in the cloche. Protected from all the elements except from the most bitter frost. I also setup some possums traps the other day and caught 3 possums in a single night! That’s the one that stripped two of my flowering plums of their leafs, and munted all 9 of my roses, and gave a #1 haircut to 2 of my strawberry plants.

*10 Apr 2012 – I neglect to mention about harvesting light, anything that the sun touches, grows! A canopy too dense will eventually dulls the main trunk to stop producing new shoots to replace old branches. Some fruits need sunlight to matures too! That would make 3 key points. Air flow. Sap flow. Sunlight.

I’ve submitted 9 of the units for my Hort4 on Friday. There’s still 3 more at the moment which will take a longer time to complete. Can’t wait for the other units to arrive!

Our grapes on the vineyard are coming up just below 23 on the Brix test. It will be a matter of weeks before the place gets buzzing again getting the grapes picked. 11ha of them.

My simple rose protection fence is not working as well as it should be. Leafs are still going missing, but at a slower rate. Surprisingly, nothing has touched Ispahan. I might have to resort to some sort of pest repellent pellet, I do know snakes stay away from sulfur, I wonder if rabbits and possums will do the same. That aside, I’ve also transplanted some thyme and parsley from my herbs patch among the roses, the herbs patch is going to be upgraded next season and producing basil in full force. On the other hand, the everyday herbs found their way into the house!

At the back I have pizza thyme, tricolor sage, stevia, chervil, and basil mint. At the front, prostrate rosemary, french tarragon, baby spring onions, chives, greek oregano, and italian parsley. I had some trouble with the potting mix though, I bought 2 bags of Tui Herb Mix from Mitre10, a bag of them is fine, and another bag turned out completely wet and soggy which is a nightmare to work with. Lesson to remember, always some how make sure the mix is not wet and soggy by judging the weight of the bag. Again, a slap on the hand to Tui Seed Raising Mix for being too coarse for fine seeds, Yates Black Magic Seed Raising Mix will always be my top choice. Alternatively, use three quarter of Tui Seed Raising Mix to form the base and fill up the top one quarter with Yates Black Magic Seed Raising Mix, that will bring some cost savings and still have the benefit of fine top soil.

I am enjoying every moment of this. I built this cloche for an experiment, my sow-everything-mix-together plot. Its amazing to see the seeds are germinating and have germinated into seedlings! Always love the sight of those babies. This experience has generated my strawberry cloche idea which is going to be happening in late Autumn or early Winter.

I’ve finally finished leveling the tucker patch and put in the final line of drip irrigation pipes. Following week I am going to bring the tractor around give it a dose of glyphosate, then there will be the 8 cubic meters of compost! I had some new garden tools to do the job, Buy Right and Westminster tools are quite a disaster despite being cheap. I would highly recommend Spear and Jackson which are moderately priced but you get good value for your money. Their ergonomic range is fantastic, I have the rake and the 3 prong cultivator. I’ll go for them whenever I don’t need contractor/trade quality tools. Unfortunately Mitre10 don’t stock them, so you have to get them from Bunnings Warehouse.

Had a very interesting experience at Mitre10 which put me off going to Mire10 on Monday ever again. Wanted to buy some timber and had them cut to length, the guy attending to me did not want to cut them for me telling me that it can fit into my car, so it will be fine. I was shocked because this is the first time someone at Mitre10 has refused to cut to length! Anyway, I got him to do it, he didn’t seem too happy but he did it anyway, left the pieces there and walked away after that, the rudeness is very un-Mitre10. Friday’s a good day to buy timber there because the guy on duty is super friendly and helpful!

Was working on the tucker patch the other day when Nic jogged along and told me she like the picture and the article that I wrote. I thought she was talking about this blog, how did she find out about this blog? Turned out she got the copy of NZ Gardener April 2012 issue and found my letter in it.

For every letter published, you get a $30 gift card. I emailed the lady to asked for a copy of out of print Homegrown Tomatoes instead of the gift card but they decide to send me both! Lovely! I like the attitude, the one that every gardener had it inside them, of abundance. That’s what will make the world a lovely place.

Mark and Gayle from Country Gardens in Marshland now know me by first name basis. I sort of drive across to the other side of the city every weekend to visit their nursery, just like how I always manage to show up at Mitre10 Hornby every Friday. That’s the confession of a shopaholic. Anyway, here’s the latest addition to the Orchard Cottage, a Bay Tree! Flanked by Strawberry Chandler and Strawberry Pajaro, also obtained from Country Gardens. From my research, a Bay Tree is not exactly frost hardy especially when young, so it will have to have a jacket when frosty visits. I’ve planted it on one of the raised bed planter box which I meant to plant tomatoes in, but that’s fine because there will be plenty of tomatoes growing around the place anyway.

This is a very happening week indeed. I have finally made my DIY compost drum. I cut the bottom of a 20oL drum off, and the top as well which I retained as a lid. Drilled holes on 1/3 and 2/3 height levels and put polythene pipes with plenty of holes in it through the hole in the drum for aeration. Its open bottom, so that the process is directly in touched with Mother Earth, and also when the compost is ready to use, I just tip the drum over and everything will come out below.

Chillax four day work week ahead 😉

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