Friday, November 26, 2010

When life hands you lemon trees

The veg garden is starting to look like it might produce something edible – the broccoli is lush and leafy, the beans are starting to wind their way up the frame and the tomatoes are recovering from being transplanted and starting to branch out.

We have a few seedlings still to plant out when they are big enough – the cucumbers are almost ready, the cherry tomatoes have just popped up and I am expecting to see the leaves of the first capsicum by the weekend.

The patch of weeds at the back of the house where the garage will eventually stand is now planted with pumpkin, kamo kamo and watermelon, so I hope it will not be long before it is covered in sprawling tendrils, bursting with flowers and swelling into luscious fruit.

Our fruit trees are either blossoming, or starting to produce fruit, and even the little camellia I planted in a bid to grow something pretty is gamely sprouting shiny new leaves.

The only tree that has failed to thrive is the lemon tree.  Now this lemon tree used to stand in Great Grandma’s garden, and produced a few juicy offerings every year.  I love the fact that just about every NZ garden has a lemon tree, when in England they were such a luxury item, so I always asked Grandma if I could have a few to make some lemon curd once in a while.

  One year Great Grandma decided she had had enough of my demands, and told me that I had stripped her tree bare and it would never fruit again.  Knowing that Great Grandma was the Matriarch of my husband’s family, and also knowing her quick temper and barbed remarks were not something I ever took personally, I bowed to her wishes and never touched the tree again.

Great Grandma passed away a year and a half ago, having lived very well til the age of 95.  It was a sad day when she passed, but she was ready to see her Fred again.  Her estate was left for a year while arrangements were made, but in due course it was sold, and her children (including my father-in-law) sorted out what to do with all her belongings.

Along with some furniture, we gained some treasures from the garden, namely the dwarf apple tree, and yes, the lemon tree.  We saw these as nice memorials to an important woman in my husband’s life, but I had a sneaking suspicion that Great Grandma would have harumpfed had she known.

When we planted the apple tree it took almost straight away, and even gave us sharp, crisp fruit the first autumn it was in, but the lemon tree just sat in the ground, listlessly trailing its few remaining leaves and looking forlorn.

It’s not looking too good now, but we are determined not to give up on it just yet.  We had a Pomegranate tree in a previous house that looked utterly dead, so I pruned it back to almost nothing in a bid to tidy the garden, and it burst forth with new leaves the following spring.

I have plans to give lemon curd for Christmas presents next year.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bugs part 2

As well as the death-defyingly cute bugs attacking my pumpkins, there are also some artistic insects trying to invade my house.  We first encountered them this time last year, but it took a while before we figured out what was going on.

I first noticed that there was a strange smear of what looked like mud or clay on a curtain in the bedroom, and I was puzzled as to how I had managed to get a footprint up so high.  I concluded that I must have done it when I was hanging them, and simply not noticed, so I just cleaned it up and forgot all about it.

I then noticed that we had a lot of funny-looking bees in the house that seemed to be coming out of the curtains.  They were all black, but with pale grey stripes and looked nothing like any other bee or wasp I had ever seen.  I followed one back to where it had emerged and pulled the fold in the curtain apart, to be greeted by what looked like a little clay pot made by a child, hanging from my curtain.   Turns out I had Mason Wasps.

These little creatures have a fascinating life cycle, in that the female builds a clay nest made of little cells, into which she deposits a paralysed orb-web spider.  She then lays an egg in the cell with the spider, so the baby wasp has a nice fresh meal to wake up to.  The Mummy wasp also makes a distinct whirring sound when she is building the nest, like a little cement mixer processing the compound for her spider-prison.  I know the sound well now, and can stop the wasps before they get established.

When you have not noticed that the Mason Wasp has been busy whirring away, you close your curtains at the end of the day and get bombarded by stupefied arachnids.  Even for someone not afraid of insects or creepy crawlies, it can be a somewhat harrowing experience.   I dare say the spiders aren’t too impressed either.

There was another new invader in my veg patch the other day.  I had noticed that the rhubarb was looking a little chewed, but I thought it was just random damage as rhubarb leaves are toxic, and used as insecticides in organic farming, so I was fairly sure nothing ate them.  How wrong I was.

Tareka noticed the damage had worsened overnight, and promptly went digging in the mulch to find the culprit.  He was greeted by something like the caterpillar out of "Bug's Life".  It was so fat it looked like it was a CGI and I half expected it to start talking

Turns out it was a cutworm larvae, and it had been eating our rhubarb leaves as it’s rock-hard and will chew through plate metal if it’s hungry enough.
Now I must admit that although I did do a degree in Applied Ecology, and attempt to recycle, make compost and knit my own yoghurt, I am not averse to the sprinkling of Blue Slug Death to prevent slimy critters eating my home-grown falafel, so when Tareka got the manic look in his eye that can only signify the use of Farming Equipment, I graciously stepped aside.

Tareka and I both worked in agricultural R&D for a while, so we are both pretty clued up on the use of pesticides, but while I dreaded the idea of donning the Tyvek suit and breathing apparatus, Tareka seems to relish it, so it has become his job in our little horticultural plan to spray the Evil Chemicals of Doom and destroy the Harbingers of Leaf Wilt.  He had some chemical in the shed (properly stored well out of reach of everyone, in a locked box), and duly measured, mixed and prepared.

 He then went out and sprayed the buggers til they drowned.He

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The OhNoSecond

Parenting sometimes seems to be long periods of mind-numbing tedium, interspersed with moments of white-hot terror; parenting in the OhNoSecond.  For those that do not know, the OhNoSecond is that moment when you get a sudden hit of adrenalin as you realise that you’re about to plunge over a precipice into a pit of pointy sticks and bitey animals.  It’s the Fight or Flight instinct kicking in and it seems to happen a lot to me.

  I think most people develop preternatural senses when they have children, in order to prevent their genetic line dying out the minute it learns to sit up and reach for the power socket.  This makes for a hypersensitivity to potential and perceived danger, so I often jump at things that I would never even have noticed in the past.

The one that seems to occur most is when I am in the car; Mapera is chanting away to herself in a slightly sinister monotone, Kaitereo has resorted to repeating “MaperaMaperaMapera” in a bid to get attention, and then some small part of my brain starts to tap on the shoulder of my subconscious going “there’s something not quite right here”  tap tap…tap tap.
  I am usually in ZombieAutoDrive mode by this time, having zoned out the constant noise from the back seats, when all of a sudden the little bit of brain that is in charge of Panicking and Leaping breaks down the door shouting “YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN THE THIRD CHILD!!”

At this point my head is instantly filled with visions of my baby sitting on the side of the road, howling like an enraged, alcoholic Buddha as I drive obliviously away.  My rational brain knows that I can’t have left him behind, but my inner Cave-Mum takes over shouting “BABY GONE! BABY GONE!”  I twist my rear-view mirror around to try and see if he is in his car seat, and 9 times out of 10 I see his feet wiggling around in happy, solid reality; but occasionally, he has shifted a bit out of range and then real panic sets in and I have to pull over to the side of the road and race round to his door to check he has not thrown himself from his car seat in a desperate attempt to fly.

I have tried to counter the problem by having Mapera’s car seat secured next to his on the back seat, so I can ask her if her baby brother is there.  This works most of the time, unless Mapera is having a moment of concern and says “I can’t see him breathing” and the whole Cave-Mum thing starts all over again.

It is times like this when I seriously consider agoraphobia a sensible lifestyle choice.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bugs part 1

I have hayfever.  This is a new thing for me since moving to New Zealand, as I am sure I never had it in England.  In fact, I remember faking hayfever at primary school, so I didn’t have to play on the school field at lunch time, and could hang out in the playground with the other cool kids.

I had an allergy test last year to determine the exact cause of my hayfever…actually, hayfever is a pretty rubbish word for something that makes your entire face feel like it is being gnawed by hungry termites.  I think I should come up with a new name for it, based on the symptoms it produces – streaming nose, alternately watering then crusty eyes, bouts of sneezing, feeling like all your eyelashes have just decided to molt simultaneously and are scraping their way round your cornea like a sadistic synchronized swimming team.

It should be called Itchy Face Torture.

So, I have Itchy Face Torture, and my allergy tests confirmed that I have an allergy to rye grass.  I thought rye was something in that very healthy brown bread people pretend to like, along with buckwheat and falafel, but oh no; it is what NZ dairy farmers grow to feed their cows.  So we moved into the countryside and the Itchy Face Torture began.  I am usually the sort of person happy to load up on appropriate medication and get on with things, so I am not used to having to suffer through discomfort (except with childbirth, but that’s a whole other blog post), but as I am breastfeeding, I cannot take anything that would get into my bloodstream, and therefore into the breast milk.

I have a nasal spray which works for about 20 minutes, and 3 types of eye drops; one from the pharmacy, one from the doctor and one from the surreal herbalist in the airport which Tareka refers to as hippy juju medicine.  So I basically squirt my mucous membranes every 20 minutes and soldier on.

Along with Itchy Face Torture, I am learning just how much of a townie I really am.  Now I’ve grown a few of my own veggies in a little patch of garden before, and bemoaned the usual garden pests – slugs, snails, goldfish-memory forgetting to water the plants – but being out in proper countryside has brought me into contact with a whole load of new animals trying to either eat me, my crop or take over my house.  I am fortunate that pretty much all the bugs in NZ are non-toxic ones (unlike Australia where you are under threat of death from anything with more than 2 legs, or even less if you count the snakes), but that is cold comfort when they are sucking your life-blood from the back of your knee.

The trouble is that a lot of the bugs trying to systematically destroy my hard work in my little veg patch are comic-book cute.  It’s the ultimate defense mechanism “I’m going to decimate your pumpkins but you can’t kill me cos I look like THIS!”

Monday, November 15, 2010

OK, the plan for the blog

Raising Country Kids - weekly stories from rural New Zealand

I will attempt to write an amusing and/or interesting blog post once a week all about raising 3 children in rural New Zealand.  I will tell you all about our lifestyle block, our community and the pressures and joys of raising kids out here.  This is my plan, I will start at the end of this week.

Wish me luck.

Does everyone really have one book in them?

I heard that somewhere; the idea that everyone has one book to write.  I think JK Rollings must have my share, because I love writing when I can think of something to write about, but I never seem to have enough for a book.  Not even a novelette.

I have tried writing short stories, romance novels, scary thrillers and saucy bodice-rippers and the furthest I ever got was a rough plot outline with no ending and a chapter about engineers.

I'd love to write a book, or even do a column in a magazine or something, but I don't have the training, qualifications or experience and I have no idea how to start.  When I want to write about something, I tend to just sit down and write as I think, I am not very good at structure and research.  I'd love to have a blog that people want to read, but I don't think I have enough to say to post something regularly.
I have started making notes when I get ideas for the blog, and I am going to make a concerted effort to post once a week, but I would love feedback from other writers and from readers as to what you would like to read about.

Would people want to read about the minutiae of my life?  I don't know, they watch Big Brother, so maybe posts about the nature of making toast and trying to prevent the baby from becoming the house vacuum cleaner would be thrilling for some.  I also wonder if another "parenting from the front line" blog is just not going to live up to the likes of Whoopee or The 2am Parent's Club
What do people want to hear?  My exploits as a mental teenager?  My life in office work? My teensy bit of travelling?  Maybe all of it, maybe none.

Morning tea time now, time to feed the hordes.