1) If you are into making home grown Christmas presents, I can vouch for the preserved lemons I made last year (except I used limes because they were a better size for the jar). I didn’t think I would use them because we have citrus available here all year, but the preserving intensified the flavour so well that I am finding all manner of uses for them. They would make a decorative festive gift in an attractive jar for very little expense and not a lot of effort.
I used a recipe from Robyn Martin’s delightful book on preserves called Relish :
1 cup coarse sea salt
2 cinnamon sticks
4 bay leaves
10 coriander seeds
10 black peppercorns
1 cup lemon juice
Method: Cut the lemons in quarters to within 2cm of the base. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of salt over the base of a large jar. Fill each lemon with salt and pack into the jar. When 4 lemons are packed in, place half the herbs and spices in the jar. Top with the remaining salt filled lemons and add the other herbs and spices. Pour the lemon juice over and cover with boiling water.
Seal and store in a cool dark place, shaking the jar daily to distribute the salt and spice flavours. Leave at least three weeks before using and store in the refrigerator after opening. To use, rinse the lemon well in fresh water, discard the pulp and use the skins.
Being paranoid about food safety (my toxicologist father raised us with a healthy fear of botulism), even with all that salt and lemon juice, I kept my jar in the fridge and after close to a year, the flavour is intense and delicious.
I can recommend Robyn Martin’s book for a modern take on all sorts of interesting preserves. It is a New Zealand publication by Chanel and Stylus and the ISBN is 978 0 9582729 5 7
2) This is the busiest week of the year for open gardens in Taranaki. We would encourage everyone to get out and do a spot of visiting. It is really affirming for the garden opener to receive good numbers of visitors and there is also much information sharing that goes on. All garden openers should, by definition, be a welcoming and friendly lot but the camaraderie with other garden visitors may surprise. So, no excuses. If you do not have your own garden open, then make the effort to go and get some ideas and to enjoy looking at other people’s gardens.
3) If you are tempted into buying trees and shrubs now, do not delay on getting them planted. It is not so critical with bulbs and leafy plants (perennials) but woody plants sometimes don’t recover if they get too dry and stressed. Before planting, if you can, plunge the whole plant, pot and all, into a bucket of water and hold it down until the bubbles stop rising. You can leave it overnight in the bucket. This ensures that the rootball does not have dry patches in it. If you are on coastal, sandy soil you are better to heel the plant into well cultivated soil such as the vegetable garden and relocate it to its permanent position next autumn.
4) Mulch. Mulch. Mulch. It has to go on to the garden beds before they dry out over summer if there is to be any benefit. As a general rule, if you are going to add fertiliser to your garden, apply it now and then lay the mulch on top. You don’t have to fertilise everything every year. It is best to do it when a plant starts to look a little hungry or when an area of the garden starts to look little hard done by. If you are managing your garden well, adding fertiliser should be an occasional rather than a regular occurrence.
5) In the vegetable garden, it is a continuation of the great Labour Weekend plant out. Get the kumaras and potatoes in. Start pumpkins –these are so easy to grow from seed that it is almost a crime to buy plants. Make a mound about a metre across and 60cm high comprised of layers of soil and grass. The grass will generate heat as it rots and hurry the pumpkin along. Plant tomatoes, melons, courgettes, cucumbers, gherkins – all the summer veg go in now. Unless you have a massive whanau, you will only need two or three plants of each of them, except maybe the tomatoes where a varied range of different ones is more fun all round. When you have done all that, you can be planting corn, green beans and ensuring a continuation of salad greens.