Deal­ing with­boun­ti­ful pro­duce

Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough - - FRONT PAGE - SHERYN CLOTH­IER


I love au­tumn, with its fruit and pro­duce aplenty. I hate au­tumn with its over­whelm­ing num­ber of kitchen du­ties. Thank­fully, a hint from a lady re­duced my ap­ple dry­ing process im­mensely a cou­ple of years back. I used to core and peel and slice and salt and lay each piece of ap­ple on the de­hy­dra­tor to dry, which was a lot of work since I use a lot of dried ap­ple in cook­ing and make a year’s worth of muesli. I don’t peel my ap­ples any more – most of the nu­tri­ents are in the skin so why throw it away? I wash, core and slice my ap­ples, skin and all, with a man­dolin to get nice even thin slices. I dip them in lightly salted wa­ter to stop them brown­ing, then slide them onto a stick, space them out and ei­ther put them in a low oven (if it is rain­ing and hu­mid) or, prefer­ably, out­side to dry with a fly cloth over them. De­pend­ing on the weather they can take maybe two days to dry out­side. I don’t dry them un­til they’re hard, pre­fer­ring them a lit­tle bit chewy. Then I bag them and keep them in the chiller or freezer un­til needed. They cer­tainly last well enough in the pack or pantry, but when I want dried ap­ple six months later, I don’t want to find it has gone mouldy or musty.


Trees can im­prove with age – but like us, they do have a set life­span. Peaches and nec­tarines in par­tic­u­lar have short lives – 15–25 years. Take stock of any­thing that hasn’t per­formed this au­tumn and con­sider what you need to do im­prove it.

First, I al­ways rec­om­mend com­post as it solves most prob­lems. Whether you’re us­ing in situ com­post with weeds and mulch, a ma­nure or a per­fectly balanced high-heat com­post, it doesn’t mat­ter – it is all feed­ing the soil life which feeds the tree. Af­ter that, look at your trace min­er­als. Boron and mag­ne­sium are two el­e­ments New Zealand soils are lack­ing in that are es­sen­tial for tree health. Sea­weed and Ep­som salts sup­ply these re­spec­tively. Af­ter that, if all nu­tri­men­tal needs are be­ing met and there is ad­e­quate pol­li­na­tion and you are still not get­ting a crop, try chain­saw ther­apy. Year one: you start the chain­saw up be­side the tree and tell it how it is. This year’s poor per­for­mance may have just been cli­matere­lated – give it one more chance – but if you have room, get a re­place­ment tree go­ing just in case. Year two: if there’s still no fruit make good your threat and prune it at ground level. Hon­estly, a new tree (with com­post) will pro­duce some­thing in two years and a crop in three, and you may be wait­ing that long for your loser to per­form.


It seems weird to be think­ing of sal­ads as the days start to shorten but I like my daily green fix in win­ter (to be hon­est, by win­ter my liver needs a break and a good cleanse). It is time to start plant­ing up for it now.

Seedlings of rocket and mizuna mix and a pun­net of mixed let­tuce are a fast food (in gar­den­ing terms) but I am­now also plant­ing up for my win­ter smooth­ies. Spinach is one of my favourite greens but you need a lot of it, and it doesn’t mat­ter how much I plant, I never seem to have enough. Pasta and quiche and can­nel­loni and green smooth­ies all re­quire their share so spinach, kale, let­tuce, rocket and mizuna are given a lot of space in the gar­den and a whole bed is ded­i­cated to miner’s let­tuce. I saw this grow­ing be­side the Otago Rail Trail where bridge builders had once lived. It is hardy enough to sur­vive the deep­est win­ters and com­plete ne­glect, which makes it a win­ter main­stay in my gar­den. Each au­tumn it re­grows en masse, and as long as I don’t get tidy and weed it out I soon have a lovely soft and sub­tle green leaf which I can cut again and again for ev­ery­thing from smooth­ies to sal­ads. Just re­mem­ber to let it go to seed again in spring and you will have it for­ever.


So you ate a re­ally nice peach/ nec­tarine/ apri­cot off your grandma’s/neigh­bours’/friend’s tree. Did you keep the stone? Stone­fruit grow pretty much true to par­ent, un­like pipfruit (ap­ples, pears, etc) which are more like hu­mans where a cross ofMum and Dad pro­duces a teenager so alien you think it came from an­other planet.

I have also had old-timers (a term meant with full re­spect) in­form me that seed-grown trees are a lot more re­sis­tant to dis­ease – par­tic­u­larly leaf curl and brown rot. My ex­pe­ri­ence is back­ing up


This col­umn is adapted from the weekly e-zine, get grow­ing, from New Zealand Gardener magazine. For gar­den­ing ad­vice de­liv­ered to your in­box every Fri­day, sign up for Get Grow­ing at: get­grow­

these anec­dotes. I am­plant­ing out seedlings wher­ever I can find room, with the view that in­fe­rior ones will be elim­i­nated at ground level.

So far, four out of five peaches and nec­tarines have passed muster, with stones from 2013 fruit planted out in 2015 pro­duc­ing a few fruit in 2017 and a de­cent crop in 2018. That may sound a long time to you, but trust me, it went re­ally quickly! When you eat a stone fruit you re­ally like spit the stone into a pot of free-drain­ing soil, push it down to the depth of your first fin­ger joint, la­bel it and then put it out­side to catch the win­ter chill and rain. Keep it moist but not wet.

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