The feijoa harvest vs the weka
There are the usual wild suspects that want your feijoa, and then there are the clever ones with legal protection. WORDS KRISTINA JENSEN
Iknow this column is meant to be about feijoas, but first I want to talk about weka.
Here in the Marlborough Sounds we have a lovehate relationship with these ‘engaging and resourceful’ (as one expert source puts it) birds. hesitate to use the word 'engaging' when it comes to the resident weka in our backyard, unless we are referring to the fact that I engage with them frequently. The little team around here are known as 'The Bad Birdies', and while I know they were here first and you can't blame them for taking opportunities when they see them, I work very hard to make sure that the garden perimeter is not breached. They can have the whole rest of the lawn and the paddocks and the bush, but the fenced-in vegetable garden is mine.
This year I discovered that finally, after two years, the Bad Birdies have figured out how to jump over the corrugated iron into my garden. This prompted a fair bit of unladylike language and some quick securing of the perimeter with netting and wire. I already knew that weka had jumped over a friend's 1m-high corrugated iron garden fence repeatedly, but I still thought I was safe (or that at least my tomatoes would be).
I also knew that if there was a little hole leading to a new and exciting place, a weka would enlarge it and find its way in. One may have jumped or it may have burrowed under the iron – never mind, I fixed it (this time).
Our species of weka is known as Gallirallus australis and they seem to be doing very well out here at the moment. It's kind-of funny when people from weka-free areas of New Zealand arrive here and goo and cluck over them. We can't help but slowly shake our heads in that wonderful way New Zealanders have of telling you you're behaving like an idiot, before heading back to the house to make sure that the guests have shut the doors, otherwise there will be a weka or two inside, decorating the carpet and/or eating the pet food.
Weka are pretty clever, but always seem to forget where the door is when you go to chase them outside. Instead, they tear around, pooping
People from weka-free areas arrive here and goo and cluck over them
copiously until they get out. To this end, we have commandeered an old fire protection screen to use as a Weka Stop Door.
Once the feijoas start falling from our trees, we have to be super quick or the weka get them. They are opportunists and will investigate anything that lies in their path, especially if it is at all remotely edible. Unfortunately, their brand of investigation often involves removing the item to a secluded spot for beak-by-beak analysis. This is ok when it comes to food items (although the dog would disagree when it comes to his bones) but not so great when it comes to children's toys, footwear, cutlery, swimming goggles, money, cellphones, sunglasses, keys and vital pieces of Lego. I regularly find examples of these items when cleaning up the garden beds in spring.
There is a lovely little island sanctuary not far from us called Maud Island and you won't find any weka there (hopefully). But the jolly weka must find it irresistible because in 1978, three weka were given numbered bands before being released several kilometres away on the mainland. The trio were back on the island within days, after a long trudge and a 900-metre swim against a 4-knot current. That's what I call determined, and Rocky the dog would agree with me; watching him try to eat his bone without it being dragged off by several weka while he's still gnawing is funny for us but not for him.
The ultimate in weka-free gardens belongs to our good friends Mitch and Emily, who have what they call The Vegetable Prison, an impressive masterpiece of fencing that keeps out unwanted beaks, claws, paws and teeth – it even has a wire netting roof. I have already decided that if we ever buy a piece of land, the first thing I will do is build a Vegetable Prison. If it's not weka trying to steal the feijoas and the rest of the harvest, it's going to be possums, pukeko, ducks, rabbits, deer or your own dog. Much as I am an advocate of sharing the environment with the creatures of the earth, I think it's ok to claim a little bit for myself to grow food in, and just think of all the beans, peas and zucchini rampicante I could grow up those wire netting fences!
I mention Emily on purpose because she has allowed me to showcase her stunning feijoa sorbet in this issue (thanks Em). She calls it ‘the ultimate, light, tangy autumnal dessert’.
Em and Mitch also have the most prolific feijoa trees I have ever seen and their generosity each year knows no bounds (that is, trees and people are both generous). I am forever grateful for the little bags of frozen peeled feijoas that dwell in our freezer, keeping us happily filled up with crumble and sorbet all winter long.
This is the ultimate, light, tangy autumnal
... teaching their clever offspring.
KRISTINA JENSEN lives in the beautiful Marlborough Sounds. She sidesteps supermarkets, gardens madly, and loves to make anything and everything herself.