Massey garden ramble 2021!

Summer crops at their peak…

It’s been a very hot dry summer and we’ve had to put a call out for additional volunteers to help water the garden due to the lack of rain. It’s interesting that summer crops are the ones that need the most water but it’s the time where rain is the scarcest. Of course we know that plants like tomatoes, chillies and capsicums can manage with less water and really love the hot sun but our cucumbers, melons, squash and courgettes need regular watering. The hot dry weather has also brought with it the dreaded powdery mildew but in Auckland, this is impossible to avoid. We planted the corn in tight blocks this time and it seems to be flourishing. Hopefully, there will be enough pollination with the closer planting as in past years we have sometimes had cobs with only a few kernels. Of course the birds managed to savage the first cob but the others are so far intact and ripening slowly. As in past years, we have quite a few runaway pumpkins, most of which are self-sown and seem to be grey crown. They are getting huge so we will start harvesting them soon, maybe even at our working bee on Saturday 27 February. We did plant 2 butternut plants, which were grown from New World Little Gardens and they are going OK although their location in the orchard means that sometimes the watering crew forget to water them. Birds started to help themselves to our tomatoes so Gilles put netting around them and that has been very successful. It’s been worth keeping up with pinching out the laterals because this has resulted in excellent fruit this season and we don’t have the usual problem of trying to stake extended branches which often end up breaking. As usual, the marigolds, calendula and nasturtium bring pops of colour to the garden and also help in defending our crops from unwanted pests while encouraging our bees.

The photos below show some of the fruit/vegetables in more detail. As mentioned above, the tomatoes are particularly good this year. The first corn was harvested and was a little bit over-ripe. This was a plant that was grown from a New World Little Garden pack so was a bit older and probably needed to be harvested a bit earlier. Bees have been just loving the sunflowers and the other plants including the small capsicums, which look like chillies (!) are benefiting from their presence. Silver beet is booming and the basil, which we planted in multiple plots, is plentiful, some now flowering and helping with attracting bees. The figs and feijoas both look like they will have good crops this year.

We decided to grow some scarlet runner beans up the tamarillo trees in the orchard as they didn’t do well after the winter frosts but looked like they could be good supports for the beans. Strangely, we only have one giant bean so far and of course, we don’t want to harvest it!

Our “forest of sunflowers” has been a striking feature of the garden this year as we had 3 plots containing these beautiful giants. It’s always sad when they start drooping but it’s not the end because birds enjoy the seeds, bees take the pollen and we also can harvest the seeds for roasting or to sow next season.

Sunflowers raise their heads to the sun

It’s 2021 at last!

The garden and orchard are both flourishing and our summer hours are continuing with Monique and Nicole there on Wednesday evenings from 6:30pm -7:30pm and Jacqui and Gilles on Saturday mornings. Karyn, Selina and Olga come when they can and we have a few new recruits who have just started. Roy is kept busy with filling the water tank and maintaining the orchard. Our monthly working bees continue on the last Saturday of the month from 9am -11am; all welcome including visitors. We are also keen to receive vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and eggshells for our compost if anyone has these available and is willing to drop them off. The photos below show different views of the garden.

Plenty of water and sun have meant that the seedlings we planted last year have all been thriving. Tomatoes and cucumbers are fruiting and the first sunflowers have appeared. The corn is looking handsome and one already has a flower. Melons and some pumpkins also have fruit on the vines although the butternut pumpkin that was planted later is still getting going. We were a bit slow with growing the capsicums but they are looking good now and the Turkish capsicums planted alongside are also advancing daily. Basil and marigolds are helping to fill the gaps in the plots along with nasturtium and calendula, which also provide beautiful colour. Asparagus has gone to fern and yacon is in leaf again, we have yet to see the flowers. Kale is getting a bit of unwanted attention from snails but looking good. The early potato crop was harvested prior to Christmas and the main crop harvested last week.

The orchard is generally going well too. Roy has taken over mowing duties from Mark, who moved to the deep south last year with his family, and it’s all looking very tidy which we hope will keep our neighbours happy. The big Abyssinian banana flowers have almost dropped off completely and we have banana pups growing in the grass as well as a few in an adjacent plot. The thornless blackberry has plenty of fruit although they haven’t yet gone black and the courgettes are producing as per usual. The citrus and feijoas have lots of fruit on the trees and the apples and pears are abundant although we know that people take these too early so let’s see if the fruit manages to stay on the trees long enough to be edible. The plums were also taken too early again so we’re thinking about how to communicate to visitors that they need to wait until they are ready to eat; maybe some signage would help, something like “try one before picking more”. There seems to be a lack of knowledge about fruit and when to harvest it. These plums also don’t ripen well off the tree. We find the best time to start eating them is when the birds start!

The tamarillo trees lost all of their leaves over winter and it seems that it may be too cold for them in this location. In the meantime, we are growing beans up them as it seems a shame to waste the opportunity to use their trunks as a support. The pawpaw also lost all of its leaves but they have now come back though we’re a little unsure of what the future holds for this tree too. Rhubarb was moved under the fruit trees in the hope that a little more shade will be beneficial.

Come for a ramble at Woodside!


Walk down the long driveway next to the sign, across a large field and the garden is behind the large trees. Wear gumboots or other sturdy shoes.,+Massey,+Auckland+0614/@-36.8573608,174.6122618,18.25z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x6d0d4023e185c2a5:0xa467fea84a0e8ada!8m2!3d-36.8572389!4d174.6131074

Garden update – June 2020

Now that we are at Level 1, we are all free to work in the garden together and can be more relaxed about social distancing since we are a team and contact tracing will be easy if needed. The broccoli that was planted early in the season has excelled and is probably the best crop we have ever grown, probably due to the warmer weather. We normally always grow crops like broccoli and cauliflower from autumn to winter to avoid the issues with white cabbage butterflies and it’s not usually as warm. Strangely, we also didn’t get any caterpillar infestation; maybe the birds have been getting them!

Karyn has excelled herself with growing seedlings this season, which are all now planted and growing well apart from the ones that have been attacked by snails or birds. The parsnips have been protected by plastic bottles while they gain some strength.

The Drunken woman lettuces, parsley and celery that Nicole grew are also now growing well.

The rocket, planted in excess by Jacqui due to a seed packet malfunction, continues to supply plenty of high quality salad greens to the volunteers.

Orchard update – June 2020


During the COVID-19 lockdown, we planted a pawpaw tree donated by a friend and two tamarillo trees grown from seed by Karyn, one of our volunteers. All are doing very well. Whitefly is continuing to be a bit of a problem for the tamarillo trees but we’ve given them some organic spray and are hoping that the colder months will eliminate the bugs.

The flower on the largest of the Abyssinian banana plants continues to grow longer and longer and now has the sign of fruit up at the top of the flower. The next largest is now also flowering. We’ve heard that the plants die after flowering but are hoping they will survive as they bring a hint of grandeur to the garden.

The citrus trees are producing well. The mandarin tree was pruned back by Jacqui even though it was fruiting, because it looked like the branches would break due to the heavy burden of fruit. The mandarins are better than ever and more easy-peel than they have been previously. The lime tree continues to produce well and the fruit is proving very popular with volunteers.

Both varieties of grapefruit have fruited prolifically once more and we’re just waiting now for them to ripen. It’s best to let them ripen on the tree as they take a long time if picked too early.

The artichoke plants are growing fast and the herbs are recovering now that we are getting more rain. It’s nice to see the lavender and rosemary flowering again…

Kumara sees the light of day at last


We’ve been keeping an eye on the kumara plot but its been showing very few signs of yellowing leaves, which we had been told was an indication that it was ready to harvest. Regular bandicoot checks had indicated they might still need longer but Nicole finally decided it was time to excavate the plot and find the buried treasure. The handsome specimen shown above was the largest and is obviously the result of multiple tubers.

We’ve realised that checking along the sides of the plot might not be the best indicator of what is going on but we were delighted with the haul this time, which was far superior to our last effort where we had quite a lot of long thin objects that may have been roots or tubers. These all had the characteristic purple skin we expect.


Kumara harvest

Some of the citrus trees in the orchard have been starting to get yellow leaves, particularly the mandarin tree. So, the mandarin tree got a serious haircut from Jacqui. This entailed also removing some of the fruit but we know from last year that it tends to get large numbers of very small fruit which is too much for the tree to bear so trimming it now should help it to be able to grow larger fruit and lessen the risk of damaged branches. All trees got a dose of epsom salts, followed by later application of blood and bone, citrus food and an application of seaweed. Hopefully, this cocktail will help them to produce healthy fruit.


The small lemon tree was pruned slightly to remove branches that looked diseased or dead. It’s had no fruit so far or any sign of flowers which is a bit disappointing but perhaps just needs more regular feeding. The lime tree, which is the same age, has been producing well this year in spite of its small stature.

The large Abyssinian banana plant that has been flowering for a while continues on with the flower getting longer and longer. It’s attracting bees and ants and is very impressive. Now, the second largest Abyssinian banana plant has also started to produce a flower. We’ll be very sad to see these beautiful plants as they are quite majestic. The other two in the orchard are far smaller even though and were only slightly smaller when they were planted.

The fruiting banana pups are growing well so we might even get bananas again this year.


In the garden, the passionfruit plant is having a second surge of flowering with more fruit coming than earlier in the year. The accidental Cape gooseberry plant is also flourishing.

Lockdown garden; it’s flourishing!


We’ve had to be very cautious during the Level 4 lockdown but due to the efforts of our volunteers and the brilliant fine weather, the garden has continued to flourish. An early start to the day on Anzac Day with the “Stand for Dawn” at 6am, meant an early start at the garden seemed like a good idea.

The cucumbers did get overtaken somewhat by powdery mildew so we took two of the plants out but left the beans as they had started flowering again.ANZAC_beans

These dwarf long green beans are probably the best we have ever grown, very juicy and tender. The other two cucumbers are almost finished now but are also supporting the grey crown pumpkin which has strayed over into their plot as pumpkins are wont to do so they will be left for at least one more week. The pumpkins also have powdery mildew so it won’t be long before we need to pull those out too.

The two types of artichokes are thriving, each planted in its own tyre.

The broccoli and onions that Nicole planted are thriving, so far no sign of white cabbage butterfly caterpillars on the broccoli, which is a relief as we thought this might be an issue with the continuing fine weather. We usually plant these a bit later. We have more seedlings coming soon including more broccoli and cauliflower.

It may not have been the best idea to sprinkle an entire packet of rocket seed in one plot, but it is living up to its name and growing vigorously; delicious in salads. One of the capsicum plants is having a second round of flowering so its been allowed to live on and is being supported by a large number of self-sown marigolds as well as basil plants.

Just before the lockdown, we managed to buy a couple of thyme seedlings so they have now joined the herb selection in the orchard. Hopefully, they will both do well as we only have one other very small plant in the garden.

Herb of the month – Sweet Basil


Sweet basil

Basil is a warm, spicy annual herb of the family Lamiaceae (mints) and is a native to India.  It is a tender herbaceous plant with a central taproot and produces small, white flowers which emerge from atop the stem.  Once flowering begins further foliage production stops on that stem; if you wish to prevent this simply pinch off any flowering stems before they fully mature.  Furthermore picking the leaves off the Basil plant helps promote growth, largely because the plant responds by converting pairs of leaflets next to the topmost leaves into new stems.  I suggest pinching some of the stems to encourage leaf production and leaving some to bloom for the purpose of decoration, pollination and/or seed collection.

Basil can be propagated reliably from cuttings with the stems of short cuttings when suspended for several weeks in water until roots develop.  Basil fares best in a well-drained and sunny location.  If its leaves have wilted from lack of water it is recommended to water thoroughly in a sunny location.  Yellow leaves at the base of the plant indicate it has been stressed, often due to over watering or you may need to adjust its nutrient intake.  Basil is recommended as a companion plant to tomato, with claims it deters pests and improves the flavour of tomatoes (although double-blind taste tests have revealed that when Basil is planted adjacent to them the taste is not significantly affected).

Medicinally Basil (leaves and flowers) provides great benefits to both the mind and body, due to its high linalool content.  Basil can be used to aid stomach spasms, loss of appetite, intestinal gas, some kidney conditions, fluid retention, head colds, warts, worm infections, blood circulation and is said to promote breast milk flow.  Basil is also known to provide a feeling of focus, calmness and centeredness; apply essential oil of Basil to the temples and back of the neck.  It is recommended to dilute with a carrier oil, and when combined with Geranium and Wild Orange is said to make for quite the uplifting experience.

Interestingly there are many rituals and beliefs associated with Basil.  Folklore suggests the Jewish consumed Basil to add strength whilst fasting.  Holy Basil (also known as Tulsi) is highly revered in Hinduism and in India is often placed in the mouth of the dying to ensure they reach God.  The ancient Egyptians and Greeks believed it would open the gates of heaven for a person passing on.  Holy basil, not surprisingly, also has significance in the Greek Orthodox Church, where it is used to sprinkle holy water.

Bee in the basil

Bee in the basil

DIY face shield – a gardener’s invention


One of our garden volunteers, Gilles, has created his own protective face shield to use when going to the supermarket or at the garden if anyone else is present. He took an old plastic bucket handle and attached it to a sheet transparent plastic, making holes for the handle to go through and securing it with bulldog clips at the sides.

We know that many gardeners will have old buckets where the handles have become permanently detached so have decided to share this new invention online. Please see the close-up photos below to find out how to make it.

Broad beans (left plot below) and rocket (right plot below) were planted today next to the asparagus. Hopefully, they will do well. We will also plant more green manure crops such as blue lupin, oats and mustard to help our garden soil improve over the winter months. We had several volunteers come unexpectedly today but everyone was desperate to get out into the sunshine and work in the garden. We managed to keep a very wide separation (> 3 metres!) between people and had the soap and water hand washing station set up by the bath as well.


The lime tree has quite a few fruit ready to harvest – see below.