Now we are in “COVID Level 2” in New Zealand, retail stores are opening again. I haven’t had any takeaways yet, but I was gagging to get to the garden center. We have three of them in Kerikeri – which is really quite a lot for such a small place. My favourite of the three is Plant Zone Direct. At 10:30am on Thursday morning (according to the contact register I signed on arrival), I wandered in with the intention of buying some trees.
Very early on in Lockdown, I began thinking about the trees and plants I wished I had sourced before I was unable to get them. Scarcity is like that I suppose. Not being able to just go buy the thing I wanted made me think about the things I valued. One of the first things I really wished for in those early weeks was a mandarin tree. After nectarines, I think mandarins are my second-favourite fruit, and I knew they’d be in season soon. I did some research and my heart was set specifically on a ‘Satsuma’ mandarin tree.
The wonderful thing I discovered walking into the plant store was that no-one had been eating the fruit for the past 2 months. All the citrus trees were loaded, and the mandarins were shiny and ripe. To be honest, I probably would not have found my tree if it weren’t dripping with fresh fruit. It stood out, and I wondered if this magnificent beast was for sale. It was – for $79.
That’s the most I have ever laid down for a tree. The previous record holder was a $55 coffee tree. But this tree is my Lockdown tree. I will never forget the very strange weeks of Lockdown, and this tree will remind me every year when the fruit is swelling and ripening about the time the country stood united. That’s worth $79. I’ll make it back in mandarins soon enough, I’m sure.
It needs a bit of love. A lot of the trees at the garden center at this time have been sitting there a while. I think it needs some fertiliser and some mite spray. But it will get that. We’ll harvest the fruit, prune it, and let it recover before planting out in spring.
Mandarin tree waiting for some love and a new hole to live in
Next on my list was olive trees. In the Netflix series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, there’s a scene in the ‘Fat’ episode where you see an olive harvest in Italy (you get a glimpse of it in the trailer I just linked to at 0:36). The trees are planted on a steep hillside. At harvest time, the farmers lay nets on the ground which the olives are harvested onto. Then, they just push all the olives on the net to a central point at the bottom of the hill. It’s genius! And it would totally work here. Whenever we drive to town, we pass a local olive press, so it feels like all the pieces of the puzzle are just waiting to be put together. Outpost Olive Oil would be incredible thing to achieve, but it’s almost incidental to the main purposes for having them.
My plan for the olive trees is to use them as an establishing species in a suntrap planting. They will help to create a microclimate suitable for coffee and avocado trees. Not to mention stablilise the slope we’ll be planting them on. Olives are pretty hardy and can cope with wind and poor soils, which makes them great for establishing everything else.
When they are big enough, they’ll help to shelter the area below, which will (in theory, at least), become more warm and humid as a result. This will make it the perfect spot for a few avocado trees, with coffee growing in the understory below. Olive trees are essential to my coffee-planting, and they’ll do a lot to keep the slope stable. Early on in Lockdown when I thought maybe the world was going to end, I was sad I hadn’t sourced them yet.
Artist’s impression of my future olive grove
I got three olive trees to start with, in three different varieties. I ended up with Spanish (Picual), Italian (Leccino) and French (Verdale-de-l’Hérault) oil trees. We’ll see what does best here and propagate more of what works.
Two of the varieties I picked up need pollinators, and the appropriate pollinators weren’t at the plant store, so I’ll have to spend some time hunting those down. I’m looking for Frantoio, Pendolino, and Picholine, if anyone wants to send us some cuttings some time.
Current feijoa site, with artist’s impression of the extra 3
Even though I hate feijoas, I added another three of them to my cart to round out my windbreak system near the garden. They’re quite big so hopefully we’ll begin to see the wind-breaking effects in 18 months or so. This means we are up to 7 feijoa trees and will absolutely never need any more. But I’ve just spent 8 weeks staring out my window, wishing I’d had a chance to get the last 3.
It’s struck me while writing this blog that I could have just bought all the same feijoa species, avoided pollination, and therefore have no feijoas while still having the windbreak, but that ship sailed months ago. I’ve already got them set up to pollinate each other. I’ll be drowning in the devil fruit every year. Hit me up if you ever want a box.
Pittosporum tenufolium seedlings for wind protection and possum memorials
The last trees I picked up were 10 Pittosporum tenufolium. They’re a native plant that is handy to grow as another windbreak species. I’m working on growing it from seed, but we need a bit of a stock of these on hand for when we catch possums. Each time we shoot or trap a possum, we dig a hole for the carcass and plant a tree. And we’re starting to run low on trees. I’m planning to grab some (like, 50) mānuka and kānuka when I’m in Whāngarei next week as well.
At the beginning of the year, I aimed to get 300 trees in the ground. Now, in May, we’re up to a grand total of 4. The main native tree planting season is in winter and the majority of that 300 were always going to be natives. I’ve been worried I wouldn’t have a shot at making that goal because of Lockdown, but now we’re in Level 2, I’m gonna plant a good chunk of them at least.
Cliff Kidney seed potatoes laid out on an egg carton for chitting
It wasn’t just trees I walked out of the garden centre with though. I also picked up some seed potatoes. Potatoes have been something I’ve worried about in Lockdown. I could have found a way, but I’m always going to prefer certified seed potatoes. I love growing them, and now is the time for me to pick up my early crop and start them chitting. Living in the ‘Winterless North’ has its advantages, and really, really early new potatoes is one of them. I’m keen to keep up with the full gardening calendar this year – and that means I need my seed spuds, now.
I bought 2kg of ‘Cliff Kidney’, and 2kg of ‘Agria’ seed potatoes. The Cliff Kidney are my early crop and are chitting at the moment. They’ll get planted (and protected from any low temperatures) 6-8 weeks from now, for fresh new potatoes from about September.
But I’ll keep the Agrias in a dark cool place for a couple more months as I won’t be planting them until September. I actually want to plant more like 6kg, but they were a panic/strategic buy – in case we end up back in Level 4 again and I can’t get my main season spuds when I need them. I don’t feel like that will be the case, but it is a possibility I’d rather be prepared for.
It’s safe to say I dropped a fair amount of money at my local garden center on Thursday, but none of these purchases will go to waste. They’ll all live on and create the future I’ve been imagining. I’m so grateful our country has reached a stage where it looks like maybe that future will exist, after all.