A Country Wedding

The old pews await the guests in the garden to the rear of the store - encircled by bunting...

We’re sorry if we missed your call last Thursday. We had a wedding in the Country Trading family last week so we all downed tools and headed across to the Langford Store in Golden Bay. It was a very special, very country, wedding. The lovely Jess married her Carl in a 1920s themed wedding that gave us all a great chance to frock up and celebrate life, love and all things country.

Country Trading ladies on the loose!

Jess and Carl had been planning a wedding earlier in the year in America (Carl’s home) but had to cancel it when Jess got sick. While Jess was going through treatment, they entered a competition to win an amazing wedding and – low and behold they did, which was a bright spot in an otherwise pretty grim year for them.

The wedding was organised by Terri Everett, marriage and event planner from the Dream Maker.  She put together an amazing wedding for Jess and Carl with the help of over 20 local businesses who provided everything to make the day a special one. The cake, dress, rings, venue, catering, photographs, flowers, hair & makeup, accommodation and even the invitations and horse and carriage were all provided by local businesses.

Jess does a good job of looking like she always travels by carriage.

The venue was the historic Langford Store in the magnificent Aorere valley, on the road to the start of the Heaphy Track. It is a stones throw from Collingwood and has been operating since 1928. The current store keeper, Sukhita Langford, is the 4th generation of the Langford family to operate it and she has skillfully and sensitively extended its services into afternoon teas, local art, amazing vintage goods and a unique and beautiful venue. Oh and it is still a store where you can get ice creams and $1 mixtures!

Langford Store - NZ's oldest working post office!

Old wooden pews were set out in the grounds to the rear of the store. The ends of each pew were festooned with beautiful bunches of rhodos and spring greenery. The pews faced the solid mountains that provided a suitable permanent backdrop for proceedings. The mighty patch of garlic behind the pews tickled my fancy and was entirely appropriate as Jess grows a mean patch of garlic in her own garden.

...and a very fine bed of garlic - very appropriate as Jess is a mean garlic grower!

The sun shone on us all as we assembled and admired each others finery. Everyone had entered into the spirit of the theme. One lady even had her Aunts fox stole around her neck, complete with head and feet! Others had feathers and flapper dresses. The men had waistcoats and flat caps and some had spectacular beards and mo’s grown for the occasion.

12 Jess Wedding-21

The service was beautiful and the couple were relaxed with each other and the guests. We all laughed together as they shared their vows and signed the register to the clinking of champagne glasses.  Jess looked amazing and elegant in a stunning dress topped with a fine chain neck and shoulder piece.

Geraldine checks out the shoes and dress.

We toasted their happiness and got to know the guests while they had their photos taken. Then we had a fabulous afternoon tea in the store and listened to the modern telegrams (skype messages) from family and friends overseas.

The bride and groom relax over cake and tea with the guests - job done!

Our congratulations to Jess & Carl from all the Country Trading crew and we wish you all the best for many happy years together. And a huge round of applause to Terri from the Dream Maker for putting it all together.  Here are some more of our photos from the day… and for the full story, visit the Dream Maker and Langford Store on FaceBook.

Cooking on the Wood Fire

fire baked potato

Enjoying this cold wet weekend? I am. Probably because I have a fire and a cold wet day gives me a good excuse to sit in front of it. Last winter Mum suggested I write about how I cook on the fire during the cold months. I suggested people will think I’m a hillbilly. She suggested people think that already, so here goes nothing.

We have a log burning fire whose primary job in life, after giving me somewhere to sit on cold wet days, is to heat our hot water, dry our clothes when it’s raining outside, and heat the house. But it is surprisingly useful for cooking too. The solid metal top is big enough to fit a couple of large pots on and winter will see soups, stocks, casseroles and steamed puddings bubbling away on the top while wet socks hang on the drying rail behind it. Lids stay on the pots to avoid sock soup.cooking on the log fire

Breadcrumbs are another favourite use for the gentle heat of the fire. Leftover rye bread dries to the consistency of concrete pavers on top of the fire. Ground up into breadcrumbs in the mixer and stored in a glass jar, you achieve a best by date of “until hell freezes over”.

A collection of trivets gives you low, medium and high temperatures to expand your fire cooking repertoire. Once your soup has boiled, turn it down by putting it on a high trivet and it will stay warm enough all day to dish up to those silly enough not to be in front of the fire when they arrive in from the cold.

cooking on the log burner

An old school coffee percolator or kettle is a good addition to your fire cooking kit and will boil surprisingly quickly when stoked along by a log of gum or manuka! And your options aren’t limited to the top of the wood burner. Who remembers jiffy pies? (jaffles if you’re Aussie). Those wonderful disguisers of leftover anything – mostly mince with peas in it.  A jiffy iron makes two bits of buttered bread and some mince into a mouth burningly hot and proper pie in minutes (or in a jiffy).

You will find jiffy irons, a double one if you’re lucky, in most good junk shops, cast aside by our unfathomable preference for electric toasted sandwich makers which are impossible to clean and generally seem to be an excuse to melt cheese into an oily mess. No the jiffy pie is definitely ready to make a gourmet comeback. Leftover venison and red wine casserole jiffy pie anyone?

fire toast

The final two treasures in my fire cooking collection are fire toast and baked potatoes. These two are ember cookers. Either will be charcoal in minutes if you attempt to cook them in a full fire. Hot buttered fire toast is about as good as it gets and often accompanies the soup heated on top. Use a good heavy bread, cheap white bread is full of sugar and will burn before it cooks.

Tuck a couple of spuds wrapped in tinfoil in the edge of the firebox and by the time you’ve cooked the rest of dinner they will be ready – or if you stuff them with enough toppings they are dinner. The fire also defrosts blocks of (chicken stock / plums / casseroles) from the freezer, softens butter for baking, warms honey that’s gone crystalised to make it runny again and sets a pot of yogurt left on the hearth overnight.

I wouldn’t dream of leaving something on the electric stove overnight, or while I’m out in the garden, but I’ll quite happily sit something (with plenty of liquid in it) on the top of the fire to do its thing without my presence. This nice gentle cooking is what appeals to me about the fire.

baked potato on the fire

So that is how we roll here in winter. One last thing – I’ve noticed disclosure statements recently on a few blogs so here goes – you should know dear readers that I don’t own an electric clothes dryer and I don’t own a microwave. I don’t own a banjo either but I do own a Metro fire  and although they haven’t paid me to write this article I am sure that when they read it they will. Perhaps they’d like me to write them a recipe book to give away with their fires? Perhaps you’d all like to help me by sharing your favourite fire cooking recipes?


Edible Seaweed – Kelp Flakes

edible seaweed nz kelp

edible seaweed nz kelp

Did you miss us?  We had last week off while the blog went in for it’s WOF.  But we’re back this week and good as new.  So what have we been up to?  Well believe it or not harvesting radiata without a chainsaw!  Eklonia radiata, or common kelp, to be precise.  It’s so good for you I’m sure it will be the new kale!  Something has to be.  I’m sick of kale.

But why are a lot of us so squeamy when it comes to harvesting native seaweed?   Well if you’re from the pale faced tribe like me, chances are it wasn’t on the weekly menu. And it was called a weed back then, not a “sea vegetable” as it is now by those in the know. When I gathered it as a kid, it was trailer-full’s of the slimiest, smelliest bull kelp (Durvillaea antarctica) we could find, for digging in to the garden.  Eating it was the last thing on our minds, although the honeycomb interior of the thick leathery leaves did make great pretend crumpets.

I’m from Kaikoura and it turns out that the deep, clean waters that run close to the rocky shore are home to some of the richest and tastiest varieties of seaweed found anywhere in the country.  Eklonia radiata or butterfish kelp as we call it, grows in large forests anchored to rocky sea beds.  It can grow very long fronds which get torn from it’s stalks in storms.

Just after a storm is the best time to find fresh butter fish kelp adrift in the shallows or washed ashore.  You can tell it is fresh because it smells of the sea, not of rotten seaweed and it is shiny, firm and clean to the touch, not slimy and limp.

make your own kelp flakes

To dry it, first give it a good rinse in a lot of cold water and lay the strips out in a well ventilated space for a couple of days.  I put mine in the soil sieve in the sunny porch.  When it is crispy, slice it up with a sharp knife. It is surprisingly tough for such a fragile looking leaf.  Stored away from the light, in a glass jar with an airtight lid it will keep for several months.

make your own kelp flakesIt has a nice peppery, mineral flavour which goes really well with fish and in chicken soups and casseroles. If you haven’t chopped it very finely then rehydrate it in water before adding to dishes as it is chewy.  Have a dish of finely chopped dried kelp on the table for use as a salt replacement.

If you’re on a reduced salt diet you may not be getting as much iodine as you need and seaweed is high in iodine.   Iodine keeps your thyroid functioning well which keeps your metabolism working and your weight balanced.

Seaweed is also very rich in many other minerals and proteins we need for good health and it is in a form our bodies find easy to absorb.

Seaweed has been part of Maori food culture for centuries.  The knowledge of which varieties to gather, when and from where, as well as how to preserve and prepare it was known and passed down.   Japanese food culture is the same, with extensive use of different seaweeds throughout their cuisine, not just nori sheets around the sushi and wakame in the miso, but loads of different seaweeds used in sweet and savoury dishes.

So now you know one of our edible native seaweed varieties, go pick some up next time you find yourself near the coast after a storm.  If you’re interested we might blog about some other more seasonal varieties of “sea vegetables” in future.

Harvest Holidays – are you coming?

olive harvest afternoon tea

harvesting olives

A growing affliction is coming over me.   I have to confess I’m a harvestaholic and I’m not sure what to do about it.   No sooner than my own produce was squirreled away this autumn, I found myself up to my armpits helping other folks harvest their crops.  With no expectation of payment or reward.   What madness was this?

Most of my friends think I’ve lost the plot.   I’ve invited some of them to go merrily a harvesting with me.  That met with a resounding no.   They just don’t know what they’re missing.   Why does harvesting stuff flick my switch?  For me, there is something deeply satisfying about the act of gathering food, especially when you haven’t had to weed, water and protect it throughout the growing season.  All the gratification, none of the graft.

But it’s more than the gathering instinct that draws me to harvests like a spud to a sack.    I like helping people and small scale growers are straightforward, likable people, who have battled the elements to get to harvest and are deserving of a hand.   They’re growers working on an artisan/boutique/ lifestyle/uneconomic scale, (pick one depending on the level of rose tint in your glasses), and they can’t afford to hire help at harvest.   If you volunteer they invariably reciprocate your kindness.  Growers know that a harvest army works best on a quality morning tea.

olive harvest afternoon tea

But that’s not why I go.  I like working in a team to achieve a tangible result.   A result that for any one of us would be insurmountable, but together we make light work of it and have a good natter.   I always think of this when I help with the willow harvest in Golden Bay each winter.   Peter, the willow grower and basket weaver, stands in front of a football field of thousands of 2m high willow canes that need cutting off at ground level.   Can you even imagine starting that job on your own?   But in a little under 4 hours, including a stellar afternoon tea, an invited group of helpers raise the willow to the ground, sort, bundle and haul it to the trailer.   It’s like watching an army of termites demolish an entire tree.

As I wandered from harvest to harvest this autumn, I got to thinking that all this bonhomie represented an opportunity.    Those who had things to pick needed hands to pick them and those with hands would surely part with good money for a slice of this convivial harvest experience.   And so over the olives, limes and willow, I sounded harvesters out on the idea of a Harvest Holidays company.    Let me be clear, we’re not talking about mud up to your armpits, work in all weather type of harvesting.   Cabbage picking for example wouldn’t be high on my list.

But stick with the sexy, tourist worthy crops, (olives, grapes, lavender, limes, saffron etc.), and organise the helpers so they only expended a few hours on a sunny day, with good catering, and it would be a bit like the WWOOF’ers scheme, (willing workers on organic farms).   I’d call it WHALE’ers, (well heeled aspiring lifestylers).    I could be like Peta Methias, (without the beads), guiding people through the rural harvest landscape.    But prospective WHALE’ers would need to complete a pre-screening test to ensure only useful people attended.  I’m thinking something like:

  1. How many kilos does a weck-pack crate hold?
  2. Can you work without coffee for more than 1 hour?
  3. What is more interesting a. cooking with chia seeds or b. anything else

willow harvest

I really thought I was onto something, but canvassing opinion among my fellow harvesters they weren’t at all convinced.   Pay money to pick our crops?  You’re dreaming.   But then when you look at something day in day out,  you lose the sense of beauty in your surroundings that outside eyes see.   What to you is a huge load of mowing, weeding, watering and work is a rural idyll to fresh eyes.

As I watched the chooks scratching around under the olive trees, the little kids trying to cart cut willow to the sorting barrels, the calves chewing on handfuls of lemon grass,  I could see the dream, not the slog.    So I say let’s connect WHALE’ers with growers and everyone will be happy.   I’ll facilitate and help eat the morning tea.   Come on who’s up for it?

olive harvest





Judging honey … the sweet taste of success

judging honey


One of the highlights of my winter calendar is the annual honey competition of the Nelson Hobbyist Beekeepers Club.   Not because I’m entering, but because I’m judging.

This vibrant club boasts more than 100 members and meets on the first Wednesday of the month in the Waimea Rooms of the Richmond A&P Showgrounds.   It has been my privilege to help judge their annual honey competition for three years in a row and every time I come home full of 1. honey and 2. admiration for such a fun bunch of real people.

These friendly hobbyists, (not to be confused with hobbit-ists although there are some similarities),  do take their honey seriously.   And let’s face it so would you, if you were brave enough to put the fruit of your bees annual labour up for judgement.  But being an old hand now, I don’t let the pressure get to me.  Even with A&P presidents past looking on from their gilt lettered honours board.

Nelson Honey Awards

After introductions, the judges are ushered through a set of sliding doors into the large main bar where the entries are laid out on formica bar leaners in their various categories for judging.

There are usually three judges but this year we had a late scratching due to unforeseen circumstances, so the task fell to Alison Metcalfe from Great Village Holidays and myself.   Alison is a judge of some renown in the field of food, having been a regular judge of the NZ Beef & Lamb Awards and an award winning restaurateur.   So with her palette and my enthusiasm we stepped up to the the bar (leaners).

This year there were no less than 29 entries.   We were given an hour, many ice-block sticks, a jug of water and a clipboard.   In the other room we could hear the buzz, (sorry couldn’t resist), of the monthly meeting as the hobbyists progressed with the evening’s presentations and discussion.

Ali and I quickly worked out a scoring matrix based on flavour, aroma, clarity and presentation.    She had taken the time to google “Honey Judging”, whereas I was just working by sweet toothed instinct.   Let me tell you, tasting and scoring 29 honeys is no picnic, (unless you’re name is Pooh), especially with an expectant gaggle of hobbyists just a sliding door away.

The first thing that strikes you about tasting honey is the variation.  Each honey is influenced by the variety of the pollen the bees have dined on and the time of harvest.  Spring honeys taste of blossom and the sound of music whereas late summer honey tastes of mellow fruitfulness and the sound of bottling.   And if they haven’t cleaned the jar, some taste like pickles.  Not unlike wine tasting, the difference in flavour, colour, aroma and viscosity between the entries is astounding.

honey judging

So what makes a great honey?  Well I’ve learnt that a great honey has a strong aroma, a complex and lingering flavour and a pleasing texture and viscosity.   Clarity is tricky because of the creamed honeys (you see I do take this seriously).   But even a creamed honey can have a clarity score attributed to it – lack of bee bits is a reasonable indicator.

Presentation is another category altogether, which has been the source of much humour over the years.  I remember one entry last year of a full 20 ltr. bucket of honey where the owner had clearly run out of time to decant a sample into a pretty jar and just thought sod it – I’ll enter the whole bucket.

This year we awarded a special prize for the best label to “Wal’s Bee Spit” and I was also very impressed by a fancy jar with a two part red and white gingham tin lid whose contents unfortunately did not take line honours.

honey judging nelson-01

After we had added our score cards and reached our verdict,  Ali and I finished by sampling a cheeky little bottle of rather lovely honey mead, entered in a category all of it’s own by local bee-keeper Lynda Hannah.  This cleansed our palette and fortified us to re-join the meeting.  We re-emerged through the sliding doors, wired on 30 different honeys, as an expectant hush fell over the meeting.

The president called the assembly to order and handed us the floor to announce the results.   The audience, sitting on their entry numbers, awaited our verdict.   The town honey winner admitted to having hives in Vanguard Street, not the most salubrious address in town but obviously something of a honey trap.

The country honey category was a tie for first place between a bee whisperer of old who entered an amazing bush honey, and a young up and coming bee-keeper who entered a creamed honey of extraordinary flavour and viscosity, as much to his surprise as anyone’s.

nelson honey awards-01

Ceremonies dispensed with, the doors got thrown open for the “people’s choice” where the club members got to taste and vote for their favourite honey.  Now Ali and I were a little on show, had we got it right?, had we done the assembled honey’s justice?

But we’re on the level around here and there is nothing like “General Consensus” to bring you down a peg or two.     And the people’s choice was in fact a lovely floral spring honey from the town category that Ali and I had rated highly but not quite highest.   We thought it tasted of elderflowers but the club members thought it tasted first rate.

honey judging

honey judging

If you’re in the neighbourhood stop by and say hello to the Nelson Hobbyist Beekeepers club.   They are as socially minded as their winged charges.   Unfortunately the presidents honey didn’t get a look in at the awards, for which I was a little sad, but the only deference the honey bee pays is to the Queen.   I hope they ask me back next year.


How to Plant Trees

how to plant to block road noise

All the fruit trees shipping off to their new homes this week got me thinking about all the holes that will be dug up and down the country as they get planted. So for all of you on the end of the shovel, this week we thought some advice and inspiration on planting trees would be timely.

By the time you dig the holes, get rabbit guards, mulch mats, irrigation, fertiliser, stakes and ties, the tree can end up being the cheapest part of the equation. But if you expect the tree to outlast you, then getting it off to a good start is a small investment. So here are some “rules” for successful planting.   I’ve broken all of them, which is how I came to know them. I hope you find them useful.

The first rule of planting trees is patience. The saying goes “first they sleep, then they creep, then they leap”. Those first couple of years, especially in heavy soil, the tree is just getting it’s feet in, and nothing much happens above ground. Very frustrating for those anxious to see progress. For fruit trees, you can help by picking off immature fruit before they form to lighten the workload on the young tree while the roots establish.

how long does it take a tree to grow?

The second rule is don’t plant the tree too deep.  Your hole should be as deep as the root-ball of the tree. If you were buried above your neck you wouldn’t last long and neither would your tree. Plant a tree too deeply and it will rot around the base of the trunk. By all means make the hole wider and feather the roots out into it.  To fill the hole, mix manure or compost with soil from the hole and pack it around the roots. Don’t use fresh manure or compost as it will burn the roots, and always mix it with soil from the hole, or it will shrink and expose the roots to air pockets.

Rough up the sides of the hole with a pick so the roots can penetrate the soil. When planting in clay the shear sides of a hole can act like a pot and the roots will grow round and round in circles. When this happens the tree can get to about 5 years old and get blown over because the roots haven’t gone out past the hole to stabilise it.

how to plant native borders

The third rule is don’t plant too close.  It can be hard to imagine how big trees get when you’re planting little sticks and the “recommended” planting distances look ridiculously large but trust me, large trees are hard to pick up and move and by year 5 or 6 you’ll be wishing you planted them further apart. For small hedging and screening plants you can plant close (1.5 – 2m) and accept that you will either have to thin or will lose some through natural attrition. For fruit trees, leave at least 6-8m between trees for airflow, harvesting and mowing.  For large specimen trees leave at least 12-15m between trees.

establishing trees

The fourth rule is mulch and weed control. Trees don’t do well with competition. Early on in my tree planting days I saw a graphic illustration of how important it is to control grass and weeds around newly planted trees. It was this photo from Appletons nursery in Nelson, a longstanding supplier of forestry and ornamental trees, that shows a series of 2 year old conifers, all planted at the same time, but with varying levels of weed control and fertiliser applied. The results speak for themselves.

impact of grass and weeds on new tree planting

If you can keep the grass and weeds down for the first 2-3 years, the trees will grow enough to shade the weeds and suppress them with their own leaf litter, or form a complete canopy if it is a hedge or shelter belt. Grass roots exude a toxin which inhibits tree growth. If you don’t control the grass and weeds in those first years, the trees will never recover and will remain spindly, weedy specimens.

Before you reach for the herbicide, there are several ways you can suppress weeds while your trees are getting established. Using a line-trimmer/weed whacker is a good one – but make sure you have tree guards on as it is so easy to mow down little trees, ditto irrigation lines. Applying a thick layer of organic mulch such as bark, sawdust, pea straw or compost is another good method. Just make sure you leave a 5cm ring around the trunk of each tree so it doesn’t rot. You can also use mulch mats around trees to do the same job. These woolen mulch mats are great because they rot away after a couple of years, just long enough for the tree to grow up above the grass and weeds.

Here is a photo of a mass planting we did some years ago along an earth bund. We used mulch mats and kept the grass trimmed back for the first 3 or 4 years and you can see the results. By year 6 a canopy had formed completely suppressing any competing grass and weeds. Hard work up front does pay off.

how long does it take trees to form a canopy

The fifth rule is predator protection. Skip to the next one if you don’t have to worry about possums, hares, rabbits, pukekos, sheep or cattle. There are many different ways to protect newly planted trees from being pulled out and eaten or stripped of bark. We’ve tried most of them.   Spraying new plants with a mixture of egg yolk and acrylic paint did the rounds as a rabbit/hare repellent at one point. We tried it but just ended up with colourful chewed trees. There is another product on the market made out of dried blood that is also supposed to repel rabbits but we haven’t had much success with that either.

The things we know that work are guards. There are different guards for different types of tree. Here are a few that work for us clockwise from top left:

  • corflute plastic tree guard – good for the first 2-3 years on little natives, but you’ve got to take them off or they’ll get muffin tops.
  • wrap around trunk guard – good for hare/rabbit protection on young trunks of specimen and fruit trees
  • wooden baton tubes – good for stock protection of driveway or specimen paddock trees
  • mesh fencing and posts – as above but less pretty and a little cheaper

Tree Guards

The sixth and final rule is actually 3 rules, stability, fertiliser & irrigation.   If your trees are large when they go in you may wish to stake and tie them for the first year so the wind doesn’t loosen them. Don’t leave stakes on for more than a year or the trees won’t learn to stand up on their own.

Fertiliser is an optional extra. If you’re putting manure or compost in the hole you shouldn’t need extra fertiliser. You can purchase slow release fertiliser tabs for trees or just a handful of nitrophoska and gypsum will do the trick.

Irrigation is probably the best thing you can do for your new trees. If you water them once a week, deeply, for the first two summers they will get away to a good start and you should only need to water in times of drought after that.

how to plant trees on clay

how to hide a water tank

Hope you’ve enjoyed our tour through the do’s and don’ts of tree planting. Whether you’re planting for privacy, shelter or production the rules are the same. Now all you have to do is the fun part; choose what to plant.


The Ancient art of Coppicing & Pollarding

wheelbarrow of poplar prunings

This week I’m writing about an art so ancient that my spell checker doesn’t recognise it. It’s not the only one. “What are you writing about this week?”. The ancient art of coppicing and pollarding. “What do you want to write about Japanese sex for?” What!? “You know… when they curl around each other and wiggle up and down for hours”. I think you mean tantra, and that’s Indian.

Moving right along. You’ve all heard of cut and come again salad greens, but what about cut and come again firewood? Pollarding and coppicing are methods that create a continuous harvest of timber from a single tree. Plant once, harvest many times.

Pollarding is chopping the top off a mature tree at a certain height above ground level. This has the effect of making the tree regrow a new canopy of multiple branches from the cut trunk. We have a row of pollarded poplars that have been cut at a trunk length of 1m high. Every winter we thin out all the big branches and leave a head of little whippy branches to grow on for next winter. The harvested branches are perfect for the barbecue and kindling wood. You can also pollard trees for a source of standing stock feed in times of drought.

pollarded poplar trees

Coppicing is a similar technique but the trees are chopped off at ground level and the base of the trunk is called the “stool” from which new branches grow each year. Willow weaver Peter Greer does this with his basket willows each winter.

coppicing basket willow

Some trees suit pollarding more than coppicing because they do like to have something of a main trunk so do some research before you start the chainsaw. pollarded london plane treeYou can coppice and pollard a wide range of trees including poplars, willows, chestnuts, hazelnuts, beech, oak and some gums. The new growth is vigorous because it is supported by the root system of a full-size tree.

These techniques have been employed for centuries to manage forests and grow timbers for weaving, fencing and ship building. A wander through any of the ancient royal hunting forests in England reveals beech and oak trees pollarded centuries ago to grow nice straight poles for ships masts.

I like the technique because it’s a way of keeping an otherwise massive tree to a manageable size and you get a rapid harvest every year for not much effort.

I also like the structural quality of a row of pollarded trunks, especially if they have pretty bark like these London Plane Trees that have been pollarded along Nile Street in Nelson.

The only other bit of maintenance our pollarded poplars get is an annual trim of any regrowth along the lower trunks. A bit like shaving your legs in Spring, it makes them all spruced up and svelte looking again and then they just get on with it. Maybe it is a bit like tantra after all!

poplar firewood


bbq firewood poplars


Growing a Mushroom Forest

saffron milk cap mushrooms

Recently I spent a fascinating afternoon with Hannes and Theres Krummenacher, touring their farm and business, Neudorf Mushrooms, and I thought you’d like to read some of the things I learned and get some of their yummy mushroom recipes.

They planted a forest on their 120 acre property in Upper Moutere over a decade ago, not to grow wood but to grow mushrooms.   Coming from Switzerland they were used to eating a wide variety of mushrooms that most kiwis would run a mile from.   Hannes’s father was actually a mushroom controller who worked at the local police station and would identify and inspect harvests of wild mushrooms for people to ensure they were all edible.  Hannes calmly informed us that all mushrooms are edible, but some of them only once!

Their business Neudorf Mushrooms, is quite different from other commercial mushroom farms in New Zealand because the types of mushrooms they “farm” are forest dwellers, forming a symbiotic relationship with the roots of certain trees.   There are no warm dark sheds full of piles of rotting compost for growing mushrooms on this farm.

These mushrooms are free range and that has bought it’s own challenges for Hannes and Theres.   Their fungal flock are at the mercy of the elements and the predators that range the farm.   Apparently hedgehogs love newly hatched mushrooms, not to mention rabbits and possums which they wage an ongoing battle against.

Temperature and moisture are also critical in the production of these forest fungi varieties.    The harvest is all on between April and June/July each year when the night time temperatures fall below a certain level and there is good rainfall without a lot of frost.   Sometimes a cold snap in early spring can fool them into fruiting again for a little while before they shut up shop for summer.   Sprinkler irrigation installed between the trees is used to keep moisture levels up in dry times.     If there was a mushroom heaven this would be close.

We started our tour at their drying facility and shop where they sell all their lovely mushroom products.    Armed with a basket of freshly picked mushrooms they gave a great show and tell about the different varieties that grow in their forest.   Here are the ones I can remember the names of:

harvesting wild mushrooms

Clockwise from left, Saffron Milkcap, Birch Bolette, Slippery Jack

They are also the first people in New Zealand to try farming the famous italian porcini mushroom.   No harvest yet but that is something to look forward to.   Propagating these forest mushrooms is a bit of a dark art and sounded a lot like truffle growing with everything going on under the surface.   Which it is, the actual mushrooms are just the edible fruit of a vast web of mycelium that form the actual “plant”.

mushroom myceliumAs we wandered the forest Hannes pointed out where these webs run, eminating from a tree along a root or in a circle and he could tell which tree a given mushroom was coming from.   We had to be careful where we walked, not too close to the trunks and although they graze sheep in the younger forests that haven’t created a canopy yet, they definitely wouldn’t graze heavy clodded cattle that would damage these delicate underground webs.

Apparently the tree gets as much from the mushroom as it gives in return.    The mushrooms that attach themselves to the roots help the tree take up more water and minerals and good nurseries sell their trees already infected with these beneficial hosts.  Infecting a young seedling is also a bit of an unknown art but Hannes and Theres freely share what they try which includes planting seedlings in the root zone of already infected trees for a year or so before transplanting them to a new home.

They harvest every day, selling fresh to restaurants and at the weekly Nelson Farmers Market.  What is not sold fresh is sliced by hand for the wood fired drier that they have built and the dried mushrooms are sold in a variety of delicious products including a Wild Mushroom Risotto, Mushroom Salt and my own favourite store cupboard standby their Dried Wild Mushroom Mix.   I call this kiwi porcini, a rich blend of dried mushrooms from their forest that add a huge flavour hit to any recipe.

As we end the tour back at their home we are treated to a bowl of 12 mushroom soup, barbecued saffron milk cap mushrooms and fresh homemade bread.   We chat some more over lunch about their family and farm and I get the real feeling that they are starting to reap the rewards of all their hard work and foresight.

Walking through the chestnut and stone pine orchard with Theres I said I could see it would keep them busy and she matter of factly replied “Yes, but being is busy is good –  what is the use of sitting around?”.    A bit like the mushrooms they farm, this couple have just quietly gone about something remarkable and then as if out of nowhere the fruits appear.   I came away well impressed and inspired by them.

Here are two of their stunning recipes – a posh mushroom pate that is super easy to make and a rich mushroom soup. Click here for recipes.

They’ve also written a book full of recipes collected from their customers and you can get a copy here.

mushroom tour at neudorf