Truffle dogs and Chinese truffles (but not Chinese truffle dogs)

Since we’re in catching up mode, here a couple of articles I’ve been meaning to make available for some time. The first is a paper [PDF] on Chinese truffles commissioned by Gastronomica (the prestigious US food and culture journal) in 2008, which draws heavily on my experiences in China in 2007. It discusses the impact of Chinese truffles on the world truffle market, and the prospects for the future.

Admirers of Peg the beagle (and dog lovers in general) will enjoy this six page feature [PDF] from New Zealand’s Pet magazine (issue 47, June-August 2009). The truffle hound’s on fine form, but please ignore the pictures of her boss. Jean-Paul Pochin did a great job on the words and pictures.

New category for old work

I’ve just created a new category for this blog: Journalism. [NB: from 03/06 the “Articles” category] It’s a repository for the longer bits of writing I’ve had published in recent years, and which I think its worth making available on the net as a resource. The pieces are quite long – several thousand words each – but if you have any interest in some of the things we’re growing at Limestone Hills, climate change, or terroir, they’re worth dipping in to. Because these pieces are not blog items as such, they won’t appear on the front page. Just click on the Journalism link in the sidebar. Eventually I’ll be adding something like Picosearch to the site, which will help in finding things not published on the front page or in the archives.

The Mediterranean lifestyle

The Mediterranean lifestyle, or growing olives, grapes, truffles and things that taste nice in salads… [First published in Growing Today in 2001 – I think].

All things Mediterranean are deemed to be fashionable. The Mediterranean diet cures us of heart disease and lengthens our lives. A Mediterranean lifestyle is something we aspire to. But the Mediterranean is just a smallish sea between Europe and Africa. What people are really talking about is a lifestyle loosely based on the lives and eating habits of peasants on the north coast of “the Med”. You don’t hear too many people waxing lyrical about emulating the Libyan or Tunisian lifestyle. From Spain in the West to Greece and Turkey in the East, the various cultures have developed diets based on using large quantities of olive oil, fresh vegetables, fish and the unstinting consumption of wine. For modern New Zealanders (and many in Australia and the USA), that sounds like a pretty good life. Couple that with warm fuzzy memories of the European leg of your last overseas trip, or that Tuscan or Provençal holiday, and you have the motivation to set about turning your chunk of land into something a little more romantic.

Continue reading

The answer lies in the soil

This was first published by Growing Today in 2003.

A long time ago, in a garden far, far away, I made an attempt to understand “ soil”. I read gardening books, watched TV gardeners, let the dry crumbly stuff run through my fingers, and then gave up — snowed under by the welter of technical terms, detailed classifications and chemistry that had me struggling to remember the stuff I’d learned at school. “Soil” was filed under T for Too Difficult, and I concentrated on just growing things. Luckily, my living did not depend on the results.

Continue reading


This article originally appeared in Growing Today magazine in 2001.

Hot days aren’t unusual in my part of New Zealand. Every summer there are times when it’s so hot that the best I can do is slump into the chair under the big old birch tree and drink iced water while reading a book. I know from experience that if it’s hot round the house, it’ll be even hotter out on the back paddock, and blistering among the olives. Work is futile, destined only to cause sunburn, dehydration and frustration. Before I learned this lesson, I would sometimes set out after lunch to minister to my little truffle trees, only to turn back half way, completely flattened by the heat. It seemed as though the paddock between the house and the truffière concentrated the sun, intensified its power, bleaching the grass and making lizards happy. It was the hottest place on the farm, beyond a shadow of a doubt. An idea formed. Would this be a good place for a small vineyard?

Continue reading

Climate change in New Zealand

This article was first published in Growing Today in 2004. It was written in February and March of that year, and started me on the road that led to Hot Topic. For more up to date information on climate change and impacts in New Zealand, please check the Hot Topic book and blog.

Since we bought our little piece of North Canterbury seven years ago, we’ve experienced an El Niño drought, a La Niña drought, an in-between drought, a once in 100 year flood, a once in 50 year frost and enough wind to make any tree grow with a lean. I’m looking forward to finding out what an average year’s like. Is our climate changing? I don’t know, I haven’t been here long enough to say, but the weather has certainly kept me interested.

This year we’ve had a blistering Christmas and New Year with near record heat, then a cold and wet February, bringing catastrophic floods to the south of the North Island. April brought snow to low levels, at least a month or two early. The National Institute of Weather and Atmosphere (NIWA) reports that 2003 was notable for the number of extreme weather events, and overall it was warmer than the long term average. Some interpret this as a sign that climate change is happening, others insist that it’s all part of the natural variation in our weather. In fact, it’s probably both at the same time.

Continue reading