How To Eat a Whale

Melinda Mae took eighty-nine years to eat a whale, according to Shel Silverstein. How’d she do it? “…she started in right at the tail.” and “She took little bites and she chewed very slow, / Just like a good girl should…”

This morning I found this adult female white-tailed spider on my office deck. I don’t know what killed her—she’d dragged herself about 20 cm across the deck oozing hemolymph before succumbing to whatever it was—but by the time I saw her, the ants had found her.

At first, they swarmed over her body, biting at her legs, tugging at hairs. I looked closely with a hand lens—they’d made not a mark on her exoskeleton. Melinda Mae was lucky whales’ skeletons are on the inside.

Eventually, the ants stopped swarming, and I assumed they’d given up eating their ‘whale’.

But a few hours later, I checked again and noticed an ant slip underneath the spider’s body. Another photograph revealed the spider was shrivelling.

Some of the shrivelling would be from dehydration, for sure. But as I watched, I saw a steady stream of ants slipping in under the spider, then slipping out again. Something had punctured her, killing her. The ants had found the hole and were using it to access the soft bits inside.

I expect these ants will accomplish their task much more quickly than Melinda Mae did, but then, they’re working as a team.

So how do you eat a whale?

Well, if it’s got an exoskeleton, the answer is, from the inside out. And if you want to finish before you grow old, get some friends to help.


It’s time to come clean. This will be hard for some of you to hear, but it needs to be said. I never thought this would happen. I never thought I’d be saying this, but I can’t deny it anymore.

I’ve found a tomato as good as Brandywine.

I know, I know, you can’t believe I would do something like that. Can’t believe I’d be so unfaithful after decades of tomatoey bliss.

But there you have it. Indigo Apple is my new love. She’s a black tomato—a beautiful medium-sized fruit on an indeterminate plant. Her flavour is complex and rich, like Brandywine’s and, in contrast to Brandywine’s long maturation time, she ripens early. What can I say? I’m in love.

Hawksbeard: a Cheerful Weed

We’ve had recent, much-appreciated rain, and the grass is unusually green for January. But even with the grass growth, summer is weed season in the lawn.

More specifically, summer is weed flowering season.

Some of the weed flowers are uninspiring, and merely annoying—the dull greenish flowers of plantain, for example.

Others bring a splash of colour to what is normally a bleak time in the lawn.

Hawksbeard (Crepis capillaris) is one of the more prolific colourful weeds in the lawn in summer. An annual or biennial member of the dandelion family, this plant bears small, cheery yellow blooms on tall, branched stems.

The NZ Plant Conservation Network shows hawksbeard as being naturalised in 1867 from Europe. Like its cousin dandelion, it was most likely brought to New Zealand on purpose as a food plant—it’s young leaves are edible. Like the dandelion, it is no longer valued as a food, but is considered a weed.

I will admit, the tall flower heads of hawskbeard can be annoying in the lawn. They seem to spring up overnight between mowings, and they slap against your legs as you walk through the yard. But I do appreciate their yellow blooms at a time of year when most other plants give up from the heat and drought. I have been known to use hawksbeard in flower arrangements, and their green rosettes are sometimes the only green to be found around the yard.

Rolling out the Welcome Mat

When we first moved to our house, most of the landscaping, at our place and at the neighbour’s, was non-native. Gorse, photinia, oaks, birch, macrocarpa…plants of little interest to native wildlife. We’ve slowly been replacing much of the non-native vegetation with natives. When the property next door changed hands, the new owner replaced the gorse hedges with natives. Our plantings are all maturing, and I’ve got my fingers crossed we’ll soon attract some native residents.

Over the years, piwakawaka (fantails) have shown up occasionally, usually in autumn, and only for a week or so before moving on. But this year, one has arrived in summer. He’s been flitting around for over a week now, chattering and declaring ownership of the place. I’m crossing my fingers, hoping he’ll stay.

Piwakawaka don’t stay still for photos, but he was talking to me through the kitchen window yesterday and, with the window as a bird blind, I was able to snap a couple of photos that weren’t just a blur of feathers. He’s a cute wee guy. I hope our welcome mat is acceptable to him.

Good Mum, Bad Mum

It rained all day today, as it did yesterday, and as it’s supposed to do tomorrow. The weather is fine by me–plenty of water for the garden, and I have lots of writing to do–but for the kids, three days of rain in the middle of the summer is hard to manage.

What can a mum do under these circumstances, but bake, and enlist the kids’ help? So we made soft pretzels and zucchini cupcakes (see previous blog post). It doesn’t take all day, now the kids are teens, but it gave them something to do for a little while, and treats to eat afterwards.

I felt like such a good mum…

Then I thought about the fact I let my kids eat soft pretzels, pickles and brie for lunch, with a big frosted cupcake afterwards (not to mention licking the bowl and beaters).

Such a bad mum!

All those times we’ve fed our children healthy, balanced meals…you know what they’re going to remember? Yep. Pretzels and pickles for lunch.

I know this, because the meals I most vividly remember my mother making when I was a kid were the naughty ones–hot apple pie with milk (for dinner–the whole meal!) and raspberry shortcake (again, the entirety of the meal). Those meals were legendary, precisely because they weren’t healthy and balanced. They were naughty and we knew it.

Such a bad mum!

Such a good mum!

A Zucchini Problem

Hi. My name is Robinne and I have a zucchini problem.

They say the first step is to acknowledge you have a problem. I did that years ago with my zucchini addiction, but it doesn’t seem to have helped. Every year, I say I’m going to plant fewer zucchini. But in early July, with icy rain lashing the windows, the pictures in the seed catalogue are so alluring…

When it comes to planting time in October, I find I have four or five varieties of zucchini seed—how did that happen? Well, since I have the seed…

I plant only six of each variety—I use those little six-pack seedling trays, so it’s really the minimum reasonable number of any one variety.

Let’s see…six times four or five…hmmm…

At plant-out, I swear I’ll cull some. I’ll only plant the best-looking individuals of each variety. Two of each kind, just in case one plant dies (which, by the way, has never happened to me, but it’s always a risk).

But I’ve earmarked an entire bed for zucchini on my garden plan. I couldn’t leave part of a bed empty. That would be a waste of space. And there are plenty of plants to fill the bed…

As I say, I have a zucchini problem.

Master Chef Sedgemere

An every-day artful display of dinner ingredients.

My husband had just finished making pesto for our dinner pasta. He turned and surveyed the vegetables I’d chopped: yellow and green zucchini, three colours of green beans, baby carrots, fresh peas…

He laughed. “We live in a cooking show sometimes.”

“Yeah, like, every day around five o-clock,” I answered.

I exaggerated, of course, but only slightly. With a garden that produces beautiful vegetables year-round, how can we not end up with beautiful spreads of food in the kitchen every day?

So, hurray for the garden! All we need now is the camera crew…