These Pages.. Stewart Island Tourism operators Peter (Pictured) and Iris Tait don't just pack their life jackets when they take guests on charter yacht trips. They also take trays of mesclun salad and fresh produce from their expansive vege plot
Left : Iris harvests new potatoes with help from Emma the "elderly" border terrier. Iris says root crops grow best in the free draining soil. Above : When the Tait's bought their property 20 years ago they put up their glasshouse before they'd even unpacked their furniture.
Peter and Iris Tait don't mind if their guests turn a little green as they sail around Stewart Island's secluded bays, because they're invariably turning green with envy - and not a queasy stomach. Every year the Taits host hundreds of international visitors who come to this tranquil spot for a spot of R&R and a hearty dose of Kiwi hospitality. The Taits met and married on Stewart Island 33 years ago. Peter was working as a conservation ranger and fisherman when Iris, hen a student nurse from Auckland turned up with a group of girlfriends. She only ever intended to stay for a holiday but love - and a job as the Island's district nurse- lured her back for good. For the past 9 years the Tait's have run chartered yacht tours
on their 57ft ketch Talisker, and hosted guests at their luxury B&B, Sails Ashore. (their daughter Anne also has a B&B on the Island called Kowhai Lane. Three quarters of their guests hail from the UK, which Iris credits to comedian Billy Connolly's televised tour of New Zealand. "His programme has done wonderful things for us. Everyone wants to do Billy's tour when they're down here" (As well as a meal at the local chippie, the tour Includes a trip to the sculpture at the entrance to the Island's national park. One of the locals, disgruntled by the lack of consultation before the park was officially opened, famously fired a shotgun at It to vent their frustration. Some International visitors come to the
Below: Guests at Sails Ashore enjoy tasty meals made from garden produce. Photographer Steve Wooster turned up just in time to feast on potatoes, fresh salad and salmon - the Tait's had just finished smoking it from the local fish farm.
From the front deck there are uninterrupted views over Halfmoon Bay but it's
soils. We are very lucky because the pre-
the vegetable garden out the back that really gets the guests talking
vious owners were good gardeners so we Inherited excellent soil, plus we are
bird sanctuary at nearby Ulva Island,
grow those too, but I Just can't grow
always putting a lot back into it
others prefer quiet contemplation. From enough to keep us going."
We have got two large compost bins...
the front deck at sails Ashore there are
Most of the crops are raised from seed,
each is as big as a single bed... and all
uninterrupted views over the sheltered
which Iris orders each season from the
our lawn clippings and pruning's and
settlement at Half Moon Bay- But it's the nearest garden centre, Diacks Nurseries vegetable peelings go in there. sunny, sloping vegetable garden out the in Invercargill. "1 just ring them and
In July the mature compost is hauled out
back that really gets the guests talking. they post it over" she explains. Ordering
and spread on the vegetable garden "I
Iris grows almost everything that's eaten over the phone rules out impulse shop-
just throw it on top and let the worms do
here from fleshy parsnips and huge car- ping but Iris isn't fussed. "I find now that their thing to take it down into the rots to plump red tomatoes, trays of
after 30 years of gardening I can't be
mesclun solid greens and tangy spring
bothered experimenting anyway. I just
In August each year. Iris also orders 10
onions. Silverbeet, spuds, cabbages,
stick to things that I know will grow well
bales of pea straw to mulch the soil
cauliflowers and courgettes are staples
"It's trucked down to Bluff and ferried
too. In fact the only things she buys In
She says root crops like potatoes and
across, so its a big effort and a drama
are onions and garlic. "And I actually
carrots do best in the free draining
but it stops all the weeds" she says.
Stewart Island Gardeners are encouraged to plant native plants like these bronze carex grasses. As for the bright orange calendulas Iris says she never planted them. “They were here when we came and the self-seeded every year.”
To extend the season a glass house was a must have. “The first thing we did when we moved was to put up a hothouse, even before we moved in the furniture. Last summer we were eating our first tomatoes in November. It’s not a heated glasshouse, but I put the seeds in back in July and just keep everything closed up and my fingers crossed. Although most of the seedlings are planted out in the garden, Iris harvests baby mesclun salad leaves straight from their seed raising trays. She's only been growing this popular salad mix for 4 years (she bought her first packet of mesclun seed as part of a fundraising project to help sick penguins !) but now wouldn't be without it. "I sow it in recycled mushroom trays from our local shop and always have one tray ready for eating and another coming on, right through summer. It's easy to grow and keeps very fresh at sea". Iris doesn't use Insecti-
"I cover all my seedlings with bird netting and I always grow enough for the slugs, for the birds, and for ourselves. We get a third each" cides, preferring to outwit the slugs and other bugs. In spring when she plants out her seedlings, she surrounds each one with a 15cm length of plastic down pipe to protect them until they're growing well.. "That why I like growing things from seed - because you can plant 3 or 4 dozen at a time" she explains. The international guests aren't the only visitors who admire the garden. Native weka and Kaka parrots are partial to Iris'tiny seedlings and would happily scoff the lot if given half a chance. "I have to cover all of my seedlings with bird netting - I learnt that lesson fairly early, so now I grow enough for the birds, for the slugs, and for our selves. We get a third each" she jokes. So what are the other challenges of gardening on Stewart Is-
land ? "Definitely the weather", Iris says emphatically. "You never know what you're going to get down here. If we have a warm winter, then we get all the bugs in summer. If we have a wet summer the moss in the cobblestones grows faster than the grass in the lawn. And when it's windy everything gets completely battered but all ft takes is a fine day and a bit of a tidy up to get the garden back into shape
Visiting For more details about Iris & Peter Tait's B&B and tours ph 03 219 1151 or visit www.satlsashore.co.nz. The website also includes Iris' favourite recipes for seasonal produce - she says she was endlessly photocopying them for guests so decided tp publish them online instead.
Hothouse Crops Black Hamburgh Grapes fruit prolifically in Iris & Peter Tait's glasshouse. Their single vine has 4 huge branches "as thick as your arm" and produces huge bunches of sweet fruit in January
Growing Grapes so far south s a real talking point - in fact the Taits could be proud owners of the world's southernmost fruiting grape vine. A few years ago a journalist from an American wine magazine got wind of it and phoned up for an interview, thinking they were running a vineyard on the Island
MoneyMaker Tomatoes are Iris' favourite hothouse variety. "I've gone through most varieties here but they're the best. I grow them in 12 old salvaged fish tubs filled with 50% soil and 50% compost.
Automatic Vent openers and an irrigation system are essential for keeping growing conditions under control in the glasshouse.