Friday, August 31, 2007


I've been pondering a few things about magazines today. I've not pondered much about gardening because my children keep playing vomit and hoopy cough tag and outside it continues to rain and then pour and then rain again.

A week or so Fire commented on my blog that I should read the New Scientist. So I bought one, because I hold Fire's opinion in high regard and thought she could be on to something. Favourite Handyman (also with health deficits but thankfully not vomiting) and I had a look and talked a bit about why we're not so excited by it. It doesn't seem to drag me into multiple aspects of a topic. I like the way some articles in the New Zealand Geographic do just that. I also like that our local library has the NZ Geographic because stunning gorgeous photography doesn't reproduce cheaply.

A magazine I often ponder subscribing to is The Ecologist. You might notice that I've had a learning curve on the creating links front. I've quite deliberately made the link to the current issue page because of an article which has this lead in:

Life, religion and everything: Scientist Rupert Sheldrake tells Laura Sevier it's time for religion and science to kiss and make up

Actually I'm tempted to subscribe just so I can get hold of that article and distribute it to my blog reading friends Fire and Rachael and see what they do with it.

Which brings me to an excellent development in international magazines: digital subscriptions. Much as I prefer to read magazines in bed, in the lounge, outside etc., digital subs are seriously much cheaper than paying for English and US magazines to be freighted over to NZ. Not to mention the carbon badness of all that printing and freighting.

Other magazines I like are NZ Gardener and NZ Organics (which doesn't have a website but is my favourite of the two). I could say quite a bit about Mothering magazine but I won't because much as I adore my children, they are finally in bed right now and I just don't want to talk parenting on my work break.

If you've made it this far, please comment and tell me your favourite magazines. Cos I learnt how to put sitemeter and clustrmap on my blog today while not cleaning up vomit and am consequently pathetically keen to see some signs that someone is out there, visiting me here!


Sick children, bad weather. Sick husband, stormy weather. More sick children. These are out though, (photos taken last week in the sunshine):

Sunday, August 26, 2007

What do you know about your home?

Yesterday's walk also took us through a new housing estate not far from us. I know from elderly locals that the area used to be covered in bush and that their children, now in their fifties, used to play there all the time in the school holidays. Fionn likes it now principally because it has a super smooth footpath which is perfect for super speedy scootering. There is nothing hidden, no garden surprises on these cleared sections. A rather large number of them are for sale, at prices which don't suggest they'll be snapped up overnight.

So I got thinking about the history of our home. I've always lived in rented accommodation from when I was 18 until last year but those flast and houses fascinated me too. I loved to collect stories about previous inhabitants and activities. A fragment of each of those homes have come with me as I've moved on in the form of memories and photographs, my own and those of others who shared the journey.

I hear often from local people about the house we live in now. It has hosted many good parties over the years - we've heard that from a large number of people so we definitely believe it. Hopefully we'll have a few big ones and lots of smaller special gatherings ourselves. I met a man who lived at our place in the 1970s recently. When he arrived to move in, he discovered that the previous tenant had recently skinned an animal in the lounge. His wife cried when she saw the state of the place. I told him about the reports of great parties. "Not in my time" he commented dourly. Thankfully there'd been a good clean up before we moved in.

We are going to see if we can find the original plans for the house. The actual house is largely unchanged apart from the fire, but there have been changes to the outbuildings and we want to restore or add a couple of lean-tos for wood and for hothousing tomatoes.

Maybe I'll create a blog just about our house. I'm finding blogging in some undefineable way more interesting than keeping a private journal and have had several ideas of other blogs I might create, like one telling the stories of my elderly local relatives. Blogs must be the coolest things for family historians. Maybe my brother and sister and I should do one - all be writers and create together a cache of family stories and then send an invitation to our parents to view it at Christmas? hmmmm. Bloody housework, gets in the way of dreams.


I've discovered some new things about docks in my winter reading. Before this year, I knew merely that they have long roots and thus it is very difficult to completely remove a plant. In the UK I learnt that they are often found near stinging nettle and the dock leaf can take the sting out of a brush with nettle.

Recently I've upped my dock knowledge game. It is called a tap root, not just an ordinary undifferentiated root. And apparently docks can be good things in the garden. Because their roots go so deep, they bring minerals from deep in the soil to the surface and make them available to other plants. I haven't worked out exactly how this happens but I believe it to be perfectly possible.

Somewhere in my dock reading I got advised that dock leaves make good garden mulch. Maybe the minerals are in the leaves then? Anyway, when the children and I were having an edifying walk round the block yesterday, we wandered through what was once a community reserve project by the sand dunes and is now somewhat neglected. Amongst the native plants were lots of healthy big docks, not in seed so safe on the spread front. I gathered a few bunches and found a use for those nasty nappy bags you can buy at the supermarket for disposable nappy using holidays. Good size for bunches of dock leaves. So we'll be back down there sometime soon I hope.

The desk

Anyway, I'd asked Favourite Handyman to remove the lid of the school desk so I could create a mini glasshouse in it. He and Fionn went the extra mile and painted it blue and white with splotches of bright red around the side like butterflies. It looks gorgeous, way beyond what I'd imagined or asked for.

It wasn't until I got home that I realised a crucial error on my part. The depth of the desk is indeed sufficient to fit pricked out seedling pots, but there is no room for the actual plants to grown upwards. I could use it for raising seedlings from the seed stage, but I already have three plastic propagators for that. The other alternative is to find a way of raising the sides with something strong enough to still rest the heavy safety glass on top. I'm looking around and I'm thinking. Still.


Just before I left the house this afternoon, I tucked a few coins in my pocket, despite going nowhere near the shops on my girlie cake gathering outing (One woman brought her husband, two brought children of the non-baby kind, both against the rules. Very bad form on an otherwise fun afternoon).

It became obvious why I'd tucked coins in my pocket when on the way home I saw several supermarket bags of horse poo for sale on the side of the road. Fifty cents per bag and as it happened I had $4 and could stash the whole lot in the boot of the car (which now has two functioning rear lights again at a cost I won't go into).

I got home at six, deposited the baby with Favourite Handyman, noticed that the washing was still out, the seedlings were still outside and there were no signs of dinner preparation whatsoever. Still, horse poo projects were more interesting. I decided we didn't need a rubbish bin any more and emptied two bulging bags of horse poo into the rubbish bin and filled it three quarters full with water. Lid on and I think it is two weeks I wait until I can decant the liquid off the top to use as liquid garden fertiliser and top up with water to repeat the process.

Still leaves six bags of horse poo to deal with. I'll report back on that when I have an answer.

Horse poo doesn't go straight on the compost pile like chicken manure because horses have quite fast digestive systems and weed seeds come through them whole and sprout in the garden.

Got an opportunity to talk garden and poo with a couple of other women. I may have a source for getting some of the scrapings from the calf pens of a local farmer - hay and cow poo mixed together. Woohoo. I am really making progress on my poo projects. Also looking out for the opportunity to sweep out underneath the shearing shed on a sheep farm at some point.

Saw my chicken raising friend. She is about to raise about two dozen chicks from eggs and wanted to know if I wanted some more roosters to kill and eat. Yes please!! She declined my offer to pay her but was keen when I suggested that we kill, pluck and gut two at a time and give one back to her for eating.

Friday, August 24, 2007

someone else's junk

is going to become my outside miniature glasshouse/ seedling raising house. Found from a local school caretaker on his way to the skip, two old fashioned wooden desks. One is now my sewing machine table and the other is about to lose it's top and then be filled with seedling pots and covered with the perfect sized piece of safety glass the previous inhabitants left in our garage.

We have an Iris out now. It looks perfect. My photos are hidden away on the camera as usual because I didn't get a tutorial last weekend after all.

You know I am exactly like this in real life. Well this is the positive version anyway, we'll leave out the people who never take a shine to me. You meet me and I seem interesting. You arrange to see me again and I bring something really yummy and it's all looking good. We each have a new friend. Then over time I ramble incessantly at ever more frequent intervals and there is no more cake for the next 15 months and although I talk about cleaning the house all the time, you find yourself looking gingerly for somewhere safe to sit in my lounge again and again and again. The best visits are on sunny days when we sit out in the garden and you take a tour and I bring drink out to you and thus you only notice anything terrible about the house when your children, who you didn't think had standards at all, complain about the state of the toilet. Maybe that isn't the best visit, but it's as good as it gets during gardening weather and indeed during non-gardening weather. Online is good. It's so clean.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

So what is a blog for then?

I've been thinking about this today. Actually I had quite a few thoughts about it, but they disappeared with the wine. Maybe tomorrow or when the wine runs out. Anyway I've enabled anonymous comments so non gmail or blogspot people can comment on my latest seedling count. (TWO sunflower seedlings now, in case you were desperate to know). Why I thought some marauding nasty was going to seek out MY blog and write "I had sex with you at school and you were no good" or something like that I no longer know. There are, apparently, thousands of blogs out there and some motherly frump wittering on about her tulips aint really that appealing for Mr or Mrs Nasty. Actually I don't know what nasty people write on blogs, if indeed they do (I guessed some must or there wouldn't be the comment moderation or other options about comments options). I just guessed about the bad sex comment.

'Course I gardened today. It's how I keep from melting into certifiable insanity. Made a miniature raised bed above the drainpipe. I do hope I remember not to plant root veges in there for ever.

Talked about breastfeeding and formula feeding as well. A wonderfully civilised discussion, which is how you'd know it wasn't on some open parenting board. Apart from being of vital and very personal importance to all parents, it is also in many ways a very yawny subject because we've heard the same things repeated so many times before. But my English nappy friends are much above that and I treasure knowing them. Does it depress anyone else to think that when our daughters are having babies, in a million years obviously and only with truly perfect partners, the same trampled to death topics will swill around them like so much baby sick? Bottle or breast, work or staying at home, early or late toilet training. I'm giving Brighid earmuffs when/if she has children - they'll be useful in so many ways.

Monday, August 20, 2007


I found a bottle of wine in the top corner of the wash house today. Some went in the mushroom soup, some went down my throat. What a very excellent find.

I also gardened today but that wasn't as exciting as finding wine which doesn't have to be paid for out of this week's budget (which is the kind of small budget which comes from having a too regular relationship with ones car mechanic).

I did kill lots of snails and some slugs today. A virtuous day then.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

spring: the evidence

Crocuses, sprouting potatoes, tomato seedlings. I also found a sunflower had germinated yesterday. Signs of more spring bulbs also. One of the things I learnt when trying to capture it all on film (or pixel?) is that my enthusiasm for gardening is not matched by skill at photography.

Yesterday was a perfect later afternoon after a long period of wet weather and so we went down to the beach near us and foraged. The boys got sand for the sandpit and built a dam (there is a creek running into the sea near us). Brighid and I found some seaweed for the compost, collected some plastic rubbish to take away as my way of compensating for taking the seaweed and then found a lovely Nikau palm trunk, obviously washed up on the beach from further north in recent bad weather. So that went on top of the wheelbarrow of sand and will be used to raise one side of the beetroot-carrots-leeks-onions-lettuces plot. Here it is against our fence, demonstrating that my gifts on this earth are not centred round photography.

Also yesterday, Fionn and I got out the paper shredder and shredded years' worth of credit card statements and today they went on the compost. Finally a good use for them. That compost will go into holes in readiness for pumpkins sometime next month. I'm thinking of starting a separate slow compost on the other side of the fence for cotton clothing which no longer is wearable and leaves, which take ages to decompose. I think cotton will decompose faster, but I'm about to find out for real.

Got quite inspired on the tomato front after reading this from another mentor from afar, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall (who is not sexy like Monty Don but definitely knows some useful things):,,2149790,00.html . That is going to be me at the end of this summer.

Not about gardening: I went to the pub for book group tonight. Saturday by Ian McEwan is a great read. Drinking wine with no children around is superb.

Not about gardening: I'm looking for somebody who knows a lot about cow farts. Seriously. I've been told that eating meat is worse for climate change/global warming/carbon dioxide emissions than driving your car. And I had understood that the car driving thing was pretty bad. I have a thousand questions about how that research was carried out and exactly what variables were taken into account. Then I want to know whether the breed of cow makes a difference. Like if the calculations I read involved averaging out the methane emissions over the whole edible part of the cow, then do smaller breeds fart less methane or are the larger breeds more efficient at producing meat per belch? And if I ate nearly every part of the beast (see Fearnley-Whittingstall's meat book for more on this) would that make emissions per meal less?

Not about gardening: I'm not even going to discuss fish eating. But I did have a long internal dialogue (monolgue?) with myself about this in the supermarket this afternoon.


I think I have it. Now I want to read about those Dutch merchants (16C?) who had tulipmania as well. I'm planning a tulip raising garden now. I've been learning about carbohydrate storage and browning foliage and seed pods and I want to experiment with it all, especially as even the person who seemed the internet guru on tulips hadn't raised them from seed. My first tulip of the season is to the left here, already bigger than how I described it a few days ago.

Friday, August 17, 2007


These are about a fortnight old and they aren't of anything amazing, but they are photos nevertheless. Of course they are of the garden!

This is Brighid's Forest. So named because my favourite handyman planted them the day she was born. I'm planning on interplanting giant sunflowers to give them a canopy of sun protection this summer. The area behind it did have invasive overgrown trees but I've mostly chopped them down and we'll probably put more natives in there over time. I've put the mint there for the mean time as it is a wet corner.

This strip is the sunniest spot on the section. It was all grass when we arrived. I dug it up to bury bokashi in it and then weeded it and planted spring bulbs. You can see two hyacinths in flower already. I always think of Hyacinth Bouquet/Bucket from that tv programme and they aren't my favourite but I gave Fionn a choice at the nursery in Autumn and hence we got Hyacinths. Along the wall are broad beans. Once they and the bulbs come out, tomatoes will go in here, with basil, celery and something called beneficial insect blend as companion plants. I'm expecting that the heat of the brick wall will aid the growth and ripening of the tomatoes.
I found out about tulips. The offsets take about a year before they flower and I've already got some offsets growing. Apparently you can also grow them from seeds and that takes 5-7 years to get them to flower. Can I follow through a project that lasts that long? I don't know.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


I saw the first tulip flower bud emerging in my garden today. It is deepest red and currently looks like a heart. Not a cute pink heart shape, but a blood red life force within the plant. There are no edible or medicinal properties to tulips, freesias, irises, crocuses (let's just not go there on the latin plural issue aye?) or daffodils but I have them all in my garden because winter is long and spring bulbs are so beautiful. I'd no more take them out of my garden than remove music and art from my life.

The red tulip under discussion is from my mother in law, who bought them for me when she and fil visited earlier this year. I need to have a read up on how long I can keep the bulbs going - perhaps Brighid will have the same blood red flowers in her own garden one day.

Now shrubs are another matter. Shrubs do not make my heart sing. Even the word 'shrub' is ugly. Who remembers the low maintenance shrub and bark garden, still found around municipal buildings? I'd rather have a section full of weeds. I've seen shrubs look pretty on occasion but never have I wanted to take one home with me.

I know anyone who is still around only really wants to look at pictures, but pictures really aren't my forte. Specifically, I'm still short of some key knowledge on getting them from the camera onto the computer. I'll try for a tutorial this weekend.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Will I be a herbalist?

Today I've been mucking about with medicinal herbs. I had this idea that this could mean I would be creating an apothecary but when I checked in the dictionary, it doesn't. But I have to share that anyway because I think 'apothecary' is such a fabulous word, much better than pharmacist which it turns out to mean, or chemist which is even more banal sounding.

So today I did some more seed sowing in propogator number three, including some echinacea, also known as purple coneflower and good for strengthening the immune system. I also sowed some elecampane. Elecampane is new to me but this is the blurb that got me interested:

Highly regarded medicinal herb found in Chinese, Indian Ayurvedic and traditional European cultures. While the yellow spider daisy-like flowers can reach up to 2.5m tall in late spring, it is the root that has all the goodies in it. After the second season the dried root is used as a lung decongestant, a chi tonic, diuretic, to stimulate the appetite, candied confectionary and as an external treatment for viral skin lesions.

Given the height, I might put it in amongst my young punga trees to give them some shade. It can hang out with the giant sunflowers which are going there for the same reason.

Had fabulous weather here today which meant I got be outside gardening for the afternoon. The nanny student is long gone though, so I had to multi-task like proper mothers. That meant that Fionn fell out of trees (sometimes on purpose but not always) and Brighid, the gorgeous compliant lass that she is, slept or watched one of us from the pushchair.

Monday, August 13, 2007

going organic

I've been thinking about organic food issues (or really, about the bad things of non-organic) for a while. I got into it a bit in Auckland in 2000 where I was lucky enough to live close to the organic shops in Grey Lynn. Then I got into it in a more committed way in London. Spitalfields market sold organic fruit and veg (and cheese to die for sold by a sexy Italian guy) at good prices and with the bonus that my favourite handyman likes markets so he did the shopping for us quite often. Getting the man to Tescos by comparison, was like asking Tony Blair to avoid the limelight. I also set up a local food buying group to get organic staples from Infinity Foods at trade prices.

Then we came 'home', to small town New Zealand. There are a few, very few, organic items in our local supermarket, all of them wrapped in plastic and largely sourced from overseas and very expensive. Plus we were by this time paying to run a car and seriously saving for a house. Death, disease and disaster or not, it was time to eat like everyone else and aim in the medium and long term to get a garden going to grow my own organic produce.

I like doing food co-ops. I figure they are good community activities as well as providing goods otherwise not available or not at such a good price. So I've done one for avocadoes from this guy: Doug is lovely. I did another to get some organic garlic for myself and some others from a grower in Raglan. The best cloves went into the ground for my own harvest. And later this week we should get our first group order from Biograins.

I've had some interesting (well to me) chats about grains with the Biograins people. Due to some draconian NZ regulations, chickpeas and various other legumes have to be heat treated for something like 72 hours on arrival into NZ in case they carry bad legumitis disease of some kind. Seventy two hours of heat treatment renders food inedible and unsproutable. This is a particular pain for those of us who like to make hummous with chickpeas from scratch. The drought in Australia has also impacted negatively on chickpea supply, heat treated or not. Anyway Biograins, who are in Ashburton, tell me that they have leased more land and plan to grow their own chickpeas and also that they have something called whero peas which sprouts well and also makes good hummous. I'll be reporting back on that once I receive my order and start playing in the kitchen. (I do cook, and today I even swept and tidied more than one room in the day, but usually I just cook).

Of course that has got me thinking about whether I could grow my own chickpeas. As I shall internally combust if I add one more element to my companion planting and crop rotation schemes, chickpea experiments won't be this summer. I am having a go at Borlotti beans though. Look how gorgeous they are for a start:
The idea of growing something that I'd only ever seen come out of a can and which I remember a special report on on my revered Radio Four about them being fresh at Borough Market is just too exciting not to try.
Have I mentioned Borough Market before? Yes I know it is expensive, middle class, touristy, blah blah blah. It also tastes divine and introduced me to various Spanish delicacies, the best Lebanese food I've ever tasted, exotic mushrooms, lots of things wtih French names, smoked garlic, different pig breeds, gorgeous New Forest hot cider and more and more things than even that. They also had a stand there called Pots for Tots (or something similar) which sold organic food for toddlers (like with texture, not gross mush) which I used to buy and then add more veg to at home to pad it out and then pass it off as home cooked food to my child minder. I've been known to eat it myself if I got too hungry on the train home.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


I was always getting tagged at primary school. It was evident early on that I wasn't going to be an olympic triallist on the running front. And now I've been tagged in blog world. By Now I gather there is a trick by which I just show the word Sharon but it links you all if you wish to her blogsite? That learning curve is ahead of me still.

Anyway I can't play the game properly because I don't know eight bloggers to tag. Actually I don't know any apart from the ones Sharon has already tagged. But here is part of the game, because I'm quite fond of Sharon (who is a closet leftie which is a thing about her that I like as well as the other things). Politics, not hands!

Eight random garden facts:
1. Let's go historical. My first garden was when I was about seven years old. A raised bed on one side of the gate to the back garden (my brother's was on the other side). It had tulips and marigolds and I can't remember what else.
2. One of my earliest foraging memories is on my grandparents' farm where my Grandma, one of my aunts and I went down the river collecting plants. Ferns.
3. I don't know if I'll ever grow gooseberries that tasted like the ones behind Grandma's kitchen. I do know that the ones my Dad grew tasted good enough that we never ever told each other if they were ripe. Just snuck down to eat them from the bush and often found the other person there already.
4. Things that look beautiful but you aren't supposed to let them flower: thistles. The purple headed variety.
5. Why I'll never grow carpet roses: cos when I went home one summer of my endless studentness, my job each day (like each and every day) was to deadhead the carpet roses. I understand that Dad gave up the effort once I left in favour of some machine. Cos of the effort and time involved. Oh really?
6. A plant I covet: when I was eight years old, my parents moved to a property with boysenberries. One of my aunts took some cuttings and later my parents pulled the berries out (and even later they moved to carpet rose-ville). Last year at my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary party, my aunt brought some boysenberries from those cuttings. I definitely covet some cuttings from her garden.
7. In London, we had wild blackberries in our garden and they tasted great. Fabulous in fact. I couldn't work out why blackberries were left uneaten on the roadside. Then one day I took a closer look. Ermm roadside pollution Sandra. It was an A - something road for goodness sake. (Arterial route I presume - I love it how a city map really has veins.)
8. Ants are supposed to be bad in your compost. They signifiy something bad which I forget. But an actual ants' nest makes a very efficient job of converting food waste into soil. I don't know how you get that to happen on purpose. Ours was random.

It's raining, it's pouring

and Sandra has been snoring. Thank goodness I wasn't poorly when the sun was shining - that would be too cruel.

If you want to grow something which tastes special on a plate but only have a window sill, then rocket and coriander are excellent choices. I think it is impossible not to succeed with rocket, which does otherwise cost a fortune in the shops. Grows through winter inside and is better grown outside of really hot weather periods. I'm having great success with coriander grown on the windowsill this year. I've moved some outside into pots and another straight into the soil plus kept one inside to see whether there are any differences in how they fare.

NZ Cuisine magazine arrived in the post on Friday and quite a few of the recipes have veges which I have seeds for for winter 2008 (kale, bok choy, nero cabbage). For a moment I thought with great surprise and a little excitement that I was fashionable. Then I realised that I'd actually be a year out of date.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

On housework

If you really want to garden (or indeed enjoy life), then housework is an important casualty.

I believe there are websites about cleaning super smartly so it doesn't take long. I can't possibly bring myself to recommend any of them. Not one single one. I had a look once at the Flylady and practically needed therapy afterwards. Something about beginning with a shiny sink because that would give you self worth. You were supposed to do that before you went to bed. Our home in London at the time had a plastic (I kid you not) sink which was coloured beige with stains that were resistant to strong cleaners (of course I don't know whether it was resistant to EVERY cleaner known to man - I spent the money otherwise possibly used on 82 types of cleaner on wine.)

I do not need to shine my sink to have selfworth.

What I recommend is simply not doing housework. I can tell you from much experience that if you cook food and clean clothes, all other housework activity can be done away with for quite long periods of time. I won't tell you how long in case you were planning to visit me and then change your mind.

Here are some tips in case anyone wants to know:
1. If you have a male partner, then observe what mess/dirt prompts him to action. From then on, don't bother to clean or tidy those things as obviously you have someone else to do them.

2. Dishwashing machines are the best invention in the whole wide world. I am grateful every single day to my UK nappy friends who convinced me that I didn't just want one, I needed one. I did, as it turned out.

3. I won't bore you about slow cookers, but they are part of my strategy.

4. I understand that some mothers successfully train their children to do a lot of chores. I am not in the league of good mothers. I am not even trying.

5. In case you were in any doubt about how bad a mother I am, and how unrepentant, I am thinking of going back to paid work next year and one reason is because then I can have a cleaner.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Pumpkin plans

I have pumpkin plans. The orange square in the left hand top corner of my updated garden plan is for pumpkins, possibly with rhubarb as well. I've been reading around to see if I have to dig up the whole space or just enough to plant each seed and then the pumpkins can wander over lawn. It seems they can wander over lawn which is good, because even an obsessive like me can only dig so much. After I've harvested the pumpkins in Autumn, then I'll plant the area in blueberries. Yum yum yum. Hope I'm still sufficiently obsessed to make it all happen then.
The light green blotches are for beans. We are going to spread chicken wire across the fence.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

crop rotation 3

I've found homes for the lettuce and beetroot. Then I remembered that the pumpkins were going to go in the place now put aside for tobacco growing. Oh. You may or may not know that pumpkins and potatoes have a mutual animosity for each other. Potatoes don't like sunflowers either. So tonight I'm thinking of where to put the pumpkins.

The photo and description here are from Kings Seeds, suppliers of many good things. Just to show you how special these pumpkins are and why I need to find a home for them, specially since I've paid for the seeds.
Pumpkin Austrian Oil Seed
Product description:Heirloom Austrian pumpkin with completely hull-less seeds that yield valuable green pumpkin seed oil. European studies show the oil to be highly therapeutic for prostate health in men. The mature pumpkins weigh 3-5kg, are striped green on orange and the flesh is very thick with good eating properties. The cavity is filled with large dark green seeds which are quite tasty when eaten raw or absolutely delicious when seasoned and lightly roasted. Semi bush short vine plants. (100 days) (20 seeds)

How to kill a slug

If you are not prepared to kill slugs, there really isn't any point in you attempting to garden. Not any of you.

My favourite English gardening friend Jemma, who really should blog but if she does then she hasn't told me, cuts them in half with scissors. I am in awe of this as English slugs are very large, much bigger than NZ slugs. Once I found a slug in my London garden so large I could neither let it remain at large in my garden nor could I bring myself to squash it. I trapped it in a jar and to the best of my knowledge it is still at the back of the coal shed now.

Until very recently, I dealt with slugs by squashing them with a heavy stone. Fionn loves this job and is an excellent helper at it. I have changed my tactic though since Friday when I got too enthusiastic and the slug remains splattered - in my face. I don't recommend the experience.

Now I squash them firmly but a little slower than before with the back of the trowel.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Crop rotation 2

Here is a piece of lawn, dug up in places, littered with:

1. a toy library road cone

2. a plastic recorder

3. a piece of pipe

4. The grate which should go on top of the nearby drain

If you are not very very obsessed with gardening, then you might like to pass on my blog for the night and pour yoursefl a gin instead. Because I am about to ponder and record the fate of this ordinary patch of wet, worm infested lawn at length.

To my left is my attempt at a computer generated map of our section. The red bits are the house and two sheds. I forgot about the garage but never mind. The green bits are existing garden. Only the two bits in the front (where there is a space for the front door showing) were existing when we moved in ten months ago, but I have been expanding like the Warehouse (or Tescos, depending where you live). The green strip on the side of the house is full of garlic, rosemary and parsley. The green strip at the back of the house currently has broad beans and spring bulbs. Later it will have tomatoes and celery and basil. I'm hoping the heat of the red brick house will aid the tomatoes. The separate green box is the raised bed. It was going to have carrots, onions and leeks and I had the Autumn planting (brassicas: bok choy, kale, purple sprouting broccolli) planned for it as well.

But today I had a rethink and then another look at the last book I found on crop rotation. Planting root crops the first year of a raised bed that deliberately doesn't have access to soil below the lawn line isn't the wisest move. And the book says that for new garden, starting with potatoes is the best option. So whereas I was going to plant potatoes in old tyres in the area above the yellow triangle, now I'm planting peas and potatoes, together with some marigolds for good something or other, in the raised bed.

The yellow triangle is the area of lawn shown in the photo. Now it is going to host the carrots, onions and leeks. I have a lot of work to do. The dug up bits have bokashi underneath them. I'm doing a triangle instead of a square for a very good reason which I read in a very good book, but I've forgotten the reason right now. Favourite Handyperson has had his first warning of the job. I *idly* mentioned in the weekend that the unhealthy looking punga tree beside the raised bed is just the right size for edging my triangle garden. It was no idle mention and we both know it. Better not rain this weekend.

So, where to put the beetroot, lettuces and beans? I forgot about the tobacco in my more recent garden plans until FH mentioned it in the weekend so it is the rectangle in the left of my map. Bloody equitable marriages. I won't be digging that one though.

I have some plans around tyres in beans along the back fence. I'll have some more old tyres later this week, just a lot less money. I do love my mechanic though. He sourced a second hand part to replace the broken bits from the wheelbarrow incident for one third of the new price.

Tonight I'll be dreaming of lettuces and beetroot. Just as well I love my son so much, or else he'd be losing his sandpit.

crop rotation 1

I've been a little consumed with issues of crop rotation and companion planting in recent weeks.

The way I've pored over my little maps of the section (house inconsequential box in the middle), you could be forgiven for thinking I was reenacting Treasure Island.

Our raised bed, built for me by my favourite handyman, has been our biggest garden project to date. Previously the area was covered in horrible overgrown shrubs that probably suited the space in 1968, but by last year were overbearing trees that proved easy enough to chop down but impossible to dig out without the help of a digger. Diggers cost money so digger jobs (I have them) are on hold for the moment. So we got it level (well I supervised and at the time was still banned from gardening after my post baby lopping injuries) and then covered the area in cardboard, built the walls and then added lots of compost from our compost heap. Bought compost was too expensive so we went the slow way, adding our own compost several times this winter and also growing blue lupins and mustard which I slashed and covered in more compost about a month ago.

Anyway the raised bed was going to be for carrots and onions and leeks but now I've scuppered that plan. More on that in the next post, where I will attempt to draw a map on my computer and witter on some more about veges.

Sunday, August 5, 2007


Here is our compost. A pile of poo basically, courtesy of Rayleen who also gave us the rooster which we killed and ate and which threatened to give me the chicken raising bug. It has grass clippings on it, sometimes seaweed and this batch also has rooster feathers in it.
We steal the neighbour's lawn clippings from where they dump them by the stream. I'd like to do more stealing but it is difficult to steal efficiently with a wheelbarrow, a four year old, and a baby in a pushchair. Fionn likes to push the pushchair down the hilly driveway and straight into the road. I don't like him to.
My favourite handyman is outside doing outdoor jobs in the rain. This is entirely appropriate as he has had two weekend sleep ins and I have had none.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

A Room of Ones Own

I've been thinking about this. Is blogspot my room of my own? Is indeed my garden? There is something I am really enjoying about this blog thing because it is in no way about meeting the needs of anyone I live with. A few days ago my friend Morag told me that she thought my writing was funny. Oooh. Ah. Does this mean I'm now up for performance anxiety in case I stop being funny?

And then I remembered that I used to write really often, just for myself and just for wanting to write and having some idea that writing lots would help me get better at it. Last time I did this was in Spain in 2001. We were staying at a campsite in the Picos de Europa and while the handyman went tramping into the hills (finding cattle - reminded me of Heidi), I sat at the restaurant drinking red wine and writing. You think I'm a lush? I did not even start until 10am, sometimes 11.

So I am blogging and gardening for my pleasure. I make no promises about the final results/quality of either endeavour, but I'm enjoying the journey so far. What it's all about, I think, is that my identity will not be entirely subsumed by motherhood.

Waving to London

I was looking through my computer files to see whether I could find any suitable photos (most of them are on Favourite Handyman's computer) for my blog. I found the photo above, taken three days before we left the UK. It's our house in East London/Essex, with a light dusting of snow. You can't see the wilderness we cleared behind the cameraperson and it is too far away to see the garden that we created there, up by the house.
The 'wilderness' was quite something. The lady who had lived there all her married life had been widowed fairly early on and lived on her pension. The fellow who gardened for her once she was unable to do it herself came on his bike so had no way of removing rubbish. So it went down the back of the section, including the push mower and at least one abandoned washing line (which got recycled into a support for our peas). The council contractors who repaired the roof left their rubble at the back. Sometime someone decided to dismantle half (half only) of the coal shed and leave that down the back. Those bricks got recycled into a path around and through our vege garden.
Once Mrs Bell died, our landlord had a fellow in who worked for British Gas. He obviously got sick of delivering flyers and complimetary British Gas visors, because he dumped hundreds and hundreds of them down the back. The worms were red from eating the flyers once I found them! The plastic visors were a salutory lesson in how plastic does not compose. I guess the toad found his own way there - that was a cool discovery.
We had a wonderful wonderful time in that house, with friends and neighbours of all ages and I miss those people who were part of our London life often. For those of you who have made it to this blog, please know you are treasured even though I write so infrequently.
At the very top is a photo taken a month later, in the house we rented for most of 2006. No snow there. No Borough Market either. Just beach, sunshine and a whole new life for our British born son.
I'll have another go at current photos on Monday when I have multi-computer access again.
Hunter gatherer achievements today:
Hunting: zilch. Too wet, too cold, nowhere to play. A cold cold wet day.
Gathering: Bought a book on biodynamic farming from the school gala.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The school gala

It's the local school gala tomorrow. Important date on the calendar and significant because it is the last year before I will be obliged to be involved. I seriously have something to live up to on this one. My beloved elderly cousin (aged 80) has been baking for this school's gala since it opened in 1958 and her son was a first day pupil. She is now unwell enough to qualify for meals on wheels but still puts her pinny on for the gala. I might grow seedlings for next year.

So today I was thinking about the fact that out of those people who have let me know they are interested in my blog, nearly everyone is home educating. Do you people not like fundraising committees?

Hunter gatherer performance today:
gathering: good. 29 pieces of wood chopped and stacked.
hunting: mediocre. killed lots of slugs. Found a colony of large snails which I was wussy about - they will die trappec in the bread bag though.

Cleared pieces of roofing iron from the felled forest floor and found two lily plants just like the ones I wanted to buy and put there. Transplanted mints from pots to hang out with the lillies.

The post with the photos still isn't showing. This blogspot thing is a lot like yahoo groups. I don't mean that as a compliment. About as consistently reliable as tradesmen.

The other thing garden like I've been thinking about today is Monty Don. We have a lot in common you know - gardening without machines, um liking gardens. I fancy spending an afternoon with Monty - it wouldn't have to be all about digging.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

third time lucky

Now my posts aren't publishing. And the baby is up again. She has such bad manners. At least I thought to copy the last post.

I fancy myself as a hunter gatherer after today. Not that I hunted anything apart from slugs, but I did gather and just being a gatherer sounds much too girly.

Despite the late hour, the dark and the rain, I took my favourite handyman outside to view my forest felling last night. He made appropriate noises and Fionn tried to swing on the jutting remains of the trees in the dark. I made tutting fussing mummy noises.

But amongst the appropriate noises was a comment on wood cutting easily while wet and becoming progressively harder to cut as it dries. So today I decided to ready ourselves for next winter by cutting wood to dry over summer. Usually how I do this is I ring one of the local wood merchants and arrange for them to deliver wood on a truck, pay them handsomely and then rather late in the piece I inform Mr Handyman. He needs to know because he is the chief wood stacker. But now I am looking at our section with entirely new eyes and I can see half of next year's firewood awaiting the chop on areas I had already earmarked for destruction. Don't worry carbon people, I'm keeping one tree, and have planted others.

I cut 18 pieces of wood into appropriate sizes for burning today. You may scoff but I bet I cut more than you. Eighteen looks a much more dignified reflection of my achievements than 18, but the anal English grammatist in me can't do it unless it is at the beginning of a sentence.

hunter gathering

I fancy myself as a hunter gatherer after today. Not that I hunted anything apart from slugs, but I did gather and just being a gatherer sounds much too girly.

Despite the late hour, the dark and the rain, I took my favourite handyman outside to view my forest felling last night. He made appropriate noises and Fionn tried to swing on the jutting remains of the trees in the dark. I made tutting fussing mummy noises.

But amongst the appropriate noises was a comment on wood cutting easily while wet and becoming progressively harder to cut as it dries. So today I decided to ready ourselves for next winter by cutting wood to dry over summer. Usually how I do this is I ring one of the local wood merchants and arrange for them to deliver wood on a truck, pay them handsomely and then rather late in the piece I inform Mr Handyman. He needs to know because he is the chief wood stacker. But now I am looking at our section with entirely new eyes and I can see half of next year's firewood awaiting the chop on areas I had already earmarked for destruction. Don't worry carbon people, I'm keeping one tree, and have planted others.

I cut 18 pieces of wood into appropriate sizes for burning today. You may scoff but I bet I cut more than you. Eighteen looks a much more dignified reflection of my achievements than 18, but the anal English grammatist in me can't do it unless it is at the beginning of a sentence.

Do you think that is all I have done today? You people who were probably in your proper clothes before breakfast? Well actually I also weeded, replanted, killed slugs and got the ingredients out of the cupboard for my student nanny to make chocolate cake AND bread with my son. I did make one or two other gestures towards parenting, like feeding the baby.

The other thing I did, in my dressing gown, was to take lots of photos. Just for Sharon and Rachael. And I can't even find a USB connector to try and do the damn photo to computer thing. So we will all have to wait, even me.


That's where I am. Limbo. Like purgatory only much more comfortable. I went outside with the camera this morning and took many many photos of spots of personal significance within our 809sqm section (I know it is exactly that size because the rates notice arrived today. Unfortunately council rating isn't ten cents per square metre).

My favourite handyperson arrived home early today. Oh the plans that ran through my mind when he appeared at only 4.10pm. But it is all backward and everyone is in bed except me at the clearly racy hour of 6.50pm. I'm pretty sure I need a USB connection but I've had a close inspection of handyperson's computer desk and found nothing which fits into the camera.

I've no idea what proper purposeful people do at this time of night once they've eaten - dishes, knitting, Bible study? But I have no intention of doing anything edifying while everyone else sleeps. Which is why I'm mucking around here, like a kid about to do a speech on fish who forgot to bring the fish.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Big cuts

This morning was wet which was an all round bad scene which prompted me to do absolutely nothing about breakfast, lunch, getting dressed until our fabulous nanny student arrived and sorted Fionn out and then Fionn told me I couldn't take him to kindy in my dressing gown. I protested that other mothers did but the boy was unmoved by such lying and thus I parked beside the late model SUVs in jeans and a jersey after all.

This afternoon was sunny which for an obsessed gardener in nearly Spring time like me was just perfect. The nanny student got practise at looking after both children at once (I'm sure it's valuable for her) while I got the loppers out and headed for the neglected back corner. Neglecting to find the camera in my excitement. Now this corner has huge significance for me as last time I lopped anything in it, Brighid was only three weeks old and the resultant muscle strain (immediately post strong and extended antibiotics) triggered a virus with rheumatoid arthritis symptoms which at its worst left me unable to even carry my daughter.

I'm pleased to say today was much more successful and I've lopped and sawn through many branches, opened up the area to some sun and with a bit of husband help this weekend, this patch will soon be ready to be my bog garden.

I also measured out the area for the tobacco garden. My favourite handyperson isn't managing to kick the habit and growing his own will cost so much less. The growing bit looks quite easy but the curing less so.

I wonder if the Kings Seeds delivery will come tomorrow...