Thursday, November 29, 2007

Beneficial Insect Blend

I've become quite fascinateed by this whole phenomenon of growing food for the good bugs so they hang around and eat the bad bugs this year. That is what led me to purchase some 'beneficial insect blend' from Kings Seeds: This blend contains Dill, Bishops Flower, Buckwheat, Parsnip, Ammi visnaga, Fennel, Daucus carota, Phacelia, Angelica, Bergamot and Alyssum. Which all sounded completely wonderful to me. Next year I'm going to change strategy though. I have found that as I'm not familiar with many of these plants, I can't tell if they are a weed or not when I encounter them from seed. The plantings I have done in the propgator or in a pot have worked best for knowing that they are supposed to be there. My other niggle has been that it appears that really there are only two kinds of seeds germinating. But as I looked closer today, it appears that as so many of them are from the umbelliforae (or similar spelling to that) family, then they start off with very very similar leaf shapes.

So next year I am thinking I'll buy some single variety seeds of different beneficial insect attracting properties and plant them in clumps where I know what to expect. As for actually attracting lacewings, I haven't seen any so far.

Monday, November 26, 2007

agricultural thoughts

Spent a lot of time driving across the Canterbury plains last week. A massive monument to monoculture. I tried to imagine what the landscape would look like if the area was broken up into small largely self-sustaining permaculture farmlets. Profoundly different, for sure.

I'd been following the news of Fonterra, New Zealand's largest cooperative (made up of most of NZ's dairy farmers) before we left home. The writing is on the wall for the voice of the small farmer. I'd be cautious about getting into discussions with current farmers without thinking extremely carefully as obviously they have to feed their families somehow. But:
1. Dairy farming is increasing massively in size in NZ, in response to high prices for milk/butter fat on the world markets.
2. That price increase is, as far as I can understand, due to rising demand for milk products in previously non-milk drinking parts of the world.
3. A big player consumer-wise in this new market is China.
4. A rapidly developing player supply-wise is China which in a fairly short space of time has run up beside New Zealand.
5. So when Asia gets more self-sufficient in meeting it's domestic demand for dairy, what happens to the price of NZ milk and butterfat?
6. And when there is no longer a good price to be gained for dairying, what happens to the large, technology intensive farms which rely on irrigation from afar?
7. And when the big capital boys pull out of Fonterra because the good times have rolled over leaving a nasty hangover, what happens to the small farmers who once owned Fonterra (and the small local companies amalgated into Fonterra only a few years ago - remember Koromiko and Waitohi cheese for example) and who no longer have a significant voice or indeed the right to a slice of any profits which relates to production, real graft, and not to shareholding?
8. What happens to our environment now and in the future?

I still have a lot of questions and thinking to do around dairying, a way of life which is both special to me and increasingly problematic. I learnt to milk cows with my grandad from about eight years old. Later I milked the cows with my uncle on school holiday visits while my grandad was away at monthly cheese board meetings. I still love to visit the farms of my two dairying uncles and to discuss the politics of dairying with my grandad.

More recently, only a few months after giving birth to my daughter, I was driving off the farm of local friends during calving season when I saw a cow bellowing for her calf which had been taken from her. She still had the afterbirth hanging out of her vagina (I presume that is the correct technical term) - such was the recentness of the birth and the quickness of the separation. A turning point for me in how I see the ethics of dairy farming.

So, rice milk. It's quite pleasant I think.

holiday roundup

Yesterday I returned from ten days away. Brilliant time. Very special wedding, great camping ground and playground, good time with the cousins, lots of visiting with friends and family. The baby started vomiting on Thursday (round two in a lovely wholefoods cafe - that owner had a heart of gold with us) so it was with great relief I pulled into Mum and Dad's place in Hanmer Springs several hours later. They were both so very wonderful helping me with the children that I even started to feel a little guilty for being so ungracious and at times rather unpleasant as a teenager.

To celebrate our return home, my son started vomiting last night. At least we're not up at the local hospital with a dangerously dehydrated child, as I hear several local children are with this extra strength lurgy.

blogging ...

doesn't involve changing vile-smelling nappies or cleaning up vomit or washing every towel, sheet, duvet, piece of clothing in the house. Or drying aforementioned sick-soaked items.

I like blogging. Just not managing to get to it so much at the moment.

Do I want a medal for this mothering lark. Er YES! I don't need a medal for being the best, as I'm not into faking. Do I want a medal for getting through this week (and a good part of last week for that matter)? Absolutely. You know, the kind for the triers at school racces day who came last every time but never gave up? Well if anyone is out there and finds I have managed to blog again by the end of this week (after tonight as I might blabber some more if nobody closely related to me moves their bowel or stomach in the next half hour), can you please send me a medal via this blog?

Ta. Soaking in melodrama. Better than literally soaking in vomit, I promise.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Big events in our little lives. All four of us are going to Christchurch for a wedding this weekend and then the children and I are staying in Chch for the week while Favourite Handyman flies off to a conference. He offered that his work could hire a motorbike and he'd drive that instead of flying but to his disappointment they didn't take that seriously.

I haven't organised a wedding present yet but I have organised my gardening buddy here to water the garden for us while we are away if the weather deems it necessary. Priorities... I've transplanted all my tomatoes into the garden or large pots.

I'm about to go to bed and finish reading an article about the super bad effects of dairy farming on the environment. Too much poo. Literally from what I've read so far. Bit like babies then. Have a lovely week.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Planting day

Patience will never make me famous, get me to heaven nor did it help me with various other youthful pursuits. It isn't my greatest virtue in the garden either which is why I succumbed to the potted plants section at Mitre 10 this afternoon. As well as more bamboo stakes for the tomatoes, I also came home with six celery seedlings, lemon thyme, rosemary and sage. I managed to kill my first celery seedlings and only sowed batch number two yesterday. Hopefully it is goodbye to the days of paying heaps for a bunch of dubious quality celery only to use one stalk in a soup/stew/stock and leave the rest to moulder in the fridge for an unmentionable length of time. I've loved cooking with lemon thyme in the past but never found it in seed catalogues hence grabbing it in plant form today. Maybe it means it is some kind of terrible hybrid but I can live with that - some days I'm some kind of terrible hybrid also. Got a tiny seedling of rosemary and planted it in the hole in the driftwood which borders one of the vege gardens - should give us a free draining site in full sun which is about as close as we can get to recreating mediteranean conditions here in smalltown. The sage cos it seemed a good idea and I never bought a whole packet of sage seed as I couldn't imagine needing more than one plant. Although it is very scarcely known, sage is a powerful breastmilk supressant. Good to take if you want to dry up your milk supply; bad for many breastfeeding mothers. Just thought I'd put that out there. Stay clear of nasal decongestants also.

My favourite handyman planted some tobacco today. I think the baccy will be the most interesting experiment of this season. He also was very nice to me when I was so grumpy and fed up of mothering and houseworking and not seeing him earlier today. Everyone needs a handyman like my Favourite Handyman. He invited friends around later on and cooked a barbecue as well.

The invite included our discerning seven year old friend Tom. Which meant I had to clean the toilet specially. Tom didn't complain this time which I took to mean that either he never went to the toilet or that I'd done well this time. Maybe his parents prepped him on not commenting prior to the visit. Reminds me of when, nearly 30 years ago, we went to visit my uncle and aunt (brother and sister) who were each living in non-marital relationships at the time. Outside in the car my siblings and I were advised that another person called X would be there and Mum and Dad were not sure why and NOT to ask questions. Yeeeeeees that would be a sheltered upbringing. Absolutely.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

seed saving in New Zealand

Pat at the best named blog in my garden blog world - Bifurcated Carrots - has written a series of excellent posts on seed saving. While I'm not yet planning seed saving, it is in future plans and I've been reading with interest. Here he talks about open pollination and hybrid seeds and the politics of big seed selling. Being of a natural inclination to suspect conspiracy plots amongst big capitalists myself, I lapped it all up and expended a few calories (though not enough for my frumpbusting project) on fuming about Big Business and environmental doom.

Still, all good knowledge to help make good seed buying decisions. I've been having a closer look at New Zealand seed selling companies and thought I'd comment on what I think I've learnt or observed here. Yates and Mcgregors are big into hybrids and big into big business. I wouldn't bother trying to save their seed. I rarely bother buying their seeds anyway. Their products seem to be aimed at producing supermarket-glossy fruit which values looks over flavour. Or that's what I suspect - I haven't bothered to test this theory myself when there are other options for growing to pursue instead.

Kings Seeds. This is my favourite seed catalogue company and I expect I'll be buying from them in future years also. Most of their seed is imported. Although it is likely that some of their seed (especially the heirloom varieties I'm thinking) is open pollinated, I think they are buying seed through the big guys and are bound contractually not to indicate which seeds are open pollinated and which are not. So not the best choice for seed saving either.

I think Koanga seeds are a good bet for open pollination. Ecoseeds look like they fit the bill also.

Ginny's Herbs is a business I've recently discovered and may order from for an upcoming wedding gift. Looks like you could take seed from their plants also.

Pot luck

Out in the garden late this afternoon I finally started to chill out. Two small children birthday parties in one day had given me mummy-job overload.

I weeded, lifted tulips, planted a zucchini, watered various pots and did some seed sowing. Fionn helped with the seed sowing and as I had no idea where to start looking for a marker pen or other sensible method of labelling the seed trays, none of them are labelled. We'll just see what we recognise. We sowed multiple seeds in each of the 72 plugs so should be fun guessing later. Although the weather is warming up, I still have the lids mostly down on the propogators and have them under the desk and behind a glass windscreen in a bid to protect them from the rude and apparently ravenous blackbirds who fearlessly swoop and steal all over my garden.

Friday, November 9, 2007

scrap metal

Make friends with your local scrap metal merchant. Curved glass for a mini glasshouse, drums for liquid fertiliser, a huge metal wheel for making a beautiful circular herb garden. These are the things I found to covet when I dropped off our tin cans for recycling today.

I'm going up to the local dump sometime this month to have a chat to the people up there about what they do with car windscreens. In the latest Organic NZ magazine, there is a photo of a man in Otago who uses car windscreens propped against notched sticks to make a cloche effect.

Speaking of OrganicNZ magazine, apparently when it first started it was called the 'Compost Club Magazine'. I like that. Reminds me of the secret clubs my girlfriend Marija and I used to invent when we were about seven. But with garden stuff added in.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Tonight I have laid beer traps for the slugs. Beer is rather precious in our home though and I'll be wanting to see a high return of dead slugs for each trap. Otherwise it's pellet time and I'll sit inside and drink the beer instead.
The picture on the side is (obviously) a bottle but actually I bought mine in a rigger. Easily reusable, cheaper and a reminder that here in small town we still do things the old way. I never saw a jug of beer or a rigger sales point the whole time I lived in Auckland. Serves me right for living in Ponsonby I guess. Ah the wealthy old days...
Some locals here still bring their glass flagons in to Liquorland for refilling.
I transplanted another tomato today and learnt that reusing large tins from the kitcehn for plants does not work if you want to then transplant again. Half the roots stayed in the tin. Good thing I was too slack to get round to transplanting all the tomatoes out of their tiny pots and into tins.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

charting progress

In August this plot looked like this and here it is below in October. Hoping it looks very luscious by December.


Twenty minutes ago I decided to review the progres of my frumpbusting programme. At 10 a.m. I am hanging nappies on the line, hungover (only two glasses of wine! Time I went back to university), wearing the same voluminous dress I've worn all week thus far. Today's special addition to its splendour is baby sick, so recent and sizeable that it is making my knee wet. The baby is crawling around the lawn in pjs, a snowsuit and barefeet.
Progress grade: D-

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Return to gardening broadcast

phew! We had two gorgeous gardening days this week just gone and every moment out there was fantastic. Spurred on by a gift of a small bag of mushroom compost and the fantastic achievements of our neighbours with the stuff, I drove out of town and bought some mushroom compost and something called 'zoomgro'. I'm going to see which I like best. My current gardening enthusiasm and the desire to grow compost hungry things like zucchinis and pumpkins have necessitated buying in some compost.

I'm transplanting my tomatoes outside slowly. The idea being a particularly rough night won't strike when every single one is new to the ground soil. I've been finding loads of huge healthy worms in the areas which I dug bokashi into and then covered with pea straw in winter. After the grave warnings about blight I've read combined with our humid climate, I'm taking care to plant my tomatoes with extra large gaps between them - easily a metre apart. In between I'll companion plant (need to get that book out of the library again) - basil, carrots, something else.

The potatoes are looking fantastic. The ones in the raised bed are doing much better than the ones in the tyres. I've been mounding them with peastraw and have high hopes for a good crop. My second planting of peas has been more successful. I'm pretty sure the blackbirds (fearless blighters) ate the first seeds and so this time I protected them with fizzy bottles until they had germinated and got a little established. They are planted in between rows of potatoes and now I've got a teepee of bamboo stakes set up for them to climb.

I have found the 'beneficial insect blend' doesn't work for me when planted direct into the ground as I don't know what is weed and what is beneficial. So I've reverted to raising the seed in small tubs which I can either transplant or move around the garden to where it seems most needed.

The slug population has been rising during the wet and I'm thinking of resorting to pellets in non-food growing areas. If anyone knows of biodiversity problems using slug pellets could cause, please feel welcome to put your case in the comments section of this post.

Some strawberries survived total neglect in a pot outside all winter and now have fruit on, so I've treated them to a new home in zoomgro compost in a tyre. With chickenwire on top to foil the cheeky blackbirds. I'm finding the tyres good for squashing lawn/weed growth underneath and making it easier for me to create more garden. In a ramshackle way, I'm creating more and more garden along one fence and I've got designs on the adjacent fence also.

Out the front I've started to dismantle an old fence which is serving neither practical nor aesthetic function and I'll use the boards for raising the current garden beds for next year.

Bearing witness

More death, this time horrendous.

In our small town last week, a teenage girl hung herself. We heard the news privately as it hasn't made the papers. Rejected by an abusive family, she died alone and we think she was cremated without a funeral service.

I never met this young woman, though I know the teacher who worked hard to give her chances and wept when she heard the news.

I want to bear witness here that her life was worth something and that she deserved the dignity of a sendoff by people she loved and who loved her.

A Time for Loving

I've been out of blogosphere for the past fortnight or so and mostly out of the computer world generally.

On October 24th, my beloved cousin Lou passed away. He was 89 and in poor health and something I have learned in recent days is that when I love someone, I am never ready to let them go. It has been an intense family time and the shared experiences have taught me much.

Lou was a returned soldier and a prisoner of war (WW2). I consider myself a pacifist (slugs and snails excepted) but I have found much to learn from the experiences of those who have involved themselves in armed combat.

Last Wednesday I bought a packet of Flanders Poppies and Fionn and I will plant them in Autumn. We have a lemon tree and a punga grove to remember the birth of my daughter earlier this year and the poppies will mark the memory of a very special man. Later this month we are going to the wedding of a great friend and I'll plant something to remember that also. My friend is also getting the gardening bug (I have aided and abetted it also) and has been growing Irises for her wedding flowers. That way she will always have the bulbs to remember the day by. So I'll probably plant some of the same Irises in Autumn.