Sunday, December 30, 2007

planning and replenishing

All garden stuff now, you understand...

My gardening thoughts have turned to preparing for Winter, which is when the benefits of having our own produce will really kick in - dark green leafy veg to eat very fresh while the supermarkets are hocking a very limited range of produce for a substantial amount of money. Kale, arugula, winter lettuce, leeks, beetroot and various other possibilities are on my list. I'm wondering about Florence Fennel but might be too late to plant it. Too late for celeriac also, but I'll do that next Spring. The raised bed of potatoes has yielded beautiful soil, just exactly like the books said it would. Found a flatworm (i.e. a nematode I think) in there - anyone know what bad things these actually do?

So the winter brassicas will go in the raised bed, following the potatoes according to some optimal plan I read in Spring and remembered. I'm still considering what else will go where in relation to my other garden beds. Patrick has definitely convinced me to take care not to replant garlic in the same bed year on year, but I haven't encountered any suggestions for the best crop(s) to go in after garlic. Hoping Patrick is reading and has some ideas tbh.

I've also been upping my focus on soil enrichment/replenishing. I haven't put as much effort into this as I think I ought to, based on my reading of Linda Woodrow's Permaculture Home Garden book. I really ought to be using my Bokashi liquid more effectively for a start. But I have remembered about the bin full of horse manure tea at the far side of the garage and started to use that in the watering can again. Menstrual blood is a good resource (I never ever said this blog would be for those of a delicate disposition) which until now had been going on the garlic. It is now going on the tomatoes. I do need to go seaweed gathering but as we've been social butterflying around of late to the point of fed upness, I'm focusing for the meantime on activities which are entirely and utterly home based. My other soil enrichment experiment has been to remove the large leaves of the docks in my invasive patch (garden is a little too grand a term for it atm) and place them as mulch around the garlic. Docks have long taproots which bring up good things from deep in the soil and so putting the leaves around the garlic and letting the rain and sun do it's stuff should gift some of those minerals to my family's tummies eventually.

celebration days

The longest day was wonderful. After our day up the river we went to the beach in the evening and watched the setting sun. I lifted the first garlic which is not a bad size. Clearly needs to stay in the ground for another four weeks or so I think. The first potatoes were beautiful. We've been enjoying them most days ever since.

We scuppered our camping plans for Christmas on the 24th when it was pouring with rain and worse was forecast. Instead, we bought a (pine) Christmas tree, some lights, made truffles and got Christmassy. Fionn and I went to Mass on Christmas Eve and loved watching the nativity the children put on.

Also this week our Fionn turned five. We had a fabulous and very special day, again up at our current favourite river. Next celebration project is his kiddy birthday party, to be held mid January when fewer friends are away on holiday. Pirate day, if we don't change our mind.

Friday, December 21, 2007

the eve of the longest day

An ungainly phrase, that title. True for New Zealand though. Tomorrow we are driving inladn for 45 minutes to a wonderful reserve/swimming hole/picnic spot to share the afternoon and evening with three other families. We are all looking forward to it. And these gems from my garden will form the most prized ingredients for our contribution to the meal:
three kinds of lettuce
Argentata Beet
Chioggia Beetroot
One yellow cherry tomato
Agria potatoes

And maybe even some nasturtium. It is growing wild in my rampant garden patch down by the neighbour's shed. Tastier than the Wandering Jew and Convulvulus it shares the patch with.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Two more sleeps

until the longest day. I look at our garlic every day and remind myself it is not long to wait.

I think we have Phacelia flowering. Very pretty. I'm after some borage next year cos it is even prettier and still attracts the goodies.

First yellow tomato today. Giving it another day to fully ripen. Zucchinis with no blossom end rot evident coming on now. Perhaps the longest day feast will include tomatoes and zucchinis from our garden as well?

I planted dwarf sunflowers at the back of the garden. Sometimes I do stupid things.

Too tired to write properly about Bokashi and about Grass Roots magazine. Putting it here though to remind me that I want to, soon.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Summer solstice

Only four more sleeps until the longest day. Plans so far include digging up the first garlic bulb and eating it, digging and eating our first potatoes of the season and watching the sun go down on our local beach.

As for Christmas, where to start and where to stop? I spent some time talking about my conflicting feelings and frustrations around Christmas last night with my second cousin Jill, a woman very committed to God (i.e. her Christian God). That helped. I'm on a journey to make some sense out of Christmas, to listen and hear a positive message. That might not be a God-led journey but I realised the other night that also it might be. I'm certainly planning that it won't be a journey which contributes to the exploitation of Chinese workers in plastic tat production factories.

I applaud what Oxfam, Tear Fund and World Vision have done in creating gifts which provide chickens, goats, toilets etc (and I did notice Bibles on at least one catalogue). I notice nothing from these mainstream charities aiming to improve the lives of exploited workers in China (to give an example, it certainly isn't the only country hosting horrendous workplace practices). Oooooh no, that would be too political. If anyone knows of a campaign for workers rights in China, then I'd be very pleased to know.

Bought comfrey and a tiny bay tree today.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

wonderful soil association books resource

Here. Today's fantastic discovery. Off to check my email and download Lady Eve Balfour's The Living Soil. The site links to a library in Tasmania, Australia where under Australian copyright law, books which are out of print (even if still under copyright) may be reproduced in full. Which means I think that the out of print organic gardening classics can become available to any of us on our computers (no money, no paper - how good is that on the footprint metre?). You don't have to join to get access, but ten Euros gives you lifetime membership, which I've done. Enjoy.

Learning roundup

I just found this very interesting blog from Waiheke Island. The articles from Yesterday's Future were interesting and it's great to find a new (to me) blog which is New Zealand based. I'd still like to make more connections to others growing on the wet West Coast of the South Island.

I finished reading Wild Green Yonder by Philippa Jamieson last night.

I enjoyed it, more than I had expected to. Philippa leaves her settled life in Dunedin for nearly three years and goes volunteering on (mostly) organic farms which are part of the Willing Workers on Organic Farms scheme. New Zealand being a small town where everybody knows someone you know, I loved seeing some familiar names and it also gave me some more names to look for when I'm trying to source New Zealand grown organic produce. For example, I've met the owner of Treedimensions once before when he did a market stall in our small town and acquaintances have also recommended his fruit. I've sent him an email now to go on the list for his fruit boxes from late January.

All that organic food reading got me thinking about bread and gluten and family health again. Several bloggers I like to read have made wonderful looking and sounding bread in recent months: Bean Sprout, Sharon and Rachael especially. Our son Fionn has been on a gluten free diet for the last 19 months, on the recommendation of an allergy specialist and it has helped his eczema. He is also egg free because that seems to help a lot as well. Meals are easy but I am so over cooking gluten free baking and I'm also keen to do some bread making but not necessarily two different kinds of bread at a time. So I am building up to having a go at sourdough and also at low gluten breads like spelt and seeing if he can cope with that okay.

I also have a Bill Mollison ('father' of the permaculture movement) book out of the library at the moment and he has an interesting section on turning annuals into perennials. Mostly by having good ground mulch around annuals and letting a portion of them run to seed and then self-seed in the garden. He also wrote that if you leave garlic in the ground for two years, then you will get a continuous supply, but I can't fathom that as yet.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


I've read some wonderful things in blogs recently. I've admired the Christmas spirit so many of you are enjoying. Admired from a distance because my own feelings about this upcoming festival are ambivalent to find the shortest explanation. Not ambivalent-not-thinking-about-it. Ambivalent-completely-disillusioned-coming-round-to-finding-a-path-through-it-very-slowly.

One thing I am clear about. Where I live, it is SUMMER. In our final year in the UK, we started to really 'get' English Christmas. The Christmas Day we spent with close friends and their extended family just before we left London was very special and many of the traditions finally made sense at a deep level.

This migrating to the other side of the world with pagan/Christian traditions of symbols of hope and new light and Jesus and the rebirth of the Sungod all intact but stuck now to the wrong side of the calendar which so many Pakeha-to-be did 150 or so years ago is just, well, understandable but at a deep level, to me, odd and wrong.

Something I've been thinking about amongst this is how long we've actually had a tradition of summer holidays. For 'working' people, I suspect only since the industrial revolution. Since we've been away from the land and oblivious to the fact that summer is the big busy time if you are living off the land.

My symbol of the season so far is this:

Summer solstice and garlic harvesting soon. Perhaps my nuclear tribe and I can do something meaningful and non-commercial around that. Like harvest the garlic and have special food. It's really a bit early in the season for homegrown drink (cider couldn't be made until later, ditto for wine and beer - maybe lemonade though) but I'm keen on any suggestions for a special meal with seasonal ingredients. Cooked on the barbecue I think.

Who am I?

This plant is from my beneficial insect blend packet. Does anyone know what it is called please?

the far side

of the lawn. Not of anything more exciting.

The plants surrounded by pea straw are tobacco. To the foreground of the trampoline is pumpkin and blackcurrant. The pumpkin is one of two from my Dad. The hulless ones I've got to grow seed on are finally germinating on the kitchen windowsill. Third time lucky. I found a book which advised me that, being hull-less, the Austrian Seed pumpkins need careful help to germinate. Not like your standard hardy pumpkins which spring out of the compost patch whether you invited them or not then. Brighid's punga forest. Then a bean plant, plonked into the lawn. I'll weed and plant around it eventually.

potatoes, garlic, tomatoes

Potatoes in our raised bed, garlic and tomatoes around two walls of our home. I've deliberately left big spaces between each tomato plant to try and reduce the fungal disease risk by allowing plenty of air around each plant. I've carefully checked each plant every two days for laterals and removed them but I still keep finding ones I've missed. I've interplanted with celery, basil, lettuce, marigolds and unknown 'beneficial insect' plants.

More garden pics

The photo with the blue pot and the seedling punnets in it is about a fortnight old and the one where you can see the driftwood on the left was taken last week. I'm still weeding this area - it was lawn (weedy lawn) until a few months ago. The barest patch is where I broadcast carrot and onion seed. Not successful. The blackbirds got in under the wire netting I had put on top (should have held it down with rocks) but the biggest problem, nearly all weeded out in these photos, is the recurrent weeds, especially grass. I can see now that doing a false seed bed (weeding and area and digging to a fine tilth and then leaving for the first flush of weeds to germinate and only sowing seeds after that round has also been killed) would have helped. I'm also thinking that raising seedlings separately and then planting them out in new garden is probably the best plan. I'll try carrots in established garden next year.
The driftwood in the left of the lefthand picture has a hole in it with a small rosemary plant in it. Hoepfully that gives it the amount of drainage it is supposed to need. Though I've got another one doing fine at the back door near the kitchen and it gets pretty wet there.
The garden lacks the lush, no room for weeds look and action I really want but I guess it is still only early Summer. The survivors so far in this patch are purple sprouting brocolli, dwarf sunflowers, lettuces, beetroot, orach or mountain/tree spinach, celery, argentata beet, a very small number of carrots, leeks and red onions and some alyssum.

zucchini disease

See the white spots on the leaves? Something has been eating the zucchinis themselves as well. Any ideas on the causes very gratefully received.

Roses number 2

Today is photo day. Yahooooo.

So starting with Roses. Rosemary Thodey, who I referred to yesterday, had some interesting things to say about the history of roses. Something which struck me particularly was her comment that the first catalogue of roses, produced by a fellow called Gerard in 1596 of 16 roses growing in his Holborn, London garden, show that they had moved by then from the vegetable patch into the flower garden. I'm aiming to have mine mixed up with the veges, especially with garlic.
In the first photo you can see the whole overgrown in a too narrow space thing going on. It isn't a spot which gets a lot of sun though, yet 3-4 (hard to tell in the mass even when I pruned in winter) roses are surviving and blooming in it. Given the narrowness of the site, I probably would be best using shop bought trellis to give shape to it all and allow us to see all the flowers, but I'm not giving up on a home-made solution just yet. The gravel the plants are spilling onto is the driveway.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I think I've caught the rose bug. I've become fascinated with the way they can carry so much history, last so long. One example which influenced me: Last week my cousin Mary (81) and I took some flowers to her husband's grave. First she took me round her garden and talked to me about the history of each rose. I don't know the name of one particularly lovely pink rose but I remember the story. That rose grew from a cutting made in 1948 when they moved to that house as newly marrieds. The cutting came from her husband's parents' garden. She has the studio photo taken of her husband and his brother just before they went away to serve in World War Two. Lou and his brother are wearing buds of this rose in their lapels in the photo. A rose from that plant went to the graveside last week.

This may seem maudlin to some but it's the kind of linkage I adore.

I've been reading Gardening with Old Roses from the library and in the section on companion planting (for visual harmony rather than the permaculture interpretation of companion planting) I was interested to read that herbs are often very good partners for old fashioned roses. Many of the herbs Rosmemary Thodey writes about are familiar names to me from the packet of my beneficial insect blend and elsewhere in the herb section of the Kings Seeds catalogue: Daucus Carota, Amni Visnaga, Hyssop, Rue, Feverfew, Viola Miss Helen Mount.

I have some roses out the front of the house - the only part of the section to have any garden flowers in it when we bought the house. These roses have, I suspect, survived years of neglect and I won't be messing with moving them. I have learnt from my recent reading that two of the three are ramblers - they send out shoots all over the place from the base. They are in a very narrow piece of garden which can't be widened - well not unless we relocate the garage. I was thinking that we need trellis for them as I can't attach them to the brick walls. Instead, I've set myself the challenge of finding something to train them over to give some shape to the sprawl (and prevent the sprawl from being squashed by the car tyres) without buying anything new.

It's true - this blog is in desperate need of photos to give some context to the text. I really need to remedy the knowledge gap and learn to download photos myself. Soon, I hope.


I've been mucking around looking at weed sites of late and thought I'd share.

This one on common New Zealand weeds has lots of photos to help with identification. I liked the section on the history of weeds in New Zealand in this site.

Didn't notice oxalis (the kind with bulbs) on either site, though I didn't trawl with the finest of combs. I've found some oxalis here in my garden and, mindful of the advice of my father and other gardening relatives, I got a plastic bag and lifted the soil around each oxalis plant very carefully to find every bulb and bag it for the dump (tip/refuse station). If I was being more mindful of not sending anything to the dump, then I would burn it. I wouldn't trust an oxalis bulb anywhere near compost ever. It is a weed that even the pesticide fans find they have to resort to hand weeding to combat it.

I have been following Nikki's blog on her weed project with interest - she talks about putting certain weeds in a black bag to heat up and destroy seeds before they go on the compost heap.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Last chance saloon

for the purple sprouting broccolli. I did have 6-7 plants but alas the caterpillars and the white butterflies have no manners. So I've culled back to two plants, opening up some light for nearby leeks and onions, and squashed a pile of caterpillars. I'm prepared to put in some squashing work over the coming weeks (and months realistically), but I expect to see results in return.


I've got (or had) an aphid infestation of the basil plants on my kitchen windowsill. This afternoon I decided a cull was the way to go and pruned one plant, left the latest seedlings and harvested the entirety of the other pots. I've got some Sweet Genovese and that is very easy to harvest as the leaves are large. Sweet Genovese being the most commonly sold Basil:

I also purchased a gourmet Basil blend mix of different Basils from Kings Seeds this year. Interesting results and a cheap way of being a little adventurous. But this one below is frankly a pain for making pesto (or anything else really):

It is called Basil Fino Verde and while it is pungent and lovely in that sense, it is so fine and thus takes ages to even roughly separate the leaves from the stems. I won't be reordering it. As I continue sowing batches of the gourmet Basil blend this year, I think I'll cull basil Fino Verde once I recognise it.

So you need to get rid of a rooster...

or two? We had a surprise and welcome call today from our chicken-keeping friend. She'd had a call from an acquaintance who needed to get rid of two roosters because of neighbourly complaints about crowing and didn't have time to slaughter them himself. She knew just who to call and soon afterwards, Brighid and I were pulling into the driveway of a very lovely couple who it turns out have a long interest in organics. So we connected a little more within our small town community and then Favourite Handyman killed and plucked and I gutted and in our fridge we now have two bantam roosters to be slow cooked tomorrow. Whereas last time (in Winter) we hung the roosters overnight, it just seemed too hot to do that safely today - we brought them into the fridge after two hours of hanging. I came up with an easy cover to keep the flies off the hanging roosters - tied pillowcases around them.

They look to have a reasonable amount of meat on them and it will be a good test as to whether raising bantams is worthwhile meat-wise. I'd previously assumed not.


Very exciting arrival today. Favourite Handyman worked very hard all day transporting large amounts of wood. Friends are leaving smalltown for Christchurch and have given us heaps of wood - wood for gates, for burning and for making raised bed borders. The most fabulous wooden item is a large wooden box, raised off the ground. I think it could form the basis of a bantam house. I hear that you can have 2-3 bantams without needing to comply with the full weight of council bylaw regulations on keeping chooks. Still thinking about this.

It's the second time this year that friends or neighbours have given us valuable building materials which were otherwise destined for the tip. We appreciate it hugely and it enables us to create and complete projects around the garden which are kinder on both our pockets and the environment.

Saturday, December 8, 2007


I found one in my garden yesterday. Actually Fionn found it floating in a bucket of water and when I worked out what it was, I rescued it onto dry land pronto. So it's back out in the garden preying on aphids I hope.
I am starting to get some blue flowers in bloom from my beneficial insect blend seeds which is good for something which I now forget. They attract bees but I think there is some other good thing about blue flowers. Apart from their beauty of course.
I'm not keeping on top of the caterpillar problem currently plaguing my purple sprouting broccolli plants. Their leaves are looking rather too akin to the wings of the lacewing at the moment. I'm tempted to pull them out and start again.I've got plenty of time to grow some more before Autumn. Next time I will make sure I plant them only on the outside edge of the garden so it is very easy to kneel and check every part of every leaf for caterpillars and eggs.

Friday, December 7, 2007

the garden or the blog...

Not much contest at the moment. Daylight saving time means I can weed, water and transplant until 9pm.

I would like to get some photos up here soon and am making it my blogging goal for next week. The tomatoes, potatoes and garlic are my handsomest plants at the moment with lettuces and zucchinis coming up behind. I got impatient with my marigolds (prone to dying on me) yesterday and bought some plants from the nursery for some instant colour. Did the same with alyssum.

Have I written about false seed beds? I really should have done one with the carrot and onion patch.

I also really should have some magic children sleeping pills so I can concentrate on gardening and garden blogging properly. Favourite Handyman is out being social and owes me proper gardening time tomorrow in bucketloads. If he isn't home soon, then the rate will go up to cleaning the house and cooking dinner as well. Actually that is the first idea to prompt me to think he will stay alive if he gets home later than in the next three seconds.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Something you should not do

Here is why you should not leave a bucket of seaweed brew, lid off, just any-old-where. Because a baby might crawl over and tip it over herself and sit in it with joy and enthusiasm. Seaweed brew is not a perfume and it is not for cuddling.

You might already understand this from a hypothetical point of view. I write from the rich and fragrant view of lived experience. Don't join me.