Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Favourite Handyman put the children to bed and I spent the lovely Summer evening in the garden. During the day my daughter and I had come to blows yet again as I was rash enough to try and garden without thinking that she would go wherever I went and copy me. So some tiny kale seedlings which I had sown myself were lost this afternoon.

This evening I weeded in the old chook run, added blood and bone, lime and home made compost and then planted six kale seedlings, bought from the nursery in the weekend. I watered the entirety of this garden, the tomatoes in the other garden beds and the potato and zucchinis out the front. It is the first time I have found it dry enough to need to water more than the tomatoes. Summer has arrived.

Inside, my kefir is growing well and I have a local friend who would like some. (Gillybean, I also have some for you, just waiting on a postal address so I can send it). I let the kefir grow for two days and the drink from it was nice, so maybe I could get away with every second day not every day after all. I bought a plastic colander thing from The Warehouse this morning as I was finding the bridal veil material wasn't really working how I wanted it to now I have so much kefir. So far, a good purchase. My candida symptoms have been much reduced since I've been drinking kefir most days, so the kefir project has definitely been worthwhile to date.

I made a sourdough starter yesterday. I started one last week and it flopped and I got the hump with it and threw it out. Last week's one was all about purity and wild yeasts and this week I thought I'd flag purity. I started off last night with 2 C flour, 2 C water and 1/4 t dried yeast. It was bubbling nicely by the next morning. So tonight I separated half of the starter into a jar for the fridge and added 4 C flour, 1.5 C water and 1 t salt to a bowl with the rest of the starter in it. That is spending the night in the hot water cupboard. I would advise against copying anything I do generally, but particularly this until I have got a loaf to actually taste good from my current method.

I haven't done anything about the summer gingerbeer plans. I have been festived out and there seems to be fizzy in the fridge anyway. I have now successfully lived through Christmas and Fionn's birthday. You may not think I was at serious risk of keeling over from the pressure, but I didn't have the same faith some days.

I've just realised tonight that in only one month's time, I am supposed to be hosting a book group evening where I have to bake/cook nibbles and read a book to review and clean the entire blardy house because if they are there that long then they will need to go to the toilet which is at the other end of the house from the lounge. I think I shall quit book group. Will this join the list of things I have quit in smallwettown? Sandra-who-quits-things again? It is true that a group of fine ladies of a certain age will find my calibre and backbone rather wanting that the thought of cleaning my house and hostessing just one night in the entire year is too much for me. But it is.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Nowhere near typical blogland gorgeous and up-to date standard, but I have um, borrowed FH's work memory stick and transferred some photos from his computer to mine. I haven't quite developed the adult maturity yet to tell him that I have mislaid the memory stick that he gave me.

Anyway, I added the photos to my recent garden planning post. One day I may turn into a proper blogger and upload photos I took the very same day. Don't hold your breath though.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

DIY season

It's a wonderful time of year. DIY season. The sun is shining, the children are healthy, Favourite Handyman is doing diy jobs and I am mostly in the garden. Today we put the chooks in the area I want turned out of lawn and into trees and mulch again. I pulled up the logs around the raised bed and turned them over for the chooks to feast on the slugs. While they were feasting and having dust baths, Favourite Handyman and Fionn collected some new bamboo (the older seasoned bamboo we have is not supple enough) and mended the broken arches of the chook run. The last big wind was a shocker for our poultry palace. He also replaced the plastic on the first section, this time with stronger and much better quality plastic. This home made lark is full of learning.

Brighid and I weeded the tiny garden patch by outside the wash-house (laundry in other parts of the world, but I like the word I grew up with). She could help because we were pulling everything out. As a team, we are not yet ready for selective weeding projects.

We talked paint. Favourite Handyman and I are pondering painting the lounge this winter. Favourite Handyman changed the ancient lightbulb in the funny recessed shelf in the lounge. It is probably sixty years old like the house and I wasn't wildly excited when he managed to zap himself. I'm standing there in the dining room crossing myself like a fearful girl brought up Catholic and telling Fionn not to touch Dad if he goes to the lounge. But anyway, there was no more zappy excitement.

We talked more paint in the back porch and I started preparing the deep windowsill in the porch. I scraped off a lot of paint, I would like you all to know. I have taken a fancy to a red shelf (windowsill). It would look good red, underneath my potted growing projects.

FH put more scaffolding up for the peas and I culled one sad little tomato plant and gave the rest a drink of very smelly seaweed brew. FH dug some bokashi in along the side fence behind the punga raised bed.

I found time to go to the liquor shop as DIY has its currency, to the dvd shop as we all like the odd treat and I am not totally immune to the charms of spoiling my son, to the golf putt shop to plot Fionn's birthday treat with his friend's Mum and finally but very importantly to the garden shop. I bought a lemon verbena plant and a punnet of six kale plants. I wanted beetroot but they had sold out, so I'll have to get my seed packet out and grow both seeds and patience. The lemon verbena smells divine.

New Year - gardening plans

It's not, obviously, the new year just yet on the calendar. But now that Christmas is gone, a mass plethora of guilt and jobs which overwhelms me every time, I'm ready to look ahead. In just a few days Fionn turns six and so my festive mind is now switched to how to make a Lightning McQueen cake without the services of the currently closed shop which sells those fancy things which you put on the icing and make an impressive image with. It does seem at the moment that an actual miniature car on the top is the biggest attraction and I can do that. The shop that sells them never ever seems to shut.

I've been making plans for the garden for the winter ahead and to some extent for next Spring. I've got eleven garden beds, all differing sizes. I must try and create a map and label them consistently.

Bed one has garlic and strawberries in it this year (and rogue peas and three very modestly sized tomatoes and some calendula). That needs a rest and I'm thinking I'll put lupins in it over winter. I'll plant potatoes there next spring. I try and keep potatoes and garlic and tomatoes in a new place each season. Potatoes and garlic is a four year rotation according to my reading. Tomatoes - the information varies.

Bed two is the raised bed which I made last summer. It currently has thyme, onions and one sad looking tomato in it. Also some radishes and a yellwing spinach plant. I am going to transplant all the thyme over to the old chook run, use up the onions and then dig in some generous amounts of blood and bone, compost (if we have some at the time) and sheep poo. It is quite a low raised bed and perhaps we can make the sides higher and build it up more. It is at the esttest end of the garden. Once that is all in order, then in early Autumn I will be planting more brassicas and silverbeet there. This is the bed which I had an experiment with turning into a mini-tunnel house and we might try that again with stronger plastic.

In between beds one and two is a rhubarb plant, gifted by our friend Ruth and currently looking very healthy. we mulched with more compost around it the other day and then put a circle of wire mesh around it so the blackbirds couldn't spread it all over the path so easily.

Bed three is the other side of bed two. So bed one, rhubarb, bed two, bed three, all along the eastern fence of the section. Bed three has blueberries in at the moment. They are not happy. One looks dead. The other looks okay but all the flowers fell off. In Autumn I will transplant the healthy looking one to the top end of the section and buy another one to keep it company up there. I think the other one will be compost sometime soon. The bed they are currently in is not a no dig method and there are weeds showing through, nasty vigorous perennial weeds like convulvulus and docks. So I need to dig down and do some serious weeding and possibly change the border. It is made of logs but they don't seem to deter much in the way of weeds creeeping under and carrying on their breeding party. We have been offered more rhubarb plants, this time by a work colleague. Rhubarb apparently doesn't mind wet feet, one of the very few plants to be so accommodating. So I'm going to put rhubarb in this bed instead of blueberries.

Bed four is the old chook run. Currently it is home to tomatoes, some of them looking quite good, lettuces, beans (very small plants), marigolds, a chilli, some oregano and thyme and borage. For winter this area will have lots of brassicas and silverbeet. It will be our main winter garden and I want to produce as much green food as possible. This time I hope to have better patience and vigilance with the white butterflies in the summer garden and to have more greens ready for early winter and if I can improve my game enough, staggered right through. In the photo below you can see the old chook run about six weeks ago. It is now a lot greener and full of plants but I don't have a recent photo of it. To the far left, beyond the wind break cloth, are beds one and two.

Bed five is a small square up the top of the garden. It has recently had borage, silverbeet and some strawberries. But I cut all the silverbeet out the other day and put the chooks in for a couple of days. They have had a wonderful time. It is a great little spot, very warm, raised about ten centimetres above the lawn and was well mulched with compost. I am still considering exactly what to do with the area around this bed. It is about two metres from the corner of our section and just beyond that corner our neighbour has built a large garage recently. I would like to take the entire corner part (at least two metres square and maybe more) out of grass and that is why I've had the chooks in there. They work hard in terms of digging up grass. So where the raised bed fits into my plans, I'm not yet sure. If it stays as a raised bed, then more winter greens will be growing there.

Bed six is currently in potatoes, with some cavolo nero down one end. This is the bed which had tobacco in last year. It probably has the best drainage of any non-raised bed on our section. This is where I am moving the blueberries and raspberries to. So it will become a permanent fruit bed.

Bed seven is the strip along the back of our house. It had tomatoes in last summer which were quite successful. Currently it has onions, chamomile, raspberries, Maori potatoes and broccoli in it. The plants up the higher end are doing much better than the ones at the other end which have spent too much time in puddles of rainwater. We need to do some serious bed raising work down the bottom end. For the meantime, this winter I will use my horse manure and pea straw layering method which worked well out the front last winter. Thick layers of pea straw, then generous lashings of horse manure, then more pea straw on top. Let it sit for several months. I'll leave it to Spring to decide what goes there next Summer season.

Bed eight is the herb strip down the side of the house, nearest to the kitchen door. I've got chives, parsley, aloe vera, feverfew, oregano, rosemary, marjoram, pansies and some Maori potatoes in there at the moment. Aside from the Maori potatoes, the rest will stay the same. I'll add more herbs as and when I have room or they need replacing. The photo below shows a section with feverfew, pansies and chives.

Bed nine is the punga raised bed. It is a forest of yams, garlic and one beautiful Dublin Bay rose bush at the moment. The garlic will come out at the end of January. The yams are more winter food for us and will be harvested around July. When the yams come out we will probably put the chooks in for a few days of feasting and then add lots more compost. This is our best raised bed and we try to give it as much compost each year as we can. I'm not sure what will go in there next summer. This bed has now had potatoes, brassicas and garlic already. Perhaps it will be a summer cover crop. Below is a recent photo of the yam forest.

Bed ten, out the front, is the lovely new raised bed which Favourite Handyman made for me recently. It has potatoes in it now, and I plan to put either brassicas in for winter, or garlic. The photo below shows it as it is now, with netting and bricks to prevent the blackbirds and the neighbouring dogs (this garden is beyond our fenced area) from pulling it apart and spreading the compost and soil everywhere. I'll remove it when the potatoes start to show through.

Bed Eleven, also out the front, is the raised bed which I made last Autumn. It has zucchini and silverbeet in it at the moment. I'll put garlic in there this winter.

I had tried making another bed for pumpkins out the front. But I have realised that it is in the wrong place and the area I cleared for the pumpkins which aren't growing very much, actually needs to be made into a path for Fionn to get to the climbing tree. I'll be moving the flower bulbs away as well as they are at the base of the tree and liable to get injured by climbers.
This final photo is not from any of my numbered gardens, but from the rose strip along the front of the lounge. I like the sprays of deep red.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

other people's gardens and weird scones

The NZ Gardener website has recently posted a lovely collection of kiwi vege gardens. I enjoyed looking at them.

An update on my weird scone experiments. The buttermilk biscuits recipe from Sally Fallon was very salty, difficult to mix through because of the way she had the buttermilk (I used kefir) being absorbed by the flour long before the butter, baking soda and salt was added. I don't recommend it. I have also come to the conclusion that scones are supposed to be fast food. I am prepared to take ages to make bread, but not scones. So below I am copying (method slightly adapted to my shortcuts) the Edmonds Cookbook recipe for wholemeal yoghurt scones, which I will be using again. This is the one I used yesterday except I substituted kefir for the yoghurt, I also spilt the sugar, so ours were sweeter than strict adherence to the recipe would produce.

2 C wholemeal flour
1 t baking soda
3 t baking powder
50g butter
1 t sugar
1/2 C natural unsweetened yoghurt

Mix flour, soda and baking powder in a bowl. Cut butter into the flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in sugar and yoghurt. Mix to a soft dough. Lightly dust an oven tray with flour. Gently press scone mixture into a rectangle (directly on to the oven tray works fine and saves the need for messing up the bench or board further) which will divide into 8-12 scones. Cut them up and move away from each other to give space. Bake at 220 degrees celsius or until pale golden.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

the madness of sandra

Or is it of Sally Fallon? One of today's projects was to use up the kefir in the fridge. I drank some of the freshest kefir this morning. This afternoon I decided to make kefir scones. I found a scone recipe in the Edmonds recipe book which used yoghurt and subsituted kefir for the yoghurt. They tasted good.


Not satisfied with the kefir project, it occurred to me that whipping up scones in about four minutes was probably quite sinful in Fallon's fermented everything, sprouted, rested, take an age to make everything world. So I go and get my copy of Fallon's Nourishing Traditions and find a recipe for buttermilk biscuits. Biscuits in the USA are scones in the NZ. Obviously there isn't an international body ruling on consistency of floury foods labels. Yet.

So now I have kefir and flour mixed up and resting in the hot water cupboard ready to turn into an advanced (or loonier) version of kefir scones tomorrow.

We are running out of room in the hot water cupboard. I've shifted the brewing kefir into a kitchen cupboard. The sourdough is back in the hot water cupboard though, as it looked funny and not very bubbly this morning after a night in the kitchen. I steamed on this morning and made up a sourdough dough batch to rest in the cupboard anyway. Who knows.

In case you think I have managed to forget that we are two days out from the great culinary, consumerist edifice of Christmas, well I have not managed anything so sensible. I have been cleaning until my very soul hurts. I paid Kathy-the-wonderful to clean for me as well. We are now up to three rooms being properly clean and tidy. Four if you count the toilet. I fancy three more yet. Which would just leave the wash-house and the study until after Jesus has had a few feeds and some kip.

The chooks are currently in paradise, because we let them into the raised bed garden which used to have silverbeet, borage, celery and strawberries in it for the day. I want them to root around the grass by this raised bed as well but would you eat your veges if pudding came at the same time? This is part of another project to get rid of more lawn. I'll report more when I have photographs to accompany my text.

Which could be a while. On last count, my computer still doesn't recognise the camera. Favourite Handyman's computer, erratic for a while now, has started turning on again but the internet connection is dodgy. Which is another way of saying the internet never works on his computer at the moment, but we don't know why.

You want more Christmas? You really oughta spend time with good people, not here on the lousy cleaner's vent space. But if you must, then I have just taken delivery of a lovely box full of stone fruit and berries for the occasion. None of it grown on the West Coast because everything is late here. All NZ grown though. And I've bought Lemon Z. The idea is that I'll use it to make a lemon trifle tomorrow, but the option remains of just quaffing the lot. There is icecream in the freezer for hungry sweet-toothed people after all.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Summer solstice planting

It's Summer Solstice here today, the longest day and a beautiful summer's one, the kind which make you feel like summer could last forever. Perhaps here, it is a day which reminds me that summer hasn't finished already, or forgotten to start. Three days ago we had the fire on.

Last year we went to the beach to watch the sun. This year asthma boy is in bed early and we are not feeling so festive. Our friend in Auckland who was undergoing a bone marrow transplant died. I am struggling to come to grips with how much loss there is in the world. I feel blessed and lucky that I have Favourite Handyman and Fionn and Brighid. I guess we are lucky to have friends and the more friends and family we have, the more exposed to loss we are. That does make me feel more zen. But still sad for our friend's little daughter, four years old. Her Dad won't see her start school, or play soccer or do ballet or grumble over her first boyfriend.

Yes I am turning into my mother!! When I was at university, Mum would write letters to me which included details of who had had what operations and who had died at church. Not in the middle of Mass, you understand. Just in between. Now I blog the tips of my grief. And torture a wider audience.

Onto planting. Favourite Handyman and I filled up the new raised bed and I have planted 12 Rua potatoes in it. Around the edge and in the middle I also sowed calendula seeds. This garden is part of yellow garden area which I started planning almost a year ago. There are wild orange nasturtiums there already so my dwarf mixed colours (orange, yellow, lemon are what I've seen so far in other plantings) will fit in nicely.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

chicken soup and bean dip

When I was about 24, I got bells palsy. I had recently finished my Masters thesis, moved back to Christchurch and ditched the boyfriend. It was a lot of fun to go back to Dunedin for a weekend to present a paper at a postgraduate history conference and catch up with friends. On the Friday night we had a huge night on the town and I dragged myself to the conference just a few hours of sleep later to present some thoughts on women and booze. In Central Otago on the goldfields 100 years previously. Saturday night was more sedate and on Sunday I noticed with some alarm that one side of my face didn't move when I told it to. Well well well.

Once I had a diagnosis, I had to wait a week until I was well enough to travel back to Christchurch. During that week my lovely friend Asma came round each day and looked after me. And she made me chicken soup and that was when I understood that chicken soup was divine medicine. My previous encounters with chicken soup were of the maggi packet mix variety so it was no surprise that I had no previous chicken soup love. I remember that Asma put egg in it, that it tasted great and can't remember much else.

So two days ago when my son had a scary asthma attack, I wanted to make him chicken soup. With lots of garlic and ginger. My chicken stocks until today have always been made with the bones of roast chicken but this time I shelled out for a whole raw chicken. I cut the breasts and some of the leg meat off roughly and put that meat aside for a chicken stirfry tomorrow night. I then broke up the carcass and put it in a pot with two bay leaves from my own bay tree,`some carrots, some onions and water to cover the lot. I simmered that for just over an hour and then in another pot I sauteed garlic, ginger and shiitake mushroom (which I had soaked overnight) and then added chopped savoy cabbage and the stock liquid and the shiitake mushroom soaking liquid. When that was all boiling nicely, I added udon noodles, the shredded meat which I had separated from the bones while the cabbage et al was cooking and two raw eggs. Five minutes more cooking, lots of pepper, a little salt and we all had lovely chicken soup for lunch. And again for dinner. I will do this again. It's also a nice change from always starting a chicken with a roast. Because yes I am in the three meals from each bird brigade.

We eat a lot of hummous in our house. This is my standard recipe: 2 cans (390g each) of chickpeas, thrown in the food processor with 2-3 cloves of garlic, 2 tablespoons tahini, juice of 2 lemons, some fresh parsley and/or basil, pinch of salt. Whizz round for a while and then add some olive oil (I just stream it in - I'd guess it is 1-2 tablespoons' worth) and whizz that in also. Done.

I was feeling like widening my repertoire on the dip/spread front but hadn't come across anything I fancied making or eating or that used affordable ingredients. Until our coffee group went out on our Mothers' Work Do evening last Thursday and the lovely Nell, proprietor of the best eating and drinking establishment in our town, told me what was in her bean dip. So I had a go today and I'm pleased with the results. The colour isn't incredibly appealing but the taste is worth it. This is it:
1 can chickpeas (390g)
1 can red kidney beans (390g)
juice of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lime
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon cumin seeds (I dry roasted mine and then ground them in the mortar and pestle)
2 tablespoons tahini

whizz all that together and then add a stream of olive oil (1-2 tablespoons worth) and whizz a bit more. Done.

Is there a greater love

... than a man who makes me another raised garden bed, when I hadn't even specifically requested it?

My delight is boundless. These holidays are off to a wonderful start. The sun is shining. The plants are growing.

Favourite Handyman has turned the area which I made a compost heap on out the front into an almost square raised bed and this afternoon I bought some Rua potatoes to go in it. After the potatoes, I'll be putting winter greens in there. We are talking about making a dome structure over the top of this new raised bed which we can cover with plastic for winter. I'm thinking of having a half round of plastic to offer some shelter and enhanced warmth yet still leave easy access to the garden bed.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Feeding time

Favourite Handyman puts our children to bed while I feed the rest of the tribe I have acquired. Chooks, sourdough starter and kefir. I started the sourdough two nights ago. It is bubbling already. Obviously the hot water cupboard is a fertile place. I am going to feed this one each night for a week and then have a go at a loaf from it. I have found a recipe which seems to meld sourdough techniques/ingredients with the no knead recipe I have been using for the past few weeks. Although as I have no intention in the short and medium term future (maybe ever) of grinding my own flour, so this recipe is probably better again for my purposes.

I can report with mixed pleasure that I have not killed the kefir and indeed it has flourished. I have more than I need. I would love to know of anyone who has used the kefir milk in scones or other baked goods. Also, if anyone would like some and they live in New Zealand, let me know.
sustainable dot living dot wc at gmail dot com

In other small events which I am prone to passing off as news, we live in a bog. Thank goodness Mariella was joking when she asked me not to talk so much about all the rain. Because if I was going to blog about gardening and not mention the rain, I may as well give up now. I didn't garden today because it was raining, and there were big puddles all over the lawn and the garden. And also because I am on a cleaning mission.

Today, in a massive fit of cleaning frenzy, I cleaned our bedroom. There are now no extraneous objects in our bedroom apart from the beds, the chest of drawers and the dresser. None whatsoever. I evicted countless spiders, bagged up at least 85 bags of dust, removed 2013 pieces of tissue paper, moved pens, parts of toys, books, hundreds more books, cuddlies, junk mail, clothes, mould from the furthest corner which doesn't get decent air circulation. I dusted and swept and wiped and generally pursued my mission vigorously.

The lounge of course is now home to extraordinary mess. That job is tomorrow, because none of it is allowed back in the bedroom. I'd been considering a dehumidifier for winter and I've now decided that getting one is a priority and I'll be watching the January sales for store wide reductions on electrics.

I had been meaning to do all this for ages, but after our son had a terrible time with his first full blown asthma attack yesterday, getting the sleeping room (and, I hope, the rest of the house over the next few days) into a really healthy state seemed the least I could do for his health and indeed for the health of us all.

Friday, December 19, 2008

ways to grow peas

Buy peastraw which is full of peas and mulch your garlic and then watch the sea of pea plants appear. Peas and garlic (or legumes of any kind and alliums of any kind) aren't great companions because the alliums have antibiotic properties which interfere with the nitrogen fixing bacteria of the legumes. But it is all looking green in my patch. I must let the shop know. Peastraw is not supposed to grow! I am going to leave it all there and see what happens. Better than a sea of dock weeds.

My kefir is still alive after a fortnight and indeed has grown a lot. I've been drinking it myself so far but I'm going to try it out on the children today. I have some friends interested in some but with the Christmas break, they don't want it until they get back from holiday. I have found a solution to my niggles with using baby muslin cloths to strain it (heaps of kefir gets stuck on the muslin and it is finer than I need).

A bridal solution.

I bought some bridal veil netting from the fabric shop yesterday and that works much better.

Yesterday I made a flash chocolate cake which called for six large eggs, some sugar and some chocolate and some butter. That's all. No flour. So I used eight of our smaller eggs and beat it all up and put it in the oven as required and then noticed the yolks still on the bench so pulled it out of the oven and poured it back into the bowl, added the yolks and back into the tin for the final effort. It tasted good. I made it for our lovely childminder Robyn but got to have some at her house when we took it round.

I also made sushi. I've been playing round with alternative therapies again in an effort to get rid of some boring things like constant neck tension and frequent headaches. So I'm now under instructions to (amogst other things) have lots of seaweed and ginger, most easily available as sushi. I'm learning to like wasabi as well, which I used to leave off my plate.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Roses and parsley

I've been making grand plans in my head for draping roses all over fences around our section. This afternoon I decided that the best way to get going on these plans is to have a go at growing my own roses from cuttings. I found these instructions online and decided to take some cuttings from my next door neighbour's prolific rambling pink rose. Surely if it can grow so well for him under (I suspect) no special care, then it will suit our section as well. I used disprin for my rooting medium as a friend has recommended. I've bagged up three cuttings and put them in the window of the tool shed. This is a first for me on propogating anything from a cutting.

I tidied up the herb garden a bit, pulling out the parsley which had gone to seed and transplanting two self-sown parsley seedlings from out the front to the side herb garden which is much more convenient to the kitchen. I clipped away the dead part of the rosemary plant and admired the new growth from the part which didn't die.

I found slugs on the cavolo nero cabbage and fed them to the chooks. I admired my one head of broccoli and dug out a fast growing crop of clover in the corner of my thyme and onion bed. This is the bed which needs some more nutritional help. The clover end is the part which I didn't use the raised bed method for, hence more weed growth. I am going to transplant all the thyme elsewhere and use up the onions and then dig in blood and bone, seaweed and sheep based soil conditioner. Then it should be ready for growing more brassicas. I am having another go at brassicas, bouyed up by recent modest success.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


We've had a completely wonderful weekend away. Of course we forgot the camera, but at least we remembered the children, each other, nappies, sandfly repellent and beer, so nothing vital was missed out.

We walked into the Oparara Arches. I think they may be the most marvellous things I have ever seen. We forgot to bring the Ergo (baby carrier) and Brighid was asleep when we got there. But usefully, Favourite Handyman had bought a too big but very good bargain price oilskin vest at the market earlier in the day and he also had long spare straps in his pack. So we strapped Brighid onto my front using the vest worn zipped up over both of us with the strap tied very tightly around my back and underneath her bottom. It worked surprisingly well.

We stayed in cabins at the camping ground and as they are not yet busy, it was perfect for the children. We went with friends so four adults and four children and we all loved it.

We had dinner on the beach (sausages and marshmallows cooked on the spot of course) and checked out various coffee and liquor establishments as well as making our own back at the camping ground.

On the way back today we stopped at Granity where they had a fun day. Fionn got his face painted, we admired many crafts and I bought some gorgeous homespun and home dyed wool (just a small amount, I'm not quite giving up my rule on not buying more wool before the last project is being worn). I thought it was a gorgeous hippy paradise and Favourite Handyman pointed out to me that it is also a coalmining town. No doubt that makes for some tension and in that it is a microcosm of the entire West Coast of New Zealand's South Island.

Next stop was Punakaiki where we stopped for an early feed and drink at the tavern there. The life size replica horses (carrying beer to the pub in the 'old days')out the front are always popular for playing on in our family and today was no exception. We took a walk down to the beach and collected some more seaweed. No I can never have too much seaweed!

In several places I got to have a close look at some permaculture-style home gardens. I admired the gorgeous cacti garden at Rongo backpackers, as well as having a closer look at his raised beds with sand paths in between them. He used drift wood and found stones to create a maze of probably a dozen raised beds. Then we called in to see the people at Atawhai Farm. I've met Bill once before when I bought garlic from him but no one was home when we called in today. Nevertheless, I still got to have a good look at the garden bordering the drive up to his house. At both Atawhai Farm and later at Granity, I saw tunnel houses which had wind break cloth for the first half or two thirds of the walls and then after that plastic, which also stretched over the top. So good ventilation and also the warmth of the plastic roof. Given the rainfall in the area, also some control over the flooding aspect. We are now talking about implementing this idea at our place.

We also talked about art a bit in the weekend and watched the five year olds make wonderful pictures. So far at our current home, my energies have almost all gone outside, on the garden. But I'm now thinking of painting the plain chipboard behind the fire deep deep red and putting lots of Fionn's pictures and our photos on the walls. This summer.

The entire trip was wonderful. We're planning to go back in January, with our tents.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Today our friend who works as groundsperson at our local high school delivered a trailer load of grass clippings. She is bringing another tomorrow. Wonderful for the compost.

I then realised I still hadn't moved all of the seaweed from the wheelbarrow, where it has been steeped in water for at least a fortnight. It turns out that some kind of insect larvae is now wiggling round in it. It is all dumped on the garden for the moment, and I hope we haven't unleashed some crazy breeder onto our garden environment. Presumably (and hopefully), this water-based insect will not survive on land.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I can do it

I can do it and I will do it. It is true that our very high rainfall and short season summer make gardening challenging at times. Sometimes challenging equates to many things dying, or failing to thrive. My plans for eating our own fruit have been thwarted somewhat. The first lemon tree died and the second one has had a hard life but I do see a couple of new leaves, so still alive. The blueberries lost their berries and one of the two bushes looks very unwell. The blackcurrants are alive and have a few currants on them. They are up the best drained end of the section. The feijoas seem fine but no flowers. At least I have two this year.

So all the fruit needs to be moved to the highest end of the section. And nourished a lot. The glasshouse when we build it needs to go where the old chook run garden currently as. It needs to be raised off the ground quite a lot and have well drained (deepish shingle or bark or sawdust) paths all around it.

The garden along the back of the house grew us some lovely tomatoes last year. The part of it where I mixed in some blood and bone, lime and seaweed is growing quite well - I have a broccoli forming a head there. A head! First time in years. But the poor raspberry, even though I encircled it in seaweed, is definitely not happy. The onions are doing okay there but not fabulously. Though of course at least they are alive which is more than I could say for my onion attempts last year.

So last night I weeded and pulled out the flower bulbs which were still in the ground. I now have a blank patch of over a metre long (and perhaps 6ocm deep back to the house) with nothing in it except one tiny maori potato which has just peeked through. That could push it's way up through more soilish items though. It is time for intensive help. I think the biggest probelm over and above the wet is that the very large tree which is not far away from this garden bed has roots extending down into this garden. Deepish roots for the most part and if I raise the bed up with lots of nutrient-intensive material, I should get noticeable improvement. My fingers aren't crossed because then I can't type, but in my mind I have many things crossed.

I've got sheep poo, sheep dags ground into a soil conditioner, seaweed, blood and bone and pea straw all on hand. I'll have to check the state of the last batch of compost because it would be great if that was ready to use as well. I want to raise the soil by 10 cm and then put pea straw on top of that.

My kefir is still alive. I'm hoping that if I leave it in a coolish place (i.e not the hot water cupboard like I have been), then it will be okay to leave unstrained and unrefreshed by more milk for 2-3 days.

Why? Because we are going on holiday this weekend. Holiday. Holiday! To Karamea for two nights. I am so excited. Karamea is still on the West Coast and it still could rain but it is a very beautiful place that I have wanted to go back to (last went as a child) ever since we moved to smallwettown almost three years ago.


Favourite Handyman is missing in action, last seen in the pub.
Brighid has just emptied all of my new lettuce seedlings onto the ground. She sorted things efficiently - seedlings on the ground and the soil in her wheelbarrow.
Fionn is writing Christmas cards. Someone has to be good Christmas person round here and it turns out that this year it is Fionn.

My lovely friend Caroline visited today. I gave heaps of tiny baby-sized nappies and wraps to her son and his partner and we took a tour of the garden, admiring progress since Caroline's last visit. But the less exciting news is there isn't much hope for my raspberry plant. It has been in the soil since mid-April and is still less than 10 centimetres high. Perhaps it needs a different home. I'll be getting the fruit growing book out for more ideas later tonight. Out the front I showed Caroline my pumpkins and she advised against growing pumpkins in this part of the country. Not hot enough apparently.

But my borage is looking beautiful, quite ethereal. I'd love to have drifts of it throughout a curvy garden filled with flowers and herbs and vegetables.

But right now the children are falling apart and so I'll have to leave thoughts of dreamy garden vistas for another time.

baked beans

The baked beans made from scratch were fairly successful. I will be playing around with the ingredients a little to get the best taste - not entirely sure about the amount of molasses in this batch. I've put two dinner's worth in the freezer. Now all need to know is several hours in advance that I will not want to cook proper dinner and then I'll have beans for dinner which are not from a can. Though the home made ones really suited being eaten with rice which does make it a two pot meal. Which then counts as proper cooking.

The kefir is still alive. I've been drinking the drained kefir milk each morning.

It stopped raining for a while last night. I transplanted five lettuces from the seed raising punnet into individual pots. They can grow like that on the outside table for another fortnight or so until they are big enough that slugs will not devour them whole in one evening. I weeded a bit in the old chook run where there are still plenty of weed seeds which germinated when I transplanted the bay trees into this garden. Then I mulched with pea straw. The Maori potatoes which I planted all over the place are coming up - mostly in places where I forgot about them and planted something else there as well. I also staked some peas which have grown in the old chook run out of the mulch. Maybe we will get more peas out of this wild batch as we've only had three pods' worth out of all the carefully sown, bought pea seeds which I started off months ago.

I'll be thinking of my Mum's family this week as they bury my Great Aunt Shirley. My Great Uncle Ron died just days before we left for the UK, when we were already in Auckland ready to fly out. I lit candles for him in Ireland where we visited just two months later and I never made the time to let Shirley know this. She was on my list for visiting next time we go to Christchurch. I used to visit Ron and Shirley when I was a student in Christchurch. My brother and I biked around there for lunch one day when he was still at boarding school. Later I got lazy and caught the bus. Ron, a skilled handyman like all of the men in my Mum's family, kindly fixed our student flat washing machine many times. Shirley was a tiny woman, always very neat, who looked after her father in law, my great grandfather, with great love and care in his last days. Rest in Peace Shirley. May your faith give you strength and your presence stay warm in the hearts of your children.

Monday, December 8, 2008

kefir learning

An update on my growing things inside menagerie. I have been googling and have found some information on kefir from a very enthusiastic man called Dom. I've joined a yahoo group of making kefir as well. Now I need to read at least some of the messages.

Today I drank some of the kefir drink which you strain off the grains and I liked it. A very pleasant way to substitute for expensive probiotics from the health food shop. My grains seem to be growing and I've transferred them to a larger jar and added more milk. That's three days I've kept them alive for now.

I used the chicken stock to make risotto for dinner. When we were a gluten free, egg free household, we had risotto every week. I still like it, but I love having more options on the dinner front. I used the first zucchinis of this season in the risotto. From my own garden of course. This year I have an heirloom kind called costata romanesco which has a ribbed outer. I do apologise that that sounds like a description of the fancier kind of condoms. My zucchinis were very nice and I look forward to many more this season. From my one plant. The others died.

I've just finished making up the baked beans recipe and have put it in the slow cooker to cook overnight. I had to adapt it a bit for the slow cooker and for the unhelpful measures in the recipe. It is the first time I have cooked from my Sally Fallon book, Nourishing Traditions and I have a couple of niggles. A "small can of tomato paste" is not a helpful measure in an internationally marketed book. Not that it mattered too much as we had no tomato paste of any kind in the house and I snaffled a jar of pasta sauce from the charity Christmas giving bag to use instead. I used some apple cider vinegar and presumed rather hopefully that it would not matter that it is three years old. My other niggle is that a cup is not the easiest way to measure sticky liquids like maple syrup and molasses. By standing on chairs and searching behind the old kitchen chippy chimney, I managed to find our maple syrup and molasses. I hope this recipe is yummy, as it could be the answer to using up more things which have collected in my cupboard. The odd ingredients retirement home needs an overhaul.

I bought a gingerbread man cutter because I have this probably overblown, optimistic idea that Fionn and I will make gingerbread men and send up to his whanau (extended family) up north for that day.

I sneaked a bit of weeding in before it started to rain this morning. Christy I am sorry that your garden is dry. I am feeling like we can't possibly live in the same country - there has been absolutely no need to water here and our garden produce is a long way behind yours. My raspberry plant is still only ten centimetres high. But I did find an actual fruit as differentiated from merely some flowers on one tomato plant this morning. So there is hope.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


It's like a menagerie, all the slow cooked, from scratch cooked, fermented, fermenting, soaking foods in this house.

Today I made bread which I had risen yesterday.

I strained the whey off the kefir which I am now growing indefinitely. Is 'growing' the correct term? Maybe culturing, maybe just looking after. Then I added more milk. I have a pile of things to learn about kefir, unhelped by the fact that never ever ever have I had a face to face conversation with anyone who has 'grown' kefir.

I put navy beans (which are white not blue) on to soak so that I can have a crack at making baked beans from scratch tomorrow.

I made ginger bread loaf which didn't involve any fancy waiting and soaking. It comes from the Edmonds Cookbook which is a salve for any kiwi in need of certainties in mad times of growing grains in milk and watching the world economy disintegrate. Tasted good.

I roasted a free range chicken which was on special. The level of ridiculous guilt and guilty ideas I had around this blasted chicken is so huge that some time I shall devote a special post to exactly how the greenies have taken over Catholicism's special hold on guilt. Now the chicken bones are in the slow cooker together with onions, carrots, bay leaves and parsley. And water. Making stock.

I made yoghurt. Or I put yoghurt starter in the easiyo machine. I haven't got a proper make the yoghurt from old yoghurt thing going but using the sachets is cheaper and more home made and creates less packaging waste than relying on bought, ready made yoghurt.

I bought some ingredients to make biscuits and to make ginger beer and I considered making radish and alfalfa sprouts but really enough is enough. I have two children, one husband and three chooks to care for without all this moving grooving food stuff as well.

Other useful things which I did today include planting out six celery seedlings, weeding and trimming the edges of lawn beside logs which are in turn edging and raising the garden beds. I also kept the children alive which was quite an accomplishment.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

insulation day

Today we used our carefully stashed home maintenance savings and bought a ladder, two bales of pink batts (fibreglass insulation wool) and some other home maintenance items which I didn't look so closely at. Something to do with soldering.

So now the worst-blocked part of the guttering is cleaned and we have 3.6 R batts through more all of the house. When we began the insulation project two years ago, 3.6 was two steps above the minimum but now it is the new minimum for all new buildings. Only the kitchen and the laundry are yet to be done now.

I planted some green beans and bought some butter beans and celery plants for planting tomorrow morning. My own beans from seed have been totally disastrous. Let's hope the timing is better for this round, bought from the local garden nursery.

I made spanakopita for dinner and felt very clever because using filo pastry does that for me. Another use for the home grown eggs and silverbeet.

I cleaned out the chicken coop and checked on the current compost heap.. Since I turned it a fortnight ago, it has matured very nicely and I'm closing that one down. In a few weeks I'll put it on the garden. One reason for this is that it is on the corner where our neighbours are building a new garage. It blocks all view of the northeast from our place and we want to get trees and climbers and shrubs growing in that corner as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Some foliage should soften the effect of the huge garage.

I did sneak out to the garden this evening and dig out a few silverbeet plants that I'd cut off for dinner. I weeded the little plot and fed the slugs from under the border logs to the chooks. I'm going to put some of the celery in this spot to replace the silverbeet. The borage is looking gorgeous and the bees are already visiting.

I am grateful for a very very beautiful day today.

Friday, December 5, 2008


Every now and then I do things which definitely put me in the nuts camp. I suspect that paying $17.50 for someone to post me a tiny jar of smelly milk with bits in it, which leaked in transit, may be yet another of those events.

The lovely Sharon offered to send me some of hers when she has a surplus and I forgot in my enthusiasm because one night when we had visitors and I showed my friend the Organics NZ magazine article on kefir, we both got quite interested and I got online and found Linda of the Whangaparoa Peninsula at the other end of New Zealand and offered her money which perhaps I should have spent on grog instead. Sharon, I could yet be pining and hoping for some of your kefir grains. I'm not sure that leaking in transit was a most desirable part of the kefir making process.

In other not-really-news today, the sun shone and I faffed around being a mother almost all day instead of gardening. Ridiculous really. I am trying not to get too jealous of people in other parts of New Zealand who are harvesting all sorts of fruits and veges. Wet can be beautiful... just not particularly productive in terms of edible things.

The pea straw which I bought about six weeks ago is sprouting peas all over the place. Maybe they are laced with terrible terrible persticides, or are genetically mutated, or are bad in some other way which my imagination has yet to conjure. But maybe they will grow peas which we will eat and enjoy without falling over. Out of the packet of zillions I planted ages ago, only one plant survived the rain and the blackbirds and it has produced three pods so far of which I have eaten two without telling anyone else. Now I think about it, I may as well go eat the third as well. I could just destroy the evidence of there ever having been pea pods there.

My borage is beginning to flower and is every bit as beautiful as the photos in the seed catalogue promised. There4 are no new plant-deaths-from-drowning to report from the garden. Which is progress of a kind.

The rocket is getting quite peppery as the air warms up. Some of my basil nearly died because I forgot to water it and it was in the porch. I gathered the peppery rocket and the faded basil and whizzed up in this evening's hummous. I like the results.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Season of sumptuous stupidity

Things I hate about December:
secret santa. Do I need to explain about stupid gifts which end up in landfill?

Things I like about December:
The annual emergency services' food bank charity drive. I've started buying up cans and jars and bags of non-perishables ready for the big drive through our town next Thursday evening.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

cow farts

Morag raised this vexed issue recently. Could the world be better without cows? Some time last year further research came out which demonstrated that the ecological footprint of a cow was huge. And bad. I found the snippet from the New Scientist and went googling at the time but it appeared then that research was in pretty early stages. So I could not find out to what extent the conditions of living of a cow made a difference or how sheep compared on the fart impact scale. Or chooks or goats or pigs... Given how very different the conditions of a cow raised on grain, living in a concrete "paddock" in a US feedlot are to a cow raised entirely on grass in New Zealand, pretty significant questions remain in my opinion.

Beyond the basics of how stock are raised in different countries, I'd also like the research to go further and help us to understand whether some breeds are more efficient producers of meat than others when their fart impacts are compared to their meat production rates. I would very much like to understand how the impacts in terms of farts (colloquialism for methane emissions unless I have misunderstood things badly) compare between the different types of meat commonly available to me. For example, beef vs lamb vs pork.

Morag raised the issue of milk and the byproducts of the dairy industry in terms of unwanted calves. A proportion of each season's new female calves will be kept by the farmer in New Zealand as new milking cow stock, to replace old cows who will be phased out of production in the coming year (yes, that will translate to being killed). But almost all male calves in New Zealand and some female calves will be sent to 'the works' (an abbatoir) within two days of being born. My Dad worked in such an abbatoir for almost all of my childhood and I rang him yesterday with a few questions.

Bobby calves in New Zealand have not had time to acquire much meat on their bones. Dad explained that unless practices have changed (he left the works about five years ago), NZ bobby calf meat goes to the US and is turned into luncheon sausage.

I have never seen veal for sale in NZ but I know it is available in the UK and Europe and is a contentious practice. This involves calves being reared especially for their tender meat. Animal welfare activists have fought successfully to ban crate-reared veal in Britain. I don't know a lot beyond that.

I am thinking that the small or self-sufficient holding in the past probably carried a cow and a bull and a calf. Cow for milk and cheese and bull for ploughing paddocks for growing food in and a calf to initially keep the milk going but at some stage either to provide meat or to replace the ageing cow or bull. Or to provide a dowry I suppose. In terms of land usage and amount of meat in the diet, it is a far cry from today's meat-rich eating practices in the western world.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

23 days

Some days I wish Fionn had less interest in maths.

Today I bought a book for my Dad. Which means I have bought presents for the big bad day for both of my parents. They are the ones whom I feel honour bound to observe traditional Christmas practices for. They have a lovely house full of everything I can imagine they could want and I rang Dad earlier today and didn't pick up any hankering for garden plants so a book it had to be. Mountain Men.

So we were in town and I found Mountain Men and decided my quest for something good whatever good means was over. But the other bookshop in town would have it also and back home I had a 30% discount voucher for them. Being an evil petrol guzzling disorganised faded, overgrown chick who is rapidly turning into a broiler, I drove all the way home and collected the discount voucher and bought the book at another shop. I wondered if that was bad too as how could you make any profit with a 30% discount plus shop overheads to pay?

Also, just to show that marketing works, I bought a child's book with another 30% voucher. I found the story of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and bought it for Fionn. For in a number of days that I am not prepared to repeat. I cannot remember anything about the actual story except that the idea of a flying, sailing car grabbed my imagination as a child and I still think of it as we trundle slowly across Arthurs Pass once or twice per year. I still think of it when Fionn speculates how far we would have to drive to get to London.

For us adults, all two of us who have to pay taxes in this household, I have a wee stash of book money in the UK and this week we get to choose a book each and order it from Amazon for our very own Christmas treat. Thank you Tania for your offer of help to make this happen. I read this morning that Margaret Atwood has a new book out on the history of debt. Being a sunny side up kind of girl, this took my fancy.

More on books. The Margaret Mahy book I've been reading is actually a book about her and her writing by Tessa Duder. Margaret Mahy: A Writer's Life. I'm enjoying it and realising how very erudite and clever and wise she is in her communications with adults as well as children.

When I've finished that then I have a recent Rose Tremain book to read from the library. It is set in modern England and I'm looking forward to it. My friend Elizabeth and I went to hear Rose Tremain talk just before we left London. At the end I told her I was moving to the West Coast where she had set her book The Colour. She paled in her enthusiasm rather obviously. Visiting is quaint; leaving London for such hicksville significantly less so. I guess she couldn't handle the rain. What a wuss.

I can handle the rain. Pinot Noir is my favourite method at the moment. My children will not get overflowing bags of tat from their mother for Christmas because she has spent much of the family's money on red wine and fish and chips. Isn't it a shame how social welfare is underfunded and overworked? Mothers who make insufficient sacrifice in order to teach the merits of capitalism and endless consumerism to their offspring really ought to be dealt with more severely.

hahahahahaha. We've got a tory government and they're threatening to shut public services down in order for some idiot to go through each budget line by line. So far they've got to our local hospital board and to our beleagured local forestry and the options look bad. measly shutting things down not-at-all-positive kind of bad.

Back to books. Our book group has reorganised our bookishness and stopped belonging to the Book Discussion scheme and stopped meeting at the pub and now we share each other's books and host meetings at our houses. Once each per year. An enormous amount of discussion has been devoted to the expectation of nibbles and to the protocol of drink. So how bourgeoise (sp?) can I be(come)?

No I didn't get out into the garden today. Yes I am grumpy.

Monday, December 1, 2008

flowers and tomatoes

I did finish weeding the watercress out and I dug that end of the old chook run over, removing the dead zucchini along the way. I've now planted the rest of the tomato plants in the new space. They may be too late going in, but I think it's worth trying.

Last night I had admired some beautiful flowers in my friend's garden and this afternoon she brought some bulbs (in plant and flower) around for me. Very very lovely. They are now living in the corner of the potato patch, which is a space where we can see and admire them often. I don't know their name yet.

Although one zucchini has died the other, planted out the front quite a while ago, is doing wonderfully and I think we will be eating zucchini by the end of this week.

I planted out the rest of my sunflower seedlings this evening. They are out the front in my yellow garden. The yellow garden is all weeds at the back (too much to attempt at once and that is still our dumping ground for large tree clippings and rose prunings) and is also sporting a riot of orange nasturtiums. I must put them in a salad soon. The pumpkins are also in the yellow garden and they are doing rather averagely. My explanation so far is that they need deep compost and do not have it. Underneath the thinnish layer of horse manure and pea straw which has been settling down and baking compost all winter, the soil is not very rich and is mostly taken up with large tree roots.

Today is Westland Anniversary Day so we were all home which is how I got to escape alone into the garden. I do appreciate it. I also made bread and turned traffic light peppers (red/yellow/green peppers in a plastic pack - yes green God I have sinned) and baked beans into something that looked exactly like that but made me feel like we weren't having beans on toast for the millionth time. I still had some garlic butter mix left over from the garlic bread I made up last night and that went on the toast with the traffic light beans most satisfactorily.

No cooked beans or gingerbread so far nor is it particularly likely. I am reading a book Margaret Mahy which I'm enjoying and being inspired re: children's literature. Favourite Handyman has spent much of the day reading The Faraway Tree to Fionn. Ah, Enid Blyton. My childhood friend. Great to see my son making friends with her as well.


I am going to have to dig. The old chook run is not ready for the no dig method. I spent a chunk of yesterday weeding the watercress out. I may try watercress in the compost but I am not putting it in the chook run ever again. It is all going to have to come out as I can see that the root structure lends itself to world domination.

Once the watercress is all out, I am going to dig some of the old chook run over. The zucchini is looking quite sick and I suspect it has caught something fungal. I recall from somewhere (Linda the Goddess probably) that zucchinis are prone to fungal things which often make them die. The beans all rotted in the ground instead of germinating, doubtless due to the rainfall sufficient to build a large lake with that we've had over the last fortnight. The marigolds are doing fine but the alyssum has succumbed to the elements and will be compost sooner rather than later.

The problem which I want to dig away is that although the chooks ate and killed the grass beneath the mulch, that was not long enough ago for the roots to have turned back into soil. Add to that the high rainfall and there is an almost impenetrable layer just less than ten centimetres down which is thick tangled muddy dead grass roots. I figure if I turn that over, the aeration and the mixing in of the straw will be helpful.

And if that doesn't quite work, then surely I'll learn some more things in the process.

In other news, we've been gadding about our community enjoying the company of good friends and celebrating the late but hopefully here-to-stay arrival of summer here in smallwettown.

I've been making the no knead bread at least once a week and often more. 3 cups of plain flour, 1/4 t yeast, 1 and 1/4 t salt, 300ml warm water. Mix and cover with a plate and leave in hot water cupboard for 15+ hours. Then put on floured bench and fold over three times and put the bowl on top of it for 15 minutes. Then sprinkle a clean tea towel with polenta and put the dough on one side and cover with the other. Leave for two hours. Oven to 230 degrees celsius. and casserole dish and lid in - this 1.5 hours into the 2 hour resting part. After 30 minutes, the dough can go in the very hot casserole dish. Cook with lid on 30 minutes and then another 5-10 minutes with lid off.

This bread has a thick crust but is very yummy and keeps well into the next day. It is also very cheap to make. I have yet to work out the cost of cooking so I can be confident of exactly how cheap. But given it takes almost no baking-work time, I think it is a great choice for cash strapped families to make their own bread even when they are short of time.

Today I am either going to hide and read all day or hide and garden in the rain all day or I am going to make gingerbread cake and more bread (resting now) and soak and cook lots of beans. I can't do anything about the many tins of tomatoes we use until January when I'll be cooking up a storm on the days I'm not drinking instead. But I can do something about the many cans of beans we use by cooking lots of beans from scratch and then freezing them. Surely I can?

I've got some good books though...

Friday, November 28, 2008

strewing seaweed

This morning the garden murderer had a big sleep and I got to do some gardening. I've hardly done any this week and a big part is that I fear that any I do will be pulled apart in the interests of science. Maybe Ernest Rutherford pulled the garden to bits when he was 22 months also, but if so then I bet his mother got mighty annoyed on occasion.

I finished weeding the garlic and strawberry bed (these are supposedly not good companions but they were in there together before I found out) and then chopped lots of seaweed into small pieces. I strewed the seaweed over the garden bed and then threw around trowel loads of sheep poo. Apparently this is 'cold manure' and won't burn plant roots if it is put straight on the garden. Chook, cow and horse manure are hot and need to be composted first.

On top of all this went a thick layer of pea straw. No doubt the blackbirds will strew this to every corner of the earth, but a girl has to make some effort to stop the weeds from taking over.

I placed a cloche over top of one strawberry plant recently which is how I got to eat three strawberries this week instead of the blackbirds. Very yummy.

The rest of the gardening time I spent harvesting slugs from underneath logs and taking them to slaughter. The chooks were very happy with this.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


All positive love and sunshine today then, obviously.

Today I learnt on the radio that the US government has pumped lots of money into the banks so that they are able to lend money more easily because the big problem is that ordinary people have stopped spending in America. They want the banks to be able to extend credit.

Today I learnt on the radio that in Australia, mortgage defaulting is on a significant rise and that in New Zealand, rent defaulting is on a significant rise.

Today on the radio they played an Elvis Costello song about how the army entices young men from poor backgrounds into the army in tough economic times.

Today in the late afternoon I spent time with the people running a programme for young disaffected people who are interested in a career in the miltary or fire services. I heard of how the military services provide widely encompassing support for its people.

Today I thought of my brother joining the army at sixteen. I remembered being the pacifist sister and slowly coming to terms with the good things the army offered and continues to offer young people.

Big price to risk paying though.

While I was listening to the radio, I made hunza pie, a dish using cooked rice, silverbeet and egg to make a pie. I am grateful again that we have chooks and silverbeet in our garden.

I am still coming to terms with the nature of the pain and the changes our community will experience as the global downturn and financial markets crisis makes it's impact here in smallwettown. I knows that material life will change for many and I suspect that we are well placed for job security to feel the pain less than others in our town, our island, our country. What I still wonder is how we will live in an interior way. How will I make sense of these changes? What will be right and wrong? If there are not enough jobs to go round, then which jobs should change? Should we stop having children? (I will personally but that's not what I mean) A society based on endless growth has a clear rationale, even if it isn't one I am ion full agreement with. A society forced to retract - well what is the rationale for that society?

Monday, November 24, 2008


We are now on the third consecutive day of rain, with the added excitement that it is now raining harder than in the weekend and blowing very hard. The poultry palace is still in the right place and I'm hoping that it stays that way.

I've worked out a key problem with my former tiny herb bed which I converted to a salad bed last week. The guttering above it is leaking something terrible. It was pouring out is afternoon (and now I expect, but I'm not going out in the squall to check).

When we first moved in, the entire back side of the house was under water and my Dad explained how to dig a trench and make a gravel bed (I forget the proper word for this) and then fill it up with soil and have better drainage. A bit more standing round staring at different times of day soon established that the water from the bathroom and the wash-house (laundry) was leaking . Which is how I got to know Ken the Plumber. Ken and I had slightly differing ideas of how quickly this job might be achieved, but he did oblige beautifully and finish it after I left him a message explaining that I was eight months pregnant, planning a home birth and wanting to have the waterworks in the house functioning properly before I went into labour.

Tonight Favourite Handyman tells me that the spouting is blocked, not broken. Which does sound much cheaper to fix. Neither of us is in any doubt as to whose job this will be. I'll buy his favourite beer when he fixes it. I try to be lovely like that.

There is water pooling all over the place. This includes the area beside the tiny once was herb and now is salad garden. This is the grassy path to get to under the house. So that needs to be dug out and gravelled I think.

Water is also pooling all around the old chook run. This area is in desperate need of being dug out and some kind of free draining paths being laid. Did I mention that I love Favourite Handyman a lot? FH thinks that the actual garden needs walls so that it can be built up a lot. I'm still wanting to try this plot without walls. I think our rainfall is so high that we almost never get the opportunity for soil to get dry and crumbly and slide down. Of course we could have a mudslide. Hmmm.

I'm almost looking forward to going to work tomorrow. We've had visitors this morning (we could because the house is still looking pretty swish from the grand weekend cleaning project), I've made banana cake, shepherd's pie, cooked chickpeas which I'll shortly turn into hummous, done some tidying (what about that aye?), knitted, read children stories, done the school run in the rain. I don't think I could sustain this level of domesticity without any leaven of gardening for two days running.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A rethink on the watercress front

We cleaned the house yesterday. If you want more exciting details of this too rare event, then look no further.

Today I made something swanky. I punched some holes in the bottom of a used olive tin, just like the one in the picture (except empty so topless), and sowed basil in it. Why do I think this qualifies as swanky? Because in wannabe Italian restaurants but not, I suspect, in Italy, they are forever displaying large tins of olives and tomatoes. I did actually like the kiwi touch of a pizza place in Wakefield (Nelson, NZ) which added tins of peaches to the display.
So I thought as basil and olives go well together and as I increasingly choose to sow my basil direct into small pots and harvest from them, that it might even qualify as stylish to have basil growing in olive tins on my kitchen windowsill. Especially as I even cleaned the windowsill yesterday.
I've been inspecting the old chook run garden this afternoon as it has stopped raining for the first time all weekend. I have changed my mind about throwing lots of watercress to the chooks. Mine didn't eat the stems and the stems (of which there a large number) have all sprouted many new plants along the length of each stem. Other plants in the same plot are growing well.
None of my tomatoes look especially healthy. I don't know why.
I let the mulch on the strawberry and garlic bed get a bit thin and have been rewarded with weeds.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Good living is all about compost. So is good dying for that matter.

So this morning I turned my current compost heap. I didn't bother on the previous site but suspected this one would benefit. I removed the piece of roofing iron which has been keeping it warm and mostly dry of late and forked most of the heap onto the wheelbarrow. The very wet stuff down the bottom from before I started using the iron had decomposed quite a bit and had lots of worms. I shovelled it all back, mixing the dry straw with the wetter material. I think this will speed the process up nicely.

I planted another tomato while my daughter was asleep. While she was awake, she created merry messy hell in the garden and in the kitchen. I didn't mind much about the kitchen.

Speaking of kitchen activity, this morning I made biscuits and had them cooled and ready to go in Fionn's lunch box before it was time for the school run. I'm just going to pause a little now to admire my own efforts once again.

before school. an entire batch of biscuits.

Muesli chocolate chip biscuits they are called.

I began to tidy up the area where the potted tomatoes will go (cordoned off from tiny fists by the temporary chook run I hope) this afternoon. Fionn wanted to play with all the tyres I had moved. Play means spread everywhere. I said no. They call me grumpy. They are right.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Local Spring dinner

I've met my biggest deadline at work and with an afternoon free to clean the house, it was pretty clear that I should drive out to Runanga to Jonesy the butcher's and do a spot of local food shopping. I got bacon ends, a stuffed lamb roast and some sliced ham. On the way back I spied some lettuces at the fundraising op shop at the old miners' hall and bought 4. Grown by a local person, hydroponically. I look forward to learning more - I hope he is growing more than just lettuce. Back in the tiny sized smoke, I stopped at the mad man from Hoki's trailer stall. I bought asparagus, broccoli, tomatoes and potatoes, all grown half an hour south of our home.

Back home I found various non-cleaning things to occupy me. On the school run I popped in to see the principal about the $500 donation to the school for gardening which I had organised. Turns out I'm well connected which can never be bad. Outside Fionn's classroom we chatted about the progress of our children's potato plants. Just three more weeks until weigh in time.

Dinner was roast lamb, lettuce salad (with the first of our own radishes), asparagus and new season's potatoes. The sun is shining and my world feels perfect.

fuel prices

Today I paid $1.45 per litre for petrol. $50 to fill up the car. That was heading close to $80 a couple of months ago. Petrol then was $2.21 per litre.

The green movement has been rather quiet on how petrol prices are a sign that we are running out of oil and that armegeddon is nigh, of late.

All the fault of the big bad men in suits, speculating crazily.

All the same, what goes up and down can go up again and with the endless talk of much deeper recession, I'm keeping my petrol consumption mostly reigned in.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Herb garden relocated

Yesterday I was thinking that I would build (that translates to get FH to build) a structure to raise my smallest herb corner another 10-15cm above the lawn level. Today I thought that that would take ages to happen and there are things I can do in the meantime.

So I weeded, then pulled out the dead sage and thyme. I dug out the remaining thymes and the oregano and replanted them in the long herb garden. I used the gaps left by the marauding chooks after their home blew over a few weeks back. I had enough oregano to plant some in the old chook run as well.

Then I dug out the whole area down about 10 cm. It's only a small area, about 60cm x 70cm, so not hard to work with. I spread half a bucket of river sand in the base and then half a bucket of sheep poo. Then I piled the soil back in, broke the clods up and sowed radishes, rocket, coriander and mesclun salad mix. I'm hoping that although it is still likely to be quite a wet piece of garden, having fast maturing plants in will be easier than poor perennials being stuck with wet feet forever.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Financial Permaculture

I've just found this very interesting article on financial permaculture. Not only is it quite a relief to see I'm not the only one wondering about these things, but the picture of the blog writer is of a handsome Italian looking dude, which adds to the experience surely.

I am frequently irritated to hear people on the radio telling us to spend and even one today telling us to borrow in order to lift ourselves out of the recession. Well I'm not that collectively minded. I'm not at all interested in spending and borrowing to fund someone else's monopoly game.

This summer we will finish the ceiling insulation and make a decent lean-to to protect the fire wood. I don't think there will be funds for underfloor insulation this year nor time to build the glasshouse, but they will happen eventually, probably the summer of 09-10. I need to make the blanket curtain for the front door before winter and get Favourite Handyman to make the rail to hold it. A few short sentences, but quite enough to keep us busy on top of earning money, raising children and growing food.

Garden notes

In the past few days I have sneaked past sleeping people and:

1. Buried two buckets' worth of Bokashi. I buried it out the front, underneath the big compost heap I made a few months ago. I layered cardboard on the bottom of that heap and that has decomposed already. I noticed as I dug that the soil is quite stoney further down which I think is good news for drainage. Drainage seems to be my number one challenge in most of my garden. After I'd put the soil and pea straw back on top, I used bamboo stakes to anchor last year's strawberry cage on top. It covers most of the rectangular pile and this will stop or at least limit the fossicking of neighbouring dogs and of blackbirds.

2. Sown beans, lettuces and basil.

3. Bemoaned to myself that no marigolds have germinated at all. Which considering I sowed at least 24, about a fortnight ago, is a terrible result.

4. Planted one sunflower in the garden and brought some others out of the shed to harden off.

5. Noticed how many different things are germinating in the old chook run. There is watercress galore, which I guess is a powerful sign of how wet our garden environment is. I found a corn seedling this evening. The chooks didn't like the corn so it stayed in the run. It isn't lovely eating sweet corn though, more agricultural feed, so I pulled it out. I threw some mesclun lettuce mix over part of the old chook run not long ago and there are some seedlings from that already. It is very noticeable how well leafy plants are doing in there compared to other parts of the garden where chooks haven't been in to decimate the slug population.

6. The potatoes are growing quickly now, or the tops are at least. I haven't had time to mound them up again.

7. I haven't moved the huge sea kelp haul from the old compost heap yet. I do need to give my second garlic bed some nutritious attention so if the sun and my daughter cooperate tomorrow, I'll be able to chop up some kelp, lift the existing mulch, spread the kelp and then replace the old mulch plus another new and thick layer.

8. My blueberries are looking poorly and all the fruit has fallen off. I think the problem is probably drainage. I am hoping they will hold on and not die completely so that I can shift them to a better spot in Autumn.

9. My sage has died. I think drainage is the problem, or the lack of it. I am going to overhaul that small herb spot completely. I want to take the surviving thymes and oregano out and then dig 10-15 cm down, put some sand and stones in, then put 20-30 cm high sides in and fill it with a mixture of the previous soil and compost and top with pea straw. I had to take the pea straw out last time as the neighbour's cat kept pooing in it. Maybe I need netting on top as well.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How to be good

Did anyone else read that book? Nick Hornby, I think. I quite liked it. And of course it was reassuring to think I wasn't/aren't as messed up as them.

Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, I have no Christmas genes.

Maybe it isn't genetic. Maybe it is plain badness. But Christmas makes me shudder. Which is not at all the proper response for a mummy or a nice girl.

Anyway, I'm writing the odd effort down here to try and get myself to find a few shreds of humanity and make myself stick to things. Tonight I did a good thing. I invited my parents to our place for Christmas. I had previously had visions of camping and having a non-Christmas Christmas. Being ridiculous, I also asked my son what he would like to do for Christmas. Being five and having been brainwashed by ridiculous people who for once are not his parents, he wanted to be at home because he didn't think Father Christmas could bring presents in a tent because there is no chimney.

So they are coming and I will have to clean the house again which is no bad thing because it is getting to be a while since I did so. It will be a bad thing eventually though because I will be cleaning. Cleaning. eugggh. I even have to do some tomorrow which is not anything to do with the parents coming in six weeks, just because even I can see the problems with leaving food to grind into the carpet. Apparently the short people cannot see problems in this respect, because they are the ones who put the food there.

Am I blogging about housework? Someone better shoot me.

But I digress back to happier thoughts. The garden. The crayfish was completely gorgeous. The children had the good manners not to like it, leaving more for us people misnomerically known as adults. I am going to bury the crayfish remains in the garden and plant something on top. Surely that will yield good growth. I am not exactly sure where. The front garden could do with some more nourishment, but that part is exposed to the neighbourhood dogs who might promptly dig the shells up again. And the bokashi which has been awaiting digging in for much longer than good people leave it. The pumpkins look undernourished out the front, though the zucchini which is in a much more richly nurtured spot, is flourishing.

Good people don't get library fines. Good people don't suddenly remember, in the middle of the night, that the library sent a letter asking for the book or the money within seven days or Baycorp would be called in, a number of days ago that could be more than seven...

At least I was nice to my Mum and Dad. Which when I was younger and had to do what they said and go to confession, was one of the things I probably should have confessed to not doing/being enough. Mostly though I recall saying I wasn't nice to my brother and sister.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

community food

This afternoon we went to friends for the birthday of their five year old daughter. We yacked while the children ate lots of pink food and ran round. Most unexpectedly, we came home with a crayfish (caught further south, but still local), which Favourite Handyman is cooking as I type.

When we arrived home, I found five tomato seedlings on my doorstep. These are from my neighbour Margaret. I lent a closer neighbour my Kings Seed catalogue after we talked about heirloom tomatoes one day. She lent the catalogue to Margaret which is how we came to talk about gardening together one day on the way home from the school run.

So now I have some new heirloom tomatoes to try. I know another person in my area a little, all due to the connections made through food growing.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

in the garden

It's precious these days, time to plant seedlings. Brighid (21 months) simply pulls them out to inspect if she sees me planting. I remind myself daily that next summer she will understand and we won't have this difficulty. I remind myself through gritted teeth.

So Favourite Handyman, (wonderful Favourite Handyman) put her to bed this evening while I was planting. Two tomatoes, 12 marigolds, 6 alyssum, a large pot of beneficial insect blend (mostly phacelia and a bit of buckwheat by the looks of the seedlings so far). I see that we have lots of watercress sprouting through the old chook run and now a few pea shoots, presumably from the pea straw mulch. The chooks mustn't have fancied old dry peas. Why ever not?

Then I found a shallow pot and sowed more rocket seed. We've been eating rocket most days and the way that it is edible within 2-3 weeks of sowing is very satisfying. I don't bother putting it in the actual garden as the yield out of a smallish pot is very good and it is particularly convenient to have the pot just by the back door for ease of making sandwiches.

The bits in between

Usually I work three half days per week.

This week is not a usual week. It is the most frantic and pressured week in my year workwise. The drama is not quite over yet.

Here are the things I have been doing when I'm not at work. I like to remind myself of them.

1. Bread. I tried doubling the no knead recipe - used 4 C plain flour, 1 C high grade bread flour, 1 C kibbled rye. I neglected it time and again. Left it to rise for about 48 hours, then the 15 minute rise took nearly two hours and then I put it in the teatowel and life really got in the way and it didn't get cooked for another six hours. I've only had one piece and that tasted good.

2. Chooks. I cleaned the poo out of the coop. The poo in one corner of the coop goes mouldy quite quickly and looks like mouse carcass and this is most, most yucky. But I had a tool, a garden fork, so I could deal with it without direct hand to icky object contact.

3. Swimming lesson. Not mine. Fancy that though, I'm being a proper mother and taking my son to swimming lessons.

4. Pub. We all need a treat after swimming lessons. Actually I've been twice this week. Thursday night as well. Treat for sitting through evening work function and behaving myself.

5. Garden. We've been eating more silverbeet and rocket this week. I dug a hole to plant another tomato this afternoon but then I realised I needed to go back to work. Earlier on I slipped in some silverbeet and lettuces. I see that watercress has taken root in the old chook patch. The chooks didn't eat the stalks and it has proven itself willing and able to make a new home and prosper.

6. Knitting. It's what I do while reading blogs in the middle of the night. I used to be good at sleeping. I guess that skill just slunk away in a corner while I wasn't looking.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I object to being labelled as selfish when I voted for freedom and personal responsibility. It bothers me that people do not see the bondage socialism brings/represents - I struggle when thinking people like yourself are so clearly pro-left. I wonder if I'm missing something.

The quote (slightly paraphrased for clarity of meaning outside the original longer paragraph) is from an email from a friend this morning. I know she reads here and hope she won't mind that I've copied her words as the prompt for responding to her thoughts here. They feed into some other related topics which I want to thrash out myself.

I come from a working class and small farmer background. I also come from a solidly national voting background on both sides. I remember as a small child in pyjamas waiting in total silence as we watched the news at six o'clock to find out if Dad, a freezing worker, would go back to work the next day. The strikes sometimes lasted many weeks and they were not empowering for my father. He has often said that there is nothing wrong with capitalism, just that he is on the wrong end of it. My maternal grandfather was a big fan of Robert Muldoon. He owns all of his books. I do believe that he is also quite proud of how the farming industry responded to the dramatic changes when the sector was deregulated in the 1980s.

I grew up Roman Catholic, one of a tiny handful of Catholic children in my class each year. There was no Catholic school in the area at the time and so we were all at the local state school.

Ideas about the deserving and undeserving poor were clearly stated as I grew up. The underserving also seemed to include those late to Mass. I cannot tell you how completely undeserving I am these days.

What is freedom? Freedom to have sex with multiple partners? Freedom to abort in the second trimester? Freedom as a GP to charge as much as one wishes? Freedom to educate ones child wherever one wants? Freedom of speech? The freedom of a decent wage? Freedom to use high or low energy efficiency cars and other appliances?

What exactly is insurance? Is it only a private concept, paid for by ourselves as individuals to protect us against everything which might go wrong and cost money? Is it something which is partly or fully paid for in taxes so that a family or individual might not be ruined by the misfortune of an accident which stops the person from working for a time.

Health care. Who should bear responsibility for our health? Is the collective use of taxes to support our population into the best health possible, irrespective of the person's ability to pay, a moral and financial priority?

Whose children are they? Should our education system be geared to provide the best possible opportunities for all children, regardless of their home resource? Can this be done in a way which also respects and supports those who wish to opt out of institutional education provision and teach their children themselves?

These are just some of the questions which I find relevant to my decisions when I participate in my democracy, our democracy. I am sure there are more which I haven't yet remembered tonight. Where I come from cannot but inform my position, but it is not a position of received assumptions.

I am going to leave my responses to these questions for a separate post later this week when I have had more time to reflect. Going back to the original quote, where the idea of bondage to socialism is raised, I would for the moment suggest that we are in bondage to something. Whether we are in bondage to fate, to God (I realise the believers will consider us all to be so regardless of choice whereas others will see this as the same as bondage to fate - I mean that if we are governed by the teaching of a God, then that is a form of bondage), to an earthly master or to the thrall of marketing images in a consumer society, all of these things are indeed a form of bondage. It is not a matter of not being in bondage as human beings, but how and to whom we are in bondage.

We all must bear personal responsibility for our lives and for our decisions and for our responses to the decisions of others. It is true that ideas about personal responsibility differ and can be shaped by political ideology. I am very wary of the idea that any political landscape prevents personal responsibility.

More another time. Please feel very welcome to post comments on this post. Anything which sharpens our ideas on what we want to give and receive in our democracy has to be good.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

a whole barrowload

We went for a walk allong the beach after dinner this evening. Sin ce our fireworks evening on the beach in the weekend Fionn, who is usually not at all keen on the beach, is now enthusiastic.

We collected lots of fireworks packaging and broken beer bottle glass for the rubbish bin. The most wonderful find was a huge piece of kelp. About two metres long and big branches 40cm wide. I went back home for the wheelbarrow and it just fitted in. We walked back with the barrow piled high with nutritional bounty for the garden.

I tried the same no knead recipe with kibbled rye which I found in the cupboard. 1 C plain flour, 1 C high grade flour, 1 C kibbled rye, mixed with 1/4 t yeast, 1 + 1/4 t salt and 300ml warm water. Leave in warm place about 20 hours. Then fold over 3 times and leave to stand with bowl on top for 15 minutes. Then sprinkle a clean teatowel with polenta and put dough on one side in ball shape and cover with rest of teatowel. Leave to rise for 2 hours. 1.5 hours into last rising, heat lidded casserole in oven at 230 celsius. Cook for 30 minutes with lid on and 5-10 further minutes with lid off.

The kibbled rye experiment was successful. My next experiment will be doubling the recipe to make a larger loaf.

I transplanted six Great Lakes lettuces tonight. I bought these from our garden centre once I realised we suddenly had space to fill after the big wind. They are traditional crunchy heading lettuces which is what we missed last summer.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Food journey

Being up when I should be sleeping yet again, I've been perusing blogs, many of them new to me. I've been reflecting a little on where we are on our food journey. Maybe "food journey" is a bit pretentious. I'm thinking of what foods we eat, what are our habits, given that I've now been reading about ethical food issues for a loooong time.

I grew up eating food from our family garden. The earliest story of my interest is of me eating green tomatoes from the garden as a toddler. When I was eight, my parents moved out into the country at the beginning of summer, onto an acre of land which was planted in strawberries, raspberries and boysenberries. There were fruit trees around the edges of the property, lots of potatoes and I forget what other vegetables. The fruit was very yummy and another part of the experience was of manning (or 'childing') the small roadside stall which came with the property. It had a fabulous old cash register which was still in pounds and pennies.

As a second year university student flatting for the first time, I started a small garden with kitchen herbs and lettuce. Throughout my extended student flatting days, I started several gardens in different homes. Sometimes flowers and sometimes vegetables. Sometimes all I had was a couple of pots in the window or at the top of the stairs.

In Auckland in 1999, I started to get interested in organics, spurred on by a friend I stayed with when first job hunting. Later in the year I moved back to Ponsonby (ah hah hah hah the wealthy days!!!) and started to shop again at the organic grocer's and the organic butcher's in Grey Lynn.

2001-2005 we were living in London. We experimented with a few different organic vege boxes and with buying direct from the markets. Once I found that Favourite Handyman liked the markets I was onto a winning arrangement. One of us would take the tube to Liverpool Street every Sunday with a tramping pack on our backs to buy up the lovely organic food from Spitalfields Market for the week. For the first four years we were in a tiny flat where nothing would even grow in the window (not even a cactus!) but in our final year in London we were in a terraced house with a back lawn and I was enormously happy creating a food garden in it.

Back in New Zealand in 2006, we were saving for a house deposit and organics in our tiny town were either unavailable or four times the price of conventional alternatives. I quickly realised that the only way we could afford to eat 'organic' food was to grow it ourselves. Later that year we bought a first home. It was a lovely little house with a good sized flat back section. As it was an ex-rental, there was almost no garden so I had a clean canvas to work with.

Two years later and even conventionally grown broccoli is currently $3.49 per head. I can understand why so many people say they can only afford to buy frozen vegetables. But this time we have a good supply of swiss chard/silverbeet in our garden and so that supplements our bought frozen peas for the green part of our meals.

We have had two entirely local meals recently. Whitebait fritters. We have been very lucky this season and been gifted three meals' worth of locally caught whitebait. We whisk one of our home grown eggs up, add the whitebait (about 500gm) and then cook it in spoonfuls on the frypan. The butter probably comes from somewhere else in New Zealand, but overall it was pretty local and utterly delicious.

I've been making bread off and on all year. The no knead recipe which I found on Joanna's website recently has turned out to be extremely accommodating as well as easy. Yesterday I left it for the fifteen minutes turned on the bench part for about two hours as I forgot about it (yes I was in the garden) and when I did put it in the oven it was very sticky and not that promising looking. It still came out tasting very good.

I never buy fresh herbs any more. I have parsley all year round and mint, oregano, basil, chives, thyme and coriander in the garden in the warmer months. I don't buy garlic from the supermarket any more. I have either ours that we grew or the garlic I bought in bulk to supplement ours from an organic grower up near Karamea, which is still on the West Coast. I never buy leafy greens. We've had our own kale and/or silverbeet all this year.

Other foods are still works in progress. It is true that we've grown our own beetroot but it's also true that we only grew about six. We ate only our own potatoes for about a month at the beginning of this year and had our own salad tomatoes for all of January. I did need to buy in tomatoes (locally grown) in order to make pasta sauce to freeze. We have yet to eat a single fruit from our garden, but that may change this year - raspberries, blackberries, feijoas, blackcurrants and blueberries may all be ours if the Gods shine upon our garden.

I coveted chooks for a long time before we finally got them in Spring (September) of this year. They have been a wonderful addition to our garden, kitchen and family. We are now growing vegetables in the area they first lived in and have set them to work cultivating and fertilising the area around the feijoa trees. In Autumn, when the potatoes have all been harvested, we will moved them onto the current potato patch. That is also the highest part of the garden and so the least boggy in the rain. They will be nourishing that area all winter, getting it ready to become the glasshouse spot next Summer.

There is still a lot we can do to grow more food on our property. I have been focusing increasingly on improving the soil conditions rather than asking what vegetables we want next. The principles of organic gardening and of permaculture are starting to sink in. Our very high rainfall and the challenges that presents in terms of poor drainage is my biggest challenge.

We still eat fish, though not as frequently as I would like given the local fish shop closed down and I refuse to buy it at the supermarket. During busy times we eat quite a lot of meat. Up to four times a week when one-two would be better. Canned tomatoes and canned chickpeas feature heavily. I would like to be using fewer cans, but they are still better than packaged, processed, expensive ready meals. Or so I think.