Friday, February 29, 2008

library day.

Today was library day and bokashi day. I'm focused on librariness at the moment. I got two books on making garden buildings like chicken houses and greenhouses. They are for Favourite Handyman though I am interested in giving some guidance on which structures I want most. For inspiration, look no further than the beauty which Tania's husband has built.

I also got the Murupara (no.89) issue of New Zealand Geographic. Cos it's often interesting and yet also costs $15.00.

I decided to have a (reading about) art day simply because it is a long time since I have done and the art shelves looked good. Very quickly I spotted a book on an artist whose work I have liked for squillions of my minutes on this earth: Gretchen Albrecht. So I shall have something more to think about than the aesthetic pleasure I experience when looking at her paintings once I've read the book. It's called Illuminations.

Then I found a book called Thrift to Fantasy: Home Textile Crafts of the 1930s - 1950s. (The link is to a review from The Listener 2005 archives.) It is by Rosemary McLeod, a person who has written many nasty pieces of journalism in her time in my opinion. I have less knowledge of her more recent journalism because years ago I decided not to read her columns any more. Apparently this book has nothing to do with her loathing of the welfare system and I'm looking forward to reading it.

All this will be after I've finished The Omnivore's Dilemma. OD just gets better as I read further. I'm persuaded more powerfully than before of the merits of valuing local food over organic food. The phrase "drenched in fossil fuel" is one which will likely stay with me a while. Michael Pollan has a blog which I've found interesting.

While on the topic, the arguments about carbon zero and food miles which I observe bandied about in relation to NZ exporting food to the UK are ridiculous in my view. It doesn't matter to me if NZ food growing techniques use less fossil fuel than UK practices with the same product, sensible food chains don't involve importing food you can grow locally. End of story to me, even if the economic ramifications for NZ are unpleasant.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Magnolia update

We saved the magnolia tree. Victory for the tree huggers. And peace and love for the school children and the Board of Trustees. That BOT had to bow to the power of the people.

and from cliche land, good night.

The Omnivore's Dilemma

I am finding Michael Pollan's booking riveting. What can't America do to corn? I'm only a third of the way through but I've learnt a lot. I really appreciate our NZ beef now. Raised on grass as they are most suited to. In recent months I've stopped in the cereal aisle multiple times and not bought anything (beyond porridge oats which I try to get at the organic food coop in the next town) cos the ingredients list is so unpalatable. Pollan's book has reinforced my thoughts and reaction on commercial cereals 200%. I used to make my own muesli but the last three times I've burnt it. Can't try that again soon cos BREAD is my new challenge.

The bread challenge

Here are Rachael's bread making instructions. She has made the title redolent (I just really wanted to use that word actually) of God, but even if you are an atheist, I think the bread instructions look very accesible.

The first bit just involves mixing some flour and water together and leaving it for a while. Like quite a while. Well surely I can do that. If I can find a clean cup, a clean bowl, a clean tea towel and some clean bench space, I'll even start it tonight. The bench space might actually be the dining room table but never mind. No one has died in my house yet as a result of the fact that I don't do jobs after the children are in bed on Thursday night.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The overprotective mother

It's me. Nearly every time I let babies out on their own in the garden, nasty, malevolent, hungry critters (almost definitely slugs and caterpillars) eat them. I've even lost an entire parsley plant this week and I'd never noticed a problem with predators and parsley in the past. The non-transplanted seedlings are doing fine in the seedling area though, in their little pots. I've got some up higher on the old school desk, but they're are surviving pretty well on the ground as well.

So the next transplanting round won't be until my seedlings are so well established that root bound-ness becomes their biggest issue. Not everything is germinating but the brassicas are and they are caviar to slugs as far as I can see (or chocolate ice cream or prime steak or whatever makes you salivate and tuck in fast). The other predator is my daughter - she is responsible for a number of casualties from the seedling area. I've even considered getting a playpen to put the seedlings in to protect them from her.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


pain in the arse.

Noooo. or maybe yes.

I don't know.

Parent Teacher Association.

Desperate for more parents to get involved. Really desperate by the sounds of the school newsletter.

All this activism and involvement malarkey I go on about til people have to leave to be sick. I like to do it with romantic aims. Save the whales and join Greenpeace. Tick. Done that replete with posters of boats and sealife on my student walls. Support the call for a just world with New Internationalist. Tick. Done that and got some posters then also. They went on the walls of my classroom when I started teaching. Get strong and defensive against violent strangers in the night. Tick. Organised and attended a women's self defence class in my local community in the early 1990s. Fight poverty. Tick. Got involved in the Child Poverty Action Group in Auckland. Stop the War. Tick. Marched against US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Got involved in the Socialist workers group in London briefly around then. That's a whole story for another time. Being Green in the community. Tick. Got involved in a local recycling lobby and promotion group here in small town last year. That had its own dramas also.

And now it appears that Fionn's school needs parents to get involved. They listed the things the PTA fundraises for and I approved (I don't always). It was the community feel of the school that we warmed to when we went to the first school gala 18 months ago. That won't continue without parental involvement.

But PTAs are so unromantic. So not glamorous or visionary and actually likely to be time consuming (no matter what they promise) and frustrating.

So am I going to be a 'good' girl? A 'good' mummy? The last sentence makes me want to go and drink the school fees money at the pub now and not bother to get dressed tomorrow.

I don't know.

The meeting is next Monday.

Spring Bulbs

Bought some Bluebell and freesia bulbs today. I'm planning on putting the Bluebells in a semi shady spot out the front by the roses and leaving them there to naturalise. Not sure where the freesias will go yet but I can never have too many spring bulbs. I've got other bulbs in the shed, lifted anbd divided from the last two years, to be planted in the coming months. Tulips, Irises, Daffodils, Crocuses. This year I'm planning on planting in fairly tight clumps for both better visual effect and also so I can easily leave them there all year and only lift and divide every second year.

I had for a moment forgotten my new garden area by the garage. I should put all the bulbs out there to welcome Spring. hmmm.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A story from Central Otago

Once upon a time, soon after World War Two, the good people of the New Zealand Broadcasting Service took their huge truck around parts of New Zealand, recording interviews with people they met. This was hot new technology, developed during the war. One of their trips was through Central Otago, an intensely beautiful and also harsh landscape. Although it's now famous for wine and skiing, it used to be famous for gold. So the people interviewed in the 1950s were mostly as old as possible, sons and daughters of the earliest white settlers.

These physically enormous tapes (made of acetate) are of great value to linguists who are interested in researching the origins of the New Zealand accent. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time when the very wonderful Elizabeth Gordon of the University of Canterbury was looking for a history researcher to find out more about the interviewees from these tapes and to interview and record their descendants. Which is how I got to spend ages in libraries in Otago and Wellington and to drive round Central Otago looking up tiny museums and interviewing descendants of the interviewees. Along the way I fell in love.

With this:
So I went on to do my MA on women in the liquor industry on the nineteenth century goldfields of Central Otago. Which meant I got to go back there. New Zealand women won the right to vote in general elections in 1893 on the back of the temperance movement which argued that the woman's vote was a vote for temperance. Throughout the same period, parliamentary debate on liquor licensing often focused on the question: did a woman behind the bar raise the tone of a drinking establishment, or were hotels so corrupting that women had to be protected (read: prohibited) from running them? What I found on the goldfields was a much wider range of experiences. Wonderful, fabulous women running very astute hotel businesses. Degenerate lushes causing a stir with their drunkenness on a regular basis. Inventive women running sly grog shanties which turned into peppermint tea houses when the police came to call - at 3am.

Here on the West Coast I'm back in old goldfields country again, which I quite like.

So what has this got to do with anything? I just can't separate my life story from this idea of growing an activist. Growing an activist has just been me growing. I wasn't born difficult I'm told, (it started when I was about six according to my Dad). I've been fortunate, extremely fortunate, to have had many opportunities to get inside the heads of other inspiring people. And I love the stories of all people. And so I thought I'd share this little box of my history.

I will go back to history again some day. I may yet do more work recording the stories of our living taonga, the elderly men and women of our community. I won't do it for money from the elderly though. That's not giving dignity to the silent in our community. And giving the silent, the quiet, the underheard, a voice, a la Paulo Friere, is something I think is really worthwhile.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Inside out and upside down

Today Favourite Handyman and I did jobs inside. We didn't enjoy it. Neither did the children. We would rather be outside painting, gardening, lawnmowing, stacking wood or indeed any other outside activity.

So now I can see the top wood of my dresser again, I've sorted through more piles of already paid bills paperwork and other windowed envelope stuff, I have a three drawer unit to store my sewing and knitting stuff in (how did that grow?) and I've found a calendar for this year and put it by my computer. Favourite Handyman has shared his extensive collection of laminated National Geographic maps with us (they had been in storage in Auckland all the time I've known him it seems) and we have them decorating many but not yet all the walls in the house. Nearest to my computer I now have a poster of the 'Earth's Dynamic Crust'. Plus some photos of us in the Aran Islands, Ireland in 2001.

Not sharing cos' it's exciting. Just recording that I am being a good girl and preparing for winter when we will have to live inside more.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Chickpea heaven

Catching up with Joanna's blog this evening, I found two recipes I intend to cook soon. This one is Moroccan Spiced chickpeas and is from a link on Joanna's site. Being, as usual these days, totally out of touch with the Guardian/Observer fashionable world of food (The Observer Food Monthly used to be my favourite Sunday of the month when living in the UK), I am grateful to Joanna for updating me on the Mount Athos diet. I am so behind that I'm only just starting The Omnivore's Dilemma now, because today is the day which our library finally managed not only to purchase it but to complete the dizzying and apparently highly time consuming chore of cataloguing it. They have to use three computers to catalogue it you know. Takes a month on average it seems. So the chickpea patties (second link) are just what I've wanted for ages as an alternative to the deep fried felafel which I love from Lebanese or Greek Souvlaki places but I refuse to deep fry at home. I make enough mess in the kitchen as it is.

Both recipes are from canned, which is most useful for New Zealanders given the difficulty sourcing

bug your bank

I have a new soapbox. I made room, it wasn't hard. Didn't have to throw any of the other soapboxes out either.

When banks send out letters offering pre-approved extensions to my credit card limit, I get very cross. I find the message it sends - that credit is easy, acceptable and not in any way dangerous - morally repugnant.

So yesterday I was in our bank for something else. And I asked the lovely lady at the bank whether I could have a note put on my account barring all such offers. I also said I found them really unethical. She looked at me like I had just said 'marbles are coming out of my ears'. Then checked on the computer and advised me to ring the number on my credit card. So back at home I did just that and now we will not get sent more any pre-approved credit card limit extensions to our home. I told the telephone person that I found it highly unethical and he smoothly explained that not everyone gets the letters as if I should feel flattered by getting the letter.

hmmpff! snort!! Flattered by an assumption of financial gullibility and incompetence? Flattered by a hope that although we are generally reasonable managers of our money in this household, they would like us to start incurring interest payments of in excess of $2500 per year!?

Paying interest on our credit card is a rare phenomenon at our house. But we are at the moment, hence some very tight budgeting to clear it as soon as possible. Last month we paid $50 in interest. From 1 March the interest rate on most standard NZ credit cards will be 21.95%. No that is not a typo. No wonder so many people feel they can't afford to buy free range chooks or New Zealand made clothing.

So I would really like to encourage as many credit card owning people as possible to ring their bank and ask for a stop on pre-approved credit extension letters. Tell your friends. Tell your friends and their parents especially when they are in their late teens and about to become vulnerable to unscrupulous banking practices for the first time. They can get a stop on such letters (including an invite to own a credit card at all) from the first time they open any bank account.

I've put a poll (I've been looking for an excuse to create a poll for a while) on credit cards and bugging your bank on thed sidebar of this blog.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

growing an activist: Paulo Friere

The adult part of my reflection (cos if I don't get round to this then Rachael will either tell me off or be disappointed which I can't have.) on triggers for an activist outlook and hopefully both a history and future of activist action, is rather random. I'm thinking spiral learning rather than linear.

I was introduced to Paulo Friere in 1998 by John Gourley, himself an influential thinker and activist in my opinion. Friere's key gift to me was his passion for education as empowerment. Not as empowerment through the gaining of certificates and degrees, but as a means of articulating ones own reality, of giving voice to the dispossessed. He achieved great things in terms of literacy amongst Brazil's poor people. More on him here.

Education is not just how I live, it's also how I earn money, as a high school teacher. I've also had the very great pleasure of getting to know people in the UK and in New Zealand who have taken the proactive choice to home educate their children and also those who have taken on significant commitments to supporting their local school. That has been a most fruitful encounter for me. As our family adjusts to new commitments this year (Fionn starting primary school, me returning to high school teaching), reflecting on what education offers and means is a frequent theme.

Gardening is very much my self-education project. Armed with the support of books and other tips, I choose my own seeds, plan my garden and own my own success and steep learning curves.


No more. I'm not doing my dinner diary anymore. I don't want to reflect on how we eat all in a pot things and leftovers all the time anymore. I'm pleased with my success at not having bought fish and chips at all. I can't summon the will to wonder whether we could be eating more silicone and less acid foods and upping our photo-bio-unmodified-nonsense intake either. I'm just pleased no one is starving at my house and when I'm thinking about food, then there are some awesome blogs out there for me to read instead. If I was feeling diligent and thorough, I would link to Rachael's latest blog (hopefully it will show up in links if you click on her profile - Rach in recent comments on this blog. But I'm not. at all.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Missing the garden

I've written a lot of posts not about my garden of late. That's cos I've spent very little time in it this last week. I miss it. I still get to inspect it every day, just small matter of paid work interfering with longer projects. Some beer traps are working very well to collect slugs. I'm less sure about at least one and probably more of them as the one year old apprentice pulled one up, spilt the beer down her frock and then sucked thoughtfully on the glass rim as she wandered round the rest of the garden. Changed her. Sending your baby to her childminder reeking of beer isn't cool. You shouldn't do it either. As for whether she drank dead slugs, I prefer not to reflect on that.

I do have lots of tiny seedlings in pots which will be ready for transplanting in 1-2 more weeks. I've had to play the identification game (mostly based on the pictures in the Kings Seed catalogue) as I didn't label any trays or pots. I'm confident that I have mizuna and corn salad, purple sprouting broccoli and kale. I also have arugula and then there are some pots where nothing has germinated and others yet to be identified. Of course I have more swiss chard. I can never have too much swiss chard. This winter my family will eat dark green leaves every single day and never get sick.


Tonight: the long version ....
It was a beautiful sunny morning when red riding hood picked up her basket and went to gather some food.
oops it was sunny and I had no gorgeous trug but a bowl to collect food from the garden in. I also realised I was in a long purple dress and not pale blue which made me feel much better - more bohemian and less mumsy. Borlotti beans (not enough to store for winter - my total harvest was 74 beans), a leek, celery, garlic, zucchinis, tomatoes, thyme, rosemary all from the garden. Washed chopped and in the slow cooker with bacon ends from the local butcher (free range pig tick tick), kumara, carrot and home made tomato sauce. Slow cooker on and off to work.

Then I cooked more red rice as I like it so much and felt very clever as it was all yummy.

Then I went out to book group at a nasty new restaurant chain and ordered a wine which was totally worth it and my special treat in this frugal month. I also, against my planning and better judgement, ordered a lemon meringue pie and it was bland and expensive and I'm just frustrated to have spent $10.50 on a mediocre dessert when I have otherwise been really really good at not wasting money of late. The evening of chatting was nice though.

There are leftovers from tonight's bacon dish so I have 12+ hours to think of a way of serving that up again tomorrow night without it looking exactly the same as tonight.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

the mumsy look

That's the magnolia thbat we're aiming to save in the background. I'm the one mostly covered by my baby daughter Brighid. I had a fairly strident feminist phase at university (and still consider myself a feminist now) and I think I imagined myself wearing purple and doc martens and owning a motorbike at 36. And here I am in pale blue, holding the baby in small town New Zealand. I still find the mantra 'the personal is political' hugely relevant, and baby blue or boldest purple, I'm not going anywhere meekly.

Growing an activist

Activists are trees that keep growing, I've decided. I was thinking about activism (taking action for a cause outside my own personal needs is my current working definition) this morning and my first rambling thoughts had me pulling up trillions of life details. Which was telling in terms of how I define myself. But more telling about my whole life story than I care to share in minute detail online. So I've picked out a few key experiences that I think are really important.

1. It's 1981, I'm nine years old and New Zealand is being pulled apart by debate on the Spring Bok Tour. An all white team from South Africa is touring New Zealand and many many New Zealanders are protesting about the implicit support of apartheid that receiving this team gives. My beloved grandfather says that sport and politics don't mix. No one in my family protests against the tour. I disagree with Grandad for the first time ever.

2. I spent some of my early years in suburbia. Clean house, loving family, reasonable school life and a routine and sameness which could destroy the souls of many. My Mum was and is a devout Catholic and the hymns, ritual and symbolism and sermons provided a sense of life outside of suburbiana. I remember thrilling to the romance (for indeed it was romantic to read about) of the stories of sacrifice and commitment in the books on saints' lives which I got out of the children's section of the Church library.

3. I had a pleasant enough experience at high school. Of course at the time I moaned and avoided hard graft and lusted after the wrong boys but really it was fine. I was in the top set in a decile 7 school and had absolutely no idea I was alive. In the seventh form, I did peer tutoring of English as an additional language students and also of juniors struggling with English. One teacher asked me to support a particular student in her class. When we did newspaper reading tasks, he identified with the article relating to prison issues as his brother was in prison.

So that's some key childhood stuff growing me into an activist. Part two soon.


I am thrilled, yes thrilled to report that there are no longer sausages in our fridge waiting to be eaten quickly.

Tonight: sauteed sausages-mushrooms-onion, red rice, carrot salad. I'd never cooked red rice before - Camargue rice from France according to the fancy packet. Worthwhile find though. Carrot salad used lettuce, parsley and garlic from our garden and carrots/honey/olive oil/lemon juice not from our garden.

Monday, February 18, 2008

What exactly is activism?

That'll be my question to ponder over the next 24 hours. I don't have the library access and time to read what the Sociologists think it is and the 25+ thrashing-it-out articles which no doubt exist. So I'll settle for thinking about it for a day and mapping my own activism history. Rachael you can map yours too!!

zucchini pickle

'specially for Joanna. My zucchini pickle recipe comes from a wonderful New Zealand recipe book called The Cook's Garden: For cooks who garden and gardeners who cook, by Mary Browne, Helen Leach and Nancy Tichborne (three sisters) and first published in 1980. My aunt first introduced me to this book and I bought my own copy as a student in 1991. I had started a small vegetable garden at the back of our student flat and used this book for both gardening tips and recipes.

When our flat was arsoned in 1993 (burglars who got careless we think), my bedroom was gutted but as my recipe books were in the kitchen, they survived. My Cook's Garden is still smoke stained. I went on to purchase the sequel and also their bread book, though I've not been making bread for a long while.

Now I go back to this book for things like pickles and chutneys but also because there are lots of great vege-based casserole recipes which fitted the bill well for cheap student living and now for wholesome budget family cooking.

On the garden side of the book, I notice how times have changed as I read enthusiastic tributes to modern hybrid seeds. Given their commitment to good taste (as in yummy, not 'discerning'), I suspect if they were writing now, they'd be talking (re)discovering heirloom varieties.

Zucchini Pickle
1 kg zucchini
4 large onions
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1/2 cup salt
2 cup sugar
2.5 cups white vinegar
1 cup water
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons celery seed

Chop unpeeled zucchini finely. Peel and chop the onions. Remove the seeds from the peppers and chop the flesh. Combine the vegetables in a large bowl. Sprinkle the salt over the surface and cover with water. Leave for 2 hours (I tend to leave overnight). Drain. Rinse thoroughly with cold water and drain again.

In a preserving pan boil the sugar, vinegar, water, turmeric and celery seed for 3 minutes. Add the vegetables and cook for 15 minutes. Spoon into hot dry jars and seal.

Saving the magnolia

One tree at a time I guess. Today Brighid and I joined a group protesting against the local Catholic school's plan to chop down a beautiful old magnolia tree which is on land bequeathed to them and now site of a proposed extension to the school playground. We stood in front of the tree and looked solemn for the photographer from the local rag. I don't know much about local body politics and effective activism, but today was a reasonable entry point.


Tonight: mixed up 70s dinner really. Remember sausages and potatoes and carrots and beans? Mostly overcooked in separate pots for which there was no automatic dishwasher. Well tonight was sausages-garlic-onion-carrot-potato-beans-mushroom-tomatoes-swiss chard plus herbs all mixed in together on the stovetop. The beans were authentic 70s style - overcooked and unpleasant. Everything else was okay. Of course in the seventies we called swiss chard silverbeet which was a reasonable approximation to the colour which the once green veg came out as after 45 minutes of boiling.

Got three packs of sausages out in the weekend for a barbecue which the rain prevented happening. So even more sausage meals to come this week.

Still no resort to the chippie so far. That's my best result.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The walnut tree

Months ago I threw a pile of unwanted walnuts in the forest on the far side of the garage on the grounds that they would take too long to decompose in the compost or Bokashi. The garage forest is no longer and today I found a walnut seedling. So now it is in a pot and perhaps we'll have a beautiful walnut tree one day.

I transplanted lots of veges into larger pots today and parsley into the garden. I've laid about six new beer traps for the slugs. I've caught caterpillars in them before now too. I went to the local nursery and bought more comfrey and have added it to the front garden - the permaculture nutter sign in effect.

I also bought seeds of these:
St Brigid's anemones. My daughter is named for St Brigid. Must look out for plants with name connections to the rest of us.

Made zucchini pickle this afternoon. Zucchinis from our garden. Oh blah blah. How often can I skite in one season?


Tonight: Cabana sausage sandwiches. I had lettuce and tomato from the garden; don't know that anyone else bothered about vegetables.

Sausages are likely to feature heavily in this week's meals. Exciting aye?

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Tonight: OUT! Favourite Handyman had a voucher for dinner at the local pub, friends looked after the children and we had a lovely time. Scallops and steak and chips and lettuce for me. Then we went to the beach and watched the sun go down.

NO cooking by me.

NO dishes.

What is there not to like?

I also got a tip on a work colleague who has lots of practical gardening knowledge. I'll be following her up for sure.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Tonight: fish in a gentle stir fry in the frying pan. Nearly all meals I cook are in one pot. One for breakfast and one for dinner. That's quite enough dishes thank you.

fish: from the local fishmongers - locally caught. I don't do locally caught fish guilt, though I am aware that it could easily be added to my guilt repertoire.

celery, lemon thyme, garlic, tomatoes - home grown

beans - home grown and gifted to us by our lovely friend Paul.

potatoes from Marlborough as per two nights ago.

carrots and broccoflower and onions and soy sauce and pepper and olive oil from *the shop*.

It took some serious discipline not to end up at the chippie tonight. I had to continually remind myself that the chippie is $15 spent with still no veges in our tummies. The letter saying that our credit card interest rates are about to go up helped. I've only ever paid interest on our credit card once before, and I'm highly motivated to clear the whole thing as asap. I'm shocked that so many people regularly pay such exorbitant interest sums to their bank.

AND I've finished the apron. Very proud of myself. Wearing it now.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

proud little post

I've set up the sewing machine and turned half an old crib/basinette sheet into two nappy wipes. I'll wash and use them before sewing the rest up - not sure if they need to be double thickness as the fabric isn't especially worn.

Then, tadadadada, I started making an apron. I had a small coffee table tablecloth from the Sallies, an exuberant orange and green flower pattern marred only by a large pale yellow stain in the middle. Stains be damned, this apron is for getting dirty anyway. So I sewed two corners over to make room for my arms. I then used an old piece of curtain, also from the Sallies and a remnant of the curtain skirt I made a few months back when I was having a watered down Scarlet O'Hara moment, to make the ties and the head loop. I've done the head loop but will leave the ties for tomorrow.

Today was raining, in case you can't tell.


Tonight: leftovers from last night, on toast. With cheese for the others and mayonnaise for me to go on top or underneath and some more of the rather large container of red lentil spread sneaked in. It tastes fine, just slightly depressing to look at the container and think how very many days I/we shall be eating it for.

Still, takeaway expenditure avoided for another night.

In town, for we do live in something a little bigger than a village so have such grand terms as town to bandy about hopefully, I did buy a rather necessary purchase for the garden in the form of a rigger of beer this afternoon. Harrington's Muddy Boot to be precise, which the slugs love. I never thought to plant any beer traps in the punga raised bed, and as a consequence the brocolli plants are stripped bare and the kale much diminished. Naturally, we'll have to drink most of the bottle first. Slugs don't get first pickings.

Next task is to set up the sewing machine which has just been repaired and see if I can sew for a little longer this time before breaking something.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Blade steak casserole done in the slow cooker. Not suitable to the hot weather particularly, but suitable to when I had five minutes to cook today.

Home grown: celery, thyme, oregano, garlic

Organic beef from down the road which where we live just happens to mean nearly 100kms away. Spuds from the Marlborough farmers' market - in laws bought them for us on a recent visit. The rest comes from - - - - *the shops*.

Oh and four guest ingredients, much prized: my borlotti beans. They are actually so beautiful to look at that I have considered drying and shelling them all and putting them in a jar to keep on the kitchen windowsill just for looking at. Then I wondered if they would go mouldy or shrivel and look unattractive after a while so I put them in dinner and I had one on my plate and yes it tasted very nice.

I have another food question: the faba beans from the Spanish dish Fabada, are they butter beans in NZ speak? What is the closest bean that I can grow? When we came back from our first trip to Spain, I adored that dish so much that at least twice I travelled from zone 4, East London, to the a street near the Portobello market on the other side of town just to buy the ingredients to make 'the real thing'. And at local prices, not Borough Market/Brindisa prices. We have a nearby specialty butchers here on the coast which does black and white puddings and perhaps the other ingredients. On my list for winter then.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Rock dust and hippies

I found this post funny, about rock dust and the hippy fringe of permaculture. Permaculture in Brittany is another site I like to read.

food questions

I have a few.
1. Where can I buy some chestnuts in New Zealand? Organic or sprayed, I'd just like to get my hands on some chestnuts. I used to make a chestnut and lentil soup courtesy of Nigella Lawson in the UK and while those Fougier canned chestnuts were easy to use, the price and food miles makes them ridiculous here in small town, NZ.

2. Borlotti beans. I shelled the first one tonight and the beans are so beautiful to look at. Red speckles. I need to find out what I must do to dry them for winter, as that is the purpose of the crop, though it will be a small crop this year.

3. Celery. I have to decide what to do with the lots of celery I have. I'm not a fan of it raw. I read a book on blanching it for the freezer, but would like second opinions before I do that. I have celery in the garden for using in soups, stews and casseroles (whatever the difference between a casserole and a stew may be). Except that my celery won't survive a frost and winter is when I'll want to use it in my cooking.


Tonight: leftovers. Curry and risotto and also some red lentil spread stuff which I had a go at making yesterday.

Then we had fruit cos the box of fruit from Treedimensions arrived and it was seriously yummy. If you live in the South Island, then I'd highly recommend trying a box.

Monday, February 11, 2008


tonight: chickpea, kumara and swiss chard curry. Swiss chard and garlic and coriander home grown, all the rest from somewhere else.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Sea Between

by Elizabeth Smither. I got a few novels out of the library recently as my diet of garden, food and newspaper reading seems to be rather a thin meal for my brain. I read whenever I'm feeding my daughter to sleep. Makes for an enjoyable time instead of getting titchy if she doesn't settle quickly.

Back when we rented a house which came furnished with a tv, I saw a programme about a NZ artist called Michael Smither. As it looked at his history, I watched with some fascination as he described his time as a young married man in Central Otago, with several small children, painting and poor in a cold (read literally and often constantly freezing if you know the area in winter) bach. There was a painting he did of his wife Elizabeth looking exhausted and pained with the children. She was bloody furious with him cos she could have done with some help round the house and with the children, not a painting of her looking and feeling like shite. Being the all round nice guy, he then waltzed off with some other woman, leaving Elizabeth to raise the babies. At the time I thought I'd heard of Elizabeth Smither the poet but couldn't remember anything specific about her work. Well now I'm getting a taste of her work and I like it a great deal.

Really nice to be reading fiction again. It rained several times today, so the novel reading while my apprentice slept was an excellent alternative to housework. After I'd read for a while I pondered what I would do with the small garden strip on front of our bedroom, currently home to a little bit of parsley and one comfrey plant. I want to deliberately get that comfrey plant to spread and invade the rest of the strip. And I also planted some more calendula seeds this afternoon which I will plant out amongst the comfrey in a few weeks.

Will I look back in later life and wish I'd cleaned more or read more?

manure, compost, household waste

I've been thinking about comments by Patrick at Bifurcated Carrots and Linda Woodrow of my permaculture home garden Bible and reflecting on what exactly household waste for the garden is, or could be interpreted as.

Linda Woodrow talks about compost a lot. She talks about green compost, worms, chooks, manure, comfrey, seaweed. She encourages home gardeners to get their hands on lots of it and shows how to do it without buying any commercial garden preparations. She is a huge fan of the chook tractor method and suggests worms if you can't have chooks for any reason. She doesn't mention Bokashi but bokashi has been very useful for turning kitchen waste into garden food at our house. I suspect its popularity is fairly new in Australasia - probably newer than her book, or than the edition of her book owned by my local library. I have drawn on her instructions to make fertiliser brews out of horse poo, comfrey and sea kelp.

Patrick has written on his blog that he is unconvinced (if I can paraphrase him roughly) that manure and other fertilisers and soil conditioners are necessary or even appropriate for the home gardener, except for using home compost as a way of disposing of household waste. Patrick has a lot of intelligent and interesting things to say on his blog generally, and this idea has hung around me waiting for me to process it for some time.

So with regard to some processing, here is where I've got to:
I think the rub comes with an interpretation of what household waste is, or *should* be. If you are vegan, then it stands to reason that animal manure is not going to be part of your household waste. We are not vegan in our four person household. Our eating habits are enthusiastic of many types of animal and vegetable derived food. I have used the clearings of Rayleen's chook house (straw or bark mixed with chicken poo) on my compost and I'm delighted with the results. We've slaughtered and eaten three of Rayleen's unwanted roosters and bought and eaten eggs from her on occasion. Those remnants are in fact part of the household waste of our food. It's just that we are so used to being so divorced from the source of our food. Likewise, sheep manure (haven't got it yet but have a source in the form of Rayleen's sheep farming brother) is okay on our soil to me as we do eat sheep meat. I accept that we don't actually eat horse products, but still happy to collect horse poo from the small farms just a few kilometres from us. They want to get rid of it, so reusing on our garden seems to make sense. We live close to the beach and I'm happy with my ethic of removing a bag of plastic rubbish from the beach each time I collect a bag of kelp. Given the rubbish volume, I usually collect 2-3 bags of rubbish for every bag of kelp in practise.

I think that what I'm arguing is that if we take cognisance of a fuller range of processes and inputs which go into producing the food that we eat, then putting manure back into the ground of a home garden won't seem so artificial after all.

An apprentice

I have a gardening apprentice. I wasn't looking for one, but she was so keen that it was churlish to refuse.

May I introduce to you my apprentice, Brighid. She is twelve months old and it was her enthusiastic copying of my transplanting efforts which both wound me up and showed clearly that I was going to have to find an outlet for her green fingers - a more appropriate one.

So we set to work on the invasive garden patch. I had more bokashi to bury and so we worked on that, finding weta (I think) larvae as we dug. Brighid has an interest in soil testing. She found a large clod of earth and held it to her face like a hamburger and took several bites.

She acquainted herself with a number of tools and has an admirable ability to fall over multiple times with forks and trowels in her hand without piercing her stomach. Useful skill.

Brighid is an enthusiastic tomato taster and today even felled a tomato plant in its pot. She seems to prefer green tomatoes to red ones.

The invasive garden patch now has bokashi buried in it and pea straw on top along all of one side. I've cleared the weeds along part of the second side (third and fourth sides are fences) . Favourite Handyman muttered about clearing the tree stumps but I don't want sterile suburban lines. The stumps can stay and more things can grow over and around them. I've also arranged (you might say ordered but I really was more gentle and polite than that) for FH to start a new compost patch on the edge of the invasive patch next time he mows the lawn.


Tonight: risotto. beans, brocolli and mushroom. I cooked it. Mixed feta in part way through instead of at the end because I was yacking on the phone and not concentrating. Tasted good. Beans locally grown and gifted by my friend. Garlic, lemon thyme and oregano home grown. Everything else bought.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

the dinner diary

New low in topic discussion here.

I decided at dinner that I should keep a record of our dinner meals and see if what I think we're eating (cost and nutrition factors) and what we are actually eating bear any resemblance. I'll stick to just dinner as if I did all three meals, I might kill myself with my own boringness.

So tonight:
corn on the cob (fresh)
oven baked wedges (home made)
hummous (home made with tinned chickpeas but home grown garlic, basil and parsley)
cherry tomatoes from the garden.

We are on a serious budget mission at the moment and maybe this will help keep me from buying any ready made fish and chips. Due to the gluten free and egg free status of dinners in our house, we never get supermarket ready meals. Apart from baked beans. Saviour of me.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Hopelessly behind

Two friends have recently announced that they are stopping their blogs. Is blogging going out of fashion? No doubt I'll be the last to work it out if so.

Thanks Nikki for the archive meme. I don't think I want to do the meme but I'm flattered you chose me. Though I do wonder with this meme business generally whether it isn't a bit like tupperware parties. Someone asks you to host one and gain lovely hostess gifts which sounds lovely. Then you have to invite everyone you know and wonder if anyone will turn up. And bake cakes. And clean the house. I of course have tupperware parties every week because I love doing all the aforementioned tasks. hiccup. I am also a hopeless liar.

If anyone is out there, could you explain what meme actually means or stands for please?

Today after coffee group (clean toilet and bathroom, bought biscuits including mallowpuffs. Gotta have some treat for that cleaning) the baby went to sleep and I had an hour to chill out. The moon calendar says today should be a rest day but I didn't want to rest from the garden; I wanted to get out in the garden and rest from the house.

So I have now added compost over the rest of the punga raised bed and then stole some more grass clippings from down the road and added that over the top.

Big skite about my compost - heaps of worms. Hundreds of writhing red worms. I have red and brown worms in my garden.

Another project ready for attack is the tobacco bed. I need to find out when to harvest the tobacco, presumably sometime within the next six weeks. Then I need to either layer it with newspaper and start a raised bed on the no dig model and thus deal to the many weeds. Or weed the plot and build it up using the current soil. I don't have enough materials for option one, but not sure if I have sufficient time and patience for option two. I'll probably put a broad bean crop in there. Not that I liked broad beans last season, but they do the nitrogen thing and then I'll put peas in front in spring. eventually the glasshouse will go on this site. But not sure of the time frame for the glasshouse or chooks. The chook house I looked at last weekend was not at all suitable. Very odd design which used up masses of lawn space but gave relatively little room inside for the chooks. No run with it.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

today, tomorrow

Not feeling inspired on the post titles tonight then.

Today for dinner, from our garden: garlic, red onion, carrot, swiss chard, tomatoes, beetroot, celery, potatoes. Not a bad haul.

Useful also in that it made room for me to fit the last 22 leek, 2 kale and 2 brocolli seedlings into the garden. Which I did.

I have some healthy looking shoots coming out of my seed pots - going to need to be creative to find homes for them all in a fortnight. Companion planting might be out of the window as I named none of them and yet have never eaten let alone grown some of the seeds.

Tomorrow: not going to paid work (which I started this week - all going very well so far and enjoying it) so should be relatively cruisy. No. Why not? Cos I invited coffee group round to my house. Cue usual domestic torment.

If I invited you and your brood round to my house for 10am, would you prefer:
a) home made carrot cake but a dirty toilet and bathroom, eat it outside in the sun
b) no home baking but clean toilet and bathroom. Drink cups of tea outside in the sun
c) it rains. you are inside. if the lounge is clear of clean laundry, then the toilet and bathroom will still be dirty. No show on the home baking front.

I don't dare look at the weather forecast. I'll have a lovely time with the coffee group. It's the preparation which tortures me.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

National gardening day

Actually it was nothing of the sort. It is Waitangi Day in NZ today, a public holiday and an opportunity to reflect on our national identity. I decided that we would all be better off if we gardened more and that I should lead by example.

So today I did compost and transplanting.

The lunar calendar says today is good for making and applying compost. I like the lunar calendar because it prompts me to do things now instead of some vague time that I might not actually get around to. I use the lunar guide from NZ Organics magazine. Indeed I have it photocopied and stuck on the study wall. That's cos I lost the magazine and was in the local health shop last month (where I bought the lost magazine in the first place) looking up what to do and Kerrie the lovely shop assistant went and photocopied the moon pages for me. Life in small town is sweet like that.

I don't do that fast compost make it in one day method. I leave it all in a big pile for ages and eventually turn it over and discover lots of worms and earth. Working well for me so far. Today's composting project was one half of our big raised bed. The other half still has some potatoes in it. I spread a big barrow load of home made compost and then went down the road grass clipping stealing. Nice big barrow of that then went over the top of the compost and it was ready to be replanted.

Two problems. One I have no brassica seedlings ready to be transplanted, or indeed any other kind if I wanted to break my crop rotation plans, which I don't. Two the lunar guide says compost, not plant. The second problem was easily ignored and the first was solved by a trip to the local nursery. They know me well there. I visit nearly every week and spend an average of $3.08 per trip, maybe less. Always nice to window shop. I got kale, leeks and green brocolli seedlings. I've now planted some of the leeks and most of the brocolli and kale.

These leeks, which are being planted amongst the tomatoes, are bigger than my own seedlings which I transplanted a few days ago. This time though I remembered what Linda Woodrow said and planted them very deeply. The theory is that this way I will get long white stems. Leeks are $2 each at the supermarket at the moment, so my 13 cents leeks will be a great bargain if they all grow up strong and tasty.

Sungold cherry tomatoes rock. I recommend them unreservedly. They taste fantastic, crop prolifically, taste good even when the leaves look dodgy and mature very early. We've been eating our sungolds for six weeks now, whereas the fruit on our other tomato plants are mostly still green. You can buy them here from Kings Seeds if you live in NZ.

Monday, February 4, 2008

dark wet day

I'm no longer the Mother of two pre-schoolers. Indeed the request to bake cakes and help with the school library and - God forbid - join the PTA, will probably arrive this afternoon.

Baby and me are home in the mess, home on this dark wet day, home without either of our big boys.

And it's raining. Pouring.

If it would clear up, then I could garden. Like chocolate for my soul.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

rain, fruit trees, seed germination

It's raining here, meaning a lull in gardening activities. Just as it was beginning to rain on Saturday evening, after a burst of rain the day before, I decided that the feijoa and tamarillo trees absolutely had to be planted. We've only owned them in tiny pots for a month after all. I couldn't get the spade or fork into the ground until the rain came, but on Saturday evening I dug holes twice the depth of the pots, half filled them with home made compost and then planted each tree, put most of the soil back in, watered with seaweed/comfrey brew and then mulched with pea straw. Then the warm rain settled in to do its job. All this detail to remind myself that I did it properly, like the books recommend. Not sure if fh followed this procedure for the lemon tree last year - it sure is taking a while to settle in and start growing.

Seed germination hasn't been particularly high of late, including from seed packets with a better rate earlier in the season. I think the hot dry weather has dried out those little pots too fast, and am hoping that the current warm rain prompts my seeds into growth. Maybe I'll even get some success with carrots. Ha ha ha. Still haven't decided on an occasion special enough to harvest my ONE carrot out of the previous two sowings.

The beer traps are working well though. I have six set up and each has caught at least three slugs. No good setting them down in this rain, but I'll put fresh beer down when the rain stops.

The pods of my borlotti beans are going a deeper red over time. Haven't eaten any. I was growing them for drying for winter use.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

projects #2

There are five thousand projects of course, but here is the second post in as many days on forthcoming projects. This is what the newly available garden project looks like now. The neighbour on the other side of the garage was inspired by our chopping and took a big hunk of tree overhanging his garden out which has opened up even more light and space. I'll be opting for a raised bed approach as the large tree will be drinking up most of the nutrients in the existing soil.
And in photo two, you can see the climbing garden project for next summer. Our pungas are in the foreground. Beyond them the dead weeds still scatter the lawn but the part to notice if the mulch down the side by the fence. Before the conversion of our unwanted trees into mulch, the lawn fell away near the fence, making planting and mowing impossible and instead providing a great habitat for slug breeding and weed seeding. Now the mulch is in, over a layer of newspaper. We also have chicken wire and larger wire mesh to use along this fence to create a paradise of beans, sweet peas and peas and other flowers/climbing foods next summer. In winter I will do some more research and work out if we can organise the plant choices so there is something blooming or growing on the fence as much of the year as possible.


Cherry tomatoes have been a hit this year. We've been eating them since Christmas. The other varieties in the garden have been growing more slowly. In the photo you can see a variety from my rainbow blend mixture which is shaped like a capsicum. Something is eating them and it isn't humans. Well it is in respect of some green ones (a one year old human, daughter of someone who also liked their parents' green tomatoes straight off the vines as a toddler)

Also, some small insect or grub/bug is eating these ones, but not /touching the cherry tomatoes nearby.


Here is my harvest drying in the sun. The garlic bed is now home to lettuce and pansies. Pretty and soon to be tasty. Mizuna, corn salad, parsley, coriander and arugula will take over in Autumn.

Friday, February 1, 2008

new projects

This is the front of our property and of the garage above. This picture is after the trees were felled but before they had all been mulched for the garden or sawn up for firewood. This area was all in darkness because of a thick stand of unpleasant looking, invasive trees. I had thought it was ungardenable but actually now the sun is on it, there is mega potential. This area gets the late afternoon sun, that lovely golden hue as the sun stretches out it's last rays for the day. The crop of yellow weeds in front of the flax looks quite nice and has inspired me to think of a yellow garden. Pumpkins, zucchinis (for their food and their yellow flowers), sunflowers, daffodils and other cuties yet to be decided, I think. I'll start by planting bulbs in Autumn around the edges.
The photo above is another of the plot which was all lawn merely months ago. The woodchip mulch has helped the plants cope with the sun and the liquid fertiliser has helped with growth. I'm always thinking this area isn't lush with growth the way it *should* be. Forgettting that I pick from this garden for lunch and dinner every day and the plants keep producing. In the bare-looking patches are small lettuces and chard. I put in three beer traps after losing sevferal lettuces seedlings to the slugs in this garden. The beer traps proved successful and hopefully the replacement seedlings I put in today will thrive. For the beer traps, I used baby food jars, one third filled with beer and buried them in the garden so the top of the jar is level with the top of the soil/mulch.
The photo above is of my invasive patch. The area under pea straw has bokashi buried in it and will be planted in Spring. The plastic bag to the left is full of seeded docks which I don't want in the compost. A bit closer to the centre from the bag is the mint area. The invasive nasturtiums and convulvulus have kept the roots of the mint cool and damp. This area was also full of ugly invasive trees when we moved in and I'm yet to decide exactly what I will do with it. Some afternoon sun. Quite a cold spot in winter in the morning.
Three of my borlotti beans. Good to see they will grow, though a very small harvest this year. I think they are growing in quite poor soil. I'll get some poo down over winter.


My parents in law spent four nights with us recently. Fil and Favourite Handyman achieved great things around the section. We have an old shed right on the boundary line. You can't get planning permission to build new sheds in such places anymore and it's a really useful shed. Which is rotting in places. So fil and fh moved into the neighbours' back yard for a couple of days and stripped the shed wall of weeds, waterblasted it, replaced the rotten boards, used builder's bog liberally and the painted the wall. Ten days ago I hadn't heard of builder's bog; now I know it is very useful stuff. Probably environmentally bad, but still very useful. Then fh had to go back to paid work and fil fixed numerous doors and windows so they shut properly, fixed the gate so it hangs properly and the baby can't crawl through the bottom, made me a chicken wire cage for the leaf mould I'm going to collect this Autumn, noticed another broken fence and fixed it and fixed the broken part of the sandpit. Mil played with the children which I also appreciated.

Today I transplanted leeks, rainbow chard and lettuce. I watered much of the edible garden with seaweed and comfrey brew. I also sowed seeds of kale, purple sprouting broccolli, pak choi, mizuna, corn salad, florence fennel, coriander, carrots, beetroot and rainbow chard. Now it is raining which is excellent timing.

Last night I got home to a message about a chicken coop. b-i-g excitement. I've had a wanted notice at the local supermarket for the last fortnight asking for a small chicken coop. I'm off to inspect it tomorrow.