Monday, March 31, 2008
Friday, March 28, 2008
Our tobacco is taller than my green fingered neighbour has ever seen. Like double the size. Guess there is good nutrition in that part of the garden after all. Not sure why the borlotti beans did poorly nearby. Perhaps they just went in too late. Also by the tobacco, we now have an Echinacea plant in flower. Very pretty too. So that can stay in for a few years until it is time to dig up the root and harvest it for treating winter coughs and colds.
This nitrogen stuff is doing my head in. I thought I had it more or less sorted. Green stuff equals nitrogen. Brown stuff equals carbon. Should have 80: 20 carbon: nitrogen for good compost.
Then a while back I read that wood chip mulch squeezes nitrogen out of the soil which you might want for the plants. Oh. Okay I can work with that.
But then someone tells me that putting fresh lawn clippings on garden squeezes nitrogen out of the soil. HANG ON!! Surely you can't tell me that both ways.
I don't know. Balance is best and all that. But I think I have more to learn about the chemistry of nitrogen and how it becomes active in the soil in order to sort out good advice from rubbish info.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
The fire of old rose in me. A shadow of the endlessly obsessed historian of women's lives of the early and mid 1990s, but a sign that the fire had never gone out. I have set myself the goal of finding the names and something of the lives of three actual Blackball women over the next few months, and writing it up for May Day celebrations in Blackball in 1909. Drawing on the methods I developed (ha! stumbled upon by just looking at everything I could lay my hands and eyes on until I worked out what archival wonders had the best yields) when writing my MA thesis on women and the liquor industry on the Central Otago goldfields, I plan to look for women through the lens of booze. There will be a temperance list to look at somewhere I suppose as well.
For those outside of New Zealand, New Zealand was the first country to grant women the right to vote in national elections in 1893. This legislation was won on the back of the temperance movement, powerfully supported by the Women's Christian Temperance Union. My thesis challenged the dichotomy that women = good and booze = bad and good women didn't run pubs. Some very fine and successful women did exactly that in Central Otago. I had a great time researching the wild women, the drinkers and the sly grog sellers, as well.
Once I've got the temperance list out of the way, I'll be onto my favourite stuff. Court records for drunkenness arrests. Liquor licensing records. Newspaper reports relating to booze and boozers. I think much of it may be at the Christchurch branch of National Archives but am hopeful that I can make a start on the West Coast.
This is going to cut into gardening time. I might even use some of the student nanny's visit to get started. oooooooh I must be fired up to use gardening time for an indoor pursuit.
So this means the nanny student can look after the children while I garden as much as possible for the next two weeks. I'll probably lay her low with some disease despite our own good health. No less than three students took sick during placements with me last year. Pneumonia, tonsilitis, arthritis.
Also this morning I took possession of 6 cubic metres of oregon, a type of wood which will burn very hot I'm told. So we now have beech, pine and oregon. We may burn a little coal overnight if the weather turns very cold mid-winter. This winter wood buying and stacking makes me feel more in tune with the seasons than when we relied on gas or electricity in London and in Auckland.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
I'm having a wonderful time at the celebrations of the centennial of the 1908 crib time strike which is credited as being the starting point of the national labour movement in New Zealand. I can grow vegetables and they will feed people. Growing community, growing community strength through union solidarity, is just as important.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Thursday, March 20, 2008
1. You get to grow it in the heart and darkness of winter, when your inner gardener is otherwise starved and having to subsist by re-reading seed catalogues a thousand times.
2. You can make a ritual with it and have a feast on the shortest day and then plant some at midnight. I'm still gunning to achieve this one. The reality other years has been plagues of flu which mean we are sick and so are half our friends. Vomiting bugs were a gross variation the first year in wetville.
3. It's good for you and available pretty much all year round. Though it isn't fresh out of the ground year round, drying and ageing makes it more potent. I really don't think anyone should by garlic tablets though when you can put the real, unprocessed thing in your food so easily.
4. Plaiting it makes you feel all clever a la Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie. Well I'm sure it will when I do actually plait some.
5. Tabbouleh and hummous are mega-ly wonderful for your body. Raw garlic and yummy.
6. You can make garlic spray. Now I've read this in quite a few places and not really taken it on board. But today I was chatting to the local market gardener. We only have one and he lives/grows nearly 40 km away. Twice a week he tows his vege cart up to our town and sets up shop on the side of the main road. We got chatting (that would be me grilling him and him being kindly) about the white buttefly menace and he told me about the garlic spray he makes and uses. I couldn't use a tractor to drive over the garlic bulbs several times to squash it, but I could use a bucket and water to let it ferment for 7-8 days and then make it into a spray and spray it on the brassicas. So then it turns out he grows his own garlic but doesn't bring any up to our town as it isn't popular. So I have his number so I can pre-order some next week as I'll need more if I'm going to make garlic spray.
7. When you roast garlic slowly in the oven and then squeeze it over your roast meat, it tastes divine in a totally different way to eating it raw or quickly cooked).
8. Apparently roses love growing beside garlic. I've asked our neighbours who win prizes with their roses for some recommendations on good roses for certain spots in our garden, including the proposed site for most of next season's garlic, and they have invited the kids and I round to view their (new) house, their roses books and their roses whenever it suits us. They are also going to give me the contact details for the mushroom compost people in Christchurch which is what they grow their divinely successful garden on.
9. Who wouldn't want to grow some of their own garlic? It's currently $20 per kilo for non-organic garlic in the local supermarket and that's probably for Chinese garlic. And just to properly make us gasp, organic (though not certified that I could see) garlic, from the USA and thus drenched in fossil fuel when we can grow our own perfectly well here in NZ, is retailing at no less than $50 per kilo.
10. I've a feeling that garlic is surrounded by lots of folk lore in various countries. Hopefully I'll be back with more details when I've learnt some stories.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Not content with that, Brighid and I drove south for ten minutes and bought up every bag of horse poo we found for sale on the roadside. Just seven chock-filled supermarket bags today. Then when we got back I spread one bale of peastraw across the ground, fairly thickly, to make a wide path shape towards the Spring bulbs patch. The I tipped four bags of horse poo on top and spread it across the straw. After that, I layered the second bale of peastraw over the top. That should rot down nicely over winter.
I tipped the rest of the horse poo into my horse poo compost site and then added the remains of another bale of peastraw on top. Still hankering to go beachcombing for kelp further north (the beach very close to us doesn't yield much seaweed). You can never have too much food for the garden. I've also noticed that whoever mows the local rugby fields dumps the grass against the bank where it is rotting away nicely. I need to take the car, the garden fork and a few large sacks down there also.
Monday, March 17, 2008
The freesias and bluebells are my new bulbs for the year (though I want more). I still have various bulbs - tulips, irises, crocuses, freesias and daffodils which I lifted in Summer and which will be due for replanting soon. If I can make the time to create some new soil in front of the garage, then I will plant them out there. Should be pretty to arrive home to and not take out edible growing space from the back garden.
Today I did something I should have tried months ago. I bought some fine frost mesh from the garden nursery and laid it over my brassicas. This will prevent the white butterflies from laying their eggs on my plants, or at least that is the plan.
I'm still eating cherry tomatoes off our vines. The non-cherry ones are all caterpillar-ridden. The harvest is slowing markedly though and fruit is often split. They'll be for the compost soon I suspect. Swiss chard, leeks, celery, basil and marigolds are growing around the tomatoes at the moment. I'll leave the celery in as long as it survives or until we eat it all. The leeks are for Winter/Spring but the others will die off or get eaten as winter approaches. So all this will leave space for lots of garlic. I ordered some garlic from Koanga Seeds in the weekend to add to my own cloves from last season (which in turn originated from an organic grower in Raglan, Waikato, NZ) and also some from the 3kg of garlic I bought from an organic grower in Karamea, West Coast. I haven't forgotten about keeping some bulbs for Patrick.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
The food thinking I've been doing since reading The Omnivore's Dilemma prompted me to get The History of Food out of the library again. I'd had this book out before but not read much. The History of Food is by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat and I read the version translated into English by Anthea Bell. It was first published in 1987. It's scope is huge and I am only dipping into chapters or parts thereof at the moment.
There is a section on the symbolism of bread and cakes. There are comments on the links to The Lord's Prayer, to the phrase 'earning our bread', and to the Eucharistic host. I have learned that the place-name 'Bethlehem' means 'house of bread'. And lots more. I recommend this book. The word 'companion' literally means to share bread together. Latin com = together and panis = bread.
Then the significance of rituals, or stories, of traditions and of their meaningful links to the seasons, brings me to Easter. Shouldn't we be having a harvest festival instead in the southern hemisphere? As a child, I used to think that Easter was about ushering in winter, with the sadness and Lenten fasting. Now I see that as a northern hemisphere festival with history more ancient than Christianity, Easter is really about sayting goodbye to winter with the resurrection of Jesus. My daughter Brighid, born late January, might, I thought, have arrived early February during the festival of Imbolc. I only learnt about Imbolc, a festival which welcomes Spring, when we were researching names for our second child. I hope we will have a festival to welcome Spring in our community later this year.
Evetually, despite it no longer being Summer, I noticed that the garden is dry and watered it today. I also killed many caterpillars.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
I loved Pomiane's post above. Having spent much of this evening seriously and genuinely reflecting on how to be good, Pomiane's post is exactly the fun poking irreverence I need. Specially as there is currently no booze in this house. I am plotting a babysitter (Favourite Handyman will be away) for St Paddy's night though.
I made a new raised bed on the no-dig method in January. Here it was, newly made:
Since then, the zucchini plant to the left in the photo has grown and given us many meals until two days ago it mysteriously died on the spot. One day healthy, next dead. The other zucchini plant is still producing well and provided the marrow for tonight's marrow pizza (yes really, but anchovies, olives, garlic and capers made sure of decent punchy flavour). The spindly tomato plant is still spindly and produces some but not many yellow oval tomatoes. You can just see the strawberry plant in it's tyre and bird netting to the right. I've let the runners grow and two have bedded down in the older raised bed and will be new plants for me next summer.
In the January photo, I've used newspaper and chicken manure mixed with bark - the by product of my friend Rayleen's night shelter for her chooks. Since then I've added some grass clippings, wood chip, horse brew fertiliser and seaweed fertiliser. And today I could wait no longer to put some plants in. I poured the remains of my 'garden mix' bag of soil over the bed and then planted St Brigid's anemones bulbs around the edges and then my own seedlings in two rows in the centre. I planted swiss chard and purple sprouting broccoli and feverfew and thyme. That's what I had left in my seedling growing station so why not. I opted not to plant the two pots of pak choi cos they are just an irritating slug magnet.
No car today which was good for preventing me from further purchases at the garden nursery. But tomorrow I do need to investigsate this thing called frost cloth which prevents white cabbage butterflies from laying eggs on brassicas.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
So at our place our main strategy is traps plus keeping food in mouse-proof containers. The modern kind of traps are very easy to deal with. The mice don't splatter (FH tells me horror stories of being sent up to deal with rat traps and rat splatter in the ceiling as a teenager), I'd say death is fairly prompt and you don't have to touch the mouse when emptying the trap. We've caught three this week.
What else today? Planted six swiss chard seedlings on the edges of the invasive garden and six kale seedlings across two established beds. All from our friendly local garden nursery. My own weren't the size I wanted for planting straight away. I still have some seedlings of my own for planting out in another ten days or so. I am now growing three kinds of swiss chard: Ironman silverbeet, Argentata beet and Rainbow Chard.
Favourite Handyman has started to harvest the tobacco. Two plants' worth are hanging from the ceiling of one of the garden sheds now. He also repotted some flax and cabbage tree plants a friend gave him. I don't actually want cabbage trees in this garden but at least while they are in pots we have some flexibility.
Monday, March 10, 2008
I will have a co-judge called Fionn, who is five. You understand that the prize will be awarded for the scarecrow which appeals to us most after our own. Of course we are making our own - that's what got this whole idea rolling.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Let's have a scarecrow making competition! Anyone? You know it would be fun...
Today was Bokashi burying day and while adding yet more Bokashi to the edges of the invasive garden patch, I thought it could stand some green manure crops - time to add some competition to the mint/wandering jew/convulvulus/nasturtiums. So in the absence of having any specific green manure crop seed in the seed box, Fionn and I planted some more beneficial insect blend. Time will tell how cold sensitive it turns out to be. At least this will be en masse which is probably how it should be, not lonely plants on the edge of my vege gardens. I am starting, rather tentatively, to push back the invasive part of the invasive patch. I cleared some weeds this afternoon to dig the Bokashi in. Around the actual tree stumps is tricky as I can't dig Bokashi in because of the tree roots and they are too difficult to dig out without specialist (read: expensive) equipment. I think soon I will be ready to haul out a much larger crop of weeds and then create some kind of solution which allows for growth of new plants on top of the tree roots. I could layer newspaper and build raised bed patches around each stump. The soil itself is good, just perennial weed infested. It would be an excellent spot to have a scarecrow. Must discuss that with Fionn.
Saw Raelene the wonderful in the supermarket this afternoon. We made plans to clear out her chook house tomorrow afternoon (i.e. and pass the old bark/chicken poo mix to me in recycled chook feed sacks). She also mentioned bringing back some sheep poo from her brother's farm soon. Big excitement.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Friday, March 7, 2008
1. Transplanted more purple sprouting brocolli, pak choi and swiss chard. Chilled out over the loss of more seedlings to the bold apprentice. Opted not to use the watering can after she half filled it with dirt.
2. Emptied the seaweed fertiliser over my newest (made in January) raised bed. I buried the kelp chunks in the wood chip. I read in the latest Organic NZ magazine that you should only plant legumes in wood chip mulch as it will use the ground's nitrogen stores to decompose. I figure the seaweed should help and indeed it looks like I'll be starting off with legumes in that garden rather than garlic. I was thinking strawberries and something else with them after that.
3. Decided the reason the kale is yellowing on the lower leaves in the wood chip mulched potager (such a lovely and also swanky word for veg/flower/herb garden) but is not in the punga raised bed which doesn't have wood chip on it. Woodchip eating the nitrogen. So although I'm not sure that comfrey is nitrogen rich, I know that it is generally very nutrient rich and I have large leaves out the front. So I cut them, leave them to wilt a little round the kale and then remember the wind factor this evening and buried them slightly under wood chip, still around the yellowing kale. Next lot of chicken coop clearings (mixed bark and chicken poo but I would have thought still nitrogen heavy) will go into this garden to balance the carbon-nitrogen ration out better. Should be 80:20 carbon: nitrogen from memory.
4. Filled an old potting mix bag with seed heads of a weed I have yet to identify plus some dock seed heads also - this mostly from the lawn which has needed mowing for about a month. They won't be going into my compost.
5. Cut laterals off the tomatoes, some of them huge. I had stopped this task a few weeks ago because I'd thought I'd done it for long enough. Why? They kept on growing, many at funny angels and from the base of the plant yet again. Chopped any flowers off as with the cooling weather, any growth needs to go into the last tomatoes with a viable chance of ripening.
6. I've been thinking about crop rotation. It will be much looser than I'd planned in Spring of last year. Currently I have swiss chard and brassicas together because that is where the space is - nothing fancier than that. I will put garlic in where the tomatoes currently are and something else with it. That patch had legumes last winter. The newest bed will get lupins most likely. The tobacco bed, which needs more weeding then I can face even contemplating, will give way to broad beans for winter. Not that I like them especially, but it makes sense for some of the winter legumes to be edible and perhaps this time I will make fava dip. The bed nearest the kitchen which was brassicas and swiss chard when I first planted after we moved in in October 06, then garlic and now mostly pansies and lettuces, will give way increasingly to perennial herbs. I have chives, feverfew and parsley there so far. The other herb spot is too small to suffice.
7. I learnt that caterpillars like tamarillo leaves. A lot. Killed several this evening. The feijoa tree has settled in nicely, much better than the lemon tree, which is going to need replacing by the looks of it.
8. Discussed tobacco drying with Favourite Handyman. Needs to be done very very soon. He has a plan which involves pegging the leaves to old washing line which used to be hanging in the garage at our previous home. Then hanging that in the big garden shed, and the spillover in the garage if need be. So I guess I'll go buy hundreds of pegs tomorrow. They'll get reused no problem.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
The owner of our nursery was a key player in saving our magnolia and is often seen riding his bicycle around town. Ozone friendly guy and both knowledgeable and helpful to boot. I've been chatting with him and his staff about a range of winter foods and will be buying shallot bulbs and asparagus corms from him in a few months' time. In return, I've been sharing recipe ideas for kale.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
In 2004, Felicity Lawrence published an excellent book called Not on the Label: What really goes into the food on your plate. Lawrence and Joanna Blythman (author of, amongst other excellent books, Shopped: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets) are two seriously good food writers (or food issue writers for want of a better term) who introduced me to some really shocking facts surrounding our modern food chain. No one since Lawrence and Blythman has come close in impact on me until now with Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. Lawrence's book included a chapter on bread and introduced me to the the Chorleywood Bread Process. I took particular note of the increased yeast involved in the Chorleywood Bread Process as lots of yeast products disagrees with me generally, despite me loving nothing more than sitting down to read a good book with crusty white bread, red wine and blue cheese. Now, several years later, I'm thinking about it also in the light of the supposed gluten intolerance my eczema prone son has. I'll go back to the 'supposed' element later.
As regular readers will know, all three of you, I've been getting into breadmaking again recently. My sourdough bread tasted good yesterday and today (all one batch) and although I've made bread from scratch before (had a big phase in 1996 when we lived a long way from the shops in Dunedin with neither car nor public transport), I've never made it without shop bought yeast until now. So I have been thinking about whether gluten intolerance for some people is an intolerance to modern wheat and gluten processing methods. Fionn didn't respond adversely to the sourdough bread I gave him last night.
Michael Pollan's treatise on modern corn is mega frightening. Well it is if you acquire most of your calories from processed and pre-prepared foods. His discussion of the myriad ways corn can be 'reborn' with the aid of modern technology brings to mind a large octopus, reaching its tentacles down every supermarket aisle. I won't be at all surprised if there is an epidemic of corn allergies in the next decade. He mentions the way that products often say 'contains either soy, corn or canola oil' because whichever is cheapest is used on any given day. Corn products feature heavily in gluten free processed foods. Until now I've just partly hoped, partly presumed that these gluten free products are healthful and without deep ethical tarnish. Well I'm having to wake up on that one. Fionn is definitely intolerant of eggs (shame but true) but I'm considering keeping our household consumption low in gluten but including some slow-risen home made bread for everyone.
Biofuels and droughts
I find it utterly credible that we are paying higher prices for wheat in New Zealand currently because of the drought in Australia. This article is a good snapshot of issues surrounding grain prices worldwide. I'm suspicious of what is going on in the US after reading Pollan's book. The Us has a huge backlog of corn at least. Has ethanol really made that fast an inroad or is it a new context for hiking profits of the small but very powerful number of large grain processing companies?
Grains and food security in New Zealand
Today I collected the latest Organic NZ magazine from my local health food shop. This issue features several articles relating to grain and I'll be retiring to a bed, one with no children in or near it, very soon to read them.
grain topic. I read a while ago though can't source exactly where, that commercial wholemeal flour is still highly processed as they separate the husk and inner part (please excuse the lack of appropriate terminology) and then add them back together again. In the UK I used to source varioous flour mixes for making bread from Infinity, a whole foods coop. That's not an option available to me now, but I have ordered from Biograins before and am considering ordering from Terrace Farm, an organic grain farm in Rakaia, mid Canterbury.
Actual achievements in the garden today. Emptied the beer traps and have caught heaps in the punga raised bed. Rescued one Purple Sprouting Brocolli seedling from the bold apprentice and transplanted it. Pulled caterpillar infested tomatoes from the vine and dunked them in the water-filled wheelbarrow to drown. I'm not in the garden as much as I want to be at the moment but things seem to be going okay. The nasturtiums (they grow wild here) are climbing over everything down the back of the garden in my invasive patch and also all round the letter box (which isn't actually on our land). I might buy some seeds of different colours in Spring and see if I can naturalise some more colours. Though maybe they'll all revert to orange and yellow. Fun and inexpensive to try.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Beautiful painting above by Gretchen Albrecht. Called Sheba.
Last night's dyeing was partly successful. Brighid's dress came out a very pretty lilac. Perfectly even colour and the fact that (as I'd expected) the stiching stayed pink doesn't detract from the overall look. Favourie Handyman's shirt is problematic though. The lovely Bernina lady used cotton thread to stitch the white pocket on so that the colour would take. But two things happened which weren't perfect. First the cotton thread appears to have shrunk in the hot washes related to the dyeing. Puckering the shirt pocket. Second the white pocket has turned out a different shade of blue to the rest of the already blue shirt. So I need to go and talk to my Bernina ladies again. I think I need to get some already blue 100% cotton fabric and then dye the shirt and a piece of fabric a darker shade of blue and hope that the take is much more uniform. Then match the thread to the new shade and get the pocket sewn on. Quite faffy, but a good quality 100% cotton business shirt is much pricier than this is faffy. Does anyone know if I can double dye the shirt without likely mishap please?
My sourdough bread is progressing well. I'm up to step three - it's doubling in size overnight for me I hope. I enjoyed the kneading.
Out in the garden in the rain and rainbow this afternoon (yes both at once) I noticed that nearly all my flowers in the back yard are yellow (bar blue pansies and white alyssum). These are the marigolds I waited through multiple failed sowings for (sorry Kings Seeds photo, no photos from here lately). They are worth the wait - really beautiful. The much smaller dwarf marigolds I bought from the nursery in desperation earlier in summer look nowhere near as good now these beauties are in full bloom.
Then there are zucchini flowers from opposite sides of the garden. Plus some yellow cherry tomatoes. Then there are calendula flowers. In flower, as tiny seedlings not long transplanted and as even smaller seedlings in the seedling area. Calendulas flower right through winter for me and are such cheerful survivors. I have friends in several parts of the world right now who are longing for tiny babies to grow safely inside them and then join us all later this year. Friends who have scary histories of miscarriage. But for all bar one of them, I can't be nearby to do anything practically useful. So I've planted calendulas, the survivors, the toughies, the beauties in all four seasons, as a way of directing my hopes and thoughts and prayers for my friends. May you all be holding new babies in your arms this Christmas.
Saturday, March 1, 2008
As today is both Saturday and raining, I've spent it mostly mucking around making things and marvelling at how I can make things amidst so much mess. I can. I have a lot of practice behind me. I made hummus, which I make 1-2 times each week. Tastier and probably more healthy than peanut butter for sandwiches. I put lots of parsley in it to sneak some more green leaved goodness into each of us here in Messy House, Smalltown. Plus I've made two batches of pasta sauce with the 10kg of tomatoes I bought at our local tomato growers yesterday. Put some of our own garlic, zucchini, celery and herbs in as well. Used bought onions for the first lot but not for the second as I forgot due to yacking to a friend who turned up at the same time. Tastes good nevertheless. I haven't bagged the second batch but the first one yielded four meals' worth for the freezer.
And the other exciting (to me) development is that my sourdough starter is foaming. If I owned a drum I would have done a drumroll when I found the foam. After a day or so on the bench top, I decided to put it in the hot water cupboard. Although we have one of those hot water cylinder blankets, it doesn't fit the whole way round and so the cupboard is still warmer than elsewhere in the house. That did the trick. I want to do the next step tonight but I can't try it yet as my multi-tasking quota is full at the moment. When I've finished dyeing and blogging and also have bagged up the second batch of pasta sauce.
And before I forget, I also drove out to our local dump/tip/refuse station and asked if I could have an old gas bottle to make a letterbox with. Yes I could. Favourite Handyman will do the turning into a letterbox part, but I was pleased with my contribution of sourcing the materials. It's currently bright pink.
That Omnivore's Dilemma book is seriously good. I want to rant about lettuces at length some time but for now I'll just say grow your own. He has got me thinking about so many things. Still rolling in that phrase "food drenched in fossil fuel".