Monday, March 31, 2008

Poo track mind

Today our nanny student started her placement with us. She is lovely. Chatting at lunch, she was talking about her childhood and mentioned walking round the racecourse near her family home and visiting the horses. Yadder ya about lovely childhoods though of course I wish one for all children. But the message I thought about was ha! more manure! Mixed with hay/straw so even better! I should find out when race days are and visit the stables afterwards. What do they do with the stable muck??

Friday, March 28, 2008

just garden stuff

for the squillionth time.

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

scarecrow extension

I don't know about anyone else, but I need an extension on the scarecrow front. How about we post links, photos, stories about our scarecrows from Sunday 6th April? I guess if I post the inital link Sunday night NZ time (6th April that is, not this coming rather too quickly Sunday), then another 48 hours after that should allow people to get their links, photos, stories up despite the variations in time zones.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Three women of Blackball

On Easter Sunday I listened to a number of speakers on subjects relating to working class activism, many of them on historical topics. Brian Wood had read out the names of nearly 170 men who were on the 1908 Blackball cribtime strike list the day before and yet by the end of the weekend I still had heard the names of only two Blackball women and them in passing.

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.

Time to start big plans!

I've just had a call from the local polytechnic nanny tutor. I said I'd only take a student this year if they were stuck as my part time work makes it a bit fiddly. But they are indeed stuck for host families and my childminder (who is a completely wonderful woman) is happy to help by having her during the nine hours a week that I do paid work.

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

Solidarity forever

For the Union gives us strength...

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

The compost obsession

I never believed Linda Woodrow (and a host of other gardening books) when I first read that it's all about compost.

That was then, before I got my head round gardening in the same place for more than one year. Now I am obsessed with compost. A wonderful friend from Auckland came to visit this afternoon and of course we were talking about gardening. She asked if I had a compost. Just one?!? It was a long answer, involving various manures, seaweed, comfrey, lawn clippings and leaf mould (I might have that last word wrong. There is, I think, a special word for composts made entirely of leaves).

The new garden bed I created this week and reported on here, cost me $18 to make. $16 worth of pea straw and $2 worth of horse manure. Which is pretty good value for the size I made. Not content with that, I've started a new garden bed quite close to it and have the goal of creating it without spending any money. Yesterday I laid out lots of newspapers, passed on to me by my cousin. Then I put some fine river sand on it, left over from when we filled the sandpit at Christmas. Today the children and I headed to Rapahoe, which looks like this:

It has also had some super high tides lately I suspect, which have brought up lots of kelp. It took very little walking to fill the equivalent of five supermarket plastic bags. Back home I tipped out one large horse feed bag's worth of mixed bark and chicken poo on top of the sand and then put half of the seaweed on top of that. The rest of the seaweed went on my main, oldest compost site.

Later in the day I drove to the local rugby grounds near our house qand filled up an enormous IKEA bag with semi-composted grass clippings. That went on top of the seaweed and I think I'm about half way to the height I want that bed to be. I still have one more bag of chicken poo mix which will go on top and then another, thicker layer of grass clippings. Being a slothful person inside, I have several months' worth of fluff from the tumble drier sitting in a container on top of the drier. That can go on the pile just before something heavy so it doesn't blow away.

I'm getting comfrey leaves ready for cutting and composting or digging straight in the garden every week from one plant. The second is starting to grow better now. Not much sign of it getting invasive yet. I'd find it quite convenient if my comfrey grew madly and spread.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Reasons that garlic is wonderful.
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

Productive poo

After last night's decision, this morning I took two barrow loads of beautiful compost out of the horse poo compost heap (would be about six months old) and layered it thickly in one corner of the yellow garden site. Not that it is a yellow garden at all at the moment, but I did decide early in February that yellow is it's destiny. It is a small patch, about 0.5 metre by one metre, in between the large tree and the flax to the right of the photo in yesterday's post. I then filled it up with flower bulbs lifted from previous years.

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

pumpkins and poo

For some unknown reason. No, it is known, a reason of me being irrational about some things. I was thinking that the potential new garden area in front of/beside the garage, pictured above, would need to be turned into garden PROPERLY. You know, lots of digging, or a no dig raised bed lined with a mattress thickness worth of newspaper. The idea of buying in trailers of soil doesn't count, cos we don't spend that kind of money.

And then I was reading on the lifestyle block site about a person who grew their pumpkins on the area where they dumped their horse poo. Really, I don't have to wait. I have a compost pile of horse poo and something else I can't remember, rotten hay from Raelene I think. It can go straight on the front-of-garage site which is currently not even producing much in the way of weeds so in need of poo in a big way. I'll do a few more runs south and hopefully strike lots and lots of horse poo for sale on the side of the road. And just dump it down to rot. What is there to lose? This is the spot which is going to be my yellow garden one day.

bulbs for St Paddy's Day

Today I planted 25 freesias and 10 bluebells. The bluebells are in front of our bedroom window, a semi shaded area. The freesias are alongside the path which leads to the kitchen/back door. It's the area which I grew garlic in last season and which now has some herbs in it plus lettuces and pansies. Some lettuces have gone to seed which looks quite pretty. I may leave the freesias in the ground to see if they naturalise there. I'm moving that bed towards perennial herbs and other plants which don't need to be replanted every year or more.

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 History of Food

I gave up on The Omnivore's Dilemma part way through the foraging section. The earlier stuff was brilliant though. Some of the aspects of the book I will remember for a long time I think. I found his analysis of a problem with our food intake being not which animal we eat, but what that animal has itself been eating (i.e. corn, or what it has evolved to eat), compelling. I'm grateful we have access to the occasional truly free range rooster to kill and eat from my friend Raelene. Hunting is a popular pastime on the West Coast and I've also put the word out among friends that I'd be interested in buying any game they catch and don't wish to eat themselves.

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

Time for fun

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.

plonk it in

Oh the plans I had. Crop rotated, companion planted, not to mention an assumption that all my seeds would germinate.

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.

From Nelson

Neslon is where I grew up. Or got older from 3 -17; I still had a pile of growing up to do after that. And still.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, Nelson is a very beautiful seaside town at the top of the South Island. Life was good, although I was teenager for much of that so of course I thought my life was going to be so much better when I got to the big city. Y'know.

Over the last few days I found two web sites with links to Nelson which I thought I'd share. Tiny Happy is a beautiful blog written by a woman who last year had a stall at the Nelson Market selling beautiful sewing which partly used thrift shop beautiful fabric. I met her briefly when we holidayed there last winter. Before my children ran away and scuppered all chances of a conversation. I hadn't looked at her blog for a long time until this week and I've discovered they've moved to Norway. I think her posts and photos are both poignant and beautiful.

On Friday Brighid and I were in town avoiding the dirty floors and piles of dishes and washing at our house. As I'm nearly finished the jacket I'm knitting her (it has lots of green in it so after blogging I hope to finish it tonight and she can wear that on Monday as well), I thought I was just about allowed to look in the wool shop, though not buy just yet.

I stumbled upon wool and patterns by the Rare Yarns Company. This linked website is of their store in McShandes Road, Richmond, a road I cycled down many a time as a teenager. I thought their patterns and wool were very beautiful and I was interested to see the range of dye free colours they had created from Alpacas. This photo below which I found online, though small, shows a range of fleece colours.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Now it is cooling down outside, the mice have sought warmer shelter - in our house. I forget how many houses we have dealt with this in. Our terraced home in London was by far the worst as they lived inside all the time and appeared to move from home to home along the terrace. The ate anything and weren't the slightest bit scared of humans. Here there are fewer mice, they are scared of me, less intrepid and altogether more manageable. My Dad and Grandad have both advised us to put down rat and mouse poison bait. They find our comments about toxicity in the soil and our horror of a child finding it and eating it less than compelling but that's okay because Favourite Handyman and I are big kids now and get to decide ourselves. We're not cat lovers and we are near-cat-sneezers so that rules cats out. Plus it's hard to get them to catch and eat mice but not birds. Or to catch the blackbirds but not the native birds.

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

green things (and brown)

Green things activity #1. Decided to plant broad beans along the length of the back fence. Yes I know it was going to be lupins yesterday and probably something else the day before. But the sun was shining, I had broad beans in my seed box already, and I had a bag of garden mix to help me plant. So into the layers of wood chip and lawn clippings, I made thirty small holes, put a handful of dirt into each one, then a bean, then a big handful of dirt on top. Only time will tell if this is a great idea. My finished work is in the photo above. We plan for the fence to be smothered in flowers and vegetables next Summer.

Brown things activity. Collected four bags of chook house lining (bark and chicken poo mixed together) from Rayleen. Superb compost material. Saw lots of horse poo for sale on the way home but you can only fit so much poo into the car at once.
Green things activity #2. Made a St Patrick's Day dress for my daughter. It's rough but it's a dress and I made it. She owned a kind of romper (I think that is the correct term) outfit and I cut the material off just below the bodice and sewed some shamrock material on. Didn't need to hem it because it was all done for me. Why? Because the shamrock material used to be a small round tablecloth and I kept the hem from the original. So that will be thrift shop item plus home sewing plus refashioning an existing item of clothing. Do I feel clever? Oh yes yes yes.
Here is the spot for our scarecrow. The rich brown earth colour to the left is where Fionn and I sowed Beneficial Insect Blend yesterday. To the front is pea straw mulch resting atop earth which has Bokashi buried in it. This garden is getting a lot more sun than when we moved in and is also less squelchy underfoot. I'm thinking (as of today) of planting some veges in the pea straw. There are a lot of slugs in this patch (it's the one I ususally refer to as my invasive garden patch, so probably silverbeet (swiss chard) as they don't seem to like it and maybe some kale. The scarecrow will go where the strawberry cage netting, the paddling pool and the pile of weeds currently sits.

The Scarecrow Competition

Okay, let's have a competition then. By Monday 31st March, everyone who wants to play should have made their scarecrow, photographed it and written something to go with their entry (about the process, theme, inspiration, whatever really, just give us a sense of story to your scarecrow creation). The night before, I will write a post called "The Scarecrow Competition Entries" and everyone who is playing can put a link in the comments section. If you are reading this and want to play but don't have a blog, then let me know. I'm sure some solution can be found. It has occurred to me that a competition should have a prize. If you win and you live outside of New Zealand, then I shall send you a copy of the Edmonds Cookbook and you can pretend to be a kiwi. If you live in New Zealand and you win, then I shall send you some seeds, which is something I think I'm not allowed to do internationally.

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


Thirty minutes ago I had given no thought ever to having a scarecrow. But now the idea has fallen into my head and is growing. Who else wants to play? It would be so much fun. I promise I would take and upload photos of our scarecrow. When we've made it. I found some useful looking instructions here.

Let's have a scarecrow making competition! Anyone? You know it would be fun...

green manure, new garden

My latest garden thinking project. New garden for next Spring includes the row along the back fence. Photoless until I search the photos archive on the other computer. It was a dip down the fence which was inhabited by weeds and slugs. We layered newspaper (not optimally thick but better than nothing we hope) and then put wood chip mulch from the felled branches out the front. This weekend favourite Handyman layered lawn clippings on top as my latest obsession is carbon: nitrogen balance and the lawn clippings out to add nitrogen to the carbon rich wood chip. I'll buy some lupin seed locally for that whole strip this week.

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

goodbye Pak choi

Linda Woodrow, in her superb Permaculture Home Garden book, observes that slugs absolutely adore pak choi. The evidence of this is getting just silly in my garden. Given the wet climate here on the West Coast, we get a lot of slugs but my beer traps have reduced the damage to more or less acceptable levels with the lettuces. But the pak choi I transplanted into the punga garden yesterday is nearly all gone!! And I found three baby slugs on them when doing an inspection in the rain today. Woodrow suggests that an excellent way to catch slugs is to leave a couple of pak choi leaves by the garden overnight and then pick it up (it will have slugs underneath) and feed the lot to the chooks. Which I would happily do if we had chooks.

Friday, March 7, 2008

feeding the food

Today I finally had a little more space to garden. At first everything looked fine and then I realised actually there was so much needing done that I didn't know where to start. Here's what I did do in the end:

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

Your local garden nursery

There is a thread currently on the lifestyle block forum encouraging us all to support our local nurseries. I agree wholeheartedly and thought I'd plug the idea here also. The staff at our local nursery are knowledgeable and helpful. I bought all my potting and seed raising mix (haven't go as far as making my own yet) from them while pregnant as they always always carried it out to the car for me. Although I'm not a huge spender on plants and do get my seeds by mail order (the Yates range doesn't impress me), I do buy spring bulbs, the aforementioned mixes, occasional punnets of vege and flower seedlings from them. I also get herbs from them sometimes, ones which aren't propogatable by seed (like comfrey) or which I only need one of rather than a seed packet's worth.

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

All about grain

It is all about grain at the moment. This post is an attempt to get down in writing the large-ish number of grain-related thoughts and issues which have been sliding round my brain of late.

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.

One more
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

craft action

Did you hear that? Craft action. Sandra. As I write I am in the middle of dyeing a shirt of Favourite Handyman's and a dress of Brighid's. The shirt was pocketless which was mmost inconvenient apparently so the shirt wasn't being worn. So the lovely ladies at our local Bernina shop found some white material and sewed a pocket on and the dye will hopefully make it all the same colour. Brighid's dress is a lovely hand me down from my sister-in-law which was a faded pink and this dye should give it some brightness (albeit either blue or lilac). I got the dye from the GreenBeans. I've had the pleasure of getting to know the lovely and very funny Sarah of Green Beans online but until now I've had no call to buy from her shop. I thought her shop was just for properly clever crafty girls like Nova and Sharon.

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".