Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Using up the cupboard day 7

Languishing ingredients targeted today: yeast, treacle, flour

I have five days to use up two containers of yeast if I am to keep within the best before dates. Even if I don't keep within them, I think the signs are clear that I need to be making some bread.

I was very pleased with today's effort: oat bread. It comes from the New Zealand Bread Book by Browne, Leach and Tichborne.

1 C rolled oats
1 T treacle
1/2 C boiling milk
1 C boiling water
1 C white flour
1 t salt
1 T Surebake dried yeast
1.5-2 C white flour

Place rolled oats and treacle in a small bowl. Add the boiling milk and water. Stir to mix. Leave to cool for ten minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the fijrst measure of flour with the salt and yeast. Stir to mix. Add the very warm oat mixture and beat until well mixed. Leave to rest for 3 minutes. Add 1.5 C of the second measure of flour and add enough extra flour to make a soft dough. Knead for 7-10 minutes or until dough is elastic. Return to bowl and cover. leave to rest for 15 minutes.

Knead the dough for 1 minute. Shape to fit a round bread pot or loaf tin. Brush the surface of the dough with a little metled butter or cooking oil. Cover loosely with plastic. Leave in a warm place to double in size. Bake in hot oven, 220-230 degrees celsius, for 30-35 minutes.

I am shaving dollars off our shopping bill and using our cupboard ingredients much more efficiently, perhaps even wisely. But I seem to be in the kitchen most of the day. Which is not quite the same zen for me as being in the garden all day. When the rain stops, the cupboards may find themselves resting for a while.

I did escape the kitchen and go buy loads of sausages by our favourite country pub this afternoon. The stopping at the pub part was the best.

This morning I had intended to cook chickpeas in the slow cooker as I've managed to break my pressure cooker. But a discussion with Melanie about this gave me the idea that I should preboil the chickpeas first. I'd never heard this advocated for chickpeas before, only red kidney beans, but thought I'd include it. Only once I'd filled the stock pot and boiled it, I didn't fancy dirtying another pot (the crockpot) and I also realised I'd begun to cook such a very large amount, nearly 1 kg of dried chickpeas, that it wouldn't fit in my otherwise good-sized slow cooker. Now I have eight containers of chickpeas in the freezer. What a good girl I think I am.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Home again

Two days in Hanmer Springs with Fionn and Brighid and my parents at their home. Otherwise known to me as peak oil fortress capability A+++ rating. Nice time. Came back with pumpkins from Dad's garden, some raspberry canes from Dad's garden so I can grow my own next year and seven jars of home made jam from Mum - some blackberry and some apricot. I also brought back the blackout lining for the lounge curtains which Mum so kindly made. All wonderful gifts which I really appreciate. Bringing home grandchildren certainly has currency.

Then a night in Christchurch, catching up with friends who used to live on the coast. Where I got to be dual personality mum yet again.

Scene one: 11.30am Monday. Sandra in long flowing skirt, baby in ergo on her back, long haired and beautifully behaved son holding her hand. We are in Piko Organic foods cooperative choosing lentils and beans for the winter. Life is beautiful and we are beautifully organic. We cross the road and collect some natural medicine for Fionn's latest skin complaint and don't argue once that I can recall.

Scene two: 12.30pm Monday. Sandra and children in car, hungry. Sandra experiencing strong aversion to getting all children out of the car again in order to buy lunch and some fizzy and wine to take to our friends' house. So we buy KFC at the drive thru and I spend precious fossil fuel driving to a further away mall which has a liquor outlet where I can leave the kids in the car straight outside and dash in.

Today we met up with Favourite Handyman in Christchurch and all drove home again and I stood out the back in the rain as soon as I got home matching the spring planting plans I'd made while driving with the reality in front of me. Oh and also today I found some New Zealand grown, good quality looking shallots and bought some to break up and plant in the garden.

Friday, April 25, 2008


Today is Anzac Day. Fionn and I collected my cousin Mary and we went to the 9.30am cemetery service remebering those who fought and died in wars. Then we spent time putting flowers on graves with Mary.

This afternoon we planted Fionn and Brighid's placentas. We've only been holding onto them for 5+ years and 15 months respectively. Each one has gone underneath it's own cabbage tree, surrounded by home made compost.

We also raked up leaves and put them in the leaf mulch container my father in law made for me in January. And pulled out the last zucchini plant. Too cold for growth on it now.

Went out to friends' place for dinner tonight, going away for a few days from tomorrow. Cupboard project on hold until we are back.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

sewing progress

I liked this post from Eating the Seasons recently. While I am some distance from making my own outer clothes of the type which can then be worn to work not on funny clothes day, I have achieved a few small victories in the sewing department today. At 6am actually. You might as well do some sewing if you are up early with the five year old who is shouting with excitement because today is the inaugural rugby league practice day for the first time for him ever even though it is still at that point a) dark and b) 11 hours until league practice.

I've now replaced the elastic on two pairs of Fionn's pyjamas. I have also made myself an item of washable sanitary protection. When we lived in England, WEN (Women's Environmental Network) spent some time thinking up a snappy name for products which deal with menstrual bleeding but which are reusable. Back when our grandmas used rags, probably no one talked about it to require a name. 'Sanpro' was the best WEN could come up with at the time. Here in NZ I find washable fabric pads are often called 'mama pads' which strikes me as odd for a product by no means restricted to mothers in it's use. I started my project with part of a worn out baby bib, folded it in half and sewed it together and then encased it in the lower half of the baby outfit which I cut up to make this a few months ago. Then I sewed some domes on to do it up. Twice because I sewed the dome the wrong way up. There are some fancy machines called snap presses available these days which make lovely fastenings but I had domes in my sewing bag (snaplock Glad freezer bag) and I'm all about using what I've got at the moment.

I have plans for more items made solely out of things we already have in our home. No doubt I'll be skiting here about anything which makes it to functional stage, no matter the unpicking involved. I even had to unpick the pyjama trousers and I would wager that many a seamstress would think it impossible to muck up changing elastic. It's not impossible. I promise.

Lastin. Fancy title. You buy it from specialty online shops. I'd heard about it in home made nappy circles. You know what? Down at our local Bernina shop, where the staff are so lovely I want to adopt them to be some more aunties for me, they sell the same stuff, for a fraction of the price. No fancy names for it either. 'See through elastic' they call it. Buy local ladies and gentlemen. It has perks.

Using up the cupboard day 6

Won some, lost some.

Winning: found some couscous and made it into tabbouleh. I'm also trying to eat up the fridge and made progress with that by making butternut squash and feta cheese risotto. Hot for lunch, cold alongside the tabbouleh for dinner

Losing: this afternoon was to be cereal afternoon. I hauled every single item out of the cupboard which houses the cereal and various other items. Found where the mice have been partying finally! I gave up on the old cereals and also on the gf flours. They're all on the compost now. I just could not imagine living long enough to want to eat them. I know it's bad of me when half the world starving is turning into more and more than half every day at the moment. I have to face my badness some time.

Amongst the compost:
puffed millet
puffed rice
rice flakes
apricot and bran cereal
gf cereal
gf cornflakes
more expensive gf flour which doesn't make anything nice when you can't add egg to it either than I wish to quantify

Down the sink went some very old and odd smelling sushi sauces. I kept the four packets of sushi wrappers which I found because we do like sushi and I don't think they will have gone off. We must have had a phase of making it every week, but that was a long time ago now.

At least the cupboard is clean and you can actually see what is in it now.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Coal, petrol. A cheap shot or a good target?

Tonight's local paper reports our mayor's outrage at the NZ Green party's new catchphrase 'keep the coal in the hole', first mentioned I think in Jeanette Fitzsimmon's Earth Day speech. A cheap shot aiming at Auckland voters says Tony Kokshoorn, our local mayor. Maybe. This link gives some information but doesn't include the comment in our local rag which I found most compelling. Kokshoorn is mad that the Green Party has chosen as it's target an industry which is bringing a significant amount of money into our West Coast economy.

According to the Grey Star (23/04.08, p.2), "[Kokshoorn] said if the Greens were sincere in their convictions they would also call for a ban on petrol."

Well I don't doubt the sincerity of conviction of Jeanette Fitzsimmons. But I did wonder about the choice to focus on coal.

Perhaps I'm turning into a Coaster after all.

Not using up the cupboard day 5

Takeaway fish and chips. Chocolate. Cupboards ignored.

Maybe I'll be a good girl tomorrow. Maybe it will stop raining.

Consistency does not live at my home.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Using up the cupboard day 4

Rogan Josh with red rice. Didn't have any plain white rice.

I used the last of the organic beef I bought in Spring, probably six months ago. I organised a coop and made a day trip down to Ross (150km round trip), had a great day out with friends who live there, collected the meat from the organic farmer when she came up to Ross to collect her children off the school bus and came back with lots of meat for five families. Disappointingly, the butcher had not done his job correctly and the meat has been bloody and not up to it's usual high standard. Put that together with my learning about grain to meat conversions for different animals, and I may not order more beef for a long time. For the amount of grain which is required to make a kilo of meat, chickens and pigs are much much better than cattle. There hasn't been mention of sheep in any of my reading on this topic, so I assume they are not the worst and not the best.

The Rogan Josh mix was a pile of spices in a sticky paste which some clever marketer sells in a glossy packet for goodness knows what and which probably languishes on cupboard shelves all over the country. Our good friend Brian probably had them on his shelf for a fair while before he passed them to us when he moved out of town. I have two more to use up yet.

I also used a bit of canola oil to cook the meal, meaning I actually started the bottle which is already just past it's use-by date. Not sure why I bought canola oil, but I won't be again for some time. Now we have moved from gluten free to a low gluten diet, I am hoping I will be much less tempted to buy all sorts of items just because I saw them in the NZ allergy society recipe book. Just egg free is much more straightforward given that we aren't huge fans of pre-prepared foods. I keep a jar of Hellmanns' mayonnaise in the back of the fridge just for me. That never goes past it's use-by date.

The Rogan Josh packet didn't include any vegetables in it's serving suggestion. Blasphemy. I fitted in plenty of cauliflower, butternut squash and swiss chard. Not really a meal without Sandra squeezing in some swiss chard somewhere.

Well tomorrow is the much awaited pay day, much awaited partly because now we refuse to use credit cards, the significance of pay day has increased hugely. I have managed to feed the four of us over the last eight days and only spent NZ$145, which is easily $50 less than usual. That is for every meal, including bought fish and chips one night. Most interestingly to me (yes this is my new or at least current obsession), now I've got into the swing of using up the cupboard and realised quite how full the larder is, I don't feel like we have no food and desperately need to go to the supermarket. I usually would by now.

The garden is supplying all the greens at the moment, plus herbs and celery. Everything else is bought. Given that lentils and beans are cheaper than meat, my treat is that I get organic lentils and beans whenever I can get hold of them (the dried, uncooked versions). I am feeling deserving of an order of Puy lentils and black beans from the organic supplier over the hill, but I need to use up more of my cupboard yet. I also need to find out whether the organic food coop 40 kms south of here might have these items. I haven't supported them as much as I'd planned, though the fact they didn't put me on their mailing list as they had offered to hasn't helped.

Also today, I sewed a nappy. All by myself. I usually think of myself as fairly crunchy. A sandal wearing paid up hippy on a number of fronts. But today at the nappy sewing class, I was just a softy. Not much crunch at all by comparison with my sewing buddies. It was a good project to promote Real Nappy Week. Cos disposables are fake nappies it would seem. I've spent very little money on disposable nappies in my parenting time thanks to some good advice and purchasing when Fionn was a tiny baby. So although we have plenty of washable nappies at our house, thanks to today's class we now have one more. Megan the tutor also showed me things my sewing machine could do that I had no idea about. Three stitch zig zag, nice to meet you.

Out in the garage, our new letterbox is looking increasingly funky. Bright yellow and black, it now has a picture of a racing car painted onto it. Fionn chose the picture and then Favourite Handyman made the stencil and Fionn painted it on. I will have to get the camera out and share that one soon. I bought some cement this afternoon for anchoring the letterbox into the ground. I buy and FH digs. Marriage made in heaven, played out here in earth. Just as well I'm cooking so well of late, especially as the budget has largely precluded beer. Good cooking seems to help diying along nicely.

Using up the cupboard day three

Too cold for sushi.

Made banana muffins which used up the overripe bananas. Used an icecream tub of vegetable and pork bones broth which I made and froze a month or so ago for dinner. I'm also clearing the small freezer as of yesterday (the bottom of a fridge/freezer unit), because I've heard that Rayleen has more roosters for us.

Then the using the ingredients from the dry goods list project: Buckwheat and sunflower bread. The outside was like a brick, but the inner part was reasonable. I didn't notice anyone go back for seconds of the bread, only the soup. So I used some: buckwheat flour, molasses (pungent stuff that!), yeast which I've discovered is only two weeks from it's use by date and sunflower seeds. Didn't manage to empty any packet, but progress nevertheless.

I do feel a bit like I've woken up in a health camp. Not that it is massively different from our usual eating patterns, but the bread did scream health-freak-gone-far, especially the brick hard outer.

Better get moving. Once again I lost my night computer time. Day three of the holidays was more fun though. I need to get my sewing machine sorted because this week is Real Nappy Week and I've opted to learn to sew my own nappies. Brighid has enough nappies but I thought this would be good for my sewing skills and I wanted to support Fi, the fabulous nappy junkie who works very hard here in wetville to promote cloth nappy usage.

insulation project one complete

I tell you, there will be no prizes for photography on my CV. But we do have a new curtain. The top photo shows the window pre-curtain where you mostly can see that the view through the window is of beautiful ferns. Photo number two shows the curtain project completed. The track cost me NZ$20 and that included the screws for the job and also the shop assistant cut the track to size for me. Specialist curtain shops are mostly full of very expensive curtains (and carpets in our town) but their remnant bins, for both curtains and net curtains, are worth a look even if you are on a budget. The curtain we already owned as my Mum made it for us two years ago. She used remnants for it.

I did some preliminary investigation on a bed head/headboard so any remaining draft goes down behind our heads and not on top of our faces. NZ$250 new and they don't, according to the clearance shop I visited, come in second hand. Other friends made their own. So I need to do some more creative thinking on that one. $250 it won't be.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Dig for victory

Well perhaps not in the dark of night. Indeed I am writing when everyone else is in bed asleep and it is very early morning and it is brilliant. Mothering has called for some odd hours lately but here, finally, I have had an hour knitting, reading the net and eating. all-by-myself-without-interruptions.

And I've found, via Beansprout's excellent guide, how to put a dig for victory badge on my blog. Digging for victory is a wonderful concept and we're all for it at our house. Yesterday I was out walking through a nearby new housing estate. I observed (amongst the for sale signs which have sat for months now) several people landscaping their new sections, unloading tasteful grasses and shrubs from their tasteful cars so that their new house can look established. Instantly. No need for the love engendered by growing from seed, or tiny seedlings. I didn't really consider saying "Haven't you people been reading the news? You should be planting a vege garden, not grasses!" out loud to them, but I did think it.

While I waited for my toast, I was thinking about growing things. I opted not to think about the mice which are probably multiplying - we have at least one clever one now who flipped the trap upside down without being caught yesterday. I watched a spider weaving it's web on the outside of the window, illuminated against the dark by the kitchen lightbulb. I rinsed my alfalfa and radish sprouts out and wondered why I'd never grown sprouts in our tiny flat in Barking (London) where even a cactus didn't grow in the kitchen window. Sprouts could lift the soul of the most cramped city dweller and yet I never thought of them then.

This time alone is really nice. And it may give me some zen later in the day. I've missed my son all term and yet I've been floored by how grumpy I've been with my children now the holidays have started. Then late yesterday I remembered that the begininning of the school holidays are always odd for us (our whole family is involved in school stuff) and that by day three things are more fun. Day three starts in another hour round here.

Gardening goals for the day: stake the broad beans OR tidy and plant something in the old zucchini patch OR make a frost shelter structure for the tamarillo plant OR make some frost/wind shelter for selected swiss chard to see if it goes through the winter that way better than the non protected plants. I have swiss chard everywhere, so plenty of options.

House goals: Get rid of cobwebs and flotsam round the window above our bed and measure it up and work out how/exactly where to place a curtain track. There is a pelmet and an existing blind and I want to add the curtain without removing either pelmet or blind.

Use up the cupboard goals: sushi. I looked for ginger recipes. Our ginger is not super fresh, but dried, so I think we'll have ginger-less sushi. No doubt I can use up some of the odd flours making more banana muffins. Thank you to Stephanie who posted some suggestions of dishes I'd never heard of in a recent post which I'm going to look up and try. So long as every day involves eating something on my list (or one of the numerous flours languishing which didn't make it to the original list), then I'm happy that we are progressing.

Which reminds me. While out googling earlier this week, I found this site on food waste. Seemed interesting and pertinent to my latest project.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Using up the cupboard day 2

Oh the warm glow of success. Both Favourite Handyman and Fionn have loved dinner TWO nights running. I made cheese pastry from the Edmonds Cookbook and placed on top of last night's leftovers (marrow and red lentil concoction. recipe in recent post). I drained some liquid off first and then added chopped kale and swiss chard before topping with pastry.

That was dinner. At lunch I used up the packet of gf buckwheat pancake premix. I made it the egg free method. It was average. We all ate though and another packet leaves the cupboard.

Tomorrow will be sushi day I think. Carrot and avocado and tinned tuna sushi. Yes you read correctly. Tinned tuna. We have it in the cupboard. I am a sinner. What we don't have in stock is sushi ginger, although we do have a big piece of root ginger. I'm off to google land after this post to see if we can make our own sushi ginger, presumanly without the plastic packaging and food colouring.


If you want intellect, sophistication, or anything interesting which doesn't read like a rambling version of "Sandra learns how to housekeep" (I do have to face how boring I am getting), then go elsewhere. I have a bad case of boringness and need to read some poetry and go for a walk soon.

But for the moment, insulation. The first year we lived in this house, our first home we have owned, Favourite Handyman installed thick (above minimum requirements) pink batts in the ceiling. I think he's installed ten batts and we only need to purchase 3 more to complete the area above the kitchen and laundry.

My Mum is making blackout lining for the lounge curtains - possibly even as I write. I've paid for the material and I really appreciate her doing the making. Each year she makes some for another room - we already have blackout lined curtains in our bedroom and in Fionn's. They should help stretch our firewood further as they block the heat from floating through our single thickness windows.

I've been trying to work out where a few drafts have been coming from. There is a cold front coming off the window above our bed on windy nights. The blind is not enough (curtains with blackout lining are only on the large window). So I have a curtain of reasonable thickness which Mum made for us for the rental we were in (the coldest draftiest place in the West Coast it seemed at the time). I need to buy some track and hooks and install it. Then I need to scour the Sallies and second hand shops for a headboard for our bed which will move the bed out from the wall a little. Hopefully any remaining draft from the bottom of the curtain will go downwards behind the bed and miss our faces this way.

I put a blanket at the base of the front door last night but that draft didn't completely disappear. More research needed on that one.

Using up the cupboard meal 1

It's worse really. I neglected to notice three kinds of expensive premixed gf flour plus some ryemeal during my initial audit. This doesn't count the flours I have been using of late.

So last night's dinner of marrow and lentil concoction in the slow cooker turned out nice. Like a bulky soup. I made far too much of course and so I greased a casserole dish and then scooped the remains of the meal into that to store in the fridge. Tonight I think I'll make a pie crust for the top and reheat it in the oven. Will pile lots of dark green leaves from the garden in first. To go with the soupy concoction (marrow and lentil chowder?), I made gf cheese scones. Which were a hit.

Marrow and lentil chowder.
1 marrow, peeled, split lengthwise into quarters, seeds removed and then sliced
red lentils, I just poured straight from the packet. I'd estimate a cup.
1 kumara (sweet potato), peeled and sliced thinly
1 onion, finely sliced.
3 garlic cloves, chopped.
1cm piece of ginger, chopped.
2 sticks of celery, chopped
curry powder, coriander seeds, whatever gentle curry flavours you have and want to use
thyme and bay leaves
2 tins of tomatoes.
Extra water if it doesn't look enough for the lentils to expand into.

Bung it all into the slow cooker and cook on slow most of the day. I added sultanas afterwards, simply because I found some when I had thought we didn't own any for weeks. Favourite Handyman and Fionn both complimented me on dinner which was too lovely not to mention.

Cheese scones
2 cups Horleys gf baking mix
2 tsps baking powder
75 g grated cheese
1.25 cups milk

sift first 2 ingredients, then mix in cheese. Then mix in milk. Knead for a minute and then shape into a rectangle and cut into 12 small scones. Put on lightly floured tray in oven for 10 minutes at 215 degrees celsius.

Today I want to make some bread, low gluten rather no gluten I expect. I am pretty sure we have sufficient ingredients for several loaves, spinning out the bread until Wednesday. I am trying to get back to shopping for groceries only once a week. Multiple shops make it very difficult to know exactly how much we are spending on food per week.

I have some ambitious (for me) goals for this using up the cupboard project. I want to work out what we really eat, and want to eat, and find useful and make up a meta list of ingredients which I can choose from when I write the shopping list for the week. I presume I am not the only person in the world prone to throwing unusual items into the shopping trolley because they'd be nice for a change and then leaving them to languish and die in the back of the cupboard or fridge.

Being an incorrigible drama queen, I have visions of the global food shortage getting really dire for the wealthy world as well as Haiti and Africa (and and and, sadly), so these skills I am developing should keep us in good stead for coping. I want us to cope well enough that we can donate to the Sallies' food bank or similar organisation cos there are going to be some hungry people in our small town soon, if not already.

Getting some chooks is looking even more of a good idea than last summer (is that possible? I was obsessed!). We need to find the time to make a house for the chooks though. Given that on Friday I managed to break the garage door closed, leaving the car and my wallet inside, chook houses remain a while down the maintenance/building projects list. There is a side door to the garage, and FH had to undo the three rows' deep stack of firewood to get through it in order to open the garage door. It was one way of saving money and zilching petrol use...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Use up the cupboard

I've just made a list of all the foods in my cupboard which have either never been used or used only once. gf means gluten free (read: expensive!) and pbb means past 'Best Before' date.

almond butter
canola oil - pbb
buckwheat flour
gf pizza mix
maple syrup
amaranth grain
baby food - jar of apple and cinnamon porridge
rock salt
rice flakes
sunflower seeds
3 packets of Indian curry mixes , gifted to us 15 months ago. 1 pbb
dried bananas
unhulled tahini (nowhere near as nice as hulled tahini)
fine ground cornmeal
gf buckwheat pancake mix
potato flour
chickpea flour
oat bran
rice paper
buckwheat groats
suchi wrappers and sushi rice

I also found a number of items in storage which I didn't realise I had as back up to the packet I am currently using. I also didn't get up on a stool and thoroughly check all cupboards, so the total will be slightly larger than this.

We are going to eat ALL of this, inclouding the pbb stuff. All suggestions for recipes (pancakes and maple syrup, plus sushi, won't be challenging, but some of the other stuff may be).

Before this I made a concoction for the slow cooker of marrow which is overgrown zucchini (which stores very well for winter - doesn't go off at all while you wait days and days for inspiration on how to cook it so you want to eat it), red lentils (pbb but as much of the world is starving, a bit of stale lentils will, I am hoping, teach me better cupboard ingredients use planning), kumara (sweet potato), onions, ginger, garlic, spices and herbs and tinned tomatoes.

This coming four weeks is-use-up-the-cupboard month here, even though it is out of calendar month sync.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Awesome photo essay

Of course it's not mine. Words I produce ad nauseum; the techie bit of digital photos seems to be like housework for me. Beyond me most of the time.

Anyway, here, thanks to Briana introducing herself in a recent comment on my blog, I have found the most wonderful excerpt from a book, called Hungry Planet I think, showing photos of families in different parts of the world with their for the week and how much they spent on it. From $500 to $1.53. Made me realise not just about the cost of it, but just how much of the day must be devoted to food preparation in families without nearby, safe water. What a pampered woman I am, pulling leftovers out for lunch from our fridge less than an hour ago. I used the last of the olives on top of my pasta and wondered when I'd next buy olives given the prices of food and our thrift goals. Hey ho the princess moans huh.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Nearly forgot I had a blog.

Here in wetville that had turned into droughtville, we finally had some rain for most of this week. My friends on tank water supplies are able to use their washing machines again. My garden is looking quite reasonable and I'm aware that I need to get Favourite Handyman to download some photos. You know, so you can tell I'm not a fake. Cos' you'd all be reading if you thought I was a fake making up my garden, huh? Or just because I don't have any home photos for ages and this is supposed to be an at least partly illustrated diary of my gardening journey.

I've been thinking about global and local food supplies untilI overloaded today and it all fell out of my head. No doubt I'll be thinking about it again soon.

Last night at my local book group we talked about old fashioned skills like sewing. One of my friends said 'nobody knits anymore' and I elbowed her to disagree, just like at school (though then I'm sure it wasn't about knitting). Some of us are learning to sew nappies for Real Nappy Week next week and spurred on by that opportunity, we are organising for an evening sewing class at the Adult Ed section of the local high school. Not everybody learning to sew some naff sundress at once (I still remember that at school when I was eleven. I have yet to see a fashion era in which that sundress looked passable). We would each bring our projects and problems and our tutor would be able to help us with them. Crucially, there would be no one year olds at the class.

Cos I'm old fashioned (or a new fashioned greenie peak oil-aware person as an alternative description), I am indeed knitting. I've knitted a jersey for my daughter and a garden hat for me and now I am really being adventurous and knitting myself a cardigan out of alpaca and merino wool. Photos on my next photo post. I'm wary of putting a time on when that will be. Who was that in Alice in Wonderland who was always late?

I've found another source of chicken poo and will be collecting that very soon. Clearly not all chicken keepers are keen gardeners.

Our scarecrow has fallen over completely before we could get him to look awesome.

I've been catching more mice. I'd better go and bait some more traps now. Also want to get some rocket and mesclun planted for growing on the windowsill and some sprouts going. Maybe some bread.

I think this adds up to getting pressing "publish post" and getting lots more active for the next hour.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


We've been giving much thought and discussion over to the rocketing prices of food staples world-wide in our house lately. Rice, I read in the Guardian Weekly today, rose in price on the international market by 50% in the last fortnight. Just one of many examples. We are reading of the very real possibility of food riots in some parts of the world.

The Guardian Weekly also had a review of a book on the history of the potato. Has more to offer nutritionally than any of the grains. Really, we should give over our entire lawn to potatoes I think. But for the mean time we will leave plenty of running space for the children. We do plan to double or triple last year's potato harvest though, including growing early, mid and late season varieties. I'd like to have veges to store for winter next year. My Dad has that one all sorted out with potatoes and pumpkins plus he leaves carrots and parsnips in the ground to store and I have more to learn on that front. I have got my own garlic in storage though.

I planted something...

just not sure what. Thought I'd plant out the remaining seedlings from my seed raising desk (do I need a desk for garden purposes? No. I need them up HIGH away from my daughter). Come hell or highwater I would do it today. I grabbed a tray of half a dozen seedlings and headed to a bare patch in one of the garden beds. And cleared said bed carefully and then eventually noticed that one "weed" which I had pulled out was identical to the seedlings I was just about to transplant. I wondered if it was corn salad, but a scan of corn salad pictures on the net doesn't show any with tiny red blotches on them. I think otherwise it is some kind of pansy as I bought a few of them.

Looks like Spring will be full of wonder indeed.

We pulled the old strawberry plant out, leaving the new plants which had formed from runners into the next bed (the same one with the mystery seedlings newly homed in it - oh how funny to think of my careful companion planting plans last year). Then Favourite Handyman buried the Bokashi in it and I topped it with peastraw to slowly break down over winter. I had thought I'd give this spot over to a rose bush. But now I'm back fixated on edible stuff. Thinking espaliered blackberries after some more browsing in the garden centre this afternoon.

I used the last of our cherry tomatoes on a pizza this afternoon. Excellent harvest indeed. The longest producers were in a sunny sheltered spot in large black plastic tubs which also absorbed heat to keep the soil warm. I'll be using that method again next year.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Truman Track

This is where we went today:
More info on this track here, where you'll note I've copied the photos from (is that allowed? please tell me quick if I've lined myself up for a court case). No camera was even thought of in our haste to take off with our chicken sandwiches and fruit.
We walked down through native forest in wonder, then through flaxes and then some kind of primrose and then onto the beach. We explored caves, let beautiful multi-coloured pebbles run through our hands, climbed on rocks, drank in the sky and sand and waves, marvelled at the echo which magnified the sound of the waves.
And I thought of Rob. Of Denise and Woody and Mungo who will bury their husband and father today in England. Goodbye Rob. Will you let the pray-ers pray for you? I hope the Spring birds sing when you go down into the ground.
As we left, I gathered a small handful of sea kelp and carried it back up to the road, to the car. It's resting on the garden at the moment, but it will go in the hole which we dig when we plant a tree in your honour, Rob.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Growing onion sets

I was reading about onion sets here this morning. I grew onions from sets in London with good success. But nobody seems to have heard of the practice here in small town.

We don't (or not usually - we are having a warm Autumn this year) have a particularly long growing season here and I had little success growing onions from seed this season just gone.

I would like to learn how to grow the sets and see if I could create my own kick start conditions. Any tips most gratefully received.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

scrap GST on veges and fruit

I've been reading about calls to scrap the GST on fresh fruit and veges in New Zealand. Here is a summary of the topic.

I'm not feeling eloquent at all tonight, but I would like to record here that I agree with this call. This week's Listener magazine ran an editorial on this topic and used the term 'agflation' to refer to the dramatic rises in agricultural goods in the last 12 months. Good word. I'll be adding that to my lexicon, another very good word itself.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The cycle of life

How I angsted over the title of this post. It is still very unsatisfactory to me but sometimes I just have to get on with it and write.

I've been thinking about how we leave this world. Or in some ways I have not been thinking about that at all. Because bodily, we don't leave this earth when we die. But I have been thinking about what happens to our bodies when we stop breathing.

My friend is burying her husband in a woodland. I've found the website which gives more information but I'll leave UK readers to google. I have funny feelings about posting a link like a commodity for this topic.

I thought that in NZ, embalming was compulsory. But a bit of googling showed it isn't. A place called Natural Funerals on Auckland seems a bit progressive and also I found an archived Listener article (google 'green funeral') which suggested some woodland burial opportunities in Wellington.

I would like worms to help decompose me, to leave my nutrient to grow trees for the living world to enjoy. I would not like embalming fluid and toxic caskets to be my legacy to the ground. I would not like the fumes of a crematorium to be my legacy.

Please God and nature that I have the opportunity to breathe here a long while yet. There is yet room, I hope, for small towns and rural areas to also offer burials more in keeping with the spirit of renewal, with the needs of our nutritionally impoverished earth.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Lament for the naked scarecrow

I'm late. Very late. I can explain, it may even seem very reasonable. But the fact is that I am late.

Anyway, today was the first day I got to actually creating our scarecrow. I've thought about our scarecrow at times, and had cleared weeds and rotting logs from the area last month. While teh nasturtiums were rambling everywhere, I was thinking of creating a 'Queen of the Nasturtiums'. But then I weeded and thus the nasturtiums disappeared. So that seemed less appropriate.

Then our friend Rob died and every time I surveyed our back garden, I could only think of Rob, and a scarecrow seemed too frivolous. Today, still mere days after Rob's death, I spent part of the morning pulling out the spent tomato plants, weeding and beginning to come to terms with the cycle of life and death, winter and summer. I was getting a little closer to being able to start our scarecrow.

After school I started I showed Fionn the cross I'd made. That too was reminiscent of death. We gave the cross a head and just as I was thinking our scarecrow would be nude for the night, we found an apron and tied it across his front.

I/we are only on the beginning of our scarecrow journey. But I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

farming chat

So we went to a fifth birthday party this afternoon. Gorgeous day at the beach (great venue cos you don't have to sweep the floor afterwards) and while kids ran free, my farming friend Mark and I chatted about farming and the global shortage of FOOD. Just that stuff that keeps us all alive, that's all.

A few weeks ago I reported the doom story about the near future economically from the left - few New Zealanders would dispute Sue Bradford's left wing credentials. In fact, I recommend you read the link on her anyway - one inspirational, committed activist for a better world.

I think it is safe to presume that the messages Mark was getting at a recent luncheon presentation by Ravensdown, a major fertiliser manufacturer, were to the right of the economic spectrum.

And the messages were very similar. Food shortages, rising prices, small amounts of land viable for food production and even those under threat. And a realisation that the old dig for victory campaign in the UK in the second world war could be wise, indeed necessary, again here.

Then we got talking about cows. Turns out that fertility is now a significant problem on NZ dairy farms. Some farms are running at 20% infertility. Which is pretty damn costly when a cow currently costs $2500. Do the sums on that for a 400 cow farm...

Whyt the rise in infertility? Because NZ farmers have been using a lot of US breeding stock (artificial insemination straws I presume rather than exporting live bulls) and as they are raised and bred there on corn, not pasture, and milked continuously, not seasonally, fertility is poor.

So New Zealand farmers are returning to traditional, local breeding stock and methods.

Not before time.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Rob our mad Essex friend. Dad to our friends Woody and Mungo and husband and partner to our friend Denise.

We will miss you. We enjoyed your company (even the conspiracy theories!) so much in England but we never thought the goodbye was forever when we left your place to catch the plane back to New Zealand on New Year's Eve, 2005. We'd all talked about New Zealand and thought we would see you again over here one day.

Life can be cruel; death infinitely more so.

I wish you peace as you go to rest in your woodland grave. I think of daffodils and trees and bluebells growing around and hope for more peace in this world.

We love you all.