Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Self explanatory

Quan Item No. Description Price Extension==== =========== =============================== ============== ================
1 7145 Cabbage Palm Tree di Toscana NZ $2.50 NZ $2.50
1 5260 Parsley Gigante Italian NZ $2.50 NZ $2.50
1 6190 Chervil Curled NZ $2.50 NZ $2.50
1 6150 Borage NZ $2.50 NZ $2.50
1 6180 Chamomile German NZ $2.50 NZ $2.50
1 6490 Sorrel NZ $2.50 NZ $2.50
1 6205 Chives Garlic NZ $2.50 NZ $2.50
1 8730 Zucchini Costasta Romanesco NZ $2.50 NZ $2.50
1 7105 Beetroot Cylindra NZ $2.50 NZ $2.50
1 7555 Kale Red Russian NZ $2.75 NZ $2.75
1 6015 Anise Hyssop NZ $2.75 NZ $2.75
1 7700 Lettuce Webbs Wonderful NZ $2.75 NZ $2.75
1 8593 Tomato Sub Arctic Plenty NZ $2.75 NZ $2.75
1 5025 Bean Slenderette NZ $2.75 NZ $2.75
1 5030 Broccoli de Cicco NZ $2.75 NZ $2.75
1 6017 Astragalus Milk Vetch NZ $2.95 NZ $2.95
1 5350 Squash Burgess Buttercup NZ $2.95 NZ $2.95
1 8221 Pumpkin Musquee de Provence NZ $3.75 NZ $3.75
TOTAL NZ $43.15

On another topic, just got an email about our local writers' group which begins next month. I have to bring along something I have written. homework. Something other than a blog about vege seeds, it would be reasonable to expect. hmmm. I'll have to get a pen out for that. Some things are computer things and some are pen things. In my world.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Today my community is

... sitting at the local supermarket selling raffle tickets for my son's school for an hour. Noticing how quite a few people are wearing home made jerseys. Bewing wowed at the generosity of so many people regarding the raffle. Enjoying exchanging smiles with people who passed but did not buy a ticket. Noticing how the supermarket is one place where people of all ages come together, even if they don't all talk.

... receiving a birthday invitation from my lovely friend and childminder Robyn for her fortieth. Reading that she doesn't want presents or cards but if we wish, she would love some support for the Watoto project. Robyn and her husband and a larger group from their church travelled to Uganda last year and built a classroom for this project which changes the lives of orphaned children. Involvement in this project also changed the lives of many people here in our small town. Now they are planning a second trip in 2009. I am very proud of Robyn's commitment and achievements and grateful that my children have her as part of their community also. We'll be buying some bricks and rolling up to her party later next month.

... learning that Robyn can't look after my children tomorrow when I am at work and being able to find alternative care within twenty minutes from two lovely friends.

... Organising a playdate at our house for my son with another mum who has a pile of other commitments every Thursday. Seeing how excited the two boys are at this prospect.

... Visiting my elderly cousin Mary and organising to collect her for the school gala on Saturday morning. Sharing with her my news from Muriel-who-I-saw-at-the-supermarket. Muriel is in her seventies and yet until the beginning of this year was showering and otherwise caring for many local elderly people each day. She cared for my cousin Lou daily and was held in enormously high esteem by Mary and Lou. When Lou took seriously ill, Mary rang Muriel who stoppped everything and drove to be with them. She was with Mary and Lou when he died.

A lot of love.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Fabulous weather today, if a little cold. Major breakthrough on the gardening front: Brighid (18 months) stepped out of the garden when I told her to without me having to go over and haul her out. She and her brother filled the child-sized wheelbarrow we gave her for her first birthday with peastraw several times and helped me mulch two garden beds. When Fionn was two, he was very helpful in the garden, so odds are on that Brighid will understand how it all works (the where to stand and to only pull plants with permission aspects) in another six months. I'm sure we'll get on splendidly in the garden every day then.

As well as mulching, I also started to extend the bed which runs along the back wall of the house. It is only 30cm deep at it's narrowest point and I am extending out to double that. So I weeded and then mulched one log's worth today. The bed is bordered by about five beach logs which is partly why it is wider at some points than others.

Favourite Handyman continued work on the poultry palace. More recycled chicken wire went on today - this lot was gifted by one of our neighbours last summer when FH and his visiting father cleaned, repaired and painted the shed which borders with aforementioned neighbours.

Only 3-4 days ago, our place was pooling with water and the rain had been relentless for days. Yet today (and the previous two days) the soil has been damp but nevertheless neither soggy nor difficult to work with. Every article on weeds as indicators of soil type which I read suggests poor drainage. We have creeping buttercup, docks, plantain and daisies. I don't think we do have poor drainage, or at least not on the entire section. We just have phenomenal rainfall which means the soil is very wet for extended periods of the day/week/month/year.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Celery, onion weed, compost

I thoroughly enjoyed today. No prizes for guessing where I spent it.

I dug out three celery plants and dug up lots of onion weed. Inside I hauled out the dehydrator which I have owned since 1996 and used once before today. I have celery (including the leaves) and onion weed drying in it now. I also dried some in the oven slowly. So far, so good. My idea is to have a jar of the crumbled mix to to spoon into soups and risottos instead of stock cubes.

Then I sprinkled lime on the garden along the sunny back of the house and then I put my home made compost, beautifully dark and crumbly and full of worms, on top and then I put peastraw on top of that. That should give the soil a boost. I'll harvest some leeks next week and we will soon have enough room to plant out the six broccoli plants I bought yesterday.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

wet wet wet

The garden is seriously sloshy. At least it has stopped raining today and fine weather is forecast for the next two days. My broad beans are looking sad and battered and some of them are black.

The onion seeds are coming up - I'd better eat some leeks to make room for the onions.

Mesclun and sprouts progressing nicely.

I bought a punnet of broccoli seedlings today but it is too wet to transplant them. I'm pushed for room in the established garden beds which have sufficient winter sun, but it has to be worth a try when broccoli costs $3.30 per small head in the supermarket.

Some potatoes are sprouting already.

I might pull out some or all of the celery to make more planting room. I could freeze the stems. Or another thing I learnt tonight is that I could dry the foliage (low oven or dehydrator) and keep for stocks/soups.

processed foods

I've just had a wee squizz round the internet on processed foods, thinking about how to define them. The ones pointing out that milk is a highly processed food made me realise I was going to have to create my own working definition or allowable/rejects list.

Then I found this sentence:
If the food did not exist in pre-industrial times, don’t eat it.

Perhaps this would serve me well? I am thinking of not eating any processed foods for one week. But I'm going to have to play around for a while before I get my own useful definition of exactly what I am working to avoid.

So yesterday, which didn't on the outset strike me as a truly exceptional day until I did some tallying, here are the foods which I ate which I wish to rule out (I ate good stuff as well but have left that out)
1 sausage roll
1 bottle of fruit juice
3 pineapple lumps
2 pieces of gorgeous home made Russian fudge
some salt and vinegar chips (crisps)

I had a pint of Guinness with the chips but I'm not yet sure that I'll specifically rule out alcohol this week. Actually Favourite Handyman and I drank Guinness in the pub on the way home from work while leaving our young children in childcare. If you need a mother to disapprove of, here I am. I did go to the school PTA meeting later on though.

My off list:
no bought pizza, no potato chips or chocolate or sweets
no soft drink
no muesli bars

That's all I think for now. I have this suspicion that I think I don't eat these things whereas in fact I do, but they slip in underneath my consciousness radar.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I was quite emotional this morning listening to a man on the radio who worked at the freezing works (abbatoir or meat processing unit) for 40 years and was laid off when the Islington plant closed (as were my uncle and cousin) and then again as the Belfast works closes this month. Unskilled abattoir work is what put food on the table in my childhood home and I hate to see how vulnerable people are in recession and what it can do to the hopes of whole families, even entire generations.

Sometimes I know capitalism sucks.

Don't even wash the pot

Great scheme. I threw the rooster in the slow cooker for the day (with lemon thyme, oil, paprika), added yams at lunchtime and then pulled the bird and yams out at dinnertime. Stripped the carcass of meat and put the carcass back in the slow cooker (which still held the cooking juices) with carrots, onions with skin on, celery, black peppercorns, parsley and bay leaves.

I'll have another look at it in the morning.

The latest NZ Gardener magazine arrived today. Weed of the month is creeping buttercup and it likes poorly drained soils. We have loads and heaps and more loads of creeping buttercup in our garden and lawn. But our rainfall is so massive, especially lately. I don't know that the soil is really compacted or clay heavy, just that it has to deal with so much rain. The tests in gardening books about waiting for an hour to watch water drain don't mention about round here where sometimes it takes days and days (and more days) to get an entire hour free of rain.

Sprouts are good though. Sprouts lift my food growing soul wherever in the world oron the calendar I am.

I've made some weight loss goals. This is unusual behaviour for me. Maybe I'll post more another time.

Monday, July 21, 2008

that winter feeling

Nothing terrible, just endless sausages. I can see a week or so of food planning online (i.e. here) could help lift the fog of sameness. I held off doing a large-ish organic beans and pulses order because a friend had offered to get some last week. She brought me back some borlotti beans which soaked all of today and are now on low in the slow cooker for the night. I have in mind to add chilli and pumpkin to them tomorrow morning and hopefully it is all yummy by night time and then the last of my kale can go in.

I've pulled the last home slaughtered rooster out of the freezer to defrost. That can slow cook all of Wednesday. This time I'll keep the cooking juices for stock.

I've put radish and alfalfa seeds in a jar to soak tonight and have more yoghurt in the yoghurt thermos. I made parsley hummous this morning and that helps fill the lunchboxes. The apple crumble I made this afternoon went down well tonight and there are small portions in containers for the children's lunches tomorrow.

I'm keen to play round with soda bread this week and I want to make the recipe I spotted again today for roasted garlic and pea puree. If it turns out as good as it looks in my recipe book, then it could be another lunch box hit.

anchovy experiment

It's raining and lunarly non-sowing time.

Lately I've noticed newspapers running recipe columns of budget fare. Only they don't generally strike me as budget type meals at all. Nice bean dish but then big slabs of fresh fish on top. Nice bean dish but then chorizo sausages (the expensive 'real' kind) with it. They never strike my could-come-in-under-$6 per-meal radar.

Which in a perhaps illogical way got me thinking about anchovies. Someone was on the radio this morning putting anchovies in with some flash nice bit of meat which was a concept Nigella Lawson introduced me to (through her book, I don't have fabulous connections). Only expensive meat plus expensive anchovies always seemed too much for part time profligate but part time skinflint me.

So this afternoon I'm having a bob both ways. Cheap meat and anchovies. The glamorous cooks always stress really good anchovies. I have no idea. Here in small town you can't always even buy any anchovies so I just buy what I can get.

In the oven now (not thinking food in time to use the slow cooker):
sausages (pork and pineapple which is an unfortunate type I suspect but too late now)
sun dried tomatoes
tin of chopped tomatoes

I shall report further tonight.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

choices choices

Supermarket prices are through the roof, organic veges are either unavailable physically or eye-wateringly pricey, so self-sufficiency is totally attractive.

But there isn't room. I'm adding more garden space every year, sometimes every week, but we're still on a suburban sized section and have to be dependent on other growers to some extent.

So I mull over my choices rather obsessively often.

Garlic is health food par excellence in my world. I've planted garlic again this year but resisted the temptation to plant even more. The good news on the garlic front is I have a source of organic West Coast grown garlic which I can buy in and store. I bought three kilograms at the end of last summer and we're still eating it now. I may buy even more next summer. As the garlic starts to sprout, I'm thinking that next year I need to play round with preserving garlic so we have local grown garlic for our daily meals all year round.

Onions. Another food where we eat a paddock's-worth each year and so rather impossible to grow enough ourselves. But then again, they are a heavily sprayed crop from memory (you know the articles where you freak out and declare no non-organic food ever again and then you go to the supermarket and realise organic prices are gold-plated and money doesn't grow on trees) and even when the money is there, organic onions are very hard to find. Last year I tried but had no success. This year I'm having another go with red brunswick onions, trying welsh bunching onions, and have shallots already growing well in the garden.

Carrots. Ditto the onions in every sense. Fingers crossed for some carrot success this year. I've got Nantes and White Belgian in the seed box ready.

Potatoes. Bought 3 kg of Red Rascal seed potatoes today. They should give us some lovely early potatoes, or that's what I'm hoping. We're not huge potato eaters, but the eating local challenge suggests that we need to eat more potatoes and less rice or pasta. There is a local commercial potato grower on the (West) coast.

Pumpkins. I love pumpkins and my favourite is Buttercup. Had pumpkin soup for three meals over the last three days. Pumpkins were a flop crop for me last year but I've been putting a lot of effort into getting the garden ready for a much improved crop this coming summer.

Leeks. Got some growing. Won't ever be enough, but I can live with that. I do want to keep 1-2 each year to go to seed simply because leek seed heads are so very beautiful.

Beetroot. Have some, not hard to grow, not a food I hanker for hugely.

Lettuce. I think we can probably do self-sufficiency on the lettuce front, mostly because they grow sufficiently quickly to re-use the ground multiple times in one season. Last year the garden looked very pretty as I planted out seedlings from my packet of mesclun lettuce mix seed. But this year we want crunch again, and it will be iceberg types all the way.

Radishes. Can grow. But who cares? How many radishes exactly do I want to eat?

Zucchini. Certainly can do self-sufficiency on this in season. Last year I made pickle which has gone on sandwiches often since and we still have some left.

Greens. Broccoli I need to keep trying with. I'm sure I can make significant gains on having this most of the year round with a bit more learning and practise. Silverbeet/Swiss Chard I haven't bought for absolutely ever, possibly not since we moved back to New Zealand. So that's an achievement. Kale has been a good success this winter and I plan to plant a lot more of it next Autumn. Self-sufficiency in winter greens is a big priority for winter physical and financial health.

Peas and beans. Flop crops last year. Toes crossed for this coming season.

Tomatoes. I'll be planting again this spring. We were really pleased on the tomato front last season. There is a local commercial tomato grower near us so happy to buy in from them to make sauces.

Herbs. Only use our own mint, parsley, sage and rosemary. I don't buy thyme in but I would like more than we currently have. I still have the packet of mixed herbs out on occasion but much less often now and I've started to play round with drying my own herbs for winter use. I love the versatility of coriander in that the leaves are lovely fresh but if it bolts, then the seeds dry up nicely for winter use. If I could grow cumin successfully, that would be very wonderful as I cook with it a lot. I've got two bay trees growing in pots from tiny cuttings and once I have used up the very large bag of dried leaves I bought at the Chinese warehouse/supermarket last year in Christchurch, my wee plants may be ready for picking a little. In winter, I can use more than ten leaves per week, so I may need to buy a couple more plants. I use celery as a herb and have achieved self-sufficiency with just six plants.


Late this afternoon was a node day. When we should rest and not work with plants or the land. I found out this evening in my Organics NZ magazine. Which was rather late but probably would have fallen on deaf ears.


Late this afternoon (after another trip to the local garden nursery) while Favourite Handyman continued his marvellous work on the poultry palace, I laid out Red Rascal potatoes in the shed to help them sprout. I sowed three peas. Just three because I had an idea that the moon was in the wrong place and I've been thinking lunarly-ish, especially after discovering Gillybean's fabulous gardening blog, where she is mindful of the moon and it's gardening influences. It's also pretty wet and still rather cool here so plenty of time to try a few more seeds each week or so. I stuck an old bottomless fizzy bottle over them to warm it a bit and also to ward off slugs. We have a minimum of 3897 slugs on our property at any one time and I am looking forward to feeding them to our chooks when they arrive.

I added some more gaffer tape to the plastic on my mini tunnel house experiment. We are getting lots of wind at the moment and so a good learning curve on how to keep it all on the ground and protecting the plants adequately.

I sowed seeds of rocket and mesclun salad mix into a rectangular pot and popped them on the windowsill in the kitchen. I moved one coriander plant to the porch - will it be tough enough to survive?

I found signs of onion germination - I sowed some 3-4 days ago. More sprouts of white Welsh bunching onions showing but some of the red Brunswick ones as well.

Favourite Handyman and I walked about our estate (hahaha, squelched along five metres together) and discussed what we need to do to improve wind shelter. Last Summer he fixed the fence on the eastern boundary (neighbouring landlord provided materials and FH provided the labour) and the state of the fence on the western boundary is looking rather dismal and in need of work. Once that is done, then the running boards will be strong enough to attach taller windbreak cloth above the fence. As for the neighbours who opened up the worst wind access by pulling out lovely well established shrubs and trees and since then leaving it turned up and unloved... I've got my fingers crossed that they find some tree love sometime. Meanwhile, we'll have to look at some windshelter cloth for that spot as well. Eventually the two cabbage trees which we planted will provide shelter there.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

poultry palace

Since I took this photograph, Favourite Handyman has added more bamboo reinforcement and made a door out of bamboo at the far end of the chook run. He has started to cover the structure with chicken wire (mesh wire). I think our three chooks are going to enjoy their home. My plans to get chooks in Spring are looking very very possible.
Which makes me very happy.

Friday, July 18, 2008

This week

Planted six strawberry plants and five perpetual spinach seedlings. Sowed Red Brunswick long day and white Welsh bunching onions. Pulled out feverfew to make room for spinach.

Attached plastic to my new mini-tunnel house frame.

Pulled out the dead lemon tree. Got squeamish at the decaying dead hedgehog tucked in beside it.

Planned a long large raised bed parallel to the back wall of the house and a wind break to protect it.

Watched the chook accomodation grow. The run is made of bamboo (and chicken netting) and I think it is wonderful.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The pig

Last night I went to book group. I hadn't read the book and by the time I got there the short discussion of the book was finished and the real business, yakking about everything else, had begun. Talk turned to food eventually and some of the frustrations of attempting to buy local and I found out that Sarah has a contact for local beef, hogget and pork/bacon. I offered then and there that I would like to share a pig with her.

Back home Favourite Handyman blasted my ideas that it would fit in our 135 litre freezer part of the fridge freezer. That sounds like quite a bit for a fridge freezer and it is but perhaps not quite a bit for fitting half a pig in.

When we moved into our home in late 2006, I was keen on getting a freezer. Later on I changed my mind because we seemed to be managing fine as long as we ate through things within 2-3 months or less. After reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle and working ourselves through this winter being conscious of what we are eating from the garden and how dependent we are on the supermarkets (i.e. some place out there to furnish our food needs), I still thought I was in the no-more-appliance-spend category and would simply manage, even though I can't really fit much in there to last the year through after Autumn harvest.

But locally grown and butchered pig, with bacon that is apparently divine. ... Let's just say that I've had a wee look on trademe at the freezer section this morning (nothing around my part of the woods at the moment though). As bacon apparently lures many vegetarians back to the meat side, it's doing its work on me regarding freezers. Also I froze home made pasta sauce last year (much easier than attempting to bottle such a marginal fruit on the acidity/botulism front) but could only do about eight meals' worth because of storage constraints. Then there is Kingsolver's comments about freezing surplus zucchini for winter. With a bigger freezer....

I was buying my pig products from a local butcher. But after twice of not being able to get bacon bones from him I bypassed the nice lady at the counter and had a chat with the butcher. Turns out he gets his pork for curing into bacon boneless and the bones from the year before were bought in from Auckland. sigh.

Bought some local fish from the shop on the wharf yesterday and had a chat there about the challenges facing the local fishing industry. Ninety percent of the fish which is caught off our coast is sent elsewhere in the country (Napier and Christchurch) or to Russia for processing. That's a lot of jobs which I'd like to see here on the coast and it is a lot of fuel.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Aotearoa Slow Food

Wonderful discovery this morning, via a comment on Nikki's blog. New Zealand has it's own slow food group (convivium no less - some days I'm an educated girl, other days I'm the working class girl from Stoke!). Aotearoa Slow Food is based in Wellington, a place of such stylish culture that if I were ever to afford and desire city living within NZ again, Wellington would be it. I highly recommend you have a look. Looking through the older posts, I found out about a forthcoming book, Christine Dann's Down Home Diet, about New Zealanders relocalising our food supply. I am looking forward to that book, which is to be released at the end of this year. Even if I get my own copy, I'll be badgering our local library to make sure they get a copy for general consumption.

I'm not well networked with other kiwi environmentally conscious growers and eaters outside of a few internet friends. I did enjoy Philippa Jamieson's book on wwoofing around New Zealand and I'll be interested to see if Christine Dann's book generates some more linkages within our tiny yet spreadout country.

Tomorrow I'm attending a session with Green MP Jeanette Fitzsimmons on food choices. It's to be held at a local supermarket, at lunchtime, in the school holidays. Ha ha ha. I am looking forward to meeting her and I hope she has a clear voice and can multi-task on the distraction front.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Home-made vegetable stock

I've been making my own beef and chicken stocks for a while now, but still using bought vegetable stock, mostly for risotto if I don't have any home-made chicken stock to use.

In the UK I used the lovely Marigold boullion, but over here it is incredibly expensive and of course food miles heavy. Over the last couple of years I've mostly used Massel stock cubes, an Australian brand which seems fairly good quality and is gluten and lactose free. Last time I bought some it was $5.20 for a packet of ten cubes, so just over $2 to make risotto (for the stock part). I did wonder if I could do it for a better price at home, but since then I've been rethinking my whole attitude towards stocks and prices, or I think I have. It is 5.50am (only time I am awake without children it seems).

Packaging is fairly intense on stock cubes. Each individual Massel cube is wrapped in foil and then a cardboard packet on the outside. I imagine the packaging constitutes a major element of the price.

Ingredients in a Massel vegetable stock cube: marine salt, rice flour, palm shortening (non hydrogenated), sugar, yeast extract, dehydrated vegetables (onion, celery, garlic, spinach, bayleaf, parsley), vegetable flavours.

Hmmmm. I believe they are listed in descending order, largest ingredients first. So five major ingredients before we even get to vegetables. What is going on with 'vegetable flavours' at the end? That could be anything. I expect the palm shortening is to get it to cake, so I don't need to consider that in a comparison with home made liquid stock. I did think palm oil was a baddie due to the effect of growing it large scale in Indonesia, but am hazy on the details.

So rice flour is bulking it up but not adding to flavour. Salt, sugar and yeast extract are going to give a bit more flavour, but I could add them at home without paying 50+ cents per cube.

I don't have any difficulty getting a rich broth when I make stock with animal bones together with carrots, onions, celery and bay leaves. While I have 'recipes' to get a beginner started on such meat stocks in several recipe books, vegetable stock is barely if ever given a mention.

So I need to have a play around.

I also want to have a go at using onion weed as a food as Brigitte has suggested. It is all over our section, so no worries about finding enough. Then there is the lettuces in the garden, some gone to seed, which I want to use up, plus a mizuna plant that I pulled out to make way for an asparagus crown on Sunday.

Yesterday I washed and threw in my (10 litre I think) stock pot the mizuna, the lettuce, a parsley plant gone entirely to seed (I figure there must be flavour in the seeds), 3 bay leaves, three chopped carrots and two fat handfuls of onion weed. I cut the leaves off rather than pulling it up as it appeared to be the leaves Brigitte is using and it's faster that way than digging them up. I turned the element on very low (to simulate slow cooker conditions) but two hours later nothing much had happened so I turned it up, then off so I could use the element to cook dinner then finally on again. Not exactly getting pride of place in the kitchen order, but my experiment at least was happening. I put it on a medium boil meaning to adjust it down to a tiny simmer after the children were asleep. Except I fell asleep with them and woke up at 1.30am to find it had diminished by three quarters. Good job I woke up and turned it off so it didn't boil right down, burn until it caught fire and kill us in our sleep. I think I'll leave this story out next time we have a plunket visit.

I've tasted some just now and it is reasonable. I thought all the greenness might taste yuck, but it's okay. I'll use it a base for tonight's dinner. I will try onion weed again but not in stock.

I now want to work out an excellent vegetable stock recipe. Carrots, onions, celery, bay leaves. That part not difficult. But I think there must be a few other magic ingredients to make it sing and I'm after them! This time of year is a great one to work it out (I hope) as I have the chance to grow any recommended herbs or vegetables so I have all the ingredients to hand. I would love to read any suggestions here in the comments.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Big day in the garden

Firstly, compost. A good day in my garden almost always involves compost. Brighid and I went down to the beach and collected a bucket and a box full of pine needles. Then we grabbed a suitable log from the beach for a garden project. Lots of lots of logs wash up on our beach, especially in the stormy weather we've had lately.

Back home I layered the pine needles and wood ash from the fire in one corner where I am building a wee compost heap in readiness to grow pumpkins on it in Summer. I also used some wood ash and pine needles to create another garden patch. It is the patch I had initially thought of for the asparagus as it is in one of the higher spots on our section so should offer good drainage. But I didn't prepare it in time for asparagus and I've since thought that the perennial weed free requirement of an asparagus patch means an older garden patch would be more suitable for those gorgeous green spears.

The latest garden patch does not yet have a name but it does have four sides marked by wood I've collected from the beach or been gifted by friends leaving town. I have buried bokashi in it and then layered pine needles and wood ash on top and then pea straw on top of that. I'm not sure what will go in it but there are many, too many, contenders competing for the spot in my head.

I am considering using the new patch for medicinal herbs, as I figure I don't need them super close to the house (and I had such trouble squeezing them into my last garden plan that I had to knock heaps of them off my seed ordering list). I am moving, or have moved, my culinary herbs to the garden closest to the kitchen door.

Or I could put a bush tomato and basil and other companions to tomatoes in it. Now that I've made more garden space out the front, I don't feel the need to give this new garden over to pumpkins or zucchini.

Next up, the chook home. The shelter part is all built and fabulous and today Favourite Handyman was working on the run part. Unfortunately the alkathene pipe turned out not to be strong enough for his initial plans. Have to try something else. I felt his pain and decided to go buy him some beer as a treat/solace.
When I left he was considering turning the pipe lengths into mini tunnel houses and when I got back he had made one for my January raised bed. It looks fabulous to me. Just need to buy some plastic now. My goal with this one (and we may make others yet) is to improve warmth in Spring and Autumn and give a growth boost to plants we would grow anyway. When we get the big glass house built not this summer but hopefully the one after, I'll start playing round with capsicums and chilli peppers and the like then.

I pruned as much as the secataurs would allow me off an ugly fern at the front of the house and threw the leaves over one of my compost projects as mulch. I'd like to dig it out but it looks like two dwarf trees are very well established there and they may not give up without a fight. The photo below is before I got cutting.

Then Favourite Handyman pulled out the posts and windcloth from the dead lemon tree and used it to start off the shelter fence which I'd asked for at the front of the house. The afternoon sun is good there but in order for my pumpkins and zucchinis to do well out there, we need quite a bit of shelter from the wind ripping in off the sea.

To top off a fabulous day, we all went down to the beach just before dusk and played in the foam which the surf had brought up. I am grateful for this wonderful life.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


They had yam tubers for sale as seed at my local garden nursery today. Snaffled some of them immediately and made a note to come back on payday for some more strawberry plants.

This link gives some useful information and a photograph on the vegetable we call a yam in New Zealand. The name means a different vegetable entirely in some parts of the world. The photo above is courtesy of the same site. Regular readers will know I have my camera out as often as I do housework and upload to the computer less frequently again.

Our NZ yams are part of the rather vigorous oxalis family. They tend to keep coming up every year and so I've chosen their spot somewhere contained. They are in the cupboard now and I'll plant them out once they start to sprout. Like potatoes.

Yams are a winter vegetable - we'd be starting to eat our own about now if I'd planted some last year. That makes them very attractive to me. My big goal is to have lots of winter veges in the garden for when prices are high in the shops. We are eating our own kale or swiss chard most days at the moment, but I want even more greens next winter.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Never too wet to make compost

Teemed down with rain today. So bad I did housework in the morning. By afternoon I held no care for whether I got wet, just that I got to garden. Brighid and I went into town to collect some peastraw we'd ordered and then I spread some over the old tobacco patch and a few other patches of bare earth out the back.

The rest of the pea straw went into my new compost heap by the garage. I recycled a large parcel box (all tape removed and laid out flat) as the weed supressant. Then I piled up four large bags worth of horse manure, layered with pea straw, lots of fluff collected from the tumble drier for months, some strips of old clothing and crudely shredded paper. I didn't need to wet it down with the hose - rain did a fine job. I stacked three sheets of recycled corrugated iron over it - one on each long side and one on top, leaving each end open for air circulation. I anchored it all down with some old bricks from our 'useful one day' pile.

It might be that it's best to have some soil contact to get the aerobic action going - I've meshed together ideas from no dig gardening with compost making. So I'm thinking that I will take some soil and partly decomposed compost from one of my other heaps and add to this new one as a kind of starter.

Peastraw is hard to come by this season and has to be trucked over from Christchurch, using a significant quantity of precious fossil fuel. It is a mulch par excellence in my opinion, but I am also aware that I need to look at other mulch options which can be generated (on the scale I desire) here on the West Coast. A friend yesterday had heard that bracken works well. That should be easy enough to come by so long as I'm prepared to cut it myself.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

seed list, compost

Especially for Nova.

Webbs Wonderful Lettuce
Greenfeast peas
Buttercup squash
Russian red tomato
dark green zucchini

German chamomile
wild thyme

That is what I'm allowing myself to purchase for Spring. The list of my wants is much much longer. Today's attempt to plant onion seeds went bellyup with my daughter breaking the propagator.

I now have four large feed bags of horse manure at home and plenty waiting for me to collect tomorrow. I also have two bales of peastraw waiting for me at the feed shop in town. I've speculated on several ways of organising the horse manure and given the quantities I have available, I expect I'll be able to use all ideas.

Optimally, I want to add a good chunk of carbon heavy materials to the horse manure to aid good composting. So I got out my wee paper shredder this morning to turn some waste paper into shreds for the compost. And broke it. Just like that. Then I realised that I could rip up the paper into strips fairly quickly without any machine to assist me. I've binned the electric paper shredder. One less thing to have in the house.

Speaking of which, we just have far too many things in our house. I collected about 313 shoes to go to the Sallies this morning, 287 of them not matching. Then there is the soft toy menace. If you like someone, then do not buy his or her child a soft toy. They are the world's worst cluttering objects.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

a grand horse poo project

I got a telephone call this evening from a friend whose teenage daughter has a horse. Said daughter has collected all the horse poo from the paddock into a pile, as per her agreement with her parents, and now they need to get rid of it. There is a trailer load at least apparently.

Never one to say no to a compost opportunity, I've arranged to go out with large sacks tomorrow and take what we want. At this time of the year, I wouldn't expect lots of weed seeds, which can be a problem with horse poo.

This sounds like a lot more horse poo than we've had before. I'm going to need to get some pea straw to mix with it. I've also been thinking about putting corrugated iron on top to heat it up more (and keep the dogs out of it). Corrugated iron (we have some cast off old stuff in our ready to reuse gifts pile) has sharp edges so no good building a compost heap with where the children can get hurt on it.

So the current (expanding into a grand) plan is to turn more of the area outside the garage into garden this way. I could use the tyres from last week's photo to make makeshift paths and then lay horse poo and peastraw over the rest of the lawn and then lay corrugated iron on top and then put big rocks on top of that. We could have a bumper pumpkin harvest this year. A reputation as an obsessed gardener who recycles many things is highly beneficial...

seed control

So there I was, making my seed order list from the Kings seed catalogue. Oops, I have 23 packets on my list. And that is on top of over 25 seed packets which I already own. And the cost comes to $60. And we don't have that much ground in cultivation.


So tonight I printed off the Ecoseeds catalogue so I could properly pore over it. Before I pored in top gear earnest, I made a plan of the house and gardens and labelled what vege/herb was to go where. That put the brakes on me much more effectively. So now I have a list of nine seed packets I want from Ecoseeds, who grow their own seed organically, by open pollination, here in NZ (Kings Seeds import the bulk if not the entirety of their products). The total cost is about $35. Much better.

Potatoes and yams I will source locally later this year.

Monday, July 7, 2008

garden planning

Today I buried the innards of the roosters and a bucket of bokashi in the old tobacco patch. There were worms, but only a fraction of the volume of worms I found in the blueberry patch a few days ago. The difference is that the blueberry patch has had bokashi buried in it mere weeks ago and it has had compost (a mix I made comprising mostly horse poo and pea straw) layered over top with pine needles for the final layer. So I'm expecting that today's bokashi will do good things for the worm numbers.

The old tobacco patch is 1.0 x 4.0 metres. The one metre width seemed a perfect size at the time that I created the bed, but I forgot that due to the boundary fence on one side, I would only be able to access the bed from one side. So today I found I had to stand on the actual garden in order to do some of the digging. Which is really really bad according to almost every organic gardening text I have ever read. I think one way of minimising the soil compaction risk is to plant perennial herbs against the fence and then have annual vegetables at the front. I believe lady flower gardeners would turn such a spot into a herbaceous border. Sniff and snort.

I've got a few options of herbs to put along the fence and then I'll plant potatoes in front. This is where the glass house will go eventually but for the moment I'm not letting that shape my planning. We're prioritising building a lean-to for the firewood this summer and completing some more insualtion tasks. I don't think we'll have a functional glass house until 2010. We will have chooks by this Spring though, so all is coming along beautifully I think.


Even though it is the middle of winter, we are still blessed with much greenery and growth. The first photo is of one of the pungas in Brighid's forest. Favourite Handyman planted these pungas the day our daughter was born in January 2007.The second photo is of our broad beans. These beans don't get any direct sun in winter but they are growing well enough nevertheless. We haven't staked them all but they are (hopefully) fixing nitrogen anyway and I'm sure we'll get some broad beans to eat even if they are flopping on the ground. I planted them back in March.

These swiss chard or silverbeets are growing in the shade also and seem to be doing well. This area was totally overrun by weeds and trees not too long ago and now we are eating off it. I chop some leaves off these plants each week for soups and stews.This fourth photo is beside the pungas and the silverbeet/swiss chard. I cleared it and buried bokashi in it and planted some beneficial insect blend seeds. Immediately, lots of onion weed germinated and colonised much of the area. I haven't got around to eating any onion weed yet, but I will.
Photo five is the corner of the invasive garden patch. You can see some silverbeet in the midground, our sad little attempt at a scarecrow in the background and in the foreground a wet patch where we left tyres and managed to kill the grass. I've buried bokashi in that spot and come summer we'll grow something to eat in it. It doesn't get more than a sliver of sun at the moment, but that will improve as the sun stays higher in the sky in coming months. We used the tyres for an experiment with growing potatoes last year but it wasn't successful and they are now laying around until I think of a good use for them. You have to pay to drop tyres off at the local landfill so I'll be making sure we think of a home-based use for them.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Rooster killing

Favourite Handyman killed and plucked two roosters this afternoon. I gutted them and they are now hanging inside pillowcases in one of our outdoor sheds. Given the very cold weather, we have no concerns about them hanging overnight. Last time we killed roosters was a hot summer's day and we only hung them for an hour that time. The pillowcases mean flies cannot get at them.

When I went around to Raelene's to collect the roosters, she also had a big pile of "Lifestyle Farmer" magazines for me to borrow. Interesting reading so far. I took particular notice of an article on gardening through carpet, where the author laid manure over lawn/weeds and then laid wool carpet over that. Then she cut holes in the carpet and planted seeds or seedlings through the hole. She was very impressed with the results. I've ignored advice relating to recycling carpet before because I never come across any old carpet. But in a lightbulb moment this evening, I remembered that our childminder's husband is a carpet layer. I'll have a chat to Pete next week and see what my prospects are.

We don't get a lot of sub-zero temperatures where I live, but this week Jack Frost has definitely been calling. I think the tamarillo is going to become compost rather soon. Everything else is surviving okay.

At the end of this month I will have been blogging for one whole year. So now that a year of haphazardly labelling or not labelling my posts, it has finally dawned on me that I want a better system. Specifically, I want to be able to use my blog as a resource to check on what worked and what didn't for particular flowers/herbs/vegetables/fruits in previous years. So I'm in the midst of puddling round pushing some order into my labelling, even gunning for a system. This is a typical pattern for me for almost all ventures I undertake.

These are the labels I'm thinking of reorganising into: community, politics, vegetables, fruit, herbs, flowers, food, compost, recipes, gardening techniques. Could be a few more, such as my using up the cupboard project. But maybe I no longer need a label for Monty Don just because I mentioned him once which was really just because I fancy him, in an idle hot-garden-knowedgeable-man kind of way. Maybe.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Blueberries and seaweed

After a week of thunder, lightning, hail and endless rain, it all stopped today. Very cold, but I own warm clothes and strode out into the garden this afternoon without any care for the state of the house. I planted the two blueberry plants I bought earlier this week. I bought two varieties: 'Blueberry Powder Blue' and 'Blueberry Rahi'. I had to buy two because these are rabbiteye types and require cross-pollination. The plentiful worm activity in the soil when I was planting the blueberries was very encouraging.

I then dug out the last of the tobacco plants and tipped the bags of seaweed I've been collecting over the last week over the vacated garden patch. Using loppers and scissors I chopped all the seaweed into pieces of about 10cm or less and left them scattered over the patch. Given the huge volume of rain we've received of late and will likely receive in coming weeks, I preferred to leave the seaweed to rot in like this rather than make a seaweed brew.

I've been reading that wood ash is very alkaline. Which particularly interests me because pine needles are quite acidic. So I'm thinking of collecting some more pine needles from the local rugby field sideline this week and layering them with the wood ash on my new compost spot. I will then top it with Raelene's discarded chook litter from her hen house.

Unless the weather improves and the roads to take Fionn to his grandparents' home open, tomorrow we will be killing, plucking and gutting two roosters. Other times I have put the feathers on the compost, turned the bones to stock (and eaten the meat obviously) and then placed the used bones in the rubbish bag alongside the various bits I gut from each bird. I am wondering whether we should toughen up a little more and bury those innards in the garden. They would probably do something good for the soil. The back garden is fenced off from local dogs and NZ doesn't have foxes, so there should be no risk of it all being dug up again. Wonder how deep I'd have to bury it...

Friday, July 4, 2008

The path to a brave new world?

Truckies have been protesting throughout New Zealand this morning. The single issue cause is the lack of warning about road user charges going up with immediate effect despite an assurance by transport minister Annette King that she would not do that. There are always a larger bunch of pressures which feed into a decision to protest on this scale, and the rising fuel prices which are driving truckies to the wall economically do seem the likely wider issue.

The oil crisis is threatening the livelihoods of truckies (truckdrivers). It is threatening their ability to feed their families and pay their mortgages. Of course they could find a new job, start a vege garden and become low fuel users and committed locavores. Kind of like finding God, but instead of going to church, they will devote themselves to lowering their footprints on this precious earth and reflect each day on the myriad ways in which they can serve the 'God' of the light footprint.

I'm not surprised that there are truckies all over the world protesting. Why should they go gently into the 'new world', give up their wordly possessions and starting sprouting alfalfa to sell on the roadside? Many of us who have an interest in the issues surrounding the increasingly limited supply of oil have indeed made changes. I and most people in my country, not to mention the rest of the world, lean heavily on the services of truckies.

I was pleased to see our democratic right to protest enjoyed and upheld on such an impressive scale throughout New Zealand this morning. Equally the right of citizens in a democratic country, some people have found this protest offensive and said so. I think it is the very tiniest reminder that such a radical change in society as some peak oil enthusiasts predict will not come about by people all finding their environmental 'God' and their peace beads and gently transforming our society.

The pain is not all about big business.

Feeding Melbourne's hungry, using not wasting food

Here is the original link where I found it. It is the best news I have encountered today. It is happening now, not once they can get it going. Now. I love it.

Monday June 30th 2008
It’s a common scenario the world over, especially in developed countries: thousands of people go hungry while tons of unwanted but edible food is heaped into landfills. One organisation in Australia has developed a novel scheme to correct this, one that provides meals for the disadvantaged and is also good for the planet. Marcus Godinho, the man behind it, explains:

It’s shocking to see how much good food gets thrown out. The goods that come to us are usually rejected because they’re close to their "best before" date; incorrectly packaged; weather-damaged; superseded by another line; or don’t fit society’s high standards, for example not complying with a certain size, colour or shape. We have an egg farm that regularly gives us eggs that are too large, too small or are double-yoked because the supermarkets don’t want them.

Apart from staples such as fruit and veg, we sometimes also get magnificent luxury goods, like smoked salmon or beautiful cheeses. Two weeks ago we were given 30,000 chocolate bars because some were heat-affected and had gone a bit pale. This made little difference to the appreciative people we gave them to. Not that you could call chocolate bars healthy, but everybody deserves a treat.

We cook with what we’ve got in the kitchen on any given day. While we’ve got regular boxes of food coming in, our duty chef and the band of volunteers who help him have to be on the ball, and very creative with some of the unexpected ingredients that we’re donated. Not long ago a catering company whose freezer was on the blink gave us 450kg of prawns. We collected them quickly, shelled them and made delicious quiches out of them.

But we don’t produce everything in our kitchen. Sometimes catering companies give us their surplus pre-packed sandwiches and rolls, as well as any freshly squeezed juices they have spare. There was a bar mitzvah over the weekend and the company catering for it dropped off 250kg of leftover lamb chops, wild barramundi and stir-fried chicken.

Lately we have seen an unprecedented rise in the demand for food. There’s the ongoing issue of homelessness (there are 20,000 homeless people in Victoria), but hunger isn’t something only faced by them or by people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. The recent increase in interest rates and the price of petrol and food means there’s a lot of pressure on working households to make ends meet, and some people are struggling to put food on the table.

FareShare is about giving tangible emergency help to members of the community who are going through a tough time, and we get some fantastic support for the work we do. Our operational costs, such as wages, electricity and petrol are funded exclusively from philanthropic and corporate organisations, as well as private individuals.

We started seven years ago as One Umbrella. It began when Jewish Aid Australia, which rescued food and distributed it to agencies, joined forces with six people (one of whom was a chef) who used to meet every Saturday morning to make meals for disadvantaged people. Up until this year we worked from a kitchen which we shared with other organisations. This limited our capacity to respond to the high demand for food, the ever-growing offers of surplus goods and an expanding waiting list of volunteers.

But a recent extraordinarily generous donation has meant that we’ve been able to buy our own building, which will give us enormous scope to grow and provide more meals to people in need. Before we moved into our new premises in May, we made 700 meals a day. Now we can make 1500 an hour and plan to produce up to a million meals a year.

We support 55 agencies all over Melbourne and some regional areas with emergency food. They include soup vans, homeless shelters, school breakfast programmes and crisis centres. We’ve got a Cryovac machine that vacuum-seals food, which then just needs heating up. But we’re really inspired by old-time miners’ use of pastry to wrap up their dinners, which we now know as pasties, and would love to use it more often if we could get donors to supply it.

Pastries, pies, sausage rolls – all have distinct advantages for us. They are nutritious (we use lean meat and high fibre) and very portable. Our agencies find them easy to serve as they don’t have to worry about having adequate infrastructure, such as a kitchen and cutlery, or the washing up.

We have four paid staff and 100 volunteers a week to assist us with baking, as well as administration and driving. Some of the volunteers come to us from the corporate sector – there’s a trend among large companies to encourage workers to take time off and volunteer in the community.

Food safety is paramount: we haven’t had a single incidence yet. Donors themselves are protected from legal action under Victoria’s Good Samaritan Act, which is legislation that FareShare was instrumental in bringing about. This gives donors immunity from common law liability for food donated in good condition and good faith. As a result, last financial year, we rescued 140 tons of stuff going to landfill. This year the figure is closer to 280 tons. So not only do we protect the environment, we’re able to use that surplus to feed Melbourne’s homeless and hungry. I think it’s a great achievement.

• Marcus Godinho was speaking to Carmela Ferraro. For more information visit the FareShare website.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

seed time

Shortest day has been and gone and I'm getting twitchy on the seed front. I've been looking at NZ seed catalogues online this evening and have also brought my seed box in from the shed. But before I tally what I already have, I have to share this picture which I found on the Koanga site.

This might be what you were referring to Nikki?

It is called Kale Lacinato. It doesn't look as big as the Cavolo Nero (walking stick cabbage) which in pictures which I've seen looks similar in leaf characteristics. I might just have to get Red Russian Kale and Kale Lacinato.

Here, for the purposes of harnessing my overly grand buying plans, is a list of the vegetable seeds I already have packets of.
Beetroot chioggia
Broad beans exhibition long pod
Broccoli purple sprouting early
Bean borlotto fire tongue
Celery for cutting
Corn salad Verte de Cambrai
Carrot Touchon
Carrot White Belgian
Chicory Red Verona
Florence Fennel Romanesco
Kale Squire
Leek Carentan Giant
Mesclun lettuce mix
Mesclun organic salad mix
Onion White Welsh
Onion Red Brunswick
Pak choi Cash F1
Pumpkin Austrian Oil Seed
Radish gourmet blend
Beet bright lights
Beet Argentata
Tomato Sungold F1
Tomato Rainbow Blend mixture
Hmm, 25 packets of seed. I don't think we will starve even if we end up with no seed buying budget whatsoever. But I do have a few more things to add. Kale as aforementioned, plus a couple of varieties of zucchini, at least one more (primarily for eating the flesh kind) pumpkin, some peas, and some different tomatoes. Oh and more beans. I've reigned myself in on the onion experimentation front for the meantime. Some of the packets above served us well last year while others disappeared into ungerminated never never land.
Heavens knows where I'll fit them all. This doesn't include my herb list. I do covet a few flowers, but they are lower on my list and some may fall off.