Friday, November 28, 2008

strewing seaweed

This morning the garden murderer had a big sleep and I got to do some gardening. I've hardly done any this week and a big part is that I fear that any I do will be pulled apart in the interests of science. Maybe Ernest Rutherford pulled the garden to bits when he was 22 months also, but if so then I bet his mother got mighty annoyed on occasion.

I finished weeding the garlic and strawberry bed (these are supposedly not good companions but they were in there together before I found out) and then chopped lots of seaweed into small pieces. I strewed the seaweed over the garden bed and then threw around trowel loads of sheep poo. Apparently this is 'cold manure' and won't burn plant roots if it is put straight on the garden. Chook, cow and horse manure are hot and need to be composted first.

On top of all this went a thick layer of pea straw. No doubt the blackbirds will strew this to every corner of the earth, but a girl has to make some effort to stop the weeds from taking over.

I placed a cloche over top of one strawberry plant recently which is how I got to eat three strawberries this week instead of the blackbirds. Very yummy.

The rest of the gardening time I spent harvesting slugs from underneath logs and taking them to slaughter. The chooks were very happy with this.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


All positive love and sunshine today then, obviously.

Today I learnt on the radio that the US government has pumped lots of money into the banks so that they are able to lend money more easily because the big problem is that ordinary people have stopped spending in America. They want the banks to be able to extend credit.

Today I learnt on the radio that in Australia, mortgage defaulting is on a significant rise and that in New Zealand, rent defaulting is on a significant rise.

Today on the radio they played an Elvis Costello song about how the army entices young men from poor backgrounds into the army in tough economic times.

Today in the late afternoon I spent time with the people running a programme for young disaffected people who are interested in a career in the miltary or fire services. I heard of how the military services provide widely encompassing support for its people.

Today I thought of my brother joining the army at sixteen. I remembered being the pacifist sister and slowly coming to terms with the good things the army offered and continues to offer young people.

Big price to risk paying though.

While I was listening to the radio, I made hunza pie, a dish using cooked rice, silverbeet and egg to make a pie. I am grateful again that we have chooks and silverbeet in our garden.

I am still coming to terms with the nature of the pain and the changes our community will experience as the global downturn and financial markets crisis makes it's impact here in smallwettown. I knows that material life will change for many and I suspect that we are well placed for job security to feel the pain less than others in our town, our island, our country. What I still wonder is how we will live in an interior way. How will I make sense of these changes? What will be right and wrong? If there are not enough jobs to go round, then which jobs should change? Should we stop having children? (I will personally but that's not what I mean) A society based on endless growth has a clear rationale, even if it isn't one I am ion full agreement with. A society forced to retract - well what is the rationale for that society?

Monday, November 24, 2008


We are now on the third consecutive day of rain, with the added excitement that it is now raining harder than in the weekend and blowing very hard. The poultry palace is still in the right place and I'm hoping that it stays that way.

I've worked out a key problem with my former tiny herb bed which I converted to a salad bed last week. The guttering above it is leaking something terrible. It was pouring out is afternoon (and now I expect, but I'm not going out in the squall to check).

When we first moved in, the entire back side of the house was under water and my Dad explained how to dig a trench and make a gravel bed (I forget the proper word for this) and then fill it up with soil and have better drainage. A bit more standing round staring at different times of day soon established that the water from the bathroom and the wash-house (laundry) was leaking . Which is how I got to know Ken the Plumber. Ken and I had slightly differing ideas of how quickly this job might be achieved, but he did oblige beautifully and finish it after I left him a message explaining that I was eight months pregnant, planning a home birth and wanting to have the waterworks in the house functioning properly before I went into labour.

Tonight Favourite Handyman tells me that the spouting is blocked, not broken. Which does sound much cheaper to fix. Neither of us is in any doubt as to whose job this will be. I'll buy his favourite beer when he fixes it. I try to be lovely like that.

There is water pooling all over the place. This includes the area beside the tiny once was herb and now is salad garden. This is the grassy path to get to under the house. So that needs to be dug out and gravelled I think.

Water is also pooling all around the old chook run. This area is in desperate need of being dug out and some kind of free draining paths being laid. Did I mention that I love Favourite Handyman a lot? FH thinks that the actual garden needs walls so that it can be built up a lot. I'm still wanting to try this plot without walls. I think our rainfall is so high that we almost never get the opportunity for soil to get dry and crumbly and slide down. Of course we could have a mudslide. Hmmm.

I'm almost looking forward to going to work tomorrow. We've had visitors this morning (we could because the house is still looking pretty swish from the grand weekend cleaning project), I've made banana cake, shepherd's pie, cooked chickpeas which I'll shortly turn into hummous, done some tidying (what about that aye?), knitted, read children stories, done the school run in the rain. I don't think I could sustain this level of domesticity without any leaven of gardening for two days running.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A rethink on the watercress front

We cleaned the house yesterday. If you want more exciting details of this too rare event, then look no further.

Today I made something swanky. I punched some holes in the bottom of a used olive tin, just like the one in the picture (except empty so topless), and sowed basil in it. Why do I think this qualifies as swanky? Because in wannabe Italian restaurants but not, I suspect, in Italy, they are forever displaying large tins of olives and tomatoes. I did actually like the kiwi touch of a pizza place in Wakefield (Nelson, NZ) which added tins of peaches to the display.
So I thought as basil and olives go well together and as I increasingly choose to sow my basil direct into small pots and harvest from them, that it might even qualify as stylish to have basil growing in olive tins on my kitchen windowsill. Especially as I even cleaned the windowsill yesterday.
I've been inspecting the old chook run garden this afternoon as it has stopped raining for the first time all weekend. I have changed my mind about throwing lots of watercress to the chooks. Mine didn't eat the stems and the stems (of which there a large number) have all sprouted many new plants along the length of each stem. Other plants in the same plot are growing well.
None of my tomatoes look especially healthy. I don't know why.
I let the mulch on the strawberry and garlic bed get a bit thin and have been rewarded with weeds.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Good living is all about compost. So is good dying for that matter.

So this morning I turned my current compost heap. I didn't bother on the previous site but suspected this one would benefit. I removed the piece of roofing iron which has been keeping it warm and mostly dry of late and forked most of the heap onto the wheelbarrow. The very wet stuff down the bottom from before I started using the iron had decomposed quite a bit and had lots of worms. I shovelled it all back, mixing the dry straw with the wetter material. I think this will speed the process up nicely.

I planted another tomato while my daughter was asleep. While she was awake, she created merry messy hell in the garden and in the kitchen. I didn't mind much about the kitchen.

Speaking of kitchen activity, this morning I made biscuits and had them cooled and ready to go in Fionn's lunch box before it was time for the school run. I'm just going to pause a little now to admire my own efforts once again.

before school. an entire batch of biscuits.

Muesli chocolate chip biscuits they are called.

I began to tidy up the area where the potted tomatoes will go (cordoned off from tiny fists by the temporary chook run I hope) this afternoon. Fionn wanted to play with all the tyres I had moved. Play means spread everywhere. I said no. They call me grumpy. They are right.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Local Spring dinner

I've met my biggest deadline at work and with an afternoon free to clean the house, it was pretty clear that I should drive out to Runanga to Jonesy the butcher's and do a spot of local food shopping. I got bacon ends, a stuffed lamb roast and some sliced ham. On the way back I spied some lettuces at the fundraising op shop at the old miners' hall and bought 4. Grown by a local person, hydroponically. I look forward to learning more - I hope he is growing more than just lettuce. Back in the tiny sized smoke, I stopped at the mad man from Hoki's trailer stall. I bought asparagus, broccoli, tomatoes and potatoes, all grown half an hour south of our home.

Back home I found various non-cleaning things to occupy me. On the school run I popped in to see the principal about the $500 donation to the school for gardening which I had organised. Turns out I'm well connected which can never be bad. Outside Fionn's classroom we chatted about the progress of our children's potato plants. Just three more weeks until weigh in time.

Dinner was roast lamb, lettuce salad (with the first of our own radishes), asparagus and new season's potatoes. The sun is shining and my world feels perfect.

fuel prices

Today I paid $1.45 per litre for petrol. $50 to fill up the car. That was heading close to $80 a couple of months ago. Petrol then was $2.21 per litre.

The green movement has been rather quiet on how petrol prices are a sign that we are running out of oil and that armegeddon is nigh, of late.

All the fault of the big bad men in suits, speculating crazily.

All the same, what goes up and down can go up again and with the endless talk of much deeper recession, I'm keeping my petrol consumption mostly reigned in.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Herb garden relocated

Yesterday I was thinking that I would build (that translates to get FH to build) a structure to raise my smallest herb corner another 10-15cm above the lawn level. Today I thought that that would take ages to happen and there are things I can do in the meantime.

So I weeded, then pulled out the dead sage and thyme. I dug out the remaining thymes and the oregano and replanted them in the long herb garden. I used the gaps left by the marauding chooks after their home blew over a few weeks back. I had enough oregano to plant some in the old chook run as well.

Then I dug out the whole area down about 10 cm. It's only a small area, about 60cm x 70cm, so not hard to work with. I spread half a bucket of river sand in the base and then half a bucket of sheep poo. Then I piled the soil back in, broke the clods up and sowed radishes, rocket, coriander and mesclun salad mix. I'm hoping that although it is still likely to be quite a wet piece of garden, having fast maturing plants in will be easier than poor perennials being stuck with wet feet forever.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Financial Permaculture

I've just found this very interesting article on financial permaculture. Not only is it quite a relief to see I'm not the only one wondering about these things, but the picture of the blog writer is of a handsome Italian looking dude, which adds to the experience surely.

I am frequently irritated to hear people on the radio telling us to spend and even one today telling us to borrow in order to lift ourselves out of the recession. Well I'm not that collectively minded. I'm not at all interested in spending and borrowing to fund someone else's monopoly game.

This summer we will finish the ceiling insulation and make a decent lean-to to protect the fire wood. I don't think there will be funds for underfloor insulation this year nor time to build the glasshouse, but they will happen eventually, probably the summer of 09-10. I need to make the blanket curtain for the front door before winter and get Favourite Handyman to make the rail to hold it. A few short sentences, but quite enough to keep us busy on top of earning money, raising children and growing food.

Garden notes

In the past few days I have sneaked past sleeping people and:

1. Buried two buckets' worth of Bokashi. I buried it out the front, underneath the big compost heap I made a few months ago. I layered cardboard on the bottom of that heap and that has decomposed already. I noticed as I dug that the soil is quite stoney further down which I think is good news for drainage. Drainage seems to be my number one challenge in most of my garden. After I'd put the soil and pea straw back on top, I used bamboo stakes to anchor last year's strawberry cage on top. It covers most of the rectangular pile and this will stop or at least limit the fossicking of neighbouring dogs and of blackbirds.

2. Sown beans, lettuces and basil.

3. Bemoaned to myself that no marigolds have germinated at all. Which considering I sowed at least 24, about a fortnight ago, is a terrible result.

4. Planted one sunflower in the garden and brought some others out of the shed to harden off.

5. Noticed how many different things are germinating in the old chook run. There is watercress galore, which I guess is a powerful sign of how wet our garden environment is. I found a corn seedling this evening. The chooks didn't like the corn so it stayed in the run. It isn't lovely eating sweet corn though, more agricultural feed, so I pulled it out. I threw some mesclun lettuce mix over part of the old chook run not long ago and there are some seedlings from that already. It is very noticeable how well leafy plants are doing in there compared to other parts of the garden where chooks haven't been in to decimate the slug population.

6. The potatoes are growing quickly now, or the tops are at least. I haven't had time to mound them up again.

7. I haven't moved the huge sea kelp haul from the old compost heap yet. I do need to give my second garlic bed some nutritious attention so if the sun and my daughter cooperate tomorrow, I'll be able to chop up some kelp, lift the existing mulch, spread the kelp and then replace the old mulch plus another new and thick layer.

8. My blueberries are looking poorly and all the fruit has fallen off. I think the problem is probably drainage. I am hoping they will hold on and not die completely so that I can shift them to a better spot in Autumn.

9. My sage has died. I think drainage is the problem, or the lack of it. I am going to overhaul that small herb spot completely. I want to take the surviving thymes and oregano out and then dig 10-15 cm down, put some sand and stones in, then put 20-30 cm high sides in and fill it with a mixture of the previous soil and compost and top with pea straw. I had to take the pea straw out last time as the neighbour's cat kept pooing in it. Maybe I need netting on top as well.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How to be good

Did anyone else read that book? Nick Hornby, I think. I quite liked it. And of course it was reassuring to think I wasn't/aren't as messed up as them.

Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, I have no Christmas genes.

Maybe it isn't genetic. Maybe it is plain badness. But Christmas makes me shudder. Which is not at all the proper response for a mummy or a nice girl.

Anyway, I'm writing the odd effort down here to try and get myself to find a few shreds of humanity and make myself stick to things. Tonight I did a good thing. I invited my parents to our place for Christmas. I had previously had visions of camping and having a non-Christmas Christmas. Being ridiculous, I also asked my son what he would like to do for Christmas. Being five and having been brainwashed by ridiculous people who for once are not his parents, he wanted to be at home because he didn't think Father Christmas could bring presents in a tent because there is no chimney.

So they are coming and I will have to clean the house again which is no bad thing because it is getting to be a while since I did so. It will be a bad thing eventually though because I will be cleaning. Cleaning. eugggh. I even have to do some tomorrow which is not anything to do with the parents coming in six weeks, just because even I can see the problems with leaving food to grind into the carpet. Apparently the short people cannot see problems in this respect, because they are the ones who put the food there.

Am I blogging about housework? Someone better shoot me.

But I digress back to happier thoughts. The garden. The crayfish was completely gorgeous. The children had the good manners not to like it, leaving more for us people misnomerically known as adults. I am going to bury the crayfish remains in the garden and plant something on top. Surely that will yield good growth. I am not exactly sure where. The front garden could do with some more nourishment, but that part is exposed to the neighbourhood dogs who might promptly dig the shells up again. And the bokashi which has been awaiting digging in for much longer than good people leave it. The pumpkins look undernourished out the front, though the zucchini which is in a much more richly nurtured spot, is flourishing.

Good people don't get library fines. Good people don't suddenly remember, in the middle of the night, that the library sent a letter asking for the book or the money within seven days or Baycorp would be called in, a number of days ago that could be more than seven...

At least I was nice to my Mum and Dad. Which when I was younger and had to do what they said and go to confession, was one of the things I probably should have confessed to not doing/being enough. Mostly though I recall saying I wasn't nice to my brother and sister.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

community food

This afternoon we went to friends for the birthday of their five year old daughter. We yacked while the children ate lots of pink food and ran round. Most unexpectedly, we came home with a crayfish (caught further south, but still local), which Favourite Handyman is cooking as I type.

When we arrived home, I found five tomato seedlings on my doorstep. These are from my neighbour Margaret. I lent a closer neighbour my Kings Seed catalogue after we talked about heirloom tomatoes one day. She lent the catalogue to Margaret which is how we came to talk about gardening together one day on the way home from the school run.

So now I have some new heirloom tomatoes to try. I know another person in my area a little, all due to the connections made through food growing.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

in the garden

It's precious these days, time to plant seedlings. Brighid (21 months) simply pulls them out to inspect if she sees me planting. I remind myself daily that next summer she will understand and we won't have this difficulty. I remind myself through gritted teeth.

So Favourite Handyman, (wonderful Favourite Handyman) put her to bed this evening while I was planting. Two tomatoes, 12 marigolds, 6 alyssum, a large pot of beneficial insect blend (mostly phacelia and a bit of buckwheat by the looks of the seedlings so far). I see that we have lots of watercress sprouting through the old chook run and now a few pea shoots, presumably from the pea straw mulch. The chooks mustn't have fancied old dry peas. Why ever not?

Then I found a shallow pot and sowed more rocket seed. We've been eating rocket most days and the way that it is edible within 2-3 weeks of sowing is very satisfying. I don't bother putting it in the actual garden as the yield out of a smallish pot is very good and it is particularly convenient to have the pot just by the back door for ease of making sandwiches.

The bits in between

Usually I work three half days per week.

This week is not a usual week. It is the most frantic and pressured week in my year workwise. The drama is not quite over yet.

Here are the things I have been doing when I'm not at work. I like to remind myself of them.

1. Bread. I tried doubling the no knead recipe - used 4 C plain flour, 1 C high grade bread flour, 1 C kibbled rye. I neglected it time and again. Left it to rise for about 48 hours, then the 15 minute rise took nearly two hours and then I put it in the teatowel and life really got in the way and it didn't get cooked for another six hours. I've only had one piece and that tasted good.

2. Chooks. I cleaned the poo out of the coop. The poo in one corner of the coop goes mouldy quite quickly and looks like mouse carcass and this is most, most yucky. But I had a tool, a garden fork, so I could deal with it without direct hand to icky object contact.

3. Swimming lesson. Not mine. Fancy that though, I'm being a proper mother and taking my son to swimming lessons.

4. Pub. We all need a treat after swimming lessons. Actually I've been twice this week. Thursday night as well. Treat for sitting through evening work function and behaving myself.

5. Garden. We've been eating more silverbeet and rocket this week. I dug a hole to plant another tomato this afternoon but then I realised I needed to go back to work. Earlier on I slipped in some silverbeet and lettuces. I see that watercress has taken root in the old chook patch. The chooks didn't eat the stalks and it has proven itself willing and able to make a new home and prosper.

6. Knitting. It's what I do while reading blogs in the middle of the night. I used to be good at sleeping. I guess that skill just slunk away in a corner while I wasn't looking.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I object to being labelled as selfish when I voted for freedom and personal responsibility. It bothers me that people do not see the bondage socialism brings/represents - I struggle when thinking people like yourself are so clearly pro-left. I wonder if I'm missing something.

The quote (slightly paraphrased for clarity of meaning outside the original longer paragraph) is from an email from a friend this morning. I know she reads here and hope she won't mind that I've copied her words as the prompt for responding to her thoughts here. They feed into some other related topics which I want to thrash out myself.

I come from a working class and small farmer background. I also come from a solidly national voting background on both sides. I remember as a small child in pyjamas waiting in total silence as we watched the news at six o'clock to find out if Dad, a freezing worker, would go back to work the next day. The strikes sometimes lasted many weeks and they were not empowering for my father. He has often said that there is nothing wrong with capitalism, just that he is on the wrong end of it. My maternal grandfather was a big fan of Robert Muldoon. He owns all of his books. I do believe that he is also quite proud of how the farming industry responded to the dramatic changes when the sector was deregulated in the 1980s.

I grew up Roman Catholic, one of a tiny handful of Catholic children in my class each year. There was no Catholic school in the area at the time and so we were all at the local state school.

Ideas about the deserving and undeserving poor were clearly stated as I grew up. The underserving also seemed to include those late to Mass. I cannot tell you how completely undeserving I am these days.

What is freedom? Freedom to have sex with multiple partners? Freedom to abort in the second trimester? Freedom as a GP to charge as much as one wishes? Freedom to educate ones child wherever one wants? Freedom of speech? The freedom of a decent wage? Freedom to use high or low energy efficiency cars and other appliances?

What exactly is insurance? Is it only a private concept, paid for by ourselves as individuals to protect us against everything which might go wrong and cost money? Is it something which is partly or fully paid for in taxes so that a family or individual might not be ruined by the misfortune of an accident which stops the person from working for a time.

Health care. Who should bear responsibility for our health? Is the collective use of taxes to support our population into the best health possible, irrespective of the person's ability to pay, a moral and financial priority?

Whose children are they? Should our education system be geared to provide the best possible opportunities for all children, regardless of their home resource? Can this be done in a way which also respects and supports those who wish to opt out of institutional education provision and teach their children themselves?

These are just some of the questions which I find relevant to my decisions when I participate in my democracy, our democracy. I am sure there are more which I haven't yet remembered tonight. Where I come from cannot but inform my position, but it is not a position of received assumptions.

I am going to leave my responses to these questions for a separate post later this week when I have had more time to reflect. Going back to the original quote, where the idea of bondage to socialism is raised, I would for the moment suggest that we are in bondage to something. Whether we are in bondage to fate, to God (I realise the believers will consider us all to be so regardless of choice whereas others will see this as the same as bondage to fate - I mean that if we are governed by the teaching of a God, then that is a form of bondage), to an earthly master or to the thrall of marketing images in a consumer society, all of these things are indeed a form of bondage. It is not a matter of not being in bondage as human beings, but how and to whom we are in bondage.

We all must bear personal responsibility for our lives and for our decisions and for our responses to the decisions of others. It is true that ideas about personal responsibility differ and can be shaped by political ideology. I am very wary of the idea that any political landscape prevents personal responsibility.

More another time. Please feel very welcome to post comments on this post. Anything which sharpens our ideas on what we want to give and receive in our democracy has to be good.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

a whole barrowload

We went for a walk allong the beach after dinner this evening. Sin ce our fireworks evening on the beach in the weekend Fionn, who is usually not at all keen on the beach, is now enthusiastic.

We collected lots of fireworks packaging and broken beer bottle glass for the rubbish bin. The most wonderful find was a huge piece of kelp. About two metres long and big branches 40cm wide. I went back home for the wheelbarrow and it just fitted in. We walked back with the barrow piled high with nutritional bounty for the garden.

I tried the same no knead recipe with kibbled rye which I found in the cupboard. 1 C plain flour, 1 C high grade flour, 1 C kibbled rye, mixed with 1/4 t yeast, 1 + 1/4 t salt and 300ml warm water. Leave in warm place about 20 hours. Then fold over 3 times and leave to stand with bowl on top for 15 minutes. Then sprinkle a clean teatowel with polenta and put dough on one side in ball shape and cover with rest of teatowel. Leave to rise for 2 hours. 1.5 hours into last rising, heat lidded casserole in oven at 230 celsius. Cook for 30 minutes with lid on and 5-10 further minutes with lid off.

The kibbled rye experiment was successful. My next experiment will be doubling the recipe to make a larger loaf.

I transplanted six Great Lakes lettuces tonight. I bought these from our garden centre once I realised we suddenly had space to fill after the big wind. They are traditional crunchy heading lettuces which is what we missed last summer.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Food journey

Being up when I should be sleeping yet again, I've been perusing blogs, many of them new to me. I've been reflecting a little on where we are on our food journey. Maybe "food journey" is a bit pretentious. I'm thinking of what foods we eat, what are our habits, given that I've now been reading about ethical food issues for a loooong time.

I grew up eating food from our family garden. The earliest story of my interest is of me eating green tomatoes from the garden as a toddler. When I was eight, my parents moved out into the country at the beginning of summer, onto an acre of land which was planted in strawberries, raspberries and boysenberries. There were fruit trees around the edges of the property, lots of potatoes and I forget what other vegetables. The fruit was very yummy and another part of the experience was of manning (or 'childing') the small roadside stall which came with the property. It had a fabulous old cash register which was still in pounds and pennies.

As a second year university student flatting for the first time, I started a small garden with kitchen herbs and lettuce. Throughout my extended student flatting days, I started several gardens in different homes. Sometimes flowers and sometimes vegetables. Sometimes all I had was a couple of pots in the window or at the top of the stairs.

In Auckland in 1999, I started to get interested in organics, spurred on by a friend I stayed with when first job hunting. Later in the year I moved back to Ponsonby (ah hah hah hah the wealthy days!!!) and started to shop again at the organic grocer's and the organic butcher's in Grey Lynn.

2001-2005 we were living in London. We experimented with a few different organic vege boxes and with buying direct from the markets. Once I found that Favourite Handyman liked the markets I was onto a winning arrangement. One of us would take the tube to Liverpool Street every Sunday with a tramping pack on our backs to buy up the lovely organic food from Spitalfields Market for the week. For the first four years we were in a tiny flat where nothing would even grow in the window (not even a cactus!) but in our final year in London we were in a terraced house with a back lawn and I was enormously happy creating a food garden in it.

Back in New Zealand in 2006, we were saving for a house deposit and organics in our tiny town were either unavailable or four times the price of conventional alternatives. I quickly realised that the only way we could afford to eat 'organic' food was to grow it ourselves. Later that year we bought a first home. It was a lovely little house with a good sized flat back section. As it was an ex-rental, there was almost no garden so I had a clean canvas to work with.

Two years later and even conventionally grown broccoli is currently $3.49 per head. I can understand why so many people say they can only afford to buy frozen vegetables. But this time we have a good supply of swiss chard/silverbeet in our garden and so that supplements our bought frozen peas for the green part of our meals.

We have had two entirely local meals recently. Whitebait fritters. We have been very lucky this season and been gifted three meals' worth of locally caught whitebait. We whisk one of our home grown eggs up, add the whitebait (about 500gm) and then cook it in spoonfuls on the frypan. The butter probably comes from somewhere else in New Zealand, but overall it was pretty local and utterly delicious.

I've been making bread off and on all year. The no knead recipe which I found on Joanna's website recently has turned out to be extremely accommodating as well as easy. Yesterday I left it for the fifteen minutes turned on the bench part for about two hours as I forgot about it (yes I was in the garden) and when I did put it in the oven it was very sticky and not that promising looking. It still came out tasting very good.

I never buy fresh herbs any more. I have parsley all year round and mint, oregano, basil, chives, thyme and coriander in the garden in the warmer months. I don't buy garlic from the supermarket any more. I have either ours that we grew or the garlic I bought in bulk to supplement ours from an organic grower up near Karamea, which is still on the West Coast. I never buy leafy greens. We've had our own kale and/or silverbeet all this year.

Other foods are still works in progress. It is true that we've grown our own beetroot but it's also true that we only grew about six. We ate only our own potatoes for about a month at the beginning of this year and had our own salad tomatoes for all of January. I did need to buy in tomatoes (locally grown) in order to make pasta sauce to freeze. We have yet to eat a single fruit from our garden, but that may change this year - raspberries, blackberries, feijoas, blackcurrants and blueberries may all be ours if the Gods shine upon our garden.

I coveted chooks for a long time before we finally got them in Spring (September) of this year. They have been a wonderful addition to our garden, kitchen and family. We are now growing vegetables in the area they first lived in and have set them to work cultivating and fertilising the area around the feijoa trees. In Autumn, when the potatoes have all been harvested, we will moved them onto the current potato patch. That is also the highest part of the garden and so the least boggy in the rain. They will be nourishing that area all winter, getting it ready to become the glasshouse spot next Summer.

There is still a lot we can do to grow more food on our property. I have been focusing increasingly on improving the soil conditions rather than asking what vegetables we want next. The principles of organic gardening and of permaculture are starting to sink in. Our very high rainfall and the challenges that presents in terms of poor drainage is my biggest challenge.

We still eat fish, though not as frequently as I would like given the local fish shop closed down and I refuse to buy it at the supermarket. During busy times we eat quite a lot of meat. Up to four times a week when one-two would be better. Canned tomatoes and canned chickpeas feature heavily. I would like to be using fewer cans, but they are still better than packaged, processed, expensive ready meals. Or so I think.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Shelter belts

I can't bear to discuss the election. The news is so awful and I am disgusted with a significant percentage of my fellow New Zealanders. Oh. Oops I am discussing it. Two more details then. Firstly, where are the brain cells of the green voters of West Coast-Tasman? 1800 of them gave their candidate vote to Kevin Hague, the green party candidate who was likely to get in on the party list anyway but who had no show of winning the electorate seat. And by what margin did the Labour candidate lose to the National candidate? 935 votes. Secondly, even worse than National winning the election, they are dependent on the ACT party for a majority in parliament. Act only got 3.6% of the vote and yet they are in parliament (5 of them) because Rodney Hide won Epsom. People of Epsom, hang your heads in shame. I suspect the ACT party have some quite intelligent members, just incredibly selfish ones.

So eventually, some time round lunchtime, the fog of my gloom began to lift. The chooks are now back in the mended Poultry Palace which is now living up the north-west corner of the section. The feijoa trees are in the chook run and hopefully they all enjoy the experience.

Yesterday I transplanted my two bay trees from pots into the new garden space which used to be the chook run. I planted some beans and made a bamboo teepee for them to climb up. I planted a zucchini and some lettuces and three kale and some anise hyssop, garlic chives and borage. I covered the soil around the zucchini with grass clippings.

One of the blueberries looks quite unhappy. I've weeded the blueberry bed and covered that with grass clippings and watered it with seaweed brew. Tonight I added the ammonia-sulphate (I think) which I got from the garden a while back. The garden beside it is going yellow on the edges, even of the thyme. So I'm believing Linda Woodrow (the goddess) more and more that mulching with woodchip is bad for plants which like nitrogen. So more grass clippings all over that and then seaweed brew on top. I added chopped up comfrey and some sheep poo and more water to the remaining brew. It can pootle on making me liquid fertiliser for a while yet. Exactly as long as it takes for me to find more seaweed I expect.

The new garden in the old chook spot is very exposed to the wind. So I bought 10 metres of shade cloth and Favourite Handyman made two windbreak fences for the garden. One on the west side and one on the east. He is truly very wonderful, my Favourite Handyman. I also bought punnets of marigolds, alyssum, rainbow chard and great lakes lettuces to plant out in the new garden. Too windy to plant today but they can wait.

Last night we went down to the beach with friends and ate and drank round the camp fire while we watched their fireworks. It was a lovely evening and I'm keen on repeating it often this summer, though obviously without the fireworks.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

a weekend of promise

It's gorgeous here this morning, the beginning of a beautiful (though cold) weekend. Last night we let off fireworks which was fun and today I hope we will repair and relocate the chook run to around the fruit trees at the top corner of the back lawn. Then I'll be planting out my lovely new 10sqm garden.

Even more importantly, we'll be voting. Go left New Zealand! I shudder to think what a National government would do to our most vulnerable (not to mention their ignorant and misguided policies on other aspects of our economy and society) in a recession.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

tucked up safely

Thank you for your recent comments of support for the chooks. They are safe in their coop now, which has a brick on top of it tonight so it cannot blow open. We've placed the temporary shelter round the coop so that they can still wander round outside as they wish in the early morning. It's still blowing hard outside.

I am having fun thinking of what I will plant in the vacated chook run. I didn't think we'd be moving it until Autumn, but I'm sure that now the chook run shelter has moved itself, we may as well home the chooks somewhere else and start growing. They've been on that 5 x 2 metres spot for over two months. I can see a zucchini down one end, herbs and flowers around the perimeter (close together to act as a deterrent to the grass moving back in), lots of silverbeet, kale, lettuces, maybe some bush tomatoes, beetroot. I could make a teepee in the middle for beans to grow up... I've never had a garden plot of 10sqm to play with from scratch like this before. Better find out when the next good seed sowing day is lunarly.

I am glad I didn't make great progress on lunar transplanting days earlier this week. I only got one zucchini transplanted and it is looking very poorly now. I think the wind has snapped it's stems.

Big BIG wind

... Last night the chook run blew over completely. Landing on top of the rubbish bin which had blown top of the garden with garlic and tomatoes and strawberries and the one with radishes and tomato and thyme and spinach and shallots and the blueberries.

The lid of the coop blew open.

The chooks wandered round the section.

I went off to town and bought hundreds of dollars of food and four strong metal 1.8 metre spikes - warratahs the bloke said they are called. They are for the repair job.

I got home and found the chooks had spread my herb garden all over the footpath. About ten centimetres deep all over the footpath. Mercifully the wind had eased so they are now in the temporary enclosure.

There is quite a lot of thinking and planning to do before we start the repairs, which can't be started until the wind drops further (not to mention until it isn't a paid work day). But I am thinking that perhaps I could have the existing run spot as a vegetable garden now and put the chooks somewhere else . . . That would give me another 10sqm which was ready to plant. Now that would be exciting.

Despite an evening of gusty partial homelessness, our three chooks still laid an egg each this morning as soon as I put the roof back on the coop. How's that for adaptability?!


it's nearly Christmas.

I just found out. I am immune to shopping ads. But I read Bean Sprout's post and then the loomingness of the season sank in. I suck at Christmas. I shudder and recoil. I forget and am disorganised. I have a few good intentions and they are the best it gets. I haven't sent Christmas cards since, um well, since, maybe the early 1990s? I do remember sending some back in 1990 when I was a university student and I hand made each one with a Denis Glover verse on the front.

I hang out with people (online definitely but also locally) who are gorgeous at Christmas. They can probably remember all their nieces and nephews-in-law without counting. In my defence, there are quite a few of them.

I have done something. Two things. Perhaps it's not so bad after all until you remember that good women in the run-up to Christmas do at least 1007 things. I've bought my Mum a present. Actually I meant to buy it for her birthday in May, so seven months later isn't all bad. It's a book which has one of our relatives in it but she doesn't know that. Sometimes it is hard to keep a secret but it is easier with your Mum because unless you were angelic as a teenager, you got a bit of practise at keeping secrets from your parents back then. I'm gifting it from my sister as well as I never got round to paying her my half for last year's parental Christmas present.

I haven't stumbled over any books with my Dad's relatives in it.

What was the other thing? Oh yes, we bought Fionn a bike last month. An early Christmas present. We ran out of money last year and then didn't get organised all winter either. I thought early would be nice so he could get riding and also because I really am so ghastly that I don't much appreciate the huge volumes of things my children get for Christmas because a) there are huge volumes of it and b) as a consequence Fionn hardly notices who gave him what. I kind of like giving things to my children. I try and remember other people feel this way but I still forget. I am ungracious like that.

For the last two years I have been meaning to get a photo of the four of us and make copies and turn them into Christmas tree decorations. and send them to all our siblings and parents. Both sides. Not in January. So far I haven't done it ever. Perhaps that could be my project.

As for the day itself. I'm no good at that either. Fionn turns six not long after Christmas and I think we'll have family over for that celebration again instead as that worked well last year. But the actual Christmas Day? I just wanna hide. Last year we were going to go camping but it poured with rain and 11 month old baby camping in pouring rain for two days wasn't going to work for any of us. May be we'll get better weather this year.

Anyway, while I was on a chair, getting down the chillybin this morning for the fish to be left in so my kind fishbuying friend didn't have to be exposed to the state of my fridge while I was out ...while I was up there I noticed we have an entire bottle of schnapps. Maybe peach schnapps. I'm not climbing up there again to check. What shall I do with that? Yes I know I could down it to block out the fear of Christmas, but I do try and be a grown up these days. I mean is there yummy food I could make with it or should I play cocktails and if so then what?

Fish Pie

There should be no stinting on calories in fish pie. At least, I have no plans to stint on calories in fish pie. The one I made tonight had cream cheese in the mashed potato topping (we had cream cheese but no cream. Milk not rich and exciting enough) and sauteed button and shitake mushrooms in the filling. The fish pie was a celebration of actually having some fresh fish. It is now impossible to buy locally caught fresh fish in our town, despite the fact that fishing boats do dock at our port. So a friend who was down south further today got me some "deep sea cod" in exchange for the avocadoes I gave her from my latest co-op box. It was completely divine. I don't know if it is a naughty fish to eat - most likely given it's name (and the fact it is fish!). I used a Nigella Lawson recipe as my guide. That woman knows how to use a lot of pots. And butter.

Yesterday one chook escaped. One minute in the temporary enclosure, the next in the potato patch. So they went back in the Poultry Palace, a more secure enclosure, for the day and indeed ever since. I'd better buy some tent stakes to up security for next time I let them out into their portable run. I am leaning heavily towards getting rid of all the grass around the feijoas and having thick mulch closest to the trees and herbs around the outer circle. Using the chooks as indentured labour for the job of course.

Another thing yesterday. I stopped in to a see a friend whose husband is renovating their home. Steve had replaced the wooden corner window with a modern aluminium one. Would I like the old window for glass house building? Well yes of course I would. We have a house lot of windows already, waiting to be turned into a glasshouse. But this corner window could make a cold frame on it's own without much adaptation. I'll be sending Favourite Handyman out in the weekend to have a look. Then we can start planning how to best use it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Perfect Day

Sunshine all day. All four of us together all day. Poached eggs for breakfast. Home made bread, barbequed-outside-over the wee open fire-sausages, pea and silverbeet pasta, home made pesto for dinner. Sausage sizzle lunch at the Totara Flat garden extravaganza. Ice creams on the way home. Children riding bikes, playing in tents and helping to gather grass clippings. We all fell asleep before eight after reading parts of a children's encyclopedia which belonged to Fionn's grandad many years ago - old planes are still fascinating to my five year old.

The bits in the middles also wonderful to me...

The chooks spent the day clearing up another spot on the lawn/garden. This time around one of our feijoa trees. In the evening, once they were back in Poultry Palace, Favourite Handyman and I moved our temporary enclosure again ready for tomorrow. I am still thinking and hopefully on the way to learning more about the best environment for our fruit trees. The grass around them clogs and threatens to strangle them on regular occasion. I don't want to be spraying around it (heaven forbid) and I didn't think they should have lots of plants close to them. But the grass (quite weedy lawn at that) must be using some nutrients and so perhaps it is better to grow herbs around the fruit trees. I could put the chooks in for an extended period with lots of pea straw mulch and they would weed and fertilise for me. Then more thick mulch and some herbs? I have no attachment to lawn and the place where the fruit trees are is deliberately not set up as intensive children running space. The trees are north of the sandpit and they tend to run round south of the sandpit. So ideas on companion plants for feijoas and blackcurrants are most welcome. The way the weeds keep coming through in my blueberry bed, I'm wondering if the soil would be best filled (i.e. with deliberately planted, welcome plants) round the blueberries as well.

The Totara Flat garden extravaganza was a lovely hour or so in a small and friendly community. We didn't want to buy lots (though it would have been possible - they had lots of lovely big trees and plants) but are very pleased with our tiny chilli plant. I didn't bother with buying chilli seeds when I knew we had no need for more than one chilli plant. A friend at the extravaganza was giving away Maori seed potatoes and we now have five tiny Maori potatoes ready to plant this week.

Back home I got stuck into making a home for my Maori potatoes - the sunny edge of the oldest compost pile, which we have been steadily using up in the garden. The edges of our compost pile our thickly bordered with onion weed and I set to digging up the remaining weeds on the north facing border. Brighid helped too. Sometimes you just have to quite worrying about compacting the soil, because it is too late. I guess her 13+ kilos is less injurious than my 13+++++ kilos on the soil. We found snails which had such strong shells that the chooks couldn't break them, slugs which they certainly could wolf up easily and a volume of worms which a) delighted me and b) led me to think that we really do have a worm farm here, just not one in a special wooden or plastic container. So the potatoes will go in there tomorrow.

My Red Rascal potatoes are peeking through the ground in lots of places.

The rocket is ready to eat and some went into the home made pesto, together with home grown basil (first of the season) and home grown parsley.

Our mint is rampant, in an area where it has express permission to do so - indeed to out-invade the wandering jew and the onion weed. After a friend told me about eating lovely mint pesto recently, I think I'll be trying that out soon.

I now have four bean plants. Not quite ready to plant out, and I'm thinking I'll make lemonade bottle collars for them as slug protection when they do go out into the garden. They are living on the study and kitchen windowsills for the moment. Tomorrow is a lunarly good day to transplant tomatoes and zucchinis so I hope the weather is obliging. I've got room for 2-3 more tomatoes to go into the garden and the remainder will go into pots.

This morning Favourite Handyman pruned the tree which overhangs our garden from the neighbour's place and was blocking quite a bit of morning sun from our yams and garlic. Now it still looks balanced and provides pretty foliage for our neighbour, but is nowhere near as thick as before.

This afternoon FH mowed the front lawn on the property (much to the relief no doubt of some of our neighbours who are lovely people and also people who may value a spot of tidiness over our various pumpkin and blackberry experiments) and then planted two red flaxes.

I've officially stopped planning for Autumn leeks. When the envelope from Koanga Gardens arrived on Friday, I was walking up the drive from the letterbox wondering exactly where to put the leek seedlings and realising that there really was nowhere (except maybe a bit of room where my Maori potatoes are now going) for them to live. So when I opened the envelope and found they were out of leeks for the season, it all seemed to work out for the best.

Koanga had also run out of the marigold "Naughty Marietta" and sent an unusual substitute: Marigold Inca. Apparently the flowers on this are "insignificant" and it instead is useful as a quickly grown shelter crop (grows in tree form, similarly to sunflowers and is 2 metres tall) and also as a compost crop, providing good carbon with it's woody stems. Just as well I wasn't relying on Naughty Marietta for a very particular spot in a 'just so' flower bed. I think Inca will be an interesting experiment and eventually I'm going to interplant it with sunflowers out the front. I sowed some this afternoon, together with some "Marigold Jolly Jester" which I still had from last season. I've put them inside the tool shed to grow in the protected sun - last year it took me ages and ages to get some marigolds to thrive from seed and I suspect slugs were involved in many of the plant losses.

The home made bread was the second go at this recipe. Thanks for the link at the end of your recent bread post Joanna. I'd not been blogging and bread making back when it was originally posted but the ease of making this bread is something wonderful! It got rave reviews round the table tonight. I've just noticed Joanna has a post on two other no knead recipes and I'll be giving them a go in the near future.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Planting cavolo nero

There are organic purists out there who only put home made compost on their gardens and nothing else. Something about reducing inputs and outputs. Well I'm not one of them. I think I've laboured on this before but that's not going to stop me doing it again. Linda Woodrow, my permaculture guru, doesn't get prissy about inputs. She is enthusiastic about getting whatever you can that is of grown and not synthetic origin. So yesterday I collected more watercress from the local stream and threw it in the chook run.

I started to make room for my cavolo nero, another brassica experiment. My brassicas have mixed success and I want to give these ones excellent opportunities. So up by the potatoes I started weeding. I spread the peastraw a bit thinly over poorly weeded soil in Autumn and thus have quite a bit of work to do. Mostly I was pulling out grass and spreading buttercup and during this process I really saw how it works when permaculture books say all weeds have a purpose. Spreading buttercup is all over our section and the weed books and websites all observe it is found in wet, poorly drained soils. Linda Woodrow would say don't worry about getting rid of it by chemical means - get the soil health correct and it will reduce its presence or even disappear. Whereas the grass (this area was lawn only 14 months ago) was quite difficult to get out, the roots of the spreading buttercup lifted out quite easily with the aid of my digging fork. I could see how the root structure did actually work to break up wet compacted soil.

I half filled a bucket with sheep poo, added a handful of bood and bone, a handful of lime and topped the bucket up with home made compost. Then I spread it over my newly weeded area and folded it in with the digging fork. I would never use super phosphate or synthetic nitrogen, but as we eat conventionally farmed meat and wear conventionally farmed leather and wool, I consider the sheep poo and blood and bone to be reasonable inputs which link to our lifestyle. I had some lime (New Zealand sourced) in the shed so thought I'd throw that in as well.

Then I planted four cavolo nero plants, mulched them with peastraw and took my crazy toddler apprentice inside with me so she couldn't pull the plants out. It's raining quite hard on them as I write the following morning which is perfect timing.