Sunday, 30 December 2012


What a visual delight, to open the sleeping hutch of our chook tractor and to spot a perfectly spherical bantam egg!  What a miracle!  Even though we don't eat eggs, I still appreciate the thrill of finding them!

Beautiful little egg

Spence, or Henny Spenny!
So what do we do with the eggs our two little bantam chooks lay?  We hand over a half dozen to neighbours, our son and of course, our cat, Shanti, who loves to eat an egg yolk per week!  It is a great little boost to her diet and apparently a great fur conditioner.  We saved them from the pot, as they were, quote from my friend, "lazy little tarts!".  The fact that they were not the most efficient of layers did not faze us at all.

Currently the chookies are brooding, which means that they decline to get out of bed every morning and would happily sit there all day and night, if I didn't push them out of the sleeping quarters!  They sound like my teenadults!  They peck out all of their tummy feathers to line the nest, so that if they had eggs to sit on, they would sit there until they hatched.

What if everyone had a couple of backyard chooks?  They are quite comical to watch and make great little pets for families with young children.  Eating up the scraps from the kitchen, thereby reducing household waste, helping to weed and fertilise the veggie beds, eat the snails, slugs and insects........ and providing healthy, nutritious eggs that are not a product of cruel battery/factory farming?  We have recently supported a great organisation called SAFE.  They fight against animal cruelty and have just put out a fantastic advertisement about factory farming.  The ad makes for compelling viewing.  Make people think.  The age-old ethical debate whether or not animals should suffer for us......... (won't go there in this post).

Monday, 17 December 2012

Berry,Berry Delicious!

Biddy's Butterfly
It's Berry Time Folks!  Beautiful, succulent, delicious berries!  Yum!  Our blackcurrants are ready for the picking, as well as strawberries, which are just coming into full production.  Although we have netting rigged up to protect the strawbs, some sneaky little birds still manage to wriggle through and have themselves a feast.  Can't blame them - the smell is so heady!
Sweetly Tart Blackcurrants

Strawberries crammed full of flavour!
We have just had a wonderful Helpxchange staying, helping out with weeding and compost turning.  We took her for a little drive to Waihi Beach and had to add a few pics taken there.

Beach Christmas Tree

Sculptural lighting at the Beach
Just thought of it - Sustainability broken down is the Ability to Sustain!  Simple!  Beautiful!  My seedlings have grown quickly, eliciting lots of planting in spare spaces in the beds.  Some have been tucked away amongst the wildflowers which seem to be taking over the pathways as well.  Man, it's a jungle out there!  Will need a machete to chop my way through soon!  And of course, the buzz and hum of little bees at work is deafening!  My daughter learnt that she can "steal" pollen from a  bee, using a tweasers!  When I pointed out that was a cruel practice, she pulled my kilo of bee pollen out of the pantry and asked who exactly was the cruel one??  Touche'.

Seedlings to be planted this weekend

Lavenders all in full bloom for about 2 weeks now - bee fodder!
I find tomato plants fascinating!  You plant them and they seem to do nothing for a couple of weeks and then suddenly they are like Triffids, doubling in size before your very eyes.  Pinching out the laterals and tying them up becomes a full-time job!  We have some surprises ahead, as a lot of our tomatoes were gifted to us, so I do not know what they are and the fruits will be interesting to harvest.  I do know that two of them are already fruiting and their fruit is a dark black!  Indigo Rose.  Looks ominous but very very interesting!

Tomato bed seems to have grown overnight, with zucchini in front

Tomato bed no.2

Wildflower Jungle

I have these amazing white floss-like flowers which I thought was phaecelia, but on a quick Google, discovered that they are really Carrot Weed!  Should this have been included in my wildflower seed mix??  All sites on Google are how to eradicate it!  Eeek!  Look how tall it has grown underneath my apple and nectarine trees!  Online sources advise me not to compost it (ooops, too late) as the seeds spread like wildfire!  Interesting indeed!   I have enough weeds growing, without actually cultivating them!

Last of old-fashioned late sweet mandarins
At kindergarten, we made butterflies from stringing lengths of material through chicken mesh, then scrunched up the middles to make butterflies to hang in the garden.  After a year or two, the fabric fades and shreds, so my colleague very kindly re-threaded one and gifted it to me for my garden.  It hangs proudly in our apple tree.  Recycled Art.

Butterfly sculpture

Geranium under Monty's Surprise Apple Tree

Clusters of Monty's Surprise apples
A lot of the little apples are falling off, but I guess that's coz there are WAY too many hanging up there and there is no way the little 3 year old tree could feed them all and see them to full fruition.  I really hope we have scuppered the Coddling Moth this year.  It seemed much less prevalent last year, I think, because of planting lots of strong smelling shrubs underneath - rose geranium, lavender and chives.  See if that is the case this year......


Wildflowers Everywhere

Ureneka (Maori Purple) Potatoes

Hazelnut flowers

Garlic with rust.......  
My garlic crop is infected with rust, a common problem when we have rainy Spring weather, with not much sunlight.  I have read that a cure could include removing all infected leaves and throwing them away (not composting) and then spraying daily with a mix of water, baking soda and vegetable oil.  Shall see if that can save my crop....  This is the second year this has happened, glad I am not a garlic farmer who relies on the income!

 We have been enjoying rhubarb pud, stalks cut up into 1cm pieces and then cooked with sugar (about a small potful rhubarb to 3/4 cup sugar, no water and maybe a squeeze of lemon juice.  Add a blob or two of plain yoghurt and this healthy treat rocks!!

Zuchini, Sage, chilli, tomatoes and basil seedlings

New variety tomatoes .... bluish black/purple!!  Real nightshade stuff!
Called Indigo Rose and purported to have heaps of anthrocyanins (blue colour pigments)
2 more days of work and then term break!  My holiday list grows and grows........... first up, to finish making a wooden pallet double bed base...... Love the challenge of creating something useful out of something that is potentially a waste product!  Play Time!  Bring it on!  
Time to be free and to be me
Time to make and bake and create!  
Time to rest and regenerate the zest!  (yes, I love rhyming words - it's the kid in me!!)

Monday, 10 December 2012

Christmas CountDownUnder

'Tis the season to be jolly!  And to prepare for the Big Day.  Actually, Christmas is really all about celebrating family for us.  And a time for making and creating.  We have always told our children that we prefer home-made gifts.  We've suggested not to waste their money on store-bought gifts for us but rather to make them and so thus began our family tradition.  The really great spin-off is that they are more excited about others opening their gifts they have made, than wanting to tear open gifts for themselves.  Part of the joy is in the giving, rather than the receiving.
A few years back, a German friend sent us a gorgeous reusable hessian stocking Advent Calender.  Each year, I place little gifts/chocolates inside and the children have taken it in turns to open one each day.  This year I made up some little gifts for our daughter, as our son has flow the coup and lives in his own apartment in the city he studies in.  Our daughter delights in this little daily ritual............. this could possibly be the last time I do it before I become Le Grande Grandmother!!

"Organic" Christmas Stocking Advent Calender

Fun filling the little hessian sacks with notes and a gift
I've been enjoying making little things - decorations to keep and some to give away as gifts.  Last weekend, Mike took me to see the ballet, Giselle, after whom I was named!  I think my parents had visions of me becoming Le Grande Ballerina.  They sent me to ballet lessons early on and when that looked like a waste of my point and flex abilities, I joined Modern dance classes and then Jazz dance classes right through till my first year at Teachers' College.  Then I met Mike and all dance was with him!  So although my ballet career never really took off, I loved the poise, grace and rhythm they instilled.  Well, this was to be my first Big Ballet Experience.  I'd seen it on TV but never in Real Life before, so we booked into a hotel and set off to the Big City of Auckland for an adventure.  I realise how pleased I am to live in a little village, where they are no winding underground parking places; we ended up parking on level 3, underground!!!  I had a brief and horrid vision of being trapped underground in the all-too-likely event of an earthquake or cave-in!  Then we had to queue for what seemed like an eternally long time, to pay for our parking even before we even had seen our show!!

So what did I think of the ballet?  I enjoyed it.  Truly.  A once-off, been-there-done-that experience which I shall not need to repeat in a hurry, ever.  The lead ballet guy, whom Wikipedia tells me is a ballerino, wore the tightest of leggings, skin-tone, no imagination necessary - bordering soft porn!  The cast strut around the stage in a jumble of incoherence in the first scene, miming their parts - could have done with a lot more actual dance.  I guess it was the modern interpretation.  And then the second scene was lovely, with the ethereal Wilis dancing around in their diaphanous dresses - visual delight.  Truly stunning!   But by the time the curtain came down, I was ready for bed!!  
So yes, one definitely does have to see the ballet after whom one is named, just once in a lifetime.  An expensive affair, taking into account travel and accommodation.
My jute string decorations
While in the Big Smoke, I picked up another idea which I thought I could replicate for my son's Christmas stocking - funky little cardboard car fresheners.  So I came home and made a pair to hang on his rear-view mirror.  They are on double thick cardboard and one can sprinkle a few drops of essential oil on, rather than the artificial perfumes the "real" store ones had.  We did spend some money on a new shiatsu back massager (alas and alack, my old patched, re-patched and quadruple re-patched massager is overdue for retirement) so that is our Christmas present to ourselves.  But we couldn't wait till Christmas, so both decided to use it straight away!!  Mmmn, back in business for our morning massage and coffee!

Funky little car fresheners

Jute and hemp string birds with shell beaks, feather bottoms and seed eyes
Totally compostable.
The pathway to the wash line was looking a little jungle-esque, so I got into it this weekend, pulled up 3 barrow-loads of wildflowers, most of them forget-me-nots!  Remind me why I planted them in the first place??

Wildflower jungle
I also learned a really neat little tip from our Herb Society ladies.  They taught me to sink a little plant pot next to our tomato seedlings, so that you can water them and the water goes down into the roots where it is most needed, rather than running off away from the plant!  Have just done a whole bed-full of tomatoes with their own little resevoirs.  I put a few sheep pellets in them too, so when I water them, the goodness goes straight to the root zone!  Wish I'd known this little trick a long, long time ago!!  Oh, well, you learn something new every day!

Another exciting little break-through, is that Mike bought me a solar shed light (half price at only $15!) and I was soo excited!  I'm such a cheap wife!  A diamond ring would not have elicited such joy!  Strung it up straight away and have had the joy of using it (our shed has no power) tonight!  Yeeha!  Powered by the sun!  It is so exciting to be able to harness the power of the sun to create energy!!   Now the family are worried I may never leave the shed to return home!

Neat little shed light with drawstring switch.

My shed solar-powered radio

CD-sized solar panel attached to side of shed
On the garden front, we have been harvesting our beautiful strawberries every second day - enough for a bowlful each.  Picking heaps of chamomile flowers for teas, leeks, parsley, lettuces, oranges, grapefruits, black currents, rhubarb, and the beginnings of zuchini harvests.  The apples, prunes, plums and peaches are all looking good, with little green developing fruits.  The nectarines look like they are fattening and colouring but we could lose those to brown rot (too much rain).

A lovely American Helpxchange lady arrived yesterday to help out for a week or so.  Always nice to have company and help!  Double blessing.  So today we did some weeding, planting and made a bed base for her mattress out of discarded wooden pallets.  She reports that it is just what she needed to raise her off the floor!  A bed for not more than the cost of a few screws to hold it all together.  Mike will collect some more, so I can make another platform to extend the single bed option into a double, if need be.  What a thrill to be able to make something functional for nothing and save them from landfill or fireplace.   Can't wait for School holidays ................ I already have a list half a page long, of projects I would like to achieve.  Bring it on, only a week and a half to go!  This is how I recharge - making stuff.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Cat-Astrophic Energy Generation

Happy to see the light of day!
They say cats are curious.  "Curiosity killed the cat"!!  Well, it did just nearly do that for our little resident feline last Friday!  As previously mentioned in my last entry, we have just had our solar panels installed on the roof - all 19 of them.  There were electricians, panel installers on guy ropes hanging precariously off the roof, plumbers etc - a total of 11 people moving in and out the house (luckily I was away at work and this was an incumberance metered out on my husband and daughter.  Nothing untoward there.  
Then we prepared a meal, ate and watched a movie.  We wondered briefly where Shanti, our cat, was but assumed she would present herself soon enough.  The movie finished and it was well after 10pm, so we started to worry about her.  The three of us searched, calling out for her - outside, in the garden shed, the cottage, then back inside.  We fretted that she may have hopped into any one of the 11 tradesmen's vehicles - if they had opened their door she would have bolted and would be a very lost and farwaway cat as most trades people live in the Big Smoke.   Further calling and we heard a faint meow.  We were relieved but frantic - we searched every nook and cranny, every cupboard.  We began to fear for her life as the meows were no longer answering us.  Where was she???

On impulse, I checked in the storage area running along the outer reaches of the roof.  I spied tell-tale squares on the wall - 2 of them, where the solar guys had cut holes in the wall and closed them up.  Could she have crawled in there?   We could not be certain as she wasn't answering anymore.  We wondered how to cut them open again, as they had been nailed, screwed and gib-stopped.  One more desperate meow and we knew she was in there!  Mike didn't hesitate - all those years of karate training kicked in - his loved one was in danger!  He struck the gibbed patch with the palm of his hand and sent it hurtling inwards - peering inside, he spied one very dusty and cobwebby cat!  As he reached down into the wall/roof cavity, her purrs reached Harley Davidson decibel frequency!  Happy to be released from her dark prison of about 5 hours!  Happy ending to that tail!

Solar City
The solar panels have all been installed since Friday and Mike is in his Solar Element!  He is logging how much electricity is being generated with frequent checking on the Enersol Meter in the new Solarium.  He is happy to report that we have generated 24kw on Saturday, 25kw on Sunday and 22.6kw on Monday.  An average household uses around 25kw energy per day, so things are looking good.  We could generate all of our summer needs but winter will be another matter............. we love to be warm!!  May use far more than we can generate with little sunshine hours.  We shall see....

In the garden, we have been harvesting leeks (as usual), salad greens, strawberries (about 500g every second day), a handful of asparagus (just fed them sheep poos tonight as I am sure they could be doing much better), oranges, grapefruit, kale, silverbeet and chamomile.

A deep container filled with juicy strawbs

Home-grown lettuces and home-cured olives accompanied by market tomatoes and feta cheese.
Fresh and full of goodness and flavour.  Nothing beats it!
At the end of this week, we shall be heading into December, which always starts me thinking all-things-Christmas!  Have started to make some little Christmas decorations - not my idea but something I saw in a magazine.  Cardboard wrapped in jute string.  I have packaged them with a label - 100% Biodegradable Decorations - Fully Compostable!  (that is, everything, except the bells which should be recycled!).

Fully Compostable Decorations


Enter the Sock Bag!  We tend to wear through our socks at the heels - all 4 of us!  I darn my socks to last another mile but refuse to do so for the rest of the family (it's a lot of socks we are talking about here and I have tried to offer sock darning lessons to my family but none have taken me up on the offer...).  So they end up in the Sock Bag - basically a sock grave for holey-heeled socks which is denigrated to the confines of the hot water cylinder cupboard.  I have tried to think up ways to use old socks - soap in a sock is a great one!  Or Tool Socks to protect sharp tools.  The best I have come up with so far is garden ties.  Socks make the perfect tomato or vine tie.  They still have some elasticity, which allows for tying around plants that can grow and stretch in time.  Perfect solution to unwanted old socks and a need for garden ties!

Take one old washed sock.....

Sock ties for the garden.  Come in a variety of funky colours.

New bean frame built around the last of the leek crop.
Leeks will be harvested before beans grow too big.
In the kitchen, am really getting into my weed pestoes!  Made one this week with 3 kale leaves, handful Herb Robert, bowlful of spent parsely going to seed, dandelion and nasturtium leaves and oregano and curry bush for flavour.  Add salt, chilli, lemon juice and tahini to taste.  Big-Time Yum!  Costs next to nothing and is  a seriously epicurian delight!  And my very fussy daughter will eat a whole bottle in one sitting!!
A bench full of green stuff from all corners of the garden
Something else I've prepared a while ago,  is ready-made pizza greens.  Pulled off all the leaves of swiss chard/silver beet going to seed, steamed lightly and pressed small handfuls together to remove excess water, then froze them on a tray.  After 4 hours, I bagged them and we have easy-peasy pizza greens............  simple and resourceful.  Makes perfect sense.

Hand sized balls of swiss chard

Ready to pop into freezer for when they are needed for pizza toppings.
Hot on the heels of sock sagas, Mike's favourite walking shoe elastic stretched and perished, so he returned them to the shop to see if they could mend them.  Nope.  So he went to Ajays Emporium and bought some thick elastic (green was the only colour option) and brought them home for me to fix.  20 minutes later, and at a princely cost of $2, his shoes should last another few miles.

And turning to the subject of chooks, they are still squarking early hours of the morning - well, I have noticed it is Lizzie!  Not Spence, she is a later sleeper and stays cuddled up in her bed early hours.  But Liz, pictured below, is active, busy, noisey and curious.  I have tried to hose her when she screeches but she quickly hops up into her bedroom, then as soon as I turn of the hose, return inside - she hops out and starts up again.  We do this routine several times a morning!!  I used to run down to feed her but that reinforces her thinking I will feed her whenever she screeches!  Mike really wants to give them away and buy some quieter versions - Wyandottes or Orpingtons............ not sure I want to simply pass the problem onto someone else.  Seeing as we saved them from the cooking pot, we should maybe see them through to their timely ends............. anyone know how long chickens live??
Lizzie, doing what she should!