Sunday, May 30, 2010

Limes & Lemons

The limes and lemons have ripened just in time to take some away on the boat. Feels like a proper expeditionary vessel with a supply of scurvy beating citrus on board.

Not sure exacly how I'm going to use them up, although we do seem to have rather a large supply of sugar on board (but no other useful baking supplies, like flour), so may make up some cordial with them. .

Friday, May 28, 2010

Marina Garden

 I thought I wouldn't get to see any vege gardens while we were away sailing, but we haven't even left the marina yet and I've found one! I was delighted to see this part of the carpark verge had been dug up and planted. Especially since the marina is always to immaculately maintained, so this is quite a contrast. It's been planted by some of the 'liveaboards' at the marina.

It even had a strawberry patch. 

 Silverbeet, parsley, oregano, chives, sage.

And a decent amount of mint, and tarragon. The security guard invited me to help myself. Nice.

We're away for about a month, with very limited internet access, so may not be much here from me for a while. I am aiming to schedule some posts while we are in range, so you might be lucky with some random gardening posts.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Weekly Diary

The rain has meant that seeds are germinating everywhere. It's amazing how fast they spring up after being dormant for so long. Above is some fennel seedlings - you might have to look carefully because they are the bronze variety.

This week we
  • harvested olives
  • built chook shelter
  • pricked out red cabbage, stock
  • put away olive and berry nets
  • potted up a few more strawberry runners
  • dug out clay from new herb garden, and put in compost (one more terrace to go)
  • planted herbs back in herb garden
  • fixed duck fence
  • planted 24 acacia trees in sustainable orcharcd, as well as some cape gooseberry, aloe vera, arrowroot, and daffodil bulbs
We are heading off for our annual break on Thursday so have been putting in some long days trying to get the most important jobs ticked off before we leave. Tomorrow I'm aiming to plant the rest of the daffodil bulbs and prick out the sunflowers, Mike would  like to get the last of the compost pile moved into the new herb garden.

Daffodil bulbs to be planted - why plant a handful when you can plant a whole sackful? I did however underestimate how long this would take. Looking forward to a lovely display in spring though - I'm naturalising these in my sustainable orchard area.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Olive Harvest

We were up early yesterday morning, to get our olives picked before we headed off island for Melina's birthday celebration. Here's Melina - yes we started when it was still fairly dark.

Here's Alex. Actually the children's staying power for picking olives was only about half an hour before they headed off to find something more interesting. Alex built a space station from lego, and I have no idea what Melina did. Meanwhile Mike and I kept picking.

These are our koroneiki olives, which grow well here.

They are very small, but have a high oil content.

This is Alex running his hands through the olives. It is actually a really nice thing to do, the olives feel so smooth. We picked just over 30kg. This is a Very Small amount and so we feel very lucky to be allowed to take them to a proper press to be crushed.

The following pictures are from last years press, as we had to dash off to catch the ferry, and so didn't get to see the pressing this year.

 Olives are emptied into the bottom of the conveyor belt.

After the leaves are removed (I think from memory there was some kind of blower), they are washed.

Here's the main part of the press.

And here's the good oil coming out into the top of a stainless steel storage container - I think the plastic wrap is to minimise air contact with the oil.

And here's another byproduct - the waste sludge - of fascination to small boys. There is probably a technical name for it. I remember asking if this was useful (for my compost for example), but apparenty not - quite toxic actually since the stones have all been crushed up.

The oil  will be left to settle for a month or so before we get out bottles delivered. We normally get about 3-4 litres back, which is enough to keep us in lovely high quality oil for dressings and drizzling for the year. Our trees are in fact capable of proucing a lot more olives (we have 70 altogether), but they are not well looked after. Partly because they are always last on the priority list, and partly beacuse I'm not exactly sure what to do with them. I've arranged for someone to come and give me some advice in a couple of months, so hopefully next years harvest will be more significant.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Here are some pots of very sad old mint. These were taken out of my old herb garden before it was demolished. I always plant my mint in pots as it is very opportunistic. They should have been taken out of these pots at least a year ago and divided up.

Here's some I prepared earlier, these were divided up and re-potted about six weeks ago.

And here they are in their new home. This is one of my garden beds that was constructed last week. I decided this would be perfect for a mint bed because previously I've had problems growing things in here because of root instrusion from some neighbouring shrubs. But because the mint is all in pots, the roots of the shrubs shouldn't bother them. In here I've got common/winter mint, peppermint, apple mint and basil mint. I'm definitely going to get some spearmint, and I just had a quick look at Ginnys Herbs and she's got chocolate mint, and a Japanese Menthol mint. Very tempted. (Is she still at the Whangarei market Mum?) According to 'The Cooks Herb Garden' (my favourite herb book), ideally you should have two pots of each kind of mint, so you can alternate chopping them right back and harvesting, so you've always got nice new leaves, and minimal rust problems. Just as well there is room in this bed for six more pots.

Here is the bed with the soil filled in around the pots. You probably don't have to do this but I think it stops the pots drying out so fast. When these are growing strongly the pots should be disguised and it will look like an ordinary garden bed. We're not too fond of pots around here, so this works well.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Brown Paper Packages

...are definitely one of my favourite things. And today I got an extra special one in the mail today - 7 gorgeous  garlic bulbs, from someone who I've never met in person, but do admire her gardening efforts through her blog 'out of this world'.  Thank you so much!

And the garlic are big! They put my previous crops to shame. Any garlic growing tips Miriam?

My hand for scale to show size
 Actually it was interesting that although Alex knew that they were garlic, Melina didn't. Her first guess was onion, which wasn't too bad, but then she thought pumpkin, or maybe lettuce. Now I think about it, choppping up the garlic is a job that I always do in the kitchen, although there is no reason why the children couldn't. And I harvest and dry the garlic in summer school holidays when they are staying at the beach house for several weeks, so they miss that part of it too. We'll have to at least plant it together this year.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Weekly Diary

Forgot to mention on yesterday's post that I also came home with a bag of freshly picked field mushrooms, a bag of chestnuts, and a bag of feijoas, all from my Mum and Dad's. Thanks! I had mushrooms on toast for lunch today, am going to use some of the feijoas to make muffins for Melina to take to kindy for her birthday, and the chestnuts are sitting in a bowl in the centre of the table looking very seasonal.

And so to the diary. Last week we
  • finished off the retaining walls for the herb garden, dug out some soil, and mulched the bottom path (Thanks Jiri and Mike! I can't take any credit for that.)
  • divided up and re-potted mints - they will have a new home in herb area
  • took out apiguard varroa treatment from beehives, and checked top brood boxes
  • collected seaweed
  • planted first lot of garlic
  • planted out seedlings of peas, spinach, borage, nasturtium
  • pricked out silverbeet, thyme, lettuce, and lupin (for flowers, not a green manure/cover crop variety)
Some of my herbs which were doing very poorly in the old herb garden have sprung to life since I potted them up and gave them some water. These garlic chives are about ten times bigger than what they were two weeks ago.
The sorrel too has breathed a huge sigh of relief, I have about four of these pots at the moment looking very lush. 

 Next weeks list
  • Take out beans, and plant leeks in their place
  • More pricking out of seedlings
  • And the main job - keep digging out clay from new garden beds and replace with topsoil and compost. This is a big job which Mike has volunteered for. He's very good to me.
  • And so I have high hopes of planting back into the new herb garden. Also have some trailing sweet pea seedlings which are keen to move on from their seedling pots.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Weekend Garden Purchases

I had a lovely weekend away with some friends, and  arrived back home with some purchases for the garden.

My friends were very patient while I visited  Russell Franshams Subtropicals Nursery. Russell himself wasn't there (although sent me a nice email afterwards), but I was well looked after. I came home with four new plants: a rose apple, a tropical apricot, a tropical guava, and a natal plum. We got to taste the rose apple, and tropical apricots from mature fruiting trees, which was fun. The rose apple isn't an apple, but shaped like one, it has a thin layer of flesh which tastes like rose, with a hollow inside with two large seeds. I like them, and can imagine the kids snacking on them in the orchard, would also be fun to experiment with them in the kitchen. The tropical apricot was quite tart, but possibly could be left longer on the tree- I imagine till they are super soft. Don't know what the natal plum (from South Africa) tastes like, but apparently looks beautiful. It is also super thorny! It is to be the most cossetted plant of the ones I bought. Not quite sure where I'm going to put it yet.

We also stopped at Koanga Gardens, where I just about always stop when I go up North. I bought some heirloom potatoes - Ureniko, Karoro and Pink Fir. I also bought some garlic.

On the left is elephant garlic, which I don't think is a 'true' garlic, but will be fun to try. The middle two are the only other garlic that they had available -  'takahue red'. I have to say I thought this was expensive - each bag was $10. The middle one had 15 good sized cloves, the one on the right had closer to thirty cloves, and much smaller - I guess they bag them on weight. If I buy again I would ask to see inside the bags first - some of those ones on the right are really very small. Am hoping that it all grows well, and at least the cost of it is definitely motivation to save my own for seed next year! Last year I grew 'primodor' but it was badly infected with rust so I didn't save any.

Looking forward to a morning in the garden tomorrow, hopefully the weather will be as good as it was today!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A happy haul

24 bags of seaweed was today's garden haul. We only get a storm big enough to put seaweed on our beach a couple of times of year, for me it is a time to drop everything else and collect! I save these old fertiliser and potting mix bags especially for collecting seaweed (and horse manure).

I'm not sure what seaweed species there are here, but I'm assuming that all seaweed is good in some way. There is lots of ideas about the best way to handle it. I've found that this particular mix is fairly slow to break down, so I don't tend to put it straight on my annual vege beds. I do mulch my perennial beds with it though, especially asparagus, which Gillybean recommended to me a while ago. I will also put some in my compost, and the rest will be used for my food forest area, where I am gradually mulching out all the grass. I'm aiming to make my own seaweed liquid fertiliser sometime in the future too, but haven't quite got the logistics sorted for that yet - have the barrel, but not a tap yet.

I've spread a little here in the food forest area. It's quite good at the top of the slope for the seaweed doesn't move as rapidly downhill as the woodchip mulch does. The black plastic here is operating as a 'clearance mulch' - I pin it down in patches for a couple of months to kill the grass underneath, then lift it and put the mulch on top. I've tried putting cardboard down first, then mulch on top (instead of plastic), but the slope means that the mulch just slides downhill off the cardboard. The ducks also like poking their bills under the cardboard which ends up making a mess with bits of cardboard lying about everywhere.

We were going to olive pick tomorrow, but because of the rain it's been postponed till next week. Instead, I don't think I'm going to be able to resist making another trip or two to the beach.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Weekly Diary

 We've had 11mm of rain today, woohoo! Feeling very happy round here. It was starting to feel a little surreal - would rain actually ever arrive again? Now we have to try not to start complaining about the rain as winter settles in. I do have an affection for rain actually - from growing up in rainy Taranaki probably. Although I don't know how I'd cope on the South Island West Coast - I admire Sandra for her enthusiasm for gardening there.

So no gardening today but this last week we
  • Put up new shelf in garden shed
  • Took out old passionfruits over water tanks
Here's the water tanks with the passionfruit nearly removed - a highly invasive plant that I'm sure I'm going to be dealing with for a while yet. The herb garden area is on the slope behind the water tanks.

A closer look at the rolled up mat of passionfruit, also showing the herb terraced area - there is one at the moment, but we are putting in a second terrace. Despite being poor quality soil (and on a slope!), this is a nice microclimate area - sunny, but protected from the wind.
  • Turned out last compost bin  and combined with another (I have the tradtional 'kiwi' three bins in a row system)
  • Weeded carrots and coriander
  • Contractors demolished old herb garden retaining walls and started constructing new ones (rained off today)
Here's the area to the right side of water tanks, there were a couple of beds here, the (rotting) retaining walls have been taken out. Note the lovely soil profile that this photo shows - that's typical for us, about 20-30sm of topsoil, then  solid clay.  There's some more digging to be done... The pipes are the irrigation system that was in place, I'll re-lay and re-do with this drip irrigation.
  • Built new earth bag seat in food forest
  • Broke up old prunings from grape vines for kindling (I was going to use to construct a fence, but finally conceded that it wasn't going to work)
  • Put horse manure as a mulch round some of brassicas
So quite a lot got done, but necessarily by me!

Next  weeks list
  • Finish off new herb garden beds
  • Check in on bees
  • Collect seaweed - todays storm has finally thrown up seaweed on the beach - I've been waiting a year!
  • Prick out thyme, lettuce, spinach
  • Take out bean plants
  • Plant out leeks, spinach, peas
  • Collect horse manure

Monday, May 10, 2010

Earthbag Building - Part Two

Yay, it's finished! I know I'm due to do a weekly diary, but this is much more fun. Diary can wait till tomorrow. I am however intending to start putting some weather stats up, as Mike figured out how to record data from the weather station.

I had strange earth building dreams last night - I think I was a bit worried about having to complete it on my own, but I had a lovely helper from yesterday turn up today to finish the job, which was very much appreciated. Mike also took Melina and Alex for the afternoon too, again much appreciated.

Melina spent the morning with us, but that was about her limit. She didn't want to help with the plastering after the first bit she tried promptly fell off, but she was happy making some mixtures using the dirt pile and the clay slurry. We kept asking her if she was making soup, or muffins, but she kept saying no,  she was making special fertiliser for the plants. We got the message after a while.

 First we finished off the first cement plaster coat, then we laid some old vineyard netting over it, and made a cement plaster to go on top of that - so the netting is sandwiched between the two. I think this was to add a bit more stability and have something else binding the whole structure together. We also added hydrated lime and some iron oxide (orange) to the cement mix for this layer. This made it easier to spread, and the oxide was to make the plaster a more earthy colour, rather than grey concrete. The clay we put in originally wasn't really sufficient to make a significant change to the colour. We just guessed at amount of oxide, hopefully it will dry to a nice colour.

And here it is finished. We were very happy to finish and very satisfied. I can imagine it now with a nice layer of mulch in front of it, and plants growing up around it. It has a young persimmon tree behind it, when that is bigger it will provide shade in summer, and let the sun through in winter as it is deciduous. I'm thinking about planting some 'tea' plants - chamomile (maybe a chamomile lawn?), lemon balm etc round it, so then we can just take some cups of hot water and make ourselves a cup of tea while setting on the seat. That of course depends on what of these the ducks take a liking to.

On the far end - PDC stands for Permaculture Design Course, without which this would never have happened, and my Japanese helper today inscribed some characters for me which mean a peaceful feeling - somewhere you can sit down and relax with a cup of tea. Perfect.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Earthbag Building - Part One

Today we hosted some permaculture students doing an earthbag building workshop. I was delighted to be asked to provide a project, and decided on a seat in my food forest area which I am developing. The children like to play there - they call it their tropical island - and we also hang out there watching the ducks sometimes, and also like to sit down and eat the fruit straight off the trees. I don't really have many, if any, formal sitting places in my garden, so am looking forward to seeing how this is used.

It's not quite finished, because we ran out of light, but here's progress so far....

The technique uses this tubular mesh bag, which you buy in long rolls, I think it comes in different sizes. They use it to make feed bags out of.  You decide how long you want it, cut it to size, turn over one end, then fill with your material of choice. We started with some clay which had been dug out of my herb garden area.
You place it where you want it, and 'tamp' it down, to make it flat and solid (picture coming up).
A bit difficult to see, but here the tutor is laying a piece of barbed wire on top of clay filled bag, which will mean that the next bag laid on top will be attached (sort of) and won't move around much.
Here it is being 'tamped'. It needs to be as solid as possible, for stability.
Here it is with two clay filled bags at the back of the seat, and the one in front will form what you sit on.
The space in the middle is filled in with clay as well, this is to make the seat slightly wider.
The next bags were filled with gravel to provide a barrier between the clay bags, and the bags on top which were filled with wood chip. We don't won't the moisture to be wicked up from the ground to the wood chip, otherwise it will rot.
Seat starting to take shape, very exciting! This is the showing the back, this bag is filled with wood chip.
Here's all the bags in place.
Nextstep is to make up a cement plaster (we used cement, sand, and a clay slurry), and then squish it on top of the bags (don't pat! squish!).  I enjoyed doing this.
Clay from the ground, being made into slurry. It's very satisfying using materials from your own property for construction.

And here's the crew with where we got to - most of the back plastered. It was getting a wee bit dark by this time. Have some more to do tomorrow....
I very much liked this method of construction becaue truly anyone can do it, and it looks good. Definitely labour intensive, but has endless possibilities. I like how it is so easy to create curved shapes too.

This method of building has been pioneered by the company 'Cal Earth'. Click here to see one of their house designs. Note that this is for a dry climate - building in NZ need to consider water issues, constructing eaves etc.

Thank you very much to all the lovely students, and tutors Jo and Bryan. 

More pictures when finished!