Wednesday, March 8, 2017

5 frugal lunchbox ideas



You can bet that any time I get together with my Mummy friends, we'll end up talking about what to pack in our kids' lunchboxes. That's because it's such a relentless task, day after day, filling those lunchboxes. And if we get it wrong, either the kids come home tired and cranky because they didn't have enough to eat, or the lunchboxes come home in much the same state they left the house in, which is a waste of food.

Yesterday I caught up with my friend, Di, on Radio Rhema and gave her five frugal lunchbox ideas that work for our family. Listen to our chat here: http://www.rhema.co.nz/.../8664-frugal-kids-school-lunches

And join the conversation. Comment below to let me know what you pack in your kids' lunchboxes. I'm always keen for fresh ideas to keep those bellies full.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Deck stain and to-do lists

Tackling big projects around our house happens like this. I see something and it bothers me. Maybe a bit of paint is chipped, or the fence is looking tired and dirty. I start thinking about how to fix it. I think about it every time I see the thing and start planning.

Then when I get the trifecta of good weather, time and energy, I get to work. This is what I've been working on over the last 24 hours... staining our deck.


When we bought the house, the deck had just been water-blasted so it looked nice and clean, but over the past ten months it has started to fade and look dingy.
Deck before I stained it.

I didn't want to water-blast the deck again because that can wear away at the wood and cause splinters, I wanted to improve the way the deck looks while also protecting it from the elements, which is why I went for deck stain.

First I cleaned the deck with a special deck cleaner, although that didn't seem to do much. Then I sanded the deck with our electric sander. Then I swept it clean and stained it with a long handled deck stain applicator. Today I've been filling in the cracks between the slats with a brush. I've still got to do all the roof beams and posts, but may need to water-blast them before I do as it will be too hard to sand up high.


The colour I chose was Rustic Oak. I've been eyeing up fences and retaining walls over the past few months, trying to settle on a colour I liked. I didn't like any of the orange or red based stains I saw, and I thought dark stains like Blackbean would be too hot on our North facing deck, so I needed something lighter. The yellow-based stains I saw appealed to me so I took a photo of a retaining wall I liked the colour of and brought that photo into Bunnings to pick out the stain. Rustic Oak seemed to be the closest match.


I'm aching everywhere and covered in deck stain, but it's totally worth it. I'm so happy with how the deck has turned out. It looks new again.

You bet I'll be noticing those raised beds and deck posts every time I see them and thinking about when the next burst of energy will take me so I can tackle them too. Not today. Today I'm heading for a hot soak in the bath with a beautiful Bath by Amy bath bomb.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Summer garden snaps

My garden was woefully neglected over the past month and a half because I spent most of my time away from home at our beach house. Fortunately it has survived thanks to a good helping of mulch on the soil. Today I wanted to share photos of some of my favourite plants, many of which are new to my garden this year.

I grew borage from seed because I'd heard bees love it. Every time I visit my borage plants I find bees in the flowers and do a happy dance. Bees = life.
Borage for the bees.

Our small blueberry trees are covered and should be ripening soon.
Blueberries.

I've never grown comfrey before, so didn't realise how big it grew. It's dwarfing my dwarf peach tree, but I just rip off big leaves from time to time and drape them around the base of my fruit trees as a nutritious mulch. On my list of things to learn is how to make comfrey compost tea.
Comfrey.

We've been getting loads of tomatoes of all sizes, so we've been eating a bowlful of cherry tomatoes with dinner each night and I've been having tomatoes and basil pesto on toast for breakfast. Freshly picked tomatoes are delicious.
Cherry tomatoes.

I grew meadowfoam from seed because I wanted to experiment with growing medicinal flowers in the garden. Even though it's an annual, I'm under good authority that it seeds well and should pop up again around the place.
Meadowfoam.

This oregano lived in a pot for years and years, but never did very well. Now that I've planted it out in my herb garden, it is thriving, spreading and flowering. I've been picking the leaves to flavour our dinners as I love the taste of fresh oregano. The bees love the flowers too, so that's another win.
Oregano. 

The plant that seems to be doing the best in my garden is spinach. I've been using it in smoothies and dinners, but there's so much of it I really need to harvest, blanch and freeze it before it goes to seed.
Spinach going nuts. 

I grew several swan plants from seed to provide food for monarch butterflies and they are finally getting established, although they're taking their sweet time. Luckily they are a perennial plant, so now that I've got them in the garden, they should stay for many years. They also drop lots of seeds so hopefully more little swan plants will pop up around the place in years to come. I'm dreaming of a garden filled with flowers, bees and butterflies.
Swan plant. 

There's not much to see in the following photo yet, but this week I cleared out this garden and planted various seeds - things like basil, beetroot, carrots and beans that I had left over and which haven't done too well in any of my other gardens this summer. I laid this metal grid over the raised bed to try and prevent my cat from using the garden as his personal toilet. So far it seems to be working. I also used the grid to determine where I would sprinkle my seeds - inspired by my readings about square metre gardening.

How are your gardens fairing in this heat? What homegrown goodies have you been eating?

Friday, December 23, 2016

5 frugal and plastic-free gift ideas


This week I caught up with my friend Di on Radio Rhema to talk frugal and plastic-free Christmas gift ideas. As always with Di, it was lots of fun. Listen to the interview here.

Or for the visual learners among you (I'm one too), scroll down and read about the five frugal and plastic-free gift ideas I gave Di.

1. Make your own
People love home-made gifts. They just do, so you really can't go wrong. Check out Pinterest if you want to be inundated with ideas for baking, sewing, DIY science kits, DIY craft kits and more.

This year we made rocky road for all the kids' teachers and support staff, plus several family members. (We have a BIG family.) My kids loved helping chop up the rocky road ingredients and write out the labels for the gifts. And they got many hugs from teachers and even the school Principal upon delivery. Everyone was happy.

2. Digital gifts
There's no packaging with digital gifts, and you can get a lot of bang for your buck.

This Christmas we're gifting The Aetherlight family season pass to several of our nieces and nephews. The Aetherlight is a steam-punk Bible game, and the family season pass includes episodes 1, 2 and 3 for up to five family members.

3. Make your own adventures
This gift is really only limited by your imagination, but the idea behind it is to make memories instead of stuff. Ideas could include picnics in unusual places, tramping, camping, geocaching and beach trips.

Every year my husband organises a pirate treasure hunt for our kids and whichever nieces and nephews we're holidaying with at the time. He makes a treasure map, dipping it in tea and burning the edges to make it look authentic. Then he pops the map in a bottle and leaves it lying around somewhere near where the kids are playing at the beach so they can find it. The treasure is usually the same wooden chest used over and over again, and filled with gold-wrapped chocolate coins. He buries that at another location and marks it with an 'X' so the kids can find it by following their map. Adventure ensues.

4. Slave for a day
Use your skills to bless others. Building, sewing, painting, gardening, cleaning, babysitting, etc. If you can do it, offer it up as a gift to others. I guarantee your recipients will be grateful.

My favourite Christmas present of all time was when my brother-in-law and sister-in-law spent three days painting our house with us. They really broke the back of the project for us, and did it with such a cheerful attitude too.

5. Buy second-hand
Before you hit the mall, visit garage sales, Op shops, school fairs, church galas and Trade Me. You might just find what you're looking for at a fraction of the cost. And you'll be supporting charities and giving items another lease of life, helping to keep them out of the waste stream.

Last Christmas I wanted to get roller-blades for my girls, so I looked out for them in the months leading up to Christmas and managed to find two mint condition pairs of rollerblades at a Salvation Army store, and two sets of wrist guards at a church gala. Win!


Merry Christmas. What ideas would you add to the list? 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Protect your garden investment


It happens to gardeners everywhere. We spend months tending our precious gardens, anticipating an abundant summer harvest, only to abandon post at the height of summer so we can go away on holiday. And we never know what state our garden will be in when we get back.

This week I gave Di from Radio Rhema my top five tips for protecting our vegetable gardens so we do have something to come back to.

1. Simple glass bottle irrigation system
This is a trick I picked up a few years ago. Just fill a glass beer or wine bottle with water, and stick it upside down into the soil next to a plant you want to keep watered. If the soil is wet enough, the water will remain in the bottle, but if the soil dries out, plant roots will start wicking water out of the bottle and using it to stay hydrated. It's very efficient, with plants only taking what they need, when they need it.

2. Seaweed mulch to stop slug and snail attacks
Seaweed around this passionfruit has stopped slugs and snails.
Slugs and snails die if they crawl on salt, so it makes sense to protect plants with seaweed, which contains salt along with a whole host of other trace minerals that plants need. Take a big plastic tub to the beach at low tide and fill it up with seaweed, then spread it around the plants that seem to be catnip for slugs, ie. lettuce, cucumber, courgette, passionfruit, basil, broccoli, kale, beans and peas. 

3. Stake climbing plants
Tomatoes tied to bamboo stakes and a trellis.
If the weather turns rough, we don't want to lose climbing plants to strong winds, or to have them break under the weight of their own fruit. Tie tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and other climbers to stakes, trellises or any sort of climbing frame that will hold them upright and in place. I cut up old cleaning cloths, nylon stockings or t-shirts to make my tying strips, and I raided my neighbour's bamboo patch to get my stakes (with his permission of course).

4. Mulch around plants
Pea straw and lucerne mulch around plants.
Who knows what the weather will do while we're away? It might rain and rain, but just as likely it might not rain for your entire holiday. Either way, mulch will help any garden. If it rains, the mulch will absorb water like a sponge, holding it in place until plants need it and protecting your plants from having the soil washed away from their roots. 

Mulch will then prevent moisture from evaporating back out of the soil so plants can survive longer between downpours in fine weather. Mulch also protects worms and other microbes in the soil and suppresses weeds from getting a handhold in the garden. As if all that wasn't enough reason to use mulch, it also improves soil structure and feeds nutrients into the soil. I like using things in the garden that have multiple functions. Mulch is the queen multi-tasker. 
Pea straw and lucerne is an excellent garden mulch.
For my established fruit trees, I use wood chips as it lasts a long time and I don't need to top it up too often. For vegetable gardens, where I want the mulch to break down reasonably quickly and softly into the soil so new seeds can take root, I use pea straw and lucerne. It has the advantage of feeding nitrogen into the garden. If using seaweed around plants, you don't need straw where the seaweed is - it might just provide a path for the slugs to crawl over and eat your plants.

5. Harvest what you can before you go away
Silverbeet and spinach getting cleaned and de-stemmed for blanching.

With steps 1-4 in place, hopefully we'll return to a garden full of healthy, happy plants. But if everything does fall apart while we're away, we'll be glad to have preserved some of our homegrown vegetables before we left. Canning, drying, cold storage and freezing are all wonderful methods of putting crops aside for later use.

I find freezing the easiest method of food preservation, so it's the one I use the most. Zucchini is wonderful grated and frozen in ziplock bags, because it can be quickly pulled out and added to soups, curries, casseroles, pies, etc. I reuse the same ziplock bags over and over. Tomatoes can be frozen whole, but I like to blanch and freeze beans, broccoli, spinach and silverbeet.

There you have it. My five tips for protecting your garden investment. Can you think of anything else to help gardens take care of themselves? 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Summer garden photos

This morning at 11.30am I'm catching up with Di from Radio Rhema to give my five tips for preparing your garden so you can leave it for the holidays. Stream the interview here.

In the meantime, take a pictorial stroll around my garden. The slugs haven't destroyed everything, despite their best efforts. I've lost courgettes, peas, beans, basil, carrots, lettuce and more to their insatiable appetites. Seaweed is the best defense I've found, I just need to get more of it.

Despite it all, I'm happy. Everything you see is 100% more than I had last year.

Blueberries.

Dahlias and feijoas.

A quick harvest to make the base for a lunchtime salad.

Salad featuring some homegrown goodies, plus a green berry smoothie.

Garlic. 

Kale to feed my kale chip addiction, plus many lettuces gone to seed.

Spinach, kale and beetroot.

Spinach, peas, beans, cucumber and a solitary courgette protected from slugs by seaweed. 

A self-seeded tomato that's taller than me.

Many tomatoes in various stages - the slugs have left them alone at least.

Friday, November 11, 2016

All the free things

Before.
The above photo shows what our garden looked like when we moved in seven months ago. Never did I imagine it would have progressed as far as it has in such a short time. The hugest thanks for that goes to my brother-in-law, Ben, who built raised beds for me and championed me to dream big.
After. Wraparound deck garden and raised beds.
Setting up gardens can be expensive, so I thought I'd share a post explaining all the ways I cut costs by using free or waste resources instead of buying new. Every little bit adds up when you're doing a whole garden from scratch.

Raised beds and fruit trees.
The raised beds pictured above were built using wood reclaimed from old farm fences. I filled the beds three quarters full with free materials - from bottom to top: cardboard, newspaper, cabbage tree leaves, twigs and small branches, grass clippings, dry leaves, used coffee grounds from a local coffee cart, untreated sawdust, chicken manure I collected from a friend's house, wood mulch, seaweed I collected from the beach, hay and rabbit manure I collected from my sister-in-law's hutch, more wood mulch, more coffee grounds and homemade compost.

On top of these free materials, I layered bought compost to plant into. The layers underneath are slowly turning into compost, because I layered green nitrogen layers with brown carbon layers.

Beans, peas, spinach and courgette plants.
The beans in the above photo are growing up an old metal trellis that Ben gave me. He uses the same type in his garden.
Self-seeded tomato plant and herbs.
 The tomato pictured above self-seeded over winter. It was in such a warm spot against the house that it didn't get frosted out, so I staked it with scrap wood and bamboo I picked up from a neighbour's garden. Some of the herbs dotted around used to be in pots, but they never loved their pots so it's nice to see them thriving in the soil.

Leafy greens garden.
Most of the plants in the leafy green garden pictured above were grown from seed in a hot box Ben gave me - pictured below.

I reused pots from the garden centre to grow my seedlings in.


I edged my apple trees and nashi tree with bricks I sourced from a neighbour who had his chimney removed. They were headed for the dump, so I saved my neighbour money and rescued a valuable resource. The much around the tree trunks is from a local mulch pile, so it was also free. 

Strawberries, lavender and dwarf citrus trees.
The soil around my strawberries, lavender and dwarf citrus trees is protected by wood chips I picked up free from a local pile.
The same neighbour who gave me his bricks, also gave me bamboo from his property, so I'm using that to stake my tomatoes, as seen above. 

Wraparound deck garden.
I've been amazed, over and over, at how the things I've needed for my garden have been provided just at the right time. So to recap, here's a list of all the free things I've used in my garden:
  • Reclaimed wood
  • Old bricks
  • Cardboard
  • Newspaper
  • Cabbage tree leaves
  • Twigs and branches
  • Dried leaves
  • Chicken manure
  • Seaweed
  • Hay
  • Rabbit droppings
  • Untreated saw dust
  • Used coffee grounds
  • Wood mulch
  • Grass clippings
  • Homemade compost
  • Used garden centre pots
  • Bamboo posts
  • Metal trellises
  • Old hot box for seed raising
If you want to start a garden, ask around and keep your eyes open. You'll be amazed at what you can find for free - and what you can save from the landfill.