Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Increasing efficiencies in the garden

Ben building deck stairs.
I want to be someone who is always learning and developing my skill-sets. It keeps life interesting and purposeful.

Over the last couple of months I've been trying to get my head around permaculture. It's a way of working with your surroundings to maximise efficiencies while minimising inputs and waste.

A simple example would be water. On a typical suburban property, fresh rain hits the roof and is piped away via downspouts to join waste-water and make its way out into the ocean. On the same property, water that has been collected and treated with various chemicals to make it drinkable is piped in (and paid for), then used to water the garden.

A more efficient system would be to collect the rainwater falling on the roof and use it to water the garden.

Two fantastic permaculture books I've read are Practical Permaculture for Home Landscapes, Your Community and the Whole Earth by Jessi Bloom and Dave Boehnlein, plus Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Homescale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway.

I'm also loving Peak Moment TV - a series of YouTube videos about "resilient, locally reliant living for these challenging times." Some of my favourite videos are:

Inspiration Farm: Cultivating Nourishing Food and Creativity 
Shaping Water and Soil at Inspiration Farm
Handmade Tools make Simple Work at Inspiration Farm
Bringing the Wealth Home - Intelligent Design at InishOge Farm
Monroe's Sharing Garden - The Giving is Growing
Grow your Food in a Nook and Cranny Garden - Part 1
Grow your Food in a Nook and Cranny Garden - Part 2
The Eco-sense House - Natural Building, Natural Living
The Pee and Poo Show

In my own garden, things are progressing nicely. My brother-in-law, Ben, and his family came back on Sunday to finish building my deck wraparound garden and build deck stairs so I can easily access my raised garden beds.

The wraparound garden just required two pieces of wood to be cut on an angle and fitted to the back edge along the deck. Not a major job when you have the right tools. (Practically impossible when all you have is a hand saw, as I discovered a couple of weeks ago.)

The gardens and stairs have all been built with reclaimed wood, saving it from the landfill. Ben's brother recently subdivided a farm and had to take down existing fences to do it. Ben used some of that wood to build my raised beds, wraparound deck garden and the base and posts of my deck stairs.

Ben's brother also recently built a deck, and was left with a whole lot of offcuts of decking timber, which were too short to do much with. Ben used those to build the top of my stairs, since it's the same kind of decking timber as my deck is made from and ties it all together. My sister, Mel, came up with a stair design that would make use of short offcuts (and look pretty to boot).
Building deck stairs out of offcuts.
Completed wraparound deck garden and stairs.
While Ben was here with all his power tools, I cut short wooden offcuts to fit the gap between two of my raised garden beds.

I got the idea when reading about keyhole garden design in Gaia's Garden, since it makes use of the space at the end of my garden path where it butts up against the trellis. Now I can fill this little space with soil and grow another plant up the trellis here.
Keyhole raised garden bed
It felt great helping Ben build the deck stairs. I learned how to operate a drop saw, and even had to measure and cut pieces of wood on a 45 degree angle to build the top frame of the stairs. That felt pretty cool. I love learning new skills.

What have you been learning about lately?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Updates from around our house and garden

My sister-in-law, Kim, saw my gardening post last week and was so happy I'm finally getting my own garden, she surprised me with money to buy more plants as an early Birthday present. She knows how important it is to get my fruit trees planted before spring brings them out of dormancy.

With some of the money she gave me, I bought an Apple Ballerina Bolero Columnar tree and planted it next to one of my vegetable patches. The sun direction means it won't shade out the growing veges. The tree itself is on a bit of an angle, just the way it was grafted to its root stock. I'm going to plant another apple and a double-grafted nashi on either side of the columnar apple.

I also bought lots of strawberry plants, which I planted in a wave pattern around the base of my citrus trees.

I'm keen to get as many perennial food producing plants into my garden as possible, so I also bought a rhubarb which I planted next to my blueberries. Hopefully it will grow up a bit and hide the pipe behind it. I also bought several bags of compost and sheep pellets to plant with my fruit trees, since my soil is dense clay that is not suitable for fruit trees.

Last week I moved my dwarf nectarines, because I noticed where I had planted them wasn't getting any sunlight. I've now planted them along the same fence line as my peaches, blueberries and cranberry, so that's going to be a busy stretch of garden. I moved them just in time, because they started blossoming this week.

I recently got a free set of drawers from my community Facebook group, so I gave it to J and put his old set in our dining room. His old set has cupboards down the bottom which are not very practical for clothes, but are great for storing my small appliances. That has cleared up space in our pantry, so it's fitting our food a lot better than before. 

Two of our fruit bowls now live on top of the chest of drawers.

Our other fruit basket lives on this sweet little column I was given as a wedding present by an old flatmate. My daughter, L, pretty much lives on fruit, so we have lots of it tucked around the place.

Since it was raining heavily yesterday, I dedicated the day to shifting storage items up to our attic. Our new attic stairs are so great for this. Now our garage/office has more usable space, and doesn't feel quite so cluttered with boxes.

Paul is thinking about bringing the Lego down here from Baby J's room, so the girls can still play with it after J goes to sleep. 

What have you been doing in this rainy weather?

Monday, August 22, 2016

5 kid-friendly breakfasts

I tend to wing it with breakfasts and make whatever I think of in the morning.

However, I'm trying to get more organised (like with my 10 frugal dinner ideas, so today I'm listing our favourite breakfasts around here. (Mind you, they are not the favourite of everybody all the time. Lest you think life was that simple. Oh no, one kid will always love the breakfast that another kid hates with a passion. On those mornings, the kid who hates whatever I'm serving can just eat cereal or fruit.)

1. Porridge. This is super easy because I just pour all the ingredients into our Thermomix and it does the rest. S eats this one.

2. Boiled eggs. L and sometimes J like these, but only eat the egg whites. I get to eat lots of yolks on boiled egg days. (I put the eggs in a small saucepan of cold water and bring it to the boil, then take it off the heat and set the timer for 12 minutes. Done.)

3. Scrambled eggs with diced bacon stirred through. S and sometimes J will eat this. Not L.

4. Banana coconut pikelets. Everyone likes these, most of the time.

5. Vanilla or chocolate smoothies. S likes vanilla, L and J like chocolate, so I start off by making a vanilla smoothie and pour out a serve of that for Sophie and then I add a Tablespoon of cocoa (and sometimes a teaspoon of Maca powder) to make it chocolate for the other two.

What are your go-to breakfast recipes?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Family bush walk - Upper Nihotupu Dam Track

One of the last things I read yesterday was this post over at Marblemount Homestead about summer food preservation and enjoying nature. I felt a little jealous that their family gets to enjoy so much beauty and nature right where they live.

And then I thought, hang on a minute, I live at the foot of the Waitakere Ranges, with its 16,000 hectares of untainted bush. I have nothing to be jealous of.

So today the family and I went on a big beautiful bush walk - the Upper Nihotupu Dam Track. I don't know how long it's meant to take, but we were at it for a good four hours.

It was glorious.

The 50 metre tall Nihotupu Dam, built 1923. 

I thank God for my beautiful country and my even more beautiful family.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

10 frugal dinners (my kids might eat)

Pumpkin soup bubbling away.

I'm writing this post without knowing what I'm going to write. I just know I need to figure out 10 frugal dinners that my kids will maybe (hopefully) eat, so I can do a two-week rotation of easy weeknight dinners and keep everyone happy.

I'm working out the approximate cost of these dinners based on items I buy on special from the supermarket I shop at for our family of five. (Convoluted much.)

1. $3.50 Pasta, pasta sauce and cheese - Watties Pasta Sauce ($1.50), half packet of dried pasta ($1), cheese ($1)

2. $7.39 Quesadillas - Homemade refried beans ($1), salsa ($2.89), cheese ($2), half pack of Budget tortillas ($1.50)

3. $10 Honey soy chicken drumsticks, chips and raw vegetable crudites - Chicken drumsticks ($7), homemade potato chips ($1), raw vegetable crudites ($2)

4. $7.50 Pumpkin soup and homemade buns - Pumpkin ($2), Trade Aid coconut milk ($2.99), homemade chicken stock (free), spices (50c), bun ingredients ($2)

5. $14.28 Butter chicken on rice cooked in chicken stock - Basmati rice ($1), homemade chicken stock (free), Asian Home Gourmet Butter Chicken sachet ($1.99), Trade Aid coconut milk ($2.99), onion (30c), tinned chopped tomatoes (80c), zucchini or okra ($1), free range boneless chicken thighs ($7)

6. $11 Fish and chips and salad - Gurnurd fillets ($7), homemade potato chips ($1), fresh vegetables ($3)

7. $7.00 Chicken barley soup with toast and butter - 3 chicken drumsticks ($2.50), homemade chicken stock (free), barley (30c), carrots (75c), celery (75c), onion 50c, herbs (20c), bread ($1.50), butter (50c)

8. $8.50 Lamb chops, mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables - Lamb ($5), mashed potatoes ($1.50), steamed vegetables ($2)

9. $15.39 Tacos - Mince ($5), Salsa ($2.89), Sour cream ($2.50), cheese ($1), salad vegetables ($2), lettuce (free from garden), spices ($1), Tacos ($3.5)

10. $10 Mince and zucchini rissoles with fresh fruit and vegetables - Mince ($5), vegetables for rissoles ($2), fresh fruit and vegetables ($3)

It was interesting doing this exercise and figuring out which are our most frugal meals and which are the most expensive. (Tacos, you sly dog.)

It will be so good when our garden is up and producing more, because that will cut down on the fresh fruit and vegetable side of things. It seems that meat and dairy are the main big money-suckers at dinner-time though.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Our citrus garden is finally planted

Good golly the weather has been beautiful this week. It doesn't feel like winter at all.

Baby J has been swimming in the paddling pool on the deck two days in a row (my attempt to get vitamin D into him) and I have been getting lots of gardening jobs ticked off my list.

Today's job - I bought and planted four dwarf citrus trees in the raised bed Ben and I built next to my deck.

The sun had gone by the time I took these photos, but this spot does get a good amount of sunlight over the course of the day, so I think these trees will do well here.

From left to right I planted a Mandarin Corsica No 2, a Lime Tahitian, an Orange Washington Navel and a Lemon Meyer. They are all dwarf varieties, so shouldn't grow more than 1.5 - 2 metres high. 

As I've mentioned before, I've been filling this garden bed over the past few months with free materials I've gathered from here, there and everywhere.

Today I dug holes in the middle of all that material for the trees and filled the holes with store-bought compost that has blood and bone mixed into it. I also added garden lime to counteract any acidic pine needles in my garden mulch, and a few handfuls of store-bought sheep pellets for nitrogen.

Over top of the whole raised bed, I've layered a few centimetres of free wood mulch to conserve water, suppress weeds, add nutrients and give a tidy appearance to the garden. I love me some good wood mulch. I try to keep the wood mulch a little bit away from the actual trunks of my fruit trees, as I don't want them to get overheated.

I'm feeling so happy that this garden is finally planted. I've been working towards it for so long. Imagine how good the first harvest will taste!

Update - I took some photos of the trees at midday, when they get full sunlight. Much better!

Monday, August 15, 2016

A messy corner transformed with fruit trees

This is the section of our yard I lovingly refer to as the messy corner. Riddled with ivy, that fence on the right used to be covered with chicken wire entwined with ivy that towered about another metre above the fence.

Getting the chicken wire and ivy off the fence was relatively easy compared with digging ivy roots and a random tree stump out of the ground. I couldn't even tell you how many hours I've spent in this corner yanking, digging and sawing. But it was all worth it.

With the ground finally clear, this morning I was able to head to the garden centre and buy some fruit trees.

And here they are. The tall tree in the corner is actually two plum trees planted into the same hole - a Plum Fortune and a Plum Santa Rosa. I had planned to buy a Plum Hawera, but the garden centre was out of them and Plum Santa Rosa was second on my list. It came with a Plum Fortune in the same container so I got the two and now we'll get twice as many plums out of the same space. 

The two smaller trees on the right are dwarf peaches. A Peach Honey Babe and a Peach Rose Chiffon to be exact. 

Here's a sneaky picture my daughter, S, snapped of me planting the Peach Rose Chiffon. 

My daughter also took this photo of the sweet little peaches. She is quite the budding photographer.

Here's a closer look at the two plum trees planted into the same hole. I'll be interested to see how they grow together.

The Peach Honey Babe has already started to blossom. The flowers look gorgeous, but I'll need to pick them off this year so the tree can put energy into forming roots.

This garden is what I look out at through my kitchen window, so I'm pleased it's no longer a messy corner.

There's more to do, of course. I'm still edging the garden with bricks (and need to source more from somewhere). I also need to pick up a few more loads of wood mulch to get a good thick layer. And I want to plant the understory between trees with lots of flowers and strawberries.

In the summer I'm planning to clean all my fences and possibly stain them (if I can ever decide on a colour).

But for now, I'm getting my trees in the ground since that's the priority. I think by the time I'm done, I'll have 23 fruit trees around the place. Not bad. Not bad at all.