Friday, July 29, 2016

Filling the citrus garden for free

Emma sprinkling used coffee grounds on the citrus garden.
I've got all these gorgeous gardens to fill and plant, but not much of a budget to do it with thanks to some house repairs that are happening.

Since getting the blueberries and rosemary in the ground, I've been focusing on my citrus bed. It's four-boards' high and I'm aiming to get it filled to three-boards' high with free materials, before topping it off with compost and planting my citrus trees. Around the trees I'll layer wood chips for mulch.

The last time I showed you the citrus bed, I had just added dried leaves from the girls' school and seaweed from a local beach. Under those layers I have grass clippings, leaves, saw dust, homemade compost, coffee grounds, branches from around our property, and right down the bottom a layer of cardboard topped with several layers of newspaper as a weed mat.
Seaweed layer on the citrus bed.
We've also been chucking all our kitchen scraps, used tissues and toilet paper rolls onto this garden, as these will all break down into compost over time and it's better for them to go into our garden than a landfill.

The problem is that this is such a long and deep raised bed, everything I add only fills it by a centimetre or two by the time it's spread all over. Then it all compresses back down with rain and gravity, so I don't feel like I'm making much progress.

Today I decided to speed things along by getting lots of filler material at one time. In between rain showers, I drove to a local cafe and picked up six bags of coffee grounds.

I also made three trips to my local park, which has free wood mulch to collect, and filled my car boot with that each time
Wood mulch collected for the citrus garden.
I put all this material on the citrus garden, alternating layers of coffee grounds with wood mulch, so the nitrogen in the coffee grounds will help break down the carbon in the wood.

Now the citrus garden is filled to three-boards' high and I'll be able to top it off with compost for planting.

Since most citrus trees are fruiting right now, I'll wait until Spring to plant my trees. This will give the material in this garden a bit of time to start composting. Ideally I would love to source some well-rotted animal manure to put in here too, but we'll see if I manage that.

Spring isn't far off. What are you doing to get your garden ready for Spring planting? Let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Blueberries, rosemary and flowers

When we moved into this house, there was a little riverstone garden outside our kitchen door, filled with two ugly looking plants and a whole lot of weeds.

I had in my mind that this would be a handy location for a vegetable garden or some herbs, so the kids and I started shifting the river stones out by the hundreds. (We put them under our deck.) I had to dig out so many river stones that I actually gave myself tennis elbow in my right arm. All progress stopped at the point shown in the following photo.

After resting my elbow for a couple of months, I gave myself a morning to get the rest of the stones out. I used my left hand to do the digging, and tried to use my right arm as little as possible.

It worked.

I managed to get the rest of the stones out, plus all the weeds that had grown in the intervening months.

Planting time!

It felt so good to head down to Mitre 10 Mega with the kids last week and buy some big ol' bags of compost and plants for the garden.

Miss L pushed a trolley with baby J in it, while I pushed the trolley full of compost and plants. It was so great to have big sister home for the holidays to help me out.

The girls were very excited about planting. Miss S watered all the planting holes for me, and was determined to plant one of the flowers on her own. She did a great job. We mixed compost with the existing soil and planted rosemary, cineraria and pansies into that. I plan to add more herbs in here, especially ones that will attract bees, like sage, thyme and oregano. Possibly some borage.

On the other side of my back door, I planted two blueberry trees - Tasty Blue and Blue Dawn - to cross pollinate with each other. Aren't they pretty?

This week I got an exciting (for me) email from Auckland City Council. I had asked if I could help myself to wood chips from some big piles near my local park, and the answer came back, "Yes."

Yesterday I made three trips down to the wood chip piles and filled my car boot.

I put these wood chips went around my new blueberry trees, rosemary and flowers, plus around my feijoa trees.

Here's another angle of all the new plantings. I love how the wood chips tie it all together and make it look finished. They're also great for retaining water in the soil, suppressing weeds and increasing soil fertility.

Here are the wood chips around my feijoa trees. I also moved stones from another part of my garden to finish edging the feijoa garden.

It feels so good to have these gardens planted out and looking healthy. Bit by bit, we'll get there. My edible oasis is coming to life.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Going on adventures to fill the garden

We are in the middle of school holidays at the moment, so I have all my precious children home with me. We've been having such a lovely time exploring our new patch of Auckland this week.

This beach is just a 15 minute drive from our house. Isn't it stunning?

We discovered it today when we were searching for seaweed for my garden. The kids had such a wonderful time playing at this little river inlet...

...collecting rocks...

...finding interesting shells...

...exploring caves...

...looking for crabs...

...and just generally being Kiwi kids.

I needed seaweed because yesterday we went biking and rollerblading at the girls' school, and while we were there I spied loads of Autumn leaves. My garden is never far from my mind, so I grabbed our garden bag out of the car and filled it up with the dry leaves. A lovely woman I got chatting to helped me fill the bag, which was so lovely of her.

I layered the leaves in my wraparound deck garden, on top of previous layers of grass clippings, homemade compost, sawdust and coffee grounds.
Autumn leaves forming a carbon layer in my garden.
Today I had it in my mind that I wanted a green layer to go on top of the brown, dry leaves layer, so that's why we ended up out at the beach. We actually went to two beaches. The first one was messier, and was where we found lots of seaweed. The second one was more beautiful and fun for the kids to explore, as you can see from my photos above.
Seaweed forming a nitrogen layer in my raised garden. 
Isn't it good when my passion for gardening aligns with epic adventures for the kids?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The budget email

Earlier this year I fell in love with the blog The Frugal Girl. Kristen, who writes it, is so upbeat and inspiring, she really encourages me to do better with our money.

In one of her older posts, she talks about a monthly money email that she sends her husband to let him know how their budget is tracking. I decided to follow her lead and put together a budget email that suits our situation.

I've always had every intention of sitting down with Paul and doing regular budget meetings, but they've only happened like twice, in our whole marriage.

A budget email suits us better because Paul can read it at his leisure and then we can talk about anything that stands out to us. No big deal.

I've done the budget email two months in a row now, and it's amazing how much better we are sticking to our budget because of it. After reading the first budget email, Paul began taking packed lunches to work whenever possible and this has saved us so much money over the past month. I have also been much more committed to sticking to our grocery budget, and am hitting it more often than not now.

It's so exciting to see the traction we have made in the past month, and I am looking forward to seeing where we are at after another month of this accountability.

The nitty gritty 
I write our budget email once a month, putting all our spending for that month into it organised by budget category. We already have a spreadsheet of our planned budget, so I refer to this and note whether we have over- or underspent on a particular budget category.

This is what goes into a typical budget email:

Current account balance

Credit card balance / Amount owing

Income (over last 30 days)

Total spent (over last 30 days)

Savings balance


House spending:
Mortgage payments
House & appliance repairs

Grocery spending (list where and how much cf budgeted amount)

Eating out / Coffee spending (list where and how much cf budgeted amount)

Entertainment spending ie. games and Netflix (list where and how much cf budgeted amount)

Communications spending (Internet and cell phones)

Health spending (ie. Dentist, Doctor - Actual cf budgeted)

Transport and travel spending (Actual cf budgeted)
WOF/Car insurance/Registration

Birthdays/ Celebration spending (Actual cf budgeted)

Clothes/ Hair spending (Actual cf budgeted)

Activities spending (Actual cf budgeted)

Upcoming big bills to save for

And that's it. Although it's a pretty simple idea, it does take a lot of time to put these emails together. It's definitely worth it for our family though, as proven by how it's helping us stick to our budget better.

How do you keep track of your spending? I'd love to read your tips in the comments. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Doing what we can

I'm someone who can very easily feel stressed and anxious.

Recently, however, I discovered a trick that helps me break out of the paralysis that can hit when worry takes over.

I ask myself what I can do to help a situation. And then I do it.

If there's nothing I can do to help a particular situation, I ask myself if there is anything else I can do to help my life in general, and then do that instead.

It stops me from feeling powerless. And the act of doing something prevents me from just sitting and worrying.

I'll share with you a couple of examples.

First, in recent heavy rain a leak sprung above one of our dining room windows (the one pictured above). Water was dripping down onto the window sill.

The stress and worry of that discovery hit me so hard, I started seeing stars. I didn't know what to do. What should I do? Should I be calling our mortgage broker? Are we going to have to extend our mortgage to fix this?

Nope, back the truck up. I rang a friend whose husband is a builder and asked if he could come around and figure out what was causing the leak. He was unavailable, but my friend (who is a bit of a superwoman) said to leave it with her and she would find someone. While I was waiting to hear from her, I rang our insurance agency to find out what could be covered by insurance. Not much.

Then I was left sitting at home with water coming through my window and nothing to do. That didn't help with the stress and anxiety, so I rang another builder who'd done some work for us last year, and he said he could come and take a look that afternoon.

I let my friend know that I had a builder coming around. And then I waited.

And waited.

The afternoon seemed an awfully long time away when water was dripping into my house. I got the dehumidifier cranking and then realised I couldn't just sit there stewing or I would go insane.

So I vacuumed and folded washing and did dishes and tidied the girls' bedroom, and just kept myself busy with what I could do while I waited for the builder. It didn't totally ease the tight feeling in my chest, but it did help. I wasn't completely powerless in my life.

The builder came and figured out a solution that we hope, fingers crossed, will fix the problem. It looks like when the previous owners replaced the Clearlight over the deck before selling to us, they didn't do it properly. Instead of installing flashing, they just bogged up the gap between the Clearlight and the wall of the house with silicone. That has likely come away a bit in the wind and now water is getting down behind it and the supporting beam and somehow getting into the house.

That's what we think anyway. My builder said you never really know with water. It could be tracking from the other end of the house completely. Good times.

But we're doing what we can, and fixing the flashing anyway. Hopefully that will sort out the leak.

That was a pretty long-winded example one. Sorry about that. The next one is a lot shorter, I promise.

My second example has to do with our garden. There is so much I want to do out there to get it all planted and looking beautiful. My to-do list is a mile long, but we just don't have the funds for most of it right now. (What with a leak to repair and all.)

I could sit there stewing about it, worrying about money and getting annoyed with how life keeps throwing curveballs. Or I could do what I can do.

So I'm doing that.

I'm collecting free materials from around our garden and the neighbourhood to fill the bottom layers of my raised beds. I'm also clearing away weeds and ivy and preparing the ground in anticipation of the fruit trees I'm going to buy and plant.

It's all good, helpful work that is keeping me busy so I feel capable instead of powerless.

Mindset is so important.

If you're like me and often find yourself wound up with anxiety, I hope you'll find some comfort in the act of doing what you can, whatever that may be.

You do have power over your situation.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Actual food growing at our place

The next Lynda Hallinan. 
So this happened today. One of my raised beds got planted out with wintery vegetables.

I've been spending all this time filling my garden beds with free materials like leaves, grass clippings, saw dust and coffee grounds, and today I decided it was time to bite the bullet and top up one of my beds with store bought compost and potting mix so I could get it planted.

I chose to plant the types of vegetables that we actually eat - kale, lettuce, spinach, broccoli and celery. I interspersed all these vegetables with leeks, to deter pests and because, leeks!

I'm going to try and reduce my grocery budget this week, to compensate for the money I spent on these vegetables and the compost and potting mix.

In other news, my feijoa trees are also planted. I planted the three Mammoth feijoas that Ben and Mel gave me a week ago, after spending endless days digging ivy roots out of the ground. Around the trees I've spread my own homemade mulch to help retain moisture and feed nutrients into the soil.

Today I bought a companion fejoa tree, Triumph, and planted it. This should cross pollinate nicely with the three Mammoths. 

The Triumph is very tall and spindly compared to the Mammoths. I'm wondering if I should prune it down a bit. 

Are there any feijoa experts out there who can advise me on this? My thinking is that I should prune to encourage root growth. But then it does seem good that the tree is tall already, as it might be able to catch a bit more sun with its extra height.

To prune or not to prune? 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Lots of raised beds

The last time I posted about my garden, it looked like this...

And like this...

Now it looks like this...
My vegetable beds.
And like this...
This garden will get planted with dwarf citrus interspersed with lavender.
My brother-in-law, Ben, has been busy the last few weekends preparing reclaimed wood for these gardens, assembling and delivering five standalone raised beds, and working with me to build the raised bed that wraps around two sides of the deck.
Ben building my wraparound deck garden.
I continue to be blown away by his kindness, but he just nods and says that's what family does.

He and my sister, Mel, came out on Saturday with a trailer full of tools and wood. While Ben and I worked in the garden, Mel watched the kids, cooked us dinner and folded my washing. My husband was away in Nashville at the time, so it was really good to have her taking care of all that.

Mel and Ben brought a wood chipper with them, so I was able to chip up all my hedge clippings. My great big pile was reduced to a wee little pile, which looks much tidier and will come in very handy around the place.
Ben came back again on Sunday to finish up the wraparound deck garden. We almost got it finished before the darkness and rain set it. We've just got a couple of boards at the back to fit, once we can build some sort of post behind to secure them to.

Wraparound deck.
I also need to fill in the soil we dug away for posts and the bottom boards. It will look a lot tidier once I've done that.

And because they are ridiculously kind, Mel and Ben also gave me three Feijoa Mammoth trees, so I've spent the past couple of days preparing a place in my garden for those.

Feijoa Mammoth trees.
Of course, nothing is ever easy.

I thought I would just be able to dig some holes for the trees and fill them with potting mix and compost, but as soon as I started digging, I discovered the ground was riddled with ivy roots. The previous owners had pulled all the ivy off the fence, but then just covered the roots with mulch so it looked like the ground was clear too. *Grumble, grumble. Fist shake.*

I've spent two full days pulling ivy roots out of the ground, and I'm not even done. I've got about a metre stretch left to go. Today was really rainy though, and I'm exhausted, so I gave myself a rest day. Hopefully the weather will clear up tomorrow so I can finish this up and get my Feijoa trees planted.

Nothing like having fruit trees sitting in small black pots to motivate me to get gardening.

The other thing that's been slowing me down in this patch of dirt is a large tree stump. Fortunately it is mostly rotten, so I've been able to hack it up with my spade. There's just a little bit left that is still solid, so I've sawed it down to ground level and am going to leave it. I've managed to get most of the stump and it's roots dug out, so it won't get in the way of the Feijoa trees I'm planting.

Back to the raised beds...
I've made a video about how I placed them in the yard and filled them for free with materials from around my yard and my neighbourhood. Unfortunately I'm having technical difficulties loading the video to YouTube, but as soon as I get that sorted, I'll let you know.

I had lots of fun making the video, and it's why I didn't do a blog post last week. I spent every evening figuring out how to edit in iMovie. I'm a bit addicted to making videos now though, and hope to make more for you.  

What would you like to see a video about? Let me know in the comments.