Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A hot box and miracle ducks

Ben serving dessert for the children, waiting oh so patiently.
We celebrated my sister Mel's birthday on the weekend at the lovely home she shares with her husband, Ben, and their three children.

I couldn't resist taking a look around their garden, which they've just finished planting. Mel showed me the big seed raising hot box Ben has built, and said I could take their old smaller one if I wanted.
Seed raising hot box.
This was perfect timing, as I recently bought a whole lot of seeds from King Seeds and had been trying to figure out where and how to raise them at home. The box itself is a bit old and the hinges have rusted out, but it still works so I'm stoked. I need somewhere to raise seedlings before I plant them out, to give them a chance to get established before the slugs and snails attack. Lots of things I've planted direct to the garden have been decimated.

Today I washed all the pots I've been collecting over the past few months, in hot soapy water. That should kill any fungus or disease that might have been on the old soil.
Clean seed raising pots. 

Then I spent a good couple of hours filling the pots with seed raising mix, making little labels by writing with vivid on cut-up yoghurt containers, and then planting my seeds.
Seeds planted in the hot box.
I've got a mix of flowers, herbs and vegetables in here. Baby J was my helper today - he told me he was going to be the Mummy, so he planted peas into the holes I poked in the seed mix.

I'm very much looking forward to seeing little shoots come up in the next week or so. Hopefully this will help me beat those slugs.

We've had another weapon show up in our slug battle too. A couple of ducks have randomly started visiting us. The neighbour across the road has a big collection of ducks that live on his lawn, and I've been wishing some of them would find their way over the high fence to our house. Well, last week a cute little couple did just that.
Mrs and Mr Duck.
L filled up our paddling pool for them, in case they wanted somewhere to swim or drink. I've seen them drink from it a couple of times, so that was a good idea.
L making a little duck pond. 
Every day I keep hoping they will come back. One day just the female came back and had a sleep.
Cute sleeping duck.
The next day they both came back again. Today I haven't seen either of them. I really want them to keep coming back because ducks are excellent slug hunters with their long beaks. And they don't mess up the lawn and garden with scratching like chickens do, since they have webbed feet instead of claws.
Mrs Duck grubbing for slugs while Mr Duck keeps watch.
How can I encourage the ducks to keep coming back, without feeding them. If I feed them, they just hang out on the deck waiting for more. I don't want them making a mess of the deck, but I do want them searching for slugs on our lawn. Any suggestions?

Friday, October 14, 2016

A pirate dinosaur birthday party

Our sweet wee boy turned three last month. Three! Can you believe it? For months leading up to his party, J talked about it and all the lollies and toys there would be. He also changed his party theme every time he talked about it. Finally I just called it and invited his cousins and friends to a mashup Pirate Dinosaur Birthday party.

My sister-in-law Mandy made the amazing pirate treasure chest Birthday cake. And when you get a load of the pirate cookies I decorated, you'll see why I entrusted the cake decorating to someone with actual skill.

Here's the pirate treasure chest cake closed:

And here it is open:

Mandy made the bottom of the chest with lolly cake, and the top with white chocolate mud cake. She also filled the inside of the chest with chocolate coins.

For other party food I made pirate cookies - don't laugh. (And no they don't have three eyes (like Paul thought), the yellow MnMs are gold earrings.)

I also made mini dinosaur cupcakes - vanilla with white chocolate icing.

My mother-in-law gave us a big bag of green kiwifruit a few days before the party, but my kids usually only eat the gold ones. Never fear - whack a lollipop stick in them and suddenly they're everybody's favourite food.

My mother-in-law also gave me a big bag of grapefruit, so I squeezed them and made grapefruit juice for the party. Other food included cocktail sausages, cheesie dibbles, lollipops - J's favourite!, and vege crudites and crackers with dip.

We didn't go as crazy with the party games as we did with L's party. We just organised one game of pass the parcel and an under the sea treasure hunt (searching for gold coins under a blanket maze in the lounge).
Under the sea treasure hunt.
It was a sweet little party and very low stress for us, but J had a blast. Happy Birthday my baby.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The last of the fruit trees are in

Today I bought and planted the last two fruit trees I've planned for our garden (for now). I got a Mandarin Silverhill and a double-grafted Nashi (Hosui and Nijesseiki).
Mandarin Silverhill (in the foreground)
Double-grafted Nashi - Hosui and Nijesseiki.
The Nashi is planted between the raised vegetable beds and our fence, in a line with my two dwarf apple trees. I'm thinking about growing a grape vine up the fence behind the fruit trees, but might not as I need to get a ladder in that space to prune the hedge from time to time.

This week I picked up some free bricks from a neighbour who is taking down his chimney. I've been on the lookout for bricks for a while now, and this is the second renovation I've asked at. The first one wanted the bricks for their own garden project, but I struck gold with the second one. One of the builders even delivered the bricks to me in his trailer, as he was taking them to the dump anyway and I just lightened his load. (Zero-waste win!)

I'm using these bricks to create edging rings around my apple and nashi trees, and to finish edging out my other gardens. The bricks need a bit of work to get them cleaned up, as I have to knock the cement off them, but it's strangely satisfying.
Free bricks from my neighbour's old chimney. 
Garden edge made from re-purposed bricks. 
Thanks to this influx of new (old) bricks, the brick border around the edge of my garden is now about half done. I've got up to a tricky bit where there are lots of tree roots in the way, so it's taking a while to manoeuvre around them. I've designed the edge in an 'S' shape, and will plant flowers in the spaces between trees.
Unfinished brick border. 
I was so excited to find Comfrey at the garden centre today. I got the last pot, which had two plants in it. I have planted one next to my plum trees and one next to a nectarine tree. Hopefully they will take off and I will be able to split them in time and plant more around my other fruit trees.
My lovely friend, Libby, visited last week and brought me flowers and a strawberry plant for my garden, so I've planted them in front of my blueberries. They look so pretty - I'm keen to get many more flowers growing in my garden now that the fruit trees are in. I have bought a LOT of flower seeds to plant.

Baby J helped me plant snow pea and blue pea seeds this week. I poked a hole in the soil and he dropped the seed in. My brother-in-law, Ben, gave me a couple of metal frames to grow plants up, so I'm using them to grow peas over Spring, and then will use them for cucumbers and beans over Summer.
Peas will grow up the metal frame in between my winter vegetables. 
I planted carrot, basil, onion and spring onion seeds in my top two raised beds this week, and hope to get them off to a good start so they can be companion plants for the tomatoes I plan to grow against the trellis.

I'm still trying to figure out a good place to start my tomato and cucumber seeds in pots, so I can get them to a decent size before planting them in the garden. I don't want them to get attacked by slugs while they're starting out. I need some sort of potting bench area, but am scared baby J will disturb anything I try to grow, no matter where I put it.

The kids and I have been slug-hunting several nights this week, and we keep finding the little blighters. They've decimated much of my lettuce, although we're still getting enough to eat. The following broccoli managed to survive and is forming a nice head.

The other broccolis I planted are smaller, but some are forming heads anyway, so I'm excited about that. I'll harvest the head but leave the plant in the ground, in case it forms side shoots we can keep picking.

Today I shifted oregano and thyme out of pots and planted them in my sunny herb garden. They weren't doing well in their pots and needed a change of scenery. I hope they take off in their new happy home.
Herb and flower garden. 
You may remember me mentioning a while back that my community has a free garden skip where you can take your garden waste. I've been making lots of use of it getting rid of ivy, and on one of my trips I found some bromeliads (I think?) in the skip that someone else had chucked out. They still had their roots in tact and seemed healthy enough, so I planted them in my garden. It's been a few weeks since I planted them and they still seem to be alive, so I hope that means they're here to stay.

I've been spending so much on fruit trees and compost for my garden, that it feels like a win any time I find something for free. I have been really blessed on that front: Ben built my raised beds with his own wood; The Council started leaving free mulch piles at a local park not long after we moved in; A coffee cart near my house gives me all its used coffee grounds; And now a neighbour has given me his old bricks.

Every time I've needed something, it has appeared. This garden feels providential. Thank you God. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Early Spring happenings in my garden

It was my Birthday this week so I treated myself to (what else?) plants for my garden. 

I bought a second dwarf apple tree to complement the Ballerina Bolero I had previously planted. The new tree is an Autento, which is said to have good disease resistance and tasty red apples.
Two dwarf apples - Autento and Ballerina Bolero
I also planted three Passionfruit Black Beauties to grow up different spots on my trellis and deck.
Passionfruit Black Beauty. 
I was just going to plant the next passionfruit into the ground, but decided it would look tidier and probably do better if I boxed it in since the ground slopes away.

I built a simple, little frame using leftover wood from my raised beds. Since it butts up against a raised bed and a concrete pad, the box only needed two more sides. I filled the box with compost, some existing dirt, used coffee grounds and sheep pellets and then covered it all with wood mulch.
Passionfruit Black Beauty and two strawberry plants.
Closer look at Passionfruit Black Beauty and strawberry.
The third passionfruit will grow up a deck post and along a piece of trellis I will attach to the frame of our deck roof. I also need to wrap some twine around the deck post to give the passionfruit something to cling to.

Since my earliest garden design, I've been planning to plant lavender in my citrus bed to provide a bit of colour and food for the bees. I finally planted three small lavenders this week to intersperse with my citrus trees. I also added a few more strawberry plants to this garden. You can never have too many strawbs.

My asparagus and garlic plants are coming along well, no thanks to my cat. I had to stick leafy twigs in between the asparagus crowns to stop my cat from using this garden as his toilet. The twigs seem to have done the trick.
Asparagus and garlic. 
I will leave you with a photo of my dwarf Peach Rose Chiffon. I'm in love with its vibrant pink flowers.

Aren't they sweet? 

Oh, and I forgot to say that I've just put through a Kings Seed order so I can get my vegetables and flowers planted. My mother-in-law is helping to pay for that for my Birthday. She knows me so well. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

A Lego Elves Birthday party

L, on the right, at her 7th Birthday party.
Our eldest daughter, L, celebrated her 7th Birthday on Sunday. She was allowed to invite seven friends for her seven years of living (an idea I got from Animal Miracle Vegetable).

We chose to hold the party at home, which was slightly nerve-wracking since our house is small and it would have been chaos if bad weather trapped us inside. Happily, God blessed us with a beautiful sunny weekend, so we were able to spread outdoors. Phew!

Our party theme was Lego Elves, since we all love playing with Lego around here. I made a Welcome to Elvendale sign for the front door, and L's little sister and baby brother got in on the crafty action too, making gorgeous signs for the bottom half of the front door...

Because we are trying to reduce the amount of waste we send to landfill, we didn't use balloons or other disposable party decorations. Instead, I made flower and ice sculptures to adorn the path leading up to the front door. (I just mixed flowers with water and froze them in ice cream containers. Easy, and pretty. Perfect for an elvish-themed party.)

Paul, being the games-master he is, designed a Lego Elves themed party game, which all the kids loved.

You can see in the next photo, Paul is holding a treasure box with four coloured keyholes on it - one for each of the Lego Elves elements - air, earth, water and fire. Paul face painted all the party guests as Lego Elves, and them sent them off to find the key pieces (Duplo) and assemble them to unlock the box.

Air key pieces were hiding on top of the trampoline, which Paul had covered with white sheets. Kids had to bounce (fly) and knock them off to collect them. The round purple sign clued kids in on where to look.

Water key pieces were hiding under bubbles in the paddling pool.

Earth key pieces hid under a pile of mulch. Paul and I were impressed with the determination of the team who dug those pieces out.

Fire was my favourite challenge. Kids had to crawl through a maze in Paul's dark office to find the red fire pieces, with only a couple of torches to light their way. It looked so fun.

On the back of each of the round element symbols, Paul drew a diagram which showed how to assemble the Duplo blocks into a key. Once the four teams had assembled their keys, they were able to unlock the box and retrieve their treasure (golden Cadbury crunchie bars and other lollies).

For the children who wanted a quiet activity to do, we laid out Lego on the coffee table.
A couple of girls got so involved with Lego building, they didn't even want to stop and eat afternoon tea, and it was a sweet spread. Literally.

I made mini vanilla cupcakes and iced them with white chocolate icing, sprinkles and sugar butterflies. I also made ambrosia, which we served in small paper cups. We had to have fairy bread, since that is Paul's prerequisite party food and we also served carrot and cucumber crudites and crackers with dip so there was at least one healthy choice on the table.

My sister-in-law, Mandy, made a beautiful Lego Elves Birthday cake (she's so talented), and I quickly heated croissants in the oven for another quick savoury snack. It wasn't the healthiest of party spreads, but hey, if there's ever a time to have party food, it's at a party. We served it all on actual crockery from our kitchen (no disposable plates in sight).

After everyone had eaten and played their Lego Elves game, they played Pass the Parcel on the trampoline (L's favourite party game), and then we took all the kids over to our local school to burn off energy on the adventure playground. Again, I was so grateful for the good weather that allowed us to do that. 

All in all, the party was a smashing success and I get to breath a big sigh of relief until our next kid's Birthday party, which is in, oh, six days. 


(This post was not sponsored by Lego. We are just huge fans.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

My other half

A rare sighting of Paul outdoors.
They say that opposites attract, and that is clearly the case with me and my husband, Paul. We met in the unlikeliest of places - an outdoor adventure camp where we were both leaders taking kids tramping, kayaking and swimming in a crystal-clear lake.

I say unlikely, because Paul is not really a fan of the outdoors. Or sunshine. He comes alive at night and loves holing up in his dark office, playing and building computer games.

While I've been busy building my dream garden outdoors, Paul has been busy inside building his dream game - The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance.
The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance.
It's an online action-adventure video game for pre-teens that's set in a steampunk world. The game is an allegory of the Bible story, designed to help players understand the three overarching themes of love, faith and hope.

Even though my girls are a bit younger than the target demograph, they love The Aetherlight and especially love being able to user test episodes before they get released to the public. (It's who you know, darling.)

Lately they've been helping Paul user test Episode Three, which is currently in production. It's an allegory of the Joseph story from the Bible (and looks freaking cool from what I've seen). Episodes One and Two launched earlier this year; Episode One is a parallel of the Abraham story and Episode Two parallels Jacob and Esau.

To go with the game, Tyndale has published a companion Bible - The Aetherlight Bible - which I've fallen in love with. It's a New Living Translation of the Bible, and has more than 50 full-colour extra pages showing tie-ins between The Aetherlight game and the actual Bible story.

A quirky feature I love in The Aetherlight Bible is that the bottom of each page has a Proverb which has been steam-punkified (is that a word?). Here's one example:
"Polishing a broken machine won't make it go."
Paul has got a copy of The Aetherlight Bible for our eldest daughter for her Birthday this month and I'm hanging out for her to get it so we can read it together.

If you've got pre-teen kids and want them playing a game that'll inspire them to live an extraordinary life - send them over to www.theaetherlight.com. It's the only game of its kind in the world (and it was made right here in New Zealand.)