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 It's the only game of its kind in the world (and it was made right here in New Zealand.)

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?