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. 

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.
Comfrey.
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.