3 Garden Things

I have a small plot at home plus some plants in containers that I try my best to keep on top of. I almost always grow from seed and adapt permaculture principles where possible to ensure a productive and sustainable garden. I like to grow a wide variety of vegetables and I acknowledge that I am lucky to have the space and time to do so. So I thought I would recommend three edible plants that are highly productive, hardy and versatile for those considering gardening that may have little time and space.

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Summer crops are coming to an end. Banana tree trunks line the edge to stop the kikuyu weed getting into the garden. An old play pen rail is used for a trellis for my cucumbers.

Silverbeet aka Swiss Chard

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Red and yellow stemmed swiss chard growing in a container.

Silverbeet can be grown throughout the year, the white stalk silverbeet is commonly sold however yellow and red stemmed silverbeet are easily grown and have slightly differing flavours. It’s a great leafy green to add to soups and stews, the stalks are edible too but require slightly longer cooking time (a minute or so longer). The leaves can also be chopped finely and eaten raw in salads or if you have large leaves use them for wraps, layering between vegetable bakes, or blanch them to make dolmas in replacement of grape leaves. It is highly productive and hardy and will eventually go to seed. Plant seeds every couple of months to ensure an all year round supply.

Rhubarb

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Rhubarb grows amongst the native spinach.

Perhaps the most hardy in my garden and is another plant that grows all year round. The stems are the part you eat, (the leaves are poisonous, so don’t eat them – put them into your compost heap.) This plant can get quite big so if you plan to grow in a container, use a large one. We mostly stew our rhubarb and enjoy it with muesli or porridge, or for desserts like rhubarb crumble. Stewed rhubarb also freezes well.

Peas

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Marcy loves eating peas straight from the garden.

I especially like growing peas because my toddler loves picking, opening and eating them. They are also good for school lunches and require no prepping or wrapping – just throw them in! Raw peas are nice in salads and freshly picked steamed peas with a little butter is delicious. Peas require a trellis to latch and climb on to so erect this first before planting so you don’t disturb the roots or other plants. If you have small children plant them in your garden or in a container where they can have easy access to so pick them. My experience with growing peas has only been in the cooler months in year with a Spring time harvest.

Those are my top three easy and versatile edible plants – please share in the comments your recommendations, I would love to hear from people!

Lunches for big & small

School has begun and work is back to it’s steady pace so back in full swing is homework, early nights, drop off’s and pick ups, clean uniforms and of course a packed lunch each day. An adequate lunch for the eight year old and the city worker requires a bit of prep during the week and is always determined by seasonal and zero waste foods.

Our eight year old is a bit of a picky eater, however she doesn’t tire of the foods that she does like easily, so her school lunches are the same each day until she does eventually decide she wants a change. However, I don’t think she will ever tire of popcorn. Whoever rises first makes up first a small batch each morning, any leftovers are eaten by the toddler or set aside for after school snacking.

At the moment for her lunch she likes eating a mix of rice and quinoa (50:50 ratio cooked in vegetable stock), we cook perhaps 1-2 batches at night per week, it’s also handy to have in the fridge for Max’s lunch and last minute dinner concoctions. A piece of seasonal fruit and/or vegetables and a home-made treat are staples in her lunch-box. When we do buy lunch on the go a good option is sushi which I get made to order, left uncut and put in a cloth napkin.

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Max’s to go breakfast & lunch. Top Right: breakfast :steel cut oats with flaxseed and stewed plums and rhubarb. Left: kumara and tomato. Bottom right: lentil patties with marrow chutney, avo and fermented tomato sauce.

Max’s lunch is almost always leftover dinner or concoctions from various foods in the fridge and pantry. On the days he buys lunch, usually sushi, he takes his own container, which is praised by the sushi lady who often gives him treats such as tofu pockets or kimchi. He also buys on occasion Revive, which is bought in compostable packaging (tried and failed to use own container). Another good option in the city is the Hare Krishna food stall that is active during the university semester (Wednesday 12 – 2 @ Auckland Uni, Thursday 12 – 2 @ AUT), it is only 5$ and even allows a second helping at no extra cost which is bought home to add to dinner or for my lunch the following day.

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A refill to be bought home from the hare krishna food stall, even includes dessert!

Making your own waste free takeaway breakfast/lunch may take a little time but it is cheaper in most cases and it is one less thing you need to think about at work (what shall I have for lunch today?). However, for the days when you do feel like buying something opt for a food place that uses real plates and cutlery and sit down and enjoy your lunch – you deserve it! Or use your trusty reusable containers to take away.

Tips:

  • Steel cut oats are available in bulk bins where I live and are great to have prepared in the fridge for breakfast. We use The Zero Waste Chef’s method of cooking steel cut oats.
  • Get your children cooking! Our eight year old is now baking her lunchbox treat. At the moment her favourite (and mine!) is banana oat chocolate cookies, which we call ‘mookies’ because their appearance and texture are a cross between a cookie and a muffin – well that’s the result we get.
  • Buy bread/rolls loose in your own cloth bag from a local bakery.
  • Keep a napkin and container in your car or bag for the unexpected.
  • I came across this great online resource from the Nelson City Council that clearly outlays the cost difference between a packaged lunch and unpackaged lunch. It’s a PDF so you can download it for your reference.
  • Kids Spot NZ also have some great tips and ideas for rubbish free lunches.

Q & A

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After appearing on TV3 news we had an overwhelming response with people really enthusiastic about what we are doing and wanting to learn more. It was an interesting experience going on national television and I thought that we appeared perhaps more extreme than we really are. There were also a lot of questions posted on the TV3 Facebook page so here are the answers to the most common.

Are we vegetarians?

Yes, well more like flexitarians. We don’t normally eat meat but on the odd occasion we may buy some for the kids or eat meat in a situation where it is appropriate. We eat fish infrequently in small quantities and mussels often as they are cheap. We always take our own containers when shopping and in all cases prefer wild caught or home killed meat and seafood.

Do we eat dairy?

Yes. We get raw milk using stainless steel milk cans direct from a farm which we acknowledge is probably not a realistic option for most people. We are exceptionally lucky as we have a family member who lives rurally and collects this for us prior to visiting, we then freeze the milk in plastic bottles (which we reuse) and take out when needed. Cheese and butter we buy from the supermarket. The cheese wrapping we recycle at the soft plastic recycling station at our local Pak’n’Save and the paper from the butter we put in the compost heap.

What was in our rubbish? (See previous post ‘A month in, lessons learnt.’)

On the news clip I was just quoted as saying ‘plasticy stuff’ and ‘items that have a short life span’, which doesn’t give people a good idea at all. The story also didn’t mention that we recycle. We had planned to tip the bin out at the end of the year and do a thorough audit however a newborn, toddler, and Christmas got on top of us and the best we could do at the time was rifle through the bin with our hands. So from the rifle and from memory here are the contents:

Plastic and Miscellaneous

Broken toys- dolls, stationery  (I had someone give me a box of plastic toys which I accepted out of courtesy- 90% of it was broken or poor condition, this went in my bin), around 4 damp rid devices, shoes – at least 4 pairs, a weed mat approx 1.5 by 1 metre. All of this took up a decent amount of 140 litres. The rest was random stuff – sticky things, pill packets, styrofoam meat trays that came from gifted homekill meat, non recyclable or compostable food wrapping, broken glass and ceramics and some clothes (ripped and synthetic so not suitable for compost or charity shops).

Recycling

I regret not keeping better track of my recycling. We put the bin out infrequently throughout the year, perhaps around 4 or 5 times. Mostly comprising of cans, punnets, newspapers, junkmail, paper, tetra packs.

Soft plastics we had in our landfill bin until the latter part of the year then I fished them out for soft plastic recycling. We bought a new shed that came in a box with individually wrapped sheets of metal. The packaging from this filled 1/4 of our landfill bin until I took it out for recycling. Cheese packaging, toilet paper packaging, and some other food packets went to the soft plastics recycling.

Do we grow all our own fruit and vegetables?

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Tomatoes and corn at PERA community garden

No. We grow what we can in our small garden and containers, and belong to a community garden that also supplements our diet. Carrots, potatoes and kumara are among staples that we buy either from the supermarket or local market on a weekly basis. I also belong to a local food and garden group, we meet once a month to share and swap plants, fresh produce, and seeds.

Do we brush our teeth with baking soda and what’s a bamboo toothbrush?

Max and I use baking soda for our cleaning teeth, the kids use store bought toothpaste. We use Go Bamboo brand toothbrushes which look exactly like a normal one but the handle is made from bamboo and the bristles are biodegradable.

A month in, lessons learnt.

Things have settled down a bit in our household so we were able to do a thorough audit of our waste from the month of January, which we will use to evaluate and make some decisions for our waste-less year ahead.

Landfill Waste

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Starting top left clockwise.

Pill packets and nasal spray bottle, expired credit card and gift cards, kinesio tape, ear buds and plasters, stringy, spongy, and sticky stuff, plastic bottle rims and seals, loom bands, semi melted top off my grater (oops), clothes pegs, broken bathroom tap piece ($300 plumbing emergency on a Saturday morning), clothing tags, plastic rim from a tub of coconut oil, broken toys, butter and cream cheese wrapping.

Due to a course of antibiotics, hayfever and an injury that required anti-inflammatories we produced more medical waste than normal. The eight year old got her ears pierced so we needed some ear buds, which we borrowed from a friend before purchasing compostable bamboo buds. We buy fabric plasters that come in a long roll which you cut as opposed to individually wrapped plasters.

Lessons learnt:

Replace plastic clothes pegs with wooden ones.

Unsalted butter is preferred but I can do with salted butter that comes wrapped in paper.

Kerbside Recycling

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Left corner clockwise.

Berry punnets, ice cream containers, honey container, cream bottles, scrap books, junkmail, receipts, scrap paper, food+bathroom+laundry+medicine packets, olive oil, movie popcorn tub, tetra packs.

Berry punnets, tetra packs and cans make up a significant portion of our recycling. Despite growing strawberries at home and making a trip to The Strawberry Farm in Mangere to stock up package free, it still wasn’t enough for my kids’ insatiable appetite for fresh berries especially blueberries which were the majority of the punnets.

Lessons learnt:

Investigate more options for ‘pick your own’ berries and buy in large quantities, freezing the excess. We have been considering getting a chest freezer and this would be a another good reason to do so.

Buy dried pulses (lentils, chickpeas, etc) in bulk instead of in cans, buying a pressure cooker may be good option.

Investigate making our own plant milk, a cursory search shows making nut and oat milk to be simple and non time consuming.

Soft Plastic Recycling

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Top left clockwise.

Incense packet, syringe packet, plastic filler from courier delivery, sweet packets, tofu packet, banana wrapper tape, ice cream seal lid, courier package invoice envelope, teabag packet, 2 cheese packets, 5 tempeh packets, toilet paper wrapper.

Tempeh packets made up a significant portion of our soft plastic which led us on a tempeh journey. We contacted Tonzu and had no luck with requesting it package free although Tofu may be a possibility. We then did some research and found a small scale manufacturer in Grey Lynn who learnt their craft in Indonesia, they also use plastic bags to seal the tempeh before fermentation and advised this is the norm for modern commercial production. Traditionally tempeh was fermented in banana leaves, but I guess commercially using banana leaves would not be practical.

A six pack of toilet paper that comes in paper packaging is easily available, however it is three times the price we pay for 18 rolls. We are not about to break the bank to prove a point.

I had found a local store that has bulk black tea however I didn’t particularly like the taste. So I have gone back to using teabags (which I compost), we buy a pack of 200 to last us and save packaging.

Lessons learnt:

Remember to request no excess packaging or filler when ordering online.

Investigate unpackaged tofu at asian supermarkets as an alternative to tempeh, however part of the reason we choose Tonzu tempeh and tofu is we have greater trust in the source and like the values of the company.

Continue to investigate toilet roll alternatives, at this point though we believe we have investigated almost all options including commercial suppliers, and nothing that is not plastic wrapped is cost effective.

Countdown has cling wrapped cheese for sale in varying weights, we tried to approach them previously regarding getting cheese cut to order in our own containers and didn’t get very far but we will try again this year.

Overall we think we did pretty well for the month. As a family of five on a single modest income, cost, logistics and practicality still inform our approach to zero waste, so this audit would be fairly indicative of our monthly waste going forward in 2016.

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Total landfill weight for January 2016 -284 grams