Summer Garden 2018

Summer has been a bit of a mixed bag here in Auckland. Long hot days, a few storms, rain and high humidity. This was the first year that I had a full season of gardening in the raised beds that I had installed last summer. To recap I had moved the location of the vegetable garden for convenience and for full sun position. We picked up a wooden crate from the side of the road that we converted to three raised beds, I hammered together a fourth bed from some old timber I had lying around. I used the sandwich method of layering various types of organic matter;  starting with a thick layer of cardboard to suppress the grass and weeds then layering with bokashi compost, coffee grounds from local cafes, dried leaves, comfrey leaves, manure, seaweed, lucerne straw, mulch, and compost.

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Three beds are intersected by a feijoa and mandarin tree.

At first some of the plants were not doing too good which was a bit puzzling as I thought the soil must be good from all the rich organic matter. I am always asking questions and listening intently when around other gardeners and from this I found out that my soil could be too rich and it needed a bit of neutrality so I bought some potting mix and added this to the beds and this seemed to help.

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A packed bed – tomatoes, chillis, butternut pumpkin and some onions (I think!).

I planted lots of tomatoes this year. I bought one grafted tomato – a gardener that I once worked with at the school garden had planted grafted tomatoes and they were the size of small trees and were abundant with fruit. So this prompted me to try this, I put one grafted tomato in a large pot, it grew very large and produced a fair amount, however I think it would have done better being planted in the ground where more nutrients could have been provided by the earth. The other tomatoes that I planted were the variety ‘money maker’, I planted these in the raised beds. They were value for money (excuse the pun), I was picking around 5-10 a day from around four plants. I pick mine when they are orange and leave them on my window sill to ripen. As I intended to make passata and pasta sauce I would put them in the freezer until I had enough to make a batch.

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Pasta sauce made from my tomatoes

Chilli’s were also very productive and still are producing, I put most of them in the freezer until I had a good amount to put in brine to preserve. The one chilli plant that I had in a pot I have now brought inside to see if I can get chilli’s through winter. I got a few courgettes off one courgette plant, but overall not they weren’t that successful with a few rotting on the plant. I planted kumara for the first time in November in one bed. I think I had around eight shoots, from these eight shoots they are looking very lush and I am looking forward to this harvest – probably around April. Kumara planting advice from Richard Maine (Gardens for Health) – Plant in mounds with several shoots in each mound, position the roots towards the east, mound up as they grow as you would with potatoes, they like seaweed.

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Kumara patch, you can eat the leaves!

Nena was given some New World ‘Little Garden’ pots. She enjoyed growing these from seed inside and planting them out in the garden. From her ‘Little Garden’ the cucumbers were most productive and are still growing! We have been enjoying lots of salads and I have pickled a few jars of them.

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Nena’s cucumbers

 

In the back garden there are still things growing. My grafted apple tree is now producing some fruit and a couple of citrus trees are also doing well. The grape vine was disturbed from an install of a new fence, the fruit wasn’t going to make it so I picked the unripe grapes and made verjus and unripe grape jam. Our beloved banana trees give us a bunch every around every 3 months. The last bunch I peeled and put in a bag in the freezer, the lady finger size is perfect for throwing in smoothies!

 

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Unripe grapes
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Blitz in a blender then strain out the juice
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Verjus. Jars have gone in the freezer.
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Unripe grape jam, goes well with cheese and crackers.

 

Taro loved the humid weather with the leaves getting to nearly one metre in length! At this size they are not great for eating but the smaller ones are which we sometimes cook. Remember if you are cooking, cook them for a long time or else they will make your throat fifisi (itchy)! Other leafy greens such as lettuces, kale and spinach didn’t fare too well in the garden, slugs and snails  would get to them before I did.

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Monster taro leaves!

Aside from enjoying gardening at home I have enjoyed other gardens! The winter gardens at the Auckland Domain are always a highlight, especially the water lily pond. It has become a tradition for our girls to be photographed at this pond that started with Nena when she was around two years old. I was particularly excited this time to see the lily pond after reading The Plant Messiah. It is a fascinating read of horticulturist Carlos Magdalena’s experiences and passion for plants, water lillies are one of his favourite plants and it was interesting to read about their history and the species.

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Royal Water Lily – Victoria Amonzonica at the Auckland Domain Winter Gardens
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Visiting and harvesting from friends gardens while they were on holiday

Summer now is officially over and I have pulled out some of the summer crops. A knowledgeable garden friend suggested that I cut off the plants at the base and leave the roots in. This helps aerate the soil and feeds the soil as the roots rot. I intend to do this in one bed, I am always keen to try out new things in the garden.

I hope everyone has had a great summer in the garden! Please let me know your high and low lights in the comments!

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Sewing for less waste

I must confess I have way too many hobbies, and sewing is one of them. I am an amateur sewer, and can pretty much only sew a straight(ish) line. But that seems to be all I need to whip up a few zero waste essentials such as bags and well, more bags, actually mainly bags.

Sewing supplies are nearly always at op shops, and sometimes they are not necessarily ‘sewing supplies’. I have used shoe laces, mosquito netting, sheets and pillow cases to make bags.

Pillow cases can be turned into bags easily by cutting through the middle and sewing the edges together and if you can manage, sew a casing at the top to pull a drawstring through.

Here’s my how to tutorial:

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The pillow case, scissors and braided string were bought from an op shop.

Depending how many bags you want, cut through the middle as shown in the picture below. I have chosen to make three bags in this instance, two smaller and one large.

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For the smaller bags made from the bottom end of the pillow case it’s a matter of sewing one side together and leaving 2-3 centimetres at the open end (this is if you intend to put drawstring in).

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Turn the fabric inside out before you start sewing.

Use an iron or pins to fold a casing along the top and stitch around the edge. Using a safety pin thread your string through the casing.

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A close up showing the stitching of one side and casing with an opening for the drawsrting.

For the bags or bag you will make from the top section of the pillow case you will need to do a bit of unpicking and cutting to remove the flap. You will be left with two open ends and partially sewn sides. Sew across the bottom, sew one of the sides to the top, and on the other side as above leave 2-3 centimetres open to leave an opening for a drawstring if needed. Fold the top to create a casing and stitch around the edge. Thread through string.

These bags have endless uses!

  • produce bag
  • bread bag
  • lunch bag
  • nappy bag
  • toy bag
  • toiletry bag
  • gift bag

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And that flap of fabric you removed – don’t throw it away, it can be used to make a headband! Or keep it in a bag of scrap material to one day make a rag rug or string made from scrap fabric twisted together.

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Sew in a piece of elastic

 

I believe there is enough stuff in this world. Let’s reuse, redistribute and make do.

I write this post upon seeing the documentary True Cost a revealing documentary about the fashion industry. If you haven’t seen this I urge you to do so.

Time to Smell the Roses

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My ‘Waste-Less Home’ table at the Rethink Waste event

I recently set up a stall at a community event which aimed to educate people on waste. My little table showcased all the things that I do at home that help reduce waste; it covered grocery shopping, cloth nappies, DIY cleaning products, waste-less essentials, rubbish free lunchboxes, composting and gardening. It was great to connect with people and share practical and inexpensive advice as to how they can do the same. A few people remarked as to how I have the time to do all of these things and about the effort that it takes. I tried my best to explain that it is more about more about behaviour change.

At first what directed our waste-less lifestyle that is now become normal behaviour centered around these three points:

  • no packaging  (or at least reusable or recyclable)
  • cost effective
  • ethical

Grocery Shopping

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Cloth bags are easy to make or you can purchase them new or used.

I recently heard the term ‘precycle’ which is similar to the zero waste definition but also emphasises the consumer’s role “precycling is also characterized as a decision-making process on the behalf of the consumer because it involves making informed judgments regarding a product’s waste implications. The implications that are taken into consideration by the consumer include: whether a product is reusable, durable, or repairable; made from renewable or non-renewable resources; over-packaged; and whether or not the container is reusable” (wikipedia definition)Our shopping habits are more aligned with precycling as we still buy some products in reusable and recyclable packaging. We have yet to put out our landfill bin which contains mostly soft plastics from packaging that we are yet to find alternatives (i.e. cheese and toilet paper), we are hoping to put out our bin just once this year.

DIY

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Baking soda and white vinegar have many uses in my home

I predominantly use white vinegar and baking soda for cleaning, and I no longer need to buy the following items:

Dishwash liquid, Jiff (abrasive cleaner), General cleaner spray, Shampoo & conditioner, Toothpaste, Washing powder

Aside from the washing powder all of the above simply requires pouring into reusable vessels (however not even this is required if you didn’t care!), which takes a few minutes.

Cooking at Home

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Simple pumpkin soup

Being mindful of waste in relation to food makes us eat local and seasonal vegetables that I mostly grow at home or at the community garden. This eliminates packaging and food mileage and encourages biodiversity. Making time and effort for gardening and cooking is important as it’s a way I can provide and nourish my family, community and environment.

I guess at the end of the day it’s about the bigger picture. Like anything that is important time and effort become irrelevant, that leads to a shift in behaviour, paving the way to a lifestyle change. Despite the time and effort I put in to my waste-less life I still have time to smell the roses, from which I get great pleasure and is a reminder that nature makes no waste.
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Plastic Free Laundry

I’m going to start this post with recognition that I have failed to keep to my new years resolution to post on the blog frequently. This also coincided with a bit of blog loathing (my own) so it is only recently that I have been able to even look at my blog. However Plastic Free July has definitely prompted me to put aside my blog insecurities and post something before the month is over.

Laundry. It’s not everyone’s most favourite task, however it’s a crucial task that keeps a household ticking. It can be a wasteful task in terms of water usage, packaging from laundry detergents and powders as well as costly to the home and environment through electricity usage. Here’s how we tackle laundry at home that is not completely waste free however it is mindful of waste:

Zero Waste Laundry powder:

1kg washing soda crystals + 1 bar grated soap

I buy washing soda crystals in bulk at bin inn and buy unpackaged soap from Huckleberry Farms or markets.

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I use approximately one tablespoon per wash.

Washing:

I wash everyday as I use cloth nappies for my baby. To wash the nappies I put them through a 20 min rinse cycle first then add any other laundry to the cycle for a cold wash. We haven’t experienced a significant rise on our water bill since using cloth nappies, we are actually on the low scale of water usage for a family of four.

Quick tip: add fresh lemon juice to the rinse compartment to whiten fabrics.

Laundry basket:

I replaced our broken plastic laundry basket with two cane baskets bought at a local op shop. The cane baskets will not last forever but they can be broken down and composted to be turned into a renewable resource.

Drying:

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Our new drying rack is made by a NZ company called Black Sand.

I use a wooden laundry rack to predominately dry nappies that I have just recently purchased (birthday present to myself). Our old one was falling to pieces so we decided to make an investment buying a NZ made wooden rack that will last longer than it’s plastic coated metal counterparts. Placing this in front of the ranch slider where there is all day sunlight luckily takes up little space in our small home and is easily manoeuvred outside when there are clear skies. Having a laundry line under the car port works well for as able to dry our clothes all year round, with assistance from the hot water cupboard during the winter months.

Waste:

Our broken rack and laundry basket will be put out in the inorganic collection which with the new changes to inorganics in Auckland will be recycled at new community led recycling centres. See the link for more info -http://www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/EN/environmentwaste/rubbishrecycling/Pages/inorganiccollections.aspx

I would be keen to hear from others as to how they wash and dry their laundry whilst being mindful of waste.

Real Skin Balm

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I have super sensitive skin and over the years I have spent hundreds of dollars on creams that claim this and that and I am yet to find one that has left a lasting impression. So I did a bit of Googling and found a recipe for home made moisturiser that only uses three ingredients; coconut oil, olive oil and beeswax (essential oil is optional). The only thing I did different to this recipe is use less of the optional essential oil (about half of the recommended amount) as I enjoy the scent of beeswax with a subtle hint of lavender. I call this a balm as opposed to a moisturiser as it is oil based and melts upon skin contact. I use the balm on my face and body and I have had no stinging or irritation.

Real Skin Balm

Ingredients:

1/2 cup coconut oil

1 cup olive oil

1/2 cup beeswax pellets

optional 10 drops lavender (or another essential oil of your preference)

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Beeswax pellets are available at Huckleberry Farms Stores or online from NZ retailers

Method:

Put all ingredients apart from the essential oil in a wide mouth jar. Put jar with ingredients into a saucepan of water that is half filled, put saucepan on the stove to a low setting. Leave until all the ingredients are melted with the occasional stir being careful not to get any water in the jar. Once melted take the jar out of saucepan and add the essential oil and stir carefully, then leave to cool on the bench to room temperature before putting in the fridge to completely cool and set.

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You could try adding different essential oil combinations, or add a couple of drops of vitamin E oil for a moisture boost, or infuse the olive oil with flowers or herbs before melting together with other ingredients. The recipe makes about 2 cups worth so one batch can go a long way. This would make a great gift for Christmas, just pour into small glass jars before the balm sets firm and have fun making up a name and labels for your jar of goodness.

Real Cleaning

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As an earlier post mentioned I am upping my sustainable ways as a way to reduce our living costs and consequently reduce our waste. I have been experimenting with various concoctions of  baking soda, white vinegar, lemons, sunlight soap and essential oil for cleaning my home and my body and I have been getting amazing results! I no longer need to buy:

  • toilet cleaner

white vinegar (re-use toilet cleaner bottle and replace liquid with vinegar)

  • general household cleaner spray

white vinegar (dilute with water in spray bottle)

  • window cleaner

white vinegar (as above)

  • shower cleaner

white vinegar spray and baking soda for scum build up

  • washing powder

washing soda crystals, sunlight soap (1.5kg soda crystals, use the food processor to break crystals down, finely grate 3/4 sunlight soap bar then combine)

  • laundry refresher/whitener

lemon juice added to rinse cycle

  • dish-wash detergent

sunlight soap (finely grate a couple of tablespoons of sunlight soap, add to warm water in a suitable bottle, shake to dissolve then top up with cold water)

  • hand-wash

sunlight soap (same method as above)

  • fabric softener

white vinegar

  • deodorant

see the zero waste chefs’ great recipe here

  • shampoo & conditioner

baking soda, white vinegar (amazing results- where have you been all my life!)

  • face wash

baking soda (made into a paste with water)

  • insect repellent

neem soap and water (same method as hand-wash and dish-wash, this can be used on plants as-well as a natural alternative to rid bugs)

Uses for baking soda and vinegar are endless – if you have a household cleaning tip please share by leaving a comment, it would be very much appreciated!