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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Vava’u, Tonga

In December 2017 I traveled with my parents and two youngest children to Vava’u. Vava’u is a group of islands in The Kingdom of Tonga. It is also where my Tongan family descend from on my mothers side. A family reunion was the main reason for going, and although the reunion was cancelled a month out we still decided to go for a holiday.

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Marcy and I at sunset on the wharf

I did my best to pack for a zero waste holiday or as close to zero waste as possible for myself and the kids. Cloth nappies, reusable coffee cups, stainless steel drink bottles, reusable produce bags and shopping bags, activity bags, containers and a cutlery kit was all packed. Unfortunately both of the kids got sick, one after the other, nothing too bad but enough to keep me from being in control of some things that led to waste. But I didn’t fret over it as the kids health was most important.

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Cloth nappies drying on the deck

In the breaks I did get from the kids getting sick what I did see was an amazing lush green landscape growing fruits and staple crops at every turn surrounded by emerald green water. We also visited a family cemetery and houses and land where relatives used to live. I imagined what the life was like back then and how different it is now on the island. The view at the top of Mt Talau was breathtaking, swimming at a seaside village and watching Marcy in her element with the village kids was also a highlight and experiencing a Sunday church service was good for the soul.

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Sanft, Guttenbeil and Shumarkel cemetery.

Planning my zero waste trip I came across Vava’u Protection Association VEPA. I was interested to hear what they got up to so I visited the centre and had a chat to Karen Stone – an educator at VEPA. I learnt that recycling is available but not economically viable (sent to China), especially plastic recycling. Disposable nappies are subsidised by the government to encourage women to return to the workforce (perhaps giving women one less washing load?), the outcome being disposable nappies make up a large percentage of landfill or unfortunately, end up being dumped in other areas. (Cultural beliefs forego disposable nappies being incinerated- which is a viable option according to Karen). Another effect of disposable nappies is that the water quality has been affected, which could account for bottled water sold and discarded everywhere and even locals stocking up. However it was great to see the locals harvesting and using rainwater which made me think I need to get a rainwater tank set up at home ASAP!

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VEPA office near the wharf in Neiafu

VEPA do an array of work and one of their projects was working with retailers at the local marketi to forego plastic bags. I also learnt that plastic bags were taxed for a time but it didn’t work out so plastic bags are now back 😦 however food waste is not high on the waste scale which was encouraging to hear 🙂 Recycling bins are scattered all over the island and I noticed that in small villages they looked good – uncontaminated and used well compared to the ones in the main town.

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A small recycling station that I found near where I was staying. Here I dropped off some cans and bottles.

I noticed a lot of litter around, plastic and glass bottles, food packets, plastic bags, and others who I traveled with and met up with noticed it too, so it wasn’t me with my waste cap on! It was a little depressing to be honest and it made me sad for the island and the people living there and also made me think about my ancestors who worked and lived on the land and what they would think. Vava’u is a small place but the waste issues seemed so big. It made me think of all the initiatives and services that are available in NZ and how grateful I am for them but also it made me think that there are so many meaning we consume and make a lot of waste!

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Local marketi, VEPA are working with retailers to forego plastic bags.

Chatting to some family who joined us in Vava’u and who had been to Vava’u 10 years previous, they talked about how litter wasn’t what it is now and that burning waste (mainly stuff that was swept up around their property, I would imagine dried leaves and garden waste) was common but now not common at all, because according to a local – “you can’t burn plastic” which seemed to be the most common waste. (Here is a video clip made in the Tongan language that talks about the risks and harm that burning plastic has on the environment).

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Plastic bag floating in the sea 😦

Doing a bit of research before and after the trip I came across this report. Although it centres on Tongatapu it would appear the challenges are the same on other islands including Vava’u. The report mentions how abandoned cars are a growing waste problem, this I certainly noticed, especially when our driver pointed out his home above a car wreck site and it looked as though the cars had been there for many many years with the rusty cars blending into clay coloured land that had been hollowed out for the site. I do hope to visit Tonga again in the future, I hope that things are better environmentally. At the moment I feel there is a long way to go.

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A kava crop near Mt Talau. At $150 a kilo for kava powder this is a precious crop!

The bigger picture – we stopped by Queen brand vanilla farm and talking to the farmer he told us that the last two seasons of vanilla had failed. Not just in Tonga but globally, he put the failure down to “two words – climate change”. So expect to be paying $$$$$ for vanilla if you are not already. Hearing about failing crops really freaks me out, I would hate to see my kids or grandchildren go hungry.

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Veimumuni Caves

Perhaps it is because I have’t traveled overseas to a developing country for some time, the effect of our disposable life seemed so obvious and catastrophic when there is limited to no infrastructure to deal with the issues associated.  I am still reflecting on this trip and I am not sure where my experiences will take me. For now goodbye Vava’u, I’ll be back some day.

 

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View from the top of Mt Talau

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

 

 

10 Waste Streams and Counting….

Waste Stream definition:

  1. The total flow of solid waste from homes, businesses, institutions, and manufacturing plants that is recycled, burned, or disposed of in landfills, or segments thereof such as the “residential waste stream” or the “recyclable waste stream”.

I was recently reading about a zerowaste town in Japan called Kamikatsu that has 34 waste streams and diverts 80% of waste from landfill. Their efforts are impressive and I particularly like the share, swap and close-knit community aspect of town. Here in New Zealand zero waste enterprises are popping up all over the country and last July I was lucky enough to visit Xtreme Zero Waste Raglan. Servicing the Raglan township by providing a waste kerbside collection and drop off service Xtreme Zero Waste diverts approximately 75% of the waste from landfill. Seeing the numerous waste streams and learning the value of waste and shared ethos throughout the township was exciting for a waste reduction enthusiast such as myself.

Here’s a video of the study tour I joined to Xtreme Zero Waste Raglan made by Auckland Council. Watch here.

Waste streams offered at these enterprises cater for all types of waste which made me think about how many waste streams I have in my home. Here’s my list:

  1. bokashi compost – small scale kitchen waste
  2. kerbside recycling bin
  3. landfill bin
  4. soft plastic recycling
  5. compost heap – large scale organic matter, e.g. garden waste, toilet rolls, large kitchen organic waste (banana skins, cabbage leaves), rags, bamboo toothbrushes and scrubbing brushes
  6. food scraps fertiliser: tea leaves, coffee grounds, egg shells
  7. glass jar collection: used for homemade condiments, skin balms that I share, swap and occasionally sell
  8. flowers and herbs: dried to use in homemade skincare, craft and baking
  9. fabric: from old clothes and towels used for rags or upcycled for small sewing projects
  10. plastic bags from commercial soil/seed-raising mix: good to use to collect and swap seaweed/compost/mulch

These waste streams are valuable for numerous reasons and like Xtreme Zero Waste Raglan and the town of Kamikatsu help close the loop or circulate resources a few more times before ending in landfill.

I would be interested for people to share how many waste streams they have in their home to inspire me and others!

 

 

A Bin Full

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A family effort. Photo credit: Rolf Siggard.

It’s come to the end of the year and although I have failed to keep to my new years resolution to post fortnightly on the blog, I have made a decent effort to curb my families’ waste. As a family of five (yes five, we added one final cherub to our clan recently) we have managed not to put out our 140 litre bin for the whole year of 2015 until this week.

We tried our best at first to go zero waste however we had to compromise and balance cost and logistics so some products we forewent the zerowaste option for the next best option either reusable or recyclable. Non reusable or domestically recyclable packaging from items such as cheese and toilet paper as well as packaging bought into our home from friends and relatives was put aside throughout the year for soft plastic recycling at a local drop off.

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The inside of our bin.

Surveying our waste the bulk consisted of:

  • broken toys
  • school shoes
  • pill packets
  • weed mat
  • damp remover devices
  • containers
  • broken glass/ceramics

Learning from experience this year we will make make sure to put aside some money for a decent pair of school shoes and continue to replace plastic homewares with second hand quality goods. Some of our waste was the result of decluttering the home so going into the new year with a relatively clean slate will hopefully help us reduce our waste further for 2016.

We avoid buying plastic toys however with gifts from friends and family it is hard to avoid without sounding like the plastic police. With Christmas recently our eight year old received from us presents that aligned with the ‘need, wear, read, want’ philosophy, two of which were second hand. Our children may not be able to grasp the bigger picture of waste however caring for the environment and putting waste in the correct bin will at least be normal behaviour.

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Our waste reduction values are supported at our daughters ‘Wastewise’ school, pictured is a display she made in class.

Going into the new year we will continue our waste-less lifestyle. There are areas for improvement such as reducing our domestic recycling. Cans, tetra packs and berry punnets are typically in our recycling bin. Purchasing a pressure cooker to cook pulses, making our own oat/rice milk instead of buying it and perhaps living next to a strawberry farm (the kids love their berries this time of year) would be helpful!

I know mine and my families’ efforts are not going to save the world alone, governments hold the key to making significant change. I have learnt leading by example together with education is the best approach to waste reduction at a local level.

Here are my family’s top tips to reduce waste:

  • compost food scraps
  • avoid single use packaging
  • use reusable shopping bags
  • buy second hand
  • recycle correctly
  • buy from bulk bins using own bags/containers
  • take your own container to the butcher
  • grow your own fruit and vegetables
  • join a community garden
  • eat real food
  • cook at home
  • bake or make something you would usually buy
  • use vinegar and baking soda for cleaning
  • use cloth wipes and cloth nappies

I began this blog on a whim, not really knowing what I was doing, or having a proper understanding of what I thought I was doing. Looking through my posts I can see my understanding of sustainability grow alongside a passion for creating, making and growing things by hand. I have been lucky to have been supported during this time by the Auckland Waste Minimisation network of amazing people who have given me some great opportunities over the past year. A big thank you to my waste colleagues who I have “worked” with over the past year, thanks for making my journey so enjoyable and rewarding.

Happy New Year! xo

 

Sunshine is appreciated

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A fellow blogger The Green Lips nominated me for a Sunshine Award* upon her nomination from another blogger from the greenie / waste-less / simple living blogosphere. I’m honoured to be recognised and to be part of this network of like minded people. Here are my answers to the questions:

What motivated you to start blogging?

I can’t say for sure what motivated me exactly, I think it was a spur of the moment thing. I was looking at a lot of self sufficiency blogs at the time while enjoying time at home with my children. It also coincided with moving into an area where I felt had a sense of community. I guess I wanted to capture all of these things.

Have your motivations changed over time, and if so, how and why?

Yes definitely. I have developed a deeper understanding of sustainability that was a byproduct of a waste-less lifestyle I was embracing. I started reading up on waste (organic, recycable and landfill) and connecting with other like minded people and organisations. I joined a community waste reduction group and community garden and started adapting more sustainable practices to my everyday life, as a result I found the quality of my life had improved immensely. The blog has now become a tool to share this information and hopefully inspire and educate others on the benefits of living a waste-less lifestyle.

What is one book that changed your life? (If you aren’t much of a reader then you could share a movie, life event or even blog that’s had a big impact on you.)

Books: Zero Waste Home Author Bea Johnson, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation Author Michael Pollan.

Films: Waste Land (2010), Plastic Paradise (2013)

Destination : Raglan Xtreme Zero Waste

What are some of the simple things in life that give you pleasure?

Sharing with others; whether it’s food, plants, seeds, recipes or your time, gratitude from others is fulfilling.

Hanging with my family.

Being in a garden.

*Sunshine Award is for those who “positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere


I would like to nominate the following blogs for a Sunshine Award:

The Zero Waste Chef – my zero waste idol

Sustainable Holdfast Bay – extreme garden and pantry envy here

Questions:

What does a perfect day look like for you?

Would you like to time travel to the past or future?

What are you having for dinner tonight?

Real Month of Work*

So far I have not kept to my new years resolution to post on the blog fortnightly, but I think I may give myself a free pass for the month of February as I have had several waste related projects that I have managed to get through. From my involvement in my local waste reduction community group I have been given opportunities to lead some waste initiatives. With my work* on these initiatives I hope to address sustainability at a grass roots level that is utilitarian and accessible to all. Here are some photos of this month’s work*:

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Tomato sauce making workshop
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Our stall at he Kulture & Kai Market Day in Glen Innes

These projects are low cost and utilise materials that would otherwise go to waste. Also, I am not a natural leader, nor am I particularly good at getting up in front of an audience, but I am learning and building up my confidence each time. So, if you feel that you would like to lead/facilitate/host any community projects – just do it! If I can you can!

And finally, I’m quite proud of this – the website that I created using squarespace for my community group is now live. Please check it out!

http://www.tamakiwrap.org.nz/

*doesn’t feel like ‘work’, just talking the talk while walking the walk