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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Real Pacific Inspired

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Me planting at PERA community garden

The previous weekend was pretty miserable here in Auckland. However a short break in the wind and rain on Sunday provided a moment to plant a small crop of taro kindly donated by our neighbour, at the community garden. Now that we are eating more ancestral foods, taro is regularly on our menu.  Taro is fairly affordable and readily available where we live, but the leaves are a bit pricey so we decided to grow our own.

In the New Zealand climate generally the corm does not grow to a size that is suitable for eating however the leaves can be harvested and eaten. Taro leaves must be cooked for a long time, if you haven’t cooked them long enough you will experience an itchy burning sensation in your throat which Tongans call fifisi (literally spicy) from the calcium oxalate crystals.

Here is one way we eat taro and taro leaves, it is based on Vanuatu’s national dish lap lap, which we first read about in Robert Oliver’s cookbook Me’a Kai.

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Grated taro and plantain with taro leaves, spinach and mullet

A grated cake of starchy carbohydrate (one or a combination of plantain, taro, or cassava), leafy greens, meat or seafood and coconut cream is baked wrapped in lap lap leaves (banana leaves in our case).

The next taro dish we will try is poi, a Hawaiian dish of fermented mashed taro, that covers both our love of ancestral and fermented foods.

Real Meal Overhaul

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I made some produce bags from an old mosquito net

Re-evaluating our understanding of sustainability has coincided with a financially difficult period that has forced us to rethink our weekly meals. Our meals now feature less meat – only beef mince and free range chicken which the butchery at Pak n Save puts into containers we provide. We are yet to do a complete zero waste grocery shop but we are getting closer to our goal, finding alternatives each time.

To see where we could eliminate packaging I typed up a weekly meal planner which clearly lays out the ingredients and utilises our garden produce. The planner may seem a little overboard, but as societies’ consumption norms are often stacked against sustainability, a planner has become a vital tool to help us work towards cutting out packaging completely. We also learnt that leaving a ‘free day’ often leads to eating out or impulse shopping choices that inflate the food budget and/or lead to extra waste. We will eat this menu until we feel the need for a change, adapting with seasonal availability and when we tire of certain components.

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Weekly Meals

Useful condiments:

Homemade sauerkraut

Homemade fermented tomato sauce

Apple Cider Vinegar

Chilli Sauce

Butter

Olive Oil (Our favourite is the Palestinian olive oil from Trade Aid)

If you decide to attempt a zero waste home your kitchen is a good place to start. I suggest going through a week’s worth of rubbish to see what forms the bulk of it, which is often food packaging. Items like rice, pasta and flour can easily be bought in bulk with re-usable bags and stored in glass jars that you have saved. Reducing your waste by finding a non packaged alternative not only benefits the environment but has a flow on effect to other areas of your life such as good health and reducing your living costs.

To quote Valter, one of the catadores from the movie Waste Land  “99 is not 100” – one less piece of packaging does count.

*My partner has IBS so our  meals are FODMAP friendly .

Real Garden To Table

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One of the best things I have done this year is join a community garden. I call it my weekly therapy as it nourishes many aspects of my health. I learn something each time I go there and enjoy the company of other like minded people. One of the many perks of belonging to my community garden is the fresh produce that is shared amongst the members. My last haul included one half of cabbage, a container of strawberries and a head of cauliflower. The strawberries didn’t last long with the two kids, they provided a yummy snack for both baby and my 7 year old.  I attempted to make sauerkraut that turned out to only fill half a small jar – probably not the best use for only half a head. However an off the cuff recipe for the cauliflower turned out to be utterly delicious and only uses three ingredients!

Warm Cauliflower & Avocado Salad

1 cauliflower cut into florets

1 ripe avocado

3 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise

Method:

Put the cauliflower florets into a baking dish and coat with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Bake at 180° for about 20 -25 minutes, after 10 minutes check the cauliflower and give them a stir to make sure none are getting too brown on their edges. After the cauliflower has cooled slightly put into a bowl and add chopped avocado and mayonnaise.

Enjoy!

Thanks PERA Community Garden ♥

 

Real Community Dinner

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In association with Kai Auckland my partner and I organised a ‘Zero Waste Ancestral Dinner’ for my community group Tãmaki WRAP (Waste Reduction Action Project).
Kai Auckland is an initiative lead by the Auckland City Council that encourages communities and people to come together with food and work towards a more resilient food culture.

We chose to have a ‘Zero Waste Ancestral Dinner’ with emphasis on nutritious, economical, real food for the following reasons:

    • Real food aligns with WRAP’s waste reduction philosophy
    • If you take a real food approach you literally and figuratively cut out the junk, not only is it healthier for you but you cut out the excessive packaging of processed food
    • We acknowledged our Mãori and Pacific ancestors through ingredients such as puha, taro, kaimoana and coconut
    • Our meal referenced food from a few generations ago that was humble but nutritious

Our Menu

Starter:
Mussel fritters with puha and rewena bread
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Main:
Roast chicken, taro, sautéed silverbeet, carrot, ginger, and onion in coconut cream
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Dessert:
Coconut and banana sago pudding
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Everyone either helped with the food preparation, cooking, or set up of the dinner. Recipes were swapped, and food insight and knowledge was shared and discussed.

We also did a ‘real food vs fast food’ cost comparison of our main meal that nearly halved the cost of it’s fast food rival.

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Despite taking our eye off the sago for a minute which led to a slightly burnt taste everyone raved about it so here’s the recipe:

Coconut  and Banana Sago Pudding 

(Makes about 4 generous servings)

Ingredients:

1 cup sago

Sugar to taste – approx 1/4 of a cup

1 x 400 ml can coconut cream

2  bananas

Directions:

Cover and soak sago in cold water for an hour, then drain.

Add sago to a saucepan with enough water to cover and simmer until pearls become translucent (water may need to be topped up a bit and watch it doesn’t catch, stirring as required) approx 20 minutes.

Chop bananas and add them to sago with the coconut cream and sugar

Cook for a few more minutes until banana begins to soften.

Serve!

Special thanks to the Glen Innes Mad Butcher for providing our chicken for the night and Huckleberry Farms Glen Innes for supplying our tapioca flour. 🙂

Real Rewena Bread

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(Rewena is a Mãori transliteration of the English word leaven.)

Rewena bread is made from a starter of boiled potatoes, sugar and flour that is left to ferment for two days before baking. This was my first attempt in which a few lessons were learned;

• I probably shouldn’t have oiled the baking tins as it made the crust very hard

• The temperature may have been a bit hot (200°) will try 180° next time

• I will cover the loaves with baking paper next time, at least for the first half of cooking time

• Will try shaping into loaves next time and bake on a sheet

Despite the hard crust the bread was delicious and I think I have a new obsession. I fed my starter some sugar this morning and I will be boiling some potatoes tomorrow for its potato water feed. Bless its warm, vinegary smelling, pasty fermented heart.

Recipe:

Boil two potatoes in unsalted water to mashing consistency. Leave the potatoes in the water to cool until lukewarm. Mash the potatoes in the water, add a teaspoon of sugar and two cups of plain flour. Mix together and knead into a firm dough. Put in a bowl and cover for at least 24 hours.

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After 24 hours add 1 1/2 cups warm water and roughly 5 cups of flour to get to a soft dough consistency.

Knead for around 10 minutes. Put aside a small amount of dough to save as your starter for next time.

Divide into two loaves and press down into greased or lined tins, cover and leave to rise in a warm place for a further 24 hours to roughly double in size.

The recipe I loosely followed suggests to bake the bread at 200° for 1 1/2 hours. I initially put my loaves in at 200° but turned down to about 180° as they were looking on the dark side and then took them out after an hour.

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To look after your starter, feed a teaspoon of sugar alternating with boiled potato water on a daily basis, and keep in a warm place.

Real Seafood Sunday

The Sunday just gone turned out to be quite a seafood feast. The Morrin Road markets in Glen Innes provided our seafood and fresh produce for both lunch and dinner. My mum bought two whole mullets for $9.50, and we bought a pot of fresh mussles for $7 shelled by this friendly man at the seafood stall.

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We also bought fresh cassava, taro and fresh salad greens

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For lunch we had whole baked mullet, taro and green salad

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And for dinner mussel fritters, cassava and a green salad

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Recipes:

The baked fish is pretty straight forward; after cleaning bake with slices of lemon and bay leaves. Ours took about 30 minutes in a moderate oven.

For the mussel fritters I choppped up mussels (about 500 grams) into small pieces, added lots of fresh coriander, some spring onion, chilli flakes, pepper, about half a cup of tapioca flour and fried in coconut oil.

To cook taro and cassava cut off skin, chop into pieces and boil until you can stick a knife easily through.

So healthy, so fresh so good!