Category: Diary


Action is the antidote to anxiety and despair. One ‘theory’ is that we can change our habits if we stick with it for three weeks. So here’s the challenge, starting with the easiest habits to change, food and waste food. Of course many of you will already be aware of these habits but there are many others who haven’t got around to thinking about climate change, especially whilst we also deal with covid, so this might be a nudge in the right direction.

Mark the boxes of one or more changes you can work on, and tick any boxes that you are already doing. This gives you an idea of how you’re doing. Persevere for 3 weeks then pass the challenge on to someone else. Of course you can repeat with new choices, or move onto the next area. As you move down the challenges, they become more complex and some are costly, so just pick those you feel comfortable to have a try at.

The idea is that if enough of us make small changes, together we can make a big change, this is not a new idea but definitely worth reminding ourselves that we can make a contribution and it may be bigger than we expect.

At the end of each article there are references and links for you to learn more.

FOOD: We all need it, but it is possible to improve the way we shop, so here goes…

  1. Minimise packaging: choose items with less plastic. Recycle soft plastics, check out ‘soft plastic recycling scheme’ to find your closest drop off point.*
  2. Recycle bags: reuse bags from bulk bin purchases, use cloth bags for vegetables etc 
  3. Meat: cut back, even a little bit is a good start. Try cutting back meat portions, or if meat-free meals are a new idea, try to introduce one meat-free recipe each week*
  4. Free range or organic: If you are eating less meat perhaps you can afford to buy free range or organic. Bostocks Chickens work out great value and chickens and fish do not produce methane.*
  5. Fish: Eat only sustainable NZ fish, this seems to be Lemon Fish and Gurnard in Hawkes Bay. Sadly Tuna is not a good choice. It seems that Salmon is ok at this point in time.
  6. Locally produced: Buy as much food that is locally produced and in season, supporting your local community and cutting back on food miles.
  7. Grow your own: if you don’t have a vege garden, even growing some silverbeet or lettuces in a bucket is a good start. Learn how to grow sprouts, alfalfa and moong beans are easy.
  8. Eat healthy: it’s good for you and your family. Takeaways now and then not every week. Vegetables are cheap and good for you, and often works out less expensive. A general guide is to shop around the outer edges of the supermarket where the unprocessed products can mostly be found. Beans and lentils are a great addition helping to bulk out meals and add nutrients .

Link: For some great, simple recipes, check out:

Growing Veges
Growing Veges

FOOD WASTE: Possibly one of the simplest but most effective changes we can make:

  1. Bread: one of our most common items at the dump. Don’t throw away bread crusts, freeze them to use later. Dry them for breadcrumbs, turn them into croutons for soups, make a vege loaf. Make bread pudding or Bread and Butter Pudding* Don’t forget to recycle the bags.
  2. Leftovers: use them up for lunches or freeze*
  3. Cook extra: Cook enough for a couple of nights, even extra pasta, rice or spuds makes the next meal easier.
  4. Shopping list: Shop with a list and buy what you need for the next week or two. Of course your usual staples like rice and pasta get to stay.
  5. Storage: Store food so that the newest is at the back of the pantry or fridge (don’t forget the freezer) and you can easily use up the older stuff first. Check your fridge contents every so often to ensure nothing is expiring or about to go to waste.
  6. Stocks and soups: Learn to make stock or soups using the odds and ends of veges, meat bones etc.
  7. Composting: Learn about composting, a worm farm or bokashi, to feed your gardens. Or you can set up a system with family or neighbours, or share community gardens.
  8. Best before: You can use food items which are after their best before date as long as they look and smell Ok. Stuff past it’s use by date is not OK.
  9. Cleaner: Citrus peels can be added to a jar of vinegar to make a fresh smelling cleaner.*
  10. Fridge supplies: Try making a “what-have-we-got-left-in-the-fridge meal” instead of having a set plan for what you want for dinner?
Mobile compost heap

Links:

STUFF, STUFF and LESS STUFF: Recycle, reuse or pass it on.

  1. Habits: Adopt the new shopping mantra “do I need this?” or “do I want this?”. See the Buyerarchy of Needs (it’s a mouthful I know). See also the link below about Fast Fashion and its impact on the environment.
  2. Quality: If you are purchasing a new item, try to get the best quality and most durable option.
  3. Minimise plastics, recycle whatever you can, especially useful if you don’t get your rubbish collected. Check out your local dump’s recycling and also your local Environment Centre*. Also reuse your plastic bottles to get refills of hand soap, washing up and laundry liquid, oils and vinegars etc.*
  4. Give away: Pass on items that are no longer needed to others, or op shops, as long as they are in good condition.
  5. Babies and young children: If you have a baby or young children, get or make some soft cloths instead of disposable wipes, carry some damp ones in a bag or pot when you go out. Revisit reusable nappies, there are some great ones available now. Check out Trade Me or local online garage sales.
  6. Mend or repurpose: there’s loads of info on google these days on how to fix things.
  7. Sharing: Are there some items you can share with family, friends or neighbours? A bit challenging but there might be something, make sure you all agree on the terms of sharing such as maintenance and repairs.
  8. Takeaways: use your own coffee cup and keep it in the car, also some containers for takeaways if you are allowed.
  9. Paper Towels: Toilet paper and hand towels can be purchased in bulk by mail order and come without extra packaging, Greencane for example supply these made from sugarcane and bamboo.

Links:

OUR ENVIRONMENT: Bigger picture stuff, not all of us can do but any step is a step in the right direction. For those of us lucky enough to have gardens there are some simple changes we can make

  1. Litter: Don’t throw rubbish out of your car window, or leave where it can be blown around. Pick up any rubbish you see when out walking.  Much of the rubbish on the roadsides gets washed into storm drains, then into our waterways and eventually into the sea.
  2. Donate to a cause that supports protecting our natural environment, eg. Forest & Bird, Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund others?
  3. Learn about methods of gardening that do not rely on pesticides and weed killer, and this will encourage a wide range of bugs and birds to live in your garden.
  4. Mow your lawns less often, now there’s a challenge!
  5. Mulching, using old cardboard boxes, newspaper etc topped with dried grass clippings,dried leaves, hay or straw. Bark mulch is Ok for flower beds. Keeps weeds down and prevents water loss in hot weather.
  6. Plant trees, or find someone to plant them that has the space.

Links:

Kowhai

WATER: A most precious commodity, what can we do to avoid waste and keep it clean?

  1. Rubbish: Be aware of your rubbish and where it goes, see previous challenges.
  2. Don’t leave taps running if you don’t need to. Choose eco function on washing machines or dishwashers if you can, only rinse dishes that are seriously dirty.
  3. Washing dishes: If you don’t have a dishwasher it’s more economical to wash dishes in the sink or a bowl rather than under a running tap.
  4. Rainwater collecting: Consider setting up one small rainwater tank, maybe off a shed or garage roof. It could collect into a dustbin sized container and could supply you with fresh drinking water, or water for your plants.
  5. The 4 minute shower *
  6. Use eco friendly cleaning products and hair and shower washes, or just plain soap, don’t forget the carwash suds ( if you wash your car!) *.
  7. Grey water: Can you set up a system for reusing your grey water from showers, washing machine etc
  8. Composting toilet: We saved the best to last… why not install a composting toilet? They save water and do not need processing in big sewage ponds which often end up polluting our waters. The compost created can be used after a year or two for feeding trees and shrubs. 
Our beautiful stream

Links:

POWER AND TRANSPORT: Another biggy. There’s a lot of information out there about how to cut back our use of cars, which is fine if you live somewhere with walking and cycling access, but much more of a challenge as rural dwellers. Luckily we can all do things to cut back our use of electricity.

  1. Use a clothes line rather than a drier
  2. Switch off lights etc when you are not needing them. If you have a heater on, keep the doors shut, and close curtains at night to keep the warmth in.
  3. Streaming: Apparently if you watch movies at a slightly lower definition it can effectively save power.
  4. LED bulbs: Replace regular light bulbs with LED bulbs.
  5. Screen time: What about a screen free sunday each week for everyone in your home? Perhaps it would be a good time to pursue some other interests, or have some old fashioned family time playing board games or going for a walk.
  6. Oven: If you have the oven on, use it to cook several things at the same time.
  7. Driving: Trips to town, try and do all your jobs on one trip, that’s an optimistic thought. Carpool for outings.
  8. EV: Explore the option of getting an electric or hybrid car, this is sure to get easier over the next year or so, and there is a government subsidy for new and imported cars. The pros and cons still need to be ironed out.
  9. Solar Panels: If you own your own house it would be great to investigate getting solar panels. Also check you have good insulation, and generally check out your home’s resilience.
  10. Investment: If you have money invested, check to see that it’s being used ethically to support the changes we need to see.

Links:

Solar Panels
Solar Panels

KEEPING IT ALL TOGETHER: Most importantly in these challenging times, we need to look after our own sense of wellbeing and find some positives. We are so blessed to live in New Zealand, and that’s a good start for being grateful.

  1. Support: We all need a support group of like minded friends or family to share experiences with, both good and not so good. You could join a group to learn new skills.
  2. Gratitude: The old cliche of counting your blessings. It’s now been proven that focusing on the good things in your day, before you go to sleep, helps to improve your mental health and optimism. What were your 3 best things today? Share them or write them down.
  3. Outdoors: Time in nature has been proven to give us a better sense of wellbeing and more positive health, even seeing trees outside the window counts. Best of all, take time to walk through the bush or along the beach, or simply walk along the road and admire the variety of gardens there.
  4. Screen time: What about a screen free sunday each week for everyone in your home? Perhaps it would be a good time to pursue some other interests, or have some old fashioned family time playing board games or going for a walk.
  5. Creativity is great for one’s wellbeing, whether it’s listening or playing music, doing something arty, writing, gardening, reorganising your space, singing, sewing or knitting, dancing, anything that you can put a bit of yourself into. You don’t need to be good at it, just able to lose yourself in it.
  6. Resilience: It’s not an easy task, but being mentally prepared, and understanding the predicaments we face, ultimately helps us be stronger and more resilient come whatever may. Resilience is about being prepared in our homes, and in ourselves.
  7. Meditation: really just another word for being present here and now and not lost in thoughts of what ifs and wherefores. Check out youtube for some options too.*
  8. Keeping afloat: It’s a balancing act between keeping up with the latest information on climate change, covid and so on, and getting bogged down feeling overwhelmed. Doing any of the things on these lists will help you to feel a bit more hopeful for our future, and will be adding your small changes to a whole lot of other peoples small changes and that adds up to a big change.

Links:

Finding beauty in the garden

Mastering Mask Making

You should be able to whip up a mask in under 15 minutes. This style has four layers of cotton, with a pue cleaner for close fitting to the nose. We used soft garden tie for the ear hooks, but you could use elastic or hair ties, and you can also make longer ties to tie behind your head. Follow the orange thread to see where you’re working.

You will need:
˖ 1 x fancy pants piece of cotton fabric 30×27 cm or the like (non-fancy stuff will also do…)
˖ 1 x plain cotton fabric for the inner layer, 30×27 cm
˖ 1 x 15 cm pipe cleaner
˖ 4 x 15 ties (or elastic/hair ties etc) 

Step 1: Fold inner fabric in half to 15x20cm and insert pipe cleaner into place.

Step 2: Stitch pipe cleaner into place.

Step 3: Fold outer fabric in half – right side in (27×15) and ties on the outside.

Step 4: Stitch sides and turn so that right side and tie are outside.

Step 5: Insert inner fabric so that the pipe cleaner is at the very top and the fabric sits flat.

Step 6: Stitch along top to hold in place.

Step 7: Stitch along the bottom as well, and make sure to catch the inner fabric too. 
Zigzag will do, otherwise fold the fabric to make it look tidy.

Step 8: Iron two pleats and pin ready to sew and stitch in place.

Step 9: Fold mask in half with pleats face down. Adjust ties to suit, store in a plastic bag. 

Step 10: You’re ready to venture out into the big world.

Making changes…

Since Giles & Rauna returned from Denmark in July, we have been consciously looking at how we function here at Millstream, in terms of our impact on the environment, how we use/waste resources, and how resilient we are to changes that may come.

It is great to have four heads working on this, and four peoples’ energies to help decide and make any changes we decide on. This has helped us to be less daunted and more positive about taking action. We want to share some of this process with others in an attempt to maybe help others to feel that even small changes can make a difference, and also to create a sense of community.

Part of our resilience assessment is that we are vulnerable in our supply of water. At present we have 2 concrete tanks that catch rainwater from the house roof, this is supplemented in summer by water pumped up from the stream.  Droughts seem to be a much more likely event now, and indeed we are already in need of a good dose of rain.  So far the stream has always flowed, but it’s not something we can take for granted any more, we feel incredibly lucky to have the ‘Millstream’ run through our land, but we don’t want to abuse it by over use.

The first step we have taken is to buy a watertank for the workroom. This is a 21,000L plastic tank, which was dropped at the end of our drive last week. We’ve also got a second filter system, so we are safe to use it domestically. We already have two small tanks which catch just rainwater from smaller roofs, and these keep us supplied with sweet drinking water.

Other steps forward:

*We have started a fund where we each put in $10 a month to put towards buying more trees to plant around the property and to pay for fences etc.

*We are going to set up a system for recycling jars from our customers, hopefully by November.

* We have been encouraging each other to shop less and have this neat pyramid to remind us, plus peer group pressure!! Our main weaknesses are plants and books. Plants are easy to justify and at least books can be sent back to the op shop and earn some more dollars.

*We are gradually being able to source better options for packaging, we have compostable tapes for packaging, along with recycled boxes. Some courier bags are compostable, but not many yet.

* We took advantage of Solarzero’s offer of free solar panels so we can supplement about 25% of our power with solar.

* We have completed an Ekos carbon evaluation for our home and are waiting for the calculations for the business for the next year.

*We are cutting back our meat eating, not huge anyway. Since we have our own sheep, lamb is always a good option. Giles and Rauna have some good ideas for food alternatives, including making oat milk, then using the oat residue in hummus, bread and biscuits, and we have bought some mushroom growing spawn on dowels to grow on chestnut logs. This is very exciting, and mushroom growing is a Speeden passion! We will have to wait until the Autumn for any crops, but hopefully the logs will keep us supplied for 5 or 6 years.

Just a thought on toilet paper, we have been buying boxes of 48 unwrapped rolls of toilet paper from ‘Greencane’ (www.greencane.com) which are made from bamboo and recycled sugarcane, which seems like an excellent use of plant material and a better option than trees.

On the down side we still have no easy way to recycle soft plastics, and many of our tins and jars are packed in plastic, any ideas??

In March 2014 I wrote an article about the health of our waterways, & had entered a piece of fibre art into the Nelson Fibre Art exhibition called ‘Downstream.’ I’ve just been reading an article in the Listener about a scientist called Mike Joy who is taking a stand for the wellbeing of New Zealands fresh water resources, here is the link:    http://www.listener.co.nz/current-affairs/ecologic/river-stance/

Our Creek Millstream

I’m interested in the study of species found in the water that act as indicators of water health or otherwise. I’m going to do some research of my own & report back what I find out. At the moment I can’t even identify many species so shall have to get familiar with those creatures we may hope to find in our own creek & other waterways. I have noticed that there seem to be few koura or freshwater crayfish around at the moment & this is unusual as we often see dozens in one spot. We also continue to have large rafts of algae in the slower running places, which block the stream & exacerbate growth of duckweed etc which further blocks the flow, hard to tell if this is a result of upstream pollution or simply that one of the large willows fell down & there is more sunlight warming the water & feeding the algae.The link below is informative on the process of checking the invertebrates in a given water supply. (benthic means at the lowest level, eg. the bottom of a stream bed, including silt.

Now it’s April, I have had one foray into the creek with a net & bucket, but alas also with leaky gumboots, which dampened my enthusiasm. The leaky boots also hindered my attempts to find critters to identify since I am a total sook about cold water. I took a few photos, & identified a couple of things,(I have meantime lost the piece of paper with their names on,) so on the whole it was not a hugely successful outing. We have some intrepid friends visiting this weekend & shall have a more thorough go at finding  some creatures & identifying them. Hopefully I can add some more useful info after that.

Critters from creek march2016 005 (Copy)

Click to access Macroinvertebrates_and_water_quality.pdf

Farewell to Rifkin

Our old dog Rifkin died peacefully last weekend. She was a beardie, bearded collie, 14 plus years old.

It’s a long time to share one’s life & I just wanted to put a wee tribute to her here.

DSCF2186 (shrunk) jan 2011 kaiya 023 (shrunk) DSCF1574 (shrunk)

Rifkin was the third beardie we have owned, & we still have  Didgit, (#4) to keep us company. Finding Rif was one of those wonderful, serendipitous occasions: we had been looking for a beardie pup for sometime. The night before we were due to go to Palmerston North to see someone off at the airport, I had a dream. I dreamt that we found a puppy, & I was carrying her, soft & warm, with her head resting on my shoulder.

te onepu postcard 048 (shrunk) te onepu postcard 065 (shrunk) Blog 14 10 008 (shrunk)

When we were in Palmy, tired of shopping, we decided to visit a pet shop on the outskirts of town. It was a place we used to go to with our daughter, when she was a student. As we arrived in the carpark I suddenly recalled my dream, & said to Geoff ‘I should warn you, I think we’ll find a beardie pup here.’ And so it was… what a special beginning. Rifkin was named after much deliberation & argument, after a gaffer or some such on a Michael Palin doco. She was frequently referred to as ‘Whatamess’ because her long fur & large hairy feet seemed to collect all manner of garden debris & spread it about the house.

Didgit 8 months DSCF2189 (shrunk) book pics 040 (shrunk)

She was a most gentle & patient soul, sitting for ages while I’d clip clumps of mud from between her toes, or cut tangles out of her coat. Rif was also very smart, in later years she learnt to play soccer, using her nose & front legs to dribble a ball, & also to bounce a ball back to you with her nose. I’ve written about her recovery from a tumour nearly 3 years ago, after that she always barked like a hoarse seal, which was just as well since Didgit has such a loud bark it makes our ears ring & the windows rattle.

In the Winter one of our favourite games was kitchen soccer, a rowdy, mad game with much scrabbling & barking, as a tennis ball was rebounded off the side walls of the kitchen & both dogs would try to get it. Rif learnt to hold the ball in her mouth, tip her head up & bounce the ball, so she could catch it again. In more recent months she got a bit cautious of playing with Didge, who would get so excited she’d send Rif’s legs out from under her.

Last week two amazing things happened, that kind of close the circle. I had a distance healing with Chakra Dance Vicky, she told me she got a message about loving animals but letting them go when the time was right. Because it seemed obscure, she didn’t tell me until after Rif had died. In the meantime my Aunt rang me with a poem from a dog to it’s owner, saying goodbye. It felt very special to receive such clear messages that Rif was ready to go, & for us to let her. She died at home, peacefully, with our arms around her, in her favourite sunny spot. We feel so blessed to have had her company, love & loyalty, her trust & joy de vivre.

Rifkin (shrunk) may, giles 015 (shrunk)

We still think we see her or hear her around the place & it will take time to get used to her absence.

January in the garden.

Today we have rain, what bliss. Our poor gardens have been hanging in there, the borders have only been getting enough water to keep them from complete wilting. It looks like we’ll have several days of relief, & even if there is not enough rain to really water the ground the plants & us get some respite. I went out early this morning and took some photos, I could just about hear the gardens sighing with relief!

a storm comingasparagus ferns 1happy frog in rain 1Tree Dahlia stem gathering water 1

It’s been a busy month, we have had a combined family exhibition at the Hastings Community Arts Centre. Nine family members, ranging in age from 12 to 87. It feels  very special to share this with my Mum & Aunt  & I hope when I’m in my eighties I could be part of such a venture. When we made plans for this, of course, it was in the Winter when we had spare time, & the reality was that we were all pretty busy & it was so hot we could barely move. Luckily we found a supply of iced coffees to sustain us through the setting up.

millstream poster 

The vege gardens are thriving, we have used quite a bit of mushroom compost this year to mulch areas, & we found details of a way to plant tomato plants, which although a bit more complicated at the time, seems to be having good results. We’ve also beeen brewing up elder leaves as an insecticide to keep the psyllids at bay, so far it looks promising. Of all the veges we grow, tomatoes are probably our mainstay, & if we can freeze a whole lot for the Winter we will be very happy

.tomato crop 1 Summer Garden 1

The herb garden has been a mixed bag, our Arnica crop has been amazing, loads & loads of flowers. We’ve learnt that they need to be split up & replanted at least every second year, but preferably every Spring. Meanwhile our new planting of St John’s Wort has been a failure, from what I can find out, we have a fungal problem called anthracnose, which kills the stems at ground level, so that whole stems of fine looking plant die off over night, it’s very worrisome.  In the last few years, it seems we have more problems in the gardens, the psyllids/ virus on tomatoes & spuds, anthracnose, moulds on the alliums, raiding birds eating half ripe fruit: it’s a fraught business being a gardener.

Unripe Elderberries 1Amazing Arnica crop1

Luckily the positives far outway the negatives, & just stepping barefoot out the door, into the herbs & flowers never fails to lift my heart, what a privilege it is to live this way. I think back to my childhood in England, where our outdoor area was a square of concrete, with room for dustbins & coal bunkers, & the plants growing there grew in the cracks in the walls, I feel so very blessed

.Tui by deck

Turn of the wheel

The wheel has turned, & we are resolutely looking at Spring. My wishful dreams that we would be all tidy in the gardens with time to spare have evaporated! Suddenly everything is growing, weeds, blossoms, tiny bulbs, lambs, catkins, willow leaves, that awesome sense of shift & hidden movement as sap rises & life returns.

English Violets Magnolia stellata

Primroses Swallows return

We tidied our boxes of seeds the other day & put all the really old ones in a bag, which I shook out around the edges of the gardens. Many of these were Aquilegias from the days we ran the nursery, Nora Barlow, Nora’s Sister, Little Warwick, Red Star, doubles, singles & clematiflora types, if only 1% germinate we will have some treasures.

This is the time to get seeds sown, we spent a happy couple of hours sowing seeds in the greenhouse today, & we are even in phase with our moon calender, which says from now to the 7th Sept is good for plants above ground. We have sown punnets & pots of tomatoes, peppers, curcubits, & other veges, plus some herbs like Burdock, Valerian & Cardoon, plus some odd packets of very old seeds we hope might grow.

It’s also the time to start seed potatoes sprouting, (see chitting potatoes in blog) this makes sturdy sprouts, ready to grow fast once they are planted in about 6 weeks time.

We had our first, modest feed of Asparagus this week, early in the season, & so delicious with butter & black pepper. Our ratbag sheep got into the gardens & stripped all our beautiful brassicas bare, so now we have stumps where once there were heads of broccoli & cabbages forming. Very depressing after such a good start. We might get a few late heads of Broccoli from them. We had the last word  with the sheep, two wethers, which are now in the freezer! We are getting tough!!

unruly flock Brassica stumps

This year we are altering our vege growing, no pumpkins, we never eat enough to use what we grow. Only early spuds to avoid/minimise the psyllid problem, & a new super feed system for our tomatoes, which includes fish heads, aspirin, bone meal & worm castings, fingers crossed.

Finally I just want to say what amazing big skies we have here, they are stunning, here are a couple of pics to inspire you.

skies Aug14 019 (shrink) skies Aug14 004 (shrink)

We had a big frost last week, & went out to take some photos. Rugged up against the cold, in thick jacket, hat & gloves it was possible to appreciate the delicate beauty of the early morning. Giles had discovered some photos online of frozen bubbles, so we spent some time playing with that idea, & blowing bubbles onto the roof of the car. Most pop quite fast, but the ones that stay very slowly freeze, with those lovely fern-like patterns that frost makes. As gardeners we are happy to get some good frosts to help clean the garden of nasty bugs & also to provide the chilling that many of the plants we grow, need, to  anchor them into their seasonal cycle. Most of our garden & herb garden is planted in deciduous plants, trees & shrubs, which all enjoy a good frost & a rest over the colder months.

Bubbles & Frost

Frosty MorningSoft Morning Light

Our plants might be resting but we are not. We are re-organising our herb garden in a major way. The central bed had become totally overgrown by a tenacious mix of St. John’s Wort, Solomon’s Seal & Couch grass. Geoff has dug this out & we have sifted through the soil to pick out any roots left behind. We’ve planted a new bed of St. John’s Wort, where it is surrounded by lawn , so hopefully it will be contained.  We’ll plant annual herbs & vegetables in the old bed, so we can dig out any Couch etc that shows up. We’ve also doubled the size of our Arnica bed, so we should have a good crop this year. Next on the list is to clean up the Meadowsweet bed & split the plants up, as they are very congested & not producing many flowers. That area is also rife in Couch Grass, so we shall have a good dig around & mulch were we can. Mulching certainly seems to help keep the Couch under control, as it comes up to the surface, under the mulch, & is easy to pull out. We use old cardboard boxes or thick layers of newspaper, & cover these with leaf mulch or similar, heavy cover.

Couch roots under pavers Equisetum hyemale Cleared beds Couch & Taro

Our bath pond is also in need of a good sort out, it has a variety of Horsetail in it, E. hyemale,whichalthough not as rampant as E. arvense, still spreads & has nearly filled the bath. We shall have to dispose of the unwanted roots very carefully, probably on top of a bonfire heap. We are hoping our frogs will return in the Spring & be delighted to find a bit more space in their pool.

New St. John's Wort bed Tidy Herb Garden

Wintertime

Winter is here, after dragging it’s heels for some weeks. It has arrived in earnest.

We have filled our woodsheds with a mix of Willow, Robinia & Apple wood, which is a good combination for hot fires. Our routines change, we dawdle in house in the mornings, thinking of tasks that just have to be done beside the fire. Porridge has appeared on the breakfast menu, or tea & toast on an especially slow start. I have remembered last years soup recipes & made big pots of Pea & Ham soup, & our ‘Oxtail without the Tail Soup’, putting pots into the freezer for later. Casseroles & stews , lasagnes, Shepherd’s Pie & curries are in our thoughts, & on our plates. We have a great system at present, where Geoff, Giles & I take turns to cook, & we each cook enough for two nights, so we only cook once a week each, plus a fry up or freezer meal for the odd day, I love it. I’m starting to try out some new recipes, instead of just cooking in a rush as I often do.Frosted Garden Gingko after Frost

There’s nothing nicer than finishing work & coming home to a cosy fire & warm house, with maybe the option of a hot bath, courtesy of the coalrange. The cat has taken up residence under our old Fire Nymph, & we let our old dog Rif sleep indoors at night. They are both about 14 & getting a bit frail. Young Didgit gets put in the kennel, & wakes me in the mornings with her big, wet, cold nose thrust into my face.

Rif asleep Tripper under the Fire Nymph

The frosts have knocked back everything that dies down or simply dies with the cold, & at present there are drooping, wilted frost burnt leaves strewn about the gardens, looking rather depressing. The trees however look lovely, & golden leaves float down from them with every whisper of breeze. Despite the Winter chill, we are needing water, our rain tanks, which filled so well in April with over 200ml of rain, are getting low as we’ve only had 20 ml this month so far, the weather forecast always says rain later in the week, but when we get there, it has moved on again.

Mice & rats are a bit of a pest now, they gnaw at night sounding like they will eat through the timbers that hold the walls up, or that they are rolling heavy balls up & down, or maybe chewing through our wiring. I pretend to myself it just very noisy mice, but I am afraid that it’s rats in the walls. We have set traps & laid bait, neither of which we like to do, but it’s us or them.

Last weekend we got woken up at 5.30am by bangs & booms, it turned out to be duck shooters in the paddock behind our house. They were shooting Paradise Ducks, & over the day I think they wiped out the whole lot. I know they are a pest, & there were lots of them, but I do miss them. I have been in the habit of sitting in bed in the morning with a cuppa & watching them go about their duck business. Occasionally a hawk would fly over & the whole lot would rise into the air, & do that magic thing where they turn, flashing from black to white & black again. Now the paddock looks forlorn & bare. I guess it won’t be long before some other parries find the spot & move in.

Paradise Duck Decoy Brimfull woodshed

Our Feijoas are prolific & big this year, next on my ‘to do’ list is to cook some up & freeze, we’ve made Chutney & Feijoa Farmhouse Cake from an old Listener recipe, & of course we give them away to anyone who can be persuaded to take them. Luckily they are quite a bit later than most people’s crops so we can find takers. Giles has plans to make wine, to add to the growing collection wired onto our top shelf. This includes the Peach Parfait, Beetroot & Carrot with Lemon Balm.

Feijoas still on tree Autumn Bonfire

It’s both the bliss & burden of a ‘lifestyle’ block, the satisfaction & stress of using up, storing or giving away our harvests. I wouldn’t have it any other way, I’m happy to have time to do these things in amongst ‘work’, & really it all becomes one & the same, & I would never give this up for a huge salary, commuting to work & all the stresses that go with that.

Geoff & I have just spent a glorious couple of days, staying in a friends bach at Mangakuri Beach. It’s one of my most favourite places, with long sweeping stretches of polished, wet sand, which reflects the varying shades of  the sky.  There is hardly ever more than a few people there, if we go out of the busy season, a fact I never take for granted, having grown up on the Kentish coast, where you were lucky to squeeze onto a piece of sand the size of your beach towel, between the crowds also guarding their space.

Mangakuri at Low Tide

Ever since those early days, living by the sea I have had a love & fascination for the myriad forms of life that inhabit the rock pools & environs. So, despite it being an official ‘holiday’ for us, I got up early, & with Geoff & Didgit in tow,  headed off to explore the rocks at low tide. It’s some years since we have stayed at Mangakuri, & it has weathered severe floods in that time. We were dismayed to find, or rather ‘not find’ many of the creatures we were expecting to be living in the pools & under rocks. We did find quite a few Kina, & young Paua, plus their kin the Shield Shells, there were plenty of those little dark green crabs, with one claw bigger than the other, there were Limpits,Chitons, Cat’s Eyes & Barnacles, & a few Whelks. We saw two large purple starfish, a Sea Centipede & a few worms. What we didn’t see were any Hermit Crabs, usually abundant over most of the pools, no Sea Anemones, no Cushion Stars or their delicate relations the Brittle Stars. Where are the Seaweed Crabs & the little Octopus?

Mangakuri Rock Pools

Does anyone know why this beautiful beach & others nearby are so depleted in wildlife? Is it the ongoing effects of the floods, perhaps mud or sand being re-distributed? Is it the various effluents & chemicals getting washed down stream from farms much further away? Whatever it is, it is cause for concern, what was once a richly varied & teeming environment is now much poorer & depleted. I would really appreciate to hear from anyone who can perhaps shed some light on this situation.

I was talking to my Grandson about Hermit Crabs just the other day, & asked him if he’d ever seen one. when he replied that he hadn’t, I had airily said that we would take him to the beach & show him some….I hope we haven’t missed our chance.

Didgit meets a wave