Category: Hints and Tips

Well, our new system for growing tomatoes seems to be working well, so I thought I would put it here, in case someone wants to try it. What we have found, is that the low growing bush varieties, especially Scoresby Dwarf, are cropping really well, but the staked ones are not so prolific.Next year we shall grow perhaps 6 or 8 staked plants to add colour & variety, but stick to Scoresby Dwarf for our main crop. We have been diligent in removing any leaves that look unhealthy.

Tomato Harvest Veges from Garden

The original directions said to dig a hole 60cm deep & bury fish heads in it, but we didn’t manage to get hold of fish heads, so we improvised. In a bucket we mixed dried coffee grounds, epsom salts, plant mycorrhizal powder (from our local health shop),crushed, dried egg shells & worm castings.

We dug deepish holes, not 60cm, & put a good handful or two of this mix into the hole, followed by one disprin per plant. We trimmed off the lower leaves on our plants, so that the lower 10cm or so of the stems were bare, & planted them up to where  the leaves started.

The plants have grown well, & are providing us with plenty of fruit. Once a week Geoff sprays them with his special brew, which is 2L elder leaf liquid, & 3L comfrey/nettle/seaweed liquid fertiliser &  worm wees. This spray is designed to keep the psyllids at bay, & so far it’s working. The peppers & eggplants, & spuds also get a dose.

To make the elder leaf liquid fill a large saucepan 2/3 full of leaves, cover with cold water & bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 mins, cool then strain into bottles. It seems to keep several weeks ok. Simplest method of straining is to fold some net curtain into the funnel you use for filling the bottles.

Whenever the coffee grounds collect up, I mix them with some epsom salts, about 1:1 & sprinkle around the base of the plants.

So far we have made 9kg of the roasted “Harvest Tomato Sauce” (Annabell Langbein’s recipe), for pasta etc, & put in freezer, that’s about 30 cups worth, also have several batches of Ratatouille in the freezer, which is great for using the extra eggplants & zucchini, & shall definitely make lots more. This is a real treat in the Winter, when it reminds us of warm Summer days. Especially good added to Lamb Casseroles, with a tin of chickpeas & some Middle Eastern Spices.

Drying herbs

It’s lucky we’ve had a run of fine weather, because the herbs I picked some weeks ago, have been languishing in the garden caravan. Over the weekend we had the coalrange going so I brought in the Sweet Marjoram & Coriander, to process.


Generally to dry herbs you pick them on a sunny day, just after the dew has dried. Most leaves are at their prime as their flower buds are forming, Lemon Balm for instance. I like to cut the Marjoram when it’s flowers are at their fullest, because the flowers are balls made up of lots of small leaflets. These give a good bulk of herb. Sweet Marjoram is one of our favourite cooking herbs, & one we try to dry every Autumn. Here in Hawkes Bay the plants don’t usually survive the Winter.

I spread the cut stems out on cardboard trays, all facing the same way. These go into the caravan, which is warm, dry & dimly lit. Once the stems are pretty much dry I finish them off in the bottom of the coalrange oven, or on very low in the electric oven, or in the dehydrator, although this is very messy. Once crisp I rub the stems through my fingers to take the leaves & flowers off. A fair amount of debris comes too. I pick out the worst of the stalks, then rub the leaves through a large sieve. This gives a good consistency for cooking with. Store in an airtight container in the pantry, out of the light. This method works for most small leafy herbs like Thyme, Savory, Sage etc. Herbs for making teas don’t need to be so finely broken up, once crisply dried, so can be simply stripped off of their stems, crunched up to compact for storage & stored away. If you don’t have a warm, shady place to dry things, you can put them in paper bags & hang up somewhere indoors, don’t cram too much in a bag, the air needs to circulate.

The Coriander seeds were a lot more bulky.On a fine day, I cut the stalks & laid them on a clean sheet, in a basket. I sat these indoors for a couple of days to dry out properly. Once dry I scrunched the seed heads inside the sheet to free them from the stalks. This left a mess of seeds, stalks & fine leaves. These went into the sieve, the leaf matter rubbed through the mesh, & the stems gathered at one side as I shook it. Again store in an airtight container out of the light.  This method works for Fennel, Caraway & seeds on stems you may want to dry for planting. Don’t forget to label them & put a date on.

Dishwasher Powder

Whilst browsing Trade Me the other day I found a great site called, it’s a business in Motueka that makes soaps & supplies ingredients for other recipes like the dish wash powder, & toothpaste. We’re hoping to change over our soap base to the one they make, we like the way they present their products & the simplicity, plus the soaps are great.

Mix together

1/4 cup Citric Acid

1/4 cup Salt

1 cup Baking Soda

1 cup Washing Soda crystals

We have a lot of lime in our water, when we use creek water & usually it leaves the glasses smeary & not enticing to use, we use vinegar as the rinse aid. This mix is not only cheap, but works very well, brilliant, thank you S.L. Store it in a wide mouthed container as it can solidify a bit. Bin Inn also have a list of cleaning recipes & stock the ingredients.


The southerlies have arrived, bringing icy winds & much needed rain. We’ve used the weather as a valid excuse to stay indoors & potter about in the kitchen, (one of our favourite pastimes after gardening & making ointments!) This reminded me that I’ve been planning to write a few notes about using a Coalrange, & most importantly cleaning one. You’ll need an ‘L’ shaped poker for this job, see the pics below. Our range is an old black Shacklock, with a wetback. I’m pretty sure the enamel ranges are much the same.

Here follows a step by step, illustrated guide ‘how to clean out your coalrange”

1)Take off the removable plate, where the chimney flue sits. Clean soot off of the flue paddle, back of the plate & inside the chimney as far as you can reach. I always give the chimney a few bangs with the poker to free any loose soot, this drives the dogs crazy as they think there’s a bird in the chimney!

2)Lift up the hot plate & ring, clean any soot off the undersides, & scrape soot from on top of the oven, down the sides.

3)Open the little plates on the sides of the oven & using your poker, scrape around on both sides of each cavity.

4)Open the plate below the oven, put a piece of newspaper underneath to catch the soot. Thoroughly scrape out soot from below oven, pay attention to the back, below the chimney & the sides.

5)If needed clean out the ash box, cleaning the sides of the firebox as well, then put all the plates back & sweep up loose soot.

There’s a great, serendipitous story that goes with our coalrange.

Nearly 30 years ago, when Geoff & I had only been together a short while, we were struggling to get by. We lived in a rented cottage, & earnt a little $$ doing odd jobs in the district, supplemented by the dole. We had a neat book, with photos of alternative type houses in it, & we dreamed of one day owning our own place. We planned what it would be like, & that included a Coalrange in the centre of the living area, like a hub.

We saw an ad in the paper for a coalrange, & following our dream we went to have a look. It was just what we wanted,& somehow we scraped together enough money to pay for it. When we asked the owners why they were selling it, they told us that they had bought it to put into an old villa that they were planning to move from Ongaonga to Otane. The local council had refused to let them move it, as the house was too old, (1906.)

It had high timber ceilings & varnished wood doors & frames….would they mind if we went to have a look at it?

Of course we loved it, & the long & the short of it was that Geoff’s parents lent us the money to buy the house, the grand sum of $2,000, plus enough to have it moved , plumbed, wired etc At that time we were leasing the land here, from very dear friends, at a ‘peppercorn’ rental, & they gave us permission to move the house here. So now the coalrange sits in the middle of our living space, in the colder months, warming us, heating our water & cooking our meals. We just love it!!


Last week we talked to our local Permaculture group, & put together these notes for them. Seemed like a good idea to put them in here too. Some thoughts on Companion planting with herbs, & using herbs as sprays & deterrants: Haven’t put in recipes for sprays, too much to write, I’m sure they’re easy to find. Anti-social plants, which inhibit the growth of those nearby: Wormwood, Southernwood, Rue, Fennel. Couchgrass excretes a growth inhibiting hormone from it’s roots which affects other plants. I know you won’t choose to plant couch in your garden, but when planting young plants, it’s probably worth trying to clear it as much as possible.

Plants inclined to spread, even when you think you won’t let them: Mints, Tansy, Yarrow, St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Perennial Nettle, Horseradish & Comfrey. The latter 2 will grow from the tiniest bit of root, so once planted they are very hard to eliminate.

Plants like Borage self seed like mad, at least these pull out easily. St John’s Wort, Lemon Balm & Garlic Chives & some other herbs tend to self seed prolifically, it’s worth dead heading them, or cutting them back once they’ve flowered to avoid getting taken over.


Goodies to plant here & there: Nasturtiums, Alliums, (garlic, chives, garlic chives) English Marigold (Calendula), French Marigolds ( Tagetes sp.)

Traditional combinations: Basil & Tomatoes, Savory & Beans, Borage & Strawbs, Corn & Cucumbers, Onions & Carrots. It makes sense too, to plant small patches of Cabbages etc, with pungent plants nearby, to mislead the Cabbage Whites which find their way to our Brassica by smell, or the butterfly equivalent.

Attracting insects:

Any Umbellifera, carrot flowers, Alyssum, Phacelia attract parasitic wasps, which parasitise Cabbage White Butterflies.

To attract bees, also other pollinators like Drone Flies & the little black native bees, plant Borage, Honeywort, (Cerinthe major) many of the herbs like Thymes, Oregano, Rosemary etc.

To encourage Butterflies: we all know about Swan Plants for Monarchs. Stinging Nettles are the host plant for Yellow & Red Admirals. Groundsel & Cineraria feed the striped orange & black caterpillars of the Magpie Moth, & Ragwort feeds caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth, which leaves you in a quandry, whether to leave Ragwort to grow, or pull it out. Well I guess the answer is to cut off the flowers. The Cinnabar moth is a bright cerise & black moth, both are diurnal ie they fly during the day.

Mulches: Oak leaves help to keep away the slugs & snails, you can try putting used coffee grounds around tender seedlings too, don’t forget to leave some bricks or tiles around for the Thrushes to use as anvils.. Pine needles provide an acid mulch which is appreciated by Tomatoes & strawberries. If we can get them, we like to mulch with Pea Hay or Lucerne so we are feeding up the soil as well as all the other benefits of mulching.

Compost: A number of herbs are used biodynamically, or as teas or leaves added to compost, all of which warm & speed the composting process, or add valuable nutrients. Don’t forget to wilt or rot down comfrey, & avoid using the thick flowering stems, which will grow. Yarrow, (Achillea millefollium) Comfrey, Valerian, Nettle. Elder trees are reputed to help the compost heap if planted nearby, perhaps their shade helps, & they can be kept pruned to a modest size.

Liquid Fertilisers: Comfrey, Stinging Nettle, Dandelion all contribute useful nutrients, look out for those Rat-tailed Maggots!

Plants for sprays: just because they’re plants, it doesn’t mean they are all non-toxic. Rhubarb leaf, or Tobacco sprays for example have withholding period of several weeks. Garlic spray is probably the most well known & easiest spray for aphids & other suckers. Pyrethrum is easy to grow & is effective, this is available in most plant shops now as an organic spray too.

Dried Equisetum & Chamomile flowers can both be made into sprays to discourage Mildew, & damping off.

Cuttings: we don’t do it now, but for a few years we used willow twigs as a growth promoter for cuttings. You fill a jar with willow twigs & water & leave overnight. Then stand the cuttings in this solution for a few hours before putting into potting mix. Hard to say how effective it is, but worth a go for plants which are hard to get started.

Get Chitting Those Spuds!

Now is the time to chit your spuds, or in non-gardener lingo lay them out to sprout. We keep a number of home grown spuds for sprouting, mainly the old heritage & Maori varieties, & we usually buy insome seed potatoes for the main crop. Our favourite for the last few years is Agria, just can’t find anything to beat them for productivity, flavour & versatility.

Spud Chitting

Lay the spuds out, stalk end down, you may have to look hard to find a potato’s bottom! egg trays are perfect for this job, or low flat boxes will do. Already you’ll be able to see which varieties are earlies,as they will have big sprouts on. The main crops are still pretty dormant. Once your trays are set out, you need to find a cool but light place to put them, where they can do there stuff for the next month or two. The aim is to encourage sturdy sprouts to form, that will shoot away with vigour once they are put in the ground.

SPRING: Under Cover

This is the most exciting time for seed sowing, we start cautiously in August sowing a few tender seeds, then a more thorough sowing in September, this is in the greenhouse, or lacking that you might be able to find a warm sunny spot indoors, or create a temporary place by covering a frame with plastic, or an old window. (They are very cheap at the recycling station) Make sure the cover is on a lean so water can run off, & you can fill the bottom with untreated sawdust to help keep things moist & deter slugs & snails. (Coffee grounds help to keep the slimy sneaks away too.) Seeds to sow now include Tomatoes, Capsicums, Eggplants, Curcubits-Cucumbers & melons, Zucchini & pumpkins, & Basils. These will all need to be protected until danger of frosts has passed. You can buy light frost cloth in the garden centres, to cover young plants at night, once they are in the garden, or good old sheets of newspaper draped over them will do the trick. Remember to take off the covers in the morning.



It is simplest & easier for the young plants if you get a sterile seed raising mix, this saves confusion & also is less competition for them. You can use recycled, very clean, plastic pots,just remember to put in a good number of drainage holes in the bottom. Punnets can be re-used over & over until they get too brittle. For seeds to grow they have some basic requirements,

  • A certain temperature, especially at night, in this case, warm,
  • Free drainage so air can get into the soil
  • Moisture, but not water logged conditions!
  • Clean conditions, no dead leaves etc in the soil.

The trick with seeds is to keep these conditions as steady as you can, your seeds only need to dry out once to be lost, or sit in water more than a few minutes to be prone to rot. It’s all about attention to detail.

1)Fill your container with about 6cm of seed raising mix & tamp it down firmly.

2)Make sure the pot has drainage holes.

3a)Write the variety, & date if you wish on a label. Wooden lollypop sticks or cut up Venetian blinds are good, & a pencil on these lasts ages, some of the pens wear out very quickly.

3b)For most seeds a fine sprinkle will do. For medium seeds you can place them at regular spacings, & this means you won’t need to prick them out. Large seeds like pumpkins you can put in individual pots, & they can go straight in the garden from here, or into larger pots if the weather is iffy.

4a)Very fine seeds do not need covering, they will work their way into the soil when soaked. Most other seeds need a covering of sieved mix on top, usually about 2x the seed width in depth. Check the growing instructions, there are some exceptions, for instance Aquilegias (Granny Bonnets) prefer to be left uncovered.)

4b)Tamp down the mix again. It seems to help keep the seeds in contact with the soil & the moisture.

5)Soak the container in a shallow tray of water, (not chlorinated) until the top of the pot is wet, then take it out & leave to drain. In most cases this will be enough moistureuntil the seeds sprout, but if you notice the pots drying out give them another soak.Watering the seeds from the top disrupts the seed spacing.

6)Put in a warm place, with good light.

7)Check your pots regularly, & before long you will see signs of movement. Some salad herbs will germinate in a couple of days. Keep an eye on your babies, don’t cook them in too hot a position, on the other hand if you see them leaning one way or getting spindly, the light is not good enough. If you see any signs of mould, pick it out, it may well be non-viable seeds rotting, & you don’t want it to spread.

8)Except for minute seedlings like Thyme or Marjoram, the seedlings can be pricked out when their first 2 leaves or cotyledons are established. It’s a good job to do on a cool day, or towards late afternoon, so the stressed plants have a chance to re-establish themselves.

You can decide whether to prick out into trays or punnets, small pots whatever. If you are keeping the plants out of the ground for a while, you will probably pot them on in a few weeks into slightly larger pots. The trick is to provide growing room, but not too much that the plant gets waterlogged, & it’s growth should be steady, if it’s too long in a small pot it will get stunted, may not thrive when you plant it out, & will be more prone to aphids etc.

Stratification: this is a way of fooling seeds into thinking they’ve been through a long Winter, faster than leaving them outside to over-winter. Put seeds into a small amount of moist potting mix, & leave for a few days to absorb moisture. Then you can either put the mix into a plastic bag in the fridge, or sow in a punnet, & put in a bag in the fridge. Leave for about 4-6 weeks then put in a warm place to germinate.

Scarification:this is a term for scratching, scraping or chipping a hard seed case, to speed up water absorption & germination.


We’ve had mixed success growing Celeriac in the garden. I think I’ve got it sussed now, which is good, because it’s my latest vegetable passion!

It’s a slow growing crop, so you need to start seeds indoors in early Spring, grow them on for a while until they are big enough not to get lost in the weeds, “what weeds?” I hear you cry!

Plant them into rich, composted soil, & let them grow away, being careful not to let them dry out.

In early Autumn, clean off all growing sprouts except the main top one, & mulch up around the bulbous root with compost. In our garden they slowly bulk up over early winter, frost doesn’t seem to be a problem. I guard them fiercely, I won’t let Geoff pull one up unless I think they’re big enough. We’ve harvested about 4 of the 20 or so in the garden. Cut off the leaves & straggly roots onto the compost heap.

In the kitchen, give the root a good scrub & trim off any wayward roots from the bottom. If you are going to only use part of it, just peel what you’ll need, the rest will store in the fridge for ages. The simplest use is to grate fresh root into your winter salads. Celeriac can be used instead of celery in soups, stews & casseroles. One of our favourites is Oxtail soup without the tail, see recipes.

Walker Has Sore Feet

Walker our ram, had sore feet, they have been red around the hoof, & very sweaty & nasty between his toes, with maggots, poor old thing. Our farmer friend & adviser, Hamish, told us it was scald, a fungal infection. Initially we tried our animal salve on them, it helped a bit, but after a few days Walker looked miserable again. Then we had the idea of using our Atheletes Foot Balm. We cleaned up each foot, & rinsed them with Hypercal in water, then dried between his ‘toes’ & put on the cream. A couple of days later we put on more cream, but had noticed that Walker was walking a lot easier, & his feet were clean. One more repeat & we seem to have fixed it, an unorthodox trial for the cream, but it obviously did the trick. Check out Athelete’s Foot Balm in our shop.



Many people don’t realise that Basil is an annual. People complain that their Basil plant dies every year, well that’s what it does. The whole raison d’etre for annuals is to procreate, which means that they want to flower & produce seeds.To get a decent crop of leaves from your Basil, you need to diligently pick off the flower buds, these can be used just as well as the leaves for cooking or pesto etc. Keeping the plant from flowering encourages more leaf growth, if you let them flower, you end up with woody stalks & hardly any leaves, once the plant makes seeds, it dies off. It is possible to extend the life of Basil by growing it in the greenhouse or sunny window sill, but I think they lack the oomph of garden grown plants. If you make enough Pesto to last you a while , you can store it in a jar in the fridge, with a layer of olive oil on the top, or freeze it in small pots.