We believe that the urban garden is one of the solutions in the face of rising cost of living. By applying permaculture principles in the design and lifestyle, we seek to maximize onsite resources to meet most of our needs with minimal impact on the land.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Urban Permaculture Meetings 2008-2009

At the last meeting, we came up with a tentative meeting schedule for the next few months. The meeting date is always the first Saturday of each month at 2:30pm unless specified. Please contact me for meeting addresses.

November - Farmer Cedric's Organic Dairy Farm, host by Susan and Cedric
- also bring any excess seedlings to share and exchange
December - Ocean Organics home garden, host by Judith

January - Holiday
February - Planning the winter garden, host by Esther and Matt
March - Raising Pigs, making Salami, host by Susan and Cedric and Karine Chagne
April - TBC
May - Harvest Festival, host by Clarie

Thursday, 16 October 2008

The urbanpermie is back!

I've been out of action for a while for a very good reason - I was having such bad all day sickness! I'm now into the 17th week of the pregnancy and my energy is finally returning. Also I can now sit infront of the computer for a longer period without feeling so sick.

Naturally as a result of the past few months of inaction, my garden is also in a state of neglect. For a the first time in many months, my husband and I spent some good hours trying to catch up with lost time. We were pretty amazed that within a few hours, the garden was looking quite acceptable again. We're convinced that Permaculture principles works!!

All through winter, the chookies in the chook tractor were working around the vegetable beds, so I have well mulched, fertilized vege beds ready for planting. What I need now are seedlings for planting.

All the fruit trees are doing really well this year. I think it's because the Tree lucerns are doing their job in providing wind shelter. The pear tree is looking exceptionally well - it could be the comfrey plant planted at the base of the pear tree. I'll now work towards planting comfrey at the base of all the fruit trees. Having said that, the mandarine tree was loaded with fruits late winter has suddenly taken a turn for the worst and died. Not sure why.

As for the chook family, one chook died in winter. It was the weakest link and it just wasn't strong enough to withstand the constant wet and extreme cold we had this year. Sadly another chook was eating it's own eggs and were extremely noise, so it went too. That's a blog entry in itself. We are left with 3 chookies at the moment.

I guess that's me for the moment...

Monday, 28 July 2008

Bicycle Energy

Just imagine- bike for an hour and power the house lights for a week! This is a reality for a man who found a solution to stay fit and solve a power crisis.

Check out the free plans to design bicycle energy systems for your home. You may be able to save some money this winter.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Milk Tonic for good health

Tiger’s Milk, an old naturopathic convalescent tonic for a perfect breakfast. A convalescent tonic was traditionally used to build people back up after an illness or stress, including childbirth.

Per person
2 x raw egg yolks (from free range eggs
½ - ¾ cup of milk, yoghurt or kefir
2-3 tablespoons of blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of coconut oil

First blend the yoghurt and berries until smooth, then add the egg yolks and coconut oil and blend until combined. It’s important to not over process the egg yolks so always add them last.

If you or a family member is allergic to dairy, you can replace the milk with almond milk or rice milk. To make either of these even more nutritious, culture them using Kefir grains or culture first. A less ideal option is to replace the milk with fresh or frozen orange juice – this works best as an afternoon snack rather than breakfast. You can also add some frozen banana for children (or fussy adults).

Matt and I love it. We find that the coconut flavor stands out the most. The shake has a beautiful purplish color, so quite appealing. We can hardly tastes the yolk. The natural yogurt and kefir give a tarty taste. If you like it a bit sweeter, adding some banana will do the trick, and I can imagine it going very well with the coconut flavor.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Making Friands

A good lemony muffin recipe by Pat Churchill to use up the excess egg whites and lemon rinds. Nothing goes wasted.

Lemon Friands
180g Butter
200g icing sugar
50g plain flour
pinch salt
1/2 tsp lemon essence
120g ground almonds
zest of 2 lemons
5 egg whites
extra icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly grease muffin tins.
Melt the butter, then set it aside to cool.
Place butter, ground almonds, zest, essence, sifted icing sugar and flour into a mixing bowl.
Lightly beat the eggs whites till frothy and stir into the other ingredients till combined - don't over mix.
Spoon into greased muffin tins and bake for 25-30 minutes till a toothpick inserted in clean when removed. Allow to stand for five minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.
To serve, dust with icing sugar and accompany with whipped cream ans seasonal fruit.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

It's Snowing in Palmy!

Oops, I mean it's hailing down like dogs and cats. I was so exciting that I rushed out barefooted with my camera!! The next thing, I felt my feet hurting - it felt like I was walking on ice (which I was!!) I simply couldn't contain my excitement. Next thing I knew, I ran to my neighbor's place, and invited her out to play in the ice with me. Oh oh, I could see my footprints. I felt like a child jumping up and down in joy after receiving a most precious present!!

Back to School....

Not quite. But I love blogging so much that I have enrolled to learn about web design and writing for the web with the Open Polytechnics. A bit radical, you might say. Firstly, I feel strongly that my writing has tonnes of room for improvement and secondly I like to have more control over the template (the control-freak part of me is emerging here). And I really can't believe that there is JUST THE COURSE for me!! So, why wait??

Both papers (web design & writing) are online papers, work out quite well as I do enjoy sitting long hours infront of the screen especially in winter. If everything goes as per planned, I should graduate this coming November.

On top of that, the one year Plant Propagation Course is also starting this week. So, I'll be just a tat busy the next 6 months.

These activities should be enough to keep my out of winter blues!!

Lacto Fermentation-The Microbial Family

After months of research and personal success with the experiment, I've come to the conclusion that we should include a lot more lacto fermented foods in our diet. Now, I keep a microbial family going at home. The members include Water Kefir, Milk Kefir, cultured yogurt, Kombucha and other lacto-fermented veges especially cabbages.

For years, I suffered from severe constipation. Once I was packed for 8 weeks. Believe me not, it was nasty. I thought I was dying. In a nutshell that was the beginning of my health journey in search of a cure for my constipation. It then took me another 6 years before I stumbled over the answer (Thanks to Tara who introduced Nourishing Traditions to me). From juicing to consuming tonnes of fiber, taking probiotic tablets, and herbal laxatives, the answer for me is finally found in lacto fermented foods.

It has been six months, and I hardly needed the usually herbal laxative to get things moving. Since, I've also found a few things that are especially hard on my digestive system. Too much carbohydrates will pack me up too. At the moment, I'm experimenting with sourdough recipes as I would like to enjoy carb without the side effects.

We're planning for a family, and I'm confident these lacto fermented foods will
help with easing constipation during pregnancy. Yes, these lacto fermented foods are safe to consume during pregnancy.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Community Gardens...

Every town should have a few active Community gardens going. In my opinion, community gardens are more than just growing veges; it's about connecting with people, taking control of food production, getting in touch with nature which also allows one to get in touch with oneself...

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Never too old!!

We hosted 2007 Christmas lunch. Matt’s parents, his Nana and auntie and uncle gathered at our place for the occasion. My best effort for the day was a leg of ham, soft buns, salad and a pavlova from the supermarket. In any case the food went down surprising well.

For afternoon tea, I served up the zucchini pickle that I made the previous summer. It went down like a treat. Matt’s Nana loved it so much that she requested the recipe. The thought of the efforts I put into preserving it and how much harder it would be for her, I brushed off her request. Instead, she was supplied with a bigger bottle of pickle. A week later, a snail-mail came for me. It was from Nana. She thanked us for lunch but more importantly, she wanted the zucchini recipe. Sensing her determination, I wrote the recipe and snail-mailed it back to her. Later that week, there was a phone message from Nana. She had just made the zucchini pickle and was very pleased with it! Bless her cotton socks!! We celebrated her 90th birthday in May 2008!!

Monday, 30 June 2008

Chinese Steam buns

I love steam buns!! It’s one of my comfort foods! It’s the texture of the dough that determines the quality of the bun, at least for me. I’ve been seeking for a Chinese bun dough recipe and I think I might have it now. Three other keys for making great steam buns:

1) The ingredients have to be fine (achieved by using the food processor to cut the cabbage etc
2) Mix in ¼ cold galantine (make from boiling up chicken legs) and ¾ cold filling (mince/cabbages is preferred as it holds up well)
3) Steam in a bamboo steamer

Here’s the dough recipe to make 60 small buns:
6 cups flours
¼ cup sugar
1 packet yeast
1tbs baking powder
1¼ cups warm milk
¾ cup warm water

Mix all the ingredients together, let it rise for 2 hours and the dough is ready for making buns with filling of your choice!

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Why Raw Milk?

We drink RAW MILK these days and use it to make yogurt. Why Raw Milk?

Pasteurization destroys enzymes, diminishes vitamin content, denatures fragile milk proteins, destroys vitamins C, B12 and B6, kills beneficial bacteria, promotes pathogens and is associated with allergies, increased tooth decay, colic in infants, growth problems in children, osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease and cancer. Calves fed pasteurized milk do poorly and many die before maturity.

Raw milk sours naturally but pasteurized milk turns putrid; processors must remove slime and pus from pasteurized milk by a process of centrifugal clarification. Inspection of dairy herds for disease is not required for pasteurized milk. Pasteurization was instituted in the 1920s to combat TB, infant diarrhea, undulant fever and other diseases caused by poor animal nutrition and dirty production methods.

But times have changed and modern stainless steel tanks, milking machines, refrigerated trucks and inspection methods make pasteurization absolutely unnecessary for public protection. And pasteurization does not always kill the bacteria for Johne’s disease suspected of causing Crohn's disease in humans with which most confinement cows are infected.

Much commercial milk is now ultra-pasteurized to get rid of heat-resistant bacteria and give it a longer shelf life. Ultra-pasteurization is a violent process that takes milk from a chilled temperature to above the boiling point in less than two seconds. (Sources are listed on www.realmilk.com.)

Do you still want to drink pasteurized milk?

Wednesday, 25 June 2008


Between Maria Garcia and Kristina Boudrezux, they worked out a recipe to make a smooth, thick yogurt using raw milk loaded with beneficial stuff for the body. It produces a high quality yogurt in glass container. Start at night, after dinner, and let it set overnight (8hrs).

1 quart raw, organic whole milk
1-8 ounce container Brown Cow whole milk yogurt, plain flavor (for the first batch)
or 3-4 tablespoons reserved yogurt from the previous batch

Keep all of your utensils very clean, making sure there is no soap residue.


  1. Heat the milk in a pan to 110°F (43°C), then remove from heat immediately.
  2. Pour the warm milk into a 1 qt glass jar, add the yogurt culture, and seal loosely with the lid. Make sure to leave about 3/4 inch of air at the top of the jar so the culture has some space to grow.
  3. Place the jar into a thermos and close. Put it on the countertop, and let it set overnight (8 hours).
  4. In the morning, remove the glass jar from the thermos and put it into the refrigerator.
  5. When you first open the yogurt jar, scoop out 3-4 tablespoons of yogurt (the "mother"), place it a container, and it in the refrigerator for later use to start your next batch.
  6. If use raw milk, it lasts up to six months in the fridge. Yogurt from pasteurized milk will last 1 week in the fridge.
Tara tried the above recipe and says it is so delicious, just like Greek yogurt. The only problem is she wants to eat it all in one sitting!!

It blew us away!!

Matthew’s parents gifted him with 2 tickets to THE TEN TENORS concert on his birthday. This is a very special treat as Matt and I just aren’t in the habit of going to such extravagant concerts. Despite our excitement, we just made it there on time. We soon settled down and the Ten Tenors came on stage. The setting was simple and minimal. The lighting and quality of sound were the props. The music was absolutely spectacular. It was light-hearted and entertaining but the quality of the singing simply blew us away. Cute boys with handsome voices have a drooling effect on me!! The 2-hour show felt like 5 minutes. I was truly sad when the concert came to an end. You can get a glimpse of their beautiful music from the mp3 at their website. Thank you, mum and dad for the most generous gift.

Don't Make Me Think

My interest in Web Design started when I started blogging a year ago. Last weekend, someone recommended a book by Steve Krug “Don’t make me think” on web usability. It’s a very light hearted reading for anyone who’s into web design or blogging.

One key principle that Steve advocates is eliminate question marks that users might have. In short, don’t make them think by making the design, links, clinks etc as OBVIOUS as possible. This is relevant to me in terms of making my blog as user friendly as possible.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Pig Keeping - Part 2

In the second round, K&D bought 2 females crosses between whites and saddlebacks. Male pigs tend to produce too much testosterone which taints the taste of the meat. Besides, the smell can be overpowering for some people.

The pigs were fed on food waste collected from K’s workplace. However, K&D still had to travel 20kms everyday just to feed to the pigs. This incurred quite a bit of fuel money and carbon footprints. Fencing was still quite a problem as it just wasn’t strong enough to keep them in. So, the recurring theme is BUILD STRONG FENCING.

Finally, those girls were sent to the works mid last week.

At the weekend, K&D processed 2 kgs worth of pig liver into pate. The carcasses need to be hung for a week to before processing. This process will mature the meat which improves the texture and flavors.

K&D have decided not to keep any more pigs for the time being until they’re living on their acres, which shouldn’t be too far off.

D feeling all sentimental wrote a tribute to those pigs:

Poor girls must have passed to Pigs by now! Pigs Paradise must look like a large jungle of freshly planted trees to dig out and chew young leaves of, big buckets of noodle curries to roll in and lots of human made things to destroy happily.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Plant Propagation

Agribusiness Training is commencing a course in Plant Propagation next month, i.e. July (in Palmerston North). It’s a course that is taught over one year so that all seasonal propagation activities can be undertaken. If you’re a NZ citizen or NZ permanent Resident, the course fee is $150 for the entire course.

Apart from all the knowledge you'll acquire, you'll also receive:
-A fully functional propagation unit, including watering systems and temperature gauges to keep at home
-Home visits from the tutor for one-on-one tuition
-Field-trips to view commercial nursery production units and other areas of gardening interest in your region, where available

All in all a fabulous course for any garden enthusiasts. I’ll be enrolling for this course, and hopefully more urban permies will join me as well.

If you are interested, go to http://www.agribusiness.ac.nz/ for more information. Clink on the picture to enlarge the timetable.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Keeping Pigs- Part 1

More than a year ago, a good friend and her husband decided to begin their journey of self-sufficiency. Karine and David (K&D) started their adventure in their urban backyard with 2 kune kune piglets that D bought off TradeMe. It was all very refreshing and fun. The piglets were so cute. The piglets grew and grew and grew. Soon, challenges started to surface.

The kune kunes were great experts in digging the ground over. The downside was, those grounds weren't in the plan for vegs beds. It got muddy in wet weather and was only accessible by gumboots

As the pigs got bigger and stronger, the fence wasn't strong enough to keep them in anymore. It wasn't uncommon for the pigs to wonder out of the backyard to the neighboring properties or found wondering along a residential street. It is a funny thought, but not so funny for K&D. A stern advice from K: NO 1 RULE: BUILD A SERIOUS FENCE

K&D suddenly found themselves engaging in a steep learning curve when it was time to move the piggies to a friend's property before their overseas trip. The pigs didn't like to be pushed nor forced to move; it needed to be persuaded or guided with food, preferably with an empty bellies, K&D discovered. Also, when the pigs were under stress, it responded to nature's calls more readily. Consequently, their transporting trailer was completely stunk out covered in you know what!!

Not long after K&D got back from their overseas trip, the pigs were sent to the works. Unfortunately, there was nearly as much fat, if not more than meat. Nevertheless K&D still spent a few evenings transforming the meat into lovely pates, sausages, salamis and chorizos. The lesson learnt: kune kune pigs aren't exactly the best for serious meat production.

K&D enjoyed the experience so much that they bought two more piglets to replace the belated kune kune pigs. The pigs are now being housed at K&D's acres 10kms from their urban dwelling. This is where the story begins...

Monday, 9 June 2008

June's Urban Permies meeting

The meeting fell on a cold and wet winter afternoon. Judith did a short presentation on the ram earth house that she visited in the Kapiti at the soil and earth meeting.

Next, we talked about closing the loop in the permaculture garden, in the sense of preserving excess vegetables from the home garden for a later date.

In earlier times, people knew how to preserve vegetables for long periods without the use of freezers or canning machines. This was done through the process of lacto-Fermentation. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacterial. Starches and sugars in vegetables and fruits are converted into lactic acid by the many species of lactic-acid-producing bacteria (read more about this at this link).

We made Korean sauerkraut (kimchi) with an organic cabbage that I bought from the local organic shop – cabbages in the garden aren’t ready yet!! This is the first time I’m trialing with purple cabbage and with whey. The cutting and bounding and bottling came up to less than an hour. It will take about 4- 5 weeks before it’s ready. The flavor gets better over time. But in my household, a bottle doesn’t last more than a week. We’ll be able to do some sauerkraut tasting at the next meeting – exciting.  Overall, we had a lovely time despite the wet and cold weather.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Whole Grain Bread (Breadmaker)

Matt loves bread and he can finish a loaf of vogel bread in one sitting, and that is pretty expensive to maintain! Fortunately, my good friend, Tara came to the rescue with a whole grain bread recipe that comes pretty close to achieving the same texture as vogel bread.

This recipe uses breadmaker cups & spoons for all measurements.

Cover 1 ¼ cups kibbled wheat with water and soak overnight. Drain in a sieve for a few minutes.  This should give about 2 cups softened wheat grains.

Place the following ingredients in a breadmaker:
2 ½ tsp breadmaker yeast blend
2 1/2  cups wholemeal flour
2Tbs gluten flour
2 Tbs cream
1 ½ tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2 Tbs butter or oil
300 ml water

Add the drained wheat, and use a standard white loaf baking programme of about 4 hours (the wholemeal programme seems to make the bread too dry).

Monday, 12 May 2008

Childhood and Chicken Feet

During my childhood days when mum and dad were doing pig farming in Singapore (yes, in Singapore), we used to have all kinds of food served up on the dinner table.

One of them was chicken feet stew. Mum would deep fried the chicken feet and throw into a pot with Asian spices ( star anise seed, cloves, Chinese five spice, cinnamons, soy sauce) to stew up the chicken feet with Chinese mushrooms, hard boiled eggs and cabbages. This dish would be eaten over a few days. The flavor got better each day. I would gobbled down bowls of rice flavored with the galantine gravy and suckle on those flavorsome chicken feet, and mushrooms and cabbages. One of my favorite dishes for sure. The children were always fighting over the feet, for real!!

Tara has suddenly reminded me of those yummy chicken feet, and got hold of numerous kgs of it for me, and sparkled lots of nice childhood memories. I’ll now do a bit of enquiries with my mother and grandma to hopefully collect a list of my family favorite recipes.

As a starter, I’ll probably make some delicious stock with I kg worth of it. I’ll put it in a slow cooker on low for a day or two with a few onions, carrots, leeks and apples. Then, I’ll freeze the stock in small containers to use it for later. It’s so good to be able to reach into the freezer for stock to cook fast food that’s delicious and nutritious.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Change lifestlye, be prudent

The Prime Minister of Malaysia very wisely advised the nation to stop wastage and to live within their means. He went further by encouraging those who own land to plant vegetables and fruits. He also added that all these efforts may seem trivial but the impact would be great if everyone changed their lifestyle. Personally, this is the wisest thing I’ve read coming from any leader with regards to food shortage/rising cost in the coming months/years. http://www.straitstimes.com/Latest+News/Asia/STIStory_234144.html

Monday, 21 April 2008

Food price crisis

This is a timely reminder for me to keep up the motivation to grow as much food in my urban garden as possible, and to eat locally and not depend on imported food.


For a start, I should think of providing carbohydrate through locally produced staples such as potatoes, pumpkins, yams, kumura etc. Eat seasonal fruits and vegetables. Most of these could be grown in our backyard


Also, I’m working on building networks to find out where I can buy directly from the farmers locally. I love the PYO concept where the middle man is removed from the picture; people can harvest the produces themselves. The farmer doesn’t get ripped off by the supermarket but be paid for their effort and be compensated fairly.  It also reduces their cost, thus the price can be kept low and affordable.


I’m thinking

local = sustainable



Food price crisis may hit world growth, security - UN

Reuters | Monday, 21 April 2008

The surge in global food prices risks setting back the world's anti-poverty efforts and, if not properly handled, could hurt global growth and security, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

Opening a UN trade and development conference in Accra, Ghana, Ban said the huge increases in prices of food staples like cereals since last year could erase progress made towards UN-set goals of halving world poverty by 2015.

"The problem of global food prices could mean seven lost years. . . for the Millennium Development Goals," he said.

"We risk being set back to square one," Ban told the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) meeting.

The food price surge has sharply increased the risk of hunger and poverty in developing countries and has already sparked food riots in parts of Asia and Africa.

The UN chief noted that several countries had moved to try to offset the food squeeze by barring exports of rice and wheat, or introducing incentives for easier imports of foodstuffs.

"This threatens to distort international trade and exacerbate shortages," he said.

"If not handled properly, this crisis could result in a cascade of others . . . and become a multidimensional problem affecting economic growth, social progress and even political security around the world," Ban told the conference.  


Friday, 11 April 2008

What' I"ve learnt this season

I've observed and learnt some things that I would like to remember for next year:

1) Sown first lot of corn in September, and second in October
2) Plant something every month - first week.
3) Italian tomatoes aren't that great, disease prone - won't plant it again
4) Start eggplants, capsicums, tomatoes indoor in July - keep this season's plants from frost and they will come back again, and you'll get fruits earlier next season. Repeat the cycle for the new plants.
5) Start Austrian Oil seed pumpkins in icecream containers in the hotwater cupboard - germinates in 3-4 days
6) Zucchini Ambassador F1 - extremely prolific especially if a scoop of cow dung is dumped into the planting hole first before putting the plant. 1 plant is more than sufficient for the entire family with more to give away.
7) Japanese eggplants is prolific and tasty, eggplant Golden eggs is late so not worth growing in NZ climate
8) Butternut Chieftain - Prolific - each plant has at least 3 good size squash (it will keep longer if allowed to harden properly)
9) Plant Basil with Capsicums, eggplants.
10) 2 crops of dwarf beans possible - Sow first in November, second January
11) Only grow the Purple Fred climbing beans - early and prolific - two crops in the season
12) 2 telegraph cucumber plants sufficient for a family
13) 4 gerkin plants if you want to preserve
14) Mulch, mulch, mulch

More to come in the next blog

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Veggie gardens a growing love

By LIZ WILLIS - North Shore Times Tuesday, 08 April 2008

BEN WATSON/North Shore Times

GOOD LIFE: Growing enough veggies for salads saves money and the planet, says Beth Hansen.
The secrets behind a Devonport plot to foil the looming oil crisis are about to be revealed. It’s a down-to-earth approach rooted in Beth Hansen’s strong belief that even the smallest backyard can be home to a beautiful organic veggie garden.

At 63 after a lifetime of gardening she says it’s time to share her knowledge. She’s warning that vegetable prices will skyrocket as fuel prices rise. It wouldn’t surprise her if lettuces sold for $6 by Christmas.

"I don’t want to panic people but we need to start growing our own produce."

Ms Hansen’s garden is testament to just what can be grown in a small space. In her average-sized front garden she grows basil, parsley, lettuce, rocket, carrots, onions, kumara, spinach, capsicum and bok choy.

"You don’t need a lot of room. This is one thing I want to teach people." If you prepare the soil correctly you can plant intensively which also keeps the weeds down, she says.

As a watercolour artist she’s conscious of colour and veggies and flowers grow happily alongside each other in her cottage garden.She’s now devoting more time to giving organic vegetable growing lessons than painting watercolours.

"It’s all very well painting nice pictures but if I can inspire half a dozen people to start growing their own veggies I would be thrilled."

The old-fashioned art of veggie gardening has waned as people move to smaller properties, she says. Children aren’t taught to grow plants so vegetable gardens have started to disappear. But Ms Hansen says you can grow a lot in a small area, saving money.

Her recipe for a good veggie garden includes:

- Planting veggies in raised beds near the kitchen
- Getting family involved
- Using a mix of organic soil, water crystals and crushed metal aggregate
- Running the mower over dried seaweed then spreading it on the garden
- Having an automatic watering system

Saturday, 9 February 2008

The chickens

Said the first little chicken
With a queer little squirm,
"I wish I could find
A fat little worm."

Said the next little chicken
With an odd little shrug,
"I wish I could find
A fat little slug."

Said the third little chicken
With a sharp little squeal,
"I wish I could find
Some nice yellow meal."

Said the fourth little chicken
With a small sigh of grief,
"I wish I could find
A little green leaf."

Said the fifth little chicken
With a faint little moan,
"I wish I could find
A wee gravel stone."

"Now, see here," said the mother
From the green garden patch,
"If you want any breakfast
Just come and scratch."

From Fives, Sixes and Sevens

Friday, 8 February 2008

Tearless Onions

It has recently been reported that New Zealand and Japan Crop and Food research scientists are working towards using a ”gene-silencing technology to switch off the enzyme” which is the culprit for causing the eye to tear. Somehow the thought of human interfering with our food surely brings tears to my eye! It’s going to happen within the decade. The implication for me is that I’m going to work hard to ensure that I’ve a good stock of the existing onion plants and seeds and get involved with the seed bank to ensure that the traditional variety isn’t lost forever.

A short scientific explanation on how the tear causing enzyme works:

“Lachrymatory-factor synthase is released into the air when we cut an onion. The synthase enzyme converts the sulfoxides (amino acids) of the onion into sulfenic acid. The unstable sulfenic acid rearranges itself into syn-ropanethial-S-oxide. Syn-propanethial-S-oxide gets into the air and comes in contact with our eyes. The lachrymal glands become irritated and produce the tears! Oddly enough, this volatile compound is also responsible for a lot of the great taste in onions, as well as the pleasant aroma when you cook the vegetable. You'll also get sulfenic acids by cutting up garlic, chives and leeks, among other vegetables, but they don't form the same irritating gas, just a strong smell.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Lacto Fermentation - Books

In my best effort to live a simple lifestyle, I do have my indulgence moments: I simply can’t resist good books. But then my dad always says that knowledge is priceless, so I don’t feel too bad about INVESTING in a FEW good books. Now that I’ve justified myself, it’s confession time: I’ve recently bought 2 books on Fermentation from Amazon and they arrived this morning. The two titles are

1) Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz (http://www.wildfermentation.com/)
2) Making Sauerkraut and Pickled Vegetables at Home by Klaus Kaufmann

It’s a timely arrival as the harvest season is not far from now, and I can start thinking about the lovely meals I could be having in the coming cold season by preserving the lovely fruits and vegs through fermentation. I’ll try my best to keep an update of the results from the recipes from these books.

Sandor is so crazy about fermentation that his mate, Nettles, wrote a poem about his obsession:

Come on friends and lend me an ear
I’ll explain the connection between wine and beer,
And sourdough and yogurt and miso and kraut,
What they have in common is what’s all about.
Oh the microorganisms,
Oh the microorganisms…

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Easy Peasy Merange!!

I enjoyed the Merange that Mike made so much that I made one for my lovely neighbor, Haklyka on her birthday the following Sunday. It was a hit and it's so simple:

55 grams caster sugar
2 egg whites
250 ml fresh cream
Any kind of soft fruit

1) Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius
2) Beat the egg in a bowl until soft peak. Next add the sugar and beat until disolved and a shine on the merange mix
3) Sprinkle some icing sugar on a piece of baking paper cut to fit a baking tray. Spread the merange mix onto the baking paper and spread over the baking paper.
4) Bake till slightly golden brown - approx 10 minutes
5) Remove from the oven, and when slightly cool, put it into the fridge.
6) Meanwhile, whip the fresh cream.
7) Remove the merange from the fridge, spread half the fresh cream on half of the merange, put some soft fruit such as peaches, berries on it as well, if you so desired, and roll it up, gently.
8) Place the rolled merange on a serving platter, and spread the rest of the cream on it and decorate it with the fruit.
9) Serve.

You can make this a few hours earlier and leave it in the fridge to chill.

37th Birthday!!

Matt & I aren't big on birthdays and I don't remember getting a decent birthday present from him to date - although we've known each other for 8 years, and married 3!!! My first birthday presents from him were a vase and a wooden muffin tray!! (the first christmas present he ever gave mewas an EDMOND'S cookbook, do you notice a theme here?)

Nevertheless, we decided that my 37th birthday would be special and it indeed was.

I requested sleeping in the tent on the eve of my birthday, and it was granted. Matt very lovingly pitched the tent and arranged the bedding for maximum comfort! It was a warm summer night in mid-January and the stars were in full view. We decided to lay halfway out of the tent to star gaze. We saw the 3 sisters, the southern cross, the milky way, satelite and enjoyed great conversation. It was really fun. The tent has net windows at the front and rear so the temperature was perfect for a good nice sleep.

The next morning, I woke up to a perfect breakfast of bacon, eggs, pinapple and banana doted with some green peas - the best breakfast Matt has ever made. Matt bought the bacon the day before and hid it successfully from me at the back of the fridge, which was probably a first too!

After breakfast, we got into the car and there was DEAN MARTIN CD in a bag waiting for me. I was just looking at this very same CD the day before!! Matt's definitely getting the hang of giving suprises.

We took a drive to Lindale Farm, listening to DEAN MARTIN along the way. Kapiti ice cream was a must, followed by a honey tasting. They had an interesting range. When I was waiting to be served some sample liquor, A MIRACLE HAPPENED!! The lady asked for my ID!! I was so happy that I burst into laughter. With great pride, I revealed my age, and told her that it was my birthday. Talk about the best birthday present....

I sort of floated to Paraparaumu beach next at 12pm!! Too high up on cloud nine to think clearly at that stage...that beach was where Matt used to visit with his parents when he was little - so it was special too.

That evening, Matt did a Jamie Oliver style smoked salmon in a biscuit tin. I made my favorite tomato salad, and a pesto pasta. Our good friend, Mike came round with the most scrumcious merange. Dining took place in the garden and I really couldn't think of a better place to be. Later my neighbor came round with some more goodies and wished me a happy birthday and I received lots of text messages from friends in Singapore...I couldn't have asked for a better 37th Birthday.

Dying to plant cabbages in the heat of Summer?

Well, my clever neighbour, Haklyka, came up with a great plan one day. Between the two sisters, they built a giant cage with a very tidy netting over it. When everyone elses cabbages are being devoured by the white butterfly caterpillers, she grew the most perfectly amazing cabbages. I was very luckly to be given one of them. Even the most annoying aphids couldn't get near it.

I believe the cost of the netting came to NZ$28. Another way to get around this is to use recycled window netting although it will probably last one season. But then, there are always someone willing to part with their curtain netting. Note that she had to crawl from under the netting to get in there, so it's good to think about accessing the plants. Also, I think there "Net cage" only need to be half the height.

I made 3 bottles of sauerkraut from the cabbage and gave her a bottle.

Wasn't it supposed to be low maintenance?

It's well known among my friends that I'm a serious gardener and that I spend most of my non-working daylight hours in the garden apart from the hours at my full time work. They have also heard about me talking lots about applying permaculture principles to achieve a low maintenance garden - sometimes I fear that I almost preach Permaculture when I share with such enthusiasim.

Anyway, a friend who heard that I was always busy in the garden made this comment:


it really got me thinking. After some soul searching (figuratively speaking) this is a rough summary of what I do in the garden:

I spend the evening walking around the garden harvesting produce or thinking about what I could be planting next. Then I will stand, sit or squat at one spot and be totally fascinated by the way some plants/elements interact with each other. Then I'll quickly rush into the house reaching for some books that I recall reading about that phenomenon. After that, I'll be inspired with a new idea of how to apply that new principle in future planting. That could inspire me to sow some seeds or spend the next few hours devouring that gardening book.

At a rough estimate, I spend 80% of my time observing the garden and getting inspired and maybe devote 20% of the time actually doing gardening and putting new designs in place. I hardly water my plants - hardly ever, except over the first 3 days after planting and then pray for rain :-) Most garden beds are heavily mulched.

In conclusion: it's a low maintainance garden that inspires the gardener to spend more time getting inspired in the garden .

Monday, 4 February 2008

Recycling shower water

One of the things I enjoy is taking a nice luke-warm or hot shower depending on the season. In my house, it takes a while for the hot water to come through and I always thought that it was such a great waste to let all that good water go down the drain. Well, we finally did something about that last night. We directed the shower water to a 10 litre bucket whilst waiting for it to heat up. It came up to 8 litres of water before the water got hot enough to not make one jump in cold shock! Wow, that’s a lot of good water wasted which could be used in the laundry, toilet or garden.

Matt and I have replaced commercial soaps and shampoo with baking soda and vinegar since 2006, so the grey water is effectively useful for the above purpose too. With that in mind, I put another bucket in the shower with me, standing above it (it really is easier than you imagine) I managed to collect another 8 litres after a 7-minute shower (longer then my usual 3-minute shower as we were covered in salt and sand after a great swim at Foxton beach). Between Matt & I, we collected a descent amount of recycled water to water my extremely dry flower garden in the front garden last night, and it felt good!! Another added advantage, we now have reason to visit the neglected front garden every day.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Chicken Glossary

I’m consistently confused by the different terms used on chickens (Generic term!?!). Anyway, this Chicken Glossary has come in handy to clear my confusion.


A newly hatched chicken.


A castrated male chicken used for meat.


A male chicken less than a year old. These often make it to the barbecue.


A female chicken more than a year old. These are the ones that lay the eggs.


A female chicken less than a year old.


A male chicken more than a year old.


If you don't know, you shouldn't be keeping chooks!!!

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

The lemon tree DIE!

The ex-lemon tree is now a standing pumpkin tree!! Matt in his great enthusiasm applied two handfuls of Epsom salt (when it should be 2 teaspoons dissolved in a bucket of water) on the base of the lemon tree. Within a week it withered and died.

Lesson learnt: Enthusiasm can be deadly in the garden!!

Lacto fermentation - Good Health and Save Money

In Mid December (2007) I made 2 quarts of Sauerkraut (into 4 bottling jars) from the cabbages planted in Spring. I prepared it 3 days before I went away on a 3-week holiday. You can imagine my great anticipation coming home from the holiday. It tasted surprising nice and we’ve finished 2 bottles since. Yesterday, my neighbor gave me a big cabbage. Quiz question: What will be the fate of this cabbage? J

My first introduction to sauerkraut was from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon http://www.westonaprice.org/foodfeatures/lacto.html and the benefits of lacto-fermented vegetables.

From all the readings, I am more convinced that lacto-fermented vegs should be part of my regular diet for health benefits. It’s a more nutritious, a time and cost effective way of preserving excess crops in summer for the cold months ahead. I also come across two books on lacto fermentation frequently mentioned in forums, blogs and websites:

1) “Wild Fermentation:The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-culture foods” by Sandor Ellix Katz (http://www.wildfermentation.com/)

2) "Making Sauerkraut and Pickled Vegetables at Home: Creative Recipes for Lactic Fermented Food to Improve Your Health (Natural Health Guide) (Natural Health Guide)" by Klaus Kaufmann

This link http://constantstateofflux.wordpress.com/2007/11/24/pickling-day-the-old-way/ provides some info on how sauerkraut is made. Enjoy

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Growing Carrots - Part 2

I've planted my second lots of carrot, onion and radish in the bed when I harvested the garlics. I also planted 2 packs of dwarf beans along the edge of the guild.

This time round, I've planted the carrot seeds a little closer as well as keeping an eye on the soil moisture level. To prevent evporation under the hot summer day, I've cover the veg bed with a shade cloth. Water over the shade cloth twice a day. I should see some movement by the end of the week. Keep a lookout for the update!!

Update on 5th Feb:
-The radishes were the first to germinate, less than a week. They are about 15cm tall now.
-The carrots germinated within a week, and they are about 5cm tall now.
-Still waiting on the shy onion to germinate - apparently it takes 21 days before it will start showing its face.

Planting Mix
I had a mix of (80%)sand, 3 packets of onion seeds(different varieties) 3 packets of carrot seeds and A packet of mixed radishes in a 200l container with small holes that would allow my to sprinkle the mix onto the veg bed.

The helpers in the garden

The Spring plantings have all finished and I'm doing the second round of planting for the summer season. And the chookies are such good workers that I really can't imagine gardening without them.

The chookies clear, prepare, fertilize and mulch the veg beds so well and quick that within 3 days the veg beds are ready for planting. To achieve that, all I need to do is to move the chook tractor to the target veg bed, and give them the barley straws on the 2nd day and to think up plants to plant at the end of the three day. How difficult is that?

They were under my Royal gala apple trees for 2 weeks, and so far the apples on the tree are looking excellent without any work from me. Maybe they had taken care of the cothling moths.

My only concern: soon I'll be running out for places for the chookies to scratch...
Possible solution: maybe I can load them out to gardeners who want to clear their slug and snail populations!!

Collecting Gold - Part 2

"Why cow dung?" You may ask. Well, apparently cown dung is free of weed and it has nearly all the nutrients/minerals that plants need to grow well. Linda Woodrow suggests that in her book "Permaculture Home garden". She mows down the cow pad and use them as seed raising mix.

So I decided to give it a try. I spreaded the cow pads on my lawn and mowed them down. That fertilized my lawn as well as provided free nutrients packed seed raising mix. Next, I mixed the powered cow pads with equal part of sand and had had good success raising seeds with the mix.

Another I do with the cow dung was to scoop a trough full of it and throw it into the holes that I have dug for planting seedlings. Then I plant the seedlings on to the holes. So far all the plants with the cow dung mix in the soil are doing very well. For example, one of our zucchini plants has 6 zucchinis growing on a single plant, all about the same size. The most productive zucchini plant I had ever seen. It could be the variey but my my...pretty amazing stuff!

oUr hOliDaY

We've been quiet for a long while because we were away on holiday- burnt some fossil fuel to visit my family and friends in Singapore. The holiday was fabulous as we had some great quality time with people we love and missed dearly. Nevertheless we couldn't help but made a few observations.

Firstly, we've changed.
We used to buy lots of nice fashionable cheap clothes whenever we were in Singapore. We also packed our luggage full of local goodies that I still enjoy eating. But this round, we didn't do much shopping as we didn't want anything apart from the odd items that we needed during the trip. We were content with we've got, and didn't see the need to buy any thing because they were cheap. It wasn't even something we thought about. We simply didn't have any desire or whatsoever. Very interesting eh!!

Conversations usually revolved around our newly found mission of eating off our garden. It's such a novalty to all our friends especially their children. Topics of conversation included "Do you need a rooster in order to get eggs?" "How do one hatch a chicken egg?" "What do you grow in your garden?" etc. We had hours of fun talking about the things we do in our garden.

Singapore has changed too
During the last visit a year and a half ago, there weren't many recycling bins. But we see them in most public places this round. And overall, there are a lot more public awareness with regards to recycling and plastic usage. Food scraps are being recycled too. We are very pleased to see that children are being educated in this respect through children programmes on TV. Generally a very positive effort and very heart warming to see. Whenever we turned down the extra plastic bags, we would receive positive feedback such as a smile or a comment about us being kind to the planet.