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.

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!!!