Tuesday, 19 June 2012

First year in this garden ~ looking back on a season of plenty

We've been in this place for year now, and now that we are back in the dim chill of winter it seems a good time to reflect on what has been achieved.  It's been a lot of work but it's been good.  I've written about the setting-up process in a number of previous articles, so won't repeat myself here, but rather share such progress as has been made since then.  Those previous articles can be found by following the link at the foot of this article.

The border immediately behind the house has been a great success:
It has cheered up the look of that area no end.  The irises flowered vigorously, which surprised me as they had been unceremoniously dug up from their previous home and left in crates for at least a couple of months.  The two big roses also came away well, but I forgot to photograph them.

Late in the autumn I manured and mulched the whole border, so that with the advent of spring it should come away strongly!

The vegetable garden has done us proud:
This took a lot of work initially as I had to laboriously dig up strips of lawn a foot at a time.  The reward has been an excellent source of vegies, almost from the word go.  I've dug in plenty of manure and kitchen scraps as supply and vacancy of various patches of earth have made this possible.  Here is what it looked like in November last year:

That's rhubarb in the foreground, then silverbeet at the left and then lots of potatoes.  The potatoes have been especially good value: I paid $20 for seed potatoes, and we're been eating them for seven months!  We did have some trouble with wire worm, but it didn't last, and I wonder if their life cycle simply moved on.  They are the larvae of the 'click' beetle.  I might write about this separately.  Anyway, we got masses of potatoes!

The carrots and parsnips came late in the growing season simply because it took me time to get their bed ready!  This photo is from January, when the carrots were little more than thinnings:

In due course they have thickened up well and continue to provide sweet and tender veg of a good size.  There are still plenty in the ground until we're ready for them.  There they are at the right:

That photo was taken in March.  By that time I'd harvested most of the potatoes which had been planted in a big double row on the left.  In their place you can see my second planting of silver beet and some rows of rocket and various herbs.

Below is the vege garden photographed along its other side.  My little cat Louisa, came to regard the carrot and parsnip bed as her particular fort.  It was just the right height and density for the perfect look-out and ambush post!  The broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower at the right, surprised me by doing very well.  The only flop I had was with the beetroot, which I simply didn't soak long enough before planting, or sow thickly enough. 

The idea of leaving strips of lawn intact between the beds has been fairly successful.  For one thing it meant I didn't have to dig up the entire lawn, and for another it saves the gardener from getting muddy feet when gardening or picking vegies.  On the minus side, the edges were a bit tedious to keep trimmed.  However, I'm glad I did it that way.  

The pumpkins went in much too late.  I planted them in late November, which was optimistic to say the least, but nothing venture nothing win, and I did get a few, but not enough to pay for the cost of the plants versus the price of pumpkins in the shops.  Of course on the plus side of that equation I knew they were organic and that the carbon footprint was negligible!

By the time I got to considering where to plant the pumpkins I had run out of room in the vegie garden on the middle terrace, so planted them up on the top one...

Getting the top terrace established:
Just as with the vegie terrace this started out being nothing more than an uneven and hard-to-mow patch of lawn.  Setting it up to my own satisfaction took much longer and was harder work than I expected.  In the two photos below you can see it the way it was originally:

One tree, a lemon-wood which had been poorly cut back, stands more or less in the middle of it.  The ridges of its roots made mowing around it both difficult and unsatisfactory.  I decided to work with rather than against that, and set about converting the main root area into garden.  I gradually removed the lawn grass and added a major amount of compost.  Those who have viewed earlier articles about my former garden may well see something familiar about that pile of rocks.  Yes, I brought them with me, which is just as well, because that particular garden bed in their earlier home has since been done away with and filled in.  It was a days work just to fetch them from along the peninsula so I wasn't about to leave them for someone else to dump under a hedge!  In their present position I formed a simple mound on which I placed the bird  bath.

Forming a nice edge around the renga renga which you can see above in the middle distance, had taken time and effort.  I had planted the renga renga straight into the lawn as I was sure of its position, but then had to come back to it and make the rest of the border work.  Lawn turf isn't nearly as easy to deal with as it looks:

The plot under the lemon wood gradually took shape:

Here you can see it from the other side of the tree ready to be planted up:

My pumpkin seedlings are in - attended by the ever helpful Louisa:

The photograph below shows the bed as seen from the next terrace.  The tree roots on that side were still clearly visible at the time.  Since then I have added several barrow-loads of earth, but the whole area will benefit from more.  Not only does it need more coverage but also more feeding as it will have been very depleted by the tree over the years.  This will help the tree as well.  Next spring, when I distribute the nicely rotted-down compost heap I'll be putting a lot onto it.  That's our cat Bonnie, sitting in the edge of the garden next to the catnip plant and amidst the rocket and strawberries.  Those are peonies in the foreground - I didn't have anywhere else to plant them! 

The peony appeared to be very happy with its new home producing some lovely blooms:

Over in the far corner behind the garden seat I had planted some fairly large plants straight into the lawn, and then put off doing anything more about getting that border established.  The top corner is very wet and much of the ground there was heavy and overgrown - not inviting!  However, when I finally set to work it didn't take all that long, but, just as I expected, it was heavy going:

Under the fern in the far corner I came across an unusually large spider.  Although I was a bit startled at first I admired her soft stripy back.  She obliged me by staying still for long enough for me to take her photograph:

I'm a great believer in mulch:
Mulch discourages weeds, keeps the surface of the ground workable, and in summer keeps in moisture.  I've been told it needs to be four to six inches thick to be effective.  I have found that even a fairly sparse covering helps to some degree.

In the late autumn I mulched much of the garden.  The mulch used was from a timber mill where big heaps of shavings accumulate from the milling of untreated pine.  We were permitted to fill the back of our car with as many sacks as it would hold for $5 a load.  It was surprising how much we packed in!

You can see the consistency of the mulch better in the image below.  It's not perfect but it keeps the weeds back to some degree and keeps the surface of the earth easy to work with. 

 What a different place the garden is now from when we moved here:

During the winter months I'm pretty much leaving it to its own devices:
This gives the garden time to settle in and pursue it's own processes undisturbed.  Working in it in the spring will be a pleasure rather than the big project it was in this first season. 

The garden has become a place to find comfort and relax:
Looking at these photos and thinking about what it is that has changed the most, even more than the appearance of it, I'd have to say that it's the mood of the place.  It now feels as if it nestles into the hillside, rather than being just a mown set of exposed terraces.  Even in winter, now that it's largely in hibernation, it feels full of life in a way that it didn't before and which is not strained at all.  Before I came along and tickled around with it it felt not only dormant but unconscious.  Now it feels more like an entity in its own right, almost like a friend; certainly it's a place to be comfortable in.

I love gardening for many reasons:
I love the sense of lively growth and expansion that is part of a garden that has been nurtured and well cared for, even when its weedy.  I love how it is always full of surprises, most of them happy ones.  So in the quiet, cold winter months I look back with satisfaction and forward to spring, in the same way as one looks forward to meeting up with an old friend - with a sense of pleasure.  

Meanwhile, my garden rests.  I am grateful for all the lovely food and flowers, and the happy hours spent pottering about in it.  I'm glad of the garden and glad to be able to work in it, and to know how to.  
I share my achievements with others to offer ideas and encouragement:
Quite a number of people have helped me reach this level of capability and also my own years of practice in a range of very different gardens.  This is what motivates me to share what I have learned and achieved here, in the hope that it will be a source of ideas and encouragement for others.

I've written a whole series of articles about 'how to' aspects of gardening.  For those who are interested in reading these and other gardening articles they can be found by following the link below.  
Happy gardening!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Winter cold bites with chilling effect ~ and I get lack-of-insulation blues

This house is cold.  When we moved into it a year ago we expected it to be cooler than our last place because of where it is, but we didn't realise then just how much colder it would turn out to be.  We had no idea it was completely uninsulated.

The uninsulated hot water cylinder should have given me a clue.  My request that it be 'wrapped' went nowhere.  Since someone had to do something I bought a second-hand quilt and wrapped it up myself.  

It was an electrician, whose work took him up into the roof cavity, who gave us the bad news, and that only by way of conversation.  I've always found it helpful to be around when tradesmen are at work!  No wonder last winter had seemed so cold - it was!  

I mentioned the lack of insulation to our landlady, and rather surprisingly this was news to her.  It is to be hoped that the situation will be rectified and brought up to current standards, as indeed it should be.  Substantial subsidies are available to home owners, including landlords, so now is the time to do it.  Houses occupied by those on especially low incomes such as ourselves, qualify the owners, including landlords, for subsidies of 60%.    

Detailed information about subsidies can be found via the following links: 
Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA): 
It is now commonly recognised that cold buildings are unhealthy places to live for these reasons:
  • In cold temperatures the damp air which accrues with everyday living, from kitchens and bathrooms, as well as from our own breathing, often results in the dampness in which mould and mildew thrive.  These are a common source of respiratory problems.  
  • As the cold around us increases circulation tends to withdraw from our hands, feet and skin in order to prevent further heat loss and to maintain our core heat.  Over time this can result in the thickening of blood which is then more likely to clot, causing strokes and heart attacks.  These are more likely to affect the elderly as their blood vessels tend to be 'rougher' on the inside.
Predictably, the poorest quality housing is occupied by those least able to afford it.  Such housing is the cheapest.  These same financial constraints also contribute to poor people living in crowded conditions and being less able to afford heating.  In crowded and cold conditions contagious diseases such as colds and flu as well as a range of much more serious diseases such as rheumatic fever, meningococcal meningitis, tuberculosis, measles and mental health problems, are more prevalent.
Addressing these conditions is therefore an important issue of public health and welfare. 

A few days ago the cold really got to me, and I decided to make some notes:  
I checked the Met Service website: they gave the temperature of 4.4 degrees Celcius but added the qualifying comment that it was likely to feel like 2 degrees.  It did!  I'm sure they meant out-of-doors, but it felt like that indoors too!  The forecast was for...
Showers.  Snow clearing.  Strong cold southwest [winds],
... and the same for the next day.  We didn't have snow here, but I could tell it was not far away.  As we don't have the money to pay for the heating needed to keep this house properly warm we keep the use of heaters to a minimum.  We dress warmly in an effort to make up the difference.

The quantity of clothes I wore that day is an indication of what it's been like: I had on polar fleece trousers, a long-sleeved thermal top, two merino knit pullovers, one possum fur knit pullover, all cosily encased in ski-pants, a microfibre jacket and a cashmere wool headscarf.  Did I say cosy?  The days that followed haven't been much different. 

Thermometers can be a big help in establishing what the temperature actually is:
Feeling desperate I borrowed a wall thermometer from neighbours and took readings in different parts of the house.  I wanted some hard data.  The results were unarguable: at 2pm the unheated front room was 9.8 degrees Celsius; the hall where I had had the heater on for some time was 11.6; and my workroom where I'd had the door shut for half an hour reached 14.5.  At that point I felt like stripping off!  

I was somewhat amused to see that the Met Service gave the water temperature as being all of 11 degrees!  Given that the indoor temperatures were so similar I toyed with the idea of going for a swim, but looking out at the grey, rain-drenched skies and foaming grey waves decided against it.  (Only joking!)

The next day I bought three thermometers and pegged them up in different parts of the house.  They cost $4.35 each and have already been a big help.  We've found that we can function relatively normally at 12 degrees and above as long as we wear lots of warm clothes; at lower temperatures I feel very pinched and seized up.  Having an accurate reading gives me a clear signal of when the heaters are needed so I am then fully justified in turning them on.  It's one way of coping and achieving a small measure of control.

This is still not adequate for healthy living.  The World Health Organisation recommends:
"World Health Organization's standard for warmth says 18C (64F) is suitable for healthy people who are appropriately dressed. For those with respiratory problems or allergies, they recommend a minimum of 16C (60.8C); and for the sick, disabled, very old or very young, a minimum of 20C (68F)."
Findings of the West Midlands Public Health Observatory go further:
24 degrees C - top range of comfort
21 degrees C - recommended living room temperature
Less than 20 degrees C - death risk begins
18 degrees C - recommended bedroom temperature
16 degrees C - resistance to respiratory diseases weakened
12 degrees C - more than two hours at this temperature raises blood pressure and increases heart attack and stroke risk
5 degrees C - Significant risk of hypothermia
It's Sunday today and I got up late at 9.45.  The temperature throughout the house was 3 degrees.  But the sun was shining which was nice.  

After a leisurely breakfast I took time to remove condensation from the windows, using the same wiper blade I use for slicking water off the shower walls.  There was a lot of it, and the big double-glazed (!)  windows in the living area were as watery as the others.  I cleaned a build-up of mildew from around the high spots in the bay window as well as the drip channels of these and others.  I checked the backs of the curtains for damp and found that they had become marked with mildew in places.  

These are examples of the sorts of problems that occur even in a normally fairly dry house which has become cold and therefore also somewhat damp with the onset of winter.  I air it each day but at this time of year it is not enough to prevent it - it's just too cold to dry anything much.  A range hood with an extractor fan over the stove would help reduce the level of moisture as would an extractor fan in the bathroom.  A dehumidifier would also be helpful, but as with heaters, they also take electricity to run, which is an additional cost.  

The association of dampness with disease brings home the good sense of the saying "It isn't clean until it's dry".

New Zealanders have a long history of living in cold houses, and I'm sure that many readers have had their own vivid experience of them.  Within my own family's history an uncle's boyhood bedroom was a tent.  It had a wooden floor to make it liveable!  My grandfather was a doctor, and this was quite acceptable.  On the other side of the family my father's bed is said to have been on a verandah.  No wonder he was inured to the cold!  His father was a school teacher, so those families were relatively well-off for the times.  ... In my previous flat I took the photograph at the right of ice on the inside of the bedroom window.  It was a sunny though, which provided a degree of compensation.

Be that as it may, what was considered good enough in the past has been medically proved to put our health at risk.  The government acknowledges this, hence the subsidies for the retro-fitting of insulation.  

For those who are wavering as to whether to take up the offer now or later, it may be wise to take it up as soon as possible as there is no certainty that subsidies will continue.  Like everything else they are 'subject to funding'.

One last suggestion: Landlords, listen to what your tenants are saying.  And if they are not saying anything ask them what their priorities are for the place that they live in.   
The retro-fitting of insulation is to everyone's advantage.
I send you all warm good wishes!

More useful links for further reading: 
    • Architecture Now article:

    Monday, 11 June 2012

    The Christchurch Estuary-bed rises ~ earthquake aftermath

    The Christchurch estuary is a large body of water.  It's very familiar to me as the home I grew up in overlooked it and its presence and contours were part of my life from my earliest years.  I'm familiar with its tides and moods as well as the shifting shapes of its sandbars, so the question of how it has been affected by the earthquakes has been an immediate concern.

    These two photographs show it as I remember it - ever-changing!

    The equation of earthquake disturbance is not as simple as a paddling pool, the water of which slops over the side if jolted: many creatures have their homes there, and a whole range of vegetation and tiny organisms complete the estuarine niche in which all are inter-dependent, so what affects one affects the whole habitat.  Substantial changes to the bed of the estuary and the burden of effluent dumped there have had far-reaching impacts.

    Some very interesting articles have been published and I include links to these at the foot of this article.

    Briefly, the earthquakes have caused the bed of the estuary to rise -  by an average of 14 centimetres overall, but diverse changes in level have resulted: southern parts have risen by up to half a metre whereas northern parts have dropped by as much as half a metre.  The net reduction of depth has resulted in a greatly reduced water capacity, as well as considerable loss of water coverage: the equivalent of about 50 hectares.

    Liquefaction silt has smothered large areas of the bed resulting in the death of many creatures who lived there.  Liquefaction silt is not simply mud or sand but a silt which is both heavy and hard to shift and which sets very hard when exposed to the air, as much of the estuary is at low tide.  It doesn't simply melt or wash away.  The photograph linked to here shows this dramatically:
    The other immediate effect of the earthquakes was the loss of the city's usual waste water and sewage infrastructure.  This resulted in a great mass of untreated effluent being poured directly into the city's waterways and estuary for an extended period of time as it had nowhere else to go.

    Birds also flocked to the area - not a good combination.  The water passage between the estuary and sea is fast-flowing but narrow, meaning that the exchange of estuarine and fresh seawater is limited, so build-ups of waste water take time to clear.  Given the amount of stagnant water left standing it isn't surprising that in the early part of the year, which is summertime in this part of the world, disease set in and thousands of birds died, probably of avian botulism.  The overall loss is estimated to have been about 10%, with some species more badly affected than others.  Fortunately, the resident bird population is high and expected to recover its numbers over the next few years. 

    The view from Sumner beach near Shag Rock across to New Brighton spit

    I'm particularly interested in the sandbars, and hunted through old photographs to see what I had from years gone by.  Here is a series of three taken twenty years ago.  The panorama is from above Redcliffs and extends from left to right starting with the one at the top:

    By way of comparison here are two taken from a nearby spot in March 2012.  The sandbars form an almost continuous mass right in to the edge of New Brighton, whereas the earlier photographs show a network of channels.  In one of the articles linked to below a resident remarked that the tide no longer comes in as close as it used to, which certainly looks to be the case from these images.

    Earthquakes and disasters notwithstanding, the Estuary is always interesting and often beautiful.  I took these photos in March when travelling back to town one evening.  This one was taken from the foot of Balmoral Hill, looking across McCormack's Bay towards Mt Pleasant:

    I stopped at the foot of Mt Pleasant to watch the birds flying about in clouds before roosting for the night:

    The striking image below was also taken from the foot of Mt Pleasant within minutes of the one above, which shows how swiftly the mood of the sky and water can change!  Locals will recognise the nor' west sky!

    The outlook for the recovery of the estuary is good but expected to take some years.  Those interested in reading further will find plenty to browse through in the articles linked to below.    

    Links for further information:

    A complete list of my earthquake articles can be found on the following page:

    You can find my other articles about exploring the beach and its rock pools via the link below: 

    Saturday, 9 June 2012

    An estuary walkabout ~ Kaikorai Lagoon and Island Park Reserve

    This lagoon looks like an estuary, but has a shallow outlet which may preclude 'estuary' status.  It is certainly tidal, however, and its ever-changing appearance is a delight.  I've driven past it many times and often admired the watery vista, but I hadn't stopped to explore it or even known what it was called.  One day last summer I decided to do so.  I was glad I did!  

    The estuary is just south of Waldronville, an outlying suburb of Dunedin on the main route to Brighton.  It is formed by the Kaikorai Stream where it meets the sea.  The parts closer to the sea are salty whereas the more inland portion is more of a freshwater swamp.  Both the reserve and the watery area it overlooks cover a large area. 

    The reserve is announced by an unobtrusive sign on the seaward side of the road and the turning to the parking area is a short distance beyond that.  The view above is across a swampy area just before you reach the car park.  There is another car park on the other side of the road.

    The track I took runs along the side of the estuary in the direction of the beach, which is quite some distance from the road.  The tide was well out leaving large areas of sandy ground exposed.  This is the view back to the road which runs along the far shore:

    Tyre marks showed that vehicles had been driven around there.  This sort of thing really annoys me.  Estuaries are sensitive environments and not helped by such intrusion.  Besides, for those who bother to look there is so much to see, and the peaceful expanse is wonderfully refreshing!

    In this view out towards the beach Green Island seems to float on the sea quite close to the shore.  In fact it's much further out to sea than it looks:

    The thick mat of vegetation in the image below is a salt meadow and composed of salt-resistant plants which secure the sand and form a special ecosystem for many small plants and organisms.   

    Such meadows are an important early step in securing sandy areas which eventually make it possible for other species to take root there.  As you can see below the growth is dense, low-growing and all on a small scale:

    Glasswort (The grey plant) and Sea primrose

    A bird's feather had fallen among the vegetation:

    Mimulus repens

    Here the plants expand their tiny rootlets into the loose sand:

    Sea primrose

    The clump of Mimulus repens shown below is just getting started: new shoots of this little plant reach out in all directions.  It is described by the NZ Plant Conservation Network as being 'Naturally uncommon', therefore take care not to stand on it, or on any of these plants for that matter, if you can avoid doing so.

    Mimulus repens

    Cotula coronopifolia, and tiny threads which I think may be Eelgrass (Zostera)

    Identification of these plants is the best I could arrive at from sources I was able to find.  I've placed a list of these at the foot of this article.  If any reader has better knowledge, sources or corrections I'd be glad to hear of them.

    Having admired these small plants I resumed my walk out in the sandy area but almost immediately became occupied with looking at patterns the wind had made in the sand...

    The thread-like form below is a pine needle.  The sand had dried with a certain crispness and had then been gently eroded by the wind creating the delicately sculpted shape around it:

    When I got as far as the edge of the dunes the sea was still some distance out, so I decided I'd gone far enough:

    I turned and wandered slowly back.  That's Saddle Hill in the distance:

    Close to the edge of the lagoon my attention was caught by the tannin-stained water and reflections of the sky.

    Just a few steps away patterns in the dried sand showed the precise flow of the water as it had drained away with the out-going tide.  It was so precise that it looked almost as if it was still moving!

    Gazing back across the water I watched someone flying a colourful kite:

    But they were quite some distance away!

    Back in the car park on the inland side of the road the view extends to a whole other part of the estuary.  Look at those toetoes!  They're like pampas but not so massive or inclined to take over.  Toetoe (pronounced toy-toy) is a New Zealand native.  Pampas has also been widely planted in New Zealand.  ToeToe can be distinguished by its plumy flower heads which turn over at the top, whereas those of pampas stick straight up in tufts. 

    My exploration of the area, although very partial, was very pleasant and easy, and left me with plenty more to discover on future jaunts. 

    More information can be found via the following links:
    More about the plants shown above:
    • Mimulus repens, also known as Native musk, Maori musk, Native monkey flower
    • Samolus repens, also known as Sea primrose, Shore pimpernel, and Water pimpernel, Creeping brookweed, Creeping bushweed, and in Maori, mākoako
    • Cotula coronopifolia, also known as Batchelor's buttons, Water buttons, Brass buttons, Golden buttons, and Buttonweed.  This plant is a native of southern Africa but has made itself at home in many other parts of the world, including Australia and New Zealand.
    Definition of what an estuary is:
    • Estuary - Wikipedia article.  As well as defining what an estuary is, this article describes the ecological importance of these semi-enclosed bodies of water.
    This map shows the area:
    This site describes the ecological significance of the reserve and watery mass:
    The freshwater source is:
    If you want ideas of other places to explore you might find some here:

    You can find my other articles about exploring the beach and its rock pools via the link below: 
    Other articles in which I take walks and explore the natural world can be found via the link below: