Moon Gardening is damn annoying…

I was walking around the garden a few weeks ago and thought the veg garden has probably not looked this good in a while. Is that due to planting with the moon or just good luck? The morning light was soft and lovely, so thought I’d take a few pics and fill you guys in on something I never get sick of talking about. The garden is always different. Every year, every month, every day. There is always something different to excite me. I had decided to stick to the moon gardening guide but it is damn annoying and I have to be firm on myself, on the other hand, plants are doing well and relatively pest or disease free, so maybe its the way to go.

 

Raising seedlings is probably the most annoying part. I pop them in at the right time and they are up and healthy in a few days. Then I have to wait THREE weeks sometimes, before its the right time to plant out or on. If I miss that timing for any reason, its ages before the next time and the seedlings are all leggy and hungry. Part of me thinks to just plant any old time but I am trying to stick to the calendar, so need to do some more research on that.

Compost is easy, free and incredible, and the mainstay of a healthy garden. Damen made me these compost frames when he started university. I’m guessing that was about 1998 so they are now about twenty years old. Gilbert set up the jig after I described what I wanted, and they have been one of the best things in my garden. While I can make compost anywhere with these, I have only ever had them here. I put them here so accessed between the main front garden, the hen house, orchard and the veg garden. Perfect.
1Compost turned

COMPOST BIN-Interlocking boards mean I can make compost anywhere

The boards work between the three bins. So looking at it now, I have just turned the middle bin into the third bin. This is about six months old and completely decomposed from weeds and paper, hedge trimmings and kitchen waste, into a rich humus ready to go onto the garden. The first bin was then turned into the middle bin. This is about three months old and most of it was broken down but still some more decomposing to be done. I am now clearing areas and busily filling the first bin. The boards will be getting higher and higher on the first bin as I build that up, pinching boards from the middle bin as it decomposes.
2Wormery

THE WORMERY- Set up in an old bath it has been running for about twenty years

This is the wormery and was set up in an old bath about twenty years ago too. Gilbert has popped it up on legs at the front to fit into the slope of the land so it will drain into a bucket below. I layered in scoria on the bottom, so the plug hole wouldn’t block. Then a layer of peat, so as to replicate the warm base worms would be used to. We tip in food scraps along the length and re cover. They eat almost anything, but we are careful to not put in too much citrus, onion and garlic outer leaves, because I think that’s hard for them to process.

I also don’t put in cooked food, bread or meat scraps of any sort, as that will attract dogs and rats. I use card board also as a top to exclude light but still lets rainfall soak through. They eat this also, then an old piece of carpet on top. Once a year in spring I gather up as many worms as I can, after feeding them at one end only for a week and then empty the nutrient dense vermicast onto the garden beds. Then placing the worms back in, they are ready for another year. The worm tea drains out of the plug hole into a bowl and about once a month I use a 10% to water ratio to fertilise. Real simple.

I usually use the worm tea as its available, rather than stock piling, after reading its only viable for short periods. Studies have been done and while they don’t fully understand how it works, it definitely keeps plants disease resistant and I have found this in my garden. I don’t need a scientific paper to tell me it works, but nice to know it wasn’t in my imagination.  The big drum next to that is what I place stinky seaweed, comfrey leaves or similar to rot down over six to eight weeks, then strain off as a fertiliser for the garden, and next to that is my potting table. This was rescued from a work shop and I love its sturdiness.
3Glass house and coriander

GLASS HOUSE & CORIANDER BED

The bed under the crab apple tree is the coriander bed. It used to be the kids sandpit incidentally, so about thirty years old also.  We had coriander almost all year round, constantly reseeding…until Simone thought she would help me by weeding it out and thinking all the coriander looked like weeds, cleared the space for me. Gee thanks Simone.   After going to seed this summer I hung the spent plants upside down in the crab apple tree and let the seeds drop. Already after the last rains the new seedlings are just starting. Maybe I can get back to that constant supply. I know some people hate coriander, but I love it!
4seedlings

SEEDLINGS and plants waiting for the right time to plant dammit!

The little glass house came from Mum, via Lindy. Gilbert cut me perspex sheets as the glass was broken and glass is ridiculously expensive to get cut to size. Inside the glasshouse you will see new edible flowers that I’m getting ready to plant and some new seedlings. My biggest struggle is to co-ordinate seed raising with the moon planting and having a constant supply. It would be a lot easier to just buy seedlings regularly but I’m trying to seed raise my own now to save money. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

5Birdbath LHS

LEFT HAND SIDE OF THE BIRDBATH

This is the view from the left of the birdbath. Strawberries are on the right in a stainless steel tub that came from work and they are covered with old bread baskets I rescued from the back of a supermarket years ago when we used to deliver milk. These work perfectly and I wish I could find more. They have big enough mesh so that the plants have heaps of light and rain, but small enough to not let the birds in. You’ll see an old bath been turned into a seat under the crab apple tree and two more old baths at the back that are also filled with strawberries. That’s 60 plants divided between 9 people and its about perfect with almost a punnet a day coming in. Excellent value and the bath is the perfect height for the children grazing.

The other day I heard a dainty little sing song voice and stood up to see Kahu breakfasting on strawberries and peas. She didn’t know I was watching and it was so beautiful to just stop and enjoy her humming as she dined. She must have sensed me watching and turned. I smiled and she turned back unperturbed after laughing at my comment I thought she didn’t ‘do’ breakfast.

On the left hand side of the pic is a bed of garlic, red onion and at either end sweet 100 tomatoes. Once the garlic and onions are up I can let the sweet 100’s trail along that space, and plant beetroot in the middle.
6Birdbath RHS

RIGHT HAND SIDE OF THE BIRDBATH

I made the shape for the herbs from old concrete fence posts from the farm in Puni where I grew up. I got those from the back of the tractor shed along with two wagon wheels from Mum before she moved out, so maybe thirty years ago. In there is lots of parsley, oregano and chives.

Behind you see broad beans finishing from winter. Never been my favourite bean but so easy to grow at a time when not much else is happening and I love the flowers in salads. This year we discovered a dip by processing the beans, garlic, olive oil and feta cheese. While the beans are a bit of a job to shell, boil and then remove from the skins, the dip is delicious. Climbing that same mesh is a cucumber and some sweet 100s self seeded in there from last year.

 

Left hand side of the pic you will see the kumara up the fence line and Yaccon. Yaccon is a south American tuber so grows like a potato. You can scrub the skin or peel and the kids prefer it raw. Its a cross between a pear and a kumara I would say. You can eat straight from the ground or grate into salads, or roast where the natural sugars caramelize and how I like it best. On the right hand side you’ll see our beef steak tomatoes. Big meaty slices mean just one slice per sandwich. Perfect for a big family.7Beans
 CLOSE UP OF THE OTHER BEANS- Kentucky Pole
9Righthand side

The right hand bed has silverbeet. It was constantly annihilated and I couldn’t figure out what was eating everything with no sign of caterpillars. I covered it with mesh and everything recovered, so pretty sure its birds. Damn devils. Left hand bed has Bok choi and sugar snap peas.  Sugar snap are the best value ever. The children love to eat raw straight from the vine and although I love them in a stir fry or raw in a salad, I rarely get them inside. Next bed back is Kale and broccoli.

8Courgettes and lettuce

Behind that is Zuchinni, cucumber going u the mesh and lettuces hidden by the borage in there. Borage has a faint cucumber taste if you eat the flowers and it attracts hundreds of bumble bees. Alysumm is there too. You can eat the flowers but I read to plant them amongst your greens and the white butterfly, which is territorial, will think the patch is already taken. I’ve watched them hover over and fly on, so like to think its working.

 

In the middle of the beds are tyre piles planted with Riwai, Maori potatoes from Ricki. Not sure about the tyre system, but because I read all the time you should move to new spots each season, it makes sense to me to lift the tyres off, harvest the spuds and drop the soil into the hen run fence line for beans and start fresh with new tyres and new soil. After this harvest I will drill holes in the sides as the tyres hold water in the dip and I fear we have a mosquito breeding ground.
11Tomatoes strung
Here I tried something but was really pushed for time. Instead of clearing the three foot high weeds, I simply pushed them down. Layered wet newspaper on top and made a hole pushing some compost in and planting Six Grosse Lisse tomatoes in the back, basil and eggplants in the front. What happened is the plants are pretty much suspended over a pile of rotting weeds and I quickly realised it was never going to give enough nutrition to the growing plants. I opened the space up later and filled each hole with compost and seemed to have saved the tomato plants but will repot the eggplants and pop into the glass house and see if I can extend their growing season and get some fruit at least. If nothing else I learn’t to do it properly the first time!
10Tomatoes staked
Another six tomatoes are in this bed, ‘Beef steak’ along with a comfrey plant that turned into a comfrey patch. I was told you will never ever be able to move comfrey and I must admit when I planted it there, I was pretty sure if I wanted to move it, I would be able to. I decided people hadn’t tried hard enough to move it and anything was possible.
When I wanted to move it a few years later, I dug to Africa and couldn’t get over how deep the roots were. They also broke up easily and I damn near sieved the soil, but still didn’t get rid of it all. So now I have a comfrey patch, instead of a comfrey plant. If I had left it alone, it would have just been happy in the corner there. Not too worried as I harvest for the chooks, for the compost and to make a fertiliser tea. Just heed the warning. You will never, ever move it once you have planted it. Never.
Nasturtiums ramble through here and they are friends with tomatoes too. Red cabbage and tomatoes however are not friends according to my companion planting book and at the end where I had some cabbages finishing from winter I popped two tomatoes. A bit of an experiment to see what would happen and I can say the two tomatoes who were planted there, were half the size of the tomatoes further down the bed, so can confirm they literally hate each other…but as soon as I pulled out the cabbages, the tomatoes took off and ended up the same size.
I’ve learn’t a lot this summer. The garden looks amazing and we are starting to reap the benefits. Part two on progress another day…
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I had a dream…

I had a dream. . .We had gone out for dinner and to our surprise, a show was about to start.

We sat waiting expectantly with no idea what was about to happen. Suddenly a woman came out and we were told she was going to sing, but strangely she was then strung up like a trapeze artist. We waited as the music started. She swung out and the ropes took her to just in front of us.

So close, I could see her hair was all done up in a bun and even what she was wearing. We wait but nothing more than a strangulated high pitched garble comes from her mouth. The music stops and starts again and she tries again, but seems frozen with fear. The dream ends.

Dreams

I am interested in dreams and their meanings and evidently my Nana was too as I found this book in amongst her bits. However the meanings in here are bordering on ridiculous. If I dream about needles for example, its likely there will be arguments over property. If I dream about red lips, the future is favourable, but if I dream about thin lips, then there is sorrow on its way, and if I dream about a fire…it doesn’t mean anything!

I was thinking about this dream the next morning while I was brushing my teeth, so vivid, I felt like I had been there. I was wondering about its meaning, when I remembered someone talking about ‘performance anxiety’.

I have been working on something that was about to be published. It is another blog that is from my diaries detailing trips to China. The first, in 1998 just several days and the second in 1999, with our five children for several months. The diaries, written 20 years ago to the day, detail our time in the Chinese village my Father-in-law came from. We have no language, there is no power, no plumbing.  In my diary writings I share excitement, fear, being humbled and being angry. It was an experience of a lifetime for our family.

Diaries

I had already typed up the diaries, wrote and rewrote the pre-amble, anguished over the ‘About Me’, and thought hard about every word. The first post was about to go live…was my mind having ‘Performance Anxiety’?

Here’s the link if you are interested, and here’s hoping its not just a strangulated high pitched garble!

It is an open blog, so feel free to add anyone in who might be interested.

Our trip started with Josie buying ten tickets to China! It was in February 1998, exactly twenty years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting in the lounge looking out the window…and so my diary begins….

My China diaries. Back to Nanlingcun

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Makes no sense to me

I open my eyes suddenly after having dozed back off once in the spa. I feel less than energetic and my ‘sleep ins’ are not helping, but rather seem to be making me more tired. 


Its an hour after dawn and the rising sun spotlights the line of gums while I sit in welcome shadow. The Jacaranda tree is resplendent in its summer dress of mauve flowers and I have stirred because of the buzzing, as it is thick with bees. I watch lazily as the fat bumbles disappear right into the flower trumpets, and slip out again. The sun shimmers off their lacy wings as they turn to the next flower. Too busy to care about me and my lazy ways.  

I can’t much be bothered with fancy yoga moves this morning. Every quiet moment I find my mind drifting back to the events of the last few weeks. Its been a roller coaster of emotions as we bid farewell to a family member. I try not to think about it, but like an itch I am trying not to scratch, it keeps reminding me its there. Slipping into my consciousness while I’m quietly weeding or thinning the lettuce.  

I have come full circle, and no doubt I will do a few more rounds as I try to make sense of the loss. We are left with nothing but assumptions and questions. Questions we will never know the real answers to. Just the view through our tinted lenses. We are filled with a sense of disbelief, and yet it is too true. 

Some days I shake my head at his stubborn stupidity and wonder how it got to those cross roads. How he could have thought it was the best way to go. Some days I feel real anger at the empty promises he grasped at, and those that extended a hand when he was most vulnerable. Some days I am just sad that his mind played tricks on him and for those he left behind as they try to make sense of it. Sometimes I even think it is his choice and who am I to question that choice. Only this thought gives me peace. 

Christmas comes. New Year goes quietly as night slips into day and work looms ahead of me. The seasons will soon pass and life will go on. Summer will be hot and I will wish for rain. Autumn will be glorious as I plant new trees and prepare for rest. Winter will be filled with wind blowing ripples over puddles, quiet projects, reading and planning. Spring will be hectic as the kitchen garden jostles for attention once more. Every year is different, and every year is the same.  

I have already drawn up a calendar. It hangs above my desk with my hopes and dreams for 2018.

Tara explained ‘passion planning’ to Lauren and I. The things that excite and rejuvenate. I have scribbled pictures with changes to the garden. I have mind maps with ordered lists and dated them. I have cupboards to clear to make life less cumbersome. I have stories to tell, a twenty year old diary to transcribe, photos to sort and much more. It looks like I have enough planned for three years, and suddenly I’m excited by it. I will once again greet each day ready to fill it with the things that make me happy. I will stuff each corner with fulfillment, relaxation and joy. I will welcome good friends, good wine, good food, and be thankful my life is full and with purpose.


The children’s voices and laughter will fill the silences when they happen. We will still talk of him and shake our heads. We will share our thoughts often, because we love talking and yet we will watch each other more closely for the unspoken words. Of course we will try and keep that door firmly closed. But most of all, we will be alright.  

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That moment in time…

Inevitable as it is and many times more expected the older we get, it still takes us by surprise doesn’t it. Even as Mum prepared us in the years before by telling us, if we saw she was losing her mind we were to ‘hit her on the head with a hammer’, we laughed. Even as we saw her struggles in the last few years and we knew her time was close, we just couldn’t imagine it….and even though we knew it was to be, and we wanted it for her… we selfishly didn’t want it for us.


Their passing, one moment in time, takes us back over our years together. Our childhood, our teenage years and our new parenthood. When we understood for the very first time what it was like to be a Mother or Father. OUR Mother or Father, and here at this point, it is that we stop seeing them as Mum or Dad, but as an adult. An adult with dreams and schemes and coping with marriage, families and finance, good health or bad, whatever life threw at them. Hopefully at this point we judge them less harsh as we appreciate that they coped with life’s challenges in the best way they knew how, just as we must.    

I couldn’t have imagined the gaping great hole Mum left and yet am so thankful that we had her for so long, into our own grandparent hood. That she was a strong figure in our children’s lives. That she was such a positive and fun loving person and we got to share that as adults. That she kept pretty well for most of that time and that she got to choose her time to go, with dignity, which was one of her biggest fears.

November, the anniversary of Mum’s passing, is such a lovely time in the garden and so much of what I see here as I wander, is because of Mum. I see the cuttings, that were nothing more than three dried up sticks, now flourishing hydrangea bushes. The fushia tree that ‘pops’ up everywhere, she gave me as the birds love it. The brick paving she surprised me with one day as she planted it in Mondo grass.  The rhubarb came from her. Hang, even things she didn’t plant she took credit for. “Look Tricia, the carpet roses I gave you are doing so well!” Ummm I bought those. 

And what about the cordyline terminalis that I have almost dug to China to get to the bottom of I can’t get rid of it. “Can I plant this anywhere Mum?” I asked. “Yes, by the pond would be lovely”, she said. When later it was threatening to engulf the pond she swore she never said that! Or the white climbing Rose that shreds me at pruning time with its huge thorns, that I thought I sliced through at ground level and somehow the thing keeps growing. She delighted in every aspect of the garden and whenever we visited we had to do a garden tour, no matter how busy we were, or uninterested. No matter where I walk here, there is a piece of her in every part. I marvel too at how much I learn’t from her and what a great gift that knowledge and joy of gardening is. She celebrated every success, no matter how small. 

Perhaps death makes us realise our own vulnerability. After Dad’s passing when I was just 19, I used to avoid funerals like the plague as I became so distraught. Not necessarily over the person who had died, but my own loss previous. It was embarrassing to be sobbing uncontrollably when I may not even have met the person who had passed. Perhaps I just have a well tuned empathy response. I make an effort now I am older and wiser and know how comforting those words are, to be surrounded and to feel a sharing of the loss. I am still an embarrassing cry baby however.

In the last year people who are special to me have lost their parents, and I feel so sad for them, that over the next few months they will go to make a phone call and then remember they are no longer there. They will pick up something they were given and remember the giving, but hardest of all they will feel the finality of that life.  They will feel that gaping hole. Hopefully soon they will also feel a special warmth that comes with those memories and the time they had. 

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Waxing and Waning

I have decided to follow the moon calendar for real. I tried this before, but my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t like being told when to do things. Plant this week but not the next. What if I didn’t have plants to plant this week, but I do next week? Weed when the moon is aligned. What if it rains all week and I don’t feel like weeding? Maybe I feeling like seed raising then…It was all too much bother with its waxing and waning business that made no sense to me. Until someone gave me a 2017 garden diary that contained a lunar garden guide. Half the year had passed but the first week of the month was for planting I noted. Maybe I’ll give this a go. It seemed a bit easier all being mapped out for me. So I gathered the slips of things I wanted to plant. Bought some potted seedlings to get a head start, readied the seed raising trays with paper and mix. Tidied the plastic house bench. I did everything to prepare for the week of planting. I did everything, but plant.


I was so excited the week it started and happily wrote in the diary each night what I planted and noted when the seeds first popped up. The seedlings went into the beds. Peas straw tucked around their legs to keep them warm and to buffer the coming rains. If I saw some weeds I let them be and carried on with cuttings and transplanting. Suddenly the week was over and now I was supposed to be weeding.  

I looked around and began to weed. You would never run out of spaces needing weeding here, but what was magic was that the weeds slipped from the earth as if through butter. I couldn’t believe the ease of pulling long dock roots, black ink plants taller than me and huge hemlock. All with forked tongues, no longer holding on to the earth. I doubled my work rate and weeded madly around edges and hedgerows, under shrubs and old bath tubs. It was incredible. “Of course it is, Anne at work said. The roots have let go as the plant sap rises”. How come I didn’t know this before? This is a revelation.


The problem with a garden ten times, or more the size of the average family garden, is the work load. A constant feeling that if I don’t keep at it, it will all grow to Africa, and then where will I be. Up shit creek is where, I can tell you. Everyone wants to make light of work and this definitely made a difference. I kept working. 


I had a pile of pongas I had edged the chicken run with, that the damn hens were scratching away at underneath. I lugged them out again. That was a stupid idea I thought to myself as I stacked them up. Then I took the broken concrete out of the citrus grove that was supposed to reflect the warm sun up and make the citrus feel like they were in sunny Servile. Another stupid idea I had. Now I used them to edge the hen run to stop the hens escaping under the fence. Try scratching that out I told them. 

Now is the time to rest, the diary informs me. Put your feet up and rest. OoooKay. I get out pencil and paper and make lists. I look at my pile of pongas and think a walkway will be cool. It could curve tantalizingly towards the centre of my small planted bush, leading the children straight to the middle and a native Puka tree with low, low branches that are easy to climb.

Then I walked around and around my citrus grove. Four trees had died after rabbits had chewed their roots and it was a nightmare to keep the whole area mulched, when suddenly a picture unfolded in my mind as I remembered a property on the Waiheke sculpture trail. I will reorganise my citrus grove and its nearly the right time to plant out that hedge I wanted to help create a Mediterranean micro climate so my citrus WILL think they are relaxing in sunny Spain, not wallowing in a swamp, with a clay pan preventing their feet from drying out.


I perused the books on hedge ideas and spotted a bay hedge. Wow! I have a whole bucket of Laurus Nobilis Mum started. I nipped outside to check if they were still alive and there they were thriving in an old bucket. Good on ya Mum I whispered as I counted out eighteen, foot high Bay Tree plants. I grabbed a piece of paper and soon had a plan. A pathway will curve around the citrus trees and I will fill the centre with Lavenders, Rosemary, Thyme, Camomile, Santolina and edge the pathway with Lemon Balm and Peppermint which will be a mown track. If the peppermint strays too far into the path it will simply be mown. I might even slip in some marigolds and other annuals. Each tree will have a mulched circle at its base so fruit won’t be lost. OMG I’m so excited about this. I search though my odd bits and pieces I have been propagating and find I have got almost everything I need. 

I plant the new citrus trees and ring each tree with chicken wire. I check day after day after day, and so far no rabbit damage. Gilbert’s knocked a few of them off and Adrian next door tells me I’m not to worry if I hear him shooting. He’s catching them sitting in circles in broad daylight on his lawn, as if they’re having a meeting. “I’ll never point it at your place he assures me”. I’m hoping between them the rabbits will decide to move on.


It’s like all the pests have moved to our place. There’s a group working hard locally to make our area pest free and I can’t help but feel we are letting the side down badly. On the other hand while not everyone liked my rat story, I did get some positive comments. Better to be doing something than nothing, that’s for sure!

Now back to the moon. What’s she doing this week. . .

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Don’t judge me…

So, I’m hanging out the washing and have a distinct feeling I’m being watched. I glance around and it turns out a bloody great rat is sitting there watching me in the morning sunshine. I stare back at him and can’t quite believe my eyes, but it is. He’s just nonchalantly sitting in the sun and even my movement as I lift to hang the next thing doesn’t seem to faze him. I get out my phone and think I’ll take a pic but he dives off. Obviously camera shy.

I had talked to Andrew about our rat problem and his desire we make our little village pest free. Andrew lives way on the other side of our village. About 10 km away and is surrounded by native bush. Sounds unrealisitic but I’m not arguing. He thinks if we all keep setting traps and be vigilant, we can do it. We discuss rats habits and make a plan to set more traps, to not leave food lying around in the hen runs and management of compost bins and wormery. Jeepers as I run through what’s available I realise we’re like a flippin supermarket for rats. At the end of summer I popped the pumpkins on the fence and when I went to get one to make soup, I turned it over as it was so light, to find they had gnawed a hole and eaten all the middle out. It was hollow for Gods sake!


My beautiful pumpkin, completely empty.


Then today I decided with the ground still too wet to do much, I would turn the compost and the ready one could be popped on the new beds as soon as it dried out a bit. I have three bins. Third bin was empty so I began to turn the second bin into it. Standing in there I was busy shoveling when two rats dived out and ran around and around my boots. I smashed one over the head with the shovel and the other rat had hit the back wall of the compost bin and bounced back onto my boot and jumped up, about to run again, when I forced the shovel down onto his middle. Number two down. I stood there breathing heavily and screamed a mighty scream as the adrenalin needed to escape. I imagined all the cortisol running around my body and was amazed at how quickly I had reacted. I can barely catch or kick a ball.

My compost bins. One, Two and Three for three stages of composting. Interlocking boards made by Damen for me close to twenty years ago mean I can change the bins for each stage. 



A shiver ran through my whole body as I stepped out and just stood there staring at them. Almost full grown but still with the soft downy fuzz of a young one. Was two the whole family or were more about to spring out. I debated going back up to the house, but for what? I gingerly poked around the outside and now on alert, every shovelful had a pause. It’s one thing to instinctively kill a couple of rats, but to be deliberately contemplating killing was another thing altogether.
Of course I couldn’t just let then go them free. That would be ridiculous and as long as it was a quick death? I imagined Andrew telling me what terrible pests they were to ease my conscious. I remembered that man I talked to at work one day with Buddhist beliefs telling me that every living thing had the same rights to live. He marveled over the fragile wings of a bird and its strength and tenacity. I smiled thinking of those two having a discussion about it. Then I remembered my eaten out pumpkins. My corn stripped on the standing stalks and with each shovelful I imagined one, two or three jumping out at me and wondered if I could once again get more than one. By now I was determined none would get away if I could help it.


They were eating my chokos right off the vine dammit!

I was fully pumped when it happened and number three turned out to be the last. A quick smack and it was over. I disassembled the nest and marveled how she had gathered pea straw and shredded paper and made a cosy place to have her babies. Then I wondered where hell was she? Did she watch me from afar. Another shiver ran down my spine. I called out to the cat but shook my head thinking poor old Jebus who was now almost toothless and very probably deaf or just ignorant never came when we called him. You just happened to see him from time to time and he wouldn’t be much help. As I work, I’m thinking its time to get a new cat.

Almost lunchtime, I headed up and took off my gloves as I picked up an old choko that I had dropped on the path. Heaving it towards the first compost bin, I watched as it sailed through the air to see if it would go in. To my shock it hit a massive rat who must have been sitting on the top. It jumped with a squeal, its thick tail arcing in the air as it spun around and jumped out of the bin diving to the ground. I stood there, stock still taking in what had just happened when it shot past me on the path and into where my old pots are precariously stacked. Eyes wide and once again after the ‘event’, another blood curdling strangulated scream left my throat. Heart still pumping I took my boots off and headed upstairs.

There was commotion around the table as everyone was setting the table and preparing for lunch. Still breathing heavily I asked who heard me scream because no one, had come to see if I was alright. Twice! “I would have come if I heard you”, four year old Tai assured me. “I’m sure you would have Tai”, I said as I sat down. Exhaling I realised when I turn that bin I might just have some surprises in store for me. Arrggghhhhh!


My fresh compost teeming with worms who do all the work for me. 

After lunch, out I go and staying outside of the bin this time I’m swing shovelfuls over and soon forget about my rat problem. Switching to a fork I’m digging up wonderful great worm laden twisted piles of sweet smelling compost. That’s the thing about compost. If its made well it will smell sweet and be black and rich and amazing. And as I marveled over this I suddenly heard some squealing and lifting my fork was horrified to see four baby rats pierced onto the tines of the fork. I’m not sure if this was good luck or bad but quickly dispatching these into a nearby bucket I reluctantly plunged it in again and this time came up with another four. It was hard not to retch at the violence of it but at the same time, it was amazing and plunging in again and opening the nest right up I eventually got eleven. I was somewhere between elated and disgusted with myself, but just for about 30 seconds. I had a ton of work to do and just had to keep moving.

At afternoon tea Gilbert’s eyes were wide in disbelief and he promised to be better at trap setting and checking. He didn’t actually say, but I think he was proud of me. I saved us from more than a dozen adult rats, about to hit the ground running. Murder aside. I did good! We shared a chocolate bar with our coffee as we both contemplated our next jobs.  

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Every night before bed, I put my lipstick on. 

I got the call that Annie seemed to be in labour, and while it was stop-start, everything looked like it wouldn’t be long. My bag had been packed to dash at a moments notice, and the time had come. Who knows when is the right time. Annie had said, “you just have to be there…you just have to be”. “I will be on the next plane” I told her. It had seemed impossible that I would make this birth as the midwife said it would likely be fast, given once she went into established labour with the last one, it was only about 3 hours before delivery. So I had sent them a note, just in case I didn’t make it.

OK guys…I wrote… I’m going to do my best, but in case I don’t get there, here’s my thoughts on birthing. Trust your body. No one knows how long each stage will take but be sure the body knows exactly what it is doing and we are simply facilitating this process. Amy had said for her second birth she felt stronger and more confident and remembered thinking. “Bring, it, on!” She was ready physically and emotionally. I laughed when she told me and remembered thinking that for Tara’s birth too.


Women often get into a ‘Zone’ for birthing at the end. Brain waves slow down. Outside pressures, noise, activities fade away and only the birth is on her mind. The birth hormone Oxytocin is released when all the factors are right for birthing. With each contraction we release more oxytocin which increases the contractions. Then we release beta endorphins which are feel good and work as natures pain killers. Birth is not always painful. It can be powerful, as well as empowering.
You can do this too Annie, you were amazing at the last birth and you will be at this one also. See you soon. 



As if a test of her endurance, Annie didn’t deliver as soon as I arrived, nor did she for day after day after day, despite some lengthy and strong contractions. The body moves into labour proper when its ready, and so we waited.   
Would you have like to have been a midwife?” Chee asks me after I arrive. “A Midwife?, Hell no”, I laugh. I have been privileged to be included in ten of our twelve moko’s births and I absolutely love the role of doula, or mentor to our whanau’s births, but no, not a midwife. 

I was very happy in the days before the birth as I dug the garden over, spread compost, began making a compost bin, trimmed the lawns edges, pruned the grapes with Chee and went for long leisurely lunches. We went to the Sunday Markets and I bought every possible plant I could pop in the newly turned soil. Covered their spindly legs with pea straw and hoped a frost wouldn’t take them. 

“I’ll take the girls for a walk and let you both have some time”, I offered one day. Boots and jackets on, snacks packed we headed off. “We’ll be away for at least an hour, I called back, so don’t worry.” “Where are we going?” Three year old Aneeka asked. ‘We’re going on an adventure, I smiled. Lets see where we end up!” Two year old Piper looked up at me and grinned. We headed down to the Red Zone. I’d remembered going there with Chee and the girls last time. You end up at the riverside and its just beautiful this time of year. We came first to a man with nets out at a little estuary off the river. 

“Hello, I smiled when he looked up at us. What are you hoping to catch?” Unsure exactly what kind of net he had out. “Whitebait, he called back happily. I’ve seen two go by, but caught none so far”. “Do you usually have good luck here?” I inquired. “No, he laughed. I’ve had this net eight years and never caught anything, but then this is only the second time I’ve had it out. The first time was last week”, he continued looking at my probably shocked face when I thought he’d been whitebaiting for eight years and never caught anything. “I’ve just retired and its better to be out than sitting indoors”. I had to agree but there was no time to sit around watching. The girls, quickly bored with our conversation had started off to cross the bridge so I ran to catch up. We watched the ducks first who raced up, just in case we had food, which were soon followed by huge black swans looking at us like ‘we better have food’! I edged closer to Piper, who seeing them about to head in, went back to the water’s edge to rescue her pile of stones, and as soon as they got close I grabbed her up before yelling ‘Get away!’ and got ready to run myself. Shoot they look like they mean business.       

The Red Zone is where the houses were severely damaged during the Feb 11 earthquake. The land no longer considered safe to build on, the people have left, the houses have been demolished, the paths and fences removed, leaving acres of park like grounds with random fruit trees and the remains of established gardens. A rather eerie feeling as we pass along the riverside. What was a thriving community, is now an just an echo of families.  


We pretended we were on an adventure, stopping for our snack to sit on logs and I told stories as people ran past with dogs, and still more set up nets at the rivers edge. Guys drove slowly by asking the whitebaiters how they were doing and we listened to them call back, ‘no luck today’.   

We’d been away about an hour when Piper looked up at me and said, “I want my Mummy.” “OK, I merrily answered, lets go!” We headed off, me sure if I turned right we would soon end back up where we started. We walked and walked and walked. I was sure I needed to hear the local school on my left but I was hearing it on my right. Trying to get my bearings we played eye spy and I told crazy stories trying to distract the children as best I could, but ‘the shit hit the fan’ when Aneeka fell over. “Can you carry me, Aneeka wailed, dropping her body, my legs won’t go anymore”. “Meee toooo”, Piper chimed following her sisters lead. “Hmmm, I can’t actually carry you both but how about you have turns?” As Aneeka had dropped her lip good and proper I suggested to Piper I carry Aneeka first. “OK”, Piper immediately agreed, seeing reason easily. 

I felt that once we rounded the next corner if I couldn’t figure out where we were, I’d have to phone. It was cooler now and neither of the girls would take much more of these shananigins. At one point Aneeka looked up at me a little disgruntled and asked. “Nanny, are you sure you know the way home?” “Oh yes I do. It’s just a little way up here.” No point in all three of us being worried, while I kicked myself for not taking a pushchair. For the next bit I took turns carrying each girl but before we got to the corner, Muzz, Annie’s friend pulled up and nipping across the road headed down towards us. I can’t tell you how happy this made me. “We’re having an adventure, I explained, but actually…can you take us home?” “Of course, Muzz laughed. I wondered when I saw you put one down and pick the other up, if you were OK.” I didn’t know if she could fit us in, but at this point I would have climbed onto the back of a ute and didn’t give a toss about seat belts. We crossed the road and looked on in amazement as she rearranged her seats and belts and we were soon all strapped in safely and delivered home. I couldn’t believe how far we were still from home and doubt the girls will be so keen to go on an adventure with me again. 


Over the evenings I edited my China diary and explored the art of knitting again, fired up by a visit to Spotlight with Evon. We discussed the birth, using aromatherapy, distraction, massage, positive visualisations. We discussed what Annie wanted. A water birth was the first requisite. That was not negotiable. Good strong back massage. Ice blocks and barley sugar to suck on. They were good, she remembered. Everything was ready to go. Chee settled the two little ones each night and we caught up on ‘Game of Thrones’ to pass the time, until Friday night after dinner, we were on. Annie joked about it all stopping again, but we called Evon anyway who collected the two little ones. Not really wanting to leave their Mother at midnight, until dark chocolate was pressed into their chubby hands with promises of a movie. Annie and I fell into a rhythm of breathing and massage and Chee checked the set up. 

With the pool not yet full enough, he guided Annie to the bathroom and looking back at me with a terrified look, quietly conveyed we had run out of hot water. I threw on all elements, filled every pot I could find, as well as one on the fire and calculated whether this might do it. When Annie came back Chee broke the news to her that we might not have enough for a water birth and I really felt for him. “You know what Annie, I spoke strong and confidently. I reckon we just might have enough and this baby’s coming anyway, ready or not.” 

The midwife arrived and testing the water with her hand she tossed the temperature gauge to one side saying, “looking at that wouldn’t be helpful”. She told Annie to get in when she felt ready, while Chee and I added pot after pot to the side with a quick swirl before refilling. It was 2.45am when Jody arrived and 3.17 when baby eased through the birth canal and into the water, gently scooped up and handed into Annie’s arms, whose body was supported by Chee. A truly beautiful way to enter the world.    

How ragged is the body after a birth! I remember that complete and utter exhaustion as Chee and I took turns to stay at Annie’s side to help. We all settled into the lounge. Kept the fire going with warming teas, toast, and bowls of yummy stews as required. On the third night Chee said “You look buggered Mum. You go to bed and I’ll take tonight”. No complaints from me as I showered and readied for bed, but hearing baby in full voice thought I’d check they could settle her before I slipped between the sheets. Chee looked me a bit funny as I reminded them how to wrap her, hold firm so she feels secure with a regular pat on the bum. She was asleep in a couple of minutes. “You look nice Mum” Chee complimented me as I tucked her down. “Pardon”, I answered. I was in jamas with face cream. Was he being sarcastic? “You look nice he repeated, with your lipstick on”. “What lipstick? I said, as I thought back to having smeared Chapstick on before coming out. It’s Chapstick, my lips were dry.” “Ahhh no, he laughed. Take a look in the mirror. I think you’ll find its lipstick”. Pretty funny as I looked in the mirror looking a little like a crazy woman with my grey hair all over the place and Merlot lips. Turns out I had bought Merlot tinted Chapstick, ‘hydration plus’. With no mirror to guide me I had roughly applied what indeed looked like lipstick, which from then on gave us a nightly chuckle. 


Baby is a little gem, doing all the right things with her two big sisters keeping an eye on her progress. New additions to a family are such a momentous occasion made even more special when shared with love around a family. Our twelfth grandchild in almost ten years.  I headed home knowing they were coping well and that I would be back for another week in less than a months time, as we had pre booked a trip down.  

I am always amazed at how different each birth is, and yet how much the same they are. Three gorgeous girls for them, three years and under, each one already with their own distinct personality. This will be one heck of a roller coaster at times! They will have their hands full for a while, though fully supported by their village, I have no doubt they are up to the task. 

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