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Quarter Acre Roots Feeding ourselves from the garden and moving to organic food in Carterton, New Zealand Tue, 14 Oct 2008 20:16:55 +0000 en Raising Garden Beds: Part 2, Topping up & Planting Tue, 14 Oct 2008 20:16:55 +0000 robin So, spring is really here and the layers we added to the raised beds have been rotting down. The two beds that the chickens scratched around in for a few months are really low in bulk so they’ll need to be finished off with some pretty good filler.

We’re trying two different approaches in each pair of beds. In the first pair, we have topped it off with bio-gro certified organic compost from Oldfields in Masterton. There was a bit of stuffing around with weigh-bridges and the cost was a little high, $40 for a medium trailer. This bed has actually been underway for a little while, and has been planted out with brassicas: cavalo nero, tender stems broccoli, golden ball turnip and our favourite purple sprouting broccoli. The bed is mulched with pea straw to keep it moist and give some frost protection.

In the other pair of beds, the ones the chickens were living in, we’ve filled them up with well-rotted mushroom compost from the parkvale mushroom factory just down the road. These guys make a business out of top-notch compost and it’s supposed to be good stuff. It’s cheaper too, $30 for a large trailer and no weighbridges or queueing, we were in and out in 2 minutes. If you don’t live in the Wairarapa, you can buy it in bags from the garden centres. Nothing is planted in these beds yet, but our friends have had great success with this stuff, it seemed very rich so I have a feeling this will be the better environment for our vegetables.

Recipes for the Egg Glut Thu, 09 Oct 2008 21:03:13 +0000 robin This is a wonderful time of year, the chickens are laying more eggs than we can eat and some of the veges are starting to be edible. These recipes are a great way to use the extra eggs and use new spring vegetables.

Individual Bread Puddings

per person:

in a bowl mix:

  • one egg,
  • a splashy tablespoon of milk,
  • a heaped tablespoon of white sugar,
  • a tablespoon of melted butter
  1. in a ramekin, stuff a torn up slice of nice bread (sourdough, vogels toast, or mackenzies white) and arrange
  2. drop about 30 sultanas over the top.
  3. pour egg mix over bread
  4. sprinkle ground nutmeg and brown sugar over the top

Bake at 180 for 20 mins or until they look puffy and delicious

It’s very rich - so eat with a teaspoon.


A 6 egg frittata will feed two hungry adults or four adults for a light lunch. Vegetarians can drop the pork and it still tastes excellent.

onion, potato, chorizo, onion, silverbeet, feta, paprika
(serve with gewurztraminer, sweet riesling or light red)
- Amazing chorizo sausage from the Common Sense Organics meat fridge is best
- Castlepoint Feta is our favourite

  • fry up half small onion chopped, 0.5cm slices of chorizo, and 1cm cubes of potato in a frying pan
  • when all browned and nice, drop sliced silverbeet on top beat some eggs lazily and pour over
  • crumble feta over the top and sprinkle paprika
  • when the bottom is cooked and the top is still raw, stick under the grill - it’s ready when it looks puffy and golden

The same technique can also work for

spring onions or leeks, potato, bacon, caraway seeds, cream cheese, parsley, salt and pepper
(wooded chardonnay)
- bacon from Stoneycreek Farm is best

potato, broadbeans, broad bean tops (if you grow/have them), feta, (allspice, nutmeg or mace)
(sauv b.)

You get the idea. You can do in many versions, the secret is matching cheese / spice / veg and always using potatoes. It naturally happens that we use seasonal vegetables from the garden, this means the tastes always seem to match.

How to grow: Garlic Tue, 15 Jul 2008 08:01:42 +0000 robin When you grow your own garlic you have not only a much more flavourful crop, but you have access to the lovely summer garlic, where the outer layers have not yet turned to paper and are still moist and succulent. The flavour of summer garlic is really worth getting into before you harvest your main crop and also one of the best reasons to grow your own.

Dried Garlic

Garlic has been one of our most successful crops, last season we had some unused space next to the driveway, in a strip just 20cm wide but about 10m long we planted two rows of garlic. The soil along there was pretty compacted from people missing the driveway and running over it for who knows how many years, so we broke it up with a fork and put in some of our compost. This year we planted it in some really nice soil the chooks prepared for us behind the new garden beds.

I’ve read quite a lot about garlic in preparation for this year’s planting, and it seems the hardcore garlic growers get quite specific about soil, water, planting date and harvest. We’ve found that garlic has been very low fuss, the strip we planted in is not only some of the driest ground in the garden, but also the wettest, with one end turning to rock and the other to mush where we get standing water even in the lightest rains. I think, as with all vegetables, it’s about the soil fertility. Good compost seems to trump other factors.


Get seed garlic from the garden centre, the stuff we grow has a reddish skin around the cloves, and is called, unimaginatively, NZ garlic. Alternatively get a head or two from a gardening friend (like us) and grow the seed for next years crop. Ours is all gone this year, but we gave away garlic to a number of friends this year, so let me know if you want some next year and we’ll try to save you some. Some people claim that supermarket garlic will grow, but you risk introducing disease from the imported stuff and it’s often chemically treated to stop it sprouting on the shelf. I wonder what that does to humans?

When to plant, there’s still time!

The traditional date to plant garlic is on the shortest day, then harvest on the longest. Again, we’ve never been too exact, last year we planted some in May and some in July, harvesting both at roughly the same time in early January. The best time to plant and to harvest is when it suits you. The best garden is one you enjoy, that you don’t feel dictates your schedule. According to ‘Growing Great Garlic’ you can plant any time from May to August, so there is still time!


The best garlic comes from the cloves on the outside of the head, the big juicy ones from your previous crop are your best bet, helping you create your own local variety suited to your garden. We actually plant all the cloves, eating the smaller heads first and saving the monsters for next year’s seed. Gently pull the outside cloves off the head, try not to damage the moist insides of the clove, plant them with their skin on, pointy end up, and about 1 or 2 cm below the surface of the soil. Keep them about 10cm apart if you have good fertile soil.


I love pea straw. Pile on a thickish layer of pea straw, the garlic will push through with no worry at all. The pea straw protects the soil from drying out, keeps the weeds down and feeds the soil as it breaks down over the 6 months the garlic is growing.


Harvesting the garlic is done about 6 months later, when you see the top leaves wither and brown. The garlic head should be lumpy from the individual cloves, leave it a little longer if this is not the case and eat the one you pulled up. Stick a trowel under the head and gently pry up the garlic, yanking it up can bruise and damage it. If you see the curly pointed flower heads (scapes) appearing at the top of your garlic, snip them off and eat them in a salad, they’re quite mild to taste and will cause your garlic heads to split if you leave them.

Garlic Scapes


Leave your garlic to dry out for about a week, we store ours up high on a piece of wire mesh under shelter but in the sunlight for however long it takes us to get around to dealing with it. This year we plaited the garlic by weaving the leaves together, Clare found it really easy and before long we had long strings of garlic hanging in the shed. The plaits should be stored in a cool, darkish, dry place, a shed is perfect. They should keep until roughly the time you start to eat next years.

Recipe - Simple Sweet Pasta Sauce from Your Garden

  • Slice 6 or more cloves of garlic
  • 4 to 6 good glugs of Olive Oil
  • Fresh Basil to serve

If you have your own:

  • two or three big meaty tomatoes, roma, beefsteak, black krim, purple cherokee, or a couple of big handfuls of brown plum or brown cherry

If you don’t:

  • A tin of good Italian canned tomatoes

Put the oil, tomatoes and garlic in a heavy pot like a Le Creuset. Break the tomatoes up with a wooden spoon and stir around. Cook uncovered for twenty to thirty minutes over a lowish heat. The tomatoes will separate from the oil and the moisture level will be quite low when it’s ready. Chuck in a handful of fresh basil and serve over any type of pasta.

instead of basil put in any combination of fresh or dried chillis, olives, capers and anchovies when you put in the garlic.

Improving Soil Sat, 05 Jul 2008 20:37:37 +0000 robin I recently read somewhere that good gardeners don’t grow plants, they grow soil. We forget that soil is a living thing, a colony of mycorrhizal fungi, worms, plant roots and microscopic life that process and produce nutrients, fight off disease and break down fallen leaves and dead roots. Organic gardeners have a big advantage, their soil is working for them, they don’t need to spend money and energy on injecting nutrients into a system that nature has perfected over millennia. There are a number of ways to improve soil, or create your own (see our raised beds series) but all of them have one thing in common, increasing organic matter to feed the soil.


We are lucky really, Clare has an apparently innate understanding of how to mix compost, allowing us to avoid a stinky sludge that is nowhere near the brown crumbly stuff that makes your vegetables grow big and juicy. Many people have published a recipe for compost that helps you get the mix right, the goal being a ratio of 20 parts carbon to one part nitrogen. Typically grass clippings are about this ratio, but if you try to use only grass clippings, you’ll end up with nasty sludge. The easiest way is to use one bucket of green (manure, kitchen waste, grass clippings) to one bucket of brown (straw, dried leaves, small sticks). We find that creating compost by adding regular layers of kitchen waste, grass clippings and straw and manure from cleaning the chicken house produces a really good mix, and fits well with our lifestyle. Not every one has this advantage of course, so a recipe may help. We use two of those bins that look like stunted daleks, we could really do with a third, but in the meantime a pile next to the bins takes heavier material like whole plants and woody stems as well as the excess grass clippings. Make sure you turn your compost regularly too, to avoid a slimy mess.

Clare and Eunice Mulching with Pea Straw


Mulching is wonderful. When we discovered mulching, gardening became something I found myself itching to do. The amount of work that is avoided by piling a layer of pea straw over our soil would easily be equal to all of the other work in the garden combined. Mulch, apart from adding a slowly decomposing organic layer, prevents water loss through evaporation, keeps weeds down and provides some frost protection to newly sprouting plants. Pea straw is ideal, and Wairarapa gardeners can get it for around $4 a bail if you know where to look. (email me for the number). Autumn leaves run over with the lawn mower also make a decent mulch, and certainly I know people in Carterton who asked the council this autumn to deliver them to their houses - for free!

Sheet Mulching

A shortcut to good soil is the sheet mulching technique. I haven’t tried it, although it’s a little like what we’ve done in the raised beds. The technique comes from Mollison’s Permaculture works and is known to be particularly successful. I wish we’d known about it before we took a rotary hoe to our lawn a few years ago. A lot of people like this method because it’s incredibly easy and can get rid of couch grass and other unwanted weeds. An online guide is available.

Sheet Mulching excerpt from In Grave Danger of Falling Food with Bill Mollison

Liquid Fertiliser

Apart from downside of a death like stench, a really fast way to add nutrients to your soil is to create liquid fertiliser. Soak comfrey, grass clippings, animal manure, seaweed or a mixture of all in a 20l bucket of water. Leave it for a couple of weeks and then pour on your soil, it can be quite strong so water it down to prevent burning your plants with too much nitrogen.

Let the plants do the work

Potatoes are known as a great first crop, as they break up compacted soil as their fat tubers grow. Legumes like beans and peas are nitrogen fixing, leaving their roots in the ground feeds the soil. Fallen leaves work as a mulch, if they are in the wrong spot, move them to where you need them.

Other nutrients

One of the things I don’t like about industrial agriculture, is the ignorance if the micronutrients. Yes, plants will grow if you give them the macronutrients, but if you want high levels of the good stuff like caretenoids, flavonoids and trace elements in your vegetables, you need non-synthetic (organic) fertiliser like I’ve mentioned above.

Soil pH can get out of balance with too much organic waste, so a sprinkling of lime can keep it in balance. We probably don’t pay enough attention to this ourselves, but if you are doing all these things I mention here, and you still have problems with unhappy plants, add some lime. You can get a soil testing kit which will let you be more scientific if you want to.

I’ve read great things about Rock Dust as well. This is meant to emulate the rock flour that is produced by glacial flows over rock. The fine dust provides minerals that are otherwise not renewed in soil. I haven’t tried this either, but intend to give it a go this year, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Good Practice

The act of good gardening also helps to create great soil, here are a few tips on keeping the soil alive.

  • avoid herbicides and pesticides which kill soil organisms
  • rotate crops between beds
  • compost garden waste instead of taking it to the tip
  • mulch with pea straw
  • plant nitrogen fixing crops like beans
  • always cut plants off at the top of the roots and leave in the soil when harvesting
  • try not to dig your soil to leave the structure intact
  • get chickens (its not that hard, really)
Raised Beds - June Update Tue, 01 Jul 2008 18:49:44 +0000 robin On the weekend we created a new chicken run, using steel waratahs (Y stakes) and some wire netting. It only takes an hour or so to setup this way and can be reconfigured at any time to give the girls a new bit of ground.

This time we decided to include two of the raised beds in the chicken run, an easy way to add their very high in nitrogen fertiliser as another green layer before we finish filling them. It also has the added benefit of giving the chickens some more vertical space to play in. It might sound funny, but the chickens look really happy jumping up and down over the edges of the beds and sitting on the pile of gravel excavated from below the beds, particularly our star-layer Pearl the Light Sussex. By the way, did I mention we now have three eggs a day? Happy chickens don’t stop laying in winter it seems.

A full raised bed article will update our progress soon.

Winter Frosts Fri, 20 Jun 2008 20:38:55 +0000 robin A Cold Start
This morning we had another -4 degree C frost. Under the light of the full moon it was a beautiful sight, reminding me that while it might stop me from growing year round tomatoes, bananas and other fruits which prefer a more tropical clime, that there is an advantage to a crisp sunny winter morning. Gardening has brought me closer to nature because of the sensation of creating a living thing, but the sight of crystalline patterns on vegetable leaves reminds me that nature displays beauty even in non-living things.


After the first frost we spend less time worrying about insect pests on our plants, especially the green caterpillar that is my enemy. Some fruits need a cold winter, like the apricot which needs a cold winter to fruit, and brussel sprouts which love the frost. I’ve also read that frost can help to break up soil through the action of the expanding water as it freezes.

Avoiding the Frost
The best way to protect against frost is to plant in frost free areas, all gardens have microclimates, areas which stay slightly warmer and stay frost free, often these are next to the house, under a tree or a wall that stores heat. Sometimes you might be lucky and a complex set of factors give you an area that gets full winter sun and is less prone to frost. That’s where you plant your vegetables! If you can’t avoid the frost, use a cloche or a bit of frost cloth. Last year we protected some plants using some discarded bubble wrap, draped over some stakes which seemed very effective. Eventually we plan to build a greenhouse, heated in part by the chickens.

Frost Hardy Vegetables

Plants who survive: Plants who suffer:
  • Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Cabbage
  • Brocolli
  • Beetroots
  • Silverbeet
  • Broad Beans
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Turnips (a most underrated vegetable)
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Eggplant
  • Cucumber
  • Sweetcorn

Photos by Clare, click to see larger

Growing Vegetables From Seed and Saving Seeds Wed, 18 Jun 2008 07:47:30 +0000 robin Nature’s Plans

For me, the simple beauty in a tiny brassica or lettuce seed is that they have wonderful complexity sleeping away in a tight little package. They lie in wait for the right conditions of soil moisture and warmth to unfold themselves into a simple pair of leaves in a few days. Each time I water them, they release a little detail of their full potential, remembered from their parent plant with all the good and bad characteristics that go with it.

Chokos or Chayotes sprouting

We recently received two Chokos (Chayote) from a colleague, one of them has already sprouted inside the fruit, apparently the seed needs the fruit to establish its own ideal conditions. These amazing creatures seem like landing craft for introducing their sprawling vegetation from another planet. Their fertile form screams to me their nature of speedy growth and huge harvest. In return for these wonderful creatures I gave my colleague two of our best heads of garlic from last season, ready to be planted on the solstice so they can spread their successful genes across the country.

Symbiosis Between You and Your Garden

Saving, sharing and growing from seed is a great way to express your humanity as a part of your ecosystem as well as redevelop a connection to nature. Saving seed from your garden is becoming increasingly important, Agribusiness control seed through aggressive purchasing and genetic modification, killing biodiversity to protect their profits. In the US, Burpees, a large seed company, reports that they have doubled their sales in the past year and are out of stock of some species. We are saving seed from a few of our plants this year, the chioggia beetroot, buttercrunch lettuce, silver beet, and our favourite tomatoes. This will ensure we still have access to our favourites as well as improving on the previous generation to create a local heirloom we can pass on to other Wairarapa gardeners.

When to Start

Winter is such a slow time in the garden in Carterton, we have regular frosts which slow the growth down in all but the most stalwart vegetables. The leaves have fallen from all the trees that lose them, and the chickens look annoyed at the weather (although Sausage and Pearl still give us two eggs a day). But looking through our seed packets, the online catalogues and picking the best plants from which to save seed is a form of gardening that can be done inside or through a window, with a warm fire, a pot of tea and a block of chocolate. Imagining and planning the garden and the flavours we’ll taste later in the year, knowing that this year we’ll be planting from our own seed collections.

Saving Seed

  • Plants that have gone to seed attract beneficial insects to combat pests
  • Self seeded vegetables seem to taste even sweeter than those you planted
  • Pick your two best plants and leave them to go to seed
  • Store your harvested seed in a cool dry place
  • Pass the seed on to your friends, give your favourite food a genetic advantage
  • Try planting seed from a particularly tasty piece of fruit you bought, it may not grow or be true to type, but what do you have to lose?

Contact us if you want to share in our seeds.

How to grow: Purple Sprouting Broccoli Fri, 13 Jun 2008 10:10:54 +0000 robin Sci-fi Vegetable
I think purple sprouting cauliflower would be a better name for these vegetables, they are not that similar to supermarket broccoli at all. In the twilight, the iridescent purple heads look like something from another planet, I think next year I’ll inter plant them amongst other things to add some colour to the garden and to help control pests. The central head is eaten first, and if you leave some of the florets sticking out the side, they will continue to grow and you should get a second harvest. They have a lovely sweet and delicate taste.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli Close Up

Making Life Hard
The real challenge was the white butterfly that lays its eggs on the leaves of brassicas produces hundreds of green caterpillars that devour the leaves and hide inside the bit you eat. Since we learned about the amount of insect life in a healthy garden, eating the odd bug seems almost enjoyable, but I prefer to keep it down to a minimum. There are a few ways we tried to beat these guys, first I spent ages picking the tiny yellow eggs off the leaves a couple of times a week, I slackened off for a week and came back to some pretty holy leaves. I caved in and hit them with derris dust, which is ground up roots, or rotenone, technically organic but still a bit nasty, this did the trick but I really don’t want to use pesticides if I can avoid it. Once the frosts hit, these pests disappear pretty quickly.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli Patch

Chickens to the Rescue
I was reading a Jackie French book about companion planting, she mentioned that the white butterfly recognises brassicas by their silhouette and being territorial, will only land if there is no other white butterfly already on the plant. She mentioned placing eggshells under the plants as decoys. I was skeptical at first so I experimented - there is no doubt, the butterfly are scared of the egg shells. Some still land but a much more manageable amount. Inter planting can also help to disguise the brassica so I think I’ll try that next year.

Egg Shell Decoys

How to grow them

  • Sow seeds (we use Kings) inside in winter or outside in spring then transplant
  • Plant them in good fertile ground with pea straw mulch
  • Inter plant with other tall plants like celery
  • Egg shells under leaves as decoy butterflies
  • Inspect leaves and squish butterfly eggs and caterpillars as they appear
  • If you really must, use derris dust or pyrethrin spray
  • Harvest from autumn through winter

How to eat them

Raising Garden Beds: Part 1, Positioning and Filling Wed, 04 Jun 2008 00:29:11 +0000 robin Last year we tore up a part of our ornamental garden, laid down pea straw and compost and created a large vege patch as part of our main garden. We ate well over summer, lettuce and tomatoes every night, as well as silver beet, mizuna, beetroot and pak choi, from this garden and a patch of recovered driveway. Other veges we tried to grow around fruit trees failed and we soon realised that a set of raised beds would be needed to produce enough food to allow us to grow all our veges.

Iris guarding the leaves

Macrocarpa Beds

Kiwi Backyards in Waipukurau has 2.7m x 1.2m macrocarpa raised beds which are ideal for our purpose, Macrocarpa is very hardy and doesn’t need to be treated to stop it from rotting away next to soil. The beds are reasonably expensive at almost $200 each, but when I factor in the time I don’t have to make them myself it seems like a pretty good deal, especially when they are delivered to the backyard. We bought three and had one round the side of the house, which we’ll be moving.

Laying them out

We decided to position the beds in a row of four, with enough space to let the wheelbarrow fit between them. The row is along the back fence where the chickens live, the final plan will involve some contraption to fence the chickens into individual beds to give them some variety, fertilise the bed with their nitrogen rich poo and clear out the scraps at the end of a season.

Laying out garden beds

The hardest work is actually here, preparing the ground means paving areas which aren’t already concreted driveway. A couple of years ago a builder gave us a pile of bricks which he had after pulling down an old lime-mortared chimney. The bricks add a bit of red in the garden which we like the look of and make for free paving.

The spot near the back fence also catches full sun in summer and is just far away enough from the house to get plenty of winter sun too. Positioning the beds for sunlight means a better harvest and being closer to the kitchen makes for an easy reminder of what to cook.

Filling them up

A bit of searching on the web and reading some books has taught us that we need to layer our beds with brown and green, or carbon and nitrogen materials. Autumn is a great time to do this at our place as our weeping elm drops loads of leaves for a good first layer of brown. Green can be manure, lucerne hay, or grass clippings. We don’t have any lucerne, but Precious and Buster the miniature horses from round the corner were happy to donate some of their hard work. It’s amazing how much poo a little horse can make.

Precious and Buster's Bounty

Brown Materials (Carbon Rich)

  • Leaves
  • Straw
  • Paper

Green Materials (Nitrogen Rich)

  • Horse Manure
  • Grass Clippings
  • Comfrey leaves
  • Lucerne
  • Worm Castings

After placing down the first brown layer of leaves (and raking up some leaves from the parents house round the corner) and sprinkling the horse poo, we mowed the lawn to bulk out the green layer with some grass clippings. Next, a layer of our home made compost, some comfrey and another layer of leaves.

Filled bed with comfrey on top

The first two beds are now almost there we’ll need to finish it off with a top layer of good soil, but first we need to wait for Buster and Precious to do their thing before we can empty the trailer of the rest of the leaves and fill up the last two.