HOW I CONVERTED MY BACK LAWN TO AN EDIBLE GARDEN

I am probably going to upset some people by saying that lawns are the biggest waste of resources – money and space mainly. I wonder why we are so obsessed with having a lawn when we can use that space to grow fruits, vegetables, herbs or even cut flowers and be a little bit self-sustainable. I have always been interested in gardening right from a very young age – but didn’t have the confidence to drastically convert the back lawn to an edible garden.

During lockdown, it felt really nice harvesting some spring onions, salad greens, feijoas and mandarins from our garden. My project took seed when I wanted to take it up a notch and challenge myself to growing more. The next step was reading about permaculture, urban farming and following some pro gardeners like Charles Dowding (No dig beds) and Mark Valencia (Self Sufficient Me).

Below are the steps I followed.

Cover the area with cardboard

Measure the area you have and monitor how much sunshine your designated patch gets. Note whether it is morning or afternoon sun. Most vegetables require between 6 -8 hours sunshine. The area I wanted to convert was about 80 square metres. My garden has a micro climate of its own because of the type of vegetation I have grown over the years – it is warm, sheltered to a certain extent from wind and frost.

 Draw up plans on a piece of paper and colour in the details to see how it is going to look. Make a rough estimate of costs and budget. I wanted a mix of “no dig beds” and planter boxes. I did a drawing as this helped to conceptualize – great tool for evolution of that rough idea. Initially, my husband was going to build the planter boxes but then I found good quality ones I was happy with https://www.steelmates.co.nz/ They do come as a flat pack and requires about half an hour to assemble.

Consider how you are going to irrigate your beds. I love hand watering because it is a great time to reflect on life in general and also monitor the health of your plants. (You can think about collecting rain water in barrels). You can be vigilant to notice pests and diseases before they kill your precious plants.

I set up a compost bin so I get a regular supply of good quality compost for the beds. Compost takes three months! Last year I set up a worm farm and the worm tea /castings are a good source of organic nutrients for your plants.

No dig beds

I ended up with six planter boxes about 1.75metres by 1 metre (approximately) and then 4 large and 4 small no dig beds. I decided to prepare the entire area as if I was going to do a “no dig bed”.

Raised planter boxes

If you want to be successful with an edible garden, it means you have to be committed to caring for the soil and the general environment. You improve the soil health by putting compost and such organic materials that will help build a rich medium for plants to grow. Good soil must be free draining and also retain enough moisture and water without becoming boggy. Free draining soil also has vital microbes and fungi that help the growing medium thrive. Getting good quality soil is the biggest expense/ investment. Like the name suggests with a no dig bed, there is no digging or tilling of the soil. First you get rid of the lawn by covering it in cardboard. You can pick up cardboard at a paper recycle station or ask at your local electronics, furniture store. Remove all staples, sticky tape and labels. Mow your lawn and then cover the entire area with thick layers of cardboard.

Wet the cardboard.

I used the compost, bark mulch from Zoodoo. They “harvest” the hoof poo from the zoo and convert to this rich compost and tub mix.

After placing my planter boxes in position, I used wood chip for paths. To fill the planter boxes efficiently, I used tree trimmings (from my garden and old leaves) as base material along with wet newspapers / cardboard. Then I filled with some coarse base (sold as forest floor at Zoodoo) and topped with bark mulch, compost and tub mix. I used the same formula minus the tree trimmings for the no dig beds.

Finally used pea / barley straw as mulch. Water well and let them settle for a couple of days before planting.

I wanted to break in the beds and so planted winter growing brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, kale) for a late spring harvest and also some herbs and salad greens.

In terms of time, I estimate it took me about 150 hours in total. I did have some help from my family. I used just under 11,000 litres (11 cubic metres) of compost / soil / bark mulch combined which was about half the total spend on this project. I also used a cubic metre of wood chip for the pathways. I can say it is more or less complete and I spent about $4,000 to convert 80 square metres into an edible garden. I will keep you updated on good performers and what didn’t work so well.

I also wanted to mention that there were no sponsors – just recommended what I used because I was satisfied with the product.

HOW TO GET A GOOD NIGHTS SLEEP

On the road to a better and a healthier you

Self-Care is an important topic that most people don’t spend enough time thinking about because they feel like they don’t have enough time or it’s too indulgent or it is selfish. There is no better investment than investing in your well being.

“Love yourself first, and everything else falls in line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” — Lucille Ball

Self-care is how you take the power back. Fall in love with taking care of yourself – mind, body and soul. Make a commitment to change your habits, and bingo your life will change too.

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IN PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

What is happiness?

Happiness is that feeling that comes over you when you know life is good and you can’t help but smile. … Happiness is a sense of well-being, joy, or contentment. When people are successful, or safe, or lucky, they feel happiness.

In the 21st century, I would say it is letting go of what you think your life is supposed to look like.

By definition, happiness sounds simple and achievable, why then is happiness so elusive and a quest that consumes us? Is there a happily ever after?

“The three grand essentials of happiness are: Something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.”

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GLORIOUS HERBS AND HOW TO GROW YOUR OWN

Sage in full bloom

I use a lot of herbs in my cooking and prefer to grow my own because that way I can avoid the plastic pollution and harvest only what I need. Also herb plants when they flower attract a lot of bees in the garden but you want to encourage flowering towards end of season.

I am tired of paying $3 for a small packet of herbs preciously wrapped in plastic at the supermarket. In addition to the ones listed below I also grow chives, curry leaves and borage (mostly for the flowers – they make an excellent garnish).

Follow my tips and you will be harvesting fresh herbs all year round.

HERBS 101

1. GROUP THE HERBS

Oregano and thyme together makes sense but mint is the impostor here!

Group herbs according to their drought-tolerance level.

Mediterranean stalwarts rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano don’t need as much water as leafy herbs such as coriander, mint and basil.

Garlic chives

2. GIVE THEM SUNSHINE

Almost all herbs prefer full sun, so site your herb garden accordingly.

Just remember that coriander and parsley tolerate shade, and mint, lemon balm and chervil actually relish it.

3. CLIP REGULARLY

Even if you’re not going to use the herbs, a regular clipping will ensure a continuous supply of new leaves and help control rampant growth. Cut chives and mint right back to within 3cm of the ground.

4. CONTROL FLOWERING

Flowering herbs may be attractive and do attract bees – but if you want a continued supply of leaves, nip off the flower heads. That’s particularly important for basil, chives, mint, oregano and thyme.

There is plenty of history surrounding the culinary use of herbs. Most have some kind of medicinal benefit and I have included some of the interesting history.

Here is my pick of 8 herbs that are easy to grow and are essential to good cooking:

PARSLEY / ITALIAN PARSLEY

Italian Parsley

Parsley is native of Sardinia. Did you know that parsley is mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey?

I tend to use parsley for parsley pesto as well as gremolata. I use Italian parsley for salads too. Parsley needs plenty of feeding and regular watering to produce lush green leaves. If it gets too dry it’ll go to seed.

You can raise parsley from seed. But germination takes a long time – sometimes more than a month – and can be patchy. If you’re buying seedlings look for small plants in individual cells. This will mean the roots are disturbed as little as possible when you plant them out.

Tip: Remove the outside leaves to encourage growth from the centre.

MINT / VIETNAMESE MINT

Mint and more mint!

Mint originated in Ancient Greece. Vietnamese mint has a sharp peppery taste and is extensively used in South East Asian cuisine.

Mint grows best in moist rich soil in partial shade. Its underground runners can spread throughout the garden – so keep it contained in a plastic pot (30cm diameter) sunk into the ground. Cut the bottom off the pot first.

Over time, the stems will head for the edges and leave the centre bare. So dig up the pot every 2-3 years and replant young rooted sections of stem.

Tip: Mint is susceptible to rust (brown spots on the leaves). Trim it to 3cm above the soil to promote new rust-free growth. If this doesn’t work, get rid of the plant (not on your compost heap) and start again in another area of the garden.

SAGE

Purple leaf sage

Sage is a member of the genus Salvia, of which there are 700 members. The plant has been held in high regard as a herb – both for its culinary uses and its health giving properties. Romans grew sage wherever they travelled as they believed the herb to prolong youth!

Sage is temperamental and while it is a perennial, it can get affected by frosts so perhaps grow it in a pot, in full sun as an annual.

ROSEMARY

Rosemary

Rosemary is a herb that is rich in myth and symbolism and sacred to friendship. “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember,” says poor mad Ophelia in Hamlet.

Rosemary is good with roast potatoes and an excellent match for breads and pizzas.

Rosemary requires lots of sunshine and little water. Upright ones are better than trailing ones for cooking. Best to pick often and not let it get leggy or woody. At the end of season, prune hard.

THYME

There are many varieties of thyme, some very attractive but with little flavour. In its wild version the plant forms dense little cushions, and it is wonderful to walk on sun-crisped thyme. When we visited Bannockburn in South Otago, New Zealand, there was wild thyme growing alongside the road.

The best varieties for cooking are common thyme, lemon thyme, caraway thyme and pizza thyme. The flavour is so savoury and almost peppery.

Tip: In winter trim the bush back by about two-thirds.

OREGANO / MARJORAM

Both belong to the Origanum species, belonging to the mint family. Put simply, oregano is the wild form of marjoram.

Origanum means “joy of the mountains”. I find that fresh oregano smells very different to the dried oregano. The depth of flavour of fresh oregano depends on the amount of sunshine and water they receive.

Oregano, like rosemary and thyme, needs full sun and a soil that’s not too fertile to develop the essential oils that give the leaves their pungent flavour. It’s a spreading plant – so allow it a space about 30cm in diameter and trim it regularly to keep it bushy and encourage new growth.

The plants will grow for several years. But they need rejuvenation every 3-5 years to keep them compact and productive. Dig up the plant in spring, divide it and replant a shoot that has good rootlets.

Tip: There are several varieties of oregano – true Greek oregano has the best flavour.

BAY LEAVES

Laurus nobilis is the botanical name and I mention this because of this interesting bit of trivia…

Poets were crowned with “laurel” and hence poet laureate and in the Middle Ages, those students passing their first University exams were bacca laureatus.

Originating in the Mediterranean, the sweet bay is a dense evergreen with glossy leaves. It is an appropriate gift for those moving to a new home or starting life together.

Grow in well-drained soil with an incorporation of generous amounts of compost. They are slow growing and suited to containers.

CORIANDER

Originated in Iran and belongs to the same family as parsley and dill.

Coriander doesn’t like being transplanted and prematurely bolts to seed. Always grow coriander from seed.

I like growing coriander as microgreens. The trick is to keep moist and use regularly. They will be ready for use in 2-3 weeks.

Coriander flowers are an important food source for beneficial insects, especially little parasitic wasps and predatory flies.

So to attract many beneficial insects you want lots and lots of coriander flowers in your garden.

THINGS TO DO IN THE GARDEN IN EARLY SPRING

Pretty in pink, Primulas

In the garden world spring is a magical time. It is still quite cold but the plants got the memo that it is September and it means that they all need to come out of dormancy and burst into tender green shoots. The deciduous plants are still leafless but I can see them all busy, shooting out tiny leaves. I have often wondered how plants sense that the days are getting longer and they can come out of their slumber. This makes me more in awe of Nature.

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TO COOK OR NOT TO COOK

I’ve heard a few people say “Oh, I can’t cook” I often feel like retorting back “Well, have you tried? I get it that not everyone has the same level of interest in food preparation but to admit you cannot cook is saying that you don’t have basic survival skills! There isn’t any excuse because the procedural information is everywhere.

On the not to cook side, I accept won’t cook as a well-considered choice. There has to be a correlation between the rise of Uber Eats and the decline of kitchen spaces in new builds and apartments. If you are a single person and you work out the maths and economics, it just does not make enough sense to spend time and money shopping, storing, cooking and washing up. When I mention the initial outlay of buying pots, pans and pantry basics, then you kind of see the single person’s dilemma. But, I would still argue that food and cooking are more than transactional.

Cooking is transformative and you could say it is alchemy. You take produce and in its raw uncooked state is inedible and unpalatable. You give it a bit of heat, salt and or acid, the raw state blossoms into something edible, digestible and palatable. There is a lot of science behind cooking and the change is nothing short of remarkable. Combine cooking with the culture aspect, you have layers of art, history and geography rolled into it. This is why cooking is fascinating and food transcends everything.

Build on what you know. Cooking engages all your senses. Learn to notice and interpret the signs and signals food gives you as it goes through the cooking process. To be able to notice these changes are far more important than religiously sticking to the recipe. Use the recipe by all means but above all put your heart and love into what you are cooking and everything will be tasty.

The beauty of food is its inherent ability to bring people together. When we eat together as a family or friends or community, we share, we learn, we smile and we connect. Is there a greater joy than sharing a comforting meal with the people you love?

If I have to sum up my food philosophy here is what I’d like to follow–

Don’t fear fat – too many people consider fat the enemy

There is nothing labelled healthy and unhealthy. It just depends on you, how frequently you eat and how much of the so called good thing you eat.

Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Give the sugars in fruits a lot of thought and eat more coloured vegetables and less starchy vegetables. Use starchy vegetables as starch substitutes only.

Limit the amount of processed, packaged food you buy and consume. You will save a bundle too if you only put raw, unprocessed food in your trolley.

If you must have a sweet treat, consider dark chocolate. 72% dark is an excellent choice to stave off those sweet urges.

Move your body – exercise everyday whether it is walking or running or yoga – find your groove and stick to it.

LESSONS I WISH I LEARNED IN MY 20’S

Wake up and smell the coffee…

There is an often overlooked rule in history; far more is lost and forgotten than is preserved and remembered. The rule relates to progress. As a species we are on the information highway and know more, but are we wiser?

When I think of wisdom, I am always reminded of this quote from Brian O Driscoll “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.”

 Our attitude, spirit and tenacity can affect the outcome of any challenge that comes our way. To be proactive, you must also be self-aware to understand who you are and your purpose. Long term thinking and planning allows us to reap the rewards in the future.

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BEING MORE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY

Frigate bird chick, Galapagos Islands

We’ve all heard it over and over again about the irreversible damage caused to the planet because of our habits of over consumption. Social media or plain “green” activism is great to create a sense of awareness. It is a nice feeling to like or share a post on planet friendly causes. But this will not change anything. Our daily habits affect every part of our life. Taking time to practise habits that care for the planet, remind me of self-care too.

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HOW TO LOOK AFTER YOUR HOUSE PLANTS

Syngonium podophyllum

House plants have become a topic of conversation lately as people are reconnecting with all things nature and organic. They have always been a design feature and for me it makes my house look fresh and stylish. If you choose the right plant, they can be relatively low maintenance and the plant sings out your green fingers. I believe nurturing house plants is a win / win situation – if you have enough large house plants, they remove volatile organic compounds from an indoor environment. Indoor plants offer the joy of taking care of something and seeing it respond and connecting to the plant that way helps in our own personal growth.

10 Hardy Indoor plants

ZZ plant/ Zamioculcas

Heart leaf Philodendron vine/Philodendron hederaceum

Peace Lily / Spathiphyllum

Devil’s ivy / Pothos

Mother-in-law’s tongue or snake plant/ Sansevieria trifasciata

Mother-in-law’s tongue

Swiss cheese plant / Monstera deliciosa

Rubber tree / Ficus Elastica

Fiddle leaf fig / Ficus lyrata

Fiddle leaf Fig

Radiator Plants /Peperomia

Cactus / Cactaceae

Some such as fiddle leaf fig, Swiss cheese plant, Rubber tree and Philodendron can get very big. If you are a novice at growing, you are better to get a full sized one or if you have a bit of experience, you can get a smaller one in spring and nurture it to full size.

Now that I have my plants what next

Get yourself off to a good start by buying the right plant for your space and lifestyle.

I like to place a used kitchen sponge or kitchen cloth between the pot and the saucer. I believe this retains some of the moisture and prevents the roots drying out.

The plants mentioned above like to dry out between waterings which is why they are user friendly. They will thrive best with bright, indirect light. You can group two or three plants together and make a living sculpture.

Ponytail Palm

Tips to take care of your plants

 Make yourself a routine of inspecting the health of your plant and watering on a regular basis. Perhaps in the initial stages you can make a time on your calendar until it becomes a routine.

Do the “finger test” to avoid over watering – pop a finger in the soil. If it’s still wet, don’t water it. Over watering is a common mistake and the reason why house plants die.

When I go away on holiday, I fill my bath tub with about an inch of water and I lay old towels in the bath tub. I place all my house plants minus the saucers in the bath tub. I have left my house plants this way for up to five weeks over summer and they all survived.

NEW YORK SOUR

New York Sour

Friday night drinks have become a ritual in our household. Weeknights are busy with work, school and gym but Friday night is special as we are all relaxed and we get together around the island in the kitchen. This one was my son’s creation. Looks decadent and tastes amazing.

60ml rye whiskey

½ teaspoon triple sec or Cointreau

15ml simple syrup

30ml lemon juice

Egg white

Red wine (Shiraz/Malbec/Bordeaux

Soda water (optional)

METHOD

Put whiskey, triple sec, simple syrup, lemon juice and egg white in a shaker. Shake without ice to mix ingredients. Then shake with ice to chill and dilute. Pour into a desired glass. “Float” wine into glass by pouring over spoon. Top with soda and serve immediately. Makes one drink.