Since Christchurch there has been a hell of  lot to do around here, and that has done a heck of a lot to stop me being able to commit my scant available time to blogging.

Here’s what I’ve been up to though.

Growing MASSIVE amounts of coriander

Growing some nice lettuces. The wooden trellising is working really well to protect the softer plants from the Northerly winds. We can get gale force cross winds and not lose all our above-ground vegetables.

We’re just finishing the last of the lettuces now. Currently have some kale in, and experimenting with brassica and the trellis. Next spring, she’ll be all go.

Painted the Great Wall of Newlands (with invaluable help from Second Chef and Chef Du Plunge).

Installed 2000 litres of tank water. It’s on a low skid, so can’t be rocked to bits by a quake, and holds enough water for weeks and weeks. Am considering plumbing it into the washing machine.

The next thing is to spray-paint them black, and build a fence around them to block them from sight. They’re not pretty things.

Built the garden shed. We keep shovels and handy stuff in here, but will also get round to putting some dried food, tins of stuff and the like in there for the ‘just in case’ scenario.

It has since gained a floor and door, of course. And the neighbour has gone home.

As I say, she’s been a busy old time here in Wellington.

The title of this post could more accurately be titled, “what I did with my holidays!”

Discovering that our house here in Newlands is at times damp, we’ve put aside enough money to get some ventilation put in. The big job is getting a hood over the cooker (it has to be vented through the roof – a DIY I’m not willing to take on), but the bathroom was simple enough.

When we lived in Cuba Street we had vents continuously pushing air into the bathroom and toilet, and no extractor fans. Sometimes when the weather really packed in these vents would stop working and the bathroom would get very humid. “Odd”, I thought, “conventional wisdom says always extract”. Upon discovering that putting an extractor into the bathroom would be a BIG DEAL, I remembered Cuba Street and resolved to use a similar fix up here.

Now, Newlands is a strange place. We’re very high up, so at times what appears to be fog rolls across the property and past the house. I say ‘appears’ because it’s actually low cloud. Awesome.

When said cloud wafts across the house it also enters it, making the place slightly humid once it departs, which is best remedied by opening the windows (and if possible, doors). This usually dries the house out quite a bit, but the bathroom is a little difficult because of it’s location. So, realising that the dampness in the house is not a problem with the house itself (it isn’t humidity from groundwater for example), I thought that decent ventilation could be brought in, and while it might only push the water to another room, those rooms can be easily vented outside.

And that’s where all this stuff comes in

Bits for a postive pressure system


Things have been busy up here at Newlands Manor. Woodburners went on special and we saved a boatload getting one installed, which also meant spending WEEKS getting wood together for next season. Man… that’s some hard-out foraging.

The good news is that it’s as warm as toast up here despite this patchy “Spring” weather.

The remainder of the story is that Chef Du Plunge and I have been working hard on getting the base of the garden laid in once and for all. This means that all the beds have been laid (we got a little guy his own shovel. He LOVES ‘dig dig!!’ and getting outside to help me in the garden), all the plants are in, and all the amateur landscaping is complete, for now.

Next is just ongoing maintenance, and maybe replacing some of the generation-old trees dying along the boundary fences. But, the good news is that for the first time since we moved in here (February) I don’t feel like there is stuff that absolutely must be done. Very relaxing.

There has been some failures though. I put in Broccoli and the wind was just too much for it. I’ll have to sort out some a wind-baffling system of some sort (currently thinking perspex – it’s a long story for another day). The mandarin is not doing well – have resorted to popping up there and watering it occasionally. Might end up replacing it with something. And the bamboo in the front garden stalled over the winter, but has started to perk up again.

Otherwise, beginning with that poor mandarin (which might just end up in  a pot so it can be protected a little more), here’s a few snaps. (more…)

Last Sunday the weather was decent enough to be able to get out and attend to this specimen.
What we have here is a poor peach tree being choked by a lot of grass, and generally in a not-so-favourable spot. I’m not at all convinced I’ll be able to save it, but I do want to prepare the spot should I put something else here. A lemon tree would be pretty nice, for example.

The intention is to dig out all the grass around it, box up the surrounds, put in some compost and other material to make the soil friable, and all on a budget. Luckily, this property seems to still have quite a bit of stuff I can recycle into use in the garden.

And here’s the site. You can see a brick path I’ll eventually dig in (scored all these free from a neighbour who was giving them away!), the tree, and the retaining wall to one side. Above the plant is a grassy patch I’m eventually going to plant in shrubs to baffle the north-south winds a little. There will be edging running just in front of the lawnmower to the corner of where I’m going to put the boxing in. And, there in the front of the shot are two bricks found in the basement. They’ll form my base.

It’s actually hard to see in this shot, but I’ve dug out around the tree, but only to where it’s small feeder roots start to become apparent. I put all the soil into the wheelbarrow, and mixed it with some cheap compost I got from the Boy Scouts ($5 for 25ltrs!). I then back-filled the space around the plant, hoping that the new soil will allow the feeder roots to expand out, and the tree to establish itself properly.

The walls making up the boxing are essentially; off-cuts of some work we had done reinforcing the basement (it needed better earthquake proofing), some red bricks I found up behind the compost bins, and assorted old masonry discarded around the garden.

And there you go. It’s very much the average job, mostly because I’m not settled on this purpose for this part of the site. But if the peach really takes off then I’m firm up the brickwork and remove the bits of timber to somewhere else they’re needed. When I can rustle up som cash I’ll start mulching this as well.

Could turn out to be a good little producer. Time will tell.


Noticed stuck to the inside of the broom closet. (Probably since the 60s!)

It’s been an extremely wet few weeks here, and in an attempt to get the wee man out of his mum’s hair we popped outside to finish a job in the garden: boxing the mandarin tree. The other main project recently finished is the front garden, pictured below:

The front garden: flowers due in, 2012

Now we have some very small bamboo plants that might just make it, and this bark garden all laid out for them to grow into. Eventually the bamboo will come up enough for me to place another garden to the left of this one, complete with partial-shade loving flowering shrubs.

The citrus itself was due to be brought up to a similar state, but I wasn’t certain about the utility of using punga. This is because the slope of the site is very high, and I didn’t want to find a punga log rolling off down the lawn after a big rain. Luckily, we have been cleaning out the basement of the house. I found an old window frame that is now next to useless, and decided to use it as boxing. There is the chance that it’s painted with lead paint, and could well be treated timber… but for now it’s providing a useful border!

As you can see, I dropped it down to measure out the site, then dug out enough clay to lay it in. I’ve blocked out the front of the boxing with some more old timber to level the frame as much as possible, and turned over as much of the clay as I could. Remember – citrus hate clay. I’m doing all this to try get a crop off this tree despite the site.

Next, I got my able helper here to put in a whole lot of environmentally unfriendly peat moss (thanks for pointing that one out Andrew – no more buying that…) and some compost provided by the local scouts ($5 a bag – bargain), then turned it all into the soil. But, what I didn’t do was fill the boxing to the top. The trick here is to leave enough space for the second step.

What I figure is that I have a three years of mulching to get the top layer of soil in this boxing as humus-rich as possible. This means I need space to put in bark and other types of detritus and not have it blow away or roll down the hill.

And there it is, my helper is still adding peat moss – he’s a little stubborn like that – but the first layer of bark is in.

Eventually I might knock out the framing and replace it with something a little better, but maybe not. As it is it will be keeping some nearby trees from digging into the mulch (there will also be liberal use of shovel near fence-line…), and should be pretty useful.

Time will tell, I guess.

We have ongoing progress in the vege gardens. In particular, the ‘organic’ approach I’m taking seems to be working well – although the extremely mild weather we’ve have prior to this week seems to have helped.

The beginners garden, with accompanying crops

The first photo shows the beginners garden, and the potatoes have really taken off. They’re planted too close together, so I’m ignoring furrowing properly, and will harrow the lot come August. You can also see that the rye grass has done pretty well.

Rye grass turned under

I’ve turned the rye grass under, and have sown a lot of mustard seeds on the same patch, come August I’ll turn that under before putting garlic in this section of the garden.

And finally, the upper garden has had it’s final treatment. The fertiliser and soil conditioners have had a week or so to mellow, and I added a wheelbarrow of compost mixed the remnants of my peat moss. On top of that was added some lupin seeds, and yet more mustard seed. In August (the magical month it seems) this whole section will be turned over to potatoes.

The Upper Garden

Over the the right of the garden is a bunch of pavers someone was giving away! Win! Saved us at least $100 by grabbing these and carting them around to here. My next project for this part of the property is sinking those in.

And last but not least, coriander!

Coriander Seedlings

These little guys are destined to be the main ingredient in a curry!

A good couple of weeks. Now to see how the garden handles this cold snap.

Time will tell.

As a kid I remember visiting a some folk who lived in the country, and them having an absolutely huge mandarin tree. I’ve wanted on of my own ever since, but haven’t had the space.

So… we thought we’d put this part of the yard to good use.

The Orchard

This is the very top of the property, a relatively sheltered spot that gets a heck of a lot of sun. There is already a peach tree coming along nicely, and a feijoa that doesn’t seem to want to fruit (it’s in poor soil and is needing a heck of a lot of TLC, along with another tree to mate with). Consequently we’re calling it ‘The Orchard’.

In the distance there you can see where I’ve put the tree. It’s sheltered from the Southerly, the coldest wind, is on a sloped bit of the Orchard, and has quite dry soil. This means we’re 50-50 on the needs of this particular type of tree.

Chop-chop kitty! Gotta get this dug!

The first thing to do was to dig a very large hole. Citrus, like many fruit trees, have a number of small fibrous roots they use to draw in nutrients when they being to produce. This means that soil with heavy clay is no good. It prevents the roots from extending out, and makes it hard for the tree to draw up what it needs. They also cause the deeper roots to become waterlogged.

What I’ll eventually do is box the area around this particular tree, dig down enough to break up the clay, and fill the boxing with mulch. This matter will break down into the type of soil this plant likes, and hopefully encourage it to fruit healthily. Hence the next photo. As you can see I’ve dug a keyhole shape, with the lower portion forming a ‘drain’ of sorts for water. The intention is for water to run out of this key and downhill, preventing waterlogging of the roots (hence the sloped aspect).

What my able assistance there is doing is putting river stones into the channel. I would have also added sand, but it was too expensive to buy, and salty sand wasn’t good. These should stop the channel from clogging again, and perhaps even encourage the shallow roots to grow along. Time will tell.

And here we go!

Clementine, a good all-round mandarin tree

One plant in the ground. These photos we taken a couple of weeks ago, and the tree is still doing well. I dropped it into the hole, and filled the space with the familiar mix of the original clay, some gypsum, peat moss, and compost. I’ll eventually get around to removing those sods I’ve put on top to stop the soil washing away, box the entire plant out to about 9 square metres, turn over all the captured soil, and begin about three years of mulching… seriously.

Apparently you can’t let them fruit for three years, as it inhibits root growth.

But no one ever said gardening gave immediate results, right?

The one thing that the suburbs seem to have is an endless fount of hard work. There are Mondays when I’m actually relieved to be heading to the bus because I know I’ll not be putting blisters and/or calluses onto my hands.

So while I was out cropping the grass with a hand mower this afternoon it occured to me. While I was gathering up the grass with a rake I thought about it some more because, as we all know, raking is very relaxing and zen. And it looks a lot like Object Dart will be converted to a gardening blog.

Back when I lived in Auckland I worked for two summers as a gardener, and I grew a large and full garden at a flat I lived in. This means I got to know a little about plants and planting, and it’s something I’d like to build on. Naturally there’s been some reading going on, and I think I’m about ready to really embrace the change of pace that is the suburbs and get up onto the bandwagon that is the middle-class garden.

Besides, I just like gardening.

So! A run-down. The property is 800m2 all up, but at least half of that is house, driveway, etc. None of that half is useful for gardening, except that the house blocks out the worst of the number one problem up here at Newlands Manor, the wind. The site is very very sunny, but also very very exposed. So windbreaking is the number one priority with everything we do. It is also foggy as all get-go a fair amount of time  year-round, so that needs to be accommodated. I had thought that I’d just give up and plant a lot of subalpine grasses and hebes, but then I realised that I’m just not that much of a sook.

And that is why I spent the better part of the Easter weekend putting in a vege patch. When I wasn’t helping with Chef Du Plunge, enjoying the visiting inlaws, or cropping the lawn for clippings to put in the compost that is.

Here’s a photo.

What we have here is the site laid out. This bit of lawn used to be under a shed, so the soil is compacted and a bit awful. Worse, the ground itself is dense clay at best, and hard sandstone at worst – some of which was less than a spade’s depth from the grass.

I’ve dug two trenches, one to the north, and one to the west, and began the process of terracing this bit of lawn into a raised garden bed. This is very important because it will allow the garden itself to drain more effectively than digging trenches or laying fancy piping.

It also fits the natural shape of the site, something you’ll hear me waxing lyrical about a fair bit.

Into the trenches I’ve placed a series of macrocarpa sleepers, levelled them to very near horizontal (they were never going to be *absolutely* level…), and put a second course on top. I’ve also left small drainage holes, and filled the spaces behind them with stones found on site. It will be interesting to see how much earth I lose thru these. I’m anticipating that plant life will fill them preventing too much erosion or slumping in the garden.

The next thing was digging in to at least a spade’s depth, sometimes too, and turning over the clay. This was actually heavy and hard work.

Once that was done I chopped up the sods of earth with a sharpened shovel, added lime, and turned it again. Y0u can also see that I’ve added some warratahs to support the outside of the sleepers. This will become important later when I need to string up windbreaks.

And finally, I was able to add gypsum, a healthy amount of sheep poo, a bunch of dried peat moss, and some compost out of our supply, and hoed the whole lot under.

And that, is the “Beginner’s Garden”, the first of the gardens I will put in. All that nutrient, fertiliser and plant matter (peat) and a load of watering has gone into to start the long process of breaking down the structure of the clay. I reckon a couple of years of breaking up that mass and it should be a fairly decent garden. It gets a fair amount of winter sun (but not too much), so should be good for plants that don’t like too much direct sunlight – the upper garden (still lawn) will be better for full light plants. During the summer the site is exposed to sun all day, while sheltered from the wind by the house.

The final step was to sow the first crop. Rye grass. Lupin was too expensive and we need some plants to kick off the little ecology of this patch, so cheap grass seed it was. It should start to sprout in a week or so, and then we’ll be on our way. By then I should have finished knocking the upper terrace into shape.

There’s something about the more subtle bits of art around Wellington that I really love. Although I’ll whinge about the uglier pieces, there are a few overlooked installations that really tickle me. So, I popped out on a Winter’s day a took a few snaps of this one.

It’s called Silent People and is a cunning blend of organic and inorganic material that has always struck a cord. In particular I love the way the piles of river stones are blended into the one space, in much the same manner as humans and their environment. Or at least that is the comment I read. While we see ourselves as distinct from our surrounds, we are intimately tied in form and structure to them.

Even when that environ is something crazy like Dr Seuss trees.

As kooky as they are, Cabbage Trees are something I strongly associated with New Zealand. I remember seeing a related species in the desert in the US and being *shocked* that they grew anywhere else.

Finally, being a play on inorganic vs. non, I’ve always enjoyed the irony of the stones themselves supporting life that couldn’t exist elsewhere in the scrubbed environment of the Civic Square. Most places you’ll find that moss has been carefully removed. But here, it’s allowed to become the toupee to this particular chap, fed on pigeon crap and sheltered from strong sunlight by the trees and the library building that sits to the Northwest.

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