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In the Garden – a learning experience


Dearest Sultana,

Until two years ago we didn’t have a permanent home and the homes we stayed in didn’t inspire a lot of gardening. And to be honest, it wasn’t something I had a lot of interest in.

When we moved into our current home, just over two years ago, suddenly a gardening light bulb went on in my head. I was drawn to gardening magazines, my new favourite hang out became the garden shop, I wanted to grow vegetables myself, to inspire my girls to eat their veggies. I pored over seed catalogues and got my hands on the most beautiful and informative garden growing books my library could offer. I was inspired.

I learned about companion plants, what organic fertilisers to use, what natural insect repellent was naturally available.

I really got down to business too. We bought some mandarin and feijoa trees and planted these. I managed to convince my husband to build me a little veggie patch. I planted my veggies in my patch (from seed) there were beans, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, chicory. I was so hopeful.

Then the leaves began to grow and I was very pleased. Then I began to notice little holes on my tender cabbage leaves. I couldn’t really see what was causing those. Must be some creepy crawlies but I couldn’t see any. Did I mention that I am terrified of creepy crawlies. Totally terrified, they really really creep me out.

A few days later I could clearly see what was causing these holes. By this stage those green caterpillars have gotten as fat and long as my index finger. I was so grossed out. Try as I did, I could not bear to touch them to remove them, not even with my gardening gloves on. I used scissors in the end. But this has really put a tarnish on all my rosy dreams of organic living.

My tomatoes were still growing OK, beans too, chillies were beginning to blossom. There was hope yet. Unfortunately it was a very wet summer that year, and the tomatoes got too much water, the beans, just as they were beginning to yield some lovely green beans started to develop some fungi on their leaves. The chilli blossoms rotted thanks to the rain. The only thing that seemed to be doing OK was the chicory. Too bitter for the caterpillars and they managed to grow before it became too wet. It was a rather disappointing start to my gardening adventure.

The following year I decided that I didn’t care too much about veggies, not if I have to share them with humongous caterpillars. I did put in some tomatoes, a bit earlier this time and when the caterpillars appeared, I managed to squash them (with gardening gloves on) and took some satisfaction in that. Unfortunately this time, it was a very dry summer… But we did get some tomatoes, though not as much as hoped. We also got some short and almost round cucumbers, so refreshing in summer. We even got some beans and snow peas, pity I only grew a plant each and there was never enough for a proper stir fry.

Crunchy green beans and snow peas

Round cucumber and yellow tomatoes

Fresh garlic

Fresh garlic

I grew lots of flowers this time, pretty annuals for my girls. They picked them and threw them into their paddle pool where they took flower baths. They took their bath in that paddle pool almost every day that hot summer and after that they’d help me water the garden with the water from their pool.

IMAG2243 geranium

Now it’s time to start planning for this summer’s planting. I think I’ll go mostly with seedlings this time and only grow my beans from seed. I’ve got some bamboo poles and I’m planning to make a wigwam structure for them and I think it’s best to start them off from seed. I have found that beans are not hard to grow, but hard to keep alive, because I’ve had fungus attack them on my two attempts.

I want to grow lots of basil. I’ll put them together with my tomatoes and hopefully that will help them both grow better. My basil is quite a small leave variety but so fragrant (Basil Vino Verde) and this way it won’t take away the sun from the tomatoes.

I’m hoping that my chillies will grow better this year. I’m going to get some seeds from Mum. She grew beautiful chillies last year. Mum grow lovely, luscious vegetables, I think the secret is in her homemade compost. In my attempt to duplicate her success, I talked myself into starting a compost bin. Not for the faint hearted, and I’m definitely faint of heart when it comes to dealing with creepy crawlies. I’ll tell you more about my ongoing composting adventure in a future post.

There will be lots more colourful flowers. The girls love these, it makes them feel like fairies playing in the garden and it’s so beautiful when setting up our Christmas lunch in the garden.

A summer arrangement

A summer arrangement

Oh I am so looking forward to summer. There is nothing as glorious as a NZ summer. Long lazy days with lots of sunshine, ice lemon tea, ice popsicles, watching the girls run around in their togs in the garden, jumping in and out of their paddle pool.


Homemade Laundry Detergent


Dearest Sultana,

I think I have mentioned before that laundry is the one house chore that I enjoy (to a certain degree). I’m not saying that I’m particularly good at it. Sometimes I miss a bit of tissue and the whole load has specks of tissue on it, often I miss some stains. I’m not overly fussed of the results, as long as they are clean and fresh at the end. A little bit of stain is not going to ruin my day.

May and I both suffer from eczema. Her eczema was really pretty bad about 2 years ago. It affected her sleeping and it was heartbreaking to see all those angry scratches on her little body. We’ve been to see the doctor of course and had allergy tests done. We’ve been to see a chinese doctor. I wasn’t sure what else to do. I myself have seen all sorts of specialists when I first had severe eczema, and none of it has really helped so in a way I had been through all of this before and the results didn’t persuade me to put May through the same thing.

So being at my wits ends, I decided to look around the internet and one thing that keeps coming up is that the chemicals in our modern lives is one of the major triggers for eczema. That’s when I decided to start looking for more natural alternatives to a lot of the chemicals that we used on a daily basis at home.

One of my favourite natural products manufacturers is Ecostore. I like that they’re affordable, as natural as possible and they smell really good. I have to admit, it’s the good smells that really sold the products to me. It’s not that strong smell you get with a lot of other products (in shampoos, soaps, detergent) but a natural smell, like a freshly squeezed lemon or grapefruit. I use all their products on my girls when they were babies, and still do (and it smells so good!). And I use their laundry detergent on my husbands dirty work clothes (he’s a sheetmetal engineer and handles grease and all that comes with it regularly, his clothes really do get filthy).

On the girls’ and my own clothes, I use my home made laundry liquid. At the time I was looking into a more natural lifestyle, I came across this book by Wendyl Nissen:

A home companion

It is full of her hilarious account into living a more sustainable life and it also had lots of great tips and recipes. One of which is the laundry liquid recipe. That recipe and many many more are all available on her website.
Here’s the recipe for her laundry detergent:

½ bar (60g) Castile, vegetable-based or Sunlight soap, grated (I use Ecostore’s soap)
1.5 litres of water
½ cup washing soda (I get this from Bin Inn)
50g or 1/4 cup borax (I get this from Bin Inn)
1 litre hot water
Place soap in a saucepan with the first quantity of water and heat on low until soap is dissolved. Stir in washing soda and borax. Stir for a few minutes until thickened and remove from heat. (If you’re using Castile or vegetable-based soap it won’t thicken straight away, but don’t worry, it will overnight in the bottles). Add 1 litre of hot water to a bucket. Add soap mixture and mix well. Fill bucket with another 5 litres of hot water and mix well. Pour into old milk bottles or other containers and set aside for 24 hours or until mixture thickens. Use ½ cup of mixture per load. It is easy to squeeze from the bottles as it is quite gluggy.
Tip: Add about 20 drops lavender oil at the end before pouring into the bottles for a nice fragrance, or try eucalyptus oil, which is great for woollens.

See, the ingredients are so few and simple and I’m telling you, it really cleans well (though not well enough for my husbands filthy work clothes). And you get about 6 litres of detergent for less than $5!!! It lasts me about half a year and I wash about twice a week. The only drawback, is that there is no fragrance to this detergent, I know it says add drops of natural oils, but I can’t smell any of it no matter how much I pour in. I don’t think of that as a drawback though. I like that there’s no overpowering smell on my laundry, it only smells of clean and sunshine.

Two years on, May still has eczema but it is mostly under control. I don’t know if it’s because we have consciously tried to limit the chemicals in our life or she’s just grown out of it. We still use steroid creams as soon as we see a hint of a flare up and that does really help a lot.

I am still using Wendyl Nissen’s liquid laundry detergent, I’m so grateful for her generosity in making the recipe available. I have to admit I can no longer stand the smell of artificial fragrance in commercial detergents.