Lost and found

Is it just me or has anyone else found these times of “Corona” to be mentally draining? I’ve been neglecting my WordPress blog and the blogs of those I follow due to feeling so drained, lethargic, mentally exhausted. Anything that needed thinking about was pushed aside in favour of mindless pursuits such as Facebook or watching YouTube videos. Writing or even reading books was a task rather than the usual joy I experience. Add to this the unusually grey, cold, rainy and overcast weather we’ve been experiencing here in New Zealand through our first month of winter and the result is a wish to hibernate until it’s all over and springtime, sunshine and blue skies mean that normal service has once again resumed.

BUT, I’m back…..maybe not 100% back, but at least I’m reading again and have finally posted a short but hopeful post here. Sorry to all those I follow, for not actively following and commenting on your posts recently. I’m sure that there have been many good ones and I will be attempting to catch up on what I’ve missed over the last couple of months. Also apologies for those who have been following me for several months and have started to wonder if I’d fallen off the planet.

I’ll be doing a review of a trilogy of Margaret Atwood books – Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam. Thankyou Margaret for rescuing me from the brain fog I’ve been lost in for several weeks. For anyone who hasn’t read any of her books yet, you’re missing a treat. She has a very imaginative mind.

I may even review some of the mindless but oh so addictive Zombie movies I’ve been watching on YouTube. There have been many over the weeks – some good, some bad and some really terrible.

This time of year the garden gets a good tidy up and I’ve already got seedlings coming up in my seed trays in the relative warmth of my shed window. Another week or so and they will be ready to plant out, under cover of plastic tunnels, so the frost doesn’t kill them. Life goes on.

I hope that you’re all well, have avoided the dreaded virus, and are thriving – physically and mentally.

Until the next post. Thank you for reading. And to borrow a phrase from our Prime Minister “be kind to one another”.

Gardening with my father

When I was a child living in Yorkshire I owned a mug, for drinking tea, with a little picture on the front of a child with its father watering flowers in a garden, using watering cans. A big watering can for the Dad and a small one for the son. Under the picture was the phrase “Helping Daddy”. It’s funny what we remember from our childhood isn’t it? But, like the child on the front of that mug, I used to help my dad in his garden once I was big enough to be of help.

As well as our gardens at home, front and back of the house, which were always a riot of colour, full of flowers and small shrubs, dad also had a huge vegetable garden just a few minute walk away….through the edge of the woods and down a back lane….where his widowed cousin Dora lived. Dora lost her husband in WW2 and lived alone in a house with a huge garden that she couldn’t manage on her own. The garden was divided in two by a path that ran from the front door down to the front gate. The old stone house stood at the very back of the section so all the gardens were visible to the front of the house. The path was the dividing line between Dora’s flower garden – mainly roses – and dad’s veggie garden.

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My dad…shirtless by the looks of things… working in the veggie garden. See how everything grows in neat rows.

So, from being about 8 or 9 years old I was kind of “volunteered” to help dad in the veggie garden. To begin with this mainly involved tedious things such as weeding, tidying, or fetching and carrying things for dad. As I got bigger I was given heavier work such as digging trenches for manuring/composting and using the wheelbarrow to fetch leaf mold from the woods to add to our compost pile, or other such barrow duties. I wasn’t particularly keen on the tasks, but enjoyed spending time with my dad. It amazed me how much he could grow in his garden and how well he (and I) kept it. Row after straight row of vegetables – Tomatoes, Beans, Peas, Carrots, Onions, Cabbage, Turnips, Spring Onions, Cauliflower, Beetroot, Potatoes, Lettuce and best of all, in a small garden to the side of the house was a very crowded strawberry bed. This garden was sheltered by the house on one side and walls on two other sides, providing a sunny warm area for the strawberries to thrive. Oh how I remember the taste of those succulent deep red strawberries – juicy and sweet.

At the time, I didn’t really appreciate the cycle of creation in front of me in that garden. Or of the life within the soil and how we helped to keep that cycle of healthy soil, healthy food going. The preparing and manuring of the soil in readiness for the planting of the seeds, the emergence of the first shoots of the plants, their continued growth to maturity and their ultimate harvest….interspersed with lots and lots of weeding and watering. Food on our table, and food for the family, friends and neighbours.

What I also remember is Dora bringing out sweet cups of tea for dad and I to drink and take a break from our toils, along with a plate of slices of cake or iced (frosted) buns – which always seemed to be slightly stale, but not so far gone that we wouldn’t risk eating them. You know, as a child I had no idea of the age of adults. Everyone who had finished school and started work seemed ancient to me, so one day when Dora asked me how old I thought she was I took a stab at 60….Oops. She was in her mid 40’s at the time so for a while after that she refused to talk to me.

I was fascinated by the worms in the soil – my main concern was how on earth they could breath underground. But I learned how vital they were to the health of the soil, just as I learned how vital bees were (and still are) to the wellbeing of the strawberries. I would sit and watch for ages as the bees went around their business of calling on each strawberry flower before moving on to the next, pollinating as they buzzed here and there. Not that nature asked for our help, but we did what we could as we added compost and mulch to help keep the soil protected and healthy.

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The butcher’s shop. Manure by the barrowload was gathered from the yards behind the shop.

One of the worse most odious and rank tasks (literally), that dad gave me was taking a wheelbarrow up the hill to the butchers yards to collect fresh animal manure. The butcher, Clifford, slaughtered animals on the premises in a yard at the back of the shop. Animals, I guess, are like humans in respect of their reaction to their forthcoming slaughter – shit scared doesn’t even begin to describe it. Let’s just say that there was always lots of manure and straw to transport from the butcher’s yard back down the hill to the garden. A funny thing about my journey’s up and down the hill to the yard and back. On the way up the hill, with a clean wheelbarrow, I would not see anyone I knew on the streets. On the way back, wheelbarrow full of stinking shit, a liberal amount of which I always seemed to manage to get over myself, (the smell of which seemed to linger for days regardless of how much soap I used, or how raw I scrubbed my hands and arms), surrounded by flies, and I would see lots of people who knew me, including at least one pretty girl from school. The manure patrol did little to enhance my reputation with the opposite sex, but worked wonders in the garden.

I write this, some fifty years later after moving to the opposite side of the world and have now become the keen gardener that my dad once was. I am sitting on my terrace, overlooking the garden at the front of my own home. Poppies swaying in the breeze, next to one of a half dozen stands of raspberry canes. The bees from our own hive, buzzing among the plants, work their magic. The canes heavy in both flowers and fruit, some fruit still green, but others turning a pale pink on their way to succulent scarlet ripeness. Another week should do it. In the garden to my left tomato plants are thriving and already bearing small green tomatoes. I was just having a wander around the garden – gin and tonic in hand – counting up the tomato plants. Last year we had around 70. This year we’re up to 80 at current count, with more (perhaps another 50) in seed trays and plant pots to be planted out in the coming days. Everything that we don’t either eat or give away to family and neighbours will be preserved either as tomato sauce or whole, in jars, for later use.

Oh well, it’s been another hot, late spring, day here in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand – my home for the last 30 years. Time to end this post and give my plants a good watering.

As usual thank you for reading this. Any comments or questions will be responded to as soon as possible. Likes and shares most appreciated.

Back to basics. Feed and free yourself.

Just over three years ago both me and my wife were working full time. I worked 40 hours per week, and she was working 37.5 hours per week. We were not in high paying jobs, but the money was good, and payment was regular and reliable. Then in mid 2016 we both quit our jobs and fulfilled a long term dream of travelling around the UK and Europe for 6 months, on a strictly limited budget. It meant that we couldn’t do everything that tourists usually do, but there was always something either free, or reasonably priced to do where ever we went. We had a wonderful time, met lots of interesting people, saw some of the sights, experienced a lot.

Some of the people we met lived – I don’t want to use the word unusual or strange, because they weren’t, but shall we just say – lived in ways that are not these days considered to be mainstream. Some had pretty much turned their backs on modern gadgets. Others were very much into self sufficiency and making things rather than relying on the stores and supermarkets. There seemed to be a connection with nature and more sense of community, just like when it was when I was growing up in Yorkshire in the 1960’s. Back in the 60’s, I not only knew my neighbours, but also knew by name everyone in our street – men, women and children. I even knew a lot of people in other streets nearby. If anyone had a problem or a task that they needed help with, someone on the street would be there to help out.

Kids played in the street together, and in the local woods and parks – without adult supervision, without rubberised mats to fall down onto, without having to phone or text home every 10 minutes to report where they were, who they were with and what they were doing. When we went out to play our mothers would say “be home before dark”. That was the only stipulation. We were kids and loved to play, but we also had common sense and strength in numbers. If anyone was stupid enough to try to do anything illegal or immoral with one of us, the rest were there as back up. Never any problems.

Mothers used to stand at the gates of the houses and chat over a cup of tea (and in many cases, a cigarette). But of course that was then…..and now we are so much “better connected” with the internet, twitter, Facebook, Instagram, on line games, virtual reality communities and so much more to waste our time and isolate us from the real world. We can blob out on our couches and never move all day as we watch and “like” other peoples lives….see what they had for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Isn’t modern technology wonderful? Where ever we go we can have internet access. We can be contacted by smart phone…or smart watches even in some of the more remote places. Isn’t it marvelous to be at everyone’s beck and call every minute of every day? Things like peace, isolation, quiet, are a thing of the past…as is going for a brisk walk over the moors or through the woods… as we become addicted to our digital devices.

But I’m getting carried away, my apologies. What I am trying to say is, that by living with limited things and on a tight budget for 6 months, and managing to live very comfortably, we wondered what we could do when we returned home to simplify our lives, work less hours and have more time for us – to do what we enjoy. We had already decided that we didn’t want to work full time jobs any more and would only be looking for part time work when we returned home.

The answer was to dig up our useless lawns and turn them into vegetable gardens, with fruit and nut trees planted here and there. In the end we have over 20 trees and lots of small gardens covering what was our lawn. Except for the middle of winter, we are pretty much self sufficient in fruit and veg. We had increased our mortgage payments before quitting our jobs and had managed to pay it off, so that left the usual expenses to pay for things like the rest of our food bill, electricity, insurance, local council rates and taxes, internet, and all that is involved in keeping a vehicle on the road. In the end, we are getting by on only my wife working part time, while I look after the house and gardens and to help make ends meet we have rented out a spare bedroom through Airbnb. It is not occupied all that often, but the money it brings in pays for our little luxuries. We have more time….some of it is spent keeping the garden up and running, but since I enjoy doing that, it’s not really a hardship. We can take up hobbies, go out for the day, enjoy walks and bike rides, commune with nature, write a blog (this one) or nestle into a comfortable chair with a good book….and coffee (or wine). Oh yes I also make my own wine, jams and chutneys. We preserve any extra fruit, tomatoes, peppers etc to help to see us through the leaner months. And after 3 years – almost – things are working well. We’re living the good life.

Last year we planted around 70 tomato plants and we preserved lost of them and made sauces with others. We still have jars of tomatoes and bottles of sauce stacked on our storage shelves. This year, so far I have planted around 50 tomato plants, but have seed trays with another 40 or 50 that I am still waiting to grow big enough to plant out. And that’s only a start. Encouraged by what we have read by several authors who have simplified their lives even more than we have and gone completely off grid, we have decided that in the new year, 2020, we will start looking seriously into selling our home here on the edge of the city and buying a smaller house, but with more land out in the countryside. This will allow us to expand our gardens, raise chickens for eggs (and possibly for meat), maybe we’ll also have a couple of goats for milking to make cheese. We’ll also put in a wood lot for continuous firewood supplies, harvest rain water, put in solar panels to provide us with electricity for lights at night and other basics, but mostly we’ll be going “old school” with hand operated appliances, a root cellar to keep food fresh and attempt to be off grid and as free of “the system” as possible. It could also mean that my wife can cut back on her working hours even further….or completely if we can make our self sufficiency profitable.

Time will tell. Meantime we have renovations to do on our existing home to ready it for sale. I’ve just replaced the hallway ceiling, so still have to plaster and paint that. And we’ve had a couple of weeks now of very dry, hot weather (we’re coming into New Zealand’s late spring/early summer and it’s already hit 31C/88F) so I have to keep up on the watering. Our strawberries are producing well – we have around 200 plants, and our 200 or more raspberry canes have lots of flowers, buds and unripe green fruit forming. It looks like being a wonderful season for berry fruit. After they finish fruiting it will be time for the peaches to be harvested. I love summer fruit!

Please note…I have put a link below to the blog I used to write last year (that I should probably update) about gardening and self sufficiency. Lots of photos there of the garden and produce. Meantime, many thanks for reading the blog. Comments, likes and shares are most appreciated and if you have any questions please do ask.

https://livingthegoodlife23.wixsite.com/lizandmalc/single-post/2018/10/29/The-garden-is-in-bloom