My Happy Places

Recording and sharing successes, joys and the dilemmas of growing my own veggies and eating healthy……………..

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A post mortum of summer before winter sets in

Yesterday was the first day of day light saving in New Zealand. After the long never-ending summer this year, it is a bit sad to lose daylight hours but it has been a little difficult getting up in the mornings lately.

My garden was a bit neglected lately along with the blog but we’ve eaten a bit off it. The three green chillie plants have supplied us with a steady supply of green chillies; we haven’t bought any green beans this summer as I’ve had a massive harvest of it. The lettuces were doing extremely well in Spring and mid summer but towards the end of summer, it was so hot that any replenishments I planted just wilted off in minutes so I didnt bother replacing them. All the herbs have done very well and the tomatoes and cherry tomatoes were OK. However, I will not plant them in pots hereafter but find space on the ground as they do so much better than in pots.

The bitter gourd or Karawila (in Sinhala – Karela in Hindi) wine which is climbing the wooden wall has started giving me at least 3-4 ripe fruits a week. As I am not much of a fan of this bitter fruits, I give them away but I love to see them growing and plant them every year. I might freeze some to use in winter as they are very good to control blood sugar and are also an expensive vegetable.

The use of grow bags for potatoes, sweet potatoes (what we call Kumara in New Zealand), KangKun (Ongchoi) and strawberries was fine and we have eaten Kangkun at least every week or fortnight as the growth has been great. I havent yet harvested the Kumara but the healthy growth of the plants and my sneak peeks of the tubers promise a good harvest too. I’ve eaten strawberries with my cereal often and I will continue to grow them in their cheery little red grow bag.

I replaced the green beans in a grow bag with spinach, a few weeks ago, keeping the principles of crop rotation. I used the same soil but topped up with a bit more potting mix and worked in a handful of blood and bone fertiliser and the spinach is growing well.

In previous years, I dont plant anything in winter but let the veggie plot go wild but this year, I decided that I’ll try a bit of winter planting.

I planted a packet of seeds to grow Kale which is one of the new super foods and it looks pretty. They took about a week to germinate and I need to replant them when they are a bit bigger. Meanwhile, I bought a punnet of ornamental Kale and planted them. Since I have a covered porch, I might have a few greens in pots in this area and planting a curly-leaved pot of Kale is in the horizon.

My banana chillie and green chillie plants are still in fruit so I will leave them and so is the parsley and Itallian parsley. I must dry them or freeze them as there is only so much I can use. I completely forgot about my box of pretty mesculun which has now gone to seed but I’ll collect the seeds for next year.

The ladies fingers (Okra) and Dambala (Winged Bean) grew well in grow bags but I didn’t get much of a harvest as I only had 2 plants each. We ate Winged bean curry once and I am leaving the rest to seed along with the 3 pods of Okra. The long bean (Yard long bean) which is now climbing the wall have a few beans which should be sufficient for one meal soon. They were all grown experimentally first time around for me to learn whether or not I can grow them.

I didnt get any photos for this entry but will do that soon.

In winter, I’ll try to update the Blog more with cooking and craft entries rather than gardening.


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Summer growth and produce

In my part of the world, December is summer and Auckland had  beautiful December weather. We have barbecues on the beach for Christmas which is a bit different and I do admit that I sometimes miss a white Christmas from my days in colder climes. However, I dont complain at all for not having severe winters in Auckland in my adanced age.

While I enjoyed the sunshine, summer visitors and had parties and accumulated excess baggage round my middle, my little garden has grown. A few days of not being in the garden and I found that I’ve got a massive crop of green beans and the spinach is looking like palm trees.

So over the last week, I did a bit of taking stock, cleaning up and as I anticipate at least another 3-4 months of use out of the garden, I wanted to plan the continuation of the garden.

My three green chillie plants have started flowering and I coaxed them with some fertiliser as the price of green chillies has skyrocketed due to the cyclones in Fiji apparently. I thought it was highway robbery to pay $32 per kilo for green chillies. I managed to pluck a few green chillies this week and there are heaps of white flowers in bloom.

My three tomato plants and the two hanging cherry tomato baskets are useful as I have been picking tomatoes as I wanted them for salads. The other day, I brought a salad to work with my own lettuce leaves, own tomatoes, basil leaves from a pot with a few olives and some cucumber which tasted beautiful. Hopefully I can pick a couple of cucumbers or gherkins soon.

The mistakenly planted courgettes plant was covered in a white fungus so I had to remove all the affected leaves. Hopefully, the cucumber plant hasnt picked up the fungus.  I might have to remove the courgette bush if I cant control it by spraying a mix of dishsoap and caustic soda – a tip given by a fellow gardner. I dont apply chemicals although I dont mind applying fertilisers once in a way if I have to.

My two grow bags of Kankun (Ong Choi) have been growing beautifully and I have had chicken with kankun stir fry once and a Sri Lankan fried Kankun with chillie flakes once. It is still growing for another harvest next week.

I cleaned up the wooden box where I grew spinach and added more potting mix and planted some mesculun salad leaves. I also replaced some of the lettuce with new plants as lettuce will keep on growing right until the onset of winter. In winter, I might grow winter varieties of it in pots but I am not much of a winter gardner and I leave my veggie plot to rest in our winter from June – August.

This year, I might continue a winter vegetable garden but for next year, I want to completely revamp the garden by having raised beds if I can.

I’ve revived the enthusiasm I had when I started the garden by trying to spend at least 15 minutes in the garden after work and first thing in the morning. Now I am in the habit of going into the veggie garden as soon as I get home and pick up something for dinner and then water/weed or tidy up.

Simple pleasures such as finding 5 ears of corn, flowers in the green chillie plant and pretty yellow flowers all over the bitter gourd climbing on the plastic mesh on the garden wall can reduce the stress accumulated over during the day in my day job.

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Summer is here and harvesting begins

First day of summer in our part of the world DownUnder………..

I spent a good part of my weekend gardening although only Saturday had good weather. Sunday was windy and clouded but the rain didn’t fall till late in the day, so I was still able to put in a good four hours of work.

I mostly worked on the back garden which I have tried to recreate from a shady jungle into a shady retreat with a pond and water feature, ferns and green plants and a hammock. I decided that I need some colour and flowers so cajoled the husband into creating a bed to plant a flower border. He found a previous owner had created a brick edging which we used as a border to secure a wooden garden edging and filled it to the brim with compost and potting mix and raked it all in. Then I planted a few flowers mainly in white, creams and yellows. I also sneaked in a rosemary plant and planted a white clematis to be trained to climb the wooden wall.

On the Sunday, I cleaned up the veggie garden. The beans are now about the size of my little finger and my spinach was overgrown. I picked up a large shopping bag full of spinach and since I didn’t feel like eating it all, I decided to freeze it to use later. I washed it first in salt water to remove any bugs; drained well in a salad spinner and then chopped coarsely and immersed in boiling water for about 3 minutes. Then I drained it and plunged into ice water and drained again and packed the spinach into  ziplock bags, labelled and voila! I had three bags of spinach which is my first harvest in the freezer for this year.

I use spinach to make Palak Paneer, a delicious Indian dish that uses Paneer or curd cheese. I also love to make   little spinach and feta pastries which has become one of my signature dishes for work morning teas. Salmon and spinach pies are another lunchtime staple I make in a pie maker or muffin tins and spinach is also great in quiches, individual and large ones too.

During  my Sunday market trip, I found a few winged bean plants which I have been trying to grow for years. I am not a major fan of wing bean or Dambala (in Sinhalese) but its an exotic vegetable which I have only seen for sale in the Avondale market in summer. I bought the 4 remaining plants and planted them in a grow bag. I barely have any room in the veggie plot but managed to squeeze in three more grow bags I found for sale at The Warehouse for under $10. One of them has an okra plant, the other a few plants of water cress/Kankun or Ong Choi and the other the treasured wing bean plants.

The tomato plants now have baby tomatoes peeking among the leaves and I’ve been trimming out excess leaves to enable the fruit to grow. I also pinch out some of the buds leaving the healthier flowers to grow into larger fruits, a trick I learned years ago. The cherry tomato baskets are looking good. I planted a courgette plant which I bought by mistake thinking it was a cucumber plant and its grown to be huge and is sprouting lovely yellow flowers and a baby courgette. I’ve never grown it before but I will although it’s not a plant for a small garden as it does have healthy growth. The cucumber, bitter gourd vines are now growing slowly as the weather is finally summer.

Well, more on the weekend which I am looking forward to.

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Enjoying my urban garden

I really do love my garden now and have now developed a routine to look after it.If I neglect it for two or three days, I find that a lot of damage can happen. I had a few evening meetings last week and I didn’t get home till after dark and didn’t get to do much. On Friday, I found that there were heaps of weeds that have grown in three days and the plants didn’t look too great.

I find that if I spend about 10 minutes in the morning, picking up snails and maybe sprinkling a bit of water if it is too dry and a good 15 minutes after work before I start making dinner, that is enough to keep up the garden in great shape. I do spend a couple of hours on the weekend doing maintenance work.

This weekend, I only managed about 2 hours of work on Sunday as I was busy the rest of the time.  I did a bit of weeding, loosened soil around the bigger plants and removed dead plants and leaves. The cherry tomato hanging baskets are looking great with tiny tomatoes the size of a thumbnail. I pierced two milk bottle tops using an electric drill and cut the bottom off two milk bottles and stuck them top down on the baskets to keep up a continuous stream of water as the baskets get dried out quickly.  One of the baskets has a normal cherry tomato plant while the other has Cascade which is definitely the variety to use in hanging baskets from the way they look. I tried to train the other plant down by trying up with garden wire.


The cherry tomato baskets on the wall


I am now harvesting about 5-6 strawberries a time which is not much but just enough for breakfast or a smoothie with some other fruit. I use most of my herbs now in cooking. Mint is growing well and so are chives for egg sandwiches, oregano for pasta, dill for salmon and heaps of coriander for Indian dishes. I also have an abundance of spinach so might have to blanch and freeze soon.

Last year, I planted tomatoes and chillies in a small bed above which the garden tap is placed. Every time I used the hose, I would break a few tomatoes off as the hose would hit them. This area had grass before and still has couch grass and other weeds that come up which usually overtakes any vegetable plants I planted.  This year, I planted mixed parsley under the tap with one tomato plant in a corner which seems to have worked. The parley grows as a ground cover and is not tall enough to be broken by the hose and it has thrived under the tap. I still need to get rid of the couch grass by pulling it out manually.

A mix of Italian and curly leaf parsley grows in the tiny area under the garden tap.


My few corn plants are about a foot high and the silver beet is thriving.  


Runner beans in flower with a few tiny pods

 The runner beans are flowering and I can see tiny beans appearing. I tied them up to train them to stay within the bean structure. I also removed the excess leaves from tomato plants so that I get more fruits and less leaves.  The only plants that I am not happy with are the Asian vegetables like bitter gourd and okra which are growing too slowly. The chilli plants are also still small so I sprinkled some fertiliser around them although my veggie bed seemed full of fertiliser from the healthy growth of other plants.


Green chillies beginning to flower

Made a mental note to plant another six-pack of lettuce as the second batch of lettuces are maturing beautifully. The trick of planting 6  lettuce plants every 3-4 weeks in between old lettuces works. Once the old plants are pulled out, the younger plants get more room to grow and I get a continuous supply of lettuce through the summer. When I started gardening, I planted two punnets of lettuces which all matured together and went to seed. This year, I decided that such waste can be eliminated if I plant smarter. I also try to get mixed lettuces so that we don’t end up eating the same variety over summer.

Lettuces old and young

I bought a gherkin plant at Bunnings and thought I’d grow it in a pot. This is the first time I am growing gherkins  so lets see how it grows.

Gherkin plant in a pot

I planted two cucumber plants which I want to train to climb the plastic mesh I stapled along my wooden wall. These two survived the snail army and hopefully will keep me in salads throughout the summer. 

Bitter gourd or Karawila/Karela plants

 I love growing Bitter gourd or Karawila in Sinhalese (Karela in Hindi) not because I love the bitter fruit because its furrowed fruits are pretty and they are very expensive fetching as much as $30 a kilo so I like to gift it to friends who love it. It’s very good for diabetics as it reduces blood sugar levels. Karawila fruits can be blended into a horrible tasting bitter drink which when drunk immediately reduces blood sugar levels. The cooked fruits are eaten for its medicinal purposes but I love it sliced, deep-fried and made into a sambal with onions. I havent been able to germinate Bitter gourd in Auckland but I buy it from a Thai woman who sells a variety of exotic plants in the market. More on Karawila later when the plants grow bigger. They are not an easy to grow plant.

Spinach growing in a recycled Christmas hamper box

My spinach has taken over the neighbourhood!!! Its lush growth, even in the wooden box is amazing. I need to freeze it as I am not in a mood to eat it all this week and I am on a pre-Christmas speed diet. There is only so much spinach one can eat in a family of three with one total carnivore who doesn’t eat vegetables unless hidden in his meat loaf or disguised in his spaghetti sauce (even at the advanced age of 25) so will need to freeze the surplus.

My friend Angela visited me on the weekend and she loved the garden and was going to copy some of my ideas like the cherry tomato hanging baskets and planting lettuces along the ledge of the vegetable bed. She called it a beautiful urban garden.
I’ve uploaded some photos finally. Happy gardening and talk to you next weekend.

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Tender loving care of my little garden

One of my gardening goals this year is to spend at least a few minutes each day in the garden. From experience, I know that once you neglect it for a few days, the garden shows the neglect and it’s not a good feeling.  These days, I tend to pop into the garden early in the morning for even five minutes and pick up any stray snails and drown them pulling up a few weeds as I go. I also try to spend another ten minutes after work before I go to the gym or start cooking dinner to water plants and to attend to quick tasks that needs done like tying up a plant to a stake.

This weekend, I only spent a couple of hours in the garden although the weather was lovely but I had a busy weekend with many social activities. My lettuces are doing well and I planted another six-pack of mixed lettuces between the mature lettuces so that they would be semi established by the time I pull out the mature plants.

On Sunday, I went and bought stakes for the 2 tomato plants and bamboo stakes for the assorted beans and chillie plants. Also bought two mini packets of seeds – dwarf butter beans and yard long beans. I soaked them in water to be planted today as that would hasten sprouting. The yard long bean plants I bought from the market last week look scraggy and two have been eaten by snails despite my mass grave of drowned snails which sometimes makes me feel like Pol Pott in Cambodia when I look at it. The snail army somehow manages to creep in to the newest plant that I acquire. Maybe its the smell of freshly dug earth that attracts them but I found at least 3-4 snails next to the aubergine plants I planted last week and several leaves were eaten. Although I detest any form of chemicals, I had to sprinkle some snail pellets around my new aubergine plants yesterday and this morning, I removed at least 10 comatosed snails to the mass grave aka salt bath from around the two aubergine plants.
The good news is that the last two Karawila/Karela/Bitter gourd plants are growing without any gnaw marks on them as they are surrounded by a handful of snail pellets.

My strawberries planted two weeks ago in the strawberry planter are already ripe and I had 5 smallish but tasty berries with my cereal today. The potato “patch” looks good.  

My next challenge is to grow some sweet potato in a grow bag of some sort. If potatoes can be grown in grow bags, I am sure sweet potatoes can be grown in small places too. Need to do some research on that and if anyone has any ideas or earlier experience, please let me know. I also want to experiment with growing asparagus. I know it’s too late to plant them this year in Auckland but its a long-term plan as I would really love to learn to grow asparagus which is one of my favourite veggies of all time. 

I didn’t take any photos this weekend as it was almost dark by the time I finished with the garden but will update this post with some photos soon.


Another fruitful gardening weekend

I was a bit lazy for a week and didn’t spend my ten minutes of early morning sojourn picking up snails and the after work half an hour of mucking around in the garden. Long hours at work and wanting to catch up with the gym somehow seemed more attractive and on Friday found that the garden has suffered.

 The bitter gourd plants I had sourced were all eaten up by the snail and slug army; the neighbour’s vile cat has dug up a few corners of one of my small beds and used it as a toilet; weeds were about to take over. The first task was to dig up the cat shit which is one of the most unpleasant tasks and I was so tempted when I shoved it all into a shopping bag to go shove it in the neighbour’s yard to be honest. Someone told me to sprinkle hot pepper once you clean the garden of cat poo as the cats won’t come back. I have a bottle of extra hot chilli powder which I need to sprinkle and let’s see who wins this time, me or the bloody cat.

 I spent the bulk of Friday at Bunning’s garden centre and bought a few more bags of potting mix and Saturday dawned windy and raining so it was not possible to do much in the garden. Even the Golfer at home was unable to get outdoors so we spent some quality time together and met friends for dinner.

 Sunday, the Golfer went off while I was still in bed to his heaven of 18 holes while I dragged myself to the Avondale flea market which is my equivalent to golf heaven in search of exotic veggie plants. My shopping list was humble and I only wanted to buy some bitter gourd plants to replace the ones I had lost to the snails and maybe a few fresh salad veggies and a couple of fruits as I had enough greens in my garden, However, I ended up buying a few more items. I did manage to find 2 decent and healthy bitter gourd plants, a few yard long bean seedlings, few more strawberry plants and I couldn’t resist buying 4 miniature okra plants about 20 cm high with a tiny okra fruits already forming. I also bought a pot of Kangkun (an Asian water cress like plant called Ong Choi by the Chinese) and a few lemongrass plants in a pot, both sold by a lovely and chatty Thai woman who has all sorts of exotic plants. I have developed a friendship with this woman over the summers I spent visiting the market despite her skills in English limited only a few words of  the names of her plants and the costs. Kangkun is not easy to grow although I have grown it before by planting the ends of shop bought Ong choi cuttings. I find that if you soak the cut ends in water for a week, they root better but I thought I’d try the plants this time.

The sun was up when I came home and I delved into the garden immediately and spent a blissful four or five hours with the occasional  frantic calls to the husband to help me lift bags of potting mix or to help with a heavy pot. I cleaned up the weeds and swept the path and dumped all the tiny pot; cleaned up the place first and then removed the over growing “Asian greens” to make way for the new plants. Since I couldn’t eat all the bok choi and the mustard greens, I thought of cutting them up and blanching them and freezing for adding to stir fries as I had an almost empty freezer. I dug in a few handfuls of blood and bone fertilizer for good measure and replaced the greens with fruiting vegetables. This is a principal of crop rotation so that the soil doesn’t get depleted with nutrients by planting the same type of crop. So the space vacated by bok choi now has Okra and yard long bean plants.

Gotukola planter planted yesterday

I love a plant which we call Gotukola in Sri Lanka. It is a miracle herb and we use its young leaves in a salad and pound mature leaves with fresh coconut and extract the juice and make a morning congee with rice which is like a green smoothie full of nutrients. It is also very good for hay fever and allergies, I am told. I’ve grown Gotukola successfully for a while but an incident at my daughter’s 21 when a group of drunk youths had urinated on my Gotukola patch which led to near murder and my giving up Gotokola growing for years (my young lady is 27 now). I had never attempted growing this lovely herb which my husband also loves. I had a handful of Gotukola plants I begged off a friend and I planted this in a container and hopefully this will give us enough harvest over the summer as it dies in the Auckland winter but rejuvenate in spring.

my veggie plot after the clean up

I had found a punnet of cherry tomato at the plant place labelled “for hanging baskets” and I couldn’t resist buying it although I had already planted my hanging basket of cherry tomato. So I now have another hanging basket. I placed a recycled plastic bag lining between the wire basket and the coir lining as instructed by the wonderful guy who writes verticleveges blog and it looks a bit weird but hopefully the plant grown will cover those sins soon.

The cherry tomato baskets on the wall

I used stakes from last year to stake up whatever plants I could stake and fertilised the couple of tomato plants.

The second lot of pea shoots I grew have sprouted and I will be able to eat them this week. I think I still planted too many as they are too close together

My lettuce is  now ready for eating and we have had our lovely green lettuce leaves in our salads and sandwiches. I have planted my second batch of lettuce about 6 weeks after the first as lettuce need to be “ space planted” every 4-6 weeks throughout summer if you want a continuous harvest of it but don’t want it to all go to seed at once (as I have discovered in earlier years). The other trick is to buy punnets mixed lettuce so that you don’t get sick of eating the same variety of lettuce. We eat a lot of salads in summer and I hardly buy lettuce in summer. I need to plant some other baskets of mesculan and rocket mixes soon.

Mixed lettuce planted a month ago all ready to eat now

Lettuce planted a week ago on the edge of the main veggie bed

The strawberry grow bag I planted a weel ago was a bit empty so I added more potting mix and 4 more plants to the cavities and it looks good. I’ve even plucked a ripe strawberry for my morning cereal and hopefully many more will follow. The gourmet potato grow bag has a few green leaves in it now too.

Strawberries growing in their cheery red grow bag

At the end of the day, I was really tired, my back was near breaking but the garden looked lovely and clean and I don’t think I have an inch of free space to add another plant. I still have a few walls to grow stuff so watch this space people.



The great gardening weekend in the NZ calendar

The labour day long weekend was a bit of a disaster with one sunny but windy day, a total washout day and a cloudy and rainy day with occasional bursts of no rain. Talk of Auckland weather being unpredictable.

Saturday dawned sunny and windy so dragged the husband shopping and managed to steer him to the garden centre of Bunnings on the pretext of needing his help to buy two bags of potting mix. I have a bad back and a bung knee so I am cannot lift heavy weights by the way. Finally ended up buying a few punnets of plants along with the potting mix and six punnets of strawberry plants.

I bought a strawberry grow bag along with my potato grow bag the other day and used them during the weekend. The strawberry grow bag has several holes on the sides and holds more than 1 big bag of strawberry potting mix. I decided to buy one although it was a wee bit expensive compared to the normal potting mix and it wasn’t really that bad at about $11 for a bag. The mix was not enough to fill the entire bag so had to top it up with normal potting mix.

I also filled the potatoe grow bag and used a few gourmet baby potatoes that were in the pantry that have sprouted. I love baby new potatoes and hopefully they will grow. I’ve got a marvellous recipe for Moroccan spiced new potatoes which I will post soon.

Between the splashes of sunshine over the weekend, I managed to clean up the weeds, plant a few green chillie plants, two black aubergine plants, few of my bean plants I grew from last years seeds and replace the cucumber plants eaten by the snail slug army with a bigger plant. I also managed to get the Husband to hang the large hanging basket with three cherry tomator plants on the garden wall.  I need to plant another cherry tomator basket as I found a couple of plants that were labelled “Cherry tomatoes for hanging baskets”.

I also tidied up the herbs. Now I have coriander, basil, oregano, thyme, chives, dill, mint and  rosemary and sage from last year growing in a corner and a small bed of parsley and Italian parsley which is growing under the tap. I couldn’t grow anything here before as the hose damaged any plants that grew there but parsley seems to be the ideal choice for the corner. I used a broken pot which I was fond of to plant mint in an abandoned corner of the garden where I used to keep old plastic pots and trash. Used up the runners from last years mint for planting and also planted a little wine barrel that I found to plant another pot of mint as we use mint a lot in summer.

my mint pot had a former life as one of a threesome of favourite pots

I managed to plant another planter of peas for my pea shoot garden. The old peashoot pot didnt look as if it was going to grow another harvest so I pulled out the roots which were over 15-20 cms and recylced the potting mix and buried the pea roots in one area of the veggie bed. They will add nitrogen to the soil in the long run.

I managed to harvest some of the mustard greens which looked really lush. We had it for lunch cooked as a “Mallun” a Sri Lankan staple using shredded greens quick-cooked until just wilted with the addition of ground coconut spiced with garlic, mustard. greenchillies and pepper with a dash of salt. I’ve been asked to add recipes which I will do shortly under the cooking category in this blog.

My Bok Choi is growing fast so it will go into the chicken stir fry tonight or it will turn sour. I also picked out some of the spinach planted in early October, wilted them and added to bottom of the smoked salmon and asparagus pies we had for lunch today. They didn’t even have any insect bitten leaves so my manual method of picking up of snails and drowning them must be working.

I need more ideas to grow stuff in pots or use vertical spaces as I am running out of space already but the garden does look good even if I say it myself. I need to take photos soon to post.