Time on my hands

Tilly, our Shih-tzu mini poodle

Tilly will be especially excited to see more of me!

Next week, my current day job will come to an end. I am looking at some potential new roles – there will need to be something new at some point – but it’s also quite nice to have a little bit of time on my hands.

I wouldn’t call it “spare time”, because there’s plenty to keep me busy for a few days or weeks – or years! Yesterday I saw this great t-shirt online, which roughly sums up my future plans (alas, retirement is many years away).

Even when I do go to a new role, summer’s longer daylight hours mean I’ll soon be able to squeeze in a couple of household chores at either end of the working day.

No doubt a lot of this time will be spent in the garden – planting, weeding and harvesting. Summer brings with it more work to do, as well as more hours to do it.

However I also have plans for this blog and, depending on other variables, some new small projects alongside it.

One of the things we’ve started doing is posting photos to our new Instagram account. Check it out for more pictures of what we’re up to!

Bee Awareness

September is ‘Bee Awareness’ month, with gardeners encouraged to make a place for bees – those all-important pollinators – in our summer plans.

Bookends made from a classic 'Buzzy Bee' toy

Bookends made from a classic ‘Buzzy Bee’ toy

Our supermarkets would be very different (very empty) without the food pollinated by bees, and even in our modest garden, they have a big role to play. I talked a bit about this (and why we don’t have beehives of our own) last year.

Looking after bees in our garden is relatively straightforward, with three guiding rules:

  1. Avoid bee-hazardous pesticides
  2. Provide water and a place for bees to rest
  3. Plant the kinds of flowers that bees love to visit

Avoiding pesticides is the easy one for us – our ‘no nasties’ gardening regime is naturally bee-friendly.

Similarly, water has been in no short supply for the last 18 months – falling from the sky more often than we would have liked. However with summer (hopefully) coming, we’ll provide bees and other tiny visitors with water in shallow dishes, with some large marbles and stones so bees can land and safely sip at the water’s edge.

The thing which requires us to really prepare are the flowers. One of the lovely people at my day job gave us seeds left over from her wedding, which will provide bees with a feast of nectar (and give us a palette of beautiful colour). We also have a few wildflower seeds from last year, and are planning some specific companion planting of nasturtiums and calendula around our fruit trees.

To encourage bees to travel around our whole garden, we’ll mix flowers throughout the beds – some in with our main vegetables, others nearby, and still more beside the house (where we had wildflowers last year).

Planning and planting is going to keep us buzzy – sorry, busy – for a good couple of days, but as a result, we’ll have happy bees and productive trees (as well as productive vegetables) for summer.

What’s on my ‘weekend to do’ list?

'To do' listI make a lot of lists. I have shopping lists, lists of things to do before taking holidays, lists of what I want to do when I’m on holiday, lists of things we like to eat – a list for most things. I’ve even considered making a list of lists, so I can keep track of them all!

But one of my most important lists is the ‘weekend to do’ list. This makes sure I cover off all the essential jobs each week, and let me make incremental progress on some longer-term goals. So what’s currently on my ‘weekend to do’ list?

The core list (which seldom changes):

  • Ironing – this is my least favourite job, so it’s at the top of the list to encourage me to do it. Then once it’s done, I get the satisfaction of seeing it ticked off for the rest of the weekend
  • J’s cleaning job – J does some weekend cleaning work, I go with him (and usually lend a hand). Having it on my list makes sure we remember to do it
  • Vacuum – we have 3 long-haired cats, so regular vacuuming is essential…
  • Mow the lawns – I don’t do this every week, particularly during winter, but it’s a good reminder to at least see whether it’s necessary, and check if the weather will play ball
  • Wash the car – as with mowing the lawns, this isn’t something I need to do every week
  • Clean kitchen benches and stove
  • Mop the bathroom floor
  • Clean the bathroom sink and mirror
  • Clean the toilet
  • Wash clothes – I do what I can during the week, but there’s usually one or two loads to go through our washing machine each weekend
  • Work reading – there’s usually some work-related reading I don’t get through in the week
  • Hand wash dishes – almost everything goes in the dishwasher, but once a week I try and tidy up anything else
  • Clean the animal enclosures – the chicken coop, rabbit enclosure and rat cages all need regular cleaning. We often do this during the week, but having it on my list means I check on everyone at least once in the weekend
  • Sort recycling
  • Empty the kitchen compost bin
  • Post to the blog
  • Clean out the car – sort out any rubbish, water bottles, etc that might have been left behind
  • Refill water bottles – we drink a lot of water, and refill/reuse the bottles
  • Lie down and do nothing – this is actually the most important thing on this list, as it gives me license to actually take a break!

The additional list (one-off or more occasional jobs):

  • Watch [whatever tv series I’m behind on – currently Vikings and Mr Robot]
  • Prepare the blueberry garden
  • Weed the vegetable garden
  • Decluttering
  • Sort clothes drawers – this falls somewhere between decluttering, and reviewing what we have that’s suitable for summer
  • Baking – I haven’t baked much for a long time, it’s definitely time to put that right
  • Book pickup of our green waste bin – we compost most things, but nightshade, thistles and any noxious weeds go into a green waste bin
  • Plant our new dwarf nectarine – this will probably get mentioned in another blog post soon!

That all keeps me fairly busy, but does mean things are reset and ready to go for each new week. What else would be on your ‘weekend to do’ list?

Tiny home away from home

Finally, as promised, here’s the post on our stay at the Colonial Tiny House a couple of weeks ago.

For a long time, we’ve been inspired by the tiny house movement. We don’t  live tiny, and this isn’t likely to be a permanent option for us any time soon (I’ll explain why further on in this post), but the idea of reducing our environmental footprint – and making efficient and creative use of space – inspires us.

We planned to stay a night in the Colonial Tiny House (which we found on Air BnB), but ended up having the opportunity to stay for two. I’m so glad we did.

Our hosts – Keith and Jen – were fantastic, and the house was simply amazing. As we were trying to get away from the city and my day job for a bit, being out in rural New Zealand was perfect, and a lack of reliable cellphone coverage was a real plus.

The Colonial Tiny House itself is a beautifully restored shed that was rescued from a swamp and, as the name suggests, is beautifully themed right down to a Colonial Rangitikei Cookbook in the library. There’s lots of beautiful native totara wood, a restored Edison phone, and a pot bellied stove that provided both aesthetic value and much-appreciated heat.

Keith told me that he wasn’t initially expecting the tiny house to be a place where people stayed, but rather he’d designed it as an office and showcase for some of the treasures he’s collected. While it’s on a trailer and technically movable (the electricity, water and sewerage can all be easily disconnected), the Colonial Tiny House isn’t really intended to travel. Instead, it was us who were transported.

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So what did we love, and what did we learn?

After spending so long reading and watching YouTube videos of tiny houses, we loved finally being in one . We got to see and try out lots of traditional tiny house features – like a fold down table and some innovative upcycling of everyday materials – and I also discovered how much I appreciate the more modern conveniences of a flushing toilet and efficient LED lights.

As you’d hope, every centimeter of space in the Colonial Tiny House has been considered and really well used, but one surprise for me was the number of hooks that were hidden around the walls, which allowed great use of vertical space.

However, even in a genuinely tiny space – the house is 5 meters by 3 meters – there is plenty of room for personality to shine through. Not everything needed to be functional, and there were lots of character touches that we didn’t use, but which helped us step away from the modern world.

Cooking, eating and even relaxing in a tiny house definitely requires a ‘clean as you go’ mentality. There’s no room for piles of dirty dishes, discarded clothes or stray books. That’s why pets can be challenging (and why living tiny isn’t in our immediate future) – and keeping indoor-only animals would be particularly difficult.

So all in all, we took away a few space-saving ideas, and a lot of inspiration.  I’m sure we’ll be back at the Colonial Tiny House, and visit other tiny homes – one day we might even have the chance to build our own (what a journey that will be!)

There’s a good video tour of the Colonial Tiny House on YouTube, and if you’re interested in staying there, you can book on Air BnB.

5 things in the garden this week


Our garlic has finally come up!

After a couple of cold snaps in July, the weather has mostly settled down – and with the number of daylight hours visibly increasing, perhaps summer is on its way.

I had written off the garlic we planted about a week after winter solstice as a lost cause, but almost all of it has suddenly sprouted. Maybe it heard me saying we should dig the bed over and prepare it for something else, and finally got its hustle on…

We also have seed potatoes chitting in the linen cupboard.  This year we’ve gone for ‘Heather’, a red variety that’s good for roasting or boiling, and we should be eating them at Christmas.

As it’s been my second (and last for now) week at home, we’ve put a bit of effort into tidying things up in the garden, and planning some next steps. Here are the 5 main things we’ve done:

  1. Pruned our fruit trees
    It’s really a bit late for this, but pruning needs to be done on a dry day, so we took the chance we had. We pruned to remove any dead wood, and to open out the branches so we can get better air flow through the tree (which reduces the chance of fungal diseases). As a bonus, it also means there’s more room for fruit to form.
  2. Nipped flowers and fruit off our strawberries
    This felt harsh – the promise of strawberries is alluring, even though out-of-season fruit isn’t good to eat. Trimming these back now, however, means the plants will put all their energy into growing. Ultimately, they’ll be ready to fruit well when the summer really hits, so a little imaginary loss now will be well worth it in December.
  3. Freed our citrus from their frost cloth
    This is another reasonably big call – we can’t promise there won’t be any more frosty mornings, but it seems a decent bet we’re through the coldest part of winter. These new trees (we only bought them in early winter) were also outgrowing their wispy cloth shrouds, and we figured that improving their access to sunlight is probably more beneficial to them at this point.
  4. Pulled out (most of) our carrots
    We’ve had carrots in the ground for quite a while, and would have harvested them at least a month or two ago, if we didn’t already have an abundant supply. Carrots store well in the ground for quite a while, but now they’re starting to grow too large for their own good, so out they came. As a bonus, for the next few days our pet rabbits get to enjoy a treat of fresh carrot leaves!
  5. Started planning the summer garden
    Yes – it’s that time again! Our first challenge is figuring out where to plant in summer, since quite a few of the things in the ground now (garlic, kale, cavolo nero and even silverbeet) will still be growing well into the summer. We’ll need to find room for lettuces, tomatoes, corn and a few other summer goodies somewhere!

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The Dine-a-Chook

As well as various forms of protein, occasional oyster grit and greens from our garden, we feed our chickens layer pellets. When we first got the girls, we simply threw the pellets on the ground, but found a large amount was getting hoovered up by our voracious local sparrows, instead of being converted into tasty, nutritious eggs.

To combat this, we got a treadle feeder. It’s an excellent idea – chickens stand in front of it (on a treadle) to open a flap which lets them access their pellets. Because the treadle needs a certain weight to operate it, this has almost eliminated food loss.

However, since the start of winter we’ve been having problems with the treadle feeder. Our coop is muddy, and a treadle clogged with mud won’t open properly. The result is under-nourished birds – something we’re desperately keen to avoid!

So we ordered a Dine-a-Chook 4.7L feeder on TradeMe, and it quickly arrived. We set it up yesterday, which was as easy as screwing two brackets to a fence post and hooking the feeder on.

The Dine-a-Chook is an evolution of the drainpipe feeders, and seems easier to keep cleaned and stocked. It promises almost no food wastage, though I’ve seen one review questioning that (perhaps with an older model, though).

At least one of our Rhode Island Reds has already figured it out, and I’m sure the others will pick it up quickly. For the price of about $55 (including delivery), it’s great peace of mind to have a feeder that’s up off the ground, and will provide another option for our girls if they don’t want to (or can’t) use the treadle feeder.

Two weeks

In my day job, I’ve had an incredible 12 or so months. That’s “incredible” in the dictionary sense – hard to believe. It’s been one of those years that’s well described as “character building”.

Flat battery - time to recharge!

So I’m taking a couple of weeks off – time to recharge, reflect and rebuild. Mostly I’ll be near home, working on some projects here and spending time visiting other blogs (as well as writing on this one). I look forward to rediscovering the community of people who are on a similar journey to us, and picking up some new ideas and inspiration along the way.

We’ll also be spending a night at a tiny house that J spotted on Air BnB. I’m super excited – we’ve been inspired by the tiny house movement so much over the last few years, but this will be our first time actually staying in one. I’m sure there will be a post all about that.

The weather (as always) is supposed to be temperamental and challenging – but I’ll be using whatever opportunities I can to advance things inside and out, while getting the break I need.

Switching off

Off switchAs I noted on Sunday, the freezing winter weather has meant our power bill in the last couple of weeks is ridiculous – especially by our standards.

The easiest way to save power is to simply turn off appliances (including phone/laptop chargers) when you’re not using them. We can be a little hit-and-miss on that, but here are 5 other ways we try and save on our electricity bill:

  1. We keep an eye on our daily and weekly power spend. I’m a believer in ‘what you can’t measure, you can’t manage’, so this helps us see how we’re tracking and what activity is draining the national grid.
  2. We switched to LED lights through almost the whole house – read our post about ‘taking the power back’.
  3. We use heat pumps to keep the house warm (and sometimes, in summer, to keep it cool). These are energy efficient, and don’t add large amounts of moisture to the air.
  4. We dry clothes outside when we can. When we can’t, we use a drier. Sadly, the drier has had far too much use this winter!
  5. We changed our hot water from electricity to on-demand gas. Hot water is about 20% of the average household’s electricity bill – with our on-demand gas, we’re only heating the water we need, when we need it. What’s more, we were able to get our gas connected for free.

What other ways do you save power?

She’s a bit cold, Trev

What’s happened in the last couple of weeks? Not much around home, I’m afraid…

The winter weather is punishing, and with all the normal electricity drains plus both heat pumps running, power is costing us up to $11 a day (we use Powershop, which lets us see daily use/cost and a few other nifty analytical things). That’s more than twice our normal winter power bill, which shows how much heating we’re having to do!

The good thing is, we’re warm and dry. I’m glad we don’t need to worry too much about having a secure roof over our heads (no small feat in one of the world’s windiest capital cities) or staying warm.

Outside, our lawns desperately need to be mown. I think in future we might get a lawnmowing service in a couple of times during the winter, so the grass stays under control without damaging our own mower.

The chickens are also feeling it – their coop is a mud pit, and we’ll have to do something over summer to improve drainage in there (we’re thinking of planting taproots and bringing in some gravel and sand, both of which should break up the soil and help rainwater move away from the surface).

There’s a classic New Zealand song about gumboots, and at the moment it roughly sums up how I feel every time I go outside. The ground is so wet and soft that without our gumboots, we’d be in real trouble.