Archive for the ‘home’ Category

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!
Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

December 7 question – It’s holiday time! Are the holidays a time to catch up or fall behind on writer goals?
Fall behind, way way behind. This is the time of year when – ooh, look, something sparkly – I can easily get distracted. There is a very small child inside of me who is all agog about coloured lights, baubles, and glitter. When December begins every year, I imagine I’ll carry on just the same way I have the rest of the year, that I’ll do all my writing jobs each week the same as normal. And every year, on the first weekend of December, I go to the Xmas market and start my gift shopping. Something gets ignited within, and from then on, for the rest of the month, my life turns into a whirlwind of Xmas-related things. I watch all the movies and cooking shows about how to make festive dishes. Working on my stories starts to take a back seat to list-making, shopping, catch-ups, get-togethers, and sparkles.

I have to-do lists as long as my arm. I make the annual greeting card and post them to family and friends. The boys and I bake the big Christmas cake (rich fruit cake). We go visit friends with food and gifts. We attend group lunches and end-of-year dinners. I go out shopping most days, to various carefully chosen stores to buy small gifts for family and friends. I wrap gifts. Wrapping gifts is one of the most universally hated jobs. Not for me. I make an evening out of it. I treat it like a craft project, getting out my boxes of ribbons, papers, and bows. It’s fun.

I still have the end-of-year maintenance jobs to do: washing the house and the windows, cleaning and repainting the three verandahs, and repainting the bathroom. I’ll add them to my “to-do” list. December is a juggling act. I intend to relish every moment of this wonderful season. The food, sunshine, time with family, and vacations. What’s not to love? Hello, Summer. (Yes, here in the southern hemisphere it is summer!)
Wherever you are for the month ahead, whatever you celebrate, I wish you every success. And I hope you do celebrate, make (or order) a big cake, light some candles, play beautiful music and enjoy the coloured lights. After the year we’ve had, we deserve a party. A big party.

Writing? What writing? LOL.
Happy Holidays!

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
*
Let it be easy. ~ Anon
*
Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to yvettecarol@hotmail.com

Spring. My vegetable seedlings are growing. Unfortunately, the season of pests is also well underway. There is more whitefly whizzing around, more butterflies, etc. So begins months of trying to stay ahead of the critters, birds, and greeblies seeking to feast on my crops. I tend to use a combination approach. I will set several traps and use a variety of sprays. It’s a matter of figuring out what works best for you. I try to keep the use of chemicals down to a minimum, but if you don’t mind using chemicals, you can buy everything you need from the store readymade.

I started gardening when I took over maintenance of this property about thirteen years ago (though I have lived here as an adult for over twenty years). It has been learning by trial and error, as I have figured out how to get nourishing things to grow while also controlling the noxious things. I started out using every chemical they sold. But over the years, I have figured out ways I can make products myself fairly easily.
The homemade spray I do for whitefly works a treat. Cut up two onions and a bunch of garlic and put them in a sealable jar. Fill with water before doing the lid up tight. Leave this pungent mixture outside or in the garage to cure for as long as possible. In spring, open the jar and strain the liquid. Spray this obnoxious liquid on the underside of the leaves of all the bushes and trees where whitefly is congregating. The smell is so strong that it scares them away. This spray has cut the whitefly population in our garden by as much as half. The smell seemed overwhelming for us, too, initially. But, never fear. Though it quickly faded away, it was enough to deter the pests for a long time.

Stickies are a store-bought alternative. The flies get trapped on the long sticky tapers. You can buy the strips at hardware stores and gardening outlets and hang the stickies in between the crops.
At present, our fruit trees have bloomed and are losing their petals by the day. The guava moth is the primary pest for stone fruit and feijoas where we are. The moth lays eggs in the unripe fruit which then develops into a small caterpillar greeblie that burrows its way through the fruit, ruining it. The guava moth came over to New Zealand from Australia. In Australia, they are predated by a particular type of bird. But the moths have no natural predators here and are laying waste to neighbouring fruit trees far and wide. When the first green fruit starts to appear in our yard, I spray it with Neem oil. It’s a purely natural bug repellant, which you warm up and then add to warm water. Spray in the early evening after most bees and things have settled down. Spray the fruit, the leaves, and lastly around the base of the tree even coating the ground beneath. And repeat two to three times throughout the growing season.

Tackling the guava moth successfully requires a two-pronged attack, the Neem oil sprayed on, and a moth trap. I’ve tried all sorts of store-bought traps to reduce the population of moths on my property, and there is one extremely effective trap – The Little Bugga. It works by radiating a little solar ultraviolet purple light and the moths drown in the oil held in a trough beneath. It works well, getting a far higher kill rate than other traps, but it costs $90 and only lasts for a year. The inventor lives in the far north of the country and does not supply replacement parts or batteries. So the device operates as long as the batteries last, then you have to buy a whole new trap. These days, unless I do both the Neem oil and the moth trap, nearly the entire crops of plums and feijoas will be potholed.

For caterpillars, aphids, and other pests, I use a homemade all-purpose spray. Mix five litres of water with one cup of cider vinegar and a squirt of dishwashing detergent. Spray onto your seedlings and leaves every two weeks or less. For my tips on how to make your own slug and snail traps, check out my earlier post, Backyard Gardening 3.
It’s the time of year for a ton of work, frankly, but it’s worth it. I enjoy every stage of growing our food. Once the crops and fruits start producing more food for our table it’s wonderful, and the therapy of getting your hands dirty ain’t half bad. I love spring!
Happy Gardening. More next time, green thumbs.

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

*

Gardening is an active participation in the deepest mysteries of the universe. ~ Thomas Berry

*

Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with the words Newsletter Subscription in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

Ever since I was small, my parents told me we had to eat five or more vegetables a day. Unfortunately, while the fruit and vegetables may look the same as when I was a child 50 years ago, today they are inferior. The other day I spoke with a friend who moved here from Europe in the 70s. I mentioned I didn’t want to eat genetically modified fruit or vegetables. She said, “But, we live in New Zealand. They don’t grow genetically modified plants here.”
The truth is farmers worldwide use hybridized and genetically modified seeds and spray their fields with chemical fertilizers, fungicides, and herbicides. Researchers like Weston A. Price have proven that vegetables have dropped their nutrient content by 90% since the 1930s. These days the only way to eat nutrient-dense food grown in healthy soils is to buy or grow our organic fruit and vegetables. I pay a lot for organic produce. At the same time, I am developing and expanding my vegetable patches so we can grow more of our food.

I’m keen on planting more fruit trees at home. However, space is limited as we already grow a fair amount. There are the veterans my parents planted: the plums, lemons, bananas, and grapefruit. There are three feijoa and two apple trees I have put in, as well as two fig trees, although I’ve espaliered the latter to keep them from outgrowing the section. Then I have lime, clementine, and kumquat trees growing in large outdoor pots. To add more at this stage, I have to consider dwarf varieties. The dwarf trees are too small to yield enough fruit, so we buy semi-dwarfs. I’ve planted nectarine and apricot. When buying trees, try to buy direct from the nurseries. And check the labels first to make sure the trees are self-pollinating.

Once home, plant trees in spots with adequate sun. Fertilize regularly. Prune fruit trees at least twice a year. However, do not prune when borer is flying, which in the southern hemisphere is November, December, and January. Another tip is to feed your fruits and vegetables, especially citrus trees with trace elements. Trace Elements Chelates is a good source, available in New Zealand.
With your vegetable beds, keep it simple and plant the vegetables you want to eat. But remember to dig in your ‘soft’ fertilizers like blood & bone or fertilizer teas to the beds and leave for a week before planting.*See my post, Backyard Gardeners2, for the recipe for fertilizer teas. If you live in a highrise or apartment with no access to a garden, it is possible to grow vegetables in planters, grow herbs in pots on windowsills, and have small cloches indoors. However, when you grow plants this way, you provide every nutrient the plants could need, which takes special know-how. Try googling a step-by-step guide or looking it up on YouTube for a tutorial.

Here in New Zealand, we still have a month of winter before us. It has been an ideal time for growing spinach, kale, silverbeet, and brassicas like cabbage or broccoli. I have two beds growing broad beans, which I will dig into the ground next month. It will fix nitrogen in the soil, ready for planting spring crops in October.
August is the time to plant potatoes as the seed potatoes become available in New Zealand prior to spring. You can grow them in garden beds or in containers.
The container method requires a Flexi tub, available at hardware stores for $7 – $11. Drill four holes near the bottom but on the sides not on the floor of the tub. Quarter fill the container with potting mix. Don’t be tempted to use compost in planters or containers. Always use high-grade potting mix or garden mix. Space out about six seed potatoes on the soil and cover with a bit more potting mix. Water them daily and make sure to liquid feed every two weeks. And remember to vary the fertilizers, to keep things lively.

When your potatoes sprout green leaves, add another layer of the potting mix up to the level of the first two leaves. Carry on caring for your plants and as the plants grow, keep filling with potting mix. After four to six weeks, the tubs should be nearly full. The plants might eventually flower and then wither away. At that point, tip out the tubs and harvest the potatoes.
The garden method requires a trench dug across the bed half a spade in depth. Put seed potatoes spaced apart at the bottom of the trench and cover lightly with soil. As the green shoots and leaves come up, add soil and keep adding earth until you have built your trench into a mound running along the vegetable patch. When the greenery above ground starts to fail and wither, it is time to dig up your crop of potatoes. Yum! There is nothing like the taste of homegrown.
Happy Gardening. More next time, green thumbs.

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol


Life can be difficult if all you see is everything that’s wrong. Start focussing on what’s right, what’s good, what’s constructive. If you want to feel better, you’ve got to think better. ~ Mufti Menk

*

Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with the words Newsletter Subscription in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

One of the frustrating things about tending your home vegetable plot is when you do everything right: you prepare the soil, plant the seeds, fertilize, water, and tend your plants, and then find them half-eaten by little critters. Pest control is a big issue for gardeners, large-scale and small-scale alike. While it is tempting to use poisons, it does pay to be aware that these products are toxic to the environment. In years past, I used to sprinkle slug slam pellets around my garden. But our gardening tutor told us the pellets contain a neurotoxin that might make it into the food chain. It is safer to use homemade solutions. For slugs, I use a “beer trap.” Cut the bottom off a plastic bottle. Fill with beer or Brewer’s Yeast with some warm water added. Partly bury it in the vegetable patch. I put two beer traps down, and they both caught six or more slugs each in the first couple of days. It worked a treat.

For snails, they like to hide in dark, cool places during the day, so make them one! You can create a hidey-hole for them by cutting a v-shaped doorway in a plastic plant pot and setting it upside down in the garden. But make sure you put a rock on top as mine blew away in the first strong wind. Empty the pots regularly and dispose of the snails. Our gardening tutor said one student put his snails in a bag in the freezer. But the problem was his wife found them and had a fit! My mother used to squash them. Euw! It’s up to you. However, why not try a homemade remedy. It’s better for the environment.
When you are starting out as a gardener, it is worthwhile to spend the money on a few quality items that will last you for years. For instance, it is worthwhile to invest in a good trowel and a good spade. Also, spend the money on a good sprayer. Wash all tools and dry them after use. Mud left on a spade will eventually degrade the metal. Wash the spray bottle out thoroughly after use. Leave it with the lid off.

Buy seeds from suppliers online, as they work out a lot cheaper. Here in New Zealand, Kings seeds are a great source. I bought five packets for the same price it would have cost me for two bags from a retail outlet. Always plant them in a seed raising mix. Sieve the potting mix before you use it. Push the seeds into punnets as deep as two of the seeds. Cover with soil. Put your punnets of planted seeds on trays and fill the tray with water, so you are watering from the bottom, not the top. It will prevent you from washing the seeds too deep into the soil. Remember to put a sign on the punnets saying the vegetable variety and date you planted them. If the punnets still have water in them an hour later, throw the rest of the water away. You want the soil to be moist, not wet.
Don’t be tempted to plant a whole packet of seeds. Count them out, just a few at a time, and stagger the planting, so you don’t have all the same vegetables fruiting and needing to be eaten at once. I buy seeds with a friend. We pay half each and split the packets in half. Seeds get old. So it means you don’t have too many to plant, and they are always fresh. It works well for us.

As for the water in your garden, rainwater is best. We have a water tank harvesting rainwater from the roof. Watering during the dry times means using the town supply. This water is full of Chlorine and Flouride and so on. To counteract the detrimental effect of the chemicals, add one drop of humic acid to each gallon of water.
If you’re going away, take a plastic bottle and cut the bottom off. Then drill a few holes near the mouth. Leave the lid on. Fill the bottle and bury it with the lid pointed down near the vegetables. The water will leak out slowly over the days.

If your seeds take longer than three weeks to sprout, they will not grow. But, for those which sprout, let the plants reach a decent size and turn the punnets over on your hand until they come out in your hand. Gently tease the seedlings apart and plant them in your beds far enough apart to have room to grow. Read the back of the seed packet as they will often have information on the space required between plants. Pack the soil up to the first two leaves to be firm. Always handle seedlings by the leaves, not the stalks. Water them in when it’s raining and use very diluted fertilizer tea. To deter the birds from disturbing the seedlings, spread mulch liberally around them. The mulch will retard weeds and retain moisture in the soil, so it’s a win-win. Or put up a homemade scarecrow. And if necessary, you can always use bird netting at least until the vegetables get established.
Happy Gardening. More next time, green thumbs.

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
*


“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

*

Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with the words Newsletter Subscription in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

I have finished the backyard gardening course put on by our local council. The webinar series featured a gardening expert, Paul, teaching basic tenets and techniques for backyard gardeners like myself who want to grow more vegetables. The course has been educational. I have learned more than I expected.
The first vital tenet for the home gardener is to develop your ground. The message our tutor Paul repeated most often was to feed the soil and use organic matter to improve it. The organic matter can come from worm bins or compost heaps and needs digging in. Alternatively, it is easy to buy compost by the bagful, which Paul advocated spreading on top of the beds. Fertilizers come in hard (pellet form), liquid, or soft (powdered). Pellets need to be dug through beds and left for two weeks before use, preferably three to four weeks.

I usually buy a bag of sheep pellets once a year and sprinkle it around the garden. I did not realize that I was at risk of “burning” the plants if the pellets ended up against the stems or trunks. Fertilizer powders like blood & bone or powdered seaweed work faster and are safe to use. Always dig them in on a rainy day to save yourself and your house wearing the powder. These products should be dug through first and left to settle for a week or two before planting.
The buzzword these days is tea, especially the homemade kind. In the first post on this subject, Backyard Gardeners, I shared how to make worm tea. If you don’t have a worm farm, or even if you do, you can also make other fertilizing teas, like sheep pellet tea and compost tea. It is best to vary the kinds of products you feed your garden. Just as we need a variety of vitamins and minerals to grow healthy and strong, so do our plants.

Sheep pellet and compost teas are both made the same way. Quarter fill a bucket with pellets/compost, then fill the bucket preferably with rainwater. Again leave for three to four weeks. Then you have fertilizer tea to put in your garden. Typically, the tea is strong, so make sure to dilute it 50/50. Throw the remains of the pellets and compost back onto the compost heap and start your buckets again. And though you might feel tempted to feed your ground more often, once a fortnight is plenty.
As to pests, I was surprised that when it came to controlling the critters munching on our vegetables, the first thing Paul said was, “Don’t worry too much. Most plants will outgrow the pests.” Then, after half an hour of dispensing advice about the various insecticides available, he said the easiest, cheapest way of dealing with pests eating our vegetables was to spray them with a homemade mixture: mostly water with a bit of detergent. Yay! Love it.

An advocate of natural pest control, Paul recommended encouraging birds (who predate on snails and caterpillars) into the garden by providing water and feeders. He suggested employing companion planting, where certain plants are grown together because they repel pests. He also told us about a company in NZ called Bioforce that supplies predatory insects to consume the bugs bothering your plants. There are all sorts of natural, simple ways of dealing with issues in the garden.
My advice? Throw yourself into it. That’s what I did fourteen years ago, and I am obsessed with my garden and growing our fruit and vegetables. The main thing every gardener must remember to do is to love your plants! (My advice, not Paul’s). I believe plants respond to attention and love. I talk to my plants, even sing to them. Why not? You’ll be happier either way.
More another day, green thumbs.
Why not have a go and get gardening!

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
*


Gardening is active participation in the deepest mysteries of the universe. ~ Thomas Berry

*

Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with the words Newsletter Subscription in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

2022 has been a bit of a challenge so far. In uncertain times we tend to hark back to basics. Here, in New Zealand, there has been a groundswell of interest in growing-your-own vegetables since 2020 and even more so this year. This has prompted the city council where we live to offer free gardening courses online.
I came to gardening late in life, when I had to take over maintenance of this quarter-acre property after my husband and I parted ways in 2008. Tending the gardens started as a chore and a burden. At first, I could not believe how much work was involved. But in the last 14 years, I have learned to relish every aspect. I love how it gets you outside, communing with nature. It’s become part of my way of life, and for that, I am grateful. Getting your fingers in the dirt and some sweat on the brow is good for the soul.

By the time the pandemic started, I was at the stage of supplementing our diet with homegrown herbs, leafy greens, tomatoes, beans, and this year I grew cucumbers and broccoli for the first time. But our vegetable beds could be providing so much more. This is why I ended up registering for the backyard gardening webinars offered by the council.
I’m halfway through the course at present. It has been excellent, and I’ve already learned a lot. For instance, vegetables need six hours of sun a day (apart from herbs that can stand the shade). And the most important thing to take care of is the soil. Some people advocate the no-dig method. I have since heard this echoed in the other course of webinars I’m attending on soil ecology, which says no-dig is best as the all-important structure and ecology of the soil remains intact. Our tutor, however, recommends digging and turning the fertilizers over into the soil. But he said, either dig or don’t dig it doesn’t make a lot of difference. Both ways produce results.

Our tutor told us about his property. He and his wife had moved there six years ago. When they took over, the ground was mostly clay and swamped in a ground cover that leached any remaining goodness out of the already sub-standard soil.
They removed all the ground covering plants and brought in trailer load after trailer load of compost, simply spreading it over the top of the clay. They did not bother digging it in. Then he and his wife left it until rain and time had reduced the level, and they repeated the process, adding trailer loads of compost. After another year, they set out a few paths to delineate beds and started planting vegetables. Their backyard plot was underway. Six years later, they grow most of their produce in abundance. It was inspiring and a good goal for all of us.

Our tutor tends to repeat the message throughout each live webinar to ‘keep adding compost’ to your ground. *Though not all composts are created equal. If you’re buying it, make sure you’re not buying a product derived from tanalized timber, as the chemicals in the wood may still be present, and they will affect your yield. If you’re making your compost, make sure it’s 70% green waste from the garden (clippings, leaves) and 30% food scraps (but avoid meat or cooked food as these encourage rats).
By all accounts, the very best sort of composting system for the backyard gardener is to have worm bins. It’s a great way of recycling kitchen scraps, but no dairy, no meat, no citrus or onions. You put tiger worms in with the scraps and mince/chop all the material going in for them as it breaks down faster. Give the bin a splash of water daily. The water that drains through the main unit is called worm tea. This tea can be diluted part 10 tea to 90 water and distributed via a watering can onto all the plants. You can feed the plants every two weeks but no more than that as it can get too much. Empty the worm bin every 4 – 6 weeks.

To thrive, your plants need compost, sun, water, and protection from the wind. Our tutor recommended putting up windbreak cloth around exposed plots or choosing areas for beds protected from the wind. He also suggested collecting seaweed from the beach after a storm. It makes excellent fertilizer. Dig a trench in your veggie patch to spade depth, place the seaweed in the bottom of the trench and cover it with soil. Then leave it alone.


I am busy making plans for my veggie patches. There is a lot to do, but what rewarding and delicious work! There is too much new-to-me gardening information to write about in one post. Therefore, I will split up my notes. More another day, green thumbs.
Why not have a go and get gardening!

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
*


“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God.” ― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

*

Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with the words Newsletter Subscription in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

One of the changes I made to the backyard here last year was to take out the old fishpond. It was a feature my ex-husband put in about twenty-five years ago. For the last twelve years, I have been responsible for the pond he left behind, feeding the fish, replacing dead ones, and doing the stinking job of cleaning it out every six months. With the warmer temperatures and a much warmer winter in 2021, the pond needed cleaning more often, and frankly, I tired of doing it. In the interest of “doing less” in 2022, (one of my New Year’s resolutions), I decided to remove it.

I gave the goldfish away and emptied the pond. Underneath the plastic liner, I found the edging was made from native hardwood and was still sound. Naturally, I kept the edging, thinking I could turn it into a raised bed.
As November and December went by the deep cavity left by the pond slowly became filled with clay (debris from other garden projects). A small clay mountain in my backyard was not the replacement for the fishpond I had been anticipating. Time to start the process of transforming the clay into friable soil suitable for growing vegetables.

Where I live the area is quite well known for being built on clay. The topsoil was stripped when the land was developed back in the 60s and it generally takes a lot of work to create viable vegetable plots. In the past, I have simply bought in topsoil and compost. But, since I created my compost heap last year, I wanted to employ that resource for this bed and endeavour to work with the clay. I began by moving the hardwood edging I had saved into place.

Under ordinary circumstances, if you aim to turn the dense ground into soil good enough for growing things, you would start working compost and organic matter into the dirt, and within a few years, you would reach the objective. However, there is a quicker way. The magic world of mycelium. This is a type of underground fungi that holds soil together and integrates all landscapes. Mycelium is known as the great molecular soil disassembler of mother nature. It was the first life on the planet billions of years ago, preceding soil and plants, a ‘microbial universe that gives rise to a plurality of other organisms.’

You can transform clay into ‘the good oil’ using compost alone, but if you add mycelium then you accelerate the process exponentially. Mycelium can even convert stone into soil. The oxalic acids and enzymes it produces grab calcium and other minerals, forming calcium oxalates, which are the first step in forming soil. *If you want to know more about mycelium, check out the work of Paul Edward Stamets, an American mycologist, and entrepreneur who sells various mushroom products through his company. He is an author and advocate of medicinal fungi and mycoremediation.
To find mycelium for your garden projects, all you need is a small amount of tissue, which can be found in the ground of old-growth forests. Or you can contact the Stamets website for purchase details.

The first step for my bed was to sprinkle lime over the clay. This is known to break down heavy ground into the soil eventually. I watered this in well. Then I lay on top of the lime old partly-rotted branches and sticks from elsewhere on our property. I watered this in also. For mycelium, I didn’t want to go digging in the public forests because it’s illegal. Instead, I went to my lovely compost heap. Now, as it happens, I’ve been lax and have failed to keep turning the contents regularly and what this has done, unbeknownst to me, is allow the mycelium to grow. The sign of the presence of these fungi in the ground is when the dirt is spongy. I used a spade to get down through the layers of compost and discovered spongy ground. Then I dug out my very own mycelium. Score!

I spread this precious network of cellular architecture on top of my partly-rotted branches on the clay and covered it with some of the lighter material from the compost heap. Again, I watered it carefully. The mycelium should now produce the oxalic acids and enzymes and form the calcium oxalates that will accelerate the desired changes. I set bricks beneath the hardwood edging to give the raised bed more stability and strength.

Last but not least, I laid some old palm fronds over the top to give the contents some much-needed shade from the intense heat of our summer sun. Now, all that is needed is daily watering to keep the mycelium and compost damp, so that it can do its good work. I’m excited to see what takes place and shall be keeping an eye on my soil experiment. Once, I have established friable rich ground in this bed, then the planting can begin. Yay!
If you have kids who are gamers, they will likely already know about the benefits of mycelium. My sixteen-year-old said, ‘Mycelium, oh yeah, I use that sometimes playing Minecraft.’ Gotta love that. Happy gardening.

What sort of soil do you have? If clay is an issue, what have you tried to change the condition? I’m open to further tips.

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
*


“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” – Confucius


*
 
 Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to yvettecarol@hotmail.com

The other day, upon entering our garage, a bee zoomed towards me. It circled, flying towards me again and again. I thought, what odd behaviour. Two days later, we caught three bees inside the house. Odd. Then, I was weeding when I heard buzzing and looked up. There were hundreds of bees flying in and out of our chimney!
It turns out, I learned later, that the first oddly-acting bee was the “scout,” sent to find a new location for the swarm.
The bees’ new home was in our chimney stack.

Cue the frantic Google search. The first beekeeper I spoke to expressed dismay. “Chimneys are particularly difficult,” she said. “We may not be able to remove the bees from there. You may have to call the exterminator.” I said, “I don’t want to harm the bees.” She asked, in all seriousness, “Could you live with them?” I didn’t have to think about it. I quickly replied, “NO.”
I love bees. But if there is such a thing as too many, then this was that situation.
The beekeeper recommended The Bee Club. I contacted their website. The next day, a nice older gentleman arrived. It was like seeing the cavalry coming in. I was so pleased to see him, let’s call him Don.

Don walked in armed with a bee suit, handheld smoker, a ladder, and believe it or not, a vacuum cleaner which he had attached to a clear plastic box.
I told him about the lady asking if we could live with the swarm. Don said, “That’s not a good idea. The honey and the wax attract vermin. The hive will grow until it’s too big for the chimney. After the swarm departs the hive will die, attracting more vermin. And once you’ve had wax in your chimney, it attracts more scouts because the bees smell the wax.”
Happy days. Not.
Don took one look up and said, “I don’t know if I can do it. That’s a tall chimney, and I have to be able to see down into it.”
Oh boy! I was “thinking the right thoughts” over that one.

Don looked up again. He said if I had a ladder, he could climb onto the roof then put his ladder against the upper stack. I brought ours out of the garage. Gamely, he went up to our rickety old ladder. From the roof, Don set up his collapsible one against the stack and was able to get high enough to look inside. Lifting the metal plate that sealed the stack, he peeked underneath. “Okay, this might be possible.”
Thank you!
We handed him all his equipment under strict instructions to only hold the smoker by the bellows as it is hot. Then we stood back to watch the show.
First, Don used his smoker, burning a mixture of humus material and pine needles. He puffed under the lid and around the chimney top. He lifted the lid slowly. “This hasn’t been here long. Maybe two days at most. They haven’t made any wax.”
Whew. What a relief.

Don lifted the lid, and hanging beneath it was a cluster of bees, somehow hanging together. I imagine they were surrounding the queen, keeping her safe. We onlookers gasped. By holding the plate above his plastic box, Don gave it a sudden bang on the side of the box, and all the bees fell in as one. He put the lid over the top, and he had bagged the queen and most of the workers. It was amazing.
Then Don switched on his magic vacuum and started vacuuming bees out of our chimney to join the others in the plastic box. After five or so minutes, he said, “I could keep on vacuuming two hundred more bees, but if I do, the ones in the box will asphyxiate.” So he sprayed fly spray inside to kill the bees remaining and laid a concrete block over the hole.

Don had rescued most of the swarm, even the queen. He had rid our chimney of bees. Thank goodness. And all of this is voluntary work for a man in his golden years. Wow.
What was he going to do with our bees? Don told me he was taking them to a new beekeeper who lived nearby.
I got an email from him yesterday, and he said our bee swarm is settling in nicely to their warm hive. We should expect a jar of honey in our mailbox soon. Happy days.
When I put this story on Facebook, I got quite a few responses from friends who had had similar dramas happen with bees and wasps on their properties. Have you ever had trouble with beehives or wasp nests? What did you do?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
*


No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. ~ Aesop


*

Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with the words Newsletter Subscription in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

Do you have a garden bed that is in a difficult spot in your garden? Our rockery in the backyard is in a challenging position. Located behind the house, it offers drought and flood and full shadow for most of the day. Previously, we had had a dragon tree in the rockery and a young native tree that was already much too large. The job of transforming the rockery became my “lockdown project.” Change it. I would. And, here’s what I did.
The first casualty was the young tree. With the potential to grow into a grand chieftain, I removed it from the rockery, leaving a long oval-shaped dry bed featuring a lone dragon tree at one end and a spindly sapling at the other. The proposition of making this awkward bed into ‘something’ was daunting. With gardening, you have to attempt to forecast into the future how plants will grow and envisage the potential outcome. In the end, you throw the dice and leave it up to nature. Who dares, wins, right?

I started by simply clearing the weeds and scraping off years of detritus to reduce the bed to a blank canvas. The old bricks which had formed the edging had sunk into the ground over time, nearly disappearing in the mud. I dug these out, cleaning them as I went. Then I packed soil around the edges of the bed, putting the bricks back on top, thereby lifting the edging clear.
There are a few ways to go about laying the foundations of a garden bed. You can plant intensely and not worry about weeds. Or you can set down weed matting, adding bark. Or you can do what the landscapers do, lay a layer of bark at least 400 mm deep so the weeds can not grow.

In the case of the rockery, when I tried to lift the top layer of weed matting, I discovered another, even older layer of matting much farther down. So rather than excavating, I opted to leave the matting in place. If you use a weed mat, you will need to add blood and bone to the soil to correct the PH balance of the soil before adding the mat and the bark on top. So I treated every plant with a good dose of blood and bone mixed in with the potting mix.
My father built the rockery wall out of bluestone in the early 1960s. He needed a retaining wall to create a flatter area in our sloping back garden. The wall was higher than it is now, but over the years, the top tier of bluestone had been robbed out and used elsewhere.

One of my first jobs was to hunt out the rogue bluestones from every corner of the property. Then I lay the stones across the bed to create a stepping stone path, imagining my grandchildren hopping from stone to stone one day.
The rockery is a raised bed. Therefore, it’s helpful to use drought-tolerant plants. Cacti and succulents are ideal. Being situated in the lee of the house, I also needed plants that could handle shade. Ask at your local garden centre for suitable plants for the conditions in your bed. In our case, I planted a line of Buxus hedge trees, which are hardy. Along the front of the rockery bed, I dug in yellow grasses for colour and contrast.
To square off with the lone dragon tree in one corner, I moved my ponytail palm from the front bed into the rockery. Being at the other end of the bed to the lone dragon tree, it makes sense. Huzzah!

Then I planted a dwarf apricot tree. My sister donated a hydrangea, and I planted a few of my mother’s orchids. If you choose to plant an orchid, use the proper potting mix (similar to bark). They do well in the shade.
I still had a gnarly stump in the rockery and an unwieldy section of the tree trunk that was too big to cut with a chainsaw. In the case of immovable obstacles, why not turn them into features? Beneath the dragon tree, I set the section of the trunk upright. Then I turned both the stump and the trunk into wood sculptures by decorating them with my father’s aerophytes (air plants) and rocks.

The last stage of the transformation was to spread bark in between the plants and the stones. I think it looks great. Yesterday, my three-year-old granddaughter came over to visit. When we took a walk in “Nana’s garden,” she automatically dashed over and hopped from stone to stone across the rockery bed. It was a wonderful moment.
I hope you have gained some inspiration for your difficult garden beds. Let me know your stories.

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
*

“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” Theodore Roosevelt

*

Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to yvettecarol@hotmail.com
 

Currently, we are in lockdown level 4 in New Zealand. I have been watching the news (I normally do not watch it at all). It is easy to spend time worrying about businesses trying to pay staff during the lockdown, all the overworked essential workers, and our healthcare system under pressure. You feel for the parents working from home, especially the solo parents, those with small children, the lonely old folk, and the teachers trying to teach online. It is not an easy time. However, I have noticed a heartening difference in the way people in my neighbourhood behave. The first time we went into Level 4 lockdown in 2020, when out walking, other walkers and runners would look down or away while crossing the street to avoid you. This time around we are still keeping our distance, but the other people out exercising have looked at me and waved, calling cheery hellos, and smiling behind their masks. I think there is a collective understanding that we have been through this before, and we will get through it again given the right attitude.
There also seems to be a realization we need each other, and we are more aware that we miss those human interactions when we are confined to our bubbles.

A lot of people get swept up by the fear and stressed out. I rang the doctor this morning, and the receptionist said Kia ora like she would bite my head off in one gulp. The stress is real. We have to find coping mechanisms that work for us. I always tell my friends to shut off all the devices in the house and pick up a good book. Looking back, I realized that apart from taking long breaks from the news, it was writing and reading that really helped me through the lockdown in 2020. The same coping mechanisms will help get me through the lockdowns in 2021. I have a few excellent books on the go at the moment. I’m reading, Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman, Spirit Animals Fire, and Ice, by Shannon Hale, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare (thanks to fellow writer Susan Baury Rouchard for sending me that one).

If I find myself panicking, I turn off the devices, then do something I love, whether it be reading, gardening, walking, painting, or just watching a movie eating bon-bons.

Yesterday, a friend said, It looks like things are going to be turbulent for a while. I replied, We have to hold onto our joy more tightly. There is nothing we can do to alter what is going on out there. But we do have control over how we react and act while we are in isolation. There are a few tricks I have learned since 2020 about how to keep my family’s spirits up while we’re in isolation.
My Top Tips:
Limit news updates/turn off your devices
Paint your toenails (and your kids’ toenails – my boys think it is hilarious)
Sleep in! (For a lifelong early riser like myself, this has been a revelation!)
Wear bright colours. (I have shelved all the grey and black in my wardrobe. It is a simple trick, but it makes me feel happier to wear all the brightest clothes I own)
Bake!

Read! (Maybe I will make progress through my tower of to-be-read novels)
Coloured lights! (Drag out your fairy lights, or any twinkle lights and have them on all day as well as at night)
Flowers. (I pick flowers daily on my morning walk along the verges and alleyways and set out mini posies around the house)
Music! (Play your favourite tunes, sing-along, and dance like nobody is watching)
Talk! (Phone your loved ones. Talk across the fence to your neighbours. Sit and talk with the family members in your household). Check on the people you know.
Work in the garden
Dress up in crazy clothes (it makes the boys and I laugh to wear silly hats)

Exercise
Do something creative (my friend said she has started writing limericks because they make her think and make her laugh)
Do a jigsaw (My father’s favourite pastime is fun and calming)
Meditate
Write a gratitude journal
Be kind
We will get through this, just like we have done before. Stay calm and carry on and remember to hold onto your joy tightly!
What are your top tips for staying positive during lockdown?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
*


As we traverse this very unstable time, it is so important that we keep track of our real joy and our vitality. ~ Jai Dev Singh
 


*


 
Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with the words Newsletter Subscription in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com