Archive for the ‘Top Tips’ Category

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

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

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My friend said she soaked up the events at this year’s writers’ festival like a sponge. I know what she means. The “conversations,” the lectures, the workshops, and the performances that took place in August filled my cup to overfloweth. It’s worth putting aside a week each year for the festival. I’ve been attending for years and have a large old paper notebook spiral-bound that I have kept notes in since the first time. As promised, I will continue to report on the events I attended whenever I get the chance. The writers’ festival is a blast. The buzz of being around other scribophiles and learning more about the craft and the business is an intoxicating mix. As a card-carrying introvert, it takes a lot to drag me out of my cave, especially in winter. But events like that can do it. Then I go out and come home jazzed every single day. However, once it’s over, I must lie inside my cave for a while to recover.

The second session I attended was the Middle Fiction workshop with Kate de Goldi. I know! I am such a fangirl and have rabbited on about this much-lauded Kiwi author and tutor for years, and I got to attend another workshop with Kate herself! As soon as I saw her name on the agenda, I signed up. I’ve done several courses with Kate over the years, and they have always enriched, enlightened, and inspired me. Though I didn’t expect Kate to recognize me, I’ll admit I was chuffed when she did. We even had a quick chat about the workshops in the past, and Kate let me get an updated photo with her. Yay!
Kate is a passionate advocate of the middle fiction genre and maintains that ‘Much of the best writing for children can be found in the middle fiction space.’ I remember the first workshop I did with Kate in 2005. I was so excited about her perspective. “I don’t think you can say suitable for 9 – 13. I resist those divisions. It should be 9 – 99. Most of the great children’s books are read by adults.” This so mirrored my feeling about children’s literature that I felt at home, in the right place. “There is no difference between writing for children and adults, and there’s no difference in the level of craft.” My sentiments exactly.

This workshop with her was about exploring ‘language, voice, and characters of the form’ and was as brilliant as expected. Kate had some terrific advice on how to write at the middle fiction level. “If we bring the same armoury of craft to children’s fiction, we need to be observing. Polishing and excavating your sensory capacity is necessary. Seeing the world from a completely different point of view is essential.” Kate recommended we get in touch with the old child self. “Interview your 9, 10, and 11-year-old self. Your job is to practice noticing and to think about the emotional territory we occupied at that time.” The reason for that was simple. “Noticing, a sense of wonder, and being new in the world IS middle fiction.” I love it when a teacher can be reductive yet, at the same time, say everything.
As Kate doesn’t believe in rules for fiction or prohibitions, she has a free approach to teaching about writing, which I also appreciate. “Being in the world and thinking about your inner child self is a good place to start.” That, I can do.

And how do you learn how to write? “A plumber knows drains. Read your genre. Go to the library and read your genre across decades and authors.” That was how Kate had learned to write. She started as a reader. She said she was too underconfident in her writing to take a writing course and had learned by reading. Similarly, I was too shy to share my work for years, therefore I connected with that point. Usually, I feel daunted by the wealth of scholastic accomplishments achieved by my writing peers. At least now I can say I’m in good company.
How do you figure out what to write about? Kate said you should not come to the page wanting to write about X. “You should come with something you feel driven to say that you don’t fully understand yet. Interrogate your 11-year-old self. What were you puzzled by, conflicted by? A character propelled by something is a good place to start. After that, I get them walking and talking.” Easy, right?

While I’m busy fangirling, who are your favourite authors? Who would you love to meet in person?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

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“I think of middle fiction as the body of work that has most influenced children.” ~ Kate de Goldi


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Lately, I have shared some of the information from the Step by Step writer’s workshop, run by bestselling author Graeme Simsion, at our local writer’s festival. Graeme based his writing advice on his latest book, The Novel Project: A Step-by-Step Guide to Your Novel, Memoir, or Biography.
He said there were two parts to The Novel Project; the preparation and the process.

Under ” preparation” there were four parts:
Overview of the approach – which was a precis of the workshop.
Being a writer – Focus on being the best writer you can be. Don’t waste your time on social media.
Creativity – Figure out what works for you. When do you get your best ideas? Start looking for patterns. No matter how hard you work, most ideas will not come immediately. They need incubation.
Structure – Be knowledgeable about story structure. Learn the language. A three-act structure consists of setup, conflict, and resolution.

Under ” process” there were nine parts:
Concept: “What is your book about? You must be able to define it in a sentence or phrase (an elevator pitch). Keep a list of good ideas. One good idea on its own will have been done before, but two ideas mashed up against one another will be original.”
Synopsis – plot: “Beats are the things that happen in a story. I want to be able to tell the story from beginning to end in a few key beats.”
Synopsis – characters (players and decisions): Graeme gave us the inside scoop, “the Graeme Simsion method,” for getting to know our characters. He focuses on the motivations for their most important decisions. “I ask my characters three questions. What would you tell your best friend if you were asked about this decision? What would you tell your parents? and What would you tell your therapist? and follow this up by asking the therapist, What would you tell us about the character? Then this forms the framework for the entire story.”

Brainstorming the story: “Write every idea down. Write scenes in random order. I want lots of material to play with.” See the ‘bucket of scenes’ method in my first post on this subject, Step by Step.
Organizing the story: “Put the cards (from your bucket of scenes) in order. Usually, the setup is too long, the resolution too short, and there will be a lack of acceleration in the middle. A convention of story is to have acceleration throughout the body of the book.”
Reviewing the outline: “Once you have the cards in order, type them onto your computer. As you work on the scene breakdowns add everything you can think of. Flesh them out.”
First draft (manuscript): Graeme’s target is to write 1000 words a day. “Don’t get it right; get it done. I look at the beats and say to myself to trust the process.”

Rewriting (or editing): How many passes to get a better manuscript? Graeme said when he started writing fiction, it took him at least 70 passes, but these days it’s more like a dozen. His advice was that we wouldn’t improve our stories on the first passes, that it wouldn’t be 100%, but on each pass, we would make them better. And we should expect the process to take time. “At some stage, if you can leave the manuscript a few weeks, leave it then come back to it.”
Working with your editor(s): About this, Graeme said something quite beautiful, that “we need to be reflective practitioners.” We need to be willing to be flexible and change our darlings, but only to a certain extent. He told us to remember something Neil Gaiman had said once, “When the editors say something is wrong, they’re always right. When they say something is definitely wrong, they’re probably wrong. And when they tell you how to fix it, they’re always wrong.” That made us laugh.
Thanks, Graeme! And that wraps up his intensive workshop.

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

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“A story must have a beginning, middle, and end, but not necessarily in that order.” ~ Graeme Simsion


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Recently, I shared some of the insights gained from the Step by Step writer’s workshop, run by bestselling author Graeme Simsion, at our local writer’s festival. Graeme based his novel writing advice on his latest book, The Novel Project: A Step-by-Step Guide to Your Novel, Memoir, or Biography. He started the workshop by saying, “What I want you to have is what I have. When I get up in the morning, I know what I’m going to do, and I make serious progress on my novel by the end of each day.”
Then he gave us the seven principles from The Novel Project.

0: Be aware of the process: or how you work best: “I always write in the same place at the same time. I start by reading what I wrote the day before.”
1: Writing is a craft that can be learned: “Every trade can be learned. Improvement is a career-long process.”
2: Concentrate on one thing at a time: “To write at a professional level takes work. Don’t try to focus on everything at once. The best way to tackle a difficult task is to break it down into steps.”
3: Make your work explicit (and learn the language of structure): “At every stage, write it down. Whether it’s a line of dialogue or a character trait, keep notes.”
4: Manage your creativity (and give your unconscious a chance): “Set the time aside for creativity for your story. We can do tons of things to enhance our creativity. Your job is to figure out what works best for you. Notice when you get your best ideas and try to reproduce those. Think about improving the quality of your creative time.”

5: The process is mostly top-down, but not rigidly so: “Start with the idea and keep adding to it. Flesh it out. File every brainwave. The process is not a straightjacket; it’s a support. It’s not about rigidity but safety nets.”
6: Decisions are crucial to stories: “What makes a plot sing is plot twists and character development. When these two things come together, things happen. Character decisions are what makes a story interesting. A story outlined and conjure six or more character decisions, and you have gone a long way.”
7: Think in scenes: “It’s all about shape and structure. We are told ‘show don’t tell.’ A lot of writers don’t understand it. Try thinking in scenes. If you can imagine it on a movie screen, you are showing and not telling. You can stitch the reflections and the summaries in later.”

Great stuff, huh? The seven principles laid the groundwork. Then, Graeme shared the preparation and the process of novel writing, which I will detail in the next step-by-step post.
Even for pantsers like me, using a planned approach like this one espoused by Graeme Simsion will pay dividends. Graeme said, “If you write intuitively, you can still use structure. It pays to learn the language. Once I have my structure I have a safety net. Then imagination can take you somewhere stronger. Creativity loves a challenge, and constraints inspire creativity.”
Today, I’ll finish by sharing what Graeme told us about social media for authors. I’ve always struggled to manage all the social media requirements as an author. At one stage, I had seven different social media accounts. When I hired a publicist in 2020 to release The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, she told me to limit my accounts to two and focus on my writing. I quit every site except for this blog, and my Facebook page. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

I found it fascinating that Graeme concurred with this attitude about social media for authors. He said, “Don’t waste your time.” And he demonstrated with a great example about the time Bill Gates mentioned his book, The Rosie Project, on Twitter. Graeme watched the stats that day, and he received virtually nil extra sales after the top-level shout-out. However, when Bill Gates mentioned his book during a television show, Graeme’s sales spiked through the roof. Likewise, when Graeme himself was interviewed on TV, his book sales rocketed. He said, “It’s a waste of time promoting your books on Twitter and Facebook and so on. Social media doesn’t sell books.” What a revelation, considering it’s currently touted by most folks in marketing as the snake oil you need to use most while promoting your book. It pays to listen to those in the know.

Thanks for the top tips, Graeme!

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

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“It’s a process of constantly enhancing creativity. You can break the rules and then come back again.” ~ Graeme Simsion


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Last weekend, I went to our local annual writer’s festival. It was fantastic. I learned a lot and thought I’d share some of the content over the next few weeks. My first event was the Step by Step writer’s workshop, run by bestselling author, Graeme Simsion. It was an intensive hour and a half of Graeme ‘drilling us’ as he put it with information. I wrote copious notes in my big old notebook. In this ancient tome, I have kept notes I’ve taken during writing workshops, courses, and lectures dating back thirty years. My friend from the Fabulatores (we’ve decided on the name now!) may have been surprised at how much I was writing. But, I have learned from experience you can never keep enough notes. My memory is faulty, and if I don’t record the tips, I’ll have forgotten half of the content by morning.

Graeme based the workshop on his method of working, detailed in his recently published The Novel Project: A Step-by-Step Guide to Your Novel, Memoir, or Biography. Billed as a simple guide to the writing process, he led us from premise to proofreading. A fast speaker, Graeme crammed a lot into an hour and a half. I had to write like the wind trying to keep up with him. He gave us an overview and then detailed his process of how to write a book in a series of concrete steps, as well as giving tips on how to develop character and what drives a good story.

At first, I thought I had made a mistake being there when Graeme made it clear that the class was for planners, whereas I am a pantser. In other words, I don’t plan anything. I set up the right conditions for my writing schedule and then write whatever comes into my little head. Graeme made it clear from the outset of his lecture that this was a formal planning approach. I hadn’t realized that key detail when I decided to take the workshop. Yet, I liked when he said that even if we were pantsers, perhaps one day in the future we might decide our approach wasn’t working anymore, then knowing how to plan a novel would be a great backup. “Think of it as a safety net.” That sounded sensible, so I stayed, and it turned out I took copious notes and learned an astonishing amount.

Graeme said he starts from the top with his stories; he likes to start with the concept at the outset, nailing down his soundbite or elevator pitch. As a teacher, he said he had met countless writers who could not tell him in a statement their story concept, which is a big mistake. Once he sorts out his story concept, Graeme works on a synopsis for the whole story, detailing the plot, the characters, and their decisions. He said a book should have an inciting incident to kick things off, a few key events hopefully linked to the characters’ decisions, a couple of things to twist the plot around then a resolution.

Graeme had other excellent tips too. I could see myself using his idea for a “bucket of scenes.” When brainstorming the content for our stories, Graeme advocated having an actual bucket and using index cards to jot down a couple of ideas each day using the cards. We can then toss the cards into the bucket, aiming for 180 per book, though we might only use 120. Usually, when I’m roughing out a new book, I catch notes on serviettes and the backs of envelopes, grabbing whatever is to hand. I liked the idea of using index cards and getting more organized in my approach. Gee, thanks, Graeme. You see how I’m changing already.

I love Graeme Simsion’s bio. He was born in New Zealand, became an IT consultant and the author of two nonfiction books on database design, and then decided at the age of fifty to turn his hand to fiction and virtually became an overnight success. His first novel, The Rosie Project, published in 2013, has been sold in forty languages and the movie rights have been optioned to Sony Pictures. The two sequels altogether sold more than five million copies.

There was such a wealth of information in this one workshop that I can’t fit it all into one post. I will write follow-up posts, More Step by Step, and Even More Step by Step at later dates.

What a fabulous evening. I might be a pantser writer, however, it never hurts to learn new tricks. There is power in information. What do you think?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

“If I get writer’s block I lower my standards.” ~ Graeme Simsion


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Orators are natural storytellers. We know how to tell a story. It is easy to construct speeches, the same way we tell stories, with a few concrete steps.

Preparation is the key to a successful presentation. It helps to distill the central idea into one sentence. I usually follow this with three to five statements that support the central idea and figure out the order of the points from there.

Storytelling has a shape. We grew up with stories from our earliest memories. Even a three-year-old will prick up their ears if any part of a story is missing. Because we are hardwired as to the patterns and the shape a story should take. Speeches are the same. They have a recognized, traditional form. When presented with a disorganized speech, an audience will focus on mentally creating order in the presentation instead of paying attention to the content.

A story has a Beginning, Middle, and End; a speech has an Introduction, a Body, and a Conclusion. In Toastmasters, speech structure has described this way: Tell what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you’ve told them.

Kiwi author Brian Falkner described the story structure this way:

S — SETTING
T — THE CHARACTERS
O — OBSTACLES
R — REACH
Y — YOUR GOAL

Basic speech structure can work within this structure nicely. The first part of your speech, the introduction, provides the all-important Setting. You set the stage for what is to come. Give some context. Your intro should take no more than two minutes. You want it to be compelling and wake the audience up into paying attention.

The body of your speech or the middle of your story is where you put the characters, obstacles, and reach. The “Tell them” part. The body is for your main idea or points: such as anecdotes, statistics, quotes, or other researched information. Organize the material into a natural order that makes sense. It should be logically, sequentially arranged.

After the body, prepare to sum it all up in 30 – 60 seconds. Tell them what you’ve told them. Summarize your key points, and make a call to action if applicable. Try to wrap up by alluding to points made in the introduction because people will take away the last thing they hear more than any other part of your speech.

Embrace your storytelling ability and make it work for you. Think, does your presentation have an engaging introduction, an interesting body, and a satisfying conclusion? Do I feel motivated by the content of my story? Have I communicated the central speech idea? These questions will craft a great speech. Have fun and tell your stories with gusto because a good story is something people will remember long after it was told.

Happy storytelling. Why not have a go and try public speaking?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

*This new series of blog posts is adapted from the material I’m currently presenting at my Toastmasters club.

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Every story I create creates me. I write to create myself. ~ Octavia E. Butler

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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

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

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In Toastmasters last week, during the spontaneous speaking segment of the meeting called Table Topics, I was asked this question, “How has your life changed in the last two years?” I replied, “There has been a lot more stress. Even after doing meditation and yoga each day, there is still stress. But, the greatest change has been the divisions that have taken place between my family and friends.” Apart from the impacts of illness, death, and chaos around us, the pandemic has also divided communities and families. People have become polarised over powerful feelings one way or the other. There is a lot of rhetoric on both sides. My own family has broken into two camps. Some people aren’t talking to others and are not seeing those on the other side of the fence. My friend group has suffered the same fate. As the classic middle child peacekeeper, I navigate my way down the middle, passing messages between the camps. It appears that stress has altered the normal levels of tolerance friends and family would extend to one another. Instead, people are quick to attack and denounce others as wrong. It’s sad.

Whenever I’m in doubt, I retreat to one of the most important lessons I’ve learned so far in 57 years of life on this planet. I’ve shared this message before, and anyone who has known me the last nine years I’ve been active on social media will have heard it already. Be prepared. I will share it again in the future. It is too valuable to keep to myself.
Let me tell you the story.
About thirty years ago, I was a recruit to Amway. I didn’t last long in the business, but, in the beginning, I was new and shiny-eyed, ever curious to learn more. If you are unfamiliar with Amway, it works on a tier system. As you gain more people in your business (or “down lines”), you earn more money, and by the time you reach “Diamond” level, you earn decent returns and have many down lines all looking up to you as their leader.

Our Diamond leaders were an intelligent, good-looking, older couple. They were articulate and kind. For the sake of anonymity, we’ll call them Bob and Sue. I would assume a lot of the teaching and lectures in Amway would take place online these days, but in those days, the meetings happened in person. So we would rock along to school auditoriums and church halls one night a week to hear the various Diamonds and above give talks about building the business.
On Tuesday night, I attended a meeting where my Diamond leaders were speaking. Sue, especially, was glamorous and impeccably dressed, one of those people who has star quality oozing out of her pores. She never goes unnoticed, heads turn. She and I had never spoken in person. I was a mere underling, a newbie so far down the line I had not even signed up a single business prospect. I was starstruck to be in the same room.
The meeting was inspirational, as always. When it finished, I filed out along with everyone else, and somehow, I ended up walking alongside Sue. To my amazement, she started talking to me.

We established I was one of her downlines. We wandered slowly out to the car park. Sue was in full swing, talking about the benefits of the business and the usual speel. Then we faced one another to say our goodbyes. Sue grabbed my hand, and she said, “You know what, honey, if you forget everything else I have told you tonight, it’s fine. There is only one thing I want you to take away. There is one rule I try to follow every day. It’s more important than everything else, even the business.”
I nodded. My focus was on her 100%.
“Whether in your business or in your life, there is only one thing you need to do every day, and that is to SPREAD THE LOVE.”

Even then, I could feel the tingle, the reverberation of those words. The moment and the message were profound. They engraved into my memory. I took the message away with me that night, and it completely changed my outlook. I’ve never forgotten it, and I have endeavoured to apply the wisdom in the years since. Whenever in doubt about any situation, big or small, I remember Sue’s advice. Spread the love.
Within the current climate of disintegration, I remember that life lesson again. Have hurtful things been said to me by family and friends? Yes. Have hurtful things been done to me? Yes. Has misunderstanding run rife? Yes. But do I respond in kind? No. Do I stand in my corner pointing fingers, telling others what they should think or how they should behave? No. Do I belittle and demean others for their choices? No. I come back again and again to that shining woman in that dimly-lit car park, throwing the business narrative out the window to impart the most valuable truth in her life.

I think, how can I SPREAD THE LOVE?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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“Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” ~ Albert Einstein


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


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