Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fun at the Farmers Market!

Every Saturday morning, the car park next to Dunedin Railway Station buzzes with people. It's time for the Otago Farmers Market, a year round, weekly market where vendors from all over Otago come to sell their produce.

I like to go to the Farmers Market whenever I have a Saturday morning off work, except for perhaps when it is bucketing down with rain. Sometimes it's just a quick visit to buy a few veggies, or to meet up with a friend and get a coffee and a yummy crepe from the French man at La Crepe.

In a bid to be a bit healthier and buy more local produce, I decided last Saturday I would try and buy most of my groceries for the week/fortnight. I budgeted myself $60 for the food. Normally I would go to the supermarket for a 'big shop' about once a fortnight and I would always be shocked at the amount of money I spent compared to what I had bought.

I went to the market fairly early in the morning - about 9am - when the selection is better. It usually runs from 8am until 12ish - although there isn't much left by then!

Here's what I bought:

Some of this will last me longer than a week, which is probably a good thing as I'm working night shifts next weekend, so might not quite be up for visiting the market after work!

The big plus of buying local produce is that you are buying in season. I bought carrots and parsnips, spinach (I love spinach and I definitely need the iron!), broccoli, 2kg of potatoes, and yummy Braeburn and Granny Smith apples. I rarely used to eat apples but have developed a taste for them again. I also bought a loaf of multi grain bread and a loaf of sour dough bread and half a dozen free range eggs. I bought 2 large chicken breasts for $8, which will easily last me for four meals, and some yummy bacon from Happy Hogs. That's a bit of a guilty pleasure, I love bacon!

Then I looked in my wallet and realised I still had plenty of money left, so on a whim I bought some hummus and a pot of mixed seeds to sprinkle on cereal etc. And I still hadn't broken the budget! It was time for a celebratory crepe!

I was pretty pleased with my purchases, the bread will only last a few days but the rest will easily last me a week or two. I haven't done a price comparison with the supermarket, but some things definitely seemed cheaper, and then there is the added bonus of not buying snacks and packaged food I don't really need. There are plenty of other things on offer at the Farmers Market too, from fish and venison to jam, beer, cheese and even plants and seedlings. Last year I bought my cherry tomato plants from the Farmers Market and they produced very well for me all summer.

And yes, after the shopping it was time for hummus on sour dough for lunch!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Building a New Garden

One of my goals since being in my new house is to have a proper vegetable garden. Last year I grew quite a bit in containers, but this year I wanted to expand and make use of the space I had. After all, who needs all that grass to mow??

Last year I found a very interesting book in the library called Square Foot Gardening, by Mel Bartholomew. Unfortunately it always seems like it was booked out of the library when I wanted it again, so in the end I bought my own copy. I really liked some of the ideas in the book and decided that this year as an experiment I would follow Mel's method.

The main concept of the book is to garden in squares rather than traditional row gardening. Raised beds are used, and separated into square foot sections. NZ is a metric country, but I tend to work in both imperial and metric as I'm from the UK and I was taught both at school. Different numbers of plants can be grown in each square - for example you might grow one tomato plant in one square, but can grow 16 carrots in the same amount of space. The idea is that you plant what you need, when you need. Gone are the summers of my childhood when my dad's courgettes would all be ready at once and we would have a massive pile of them on the table to get through. Anyone wonder why I hate courgettes? That's why!

Mel's book had been around for several decades, but it was recently updated to include mixing up your growing media from scratch rather than improving your existing soil. This is great as my soil is pretty much all clay and I don't fancy my chances of growing much in it without some hard work! The bonus of starting from scratch is that you should be lessening the chance of weeds growing - and if they do get in there they are easy to spot and remove. I'll discuss the growing media in a separate post.

I decided that my raised beds would be best in the garden on the north side of my house, which gets all morning sun, and will get more afternoon soon in a few more weeks when the sun tops the neighbour's cabbage trees.

I had a few different ideas about the size of the raised beds I was going to make. Unfortunately as I only have my little car and no tow bar, I needed to get lengths of wood that would fit in the back of the car. Luckily the lovely guys at Placemakers cut up all my wood to the sizes I wanted, making it a lot easier for me! I originally intended to make 4 boxes, each 4x4ft. Later I decided on 3 this size, and one 2x4ft box, which meant I had to cut one piece of wood in half (well, luckily my flatmate did that for me!) However, I did all the box making by myself.

Beginnings of the box, a 4ft (120cm) long piece of timber, which will sit 30cms high. You can also see my electric drill/screwdriver, measure and other tools, along with my tulips and garlic that are growing in pots by the house.

To begin with I had to drill holes along one edge of each piece of wood for the screws.

Then it was a case of screwing each side together, I rotated all the corners so the box is equal length on all sides.

The finished box. I put extra pieces of wood in each corner to help stabilise the box. It is pretty heavy and it was quite hard work moving it when I was on my own, although my flatmate did help out a bit with moving the boxes to their place in the garden. I should note that the timber I used is untreated, as I wasn't keen on using chemically treated wood that might leech nasties into my vegetables. Later on I painted the outside of the box with linseed oil which is a good sealant. The boxes will probably rot in a few years, but the wood is fairly cheap and I don't mind having to replace them later on as I might have developed some new ideas by then!

I also made a 2x4ft box. In future I think I will stick to the 2x4 size as it was a lot easier for me to move around by myself. I have space in my garden for plenty more boxes, but I will see how I go with these ones first.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Intensive Update #4

Time for another update, as it took me so long to write up Tonga I never wrote about anything else! Luckily I won't be going on any holidays for a good long while due to lack of funds! So no more multiple holiday posts...

Not that I'm really sure there is much to update about my life. Things are ticking along, the house is going well, I had 2 flatmates for a while but one has just moved out. It's nice to only have one flatmate, the house feels more my own with only one other person here, and I'm hoping I can get by with just renting out one room but we'll see. I've been waiting months to get my bathroom renovation sorted and hopefully that will be happening in a couple of weeks. There are still plenty of odd jobs to do around the place, and lots of things I'd love to do too, but unfortunately the bills need to be paid instead! I've learned I hate paying Rates! They always come at the wrong time.

Other aspects of my life - work is going well, and the 3 week holiday from work is even better! Switching to 12hr shifts has meant I get a lot more time off, although I'm going up to full time (from .9FTE) when I start back next week so that means an extra 8hr shift per fortnight. My love life sucks, but then that's really nothing new is it? Spectacular heartbreak this year, but I'm mending slowly. At least the cat loves me. Oh yes, I got a cat a couple of months ago! Her name is Poppy, and a friend from work gave her to me as she didn't get on with their dog. She's taken a while to settle in but she's pretty good most of the time now. Doesn't like new people though!

I'm really getting into gardening lately, and planning to grow a lot of my own vegetables over the coming year. I'll be blogging a lot about it I think, have been taking photos as I go.

So friends, this is a short update, as really there haven't been that many newsworthy moments so far this year! I can't believe it is half way through August though, the year is disappearing so quickly.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tonga Holiday, part 5

Leaving 'Eua was a lot simpler than our journey there - we took the plane back instead of the ferry. This is probably the shortest commercial flight in the world, being just over 8 minutes long. The plane was small, only fitting around 12 passengers, but as the ferry was not running, it was the only way off the island. I have to say, I'm not a big fan of small planes, but I managed to hold myself together for the short flight.

Our last few days we planned to spend at a beach resort, Vakaloa. This resort was once favoured by the old King. It actually wasn't too pricey, although a bit more than our earlier budget accommodation. When we arrived, we also realised that they had upgraded us for free! Our last few days were spent in luxury!

The verandah outside the rooms.

My bed - the room was massive, and there was another big bed opposite this one, as well as a sofa and other furniture. And an ensuite with hot water shower! Look closely and you can even see the roses decorating the bed!

The beach at the resort.

There were very few people staying there, and we were pretty much the only people on the beach that day. We also went swimming and snorkelling too - saw a few interesting fish underneath the waves! Unfortunately a tropical storm was closing in on the region so the weather started to turn the day we spent on the beach, but we still had a great day.

One of the main reasons we chose to stay at Vakaloa is because they held a Tongan feast and cultural show, and we had missed out on the one at Hina Cave. Surprisingly there were only a handful of foreigners there, many of the guests were Tongans. I think a lot of the groups were families who had brought their visiting relatives, or work groups coming for a night out.

The feast was huge, with many traditional vegetables and dishes. I confess I steered clear of the seafood ones, but I was told they were also delicious!

Roast pig anyone?

Guests going up for seconds.

After the meal, the show began. There were several different types of dance represented, not just Tongan, but also other Pacific island dances. The costumes were beautiful too.

One of the guests a German/Kiwi guy who was at our table, volunteered to play the drums, and actually did a fantastic job - the other drummers were impressed!

I believe this young schoolgirl has recently won competitions for her dancing.

Then came the highlight - fire dancing!

Usually this is done outside on the deck or beach, but because of the storm the winds were too strong, so a modified version was performed instead. I caught some on video too!

The next day it was time for me to leave Tonga and say goodbye to my friend R, who was heading back home to Canada! So a pretty sad day for me. She was heading back to the capital, Nuku'alofa to spend another couple of days in Tonga. Unfortunately I had to go back to work. Actually it turned out I was pretty lucky to leave on the day I did, as not long afterwards the cyclone hit Tonga and wreaked havoc. Luckily my friend stayed safe and eventually made it home herself.

I had a great, relaxing holiday in Tonga, even managed a bit of a tan (novelty for me!) It was a wonderful first taste of the Pacific Islands, and I'll certainly be back one day. Not to mention visit a few of the other places in the Pacific. I wish I was there right now actually, as I am writing this in the middle of freezing cold Dunedin winter!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Tonga Holiday, part 4

Our last full day on 'Eua, and we decided to see some more of the sights the island had to offer. The lovely people at the Hideaway also ran 4x4 tours of the island, so the four of us opted to spend the day with Sifa again. The weather was beautiful again, although the seas were getting stormy and we learned that the ferry we had taken a couple of days before had been cancelled for the rest of the week. Luckily we'd booked the plane back to Tongatapu the next day.

We crammed into the 4x4 and first took another group up to the start of the Fangatave trek, before heading to our first sightseeing spot.

A view of the beach below the cliffs, our first viewpoint.

An example of a traditional house - this is now a school house.

Next we took a drive into the rainforest, and a walk up a river to a spring.

On the way we saw some Red Shining Parrots - unique to 'Eua. Unfortunately couldn't take any decent photos, but at least I can say I've seen a bird my dad hasn't yet seen!

Then we headed to see a sight I found absolutely amazing - a giant Banyan (strangling fig) tree. This particular tree is named Big Ovava, and you can see why!

Big Ovava is so big I couldn't take a photo of the whole of it in one go!

This tree is actually growing out of a giant sink hole, and we climbed down into it. It reminded me of the tree in Avatar, I could just imagine blue aliens swinging around in the roots and branches...

View taken from further down in the sink hole.

Another nearby sink hole, photo taken from the top.

And looking up from the bottom!

We made it down into the sink hole to the bottom of the tree - the roots are massive.

Sifa and one of the women in our group decided to climb back up through the roots and branches! I wasn't quite that brave!

After that little adventure we headed deeper into the rainforest - the vegetation along the track we drove was about as high as the car bonnet! Sifa took us to a cave called the Rat Cave - a name which didn't really encourage us to explore further...

Sifa headed into the small cave, I took a little more convincing...

But eventually I made it inside - it was more of a tunnel which opened onto a cliff ledge.

View of the rainforest coastline from the cliff.

Next we came to a man-made viewpoint, another lovely view of the national park coastline.

I managed to snap a photo of a white tail tropic bird (Tavake) - a pair of them were playing on the winds.

Another drive, and a short trek to a local waterfall, the Smoking Cave, unfortunately not much water in it at present.

A student fell to his death here not long ago, whilst walking in the bush at night. It would have been a pretty difficult retrieval, as the sink hole is deep and hard to access.

We then headed to Lakufanga - the Rock Gardens, where we had our picnic lunch and a little rest.

The cliffs at the Rock gardens.

There is a local legend about this place, where a starving family threw themselves to their deaths when they ran out of food and have been reincarnated as sea turtles. If you throw the fa fruit from the cliffs the turtles will come and eat them. You can read more about the legend here.

A natural archway - Li'anga Huo A Maui.

Legend tells that the archway was created by Maui's mother. Maui's mother had woken up Maui to do some hoeing on the island, and Maui, feeling quite angry about being woken up started hoeing and caused an earthquake. His mother stopped him as he was damaging the island and snatched the hoe from his hand, throwing it to the south of the island where it became embedded in the cliff face. Maui later pulled it out, creating the archway.

Our last stop after visiting the archway was a lovely empty beach. We had time to take a leisurely swim in the deep rock pools, and sunbathe afterwards.

It was another great day on 'Eua. I absolutely adored this island, if I came back to Tonga I think I would head straight here. Although we didn't have time to visit the other groups of islands that make up Tonga, I think we made a great choice in coming to 'Eua.

Tonga Holiday, part 3

After a couple of days on the main island of Tongatapu, we went to spend a couple of days on another island, Eua. Eua is a 2.5hr ferry ride from Tongatapu (or an 8 minute flight!) The island mostly appeals to people who want a more outdoorsy trip or just a quiet break. In the right season it is great for whale watching - unfortunately not when we went. There are, however, plenty of other things to do, such as walks, diving, and caving.

The ferry trip over was absolutely horrific. My friend spent the entire time outside at the railings and most of the Tongans were seasick too. Luckily I don't get seasick, though even I wasn't feeling too flash.

We had booked to stay at a place called the Hideaway and they came to pick us up from the ferry terminal. From the moment I got there I knew I'd love it - it has a great atmosphere and the staff are very friendly and helpful.

The main building - the wooden side is the dining/relaxing area and is great to chill out in during the evening.

We chose to stay in a 'fale' - a thatched hut. We stayed in the far one pictured. They are basic but cute! All that was missing was a hammock!

The dining area as viewed from the whale watching deck down by the ocean.

A lovely quiet beach just a short stroll from the Hideaway.

The next day we opted to do the Fangatave Beach Trek, a full-ish day trek down to a secluded beach through caves and forest. We were joined by a couple of other guests, and guided by Sifa, who did a great job. We were driven to the start of the track, which I think was in the northern part of the island (?) but I can't quite be sure. Riding on benches in the back of the Ute we drove past the King's residence (which was really a small holiday house) and through a couple of pretty villages. The people of Eua do seem to take a lot of pride in their gardens, most well landscaped with the lawns trimmed and green.

A short walk through a field took us to the cliff's edge.

Sifa heading towards the cliffs.

The gorgeous view from the cliff edge.

Fangatave Beach - our destination far below!

We then headed through some gently sloping forest - some trees had very impressive root systems.

Then came the hard part - climbing down the cliff face!

After the climbing, we walked through a series of caves.

Stunning stalactites and stalagmites.

Then it was time for a break, and Sifa climbed a coconut tree to bring us fresh snacks!

Yummy fresh coconuts straight off the tree - tasted much better than my first coconut drink!

Then it was time to head through some more caves...

Some were a tight squeeze!

And some involved a leap of faith! Why did I always end up as the first to do it??

Eventually we made to this beautiful secluded beach!

We spent a few hours at the beach, had our picnic lunch, went for a warm luxurious swim, sunbathed and fell asleep on the beach! We were the only ones there! I can't imagine this beach ever gets many visitors, which just made it paradise.

We took a different route back up the cliffs, which didn't involve crawling through caves, but did involve a longer climb to reach the forest path.

I climbed up first, which meant I could photograph the rest of the group following me up.

Eventually we made it back to the top! It was a tough but rewarding walk and a very memorable day. I thoroughly recommend the walk. And it's always good to make a few new friends!

Sifa, don't jump!