Where there is a will there is a way

Monday, February 27, 2012

Shell profiteering climate change in the Arctic


On 24 Feb 2012, 7 people - including Lucy Lawless, occupied a Shell oil drilling ship to raise awareness about Shell drilling oil in the Arctic - a place only accessible due to climate change (caused by burning of fossil fuels such as oil). 77 hours later, they were arrested - but by that time 200,000 emails [March 4] were sent to Shell Oil by people protesting Shell's profiteering climate change (and also worsening climate change).

Lucy Lawless, NZ:

"I am here today acting on behalf of the planet and my children. Drilling for deep sea oil is bad enough, but to go into the Arctic, one of the most magical places left on the planet, is going too far.

"A melting of the sea ice is a warning to humanity, not an invitation to drill for more of the stuff which caused the problem in the first place.

"And yet Shell claims that they can manage a 90% cleanup of an oil spill in the harsh arctic, and I call BS. An oil spill in the Arctic would make the Gulf of Mexico [oil spill] look like a children's party.

"What Shell is doing is climate change profiteering. We don't have to go to the ends of the Earth to extract every last drop of oil. We've got to smarten up and move to a clean energy economy now."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Wump World by Bill Peet

There is a book that I have wanted to find for the past ten years. I never thought I would find it, as my memory was a little sketchy - but I actually recognized another of his books the other day, which then triggered the familiarity to his name. Carrying a powerful environmental message, the book I remembered from childhood is The Wump World, by Bill Peet.

Bill Peet worked for Walt Disney, and was responsible for 101 Dalmations and - a personal favourite - The Sword in the Stone. But he also wrote children's picture books. Looking at his titles, I recognize and loved many. (For example, check out Big Bad Bruce. I loved the witch.)

The Wump World was published in 1970. One year later, Dr. Seuss's The Lorax came out, with parallels to The Wump World. Earlier, Bill Peet had also written Farewell to Shady Glade, his first book to carry this critical environmental message.

The Story
In The Wump World, these goat-like animals live on their own grass-covered world. They live under their bumbershoot trees, and are happy.

Then one day, their peace is broken by a swarm of people arriving in spaceships.

The wumps survive below the ground on grassy ledges, drinking from pools of water. (I have such a vivid memory of this picture.)

The people (whom he calls "the Pollutians") cover the world up with roads and cities.

When the world becomes polluted, they all leave in their spaceships to go do the same thing to the next world - having used this one up like locusts.

The Wumps return aboveground when the people are gone - suddenly all had become quiet. There world seems to be gone, all covered with concrete. They look for their stands of trees and grass that once covered their world.

"Just ahead of them was a grassy meadow with a clump of bumbershoot trees, all that was left of their lovely world. 'Wump-wumping' for joy, the Wumps went bounding off the motorway out onto the meadow. Pretty soon the hungry Wumps were munching away on the tall tender grass. Now there was new hope for the Wumps."

I vividly remember this stand of trees - all that is left of their world. I remembered it so strongly for a reason, which is why I am passing it on today. Wisdom from a 6-year old: after I read it to Troy, she sighed and said: “That means you shouldn’t wreck the world. There’s other animals that need to survive too.” But what I loved as a child, as Troy did as well, was that there is hope at the end of the story.

Bill Peet's Inspirationfrom http://www.billpeet.net/

Bill Peet in an interview with E. Edwards, post 1970:

"My wife and I, and young sons, often drove out west of Los Angeles toward Ventura, enjoying what I called beautiful scenery, even though sometimes the hills are rather brown from the heat of summer. The rolling hills with the live oaks, twisting oaks, which I believe are some of the more interesting trees in the world. In recent years as I drive out that way, I notice that the bulldozers and earth movers have been destroying that beautiful country at a rapid rate. These monsters have carved out the hills and cut them up like cake, not leaving one of those beautiful live oaks. I was amazed at the changes. "

"Then I recalled on my last trip back to Indiana when I wanted my young sons to see the beautiful streams and creeks and woodlands around Indianapolis where I wandered as a boy. Those creeks and streams were so valuable to us when we were young because we spent so much time there and there was so much beautiful wildlife. But on that trip back to Indianapolis, I found the creeks were buried, and the land was flattened and the forests were ripped away by bulldozers. There was nothing left of it, just housing tracts. I was so angered by these monstrous earth movers. So I drew earth movers for a while, wondering what I would do with them. They were the villains and I needed other characters to create a story and I also needed a beautiful woodland, a creek, and I called it Shady Glade."

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How to clear out the vermicompost (worm castings) from your worm farm (otherwise known as "the regular way")

Hey! I just wanted to say that I finally discovered how to remove vermicompost (pure worm castings) from your worm farm"the slow way" (and also the regular way) .

I found worm farming a great "get back to nature" learning curve, as I used to live in a small place where I couldn't compost the regular way (pile or bin of alternating food scraps, lawn clippings, paper out in a shared yard). It seemed to take me ages to get the hang of it - but now I understand soil and therefore gardening so much better. But I didn't understand why everyone said, "open a layer of your worm farm to the sunlight and they will crawl away", as when I did there were still millions of worms crawling in the layer of the worm farm.

So I would dump an the entire layer of the worm farm into a very large container, fill it with water, and bail out the worms (see my post here). It was very quick, true - but also very messy.

The other day I was speaking to my very precise friend Carol, who also has a worm farm. She mentioned to me that they just crawl about a centimeter down in the layer and you have to skim that depth that the worms have left over and over again. It can take all day.

Eureka! Recently I needed some actual worm castings (not fertilizer water) for making seed raising mix. It was a very sunny day, I skimmed and skimmed, depositing the rich worm casting (looks like wet dark mud) into another bucket. Really, it didn't take that long - about an hour (I would suggest doing it on a very sunny day) - and I actually didn't even need to get my gloved hands dirty.

Now I will have to tell the Kohanga Reo that I had encouraged to worm farm, and had educated with only my "lazy method" (dump layer in water and bail out worms) to clear out the castings that they are suffering in vain...

In summary:
I find the very bottom layer (the draining compartment below the bottom layer) to be the richest depository of worm castings - as there is no food, seeds, uncomposted fibers or rubbish remnants. Mine is always full of worms, and pure castings.

A message of hope

Shane and I went out for a date the other day - pushed out by kind houseguests on Valentine's Day. We hung out by the beach at Maori Bay.

The strange but beautiful screeling of gannet birds circling over their nest rock.

The relief of the sea, with no knowledge of humans.

So much of the world seems in peril - about to be lost. How wonderful that such places still exist.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Baby Lizards (Skinks) Have Hatched!

Troy holds a lizard in a teaspoon.

Troy (6) holding the newly hatched baby skink.

A new hatchling leaves crumpled egg behind.

These skinks are prolific in our garden (luckily). I found many little lizard eggs when we did a huge weeding/landscaping of the front garden. I let Troy put some in dirt in a box with airholes to keep in her room. (I had found eggs in dirt in my garden.) I hoped they would be at the right temperature that way - but didn't really believe that they would ever hatch!

After about a month, Troy told me that a few had hatched the night before (February 14) while Shane I had been out on a date. The next day she showed me and I was so surprised to see the tiny quickly moving thing in the box. But Troy was very matter-of-fact about it - she had never doubted that they would hatch!

Kayden's Imagination Station - Felt Cut-out Story Game

A friend of mine's son just broke his arm, and had to stay as still as possible for a week while the bone set and the swelling went down.

After school Troy and I sat down and cut out a felt game for him - but she got to colour and influence the proceedings as well.

It is a great, low cost idea for kids without broken arms too. Thise simple toy/game idea is better for kids than fully completed plastic toys. Actually, the simpler the forms, the better for developing kids' imaginations.

The kids can mix the parts - put wings on cars, or horses - whatever you happen to cut out.

If you don't find drawing by sight easy you can do what my mother did - who wasn't an artist. She traced. She is where I got this idea from - I loved it when she did it for me growing up as a kid.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hot Plum/Chilli Chutney and Mint/Chilli relish - Taste as you go

hot plum/chilli chutneyShane's the flavour maestro. I am just the chemist.

Shane slowly stewed on the stove plums, sugar, hot chillies from the garden, garlic, and a few other things. Cinnamon? The sauce was awesome. Hot chillies and deep red plum jam - we had it with cheese and crackers, with meat - it was really fun.

I followed this "Cottage Smallholder" recipe for the most part (recipe reproduced on this post, below) - but added a 1/2 teaspoon of cloves on inspiration. I don't love it actually. What I learned from Shane here, with sauces and spicing - is that you have to taste it as you add the spices and chillies. Don't taste it at the end of the recipe like I did! By then I thought I had already added far too much spice, which was sucky.

Later.... March 11. It turns out Shane did love this chutney in the end - it just needed to age a bit. I had followed the recipe - and added the half teaspoon of ground cloves on inspiration. So intuition can be good too. So...

GREAT RECIPE + paying attention and tasting throughout = best results

mint/chilli relish
Shane also blended mint (which grows prolifically) with chillies and some vinegar to make a wicked relish.

cottage smallholder's hot spiced plum chutney
from http://www.cottagesmallholder.com/hot-spiced-plum-chutney-recipe-6959
I had a yearning for a new plum chutney. Something fruity, spicy and hot. A chutney that could accompany roast pork, lamb or duck and be good with cheese sandwiches. A chutney that would inspire me to find infinite ways to use it.

We have a plum tree in our garden. It has large dark skinned plums. This year the harvest is enormous and during the recent high winds plums rained down on the driveway. Damaged windfall plums are perfect for making jam or chutney. I made a batch of our plum and tamarind chutney and then came up with this recipe. The lemon brings out the flavour of the plums and helps it to set.

It’s got a good chilli kick that comes a few seconds after the fruit bursts on your tongue. Wonderful and surprising. You can play with the amount of freah chilli used. Add them incrementally, letting the chutney absorb their flavour (about five minutes). I added the chopped dried chillies towards the end, a little at a time so as to get exactly the chilli sparkle that I wanted.

The chutney may look a bit sloppy when it’s ready to pot into jars. If you are unsure whether it has set enough, let a teaspoon get completely cold in the fridge – it thickens as it cools (about half an hour). If it is the right consistency for you, heat it the rest up very slowly and gently before pouring into warm sterilised jars with plastic lined lids.

If it’s too sloppy for your taste just bring it back to simmering point and continue string and testing every half an hour. Chutney is very forgiving – you can play with it a bit without ruining it. We always put a few jars away for vintage chutney – two year old chutney is to die for. Leave this chutney for at least a month to let the flavours to develop and mature.


1.45 kilos approx of sweet plums500 ml of white wine vinegar (don’t use malt or white vinegar)
4 chunky cloves of garlic sliced fine
175g of dried apricots chopped
600g of white granulated sugar
1 lemon cut lengthwise into 8 slices and sliced very fine (ours weighed 100g)
1 large pinch of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of coriander powder
7 red birds eye chillis sliced fine, include the seeds
1 tsp of salt1 tsp of allspice powder
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp of balsamic vinegar 

5 juniper berries 
10 black peppercorns
1 tsp of dried chillies, chopped fine with seeds 


The night before you want to make the chutney, put the plums in a large heavy bottomed saucepan/preserving pan and add the vinegar. Bring to the boil, cover and leave to cool until the next day.

Remove the stones from the softened plums. Return the plums and vinegar to the saucepan. Add all the ingredients apart from the sugar and the dried chillies.

Bring slowly to simmering point and add the sugar. Stir constantly until you are certain that the sugar has dissolved.

Bring the chutney back to a good simmer and, after an hour or so, add the dried chillis to taste. Stir every few minutes to stop the bottom burning (this is a labour of love after all).

Eventually depending on the strength of your simmer, the chutney will start to thicken (more like very thick soup than chutney) – mine took 3 hours, stirring every 10-15 minutes or so. Test for thickness by putting a spoonful in the fridge for half an hour and take the saucepan off the stove during the test.

When you have a consistency that you like, very gently reheat the chutney and when it reaches simmering point pour into warm sterilised jars and seal with plastic lined metal lids.
Leave for a month to mellow.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Plum Wine

We have been forging a new path - where we have not gone before!

Making wine!

Who knows if it will work - but we've been doing it more or less alright so far. I researched both the old ways and the new (Aunt Daisy's Preserving in an old book, and the internet), and have come up with my own simplified start to making wine.

But a really great find is a post by Althea on lifestyleblock.co.nz. Althea calls himself a "lazy winemaker". Although I don't entirely agree - he is at least a very natural and great winemaking person. Lazy winemaker's method here.

It appears that in the old days they didn't add yeast, and they certainly didn't add "Campden tablets ". But the little bubbler (see photo) that we added to the top of our fermenter container was very cheap ($6.50 NZ) and easy to install (cut hole in bucket).

The winemaking process involves a few stages, "musting" (about a week), then "fermenting" (time varies, but another while), then storing it for awhile in bottles (months). We've learned that stirring during musting is to prevent mould from forming on top of the crushed plums and water. And installing a tap on our fermenting container would have been easy before we added the strained plum juice! Next year we'll be better...the hardest part is starting.

Here is my thought - modern life is so elaborate that it makes you not want to take anything on. Learning is growing from something small. When I read Aunt Daisy's "Wine Making Hints" and Recipes, they are so basic, and you realize that people were just doing it with what they had - which is far more inspiring of action.

Aunt Daisy's PLUM WINE
Allow 8 to 12 lb. [3.6 – 5.5 kg] very ripe plums to each gallon of water, and 3 1/2 lb. to 4 lb. [1.6 -1.8 kg] sugar, according to sweetness of plums. Use an earthenware or wooden vessel, not tin or any metal. [Nowadays we can use plastic containers.] Do not let the wine get chilled during the fermentation, but keep it in a fairly warm room, and do not move the vessel about. Put plums into vessel, mash well, cover with hot water, and leave 6 to 8 days or while fermentation is active, stirring frequently every day. Then strain the juice through a muslin bag, measure it, add sugar as above. Let this stand to work as long as it will. Skim every day, keeping some juice to add after skimming so as to keep the same quantity. It may work for a month or two. When it has quite ceased working, bung tightly, or bottle and cork well. Should be ready in 3 months, but the longer it is left to mature the better. Wine matures best in a wooden keg. Keep the keg covered with a light cloth during fermentation period as it attracts a lot of insects.

Feel free to use a Campden tablet though! And make the best of both worlds.

February 6 2013 update:

We did eventually produce drinkable wine.  It was alright - it was relaxing to drink - but the stuff we made on our first go was not as good as storebought wine.  We didn't really understand what we were doing - but having tried, we had at least taken the mystique out of it.  Now this year, we are ready to go!  I am brewing wine (strawberry/plum wine this year) for which I carefully and cleanly followed a recipe, and also researched methods on Youtube (and got advice from a cool lady who used to make wine all the time who works at the local library).  The "musting" bin was a food quality ex-jam bucket with a tight lid this year, so more clean than a nasty huge old bucket - and a smaller and more controllable amount until I really know what I am doing.  I utilized "pectolase" a few days after I had mixed the cut up fruit and sugar, then added yeast.  It has really frothed up and smells amazing.  We have also bought a beautiful glass demijohn, so the brewing process will be more sterile (less skanky).

It's just that the first time you start, there are a myriad of methods, and you don't really know which to use (or why).  I know that our process will be clean, sterile, and there is no reason why the wine won't turn out great!  Although our wine was a little more like moonshine last year - with random alcohol level - it was still the most fun and rewarding thing that we did with our plums!  Going down and tasting it, or having a free glass of wine - even though it was imperfect - was really fun.

Dirty Job

Did you know that you can reuse your vacuum cleaner bag many times?

Just pull it out wearing gloves, go over to your compost bin (wear a dust mask if you have asthma), and pull the contents out. Then you can reuse the bag as many times as you want.

This saves on money, but wouldn't be worth it for money alone. The good thing it does is save on heaps of waste - a bag every time in the rubbish (garbage), which ends up in a landfill.

Monday, February 6, 2012

How to pinch off the laterals (side shoots) on tomato plants

I really did not get this "remove the laterals" (side-shoots) thing until almost too late. Luckily, I had an arborist friend who had luckily also worked at a tomato greenhouse in the past explain the principle behind it.

It seems that tomato plants would grow off in many directions, starting a new main division at each branch. (It's that little one that grows in the wedge above the side branch). If you leave that innocent little shoot in growing out of that plant's armpit there, it will grow huge in the branch and take the plant in that direction as well. When you pinch them off (easy to break off), then you have a plant that grows up and is easier to stake and control. The tomatoes you do have will be larger - although they will be fewer.

Check out this lateral (side-shoot) which has been left to grow!

By the way, I planted about 15 tomato plants of various varieties, then left to go camping for a week or two. When I returned, it was too late! My veggie garden was a jungle of rambling plants. Maybe that would have been fine for some - but I needed to impose some control, so I did. (And I wanted to learn how to do it the right way for next time.) After removing laterals was explained to me, I had to remove half the plants, learning the hard way, and keep only those young enough to prune. Better luck next year... I guess some people (like me) have to just learn by experiencing the burn.

Note:  it's now the next year after this, and  I am experimenting with not pruning them.  But they have enough space.  I plan to stake and support all the branches.  It's a hot summer, so I hope they will still produce well.  Updates here.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ask the Expert - Polly Higgins - on a new international law against 'ecocide'

From Good magazine (NZ) Issue 22, Page 16:

The Earth’s Attorney

The times are a-changing and one London legal beagle thinks it’s time to give the planet more teeth. Simon Day drops in for a chat with environmental lawyer and barrister Polly Higgins.I first met Polly Higgins as a journalist interviewing her for a story. I left an hour later a member of her campaign team. What's so compelling about her idea?

Seven years ago, working as a corporate lawyer, Polly felt she was fighting for things she didn't believe in. She was more concerned by what was happening outside the courtroom and felt the earth needed an advocate. "Environmental law as it stands is not fit for purpose," she says.

So Polly brought legislation to the United Nations that would make "extensive damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems" an international crime against humanity. If successful, ‘ecocide’ would become the fifth crime against peace – and like genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity, liable from prosecution at the International Crime Court.

In September 2011, Polly was involved in a high-profile mock trial at the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. The defendants - found guilty on two of three counts - were chief executives of a hypothetical fossil fuel company charged with ecocide crimes similar to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the extraction of Canada's tar sands.

Closer to home, if ecocide was recognised by law, then shipping company Costamare Inc's managing director Diamantis Manos could be held directly responsible for the Rena disaster and the damage to Tauranga's Astrolabe Reef.

But the proposed law isn't just to threaten punishment; Polly sees it as sparking a new way of doing business. ''The legislation imposes a 'think before you act' principle," she says. "It makes damn sure you adhere to safety regulations. But it also challenges company directors to question whether the consequences are really worth the risks."

London-based Kiwi Simon Day is completing a Masters in International Journalism,
specialising in the environment

"Today you can murder land for private profit. You can leave the corpse for all to see, and nobody calls the cops."

-Paul Brooks (The Pursuit of Wilderness)