Author: Minette Tonoli

Apple, Pear and Lemon Thyme Conserves

Apple, Pear and Lemon Thyme Conserves

The summer gives us a cornucopia of fruit, and as we move into autumn, preserving the bounty takes precedence of mind. I love adding herbs and spices to everything I throw together in the kitchen, and searched for something to do with a glut of 

Herb of the Month: January 2020

Herb of the Month: January 2020

For 2020 we are kicking off Herb of the Month with the International Herb Association’s Herb of the Year – BERRIES! Anything and everything in the Rubus species, including all the hybrids… so we’re talking blackberry, raspberry, boysenberry, loganberry, tayberry, dewberry, marionberry and many more. 

January in the Garden

January in the Garden

The midsummer garden… If all went well with your planning and planting in spring, this is the month in which you will be reaping much of the rewards.


Harvest & Prune

Timely picking of fruit and vegetables can encourage more flowering and more fruit, and the garden should be providing many opportunities for just this!

It's been a rather strange season for me so far, and I'm not nearly harvesting as much as I'd like - what with herbicide ridden soil to start with, a long, cold start to the season with highly variable lows and highs up to now, and it being pretty windy so far too... But I still managed lots of lettuce and leafy greens like spinach, silverbeet, mizuna, and radishes, kohlrabi, a few small heads of space saver cabbages and herbs nearly daily.

Harvest your ripening vegetable crops of tomatoes, chillies, bell peppers, cucumbers, beans, peas, zucchini, globe artichokes, and eggplant. If you haven't yet, and they show signs of being ready, harvest garlic and onions.

Many favourite herbs are in full production, and can be harvested and used to your hearts content - basil, parsley, sage, rosemary, and savory, as well as thyme and oregano which are best harvested and dried just before flowering. Flowers of feverfew and chamomile for herbal teas and tinctures, also calendula petals, yarrow tops and scarlet bee balm.

Summer fruiting berries are plentiful, enjoy them before the birds get them! Protect with netting, and continue to water and feed well. Cut back summer fruiting red raspberry canes to ground level after harvesting - leaving just one or two of the strongest new season canes and stake them.

Stone and pip fruits are starting to ripen with a glut of plums coming on, and peaches, nectarines and apricots soon to follow. Get your preserving recipes ready! You can summer prune peaches, nectarines and kiwifruit where needed.

While it is a bit of a longer wait for grapes to ripen for harvesting, they can now be trimmed and new growth tied down to neaten up the vines.

Bees & Butterflies

All manner of insects are active in the garden now with the profusion of summer flowers. Some are not so desirable, but others are most welcome!

On hot and dry days, remember to put out a bee waterer in your garden to keep these hard workers hydrated. Do not spray (even organic pesticides) when bees and beneficial insects are most active during the day, and leave a few of the basil, sage, thyme and parsley in your garden to flower -  not only do the bees love the flowers, but your plants will set seed and you can collect your own seed for the next growing season.

Monarch butterflies are enjoying artichoke flowers, scabiosa, coneflower and sunflowers.

Remember companion planting to encourage beneficial insects, and to keep pests at a minimum.


There are so many gorgeous flowers to enjoy in the gardens at the moment, with dahlia taking the show!

Cut back and dead head summer flowers to encourage a new flush.

Edible flowers can be a great addition to your dishes, so make use of your calendula petals, roses, lavender, sage and thyme blossoms, chive blossoms, zucchini flowers, sunflowers, nasturtiums, violas and pansies, and even hibiscus flowers and hollyhocks.

Roses can be given a summer prune so that you can enjoy flowers again in autumn.

Spring flowering bulbs like Anemone and Ranunculus can be set out.


Saving seeds from your own garden for use in the new season is very rewarding! After the profusion of flowers, your plants will produce seeds to collect, or in some cases, it's better to just let the seed spread, fall, shoot, and fly to new spots in your garden all on their own.


Sow & Plant

Seed potatoes can be put in for an autumn crop.

Sow fast growing leaf vegetables and herbs like lettuce, mustard greens, coriander and rocket every few weeks for a continuous harvest. Remember coriander prefers a cooler spot during mid summer otherwise it will go to flower and seed too soon (bolt), leaving you without leaves to harvest.

Always check which climate area you fall in before sowing seeds or planting out seedlings - there's a marked difference between regions, and remember to take into account your own garden's microclimates! Generally speaking though, it is perfect time to sow :

  • Basil
  • Beetroot
  • Beans (climbing and dwarf)
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrot
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Celeriac
  • Chervil
  • Chives
  • Cucumber
  • Dill
  • Kale (cooler areas)
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Onion
  • Pak choi
  • Parsley
  • Parsnip
  • Radish
  • Silverbeet
  • Spinach
  • Spring Onion
  • Swede

Flowers to be sown now include cleome, phacelia, sunflowers and violas.

Plant seedlings of summer vegetables that will still grow and develop quickly for another crop before winter sets in, e.g. zucchini, eggplant, tomato (especially cold season tomatoes such as Subarctic Plenty, Russian Red and Tobolsk), capsicum and chillies.

Calendula, alyssum, dahlia, bergamot, and coneflower (Echinacea) seedlings and young plants can be transplanted into the garden now.


Ongoing tasks such as watering, weeding, mulching and feeding should be kept up throughout the rest of summer.

Pull-apart Herb Bread with Parmesan

Pull-apart Herb Bread with Parmesan

This easy to bake pull-apart herb bread is as delicious as it looks. It will definitely impress whenever you decide to serve it up! Great to dip into soups or mop up stews, or at a BBQ, even taken to a picnic brunch too. You 

BioAssay – midway point

BioAssay – midway point

If you’ve been following my blog posts, Facebook feed and Instagram, you’ll know that I had the misfortune of buying in bulk landscape supply mix called “Veggie Mix” which I am now, with the midway point results of my BioAssay, very confident was higher in 

Portraits of plants damaged from herbicides in compost/soil/manure mix

Portraits of plants damaged from herbicides in compost/soil/manure mix

These are actual images of plants I have grown this season (Spring/Summer 2019) in compost and "veggie mix" bought from a landscape supply place, which I have now no doubt contained herbicides


Beans (including heritage Flagg, Dwarf Banjo, heritage Old Mother Stallard, Dwarf French Top Crop, etc.)

Broad Beans (both Exhibition Long Pod and Hughe's Crimson)

Eggplant, Peppers and Chillies


Jerusalem Artichoke

Cosmos, Gaillardia, Cornflower


Pea, Loganberry, Cape Gooseberry

What is Killer Compost

Killer compost is a term given to compost and manure mixes that contain high enough levels of herbicides to negative affect non-target plants.

It is a worldwide problem, and has been in existence for a long while (any internet search into the terms "killer compost", "weedkiller damage", "toxic herbicide", "weedkiller in manure", or "aminopyralid") will render articles from bloggers, news hubs and universities for over least the last decade.


How does the Herbicide get in our Compost/Manure/Veggie Mixes?

The herbicides, one can only hope, land up in the soil mixes unintentionally, possibly via a lack of understanding and/or labeling as to what can or should be done with the herbicides left over, the plants that the herbicide was used on, etc.

  1. Pasture/Hay from treated areas being dumped or sold to green waste, or compost processing facilities.
    Herbicides such as aminopyralid, picloram, or clopyralid are often marketed for use on pasture as they target unwanted weeds without having a negative effect on the pasture grasses, or fodder brassicas.
  2. The manure and urine from animals that graze on pastures treated with those herbicides are being added to compost at compost processing facilities.
    Herbicides such as aminopyralid, picloram, or clopyralid do not break down during digestion and are deposited in manure and urine, and even after going through an aerobic composting process, can still be active for up to 3 years in clumps or clods, or even a few specks of soil dust.
What about home use weedkillers?

While I initially thought that these herbicides were not available to the home user since they were banned for public use a while ago, I believe you can simply log in to a few websites and purchase them without having to prove you are a farmer, parks worker or such. I also have read articles where these herbicides are still being used as they were found in the back of the shed long ago, and people simply don't know they are not to be used on anything that may land up in central green waste plants (where a lot of compost is made).


An article I read during my research into this claimed that products that contain these herbicides have prominent labeling indicating that the plant material on which the herbicide was used should not be fed to animals, used as mulch or deposited with green waste.

Two problems with this:
1. No one reads labels anymore

2. I found a product today on line which contains picloram which has nothing on the their product leaflet or information brochure saying that it should not be used in green waste, as animal feed, or mulch... They do say that it negatively affects other plants and that you should not use the same sprayer that had the herbicide to water your food plants... but that's not enough...




What do these herbicides do?

How do they work?

The hormone mimicking family of auxin herbicides is huge, and the three main sub-families of phenoxy, benzoic acid, and pyridines, all have different modes of action. In the simplest terms they are growth regulators, impacting plant processes such as vascular tissue, meristem differentiation and leaf initiation.

Basically, as far as I understand it, because the herbicide is mistaken by the plant as a growth hormone, and the affected plants can't control the use of said hormone, they grow in all sorts of overstimulated and confused ways, and eventually deformed by this, dies.


What plants are affected

Non target collateral damage plants

Including, but not limited to:

  • Solanaceae (tomato, potato, eggplant, peppers, chillies tobacco, etc.),
  • Leguminosae or Fabaceae (beans, broad beans, peas, clovers, etc.),
  • Umbelliferae (carrots, celery, parsley, parsnip, etc),
  • Compositae or Asteraceae (artichoke, lettuce, sunflower, jerusalem artichoke, dandelion, daisies, calendula, echinacea, dahlia, cosmos, zinnia etc.),
  • Vitaceae (grapes),
  • Rosaceae (roses, as well as berries such as blackberry, loganberry, raspberry etc.
  • and even mushrooms

For more on this, and how I've been dealing with it, see this article on Herbicide Damage, and follow #TonoliBioAssay2019 on Facebook and Instagram


What can you do?


If you are buying soil from a bulk yard, always ask if they can confirm the path of supply did not include any herbicides or manures from animals who may have eaten herbicide sprayed pasture. They probably won't know, so this won't help...

Second best is to do a bioassay (in soil grow test) to confirm the presence of not of herbicides. The problem with this is if you do it off site, by the time the test results come back, a whole new load of compost/mix is now at the yard and may not be from the same source or batch as the lot you tested.... so not the sharpest plan either...


Effective Microorganisms (EM) and Soil Biology: While I investigated this a lot of ideas came forward, one being that soil microorganisms will deal to it, and this is true, but unfortunately, even if you add liters of effective microorganisms, you are probably not going to expedite the process. A clever colleague mentioned that it had already gone through aerobic composting for months while it was being made, so adding a few liters of extra microorganisms is like adding a drop in the ocean.

Biochar, Activated Charcoal: The idea is that just like activated charcoal attaches to bad things like poisons in your body, charcoal in the form of biochar will lock in the herbicides rendering them useless in the soil. I'm not sure this will work, and have not tried it, but might give it a bit of an experiment just to see. Can't find too much information on it from proper studies being done, but will see if I can find more scholarly articles.

Time: The good news is that the herbicides do break down. The bad news is that this may take up to 3 years. And in those years you should mix it up and cultivate it quite extensively, spreading it as thin as possible in order to expose it to as much direct soil, air and water. So it will take time.



If you grow things in the killer compost that are not affected by it (e.g. cabbage, corn, squashes, grasses, rye etc.), do not put any of that plant material back into your own compost system. And do not feed any of your fresh produce to animals whose manure you would use in your compost or garden (chickens, quail, bunnies, guinea pigs etc)

Bath Fizzies a.k.a. bath bombs

Bath Fizzies a.k.a. bath bombs

Bath fizzies, or bath bombs, are little semi-hardened blocks of good-for-you Epsom salts, baking soda and citric acid – the powders and salts held together with a bit of oil, which can also be a skin healing oil with infused herbs, and water. You can 



Warning – this is in entirety a moan post. But I did promise to share the good and the bad. Seems the bad has had me in its jaws the past two weeks… Following the chaos of the week of 14 October where all my 

WEEK IN RETROSPECT 2019 – WEEK 6 (5 October – 11 OCTOBER)

WEEK IN RETROSPECT 2019 – WEEK 6 (5 October – 11 OCTOBER)

Hello & Welcome


October! October! A truly beautiful month. With spring truly sprung, there's birds chirping, bees buzzing, lambs jumping through dandelion fields, and flowers - including fruit blossoms - popping up everywhere.

The growth in my garden has suddenly accelerated in the past week, enough even for Rick to comment on! Which is a bit of a consolation to me, as I'm finding two things really hard starting this garden:

  1. CLIMATE : It's still cold. Yes, we had some truly AMAZING days this past week, and in general the weather is improving, but the growing season is starting SO MUCH LATER than what I got used to in Auckland the past seven years. Honestly, it really is turning out to be quite a thing to get used to... acclimatizing is not just physical, but I need to get my mental state aligned too.
  2. SOIL: The soil is... well... very far from the soil I built over three years in my previous garden. Yes, it's a good (I hope!) veggie mix with compost and manure added that I get from a landscape place, and in truthfulness, the soil under that isn't all that bad either, but what I'm working with now sure is not the "built" soil I was used to.

All that means I'm finding the plants are not where I thought they should be by now, and I feel frustrated, and worried that I'm not going to have a productive season...

But! I'm still seeing progress, and I'm still working hard, and I know in reality the first year won't ever be an instant success (without thousands to spend!), and I can only look forward to the hard work we put in now, paying out huge dividends in a few seasons. Watch this space!



Still pretty much HOT or COLD! One day's high will be the next day's low... I'm in t-shirts the one day and 4 layers the next. Which all simply points to the fact that although I really, really want it to be, it is NOT YET TIME TO PLANT summer crops in the ground!

At least the frost let up a bit for the past week, and another week of mostly cloudy with a chance of good rainfall, will mean another week I won't have to put the gardens to bed under the frost cloth at night. Don't worry, I am on alert for those terrible hard late frosts everyone who has been in Canterbury for a while warns me about. Last year's was apparently on 20 November.





My Or-Ply-Rocks (Orpington x Plymouth Barred Rock) are doing splendidly in their run, and are gearing toward being free range one of these days. They sure are big enough - gonna be a serious hawk that tries to take one of them down! The araucana are also in there - seems I got a barred pattern on the one Araucana and a very black/grey on the other - so they fit in with the current flock colours. No idea if they're hens or roosters yet... not so easy to see as they don't have combs yet. Going to have to do some research on that to see.




I'm gearing to have another lot of eggs go in at the end of next weekend or thereabouts. Currently the incubator is the nest box for Leia's hand-reared budgie chicks (aw cute!) Dawn and Dusk are our first hand-reared budgies, and will be Leia's forever pets. But if this works well, we may do this for all the others to come and try and sell hand-reared chicks. As it is, from the first hatch of eggs, we had four budgies and from this second lot, there's four still in the nest (we think!) with the two we took out. So in a season so far, we've gone from 2 budgies to TWELVE!

Not to speak of the finches, although we lost a few... this last lot of chicks just fledged today - we have a full DOZEN new babies! Plus the parents and the two chicks from previous batches. Makes TEN finches.


The quail are laying abundantly now, an egg a day. I definitely have at least 4 males, possibly 5... which is not great, so if you know of anyone in my area who want male quail, just drop me a line! The quail eggs are great, we use them for everything - scrambled eggs, in baking, and for mayonnaise.

Of Mystique and Midnight, our two black pekin bantam hens, only Mystique is laying, and only one egg every second day. The eggs are super gorgeous - peachy pink and small. Wondering why Midnight's not laying - she's still under a year old... and why Mystique only lays once every two days. More research!





...not yet... but almost! I had to put aside my dreams of having a Southdown Babydoll after I found the ewe lambs sell for $650 each. SIX HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS????! Then for a while I was content, and excited to get a breed called Ryelands, but it turned out transporting them from the breeder to where I am cost way too much (a whole other sheep), so in the end I settled for two one- year old ewes from a "common" mix-breed of sheep from a friend of mine. They're happy and healthy ladies, and will do the lawn-mowing job just fine.

So this weekend Rick was digging post holes and plumb-lining where the fence will be to secure the orchard from the new inhabitants of our acre homestead. Hopefully this will all be done by next weekend and we can take possession of our ewes next Sunday. How exciting!


Potager, Orchard, Herb Garden


All the plants and trees in the orchard are by now growing, and blossoming and just doing grand overall. I definitely don't have enough pollinator attracting glowers in bloom in there yet, so I'm hoping the native little insects and such that are hanging around the trees do a decent job of pollinating, so I at least have one or two fruit this coming season!

I've not really done much in the orchard except check on the growth and flowering of all the trees and shrubs. Excited to see the plum finally putting out fabulous growth.

While some of the blueberries are not looking their best, they're bouncing back, and the currants are showing lots of little trusses of flowers - yay!

The horseradish I put in - some said "yay!", some cautioned "nay!" - is also over their transplant sulk and sending out new leaf growth. Cannot wait for massive horseradish harvests.


We finally got another load of boxes and another load of soil and I'm starting to put together the last bed for this year. It's going to be a three-sisters bed with corn, squash and beans. Hopefully this one will be all ready by end of this coming week.

The other beds are fine. Not great (see my big fat moan under "Hello & Welcome" above), but going nonetheless, and starting to look better. I'm sure as the soil warms up, more positive growth will start happening.

Decided to give you a panorama view of what's what:


The quick-access herb garden out our front door is doing really well, the parsley, golden sage, oregano and pizza thyme as grown in beautifully. This weekend, I added a chef's choice rosemary (my husband's favourite), a common sage (green/grey sage), and some chives. The other box has a Tuscan blue rosemary, French Tarragon, Lemon Thyme, Lemon Variegated Thyme, Golden Marjoram and Creeping Winter Savory. I need to bulk that out with some more herbs too. Waiting for more common marjoram (sweet marjoram) seedlings, and basil of course!



Looking Good

Used From The Garden

Week in Retrospect 2019 – Week 4 & 5 (21 September – 4 October)

Week in Retrospect 2019 – Week 4 & 5 (21 September – 4 October)

  Last weekend I was down and out with a head cold, and just did not feel up to doing the weekly retrospect. But actually, although it’s spring, it feels kind of slow-going, so not even much news this past week. Nevertheless, here we go