Archive for May, 2008

Water Kefir Problems

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

RIP! Sad news about our water kefir grains: After a long run of bad health, they stopped reproducing altogether. I finally gave up on them and am looking for some new ones. So far, no luck. If anyone reading this site has any suggestions about where to get some (a New Zealand source), I’d love to hear about it.

Water kefir, in healthier times

Since having this problem, I’ve heard from a couple of other people who have had the same thing happen. Like me, they felt they had taken very good care of the grains, and had followed the directions for keeping them healthy. I have been searching around for any more pointers for keeping a robust colony of water kefir, in hopes of having better luck with the next lot of grains I get (if I can find any!).

The latest edition of the Weston A. Price foundation journal, “Wise Traditions,” included an article which listed some interesting tips:
* Apparently, adding sea coral, limestone, or eggshells to the brewing water kefir will improve the growth of the kefir grains as well adding nutritional kick to the resulting drink. I can’t wait to try this!
*”be sure to rinse the grains between each batch to prevent a build-up of yeast that may reduce their growth.” Well, I was doing this already, but. . .
*”Dom’s Kefir In-site” ( recommends using an un-refined mineral-rich sweetener, such as Rapadura or muscovado sugar rather than refined sugar. Yikes! I was actually using white sugar for our water kefir, so maybe that was part of the problem.

I’ve heard that you can convert dairy kefir grains for use in water/sugar instead of milk, but haven’t yet found much information about how to do this. I’m not sure whether the grains can be permanently converted to culture and propagate in other substances, or whether they will eventually fizzle out if they are not returned to the milk.

Fortunately our kombucha culture is still thriving, so we have at least one kind of delicious home-made fermented drink to enjoy while we are without any water kefir.

Local Food

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

As we attempt to produce as much as possible of our own food here on the Farmlet, we also continue to challenge ourselves to find local sources for foods we do not produce ourselves. Recent shortages of grains and other staples are making such arrangements ever more urgent and meaningful.

Fruit trees take a while to establish, and Kevin and I haven’t even planted very many yet, so we are always pleased to find good local sources of fruit. We recently made a trip out to a local organic apple orchard and picked five dollars worth of apples — so many that Kevin could only just lift the crate! We’ve been eating our fill of apples, and I’ve been busy transforming the rest into apple leather and dried apple pieces using our dehydrator. I also have plans to make some applesauce and a lacto-fermented apple chutney. Some other fruit for which we’ve found wonderful local sources include feijoa, grapefruit, guava, bananas, babaco, plums, avocados, pears loquats, figs, macadamia nuts, tamarillos and blackberries. We count ourselves very lucky!

Recently, we’ve also been enjoying some delicious fat lamb from a local farm. This is fantastic, since we have no plans to keep sheep on the Farmlet any time soon. Our fencing isn’t equal to containing sheep, just for starters! I think I may also have found a local source of pork fat for rendering our own lard.

Becky gets ready to fill our freezer with the lamb

Lamb chops

Northland does not have a favourable climate for the production of many kinds of grains, but we can source biodynamic wheat and buckwheat from Terrace Farm, a biodynamic farm in Canterbury. I think I have also found New Zealand sources of barley and oats. All the while, we will continue to experiment with growing our own maize, and also have plans to try amaranth and quinoa. These are the grains that seem most likely to suit small-scale production in the Far North of New Zealand.

Pulses? All of this year’s dried pea crop got stolen by birds very soon after Owen was born. I didn’t realise what was happening quickly enough, and by the time I went to put on the row covers, it was too late. Oops! If we want to enjoy a few pots of delicious pea soup this winter, I’ll have to buy some peas from Terrace Farm. We’ve grown a small but lovely crop of borlotti (pinto), and selugia beans this year. I’m saving most of what we’ve grown to increase our seed stock (plans for a bigger crop next year!), but we’ll still be able to enjoy the odd treat of refried beans or minestrone soup over the winter.

Farmlet Reader Signs up for Hosting with BlueHost

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

Thanks to the owner of for signing up for hosting with BlueHost. Farmlet received US$65.

Getting Our Hands Dirty

Monday, May 5th, 2008

It is gratifying to see lots of seedlings poking their heads out of the soil in plant pots and garden beds. I started planting our autumn/ winter garden very late this year, and hope we’ll still get some vegetables to harvest despite my tardiness. Noticing how late it was, I compromised and bought some seedlings for broccoli, spinach and swiss chard at the local hardware store. All seem to be doing well in the garden. I direct seeded two kinds of radishes (cherrybelle and black spanish), bull’s blood beets, turnips, miner’s lettuce and corn salad. In pots, I’ve started cilantro, garden cress, red cabbage, and two kinds of lettuce (“Asian red” and “Winter”). We’ve not tried growing miner’s lettuce and winter lettuce before, so it will be interesting to see how these cool-season greens fare in our garden.


Kevin has been digging potatoes, and I’ve been grubbing around for kumara to add sweetness to our dinners. We are still harvesting carrots, salsify, and late zucchini, as well as our trusty welsh bunching onions, collard greens and a bit of kale. It’s an interesting game, juggling baby and garden, but I’m enjoying getting my hands back in the dirt as much as possible. It’s fun to watch Owen’s growing fascination with animals, leaves, rain drops and the wonderful natural world all around him. While one part of me is dreading the destructive force of a crawly/toddling little human in our garden, another part of me thrills at the thought of him enjoying his early contact with earth, mud, slugs, and even his mother’s precious vegetable seedlings! My brother, sister and I grew up around gardens, and I think we were very lucky. I know it took a lot of patience from our parents and grandparents as they taught us the right way to pick ripe produce and to help out in the garden without leaving a trail of destruction behind us.

What else is going on around here?

I’ve taken over the ordering for our local whole foods co-op. This means gathering up order details from all the members and submitting them to the wholesaler. It’s actually been a frustrating business so far due to our phone line being dead for over a week while I was trying to take orders. (It got fried up in an electrical storm!) Still, it’s given me the chance to network with some really interesting people, and it feels right to be sharing the responsibility for this valuable service rather than leaving all the work to someone else.

On the “to do” list:
Plant onion seeds so that the seedlings will be ready to set out in the garden in a couple of months.
Plant broad beans. Better hurry, or they won’t get a decent start before the cold weather sets in.
I have made a huge pile of grass clippings, and Kevin is wondering if we might use them to attempt to grow a winter potato crop in a large barrel in a warm sheltered spot. I’ll be sure to report on anything that develops on this front!