Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Tag: garden

Kerikeri: WWOOFing Finale

My days in New Zealand are coming to an end. It's felt like a year! My last week is being spent in Kerikeri, in the Northland region of New Zealand. This area is famous for its beaches, avocadoes, kiwifruit, and oranges. It's the warmer part of the country, and I'd say it's the equivalent to Florida in some ways– where seniors come to retire, orange groves everywhere… And then there's a touch of Hawaii, too, with macadamia nuts, surfing, and diving in some areas.

I'm staying with a wonderful couple who are hard workers who have been on the land here for over 20 years. They've really built up the place to be their dream oasis. She with her sprawling and beautiful gardens, he with a workshop full of tools and equipment for woodworking, tinkering, engineering, and doing all kinds of things with his hands.

Top: pond that they made with some of her many plants. Bottom left: her veggie garden. Bottom right: more of her plants.

The WWOOFing here entails some weeding and working in their orchards. The orange grove is seeing its last fruit (winter is their season), and my co-WWOOFer and I are thinning feijoa trees. Thinning means snipping off the excess buds and flowers so that the remaining fruit can grow bigger. Feijoas are fruits that are native to parts of South America and are now grown quite extensively in New Zealand. They're also known as pineapple guava or guavasteen. here's a photo:

Unfortunately, I will not be able to try one because they don't get ripe until March. I've heard they're amazing. But I'm starting to see buds in my sleep because it's quite tedious– looking through the trees for excess buds and blossoms to snip off:

The work here isn't too hard, and the house is lovely, the couple is lovely, and I've been able to cook and bake for them which has been great fun. They really appreciate good food, and I've been able to be creative. There's another WWOOFer staying here, a Chinese young woman, and we've done some cooking together, too, although she doesn't know how to cook so much.

Here's a sampling of what I've made:

Korean BBQ with beef from their cow, sesame-dressing salad, and broccoli with sesame oil.

Carrot-ginger-raisin-range quick bread with oranges from their grove.

Pizzas with homemade wheat-white crust. Various toppings-- veggies and meats. And even a Hawaiian pizza at the bottom!

Made with my co-WWOOFer: beef and pork dumplings and scallion pancakes. Everything, including the wrappers, from scratch. Beef and scallions from their farm.

I'm seriously gaining some weight here– my pants fit a little tighter. The feijoa-thinning isn't as much exercise as weeding and other work that I've done on other farms. But it's great fun being in a nice kitchen, cooking and baking. I haven't really done it for so long– basically since I started packing almost three months ago! I realize how much I love to cook and bake, especially for others. I think this IS one of my passions that I need to do for my future career/ job/ worklife.

Besides eating and enjoying a beautiful room and house, I went on an easy hike, again with the other WWOOFer to Rainbow Falls and then following the Kerikeri river to the town of Kerikeri. It was a beautiful day and we saw some really nice sights along the way.

And we also went to Puketi Forest where there is a stand of Kauri trees, famous trees for their largeness and their oldness. Beautiful tall, straight trees. They were used for their timber until they became endangered, and now they're protected. Huge!

The man of the family used to do a lot of woodworking, and he used Kauri tree scraps to make things like cutting boards– they're a beautiful wood with interesting lines and designs in them.

Bowl made by the man of the house. It's from the resin knot of a Kauri tree. Beautiful.

Just a few more days here before heading out to Bali! I'm getting excited. I've booked my first accommodation in Ubud for a few days. And then hoping to get in a diving course!! It's getting into rainy season there, but I hope it's nice and warm so I can swim, snorkel, and enjoy the beaches.


Garden Flora 101

I've been learning so much about what vegetables and fruit look like on the vine, plant, or tree, and since I thought you, dear readers, would like to see it, too AND for my own benefit of remembering, I am putting together a basic picture dictionary for this post. This will probably be my last for a week or so unless I find wi-fi along my travels in hostels or libraries! Oh, and a caveat– I'm new to this whole garden/ horticulture thing, so I might make mistakes here in my explanations or descriptions, so if you see a mistake, please leave me a comment and correct me– it's how I learn!

This family has a really beautiful garden. It's in the shape of a celtic cross, from an aerial view. So here are some of what's in the garden:

Strawberries starting to fruit on top! So cute. And so easy to grow. These in particular just seeded themselves, meaning they just popped up, not planted by the owner. So they're these little, low to the ground plants that have a white flower that turns into the fruit. And then they just creep along the ground and eventually cover the ground with their leaves and vine-like stems. Definitely want to grow these when I get back to the U.S.

Lower left is cabbages. They grow in a big bouquet– a big cabbage in the middle of that bouquet. And then you just cut out that middle part to eat. Lower right is lettuce. These are alllllll over this family's garden. The owner really loves them, and they self-seed all over the place. Literally. And she likes to just let them grow so she'll have a plethora of lettuces in every nook and cranny of the garden. It's pretty cute to look out over the garden and just see all these heads of lettuce!

On the left are carrots just starting to peek through the soil. I weeded these a few days ago. They're just a few inches high at this point, but they already are looking like a carrot top, and I imagine them getting nice and bushy in a few months. As a root vegetable, the carrot part grows underground– I hope you all know that.

On the right are potato plants, another thing that just grow and grow everywhere as a self-seeder. These have some browned leaves because we have a few frosts the last week. They're really sensitive to frost. But these plants grow above ground as leaves and underground as potatoes. They grow horizontally underground and just add on more potatoes, eventually taking over a whole bed with their starchy goodness. And they're not a root veg, they're a tuber.

On the left are beet plants, growing tall and crowded. Funny, I've been thinking they were swiss chard (silverbeet, here) all week and been eating them with my salad, and found out yesterday they were beet leaves! But they are tasty in any case, just fresh with some vinaigrette drizzled over.

On the right is arugula (or rocket, as it's also called) going to flower. Which means that it will soon be no good to eat. When plants go to flower, it means the next step is getting seeds at which point the edible lifespan of the veg is over (or just beginning, I guess). These (and the swiss chard) are about waist high right now. But still yummy to eat! I love arugula!!

On the left are two leeks. I recently discovered the joy of leeks, especially sauteed in some (well, a lot, actually) butter and maybe with some carrots (thanks, Judy, for the first lesson on that!). So good. Leeks are pretty tall– up to my knee or thigh. And you have to use a fork or shovel to dig them out because the roots are pretty tight into the ground.

On the right are brassicas, that's what the category is called here. On the left, you can see a few cauliflower plants; in the middle are purple cabbage (I think); and on the right you can see one or two broccoli plants. Along with a little lettuce plant in the upper right corner. The leaves on brassicas are pretty distinctive– thick, tough, a matte-sheen, not edible.

Then there are loads of herbs, most of which I knew but some which were new to me. I've noticed that they don't really use basil here in New Zealand, at least I haven't come across it in any of the gardens I have seen.

The left two herbs are lemon-related: lemon verbena on top and lemon balm on the bottom. Both smell amazing and are used for teas and other fresh uses. Top right is rosemary, a bit blurry; and bottom is lavender. Both are really fragrant, and I love just rubbing the leaves of all four of these and just sniffing them. I'd say lemon, lavender, and rosemary are my favorite herb-y fragrances.

The top two are more traditional herbs, recognized by many, probably– oregano and thyme. The bottom left is sage, and the bottom right is bergamot, which I've never seen in fresh form. I love bergamot in tea (aka Earl Grey– my favorite, with some milk and honey. Yum!).

This is only a sample of what's in this family's garden. There are also fruit trees (apple, citrus, feijoa, loquat…), berry bushes, tomatoes, cucumbers, peas and beans… the list goes on. Really amazing. About an acre or so of garden!

I'm still learning when to plant things and how– by seed or seedling or in a planter. And what season things are ripe and ready to eat. I know lettuce, arugula, swiss chard, asparagus, and strawberries are springtime crops. And potatoes and carrots are fall, I believe. And tomatoes are definitely summer.

So much to learn and try out! Can't wait to find a place to garden when I get back! And everyone that I've met who gardens stresses two things:

  • Make your own compost. It's crucial to good soil and it's a great way to reuse food scraps.
  • Trial and error is the key to good gardening. Do some reading on basic tips and guidelines, but from there, you just try things one year, then see what works for the next year. Gardening is definitely long term.

The Universe Gives

I don't know if I'm just a lucky person or if it's something in my optimistic and overall positive outlook, but (knock on wood!) I think the universe has been good to me, not only on this trip so far, but also in my life. Maybe I'm jinxing myself by saying this… (hopefully not!)

Case in point: I'm currently at a really cool place. But this wasn't always the case. After I left the vineyard, I was set up to stay at a home in Christchurch. It seemed all good to go, and the couple had received a good review, so I thought it would be as great as my other two places were. I won't go into too much detail because this is a public blog after all, but it just wasn't a good fit for me. The couple was really nice, but there were environmental issues that didn't work for me, and I decided after a day and a half that I didn't want to stay. So I found this place on the WWOOF website, and the woman of the house responded straight away (that's another Kiwi phrase– “straight away”) that I could come– perfect timing, she said.

The property consists of 13 acres of paddocks (grassy fields) divided into sections for different types of animals; a beautiful big house; gardens; and other nooks and crannies with little treasures in the form of statues, courtyards, little hideaways for kids and adults to enjoy. The family has lived here for a little over a decade, and it's obvious they've put a lot of work into it. There are endless projects that both woman and man of the house are working on– everything from the man of the house's little personal cottage to an earthquake-damaged spa pool room that could be converted into a study to more gardens… Intense! But they love it, for sure.

View into the gardens from the front of the house. The two brick pillars are actually their chimney which fell down from the earthquake, so they installed them here as an entryway to their garden.

A little about the animals, most of which are as pets and amusement:

  • 4 llamas: Obama, Humphrey, Yoda (a miniature llama), and Cameo. Those are funny animals, and I guess they sometimes use them as pack animals– taking them on hikes so they can carry the equipment and stuff.
  • 4 horses: Starbuck and Paloma are more just pets– beautiful. Jimi (named after Jimi Hendrix) is a thoroughbred which the youngest daughter will be training as a show horse. And then there's Wolfie, a little miniature horse– such a cutie.
  • About 9 chickens, I think– kept for their eggs. A funny clucking bunch.
  • 4 cats: India (the mother), Muffin, Prince, and Totoro (yes, named after the Hiyao Miyazaki character! He's a cute little grey cat. The rest are black with various patches of white.), each with their own personality. And much loved by the owners.
  • A few cows– for milk, which they sell to the local community. I don't know their names and haven't formally met them. 🙂

So my jobs on the farm mostly consist of weeding and helping here and there with odd jobs. I feed the chickens and Jimi and Wolfie each morning. And feeding the chickens also involves collecting their eggs. That's quite interesting– I have to physically remove the hens from their roost to get the eggs that they're sitting on (not fertilized since there's no rooster). A bit close for comfort, but I haven't gotten pecked yet. I've also picked up sticks so the man of the house can mow the lawn; cleaned out their courtyard (weeding and raking leaves); and weeded and weeded and weeded!

A before and after of my weeding. This patch took me about an hour, I think. Isn't it lovely?

My daily attire (as it has been on all the farms) includes:

This family definitely doesn't have a shortage of gear, especially gumboots. These are ALL for WWOOFers! All shapes and sizes!

  • gumboots– these are basically used as rainboots back in Boston, but they're essential on a farm as you're walking through dew, manure, dirt, and all sorts of terrain. My mom, before I left, asked if I should buy my own to bring because she saw them on everyone's feet when she was researching WWOOFing (to ensure that I was going to be safe!!). But every WWOOF host has WWOOFer gear, including gumboots. I will never look at rainboots the same again!
  • work jumpsuit (not sure what's the exact term)– a full body suit, made of cotton, to keep your clothes clean when you're brushing up against hairy and furry animals, working with dirt and manure, pruning rose bushes… Also to keep you warm. I have yet to come across a snugly fitting suit– most are too big for me, but they're great!
  • gloves– super important for whatever– weeding, picking up chickens, protecting your hands from thorns, pricklies, dirt, bugs, etc. I have yet to use the gloves that my youth back home gave me as a going away present (best ever!) because every host has gloves, so I don't have to dirty mine.
  • sun hat– I brought this, and it's been great to have to keep my face shaded. Supposedly there's a big hole in the ozone over New Zealand so the UV rays are stronger, and it does feel brighter here than back in the U.S., so a hat is really important.

I'm feeling lucky that I landed here. I'm learning so much from the couple that owns the place. About farm life from the man of the house and about sustainable and spiritual life from the woman of the house. “B”, the man of the house, is teaching me about correct terminology– tools, equipment, and the like. He's adamant that I know the correct vocabulary so we can communicate more efficiently and effectively with each other. He's all about logic, efficiency, working smart. He's a hard worker and his “doing” orientation really makes this place run.

From “F”, the woman of the house, I'm learning about things to feed the soul– making bread, eating organics, the beauty of gardening and going with the flow, living for the moment, following your dreams. She's so different from her partner, and such a kind and beautiful soul. They make a fun and interesting couple.

My tiny little cottage (?) off of the house. Just a bed, desk, stereo, some books, and bureau with a few windows. I use the bathroom in the main house. It's a cute little set up.

So I don't know if I've just lucked out to land with such amazing hosts because I'm sure not all WWOOFing hosts would be the perfect fit for me, but so far it's been great. I'm eating well here, too. And learning about a different way of sustainable living. They're not off the grid like my first host was– definitely plugged into the real world and technology. It's interesting to see different lifestyles where making and growing your own food is central.

I have so many books I want to read when I get back to the U.S., and so much I want to look into– permaculture design course, biodynamics course, gardening clubs… Just have to take one step at a time.

Back to the title of this post, then– I think the other part of receiving so much from the universe is that one has to be open to receive whatever comes. Turning lemons into lemonade. Or making the best of any situation. Or seeing the good side in whatever happens. So maybe things have happened to me that may have been unpleasant, negative, even bad (?); but I've been open to whatever it is I'm supposed to learn from that situation and moved forward.

There's an alchemy here of positive attitude, optimism, luck, benevolence of the universe, and acceptance, I guess, which is important in living day to day. I'm so appreciative of all I'm receiving right now. Thanks, Universe!!


While on my road trip through the U.S. with “S,” we came upon the word “ataraxia”– her dictionary word of the day. It was a perfect word for the trip and for my own journey, and it came to mind again today.

Ataraxia: a state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety; tranquillity (from

This has been my first free weekend since July, maybe. Through August, I was traveling, packing, moving, having going away parties and all that craziness. In September, before coming to New Zealand, I was in transit. And then since arriving in New Zealand, I've been WWOOFing with days off in between during the weekday. At Seresin, we work during the weekday and get the full weekend off, which is nice.

Yesterday (Saturday), I stayed “at home” all day and really had a lazy day with some spurts of productivity. Did my laundry, and made three square meals. Also read Chocolat, wrote some, and just sat both inside and outside watching the weather go through periods of sun, clouds, rain, and lots and lots of wind. It was a wonderful day!! I didn't even get out of my pajamas all day. In the evening, my housemates and I watched part of Gandhi, which I've amazingly never seen before! But then, a combination of a wonky DVD player (which kept freezing up the video) and the late hour (for us farmers– it was 10pm and we were all falling asleep!), meant we only watched about a third of the movie before retiring for the night.

I just wanted to show off my meals from yesterday, so you can see how beautiful and healthy they were:

At least half of the ingredients on everything was from the garden at Home Block: swiss chard, spinach, lamb, eggs, daikon. Upper right is sesame-peanut sauce pasta. The rest is self explanatory. Yum!

And then today, I woke up late-ish (around 7:30 or 8, I think it was), had a nice simple breakfast of cinnamon toast and lamb sausage and two oranges and then took a long walk to Home Block (the main vineyard and farm area of Seresin), which is about 3 miles away. Walked around the vineyards and took photos of the areas where I've been working, since I feel weird doing that when I'm actually working.

Different views of the main entrance to Seresin Home Block-- where their main vineyards and winery are. Employees have a back entrance (that includes us WWOOFers!).

Views of the organic, biodynamically grown vineyards and green space on the land at Seresin. You can tell it's organic by how GREEN it all is. Gorgeous and lush and peaceful.

Gardens are created between a few of the vineyard rows. Upper left: spinach and silverbeet (swiss chard) and leeks in the back. Upper right: where we planted hundreds of potatoes. Lower left: lots and lots of garlic plants. Lower right: broad beans (i'm pretty sure).

With such scenery, the end of a busy week of WWOOFing, great weather, and good food, how can one not feel free from anxiety and disturbance? I can't believe I've only been in New Zealand for about three weeks. It really feels like longer.

Don't worry, friends and family, I'm not settling here, although it's beautiful and all that. I'll be coming back to the U.S. in the end; but for now, I'm so glad I chose to come here and to WWOOF. I definitely recommend it (WWOOFing in New Zealand, specifically) to anyone who's up for some work in gardens and fields, who wants to avoid touristy sightseeing, and who wants to see the country through the eyes of those who live and work here.


Back in the City: Wellington

I'm trying to figure out if I'm a city mouse or a country mouse. I grew up more in the country (well, rural suburb, I call it), near cows, corn fields, farms, and dirt roads. But my last almost-15 years has been living in cities (Seoul and Boston).

I love the diversity of cities (people, I mean)– that's something I've noticed on and off being in mostly rural and small-town New Zealand: there's very little diversity. And what little there is, I've only encountered in the cities: Auckland and now Wellington. I've definitely not come across any black folks (African or otherwise). There are Maori, but many of them are so mixed that it's hard to tell who's white and who's mixed or Maori. I miss the diversity of cities like Boston. Wellington is more diverse than New Plymouth. Auckland was pretty diverse, too.

I love the access to cultural institutions like museums, theaters, parks, etc. in cities. I spent much of this morning at an amazing museum in Wellington– the Te Papa Tongarewa, which means “treasure box” in Maori. It really was a treasure– I saw so many interesting exhibits about New Zealand history and also the Maori-Pakeha relations (Pakeha = white people).

Front of the Te Papa museum in Wellington, NZ

I really do like the presence of, dare I say it and sound really patronizing and elitist, “more educated” people that you're likely to come across in cities. I'm debating whether to leave that sentence in, but I'll do it because this is my blog and my thoughts… This is not to say that there aren't educated folks everywhere, but the likelihood of having more educated people in the city is higher, and it can be challenging being around people who have not had the chance to have much education and who may be entrenched in old ways of thinking.

Moving on….

On the other hand, I love the peace and quiet of the country. I like the wide open space. The green space, nature, trees, etc. that you're more likely to come across. I love nature in its more pure form out in the country. And with my growing interest in gardening, it's easier to make gardens flourish in outdoor, natural spaces where pollution and people aren't so omnipresent.

So I'm left with somewhat of a compromise– live in a suburb near a city. Is that possible?

In the meantime, I'm here in Wellington, capital city of New Zealand, for two days. Here's the view from my host's home, on a hill in a small suburb right outside the city. Beautiful view from every room in the house!

My day was spent walking around the museum, a must see. And it's free! Some of my favorite exhibits:

  • an exhibit about Maori cloaks (we couldn't take photos)– all woven by hand, made with flax, feathers, and other natural materials. Really beautiful works of art and functional (to keep people warm and dry in a new climate. The Maori came from the Pacific islands about 900 years ago, and it was a colder and wetter climate here, so they had to adjust). Native people's arts are always so amazing to see. Such labor, love, and time went into those constructions.
  • an exhibit about the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi which was supposed to be an agreement between Maori and Pakeha about the land and sovereignty, but interestingly, there are two versions which aren't exactly the same– an English version and a Maori version. So both parties, though they signed the agreement, weren't really agreeing to the same thing. The British version said that the Maori were basically becoming British subjects of Queen Victoria and giving up authority and sovereignty of the land in exchange for protection and not being kicked out. The Maori version was not so absolute. So since then, there are have been various land disputes, and in the 1970s, there were especially protests and fight backs from the Maori because so much land had basically been taken by the Pakeha. The exhibit was a little benign, and I'm curious to know what the Maori side would be.
  • an exhibit about the experiences in Maori in the modern age— moving to cities, facing discrimination, protesting land grabs. It's such a different history from the indigenous people of the Americas because they were essentially settlers in New Zealand. I guess New Zealand is one of the last countries to be settled by people (only about 900 years ago).

So besides the museum (where I spent a good 3.5 hours), I walked through the city to take a cable car (just 3.50NZD) to the top of a hill where there was the Wellington Botanic Gardens. It started off a little grey this morning and then turned absolutely gorgeous. Blue skies, puffy white clouds, cool weather. A beautiful spring day (in September!!). Here were some of the sights on my walk down the hill through the Gardens (also free):

Two views of a kinetic (movable and moving) sculpture in the Garden. One view from the bottom of the hill it was perched on; and another view from inside the funnel part. Very cool.

Beautiful flowers in the foreground of a rose garden that was not yet blooming.

View of Wellington in the distance, from atop the Botanic Gardens.

And now I'm back in the comforts of the home where I'm staying. Definitely a step up from the farm where I was this past week, but I guess everything is special in its own way. I miss the family that I was staying with, and I'm happy to be here with the nicer comforts of a nicer home.

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