A case of mistaken identity

The other night I went to the movies, to see The Avengers. Not being an aficionado of comics and their associated movie franchises, I thought I was going to see something involving Emma Peel… so I found myself in the theatre under somewhat false pretences.

False start aside, I had a jolly good time. Reviews of Marvel’s latest movie offering have been mixed (the Guardian‘s Damien Walter suggested that “the sci-fi blockbuster transcends cultural boundaries by doing away with the whole problem of meaning and replacing it with CGI spectacle.” ) but if you like your rip-snorting super-heroes-save-the-day kind of movies – or even if you’re not sure you do – this certainly fits the bill. An enjoyable “popcorn” movie, it romps along with just the right number of laugh-out-loud lines and yes, a good dollop of CGI spectacle. (Fancy some giant skeletal space-faring turtle-things of Doom? Of course you do!)

If, like me, you feel like everyone in the theatre but you knows this cast of heroes personally, never fear! You can swot up at your library, where you’ll find both The Ultimate Guide and The Ultimate Character Guide to set you right. You can also use our catalogue to explore the wider Marvel world, or check out our collection of superhero movies.

So, super hero fans, a whole new world has opened before me! What should I look at next to expand my comic book horizons? Who are your favourite super heroes?

My NZ Music Month performance pick

New Zealand Music Month is upon us again and I have been happily perusing the great array of musical offerings we’ve lined up around the library network. Last year I was lucky enough to be working at Lyttelton Library when Carmel Courtney sang to us on a cold and rainy Saturday. Her performance made a wintry workday morning magical, and I’m delighted to see she’s not only singing again this year at Lyttelton Library on Saturday 19 May but also at my current library, Central Library Peterborough, on Saturday 5 May.

Carmel is a Lyttelton-based singer-songwriter whose lyrical music combines jazz and Latin influences with an alternative vibe. She accompanies herself on guitar, keyboard and saxophone. I’m looking forward to another memorable performance.

What are you looking forward to this Music Month at your library?

Winter gardening

book coverAs the morning chill creeps up on us my garden has passed what I call its jungle phase and is moving into a gentle, mildew-sprinkled decline. I love how much its landscape changes through the seasons. Soon it will be mid-winter, when the bones of the garden are exposed – save for a few clumps of hardy brassicas, beets and emerging spikes of garlic.

There’s a wealth of information about spring and summer gardening available, but many gardeners struggle with maintaining a year-round garden. It’s too late to plant many things from seed now but you can still sow broad beans and peas. Garlic cloves can go in a couple of months either side of the traditional midwinter planting time and you can still get away with some seedling punnets of winter vegetables.

The exposed winter paths and beds also turn my thoughts to landscaping and planning the plantings for the next spring and summer. I’ve got a wee (read: enormous) list of tasks in mind, in between curling up by the fire with a few good winter recipe books. Maybe I’ll let the library come to me and spend a wet day or two browsing the Gale Gardening, Landscape and Horticulture Collection on my home computer, available via The Source.

What do you like about your garden in winter? What are your inspirational winter gardening reads?

Make hay (or jam!) while the sun shines

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.  ~William Blake

We’re having a lovely mild autumn right now. It almost makes up for the nonexistent summer! My tomatoes are finally ripening in the sun and I’m eyeing up the pumpkins under their mantle of mildew-speckled leaves, trying to judge the ideal moment to pick them for maximum ripeness before the frosts get ’em. In the kitchen I’m bottling roasted tomato sauce, apple puree, jams and pickles. My laundry is hung with drying maize, beans, onions, herbs and seeds.

Preserving helps me to avoid wasting the late summer glut and allows me to spread it over the winter months to come. Like many people I have tried and tested family recipes (not to mention more than a few disasters) but I also like to test out new crops, recipes and preserving or storage methods.

Where do I turn to learn how to pickle my pumpkins or clamp my carrots? The library of course! Whether I’m looking for a book or an online resource, the library can help. There are plenty of preserving books to help you fill those Agee jars and some great how-to manuals on other food storage techniques. Have a look on The Source for the Culinary Arts Collection (you’ll need your library card and pin number handy), and try a search on food preservation for more intriguing information on old food storage methods.

By the way, the image above shows the Hayward Bros. pickle, sauce and vinegar factory, which used to be very close to the site of our new Central Library Peterborough – it opened just down the road in 1890, on the corner of Peterborough and Victoria Streets. You can look at more of our fabulous heritage image collection on our website.

What crops to you end up overrun with at this time of year? How do you deal with them? Go on, share your favourite preserving recipe!

Growing local: take a leaf from New Zealand books

"Growing gardens for free" book coverI have a tiny, tiny garden, most of which is devoted to growing food. However, when we bought our small property, I was determined to have some native plantings as well. Now, nearly five years later, home-grown cabbage trees, pittosporum, kowhai and flaxes fill a corner too shady for vege, and we’ve squeezed a line of corokia in alongside the drive, thanks to the advice of Trees for Canterbury. I was struck (sorry for the pun) by how easy it is to grow many native plants, either from seed or from cuttings, and Growing gardens for free by New Zealand author Geoff Bryant is now my propagation bible.

A healthy population of insects now make their undisturbed homes in my microscopic little patch of native bush and last year, for the first time since I moved in, I saw waxeyes and fantails. (At first all I encountered in the initially lawn-filled garden were sparrows and blackbirds.) It’s such a little planting but I was amazed by how quickly even this had a noticeable effect on my garden’s ecology. Imagine if we all just planted a little corner of natives: we could create a green corridor for so many creatures across out garden city. If you’re keen and seeking like minds, there are many individuals and organisations working towards greening Christchurch/Otautahi, and you can find out about them on CINCH, our community information database.

The library has many good books on planting native plants in your garden – why not celebrate New Zealand book month by leafing (sorry again!) through a few?

Fragile memories

I never expected to meet my dead relatives at work, but last week I may have done just that.

photographRecently I’ve been lucky enough to work on a really special part of our archival collection: a large set of Edwardian photographic negatives on glass plates. Some of these are of Christchurch and New Zealand scenes but the vast majority were taken near the Antigua Boatsheds: snapshots of folk enjoying a paddle-about in the boatsheds’ hired canoes and rowboats.

Now I don’t know about you, but whenever I’ve attempted that particular lark I’ve ended up wet. Very wet. I don’t know how or if these early-1900s boaters managed to avoid that particular fate but, wow-eee, they are dressed up to the nines! The ladies are in fabulous dresses – not to mention some truly enormous hats – and the gents look absolutely spiffing.

These images are real survivors. Not only have they come through over one hundred years with nothing worse than a bit of dust and the very occasional lost corner but they also, by virtue of their own quite considerable boxed weight, stayed put on their shelf through all our recent rocking and rolling. Now we’ve started on the process of gently cleaning and rehousing them so that we can, in future, make them available as digitised images on our website.

Cleaning a glass plate negativeFactory-produced glass plate negatives with a gelatin-based emulsion were in wide use by photographers from the 1880s up until the 1920s, when they were suceeded by the more convenient gelatin silver paper negatives and gelatin silver negatives on celluloid roll film. They are fragile but they produce fantastically detailed images. If you have glass plate negatives of your own, the American National Archives provides some good advice about how to store them. If you think they need to be cleaned, however, please consult a conservator as it’s easy to irreversibly damage these treasures if you’re not sure what you’re doing.

And those dead relatives? Well, as I was working my way though one set my eye was caught by a familiar surname on an image showing three young ladies in canoes. Sadly I never met my three maiden great-aunts of whom my mother speaks so fondly (the last died a few months before I was born) but I rather like to think it’s them, enjoying an afternoon’s “messing about in boats.”

We’ll be working on getting these images ready to digitise for a wee while yet, but I’ll keep you posted about their online debut. Meantime, have a browse through some of our existing heritage images – those Victorians and Edwardians will surprise and delight you.

Water: Making the Most of It

Waterwise gardeningWith water restrictions now in place in Christchurch, I figure it’s time think about how waterwise I’m being in my garden – and I’d love some tips. I’ll start the ball rolling with some of my water-saving tricks – what are yours?

I’m a big fan of mulch and use it wherever I can (which is just about everywhere except where I’m sowing seeds direct). Pea straw is great – it even breaks down for extra organic matter! The only drawbacks I’ve noticed are that it’s a bit of a slug habitat and (I guess because of that) the blackbirds love chucking it about.

Utilising rainwater is a great way to take the pressure off our mains supply and there are a few ways to do this, from store-bought tanks to cheap and cheerful DIY water-barrels. (Building a couple of these, based on the designs in DIY Projects for the Self-Sufficient Homeowner, is my Labour Weekend project.) If you’ve really caught the water saving bug you can also look at greywater systems.

My favourite waterwise idea, though, involves the ubiquitous plastic soft drink bottle. Poke some tiny holes in the base of a soft drink bottle so that it leaks very slowly. Bury it upright to the neck, next to your newly-planted tomato, courgette, pepper plant etc (one per plant) and then just fill the bottle every 2-4 days. We lose a lot of water to evaporation when we water the soil surface, so the idea with this is to get the water down to the roots of the plant where it does the most good and minimises soil evaporation.

I tried this last year and my plants thrived! Apparently it encourages your plants to put down deeper roots, making them better able to resist drought. I think I got less mildew problems too, as the leaves weren’t getting wet. The only modification I made to the original plan was to keep the lids loosely on the bottles between waterings – otherwise they (sadly) became bumble-bee traps!

So, what tips and tricks do you have to make your garden a more waterwise place? If you’re stuck for inspiration the library has a good range of waterwise garden books, and our huge range of garden magazines is also a treasure-trove of ideas. You can also drop in to the Waterwise Gardening Workshop at the Botanic Gardens on Sunday 30 October for some great advice – I know I’ll be checking it out.

Find that picture!

With show time upon us again I decided to browse of our collection of historical photographs for pictures of past A&P shows. I love this one, taken at the 1910 show, where wind power was obviously as much of a  preoccupation as it is now:

You can search for images like this one on our catalogue. Here’s how:

  • Hit “Start.” You’ll find yourself on the “Search Catalogue” page. You’re in the right place.
  • In the grey box use the right-hand drop-down menu to limit your search “by material type” to “Pictures and Photographs” and then enter a keyword search as usual. You’ll get a list of images matching your search, many of which can be viewed online.
  • Just click on the entry you want to see – if the image is available online you’ll see a link, “View the photograph,” at the bottom of the full listing.  E voilà!

Itsy-bitsy garden

Spring is starting to spring (with the usual fickle weather) and gardeners are itching to get to work. Don’t have a garden? It’s still possible to grow yourself some yummy fresh greens. All you need is a few shallow containers with drainage holes and a light spot for them.

I’m talking microgreens. I’ve not given them a go before except outdoors in my vege plot,  so I decided to put a couple of empty ceramic bonsai pots I had kicking around to good use. (Hmmm, yeah, bonsai. Let’s not talk about that garden episode…)

I’ve been inspired to give microgreens a go by a new Kiwi book, How to Grow Microgreens by Fionna Hill, which we’ve just acquired here at the library. A microgreen is defined as a young edible plant that has developed two true leaves beyond its cotyledons (or seed-leaves) so it’s bigger than a sprout but still tender enough that you can gobble everything above the ground whole. My bonsai pots work well – and look good too – but you can use any shallow container. Plastic takeaway containers with holes punched in the bottom work just fine. Your microgreens won’t mind – all they need is about 4cm of  growing medium (I use an organic seed raising mix) to nestle their roots into.

Using untreated seed is important – ask at your garden centre if you’re not sure what to get. Several seed companies now do ranges specifically for microgreens. I’ve just planted red cabbage, “Fiji Feathers” peas (a variety specifically for microgreens), green broccoli, kale, ruruhau (mustard cabbage), fennel and “Bulls’ Blood” beetroot. The fennel seeds have the added bonus of smelling delicious as you plant them – but remember not to sniff the potting mix!

Growing microgreens is just one way to container-garden when your space is limited. Check out your library for a great collection of books on this method of growing.

What garden books have inspired you to grow new things? What have you learned from your successes/failures?

Gardening and the Bibliophile

CoverAt this time of year – particularly with the weather we’ve been having – it’s rare to get a sunny weekend day to spend in the garden. So what’s a librarian-gardener to do but curl up with a few good garden books and plan ahead for the spring and summer months?

I always know I’ve met a really, really good book when I find myself gripped by the (occasionally socially inappropriate) desire to seize upon anyone nearby and say “You must read this!” One author who consistently provokes this reaction in me is Michael Pollan. He is better known for his thought-provoking books on food politics The Botany of Desire, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defence of Food and, most recently, Food Rules: an eater’s manual (which is far more amusing and engaging than it sounds), but his earlier memoir Second Nature: a gardener’s education is not to be missed.

His gently humorous, wise descriptions of his own gardening experiences – and the way we as a society see our gardens – had me alternately laughing out loud and pausing in that middle-distance-y kind of thoughtfulness that a really good read occasionally provokes. It’s a lovely book for a gardener to curl up with on a winter’s night and ponder how the garden, as concept and reality, enriches, educates and (occasionally) humbles us.

The occasional sunny winter’s day, however, inevitably makes the gardener itch to get out there and do something. One thing you can do in the garden now, despite the weather (providing your garden isn’t completely waterlogged) is plant garlic. Garlic is incredibly easy to grow from cloves and traditionally gets planted right about now. Just make sure you buy seed garlic or organic garlic, as most of the other stuff has been treated with a sprouting retardant.

By the way, tradition tells us to plant garlic at midwinter and harvest at midsummer, but really there’s a bit more leeway than this. You can plant your garlic at least a month either side of midwinter (the key thing to remember is that garlic likes frosts but hates being waterlogged) and if you want your garlic to store you’re actually better to leave your garlic in the ground until around late January – early February in Christchurch. I tend to think of the traditional guideline as being more about the actual coldest and hottest parts of the year rather than the calendar solstices.

I recently came across the beautifully illustrated Complete Book of Garlic in our collections and I’ve now read more than I ever thought I didn’t know about the history, cultivars, growth and use across the world of this pungent bulb. My three varieties of garlic cloves have been planted with enthusiasm and I’m now looking forward to the coming summer’s tasty crop!

For more inspiration about things to do in your garden in winter, check out our newly updated Winter Gardening Guide. You might also want to take a look at our digital audiobook lending service, Overdrive, for an electronic copy of The Botany of Desire.