I don’t even know where to start. Trees. Are. Incredible. I always felt it, but now I know it. Words, terms, information, observation and stories wound their way from the classroom, around Kay’s personal gardens, and through the Koanga Institutes food forests.
It’s funny what bits of information stick with different people, and I am often asking the others what fascinated them most during the day. Most answers differ, and shows the breadth of what we are covering (I am trying to get each one of them to write a day – no luck so far!).
A tree grows in two ways, completely independent of each other. One is up. The other is out. Depending on how much food (light) the tree is getting, will depend on how much it grows out that year. If you chop the tree, these years will be seen in the tree rings. That I was familiar with. But linking that to the idea that you could read those rings to understand certain things about its life was something else. Suddenly I saw my own years as rings. Saw the rings closer together where I wasn’t given, or providing myself, the right environment to grow. And the rings further apart where I was, and did. I have an inkling this year will look like an entirely new type of ring altogether.
In the permaculture design process there is what they call a Scale of Permanence. The more permanent the element, the earlier it appears in the process, and we are in the beginnings of making our way through this scale. Yesterday we started with Climate, Landform and Patterns. Today was Water, Access and Earthworks.
In the morning we were playing in the sand pit with Dan, and by afternoon we were crossing the stream to check out the Hill Block with Bob. As we walked the hills (thankful for those nutrient dense meals we are receiving), Bob told us stories, and showed us signs of early Maori “campgrounds”. As we observed the landform of the Hill block, the natural contours of the land revealed the opportunity for water catchment. Pairing this with the location of the hill block in relation to the village, from there the whole vision for this community began to materialise.
As Bob spoke, not only a vision for the land they occupy, but all which you could see with your eye, began to take shape. A way of designing with the land to provide everything that communities could possibly need while regenerating the landscape. In that moment, and again here as I type, I understand that this course is offering me practical tools to be part of a very real achievable solution of abundance. I am experiencing a very new feeling. The idea of designing for abundance that resonated with me, and set in motion getting involved with this course, is becoming empowered.
A run. It might sound simple but I had yet to get out of my gumboots in the first few days. Remnants of a cold – which Kay is blasting with garlic, lemon and chilli drink – hadn’t helped, but today I got up and hit the drive way. A 1k meandering drive that passes from the farmhouse along the river, past a small dairy block, and a grove of eucalyptus, to the road. 2k isn’t a long run by any means, but with first practical starting at 7.00, with wake up, run, yoga stretch and chores to fit in before hand, I’ll have to be happy with what I get!
The other evening session (which runs after dinner from 7.00 – 8.30) Dan introduced us to Holistic Management. For me it was a revelation. A way of identifying the vision of any group (individual/marriage/family/business/etc), what situations make up this vision, and what actions create these situations. Then taking any decision, putting it through this system, and seeing if it works with it – or not.
For instance, individually I want to be knowledgeable on ways to live a life that is not only sustainable, but regenerates the environment. So I need to put myself in situations that allow that, and be ready to learn. Aside from the information, and various other actions, a major factor to optimize my learning is exercise. There is no better way to clear my mind than getting the blood flowing. So shoes on at 6.15 it is.
*Morning practical was seeds with Kay. We got pack seeds, learn about seed saving, and even take peak in the seed room and see all these nutrient dense wonders with our own eyes.
Could it be possible my brain is reaching full capacity? Getting amongst the design side of the Design Process during the morning, it was great to see how and when the pieces of the puzzle start fitting together. Coming from a design (graphic) back ground, this part provided me a more seamless transition than other aspects so far.
By the afternoon we were being presented with three design projects. Option one was Urban, and seemed like a very current option, as with most people living in urban environments, it will be an important avenue for permaculture in the future. Option 2 was a quarter acre on the Koanga land, bringing together the vision of a coupe currently living on the property. This seemed to align more with the lifestyle I lead in semi rural Raglan. Option 3 was the 15 hecter “River Block” recently reacquired by the Koanga Institute, to be developed as a resource for the proposed 150 member Koanga Village community.
With most of our examples over the past two days focusing on the quarter acre around our class, and a consistent unexplainable desire to put myself in the deep end, I went with the 15 hecter block. Myself and the 4 others in the team saw it as not only an opportunity to expand our learning into a whole new area, but Bob is also leading this project. Any one to meet Bob will soon discover he is a classic rural kiwi bloke who is very quick to have a laugh. An opportunity to experience more of this person, and the huge amount of knowledge he holds, was one we couldn’t pass up.
Is it any wonder my brain was full? Serve myself right. Turns out, as I write this a little later on Day 4, that all I needed was a sleep.
I can see a pattern developing here. It goes – do something, eat something – and I am definitely not complaining. During our stay we follow the Western A Price way of eating, which Kay gave a talk on yesterday evening. Although I was interested in the principles of this diet, the story of food and gardening, and how these threads wound and grew throughout Kay’s life, was fascinating. Her path of discovery, and the links to indigenous cultures / knowledge is something stirring my interest of late. This idea that old cultures stories and traditions hold an innate knowledge of wellness (which are bit by bit being sciencified*), and that holding onto this knowledge is imperative to our health and well being*, is something which is wholeheartedly resonating with me.
Today the foundations of Permaculture Design began to be laid. The day started with a walk around the flat part of the property with Bob. Under grey skies, and over moist ground, we start to understand he sees with different eyes. After opening our young morning eyes (both literally and metaphorically), the pattern continues, and we are fed breakfast by Kay. Dan spent the rest of the day moving us between the classroom and the drizzling outdoors, questioning, doing, and laughing our way through each of the Permaculture Principles. For me the depth and breadth of the knowledge that Permaculture Designers come to hold is somewhere between overwhelming and impressive. And in a way I guess it provides an idea of just how much learning we have instore for us over the next two weeks. But the teachers don’t seem to be worried about our rate of information absorption, so I won’t either… It’s also hard to worry right now, as one of the Koanga interns is playing gorgeous guitar by the fire hearth while I sit here and summarize my day… and there goes the bell for dinner.
Signing up for a PDC at the Koanga Institute situated in Wairoa, I had no idea what to expect – my sister had no hesitation in using many cult references in the week up to my departure.
Excitement of what the experience could hold, overrode the fear of being married off to start a super race, and so I embarked on my travels. The drive in was incredible. I had to remind myself several times to watch the road, and not the white sheer cliffs plunging into the startling green river.
Arrival was a pitched tent, small introductions to the stream of arrivals, and a tired body filled with soul warming food. As I meandered my way into sleep, there between the pillow and the extra blanket pulled over my head to hold in any heat, was a smile.
The patter of rain drummed on the tent. By the time I edged my way into my white shoes, and manoeuvred myself out of the tent without getting any droplets into my abode, the rain had been replaced by mist. A quick slip into gumboots (sure those white shoes won’t be seen for the rest of my stay), a warm cup in my hand, I took in my surrounds. Fresh, simple majestic. The droplets of water captured on the ends of branches like little lights, inspired a photo. Sure there will be many of those moments to come.
Then the ride began. Beautiful food, introductions, purpose – What brought us here, What do we want from the course, What can we bring to the course. And a sense emerged that from all our unique walks, we had all began to see the world in a particular way, ask ourselves similar questions, and we are all here looking for solutions.
So Day 1 insights? I am inspired. Surrounded by intelligent, practical, deep, compassionate, like minded people from all around the globe. Willing and open teachers – both the course leaders and my fellow students. I am immersed in a positive environment that showcases all that is possible – composting toilets, fire stoked showers that run every other day, beautiful wholesome food every single meal. I move into Day 2 with an open heart and a freshly stimulated mind for what is to come.
Up here in the Hokianga we don’t have really cold temperatures to deal with (in fact we really only had one frost this winter and that was back in early June). Now the weather is really changeable – hot and sunny enough some days for us to be removing clothing layers and feeling like we should be getting our sun hats on, very wet some days and some quite cold nights. Even though its relatively mild some things still need a help to get away early and I have a different system for starting seeds than Kay. We have a hooped tunnel house that we never got round to putting the ends on – once the tunnel house was up and functional the ends dropped off our ‘to do’ list. It provides shelter and some warmth but not enough to get some things started early in the season. Inside the tunnel house I had John build a hot box. Its made of macrocarpa and is about 1.2 by 1m and about 50 cms deep. Its up off the floor on legs and has a wooden base. Resting on the base and angled forwards is a piece of roofing tin – I’ll explain its purpose in a moment. In late July we collect horse manure and John scythes some grass and we build up layers in the hot box – manure, grass, manure, grass and then potting mix on top. I cover the whole thing with plastic using two cloche hoops pushed into the organic material in the box. The plastic I’ve been using for the past 5 years had finally shredded this year so I got a new piece – a recycled plastic wrapping from a double mattress from a local furniture store. Its a perfect size, cost me $2 and I kept it doubled for extra heat.
The way it works is simple – the manure and grass clippings start to compost down and in doing so produce heat from underneath and the plastic cover keeps that heat in – even first thing in the morning the air under the cover is appreciably warmer than outside it.
Its a great place to start seedlings off – some things, such as Jimmy Nardello peppers, that really benefit from the direct bottom heat are sown straight into the potting mix while others that are easier to germinate (e.g. Red Kuri pumpkins) are sown in seed trays that are just placed inside the hot box. Once the seeds are sown they need occasional watering. Any surplus water filters down through the layers, flows along the roofing tin into a piece of guttering which directs it to a pipe which exits the box vertically. I keep a bucket under that which collects the nutrient rich water for use as a liquid feed.
I’m really pleased with it as a system. It gets the seeds germinating early and up here I only really need it for August and September, by October everything germinates just fine in the tunnel house. So for the rest of the year I use it for growing root ginger – its perfect for that. I’ve found that the ginger for planting stores best in trays in potting mix in the tunnel house as then it doesn’t dry out too much. Once the hot box is no longer needed for seeds I plant the ginger into the box, without the plastic cover as it doesn’t need that. The ginger needs the warmth provided by the tunnel house and the nutrient rich matter in the box is perfect. It requires quite a bit of watering so the nutrient recycling by catching the water is great. The other thing ginger needs is to not be in intense sunlight – our tunnel house plastic is partially UV protected and gives some shade so it thrives in there. Its harvested in the winter when the foliage dies down – perfect timing to get the hot box ready for the seeds again.
Spring in the Garden
I had a walk through the garden earlier today – it felt very spring like and there were bees everywhere. The Sutton’s Dwarf Broad Beans that we grow are flowering away and look fantastic. In some parts of New Zealand it’s better to sow Broad Beans now but up here I’ve found it’s too late so sow mine in April or May. That means they’ll form beans before the weather gets too hot and gives me the added advantage of them finishing early so I can plant something else over the summer as I’m always running out of space.
We’re coming into a really busy time now and I like to get some things started quickly to get ahead for later in the season. We grow Jimmy Nardello peppers and like to get them producing as early in the season as possible so start them off in the hot box. They are beautiful, elongated red sweet peppers that visitors usually mistake for chilli peppers because of their shape and colour. Once they are producing we eat them most days in a variety of ways but I think they are best just roasted. Up here in the north we have the added bonus of a prolonged season and they don’t stop producing until late June or into July.
Our tomatoes are also sown in the hot box to get them away early – we like to grow a range of colours and shapes. One of our regulars is Alma a red, egg shaped tomato that is very disease resistant and great for eating, cooking or drying. In fact a big treat this winter was the discovery of 3 jars of dried Almas stored in olive oil that had been forgotten at the back of a cupboard. They were from 2011 but were perfect and are delicious with our home made cheese. We also grow J Walsh Yellow good for eating fresh or cooking, Oxheart which we mainly use for cooking and Broad Ripple Yellow Currant which is great in handfuls in salad and always a favourite with children (and adults!) to browse in the garden. Eggplants grow really well up here and again its good to get them going early so I start them in the hot box too. We’ve tried several varieties and love them all so grow a different one each year. We grew Tsakoniki last year which were great. They have stripey red/violet skin and non-bitter flesh but we also like Florence Round Purple which are very dark skinned and look and taste amazing.
We’re still eating lots of salads up here in late winter / early spring mainly comprised of Rocket which overwinters easily here, American Land Cress, Sorrel, Endive Indiva Scarola, Raddiccio Rosso, Nasturtium leaves and flowers, and Calendula Flowers. We’ve also got lots of Chioggia and Bull’s Blood Beetroot that overwintered nicely and Tokinashi Daikon radish. They are great in a root salad along with Yacon which is part of our back order collection. Yacon is a perennial root vegetable that has small sunflower like flowers in the summer. The tubers are harvested in the winter and provide a sweet, crunchy addition to salads. We usually harvest some wild greens such as bitter cress, plantain, dandelion and puha to add to the salad and have that with homemade cheese for lunch each day. I sowed lettuce in the hot box in August to get some away early and it germinated pretty much straight away so that’s pricked out in trays already. We like to grow a mix of different lettuces (Four Seasons, Odells, Devil’s Ear) – the different shapes and colours look great and add interest to spring and summer salads.
The hot box will really start to fill up at the end of August. We grow Long Green Bush Marrow successionally over the season and the first ones will be sown after the new moon. We really like this variety as it produces great tasting courgettes but also very tasty marrows if you let them grow large. I think marrows are a very underrated vegetable. These ones have great flavour and are good for stuffing (often with our Four Seasons Quinoa). They even keep quite well and we still have a few on the pumpkin store that look perfect even now. We will sow our Red Kuri pumpkins at the same time as the marrows. These are a fantastic summer squash and are usually ready to eat by late December. They are very productive and great roasted, steamed or as soup and can be eaten skin and all. We sow our other pumpkin a month later and that won’t need the hot box. We grow Cupola, a beautiful large butternut that is a great keeper. The combination of the two pumpkins is great – we usually still have Cupola left in late December when the Red Kuri start and then by the time the Red Kuri finish around May we can start eating Cupola again.
We grow several kinds of beans each year and like to get some started early. I successionally sow a bean called Sinton throughout the season and start the first ones off in September. Sinton is a bush bean and great eaten either as a green bean or a drying bean. I usually do 3 sowings, the early ones will be eaten as green beans for a while and the plants left to produce beans for drying, the middle sowing will be just for drying as by the time they are producing we usually have lots of a climbing green bean called Blue Lake to eat, the final sowing will be mainly eaten as green beans (the Blue Lake have usually finished by then) and if the weather stays dry enough then a final harvest of drying Sintons.
The big news this month is that we now have our first litter of bunnies from our own breeding stock where neither does nor bucks have ever had industrial pellets to eat. We were concerned at one point that we were malnourishing them because it took the buck longer to mature than usual, and we didn’t know where the problem was , but all has been revealed, we had a healthy litter of 8 kits, and they are growing very very fast and all rabbits look very healthy and fat.
They have been eating tagasaste all winter but now that it is going into flower they don’t like it as much, and we were concerned about what could be a nourishing diet for a milking doe., without tagasaste at this time of year. We found a wonderful website that gave us the confidence to feed whole grain and another book that recommended supplementing with sprouted grain over winter explaining that in the wild rabbits would be eating sprouted and whole grain over the period after the grain and grass seed naturally falls.
We tried it making sure they also had all their other choices available, and right now that includes alfalfa hay, loads of herbs and greens and peach, willow and apple prunings as well as small amounts of tagasaste.
They are eating small amounts of whole grain immediately, and I imagine it will be something we feed them in winter or seasonally when tagasaste is not available.
So we are back into our rabbits breeding program and Delila went to the buck yesterday so every 6 weeks a doe will go to the buck which means every 12 weeks each doe will go to the buck giving them far more time to recover and regain their weight and strength than is usually given. Rabbit will be back on the menu again in around 3 months, and if all goes to plan we will have 1 per week for the Kitchen .
This month we brought in 2 pullets to ensure the flock of chickens had both young and older laying hens . Each year we aim to replace 1/3 to ½ the laying hens., to maintain a flock of birds at their peak of laying. The older hens only 2 years old could be eaten or sold as laying hens as Legbars will lay fir many more years.
This month we had the following outputs from the garden, we imagine we can easily treble that nest year by having rabbits available for the kitchen, by doing a way better job of getting the autumn garden in on time, and by having wicking beds set up with cloche covers for more winter growth.
We also have now harvested and stored around 300 litres of a vermiliquid/rabbits urine mix from the worm farm under the rabbits. I’ve been aware from the past that one must be very careful applying what seems like local, cheap easy to get sources of nutrients to the garden, because I saw in Kaiwaka that it often did more damage than good. This time we decided to get the liquid tested to see what was in it and how we could best use it.
The result came back showing reasonably high nitrate nitrogen and also potassium, with low untestable quantities of calcium, phosphorous and magnesium. Calcium and phosphorous are what we need , and if we keep putting on potassium we get further and further away from growing nutrient dense food, and sequestering carbon. Grant has given us some ideas about how we might use it so we’re going to work on that and report back next month.
We’ll put no value on that until we know how to use it in appositive way.
We have been feeding worms from the worm farm to the chickens, and the soldier fly farm is now finished and ready to go, and the passive solar cloche almost ready to go… more next month on those.
Hand Over A Hundy
Most of Kane’s energy this month has gone into beginning the process of starting up a Hand Over A Hundy Project in Wairoa. He held the first meeting and we have 13 beginner gardener families and several people for mentors and it will be kicking off in 2 weeks with a demonstration compost making session and a bed preparation session for all.
We’re following the Koanga Beginner Gardener 40 sq m vege garden in our Urban Garden so September is the month we will be beginning our seed planting. This garden plan is described in our Beginner Gardener Booklet and the seeds to plant this garden are available here.
Calling all activists, animal lovers, growers and gardeners and people with mothers, all neighbours and nanas, all friends and all strangers, it’s time to stand up: the varroa mites’ in danger!
Our little destructor, our tiny red friend is suffering abuse that no law will defend, each autumn and spring comes a chemical craze and most wee mites die within hours or days.
But fear not, friends, there’s more, for the ones who survive Pass their genes on to the next lot of little mite lives and bit by bit they build up resistance while the beekeepers grasp for the next round of pistons.
Blinded by profit we just cannot see: There aren’t too many mites, but too many bees! Nature is trying to bring back the balance and us factory-farmers take that as a challenge.
The mite ain’t the problem, the mite is the symptom of a seriously sorry sad-sack of a system that acts as if one day the mite will be beaten oh yeah? how will lions survive when gazelles are all eaten?
If varroa kicks the bucket then what will be next? Nosema or foulbrood or bee-eating insects? CCD ain’t a new thing like everyone thinks, one way or another nature irons out the kinks
Why fight it, my friends, even on a bee-loving basis? Each treatment steps away from homeostasis. Forget “fight the mite,” let’s boost bees instead, and give them a real chance in life up ahead.
This spring (2014) Bob and I decided to take the plunge and spend no money on food this year.
In some ways it’s quite scary, because we have only been on our current garden site for 2.5 years, and the orchard is barely producing…. However it feels like time, and we have any amount of beautiful raw milk, amazing eggs, and meat as well as vegetables. We’ll be doing more wild fruit/nut harvesting this summer, and we’ll be taking very good care of our bees and stevia plants, and making better use of the solar drier.
In the mean time, spring is a challenging time to begin such a thing because it is the leanest time of the year in the garden and orchard.
I immediately began thinking of ways to get a few of our basic summer crops producing earlier than usual here. Our winters are cold with many very heavy frosts that can be brutal. Two springs ago we had a frost on November 30th and another in March. Not long enough to get a good tomato crop in or to keep pumpkins etc.
My favourite garden structures man is Elliot Coleman, who has written many organic gardening books and I like his style, he is into Biointensive, uses hand tools and does a beautiful job, and he is especially good at getting year round vege in super cold conditions using simple structures. Four Season Harvest is his book especially about doing just this. His main theme is that every layer you place over your crop, takes that crop 1 climate zone warmer… and he shows us how he does it in Maine in 30 below. He actually earns a living selling fresh salads all year round in that climate.
We don’t get 30 below, but I would like to have tomatoes for the Solstice and courgettes in October, and loads of tomatoes over a long period for saucing etc… and eggplants and all those summer vege that need long warm growing periods.
I don’t like expensive structures, and I do like appropriate technology!
My priorities are
To get courgettes (Crookneck squashare way by far my favourite in a small garden. Gail will say her favourite is Long Green Bush Marrow because they not only taste good as courgettes but also as marrows!) as early as possible, my storage pumpkins will be gone by September. We only really need 1 good courgette plant, so I’m going to get somebody to help me build a cold frame… I’m going to copy Elliot Colemans design: wooden sides with a glass top that can be lifted and held up on hot/warm days. That is a start, but I still need to actually germinate the seed and grow the seedling to 1 month old before it goes into the bed. I have a plastic cloche on a wooden bench, which we planned to turn into a passive solar cloche this Spring, (we still might but in the mean time I thought OK each layer of cover takes us up a climate zone and I covered my trays of early seedlings with bubble wrap plastic at night, inside the plastic cloche, (actually wrapped the trays right up in the plastic by placing the bubble wrap on the bench so that the trays sit on it and then around and over the top and tuck it in under the front edge at night) and left it on in the day time if it wasn’t hot and sunny. Each day I check them out and it is really clear that it has made a big difference to the warmth in the seed trays, even in heavy frosty nights there is still a little warmth in the morning.Then I remembered that a friend starts his seedlings off in deep trays that have 6 inches/25cms of fresh horse manure under the soil, then I thought, why don’t I place some boards around the cloche bench and fill the bottom of the cloche with 20cm sand, a heat sink that will heat up during the day and release heat at night to even out the temperature. Making life for tomato and pepper and eggplants seedlings possible in August in a cheap plastic cloche for no cost in the frost. Heavy enough frosts to turn all the flowers on a 30 year old magnolia black!!!!
My second priority is to get some tomatoes and bush basil in and producing by Xmas… I have planted Henrys’ Dwarf Bushcherries, (also excellent croppers over a long period, and super tasty, great for children’s gardens too, or growing in pots or edges) which only grow to be very very small bushes, easy to cover with a cold frame and the same with the Basil. I will use a 1 sq m cold frame once they are ready for the garden, (25 tomato plants and a few mini basil plants) and will see how I go growing seedlings in my cloche with a sand bench, and bubble wrap plastic inside the cloche. If Bob gets back in time it may even get the water filled barrel greenhouse underneath the sand bench.
My third priority is to be able to plant out my pumpkins, peppers and eggplants early enough to have a long growing season and high quality long keeping pumpkins, and good crops of peppers and eggplants. My main effort will go into getting the soil in top condition because the more you have the right minerals in the right relationships the faster your plants grow and the higher the quality is the better they will keep. That is of course and ongoing process but were making god progress there (my next blog will describe that journey of growing soil) secondly choosing cultivars I know are relatively reliable in a short growing season. My choices are Delicata squash, very early maturing and keep until May. Buttercup, my old favourite and it keeps until June. (Gail would say Red Kuri and it is an amazing cultivar, sweet like Buttercup but not as dry, in fact I’m going to grow some of them this year too) Then for long keepers I like Butternut because it keeps so well, tastes so good and is always reliable. (Chucks Winteris my ultimate long keeping butternut type pumpkin but it needs a longer season than we have, best in the warmer parts of the country. Then it’s good to have some variation when it gets to June, July, August and pumpkins become daily fare so Crown will be my choice although quite boring compared to Hopi Grey, which needs a good long summer but is amazing to eat, and Grey Hubbard, which I haven’t grow enough to really know it etc. Crown is reliable, high quality flesh and a super god keeper.OK so I’ve got that part all sorted, the seedlings will be grown as my others on the fancy cloche with a 20cm sand bottom on the bench, and if necessary bubble plastic to germinate them, and they will be grown in there until they are good size seedlings. At that point, around Labour weekend, I’d like to be able to plant them, in the garden, and to do that they will need protection. I’m going to use my old tried and true system of covering the beds with hops and making an on the bed plastic cloche, way way easier than cold frames which are heavy to move around and expensive etc. I will use my old recycled metal cloche hoops we’ve had for years, place them 1m apart along the beds, cover with plastic leaving enough at each end of the bed to bunch it up and peg down with very strong pegs made of bent (in a vice) concrete reinforcing, and then place over the top of the plastic more hoops in between the others. This top layer of hoops means you can get tension on the plastic and so open the cloche as much or as little as you like each day depending on the weather. Tension must be kept on the plastic and you need the heavy pegs at each end to do that. I’ll have 2 x10 m beds of pumpkins covered, and another on my rock melons and early cucumbers, and another 10 m bed of peppers (My favourites for flavor are Yugoslav paprika. And Sweet Chocolate, and in the far side of the garden so they don’t cross or make my sweet peppers hot I will grow Hungarian Yellow Wax and Jalapeno, so I have hot frying peppers and hot peppers to make fermented chilli sauce) and eggplants covered as long as need be. I have all this gear stored away and it gets used year after year, so is not a great cost.