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Kumara Planting Time

It’s kumara planting time again and it’s not too late to order. It does need to be planted soon though so get your order in quickly if you don’t want to miss out! We’re busy packaging and sending out kumara tupu each week and orders can still be placed via the website

Kumara are sent out as tupu – small rooted plants grown in a tāpapa bed. As they are sent out as live plants we take great care with them – they are bundled and labelled, the ends are wrapped in damp newspaper and then a bio degradable plastic bag and then they are boxed and posted out.

Although we’re starting to plant our kumara now the fantastic thing is that we are still eating last year’s harvest. When we started growing kumara it felt like a bit of a luxury crop but now its become one of our major staples. It’s easy to grow, stores and keeps well, and, as we grow lots of different varieties, we have different colours and textures to enjoy. We end up eating it most days at this time of year but can vary things by roasting it, boiling it, mashing it or even stir frying it.

If you’d like to read more about how the kumara is grown there is an article here to help you out

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The Green Mantle – Kay’s Blog November 4th

Whilst we’ve been focused in the vege garden this past month it has been such a joy to have been watching the forest garden unfold. I can’t recommend more highly actually living in one’s forest garden!


They are so so full of life and everybody coming to Kotare feels that now. My little forest garden of 900 sq m is a microcosm of the whole village which is becoming a large forest garden! Check out the green mantle  that will continue to rise higher with each month up off the ground until the great returning next Autumn!



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BRIX readings begin – Kay’s Blog October 18th

I am very aware that going it without my trusty Environmental Fertilisers fertiliser is going to be an enormous challenge for me this season in my garden. I’m never going to be happy with any vegetables with a BRIX under 12, and that is really only the beginning. I’m also aware that things will be slower to react using only my own compost biochar and foliar sprays, however I do trust there has to be a way through this… we simply do not all have access to fertiliser we have to buy, and it is not along term regenerative solution.


So… I went into the garden yesterday at 2:30, a good time to establish as the time to regularly do my BRIX Tests. For those of you unfamiliar with what BRIX is here is a definition, and also instructions for how to use a refractometer to do this testing. Here is also a very good explanation of why it is so critical to learn to grow high BRIX food.

I tested my oats first.. they are usually the highest in the garden. Their BRIX was 22, and I have to say I was disappointed, they are often 29! It is possible that because they are now going to seed the BRIX is on it’s way down again, with the sugars now going into the seed, however that is my starting point.

I then choose a root crop, a legume, a heavy feeder, and a perennial to follow through the season.

Broad beans ( legume)   10

Newly emerging potatoes  (root)  7

Garlic (heavy feeder) 10

Sea kale (perennial)10

All of these are BRIX readings are lower than I would have found if I had planted into Nature’s Garden or Soil Force …. I’m depending on the compost and charged biochar. I have a whole series of things away getting Reams tested now so next week I should know what the garden bed analysis is along with the analysis of all my compost and liquid fertilisers so I’ll be able to decide my path forwards. … This is scary!!!!

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Q + A: Warre Hive Beekeeping with Nick Holmes

To follow our series of interviews with upcoming workshop tutors Kay had a quick chat with Nick Holmes who will be at Koanga in September presenting a workshop about the Warre hive system and Beekeeping:

Kay: Nick, why are you a proponent of the vertical top bar Warre system?

Nick: I have come to realise that Warre hives most closely mimic the hive environment that bees create and thrive in naturally in a temperate environment. In our climate honeybees choose nests in vertical tree cavities. Being a tall vertical hive, the Warre hive has the shape and thermal properties of a hollow tree with the quilt forming an internal roof. Both the Warre hive and method support the bees to express themselves as naturally as possible.

Kay: Why don’t you just follow Langstroth ( common industrial system used by most beekeepers today) systems but be organic?

Nick: The big reason people take up Langstroth beekeeping is because it is easy to get hive ware. Langstroth hives are the main hive type in use in NZ. I began my beekeeping journey by doing a Certificate in Apiculture, learning the Langstroth way. I quickly noticed the hive was large and cold, and the method (as dictated by the hive design) is extremely intrusive and destructive to the colony. Bees are heat organisms par excellence, and heat loss in modern hives such as the Langstroth is four to seven times greater than in a hollow tree. This is a huge stress that is created by a hive design and method of beekeeping that completely ignores the biological needs of the bee.

Kay: Why did you choose vertical top bar hives rather than horizontal top bar hives?

Nick: Horizontal honey bee nests are typically found in humid subtropical climates where bees are not so concerned about conserving heat. The vertical format mimics the choice of nest in temperate climates, and is far more thermally efficient.

Kay: Do you actually mange them without any insecticides ( miticides) or do you find you still have to use the ‘organic’ options of miticides?

Nick: I think people have been scared in to believing the misnomer than we ‘have to’ use treatments to ‘save the bees’ from varroa. There are many examples now from around the world of treatment-free colonies having greater rates of survival than treated colonies.

I initially succumbed to that fear, and although I refused to treat with synthetic miticides, I did treat my Warre colonies with ‘organic’ miticides such as thyme oil and Apilifevar (a gel made of of thyme, camphor, menthol and eucalyptus oils). I have never used the ‘organic’ acids like oxalic or formic. I still had losses, the comb took on the treatment smells and they were very aggressive on the bees, you can just tell they don’t like it.

I have since learnt about the myriad of other organisms that call the hive home, that support and strengthen the bee colony, and so have ceased treatment altogether. My hives now are made from strong spring swarms, and are left to get on with it. I harvest honey from the hives that die out, and leave the hives that are surviving with their stores. This story ( of a 3yr old ‘feral’ colony in South Auckland is proof that bees are surviving in NZ without treatment, and we are seeing this in our hives too.

Kay: Do you think that Warre hives are real for home growers and beekeepers? 

Nick: Warre hives are the perfect option for people wanting to keep bees at home, small organic growers wanting hives for pollination etc.  It is also totally possible to go commercial and do it ‘naturally’ with the Warre, as others around the world are doing.

Kay: How much honey could one expect to get from a Warre hive?

Nick: It really depends on your area and nectar sources, but the first thing to remember is that Warre hives do not ‘stimulate’ the bees to produce honey like Langstroth hives do. Warre colonies simply produce less honey. I see this as a reasonable expectation however – we must allow them to regain their health and strength if we want to continue living alongside them into the future.

It is possible to take a small harvest in the first year from a large swarm, however usually you would expect your first harvest in the spring, or summer of the second year. One box is a good guide, or 14kg per hive per year.

Kay: Do you think it is possible  to maintain 1 hive in a regenerative way.. or would one need more hives to keep the apiary going throughout the years?

Nick: The saying “two is one and one is none” comes to mind. Natural beekeeping in it’s truest sense would not seek to compromise one colony to assist another, like transplanting brood to save a failing hive. I do think at least two hives is a good starting point however, for a couple of reasons. Each hive is different and they can teach you different things. If you really need to (and you could confirm that need with another experienced Warre beekeeper) use one hive to help another, you have the option. 2-5 hives would give a a nice dispersed and ‘dynamic’ apiary – some young swarms buidling, some honey producers and some swarm producers.

Kay: How much does it cost to set oneself up with Warre hives?

Nick: If you are handy with tools and wood you can build a Warre hive for the cost of timber and time. I build the hives for others from naturally durable timbers we mill ourselves for the purpose, and charge $380 per 4-box complete Warre. Material costs make up about half, and time the other half.

Kay: How much time and how often does it take to care for a Warre hive?

Nick: Once the hives are built, it would only take a couple of hours over the year of actual work. I tend to spend the most time just observing – what is flowering when, what are the bees bringing in, activity levels throughout the day, sun on the hives, number of bees fanning.


If you want more information regarding the Warre hive and Nick’s workshop follow this link

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Q + A: Butchery Workshop with Taiamai Corker

Kay caught up with Taiamai ahead of the Butchery Workshop that he will be delivering at Koanga, to get an idea of what participants can expect from the course:

Q: Taiamai where did you learn to kill and butcher your own meat

A: The first thing that came to mind was a photo of Dad and I and  my dog Spot, with Dad in his green overalls i think and  two goats with no heads under the totara tree at home next to the outside bath, and then the next  thought that came to mind was the photo of me trying to fillet the mullet in my home made wool top ( I was 3) , pretty funny….

I have picked up bits and pieces over the years starting from catching fish and learning how to fillet them with my parents to then learning to raise, kill and process chickens and ducks also with mum and dad…. and then around age 4-6    learning to hunt goats  first with my father and my dog, and then with my brothers, always with the idea from the start of going out to get some food for the family weather it was goats, eels, fresh water crayfish, rabbits and turkeys and at times some of these were also pests in the garden,
Q: This is the 5th time you have taught the butchering workshop for Koanga.. they have always been full and very successful.. your students rave about the workshop afterwards…..what inspires you to teach this workshop to others

A: I enjoy showing people how they can work with meat to get a home grown animal processed into many things that they themselves can enjoy, for it’s about knowing your animals and enjoying them while they are alive and looking after them as best you can, and when you are ready, being able to kill the animal in the best way you can. and then really being able to  enjoy making something from the animal and respecting the animal from paddock to plate…. using all the bits…. I take great pride and enjoyment in helping people to learn these skills

Q: You are currently in Germany learning traditional butchering skills from a traditional butcher.. what exciting things can we expect to be hearing about in your workshop this September

A: Germany well it’s all about pork, pork pork pork pork pork. I think a blood sausage or German black pudding will be on the cards, as with everything i have seen so far there is no grain and no fillers in these traditional German products, also i think a ‘skin off’ dry cured ham from the rump of the pig, so nice and small and easy to get through but also eaten raw, not cooked and only taking a few weeks from start to finish,  we will also talk about liver sausage and the bratwurst, two exceptional products and all of this with not wheat flour or rice flour.

Q: Can we have some weekly feed back while you are in Germany , we’d love to hear more about the things you are learning

A: In the first week it’s all been about watching… well it will be the whole time, and also finding a way to communicate as I work with three guys, one speaks no English, one speaks a little and one had great English but he goes on holiday at the end of next week so that will be interesting. The machinery they use is crazy ( $75,000 sausage filler )  and the list of gear I have never seen goes on, from skinning every pig they buy and also using the skin to make other products and a huge list of cooked luncheon sausages that even have cubed ham in them or whole eggs, it look pretty fancy when sliced on the sandwich, also the butchery building is over 300 years old with an awesome selection of cured meats hanging in the attic.

You can sign up for Taiamai’s Butchery course at Koanga here!

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Nutrient Dense Food and Carbon Sequestration using Local Sourced Fertiliser. Kay Closes The Loops – Part Two

July 25 2016

I put a roast in the oven tonight with Rainbow yams and red and purple potatoes, it looked so amazing. It never fails to amaze me and I always remember the old people who passed us these food plants and give thanks, then I cooked the purple mustard in the meat juice and ended up with purple gravy!

Spring is definitely in the air and I’m going to try to write something weekly over spring because having made the decision not to use EF custom made fertilser I have a big challenge on my hands and it feels like a great opportunity to share what is going through my head and how I handle that.

I do have to say to begin with though that I don’t think I would ever have made this decision if I hadn’t already spent several years building the humus in my soil and getting the minerals levels up as well as the cation exchange capacity..CEC.. it would have been a very long road without this..  During this process we took the humus level from 4 to 20…

So .. I spent the weekend preparing beds ready to plant my broad beans into, and to plant my garlic and shallots and potato onions,  as well as my peas.

I weeded them U barred them and then applied 5 x  20 litre buckets of compost to each bed. Ie 100 litres of compost to each 10 sq m. That is equivalent to 1cm of compost all over the surface of the bed… a good amount.

I forked that into the beds with home made biochar charged with urine. I was surprised that it was not really smelly or difficult/offensive  to handle. I added 3kgs per 10 sq m bed. I would have liked to have had enough to put 1kg per sq m but until we do another burn I won’t.

At that point I had a big decision to make. I knew from the test I had had done on my compost ( Reams test) that my compost did not have a good balance of calcium and magnesium. I had been adding calcium to the compost trying to get the levels higher and higher but did not add enough magnesium. That meant the calcium /magnesium ration was not 7:1 as it needs to be to get optimum growth.

I had already seen what happened when planting into that compost, very slow weak growth, poor plants with a low brix. I decided to add a common form of magnesium (magnesium sulphate .. Epsom salts) , in liquid form with added molasses ( carbon to hold the magnesium, bind with the magnesium so it is not so water soluble). I added 1 Tbspn of magnesium sulphate and 1 Tbspn molasses each 5 sq m in 10 litres of water.

If I put too much magnesium on it will lock up the nitrogen but if I don’t have enough the calcium/magnesium ration will be out and then I won’t have quality plants either. We’ll see how this goes!

Once the plants are up and growing I will then give them a boost with  liquid cow manure, I’m lucky the cows are just outside our housesite at the moment.

Ok so buying Epsom salts to use as a mineral supplement is easier and cheaper than bringing in custom fertiliser but it is still not my  ideal situation. Thinking ahead, I know I want to continue adding calcium to my compost heaps in the form of bone char and burnt bones, and plants selected as efficient accumulators of calcium in particular like oats and lupins, so I’m going to have to find a way way to know that I’m also adding something that contains significant amounts of magnesium… I’m thinking … which trees and plants are the best magnesium accumulators.

I’ve been working on this list for a while, not only in terms of designing plantings or collecting material for a compost heap but also in terms of designing forest gardens. It is easy to say that planting a diverse range of plants and having all 7 layers will create a system that is able to supply all  the needs of the heavy feeding fruit trees in the medium/long haul.. but to me it feels as though there needs to be some careful selection of at least the initial range of support trees going in to ensure we have enough legumes and potash suppliers, as Martin Crawford says, but it feels like good sense to ensure that when we plant our major minerals accumulators we make sure we get the basics covered.

The basics in terms of having the key minerals around for healthy cell growth initially are the major ones.. calcium, magnesium, potash and phosphate.

If the leaves falling to the ground each Autumn were from trees known as dynamic accumulators that concentrated these 4 major minerals then we could know that as they are broken down by the microbes and re enter the mineral cycle and be grabbed again by the feeder roots of the heavy feeding trees .. that the trees would have a good chance of growing to be strong and healthy and producing high quality food without the need to bring in fertiliser of any kind.

I have been researching for a while to find my ideal  list of trees/plants that can supply the forest garden with the minerals needed for the long haul, but now that I’m not buying minerals for the vege garden, it is obvious that the list is one and the same list.

Here is my current list.. it’s short because I think we’ve gotten too carried away and we should focus on what is very important first.. once we have the basics covered we can get more carried away.

For my compost heaps in the vege garden I will continue to grow lupins and oats which unlock sesquester both calcium and phosphate very well, but I’m also going to be adding oak, and dogwood ( the ultimate calcium accumulators that also bear very edible fruit), and linden,    leaves,   as well as alfalfa (an excellent source of calcium and phosphate and I’m growing it permanently around the vege garden now especially for harvesting to make compost and mulch beds).

To ensure I have adequate sources of magnesium, willow leaves, and bark, and alfalfa look to be my easiest bets, for potash I’ll use comfrey leaves, (it will have to be maple sin the forest garden because I have poultry  in there and they kill the comfrey)  also planted around the vege garden, for phosphate I will add loads of comfrey, alfalfa and oats and lupins again, and also collect linden, birch and  cassurina leaves.

For people in the cities many of these trees are in our parks, and easy to collect.

For those of you looking for support species to feed your forest garden check the Koanga website for forest garden support trees and seeds .  Our bundles are selected to cover the mineral bases and also to either be trees that like being coppiced (alders, tagasaste) or that only grow to 2-5m in height so they are suitable for smallish spaces.

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Nutrient Dense Food and Carbon Sequestration using Local Sourced Fertiliser. Kay Closes The Loops – Part One

Spring is around the corner and I haven’t written a garden blog for a while, I have a new greenhouse /garden shed about to be ready for use and finally after months of agonising I’ve decided how to cut down the number of hours I require to spend in the garden to keep it looking incredible and producing large amounts of high brix food.


Our garden is 200m2 plus 50m2 of perennial beds. I’m leaving the perennial bed as it is, Purple Asparagus, Purple de Jesi globe artichokes, sea kale, Hong Kong 3 rhubarb, Multiplying spring onions, Welsh Bunching onions and day lilies (edible flowers) All of these crops are highly productive, taste fantastic and are ready to eat just when we need them, Spring.

The rest of my garden feels too big now, we have come a long way in 5 years in terms of building up the soil and I feel as though I can grow just as much food in a smaller area, The biggest challenge of all is to stop bringing in fertiliser to keep the process of regeneration maintained in the soil and the health of the crops. This is a graph showing just how much we have built the soil in our home garden …. .. using the following strategies, over the past 5 years

graphics new

  • Learning to make compost that is actually useful, adding balanced EF fertiliser, plus clay, biochar, seaweed and clay shards
  • Using Environmental Fertilisers based on Reams soil tests

Utilising Biointensive practices whereby we grow 50% of the garden in compost crops each season

  • Growing carbon crops in the garden that unlock needed nutrients eg lupins and oats

I have decided that this year is the year I’m stopping buying fertiliser… and that feels like my biggest challenge ever, I’m also totally committed to growing soil and high brix food and I want to grow as much food on less area to save time.

When we came here the brix of the grass was 2, way too low to maintain our human health or for the soil processes to be regenerative.

This season I’m committing to going the extra mile to close the loops, now that we have got our brix levels up and soil building happening fast (and we’ll keep testing to watch what happens) my strategies are going to change a little… as follows:

  1. Continue to make high quality compost using carbon crops from the garden and compost heaps with a 60:1 carbon ratio and high quality ingredients (as described below)
  2. Begin consciously and carefully using all of our urine and humanure in the vegetable garden. It seems clear from the research (see below) that 1 person’s urine for 1 day is an appropriate amount to return to 1m2 of garden bed or soil twice a year. That means you could feed 175m2 of garden per year using 1 persons urine (balanced with the composted humanure as well) With 2 people in the household that means we can feed an area roughly 350m2 which is exactly what I have worked out that we need to grow all of our vegetables and grains in our soil this year. That means I can take 6 beds out of my rotation, 2 beds out of blocks 2 and 4 and 1 bed each out of blocks 1 and 3 in the rotation. Those beds I’m going to plant in the best perennial crop I know that can be regularly harvested throughout the year to make compost or mulch beds such as the perennials and the tomatoes and peppers and pumpkins
  3. Grow perennial alfalfa in 6 of my previous garden beds. Alfalfa is a serious contender for our most valuable dynamic mineral accumulator especially for unlocking and recycling calcium and phosphate which are the key minerals we need to be bringing into our soils.

A piece of research that has helped me take this step is this paper from the EcoSanRes Programme
and the Stockholm Environment Institute written about recycling human urine and humanure (READ HERE

After reading this and having watched the Kotare Village work through designs for recycling human urine and humanure for all toilets in our houses and the village and Koanga I now feel able to use the urine and composted humanure in ways I can talk about publicly and recommend.  Kotare Village is in the process of putting these plans through the Hawkes Bay Regional Council so when we have them approved, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime it goes something like this (it is very simple) collect the urine or most of it separately, in a urine only bucket or have a urine separator on the toilet system. It must not have fallen down through the humanure bucket, (it must be just urine) and then add a carbon source to it such as vermicast, sugar, humates, or biochar.  Adding a carbon source holds the nitrogen and means it stays in the root zone of the plants available as a slow release fertiliser, rather than being water soluble and washing into the water ways with the first rain. I don’t want to have to buy anything to do this and we are making biochar/bonechar on our house site twice a year, 200 litres at a time, so we are collecting the biochar/bonechar, storing it in barrels and then adding urine to charge the biochar/bonechar and lock up the nitrogen.

I’ll use that in place of fish fertiliser or a pick me up for all heavy feeding plants. The humanure we collect in buckets, which contain humanure plus leaves, a little dirt and a little wood ash and some urine so that it is moist. These 20  litre buckets are then tipped into a larger barrel. A house of two people will need 2 of these larger barrels. And after you fill up the first one put a lid on it and keep in a warm place while you fill up the second one. It will take 6 months for the first one to become friable compost ready to go on the garden and then swap over again. I’ll plan this so that the barrels of compost are ready to use either straight onto the garden at planting time or bed preparation time or into my usual compost heaps.

Either way the nutrients will be retained for the garden because we don’t let our compost heaps go over 50°c holding the carbon in the compost to be returned to the soil in the form of humus. (see Koanga Composting Booklet for more details here). One of the amazing things about our urine is that it is not only a fertiliser but it is a communicator through the microbes and the soil to our plants showing them what we need, to improve/balance our health. This may sound far fetched but Ayuverdic medicine as practiced in India for thousands of years recognizes the value and healing properties of our own urine. Our own urine on our own garden soil will communicate to our ecology in a way that is a vital part of the process of coevolution (part of the process of creating a regenerative ecology) it’s amazing, it’s free and we all have access to it!

So I’ll continue making compost, I’ll continue adding bone char and biochar to the compost as well as clay and pottery shards, seaweed,  and as many ingredients as I can that contain high levels of phosphate. The calcium will be the burnt crushed egg shells plus the bone char soaked in soldier fly liquid which unlocks the calcium and the phosphate

I’m sure we can do it, grow soil fast, grow high brix food and reclaim our health and that of the ecology around us. I’ll spend the rest of my life fine tuning this process and enjoying the journey…… stay tuned …. It’s exciting stuff!!!

I’ve used the Koanga Garden Planner to redesign my garden this spring to ensure I have the rotation systems in place, enough carbon crops to know I will be able to make enough compost to grow my soil, and the right balance of crops to ensure we have a balanced diet year round!!!

If you find all this stuff interesting then would love to know more please join us for a workshop or two this spring, Some of you might enjoy staying over during the week in between 2 workshops so you can do both workshops and have a good look around while you are here. Talk to Trena if you are interested in this at [email protected].

If this feels like your life journey, something you want to know more about to take back and teach and continue learning then maybe the last spot on our Spring Internship is for you!