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2016 Koanga Seed Internship – Building Food Security Through Seed Saving and Nutritional Resilience

This past Summer saw the first Koanga Seed Internship in New Zealand.. and that felt like a turning point for me.

I’ve taught the two week Seed Internships in both Australia and Jordon, but this year it felt like time to teach it here.

We had 6 women with us, who came from very varied backgrounds, but all on a mission. One woman, Merili, was from Estonia…. and she had been looking for such a workshop all around the world. She came to learn and experience as much as she could about seed saving so she could go home and begin a serious seed bank in Estonia! She enjoyed it so much she stayed on an extra 3 weeks afterwards to continue helping in the seed processing room which in late March is still very very busy (beans, peppers, watermelon, pumpkin and much more still coming in… all the corn to go yet) It was great for me to see that the systems we have set up for planning were able to be effectively used for the Northern hemisphere.

Processing seeds from all of our seed gardens is a super wonderful and addictive job to have and the experience of actually ‘doing it’ for real is hard to pass up… everybody loves working in the seed processing shed, and we will offer the possibility each year to those who do the Seed Internship to stay on as apprentices to help finish processing the new seasons seed, a great opportunity for serious hands on experience!

Cushla and Moana were on the Seed Internship as paid training by their employer, The Tuaropaki Trust, as part of their training in the process of Tuaropaki setting up a sister seed bank at Mokai. Cushla had been here for over a year I think, she has done the Urban Garden apprenticeship, the Growing Soil Food and Health Internship our PDC and lastly the Seed Internship. She is well equipped to go out and earn a good living doing this stuff as is Moana who was also here over a long period soaking it all up. We’ll miss them both and wish them well…. And we’ll be keeping in touch.

More and more we are seeing employers coming and asking us for people who have done previous training with us that they could employ. The work we are doing is seriously becoming recognized as a way to future employment… meaningful, satisfying, healthy, regenerative employment!

It’s not just the learning in the classroom but also the inspiration of seeing it really happening and also the experience of working in these designed systems and getting the confidence to go out and actually do it, from designing food gardens that could make a good living for you, whilst saving your own seed, or really and truly feeding your family by saving the seed then growing it, and not only that but fully nourish your family, or designing a seed garden capable of maintaining food security for your bioregion or an entire country, or learning the gift of preparing food that comes entirely from the garden, tastes incredible and is super healthy, or the art of growing soil….all of which are becoming valued skills once again.

We had another woman on the Seed Internship, Suzanne, who came to find the space to immerse herself in seeds and garden planning so she could come up with a detailed plan for how to feed and manage and nourish (based on being able to provide Weston Price levels of minerals vitamins and traditional fats) her extended family … which included saving seeds for all of the food crops. It is no mean feat to be able to realistically design a garden to feed an extended family, knowing it is done super efficiently so it can work in the time available, and so that there will be enough nutrition to maintain family health for the long run, which means also having the knowledge to build soil over time, and also in a way that saves the seed for all of the crops grown for food. That takes some skill and some careful thought and planning and Suzanne did just that and went home with spreadsheets and data bases and all the information she needed, as well as the confidence and the experience to make it real and possible. I see her seed growing becoming the core of a bioregional seed bank in her Bioregion and we will be watching her learning. For Suzanne the Seed Internship was a very important part of her learning here, she had previously done our PDC and several other workshops, and is coming back next Spring with her children to do the Bio Intensive workshop to ensure she is building skills and inspiration within her family to increase the chances of building family strength, health and happiness through food security.

Apart from the buzz of seeing serious students gaining serious skills to take back out into their lives I got a real buzz from two of our sessions in particular … they were were the conversations about hybrid seeds, the difference between F1 hybrids and open pollinates and coming to fully understand the profound differences between the two options and the session where we began to draw a series of pictures describing the life of a seed… to a seed … and learning more about what actually happens and how… and why … so we can support that process, to grow higher quality seeds… and food!

This is an Internship for people wanting to design serious gardens, food gardens, or self- reliance and resilience in an uncertain future, which must include seed saving… it could be a family garden, a bioregional seed bank or a national seed bank, a business or anything in between or a combination of all. It is an internship for those seriously wishing to take the plunge to reconnect with the age old circle/cycle of co-evolution… re-joining ourselves and our families to the earth and the sky of our place, via our food!

Half of the time on this Internship is in the garden and the seed processing room and we offer the possibility for 2 Interns to stay on after the Internship and work with the seeds in the garden and seed room to follow the processes until mid-April and gain more and more confidence to take back out there .

If you any questions about this Seed Internship do not hesitate to contact us, Kay will talk with you.

 Click Here to book your spot on the 2017 Bio-Regional Seed Bank Internship

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

Wow.. the peach and plum blossom is full on right now, the bees are super active and it’s time to plant. I’ve planted my pumpkin seed (did you see our great pumpkin chart?) and my second lot of lettuces and mustard greens, turnips, daikon and rocket. I’ve also planted my peppers, eggplants and my early tomatoes. The full moon has passed and now I’m getting my roots in the ground. Today we planted our early potatoes, yellow fir and carrots. To plant the potatoes we forked the edge of the bed, put 10 litres of urine charged biochar, and 10 litres of compost per sqm then U barred them in. Next we made two trenches 20 cm deep and then placed urine charged biochar along the bottom of the trench… using 40 litres in the 20m long row (2 x 10 m rows). I then dipped my potato chits into liquid fresh dairy cow manure (organic and on holistically managed pasture!).

I did this because I usually roll them in Koanga Seedling Innoculant, and I was looking for an alternative seeing as I’m not buying fertiliser this year. Fresh organic cow manure is full of healthy microbes and also a balanced form of ammonium and nitrate nitrogen, as well as great microbe food and humus building qualities…. Hard to beat cow manure.

I then planted the chits at 30cm spacings in the two 10m rows, and poured a mixture of ½ water, ½ cow manure, along the rows on top of the chits (10 litres per row). I then covered the potatoes over to make the beds level again. I then did a soil drench with my special Kay’s Liquid Fertiliser When the tops come up I’ll hill them up regularly so the frost doesn’t get them, and will hill them for the last time as they begin to flower. Once they are well up I will use a refractometer to decide whether to do a weekly Kay’s Special Fertiliser foliar and soil drench or a Foliar and Soil drench of Cal Phos, or occasionally a fish soil drench.

I made my fish fertilizer today as well, and decided there was no way I was putting my fish frames in a bowl and mixing with the stick blender, so we put them in a flat bottomed steel container and bashed them with a fencing pounder (you could use a bit of ti tree etc) until they were liquid. I then measured the volume of the mashed fish frames (1 part), added that volume x 3 of water (3 parts) (1 part), that volume x 1/3 of molasses and a cup of whey , made from hanging our kefir up and collecting the whey as it dripped down.

We also mulched the freshly weeded perennial bed with oak leaves for the Summer.

The forest garden is abuzz with blossom and bees, we have muscovies on nests, Indian Runner Ducks and geese all pumping out eggs along with the chickens. It is definitely the time to ensure your poultry are getting high quality food so they do not become exhausted and stop laying again as fast as they began. Poultry Minerals make a huge difference if your current poultry food is not high quality (high brix).

The alfalfa in the comfrey patch, and forest garden is well up now and being greedily devoured by the poultry…. I’m sure it is the combination of comfrey and alfalfa as poultry feed from September to May that grows such beautiful chickens here.

I harvested all of my evergreen comfrey this week to ensure the flowering stems did not lie down and root, and to wilt and use as mulch on the berry beds. Evergreen comfrey is an outstanding option as a mulch and edge crop for perennial berries like currants gooseberries and non suckering raspberries, blackberries logan berries and boysenberries etc

Arohanui Kay


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Fish Fertiliser Recipe

** For an illustrated example of this recipe, check out the The Unconventional Farmer’s Blog here. The blog has all kinds of good stuff, sign up to get the updates via email!

Fish fertilizer is an awesome product for promoting plant growth. It’s high in Nitrogen for growing plants, can be naturally produced, and is an awesome food for microbes! Fungi love this stuff. Fish fertilizer can be expensive in the store, but it is easily produced at home. This is a great recipe for making your own fish hydrolysate fertilizer. First lets look at the two main types of fish fertilizer:

Fish Emulsion

Fish emulsion fertilizer is made several different ways depending on who is making it. The important thing to know is that fish emulsion goes through two stages of processing. The first stage breaks down the fish parts using enzymes, proteases, or chemicals. Then, and this is the important part, heat is used to break it down further and allow oils and other things like amino acids to be more easily removed. It’s this second stage of processing that makes fish emulsion less advantageous than fish hydrolysate. Fish emulsion fertilizer lacks many oils and proteins that fish hydrolysate fertilizer has in abundance. So let’s look at that!

Fish Hydrolysate

Fish hydrolysate fertilizer generally starts out the same way as fish emulsion. It gets broken down using enzymes, proteases, or chemicals. However, fish hydryolysate doesn’t undergo the heating and skimming process that you get with the fish emulsion. The higher quality fish hydrolysates only undergo “cold-processing” which just means they are never heated enough to break down significant amino acid chains. Good fish hydrolysate also retains the fats and oils that microbes love!

Our Fish Fertilizer Recipe

This method of making fish fertilizer is awesome because it is a cold process, chemical-free, completely organic way to make fish fertilizer right at home. While fish emulsion lacks beneficial ingredients vital to the final product, this fish hydrolysate recipe preserves all those active ingredients. You don’t want to miss out on those oils that microbes love. Try this recipe in the yard or in a raised bed garden (If you are a novice gardener you can view videos online to learn how to plant a raised bed garden)

How to make your own fish fertilizer:

  1. Buy a fish.

TIP: Any kind of fish will work.  In fact, you might as well use trash fish, or fish discards like fish heads, guts, etc.  I like to use whole fishes though as I think that makes for a better product.

  1. Now, ideally you would throw the fish into a blender to mash it up into little pieces.  I cut my fish into 8ths or so and then chuck it into my kitchen blender but I’m a bit of a caveman.  If you’re squeamish, buy a separate blender for this, just make sure it is powerful enough, mine is 500W and works fine for small-medium size fishes.  Remember, the finer the fish bits, the more effective the fermentation.
  2. Add water.  You can use a simple guide of 3:1 – 3 parts water to 1 part ferment material.  1 roughly 8in tilapia comes to about 500mL when ground up, so I add about 1500mL water.

TIP: ALWAYS USE NON-CHLORINATED WATER.  Chlorine kills microbes.  Simply let your chlorinated tap water sit for several hours, allowing the chlorine to dissipate.  I let it sit overnight generally.

  1. If you are using a blender, blend up the mixture.  The water helps keep it loose so it blends much betterafter you add the water.
  2. Add lacto bacilli to blended fish mixture.  I use 2tbsp per L.  You can use more or less if you want.  2tbsp/L is plenty though. See our lactobacillus recipe for proper preparation and dilution of your lacto serum.
  3. Add 1/3 parts sugar.  This should be 1/3 the amount of fish you’ve added.  Sugar will be either molasses or normal cane sugar.

TIP:  Try not to use cane sugar since it is chemically bleached.  Raw(unrefined) sugar like muscovado is best.  In the Philippines we use molasses because it is cheap, but any glucose source works – syrup, honey, etc.  Just use whatever is cheap.  Glucose gives microbes energy.  Whatever you have access to cheaply, go for it.

  1. If using sugar, the equivalency is about 1KG sugar = 1L solution.  So if you have 500mL like my tilapia, you want 1/3 of that in sugar.  You’d use about 167g sugar, or roughly ¾ cup.
  2. I blend the whole mixture up a bit.  It’s good to have it as fine as possible.
  3. Up to you how much you blend it, I blend until I don’t hear so many bones crunching in the blades of the blender.
  4. Now you have liquefied fish, sugar, and lacto.  Pour this mixture into a container.  Loosely cover the container.  No need to seal, because the container will explode as CO2 is released by fermentation.  You just want to make sure other things don’t get into it.  I use a container with a lid and loosely screw the cap on top (just make sure you don’t seal it because it WILL explode).
  5. The process takes anywhere from 3 weeks to over a month.  How do you know its finished?  By the smell.
  6. You know when it’s done when there is no smell anymore.  During fermentation there is a nasty smell, but once completed, there will be almost no odor.  You can open it, and put your nose right up to it.  Take a whiff.  Nothing but a faint vinegar smell.  Now you know its done.  Congratulations!  You’ve made your own Fish Hydrolysate!
  7. Now, usually I transfer it to a smaller container, usually just a smaller water bottle, just for convenience.  At this time, I use a strainer and a funnel to strain the bones and scales out of the hydrolysate.  But don’t expect a lot.  From a whole 8-10in tilapia, you will only get a little tiny pile of bones/scales.  They will feel kind of rubbery, not brittle.  Throw these in the compost pile or garden, they are excellent fertilizer and microbe food, already inoculated with microbes!
  8. Leave the cap on the strained concoction loose until you see no more little bubbles forming.  Then cap it and store it for use as your own natural fertilizer.

How to use this fish fertilizer:

Mix 2tbsp/gal for applications.


  • Use as a soil drench as opposed to foliar spray.
  • Inoculate compost to boost fungal population.  This is huge – major growth booster of fungus.
  • Use in compost teas to boost fungal growth, add Nitrogen.  Use at ¼ strength for this application(1/2 tbsp per gal).
  • Mix in water when watering plants, as a natural fish fertilizer and to enhance populations of micro-organisms in the soil



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Kay’s Homemade Tomato Fertiliser Recipe

Based on my understanding that my soil is low in magnesium compared to calcium and they both need to be raised, and that tomatoes need a lot of both but balanced, as well as a lot of phosphate. We have high levels of potash and need more phosphate. The more microbes the better and we need nitrate nitrogen to get growth and ammonium nitrogen to encourage fruit set and filling.

  1. Apply 1 x 20lt bucket of compost per sqm of garden bed, along with 10 litres of urine (nitrate and ammonium nitrogen) charged biochar. U-bar all of this into the soil down to full depth of U Bar.
  2. Dig a large hole for each tomato plant 30cm diameter and 20cm deep. (4 plants per sqm) In the bottom of each hole place 1 cup of dried toasted crushed egg shells some brown and rest the white for a calcium phosphate boost with our Homemade CalPhos and 1 cup of urine soaked biochar .. mix these into soil around bottom of hole.
  3. Plant tomato plant, so that 2/3’s of its 30cm stem is in the hole covered with soil.
  4. Drench soil with 1 cup Kay’s Liquid Fertiliser (micronutrient boost with calcium and balanced major minerals, microbe food) mixed with 1 cup of Homemade Fish Fertiliser Recipe, and 1 Tbspn molasses, added to 9 litres of water (no chlorine)
  5. Install a dripper irrigation system
  6. Mulch heavily with a thick layer of fresh alfalfa and comfrey leaves (calcium magnesium potash and phosphate) on half the bed and organic high brix cow manure (humus building complexes and nitrate and ammonium nitrogen, plus balanced calcium magnesium and phosphate) on the other half.
  7. From then on I’m going to use my refractometer to test foliar applications and will apply weekly foliar feeds according to what my refractometer says. I’m going to try raw milk, sea salt, Epsom salts (in case I need more magnesium to balance with the calcium), CalPhos, my own liquid foliar, as well as foliar fish. I’ll test the brix of each end of the bed each week, then test various foliar possibilities, and decide what to use and keep in touch. I’m in the process of making all of these liquid fertilisers and will show you these processes and the results of the tests I have made on them by Bioservices as they come to hand.



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CalPhos Recipe

Let me first outline the steps to make CalPhos, below, using chicken eggshells. You can also use other calcium sources like seashells or bones.

  1. Pan fry eggshells (or seashells, or bones) until they are 50% brown/black.
  2. Grind or crush the eggshells, to achieve maximum surface contact.
  3. Put the eggshells into a jar or large bottle and pour in vinegar. The ratio of eggshells to vinegar is 1:5, volume wise. You will see a lot of bubbles appearing – that is an exothermic reaction in progress.
  4. Wait for the bubbles to subside, then seal up the jar or bottle.
  5. Ferment for 20 days.
  6. Filter out the eggshells.

The steps above are just a rough guideline. For more details of making CalPhos and how to use it, do refer to this excellent article from The Unconventional Farmer.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let us step back for a moment and consider why we do the above. Some of us might be thinking, having to “ferment” the eggshells CalPhos for a few weeks is too cumbersome. Why not just dump crushed eggshells straight into the soil?

For sure, dumping crushed eggshells into the soil could work, by relying on the soil microbes to break down the parts, but this takes a long time. If we want a faster process, then we will have to accelerate it ourselves to make the calcium and phosphor immediately accessible to the plants.

Next, let us look into the chemistry of the process of making CalPhos.

The Chemistry Behind The Process

Our goal is to make calcium and phosphate compounds that are soluble in water so that plants can happily absorb them through their roots.

The chicken eggshell is made up of 95-97% calcium carbonate (CaCO3). The remainder being calcium phosphate, magnesium carbonate and proteins.

Calcium carbonate is insoluble in water and cannot be absorbed by plants. It can however, be broken down into soluble compounds such as calcium oxide (CaO), either by heating up calcium carbonate, or by dunking calcium carbonate into acid.

Let us explore these two methods of obtaining soluble calcium compound that is accessible to plants.

Method 1: Extraction by heat

The process of applying heat to calcium carbonate will release carbon dioxide (CO2), to form calcium oxide. Calcium oxide is soluble in water, but it is also unstable if left alone and will revert back to calcium carbonate when it fuses with carbon dioxide in the air. To keep the soluble compound stable, one can add water or vinegar (acetic acid). In fact, I would recommend that the eggshells are grinded first before applying heat; this way, we can maximize the preservation of calcium oxide.

Calcium oxide mixes with water to form calcium hydroxide (CaOH). All hydroxides are soluble in water. And like all hydroxides, its pH level is alkaline.

Mixing calcium oxide with acetic acid (CH3CO2H), on the other hand, will yield calcium acetate. It, too, is water soluble. Generally speaking, calcium acetate is acidic, and is known for its use as a neutralizer of fluoride in water.

Method 2: Extraction by reaction with acid

If eggshells were to be combined with vinegar sans heating, calcium acetate would be formed, just as it is formed when vinegar is combined with calcium hydroxide or calcium oxide. The minor difference being that the former reaction will produce carbon dioxide.

So, what about the Phosphate?

What about it? If you have that question in mind, you are on the right track! The eggshell also consists of calcium phosphate – a mostly-insoluble compound. That’s right! Most phosphates are insoluble in water, but they are soluble in acids, including vinegar. More importantly, heating phosphates will yield pyrophosphates. Pyrophosphates exhibit the highest solubilities among the phosphate compounds.

What this suggests, is that dunking eggshells into vinegar without prior heating will yield a pretty decent calcium acetate solution but the availability of phosphor to plants will be lower. This is in comparison to an acetate solution whose eggshells were heated prior to adding vinegar.

Bottom line

Heating up the eggshells is necessary unless your plants do not require immediate access to phosphor.

Here are the key points to take home from this article:

  1. Do you need to reduce soil acidity?
  2. Do your plants need immediate access to phosphor?

If you answered “yes” to 1, and “no” to 2, then heat up the eggshells and mix with water to get an alkaline solution. Your plants will obtain immediate access to calcium, but not phosphor.

If you answered “no” to 1, and “yes” to 2, then heat up the eggshells, mix with vinegar and let them “ferment” for a few weeks before use. Your plants will obtain immediate access to both calcium and phosphor. Don’t forget — the acetate solution is acidic and should be diluted appropriately before applying to plants.

So, figure out what you want to achieve. Your plants’ needs will decide which method to choose from.

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Kay’s Homemade Liquid Fertiliser

For a 20litre bucket you will need:

  • ½ kg of seaweed/kelp  meal or 2 kgs fresh chopped up seaweed (good levels of bioavailable calcium, and magnesium)
  • 1 large fresh cow pat
  • 2 dozen egg shells liquid , dried and crushed and  soaked in ½ litre apple cider vinegar (or even better home made vinegar)  until they dissolve or;
  • 6 kina shells or paua shells dried crushed and soaked in vinegar until they dissolve
  • ½ cup molassus


Place in bucket, top up with non chlorinated water and put in a sunny place with a lid on it. Stir daily for two weeks then take off enough top liquid to use in your back pack sprayer or watering can at a rate of 1:10. The liquid will need to be put through a filter so it doesn’t block up your watering can rose or sprayer.

 A 10 litre watering can or back pack sprayer will need 1 litre of liquid fertiliser, so you will have enough for  10 foliar feeds of a garden of 100 sq m  approx… it goes further with a back pack sprayer than it does in a watering can, but I prefer top use a watering can

For a 200 litre barrel you will need:

(If using this barrel then get a large 50mm tap installed 3-cm up from the bottom of the barrel to easily extract the clear liquid)

  • 5kgs of seaweed or kelp powder or fresh chopped seaweed ( chop with a lawn mower)
  • 10 fresh cow pats
  • 20 dozen egg shells or paua and kina shells dried and soaked as above in  5 litres of cider vinegar
  • 5 cups molasses

Follow instructions as above.

 The resulting sludge in the bottom of the container at the end of the season will be an excellent addition to your autumn compost heaps

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

The bees in our garden went crazy this week! The garden is alive with sound and the tagasate right at our door is literally alive with the sound and movement of bumble bees, honey bees, bell birds and tui. The life is returning to this land which was a sheep farm paddock, where the grass had a brix of 2 …5 years ago!

I’ve had a few questions about using urine… firstly I recommend going back and checking out the research paper, we have found it very useful here

My only hesitation is that if we apply more urine (containing nitrogen) than the carbon/humus in the soil can absorb, it could become a highly water soluble pollutant in the water ways etc. That is why I always add a carbon source which holds the nitrogen and other minerals in the root zone until the plant roots or microbes ask for it!

A lot of research has been done using humates as the carbon source and it seems clear that humates are able to grab and hold minerals pretty much instantly, where as using biochar is more of an unknown (because it has come on to the scene far more recently) unless it is urine that is being used. Biochar is known to absorb the minerals in urine far more easily and faster than any other nutrient source I know of at this point. Biochar can easily be made at home, and I’m not buying fertiliser, so biochar it is and I’m charging it with urine as the base of my fertiliser program, which critically also includes compost containing all our humanure as well as all of the carbon from the Biointensive vege garden.

I understand that recycling the deficiencies will not build soil or grow nutrient dense food so I am adding comfrey and alfalfa (dynamic accumulators of many minerals) to the compost as well as biochar, bone char, clay, pottery shards, seaweed, leaves from trees known to accumulate calcium (dogwoods, and oaks) and phosphate (Tilia spp and cassurina), as well as limited cow manure and compost from the chicken house. Key crops we grow for carbon are also calcium and phosphate accumulators .. lupins and oats…

I found this chart recently and I love it because it shows clearly what the carbon nitrogen ratios are for various ingredients, when choosing compost materials.

We aim for making compost with a 60:1 carbon nitrogen ratio, which means 6 parts mature material (gone to seed then dried, high carbon) to 1 part immature material (lower carbon higher nitrogen)

For more details on compost making see The Art of Compost making Booklet

cabon chart


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

The Big Tomato Challenge

I’m going to join Jon Franks big tomato challenge this year, in my home garden. I’m going to try to do it using home made fertilizers and in the Institute gardens we’ll use Environmental Fertiliser products similar to those Jon Frank is using… and see how the trials compare. Check out Jon Franks Tomato Challenge …

The focus of our Guided Tour on February 4th will be in the tomato patch with Grant Paton from Environmental Fertilisers so this will be a great time to join us and be part of the discussion around growing high brix, high health, incredible tasting tomatoes!!

Next week I’ll publish the recipes Grant recommends for our Koanga Tomato Challenge, and I will tell you how I’ll be growing mine at home using nutrition I can collect right here! This will be a challenge you can all get involved in and if you use our heritage seed we would love to receive your results and comments as well but wait… more details next week.

Environmental Fertilisers, fertiliser is based on the same principles as that of International Ag Labs owned by Jon Franks, both based on Carey Reams research.. as described in the incredible book Nourishment Home Grown. This book has been my bible around growing nutrient dense food. It describes how healthy cells are created and maintained and this applies no matter if it is a plant, animal or human.. all cells have the same needs.

Biochar and Liquid Fert

This week in my home garden I’ll be making a load of Biochar as I’ve used up all the last load. I’ll need this Biochar (urine charged ) to feed all of my Spring planted crops from now on, and I’m making up enough liquid fertiliser from the recipe in last weeks blog to last me a few months.

I’m also going to begin planting my beds of alfalfa for mulching and feeding my perennial beds and tomato beds.

My broadbeans, peas and garlic all look great, I gave them all a watering can soil drench today with a weak handful (of fresh, organic, cow manure/molasses , and the shallots and potato onions) are all up now and the first beetroot seedlings are in along with carrot seed, daikon seedlings and turnip seedlings. Apart from potatoes, the early Spring root crops are now planted.

The other major job in my home garden this week will be preparing the bed for my early potatoes. I plant Yellow Fir as my early Xmas potatoes, they are top texture flavor and don’t get the psyllid because they are ready to harvest before the psyllid become a problem. My main crop potatoes will go in near the end of September, because we have late frosts here. Click here to check out our potato collection.

I’m going to plant my potatoes in trenches with compost and urine soaked Biochar, then fill in the trenches and soil drench with liquid fert and molasses, as described in my last blog.

The New Winter Chicken Food

One of the classic Permaculture ‘sayings’ is “The problem is the Solution!!”.. well we’ve come up with a solution that fixes a few problems in the garden right now…. We have sparrows eating our silverbeet and beetroot leaves, we have no comfrey to feed the chickens during winter (a lack of protein) .. and guess what, we are catching the sparrows in a trap and feeding them to the chickens. Shaked is the master of this art here at Kotare Village and he has been catching 13 sparrows every day!!

Slug Patrol

Finally this week, the slugs and snails are appearing again so I am back out at night with a torch and a jar of hot water to catch the slugs, of coarse the chickens benefit. Another example of “The problem is the solution!!”

Next week I’m going to answer some of the questions I’m getting around using urine. I was nervous about beginning this conversation but I can see a lot of you are very keen to learn more.. .. we’ll also look at how we can grow our own carbon that is ready to use at this difficult time in Spring when it’s all weeds and green and no carbon in sight!

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

Time To Take Care of Perennials

I have 50m of rhubarb, seakale, Purple de Jesi globe artichokes, purple asparagus and perennial onions (Welsh Bunching and Multiplying Spring .. they compliment each other)

It’s easy to say that perennials are less work, but in the end just like everything else in the garden, they do not live on fresh air. Perennials need nutrients just like everything else. It is true they mostly have super deep roots that can forage for nutrients far lower than most annuals, but in the end they need the same minerals as everything else to be highly productive and nutrient dense.

August/September is the time to feed and mulch them as they are all beginning to grow and will feed you very very well over the next 3 months, filling gaps left by the annual veges especially in colder climates.

I make compost for my annuals but have never felt as though I had enough for the perennial bed too. I grow carbon crops in the annual Bio-Intensive garden to make compost for the annual garden but I didn’t design anything in to my garden, initially, to feed the perennials.

Some perennials have shallow feeder roots, are heavy feeders and must be moist all the time to crop heavily like welsh bunching onions, multiplying leeks, multiplying spring onions and chives. These I mulch heavily, water more often than other perennial crops and feed more often. Mostly my other perennials are easier but still require twice a year mulch and feeding to do well.

As I explained in blog 1 of this series, in my effort to continue growing soil and nutrient dense food without buying fertiliser, I have taken 6 beds out of my 20 bed annual Bio-Intensive rotation, and I’m planting them in alfalfa solely to use for mulch and feed for the garden beds that will benefit most. This includes the perennial beds. We are all so used to not designing plant nutrition into our gardens, that it feels like a big challenge to be able to continue to growing soil and nutrient dense food when the fertiliser is cut off.. either by choice or not.

I’m committed to growing high brix food, which is measurable, so that forces me to look for as many local options as I can find to continue raising the mineral levels in the soil.

I’m growing alfalfa (and comfrey all around the edge of the garden) to mulch the perennials and tomatoes, so long as I keep adding more layers of mulch each month through to December it will rot down and become food for the feeder roots of the plants it is mulching. If you don’t keep applying more layers of mulch and instead leave it to dry out it does not rot down into the earth .

That will be a great start, but on top of that I’m going to make a simple liquid fertiliser I can use as a foliar feed.. the most effective way to add minerals to the soil.. through the leaves…

I’ve done a lot of research around outputs in my eco-system that potentially provides nutrients for my garden, in the hope of discovering balanced sources of calcium and magnesium, the two initial key players.

I have discovered yet again, what I thought I already knew!!!

a.    That if you intelligently choose a diverse range of elements in your eco-system they could provide the balance needed, and

b.    If  you provide your plants and animals with highly mineralized, high brix feed, they also will gift you things like cow manure which has an  amazing range of balanced minerals and much more. Egg shells which contain the ideal calcium magnesium balance if they are fed super well, vermicast and chicken poo, so long as I focus on creating diversity and integration, my two favourite permaculture words, the life and energy in the system will, over time, take care of the balance….

 So my strategies for feeding my perennial beds this Spring are:

1.      To increase the cation exchange capacity (CEC) by adding clay and CHARGED biochar to the soil

2.     Mulch with comfrey while the alfalfa gets away then alternate

3.     Make an eggshell, seaweed, cow manure, molasses liquid tea that will be foliar fed (the molasses is critical in this as a carbon source to hold the water soluble minerals)

4.     Mulch occasionally with leaf mould collected from surrounding oak leaves and poplar leaves, and left in a circle of sheep netting until it becomes leaf mould.. amazing stuff!