Dalmatian Gum Diggers

During the past twenty five years of collecting old fruit trees and vegetables around the Kaipara harbour and the north, I am constantly coming upon old Dalmatian Orchards and gardens.

I have come to have a lot of respect for these people, for the way they survived incredibly harsh and sometimes awful conditions, and for their wonderful skill as gardeners.

I always look carefully if I know it’s an old Daly orchard because they really knew their trees and veges and did a very good job of seed saving and selection (trees as well as seeds) Over the years they have had a very vital influence on the food plants of the north, and even now, I would say Dalmatian Beans are the best kept secret of the old people in the north.

Logan Forest who has contributed articles in our catalogues before has written this history of the Dalmatians around the Kaipara for us. 

Many of the fruit trees we’ve been collecting come from old plantings of the Dalmatians and earlier.


By Logan Forest

Austria’s Dalmatians, Yugoslavs mostly came from Croatia or Yugoslavia, because of famines and the failure of the wine industry (Phylloxia and fungus diseases in the grapes) and layoffs at the shipyards in the regions, men had to look further a field for livelihood.

They started to appear in N.Z. in 1880, sailors who saw jobs in the timber mills, and then to the gum fields. The gum fields were a very harsh life, temporary shacks made from sacks and kerosene cans cut open and flattened out. And always moving from one gum field to another in search of Kauri gum.

1890 to 1910 saw a huge migration of them arriving, mostly single men, a few with wives, after the men made enough money most went back to their country for a wife, then some returned to N.Z. although many went home for good.

It was at this time 1896…1905., that larger fields of gum lands opened up, allowing the gum digger to stay longer in one place, some now had enough money to buy land, or a lease, and settlements started to grow, with the gum diggers building permanent homes.

That settled life meant gardens were grown, and more plants bought to N.Z. Originally 1880s..1890s only saw figs and beans, cabbage and peas moving from camp to camp with them, then spinach and grapes came out and survived, 1900 saw them bring arum lilies, Lilly bulbs, agapanthus, beans, peach,more grapes& figs, small pumpkin, carrots, acid free tomatoes, flower bulbs: snowdrops, gladioli, iris, aloe vera, geranium and asters.


Sweet Corn, Paramagnetic Rock, And More…

Sweet Corn, Paramagnetic Rock, And More…

By Calvin F. Bey

My American seed catalog says, “Sweet Corn, Country Gentleman (shoe-peg), 95 days.” I grew this 1890 heirloom variety successfully in 2007, and decided to grow it again in 2008, using some new techniques. I have been a gardener for more than 50 years, but what followed surprised me.

I teach a gardening course, Biological/Organic Gardening and More, so I am always trying new crops and new ideas that may help gardeners become more sustainable. In addition, I strive to develop practices that make for effective but easy gardening. I have double-dug, raised beds and actually work the soil as little as possible. I never use a tiller. I have a silty-clay-loam soil, with 5% organic matter content, and have been fertilizing with organic materials for seven years. Here in Northwest Arkansas, we have a long growing season, so sweet corn can be planted over an extended time to get several successive pickings, even with 95 day corn.

Oats and/or Austrian Winter peas make excellent all/winter cover crops in our climate.  The oats are my cover crop choice for beds that can be planted from mid-August through September.  The oats will grow to 30 inches in height by the end of November, and then winter-kill when the temperature gets below 20 degrees. The oats generally fall over, mat down, and provide a thick bed of straw mulch for soil protection and weed control until I am ready to plant in spring and summer. The Austrian Winter peas are my choice for a late season cover crop, i.e. anything planted after October 1st. The peas stop growing in December and resume again in February, and in the process, fix a lot of nitrogen in the soil.

For the bed where the 95 day corn was to be planted, I used Austrian Winter peas for the fall/winter cover crop. In mid-may I cut off the 3 foot pea vines at the ground line, and laid them back on the beds for mulch, I did not till or work the soil in any way. Two weeks later (June 2nd), I planted the Country Gentleman corn.

This year I added soil and foliar fertilizer mixes, as recommended on the basis of soil tests, by the International Agriculture Labs, basically following the Reams system. All the soil fertilizers were simply added to the surface. In addition, I have become a strong believer in the use of paramagnetic rock for building soil energy. In the fall of 2007, before I planted the peas, I added one pound of paramagnetic rock per square foot, to all of my garden beds. My original garden soil had paramagnetic values of 80-1– CGS, but by mixing the paramagnetic rock in the soil, to an 8 inch depth, I raised the CGS values over 500. I felt that would be a good paramagnetic value starting point.

I have been gardening for 50 years and have been following the organic approach for more than 35. Yet what happened with this year’s sweet corn is an unusual story. Remember now, this is 95 day  corn, and I planted it late, so we could be eating it in late August and early September.

Here are the results. In three days after planting, the corn was up and it began to grow. In 30 days the corn was 6 feet tall, in 40 days it was 9 feet, in 50 days it was 12 feet, and on the 59th day from planting, we ate sweet corn with a Brix reading of 20. A few days later, the harvested corn had Brix values from 24-30. Any gardener would be happy to have these results. So what is the explanation for my corn reaching maturity in 59 days?

I strongly suspect the paramagnetic rock was a big contributer for the rapid growth and early maturity. Many studies by Dr. Phil Callahan, Malcom Beck, and others, attest to an increase in growth and other desirable traits for plants in soils where paramagnetic values are high.

Dan Skow, D.V.M. and Charles Walters Jr., in their book Mainline Farming for Century 21, point out that the growing season for 110 day corn can be shortened by creating a powerful magnetic field.  In the mid-west corn belt, 110 day corn matures in about 110 days, whereas in central Mexico, where the magnetic field is less, it takes 9 months. See also The Non-Toxic Farming Handbook by Phillip A Wheeler, Ph.D. and Ronald B Ward, Biological Farm Management System Handbook by Bruce Tainio, and Graeme Sait in Nutrition Rules! for explanations and the value of paramagnetic rock.  It is critical to understand that paramagnetic rock does not substitute for lack of minerals. The mineral content and mineral ratios need to be correct. Besides increasing growth and shortening the time to maturity, paramagnetic rock can increase frost hardiness, winter hardiness, insect and disease resistence, soil water holding capacity, microbial activity, flowering, and draught hardiness, as well as improve nutrient utilization.

Although what I have done, shortening the growing season, is not new, it’s the magnetude of the change that is amazing. I point all this out because I think that we as gardeners can all decrease the time from planting to harvest, and simultaneously increase production and quality simply by following good soil nutrition rules and by raising the soil paramagnetic values. Shortening the growing season is not an academic endeavor. It’s important from an economic standpoint for market gardeners, and it’s critical in the northern climates, where early frosts can oftern curtail production. I will be experimenting further to shorten the growing season for a marginal crop in this area – figs.

If there is a negative in this, it’s that the season for harvesting the sweet corn was also shortened.  I had a simular situation with my Golden Bantam sweet corn this year, in that the time to maturity and harvesting period were both reduced. I believe that the shortened harvesting period can be remedied for growers simply by planting smaller, successive crops. In fact, once you understand the dynamics for your crops, it may make marketing easier to manage. After seeing what was occuring with the corn, I planted some cherry ball radishes, just to observe growth rates. When  planted on August 9th, we were eating fully developed radishes in 18 days. Again, that was a substantial reduction from what I normally expect in our area.

I encourage gardeners and farmers to give paramagnetic rock a fair trial. For measuring the paramagnetic values you will want a Phil Callahan Soil Meter, which is available from Pike-Agri-Labs Supplies, Inc. located in Jay, Maine. The bottle neck for many will be finding a source of paramagnetic rock. Fortunately here in Northwest Arkansas, we have an organic farm and garden supply store (Nitron Industries in Johnson, AR) that purchased a big load of paramagnetic rock.  The paramagnetic value of the rock is very high, testing over 10,000 CGS. The rock was purchased from Doug Murray, in Paw Paw, Michigan. Call Doug Murray at 269-930-9309 for details. He  gets the rock from Canada, and can deliver it to any site.

I have been excited about this energy-building rock, since I first read about it. My vison was that my entire garden and eventually my entire 2 acres would be fully charged with magnetic energy, assisted by the paramagnetic rock. I visualize the entire site as an energy bubble, extending from below ground to above the plant surfaces. This was the first full year that the rock was applied to the garden, and the Brix levels of the produce have increased considerably. Better nutrition surely helped too. I have grown Moon and Stars watermelons for several years and their size has been in the range described in the catalogues, i.e. 10-25 pounds. Not this year! All the melons were  considerably larger, several exceeding 40 pounds.

Another observation this year has been the increase in the number of birds and their activity.  Since early spring, we consistently had more bird species in our garden area, in pairs, mating and nesting, than any previous year. We didn’t mind, even the feeding of 30 or more hummers all summer.

The idea that energy is a key component to the biological gardening and farming approach is not always easy to explain or sell, especially to the conventional gardeners and farmers. When folks see my 12 foot corn in 50 days, eating it at day 59, and with a Brix of 20 plus, they want to know more. For some, it leads to a stop at the garden store to get a bag or two of paramagnetic rock. I never criticize the gardeners for their past gardening practices. I do coach them to move in the Go-Natural approach. For some it is the first small step to healthier eating, a friendlier approach on the environment, and hopefully someday realizing the social injustice that is curently being imposed on many farmers and indeginous people of developing countries, who are losing the use of their heirloom seeds with the infusion of GMOs.

I will be following up on obsevations on other crops in the future. For those who have observations and/or questions, I welcome your information and inquiry. In the currently existing “world food crisis” era, and the rapidly growing interest in raising our own food, we as gardeners have valuable skills to share. I hope we can all be working together to provide the best information possible.

Calvin F. Bey Ph.D., is a retired agricultural scientist, living in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with a passion for teaching others about eco-gardening. He and his wife Dorris use their demonstration garden and energy-efficient home to help others understand the concept of sustainability.

Where To From Here With Plant Breeding/Selection For High Health Plants?

by Mark Christensen

Central Tree Crops Research Trust, PO Box 4088, Wanganui 4501

Since 2003 the New Zealand Tree Crops Association (Central Districts) and now the Central Tree Crops Research Trust, has studied apples and then tomatoes to find the best in the world for human health. We have been looking for varieties with phytochemicals in high amounts to be able to fight disease and keep us well, a concept that is sometimes referred to as nutrient dense foods. We have found what we were looking for amongst the very old varieties, the heritage and heirloom varieties that have been much neglected over the years. Orchards that may have contained these jewels have been bulldozed or the trees re-grafted over to new commercially bred varieties that look beautiful and appeal to the consumer.  The same has happened with vegetables, with the traditional open pollinated heirlooms being replaced with beautiful hybrid varieties where every tomato for instance looks exactly the same – perfect and blemish free.

But beneath the perfection of polished fruit stacked to catch the eye on supermarket shelves, lies a problem. The fruit that once sustained our ancestors, nourished them and kept them well, has been altered so much that it no longer fulfils either function as it should. The complex breeding programmes have diminished the levels of these necessary phytonutrients over time, leaving us with supermarket food that is a mere shadow of what our great-grandparents would have consumed. Once we make the connection to what has happened, we begin to appreciate the value of saving and growing the old varieties again – because each one, whether it be an old fruit free or vegetable variety, holds a storehouse of nutrients that future generations may require for their very survival.

Being caretakers of the past is a vital role, and having the availability of that plant material can allow us to work co-creatively for the future.

Whilst collecting apples for our first study in 2003, I heard the story of a then 90 year old gentleman who had planted apple pips many years earlier. The tree we were testing, he advised, had grown from a Red Delicious seed. He explained that the reason he planted this seed was that he wanted to grow fruit trees for his family, and in the early years he could not afford to buy commercially grown fruit trees, so he chose to grow his own.

Upon studying the data, I realised that there was something more than the genetic makeup of the parents that contributed to this outcome – that the purpose and intention of the person who planted the seed was important, and had an influence upon the outcome. I came to realise that “it is the intention behind the action (or purpose) that influences the outcome”.

With our second series of chemical analysis testing, further evidence became apparent.  Especially striking were the results from Neville Sinclair’s apple varieties. From a chemical analysis perspective, this amateur breeder produced 7 out of 8 outstanding varieties.

According to Neville, “As with growing potatoes from seed, growing apples from seed is an exciting exploration of life itself. In our increasingly monocultural world we can subvert those terrible tendencies and work with the force that seeks to express itself through diversity”.

One gets a similar feeling with the purpose and intention of Luther Burbank (the famous American plant breeder), that here was someone working with nature and not against it, working in a positive way and achieving a positive outcome.

When one also looks at the data, and the numbers of seedling apples that tested so well, some would have grown without any express intent of man. Could these un-tampered-with varieties be stronger? Or are they perhaps seeds from the many apple cores that have been thrown out of car windows, with that fleeting positive word or thought, to create an apple tree that will grow and bear fruit for future passersby to enjoy?

Man’s motivation, expressed through his intention and purpose, whether spoken or in thought form, does have an influence on his fellow man, as well as plant life. Plants are alive, with their own life-force. (This was demonstrated in the 60’s and 70’s with thousands of experiments on plants connected to lie-detector machines).*

That man can influence nature by word or thought has been shown by Dr Masaru Emoto with his experiments on water crystals. We can choose as individuals working with nature, to ignore this – or we can choose to acknowledge it, and work with it.

As far as methodology is concerned, commercial plant breeders have wanted to maintain  control over the process, to choose both parents and make each cross themselves. We can see by Neville Sinclair’s example, that allowing nature to play a part in the process in choosing one parent has had very beneficial results. Luther Burbank on the other hand may well have controlled both aspects in many cases. So the answer may not lie so much in the methodology as in the reasons behind what each person is trying to do.

This creates a wonderful opportunity by opening up the field to absolutely everyone. Since anyone with a special variety that they wish to perpetuate, can just plant a seed, and coupled with a positive thought and energy of intention, can allow a new variety to be created. Through this process which is empowering us to work on a higher level of consciousness, we may assist plant material to develop – working together with the plant kingdom, not for personal gain (be it wealth, fame, or power), but co-creatively to enhance the attributes of these wonderful foods so that they can fulfil their true purpose.

* “The Secret Life of Plants”, Peter Tomkins and Christopher Bird

Autumn Planted Grains

Autumn Planted Grains

Autumn planting of grains can double as high brix, high carbon compost crops for making high quality compost for next years garden! Autumn, once the nights get cooler and Autumn rains come, is the time to plant your grains that do best when overwintered.

In the North Island that includes from our collection: Milmore rye, Konini wheat, Kamut wheat, hulless barley, Mocha barley, hulless oats, and Essene flax seed. Apart from some very cold or Winter wet areas down South, I think those grains will still do better when planted in Autumn everywhere. The longer the grains are in the ground before Spring, the stronger the roots are, the more they tiller, and the heavier the crops.

If you are aiming to be using the high carbon stems to make high quality compost, then take just as much care as you would if the crops were tomatoes or potatoes to feed them, including foliar feeding. I find BioIntensive beds of grain respond very well to foliar feeding, even better than vegetables do. I would be applying some form of calcium to my grain beds if my plants were not already producing over 14 brix. My calcium might be burnt bone ash, applied 3 weeks before planting grain, or it might be in the compost which had lime or crushed shells or bones in it, or I might apply EF Active Calcium.

Many of us will also be looking for ways to use our Winter crops to increase or mine phosphate and calcium from the soil. In this case we might choose oats and lupins to be our grain and compost crops, as those crops are able to release higher amounts of phosphate and calcium from the minerals in the soil  than many others.

Adding a form of phosphate may also be vital to get the brix’s up. Ideally you might have well made compost that had a high proportion of phosphate plant material, or maybe RPR (Reactive Rock Phosphate), or maybe our Koanga Compost Minerals and Microbes added. If not, then add EF Nature’s Garden to the bed, as described on label. The sooner we get our brix’s up, the sooner we can stop using bought in product and find our own ways to maintain the levels. Foliar feed either by making your own mixes and using your refractometer to test, or I will use EF Growth Foliar for the first 30 days then switch to EF Fruit Foliar which will help to grow a healthy huge seed crop.

In Spring when you get to make your compost heaps with all the stalks, you will really see how precious this high quality material is. When your compost is ready to use and you can apply high quality compost back to feed your plants, you will have the circle complete.

Our  grain collection is expanding all the time, you will notice that we now have some very special barley varieties that came to us from KUSA many years ago. We grew Mocha barley this year, and somehow grains always feel very special, sacred,  as you watch them grow and mature, and harvest them. Mocha barley turns a coffee colour as it matures and bends its head down on a sharp angle to keep the rain off itself.


Soil Amendments

Soil Amendments

The garden we have put in this Spring at Kotare Village is the 5th huge garden I have planted since leaving Kaiwaka 4 1/2 years ago.

I have continued growing much of our own food and over half the seeds sold by the Institute during that time, and I have had a range of soil types and situations to deal with! I have been totally committed to absolutely doing my best to produce high brix food/seeds.

I have never had compost to greet me when I arrived other than the rule I made myself, that each time I shifted I took a heap with me to the next place and I did that for every shift. I have had to find fast short term solutions to providing the right minerals in the right relationships.

I have been working with Grant from Environmental Fertilisers and using his products since before leaving Kaiwaka, and I now feel as though I pretty much have it sorted. Environmental Fertilisers have an amazing dedication to doing the absolute best they can for our soil, our health and carbon sequestration on as large a scale as they can. They are a small family business who base their recipes not only on the science of Dr Carey Reams and others, but also on Grant’s 20 plus years working with New Zealand soils, and many other inspired people.

I have learned some hard lessons and I’d like to share those so that you don’t have to learn them the same way I did…


• Firstly, there seems to be some kind of threshold with the minerals that you have to reach for things to work at all. I.e. if we take the attitude that this is expensive fertiliser and only put on half as much as recommended, you will possibly get no result at all making it even more expensive. The application rates that I have found to work, in all cases, is about the same, and this is what we put on the bags we sell. I have found however that in occasional situations it requires more applications and higher quantities to kick things off.

• Secondly, all the various bits are critical – it’s not just the EF Nature’s Garden, but also the EF Fish Plus applied in a watering can to the soil and roots at planting time that actually kicks things off. This form of liquid fish is complexed to a carbon source, so does not burn up soil carbon or wash away fast like other forms of liquid fish. All of the soils I have worked in produced better results when I added as a one off an extra dose of calcium also complexed to a carbon source: EF Active Calcium.

• If your crop is a gross feeder, i.e. tomatoes, pumpkins (all curcurbits), corn, brassicas etc., then it will also make a big difference if you add another 100g per square metre monthly for 3 months after planting.

• With all crops I found the EF Growth Foliar spray will bring the brix’s up further which means you have higher brix material for your next compost heap as well as knowing that you are getting higher and higher quality food. Bob and I have just planted our own vegetable garden – 200 square metres of double dug beds – and we have used all of the above as well as biochar and paramagnetic rock dust. Both of these things are once only applications, although we will continue to make biochar and add this to our compost heaps. All this adds up to a lot of additives to the garden. It also basically takes us to a place where we can go from veges not doing well at all with a brix of 3 or 4 to a brix of well over 12 in 6 months. I had oats up to a brix of 23 over Winter with this regime. I’m also adding Compost Minerals and Microbes to my compost heap during these 6 months so that at the end of 1 year I will have a garden that is growing high brix veges and I will have compost that will do possibly all of the feeding from then on. I believe that is very good value when we consider that this is our future health insurance, and it is a once off that adds so much value to our lives in so many ways.

My strategies from now on will be:

• to grow oats and lupins as Winter carbon crops (the oats seem to have incredible ability to extract both calcium and phosphate from the soil that is unavailable to the vege roots),

• add all my burnt animal bones to the compost heap

• as well as home made biochar,

• and as much seaweed as I can collect.

• I am also growing a patch of alfalfa and comfrey specifically for recycling minerals from the bottom of our housesite back through the heap.

• I will also continue with the practice of adding agnihotra to the compost.

• I’m sure I’ll continue learning…

I’m pretty excited about the potential benefits of biochar in the ground. Albert Bates’ book The Biochar Solution is a great resource if you’re keen to learn more. In my conversations with Albert at IPC10 in Jordan he confirmed my feeling that the incredible story of the Terra Preta soils of the Amazon were built up by ordinary people like us who were gardeners, foragers, meat eaters, and farmers who were simply composting all of their waste – animal bones, burnt animal and fish bones, ash, all vegetative waste etc.Everything in their lives they did not use or eat was composted or thrown into piles around their gardens and fields. The thing that made these soils so extra special was that they clicked onto the fact that black soils were building up faster in areas where there was more charcoal going into the mix. The thing that created these very deep black soils was the mix of humus and biochar. The biochar is not biologically active but is very, very stable, and when working together with humus or biologically active carbon, they have a synchronicity of their own and build soil relatively fast. They actually learned how to make charcoal and ensure they added it to the mix in greater quantities than they had been previously.

We can do that now by cooking on stoves that make charcoal as they cook our food or heat our spaces, or we can upskill ourselves and make our own charcoal in the back yard, using tree prunings etc. I feel as though I have it sussed using bought products, however this is obviously a short term solution, and now that we’ve been here for one year we have a lot of other systems being set up. I plan to be off these bought inputs very soon, and I’ll share in detail with you in the next catalogue all the systems we have put in place to create  far more sustainable systems that are easy for all.

Kay Baxter

Growing the Rest of the Meal

Growing the Rest of the Meal

Whenever people become uneasy about the quality, sources or prices of food out there, there is a resurgence in people wanting to learn to grow their own food and in particular the ‘rest of the meal’ again. Our membership has jumped up 23% in the past year, and did the same thing the year before.

Vegetables and fruit are usually where we begin, and then we lead off into the storage vegetables and then the seeds and grains.

Over the years we have developed a range of basic storage crops that we grow every year, which includes potatoes of various kinds for different end uses , kumara [once again different kinds for different end uses , corn [both field corn for flour and posole etc., and sweet corn ], and other grains including sorghum, Essene Flax seed, amaranth, quinoa, .

Kaanga Ma has been our staple grain over the past few years and we are making wonderful posole and tortillas now, but with the addition of so many other grains into our trial beds this season (kamut, rye, hulless barley, naked oats, dinkle, purple wheat etc.) it will be interesting to see where we end up with grains.

Other storage crops include Austrian Hulless pumpkins for the seeds, main storage pumpkins like Chucks Winter, Butternut, Crown, Queensland Blue, Triamble, Iron bark, Kamokamo etc. (different varieties for different tastes, flavours and end uses…); dried soup beans and peas; root crops (which are essentially storage crops as well because they sit in the ground all Winter just waiting to be harvested and eaten) like beetroot, parsnips, scorzonera, carrots, turnips, swede, daikon, celeriac, even celery which, if established in Autumn will sit for harvesting all Minter. Main crop, long keeping cabbages could be called storage crops too. January King will sit all Winter, as will Savoy, and Dalmatian.

In far colder climates than ours these later crops are brought inside into root cellars to keep for the Winter.

Dried beans are a wonderful way to be growing the rest of the meal, it only takes the addition of tomato puree, roast peppers, possibly some bacon or mince, herbs, garlic and onions (all of which can be grown in your very own garden) to create a wonderful fully nourishing baked beans type meal. (Dried beans must be soaked before cooking for at least 24-48 hours in water with a little whey added to be easily digested, see Change of Heart or Nourishing Traditions.) Check out the info in either of these books or the www.westonaprice.org. You will see that all of our ancestors knew that all grains, nuts and seeds contained phytic acid and other anti-nutrients, and only ate them after either fermenting (sourdough bread), long soaking or sprouting. If we eat grains seeds etc. without processing in these ways, our bodies have to work hard to detoxify the grains and that takes valuable minerals and vitamins out of our bodies in the process. All of those techniques make the nutrition in the seeds and grains available to our bodies.

We have many special drying beans in our collection, see page 40 in the seed list and check out Mark Christianson’s article about his bean growout on page 62. It’s great to grow a soup bean, one for making baked beans and one for its shellout qualities, they make the best bean salads.

Don’t forget the Dalmatian Peas or Capucyjners – these are specific drying peas that came to this land long ago with the Dalmatian gumdiggers but have also been brought here by many Dutch settlers since then because all cultures travel the world with their own sacred food plants. Don’t for get the flaxseed either.

Over the years we’ve been growing these seeds and grains using Bio Intensive methods in 1.2 m wide raised beds. We have found that the harvest is totally dependant on three major factors. Firstly getting the crop planted at the right time for that crop. Secondly having good soil conditions, and thirdly having your bird control system sorted and in place, and in some climates having a green house to mature the seed heads and process the crop. Details of our bird control systems are in the Koanga Garden Guide, but essentially we have 6mm steel rods bent into a three-sided rectangle to fit over the beds and into the ground on each side of the bed, 1m apart to hold up the knitted long lasting bird netting. We grow grains in beds alongside each other so that 10m wide netting will cover three beds at a time, and have the beds 10m long. There will be 30m of grain under each net. Nets seem to be widely needed for rice, quinoa and amaranth, however Joseph harvested rye with no netting, so that will be another whole new learning curve and everybody will find a slightly different solution. We harvest around 500 – 1000g (1kg) per square metre of bed, depending on above three factors, especially the soil quality.

We are basically eating only our own grains these days and we find that without commercial flour we use our precious grains in many other ways than the traditional sourdough bread. I find it relatively hard work to grind these grains with our small stone hand grinder, so I sprout whole grains a lot, grind the sprouts and use them to make Essene Bread Rolls which are delicious. I love sprouting whole grains, then drying the sprouts and grinding in the corn grinder to make our version of couscous. The finer flour is used as bread crumbs or as flour in other patties etc. Recipes for all of this are in ‘Change of Heart’. We also put soaked whole grains such as kamut wheat, hulless barley, whole rye, or quinoa into our soups. All of these grains can also be served after soaking and long cooking as a part of the main meal, just as they are. Whole cooked grains are delicious served with spicy mashed pumpkin etc etc.

Our ancestors all grew these crops, or their own range of them, whatever that was, depending on where they lived… and there is no reason we can’t do it too. If we select seeds that were selected by our ancestors for ease of growing, threshing and winnowing by hand rather than the selections made by industrial agriculture to suit machine and immature harvesting etc. we can not go wrong. It is about being in a relationship with our food plants… including grains, and experimenting with strategies and techniques until we find what works for us. We have to move beyond waiting until somebody else can give us exact instructions that work every time. We must once again enter that process of co-evolution with our food plants!!! We are essentially creating a new culture here… we might as well enjoy the process!!!

Growing the grains and seeds is only the beginning of the journey – learning how to harvest the seed, mature the grains and prepare them for cooking is a whole new journey, and then cooking them another journey.

As Betsy from Bountiful Gardens (the home of Bio-Intensive gardening, where they grow loads of traditional grains) says: “It’s possible to hull these grains by hand… humans have been doing it for centuries! Millet and sorghum are a bit harder to hull than wheat since the hulls stick closer to the grains. You will have to experiment… shuffling over the grains on a tarp with flat rubber soled shoes sometimes works, or adapting a hand mill by setting the plates further apart, or rubbing between your palms with rubber gloves. Then winnow in a breeze or with a fine screen… if you can’t sift out all the hulls you can always rinse them out – float them off before cooking”.

As we gain experience with all these processes we will share them with you, in our catalogues and via the website.

Northland Rye – Joseph and Catherine Land

“We are traditionally maize growers but have realized the day would come to grow other grains. This is our second year so I only speak as a novice.

Last year a visit to Shiloh and Lani and family near Motueka inspired us to try growing rye, the seed for which they kindly gave us from their store. Really they should be telling this story as they have years of experience, while we are still beginners.

We opted for Autumn planting, which gave a late January harvest and so a better chance of dry weather than a March/April harvest. We were very impressed with the rye. It sprouted in 4 days and outgrew the weeds, eventually suppressing them totally. It slowed up through Winter and shot away in Spring reaching 6 feet in height, which we weren’t expecting. We were blessed with a dry January and harvested some beautiful grain.

Our root crop bins (soil cement walls and floor) are fairly empty at that time so we made a flail and threshed the grain in one of those. It worked alright for the small amount of grain we had but a bigger crop would need more room for both threshing and winnowing.

We saved nearly all that seed and have planted a bigger area this year, 400 sq metres, including a little wheat and barley. The rising prices of grain have certainly helped spur our enthusiasm. We’re looking forward to learning more.

Meanwhile this year’s planting is 10 days old (since sowing.. in April), 6 inches tall and going for it.”

Back-Breeding to the Future

Back-Breeding to the Future

Reconnecting with Our Genetic Reality. By Robert Schick

What I am about to propose might seem downright heretical in terms of both traditional and high-tech seed breeding, but bear with me for a little while. As climate changes persist and attenuate, the human species is going to require tougher plants that can withstand far greater extremes of weather anomalies and variations. Most corporate, industrial and institutional breeders, however, both of plants and animals, are doing the exact opposite, regardless of their PR claims. What we don’t need are more super-hybrids and genetically altered mono-crops that require heavy-duty outside inputs and chemicals to jumpstart the seed and see the plant safely to harvest.

Diversity is a major aspect of the solution, but to a far greater extent than our usual concept of the term suggests. Even within an open-pollinated cultivar we should be seeking variation, diversity. Looking for a ‘stable’ open-pollinated variety is not so very different from seeking a hybrid or genetically altered one, except that you can save the seed and anticipate something close to what was grown the previous season. Reality is, open pollinates are not truly stable, they just appear to be so. Nothing that exists is stable – it only appears so within the confines and miniscule time frames of our lives. We weren’t around a hundred or more years ago to taste-test, say, a Brandywine tomato. I suspect it tasted different than the current variety. Even today there exist various strains of this tomato, diversity within the cultivar. Open pollinates, too, will evolve over decades or centuries due to many factors, such as who is selecting the seed stock, the evolutionary pressures from the soils in which they were grown, the varying weather shifts that will alter their genetic courses, and other stress factors.

Nor do you achieve diversity simply by tossing in a couple of dozen domesticated species and saying, “We’re now a diversified agrarian site.” Diversity didn’t just happen. It evolved and continues to do so, or at least it’s attempting to continue in spite of all the negative human interventions. Now that we humans have mucked up the ecosystems so thoroughly, it’s time to step back and start observing what really works. Back-breeding is one way to start, an impassioned beginning that might unlock other portals.

What is needed are tough varieties with the ability to adapt rapidly in comparison to hybrids, genetically modified and even many OP varieties that shy away from such pressures, that remain relatively ‘stable’. In this case, stable in an unstable world may not work.


This is where the concept of back-breeding enters the fray. Back-breeding should not be confused with back-crossing, or taking one of the original parents of a variety and adding it to the original cross to potentiate certain desired traits from that parent. You can do this in back-breeding, but it’s an adjunct and option, not the overall strategy. In back-breeding what you are looking for is a return to a more primitive state without necessarily going all the way – allowing the plant the freedom to evolve as its surroundings demand. Do you want to return it to its first self? Probably not, for if you took it back a couple of hundred thousand years, your domesticated self probably wouldn’t be able to swallow it, let alone digest it, depending on your genes (we’re coming to that). But your ancient essence could handle plants of 20.000 years ago, some of which still exist today, or their close relatives.

A good example of this, and one I’ve employed in my personal breeding efforts, is to cross more modern carrots with the ancient Queen Anne’s Lace without going all the way back for two reasons: the most obvious being that Queen Anne’s Lace already exists, and second, no one would care to eat Queen Anne’s Lace for very long, nor would your digestive system feel happy about it.

Thus, crossing a primitive species with a modern variety is one option, but not the only one. Another approach, and one which appeals greatly to me, is the de-hybridizing of the hybrids and even, yes, even the open pollinates – for open pollinates were almost never the original beginning of the species. Ops were once far more primitive. Think of an OP tomato that was originally derived from wild ancestors and over many centuries, perhaps millennia, was domesticated by humans (or less occasionally modified by natural intervention – think bees), eventually becoming through breeding a Brandywine or a Cherokee Purple. A third option would be to back-cross a wild tomato with a Brandywine or other OP and take it back to the edge of recent time.

Ultimately, back-breeding is the quest to close the gap between our overly domesticated, questionably nutritious foods and our genetic reality. Hidden within the seed lies a memory, one that dates back to its original self, which may well be 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 or more years old! I believe this memory, or parts of it, can be coaxed back into existence without resorting to questionable and potentially dangerous high-tech means such as gene splicing. In fact, gene splicing will only exacerbate the problems by adding alien genes with completely unknown consequences in their expression (i.e., pleiotropy) accompanying the traits that the biotechnologists desire, often with disastrous results.

We can coax the ancient memories back by allowing a variety to go feral – in essence, to fend for itself – set them free, release them from their domesticated prisons. We can allow them to grow and perhaps even flourish under less-than-optimum conditions, pushing and coaxing their genes to express themselves naturally for a tougher, reality-driven survival, expressing themselves as what they need to and must become, not what a biotechnologist slices and dices for dreams of future monetary rewards, nor what a hybrid breeder desires in aiming for a specific disease resistance that in no way accounts for the coming earthly weather upheavals and possible ecological collapse.

Here are some of my problems with this accepted scientific notion. First, if Hybrid Plant A has more beta-carotene and calcium, then what doesn’t it have, or what imbalance has resulted from potentiating certain nutrients and certain characteristics for industrial, commercial agriculture, while surely suppressing others? There’s only so much ‘room’ in this food, isn’t there?

Perhaps an even more important consideration is, does Hybrid Plant A mesh with our genetic reality? In other words, have the domesticated foods of today superceded our ancient genetics, which really haven’t changed much for at least 30 thousand years, before the advent of agriculture and rampant domestication? Have ancient genes kept pace with our domestication processes, both our human physiologies and in our domesticated breeding?

Just as the toxic chemicals of the past 100 years have become molecular terrorists attacking our ancient genes, so too might our domesticated, hybridized, genetically modified plants. How many plants (and animals) do we now eat that we ate 30,000 years ago? Right off the top of my head I can think of watercress, lamb’s quarters, dandelions, purslane, urus-bison variants and wild fish. Not many cultured people eat the first four. We eat at best only a smidgen of what our genes were probably designed for or with. Have our bodies adapted to these new domesticates? My thought is that they haven’t, and this fact, along with our toxic chemistries, is playing havoc with our immune systems and overall health. Who would have ever thought that a super-duper hybrid broccoli just might overwhelm our still primitive genetic immune system if not supplemented by balancing wild plants? No one that I’ve read.

We’re eating things that in no way conform to or align with our genetics. Of course, 90 percent of processed supermarket fare first comes to mind, but I’d venture much further, right into the belly of the politically/scientifically correct beast. We’ve bred and continue to breed things too fast for our genetics to contend with. It’s a kind of human species-created quasi-Milankovic oscillation (where climate changes too fast for mutation rates to keep pace). What did our genetically very, very similar ‘primitive’ ancestors, our genetic mirrors, eat? Even such staples as wheat and rice are of relatively recent domesticated breeding. Most of the so-called ancient wheats and rices are really not that ancient. Our bodies were not designed to eat grasses – that’s what cows’ and other ruminants’ digestive systems were designed for (and they, in turn, are now widely forced to eat corn or soy in contradiction to their own genetic makeup).

Our genetics, then, haven’t kept pace with this oddly impassioned, driving desire for newness, innovation, ever-quickening change and fashionable fads, be they fad diets, fad foods, muscled super foods or even many so-called healthy natural foods. We’re paying for it in our health profile. It’s beginning to appear that our genes aren’t able to change as rapidly as the human mind’s creative overdrive mechanisms, or to put it another way, as quickly as the corporate world desires.

The current paradigm must change. Breeding must return to something far more basic, returning our plants to our genetic reality, not trying to genetically alter ourselves to suit our domesticated crops, although I’m sure biotechnologists would love that opportunity (and are surely already attempting to do so). The latter course is bound to fail, as our genes simply cannot comprehend and digest all this pseudo-nutritional overdosing. Our domesticated diseases are staring us in the face, mostly expressed in our own bodies. There’s a reason for this, and I believe reductionist science and its ‘sound science’ cheerleaders in high places are missing, or denying, the proverbial boat here.

As the majority of plant breeders continue ever forward in their quest to develop the Holy Grail of so-called super foods, I remain a sceptical outside observer. Almost daily we hear of all the new and nutritious phytochemicals in our domesticated foods, but aren’t they also in the more primitive ones? Haven’t they always been in a balanced genetic proportion? After all, where do the phytochemicals and other nutrients hail from, anyway?

I’m choosing to go in almost the opposite direction, returning to what food should have remained, connected to our genetic reality, not our toxic enclosures, not a superficial and artificial reality created by human hubris.

Am I about to cease and desist eating all broccoli and tomatoes? No, but I’ll be consuming far more wild foods, developing my own back-to-the-future varieties and going for the heirlooms instead of the hybrids or genetically engineered. I’ll report back in about 20 years!

Robert Schick, a.k.a. “relentless”, besides being a plant breeder, is an avid seed-saver, earth-passionate agrarian, musician, songwriter, peacemonger and writer. Some of his breeding projects are available from Fedco Seeds of Maine. He can be reached at [email protected]

Reprinted with permission from Acres U.S.A., P.O. Box 91299, Austin, Texas 78709 (512) 892-4400, Subscriptions: $27/year.  For sample copy of Acres U.S.A. call 1-800-355-5313.



Crop Health Transitions

Crop Health Transitions:

Identifying Key Stages of Plant Resilience

By John Kempf

Our vision and our mission is to help farmers produce healthy crops which are insect and disease resistant and have no need for toxic insecticides and fungicides. We can accomplish this goal by providing farmers with knowledge of how diseases and insect pests interact with growing plants, tools to monitor crop health in the field, and information and materials which can be used to increase and enhance plant health.

The degree of plant health and immunity is based on a plant’s ability to form structurally complete compounds such as carbohydrates and proteins. Complete carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids are formed by healthy plants with a fully functional enzyme system, which is dependent on trace mineral enzyme cofactors.

So-called plant pathogens, bacterial and fungal diseases, and insect pests have less complex digestive systems than higher animals and lack the needed enzymes to digest complete plant compounds. In his book titled Healthy Crops: A New Agricultural Revolution, Francis Chaboussou has documented a fair amount of research on plant-pathogen relationships, protein formation in plants, and the plant immunity connection. Chaboussou’s theory of plant health which he calls “Trophobiosis” is founded on the premise that insect and disease pests cannot utilize complete proteins and carbohydrates as a food source.

We work with a broad variety of fruit and vegetable and broadacre crops in many regions with different soils and different climates. On many of the farms we work with we have noticed some interesting transitional stages of plant health and energy levels as soil and plant health improve over time, frequently over a period of a few months to several years, depending on the crop and previous soil conditions. These stages of improving plant health have been based on our own experiences and in-field observations. Over time and experience on many farms a successful pattern of plant health stages is becoming clearer.

As charted in the graph (above), efficient photosynthesis and the formation of complete carbohydrates is the foundation of plant health and immunity. Without efficient photosynthesis plants will not achieve any level of immunity or performance.

With functional photosynthesis and adequate levels of minerals and trace minerals to serve as enzyme cofactors, formation of complete proteins is initiated. As photosynthetic capacity and plant energy increase, plants begin to store surplus energy in lipids, plant oils. These lipids are the building blocks used to build plant protection compounds, called plant secondary metabolites (PSMs) or plant essential oils.

Phase 1 In this foundational phase of plant growth and health, a plant’s needs for adequate sunlight, air, water and minerals are all being met, an efficient photosynthetic process is absorbing carbon dioxide from the air, water from the soil, and with the energy input from the sun, begins producing plant sugars, carbohydrates. Initially the sugars formed during this process will be monosacharrides; simple sugars such as fructose, sucrose, and dextrose. As the process evolves more complex sugars called polysaccharides begin to develop. Cellulose, lignin, pectins, and starches are structural and storage carbohydrates produced in greater quantities as plants become healthier.

In our experience, as long as plants are photosynthesizing properly and producing pectins and other complex carbohydrates, these plants do not seem to be susceptible to soilborne fungi — known as “pathogens.” Saprophytic fungi (fungi which decompose dead plant residue) such as alternaria, fusarium and verticillium only become a problem when plants are unhealthy to the point where they no longer develop complete carbohydrates. As long as we have active photosynthesis and energy transfer these “pathogens” cease to be a problem.

PHAsE II As photosynthetic energy increases, plants begin to transfer greater quantities of sugars to the root system and to the microbial community in the rhizosphere. This increase in energy and a food source for the soil microbes will stimulate them to mineralize and release minerals and trace minerals from the soil matrix and provide them in a plant-available form. Plants then utilize these essential minerals as enzyme cofactors which are needed to form complete carbohydrates and especially proteins. Soluble sugars — monosacharrides — when partnered with nitrogen are the base materials used to form amino acids.

Through the action of enzyme catalysts these amino acids are bonded together to form peptides, from which complete proteins are formed. Thanks to their rapid metabolism, insects need large amounts of protein for growth and reproduction. They can source their protein requirements from plants, which have elevated levels of soluble amino acids in the plant sap. Many insects have a simple digestive system which lacks the digestive enzymes needed to digest complex proteins. In our experience, plants which are forming complete proteins and have low levels of soluble amino acids are not susceptible to insects with simple digestive systems. This would include insects such as aphids and whiteflies, and especially larval insects such as cabbage loopers, corn earworm, alfalfa weevil, tomato hornworm and many others.

Phase III As photosynthetic energy and efficiency increases plants develop a surplus of energy beyond that needed for basic growth and reproduction. Initially, large quantities of this surplus energy in the form of sugars is translocated to the root system, as high as 70 percent of the total sugar production. Later the plant begins to store this surplus energy in the form of lipids (plant fats) in both vegetative and reproductive tissue. In vegetative tissue these fats are primarily in the form of Omega 3s, whereas Omega 6s and 9s are mostly found in the storage organs of the fruit.

Plants always maintain a minimum baseline of lipid levels since they need these compounds to help form the phospholipid cell membrane. As energy and lipid levels increase this cell membrane becomes much stronger and more resilient enabling it to better resist fungal pathogens. It appears as though once plants achieve higher lipid levels and stronger cell membranes they become more resistant to the airborne fungal pathogens such as downy and powdery mildew, late blight, scab, rust, and others as well as some bacterial invaders, notably fireblight, bacterial speck and bacterial spot, among others.

It should be noted that plants must have a functional digestive system (the microbial community in the rhizosphere) before they will develop to this stage of plant health, otherwise they will lack the energy needed to develop higher levels of lipids.

Phase IV The elevated lipid levels developed in phase III are then used to build complex plant protectant compounds. The plant builds these PSMs, or essential oils, to protect itself from would-be parasites, UV radiation, or overgrazing by insects or herbivores. Many of these compounds, which include terpenoids, bioflavonoids, carotenoids, tannins, and many others, contain anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, as well as digestion (enzyme) inhibitors.

Once plants achieve this level of performance, they become immune to insect attack from insects possessing a better-developed digestive system, primarily members of the beetle family such as cucumber beetles, Colorado potato beetles, and Japanese beetles. At this point, plants have a tremendous level of stress tolerance and can cope with weather extremes reasonably well.

Again these phases of plant health are based on our observations and experiences in the field. Transitions in the field are not always clearly delineated as in the chart, however over time a clearer picture begins to emerge as crops and soils become healthier and healthier and “pathogens” become less and less of a problem.

John Kempf is the owner of Advancing Eco-Agriculture (440-632-1012), Middlefield, Ohio, an eco-agriculture consulting and solutions company. Kempf along with Jerry Brunetti and Lawrence Mayhew will be leading a pre-conference intensive workshop on Comprehensive Eco-Growing Systems as part of the Acres U.S.A. Eco-Ag University in Columbus, Ohio. For more information on attending visit www.acresusa.com.

Healthy Crops: A New Agricultural Revolution by Francis Chaboussou is available from Acres U.S.A. For ordering information visit www.acresusa. com or call 800-355-5313.

This article has been reprinted with permission from the November 2011 issue of Acres U.S.A. visit the www.acresusa.com website.


Heritage beans

I  love the autumn, the change in the weather, the freshness of the wind, the autumn colours (yes, even here in Northland), the cooler nights and the autumn crops glowing with health.

It’s immensely satisfying to consider all the things we’ve got stored away – bottled fruit and tomatoes, jars of pesto, sacks of potatoes, kumara boxed safely up, and jars and jars of dried beans. I particularly love the dried beans – they are beautiful to look at and great to cook with – a real taonga. They’re a real passion of mine and it’s a puzzle to me why lots more people don’t grow them. I’ve known plenty of really good, experienced gardeners who don’t grow drying beans despite them being so easy. Maybe it’s because people have got out of the habit of cooking with them, but they are a really important part of our diet particularly over the winter. Its easy to learn to use them but like other good food just takes a bit of planning.


We grow several varieties and have some real favourites. Our favourite climbing drying beans are Gila (I think pronounced “Hila”) and Norridgewock Pean. The Gila beans are beautiful – black and white or red and white kidney shaped beans with markings that remind me of paint horses. The Norridgewock peans are rounder and look as if they have been half dipped in dark red paint. Both are prolific and easy to harvest. The Norridgewocks are listed as shellouts in the catalogue and are great for that purpose but we use them entirely as drying beans.

We also grow bush drying beans and it can be hard to choose which ones to grow. Sinton are one favourite. These are also kidney shaped and a beige colour. Not as startling as the others but with a quiet appeal. Another is Kaiapoi Pink Seeded which are a beautiful deep pink colour and very productive with a great flavour. We successionally sow both of these over the summer and harvest them initially for eating green (they’re not stringy when young) and then let the later ones dry. Mother In Law are another favourite bush bean. The plants have a semi climbing growth habit and twine together with their neighbouring plants. The beans are much smaller, white round beans in small smooth pods that are purple before they start to dry. Very pretty. Although the beans are small they produce well and I’ve counted more than 70 pods on one plant.

I was given Adzuki beans by a guy who came into the old Koanga shop in Kaiwaka. We’ve been growing them ever since and they do really well for us. They’re small bush beans with pretty yellow flowers, very drought tolerant and with good crops of small, reddy brown adzukis.

The dwarf and climbing beans I’ve mentioned are all Phaseolus vulgaris (except adzuki which is Vigna angularis). Conventional wisdom is that Phaseolus vulgaris are self fertile and don’t cross, but other sources indicate that crossing can be as much as 10%. I make sure that any beans I collect for use as seed are grown well away from other varieties to prevent crossing.

Harvesting and processing is easy. I’ve learnt to look for varieties with smooth pods that make processing easier (as the beans come out easily once the pods are dry). It’s also my impression that if you get a really wet spell when the beans are starting to dry on the plants then the smooth pods seem to shed the water more easily and are damaged less by the rain. Here in Northland we often get wet spells around the end of summer so this can be a great advantage.

I pick the beans when the pods are dry and then dry them some more, usually hung in onion sacks. Once they are really dry and crunchy I tip them into a plastic fish bin and stomp on them. Most of the beans come out of the pods that way and the debris can be lifted out and the remaining few beans taken out of the pods.

We long soak our dried beans, often with whey added, and then rinse and boil them and put into our hot box (which is like a slow cooker). Once cooked we use them in a variety of ways. Baked beans is a favourite, slow cooked in the range with onions, carrots, tomatoes, herbs and a chopped apple. Refried beans is also great – the cooked beans are fried and mashed with onion, garlic and spices and then eaten with salad, stir fried veggies, salsa, guacamole, and home made corn tortillas and feta. Our kids would often choose that as their special birthday meal.

The varieties I mentioned earlier are just our favourites and there are heaps of others to choose from. Mainly I want to just encourage everyone to give it a go if you haven’t already, and to find the varieties that suit you best.

Happy growing and eating!

Gail Aiken

You’ll find of all the beans available here on our website.

Having trouble deciding which beans to grow? Check out our Heritage Bean Selector Chart here 

Resilience in the Garden

The spring and summer seasons just gone were a challenge in the garden for lots of people. Here in the Hokianga we seemed to veer from extreme to extreme – the spring was initially cold and wet but then it went quite hot and dry but still with cold nights, and then later wet again and very humid. The variability made for a challenging growing season which has had me reflecting on how resilient our garden is and if we really could feed ourselves if that was all we had and on what’s needed to develop resilience in the garden.

Healthy Soil

I think the first essential component of resilient gardening is the soil. If we have healthy soil we have healthy plants that are much more able to withstand pests, diseases and adverse conditions. It’s really important to have mineral rich, nutrient rich, carbon rich, water retentive soil. If we get that right the soil will be full of microbes and fungi, will provide everything the plants need to grow and be healthy, and the soil will resist drying out. To try to achieve this we’re using Nature’s Garden and other products from Environmental Fertilisers to improve the mineral balance (of course to be truly resilient we need to learn to do this without bought inputs but for now I’m trying to quickly raise the mineral levels as much as I can); are making heaps of carbon rich compost to which we’re also adding things like seaweed and burnt crushed bones and blood from our home kills; are making charcoal which we crush, soak in urine or compost tea and then add to the compost heaps or direct into the beds; are using well composted manure from our own animals, composted with a carbon source such as hay or straw if we can; and we mulch our beds using our own hay that has been left out in the rain to partially rot so it is less of a source for weed seeds. I also try to supplement all of this with foliar feeds, liquid feeds, compost teas etc. but keeping up with spraying and feeding is not my strength and is definitely in the ‘could do better’ category!

We must be doing reasonably well with our soil though. Despite the season and the fluctuations between very wet and very dry we had little in the way of pests – a few shield bugs and some white butterflies but not much damage. Early on in the spring when the weather was very wet there was a population explosion of slugs and snails. The plants stood up to the onslaught pretty well but we did collect bucket loads (literally!) each night to feed to the chickens. At first they would get excited and eagerly munch them but after a few nights the chooks (and even the ducks) were clearly outfaced so we took to killing them with boiling water and recycling their nutrients into the compost. It was definitely a learning experience as although the conditions were clearly right for slugs and snails to breed, the problem was made worse by messy edges around the garden and into the orchard with long grass where they were hiding during the day and then migrating in at night. Getting those edges under control will definitely help as will having ducks in the orchard. We did have a problem later with aphids on some bunching onions in beds that became very dry and the plants stressed so those beds will be cleared and prepared with extra compost and charcoal and I’ll use them for something that is more drought tolerant.


My feeling is that the second most important thing is diversity, and diverse forms of diversity! By that I mean diversity of varieties (not growing just one variety of crops), diversity over time (successional sowing), and general diversity across the garden (lots of different types of food and supporting plants).

Tomatoes are a good example of the benefit of diversity in varieties. This year was very wet and humid for a large part of the summer and blight was an issue, but despite that we still had a reasonable tomato crop. The previous year, which was a good year for tomatoes, we had bucket loads from January through until May and also bottled about 75 litres. This year, a bad year, we had bowl rather than bucket loads from January to March and bottled about 35 litres. So clearly not great but we still had lots to eat and lots for over the winter.

Heritage varieties

Obviously choosing heritage varieties that do well in this area is important but then having a range of different varieties is also crucial. I know people up here who grew only one variety of tomato and ended up with none at all to eat. We grow 6 varieties of tomatoes and they all performed differently over the season. Almas were the star performers – they did get some blight but I’d remove the affected leaves and they just kept on growing and producing very heavily and probably did as well as the previous good year. Other varieties did well for part of the season but not all and at different times: Oxhearts were slow to start, cropped very well for a while and then finished quite quickly; J Walsh Yellow did more consistently with fewer tomatoes but over a longer period; Guernsey Island mostly weren’t happy at all but had a productive couple of weeks later on in the summer. If we’d just planted one variety then we could have had a very poor crop and even though Alma was very successful I wouldn’t plant just Alma because next season might be different again.

Diversity over time

Diversity over time helps too – successionally sowing over the season so that not all of a crop is lost if there are adverse conditions. I usually sow amaranth twice, once early in October and again in December. Normally I get two good crops from that and haven’t ever had difficulty drying the seed from either sowing. This year I was behind and didn’t get the earlier crop in and only sowed once in early December. Then we had a very wet spell around harvest time and I lost the lot.

Diversity of crops

General diversity across the garden is really important too. A large part of this is about making sure we plant lots of different food crops so that we always have something to eat even if some crops fail. Within this it’s important to have some staples that will provide bulk food. Our main staples are maize, pumpkins, dried beans, kumara and potatoes. So this year our pumpkins did fine, potatoes were poor but we have lots of kumara, the beans were amazing – the largest crop of drying beans we’ve ever had, the maize was okay but slightly weird as it ripened very variably so we had to do 3 picks over the season. Peppers were poor but aubergines prolific, rock melons just didn’t happen but a short season watermelon did slightly better, cucumbers and courgettes were prolific as usual but the pants didn’t last as long so I successionally sowed them.

Our allium harvest was great – the best ever for tree onions, shallots, garlic and ordinary onions like Pukekohe Long Keepers.  So although we didn’t have as much of some things we still have plenty of food to keep us going. Of course under different conditions we might end up with even less but the more diversity we have the more likely we’ll have some successes. As well as the annual crops I’ve mentioned there are also perennial crops. I love Jerusalem artichoke plants, they are stunning with their beautiful yellow flowers and it feels great to have them in the garden. I know some people really like them to eat but in honesty I’m not a great fan of them as food. I’ve had them and thought they were okay but would usually choose to eat something else. I’m very happy though knowing they are there and I would eat (and probably enjoy) them if I were hungry enough.

Support plants

Diversity of support plants feels really important too for the general health of the garden. Anything that supports the garden ecosystem will make it more resilient so we plant heaps of non food plants to bring in beneficial insects and to help get the balance right.

Harvesting and storage

Another issue is harvesting and storage. If we harvest and store crops well then we’ll have lots of food to keep us going. For some things that we eat as seeds that means getting them good and dry (having adequate facilities to do that) and storing them that way; for other things it means preserving them by bottling. Some people freeze their produce (although of course for most people that means being reliant on the power companies and the grid). Some produce just needs to be harvested carefully and kept out of the rain and away from rodents. I’m very particular about the way our long keeper pumpkins are harvested. I’ve seen people just pick them up by the stalks and my observation is that they don’t keep as well and tend to rot from the stalk. Ours are carefully lifted and moved to the pumpkin store which is a simple, rodent proof structure with shelves made out of old pallets and a tin roof to keep the rain off. Our kumara to be used soon is stored in sacks, but our good kumara for longer term keeping is stored individually wrapped in newspaper in boxes. This works really well and, in fact, just today (mid May) we found a wrapped kumara from last years harvest that was absolutely perfect.

Looking after the gardeners

The final aspect of resilient gardening that I want to consider is us, the gardeners. We need to garden in a way that is sustainable for us in terms of the time and the effort we need to put in, and we also need to be open to learning and modifying what we do. Design of our gardens and the systems within them is really important here. One of the challenges for us personally is to get the balance right in terms of our input into the garden, the amount of time and energy that we have, and our other commitments.

There are various ways we can try to get this right but the most obvious for us in our situation is to try integrate our animals more successfully into the garden and orchard so that they do more work for us. We’ve had chooks for many years and have successfully used them as compost makers but have been fairly inconsistent about using them to chicken tractor in the garden and have done it only occasionally so could do more. We use geese grazing in our orchard as part of the management there but need to increase the numbers that we have. We also want to try occasionally bringing the sheep in to graze under the trees if this can be done without causing damage.

So for us in a not very great year in the garden we still managed to produce lots of food which should get us through to next year even if we couldn’t buy anything. Some things we could definitely have done better. We’ve still a way to go in getting the the optimum mineral balance in our soil. We lost some maize to rodents and could probably have salvaged the amaranth crop if we had better drying facilities. Sometimes we miss the optimum timing for tasks because we’re stretched with lots to do but we feel we’re doing pretty well. It’s been a useful exercise to consider where we’re at in terms of resilience and we’ll continue to review our progress regularly. Of course none of us exist in isolation so the more we can do to encourage others to develop resilience by sharing knowledge and ideas, then the more resilient our communities will be.