Posted on Leave a comment

Gail’s Spring Blog

A different method for starting seeds early

Up here in the Hokianga we don’t have really cold temperatures to deal with (in fact we really only had one frost this winter and that was back in early June). Now the weather is really changeable – hot and sunny enough some days for us to be removing clothing layers and feeling like we should be getting our sun hats on, very wet some days and some quite cold nights. Even though its relatively mild some things still need a help to get away early and I have a different system for starting seeds than Kay. We have a hooped tunnel house that we never got round to putting the ends on – once the tunnel house was up and functional the ends dropped off our ‘to do’ list. It provides shelter and some warmth but not enough to get some things started early in the season. Inside the tunnel house I had John build a hot box. Its made of macrocarpa and is about 1.2 by 1m and about 50 cms deep. Its up off the floor on legs and has a wooden base. Resting on the base and angled forwards is a piece of roofing tin – I’ll explain its purpose in a moment. In late July we collect horse manure and John scythes some grass and we build up layers in the hot box – manure, grass, manure, grass and then potting mix on top. I cover the whole thing with plastic using two cloche hoops pushed into the organic material in the box. The plastic I’ve been using for the past 5 years had finally shredded this year so I got a new piece – a recycled plastic wrapping from a double mattress from a local furniture store. Its a perfect size, cost me $2 and I kept it doubled for extra heat.

Hot box

The way it works is simple – the manure and grass clippings start to compost down and in doing so produce heat from underneath and the plastic cover keeps that heat in – even first thing in the morning the air under the cover is appreciably warmer than outside it.

Its a great place to start seedlings off – some things, such as Jimmy Nardello peppers, that really benefit from the direct bottom heat are sown straight into the potting mix while others that are easier to germinate (e.g. Red Kuri pumpkins) are sown in seed trays that are just placed inside the hot box. Once the seeds are sown they need occasional watering. Any surplus water filters down through the layers, flows along the roofing tin into a piece of guttering which directs it to a pipe which exits the box vertically. I keep a bucket under that which collects the nutrient rich water for use as a liquid feed.

jimmy nardello peppers

I’m really pleased with it as a system. It gets the seeds germinating early and up here I only really need it for August and September, by October everything germinates just fine in the tunnel house. So for the rest of the year I use it for growing root ginger – its perfect for that. I’ve found that the ginger for planting stores best in trays in potting mix in the tunnel house as then it doesn’t dry out too much. Once the hot box is no longer needed for seeds I plant the ginger into the box, without the plastic cover as it doesn’t need that. The ginger needs the warmth provided by the tunnel house and the nutrient rich matter in the box is perfect. It requires quite a bit of watering so the nutrient recycling by catching the water is great. The other thing ginger needs is to not be in intense sunlight – our tunnel house plastic is partially UV protected and gives some shade so it thrives in there. Its harvested in the winter when the foliage dies down – perfect timing to get the hot box ready for the seeds again.

Spring in the Garden

I had a walk through the garden earlier today – it felt very spring like and there were bees everywhere. The Sutton’s Dwarf Broad Beans that we grow are flowering away and look fantastic. In some parts of New Zealand it’s better to sow Broad Beans now but up here I’ve found it’s too late so sow mine in April or May. That means they’ll form beans before the weather gets too hot and gives me the added advantage of them finishing early so I can plant something else over the summer as I’m always running out of space.

bee on broad bean flowers

We’re coming into a really busy time now and I like to get some things started quickly to get ahead for later in the season. We grow Jimmy Nardello peppers and like to get them producing as early in the season as possible so start them off in the hot box. They are beautiful, elongated red sweet peppers that visitors usually mistake for chilli peppers because of their shape and colour. Once they are producing we eat them most days in a variety of ways but I think they are best just roasted. Up here in the north we have the added bonus of a prolonged season and they don’t stop producing until late June or into July.

Our tomatoes are also sown in the hot box to get them away early – we like to grow a range of colours and shapes. One of our regulars is Alma a red, egg shaped tomato that is very disease resistant and great for eating, cooking or drying. In fact a big treat this winter was the discovery of 3 jars of dried Almas stored in olive oil that had been forgotten at the back of a cupboard. They were from 2011 but were perfect and are delicious with our home made cheese. We also grow J Walsh Yellow good for eating fresh or cooking, Oxheart which we mainly use for cooking and Broad Ripple Yellow Currant which is great in handfuls in salad and always a favourite with children (and adults!) to browse in the garden. Eggplants grow really well up here and again its good to get them going early so I start them in the hot box too. We’ve tried several varieties and love them all so grow a different one each year. We grew Tsakoniki last year which were great. They have stripey red/violet skin and non-bitter flesh but we also like Florence Round Purple which are very dark skinned and look and taste amazing.

We’re still eating lots of salads up here in late winter / early spring mainly comprised of Rocket which overwinters easily here, American Land Cress, Sorrel, Endive Indiva Scarola, Raddiccio Rosso, Nasturtium leaves and flowers, and Calendula Flowers. We’ve also got lots of Chioggia and Bull’s Blood Beetroot that overwintered nicely and Tokinashi Daikon radish. They are great in a root salad along with Yacon which is part of our back order collection. Yacon is a perennial root vegetable that has small sunflower like flowers in the summer. The tubers are harvested in the winter and provide a sweet, crunchy addition to salads. We usually harvest some wild greens such as bitter cress, plantain, dandelion and puha to add to the salad and have that with homemade cheese for lunch each day. I sowed lettuce in the hot box in August to get some away early and it germinated pretty much straight away so that’s pricked out in trays already. We like to grow a mix of different lettuces (Four Seasons, Odells, Devil’s Ear) – the different shapes and colours look great and add interest to spring and summer salads.

The hot box will really start to fill up at the end of August. We grow Long Green Bush Marrow successionally over the season and the first ones will be sown after the new moon. We really like this variety as it produces great tasting courgettes but also very tasty marrows if you let them grow large. I think marrows are a very underrated vegetable. These ones have great flavour and are good for stuffing (often with our Four Seasons Quinoa). They even keep quite well and we still have a few on the pumpkin store that look perfect even now. We will sow our Red Kuri pumpkins at the same time as the marrows. These are a fantastic summer squash and are usually ready to eat by late December. They are very productive and great roasted, steamed or as soup and can be eaten skin and all. We sow our other pumpkin a month later and that won’t need the hot box. We grow Cupola, a beautiful large butternut that is a great keeper. The combination of the two pumpkins is great – we usually still have Cupola left in late December when the Red Kuri start and then by the time the Red Kuri finish around May we can start eating Cupola again.

We grow several kinds of beans each year and like to get some started early. I successionally sow a bean called Sinton throughout the season and start the first ones off in September. Sinton is a bush bean and great eaten either as a green bean or a drying bean. I usually do 3 sowings, the early ones will be eaten as green beans for a while and the plants left to produce beans for drying, the middle sowing will be just for drying as by the time they are producing we usually have lots of a climbing green bean called Blue Lake to eat, the final sowing will be mainly eaten as green beans (the Blue Lake have usually finished by then) and if the weather stays dry enough then a final harvest of drying Sintons.

Posted on Leave a comment

Urban Garden Report August 2014

Urban Garden Report  August 2014 

The big news this month is that we now have our first litter of bunnies from our own breeding stock where neither does nor bucks have ever had industrial pellets to eat. We were concerned at one point that we were malnourishing them because it took the buck longer to mature than usual, and we didn’t know where the problem was , but all has been revealed, we had a healthy litter of 8 kits, and they are growing very very fast and all rabbits look very healthy and fat.

The baby rabbits are under the bundle of fur, that the mother picked off herself to keep them warm.
The baby rabbits are under the bundle of fur, that the mother picked off herself to keep them warm.


They have been eating tagasaste all winter but now that it is going into flower they don’t like it as much, and we were concerned about what could be a nourishing diet for a milking doe., without tagasaste at this time of year. We found a wonderful website that gave us the confidence to feed whole grain and another book that recommended supplementing with sprouted grain over winter explaining that in the wild rabbits would be eating sprouted and whole grain over the period after the grain and grass seed naturally falls.

We tried it making sure they also had all their other choices available, and right now that includes alfalfa hay, loads of herbs and greens and peach, willow  and apple prunings as well as small amounts of tagasaste.

They are eating small amounts of whole grain immediately, and I imagine it will be something we feed them in winter or seasonally when tagasaste is not available.

So we are back into our rabbits breeding program and Delila went to the buck yesterday so every 6 weeks a doe will go to the buck which means every 12 weeks each doe will go to the buck giving them far more time to recover and regain their weight and strength than is usually given. Rabbit will be back on the menu again in around 3 months, and if all goes to plan we will have 1 per week for the Kitchen .

This month we brought in 2  pullets to ensure the flock of chickens had both young and older laying hens . Each year we aim to replace 1/3 to ½ the laying hens., to maintain a flock of birds at their peak of laying. The older hens only 2 years old could be eaten or sold as laying hens as Legbars will lay fir many more years.

This month we had the following outputs from the garden, we imagine we can easily treble that nest year by having rabbits available for the kitchen, by doing a way better job of getting the autumn garden in on time, and by having wicking beds set up with cloche covers for more winter growth.



We also have now harvested and stored around 300 litres of a vermiliquid/rabbits urine mix from the worm farm under the rabbits. I’ve been aware from the past that one must be very careful applying what seems like local, cheap easy to get sources of nutrients to the garden, because I saw in Kaiwaka that it often did more damage than good. This time we decided to get the liquid tested to see what was in it and how we could best use it.

The result  came back showing reasonably high nitrate nitrogen and also potassium, with low untestable quantities of calcium, phosphorous and magnesium. Calcium and phosphorous are what we need , and if we keep putting on potassium we get further and further away from growing nutrient dense food, and sequestering carbon. Grant has given us some ideas about how we might use it so we’re going to work on that and report back next month.

We’ll put no value on that until we know how to use it in appositive way.

We have been feeding worms from the worm farm to the chickens, and the soldier fly farm is now finished and ready to go, and the passive solar cloche almost ready to go… more next month on those.

Hand Over A Hundy

Most of Kane’s energy this month has gone into beginning the process of starting up a Hand Over A Hundy Project in Wairoa. He held the first meeting and we have 13 beginner gardener families and several people for mentors and it will be kicking off in 2 weeks with a demonstration  compost making session and a bed preparation session for all.

We’re following the Koanga Beginner Gardener 40 sq m vege garden in our Urban Garden so September is the month we will be beginning our seed planting. This garden plan is described in our Beginner Gardener Booklet and the seeds to plant this garden are available here. 


Posted on Leave a comment

Let nature take its course- a poem by Tamsin Leigh

we love bees .. bees on corn pollen

Calling all activists, animal lovers,
growers and gardeners and people with mothers,
all neighbours and nanas, all friends and all strangers,
it’s time to stand up: the varroa mites’ in danger!

Our little destructor, our tiny red friend
is suffering abuse that no law will defend,
each autumn and spring comes a chemical craze
and most wee mites die within hours or days.

But fear not, friends, there’s more, for the ones who survive
Pass their genes on to the next lot of little mite lives
and bit by bit they build up resistance
while the beekeepers grasp for the next round of pistons.

Blinded by profit we just cannot see:
There aren’t too many mites, but too many bees!
Nature is trying to bring back the balance
and us factory-farmers take that as a challenge.

The mite ain’t the problem, the mite is the symptom
of a seriously sorry sad-sack of a system
that acts as if one day the mite will be beaten
oh yeah? how will lions survive when gazelles are all eaten?

If varroa kicks the bucket then what will be next?
Nosema or foulbrood or bee-eating insects?
CCD ain’t a new thing like everyone thinks,
one way or another nature irons out the kinks

Why fight it, my friends, even on a bee-loving basis?
Each treatment steps away from homeostasis.
Forget “fight the mite,” let’s boost bees instead,
and give them a real chance in life up ahead.

horizontal top bar hive Oliver Ace (8) can manage it with a mentor ( Cody)

Posted on Leave a comment

Simple structures for getting seedlings going early in Spring

This spring (2014) Bob and I decided to take the plunge and spend no money on food this year.

In some ways it’s quite scary, because we have only been on our current garden site for 2.5 years, and the orchard is barely producing…. However it feels like time, and we have any amount of beautiful raw milk, amazing eggs, and meat as well as vegetables. We’ll be doing more wild fruit/nut  harvesting this summer, and we’ll be taking very good care of our bees and stevia plants, and making better use of the solar drier.

In the mean time, spring is a challenging time to begin such a thing because it is the leanest time of the year in the garden and orchard.

I immediately began thinking of ways to get a few of our basic summer crops producing earlier than usual here. Our winters are cold with many very heavy frosts that can be brutal. Two springs ago we had a frost on November 30th and another in March. Not long enough to get a good tomato crop in or to keep pumpkins etc.

My favourite garden structures man is Elliot Coleman, who has written many organic gardening books and I like his style, he is into Biointensive, uses hand tools and does a beautiful job, and he is especially good at getting year round vege in super cold conditions using simple structures. Four Season Harvest is his book especially about doing just this. His main theme is that every layer you place over your crop, takes that crop 1 climate zone warmer… and he shows us how he does it in Maine in 30 below. He actually earns a living selling fresh salads all year round in that climate.

We don’t get 30 below, but I would like to have tomatoes for the Solstice and courgettes in October, and loads of tomatoes over a long period for saucing etc… and eggplants and all those summer vege that need long warm growing periods.

I don’t like expensive structures, and I do like appropriate  technology!

My priorities are

  1. To get courgettes (Crookneck squash are way by far my favourite in a small garden. Gail will say her favourite is Long Green Bush Marrow because they not only taste good as courgettes but also as marrows!) as early as possible, my storage pumpkins will be gone by September. We only really need 1 good courgette plant, so I’m going to get somebody to help me build a cold frame… I’m going to copy Elliot Colemans design: wooden sides with a glass top that can be lifted and held up on hot/warm days. That is a start, but I still need to actually germinate the seed and grow the  seedling to 1 month old before it goes into the bed. I have a plastic cloche on a wooden bench, which we planned to turn into a passive solar cloche this Spring, (we still might but in the mean time I thought OK each layer of cover takes us up a climate zone and I covered my trays of early seedlings with bubble wrap plastic at night, inside the plastic cloche, (actually wrapped the trays right up in the plastic by placing the bubble wrap on the bench so that the trays sit on it and then around and over the top and tuck it in under the front edge at night) and left it on in the day time if it wasn’t hot and sunny. Each day I check them out and it is really clear that it has made a big difference to the warmth in the seed trays, even in heavy frosty nights there is still a little warmth in the morning.Then I remembered that a friend starts his seedlings off in deep trays that have 6 inches/25cms of fresh horse manure under the soil, then I thought, why don’t I place some boards around the cloche bench and fill the bottom of the cloche with 20cm sand, a heat sink that will heat up during the day and release heat at night to even out the temperature. Making life for tomato and pepper and eggplants seedlings possible in August in a cheap plastic cloche for no cost in the frost. Heavy enough frosts to turn all the flowers on a 30 year old magnolia black!!!!
  1. My second priority is to get some tomatoes and bush basil in and producing by Xmas… I have planted Henrys’ Dwarf Bush cherries, (also excellent croppers over a long period, and super tasty, great for children’s gardens too, or growing in pots or edges) which only grow to be very very small bushes, easy to cover with a cold frame and the same with the Basil. I will use a 1 sq m cold frame once they are ready for the garden, (25 tomato plants and a few mini basil plants) and will see how I go growing seedlings in my cloche with a sand bench, and bubble wrap plastic inside the cloche. If Bob gets back in time it may even get the water filled barrel greenhouse underneath the sand bench.
Bob's sketches
Bob’s sketches
  1. My third priority is to be able to plant out my pumpkins, peppers and eggplants early enough to have a long growing season and high quality long keeping pumpkins, and good crops of peppers and eggplants. My main effort will go into getting the soil in top condition because the more you have the right minerals in the right relationships the faster your plants grow and the higher the quality is the better they will keep. That is of course and ongoing process but were making god progress there (my next blog will describe that journey of  growing soil) secondly choosing cultivars I know are relatively reliable in a short growing season. My choices are Delicata squash, very early maturing and keep until May. Buttercup, my old favourite  and it keeps until June. (Gail would say Red Kuri and it is an amazing cultivar, sweet like Buttercup but not as dry,  in fact I’m going to grow some of them this year too) Then for long keepers I like Butternut because it keeps so well, tastes so good and is always reliable. (Chucks Winter is my ultimate long keeping butternut type pumpkin but it needs a longer season than we have, best in the warmer parts of the country. Then it’s good to have some variation when it gets to June, July, August and pumpkins become daily fare so Crown will be my choice although quite boring compared to Hopi Grey, which needs a good long summer but is amazing to eat, and Grey Hubbard, which I haven’t grow enough to really know it  etc. Crown is reliable, high quality flesh and a super god keeper.OK so I’ve got that part all sorted, the seedlings will be grown as my others on the fancy cloche with a 20cm sand bottom on the bench, and if necessary bubble plastic to germinate them, and they will be grown in there until they are good size seedlings. At that point, around Labour weekend, I’d like to be able to plant them, in the garden, and to do that they will need protection. I’m going to use my old tried and true system of covering the beds with hops and making an on the bed plastic cloche, way way easier than cold frames which are heavy to move around and expensive etc. I will use my old recycled metal cloche hoops we’ve had for years, place them 1m apart along the beds, cover with plastic leaving enough at each end of the bed to bunch it up and peg down with very strong pegs made of bent (in a vice) concrete reinforcing, and then place over the top of the plastic more hoops in between the others. This top layer of hoops means you can get tension on the plastic and so open the cloche as much or as little as you like each day depending on the weather. Tension must be kept on the plastic and you need the heavy pegs at each end to do that. I’ll have 2 x10 m beds of pumpkins covered, and another on my rock melons and early cucumbers, and another 10 m bed of peppers (My favourites for flavor are Yugoslav paprika. And Sweet Chocolate, and in the far side of the garden so they don’t cross or make my sweet peppers hot I will grow Hungarian Yellow Wax and Jalapeno, so I have hot frying peppers and hot peppers to make fermented chilli sauce) and eggplants covered as long as need be. I have all this gear stored away and it gets used year after year, so is not a great cost.


Posted on Leave a comment

Thorny Croft Ducks and Chickens

We’ve just planted another 200 trees in our future poultry/pig forage paddock…. We’re creating perennial polyculture a la Mark Shepard in Restoration Agriculture and the Forest Garden design model we have developed in our Design Your Own Forest Garden Booklet

We’re planting

  • Nitrogen Fixers: as follows to support the rest of the forest
  • Maakia amurensis: coppices, ground durable posts
  • Alders: lots of kinds; Coppices, firewood, Biochar,
  • Tagasaste: seeds for poultry , coppices for mulch and animal feed
  • Robinia pseudocacia: coppices, seed for poultry, ground durable posts
  • Acacias: firewood, seeds for poultry
  • Eleagnus augustifolia: berries for poultry
  • And more…

And the rest of the forest consists mainly of:

  • Mulberry fruit and leaves: pig and poultry feed
  • Figs: fruit, pigs and poultry
  • Oaks: all kinds for ducks ad pigs specifically
  • Chestnuts: pigs
  • Hazelnuts: pigs
  • Cider and other apples: pigs and poultry (and us)
  • Pears: pigs/ poultry
  • Sorbus torminalis: berries poultry/pig  food
  • Cornus ammomum, capitata, and mas: pig and poultry food
  • Edible large fruiting hawthorn: poultry/pig food
  • And more all the time!!!

No doubt it will be a few years before this forest comes into it’s own and we get eggs and pork from it, as well as all the other side benefits: biochar, fenceposts, firewood, mushrooms berries/nuts  and fruit for processing/selling, but it is a great feeling putting the trees in.

fawn and white Indian runner baby
fawn and white Indian runner baby


In the meantime we have our special breeds of ducks and chickens that we have held for many years now and taken great care of in terms of breeding and maintaining strong lines. We have been specifically breeding these ducks and chickens for egg production under organic, free range systems for 30 years now. Our breeding stock all originally came from Ken Vincent who has been a great mentor for our family over the years. And I still remember his advice: “if you keep them waiting for food they will keep you waiting for eggs!!”

While we wait for the chicken forest to begin bearing seeds, nuts and berries we are doing our best to provide them with high quality food. The chickens in the Koanga Urban Garden, the Legbars, are on a compost heap and get to turn that over constantly eating the microbes and bugs in it as well as being fed worms daily from the worm farm under the rabbits, as well as daily armload of greens, as well as nixtamalised whole grain. Nixtamalising the grain makes the grain swell and changes the nutritional profile and it literally goes three times as far as feeding poultry straight whole grain. They will also be getting soldier fly larvae shortly, we have built a flash home for them to breed and live and grow in (we’ll do a blog about that soon).

mother legbar teaching her young to eat curds and comfrey
mother legbar teaching her young to eat curds and comfrey


Our Legbars and Brown leghorns that are in our free range systems get nixtamalised grain , high quality pasture and curds as well as poultry minerals daily.

Taiamai chose to maintain the Legbars above all other potential heritage breeds because he saw them as the best utility breed, with super high egg production and great weight as table birds too. They are beautiful, birds, laying white eggs, and some of his birds are 7 years old and still laying well. They are not a recently bred up line of Legbars but the original version from Ken Vincents breeding stock years ago. They are originally a cross between Brown Leghorns and Barred Rocks but it is a very long process from first cross to a stable line. They are also good foragers and  have done very well in our urban garden chicken coop on compost as well as free range on pasture.

Fawn and white indian runner ducks
Fawn and white indian runner ducks


I choose Brown Leghorns as my favourite breed because they are beautiful and because they are the best egg layers of the heritage breeds as well as being very efficient converters of feed to eggs and meat (like the Dexters are if you’re talking cows).

Our ducks are Fawn and White Indian Runners. Indian Runners used to be the birds that provided our commercial egg production because they lay so many eggs. Duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs and are around twice as nutritious. They are a very good deal. If you have enough area to keep ducks on free range they are cheaper to feed as well because they forage voraciously over large areas of pasture and damp ground. They lay huge numbers of eggs, as high at least, as Leghorn chickens. Ducks prefer wetlands and chickens prefer dry lands or even better forest edges. Match your poultry to the environment you can provide them.

legbar hens and rooster
legbar hens and rooster


We have fertile eggs available this spring NOW, for all three of these breeds. If you are buying them let us know on the order form when you would like them sent. We will contact you when we get your order to confirm dates and availability.

Our East Freisian Sheep have almost all lambed now, most having triplets and many of them having triplets that are all ewes!!! We will have at least twice as many females in our flock this season even if the rest are rams! The Wiltshires have not begun lambing yet neither have the Dexters, the Geurnsey cows or the Jerseys. We’ll write the next blog about the East Freisian (milking) sheep.

Posted on Leave a comment

Get in quick for the last of our available trees!

We have a limited amount of trees left for this season, check out our available trees and head on over to the store!

Images below of some of our favourites!

Greens Special Peach Tree- great for bottling, very nutritious and great flavour!
Greens Special Peach Tree- great for bottling, very nutritious and great flavour!
Little John Plum Trees have a red flesh and outstanding flavour. Ripe for picking early February.
Little John Plum Trees have a red flesh and outstanding flavour. Ripe for picking early February.
Batley Peach Tree. Batley peaches are amber fleshed peaches with a green skin turning honey coloured when ripe. They are late peaches and are the most incredible flavoured and textured peaches ever.
Batley Peach Tree. Batley peaches are amber fleshed peaches with a green skin turning honey coloured when ripe. They are late peaches and are the most incredible flavoured and textured peaches ever.
Matakohe Peach Tree- yellow peach, buttery and amazingly sweet!
Matakohe Peach Tree- yellow peach, buttery and amazingly sweet!
Grow your own Winter medicine. Adam Elderberries are great for any chest and lung issues.
Grow your own Winter medicine. Adam Elderberries are great for any chest and lung issues.
Marabella Plum Tree, very reliable, large crops and hints of almond when bottled.
Marabella Plum Tree, very reliable, large crops and hints of almond when bottled.
Posted on Leave a comment

Project to revive heritage wheat varieties

Guest Blogger- David Hughes

Wheat is the world’s most important grain crop with more land planted in wheat than any other crop. For generations, wheat has been the most important food staple in the Western diet; New Zealand is no exception. Wheat was first used as man transitioned from a hunter gatherer to a settler existence. With it came the emergence of agriculture. The first domestication of wheat occurred in south eastern Turkey and nearby regions of Syria and Iraq. Wheat was rapidly adopted in other regions of the Fertile Crescent and from 8000 BCE spread beyond these regions. Bread soon established itself as the staff of life. Wheat’s ability to self-pollinate enabled selection of many distinct domesticated varieties. With its nutritive qualities, ability to be stored and adaptability to a wide range of climates, wheat was widely adopted throughout Europe and much of Asia. This was later given further impetus through extensive European colonisation and settlement, including in New Zealand.

In traditional agriculture, farmers maintained and exchanged wheat populations with distinct local varieties referred to as landraces. These were characterised by high levels of genetic diversity and an ability to adapt over time to prevailing local conditions. Landraces of wheat are no longer widely grown in Western countries – with virtually none grown in New Zealand. Nevertheless, they continue to be important elsewhere. Formal wheat breeding dates from the nineteenth century with single line varieties being created through the selection of seed from individual plants identified as having the desired characteristics and properties. These represent almost all wheat grown and used in New Zealand today.

Recent research has raised questions about possible detrimental health effects of wheat, most notably gluten intolerance, allergies and celiac disease. Increasingly, it seems a greater percentage of the population is suffering from these afflictions, much more than historically was the case. As wheat has been consumed for millennia, explanations have been sought for the recent explosion in these health issues. There is increasing anecdotal evidence suggesting that ancient grains may lack the toxicity of modern wheat grains. Interestingly, those afflicted by modern wheat grains are often able to support other grains such as rye, spelt, and barley. These are closely related genetically but have been less altered using modern breeding techniques. Some research has pointed the finger at modern wheat varieties that are genetically selected and adapted for high yield. For centuries, farmers have been selecting plant varieties for better quality and yield. In more recent times, an exclusive focus on yield has usually been to the detriment of other traits such as nutritional qualities.

Modern industrial baking processes require yeast, supplanting the favourable enzymatic activity of traditional sourdough fermentation. Also, modern industrial milling methods use steel roller mills that generate more heat than traditional millstones. This increased heat may compromise favourable enzymatic activity of the flour in the baking process. Some dieticians and nutritionists believe that these developments have rendered wheat more difficult to digest and assimilate. Older heritage wheat varieties require this slower artisan process to produce quality bread.

Whilst heritage wheat grains might well be less toxic, irrefutable formal scientific proof has yet to be provided to support these claims. Also, this hypothesis cannot be tested in New Zealand as heritage varieties are unavailable. Nevertheless, this may offer some hope to the many people afflicted by gluten intolerance, sensitivity and related issues.

In the US and Europe there have been several initiatives to revive heritage wheat varieties in recent years. Amongst a number of such initiatives in France is the French association Pétanielle – Pétanielle is a traditional wheat landrace grown in western, south-western and central France. I lived in France until recently and was active in the Pétanielle association.

Pétanielle had around 80 members or landrace sponsors in 2013. Membership includes gardeners, peasant farmers, small-scale millers, bakers, researchers, etc. Its membership is drawn from the area in and around Toulouse. There are similar associations operating in other areas of France but usually with little or no involvement of gardeners, a unique feature of Pétanielle. Pétanielle is a key member of Réseau Semences Paysannes – an umbrella organisation that represents 80 or so seed saving organisations throughout France.

In some cases farmers grow the wheat, mill it into flour and bake it into bread that they sell direct at the farm gate, through an AMAP (French name for an organic food box scheme), or at local markets. These people are referred to as Paysans-boulangers.

The gardeners include people growing wheat samples on small urban allotments in Toulouse. One member is Isabelle Goldringer, a research scientist specialising in wheat at INRA (the French government research organization). Another is a botanist working at the Natural History Museum in Toulouse with responsibility for exhibits of traditional kitchen gardens using heritage varieties and including heritage wheats.

The season begins with sowing of winter wheat between late September and early November with the wheat being harvested in early July in the following year. Members are then asked to store the complete harvested stalks before bringing them to a threshing open day held in late August/early September. Wheat is threshed by variety and seed packets are made up for re-distribution to members and re-sowing for the following year.

The association maintains an in-situ seed bank collection of about 100 or so landrace varieties, mostly of wheat varieties, but also including barley, rye, spelt and oat varieties. Source material has come from local farmers and gardeners, INRA & other collections, the Natural History Museum in Toulouse – which has access to material through a worldwide inter-museum exchange scheme – and swaps with seed savers both within and outside France.

The collection is received by and grown in the garden of one of the members, who take it in turn, each year. Volunteers sow the collection, maintain it during the year and harvest it. An open day is held in late June, just before harvest, to exhibit the collection to the members and other interested parties.

There is no monetary exchange for this. French seed legislation forbids the sale of seed that is not registered in the official catalogue. Almost no heritage wheat seeds are registered. Exchange of seeds for research purposes is allowed. Pétanielle would argue that this is what it is doing if it were ever to be challenged.

In 2012/13, 79 gardeners sowed wheat, some sowing several varieties. Pétanielle distributed 33 wheat varieties – plus 5 barley varieties and a single variety of oats. These were planted over a total area of 265 sq m. Twenty five gardeners grew two varieties for a research project for Isabelle Goldringer from INRA. In addition, there were the wheat varieties grown from the collection as well as larger parcels grown by small farmers/gardeners in preparation for hand on to peasant farmers.

In the five years of the association, a number of farmers have been given wheat from the association for their use. As the quantity of wheat is scaled up, farmers take over responsibility for growing and maintaining the wheat handed over. They undertake to return a quantity of seed to the association. Farmers often develop their own seed mixtures from two or more varieties. This enables them to combine traits from different landrace varieties ensuring more genetic vigour in their seed.

Typical seed packets initially distributed to gardeners contain 12 g of wheat that is sown on a 1 sq m parcel – this corresponds to a standard seeding rate of 120 kg per hectare typically used for such wheat in France. If all goes well, this will yield 250-300 g of wheat when harvested. Detailed written growing instructions are supplied. Many members undertake to grow larger areas or several varieties in a season.

In some cases, initially sourced samples have only been a few ears, or grains, and their age and poor storage conditions have meant low germination rates in the first year. These require closer attention to be grown and are allocated to the more experienced gardeners. Germination rates usually return to normal and this corrects itself over time.

Until recently, the association was run entirely by volunteers. The success and growth of the association was beginning to stretch the volunteer members. A recent successful funding application has allowed someone to be employed to coordinate the activities of the association.

I would like to mount a similar project here in New Zealand. In addition to the clear benefits of having access to a wider range of flours for a greater variety of bread and other wheat-based products, there is also the prospect of:

  • enhanced food resilience here in New Zealand by growing a greater range of wheat varieties
  • alternatives to modern wheat varieties that may provoke fewer health problems
  • a solution to counter GE Wheat which is likely to be introduced into New Zealand from 2015

The challenges are many – but not insurmountable – and I seek your help in developing such a heritage wheat project here in New Zealand, adapted to the local context.

You may contact me by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone on (09) 427 4037 or 021 081 30151

Posted on Leave a comment

Urban Garden July Update

It’s finally wet and winter here.. a little dusting of snow on Whakaponaaki, and we can feel Spring coming. The rabbits chickens and guinea pigs are all dry and warm, and happy…. The winter garden is producing daily salads and greens and root vege and vege for ferments and the berries are just beginning to flower again. Kane pruned and trained all of the urban garden fruit trees this month, a lot of training to fences and structures.

Support Forest Garden Species
We had a session on designing Forest Gardens this month, from the Koanga Design Your own Forest Garden Booklet and made a final list of what we would like to plant in their amongst our urban garden fruiting trees to keep them happy and growing well.

These are the fruit trees we have in our urban garden and this is the list of species we are planting around and under them to provide the nutrient cycling, and the connections, to strengthen the ‘web of life’.

Urban Garden List

Apple (Reinette du Canada – cooking ) – M26 Rootstock free standing tree (cooking) (cooking) Fruit
2 x Apple Reinette Du Canade ( cooking) and Lord Nelson ( also cooking) (see below) – M26 Rootstock
espalliered (espallering & cordons) Fruit
7 apples cordoned (see below M26 rootstocks)
1 x female Arguta, with a grafted male branch Fruit
1 x Boysenberry Berries
3 x Chilean Cranberry / Guava Fruit
3 x Currants Black Berries
1 x Currants Red Berries
2 x Currents White Berries
21x Fig Adriatic Fruit
1 x Goji Berry Berries
2 x Gooseberry Berries
1 x Grape (Currant) Fruit
2 x Hazelnuts -Merv de Bolwillier (Pollinator) & Barcelona Nuts
1 x Lemon (Meyer) Citrus Fruit
Manderine (Clementine) Citrus Fruit
6x Pears -Various varieties (see below) – M26 Rootstock (cordons) Fruit
1 x Olive (Leuccino selected because of it’s cold hardiness) Pit fruit
1 x Worcester berry berry


Apples cordons
1 x ladyfinger desert/cider(February)
1x Early Strawberry desert (Dec – Feb)
1x Mayflower cooker/desert/keeper (April) Flat round, green skin with russet, excellent eating, storing drying apple, loads of flavour.
1x Astrakhan late desert/keeper old fashioned , bright stereaky red skin desert apple, good keeper
1x Captain Kidd desert Feb-March
1 x apple Jonathon desert/keeper<March April keeper
1 x apple Northern Spy desrt/cooker/juicer/drying late keeper

Pears (for cordons on dwarf rootstock)
1x Bon Chretian desrt/bottling/drying Early Feb
1x Seckles desert Late Feb
1x Triumph de Vienna desert March
1 x Keifer desert/keeper April
1 x Bert’s Early desert January
Winter Nellis desert/keeper April


A selection from Oregon of a popular variety. A high quality nut large and very presentable. Excellent table nut requiring pollination.

A large nut which also sheds its pollen quite late. Excellent pollinator.

List of support species
Ground cover and deep rooting herbs: Alfalfa, comfrey- several kinds, , clover, chicory
Vines: runner beans, snail vines, lab lab beans
Perennial herbaceous: cardoon, globe artichoke, rhubarb, Siberian Miner’s lettuce, tree lupins, chokeberries
Small trees: tagasaste, Seabuckthorn,

Getting the Soil Right
It’s clear from the soil test that we had back this week that the mineral levels are still very low in this garden area. Our challenge is to maintain the good ratio between available calcium and magnesium, and get the levels up. We also need to up the phosphorous levels but not the potash levels. Our humus levels are super high because of all the compost we are making, but because there are not enough minerals in the system it is not supporting high levels of microbes and cycling well yet.

We are producing prodigious amounts of compost and vermiliquid, and we have just sent the vermiliquid off to have it tested to discover the best way to use it. I feel that in the past we have just assumed pouring on vermilquid has to be good but I’m not seeing positive results so need to understand this better.

We will put EF:Nature’s Garden on to bring the mineral levels up in the meantime as they make this product with all the right minerals in the right relationships specially. When I understand more about the vermiliquid we produce and the vermicast we’ll figure out how to use them to our best advantage. We will also put EF:Nature’s Garden in the compost from now on with the chickens.

Time For Planning
Kane is studying his Koanga Garden Planner preparing himself for planting the seeds and preparing the 40 sq m vege garden for Spring, and also studying up the Hand Over A Hundy taking gardening to communities model as he is going to do that in Wairoa this Spring.

Right now we’re still focused on planting the support species for the fruit trees, getting the planning done for the garden to ensure we have year round vege from this 40 sq m (Koanga Beginner Gardener Booklet and The Koanga Urban Garden Booklet both have this information in them), an getting the passive solar cloche ready in time to be able to germinate our seeds and grow top quality seedlings early in Spring.

Potato Wall
We have potatoes chitting ready t be planted in August . We’re going to do atrial with the potatoes we think might be those that produce tubers up their stems so may produce a lot of potatoes in a vertical situation, as we have in urban gardens. We are literally going to plant a wall of potatoes.. and then we’ll have to wait until harvest to know if the cultivars we chose will do it. We are trialling Karoro, Matariki, Whataroa, Urenika and a couple of others.

BioChar burner
Kane made a new biochar burner for the urban garden this week, he wanted something that required less work in order to use the wood left over from the rabbit feed. He has built a beautiful burner with help from Brad., very impressive… check it out Tim!!!… cost nothing, brad used it today to char the corn cobs left after removing the kernels for our seed. They made beautiful bio char.

Urban Garden Sales
Another new project within the urban garden this month… the chickens are producing such a lot of compost that we have more than w ecan deal with even after applying it all over the entire area of garden, trees and all the herbal ley paths etc etc etc. We decided we would like to find a way for our urban family to earn some pocket money by using the compost to grow fruit trees from material in their own garden. Kane pruned the berries and figs and has made those prunings into cuttings and placed in a cutting sand box after first soaking in willow water, and they will be potted up once they have rooted, and sold ‘at the gate’ next winter to neighbours!

We thought we might sell some tomato and vege seedlings from the gate this spring too along with our vermilquid/Biochar fertiliser once we have it sussed!

We are also planning an upgrade to this Urban garden design for nutritional resilience. We are scheming a plan for the small concrete area outside the front door… we have wicking beds and water boxes in mind as well as removable cloche covers for the beds, use of the vertical spaces and also perhaps a plastic roof over the area and the south sides to make it warmer and more productive.

We’ll do a brain storm at our ‘community design night’ next week and show you what the plans are next month.

Out Puts
See the below to find out what we harvested from our urban garden this month. The outputs are very low compared to what is possible, it just takes time to get it all happening…


We are at a point where all of our breeding stock, Sally, Delila, and Peter, are rabbits that have been born an bred here and fed no commercial pellets. We are expecting babies in two weeks, and hopefully that will put s back on track with our rabbits program as described in the urban garden design . We should be able to harvest 1.5 rabbits a week for the kitchen, a critical party of providing the vitamin A and calcium needed by our urban garden family.

Our bees have survived the winter and are looking active and bringing pollen. More about them next month

Guinea Pigs
We now have a guinea pig tractor in the urban garden with the guinea pigs going around the track outside the 40 sq m vege garden. We are on a learning curve around Guinea pigs led by Rachel in the village here so well report more about this trial program next month as well.

Posted on Leave a comment

Top 10 Seasonal Greens

Our favourite greens are greens that are not only delicious to eat but highly nutritious as well.. ancient cultivars, purple, magenta and dark green colours, as well as being easy to grow and harvestable over a long period! Those with NZH are actually our own New Zealand Heritage vegetables, meaning they are adapted to our soils climate and connected to our genes! They have always been grown by and passed on down within families and communities and friends.

Check out our favourite for each season below (in no particular order)

Top Ten Spring Greens

Orach NZH: an ancient highly nutritious vegetable our genes recognize, great raw or lightly steamed or hot thai salad style
Borecole NZH: one of the few New Zealand heritage brassicas, so it is very special. It’s by far my favourite kale, and has dark green large round leaves that are crinkly on the edges. It has excellent flavour
Mignonette lettuce NZH: buttercrunch, melting, red and delicious, reminds me of Grandma
Henry Harrington’s Chinese cabbage NZH: outstanding wide white stemmed cabbage from the early Chinese goldminers in Southland, is an outstanding base for Kim Chee , stir fries etc etc
Purple Sprouting broccoli (heads and leaves): small purple heads over long period, all parts of plant edible highly nutritious
Rocket: always tastes great if well grown will be nutrient dense
Bloomsdale spinach: excellent lightly steamed or raw, dark green
Tatsoi: always dark green and great in soup, or as stir fry vege, super easy to grow
Red Coral Mizuna: magenta colour, excellent salad green stems super tasty
Dalmatian Cabbage (Collards NZH): open leaf cabbage, possibly the most nutritious brassica, excellent for all ways we use cabbage, sauerkraut etc











magenta spreen
Magenta Spreen


dalmation cabbage
Dalmation Cabbage


purple srouting broccoli
Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Posted on Leave a comment

2014 Tomato Growout

Last season our garden crew grew out 17 of our most popular tomatoes for seed. (This is by no means all of the most popular, we just didn’t need to grow out all of them for seed last season). When I say ‘most popular’, I really mean the cultivars that stand out to us from our huge collection, the best of the best!. We have been growing out our NZ heritage tomato collection every year for 30 years now, not all of them every year but all of them many times.

To import or not?

Initially I was very tempted to import seed from all the sexy tomato catalogues and companies around the world, there are amazing looking variations on the tomato theme around! About 20 years ago after having been spending time each summer over at Heronswood in Melbourne with David Cavagnaro who was then working with Seed Saver’s in the USA, I decided to bring all of their best cultivars here and trial them to see what I thought of them.

New Zealand’s Climate

The big thing that came from that trial was that none of them performed anywhere near as well as our own heritage cultivars. We have a very unique climate here in NZ. It is far more humid than most other places they are grown, we have a maritime humid climate, and tomatoes come from places with a humidity of around 10%. It become very that year that those that have been in this land for 100 years or more are simply better adapted to this climate.

NZ vs. the world

A couple of years after that trial the NZ Herald ran a large article complaining about how bad heritage tomatoes were….. they had been asking people what they thought of heritage tomatoes. The feed back they were getting was that they were very, very prone to blight and were not standing up well. They were not asking where their heritage tomato seed was coming from. If they had, they would have discovered that those people they had asked were buying their seed from companies selling heritage tomato seed from overseas mainly California and Italy.

If they had asked us we would have been able to explain why they got such bad results. (They are somebody else’s heritage tomatoes, they are not adapted to a climate with around 80% humidity, California having 10 % humidity year round!) They did ask us later and we showed them our tomatoes and they ran a story on them which was great.

New Zealand heritage tomatoes

Our own tomatoes have had a process of around 100- 150 years of adaption to our own soils and climate and have been selected to do well in these conditions! It makes a big difference. Nothing has changed… this season we added a new tomato to our range for trial, the tomato that is being touted as the most nutritious tomato these days… Earl of Edgecombe, a yellow tomato. It performed so badly that it basically produced almost nothing compared to all of the others , all NZ heritage lines.

There is no use being the most nutritious tomato if it s not adapted to NZ conditions. We had psyllid in our tomatoes last season, and so did not harvest as heavy a crop as we should have, however we learnt a lot about which cultivars are the most resistant to them , there were big differences between them in terms of being able to handle a psyllid infestation.

The winning tomatoes

The outstanding tomato was Oxheart, it cropped the heaviest, and we love that tomato anyway great for every thing…. It is an old Dalmatian gumdigger introduction to NZ in around 1880!










We had 5 tomatoes vying for second place in terms of production and resistance to psylllid:

Burbank (a really red reliable beefsteak by well known USA psychic plant breeder of the 19th tomato)

Hawkes Bay Yellow (our best cropping best tasting yellow, flattish, beefsteak type)

hawkes bay yellow
Hawkes Bay Yellow













Scotland Yellow while not a beefsteak did very well and is super hardy in the South Island, good flavour when fully ripe goes orange when really ripe,

Wonder was also in the top producing range and that is our earliest fruiting tomato (apart from Henry’s Dwarf Bush Cherry which we grow under cloches and in containers for very early fruiting).


Garden Peach, is a super productive tomato that has a peach like look about it and some people love it, others don’t. It is a super healthy plant with high production. And some of our best were not in that growout eg Watermouth, J Walsh, Russian Red, Tommy Toe, Kings Gold, Calrton Victory and Black Roma.

Check them out on the website or our catalogue.