Posted on Leave a comment

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

Time To Take Care of Perennials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted on Leave a comment

Q + A: Warre Hive Beekeeping with Nick Holmes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Posted on Leave a comment

Q + A: Butchery Workshop with Taiamai Corker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on Leave a comment

Q + A: Grazing Workshop with Jodi Roebuck

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

Q: Can you earn a living doing this or is it just for homekill meat.

A: That’s the context and scale bound but yes many farmers are making their incomes grazing holistically with improving landscapes.

Q: Jodi who is this workshop for?

A: Anyone who wants to graze on any scale while improving pasture diversity, lowering inputs and buffering extremities such as drought/runoff. Novice to rancher

Q: Do you have to be a farmer already?

A: Not at all, I’m proof of this

Q: Is it a useful workshop for existing traditional farmers?

A: Absolutely

Q: Is it a useful workshop for those who dream to become farmers but do not own land?

A: Yes I’ve explored the access to land relationship in depth, for us it was the only way to increase the size of our farm without a mortgage. A local farming mentor/friend has 20 leases yet owns no acreage

Q: Do you see this as useful for people who own lifestyle blocks, or larger farms.?

A: Both, the principles & patterns are scalable. I regularly work with farmers in brittle (dry) climate who farm 5000 acre, yet I also value the learnings/feedback that come from a small mob managed tight

Q: Does it apply to all kinds of animal management?

A: Esp sheep and cattle but also done with goats

Q: How did you get into farming, when we met you were a gardener?

A: We had to do something with our outer acreage so first I learnt to fence then came the grazing which has fascinated me. Herbivores have developed grasslands as have humans developed cultivars

Q: What inspired you?

A: Salatins ideas such as access to land which led me to follow Greg Judys work documenting the restoration of his farms ecology and finances

Q: Who did you learn from?

A: Local farmers Bruce Andrews and Matt Denson, Darren Doherty Joel Salatin Bruce Davison Of Candelo Salers.

Q: Is this kind of farming you are doing and teaching about, a realistic proposition for other young people today?

A: Can you earn a living doing this or is it just for homekill meat. Thats context and scale bound but yes many farmers are making their incomes grazing holistically with improving landscapes.

Q: You are very passionate about everything you do but what is it about Holistic Management that get you buzzing?

A: Darren Doherty pushed the import and find out a few things about his knowledge and fascinationstracking down farmers in VIC, NSW and CA that were grazing holistically. The pattern I witnessed was restoring grasslands despite drought, creating calm, shiny animals in great condition and farmers who still worked hard but had quality of life, not to mention they were also in control of all the on farm decisions. I like the relationship of using timed grazing to restore grasslands while mimicking natural patterns. Independence from fertilizer companies, seed companies & vets appealed to me also.

Register for the Grazing Workshop with Jodi Roebuck

Posted on Leave a comment

2015/16 Potato Trial Report

potato 1.4.12 094

To read the background of this potato trial please click here

The best of the lines we find in these trials are available to all of you via our growers, Joseph and Catherine Land. Next season we hope to add to those lines significantly here at Koanga as well.

 Last years (2015/2016) trial helped solidify the trends and information we have been collecting over the past 5 years now!

For me, the stand outs for this year were:

  1. It has been great being able to amalgamate those lines that were essentially the same. It has meant that we have been able to get to know all of our cultivars a lot better with a lot less confusion
  2. There is a significant difference in the potatoes between those lines that are pre-European and those that have been bred for commercial production, even early commercial production. The early commercial production lines were bred for (as they are today) short season croppers with small amounts of top growth (far weaker lines). The older lines also appear to need more moisture and more nutrients and also respond accordingly… stronger and more productive and feel far more nutritious!
  3. It seems very clear to us now that you can easily plant potatoes too early, even if they are covered from the frosts. We have found over 5 years now that our best crops by far were when we planted them in late September, rather than August/early September. We then put drip irrigation on them and also mulched them… they love cool roots
  4. We have seen over 5 years now that the health and vigor of the potato crops has a big effect on how badly the psyllid affects the plants, or maybe whether they come to suck the sap from those plants. This next season we have the confidence and experience now to decide to do two things only to keep psyllids away:
  5. Maintain crop health by nutrition. Moisture levels, mulch and planting at the best time, and then;
  6. Use only a biological pesticide Koanga Balance (made up of microbes only)
  7. We have also see consistently that some potatoes are far more resistant to varoah than others
  • Our commitment this season is to be able to do detailed recording of crop weights and varoah observations so please support us to be able to do this. We can not afford to do it out of other Koanga Institute income which all goes towards maintaining the gardens to save the seeds
  1. All sponsors this year will receive monthly reports of progress and a packet of ancient aerial seed next April

It takes a lot of energy over 8 months to keep this trial going and for this next season (2016/2017) I’m going to manage the trial myself and I want to be able to have the resources to do a better job of it including weighing the potatoes from every plant again like we did in the beginning.

My feeling is that this may be the last year we will need to ask for sponsorship to keep the trial going. We should be able to make it pay it’s way be selling seed potatoes from the trial after all of this work of improving the vigor and health and production. We will see when we weigh them next year as they are harvested!

Sponsor-A-Spud This Season

Posted on Leave a comment

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

While I wait for the ground to dry so I can prepare my garden beds, we will do another biochar burn with all our accumulated bones and tree prunings etc, so we have it to soak with urine to put back on the garden beds as we plant, and I’m changing my chicken management system somewhat so that I have more chicken compost for my garden rather than having almost all of it out in the forest garden. I usually leave my chicken house door open all the time, so they can come and go in the forest garden every waking hour. I’m keeping a deep litter in there (mainly oak, maple, poplar and willow leaves) so they can scratch but they tend to just go straight outside. I want their manure for the garden because of its magnesium content now so they are shut in until lunchtime. 

I’m also making a big effort to collect willow leaves for the chicken scratch yard and the compost because I am aware that I want the calcium levels up as high as possible which means the magnesium has to go up too. 

Our soil is sandy pumice, Taupo ash really, and 1 year ago we decided to add clay to the garden beds.. that was a tremendous success and has helped us a lot to hold the minerals in the top soil. Clay has a far higher ability to hold minerals than sand does (higher cation exchange capacity) C.E.C.. . IF you are on light sandy soils then I would recommend you add clay to your beds and/or your compost heaps.. we add 49 litres to each compost heap as well. 

The alfalfa in our forest garden is beginning to show signs of growth again, so I’m getting ready to plant my alfalfa beds that are transferring from vege beds to alfalfa to be used to make compost and mulch crops like tomatoes, perennial beds, pumpkins and peppers that have large spaces between the plants when they are planted, or that stay in the ground for a long time. I’ll use both comfrey and alfalfa to do that, and you can actually see the leaves breaking down on the surface of the bed and the feeder roots of the tomatoes coming up to get the nutrients being released with your naked eye. 

Another trick I’m using is to have a patch of Jerusalem artichokes planted near the vege garden, we will eat a few, and feed them to animals but it is the carbon in the stems that is so useful at this time of the year to add to the early compost heaps. It is hard to come up with carbon in Spring, and they last all winter ready to make compost with now. We are adding our humanure buckets to our vege garden compost heaps now as well, because we can see how difficult it is to find local sources of minerals to replace what leaves our bodies in our urine and humanure. A regenerative system has to recycle the nutrients.

We are in the process of getting Regional Council approval for this system which is accepted elsewhere in NZ so have no doubt we will succeed.

Posted on Leave a comment

Rootstock Sale

This year we have rootstocks that are excess to our needs in the nursery. As far as I know there is nowhere else you can buy organically grown rootstocks for apples and pears so be in if you are keen to grow your own apple or pear trees. The rootstocks will need to be planted in the ground this winter when you get them and then grafted in situ in October. Alternatively they could be budded in Summer. Both ways it could be possible to get heritage scion wood or bud wood from us.

Rootstocks are $5 each and are available only in bundles of 10 or more.

We have available:

  • Apple Rootstocks
    – Northern Spy large tree suitable for heavy wetter soils ( 45 available )
    – 793 large trees better on free draining soils but a very flexible stock ( 35 available) in bundles of 20 or more only
  • Pear Rootstocks
    – M9 dwarf stock, trees great for espaliering and cordoning, or staking to grow as a stand alone tree.
    – Quince BA 29… produces dwarf pear and needs heavier wetter soils to do well.. also in bundles of 20 or more ( 15 available)
    – Quince C super dwarfing tree suitable for cordoning pears in tiny urban situations (30 available)

Please email your orders to [email protected]

Posted on Leave a comment

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

OK , so I have prepared my beds as I described last week to plant my broadbeans and peas and they will go in the ground this week. I did find it a bit tricky to collect the urine soaked biochar out of the barrel and it was smelly because it was not fresh urine (which is not smelly), however I gritted my teeth as I have done many times before when pushing myself to another level of something.. and did it. I sprinkled it over the beds before U barring them so that it was worked into the ground easily with no more effort from me. In the end I used 2 x 15 litre buckets per bed.

I love peas but we find that the birds always decimate them so I have a system whereby we unroll the chicken netting that is their trellis when we plant them and secure that along each row.. 2 rows in a bed each side of the bed. Then I place reinforcing rod hoops over the bed, keeping the birds off my grain crops and place bird netting over that. I will have no bird damage and hopefully lots of peas! I’ll put a picture of that up next week after they are planted.

I’ll let you know how things grow and what their brix is when I can. This weekend I also prepared the bed I will be planting my Essene Flaxseed into as soon as the new moon arrives.

It is very important to me that I continue to raise the calcium levels in my soil, ideally they should be up to 5000 kgs per hectare and they currently stand at around 3000 kgs per hectare. Without buying any kind of lime I will need to be consciously working on that.. on top of the lupins and oats that will go into the compost this Spring I’m now collecting oak leaves, also high in calcium, and planting (see for Forest Garden Support bundles spp to supply us with the key minerals needed for our heavy feeding fruit trees) many more dogwoods Cornus spp. in the forest garden for future calcium sources.

I know that soldier fly larvae liquid unlocks the calcium and phosphate from the bone char too, and that will be happening with any luck by October… and for sure I will have that mix for the Autumn compost heaps.

My new greenhouse will be ready to use this week, so I’m planning my next seed planting which will be mainly early Spring Greens.

Last week I made a mistake in my calculations, when I said that the urine and humanure from 2 people would be enough to cover 350 sqm and that would grow all of our vege and grains. I had the area correct, 350 sqm but that is now a big enough area to not only grow our vege which we are growing in 140 sqm plus 50 sq m of perennial vege and 10 sqm of berry beds, the rest will go onto the alfalfa and comfrey beds and barrier rows that we use to feed and mulch our garden beds

I just need 5 years of doing that religiously to see if it will be as successful as I feel it could be. If we are able to build soil and nutrient dense plants using only our human urine humanure and plant material leaves etc collected from specific trees and plants that are known to contain what we are looking for I will be very excited .

My soil test will be back tomorrow so next week we will see where we are beginning this journey and over time where we are going..

Join the Regenerate Revolution .. keep in touch