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I’ve Learned – by Kane, Koanga Urban Garden Apprentice

The following was presented by Kane at the conclusion of his 7 month Urban Garden Apprenticeship.

I’ve learnt many things in 7 intense months of big learning curves… and being out of comfort zones… and old habits.

3 major learning curves are:

  • Bio intensive gardening method
  • Co ordinating Hand Over A Hundy
  • Living in a busy ‘business community’.


simple things yet…I didn’t know to do them before,like;

  • Setting out the beds that fit the situation.
  • Planning the bed into meters and the 4 rotation crop types.
  • To make food for the garden through compost.
  • Killing the grass ahead of time.
  • Double digging (methodical digging…so its sustainable).

I’ve learnt how to grow seedlings form seed,
that PO (pricking out) is 3 stages:

Sowing many packets of seed to one tray to keep an organised and clutter free space. And that when two leaves appear I ‘prick’ them out into 25mm spacings into another tray, and when they are about as big as my thumb and smaller etc, i can plant them out in diagonal spacings in the bed to maximise plant numbers per metre available. Simple things, were the important success’s.

I’ve learnt that SS (scatter sowing) is 2 stages:

Sowing into one tray many packets and simply transplanting into the garden when the second leaves appear, especially root crops cos after a point, the roots need to get established in the bed and not in the tray.
All these things i could have read about, but I just wouldn’t have got it the same, and I learn best manually, methodically, systematically, slowly.

I’ve learnt to be more comfortable in larger groups of people, and have become more comfortable in speaking publicly (without my guitar).
I’ve learnt to be comfortable with cooking for many people and have gained confidence there.
I’ve learnt about broths and real milk, and tried a high fat diet for 7 months.
I’ve learnt to think in terms of looking for High nutrient value greens to grow, that lift calcium levels for the body, and urban garden shapes tat might provide more fat soluble vitamins and sources of vitamin A, like animal meat and bones and all parts and eggs.

I’ve become more resourceful and confident when faced with a bare bit of dirt…
a packet of seeds…and a spade.
I can create a food garden now, now that I have a system in my mind to call upon.
I didn’t have this knowledge before.

I’ve learnt leadership skills.
I’ve learnt to be more organised.
And I know I need to hone that more.
I’ve learnt the skill of; ‘just making a decision and running with it’, and jumping in and learning on the fly. Thats been a great gift,

Through having to ‘implement the theory’.. laid out in the Hand Over A Hundy coordinators guideline I’ve learnt to trust that ideas can turn into reality.
I’ve learnt that I couldn’t have broken the ice on achieving that, without Kay and Jade’s support.

  • I’ve learnt to communicate better and more honestly, though sometimes not enough and I get stuck.
  • I’ve learnt that I need others talents and abilities to grow and succeed.
  • I’ve learnt about my fuzzy mind when my energy drops, or I haven’t got enough psychological space around me between tasks and expectations.
  • I’ve learnt that its my own expectations often, that put the most pressure on me.
  • I’ve learnt I need to manage my own fears and perception better.
  • I learnt that I have trouble managing my time ‘sometimes’ so I can look after my own needs. And that that can lead to a heavy cloud when I’ve done too much and still feel the required tasks barking at me.
  • I’ve learnt that i can get a type of sulking going when I feel stuck about an undesirable situation, when I don’t know how to talk about or negotiate what would work for me…because i can’t see what the alternatives are.
  • I’ve learnt that I need to be clear about what I want. Or I’ll just get my own vagaries.
  • I learnt to value other peoples ability to bring things up, when I’m afraid too.
  • I’ve learnt that I don’t like keeping rabbits in a cages, as I traced the effect upon myself daily, being in charge of their quality of life and watching them scratch the cage, and be dependant on me for their food variety, getting it right, and watching them not being able to hide from the cage cleaner etc.
  • I’ve learnt that I don’t like the extra vigilance required for caring for 3 sets of animals.
  • I’ve learnt that chickens are enough for me, and what shape I would experiment with.
  • I’ve learnt a new use of the word ‘shape’. And to trust that there could be a satisfactory shape for both party’s.
  • I’ve learnt the value of doing something I don’t like to get to the things I do like.
  • I’ve learnt that I enjoy the ‘soil’… that the chickens create with their manure, kitchen scraps, weeds, oats and pampas grass etc.
  • I’ve learnt how good that compost feels warm in my hand as i mix it with the forest garden plants I plant.
  • I’ve learnt about guilds and perennial beds.  I’ve learnt to build garden structures and a solar cloche.
  • I’ve learnt to make many comfry plants from root cuttings, and gooseberry cuttings and pull up raspberry suckers roots n all.
  • I’ve learnt the joy of giving away excess plants and seedlings.
    I’ve learnt the joy of giving through time and sharing information.
  • I’ve learnt that I get muddled sometimes on a learning curve…without a systematic approach and specifics to remind, clarify and keep me on track.
  • I’ve learnt that I need to be this for other beginner gardeners.
  • I’ve learnt about a spread sheet…and making more lists and storing data.
  • I learnt to prune a peach tree into a vase shape ideally, and to let the plum tree fly right out, and to cut a lot back if need be, and leave a few fruiting spurs. And that apple trees are pruned into tares, and that you can prune trees to make them good for claiming into.
  • I’ve learnt there’s a lot of personal discretion in judgement calls when pruning trees, and always a few exceptions to the rule.
  • I’ve learnt to walk around the garden pinching out shoots to change the symmetry of young fruit trees, and flower buds to stop them fruiting so the energy goes into growth. And to tie branches down to enable other branches to get the growth sap.
  • I’ve learnt about nixtamalization of grain and corn to increase its volume and nutrient availability for the chickens.
  • I’ve learnt about how to make a bio char burner out of three 9 kg gas bottles, or two 44 gallon drums and a bit of flu pipe.
  • I’ve learnt how to put bio char in the compost to load it before applying it to any growing beds.
  • I’ve learnt about the journey of composting and it’s different outcomes given different ratios of greens n Browns and minerals etc.
  • I’ve learnt about the lemon and mandarin tree guild / forest gardening  and watched berry bushes grow and espalier fruit trees, and de-budded them or pinched off unwanted water shoots, or taken cuttings to make more berry bushes.
  • I’ve learnt how to graft an Aguta male to a female, and to train a grape vine into single leaders so it looks trim and tidy, and pinch off the growing tip if theirs two bunches of baby grapes, so they get the sap.
  • I’ve learnt about the effectiveness of solar ovens and rocket stoves and showers by using them weekly.
  • I’ve learnt to not take on too many things, because I want to do a few things really well.
  • I’ve learnt that I needed to take on many things, and try lots of things, to work that out.
  • I’ve learnt that I’m really grateful for this time, and how its feed my soul the way I needed, so I could be the person I need to be.

Resilient, resourceful, patient, consistent.

I’ve learnt that  I’ve found my thing, and can now be more present  and focused in life, by being active in things I value and sharing skills and empower people because I have been empowered.

I’ve learnt that I’m a Green Collar worker: I establish and maintain edible landscapes, back yard food garden culture, community resilience, food security, home grown health, and toil that gives meaning to my own life.

Thank you 🙂


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PDC Course Day Six – Student Blog

I don’t even know where to start. Trees. Are. Incredible. I always felt it, but now I know it. Words, terms, information, observation and stories wound their way from the classroom, around Kay’s personal gardens, and through the Koanga Institutes food forests.


It’s funny what bits of information stick with different people, and I am often asking the others what fascinated them most during the day. Most answers differ, and shows the breadth of what we are covering (I am trying to get each one of them to write a day – no luck so far!).


A tree grows in two ways, completely independent of each other. One is up. The other is out. Depending on how much food (light) the tree is getting, will depend on how much it grows out that year. If you chop the tree, these years will be seen in the tree rings. That I was familiar with. But linking that to the idea that you could read those rings to understand certain things about its life was something else. Suddenly I saw my own years as rings. Saw the rings closer together where I wasn’t given, or providing myself, the right environment to grow. And the rings further apart where I was, and did. I have an inkling this year will look like an entirely new type of ring altogether. 

Kelly Clarkson


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PDC Course Day Five – Student Blog

In the permaculture design process there is what they call a Scale of Permanence. The more permanent the element, the earlier it appears in the process, and we are in the beginnings of making our way through this scale. Yesterday we started with Climate, Landform and Patterns. Today was Water, Access and Earthworks.

In the morning we were playing in the sand pit with Dan, and by afternoon we were crossing the stream to check out the Hill Block with Bob. As we walked the hills (thankful for those nutrient dense meals we are receiving), Bob told us stories, and showed us signs of early Maori “campgrounds”. As we observed the landform of the Hill block, the natural contours of the land revealed the opportunity for water catchment. Pairing this with the location of the hill block in relation to the village, from there the whole vision for this community began to materialise.



As Bob spoke, not only a vision for the land they occupy, but all which you could see with your eye, began to take shape. A way of designing with the land to provide everything that communities could possibly need while regenerating the landscape. In that moment, and again here as I type, I understand that this course is offering me practical tools to be part of a very real achievable solution of abundance. I am experiencing a very new feeling. The idea of designing for abundance that resonated with me, and set in motion getting involved with this course, is becoming empowered. 




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PDC Course Day Four – Student Blog

A run. It might sound simple but I had yet to get out of my gumboots in the first few days. Remnants of a cold – which Kay is blasting with garlic, lemon and chilli drink – hadn’t helped, but today I got up and hit the drive way. A 1k meandering  drive that passes from the farmhouse along the river, past a small dairy block, and a grove of eucalyptus, to the road. 2k isn’t a long run by any means, but with first practical starting at 7.00, with wake up, run, yoga stretch and chores to fit in before hand, I’ll have to be happy with what I get!

The other evening session (which runs after dinner from 7.00 – 8.30) Dan introduced us to Holistic Management. For me it was a revelation. A way of identifying the vision of any group (individual/marriage/family/business/etc), what situations make up this vision, and what actions create these situations. Then taking any decision, putting it through this system, and seeing if it works with it – or not.

For instance, individually I want to be knowledgeable on ways to live a life that is not only sustainable, but regenerates the environment. So I need to put myself in situations that allow that, and be ready to learn. Aside from the information, and various other actions, a major factor to optimize my learning is exercise. There is no better way to clear my mind than getting the blood flowing. So shoes on at 6.15 it is.

*Morning practical was seeds with Kay. We got pack seeds, learn about seed saving, and even take peak in the seed room and see all these nutrient dense wonders with our own eyes. 

Kelly Clarkson

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PDC Course Day Three – Student Blog

PDC Day 3

Could it be possible my brain is reaching full capacity? Getting amongst the design side of the Design Process during the morning, it was great to see how and when the pieces of the puzzle start fitting together. Coming from a design (graphic) back ground, this part provided me a more seamless transition than other aspects so far. 


By the afternoon we were being presented with three design projects. 
Option one was Urban, and seemed like a very current option, as with most people living in urban environments, it will be an important avenue for permaculture in the future. Option 2 was  a quarter acre on the Koanga land, bringing together the vision of a coupe currently living on the property. This seemed to align more with the lifestyle I lead in semi rural Raglan. Option 3 was the 15 hecter “River Block” recently reacquired by the Koanga Institute, to be developed as a resource for the proposed 150 member Koanga Village community. 

With most of our examples over the past two days focusing on the quarter acre around our class, and a consistent unexplainable desire to put myself in the deep end, I went with the 15 hecter block. Myself and the 4 others in the team saw it as not only an opportunity to expand our learning into a whole new area, but Bob is also leading this project. Any one to meet Bob will soon discover he is a classic rural kiwi bloke who is very quick to have a laugh. An opportunity to experience more of this person, and the huge amount of knowledge he holds, was one we couldn’t pass up. 

Is it any wonder my brain was full? Serve myself right. Turns out, as I write this a little later on Day 4, that all I needed was a sleep. 

Kelly Clarkson

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PDC Course Day Two – Student Blog

Day 2. Learning in the Rain.

I can see a pattern developing here. It goes – do something, eat something – and I am definitely not complaining. During our stay we follow the Western A Price way of eating, which Kay gave a talk on yesterday evening. Although I was interested in the principles of this diet, the story of food and gardening, and how these threads wound and grew throughout Kay’s life, was fascinating. Her path of discovery, and the links to indigenous cultures / knowledge is something stirring my interest of late. This idea that old cultures stories and traditions hold an innate knowledge of wellness (which are bit by bit being sciencified*), and that holding onto this knowledge is imperative to our health and well being*, is something which is wholeheartedly resonating with me.

PDCDay2Today the foundations of Permaculture Design began to be laid. The day started with a walk around the flat part of the property with Bob. Under grey skies, and over moist ground, we start to understand he sees with different eyes. After opening our young morning eyes (both literally and metaphorically), the pattern continues, and we are fed breakfast by Kay. Dan spent the rest of the day moving us between the classroom and the drizzling outdoors, questioning, doing, and laughing our way through each of the Permaculture Principles. For me the depth and breadth of the knowledge that Permaculture Designers come to hold is somewhere between overwhelming and impressive. And in a way I guess it provides an idea of just how much learning we have instore for us over the next two weeks. But the teachers don’t seem to be worried about our rate of information absorption, so I won’t either… It’s also hard to worry right now, as one of the Koanga interns is playing gorgeous guitar by the fire hearth while I sit here and summarize my day… and there goes the bell for dinner.

*I may have made this word up.

**Both humans and our environment

Kelly Clarkson


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PDC Course Day One – Student Blog

Signing up for a PDC at the Koanga Institute situated in Wairoa, I had no idea what to expect – my sister had no hesitation in using many cult references in the week up to my departure.

Excitement of what the experience could hold, overrode the fear of being married off to start a super race, and so I embarked on my travels. The drive in was incredible. I had to remind myself several times to watch the road, and not the white sheer cliffs plunging into the startling green river.


Arrival was a pitched tent, small introductions to the stream of arrivals, and a tired body filled with soul warming food. As I meandered my way into sleep, there between the pillow and the extra blanket pulled over my head to hold in any heat, was a smile.

The patter of rain drummed on the tent. By the time I edged my way into my white shoes, and manoeuvred myself out of the tent without getting any droplets into my abode, the rain had been replaced by mist. A quick slip into gumboots (sure those white shoes won’t be seen for the rest of my stay), a warm cup in my hand, I took in my surrounds. Fresh, simple majestic. The droplets of water captured on the ends of branches like little lights, inspired a photo. Sure there will be many of those moments to come.

Then the ride began. Beautiful food, introductions, purpose – What brought us here, What do we want from the course, What can we bring to the course. And a sense emerged that from all our unique walks, we had all began to see the world in a particular way, ask ourselves similar questions, and we are all here looking for solutions.

So Day 1 insights? I am inspired. Surrounded by intelligent, practical, deep, compassionate, like minded people from all around the globe. Willing and open teachers – both the course leaders and my fellow students. I am immersed in a positive environment that showcases all that is possible – composting toilets, fire stoked showers that run every other day, beautiful wholesome food every single meal. I move into Day 2 with an open heart and a freshly stimulated mind for what is to come. 

Kelly Clarkson