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Regenerative Urban Farm Overview – March 2016

Urban Farming is really taking off all around the world right now! This is an overview of some of the systems in our Urban Farm Research Project here at Koanga. If you’re keen to learn more, we have two workshops you can attend this year, one in Wellington on Queen’s Birthday Weekend, and one just out of Wairoa in early November.

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Meet our new Urban Garden apprentice, Fiona!

Fiona watering the urban Garden
Fiona watering the urban Garden

It’s a busy time here at Koanga Institute and particularly in the Urban Garden. Otis, my two year old son, and I have arrived from the Northern Territory of Australia to begin our learning in the management of a small Urban Plot. It’s been exciting, hectic and the brisk spring weather providing some climatisation challenges!

Continue reading Meet our new Urban Garden apprentice, Fiona!

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Progress Since Crowd Funder


Time has gone so fast since our Urban Garden Crowd Funder, we’ve had a lot going on here!

I’ve been so grateful for the ongoing support of both Michael and Leòn who have helped feed the animals and kept the garden going. Kane our last years apprentice has returned to Christchurch with his new found skills and inspiration. We wish Kane lots of luck and fun…

Michael and Leòn both had many other things to do and it became more and more clear for me that this is a project that requires dedication and commitment. What we get out is totally dependent on what we put in. A small urban garden could potentially be a full time job with lots of food and a small income from what we can see right now.

It becomes more and more obvious that it is a highly skilled job, urban farming really, and we have not inherited the skills and connection so we must learn it again. Animal management is not for the faint hearted, but the fulfillment gained and the connections to life for those who commit to the work make is something that make it all worth while.

We have now brought the caravan we needed so we could have a permanent Urban Garden Apprentice.

We had a Canadian called Greg here for a month or so who helped out heaps in the urban garden and now have Cushla here for the winter until the end of our PDC in September when we will take on an apprentice for the 12 following months. Applications for that position can be made via our website under opportunities. Applicants will need to have done a PDC , and we will take the successful person through all the workshop in our Spring Internship, as required back ground training to base all other Urban Garden learning and management on.

Our current focus has been to get the Soldier Fly farm functioning effectively. We have been producing huge amounts of soldier fly larvae for months now, but they are not getting to the collection bucket. We discovered they were being eaten by rats and mice at night when they were traveling to find a way out. We can also see now that if we combined the passive solar cloche with the soldier fly farm, we could use the warmth of the warm water to potentially keep the solider fly farm warmer for longer so we could extend the larvae season. We will definitely combine them.

The success of an urban garden in the end is no different to any farm or garden.. simple design that works is critical but management is also critical.

We not only need clever design but also training systems for management.

Another focus has to be on the sparrows who eat the chickens food whenever they can as well. At times huge numbers of sparrows come in through the netting which was no cost recycled netting. If I had a choice again, and maybe we still will, I would buy netting the sparrows can’t get through. However Shaked who lives here in Kotare Village has built himself a couple of sparrow traps off the internet with netting, and he catches enough sparrows every day to feed his chickens their protein so maybe the sparrows are not such a bad thing…..

We’re building a platform here to ensure we have a 2015-16 apprentice who has all the skills needed to learn to manage this garden and the development of it in such a way that we can collect the data around inputs, outputs, management and design to the best advantage for every bodies learning.

I walked around the 200 sq m garden with Cushla our new Urban Garden apprentice until September and we collected a salad for her.. this is what we picked

French Sorrell, Welsh Bunching onions, comfrey, Siberian purslane, lettuce, daikon, carrots, Endive, Upland cress, nasturtium leaves, rocket… and red sweet peppers from the wicking beds… not a bad meal!

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Thank you to all our urban garden contributors!

We are delighted that we made our goal of raising $19,000 to go towards our Urban Garden Research Project. Every single person who donated has made this possible and we are very grateful!

We had an amazing donation of over $10,000 which was our major sponsor for the urban garden. We are still trying to get in touch with him to let him know how much this means to us –  a huge thanks goes out to him!

Thank You to all those who wish to remain anonymous and those listed below:

A E CREEL, Natalia Kim, T Rapata, jeannine fraser, Felicity G Day, Km david, Lynette McManemin, PL Edmond, jill Newman, B L Winstone, Ingrid M Perols, Frances Potter, C keen, Anthony Weddle, Peter LIndsay Sandin, J M Booth, HUANYU WANG, E L Valentine, L K Tahuri, michael o’connor, T M James, Kellie J Deakin, GW IKIN, B M Thomas, Suzanne Orchard, Allison Mitchell, s l colquhoun, Margaret Colmore, Merryn Bayliss, Kathleen G Irwin, Weta Holdings, Jonathan Hurst, Arnold van Wakeren, J V STILES, shaye boddington, m e groufsky, L. M. Miles, N L MECHEN, S M Kennedy, M F Soper, Jon Carapiet, J P G TAMIHANA-BRYCE, Alison J McLeish, J n McLean, S A CORBETT, E M Ludwig, Kate Boocock, Robin E Barclay, V E Moon, maleta l knight, Marcel Allen, I H YOUNG, aw coldicott, BARBARA A JONES, M J Sole, C P McMorran, STEPHEN MCLUCKIE, Caroline Robinson, S Young, M A LIPPA, Victoria L Allain, Jared Toa Wood, NICHOLAS WHIU, P J EXTON, Emily Auton, PL Edmond, L M Matthews, B R CARTMELL, Sarah Watkeys, CMB Toner, B J T Blundell, A P Kozlowski, Hutch E Wilco, JULIET MCARA, E G Peehikuru, M L Chick, Alison Strong, s marler, charles pierard, W Nikora, R I Riley, D M Anderson, A J OBrien, MR BILLY T ROY and N R Blennerhassett.

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Today in the Garden


  • Pulled the corn out. It’s the carbon crop of this garden system. Made space for the heavy feeders crop: Silver beet, leeks, celery, kale, coriander, landcress, cabbages, lettuce and broccoli.
  •  The corn will be chopped up (ideally and returned to to the compost heap as food for the nitrogen/weeds and greens) that becomes food for the soil.
  •  This method grows food for the gardener and food for the soil, so each are mutually benefited.
  •  I sowed into a tray: Daikon and beetroot.
  •  Climbing beans to come out now, but will do next week as didn’t have enough time to take out and prepare the soil.
  • The corn bed was U-bared (broad forked) and 400gs Natures garden per metre as fertiliser.

– Kane





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Urban Garden December 2014 Report

Pumpkins climbing the structure we built to keep them in a small space


If you’re new to this project please go to our website and read the back ground story. This is about researching ways we can grow meet our nutritional needs ( based on the Weston Price nutritional model) in our own back yards in an urban environment.


December has seen temperatures soar here and growth along with it

Every thing is humming, the rabbits, the bees, the corn and all the vegetables, The fruit trees are climbing fences and the growth is generally going nuts and being recycled in the system to the compost, guinea pigs, rabbits and chickens.

Soldier Fly Farm

The Solider fly farm is now producing a lot of larvae, but we’ve had some management issues that are not totally resolved. All these great sounding things need management and commitment.

We have realized over the past month that if we leave the buckets of liquid fertiliser that we get from under the soldier fly farm out in the open they grow hover fly larvae which also make great chicken food. So we now think we can feed them soldier fly larvae, and hoverfly larvae over the warm months and keep the worms under the rabbits for the colder months

Chicken Numbers

We’ve have been playing around with chicken numbers in the chicken straw yard , it is an area of 2.2m x 2.5 m and I’ve come to the conclusion that a space that size can hold 1 rooster and 6 chickens comfortably for the chickens, after that some of them get too marginalised …..more than feels good…. So we’ll hold our numbers there. We’re putting all the Biochar we’re making with the tagasate sticks back into the system via the compost. We use outside sources of annual carbon to keep this compost area producing high quality chicken food and compost. Currently we’re using some of the material recouped after Koanga seed cleaning.

Guinea pig tractor run 1 week after being eaten down
Guinea pig tractor run 1 week after being eaten down


Guinea Pigs

We’re also on a learning curve with the guinea pigs. We believe that for many people in the urban world guinea pig is going to be the meat of choice, because they could be the most practical animal to keep. We’re working to discover how many guinea pigs we can feed well in our garden, and also how to maximize growth on the tractor system and surrounds. The principles of growth are just the same on a guinea pig path tractor system as they are on the farm for cows. If you eat it too low, it takes a long time to recover, and you get way less production and other good things happening, if you let t get too long it is not as nutritious, we need to practice Holistic Management for the guinea pigs I can see. I’d love to heart from any of you who may be feeding comfrey to guinea pigs.. how much of their food can be comfrey do you think? Ours are mostly getting grass clover, comfrey, chicory, alfalfa, raspberry leaves and vege tops right now.

Summer greens being sown in shadey places
Summer greens being sown in shadey places


Fruit Trees and Perennial vege

In the fruit tree vine department we are focusing on growing size into everything right now so we have structures to hold fruit in the coming years, and our perennial vege are beginning to get some size to them as well, with both rhubarb and globe artichokes showing their heads


Our Top Bar hive was requeened last month as the hive was not strong and it has picked up well now, we are adding top bars and will hopefully see a stronger hive going into winter this next season

Wicking Beds

We began playing around with wicking beds on our concrete area, and very quickly came to see the potential they hold. We filled them with compost from the chicken system, and they grew so much faster than in the garden, all about getting as much water as they can use… this will be an exciting area to develop in the future.

In the mean time our Total Value out was $808, not bad for something we can see could be far more productive!!!!!!



Urban Garden Crowd Funder

The major thing that frustrates me is that we don’t have the resources to train an urban garden intern to do this job well over time and get seasonal changeovers right so we get close to maximum production etc etc. I also believe all animals need a permanent carer, somebody who gets really tuned in to them, and is there for a year at a time..(actually as plants do too). If we had somebody committed to this garden rather than volunteers that keep changing the production could be far higher. That’s what our crowd funder is for. This project needs to be done well, and we see so much potential here for inspiring a lot of people.

White scotch runner beans shading rabbits in summer
White scotch runner beans shading rabbits in summer
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Urban Garden November Update


This month everything went crazy in the urban garden, but like all our other food gardens this is the month for greens. It has been really easy to harvest 2 salads per day plus greens for cooking plus a good egg meal every day. The fruit trees and legumes and vines have gone crazy with growth, we can see a few berries ripening and many bunches of grapes and a few apples and olives this first year .

Lemon Tree Guild

The forest garden layers we planted under the lemon tree look truly amazing. That lemon is very very happy and the energy is buzzing under there now.


Harvesting the animal forage

All around the rest of the 200 sq m that is not in Biointensive vege garden the herbal ley and forest garden species are getting established, and it is a bit of a journey learning how to maximize production with out harvesting too much or too little. I have come to realize that managing comfrey production on 200 sq m or alfalfa production or chicory or grass and clover is no different to managing it on a farm. If you keep it short all the time you get very slow regrowth and are not growing soil or sequestering carbon and production and brix is low. If you let it get tall, but harvest it before it goes to seed it grows back strongly and fast and the soil benefits as does the nutrient density of the plants so also do the rabbits guinea pigs and rabbits and chickens. If you let it go to seeds it also takes ages to regrow less production and less carbon sequestration in the soil.

That is a bit of a thing to learn and practice but it is a powerful thing to learn .

Soldier fly Farm

The soldier fly larvae are now climbing their ramp and dropping into a bucket to be eaten by the chickens, we have had to change the system a little so that the bath drained well and did not get full of liquid. The liquid drains out into a bucket underneath the bath and we found that hover flies are laying eggs there and we are able to feed hoverfly larvae to the chickens too. We could maximize that by having several buckets of soldier fly juice around the garden. We’re refining those systems all the time. The worm farm under the rabbits has also required some attention so it did not get anaerobic.

Worm Juice/Rabbit Pee

We are at a stand still around what to do with our 100’s of litres of rabbit pee/worm juice that comes from under the rabbits. WWE had it tested to see what was in it and discovered as I had wondered that it is nitrate nitrogen and potassium mostly 2 things we don’t need more of and putting it on the garden anywhere is going to make our mineral balances even further out and create havoc to our journey of learning to grow nutrient dense food and growing soil. We need to be able to add calcium and phosphate to it to balance those minerals out…. Any ideas out there, how do we use a liquid that is high in nitrate nitrogen and potash ad very low in calcium and phosphate.

Crowd Funder

We are in the process of putting up a crowd funder to support the development and management and record keeping in this garden. It’s a labour of love right now and we se this kind of research as being so exciting and so important in todays world that we want to see this 200 sq m garden go to the urban world. We’ll let you know when it goes up in early January via our Koanga newsletter so keep in touch. We’re looking for a major sponsor for this garden which will get a lot of publicity in the next year so if you know anybody who might be interested please let us know.




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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 🙂