Category Archives: WorkerBe Oasis

Winter is for Dreams

Hello again! I’m almost back from maternity leave, my daughter is now 6 months and is enjoying some time with her nanny. So back to blogging, designing and farming!

Winter, for me, is stillness and darkness, a perfect time for dreaming. Of course some of our dreams will be about the coming of warmth and light, just like the dreams that lay hidden in the seed before germinating… All the information about what it will become and how, is already present in that teeny tiny speck. And when the conditions are right, it will send out its little root, then its little stem, and if the environment allows it will develop into the best version of what it can be.

I use this calm dark time to plan next seasons production in the garden and at the urban farm. Starting with my dream garden – like the information hidden in the seed – I then narrow this down to how many of each plant, how many seeds or plants to buy, and by when the beds need to be ready and warmed up to receive these. You can learn this method in the first session of my next workshop series, Grow More Veges #1: Plan your Edible Garden 2-3.30pm Sunday 30th July – register here!

To get as close as possible to the best version of that dreamed garden, I look closely at my notes of what worked and what didn’t last season. That special lettuce that handled the warm weather really well? The tomato variety that didn’t get psyllid? Grow them again, and maybe save some seed next season. On the other hand, the boggy area that got flooded in all those rains? Might need some double digging and maybe even drainage installed before planting out this spring.

These decisions all stem from the meeting point of my dreams of an edible oasis, and the conditions I have to deal with – like the fickle Wellington weather! Every season, I learn something new and get closer and closer, by keen observation and information gathering rather than hard work.

If you sign up to the full workshop series – 5 Sundays – you get a nice discount, and you get the opportunity to apply for the position as Gardener at the urban farm. Practice the skills you learn at the workshop alongside me and the Production Manager, and after three months with us you’ll have the confidence and skills to produce a good portion of your own food in the Wellington region – we focus on our local climate and soil so the growing strategies and techniques you learn will really work here.

I hope you have beautiful dreams this winter, and that you spend some time gathering the information you need to make them come true!


Bio-char workshop

Biochar workshop with Richard Self, 23rd October 2016 – Resumé by Kate Daniell

The day was a stunner – warm sun, blue skies and no wind. A perfect day for setting things on fire (in a very controlled manner). We were very lucky to have Richard Self, an experienced biochar producer and author of biochar papers, leading the workshop.

First up we started a burn of wood pellets using a TLUD micro-kiln, made out of old Milo cans. While that was ticking along merrily we had a crash-course on soil science, and how biochar contributes to soil health. Biochar has vast surface area due to the presence of many microscopic pores. These pores make biochar a reservoir for water and nutrients, and provide a great habitat for beneficial soil microorganisms, where they can hide from predatory protozoa.


Left to right: One of our TLUDs; quenching the biochar, and paper cups: before and after. Photo credit Anna Kivi


Then it was into the nitty-gritty with biochar. Biochar the product of pyrolysing any organic material, from woodchips to dung. Pyrolysis is complex, but the key thing is that air flow is carefully restricted to the burning material – this results in the vast majority of the carbon in the organic material being retained, while pretty much everything else is burnt off – leaving you with relatively pure carbon with an awesome micro-structure. By contrast, when you burn wood on a normal fire (where oxygen flow is not restricted), all the carbon in the wood is turned into carbon dioxide, and the ash that remains consists of silicates, calcium carbonate and very alkaline potassium hydroxide.

So in summary, burying biochar in soil greatly improves soil fertility, while sequestering carbon underground for many years (potentially thousands), preventing it from entering our atmospheres as climate enemy CO2. What an epic win-win.

Without further ado, we proceeded to burn more stuff. We tried the Kon-tiki method (no, we didn’t burn a busload of partying youths) adapted for a metal wastepaper bin – I was pleasantly surprised at how simple this was. Next we got electric drill trigger-happy and built our own tin-can TLUDs. With the TLUDs, we experimented with making biochar from paper cups from the Hospital staff kitchens (we intend to work with the Hospital to help reduce this large waste stream of theirs). To our delight, it worked like a charm. To quench all the biochar we made, we used a homemade seaweed tea, to load the pores with nutrients.

Everyone went home with slightly sooty hands and the grins of people who have learnt a brilliant trick, which is sustainable, cheap and helps us grow better food while improving the planet for generations to come. Next, we will be doing experiments to see how our biochar affects plant growth, and organising another workshop that will be open to the public: watch this space! We might even toast some vegan marshmallows on the kilns next time.


Left to right: using the Kon-tiki method with cardboard; how’s that for a workshop setting; and some finished biochar. Photo credit Anna Kivi



Written by Kate Daniell, the Compost Queen of workerBe oasis inc. soc.


Our unreliable spring

Well, so much for our spring feelings, right? This week totally… blew them away, let’s say. I can’t help thinking “if only I had ordered the mikroclima cloth a week before” – yes, having it ten days ago might have saved those early plantings of perpetual spinach and silverbeet down at the oasis from getting pierced by the hail. But better late than never, and I thought I’d let you know my strategies to deal with this fickle season!

First of all, know your site. When does the sun come to warm up the soil? Which areas stay shady for longer? And most important, where does the wind hit? Do you get salt spray, and where? For all the most exposed areas: either just leave them until December (when generally speaking the spring storms have had their time), or mitigate the problem with some of the ideas below. There is no point in spending money, time and effort in planting seedlings which will never make it though the unpredicatable weather (plus snails, slugs and birds…). A good lazy gardener spends time observing and choosing wisely.

For example, part of my back garden just starts to get the sun about now. In all the areas that are shaded, I leave the weeds be over winter – it’s the only thing that grows, and it provides great cover and feeds the soil food web (obviously, I don’t let them seed and I don’t have any perennial weeds there anymore). As the sun reaches the area, I rip the weeds out to build a new compost pile, put well decomposed compost on the beds and cover with tarps. In a month, the soil will be warmed up by the sun and weed free for the season. Having the bed covered with either weeds or a good thick black tarp makes temperature drops and hail much less of an issue during springtime. And for that time, my seedlings thrive in the greenhouse and are big and strudy when I plant out.

If you’ve planted out some spring crops, put up cloches. For the hoops, I use old reinforcement steel bars that I cut to 2.5m and bend to a form that fits my beds. You can buy new ones at a hardware store – 8mm thick – and they last a lifetime. But of course you can use any bendy material! Young bamboo, tent arcs… whatever you find for cheap to reuse. Put them about 1.5m apart and cover with either mikroclima cloth (available at Sustainability Trust I believe), old mesh curtains or transparent plastic. This also protects against the birds who dig up your young plants in search for The Fattest Worm to feed their little ones, as well as warming the soil and speeding plant growth along.

To make sure the plastic tarp or cloche doesn’t fly off in the 120km/h winds, make sure you weigh down the sides really well. You can basically use anything, but what I find works well is to both use bricks (or other heavy material) and also heap up the soil around the sides as to bury the edges of the plastic. That way the wind can’t find a way under the tarp to lift it up.

Towards the end of October, we all want to plant out zuccinis and cucumbers, and that’s ok… but the weather being what it is, it’s a good idea to have them well hardened off and to use individual cloches once they go in the ground. To harden off your seedlings – whether you’ve bought them or grown from seed – put them outside for increasing periods of time each day for a week, and overnight in a sheltered spot for the last few days. When you plant, put a small cloche over each seedling. A 2Lt transparent juice bottle without lid works well. To stop these from blowing off, put a long bamboo stick through the bottle to anchor it to the ground, and heap up soil around the base of the cloche.

Hoping you and your garden will make it trough to warmer days without despairing too much! We have the first peach blossoms at the moment and I’m just hoping they will have the time to be pollinated before they blow off in the next storm… In this post, I’ve shared my tips and tricks – do you have something to add? Please comment below!

…and if you’re wondering what’s happening at workerBe oasis, here’s what’s coming up:

  • Volunteer time on Sundays at 1pm in September, and Saturdays 11-1 from October onwards. Everyone welcome, bring water bottle, gardening clothes and sturdy shoes.
  • A big Spring Celebration October 9th at 1pm (rain date October 16th): Seed & seedling swap, free 101 Food Growing workshop, guided tour, food and music!
  • Workshop series starting again October 19th – see sidebar (bottom of page on smartphones)


Autumn plans

This afternoon, the sun is warm outside and I’m working with the window open. I want to savour the last few summery days, even though I love the still clarity of autumn too. It took me quite a few years to get used to seasons here, coming from Sweden and France. But by now, I can really feel the inwards movement that is happening at this time of year, the mornings getting cooler and the evenings slowly darker.

This will all have a sudden jolt when daylight savings ends in a few weeks. Then, evenings will suddenly feel very short, even with more light in the morning. Up until then, we will continue to direct sow carrot, radish and beetroot, and plant out brassicas, lettuces, spinach and different winter salad greens. But hit mid-april and things are seriously slowing down for the annual vegetables. So it’s good timing to give everything a big boost with liquid feed about now, preferrably on Monday 21st, 3 days before full moon.

Autumn is time for building compost heaps with fallen leaves and crop residues. Seaweed is washed up on the beach during the autumn storms, a great addition to compost piles. Now that we have some space available, where we’re not growing vegetables over winter, we can put it to good use by building compost piles there. And if you don’t do that, at least cover your beds with mulch – either living plants or dead, compost, straw or anything that will protect the soil surface over winter.

Fruit bushes and trees are planted in autumn and winter, as are garlic, strawberries and many perennial vegetables. We are refining our plan and will soon order plants from nurseries. If you’re interested in creating a food forest, this is the time! On May 21st, we’re organising a Food Forest gathering for likeminded people. Hopefully, we can do a grouped order after that to get trees and other perennials from Koanga institute and maybe also from other specialist nurseries.

With daylight savings, we’re also changing the hours we spend at the Hospital rd Oasis. Instead of a little everyday, we’ll be there all Sunday afternoon. That leaves us the flexibility to work when weather isn’t too unpleasant during the rest of the week. I’ll continue to do Introduction to workerBe Oasis over winter – or someone else will do it in my stead, as I’ll be away for a while. It’s always the first Wednesday of the month, at 5.30pm. Come and get to know a bit more about the organisation and the Hospital rd farm!

And before it’s too dark and cold, I’ll run another three workshops: Sow Seeds 24/3, Plant Plants 31/3 and Oasis Maintenance 7/4. Registrations are mandatory and confirmed when I receive payment into my account, so register early! Half price for workerBe Oasis members too, and as usual, two tickets available for Timebank credits.

workerBe Oasis update

In only five months, we’ve done so much! I’m immensely proud of the Gardeners (and others!) who have helped me pull this crazy idea off: grow food in the city and give it to those who really need it. What an accomplishment. We’re celebrating all this this Sunday with a big Harvest Picnic. Come along!

Over 50 gardener volunteers have helped create the first quarter of the Oasis, and I am grateful for the help you’ve brought – whether just for an hour or over many days, every effort counts and it is wonderful to see your smiling faces in the garden.

Here is a run down of what we’ve achieved in our first five months:

  • double dug 150 squaremeters of really hard clay lawn (with some help from Probational Services)
  • incorporated around 8 cubic meters of compost into the soil (donated by WCC and the zoo)
  • planted roughly 100 tomato plants, 12 cucumber, 12 zucchini, 200 silverbeet, 60 lettuce, 12 basil, 90 parsley, 30 lambs quarters, 200 perennial spring onions… and more – flowers, companions, runner beans…
  • sown 4m of beetroot, 10m carrots and 10m salad mix.
  • produced around 6 crates of food every week since beginning of the year: lettuce, silverbeet & spinach mostly, but also cucumbers, zuccini, tomatos, carrots, beetroot… and herbs of course, like parsley and basil!
  • Kaibosh have picked up more than half of the produce since we started, delivering it to families in need – that’s between 30 and 40 crates, and we’re only just starting
  • held 10 meetings for workerBe Oasis members and 5 introduction sessions for interested members of the public
  • built a shed, a bench and windbreaks
  • prepared 12 squaremeters for a shelterbelt, plants which will withstand and break up the southerly wind

With the abundant harvests, I have a deep sense of gratitude as we move into autumn after our first busy summer. Not that there will be much down time: when the autumn rains come we can finally get into the soil and dig the next 300 squaremeters of beds and also plant trees and bushes.

Other plans for the coming six months are to prepare the paths and build a shelter – all who are working on the land are looking forwards to this, a space for having a cuppa and debrief the work, read a little or just get out of the rain and wind that we know will come.

The organisation itself is also moving along. We are about ten people actually running the society – fundraising, promotion etc – and another 10 working on the Hospital rd Oasis site. At the moment, we’re looking for a photograper and a graphic designer to join us – shout out if that’s you!

And for your own little oasis, there’s still time to plant winter crops: Celery, Kale, Silverbeet, Spinach can all go in now for pick-and-come-again the whole winter. You can also direct sow carrot, radish, beetroot and mesclun. Lettuces are fine here all winter – although they do grow slower after 21/3 (autumn equinox) – as long as you have enough sun hours. And order your perennials and tubers now to plant in winter: garlic, bunching onions, egyptian onions, artichokes, asparagus, spring flower bulbs etc.


Mysterious plants, tomatos. We go through all this trouble to make this delicious tropical fruit grow, and then it surprises us by adapting and thriving by itself!

This year, I started seed from at least 10 different varieties back in spring. Pricking out, then planting out under cloches… some I planted a little later after hardening off properly, you know, the whole process. Quite time consuming, especially when you also pinch off all the laterals, tie them to stakes every 10cm, mulch, and liquid feed weekly!

Then, way later then when I planted out the seedlings, a whole lot sprouted among our strawberry plants where we’d put worm compost in early spring. I weeded out most, but left some to grow where they were, thinking I’d move them to another bed when I got time for that (needless to say, I never got around to it!). Today, all the plants are about the same size, all have fruit that starts to blush. But the transplanted ones have psyllids. The freely germinated ones in the strawberry bed don’t. So much for my efforts!

This led me to the question: what really is a tomato? Where do they grow naturally? What are their requirements? Trawling the internet…

In its natural state, it’s a perennial vine. We grow it as an annual, and stake it upright. But its natural inclination is to ramble the grounds and over other plants, growing new roots from the stem whenever it comes into contact with water. Wild tomatos with small fruit are common in Mesoamerica, and the name comes from Nahuatl (previousl known as Aztec) language tomatl.

So, I’m imagining the natural conditions in the tropics: forest floors, clearings, high humus levels, partial shade, humid conditions under the trees, stable temperatures day/night, summer/winter. And plants which don’t have to put heaps of energy into growing big juicy fruits, but rather small and many. Appearently, they cross very easily and mutate even more, so they’d be readily adaptable to new conditions.

How do we recreate that here, rather than just mitigating the negative effects of growing them in (for them) “unnatural conditions”? Conventional tomato production here in temperate climates focus on transplanting into hot houses and hard pruning. While I’m not saying that is a bad idea – clearly, it works! – I’m really curious to see if there’s another way of doing this.

I’d like to try giving them as close-to-natural conditions: Low tunnels with plastic to heat up the soil in spring. Add some manure in the soil really early in spring to get the bacteria going and help warm the soil. A soak hose underneath for even moisture and none on the leaves. Choose a disease resistant cherry tomato variety. Then mix the seeds into worm compost (high in organic matter) and spread this on the soil, to avoid the transplanting. When they’re maybe 20-30cm tall, add heaps of mulch. When the weather is clearly summery, change the plastic to a microklima cloth to continue to protect them. But still, letting them ramble all over the ground and not having to tie them up – just to see how it works out.

Next year, I’ll do some of the tomato beds at workerBe Oasis this way!

What are your experiences with tomatos? Alternative ways of growing them? What worked, what didn’t? Share your thoughts!

New moon to first quarter

Things are looking very promising at workerBe oasis on Hospital rd. Yesterday, we got a little shed up to be able to store our tools, fertilisers and hose etc on site. And we finally received the grant from The Funding Network, so we can now buy the things we need. Best of all, there’s a great crew of gardeners who’ve signed up until new years, so we now have the people on site to realise the plans! Very exciting.

Tonight I’ll be facilitating a workerBe oasis meeting using Holacracy. It’s a way of organising groups of people for efficient work towards a shared vision. Each person in the organisation fills one or several Roles which are clearly defined, and have full freedom and responsability concerning their work. We get together regularly in either governance meetings or in tactical meetings. The latter is a meeting where we just check in on what each of the Roles are up to and how we can make it all work as smoothely as possible, basing the work on resolving “tensions”: bring to the meeting all the little things that you think would make your work flow better.

There’s lots and lots going on in the garden now. Pricking out all the herbs, leafy greens and summer veges, supporting their growth and preparing them to go into the garden is the main task for me this week. The beds are all prepared at my place, and more and more get ready each week at the Hospital rd oasis.

Composting is another biggie: all these little lovelies need enough high quality compost to make it through summer. Focus on water retention and nutrient variety and availability when making compost will help the plants grow strong and healthy. If you’re unsure how to do that, sign up to the Perfect Compost workshop Thursday 19th, 6.30pm via email to ($20 – half price for workerBe oasis members)

The moon is brighter and brighter, and closer and closer as well. Growt will probably pick up now – especially if the weather also warms up. We get a good dump of rain on Friday-Saturday, with strong Northerlies, so we need to protect our yourng tomato plants. From Sunday we can expect three or more warm and nice days, according to and metservice.

As everything grows, it’s important to keep on top of young weeds and feed them back to the soil before they become big and annoying. I leave their roots in the soil to act as food for the soil life and create little water channels downwards as they decompose. Their leaves and stems act as a thin mulch on the surface.

Prepare for the major seed sowing day 26th November, according to biodynamics it’s a day of “excellent seed germination energy, but space well for good light and air to avoid fungus on seedlings” (Rachel Pomeroy, OrganicNZ Nov-Dec 2015). Order or buy your open-pollinated, NZ-grown seeds, prepare or buy seed raising mix and make sure you have enough containers.

Pick some flowers, enjoy your week and feel free to share these little posts around if you find them useful!