Tag Archives: Winter

Plan your Edible Garden

What a storm! Blew away all the old and made fresh space for the new… Like every year, right now it feels like spring is never going to come. But I know that in just a couple of weeks I’ll be preparing beds and sowing spring crops at the urban farm here in Newtown.

How about you? Are you ready to get going with bed preparation and seed propagation as soon as the weather allows? If you haven’t got your garden planned out for the upcoming season yet, don’t despair! I’m running a workshop on that very subject – but it’s filling up fast, so if you’re interested, register straight away.

After a few windy days like these, you may want to look at wind proofing your garden. My main piece of advice (hard earned!!) is to get whatever strategy you choose implemented well before you sow and plant. Because, let’s face it, we all KNOW we’ll have more storms like this one before gentle December arrives! Cloches also help warming the soil up, and tarps can help the excess water drain away so you can broadfork earlier. Chose the techniques that are appropriate to your own garden, as there’s no one solution that works everywhere.

This week, my only garden tasks will be to get rid of the banana passionfruit vine which has managed to climb the peach tree while I had my back turned for a second, and pamper the tree with some worm castings from our absolutely over full worm farm (two birds, one stone 😉 ). If I get around to it, I might plant some spring bulbs that I have lying around.



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!

Food Forest Gathering results

On May 21st, I had the honour to facilitate the Food Forest Gathering for the Wellington region, hosted by Common Unity Project at Epuni School, Lower Hutt. We hope we can make this a yearly thing, hosted and facilitated by new people each time – so if you feel like that could be you, do get in touch!

Right now, I’m in the very last few days before leaving the country for some much needed holiday, and I finally manage to finish some stuff! I’m a chronic initiator: I start things, am enthused, and then struggle to bring them to closure… Our yearly trips really help with that, and bring me a pattern of concluding projects around May-June and leaving just after Matariki rising. And now, I’ve finished the report of the Food Forest Gathering!

This week I thought I’d share the results with you, so the post is very long. But I think you’ll find something in there that may be that little pearl of information that you didn’t know you needed. We had a full day, starting with a guided visit of the Common Unity Food Forest (big thanks to Julia Milne). This was followed by a double-session on soil in the morning and then two paralell sessions after shared super yummy lunch, and another two paralell ones after afternoon tea. Each of the session’s subjects and hosts were decided on the spot in the morning through Open Space Technology, and thanks to the fantastic participants who were there, it was a very enriching day. A lot of time was also spent in more informal discussions with people networking and getting to know eachother. So let’s delve in…

1. Soil

Hosted by Richard Self and Zoe Reid, 10.30-12

Biochar experiment

“How to play with fire and build the soil” presented by Richard Self

We made bio-char! Ripped up cardboard – you can also add bones and eggshells – into a metal bin that doesn’t have holes in the bottom. Put fire to the cardboard and aim for pyrolysis, where the fire is smouldering with a minimum of oxygen. Add cardboard regularly to the top to maintain a vortex in the flames: they will be spinning and pulling gases up from underneath. When it has burned a while, pour worm juice or urine on top to kill the fire. This liquid penetrates the very porous charcoal and charges it with nutrients.

The finished product is good for alkalising the soil, adds loads of carbon and a huge surface area, which bacteria and microorganisms can hide in from bigger soil critters. Using seaweed  instead of urine/worm juice will add more micro nutrients. One big handful has a surface are of a football field, but all folded up!! Use two big handfuls for each square meter of garden.

Soil biodiversity and carbon sequestration

“Maintaining Soil biodiversity + How to use food crops to reduce carbon in the atmosphere” presented by Zoe Reid

Is it worth inoculating the soil? Different opinions: either inoculate with as many different organisms as possible, some will click and stay depending on habitat and food availble. Maybe this can lead to one dominating and consuming all others…  Adding a maximum of different foods will feed different microorganisms: Compost, duff, vegetation from other places, animal dung…

Compost tea – purpose: are we feeding the organisms in the soil or adding new organisms? Aerated vs fermented.

Value of different microorganisms is they all break down different things. Feed the microorganisms just as much as the plants. Phosphorus deficient soils, imported phosphorus often contain heavy metals. We need to make our own phosphorus, using bone char and guano. Keep recycling the existing phosphorus! Urine 15% nitrogen, 3% phosphorus, needs to be diluted well … maybe sprayed wide? In a vortex …? General laughter 😀

Adding nitrogen in right proportions to carbon is crucial for soil biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

2a. Crops and Guilds in NZ Context

Hosted by Kelly-ann Barrett, 1-2pm

What is a guild? Like companion plants to boost each other. In food forest context, plants feeding the “main” crop while also providing useful yields.

No guilds stand out as being specifically well suited. A lot of trials have been contradictory.

Crops good for a food forest: what veges can you have in there? Depends on stage of food forest, access to sunlight when trees are young. Succession planting. You could get everything in a ff, considering staged patches.

In a NZ context / Wellington: plants hardy in the wind. Buy trees that are specifically selected for Wgtn conditions (Neville Chun).

If in doubt add  more, don’t take away!

2b. How to start in specific conditions

Small spaces & Steep banks

Pam (1-1.30pm)

An area that has been cleared and which is steep and semi-terassed, where to plant? if you need to dig, it’s best to plant as close to the bottom of a slope / beginning of a terrace as possible, to avoid erosion. And to cover all bare soil at all times.

But do we even want to grow food on very steep slopes? It’s possible to use kowhai and coprosma to support the bank and avoid erosion, and leave it to natives if there’s other spaces for growing food. Forming the land: spring at the top of the property, water sheeting down, recommend to use logs underneath the cover to allow the water to slow down and soak in. Use structures on top of the soil rather than digging in.

Volcanic soils & Pasture to Forest

Paul (1.30-2pm)

We were lucky to have a geologist among us who enlightened us on the different types of volcanoes. In NZ, we get ash and pumice rather than lava flows. So when looking at resources on growing on volcanic soils we actually have to consider the combination of soil & climate in other places of the world to find something similar. Not very old weathered-down lava flows! Areas similar to here are Etna and Vesuvius in Italy – grapes & olives grow well there.

Resources available: Awhi farm, Turangi, Market. Neighbors. Contact experienced growers. Look at what grows well on other properties: chestnuts, plums & blueberries grow well in the area.

Paul has been putting down carpet to kill grass, and is now looking at what to plant once the grass is killed. Julia suggested bio-dynamic peppering of the weeds: turn them into a tea and spray on. Or burn and grind and dilute if it’s an animal. Recipes and advice are available from the bio-dynamic organisation.

3a. City sustainability & Community support

“Are sustainable cities possible? What’s the viability of urban farming? How can we gain public support for these initiatives?” Erin Todd and Jack Leason 2.30-3.30pm

A lot of vision! Most of these visions are already out there as ideas, more or less realised. The conclusion is that we just need to keep trying, and keep track of what works and what doesn’t work as well.

How to gain community support for food forests on public land? Recommendations:

  • Gathering statistics, data and stories on other current projects.
  • Inspiration from Dig for Victory and other wartime initiatives, which seem to be only times when there’s a genuine ownership and willingness from the public to create sustainable food systems and cities. How to recreate this but without the war?!?
  • We want to encourage and take advantage of council investment in this
  • Remind the public that not long ago all food consumed in cities was grown in the city, only 100 years ago.
  • Point to the example of Seattle, food forests from one side of another of the city, vision to be able to feed the whole city; the Cuban example, which has inspired a study re Glasgow being able to feed itself. Palestine is also self sufficient in food because of the Israeli embargo.

Can we create an impetus to create this change without having such an extreme need? At the same time, there is a really extreme need in many parts of society, it just remains invisible for those who don’t experience poverty. Maybe start there! Dig for Victory were based in positiveness and the social obligation to contribute to the national efforts, not from fear. So it seems it is a question of encouraging more civic duty in our communities, and more education around this.

Community ownership for food in public spaces is crucial! When planting fruit trees, food forests of any type of food production in public spaces we want to have community buy-in from the start and also council support. Let’s continue to put in proposals for local initiatives and stay involved in the political and policy making processes so we make more space for food in public spaces, both in the debate and in reality.

Finishing with Brad Lancaster’s (permaculture water-catchment guy) story about the gardens in his neighborhood: one particular neighbour was very very negative and at one point they were absolutely opposed. The group baked a cake for the guy, using ingredients from the garden, and completely won him over, blew his defenses.

“The circle of life is stronger than a lifeline.”

3b. Food Forests and Nutrition

Adam Shand, 2.30-3.30pm

Can we feed ourselves from a food forest? No reason we can’t! But if your land is nutrient  deficient, you get deficiencies too. So it’s not so much about being self sufficient, but locally sufficient… And it’s not just how we grow food, but also storage and preparation.

Designing our food forests with our actual diet in mind rather than based on what’s easy to grow. Describe new foods like combinations of what we are familiar with – apart for FF in public space as unknown foods don’t get stolen!

Chicken rotations as part of a more nutrient dense FF: Animals need to be rotated, you can use fences or domes for chickens so they can turn the land without damaging growing plants. Move them on before they demolish the land. A limitation is to pay attention to where you plant perennials vs annuals so they don’t destroy the perennials. And the chickens will need a different location for winter. A good source of inspiration for this is Linda Woodrow’s A Permaculture Garden, mandala garden.

Other animals have always been present in natural forests. Megafauna in forests trample, prune, and fertilise. We can use mob grazing to prune one area at a time.

How to get slow sugars and protein instead of just fruit from a food forest? Choice of crops: nuts (hazel, almond, walnut, chestnut…) and animals and understoreys (roots and pulses such as peanuts, chickpeas need lots of plants, flour peas, cannelini beans, broad beans, runner beans, quinoa and amaranth (harvest & bird issues – may better for chicken feed)).

Ways of storing / transforming the crops to enhance nutrient quality are drying, fermenting and sprouting, rather than jams and pickles. Another option that shouldn’t be shunned is trading to avoid deficiency – we’re all in this together!

Matariki sharing

As you may notice, this time of year, the posts don’t come as regularly. I’ve got a lot on my plate, so this week I’m going to send you on to Kath Irvine, up the coast. She runs Edible Backyard, very similar to what I’m doing – workshops, permaculture design consults and a blog – but is more focused on bigger sections and lifestyle blocks, while I’m much more urban / suburban focused and love the challenge of bringing edibles into tiny spaces.

What I really appreciate in permaculture circles is that most people understand how complementary we are in our different skills. Just like in nature, we’re finding the niche in our environment that needs us, and ideally which brings us what we need too! So I hope you’ll enjoy Kath’s blog as much as I do, and go to her workshops – they are really worthwhile, and as I said, complemetary to mine. She has also written a great calendar which works for Wellington as well, available at Commonsense Organics.

Right now is the time to take care of your fruit trees, if you’re lucky enough to have space for some. That’s why I’m sending you on to Edible Backyard’s Fruit tree to-do-list for June, and wish you a marvellous Matariki. Enjoy family, friends, the stars, and stay warm and snug inside this long weekend!

P.S. If you’re looking to buy trees, I recommend Neville Chun who sells trees he grows in Lower Hutt. Locally adapted and not a huuuuuuge nursery which means he can take good care of each and every tree. He sells here on TradeMe.


The days grow longer and the light comes back, and I long to get out in the garden. But I decided to have a look at the statistics for Wellington first and… we can have frosts up until November! The minimum air temperature mean is 6.7ºC for this month, while the mean air temp is 9.4ºC. So while the earth has already started to warm up (from a mean of 7.1ºC in July to 7.7 in August) it really is winter still, even though the spring stirs and will soon awaken…

As the seeds I sow last week are coming up, I prick them out to a much richer potting mix, 1:1 of compost to old seed raising mix or used potting mix. I do this when their cotyledons – that’s the very first two leaves, which don’t really look like the normal leaves of the plant – are open, but before the second pair of leaves, “true leaves”, are ready. If I wait longer they can be traumatised, but when they are this little, they seem to be rather stimulated by the transplant. I put them at the right spacing for the plants to grow on to 5-10 cm tall without having its roots entangled with the neighbor’s. There are special tools for all of this, but a plastic knife works just fine, the whole trick is to not damage the roots or expose them to too much air or light.

I’ll stick to cold weather crops for another two months at least and raise the tender ones indoors, or in styrofoam boxes in the greenhouse. Traditionally people plant out at, or after, Labour weekend (26/10). But even then, there’s still a risk, depending on where in Wellington you are. Keeping frost cloth handy is a good idea I think, and check the forecasts!

My to-do list this week (19-25 August):

New Moon until Saturday

  • Sow the seeds I didn’t get time for last week
  • Continue to care for the germinating seeds, check moisture and temperature daily
  • Possibly water seeds that are sown directly in the garden, as we do get rain on tonight (Tuesday) and maybe a little again on Thursday, but then no rain at all Friday to Monday – check the soil moisture
  • Collect compost material
  • Order seeds to cover until December at least
  • Put up cloches to warm the sunniest bed so I can plant in it soon
  • Make liquid seaweed if you collected some last week – I didn’t get the time for it but will as soon as I can

First quarter from Sunday

  • Prick out seedlings – see instruction above.
  • Copper spray peach tree (same if you’ve got curly leaf on apricot, plum or cherry), I use BioGro-certified Copper Oxy from KiwiCare. If you have any tips about managing curly leaf, please comment below!
  • Kill slugs and snails – I patrol in the evening or morning depending on when I feel like a killing spree! If you’ve got chooks, put the little slimies in a bucket and feed them to your ladies.
  • Liquid feed onions, garlic, broad beans, strawberries, rhubarb, onions, garlic, broadbeans… at least. Everything that’s actually growing now needs a booster!
  • Spread compost on the beds I’ll plant next.
  • Prepare the composting area.
  • Cut down my physalis / cape gooseberry, pick off any fruit and use the stems and leaves in the new compost pile.
  • Build a bio-intensive compost pile, or at least be prepared to make one next week.

Upcoming workshop

The food forest workshop 6th September will be both hands-on and theory packed. I hope I’ll see you there! Register by email to rego@edibleoasis.net

Would you like to see another 90 minute workshop soon? I’ve got them all ready to go, but am busy with other projects (more about that next week!) so I just haven’t planned one yet. What times are good for you, in general? which ones are you most interested in? Let me know!

Never rinsing my tools again!

Winter is coming, my garden is entirely in the shade now and I’m heading to Europe for 7 weeks on the first of June. It’s time to put everything away for winter.

This includes my gardening tools, and I’d like to share the process I’m going through with each of them. During the summer months, I just rinse them off after each use and store them in a dry spot under our terrace. But after discovering rust now that I’m about to put them inside for winter, I’ve decided to change method for next year! Read on…

After trawling the vast internet today and trying different things out, here’s what seems to me like the easiest way to maintain my gardening tools – hope it will speak to you too!

So, when I’m not going to use them for a while, I:

  1. Go through them all, scrape and brush off dirt and rinse them clean with water. Put them to dry. (one evening, takes about 20 min)

  2. Get out my bastard file, steel wool, sandpaper, a whetstone and oil. I use old sunflower or safflower oil which works well for me, many websites recommend WD-40 but I find that way too toxic.

  3. Start with the wooden handles, sand them and oil them. If the oil is too thick, dilute with a tiny bit of acetone/nail polish remover 🙂 (this is the next evening when the tools are dry and takes about 10min for each handle)

  4. Then, choose a tool and:

    • Check for rust, and remove the rust with the steel wool or sandpaper.

    • Check the edge and sharpen it following the instructions on this page

    • Oil it well and hang it up

  5. Repeat for all your tools!

I tend to do a few a day and as I only have one of each tool it takes me a week max, with maybe 30 min each day – which is what I’d normally spend outside gardening.

It is such a satisfactory feeling to have all your tools clean and protected! In spring, they’ll be ready to work for you, and you’re more likely to keep them clean and sharp if that’s the way you find them.

Still wondering why I won’t rinse off my tools anymore? Well, another tip I rediscovered and that I remember seeing in action at several farms, is the sand-oil bucket. It is simply a bucket filled half way up with sand, where you pour your burnt or otherwise used oil. Then you stick your smaller hand tools in there after each use. No need to wash them anymore, as the sand scrapes the last of the dirt off, and the oil protects against rust. Fantastic! And I’ll now use an oily rag to wipe the big ones clean when I’ve scraped off the dirt. Seems so much easier and fits my lazy gardening style!

Friday fun!

Just a quick update – I’ve been slack on blogging lately! But it’s picking up, now that I’ve got this yummy feeling that people are reading, and possibly even benefiting from my thoughts and words. I’d love to have your feedback and know what you’d like me to write about.

This Friday a 5pm I’m running a one-off seasonal session on how to plan, sow & plant a winter garden – and we’ve gotta do this now, because the days are getting shorter and if the plants don’t go in soon they won’t have time to grow before the cold and dark winter slows them down!

Head over to the facebook event page to register, or if you’re not on there, send me an email through the contact page here.

I’m also looking for help with promotion of some exciting future events, if you think you can help (in exchange for reduced registration fees of course!) please get in touch.

Happy gardening and hope to see you Friday!