Tag 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.


Autumn cleanup

This week, I’m cleaning up my own messy garden and getting it ready for winter. Some areas don’t get enough sun to grow any food crops for the next few months, and others just need a spruce up and a bit of compost and fertiliser.

I’ve started by going through with my Niwashi (japanese hand toold for weeding and planting) to get rid of any annoying weeds, but leave those that will protect the soil over winter. I also reformed the beds, which makes it look more tidy and helps with drainage – just using the fork to puncture the bed, letting some air in, and then the rake to shape it nice and high. Flatten off the top and add some compost and/or nature’s Garden, and it’s ready to be sown, planted or mulched.

The beds that don’t get any sun over winter, or just a couple of hours a day, will be covered with half decomposed compost and then a layer of mulch. Mulch is any fluffy material which will break down over time. I often use cacao husks if I can get hold of them.  Where there’s some sun but not enough for food crops, I broadcast sow calendula, borage, phacelia, clover, oats or whatever I happen to have seeds for and which will grow in low temperatures. These are my cover crops and will end up in my spring compost piles.

Anywhere there’s enough sun for food crops, I plant out well grown seedlings of winter hardy and easy care vegetables: kale, collards, silverbeet, perpetual spinach or rainbow chard. I also pop in a few lettuces, but I eat less salads in winter so I’m only planting what I’ll actually eat. Under and between these bigger veges, I broadcast sow radishes and baby leaf lettuce (Green Salad Bowl is the variety I use) to cover the soil and make the most of the space. By the time the kale or beet is mature, I’ve already eaten the radishes.

These beds will need very consistent liquid feed over winter. Make sure the product you use contains good quantities of potassium, phosphorus, calcium and magnesium, the core nutrients for photosynthesis, so that the plants can make maximum use of the low sun over winter. Use it well diluted once a week on all your food plants – I personally don’t worry about the cover crops.

All my perennials get bedded down now. Plenty of mulch, but I don’t put any compost down now as it’s had a tendency to make them grow now instead of in spring. In another month or two when they go dormant I’ll prune them. As the buds swell in spring I’ll move the remaining mulch away and feed with good compost.

Last year, at this time, I moved some spring bulbs around and it’s a good time to do that now. It’s also time to plant new ones for some beauty and colour in spring. Talking about bulbs, prepare your garlic bed now with plenty of compost so you have time to weed them before planting the garlic cloves! I won’t do any this year, for lack of space, so I almost forgot to mention it!

Next workshop is Edible Oasis Maintenance – remember to register in time!

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!

Dark Moon

What’s up this week:

  • I’ll be at the Hospital rd Oasis tomorrow Tuesday 9-11am, and Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 4-6pm
  • The second Volunteer Introduction is Wednesday 5.30pm for those who didn’t brave the southerly gales and icy rain last Wednesday
  • Next workshop is Thursday 12th, Sow Seeds, 6.30pm at my place.
  • Next week, I’ll be at the Hospital rd Oasis same hours, and the workshop on Thursday 19th will be Perfect Compost 6.30pm at my place.

On Thursday, the Moon will be new again. But what does the different phases actually mean? There are three different movements: the waxing and waning, how high it is in the sky, and how close it is to Earth. Bio-intensive systems are most preoccupied with the waxing and waning, but as I grow tuned to these phases I realise there’s much more to the Moon’s influence on all living things.

Being alive on Earth means to contain water. And this water is easily influenced by the Moon’s gravity, with an easier upwards movement when the moon is closer to the Earth. The most obvious sign of this is of course the tides in the oceans, but there are actually tides in the fertile humus layer of the continents as well.

For plants, the photosynthesis seem to be quite influenced by the Moon’s luminosity (waxing and waning), and of course where it is in the sky. Some nights it doesn’t rise at all, and thus have little influence. Somenights, when the Moon is full and up from dusk to dawn, I find it really hard to sleep as it is so light. I think such nights are made for parties 🙂 !

Up until now, I’ve basically been repeating what different gardening books and publications say, combined with my own best knowledge and judgement. A short while ago, I started to be really attentive to when the Moon actually rises and sets, how high it is, what phase it is in and the sensations I have personnally and what I perceive in the garden. To help myself (and you, hopefully) with this, I use a moon calendar which shows just these three patterns. It doesn’t tell which constellation the Moon is in, as for biodynamics, but it helps me connect with the patterns that i actually do see and connect with.

So, this week:

  • Today, Monday 9th, the Moon is as its farthest from Earth (for this cycle). It will be less and less illuminated for the next three days, and is already at a scant 7.2%. It rose at 4.44am this morning, and will set at 5.39pm in the west, so it won’t put any light in our gardens at night.
  • Tomorrow, Tuesday 10th, it is a little bit closer (thus bigger, from our point of view), and less illuminated. It will rise again 5.13am in the east, set 6.35pm in the west.
  • Wednesday 11th, it’s rising 5.45am and setting 7.33pm, and it’s showing as a thin, thin sliver, just before darkening completely.
  • Thursday morning at 6.47am (just after it rises at 6.19am) it turns around and starts brightening up again. It’s already much closer to us as well, compared to Monday. If it’s clear, it will show on the west-soutwest horizon when it sets at 8.30pm (or earlier, depending on how high or low you are in relation to the horizon).
  • Friday, it rises after the sun in the morning and sets 9.26pm, so you have another chance at greeting it 🙂 .
  • Saturday, it sets even later (10.21pm), and is back at almost the same luminosity as today.
  • Sunday 15th, the Moon is well into its light (11.3%) and will be easy to spot in the evening as it sets in the west-southwest at 11.13pm.

What does this mean in terms of gardening? Maybe nothing, maybe something ; in any case it has been a way for gardeners through the ages to calculate when to sow, transplant and look out for diseases. Common gardener knowledge is that fungal disease strike hardest when the Moon is full and the sap is high, which for me sounds like the closest point between Moon and Earth (making higher tides). To prepare for this event, which would be the days between 21-27th, we should start feeding the plants with micronutrients now and avoid heavy nitrogen food the week before. So out with the seaweed and comfrey brews now for weekly sprays!

Support your plants through this week of weak lunar influence. They might not look like they’re growing so much, observe… Sow seeds of zuccini, beans, carrot, beetroot, spring onions and leafy greens on Tuesday so they absorb water and are ready to germinate when the Moon starts to move closer again, pulling stronger on the growth and the tides. Hopefully they’ll poke through on the weekend and benefit from the increased light as the Moon is up more and more at night.

Of course, these are just my experimentations with a life more in tune with these harmonies. If it speaks to you, feel free to use the tools and if you already have some experience in this I’d love to have your feedback below!