Category Archives: organic

New Crops

Growing up outside of Detroit in the 1970s I never heard about avocados or persimmons. I would have been over 20 before I encountered either. That makes growing them on our farm all the more exciting. We’ve got our first crop of each, however how small.

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Avos nearly ready.

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We also grew ‘yams’ (oxalis tuberosa) for the first time and dug some yesterday.

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And celery – I had no idea what a long season crop this it!

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Always exciting growing a new crop for the first time.

 

Peace, Estwing

Inch by Inch, Row by Row

Following the flooding of last year most of our time, energy and money has gone into protecting our stream sides from further erosion, which appears to have accelerated since the flood. The process involves fencing off the streams from stock and planting lots and lots of trees, shrubs, flax and native grasses.

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All of that work means I have spent hardly anytime in the annual gardens, except getting all of the garlic in before the end of July. We sold out last year and have about 2,000 in the ground this year. We are establishing new beds on an ongoing basis – converting an old horse property to annuals production is not easy.

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Somehow a few months ago I quickly put some broccoli and cauliflower in the ground. It has thrived in the cool weather with heaps of great compost. Now we are reaping the benefits. This is my favourite variety – Marathon.

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As per my tradition, I also planted Early Girl tomatoes on the 21 of September to ensure ripe tomatoes before Christmas. Can’t wait. These have been interplanted with garlic as a space-saving staggered planting technique.

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Just this week the peach stones have started germinating. They have been in damp sand for about 4 months. We expect around 100 to germinate.

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Here is an example of a yearling Black Boy peach trees, which are selling nicely at the moment. We sold out last year and expect to sell out again this year.

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These were a great surprise this morning. In the years to come we hope to branch out into organic strawberries.

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And these two arrived last week.

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Never a dull moment and never a lack of jobs to do.

Peace, Estwing

Growing Great Garlic

I’ve been growing garlic organically for well over a decade. The product is second to none. We have marketed it as “The World’s Best Garlic” for the last five years. Nobody has disputed the claim.

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There are a few essentials of growing great garlic. First of all, you need the best genetics – ie, seed garlic. We save ours from season to season. After storing for six months, we divide it in the evenings inside where it is warm and dry.

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Another essential component is abundant high quality compost. We make ours by the cubic metre.

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Planting involves generous amounts of compost. It serves to feed the garlic for the six months while it is in the ground as well as retaining soil moisture.

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Once the garlic is up about 150 – 200 mm we mulch with newspaper and hay.

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The mulch suppresses weeds and retains soil moisture.

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The planting design and management relies on these resources: stirrup hoes, newspapers, mulch and compost. See here for detailed description: https://www.fix.com/blog/how-to-grow-garlic/

Harvest usually occurs in late December.

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The garlic is cured and stored…and the cycle repeats.

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We have a very limited supply of seed garlic left for sale. It can be planted up to the end of July. Contact me if you’d like some.

Peace, Estwing

Harvesting

Love this time of year as we glide through mid-summer. This marks the start of an age of abundance that will last through April and into May. Tomatoes and courgettes are the current staples, but also an abundance of plums and a regular stream of strawberries. At the same time we look forward to the coming pumpkin and peach harvest, and after that the apples and pears, feijoas, guavas, figs and then citrus.

By then it will be time to plant garlic again.

We’ve also had a large and continual supply to potatoes, enough to sell surplus at the local market and barter with friends. Organic, local spuds appear to be another one of those niche products that can be sold in our local market. The colourful Maori potatoes can fetch $5 per kilogram. We have had no trouble with pests of diseases while growing spuds here for the last 18 months. Touch wood.

 

Peace, Estwing

Small-Scale Agriculture: Be First or Be Best

Making it in farming is hard at every level, but especially for smaller producers. My philosophy involves minimising inputs and maximising outputs using good design and management techniques.

But at the end of a growing season there is always the challenge of selling the crop. Here my philosophy is two-fold: be first or be the best. In other words, if you can be early to market before anyone else you can charge a premium. For example, I saw sweet corn selling 3 for $5 this week!

If you can’t be first then be the best. We grow absolutely phenomenal organic garlic. For anyone who likes to eat or cook, little can compare with starting a meal with olive oil and garlic in a pan.

It is nice to see that there is a surge of interest in quality food and local food. It’s especially nice to see that many “millennials” spend their money on good food (and good beer) rather than bog standard consumerism.

I’ve been growing garlic for over a decade and this year’s crop is truly superior. With proper curing and storage we have eight months to sell it – not a problem when you’ve got the best.

Peace, Estwing

Regenerative Agriculture: The Popular Face of Permaculture

“Hippy farms always fail.” These were the words of Chuck Barry, a small-scale organic farmer I met in Montrose, Colorado about ten years ago. Chuck made a comfortable living growing high quality vegetables on two acres in a dry and seasonally cold environment that may be compared with Central Otago high country.

His comment was based on observations of some people going into farming with good intentions but little understanding of the amount of work involved and inadequate business sense. There is popular, quaint, romantic notion among many people about growing food organically. But at the end of the day, when faced with actually doing it, most hippies opt out because it turns out to be just too hard.

On the other end of the spectrum – as we have been hearing recently in the news – many conventional farms also fail. Conventional farming wisdom over the last decade goes something like this: 1) borrow lots of money from the bank; 2) convert to dairy; 3) borrow more money; 4) rely on ever-increasing dairy pay outs; 5) borrow more money; 6) rely on ever-increasing land prices; 7) get rich; 8) what could possibly go wrong?

Well, now we know. Dairy pay outs have fallen through the floor and many farmers are pushed to the wall.

On one hand I feel sorry for those famers who have to sell because of their now un-payable debts. But on the other hand, I question why they bought into the paradigm described above in the first place, which appears to me to be very risky.

Alongside financial debt, many conventional farms also run a large soil debt. We see it every day flowing past our city and out into the Tasman Sea.

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Like financial debt, soil debt is difficult to repay but not impossible. Rebuilding soil fertility while growing food is sometimes called regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture can include organic farming practices, some biodynamic techniques, and holistic range management. All three of these fall within the scope of the eco-design system known as permaculture. I see permaculture as the middle ground between failed hippy farms and failed conventional farms. Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 10.05.45 am

For those who are far right of centre, permaculture may seem like a hippy philosophy, but I would argue that its endurance (40 years and counting) proves it is not. Permaculture farming and land use is practiced around the world in a wide range of climatic conditions from desert to rainforest and in between. It is likely that someone in every country on earth is practicing permaculture in one form or another.

Locally, permaculture is practiced by a small but growing number of people in our community – mostly in the forms of organic and regenerative agriculture. But the scope of permaculture extends far beyond growing food. As a system for eco-design, it is a natural lens through which to view energy-efficient housing, and even the waste management programme for community events that I brought to Whanganui five years ago can be considered an application of permaculture thinking because it takes a holisitic perspective of inputs, outputs, and the human element of waste management. Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 10.05.36 am

While permaculture is only one of many eco-design philosophies, what sets it apart from the others in that it is based in a set of core ethics: care for the earth; care for people; share surplus resources. It is these ethics that are the driving force behind the third annual Whanganui Permaculture Weekend, as dedicated permaculturists in our community share their knowledge, experience and enthusiasm on a wide range of topics.

Thanks to those who have stepped up with offerings next weekend and thanks to Adult and Community Education Aotearoa for working with us to organise Adult Learners Week, which starts Sunday.

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Adult Learners Week – He Tangata Matauranga 2015

6th – 13th September

Whanganui

All events are free thanks in part to support from Adult and Community Education Aotearoa.

Sunday 6th 2-3 PM. Best Heating Options for Your Home, Central Library

Tuesday 8th 5-6 PM. Hot Composting, 223 No.2 Line

Wednesday 9th 4-5 PM. Reducing Heat Loss Through Windows, Gonville Café Library

Friday 11th 4-5 PM. Managing Moisture and Condensation, Gonville Café Library

In conjunction with the Whanganui Permaculture Weekend

Saturday 12th 4:30-5:30 PM. Best Gardening Tools for You. Josephite Retreat Centre, 14 Hillside Tce.

Sunday 13th 4-5 PM. Tomatoes Before Christmas. Wanganui Garden Centre, 95a Gonville Ave.

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Holistic Land Management: Permaculture Design in Motion

One year after arriving on this piece of land we are well on our way to developing a premier permaculture property. Like our model suburban permaculture project – the Eco-Thrifty Renovation – we intend to use this as a model for resilience education in our community and worldwide.

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We call this property Kaitiaki Farm. In Te Reo Maori, kaitiaki means guardian. It is the weightiest word I have ever come across in my life, and I do not take using it to name the farm lightly. If our first child had been a boy, Kaitiaki would have been his middle name.

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This extraordinary piece of land has all the makings of a textbook permaculture property and an excellent way to teach best practice in low-input / high productivity land management. It is also a great opportunity for those who want to learn by seeing a ‘work in progress’, I reckon there may be no better place in the world.

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From big concept ideas to specific details, Kaitiaki Farm is a living, breathing permaculture textbook. Most of us learn by doing, so why not consider coming along to the Whanganui Permaculture Weekend 12th-13th September (more details to follow) or coming to a full-day workshop on Sunday, 27th September.

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We believe in offering the highest quality resilience education and that money should not be a barrier to attendance. The Permaculture Weekend is free to attend, and all of our workshops run at half what others charge. When it comes to excellence in community resilience education, there should be no compromise.

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The workshop will cover many aspects of permaculture, including: designing for wind and water; tractoring birds; improving soil structure; composting; swales and drains; nurse trees; slope stabilisation; trees as fodder; pollarding firewood; alley cropping; drought-proofing; market gardening; developing and managing a food forest; scything; and more.

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Peace, Estwing