Posted on

Saving Corn Seed: 5 Things You Must Do

Saving Corn Seed: 5 Things You Must Do

  1. Grow a minimum of 200 corn plants together to maintain genetic diversity
  2. Choose the best 100 cobs from the 200 plants you grow
  3. Cut off the top and bottom of these cobs
  4. Take the seed off the middle parts of these cobs which is left
  5. Mix all your saved corn kernels together well – plant next spring

Use all leftover corn to make tortillas, posole etc. or use for chicken food

Continue reading Saving Corn Seed: 5 Things You Must Do

Posted on

Perennials As Part of Building Garden Resilience

There are many ways to build garden resilience using annual crops: diversity in crop type, diversity in variety, diversity over time (repeat sowings of crops over the season to spread the risk) but adding perennials into the mix of food plants adds an extra layer of resilience. Obviously perennials include food producing trees and shrubs which, once established, keep on producing year after year.

Here though I’m going to concentrate on perennial vegetables and what they have to offer. Because perennial forms of vegetables have an established root system then they are able to withstand adverse weather events (that are likely to be increasingly more common as a result of climate change) and also predation by pest species better than annuals and also often start producing earlier in the year or spread their production more evenly over the year. Obviously the time and length of harvest depends on the type of perennial. Sea kale for example is a leafy perennial brassica and its shoots and leaves can be harvested over a long period from spring onwards, Jerusalem Artichoke on the other hand is a plant which forms tubers underground and these can only be harvested in the winter. They do last over the winter however and can be left in the ground and gradually harvested if your garden is not too wet or can all be harvested and stored in damp (non treated) sawdust and then eaten over a period of several months.

Koanga Institute holds a number of perennial vegetables which we make available either as seed (for example Sea Kale or Globe Artichoke) or through our Perennial Back Order System. Plants sold under the perennial back order system are sold as plant material (not seed) at the appropriate time of year for that plant. The collection includes many diverse items such as perennial onions and leeks, garlics (which although are cultivated on an annual basis are really perennial), strawberries, potatoes (again which are grown on an annual basis), kumara and a variety of tubers and other plants.

The group of plants sent out in the Spring is particularly diverse and includes plants we have offered for several years such as Yacon (Polymnia sonchifolia), Jerusalem Artichokes (Helianthus tuberosa), Yams (Oxalis tuberosa), Chinese Water Chestnuts (Eleocharis dulcis), and Chinese Artichokes (Stachys affinis), as well as Alpine Strawberries (Fragaria vesca), Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum commutatum), Sorrel and Horseradish which are relatively new additions to the collection. As well as the food producing perennials we also have some perennial support plants in the collection such as Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) (both regular comfrey and a new addition Evergreen Comfrey) and some flowering plants such as Dahlias and Gladioli that add to the general diversity of the garden or orchard and, in the case of Dahlias, are absolute magnets for bees.


Posted on

Growing Out Rare Barley Lines

Screen shot 2015-07-22 at 2.31.13 PM

Wow, it’s that time of the year again. here at Koanga our garden crew are planning their  seed gardens and getting ready to begin planting seeds. We follow our own Garden Planner to ensure we get crop rotation happening, enough carbon from every garden to make enough compost to maintain and grow the soil in that garden, as well as all cross-pollination issues sorted, isolation distances, and  minimum numbers as well as fitting one crop to that following to ensure  the most efficient use of our garden beds. The planning is huge job!

Crop_Rotation_RLC_Heavy Crop_Rotation_Roots_and_Legumes Crop_Rotation_RLC_Carbon

To make it easier for you planning your home garden you can now search by crop rotation

This year we have 4 garden crew and  4 separate gardens operating and growing seed for you. Having 4 gardens including two isolation gardens will mean we can grow a few cultivars we previously were not able to.

Things such as Scarlett Flowered broad beans, an extra brassica, and a  few more of our amazing NZ heritage peas, an extra bean from the Phaseolus coccineus family (Runner beans)  and more.

As well as that  this month we are beginning a ‘grow out’ of all of the precious barley lines we hold. These are all ancient barley lines that come from all over the world, including India, Germany, Korea, Japan and Pakistan. Most of them came into this land over 20 years ago from K.U.S.A., a seed  saving organisation in the USA totally focused on saving our international heritage grains. They are incredibly rare and precious, and if we hadn’t been able to grow them out this year we may have lost the seed. The Essene flax seed we have in our catalogue is one of these ancient edible seeds, which actuality co-evolved in the fields with other grains such as barley and wheat. Essene flaxseed has become one of our food staples (you  plant it in August and September for best results)

Many of these cultivars were developed in India by a very special man 35 years ago for their ability to grow high quality food in difficult situations for the poor farmers, without external inputs. These are short season sumer cultivars.

Here is a taste of what we hold here: We are very very excited about these grains and find that they grow well in a home garden Biointensive situation and are productive and easy to use in the kitchen as well as being absolutely delicious. I had no idea ho delicious whole barley was until recently.

Following is a description (written by KUSA) of one of these cultivars we are holding and growing out, out of our collection that totals 19!!!


Sumire Mochi

Sumire Mochi, is a Spring growth habit, naked food-barley from Japan with purplish coloured grain and dynamic, vigorous tillering (production of grain bearing side shoots). Glutinous trait food barleys are very very rare, and this is one of them. It’s kernels contain the highly nutritious, efficiently assimilated, amylopectin starch. A very rare grain with outstanding agronomic performance and potential plus invaluable human nutritional properties.

We currently have 2 of these super special naked barley cultivars available to you, and hope to have lots more next season.

Growing plants for seed is not as flexible as growing them too eat, many crops must overwinter to get quality seed, that can actually be planted in Spring if you only want to eat them. We have been astounded this winter with many many -10 oC frosts and snow as well, to see how the Japanese Spinach handles these cold conditions. I love Japanese Spinach, it is my new cold season favourite. bunches are large, it grows in the cold, and tastes great. We’re eating the weaker plants in our Japanese Spinach bed now and will leave the best to grow to seed for you.



Posted on

Seed Selection & Improvement


We began our process of digging up all our root crops that will be going to seed next summer and laying them all out in a row so we can select the best to save for growing out and eat the rest. This is how the Black Spanish radishes looked, we replanted half of what we originally planted. This kind of rigorous rogueing is essential to keep seed lines strong and true to type. We have grown thousands of carrots this year and it’s going to be very very exciting to be able to chose just 500 to replant at 20cm diagonal spacings to collect seed next summer. As well as the carrots and salsify we also still have the parsnips to dig up in May and do our selection work on.

We also have our brassicas in the ground to over winter for seed next summer.. this year we’re growing out Broccoli De Cicco, Borecole, Filbasket Brussels sprouts, and Red Mammoth cabbages. Once again we will be planting several hundred of each and rogueing down to around ¼ for seed. Doing that each time we do a brassica growout maintains even lines of quality seed, a thing that is difficult to maintain in many brassica lines because there is so much genetic variation in them, and they constantly try to get back to their original wild ancestors. The brassicas we have that are closest to the wild lines are the most genetically stable and easiest to maintain eg Seakale, Borecole, and Dalmatian cabbage.


Posted on

Gail’s Spring Blog

A different method for starting seeds early

Up here in the Hokianga we don’t have really cold temperatures to deal with (in fact we really only had one frost this winter and that was back in early June). Now the weather is really changeable – hot and sunny enough some days for us to be removing clothing layers and feeling like we should be getting our sun hats on, very wet some days and some quite cold nights. Even though its relatively mild some things still need a help to get away early and I have a different system for starting seeds than Kay. We have a hooped tunnel house that we never got round to putting the ends on – once the tunnel house was up and functional the ends dropped off our ‘to do’ list. It provides shelter and some warmth but not enough to get some things started early in the season. Inside the tunnel house I had John build a hot box. Its made of macrocarpa and is about 1.2 by 1m and about 50 cms deep. Its up off the floor on legs and has a wooden base. Resting on the base and angled forwards is a piece of roofing tin – I’ll explain its purpose in a moment. In late July we collect horse manure and John scythes some grass and we build up layers in the hot box – manure, grass, manure, grass and then potting mix on top. I cover the whole thing with plastic using two cloche hoops pushed into the organic material in the box. The plastic I’ve been using for the past 5 years had finally shredded this year so I got a new piece – a recycled plastic wrapping from a double mattress from a local furniture store. Its a perfect size, cost me $2 and I kept it doubled for extra heat.

Hot box

The way it works is simple – the manure and grass clippings start to compost down and in doing so produce heat from underneath and the plastic cover keeps that heat in – even first thing in the morning the air under the cover is appreciably warmer than outside it.

Its a great place to start seedlings off – some things, such as Jimmy Nardello peppers, that really benefit from the direct bottom heat are sown straight into the potting mix while others that are easier to germinate (e.g. Red Kuri pumpkins) are sown in seed trays that are just placed inside the hot box. Once the seeds are sown they need occasional watering. Any surplus water filters down through the layers, flows along the roofing tin into a piece of guttering which directs it to a pipe which exits the box vertically. I keep a bucket under that which collects the nutrient rich water for use as a liquid feed.

jimmy nardello peppers

I’m really pleased with it as a system. It gets the seeds germinating early and up here I only really need it for August and September, by October everything germinates just fine in the tunnel house. So for the rest of the year I use it for growing root ginger – its perfect for that. I’ve found that the ginger for planting stores best in trays in potting mix in the tunnel house as then it doesn’t dry out too much. Once the hot box is no longer needed for seeds I plant the ginger into the box, without the plastic cover as it doesn’t need that. The ginger needs the warmth provided by the tunnel house and the nutrient rich matter in the box is perfect. It requires quite a bit of watering so the nutrient recycling by catching the water is great. The other thing ginger needs is to not be in intense sunlight – our tunnel house plastic is partially UV protected and gives some shade so it thrives in there. Its harvested in the winter when the foliage dies down – perfect timing to get the hot box ready for the seeds again.

Spring in the Garden

I had a walk through the garden earlier today – it felt very spring like and there were bees everywhere. The Sutton’s Dwarf Broad Beans that we grow are flowering away and look fantastic. In some parts of New Zealand it’s better to sow Broad Beans now but up here I’ve found it’s too late so sow mine in April or May. That means they’ll form beans before the weather gets too hot and gives me the added advantage of them finishing early so I can plant something else over the summer as I’m always running out of space.

bee on broad bean flowers

We’re coming into a really busy time now and I like to get some things started quickly to get ahead for later in the season. We grow Jimmy Nardello peppers and like to get them producing as early in the season as possible so start them off in the hot box. They are beautiful, elongated red sweet peppers that visitors usually mistake for chilli peppers because of their shape and colour. Once they are producing we eat them most days in a variety of ways but I think they are best just roasted. Up here in the north we have the added bonus of a prolonged season and they don’t stop producing until late June or into July.

Our tomatoes are also sown in the hot box to get them away early – we like to grow a range of colours and shapes. One of our regulars is Alma a red, egg shaped tomato that is very disease resistant and great for eating, cooking or drying. In fact a big treat this winter was the discovery of 3 jars of dried Almas stored in olive oil that had been forgotten at the back of a cupboard. They were from 2011 but were perfect and are delicious with our home made cheese. We also grow J Walsh Yellow good for eating fresh or cooking, Oxheart which we mainly use for cooking and Broad Ripple Yellow Currant which is great in handfuls in salad and always a favourite with children (and adults!) to browse in the garden. Eggplants grow really well up here and again its good to get them going early so I start them in the hot box too. We’ve tried several varieties and love them all so grow a different one each year. We grew Tsakoniki last year which were great. They have stripey red/violet skin and non-bitter flesh but we also like Florence Round Purple which are very dark skinned and look and taste amazing.

We’re still eating lots of salads up here in late winter / early spring mainly comprised of Rocket which overwinters easily here, American Land Cress, Sorrel, Endive Indiva Scarola, Raddiccio Rosso, Nasturtium leaves and flowers, and Calendula Flowers. We’ve also got lots of Chioggia and Bull’s Blood Beetroot that overwintered nicely and Tokinashi Daikon radish. They are great in a root salad along with Yacon which is part of our back order collection. Yacon is a perennial root vegetable that has small sunflower like flowers in the summer. The tubers are harvested in the winter and provide a sweet, crunchy addition to salads. We usually harvest some wild greens such as bitter cress, plantain, dandelion and puha to add to the salad and have that with homemade cheese for lunch each day. I sowed lettuce in the hot box in August to get some away early and it germinated pretty much straight away so that’s pricked out in trays already. We like to grow a mix of different lettuces (Four Seasons, Odells, Devil’s Ear) – the different shapes and colours look great and add interest to spring and summer salads.

The hot box will really start to fill up at the end of August. We grow Long Green Bush Marrow successionally over the season and the first ones will be sown after the new moon. We really like this variety as it produces great tasting courgettes but also very tasty marrows if you let them grow large. I think marrows are a very underrated vegetable. These ones have great flavour and are good for stuffing (often with our Four Seasons Quinoa). They even keep quite well and we still have a few on the pumpkin store that look perfect even now. We will sow our Red Kuri pumpkins at the same time as the marrows. These are a fantastic summer squash and are usually ready to eat by late December. They are very productive and great roasted, steamed or as soup and can be eaten skin and all. We sow our other pumpkin a month later and that won’t need the hot box. We grow Cupola, a beautiful large butternut that is a great keeper. The combination of the two pumpkins is great – we usually still have Cupola left in late December when the Red Kuri start and then by the time the Red Kuri finish around May we can start eating Cupola again.

We grow several kinds of beans each year and like to get some started early. I successionally sow a bean called Sinton throughout the season and start the first ones off in September. Sinton is a bush bean and great eaten either as a green bean or a drying bean. I usually do 3 sowings, the early ones will be eaten as green beans for a while and the plants left to produce beans for drying, the middle sowing will be just for drying as by the time they are producing we usually have lots of a climbing green bean called Blue Lake to eat, the final sowing will be mainly eaten as green beans (the Blue Lake have usually finished by then) and if the weather stays dry enough then a final harvest of drying Sintons.