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Nutrient Dense Food and Carbon Sequestration using Local Sourced Fertiliser. Kay Closes The Loops: Part Seven

The bees in our garden went crazy this week! The garden is alive with sound and the tagasate right at our door is literally alive with the sound and movement of bumble bees, honey bees, bell birds and tui. The life is returning to this land which was a sheep farm paddock, where the grass had a brix of 2 …5 years ago!

I’ve had a few questions about using urine… firstly I recommend going back and checking out the research paper, we have found it very useful here

My only hesitation is that if we apply more urine (containing nitrogen) than the carbon/humus in the soil can absorb, it could become a highly water soluble pollutant in the water ways etc. That is why I always add a carbon source which holds the nitrogen and other minerals in the root zone until the plant roots or microbes ask for it!

A lot of research has been done using humates as the carbon source and it seems clear that humates are able to grab and hold minerals pretty much instantly, where as using biochar is more of an unknown (because it has come on to the scene far more recently) unless it is urine that is being used. Biochar is known to absorb the minerals in urine far more easily and faster than any other nutrient source I know of at this point. Biochar can easily be made at home, and I’m not buying fertiliser, so biochar it is and I’m charging it with urine as the base of my fertiliser program, which critically also includes compost containing all our humanure as well as all of the carbon from the Biointensive vege garden.

I understand that recycling the deficiencies will not build soil or grow nutrient dense food so I am adding comfrey and alfalfa (dynamic accumulators of many minerals) to the compost as well as biochar, bone char, clay, pottery shards, seaweed, leaves from trees known to accumulate calcium (dogwoods, and oaks) and phosphate (Tilia spp and cassurina), as well as limited cow manure and compost from the chicken house. Key crops we grow for carbon are also calcium and phosphate accumulators .. lupins and oats…

I found this chart recently and I love it because it shows clearly what the carbon nitrogen ratios are for various ingredients, when choosing compost materials.

We aim for making compost with a 60:1 carbon nitrogen ratio, which means 6 parts mature material (gone to seed then dried, high carbon) to 1 part immature material (lower carbon higher nitrogen)

For more details on compost making see The Art of Compost making Booklet

cabon chart


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Nutrient Dense Food and Carbon Sequestration using Local Sourced Fertiliser. Kay Closes The Loops: Part Six

The Big Tomato Challenge

I’m going to join Jon Franks big tomato challenge this year, in my home garden. I’m going to try to do it using home made fertilizers and in the Institute gardens we’ll use Environmental Fertiliser products similar to those Jon Frank is using… and see how the trials compare. Check out Jon Franks Tomato Challenge …

The focus of our Guided Tour on February 4th will be in the tomato patch with Grant Paton from Environmental Fertilisers so this will be a great time to join us and be part of the discussion around growing high brix, high health, incredible tasting tomatoes!!

Next week I’ll publish the recipes Grant recommends for our Koanga Tomato Challenge, and I will tell you how I’ll be growing mine at home using nutrition I can collect right here! This will be a challenge you can all get involved in and if you use our heritage seed we would love to receive your results and comments as well but wait… more details next week.

Environmental Fertilisers, fertiliser is based on the same principles as that of International Ag Labs owned by Jon Franks, both based on Carey Reams research.. as described in the incredible book Nourishment Home Grown. This book has been my bible around growing nutrient dense food. It describes how healthy cells are created and maintained and this applies no matter if it is a plant, animal or human.. all cells have the same needs.

Biochar and Liquid Fert

This week in my home garden I’ll be making a load of Biochar as I’ve used up all the last load. I’ll need this Biochar (urine charged ) to feed all of my Spring planted crops from now on, and I’m making up enough liquid fertiliser from the recipe in last weeks blog to last me a few months.

I’m also going to begin planting my beds of alfalfa for mulching and feeding my perennial beds and tomato beds.

My broadbeans, peas and garlic all look great, I gave them all a watering can soil drench today with a weak handful (of fresh, organic, cow manure/molasses , and the shallots and potato onions) are all up now and the first beetroot seedlings are in along with carrot seed, daikon seedlings and turnip seedlings. Apart from potatoes, the early Spring root crops are now planted.

The other major job in my home garden this week will be preparing the bed for my early potatoes. I plant Yellow Fir as my early Xmas potatoes, they are top texture flavor and don’t get the psyllid because they are ready to harvest before the psyllid become a problem. My main crop potatoes will go in near the end of September, because we have late frosts here. Click here to check out our potato collection.

I’m going to plant my potatoes in trenches with compost and urine soaked Biochar, then fill in the trenches and soil drench with liquid fert and molasses, as described in my last blog.

The New Winter Chicken Food

One of the classic Permaculture ‘sayings’ is “The problem is the Solution!!”.. well we’ve come up with a solution that fixes a few problems in the garden right now…. We have sparrows eating our silverbeet and beetroot leaves, we have no comfrey to feed the chickens during winter (a lack of protein) .. and guess what, we are catching the sparrows in a trap and feeding them to the chickens. Shaked is the master of this art here at Kotare Village and he has been catching 13 sparrows every day!!

Slug Patrol

Finally this week, the slugs and snails are appearing again so I am back out at night with a torch and a jar of hot water to catch the slugs, of coarse the chickens benefit. Another example of “The problem is the solution!!”

Next week I’m going to answer some of the questions I’m getting around using urine. I was nervous about beginning this conversation but I can see a lot of you are very keen to learn more.. .. we’ll also look at how we can grow our own carbon that is ready to use at this difficult time in Spring when it’s all weeds and green and no carbon in sight!

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Nutrient Dense Food and Carbon Sequestration using Local Sourced Fertiliser. Kay Closes The Loop – Part Five

Time To Take Care of Perennials

I have 50m of rhubarb, seakale, Purple de Jesi globe artichokes, purple asparagus and perennial onions (Welsh Bunching and Multiplying Spring .. they compliment each other)

It’s easy to say that perennials are less work, but in the end just like everything else in the garden, they do not live on fresh air. Perennials need nutrients just like everything else. It is true they mostly have super deep roots that can forage for nutrients far lower than most annuals, but in the end they need the same minerals as everything else to be highly productive and nutrient dense.

August/September is the time to feed and mulch them as they are all beginning to grow and will feed you very very well over the next 3 months, filling gaps left by the annual veges especially in colder climates.

I make compost for my annuals but have never felt as though I had enough for the perennial bed too. I grow carbon crops in the annual Bio-Intensive garden to make compost for the annual garden but I didn’t design anything in to my garden, initially, to feed the perennials.

Some perennials have shallow feeder roots, are heavy feeders and must be moist all the time to crop heavily like welsh bunching onions, multiplying leeks, multiplying spring onions and chives. These I mulch heavily, water more often than other perennial crops and feed more often. Mostly my other perennials are easier but still require twice a year mulch and feeding to do well.

As I explained in blog 1 of this series, in my effort to continue growing soil and nutrient dense food without buying fertiliser, I have taken 6 beds out of my 20 bed annual Bio-Intensive rotation, and I’m planting them in alfalfa solely to use for mulch and feed for the garden beds that will benefit most. This includes the perennial beds. We are all so used to not designing plant nutrition into our gardens, that it feels like a big challenge to be able to continue to growing soil and nutrient dense food when the fertiliser is cut off.. either by choice or not.

I’m committed to growing high brix food, which is measurable, so that forces me to look for as many local options as I can find to continue raising the mineral levels in the soil.

I’m growing alfalfa (and comfrey all around the edge of the garden) to mulch the perennials and tomatoes, so long as I keep adding more layers of mulch each month through to December it will rot down and become food for the feeder roots of the plants it is mulching. If you don’t keep applying more layers of mulch and instead leave it to dry out it does not rot down into the earth .

That will be a great start, but on top of that I’m going to make a simple liquid fertiliser I can use as a foliar feed.. the most effective way to add minerals to the soil.. through the leaves…

I’ve done a lot of research around outputs in my eco-system that potentially provides nutrients for my garden, in the hope of discovering balanced sources of calcium and magnesium, the two initial key players.

I have discovered yet again, what I thought I already knew!!!

a.    That if you intelligently choose a diverse range of elements in your eco-system they could provide the balance needed, and

b.    If  you provide your plants and animals with highly mineralized, high brix feed, they also will gift you things like cow manure which has an  amazing range of balanced minerals and much more. Egg shells which contain the ideal calcium magnesium balance if they are fed super well, vermicast and chicken poo, so long as I focus on creating diversity and integration, my two favourite permaculture words, the life and energy in the system will, over time, take care of the balance….

 So my strategies for feeding my perennial beds this Spring are:

1.      To increase the cation exchange capacity (CEC) by adding clay and CHARGED biochar to the soil

2.     Mulch with comfrey while the alfalfa gets away then alternate

3.     Make an eggshell, seaweed, cow manure, molasses liquid tea that will be foliar fed (the molasses is critical in this as a carbon source to hold the water soluble minerals)

4.     Mulch occasionally with leaf mould collected from surrounding oak leaves and poplar leaves, and left in a circle of sheep netting until it becomes leaf mould.. amazing stuff!


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Q + A: Grazing Workshop with Jodi Roebuck

Kay caught up with Jodi Roebuck ahead of the Grazing Workshop that he will be delivering at Koanga, to get an idea of what participants can expect from the course:

Q: Can you earn a living doing this or is it just for homekill meat.

A: That’s the context and scale bound but yes many farmers are making their incomes grazing holistically with improving landscapes.

Q: Jodi who is this workshop for?

A: Anyone who wants to graze on any scale while improving pasture diversity, lowering inputs and buffering extremities such as drought/runoff. Novice to rancher

Q: Do you have to be a farmer already?

A: Not at all, I’m proof of this

Q: Is it a useful workshop for existing traditional farmers?

A: Absolutely

Q: Is it a useful workshop for those who dream to become farmers but do not own land?

A: Yes I’ve explored the access to land relationship in depth, for us it was the only way to increase the size of our farm without a mortgage. A local farming mentor/friend has 20 leases yet owns no acreage

Q: Do you see this as useful for people who own lifestyle blocks, or larger farms.?

A: Both, the principles & patterns are scalable. I regularly work with farmers in brittle (dry) climate who farm 5000 acre, yet I also value the learnings/feedback that come from a small mob managed tight

Q: Does it apply to all kinds of animal management?

A: Esp sheep and cattle but also done with goats

Q: How did you get into farming, when we met you were a gardener?

A: We had to do something with our outer acreage so first I learnt to fence then came the grazing which has fascinated me. Herbivores have developed grasslands as have humans developed cultivars

Q: What inspired you?

A: Salatins ideas such as access to land which led me to follow Greg Judys work documenting the restoration of his farms ecology and finances

Q: Who did you learn from?

A: Local farmers Bruce Andrews and Matt Denson, Darren Doherty Joel Salatin Bruce Davison Of Candelo Salers.

Q: Is this kind of farming you are doing and teaching about, a realistic proposition for other young people today?

A: Can you earn a living doing this or is it just for homekill meat. Thats context and scale bound but yes many farmers are making their incomes grazing holistically with improving landscapes.

Q: You are very passionate about everything you do but what is it about Holistic Management that get you buzzing?

A: Darren Doherty pushed the import and find out a few things about his knowledge and fascinationstracking down farmers in VIC, NSW and CA that were grazing holistically. The pattern I witnessed was restoring grasslands despite drought, creating calm, shiny animals in great condition and farmers who still worked hard but had quality of life, not to mention they were also in control of all the on farm decisions. I like the relationship of using timed grazing to restore grasslands while mimicking natural patterns. Independence from fertilizer companies, seed companies & vets appealed to me also.

Register for the Grazing Workshop with Jodi Roebuck

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2015/16 Potato Trial Report

potato 1.4.12 094

To read the background of this potato trial please click here

The best of the lines we find in these trials are available to all of you via our growers, Joseph and Catherine Land. Next season we hope to add to those lines significantly here at Koanga as well.

 Last years (2015/2016) trial helped solidify the trends and information we have been collecting over the past 5 years now!

For me, the stand outs for this year were:

  1. It has been great being able to amalgamate those lines that were essentially the same. It has meant that we have been able to get to know all of our cultivars a lot better with a lot less confusion
  2. There is a significant difference in the potatoes between those lines that are pre-European and those that have been bred for commercial production, even early commercial production. The early commercial production lines were bred for (as they are today) short season croppers with small amounts of top growth (far weaker lines). The older lines also appear to need more moisture and more nutrients and also respond accordingly… stronger and more productive and feel far more nutritious!
  3. It seems very clear to us now that you can easily plant potatoes too early, even if they are covered from the frosts. We have found over 5 years now that our best crops by far were when we planted them in late September, rather than August/early September. We then put drip irrigation on them and also mulched them… they love cool roots
  4. We have seen over 5 years now that the health and vigor of the potato crops has a big effect on how badly the psyllid affects the plants, or maybe whether they come to suck the sap from those plants. This next season we have the confidence and experience now to decide to do two things only to keep psyllids away:
  5. Maintain crop health by nutrition. Moisture levels, mulch and planting at the best time, and then;
  6. Use only a biological pesticide Koanga Balance (made up of microbes only)
  7. We have also see consistently that some potatoes are far more resistant to varoah than others
  • Our commitment this season is to be able to do detailed recording of crop weights and varoah observations so please support us to be able to do this. We can not afford to do it out of other Koanga Institute income which all goes towards maintaining the gardens to save the seeds
  1. All sponsors this year will receive monthly reports of progress and a packet of ancient aerial seed next April

It takes a lot of energy over 8 months to keep this trial going and for this next season (2016/2017) I’m going to manage the trial myself and I want to be able to have the resources to do a better job of it including weighing the potatoes from every plant again like we did in the beginning.

My feeling is that this may be the last year we will need to ask for sponsorship to keep the trial going. We should be able to make it pay it’s way be selling seed potatoes from the trial after all of this work of improving the vigor and health and production. We will see when we weigh them next year as they are harvested!

Sponsor-A-Spud This Season

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Nutrient Dense Food and Carbon Sequestration using Local Sourced Fertiliser. Kay Closes The Loop – Part Four

While I wait for the ground to dry so I can prepare my garden beds, we will do another biochar burn with all our accumulated bones and tree prunings etc, so we have it to soak with urine to put back on the garden beds as we plant, and I’m changing my chicken management system somewhat so that I have more chicken compost for my garden rather than having almost all of it out in the forest garden. I usually leave my chicken house door open all the time, so they can come and go in the forest garden every waking hour. I’m keeping a deep litter in there (mainly oak, maple, poplar and willow leaves) so they can scratch but they tend to just go straight outside. I want their manure for the garden because of its magnesium content now so they are shut in until lunchtime. 

I’m also making a big effort to collect willow leaves for the chicken scratch yard and the compost because I am aware that I want the calcium levels up as high as possible which means the magnesium has to go up too. 

Our soil is sandy pumice, Taupo ash really, and 1 year ago we decided to add clay to the garden beds.. that was a tremendous success and has helped us a lot to hold the minerals in the top soil. Clay has a far higher ability to hold minerals than sand does (higher cation exchange capacity) C.E.C.. . IF you are on light sandy soils then I would recommend you add clay to your beds and/or your compost heaps.. we add 49 litres to each compost heap as well. 

The alfalfa in our forest garden is beginning to show signs of growth again, so I’m getting ready to plant my alfalfa beds that are transferring from vege beds to alfalfa to be used to make compost and mulch crops like tomatoes, perennial beds, pumpkins and peppers that have large spaces between the plants when they are planted, or that stay in the ground for a long time. I’ll use both comfrey and alfalfa to do that, and you can actually see the leaves breaking down on the surface of the bed and the feeder roots of the tomatoes coming up to get the nutrients being released with your naked eye. 

Another trick I’m using is to have a patch of Jerusalem artichokes planted near the vege garden, we will eat a few, and feed them to animals but it is the carbon in the stems that is so useful at this time of the year to add to the early compost heaps. It is hard to come up with carbon in Spring, and they last all winter ready to make compost with now. We are adding our humanure buckets to our vege garden compost heaps now as well, because we can see how difficult it is to find local sources of minerals to replace what leaves our bodies in our urine and humanure. A regenerative system has to recycle the nutrients.

We are in the process of getting Regional Council approval for this system which is accepted elsewhere in NZ so have no doubt we will succeed.

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Rootstock Sale

This year we have rootstocks that are excess to our needs in the nursery. As far as I know there is nowhere else you can buy organically grown rootstocks for apples and pears so be in if you are keen to grow your own apple or pear trees. The rootstocks will need to be planted in the ground this winter when you get them and then grafted in situ in October. Alternatively they could be budded in Summer. Both ways it could be possible to get heritage scion wood or bud wood from us.

Rootstocks are $5 each and are available only in bundles of 10 or more.

We have available:

  • Apple Rootstocks
    – Northern Spy large tree suitable for heavy wetter soils ( 45 available )
    – 793 large trees better on free draining soils but a very flexible stock ( 35 available) in bundles of 20 or more only
  • Pear Rootstocks
    – M9 dwarf stock, trees great for espaliering and cordoning, or staking to grow as a stand alone tree.
    – Quince BA 29… produces dwarf pear and needs heavier wetter soils to do well.. also in bundles of 20 or more ( 15 available)
    – Quince C super dwarfing tree suitable for cordoning pears in tiny urban situations (30 available)

Please email your orders to [email protected]