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Let nature take its course- a poem by Tamsin Leigh

we love bees .. bees on corn pollen

Calling all activists, animal lovers,
growers and gardeners and people with mothers,
all neighbours and nanas, all friends and all strangers,
it’s time to stand up: the varroa mites’ in danger!

Our little destructor, our tiny red friend
is suffering abuse that no law will defend,
each autumn and spring comes a chemical craze
and most wee mites die within hours or days.

But fear not, friends, there’s more, for the ones who survive
Pass their genes on to the next lot of little mite lives
and bit by bit they build up resistance
while the beekeepers grasp for the next round of pistons.

Blinded by profit we just cannot see:
There aren’t too many mites, but too many bees!
Nature is trying to bring back the balance
and us factory-farmers take that as a challenge.

The mite ain’t the problem, the mite is the symptom
of a seriously sorry sad-sack of a system
that acts as if one day the mite will be beaten
oh yeah? how will lions survive when gazelles are all eaten?

If varroa kicks the bucket then what will be next?
Nosema or foulbrood or bee-eating insects?
CCD ain’t a new thing like everyone thinks,
one way or another nature irons out the kinks

Why fight it, my friends, even on a bee-loving basis?
Each treatment steps away from homeostasis.
Forget “fight the mite,” let’s boost bees instead,
and give them a real chance in life up ahead.

horizontal top bar hive Oliver Ace (8) can manage it with a mentor ( Cody)

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2014 Tomato Growout

Last season our garden crew grew out 17 of our most popular tomatoes for seed. (This is by no means all of the most popular, we just didn’t need to grow out all of them for seed last season). When I say ‘most popular’, I really mean the cultivars that stand out to us from our huge collection, the best of the best!. We have been growing out our NZ heritage tomato collection every year for 30 years now, not all of them every year but all of them many times.

To import or not?

Initially I was very tempted to import seed from all the sexy tomato catalogues and companies around the world, there are amazing looking variations on the tomato theme around! About 20 years ago after having been spending time each summer over at Heronswood in Melbourne with David Cavagnaro who was then working with Seed Saver’s in the USA, I decided to bring all of their best cultivars here and trial them to see what I thought of them.

New Zealand’s Climate

The big thing that came from that trial was that none of them performed anywhere near as well as our own heritage cultivars. We have a very unique climate here in NZ. It is far more humid than most other places they are grown, we have a maritime humid climate, and tomatoes come from places with a humidity of around 10%. It become very that year that those that have been in this land for 100 years or more are simply better adapted to this climate.

NZ vs. the world

A couple of years after that trial the NZ Herald ran a large article complaining about how bad heritage tomatoes were….. they had been asking people what they thought of heritage tomatoes. The feed back they were getting was that they were very, very prone to blight and were not standing up well. They were not asking where their heritage tomato seed was coming from. If they had, they would have discovered that those people they had asked were buying their seed from companies selling heritage tomato seed from overseas mainly California and Italy.

If they had asked us we would have been able to explain why they got such bad results. (They are somebody else’s heritage tomatoes, they are not adapted to a climate with around 80% humidity, California having 10 % humidity year round!) They did ask us later and we showed them our tomatoes and they ran a story on them which was great.

New Zealand heritage tomatoes

Our own tomatoes have had a process of around 100- 150 years of adaption to our own soils and climate and have been selected to do well in these conditions! It makes a big difference. Nothing has changed… this season we added a new tomato to our range for trial, the tomato that is being touted as the most nutritious tomato these days… Earl of Edgecombe, a yellow tomato. It performed so badly that it basically produced almost nothing compared to all of the others , all NZ heritage lines.

There is no use being the most nutritious tomato if it s not adapted to NZ conditions. We had psyllid in our tomatoes last season, and so did not harvest as heavy a crop as we should have, however we learnt a lot about which cultivars are the most resistant to them , there were big differences between them in terms of being able to handle a psyllid infestation.

The winning tomatoes

The outstanding tomato was Oxheart, it cropped the heaviest, and we love that tomato anyway great for every thing…. It is an old Dalmatian gumdigger introduction to NZ in around 1880!










We had 5 tomatoes vying for second place in terms of production and resistance to psylllid:

Burbank (a really red reliable beefsteak by well known USA psychic plant breeder of the 19th tomato)

Hawkes Bay Yellow (our best cropping best tasting yellow, flattish, beefsteak type)

hawkes bay yellow
Hawkes Bay Yellow













Scotland Yellow while not a beefsteak did very well and is super hardy in the South Island, good flavour when fully ripe goes orange when really ripe,

Wonder was also in the top producing range and that is our earliest fruiting tomato (apart from Henry’s Dwarf Bush Cherry which we grow under cloches and in containers for very early fruiting).


Garden Peach, is a super productive tomato that has a peach like look about it and some people love it, others don’t. It is a super healthy plant with high production. And some of our best were not in that growout eg Watermouth, J Walsh, Russian Red, Tommy Toe, Kings Gold, Calrton Victory and Black Roma.

Check them out on the website or our catalogue.


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Joshua’s garden apprenticeship


I had, had a strong interest in permaculture and been gardening organically for a number of years in Auckland; as well as expanding my collection of psychoactive cacti & ethnobotanical plants (of which I plan to open a nursery for in the future).
Before I had learned the concepts of ‘nutrient dense food’ or even heard of bio-intensive gardening I had the intuitive feeling this would be my calling. I felt it would be of the utmost importance to learn how to grow food to provide nutrition for my future family & community in a sustainable way. When I learned of the Koanga Institute I immediately applied for the apprenticeship to seek  an opportunity to learn these skills.
I began my apprenticeship over five months ago in December. I have spent the summer honing my skills ias a bio-intensive gardener, thinking about permaculture principles & learning great life lessons about how to co-exist within a community. I love the experiences of community living & kinship here at Koanga. The people drawn to this crucial work  of saving organic heritage seeds are lovingly generous people. I have learned more about life during mealtime conversations than I ever would have having pursued a conventional education.

josh millie
Kay is a wonderful & dedicated gardener with a vast knowledge of Heirloom plants. While the teaching style here is much more hands on and less formalised than I am used to, I have still gleaned a lot of information from Kay. The very labour-intensive work is tiring and I often wonder if people buying our organic heritage seeds realise just how much energy goes into creating each packet we send out to them. However, I am enjoying the work as I feel the cause of the institute – to protect the Heirloom seed lines – is crucial.
As my garden goes into winter vegetables & compost crops I am feeling much more connected to the garden. Before I had ‘inherited’ many of the plants, but now I am raising them from seeds. I am looking forward to the winter season where I hope to carry out more of my own research.


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Millie’s garden apprenticeship

mllAged only 19, Millie originally came to the institute all the way from Geraldine for a two month seed internship. She likes it so much she’s decided to stay for three years as a garden apprentice. Here are her words…

…It’s been three months since I fell into Koanga, and landed on both feet. It’s a place where the seasons carry us and an almost forgotten rhythm of of life can be lived.
I’ve learned that plants do not come from little plastic trays on a store shelf, but have a much greater life-cycle.

….And more importantly, I’ve learned that the life-cycle of each plant is so intricately woven into ours, that it becomes a question of: are we growing the garden or is the garden growing us?

Everyday Mother Nature asks us to step back and keep things in perspective…. “Sure, you can do the finickity weeding of every plant out of place,” Mother Nature says. “But tomorrow, I will rain like hell and the next day, little weedy will grow again!”
My eyes are wide open now, I’ve learned a huge amount. But the garden continues… the marrows are the size of table legs, the birds are in the millet and the river is cool and potable.

Where else would I want to be?


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Soil Food and Health Internship – Did you get what you came for?

Soil Food and Health Internship 2013

Food Forest  focus


Did you get what you came for?


After reading about forest gardens prior to embarking on my internship here at Koanga, I had a lot of theory and much less practical experience.

This forest garden internship has met my expectations in more ways than I thought.  Although, I still had to spend time in the food and seed gardens for part of the week, there was heaps of practical application and time spent immersed in the forest garden and nursery.  Within the 10 weeks, both theory and practical application enriched my understanding of the forest garden design process, especially pertaining to how to meet the nutritional needs of plants and trees within such a system without using chemical fertilizer applications, but using, essentially, companion planting instead.

After learning about how to find heritage seeds and trees, how to propagate by cuttings, get them to root and then grow the cuttings in starter beds, how to store scion wood, root stocks, tree guilds, forest mimicry, grafting, transplanting, nicking, budding, pruning and fertilizing (with minerals) I could grow just about anything I set my heart to!

The forest garden internship definitely provided me with a solid foundation to either take on an already existing project or establish my own project from scratch!

Thank you for all of the valuable information and experiences!


– Cody Kerr

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Preparing and Cooking Nutrient Dense Food at Koanga Institute


by William Hill

One of the exciting aspects of being an intern at Koanga Institute is the preparation and eating of our meals.  Each mealtime is eagerly anticipated as the food is delectable and highly nutritious, and its preparation is an education.

Dr. Weston A. Price, a dentist and researcher, conducted extensive studies of indigenous peoples throughout the world in the 1920s and 30s.  He is noted for his observations that nutrition was directly linked to superior dental and physical health of peoples from traditional, indigenous cultures. He tested the vitamin and mineral content of the American diet at the time and found it contained very low amounts of fat soluble vitamins and minerals in comparison with those in traditional diets.

Today the Weston A. Price Foundation promotes traditional foods and their preparation.  It is these principles that the Koanga Institute follows in its food preparation to nourish inquisitive, hungry interns.

Principles of traditional diets
found in every indigenous culture observed by Dr. Weston Price:

1. No refined or denatured foods e.g. refined sugar and flour, corn syrup, canned foods, pasteurised and homogenised foods, hydrogenated oils etc.

2. Animal protein and fat from fish, land animals, eggs, milk etc.

3. Four times the calcium and other minerals and ten times the fat soluble vitamins (vitamin A, D, K2) of the average American diet in the 1920s.

4. High enzyme content foods such as those from raw dairy, raw meat and fish, raw honey, tropical fruits, cold pressed oils and naturally preserved lacto-fermented vegetables.

5. Seeds, grains and nuts: soak fermented of naturally leavened  in order to neuteralise naturally occuring anti-nutrients in these foods such as phytic acid, enzyme inhibitors, tannins and complex carbohydrates.

6. Total fat content of traditional diets varied from 30%-80% with the predominant source of fats in the form of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids and very little polyunsaturated fats.

7. Omegas 3 & 6 – traditional diets contained nearly equal amounts of these essential fatty acids.

8. Salt – always a part of traditional diets.

9. Consumption of animal bones – usually in the form of gelatin-rich bone broths.

10. Provision for the health of future generations by providing nutrient-rich foods for parents to be, pregnant women and growing children; proper spacing of children and by teaching principles of diet to the young.

The best part about learning these principles: taking them into the kitchen!  Kay, an accomplished cook and cookery writer, introduced us to preparing and cooking foods with traditional methods and recipes, those that maintain and even increase the nutrition content of food.  And it is this example that we follow, referencing her cook books and traditional cooking methods.

One of the first foods we prepared was yoghurt which is made by adding a starter culture to milk to enable it to ferment.  In traditional cultures, without refrigeration, milk was changed into other foods, usually by fermentation.  This practise not only ensured that milk could be stored but it also increased the nutritional value of the food.

Each meal served at Koanga provides us with an educative experience.  Preparation is varied but always utilises whole foods that are highly nutritious or what is termed “nutrient-dense” foods – those that are grown organically and contain a high vitamin and mineral content.  Using quality ingredients and cooking them in ways that enliven them, such as slowly and without non-nutritious additives are key ways of preparing traditional food.

Ingredients used are sourced from the garden and local farms while other ingredients are selected from localised sources.  This serves to connect us to the region and ensure we are eating foods in season that have not travelled great distances to out table.

Any seeds, grains or nuts are soaked prior to use to enable the full nutritional benefit of each are made available.

Each week, two interns are charged with cooking the meals for their fellow interns and also Kay and family and Institute staff.  With Kay’s guidance, meals are planned for the week ahead and prepared by the interns beginning with ingredient preparation through to cooking and presentation of meals to the group.

Meal times are signalled by ringing of a bell and we pause to give thanks for the food, those who have prepared it, those who are to eat it and for the abundant blessings of the day.

Each meal is served with a vegetable such as carrot that has been fermented (a nutritious way of preserving and increasing the nutrition of vegetables), sea salt and butter, a source of good fat and vitamin A.

Desert?  Well, not every day, more likely to be seen on special occasions such as a birthday. And yes, these can be made nutritiously by utilising honey as a sweetener and flour made from ground nuts.

Learning the principles of a traditional diet at Koanga is proving to be highly enjoyable.  Through this experience we are being shown how to put traditional nutrition wisdom into practise in our lives today and we will leave with new and vital perspectives of food and cooking that will inspire our families and friends to enrich their lives in the same way.

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Top Bar Hive, you wonder?


Spring is a busy season here at Koanga!  As the ground warms up, trees begin to blossom and the birds begin to sing, every indication is that it’s time to get out there and keep up with the pace of the season!  If you’re having a bit of trouble finding the motivation to get your act together, perhaps a lesson from the bees will help.  That’s right, bees!

Here at Koanga, we’ve all been inspired by watching the bees flit and fly about, busying themselves with nectar and pollen collection to bring home.  They’re out setting the example for us that it’s time to get out and garden!  Just recently even, we happened upon the fortune of a local beekeeper who was kind enough to sell us a swarm from his apiary that we could install into a newly built top bar hive.

Top bar hive, you wonder?  Well, it’s quite simple really.  Some may be imagining the square bee boxes that stack vertically into the air, often seen from a roadside drive past a local bee yard.  A top bar hive is a different style of hive with it’s own benefits and advantages.  It’s a system that provides easy management for the bees and beekeeper.  Some of these benefits we’ve already reviewed in our most recent introduction to beekeeping (the top bar way) workshop.


 For those already into conventional beekeeping and wondering how to add a top bar hive or even make the transition to only top bar hives, there are many ways to do so.  In fact, the swarm we just installed came from a square style box with frames and we placed them into a “V” shaped top bar hive with ease.  They’re now living happily in the Urban Garden here at Koanga and we’ll be using the hive for honey and wax production as well as pollen collection.  Yep, you can even place a pollen trap on a top bar hive!

The goals for the bees this season here at Koanga are several, among which include:

  1. Building strong colonies to winter over on their own
  2. Not overharvesting honey
  3. Genetic Selection for hygienic and pest resistant bees

If you’re interested in learning more about top bar hives, we’ll be doing some more lessons regarding hive management, colony installation and even some hive building.  Even if you’re not sure about top bar hives, you could still join us for the lessons because most of the information we’ll be learning is applicable to any style of beekeeping.  So take a lesson from the bees.  Get out here, get busy with things and join us!

by Cody Kerr

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 26

Article 26 of Natural Building and Appropriate Tech Internship


Here is the last article about the Natural Building and Appropriate Technology internship at Kotare Village, home of the Koanga Institute. And at the same time that I am writing, a gentle grasp around my heart.

The internship finished Friday the 26th of April. Some left and some stayed, a moment of separation where each one of us goes on their own road. But none of us will forget that we spent 10 weeks living together, sharing our joy and sorrow, learning about each other.

So what have we been up to in this last week?

Plaster Party number two! Silus and the plaster crew organised an other event in the seed room to lay down the second layer on the walls. Prepared as always we had a bunch of different kind of plaster to spread. This time they where the finished layer so we had to be neat and clear, trying to do the most beautiful job possible to leave a nice harmony on this place, protecting the seeds. And how impressed we where by the work of Shelly and here natural paints! For us she prepared a whole lot of different colours made with available natural material and we painted the wall with it.


Colours and creativity at place

And after a few days, the plasters still holding we discovered a nice surprise of Mother Nature.


Sprouting out f the wall.

We did spend a lot of time trying to finish the on-going projects which now will be relayed to the people staying at the Kotare Village. Specially the building, we have not been able to finish the sleep-out and it is all right. We all learned a lot about building techniques definitely and for me the main learning was beyond the techniques but to grasp the patterns of humans interactions and our ability of working together. As written in one of the first article:

–       It takes always more time than planned

–       It takes always more money

–       And we can always make a better job

I am sure that it is a never ending cycle but also I am sure that through a good management of people, we can infinitely tend to perfection through creativity. It has been such a pleasure to experiment collaboration with such a diversity of people.

In the last week we also saw new personal project like tanning and smoking skin in a natural way. The smoke is meant to water proof the skin and be an insect repellent.


The colour is also amazing.

A lot of weaving with flaxes, I found myself very enjoying this craft. And people ended up creating beautiful baskets and even a back pack!


Beautiful and useful

A big satisfaction of this internship was the learning and the doing, the theory and the practice. To actually understand something and the build it. And the real pleasure arrive when people are using your creation. When you can feel that what you have done is useful. A direct connection between the creator/producer and the customer/user.

Such as :

–       The ram pump

–       The solar ovens

–       The rocket oven

–       The Biochar stove

–       The rocket barbecue


Thank you Koanga institute for this life changing opportunity where we have been able to live a simpler lifestyle, to learn and make beautiful instruments that can make a difference in someone’s life and to allow this environment to create amazing relationships.


The last picture of the internship crew with the community members!

It has been a real pleasure to write down this blog.

I hope you enjoyed.


 ~Oscar Morand, 1 May 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 25

Article 25 of Natural Building and Appropriate Tech Internship


Super Sunny day! It is hard to believe that we are in the middle of April here at the Koanga Institute. It hot and even during the night I have stopped needing three layers of blankets.

Friday, Enlighted Ben is leaving the internship, he is going back to Japan one week earlier. So today we had a special workshop biochar day leaded by Ben! As every morning we begun with our morning check-in and went into the classroom where Ben gave us an amazing lesson on Biochar, underlying perfectly the main principles and goals and also a few different design.


Super interesting class. Everyone is captivated.

Then, direction the workshop to spend the day building Biochar. Luckily Yotam donate to us a whole bunch of pipe that he was going to use for a rocket mass heater but it never happened and it is a perfect material for us to use. So like little bees in the hive everyone took the tools they needed and begun build their own.


Silus and his simple pipe design

It was a very noisy day at the workshop having everyone using tools everywhere. Sadly the oxygen bottle on the oxy-torch was empty! Poor of us! But Tom showed us some incredible skills with the angle grinder to cut into a gas bottle a perfect circle.

And as we go through our design and then to the practice it doesn’t always work as excepted.


Ben blowing to increase the primary air into the system, which is… quiet smoky.

Myself I worked on a very simple design. The biochar retort, which is basically a container with the material inside and a few holes. The concept is that you can chunk this container into a fire, this pyrolizes the material, splitting of many gases and living behind the carbon.  The gases comes out of the holes and get burned in the fire, which helps it’s process. I did my container with two equal size tin can. I crimped the top of one to make it fit into an other.


The container getting heated in the fire, you can guess that in the middle of the container the flames that shows up is the gas from the inside of the container coming out and getting burned.

And I was very surprised to see how well it worked!


Here is the result. Beautiful biochar made out of pine needles. And you can see how I crimped one can to fit into the other.

This biochar workshop has been a really good success. We also had the chance to have Big Ben and Shelly finishing the barbecue that is just a beautiful piece of art.



Tom has been working hard on his own little project, the rabbit system. I really enjoy passing by and seeing him working steadily on his structure. Step by step, beam by beam it is going up.


There will be rabbit soon!

And always the building, the team has now a cement mixer to mix our light earth and it works great. It able us to go way faster.


Big Ben on the mix!


 ~Oscar Morand, 17 April 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 24


Article 24 of Natural Building and Appropriate Tech Internship


And one more big week for us at the Koanga Institute.

So what happened this week?

Guess what? The roof is done! And it really change the aura of the building. So let’s go and begin the walls. For that Big Ben with the advice of Bob and the helps of the team created the perfect mix that we can work with. The Idea is to create a light earth mix with pine needles and some silty clay coming from the bottom of the pond. It has to be quiet aerated. We don’t want thermal mass but insulation. Which means that we just dip the pine needles in the “sludge” for them to be able to stick together but at the same time we don’t want it to be too soggy and heavy. The goal is to have a lot of air gap between the needles.

First, pine needles harvesting! Going in the pine forest and being sure to take only the top layers of the needles. They are the one that have not begin the decomposition process now so their tensile strength is way higher than the rotten one. Logic you would say.


The crew coming back from they hard work.

And then collecting sludge. The dam is empty, the syphoning worked well and now let’s jump into the mud!


Cold mud, up to the knees, nothing better for the skin!

And finally beginning the wall. Figuring out the right ratio of pine needles and sludge and here we go. Handful by handful it is going up.


The very beginning of the wall, the mix seems to work!

During this week we also had the plaster party. And what a show! Silus, Sarah, Shelly and Shaz (the S team) organized themselves very well. The previous day the created enough of the three different mixes that they used for us to play with and prepared the space for us to work, all the conditions where perfect.


Silus wetting the hessian the night before the party for the plaster to have a good grip.

We had a introduction about what different mixes are made of. One is a clay slip, one is a mix of clay, silt and paper pulp and the third one is a mix of clay, silt and fermented cow dung (which was a little bit smelly but had a great colour). So we rolled up our sleeves and begin to spread these plaster on the walls. I tell you, it is great fun.


The best way was really to press with the palm for the plaster to grip on the hessian.

And what a final result! For the moment none of them has cracked and it really change the energy of the seed room.


From the left to the right we have the paper pulp mix, the fermented dung mix and the clay slip.

Now let’s check the other project. Tom has begun to build the structure for the rabbits to go in. It will be part of the urban design and implemented garden simulating a backyard space of a usual family in the suburb and how can they feed themselves.

Shelly is working on the rocket barbecue. A big learning experience about how to build something efficient and convenient at the same time. For example, which material are we going to use for the insulation? For it to be efficient we need a very good insulation but for it to be convenient we want something very light to be able to move the barbecue around. And from what I have seen they found a perfect answer to this problem. The whole design will come in a later article when the barbecue is fully done and functional.


Shelly using the oxy torch. What an amazing pattern.

In the last article I showed the Biochar cooker that I have build for people to use in the village. We runned it a few time and see what was working well and what was not. There is a lot of variable depending on the material you use for how long the stove is going to burn. But generally it was quiet quick. So firstly I set up a sliding door for us to be able to manage the air flow going in and notice that it help making the process slower and still having enough air to have an efficient combustion that burn all the gases. But even with this extra time it may not be long enough depending on the fuel you are using. So the idea now is that if you need some more cooking time you can just burn the charcoal that you just created. Nothing wrong with that as long as you are able to have a decent cooking time. We did face a problem in the design of my biochar cooker. The chemine is to high and the coal inside are too far apart from the pot. So we inspired ourselves from the Japanese culture and saw that they use a lot of ceramic pot to cook with where they burn charcoal inside. So I transformed my biochar maker cooker into a biochar maker cooker charcoal burner!


That’s the first step of the process, where the fuel gets burned and we need the chemine effect to have a decent draft.

And now we can easily transform this unit into a charcoal burner.


Second step, the unit open in two and you just need to put a grill with your pot on top to harvest the energy of the charcoal burning.

As you can notice the sliding door is almost closed during the first step, where we want the fuel to burn at the slowest rate possible and then in the second phase it is totally open for the charcoal to burn well enough to be able to cook with it. Seeing at the ceramic charcoal burner of Japan I will still need to insulate the bottom part very well. We saw that we were loosing a lot of heat through the steel walls.


 ~Oscar Morand, 12 April 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern