Sunday, November 16, 2008

Motorways at night

So I was taking photos of motorways the other night intending to show how disgusting they are but instead they look kinda beautiful.

I used long exposure times with a low ISO to get the pictures.I played round with saturation and colour temperature on the bottom two images.

Kingsland Community Garden

Here ares some pictures I took yesterday at the community garden. Things are growing amazingly well in the spring warmth.

Cool local Garden

Here are some photos of my friends garden. The guy that runs it shows amazing use of every inch of space particularly vertical space. Another awesome thing about it is that it is less than two years old! All the trellising in the photos below is to grow pumpkins up and pumpkins are also to be grown across the garage roof.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Presentation at World Vegan Day Event

I did a brief presentation yesterday at a festival put on by some Auckland Hare Krishna's for world vegan day. I talked about how the same attitudes of dominion and exploitation behind the farming of animals in our society are also the attitudes behind how all our vegetables are produced. I explained that as health conscious vegans its important for us to eat heaps of fresh organic vegies and as few of us can afford to but them we may as well grow them. I finished up by telling people it was spring and that they had no excuse not to start a garden or get involved with a community garden.

As well as mine a friend got up and did a great impromptu talk on the enormous possibility's for Guerrilla Gardening around Auckland and the small plot he has put in. People were raving about this talk hours later so hopefully someone starts a guerrilla garden out of it. I will go and get photos of his guerrilla plot sometime soon, he just wants me to wait for his potatoes to come through first :)

Another friend of mine talked about his garden which on a normal section in south Auckland grows almost all the fresh vegies for 7 monks. He had amazing photos of pumpkins blanketing his garage roof and corn growing around his letter box. I talked to him for a while afterwards about seeds and growing and as a result he dropped off some plant for the community garden at my place this morning. I will probably be going out to his place on Tuesday and will take a bunch of pics. I think his garden is probably the most inspiring one I have been too in Auckland in terms of productivity and the health of everything growing in it.

All in all the night was great with good food, interesting people and a good mix of groups represented.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Gardening Popular as Economy Crashes

I've been reading about the coming crash for so many years now that even as it starts I cant force myself to pay attention. Every morning brings new storys about this or that bank collapse, yo - yoing oil and commodity prices and looming economic recession. I have to remind myself that to the average person all of this is brand new and that the average person has no idea how bad things are going to get.

All the bad news and rising food prices have been great for gardening and nurserys and garden centers across Auckland are rapidly selling out of edible plants. On the back of all of this I recently helped a journalist out with a story about saving money through gardening. His single minded focus on the financial benefits of gardening seemed really odd to me and ever time I went off on a tangent about the political, emotional and environmental benefits of gardening his pen would stop moving. As soon as I got back onto how much broccoli cost or how much it cost to build a garden bed his pen would start moving furiously.

As part of the story I had to travel to my parents place so a photographer could get a picture of me in a garden. After posing beside my silverbeet patch one day I got a phone call saying the photos were'nt quite what he wanted and would I be able to do a second lot of photos? So the next day it was on the train once again and this time the photographer wanted me to dress up in gloves and a hat and hold carrots and a basket full of vegies. So after posing in various places all over the garden I was expecting to see a photo of me in the paper. However they didnt use the second days pictures either and instead went with a photo of another lady in her rather bare looking garden.

I will be meeting another journalist next week about a longer term project around gardening which sounds fun. I will write more as I get details.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Housing New Zealand

Early this year I got a call from a resident living in a government owned and subsidised housing complex. The complex was pretty much brand new but because of its cramped nature and the hundred or so kids living in it there were already some pretty bad vandalism issues. As one of the strategies to combat this and to build community spirit this resident was really keen to get garden beds put in at most of the houses. After a bunch of meetings we got funding to put in ten small beds and I provided seedlings about six months ago.

About a month ago I got another call and it turns out that Housing NZ were keen to fund another 15 garden beds. When I turned up with seedlings for the new gardens I was a bit nervous aobut how the original beds would be going but most were thriving. As I went round the houses many residents offered me food which they were cooking using the vegies from their gardens. Seeds I helped plant six months ago were now healthy thick rows of carrots. Fragile broccoli seedlings were now heads the size of dinner plates.

I was way to busy talking to kids and parents to get many photos but here are three, one of a new garden bed and two of a garden bed that was put in a few months ago. This has been a great project to be a part of and left me with a real buzz

A similar project is being proposed for all of south Auckland which I may be a part of. The scope of the proposed project is enormous with thousands of gardeners trained and potentially dozens of community gardens set up. While I have only played a small role in this bigger project it is awesome to know that despite the global ecological crisis we are undergoing that there are some real small solutions out there.

Apologies for the Absence

So apologies for the absensence, I have been working hard on a couple of projects and moved into a flat which did not have access to the internet. I do have the internet now though and will be resuming regular posting about gardening across Auckland city. Interest in gardening is sky rocketing in NZ and I have been contacted by numerous journalists for storys over the past two months including two from national news papers. I have an upcoming long term project with a local news paper but I will write more about that when I have a bit more detail.

I'm living in a central suburb and unfortunately my landlord won't let me have a garden so I have been doing work at the Unitec gardens as well as at various community gardens including the Kingsland gardens. I have a backlogue of pictures so I will get on to posting.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Anarchism and Community Gardening

I wrote this to go in a zine for an event I talked at. The talk went really well and I will expand and work on this piece including a heap of stuff which came up in questions etc

Anarchism and Community gardening

Around the world food prices are going up as employment rates are going down and rich western countries are beginning to experience shortages in some staples. What we are seeing at the moment though is only the beginning of a very long period of energy descent as more and more global consumers compete for a limited amount of oil. As our economy and food supply is built upon the continuous use of cheap oil the effects of rising prices will have a dramatic effect on the way we live. I think that as living standards fall in the west we will see greater opportunities for anarchist organising

To me anarchism is a rejection of all coercive forms of Authority and a move towards greater individual and communal autonomy. I see gardening and community gardening as a powerful tool for practicing non coercive community organising, challenging our current notions of private property and meeting some our needs. Setting up and running a garden is far easier than attempting to start a worker run workplace but allows for many of the skills to be used and provides some the same benefits.

Community gardening provides a way for us to work together voluntarily and share the harvest. It also allows us some control over one of the larger parts of our lives how we get the food we need to survive. Instead of buying and eating foods which reinforce corporate control we can grow and eat food which builds community resiliency and health. By using space which would normally be seen as private or unproductive we can challenge current notions around private property and what public space can be used for. By involving the community in this we give ourselves a tool to spread our philosophy and to build support for other campaigns.

Most of our campaigns have little real effect on our day to day lives or the lives of people living in our communities. I think this is one of the major reasons for burnout as our successes do not directly affect us and the problems we are fighting are always at a bigger scale than we can directly change. Add to this the fact that much of the work we do is around violent struggle and I think its obvious why more people don't become involved. To become a threat to those in power we must become relevant to those around us. The solutions we offer must appear achievable and more attractive than the consumerist dream offered in our society.

Of course a few community gardens alone wont bring down capitalism but it could be an important way for us to put our beliefs into practice and to show our communities that there are many different ways of organising our lives. If nothing else more gardens would give us healthy free food and an opportunity to build something positive.

So how do we do it?

The easiest place to start gardening is in your yard, if you have grass cover it with paper for a few months add some compost and put some veggies in. If you have concretes you can easily grow herbs like rosemary and thyme as well as most veggies in pots. Once you have some practical experience growing food it will be much easier to do it in a larger scale. Auckland only has a couple of community gardens and none of these are producing very much food at the moment so I think we urgently need more. Auckland City Council policy is encouraging of community gardens so it is possible that we could get official approval to start up gardens. The other faster and probably more empowering way would be to identify space either owned by individuals or institutions that isn't going to be developed urgently and then starting gardens there.

Whatever form of gardening we get involved in I think it must be tied strongly to the community it is in if we are serious about building autonomous communities. Having local support is also incredibly important if the possibility exists that we may be evicted from whatever land we end up using.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

What I've been up too

After my gardening blitz two weeks ago there hasnt been that much too do in the garden. That combined with threee large storms over the past week has meant that conditions havnt been that conducive to gardening.

Yesterday was the first day in a while without heavy rain so I got out and repaired the hothouse which blew apart, none of the plastic broke so i just nailed it back on. Some of my bananas had also blown over so I cut a few down and chopped them up for the compost pile. A neighbour had helped himself to a stem hanging over his side of the fence with bunches of bananas on. He offered to return it but this is exactly the sort of thing I want to see and which will in the long run help to build community

I've also been taking cuttings from herbs, pepino etc heres a how to guide I wrote recently

Taking cuttings

Taking cuttings is a quick and easy way to grow plants if you are gardening on a budget. Cuttings Simply prepare a tray or container about 7 - 10 cm deep full of pumice (can be bought from a gardening store). Take a cutting from the plant which you wish to grow this cutting should be around 5 – 10cm long but its worthwhile to try multiple lengths when you take the cuttings. Next strip the bottom 5 – 7 cm of leaves and dip in rooting hormone or Willow water. The rooting hormone isn’t really nessacary but increases the number of successful cuttings

Place the cuttings into the tray a few cm apart and water the tray very well. Cover the tray with a plastic bag to increase humidity and mist and water the pumice once or twice a day. Take the bag off for about half an hour a day so the plants can get carbon dioxide. The tray should be in a place which gets reliable sun like a north facing window or in a hot house.

Once you see new growth on the cutting carefully remove the cutting and some pumice. If white roots have begun growing though the medium its time to replant into potting mix and water once a day with your other seedlings.

Softwood cuttings (plants with green stems) should be taken in spring or summer. Hardwoods with brown stems like figs or grapes can be taken in late autumn or late winter. These times are not fixed and if you have a warm sunny area and keep the medium moist then you can take cuttings over a longer period.

Plants which its easy to take cuttings from inclue: Rosemary, Lavender, Thyme, Fig, pepino, grape.

Willow water

This can be used instead of rooting hormone.

To make it cut up a small stem of a willow plant and chop into 10 cm lengths. Put these lengths into a jam jar and leave for 24 hours. This contains the same rooting hormone found in commercial rooting hormone. This water can also be used to water the pumice to encourage strong root growth.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Nitrogen Fixers

Nitrogen fixers are an integral part of any garden food forest or perennial system as a lack of nitrogen is often a limiting factor in ecosystems. Nitrogen fixers have the unique ability to take nitrogen out of the atmosphere and convert it into a form which is available to other plants. They do this with the aid of symbiotic bacteria which in make nitrogen available to plants in return for sugars and nutrients from the plant. These bacteria are visible as white nodules which form on the roots of Nitrogen fixers.

White Nodules contain N fixing bacteria

Most plants which can fix Nitrogen are members of the Legume family. This family includes peas, beans, clovers as well as a wide range of shrubs and trees.

In the garden we incorporate Nitrogen fixers by regularly planting peas, beans and clover, either amongst other plants or as part of a crop rotation.

In perennial areas we include a range of fast growing pioneer species such as Tagasaste to fix Nitrogen and improve the soil before or as we plant fruit trees. As the fruit trees mature and increase in size many of these Nitrogen fixers can be chopped down and used as mulch. If this is done in a well thought out manner fast growing trees can be used to block light and suppress the growth of weeds without sacrificing the fast growth of fruiting species. Groundcovers or intercrops of clover or beans can also be incorporated into design.

Tagasaste is a fast growing tree of 3 - 5 m which is useful as a stock feed and which is used in native restoration projects for its prolofic flowers which feed many types of native birds. It can spread but is not highly invasive. Standing beneath a tagasate tree in flower is an amazing experience, the air above you is constantly moving with bee's and birds moving through the tree.

I recently got some seed from Unitec which after boiling for 30 seconds I planted in my hot house. I now have about fourty seedlings which I will plant around my property particularly along the grass verge which runs down the side of the section as well as a few food forests I am working on around the place. After 3 - 6 years the trees will be cut out and the branches used for mulch and the trunks for firewood.

Mature tree in flower

Thursday, July 17, 2008

How does the garden grow

Just a few pictures of the garden. I have completely planted up and properly weeded all the main garden beds. This is a real achievement which doesnt happen often so now I am focusing on increasing the available growing space and working on some other things I have been putting up (like tidying the garage)

Urban/Rural Divide

I recently read a utopian article on about the possibility of sending out people from the citys to spread skills and information to the suburbs and even rural areas about living sustainably, putting together local power generation etc etc. While the article suggested setting up a lot of things which I consider relatively useless (such as advanced electronic communication networks) it triggered an interesting debate in the comments section around whether or not city folks have anything to teach rural folk. While I accept entirely that rural folk in general have far more useful skills than say your average office worker there is still a huge amount of knowledge around living sustainably that many modern farmers lack.

For example some distant relatives recently stayed the night at our place between moving between one farm and another, The husband and wife have both lived the majority of their lives in rural areas and the husband is particularly adept at all the usual jobs on a farm. Despite this lifetime interacting closely with his environment he was constantly blown away as I talked about Nitrogen fixers, water storage, agroforestry and a bunch of other techniques. Walking round my backyard section with him quickly highlighted his profound disconnection from his surroundings. Needless to say he left with a bunch of Tagasaste seedlings, Comfrey roots and Daikon seeds as well as a very good introductory book to permaculture.

Anyway the point (as was well made by some people in the comments section) is that modern farmers are going to be screwed as oil continues to spiral in price and complex society breaks down. They may have greater access to land and food but heavily indebted and reliant on commercial fertilisers they are going to need all the help they can get. I think we may even see commercial farmers simply walking off their land and moving towards the city as farms become unmanageable without immense inputs and as drought takes more of a toll (as happened during the dust bowl).

Industrialised farming is nothing like the mythical family farms of 200 years ago. But even the mythical family farms created deserts out of fertile soils and destroyed the land they were upon. Much of the fertility that was once present in agricultural soils is gone and without constant inputs of water, machinery and fertilisers growing crops may become impossible.

Both farmers and suburbanites will need help organising to resist banks and crippling taxation. They will both need help and instruction building composting toilets and putting in swales. And as counterintuitive as it may seem I think many farmers will walk off their land even as people are crying out for food.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Planting Strawberrys

One of the things I have been doing the last couple of days has been moving most of my strawberry plants. They had been growing in a bed at the back of the garden but that bed had gradually become overrun with Couch grass and the soil had become compacted. I plan to sheetmulch the bed with horse manure and cardboard and then use the bed for growing pumpkins or some other summer crop which requires space.

The strawberry plants have been moved up to the front of the property into a variety of containers as well as one garden bed. The containers are an adhoc collection I have bought from nursery supply stores as well as plastic barrels cut in half and filled with compost and old potting mix. Overall after dividing clumps up I probably have about 70 plants which is more than I expected buy you can never have too many strawberrys :)

The old strawberry patch

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

An amazing local garden

So apologies for not posting for a month, the simple reason has been I have been too busy to get out into the garden the past month or so. Its only been the past few days that I have been able to get out and start weeding and planting.

Last week however I had the oppurtunity to visit a friends garden and help him make some compost. I had heard about the garden for some time and had envisioned a large area perhaps a field behind his house. It was with amazement then that I realised that he and the others living in the house were growing all of the households fresh vegies in the area around a standard 1970s home. This is even more incredible because he feeds eight vegetarians living in the house from the garden and regularly cooks large meals containing fresh vegies for others as well. While he doesnt grow all his staples he has grown a considerable amount of potatoes and pumpkins and last night told me how someone has given over their lawn so he can grow potatoes.

The thing which blew me away was how lush and healthy all the plants were, disease was virtually non existent and despite very close spacing everything seemed lush and highly productive. Compost piles scattered around the property and barrels full of comfrey tea are probably the reason for the lush growth
Use of space was highly ingenious with lettuce growing on a pallet atop a compost bin and frames set up so pumpkins can sprawl across the garage use. The home built hot house was warm and humid in the very middle of winter and contained fruiting chilli plants, basil, cucumber and some straggling tomatoe plants.

All this in a garden less than two years old! Inspiring what can be done when you put your mind to it :)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


The chickens have been going through their first moult since I got them and their feathers are thickening up in preparation for winter. For most of the hens this just means more feathers and a shiny new appearance but one of the hens - Mildred is growing feathers on her neck for the first time. Mildred and the other hens were originally bought from an intensive factory farm and when I got them they were all missing varying amounts of feathers. Mildred has had large sun burnt red patches for many months so it is a real relief that the new feathers are coming through.
This is Mildred preening herself

The garden is going along well, all beds are planted up and we have an abundance of brassicas. Garlic, onions and leeks are all becoming established and broadbean seeds are poking through rich soil and carrots have been sown. I am continuously sowing more brassicas and salad crops so that we have vegies to eat throughout winter. Auckland is blessed with relatively warm wet winters which allow for constant year round food production.