Wednesday, January 23, 2008


8pm 12th February

KFM Upstairs, 208 Karangahape Road Auckland

'Permaculture helps people turn wastelands into food forests'Urban Sustainability Group presents a special one-off film screening of 'The Global Gardener' series.

BILL MOLLISON is a practical visionary. For three decades he has traveled the globe spreading the word about permaculture, the method of sustainable agriculture that he devised. The Global Gardener is a showcase series of permaculture techniques and properties around the world, demonstrating how people everywhere are working with the land to grow healthy communities. Each episode looks at examples in different regions: IN THE TROPICS - Mollison introduces the basic Permaculture principles, and shows results in Australia, India, and Zimbabwe. ARID LANDS - Reversing desertification in Arizona, Botswana and Australia.COOL CLIMATES - Europe, Tasmania, and the San Juan Islands in Washington State. URBAN - New York City and Harare, Zimbabwe.

The film screening will be preceded by a short presentation on permaculture in New Zealand. Food and drink will be available.

If you are interested in attending, please RSVP asap to

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Making Horticulture Work

I spent the day at Horizon Gardens in Royal oak sheetmulching their food forest. I also planted a bunch of tree's. While its the middle of summer the trees should be fine with frequent watering. Horizon gardens is one of the larger community gardens in Auckland though it recently lost about half its space to a parking lot and some administration buildings.

The change in size is forcing the volunteers and staff to become creative and new growing areas are being created constantly. The intensity of planting is to increase as well with dwarf varietys and stacking used to maximise production in a smaller area.

The most interesting part of the day was when Scott (the gardens main caretaker) mentioned that most of the farms he woofed at had major labour shortages This is also the main problem for most of the urban sites (including my own) that I have been to. Quite simply people do not have time or energy in a modern society to be able to grow large amounts of their own food. Working weeks are steadily lengthening in first world countries and with all the pressures of a modern life people simply are unable to put aside 5 - 10 hours a week for the garden.

Over the past 60 years farm sizes have increased and produce prices have plummeted. Perhaps 40 or 50 years ago growing food on a urban or peri urban scale was financially prudent but in the modern world things are seriously different. As the graph below shows the amount of income spent on food in western countries is minor. Add in the pressure of paying for land, a decent wage and other commitments and it is easy to see why people cant seem to find time to grow their own food.

So how do you make food growing worthwhile? Land has to come down in value to a realistic value. People have to spend a substantial part of their income on food once again. Fossil fuels have to go up in price so they dont skew food production toward massive mechanically driven food growing operations. People have to start valuing food and stop seeing it as a commodity.

Anyway if you want to help out at Horizon over the next while email me at

Monday, January 7, 2008

Thoughts on Food

Since finding out about peak oil in 2004 it has been clear to me that serious global food shortages were at best a decade away. An inevitable result of a food supply completely dependant on fossil fuels. From feed stocks for fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides to the machinery required to plant, harvest and transport food all are dependant on oil. This situation has become so bad that for every calorie of food produced at least 10 calories of oil must go into its production and distribution.

It has been alarming to see biofuels touted as a "solution" to oil shortages as almost all biofuels produced are using land or crops originally used for human food. This article today on the oil drum showed how bad things really are though. Ethanol made from corn is booming in the United States driven by high oil prices, however one tank of corn derived biofuels contains enough calories to feed a person for 7 months! Currently 20 - 30% of the US corn crop is converted into ethanol for fuel, enough plants are under construction to use 40% of the US corn crop for ethanol and the industry is growing at 25% a year. The united states grows half the worlds corn and much of its surplus ends up fuelling population growth in the third world. The article shows that pushed by government subsidies, "environmental" pressure and huge profits biofuels could spell starvation for the worlds poor. All of this on the back of a 110% rise in the price of wheat in the past year.

My fears about peak oil and gobal food production have over the past year or two become increasingly mainstream. Despite this most so called solutions fail to tackle the problems inherent in our society and instead seemed aimed at allowing the modern lifestyle to continue for the upper and middle classes for as long as possible. It is all too possible that we will not see any change until the middle classes wake up one morning and wonder why they cannot drive to work and why their supermarket shelves are empty.

It is some comfort to know that the garden is producing well but I am only too aware that individual solutions to collective problems do little more than salve the conscious. What is needed are collective efforts which tackle this cultures individualism whilst dismantalling a society dependant on fossil fuels.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Weeds Glorious Weeds

Garden Pics
My camera was recently stolen so these are a few photos I took the other day on a friends camera.
My sunflowers continue to grow madly, I think I've added way to much compost to some beds as I'm having heaps of green leafy growth without much food off some of my plants like tomatoes. Soil improvement has been my focus the past few years and I am seeing plant health and growth improve amazingly as a result.

Potato flower, many of my potatoes are growing in dappled light beneath fruit trees.

My tomatoes are taking an intolerably long time to ripen, the sight of dozens of immature green fruit week after week is torturous.

Silverbeet also known as swiss chard, I grow heaps of this and use it in place of spinach and to bulk up meals. Any I don't eat gets fed to the chickens.