Saturday, May 24, 2008

Small Solutions

As an activist and someone living in one of such an alienating destructive culture its easy to forget that most people are just doing the best they can. Its been then to be able to work with people on some small but positive solutions to the global situation we are in.

One of the cooler things I have been doing is helping residents at a government housing complex establish veggie gardens. Through Housing NZ we got funding to build garden beds for around a quarter of the residents initially with more if these ones prove a success. As part of the funding I have been able to go out and get seedlings and seed to help the families get their gardens going and I have spent a few mornings helping people plant their patches up. Most of the people I am working with are refugees and there is quite a language barrier but gardening is universal and through mimeing and broken English we have been able to explain most things.

Most of the plants the familys want to grow are things like chilli peppers and eggplants which cant really be planted till October at the earliest. The winter crops they are most interested are things like carrots and onions, stables which they use a lot of anyway. I have been using seed catalogues with heaps of photos in to explain which seed is what and how they need to be looked after. This can be more complicated than it sounds when you add three or four people asking questions, kids running round digging holes and chucking seeds around and a generally chaotic atmosphere.

The garden beds we have put in are small and most of the familys are already using the lawn and any other available space to grow veggies. I cant wait to see yards overflowing with productive plants come summer :)

There is a possibility that housing NZ could fund a lot more projects like this but even if there isn’t any easily accessible funding this is something I want to keep working on.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Harvesting Kumera

I have tried to grow potatoes the last couple of years with varying levels of success, no matter what I've tried my yields havnt really justified the work put in. This summer I decided to try growing Kumera and I'm happy with the results. In November I put two kumera tubers into a tray full of pumice after a couple of weeks sprouts came through and I pinched these off with roots attatched and planted them in a garden bed. Today I dug up the bed and got about a bucket full of tubers. As I didnt put much work in I'm pretty happy with the yield and I think I will put two beds of Kumera in next summer. I have a couple of other patches of Kumera in my food forest and have harvested Kumera from two pots. I got about two medium size tubers from each 15L pot so growing Kumera in containers may well be worthwhile if you have a limited amount of space.

Im also hoping to grow Kumera on what is currently the grass verge at the front of the property. This is the sunniest warmest place on the property and would greatly increase my available growing area. Id be interested in hearing from others about their yields of Kumera - I'd estimate I got around 2kg a square meter.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pushing the Boundarys

The garden is rapidly filling up with autumn/winter crops and I'm having to carefully weigh how much space I want to give to the staples. Onions, leeks and garlic are all fairly easy to grow on the soil I'm on so I'm giving them at least one garden bed each. The other beds are full of brassicas, salad crops and some beetroot. When I plant seedlings I normally make sure the soil is covered with mulch or compost and the results are startling. Hard degraded soil has quickly turned into rich fluffy soil full of earthworms. I have found that whitefly is often a problem in march and april but as the temperature drops the whitefly seem to disappear.

As the garden is fairly well under control I have spend quite a bit of time establishing a mixed hedge along the edge of the property. I have almost completely run out of space on my property for fruit trees so I'm getting creative to pack more in around the place. One of the most underutilised bits of property is a long narrow stretch of grass running alongside our property and the street next door. The area is fairly exposed with poor soil which will need building up considerably. I have checked pretty carefully and talked to quite a few people and I'm rather confident that none of the trees will be planted over utilities (fingers crossed).

The fruit trees I'm planting will be primarily to feed the kids which walk down the street next to the property as well as diversify our diets. I'm going to plant tagasaste, lavender, rosemary etc as well to bring in insects and improve the areas overall health and diversity. The long term plan is for this mixed hedge to gradually replace the existing Acmena hedge with something far more useful and productive. The main problem is probably going to be kids knocking over the occasional small tree when they play rugby on the road. To get round this I am mostly planting trees I've grown myself so I don't get too upset if the occasional one gets destroyed.

Here is a general list of what I plan to plant

Trees: Tagasaste, Feijoa, Guavas, Macadamia, Orange, peach, Plum, Tamarillo, Fig, Abyssinian Banana

Bushes: Sugarcane, Jerusalem artichokes, Yukon, Pepino, Rosemary, Lavender

Ground covers: Comfrey, Sweet potato, Borage, Nastirtums, Nettle, Strawbery, Daikon radish, Lemongrass, Silverbeet, Nettle.

You cant really see them but there are two peach trees as well as the banana

Closest to the front is a macadamia, the two other trees are feijoas

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Weirdness with the animals

Somehow my chickens have been getting out of their enclosure and laying their eggs behind a fence. The suprising thing is that when I go out to check on them in the morning they are all back in their enclosure. The only explanation I can think of is that one or two must hop out lay an egg then hop back in to hang out with the rest of the flock because they are feeling a bit nervous about being out there by themselves. Its all very odd but I've found that chickens are always a suprise and can be highly entertaining.

Aside from being entertained by the chickens I have been busy planting onions, leeks and garlic as well as various other autumn/winter veges. I have been gradually sheetmulching the grass verge outside of my house and have been planting a mixture of low maintainence edibles such as pepino, sugarcane and yukon into the mulch. I have to be careful how and what I plant as the neighbourhood kids are very bored on the weekend and engage in petty vandalism simply because they have nothing else to do. For these reasons I am planting out peach trees which come up randomly throughout my garden from the trees hanging over it. If these trees get damaged I have plenty more to replace them with. I am also growing a mixture of other useful trees such as tagasaste to create a useful polyculture along the property boundary.

On another note I have to thank farmlet for linking to me I check farmlet and the sister blog cryptogon often and really appreciate both.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Politics of Gardening - cont

It has always seemed self evident to me that food production is highly political. It can be carried out in ways which channel resources towards a few reinforcing existing hierachy or it can be the opposite. It can be done in ways which empower indiviuals or in ways which empower communitys or neither. It can further alienation towards people and the natural world or it can build community and relationships with particular environments.

Working in horticulture with this analysis makes things a lot more interesting. My regular paid job takes on a new light as a perfect example of how food production can be used as a tool of alienation by the wealthy. From the time seeds are put into the ground until the vegetable arrives in your hands it has not been touched by human hands. Instead the seeding, weeding and preparation are done by enormous hugely expensive machines. This process ensures that at no stage do people have any emotional connection with the physical process of a plant growing and fruiting. The processing stage is especially perverted with immigrants working twelve hour days tending to assembly lines under beaming fluroscent lights as tons of vegetables stream past them at dizzying speeds. Throughout this process the vegetables are stripped of whatever nutritional value they may have once had creating a sterile bland commodity out of once living breathing matter. The sheer artificiality of this process ensures you come to relate to food as a lifeless dead bad tasting product.

The workers are of course being used to funnel wealth into the pockets of the managerial class. This class meets monthly in overstuffed chairs in fully catered meetings. They flick through charts showing average output per worker per hour, day, week etc. These graphs are created by a system where workers fingerprint in and out and have to write down their exact output every few hours. Meanwhile workers are working in 4 degree temperatures repeating the same motions throughout an entire twelve hour shift.

In my voluntary work the hierachy is noticable as well with upper middle class men and women turning up to events expecting to be served just because they pay a koha towards the space we are using. The sense of entitlement is often startling as the well dressed minority make demands about this or that minor thing and expect the organisers to fix things. They almost never stay round to pack up and make it incredibly clear that while they enjoy the films or workshops there is no way that they would ever help organise the next one. It could not be made more apparent that they are their as consumers and view the information we provide as a way of serving themselves, of ensuring they have fresh great tasting salads. It does not occur to them that the same techniques could be used to ensure that people do not have to sell as much of their lives to this capitalist system that we live under. Or that instead of making themselves feel self righteous about eating healthy that gardening could be used to build community control over land.

Working on peoples propertys this mindset is even more apparent with rich people highly uncomfortable with any relationship which isnt soley about a transaction of money for labout. They shift uncomfortably when I refuse to be treated as a labourer or when I say that I dont want to be paid because I do a lot of work because I enjoy it.

It gets annoying constantly bumping into the expectation and reality that my and everyone else's labour is a commodity to be bought and sold, that land is a medium used to maximise production, that growing food is just about making yourself feel good. That because I'm helping out a rich person they think that they can tell me what to do and they can head off for the day. That $5 allows someone to walk in to an event consume information and walk out.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Food Forests

I have been fascinated with food forests since finding out about them a few years ago. The idea that a complex three dimensional system could provide for almost all of our needs with very little work is quite obviously immediately appealing. I have had had the pleasure of working in a few established food forests and have been able to put in a few of my own around the place. I have always found food forests far more enjoyable to work in than conventional gardens and have found that as promised they are generally far less work.

This weekend I put in the beginnings of a food forest at a friends lifestyle block. This particular food forest has been designed to produce fruit year round with minimal effort. The trees are initially planted in small sheetmulched circles so a mower can move between the trees. Over the next twelve months I will gradually sheet mulch the entire area and plant a wide range of beneficial herbs, insect attracting plants as well as nitrogen fixers such as Tagasaste. This gradual approach is being taken to make use of the available labour and plant supply as we would not have been able to complete the project in one go. This gradual approach will also allow my friends to get used to managing the food forest as until now they have been stuck in a rather conventional mindset as to what an orchard should look like.



On a related note the permaculture guru Geoff Lawton is about to release a video on Food Forests. It looks like a really exciting practical guide to food forests and I look forward to getting a copy. I will put up a review of it once I have seen it.

Here is a clip from the new DVD which blew my mind

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Chicken Run

For weeks I was wondering how one particular chicken was getting out, true it could easily fly over one of the fences but for some reason I was sure that there was another explanation. Sure enough there was. One of the chickens was hopping up onto a chair, then onto the top of the chair and finally getting up onto the top of the highest part of the enclosure. Strutting back and forth building up the courage to launch into the vege garden.

Chicken mid air in the center of the photo
Who can blame a chicken for trying to get to this feast of greens?