Saturday, December 6, 2008

Gardening at the Beach

It was great to see such an awesome turnout on Saturday, when thirty people turned up to North Beach to hear Charlotte talk about her coastal garden.

Establishing the Vegetable Beds
When Charlotte and Scott first moved into their place eighteen months ago, the property already had a lot of established native trees and shrubs. However, to get their vegetable garden started a little more effort was required.
Knowing just how hungry sandy soil can be, they decided to kick start their garden with a few cubic metres of top soil. A layer of topsoil (10-15cm deep) was laid onto the grass and edged with bricks from the old chimney. Before planting they lightly forked a layer of composted chicken manure into the new beds. ‘It is always a good idea to dig in some compost first, as topsoil often contains silt and clay, which can bake hard and crack in the sun’, says Charlotte. Compost is a wonderful substance that improves all types of soil; while compost helps light, sandy soils retain moisture and nutrients, it also improves aeration and drainage of heavy soils.

Green Manure and Seaweed
The best vegetable bed — seen above — was enriched with seaweed and green manure over the winter. Seaweed was laid in shallow trenches and covered with soil. Oats, lupins and broad beans were sown over the top in April, and the green manure was dug-in during August. The soil in the green manured area is noticeably better than the soil in other beds. The organic matter has broken down to create sticky humus, which binds the sand particles together, enabling the soil to hold water and nutrients.

Nothing Wasted
Scott and Charlotte don’t like to take any organic matter off their property. A huge pile of tree prunings sits in the middle of the garden as testament to this philosophy. ‘One day we will get a mulcher’ says Charlotte, ‘in the meantime the pile is home to many invertebrate species, and is fondly known as the “spider cave”’. Weeds, grass clippings and old vegetable plants are mixed with straw and composted; all the household’s kitchen waste is recycled using bokashi buckets. Occasionally the pair source enough manure and straw to make a large compost heap, but most of the time they just use rotted down seaweed, or buy in composted chicken manure. ‘If you are using manure make sure it isn’t contaminated with herbicides. Sometimes farmers spray herbicides on their fields to kill broadleaf weeds and these contaminants can get into the manure’ says Charlotte.

Hardy Coastal Plants
Although most of Saturday’s talk was devoted to the hows and whys of vegetable gardening, Charlotte found some time near the end to recommend some hardy coastal plants. ‘It is a good idea to plant wind and salt tolerant trees on your NE boundary ’, says Charlotte, ‘once you have established your first line of defence it is possible to plant more tender plants on the leeward side’. The plants Charlotte recommends for coastal gardens are listed below:

Ngaio Myporum laetum
Coprosma lucida, C. robusta, C. repens
Pittosporum tenuifolium, P. eugenioides, P. crassifolium
Broadleaf Griselinia littoralis
Kowhai Sophora microphylla, S. prostrata
Olearia paniculata, O. ilicifolia, O. avicenafolia, O. traversii
Akeake Dodonea viscosa
Kanuka Kunzea ericoides
Cabbage tree Cordyline australis
Corokia x virgata, C. cotoneaster
Coast banksia Banksia integrifolia*
Olive Olea europaea*

NZ lilac Heliohebe hulkeana
Hebe species (especially H. odora, H. salicifolia, H lewissii, H. speciosa, H ballensii)
Marlborough rock daisy Pachystegia insignis
Kaka beak Clianthus puniceus
Brachyglottis greyii
Muehlenbekia astonii
Coprosma propinqua C. virescens

Rock rose Cistus sp*
Coast rosemary Westringia rosmarinifolius*
Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis*
Lavender Lavandula sp*
Wax flower Eriostemon myoporoides*
Grevillea sp (choose frost tolerant species)

Rengarenga lily Arthropodium cirratum
NZ Iris Libertia peregrinans
Dianella sp.
Gazania hybrids*
African daisy Arctotis hybrids*

Ground cover
Native daphne Pimelea prostrata
Pratia angulata
Fuchsia procumbens

Shield fern Polystichum vestitum, P. richardii
Hen-and-chickens fern Asplenium bulbiferum
Hound’s tongue fern Phymatasorus diversifolius

All plants are native to New Zealand, except those marked by an asterix* .

Posted by Charlotte McHaffie

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tuscan Kale Recipe

The Tuscan kale (also known as black cabbage, cavolo nero and black kale) generated a lot of interest at Saturday’s gathering. For those of you who were keen to try Scott and Charlotte’s favourite kale and potato dish ­- here it is. This recipe is from Faith Willinger’s book Red, White and Greens – The Italian Way with Vegetables (1999).

Massimo’s Penne with Tuscan Kale and Potatoes

Serves 4-6

1/4 -1/2 pound of Tuscan kale, or curly kale
5-6 quarts water
2-3 Tbsp coarse sea salt
1 large yellow-fleshed potato, peeled and cut into ¾ inch cubes
14-16 ounces penne
1-2 garlic cloves, chopped
3-4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Freshly grated pepper

  1. Carefully clean the kale, removing tough central ribs and washing carefully to remove all dirt. Cut the kale into thin strips.

  2. Bring 5-6 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add the kale and 2-3 tablespoons of salt and cook at a rolling boil for 5 minutes.

  3. Add the potato to the pot and cook for 5 minutes. Add the pasta and cook until it offers considerable resistance to the tooth, around three quarters of the cooking time.

  4. While the pasta is cooking put the garlic in a large non-stick skillet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Place the skillet over moderate heat and when garlic beings to sizzle remove from heat.

  5. Drain pasta and vegetables. Reserving 2 cups of the cooking water.

  6. Put the drained pasta and vegetables in the skillet with the garlic and add 1 cup pasta cooking water. Cook over highest heat until the pasta is cooked, surrounded by a creamy sauce. Add more cooking water if sauce dries out.

  7. Serve pasta in bowls, topped with a drizzle of the remaining extra virgin olive oil and freshly grated pepper.

Posted by Charlotte McHaffie

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Organic Groups Show Off

Show weekend traditionally marks the beginning of summer in Canterbury. If you weren’t outside planting your tomatoes and cucumbers, you might have been one of the thousands of Cantabrians who headed along to the show grounds to check out this year’s events.

Somewhere hidden amongst the woodchoppers, candy floss and blue-ribbon winning roosters, was the organics stand. Jam packed with yummy organic products, and featuring its very own steaming compost heap, the display was quite a hit.

Lots of organics groups came together to promote organic growing and sustainability: Organics Aotearoa NZ, Organic Garden City Trust, Soil and Health, and Canterbury Organics to name but a few. A big thanks to Ceres, Fresh Direct, Breadman, Simply Squeezed, Functional Wholefoods and many other companies for the free giveaways — what better way to give people a taste of organics.

Overall the stand generated a lot of interest and lively discussion. The organic products and ‘green’ ideas were positively received by all. A big thanks to everyone involved; it was great to see so many organisations and businesses working together to promote organics.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Open Home Discussion – Sat 29 November

Growing Vegetables at the Beach

Sandy soils and salt spray can make growing vegetables a challenge. For Soil and Health member Charlotte McHaffie, living 200 metres from the beach is a mixed blessing. Visit Charlotte and Scott at their house in North Beach to learn how they have created an edible garden on the sand dunes. Accompany them on a guided walk to discover which plants grow best on the coast.

If you’re interested in learning more about beach gardens, or would like to meet other Soil and Health members, make sure you come along to our November talk.

When: 2.00pm on Saturday 29 November
Where: 50 Cygnet St, North Beach (just north of the North Beach Surf Club)
Cost: Members free, Non-members $2.00
So the speaker has an idea of numbers please R.S.V.P.
Ph 388-7353 or 021 037-5716

Friday, November 7, 2008

Donn's Champagne Recipes

Celebrate the beginning of summer, with a glass of fruity fizz.

There is more than a subtle hint of rhubarb in this rosé. Dare to abandon those delicate fruity overtones for a wild blast of sherbety sweetness.

Donn’s sparkling bubbles lit up many winter committee meetings (along with Linda’s wonderful cake).

Rhubarb Champagne
2 lbs chopped rhubarb stalks (2-3cm pieces)
1 ½ lbs of white sugar
1 ½ Tbs of white vinegar
2 lemons sliced
4 ½ litres of water

Elder Flower Champagne
5 – 7 elder flower heads
The more flowers the stronger the flavour; Donn and Linda generally use five average sized heads. Shake the flower heads to dislodge dust and beetles etc but do not wash.

4 litres of water
2 1/2 cups of sugar
2 lemons sliced
2 Tbs white vinegar
4 Tbs citric acid (optional extra for those who prefer a tarter beverage)

Put the sugar and boiling water into a large clean bucket (not metal) and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the sugar solution. Mix thoroughly and cover with a clean cloth. Let stand for 48 hours.

Strain the solution through muslin cloth and pour into bottles. Plastic soft drink bottles work well. Do not fill the bottles to the top as the drink becomes very fizzy. Make sure the tops are screwed tight as loss of pressure will cause the drink to go flat.
To check progress lightly squeeze the bottles, they will go tight as the brew matures.

In warm weather the champagne is ready in 1-2 weeks, but it is best left for at least a month to let the flavours fully develop.

When making rhubarb champagne, you can use the strained rhubarb pieces to make a tasty desert.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Seed Swap

Many of Christchurch’s keen gardeners look forward to the Southern Seed Exchange’s annual spring seed swap. For Seed Exchange members it is the much anticipated day when they can collect their seed orders and fossick around the swap table . It’s hard not to be greedy when there are so many varieties to choose from. For my annual subscription of $20.00 I received several brown and white envelopes carefully packaged by diligent volunteers. Many thanks to the guardian seed savers, and all the people who helped write newsletters, seed lists and fill orders. I can’t wait to start sowing my seeds, as many are new varieties that I’m growing for the first time.

Spring Sunshine at Number 4
This year the seed swap was held at 4 Riccarton Ave. Many Soil and Health members will remember this house fondly as it was once the home of Matt Morris, our current branch president. The day couldn’t have been better, the air was soft and warm, and full of sunshine. People gathered eagerly around the swap table, seeking out interesting plants, cuttings and seeds. I picked up some unusual black and white striped runner beans. These will have to wait until next year however, as I have already sown a variety called ‘Devils Defiance’.

SSE Fieldtrips and Monthly Get-Togethers
In addition to maintaining its seed bank the Southern Seed Exchange has recently started holding fieldtrips and monthly get-togethers . Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to Martin’s fieldtrip on seaweeds (edible seaweeds and seaweeds for the garden). There is a chance he could be running it again in November, so if you’re interested in this event, or would like to get on the mailing list for future events ring Martin on 03 325 1310 or email:

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Blog On

Kia ora and welcome to our new blog, a place where Soil and Health members can share news, information, and ideas. We value contributions and comments from readers. If you would like to write an article, or let us know about an event, please email us at:

August Talk – The Benefits of Eating Flax Seed Oil

Earlier this month, Soil and Health member Christopher Musgrave hosted a talk on the health benefits of flax seed oil, also known as linseed oil. Christopher introduced us to a wide range of nutritious products, and told us the interesting story behind his family farm at Waihi Bush.

The Plant
Flax seed oil comes from the delicate, blue flowered Linum plant, not to be confused with the New Zealand native flax, Phormium sp.

Waihi Bush
Originally inspired to grow flax after the oil was recommended as a cure for his son’s eczema, Christopher’s father David Musgrave, pressed his first lot of oil in 1993. Starting off small, using equipment supplied by a Canadian company, the Musgrave’s business now employs 18 people.

Fifteen years ago New Zealanders would have struggled to find organic flax seed oil on the shelves of their health food store or supermarket. Now thanks to Waihi Bush, there are a number of different flaxseed products to choose from.

Health Benefits
Eating flax seed oil has many benefits, so many in fact, that Mahatma Ghandi once said that "whenever flax seeds are part of the peoples diet, then their health will be improved". While flax seeds have been part of the Indian diet for centuries, many New Zealanders have yet to discover their benefits.

Flax seed contains two kinds of fatty acid, Omega-3 and Omega-6, both of which are essential nutrients. To maintain optimum health the body needs balanced amounts of both fatty acids. Modern diets tend to be high in Omega-6 and low in Omega-3, this is largely because the most common oils, with the exception of olive oil, are high in Omega-6 but contain little or no Omega-3.

The body uses Omega-3 fatty acids to send messages to different parts of the body. One of its most important functions is to switch off the inflammation response. When people do not get enough Omega-3 in their diet they can develop a variety of inflammation related diseases, for example arthritis, eczema and psoriasis. Omega-3 fatty acids also reduce water retention by regulating salt excretion, and help to boost the body’s natural immune system.

Fresh is Best
Both flax seed oil and fish oil contain high levels of Omega-3’s, but fish oil contains secondary Omega-3’s, which a healthy body can make from the primary Omega-3 found in flax seed oil – you need both to be healthy. Because Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids decay rapidly when exposed to light and air, these foods need to be carefully packaged. Fresh, unrefined foods, generally contain higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. Before the advent of industrial farming and processed food, people’s diets probably contained more Omega-3’s. For example the meat, milk and eggs from free-range, grass fed animals, tends to have higher levels of these essential nutrients.

Daily Dose
Including flax seed oil in your diet is the easiest way to make sure your body gets the right amount of Omega-3.
Unless you are treating a specific health issue, a tablespoon of oil a day is usually all you need. Eat the oil directly, or mix it in with your food. Including the oil in salad dressings is a great way to make flax seed oil a tasty part of your daily meal.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Branch Happenings

The following update can also be found in Organic Matters July 2008.

The Committee have met regularly over the last 12 months every six weeks or so, at my house. During these meetings we have worked through all of the internal issues that have been built up over the year. These aren’t very glamorous, but they include a bank account that needed to be closed, tidying up our branch constitution so that it matched reality, investigating and confirming our tax status with IRD, and re-defining our work. These issues are now all sorted.

In recent meetings we have had guests coming to talk with us about related projects in the community. In December we had a great end-of-year meeting at Seven Oaks, where Margaret Jeffries of Project Lyttelton told us about what they were doing on the site. As usual, this was very inspiring – growing salads for the Lyttelton Market and local businesses on a large scale, part of a satellite system of community gardening. Earlier this year we had a visit from Rhys Taylor to update us about Transition Communities in Christchurch. Our branch committed to being involved in this process, which is very dynamic and very NOW. At our last meeting we had the Manager of the Ellerslie Flower Show come to talk to us about how groups like ours could participate in March next year, and I’ll come to that in a moment.

We have had a great series of meetings, usually helped along by Donn and Linda’s cakes and fabulous elderflower, rhubarb or quince champagne for which the committee have been very grateful!

Open Home Discussions
We have agreed to adjust our meeting structure, now that the internal work is out of the way, and open several of them to our members and the public. These will still be held in our homes, with a talk about a particular thing we can do at home to be sustainable. This might be growing mushrooms, gardening in circles or eating more flax oil! We would be delighted to have you along to these gatherings and will let you know when and where they are happening.

Tilth Newsletter
Mia Colberts has continued as our newsletter editor this year and has put several of these together for us. We have had some good discussions about how to involve other organisations in this newsletter, making it more of a networking tool and letting you know the great organic events that are coming up around our communities. Sadly, Mia is stepping down from our committee so won’t be continuing in this role.

At the same time, the Organic Garden City Trust has started up again and will be producing its old newsletter, Organic Matters. This used to be made in conjunction with our branch and, given the timing, I’d recommend to the branch that we revisit this again and see how we can work in together.

Donn Hampton has continued this year getting our branch library operational. He has done a great job as our librarian and thankfully will continue in this position over the coming year. In doing so he has worked in with Margaret Jeffries and Wendy Everingham at Project Lyttelton, setting up the library in their building with their help. We are very grateful for the help Project Lyttelton have given us, even finding a bookcase and painting it – a wonderful shade of purple – for us! We think it will be wonderful to have this beside the community garden and we believe there is lots of potential to build the library up again over the next few years.

Soil and Health Booklets
Charlotte McHaffie has undertaken the job of revising our branch information booklets. Many of you will know these – on companion planting, planting calendars, pests and disease etc – and it is about time they were updated. She has even suggested writing a new one, on fruit forests! Very exciting. David Barwick has started producing original illustrations for these new booklets. Thanks to him and to Charlotte for the energy they are putting into this valuable work, which will also be a fundraiser for us. Donn Hampton is providing additional support in the revising process, and thanks go to him as well.

Ellerslie Garden Show
The branch has agreed to put on a stand at Ellerslie next year. This is a big undertaking and we will definitely be calling on branch members to help out where they can. At this stage we haven’t determined exactly what we will do, partly because we are discussing with some other groups whether we could put on a combined display. However, we know that we’ll be there bringing the organic message to the Show.

I would like to personally thank everyone on the committee for their ongoing commitment to the branch over this past year. I would especially like to thank Annmarie Banchy, who is a past president of the branch and who has decided to step down from the committee. Also, thanks to Mia Colberts who, as I mentioned, is also leaving the committee. Mia has done valuable work not only in producing and distributing Tilth each quarter, but also as our membership secretary.
Thanks to Melanie Morris, Donn Hampton, Charlotte McHaffie and to Peter Green for their input this past year, and to Holger Kahl as our branch mentor and to special guest committee attendees and defacto committee members Ami Kennedy and Christopher Musgrave for their presence and valued input. I have personally really enjoyed this past year, and think we have made good headway in preparing to take on more outward-looking work, keeping that organic space alive so that we can now take it again into the community.

Do you want to help?
Particular roles that we need to be filled are a secretary, workshop organiser/s and newsletter organiser/s. We will also need people to help us with the Ellerslie Show display. If you would like to join us on our committee, please do feel free to put your name forward.

Branch President
Matt Morris