Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Open Home - Sunday 18 October

Sustainable Living in Spreydon
The October open home in Spreydon was a great success, with over fifty people turning up to learn more about Elvira’s productive orchard and no-dig vegetable beds. Having a relatively large section – just under 1000m2 – has enabled Elvira to devote a large area of her garden to food production, while still allowing space for a wide border of native trees and shrubs. “When I bought it, the house was a ‘handyman’s dream’ and the garden was a big area of grass with a few new trees (tags still on them) planted strategically”, says Elvira. Twenty years later large native trees create a lush evergreen backdrop, contrasting beautifully with deciduous fruit trees and berry crops. Close to the house two large vegetable beds and a small glasshouse provide the family with year round produce.

No-Dig Yes-Mulch
To maintain the health and productivity of her trees, berries and vegetable beds, Elvira regularly mulches with compost, sheep manure and leaf mould. “I use a thick layer of leaves, mainly oak, which I collect from a kindergarten, parks and Church Square, Addington”. No organic matter leaves the property, old plants and weeds are either chopped up and left on the garden as mulch or are composted in a heap along with kitchen waste. Any prunings too woody to be applied directly are piled up at the back of the shed and left to slowly decompose.

To get seedlings off to a good start Elvira usually throws a small handful of compost, Zoodoo, sheep pellets or worm compost into the planting hole. Homemade seaweed brew also helps to boost growth and keep plants healthy. “I also dig in bokashi from time to time and have found it is great for brassicas’, says Elvira.

Tree Health
As well as regularly mulching her fruit and nut trees with compost, Elvira also underplants them with calendula and nasturtiums. Elvira successfully grows a diverse range of fruit and nut trees – peaches, plums, nectarines, apples, walnuts, hazelnuts, citrus and feijoas – as well as grapes, currants and berries. Mulching and companion planting keeps her plants free of disease. However, last year one of her ‘Gravenstein’ apples got a white fungus for the first time, so any tips on how to combat this would be much appreciated. She is currently trying a baking soda spray and has heard that diluted milk can also be used to combat fungal diseases.

Water Recycling
Elvira also showed just how easy recycling water can be. You don’t need a fancy grey water system, or even a network of pipes. Elvira simply places a large bowl in her kitchen sink to collect waste water which she then empties into the garden. “If you only use a small amount of detergent (Ecostore brand) you can safely use the dishwater to water plants”.

Plant Sale
Inspired by the popularity of Diana’s honey and grapes at her open home in March, committee members potted up a range of seedlings for sale on the day. There was an interesting array of plants on offer; purple sprouting broccoli, Argentinean tomatoes, lettuce ‘marvel of the four seasons’, to name but a few. The seedlings sold quickly and the sale proved to be a great fundraiser.

A big thanks to Elvira Dommisse for hosting the day’s event, a great afternoon was had by all.

Posted by Charlotte McHaffie

Monday, October 5, 2009

Open Home Discussion – October 18

Sustainable Living in Spreydon

Starting with a virtually empty section 20 years ago, Elvira Dommisse has created a unique garden that combines her love of native plants, with her desire for food production. Natives
co-exist alongside heritage berries and grape vines, while mandarins and lemons fit snugly under the north facing eaves. Elvira uses a range of composting techniques to maintain the productivity of her small orchard and no-dig vegetable garden. Visit Elvira's home in Spreydon to learn more about edible landscaping and no-dig gardening methods. There will be a limited number of seedlings for sale on the day.

Where: 48 Neville St, Spreydon
When: 2.00pm on Sunday 18 October
Cost: Members free, Non-members $2.00

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September Talk – Organics NZ

If you have ever wondered what it would be like to be a WWOOFer (Willing Worker on Organic Farms), come along to our September talk and hear all about Philippa Jamieson’s volunteering adventures. As author of ‘The Wild Green Yonder’ and editor of Organic NZ, Philippa has a unique view of where the organic movement is at in New Zealand.

Expect to meet some new faces, as this month’s talk is a joint meeting of the Good Gardeners and Canterbury Soil and Health. We look forward to seeing you all there. Non-members are also welcome.

When: 7.30pm on Monday 21 September
Where: The Oxford Terrace Baptist Church cnr Oxford Tce and Madras St
Cost: $2.00 per person (to cover hall hire)

Monday, September 7, 2009

GE Discussion - Thursday 6 August

Genetic engineering is no longer the hot topic it once was, and without the vigilant attention of people like Steffan Browning (Soil and Health Spokesperson) and Clare Bleakley (GE free NZ) it’s likely that we never would have known about the accidental release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into Canterbury. Local Soil and Health members were lucky to get the full story from Steffan Browning when he recently gave a talk on busting the GE brassica field trial at Lincoln. Elvira Dommisse, a former GE scientist, and Soil and Health National Council member, also gave a quick presentation on the situation of GE crops worldwide and answered people’s technical questions.

GE Brassica Field Trials
Although there was much public resistance to GE field trials, with 948 submissions opposing the GE brassica field trial alone, the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) granted Crop & Food (now Plant & Food Research) permission to conduct field trials in May 2007.

Risk of Genetic Pollution
Many of those who opposed the trials were concerned that experiments in the field would lead to the uncontrolled release of GMOs into the surrounding environment. In an attempt to allay their concerns ERMA imposed the following conditions:

1. Prevention of flowering
To prevent pollen from escaping from GE brassicas to non-GE brassicas, the brassica plants used in the trial were not allowed to go to flower. All plants in the test site were to be monitored to detect onset of bolting (early flowering), and any bolting plants were to be removed and taken to a containment facility.

2. Destruction of all genetically modified plant material
To prevent the uncontrolled release of GMOs, all GE brassicas were to be killed by composting— which does not completely destroy the GE DNA— or autoclaving (heated to 121C by pressurised steam).

Breach of conditions
Despite the assurances from scientists that there was no risk of GMOs escaping into the environment, GE brassicas were found to be flowering by Steffan Browning in December last year. Rather than destroying the GE plants at the conclusion of the trial, Dr Mary Christey and her assistants had simply cut the brassica plants off at the base, leaving the stalks and roots in the ground. The stalks subsequently re-sprouted and initiated flowers, and the discovery of a seed capsule indicated that GE pollen had been released. Further investigations of the scientist's logbooks showed that this was not the first time GE brassica plants had been allowed to flower. Photographs taken during the trial clearly showed bolting GE broccoli and GE cauliflower plants.

Scion GE Tree Field Trials
Similar breaches of conditions also occurred in relation to the Scion GE tree trial in 2007-2008. While visiting the trial site Steffan discovered the following: GE tree seedlings growing in pots had been allowed to initiate pollen. Trees in the field that were supposed to be topped to 2m, to allow scientists to monitor for pollen bearing cones, had been allowed to grow to over 3m. Prunings from GE trees were left to rot in the field, instead of being autoclaved, and security fences that were supposed to keep out browsing animals, had been tunnelled under by rabbits.

It is clear from both field trials that even when strict conditions are imposed scientists are unable to safely contain GMOs. In light of the breaches of conditions Soil and Health and GE Free NZ called for an immediate halt to all GE field trials.

GE Issues World Wide
Unfortunately there wasn't enough time for Elvira to cover GE issues in any real depth. If you would like a copy of a talk Elvira recently gave to the WEA on GE Issues please send an email to organicschch@gmail.com Some of the main issues are summarised below, with links to more information.

Monsanto continues to aggressively enforce its patent rights, with dire consequences for many farmers. The most infamous case being the story of Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian canola farmer who was sued by Monsanto when self-sown 'Round Up Ready' canola plants were found on his property.

Many of Monsanto's GE cotton crops failed in India, causing large numbers of farmers to go bankrupt. Many of these farmers went on to commit suicide.

To make it easy to identify GE crops scientists introduce use antibiotic-resistant markers. These antibiotic resistant genes can be taken up by stomach bacteria when GE crops or foodstuffs containing GE DNA are eaten. The antibiotic-resistance DNA can then be transferred to disease-causing bacteria making them resistant to antibiotics.

Film – Future of Food
The 'Future of Food' provides people with a good overview of the issues surrounding genetically modified food, and is available from Alice in Videoland. The film's trailer can be watched on Youtube.

What You Can Do
With climate change constantly in the spotlight it's easy to forget other important issues such as GE. As concerned consumers we must remember to keep the pressure on. One of the only things holding the GE industry back is consumer resistance. Ring up your local supermarket and remind them that GE-free matters to you. Supermarkets know that a call from one person represents 100 other individuals who feel the same way. For a list of GE free foods, check out the Greenpeace true-food guide.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Discussion Evening

We are hosting a discussion evening about GE issues soon, and we would love to see you there!

Who: Soil & Health National Co-Chairs Steffan Browning and Dr. Elvira Dommisse
When: 7pm, Thursday 6 August
Where: 14 Harrison St, Shirley (home of Matt Morris)

What: Steffan will present on his discovery of the botched GE brassica trial at Lincoln, and the consequence of this, and Elvira, a former Crop and Food scientist, will talk more generally about GE and its dire consequences worldwide, with bits about what’s happening in NZ. There will be plenty of time for discussion and questions.

Members of our branch can come for free, non-members entry by gold coin donation.

GE has gone off the boil in the media, but, as we will hear, the issue is very much alive. A great opportunity to get up to date from leaders in the GE-Free campaign, and to meet up with other Soil & Health members!

We look forward to seeing you there.

For more information, please contact Matt Morris, theyellowroom@xtra.co.nz

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hardy Winter Greens

As the days grow shorter salads often slip off the menu, and we find ourselves eating copious amounts of roast vegetables and hot pumpkin soups. Although warm and filling, a winter diet consisting primarily of starchy vegetables can lead to sudden cravings for ‘winter greens’. Unfortunately in the depths of winter it can be difficult to source quality organic greens - broccoli, kale, spinach and rocket always seem to be in short supply.

Timing is crucial
Growing winter greens successfully can be tricky, as over the coldest months vegetable plants go into stasis and barely grow at all. To ensure plants are large enough to harvest over winter you need to plant your seedlings by the end of February! But at the height of summer who is thinking about kale and cabbage? Usually it isn’t until the end of March that we begin to anticipate the onset of winter, and by then it’s often too late.

Favourite Winter Greens
Soil and Health members list their best picks for winter.

Pak choi is Dave’s number one choice. The plants photographed here were planted as seedlings in late March. “Although great in stirfries, I like to eat pak choi lightly steamed so that it retains some of its crispness”.

Endive is Charlotte’s favourite winter green. A member of the chicory family, endive is a lot hardier than lettuce and better suited to Canterbury’s cold wet conditions. "I mainly eat endive in sandwiches, as it is a great lettuce substitute", says Charlotte. The endive shown in the photograph is a 'broad leaved endive' and was sown mid-February. The curly-leaved endives ‘frisee’ are better grown in spring through to autumn, as they are less tolerant of damp cold weather.

'I also eat a lot of mizuna and rocket', says Charlotte. Mizuna is a mild tasting form of mustard. The one photographed here is ‘Red Coral', which is available from Kings Seeds. For winter cropping mizuna can be sown late summer through to mid autumn.
The purple varieties of mustard and mizuna help to brighten up winter salads.

Donn chose rainbow silverbeet, a colourful version of the old classic. Apparently there is not much left of Donn’s silverbeet as he and Linda have eaten it down to the stalks. The plants shown in the photo were sown mid February.

Chickweed comes top of Bonnie's list, simply because it’s always in abundance, grows year round and is easy to harvest. “I love this weed – so tasty in soups, salads, smoothies, stews and pancakes”.

What winter greens are you growing?
Share your growing tips with other readers. We would love to know what ‘greens’ have been successful for you this winter. Post a comment to let us know which varieties you are growing and when you sowed/planted them.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Open Home Discussion – Sunday 22nd of March

Diana Kirpensteijn’s Food Forest
The unsettled weather on Sunday didn’t deter the large group of gardeners keen to visit Diana’s home and garden. Diana (left), a long time member of Soil and Health, has lived at her Opawa property for 23 years. In that time she has converted a barren suburban section - once dominated by a large macrocarpa windbreak - into a fruitful forest. ‘For every plant I removed, I planted three fruit trees,’ says Diana. A diversity of flowers, herbs and edible perennial plants co-exist under the groves of fruit trees, and raised garden beds provide areas for intensive vegetable production. ‘It was important that the garden was low maintenance,’ says Diana, which makes a lot of sense when you consider the size of the garden - ½ an acre if you include the adjoining property which the Kirpensteijns also own.

Nutrient Cycling
In keeping with organic principles Diana cycles all her organic waste back into the garden. Green leafy weeds and kitchen scraps are given to the chooks, and the manure is put through the compost heap. ‘Occasionally I buy some blood and bone, or sheep pellets, but overall I try to avoid bringing in a lot of materials from outside as it involves a lot of extra work. However, I have recently started adding rock dusts to my compost heaps to correct mineral deficiencies,’ says Diana. Diana also makes comfrey tea which she feeds to tomatoes and other heavy feeding vegetables.

Renegade Chooks
Diana originally planned to ‘tractor’ her chickens around the garden using them to dig over empty beds, however the chickens had alternative plans and were forever escaping to greener pastures. ‘If you’re going to have a “chicken tractor” make sure your chickens can’t dig their way out,’ says Diana, recalling the loss of leek and garlic seedlings scratched up by a runaway chook. ‘I’ve decided that it’s easier to have a permanent chicken run, and cycle the waste through the compost’.

Friendly Bees
Unlike the chooks, Diana’s bees are free to go where they please. Being in close proximity to a neighbouring school Diana always makes sure she buys friendly queens. The four hives, situated in the far corner of the garden, supply the family with 110kg of honey a year. But being a bee keeper is no easy task, you need to be registered, and MAF carries out regular hive inspections. Unfortunately, with the arrival of varroa mite, Diana is faced with a tough decision, treat her hives with chemicals, or stop being a bee keeper altogether. Although organic solutions do exist they are unlikely to effective during the initial establishment phase, which is expected to last 3 to 4 years.

Living Mulch
When asked how she kept her fruit trees free of pests and diseases, Diana explained the importance of a living mulch. Fruits trees do a lot better when they don’t have grass growing up to their trunks. A living mulch of organic matter (straw, leaves, bark . . .) combined with perennial herbs like parsnips and comfrey, creates a great habitat for ground beetles. Ground beetles are voracious predators that like to snack on juicy larvae, codling moth larvae being no exception, so having a healthy population of ground beetles helps to control this unwanted pest. A living mulch also helps to reduce fungal diseases, as it encourages microbial diversity and increases the chance that fungal spores will be out competed or consumed by beneficial microbes.

Pest Barriers
One of the downsides of mulch, is that it can harbour slugs. Diana avoids mulching in the spring when the slugs are most prevalent, and protects her tender seedlings with plastic pottles that have had their lids cut out. Another physical barrier that Diana finds essential is shade netting over the carrot beds, ‘growing carrots is a waste of time unless you have nets to keep out the carrot fly,’ says Diana.

Tasty Treats
Those people who were lucky enough to be able to stay until the end of Diana’s talk were rewarded with pink grape juice made from Diana’s favourite grape ‘Iona’. Diana had also baked a spiced apple cake – recipe courtesy of the late Rod Donald – and had potted up plants and honey for sale. Diana insisted that people weren’t to leave until all the ‘black boy’ peaches had been picked and given away. All in all everyone had enjoyable afternoon, and no one left empty handed!

Posted by Charlotte McHaffie

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bronze at Ellerslie

When Project Lyttelton and Soil and Health teams got together at Ellerslie to celebrate the completion of their display garden, they were amazed to find out they had won a Bronze Award!

"Getting Bronze was a fantastic result. Many adjacent displays had spent tens of thousands of dollars, while ours was put together with voluntary effort and lots of sponsorship . . . The judges said that they kept coming back to our garden because they loved the concept and really enjoyed how place specific it was," said Matt Morris.

The display is named 'Dig This' Community Garden, and celebrates the 'planting, harvesting and feasting of good organic food in your local community'. The silhouette of the port hills, coupled with the metal bollards and shipping rope captures Lyttelton's unique landscape.

A big thanks goes out project managers Wendy Everingham and Rod Lawrence from Project Lyttelton who did an outstanding job, and Soil and Health members Donn Hampton and Brian Morris who put in many days of hard work on the construction. Thanks also to all those members who were on hand during the show to talk to people and give out leaflets.

If you’re planning to visit the show this weekend make sure you check out'Dig This'. Hopefully our award winning garden will inspire other communities to work together to create a more sustainable city.

Posted by Charlotte McHaffie

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Open Home Discussion - March

Maximising Food Production

Visit Diana Kirpensteijn’s garden in Opawa to learn how to get maximum food production for minimum effort. Diana’s ‘multi-purpose’ garden has been carefully designed to ensure year-round productivity. A variety of different fruit and nut trees, as well as large vegetable gardens, supply the kitchen with seasonal produce. Eggs and honey are also often on the menu, thanks to Diana’s hens and bees.

If you’re keen to learn more about organic food production, and would like to meet other Soil and Health members, make sure you come along to our March talk.

When: 2.00pm on Sunday 22 March
Where: 5 Ombersley Tce, Opawa
Cost: Members free, Non-members $2.00

For more information email: organicschch@gmail.com

Thursday, February 19, 2009

We Need Your Trees

Recent fires have damaged much of the native plantings on Southshore Spit. The Southshore Residents Association and the City Council’s Coast Care Rangers need your help to continue the ecological restoration of the Southshore Spit Reseve.

Interested people are invited by the residents association to contribute ‘self propagated’ seedlings of local native species which may be self seeding and growing ‘wild’ in their gardens, often beneath power lines and tall trees etc.

Plants may be potted up and transferred to a nursery area at Tim Sintes property in Tern St, where they will be watered and cared for, or they can be potted up and cared for at peoples homes and brought along to a community planting day planned for the autumn. Empty pots can be supplied by the council by contacting Pete Neal on 3884706

The plant species sought are N.Z. coastal natives (capable of surviving in this tough environment) such as N.Z. Ngaio, Coprosma, Broadleaf, Five finger, Kowhai, Karaka, Akeake, and Cabbage tree, etc.

Please ring project co-ordinator Peter Neal on 388 4706 for more information or e-mail him on PANEAL@xtra.co.nz

Rodney Chambers
Coastal Area Head Ranger
Christchurch City Council

Peter Neal

Friday, February 13, 2009

Southshore Self-Sufficiency

You wouldn’t expect to find an edible garden paradise at the end of Southshore Spit, but that is exactly what Pete and Marion Neal have created, albeit with some help from willing neighbours. “At the moment five neighbours give us all their garden waste and kitchen scraps, unfortunately one is leaving, so hopefully we will be able to train up somebody new,” says Pete. Pete has even modified his fence to make it easier for neighbours to deposit their waste into his compost bins.

Compost Secret to Success
Each year Pete and Marion produce about 1.5 cubic metres of compost; after living on their property for 38 years they have managed to build the soil up 30cms in places. ‘We’ve never brought in any top soil, when you do that you end up with other people’s problems,’ says Pete. Apart from compost, the only other fertilisers they are use are sheep manure, blood and bone, and lime. Looking at the rich layer of organic matter its hard to believe that a couple of spade widths down its pure sand.

Two Bin System
To make their compost the couple use a two bin system, each bin measuring approximately 1 metre x 1.5 metres. When the first bin reaches capacity, the contents are turned over into a second bin. If the compost appears dry, water is added during the turning process. “You need enough water to keep the process going, but not so much that you put out the fire,” says Pete. After turning, the compost is covered with an insulating lid, which helps to keep the compost hot and prevents the rain from getting in. Pete uses a piece of metal coated polystyrene as a lid, but you could use two pieces of 6mm plywood separated by a 20mm gap.

Food in Abundance
Marion and Pete grow more vegetables than they need, which means they always have surplus to give away. ‘The neighbours give us their garden waste, and we give them vegetables,’ says Marion. The couple grow enough potatoes, pumpkins and onions to last them the whole year. A small orchard also supplies them with peaches, pears and apples.

Although Pete is quick to point out that he isn’t a ‘greenie’ because he doesn’t ‘have a beard or wear jandals,’ the couple’s self-sufficient lifestyle tells a very different story.
Posted by Charlotte McHaffie