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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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