Rita and I are really keen on growing more food.
I studied a certificate in organic growing at seven oaks campus in opawa Christchurch around the year 2000 with the aim of creating a future growing organic food. Instead a move to Central Otago encouraged a little over a decade focused on viticulture.
Our gardens in Omihi are taking our passion to the next level, these garden provide us with the best opportunity to come full circle as we apply and develop the craft we intend to master.
While managing Burn Cottage vineyard for a little over a decade we were inspired by the most extadioary Bio dynamic mentors, who encouraged to apply this craft for the rest of time.
Since moving back home to Christchurch my wife Rita and I have focused our energy on developing new set of skills with the aim of creating a future for our family which is a healthy balance of growing wine and food.
In 2017 Nicky our best friend & faux aunty to our girls Harper (15) and Keela (12), moved from Central Otago to Omihi, North Canterbury.
Together with Nicky we set out to create a Vine Garden on her 4 ha hillside property known as Foxes Retreat in Omihi.
This incredible property is surrounded with farming, forestry and winegrowing history. The property’s soils are exceptional and its micro climate fascinating.
We approach our work in these gardens in a manner which can fit in with our family lives, both working full time in other areas and raising our daughters. We live about 45 min away in suburban Christchurch. We are passionate about creating a garden to support our health and of those around us. These gardens for now are truly a side hustle.
Our friends and family will visit and/or receive deliveries so they can enjoy the results of our craft; healthy food and wine from healthy soils.
We want to be true caretakers of this piece of land and ultimately hand this land back or pass it on in a better state than we found it.
The permanent garden bed environment we have created thus far grows garlic, spinach, kale, lettuce, carrots, beetroot, spring onions,radish, italian parsley, purslane, miner's lettuce and coriander.
These plants have been chosen as they are easier to grow than most and suit the purpose of helping us learn the difference between direct seeding and transplanting, the different soil moisture requirements, the different weeding tools, the different plant spacings.
From this approach came one of the best new learnings, the art of succession planting and how we might integrate this into and support our irregular visits.
Succession planting has become an important part of our seasonal planning. We want to avoid a situation where the entire crop comes in all at once and harvested all at the same stage of maturity.
We find it much better to have a steady supply ready for harvest over the longest possible period.
Succession planting, is a great way to extend your harvest by staggering plantings of crops or planting varieties with staggered maturing rates.
So try and space out plantings of the same vegetable every 1-4 weeks. Some crops, like lettuce, have short growing seasons and the space they were using can be replanted with a later season crop, like carrot.
Often you can seed the early and late season vegetables at the same time..
Our is focus on gardening by the conditions and the application of the BD calendar. These elements combined with succession plantings feels right for now.
Over the next three years we will introduce potatoes, peas, fava beans, leeks, fennel, tomatoes, cabbage, onions, salsify, wild Thyme, loveage, vietnamese mint, thai mint and nettle.
Our main green manure crops are blue lupin, peas, beans, hairy vetch, crimson clover, ryecorn,oats and triticale.
Our insectary plantings include sage, wormwood, borage, alyssum, calendar, yarrow, phacelia and viola.
We also grow saltbush and willow which we will plant out to prevent erosion on the hillside surrounding the gardens
Garlic or a green manure crop go into each bed first and then we follow this with a leafy crop, root crops, green manure crops and root crops again.
So far we are on our way to creating about 24 active beds with each bed about 8m long and including the paths about 1.2m wide.
To date we have applied small amounts of CPP, horn manure, worm castings, compost, Rok solid fertiliser, comfrey tea and seaweed tea to these garden beds.
At any one time we aim to have 50 % of the permanent beds in Green manure crops, herbal leys and insectary plants all in a state of rest or under improvement with the other 50 % in active food production.
We share a 11hp grillo two-wheel tractor with friends. This piece of equipment does the vast majority of the hard work – rotary tillage, ploughing, mowing and generally supporting the formation of the permanent beds.
We have purchased a jang seeder, a small broad fork, a flame weeder, a large landscape rake, a range of hoes, wooden seed raising trays, cloche frames and a range of crop covers including microclima, biomaglia netting and shade cloth.
Currently, our produce is enough to nourish our wider family and our close friends. Beyond this our sharing/trading is driven by the foodies we connect with in our day to day lives.
The main purpose for us is to create a range of products from these gardens while fulfilling our desire to grow more food and connect our family to where their food comes from.
For now we are truly in a R&D like stage, honing our approach until our garden produces healthy high quality food consistently to a volume which encourages us to make it available for sale.
The vision for us is to create a range of products including fermented vegetables, pastes, powders, salts and frozen vegetables.
We are striving to take each seasons crop to another state so we can enjoy it throughout the year.
At this stage we purchase some ingredients for our pastes from organic market gardens, marlborough salt and sun dried tomatoes from Ceres. Eventually though we hope to only purchase salt.
Beyond the garden beds we are also establishing a very small vine garden. Chardonnay, Gamay and Pinot Noir have been planted on the northern side of permanent vegetable bed with local hardwood stakes used as support. They are hand watered, and have regular applications of herbal, compost and seaweed tea. To date the vines have had one application of a sulphur/seaweed spray. Long term we will introduce sprays of nettle, horsetail and willow, with the aim of eliminating the use of sulphur.
The soils in our vine garden are improved with green manure crops and worm castings, compost, the BD field sprays plus blood n bone for rabbit/hare control.
Our grillo works between the vines to improve soils through tillage and reduce aggressive weeds. We hand weed the base of these vines creating small swales on the slopes to support our hand watering.
Between these vine we also grow food.
We will continue to establish the vine garden until we are producing enough grapes for a barrel of white and a barrel of red wine.
Beyond these gardens foxes retreat provides about 3ha of grazing for a small herd of beef cattle. The land also supports a shared farming approach with the neighbours who bring in another eight large steers when appropriate and a large mob of sheep pass by after spring grazing in the local organic vineyards.
Surrounding these hillside grazing paddocks is the incredible Omihi forest, these two properties are divided by the Omihi creek which provides all stock and irrigation water.
The stock receive seaweed and cider vinegar drenches in their troughs.
Close to Nicky’s house we are also reviving a small orchard which extends into the grazing paddocks. It includes raspberries, black currants, apricot, peaches, plums, cherries, pear, plum, quince, almond, hazelnuts,walnut and pecan.
We apply our vision of Biodynamics to this property with the long term vision in mind at all times.
Our focus is on the human intent, applying our craft in the best conditions for each gardening activity. We have applied horn manure, introduced CPP and the compost preparations to our compost. All of these activities we apply during the descending period and around the full moon and/or moon opposition to saturn during spring and autumn.
We have introduced cattle, enabling the production of compost and CPP.
We seed directly and in seed trays by the BD calendar. Around the moon opposition to saturn and during the ascending period.
Seedlings are transplanted during the descending period.
We cultivate and hand water by the calendar.
During the descending period and full moon.
Tillage is carried out in the descending period.
Over the coming seasons, we will introduce half barrels to these gardens, dug into the ground where we will create CPP. Manure from the small herd of beef cattle will be collected for CPP and compost. Manure will be made into a slurry to soak the compost as we make and turn the heaps. This turning will be applied during the descending period too.
Our garden compost is made up of garden waste, weeds, lawn clipping, seaweed and manure.
It has tigers worms introduced to reduce the need for turning often.
We will apply our first 501 and 508 this autumn and early next spring.
As I write this we are planning the late summer / autumn and winter gardens.
Coming out of summer the garden beds will have a cover of self seeded veges, herbs, flowers with a few true weeds. Over the summer the garden beds have been mown and/or weed eated short.
As soon as we have rainfall which returns the soil to good moisture levels and we are in the descending period, tillage will be applied with the grillo rotary tiller. The first pass will incorporate this material and we will spray this tilled soil with herbal teas and CPP to encourage this material to break down quickly.
After tillage we cover the bed with shade cloth while to aid the digestion, once this material is broken down a little we will till again and ad compost .
The garden beds which will be fallow or in green manure crops will be seeded first, and another season begins……..
We broadfork to encourage a deep friable seed bed, we rake and then off we go again.
Our journey into growing our own food and vision to create a product from the produce has only just begun. We have to constantly remind ourselves not to compare with others who already earn a living from the land and produce. It is our own journey. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, and sometimes it feels like we aren’t doing enough. But we bring ourselves back to the goal and passion of growing our own food, connecting our family to a piece of land and realise that everything we are doing is a step in the right direction. Our experiences using BD methods to guide us and help us create best practices over the past 15 years, has taught us patience. It all just takes time, and we have plenty of it.