Wild, rugged and exciting sums up this exposed coast, and there-in lies the challenge. How to develop a self sufficient vegetable garden in this hostile environment. We are 50km from the nearest shop, the decision to move here in 2010 was on the condition that I give it a try.
I have been a Biodynamic gardener since the mid 1990’s and have taught organics and biodynamics at Taruna College and Northtec; this was the time to put all the knowledge I have learnt into practice.
Three years on I have experienced most of the conditions that the coast can offer. Hot dry summers, gale force southerlies that shred plants, snow, days of hail, and relentless northwesterly winds that suck any moisture out of the ground. But having said that this is also an amazing place to live and garden. It is all about understanding the environment; working with it instead of trying to control it.
Self Sufficiency in the Vegetable Garden
There are many challenges when it come to being self sufficient. I am not there completely yet, but I am very happy with where I am at this stage. I don’t buy any greens these days, as they are relatively easy to have a continual crop of, whether it be salad greens, swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli, or beans in season, there is usually enough in the garden to make a meal from.
Some of the problems I am encountering is a getting a good rotation of root crops. Carrots for instance, can be difficult to germinate even using moon rhythms, and sometimes I find I have to buy them while the next succession is getting big enough to harvest.
Another skill that has to be learnt is correct storage for crops such as kumera and pumpkins. It is all very well growing these lovely vegetables, but getting the curing and storage right so that they are are available through to the next harvest is another thing altogether.
Gluts of certain crops can be another issue, but usually it isn’t a big problem. Preserving, selling or giving away the surplus; very little is wasted.
After second summer here, I realised that a greenhouse was not just a luxury, but a necessity if I was going to get certain crops to reliably grow. Tomatoes, do well outside, until a southerly wind hits and halts growth, climbing beans just didn’t grow at all, although now my shelter is getting established they may do better. I designed the green house myself, and it is wide enough to have 3 raised beds, and is strong enough to withstand the worst gales the elements can throw at us. Last year I was able to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, eggplant, capsicums and chillies, as well as salad greens. My kaffir lime and lemongrass are also growing nicely inside, both of which considered the coast here not to their liking! I am able to extend the season, as well as grow some of the more delicate crops during the harsh winter months. Being a warm environment is great for germinating seed, and growing on the seedlings for later planting out. But one of the nicest things about having a greenhouse in an environment like this is that when the weather is too cold, wet or otherwise miserable to garden outside, I can potter away in the greenhouse protected from the elements.
Garden Design for the Environment
This is now the fourth garden that I have designed; never before have I had such an environment to work with. What works in the sub-tropical north, certainly doesn’t stand a chance of success here. Talking to the local gardeners and nurserymen were first and foremost in deciding what to plant. It seemed very important to blend the surrounding countryside into the garden. Tussock and flax on the hills behind us, reeds in front along the foreshore; these have played a large part in plant choice.
The garden has been designed for the future, one that may well be maintained by weekenders, therefore it is such that if maintenance was not regular, it would look like nature intended and possibly turn into a wilderness garden.
Plant choice was also determined by what would withstand the harsh weather conditions. Native plants predominate, but I enjoy colour in the garden, as well as having flowers to pick, and so there are the more traditional flowering annuals and perennials in the mix.
Art in the Garden
Something I always wanted was to be able to incorporate art in the garden. It is a small collection with work of my own, my sisters, and also local artists. As time goes by I hope to be able to add more to give a different dimension in the garden. The most recent addition is a piece by Mark Dimock entitled “Dual”. this piece epitomizes the two dominant and opposing winds here. The salt laden southerly blast, and the drying relentless northwesters.
Biodynamics in the Home Garden
I am passionate not just about gardening, but how I garden. I manage this garden organically using biodynamic principles. Biodynamic methods work toward the development of the farm or garden as a balanced and sustainable unit. They include organic practices such as crop rotation, recycling through composts and liquid manures, and increasing plant and animal bio diversity. Special plant, animal and mineral preparations are used. The rhythmic influences of the sun, moon, planets and stars are recognised and worked with where possible. These methods lead to a natural reduction of pests and diseases in plants and animals, and an increase in the nutritive and health giving value of food produce. See www.biodynamic.org.nz
The garden is open to visitors from the 1st October to 30th April. Entry fee is $5, this gives you a guided tour, and a garden based discussion. A lot of my garden visitors are from the very popular Tora Coastal walk, which passes the front gate. I am here most days, but if you want to ensure that I will be here it is best to organize in advance to avoid disappointment. A sign out front will let you know if the garden is open. You can contact me via email:
I am also able to conduct workshops on gardening organically and bio dynamically. In particular compost making, and organic soil management. For more information please contact me via email as above.