You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2012.

I spy a new 3 meter greenhouse~ But I have not decided where to put it yet.

I am very pleased that we have at least 20mm of rain last week.

This is a busy weekend at the Orchard Cottage. Yesterday, I dragged the lawnmower all over the wildflowers meadow. Neighbors on the hill thought that I went crazy.

The end results wasn’t that bad, this should kick the decomposition process into full gear. I read about this from Peter Bennett’s book that you can use a lawnmower as a mulcher. I might go through it with a line trimmer next week as well. Now, I just have to head to Mitre10 to get hold on some new sprinkler heads because I accidentally mulched them as well. It would also be a good time to upgrade all the riser pipe from 30cm to 45cm. I will start sowing more seeds starting next month with sowing spread out over 3 months.

That’s the olive and nut trees I planted last week. Hopefully I won’t be spending anymore money on trees from now on. Though, yesterday I got the urge to get my hands on Peacherine, Peachcot, and Plumcot. The idea sprung up when Cory and I was talking about leaf curl and I thought of Peachcot as a possible alternative since Apricot doesn’t get leaf curl. I hereby put the stake in the ground that these man-made cross are not coming to Orchard Cottage, but possibly into Block 1.

This is my charcoal cage seating on top of a pile of grass that I pulled out of the wildflowers meadow. The wild idea of the cage is to harvest charcoal with a 13mm wire mesh box. I tipped the bucket of leftovers from the log burner into the box, the ash and smaller pieces will fall through to the decomposing grass. As grass are mainly nitrogen, the smaller pieces of charcoal that fall through the mesh will enhance the C:N ratio of the compost heap. Plus the ash which is mainly of potassium and sulfur. When the box is full, I’ll just lift it up, have the charcoal ready for some really wild stuff. Charcoal rhymes really well with Cow Pat Pit.


The controlled demolition of mustard cover is finally done and over with today. The blue lupins will now have their chance to grow, and some weeds too. The idea here is to co-create with Mother Nature, if she decides to introduce some weeds, she must have her rationale, and thus I will leave the weeds alone, unless they decide to sting or prick me, then I will cut them at the base and allow them to compost in situ. On my part, I have also selected a range of perennial and annual plants that I wanted to introduce, and this will be done on a monthly sowing from August onward. However, it will be up to Mother Nature to decide which of the varieties I have selected is suitable for the balance and which are not and thus naturally eliminated.


Spot the Asparagus Sweet Purple coming up next to Oriental Sno Pea. I grow them from seed last season and buried it as the base before I raised the bed. They were extras and I didn’t really expect them to come through. They will be ready for eating next Spring.

Behold the wild Alpine Strawberry! They are tiny berry smaller than a raspberry. Its not fully ripe yet, maybe next week.


Winter started off well with plenty of rain in June. Somehow things ran out of steam in July, we have only like 3 rain events so far and none have been quite as meaningful. I was expecting quite a few does of 10-20mm rain. It was quite warm for a bit too! One of the trees in the orchard yard is now in blossom!

I went down to the orchard and check the temperature logger. Based on Richardson Chill Unit calculation, we have accumulated about 700 chill units so far. RCU is also called the Utah Model.

  • 1 hour below 1.4°C = 0.0 chill unit (CU)
  • 1 hour between 1.5-2.4°C = 0.5 chill units (CU)
  • 1 hour between 2.5-9.1°C = 1.0 chill units (CU)
  • 1 hour between 9.2-12.4°C = 0.5 chill units (CU)
  • 1 hour between12.5-15.9°C = 0.0 chill units (CU)
  • 1 hour between 16-18°C = – 0.5 chill units (CU)
  • 1 hour over 18°C = – 1.0 chill units (CU)

Some of the varieties in the orchard would have accumulated enough chilling now and if we happen to have 2 weeks of consistent warmth, they would wake up and start flowering. Which I hope the good weather will not be here until Spring! Else we will be having frosted flower petals for salad for the rest of the year.

We are going to change the pruning method from VSP to spur pruning in Okana Vineyard this year. The benefits are an obvious reduction in cost, at the same time, the bunches of grape generally don’t develop secondary shoulders which means you now get a more consistent fruit maturity and less work in bunch thinning. I really like this method as you don’t have to wrestle the canes off the wires, the barrel pruner will do it for you!

I have got my new season supply of seeds all lined up! 3 varieties of corns companion planted with 3 varieties of climbing beans.



8 varieties of tomatoes companion planted with 2 varieties of basil.


Red mesclun mix, 4 varieties of dwarf beans, soybeans, 3 varieties of carrots, beetroots, and swedes as a combined community sowing.  I go forth this with confidence thanks to my rather successful trial in my scatter seeds 1.8×1.8 cloche.


2 varieties of brussels sprouts, and onion for mid-late season follow up.


Baby carrots, and leeks for mid-late season follow up.

Zucchinis, eggplants, and bell pepper mix.

Most of the varieties are chosen with hardiness and heritage in mind. Otherwise, novelty. Much like the many black tomatoes I have got lined up.

I might operate on the wildflowers meadow next week. The idea is to put the lawn mower on high and run it through the meadow to cut things up. It will help to speed up the decomposition.

I have also done my final tree planting yesterday! Koroneiki Olive, Monovale Almond, Alexandra Hazelnut, and White Heat Hazelnut. They are planted at the back of the wildflowers meadow, when they mature they will start to help with as a minor windbreaker.

Devouring agricultural books have been my main focus in Winter. The latest book I have read is The Biochar Solution by Albert Bates. I have been trying to piece things together as there seems to be a division and separation among the authors, as if each is trying to show that each individual efforts is just good enough that you don’t need combined knowledge.

The charcoal from The Biochar Solution, the compost tea from Teaming with Microbes, got me thinking about Rudolf Steiner’s Preparation 500. The charcoal used in agriculture served as a sponge with tons and tons of micro-pores which serve as home for microbes, it is like a high density residential block. Applying this into the soil essential increased the surface area underneath the soil, therefore increase the population of microbes greatly! I would think of the cow horn of P500 as the charcoal, buried in the ground, it invites microbes to come and take up residence. Then with the cow dung stuffed inside it, became food for the microbes to digest. However, when the food runs low, the microbes will probably go dormant or set spores. We take this fermented cow dung and stir it in a bucket for an hour, which essentially aerates the water much like the making of compost tea. Perhaps, through this stirring, we wake the dormant microbes and spores up, they quickly multiply, and we apply them onto the ground. This is however a mere scientific theory and has yet to incorporate the cosmic forces that entered the preparation via the tip of the cow horn, and the vortex of stirring, as according to Steiner.

My upcoming project is to make my own Cow Pat Pit, and make an aerated tea out of it! There will be some special ingredients involved.

I took Caesar out to meet the sheep yesterday. He wasn’t quite as enthusiastic.


Why can’t cyclist ride single file on the road? Why must they ride side by side in pairs or trios? Back where I come from, drivers would have gleefully run you off the road for obstructing traffic. I am not against cyclist, I love cyclist who are understanding and try not to get into the way of motor vehicles. Riding in single file, and in return I also try to be nice to them. No… riding side by side, taking up almost half the road and cars have to cut their speed by half when they can’t overtake due to oncoming traffic, its quite frustrating. In an apple to apple comparison, imagine you are a cyclist cycling through a shared walkway with people on foot and those buggers are walking side by side doing a Backstreet Boys MTV shoot blocking the whole path, what are you going to do? Say there is a tiny gap that you can quite tightly squeeze through, would you go through? Now, upgrade to a car and bicycle situation. Capisce?

Caesar is growing up really fast. He understands “NO”, which is really good, that will stop him from ripping things apart. He is still quite a rascal, but he is going through the fear stage, so he can be quite freakish at times too. He is still learning leash etiquette, I have to purposely take him out to the orchard where he has minimal distraction for practice. He farts too, and like we say about the silent killer, his silent fart stinks real bad!

On the tucker patch, I am carrying out a controlled demolition of the mustard cover. With a pair of secateurs, I cut them back into the ground removing the top growth completely. Hopefully, they don’t re-sprout. I have a very interesting theory on this method. Leaving the roots in the ground ensure that the soil microorganisms have time to look around and move into new homes. The rotting roots can also be food for them. Pulling the roots out and leave it above ground means exposing it to sunlight, soil microorganisms would not like that. Its like people affected by the Christchurch quake, if their house is totally damage, they are evicted and would suffer more stress, compare to those whose house can still be live in albeit damaged while they look for a new house while still having a roof to sleep under.

I have been supplied greens from this 1.8m x 1.8m plot for the last few months now. There’s still plenty of greens in there to last me through to Spring, the dwarf peas are flowering too! The covers protects the flowers from frost, I hope I would have some peas before Spring! The trick to keep the heat is to keep the cover on when the sun is shinning to trap heat, and to remove it on other times for extra air circulation.

I have 100% garlic cloves sprouting on my heat trap which is really lovely! However, only one out of the few Oriental Sno Pea from Koanga Gardens Preservation Pack  germinated. The heat trap is also a wind trap, which resulted in wind erosion, I had to put some crates around it as windbreaks.

I applied Mycorrcin and Seasol on the garden yesterday. Its their mid-Winter booster, I also hope that with the Mycorrcin application, I can kick start the establishment of Mycorrhizal fungi. It takes 3 months for them to establish, so they aren’t useful for your annual vege patch, but they are good for perennials, shrubs and trees. There arise another theory of mine to plant perennials around and among your vege patch, establish them with Mycorrhizal fungi so that when you plant your annuals, the fungi can freely establish themselves on the annuals without depending on store bought products.

From the book Creating A Forest Garden by Martin Crawford, its interesting to note that in an area where Mycorrhizal fungi is well established, there arise a network for nutrient redistribution. For example, a cherry tree in the area needs some Nitrogen but there’s a lacking in its root zone, the fungi will head for the Nitrogen-fixing plant such as Alder and obtain the Nitrogen, and bring it back to the cherry tree. From one end of the field, to the other. The many things that happen underneath our feet, amazing.

By the way, if you happened to come by the Orchard Cottage and saw my beautiful roses, please ask me if it is politically safe to smell the roses before you proceed to take a whiff. The reason being I piss on them religiously. There will be a smelling withholding period.

Kaituna Orchards is getting a big shake up. The details are being hammered out and I will be writing about it once the dust settles. One of the beautiful thing that will come out of this is that Block 1 is going to be turned into an orchard garden, or what we call the salad bowl. I feel so excited just thinking about it, all the potential, all the room for creativity. We will also be trialing alternative ways of growing without the use of chemicals.

While having a discussion with Grant last week, I suddenly got very angry when I realized that chemical agriculture has hijacked the word CONVENTIONAL from organic agriculture. The businessman and politicians knows that nobody is going to buy into chemical agriculture, instead, they rename it conventional agriculture and it just caught on. I also realize that denying organic agriculture works is just as easy as denying the existence of God. All you need is your believe system for you to decide which side of the fence you are standing on. Miracles? If you don’t want to believe it, you can just brush it off as just a coincidence. Steve Wratten has it down, “some organic growers rely on practices which they can’t explain, but truly believe in”.

However, I got an inspiration from episode 2 of River Cottage Treatment where Hugh sent some of the ready made frozen food for lab test, and the participants get to see all of the chemical powders that make up the food. I could just about show you all the colorful stuff that chemical agriculture add into the production of food, in comparison to the stuff that organic agriculture use. That will come some day in the future.

I started to thin out he mustard in the tucker patch. They are now about 30cm high, thus the need to open up some light for the garlic cloves. The garlic cloves that I have planted are coming along well which is good because I was later told to plant them in August instead. I hope they will be fine. I also noticed my red currant, Gloria de Versailles are starting to have some bud movement, in the middle of Winter! I hope my white currant will be alright, it seems to have a borer problem. Come Spring I will get some Neem granules into the ground.

Winter, everything starts to slow down, including my appetite. It is also the time to increase my agriculture knowledge exponentially. I have been devouring books like a black hole. One would thought the library would have all the books in the world, and that one person is naive, and that naive person is me. There will be books that I will have to buy when Christchurch Library runs out of the books that I wanted to read. In fact, I have ordered 2 books to be sent from Germany! Homeopathy for Farm and Garden by Vaikunthanath Das Kaviraj and Homeopathy for Plants by Christiane Maute. Books, they are my source of financial downfall.

Now is also the time to eye out seeds catalogs. I can’t wait to see the new Koanga Gardens catalog! All the seeds are bred in NZ which means they are more naturalized compare to imported seeds. At this moment I am quite fascinated with growing corns and tomatoes. I have lined up 3 varieties of corns and 6 varieties of tomatoes in my very small growing area. And I just got another brainwave with 3 more spots to cram tomatoes in!

Corn! If you look at most commercial seed catalogs, all the listed corn varieties are hybrid! I am getting my heirloom corn seeds from Koanga Gardens. Silver Platinum, Rainbow Inca, and Early Gem. One of my project this year is to cross Rainbow Inca and Silver Platinum with Early Gem in hope of coming up with an earlier version of Rainbow Inca and Silver Platinum to make up for the not so long season in Canterbury.

Tomato! I am obsessed with black tomatoes as they have the best health properties. From Kings Seeds, there are the Cherokee Purple, Black Zebra, Indigo Rose (cherry), and Oaxacan Jewel (yellow). From Koanga Gardens, there are the Black Cherry (cherry), Dagma’s Perfection (yellow), and Henry’s Dwarf Bush Cherry (red cherry). Most of the chosen ones are dark in color. I am going to grow them out in the open, and I just might let them have the entire greenhouse as well!

Now is really the time to think and rethink how I am going to plant out the area. Would eggplants, bell peppers, chili peppers do well planted in the open? Or should I let the tomatoes have that spot instead and try to grow a bit of them in the greenhouse? Maybe I should grow my chili in a pot. I am also so tempted to take the current greenhouse down and build a larger one in place!

Time to hold back, stay centered and present, and let creative practicality takes hold.

Caesar is taking things in strides at the Orchard Cottage. Having 3/4 Border Collie blood in his veins pretty much means he is 3/4 as active as a Border Collie. At just 9 weeks old I noticed his herding instincts whenever we are walking on grass. It’s good that he gets the message I don’t want him on my tucker beds.

I took him for a 45 minutes walk yesterday and that worn him out right away. After all, he was running and stopping and running and stopping. In the end, he was running and laying down and running and laying down. This is the puppy that learns how to run before he learns how to walk.

We have a minus 3.4 this morning. The mustards looks like they are ready to give up. I hope they do, then the blue lupins will have their opportunity to come through.

We are starting work on the vineyard now. In a bid to improve winter pruning efficiency, we are installing additional clips a hand span below the fruiting wire to hold the middle canopy wires. Doing so gets the middle canopy wires out of the way and allow pruning to fall off easily as now you only have to deal with the top canopy wires instead of both of them.

We’ll also trial some spur pruning this season on selected rows as we have been doing VSP all along. During the recent Bio Dynamic Conference 2012, I spoke to some winegrowers who swear by spur pruning. This method has its merits where it takes the wrapping of a new cane onto the fruiting wire out of the equation, thus making winter pruning faster. You can even do it with the barrel pruning machine, which essentially becomes a one person job. The argument against that however is that as the fruiting wood gets older, it will be a place for spores to reside in its cracks. In that, its a judgement call based on disease pressure in the area and vine health management. Ultimately, it is a cost saving measure and with the added benefit that bunches don’t develop secondary shoulders that ripens later than the primary bunch. My trials with the vineyard will be on the first row, last six rows, all end bays of the Okana Vineyard. I have a gut feeling that spur pruning on the end bays might have its plus.

I just finished reading Teaming with Microbes (Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis 2010) and How to Grow More Vegetables (John Jeavons 2002). Both are amazing books which I picked up from Kay Baxter’s recommendations.

It interesting how rototillers are invented based on the notion that plant roots have mouth to eat the soil, so you have to break the soil into fluff so that it is more edible, and thus enhance plant growth. However, every time we put the machine through or double dig the soil we disturb the soil structure which can be detrimental to the microbes living within it.

What alarms me is to find out that the current agricultural practice uses 16,000 sq ft to feed one person a year. However, the Biointensive method introduced by John Jeavons only utilize 4,000 sq ft per person. Talk about international food crisis. I also like the idea of hexagonal planting instead of tight inter-plant and wide inter-row spacing method. The Biointensive method is a combination of French intensive techniques (1700s-1800s) and Biodynamic techniques (1920s). It also claims that 100% sustainability is impossible based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, all systems proceed toward a state of entropy or disorder, but instead strive for 99% sustainability, which ultimately means that one day, we will starve to death, just not as soon. However, the current method does not involved any Bio Dynamic preparations (incorporation of cosmic forces) at all, which I believe is the true essence in creating abundance. Still, for its growing method, its a book to be read and put to use.

Was the BD preparations taken out because it is meant to be a very logical method to ensure wide uptake and acceptance? That the incorporation of the forces will just put it as out there weirdo stuff? I personally felt that Biointensive method has bastardize Rudolf Steiner’s Bio Dynamic techniques reducing the philosophy to mere “holistic growing environment for plants”.

However, it is totally up to us to recombine both methods to try to achieve true sustainability and abundance. Intensive Bio Dynamic Agriculture perhaps.

Woot! Finally finished weeding my wildflowers meadow of grass! Its a forest in there, if I faint no one will find me for weeks. Quite a task indeed to wade through meadow, but it also allow me to get closer to the meadow, to the soil, and the life within. Look forward to doing it again next Winter.

%d bloggers like this: