Welcome to our garden
We farm 5 acres of sand country in the Southern Manawatu in a little settlement called Bainesse.
Our philosophy is to look after the land so that it will look after us. We aim to improve the soil and support diversity of plants, insects, animals and people, microbes and fungi. We rely on this diversity along with inputs of organic compost nutrients and water and crop rotation to control pests and diseases so as not to use herbicides, pesticides, fungicides or antibiotics that can cause disruption to the ecosystem and potentially to our health.
We don't follow any strict 'system' of agriculture but align with permaculture and the concepts of being regenerative and sustainable. We are not certified organic due to the costs and paperwork involved which would take the focus off doing the best we can with what we have, would mean a lot of strict rules to follow and increase the costs of production and therefore the costs to the consumer. We see this as unnecessary as being certified organic would not make our practices or food quality any better. It does, however give assurance to the consumer that food is produced without certain chemical inputs.
We are just starting on the journey of developing the property to be fully productive and that starts with feeding ourselves. So the annual vegetable gardens have been the first step. When we started out, this pure sand paddock (like fine beach sand - want a sand-pit, dig a hole anywhere you like!) grew only tough grasses, many annual weeds and a huge number of grass grubs, porina, red-legged earth mites and a whole raft of other pest species. The system is out-of-balance and we are working to restore that. This will be done by diverse planting across the property, adding nutrients and organic matter and working to help nature get these cycling effectively from below to ground to the tree-tops.
You can follow our journey including seeing our permaculture design plans by subscribing to this page
Any system that is producing crops, meat or other product for harvest and sale is losing nutrients from the system. Some of these will be replaced by slow weathering of parent material and some by wind-blown nutrients or wildlife entering the property (provided they done come to eat your crops and then poop and die elsewhere. In a highly productive system, these processes will not be enough to replace the lost nutrients. This is why agriculture is so dependant on fertilisers. In addition to losses in product, nutrients will leave the system via water travelling through the environment, either down through the soil profile into underground aquifers or flowing over the surface into surface waterways.
Sustainable systems must replace nutrients from sustainable sources. Our sand already started with a very low base level of nutrients so not only do we need to replace what leaves but build up the base levels as well. We do this through several ways, including recycling trees, bringing in stock feed, bringing in food waste, wool, cattle shed waste, seaweed, paper, anything we can get hold of that was once alive. We need to be careful not to use material that has been treated with long acting herbicides though as this has caused major problems in some areas. Everything gets composted on site (we don't buy in compost at all) and this compost is added in a partially decomposed form onto the soil to feed to earthworms, microbes and fungi within the soil where the plants are growing. We do not use vermicast or farm worms in bins as we prefer to farm them where the plants grow. This is how we build soil while growing vegetable crops. See more about our nutrient cycling and composting system here. Traditional vegetable cropping systems that rely on heavy cultivation, mineral fertilisers and pesticides and herbicides to control pests and weeds generally result in degradation of soil quality, reduction in organic matter, reduction in earthworm and fungi and high levels of nutrient loss to waterways. The best way to restore soil function under these conditions is to put the land into grazed pasture for several years.
Integration of animals
Plants and animals evolved together. They are somewhat dependent on each other for nutrient cycling and seed dispersal and propagation. Some animals or insects also help with pest control and maintaining diversity. Our modern vegetables have been developed for palatability, fast growth, storage and aesthetics and are highly palatable to animals and pest insects so we can't simply have animals wandering around the veggie patch! Everyone would end up starving. We grow more than we need for ourselves and feed surplus to our chickens and goats. When the crops are done we run the goats and/or chickens through to clean up and redistribute nutrients. The chickens are particularly good and scratching up slugs and snails and earth mites creating a clean environment for the next crops and of course their poop is a valuable source of nutrients. Horses are also included. They don't eat the crops but we do buy in hay or Baleage and use the manure back through the compost and onto the veggies.
Why not revert the land to its natural state?
There is no part of NZ that has not been transformed by our presence. Even our national parks with virgin native bush have suffered from possums, deer, cats, stoats and diseases. The Bainesse area was once a network of peat swamps and sand-dunes famous for its flax. This landscape has completely changed largely through extensive drainage. Some areas of the landscape are suitable for conversion back to swamps and dunes and some areas can be developed into sustainable, healthy production systems. We also live in a time where human activities have resulted in global environmental and climate emergencies so we need to ask whether returning an areas to its natural state is the best option. Our area is mostly flat, degraded sand country. Left to its own it would grow wilding pines, woody weeds such as ink weed and nightshade and gorse and struggle to support any native species. By applying nutrients and water and cultivating the plants we can increase the carbon levels in our soil doing a small part to reduce GHG levels. We believe this particular area of land can be used to produce food in an environmentally healing way. Within the area, there will be smaller parts suitable for native planting and potentially aquatic life as well.