On the Road Again…and Again

Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.                                – Groucho Marx

Here I am, four months later, sitting down and scratching my head to remember all that’s been happening since March!

We had a lovely final month at Toi Toi Manawa. With the help of many volunteer hands, we finished up lots of little projects and tidied up the garden and buildings for winter. After saying our goodbyes to the land at Manawa and to many friends in Whitecliffs, we hit the road – with our trusty Corolla working hard to carry us and all of our worldly possessions (read: root vegetables)!

Moments in the garden on departure day.

Moments in the garden on departure day.

The month of April was spent visiting friends and farms in many parts of the country. We spent a few days in and around Lyttelton before heading North to visit farms in the Buller Gorge, Motueka, and Golden Bay. Then it was across to Wellington on the ferry! After a short drop-in to see Andy’s folks in Feilding (and to relieve the car of much of the load it was carrying) it was onwards to Taranaki to celebrate the wedding of our friends Tim and Hannah. It was a beautiful wedding and a great chance for Andy to reunite with many of his parkour friends.

Inside a very full car!

Inside a very full car!

I had an interview in Auckland which I really enjoyed though I didn’t end up getting the job. Probably for the best, because I don’t know that we’re well suited to living in the big city of Auckland anyway! From there it was on to Whakatane to visit good family friends and to get to know the region surrounding New Zealand’s active marine volcano, White Island. Of course, part of getting to know a volcanic region is checking out the naturally heated hot pools!

Searching for shellfish on a side trip near Whakatane

Searching for shellfish on a side trip near Whakatane

Then it was across to the east coast for a brief visit in Gisborne – the first city in the world to see the sun every day.  That visit included a stop at their fantastic farmer’s market where we stocked up on lots of beautiful fruit! From Gisbrone, we headed down to Kotare Village and the home of the Koanga Institute – seed savers extraordinaire and maintainers of New Zealand heritage food plants.

Further on down the east coast, we stopped for our first long-ish stay since leaving Toi Toi Manawa. A little ways south of Hastings, we came to The Family Farm and there we stayed for two beautiful weeks. The Family Farm is based at Mangarara Station – a 1507 acre sheep and cattle farm. They’re putting a whole new spin on things there though! Taking inspiration from farmers like Joel Salatin and Mark Shepard, they are focusing on sustainable and restorative forms of agriculture. This has translated into planting thousands of trees, managing grazing intensively, and focusing on perennial species throughout the farm. Another interesting element is the addition of two new families to live on the farm and develop enterprises including raising pigs and dairy cows, growing heritage vegetables and saving seeds. It’s a very whole picture and an exciting start to a new model for New Zealand’s large (and small) farms to look to and learn from.

Our time at the Family Farm was spent volunteering in many parts of the farm – from milking cows and catching pigs, to weeding garlic and shifting sheep. I hadn’t spent so much time around livestock before – so this was an especially great learning experience for me! We were delighted to spend time with such a fun and interesting bunch of people with such a passion for doing good work on the land.

After another swoop through Feilding, we headed aaaaallll the way back up North and beyond Auckland – straight on up to the Hokianga Harbour in Northland. Although Andy grew up north of Auckland, he’d never ventured this far up. For a long time, we had hoped to visit the farm of John and Gail Aiken – a couple who grow seeds for the Koanga Institute, among so many other wonderful things. We spent two weeks volunteering at John and Gail’s place. It’s an absolutely stunning spot up on a hill overlooking the river. Their garden is a total inspiration, they’ve got a beautiful orchard planted, they’ve got ducks and chickens and geese, they produce great milk from some beautiful cows, and they’ve even got a gorgeous draught horse called Kate! Did I mention that in Northland they can even grow pineapples and bananas?! We learned a ton in the gardens with John and Gail – and in the kitchen too. They do a lot of fermenting and cheese-making, among other things. And the seed saving! Because they save seed on a commercial scale (and we were there in the autumn) we had the chance to be involved in saving lots of seeds – from radishes and eggplant to beans and cucumber. We picked up some great new techniques and left feeling really empowered. Seed saving is such an important and exciting piece of food security. And so much fun!

John and Gail's Garden

John and Gail’s Garden

We covered a lot of ground on those couple of months – for those who aren’t too familiar with New Zealand geography, here’s a quick map of the destinations we hit:

Travels in April and May

Travels in April and May

We hurried back down South to catch a flight from Palmerston North back down to Christchurch where we met my Mom and Dad at the airport. After a 15 month separation, we had the chance to spend four weeks together seeing the sights and catching up. We watched dolphins play from a boat in the Akaroa harbour, visited a magical, natural nursery for baby seals in Kaikoura, toured wineries with a friend in Blenheim, got to know the new puppies (!!) at Andy’s folks’ place, toured parliament in Wellington, soaked in hot pools in Taupo, and visited geysers in Rotorua. And so much more. In between, we spent lots of time playing cards, chatting, cooking and relaxing in some truly beautiful places. The weeks flew by and before we knew it we were waving goodbye!

Off to see the rare Hector's dolphin in Akaroa

Off to see the rare Hector’s dolphin in Akaroa

Exploring a geothermal hotspot in Taupo

Exploring a geothermal hotspot in Taupo

We’re extremely fortunate to now be looking forward to a trip to Canada for August and September. It’ll be a fabulous time for us to visit with friends and family and to explore possible opportunities for ourselves on that side of the world. And when we get back to NZ it’ll be spring! Perfect!

In this little gap before we head to Canada in a few weeks’ time, we’re working away at odd jobs nearby Andy’s folks’ place. So far, that’s meant a mix of warehouse work and traffic control. I’m a big believer that rolling up your sleeves to do something entirely different from usual is very healthy and helps to round a person out. And working the stop-go sign is more fun than I’d ever imagined!

I am loving our current freedom to travel, explore, and collect ideas and inspiration. I’m also looking forward to the time when we land in a place and hang our hats for a while. As fun as odd jobs are for these couple of weeks, they are also a good way to reenforce our choice to work in the realm of sustainable food and farming. It reminds us of the elements of good food work that energise and excite us and make us feel really satisfied at the end of the day.

When we return to spring in New Zealand, we’ll be ready to jump into our next growing adventure, wherever that may be. And then when my current visa expires in February, well, only time (and also our soon-to-make decisions) will tell…

Until next time!


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Marching Away

After a month full of visitors in February, it’s been a quiet sort of easing in to March. Much as we adore having visitors, the quiet is nice too. It’s especially good at the moment as it’s a serious time for reflection for me as I approach the anniversary of my arrival in New Zealand. What a year! There’s added reflection too, since we’re now in our final month at Toi Toi Manawa. It’s a time both for looking back and looking ahead. Actually, it’s feeling sort of like New Year’s. But in March.

February began with an incredible visit from my dear friend Mel and her lovely boyfriend Steve. The two of them came over from Melbourne and we spent a week together catching up and exploring New Zealand. It was the first visit for both of them! It became a great opportunity for Andy and I to check out some spots that we hadn’t been to yet either. Any excuse for a road trip! We visited the glaciers of Westland National Park – Franz Josef and Fox. We kayaked into a mangrove forest with Mt. Cook (NZ’s highest peak) overlooking us. We marvelled at the Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki and camped amongst the unique, cave-riddled landscapes of Bullock Creek. On the way back to Whitecliffs, there was a stop in at the ever-admired Castle Hill. And then – the icing on the cake – we played on the high ropes course at the Adrenalin Forest, which included flying foxes at 20m. What fun!


At Gillespies Beach with Mt. Cook in the distance.

After Mel’s visit, we had another round of WWOOFers come to stay. There were Mike, Bennett and Cassandra from the US and Susi from Italy, as well as a return from Justine, another American WWOOFer who volunteered with us back in December. And Andy’s traceur friend Ryan came to lend his hands too – it was camping room only by this point! To top it off, there was the lovely Tina. Tina (also arriving from Melbourne) is a friend of mine from my days on the farm in Guelph. She was a super volunteer on the farm there – and she was a super volunteer here too. A traveling ray of sunshine! Tina’s short visit included a trip to Castle Hill on Valentine’s Day and watching the sun set over the boulders. Que romántico!

Justine with a great cabbage harvest!

Justine with a great cabbage harvest!

Back on the farm, we bounced between work in the garden and preparing to host a soil workshop by the Dirt Doctor, Jim O’Gorman. Jim ran a weekend long workshop covering bed preparation, compost and compost teas, tools, and lots more. Never before had I looked at all of the microbial life in a compost tea under a microscope. So cool! I was mesmerised by this whole world that had been just about unknown to me but is so critical to the health and well-being of our soils – and us! The workshop gave us a lot of food for thought. And literal food too – Jim brought some amazing heirloom tomatoes for us. The same tomatoes, in fact, that Jim was asked to provide to Kate and William on their recent royal visit to NZ. This is all part of fulfilling Andy’s goal to “work like a peasant, live like a king”.

Making a new compost heap with Jim.

Making a new compost heap with Jim.

On the Whitecliffs Township Committee, I’ve recently come into a fascinating job as part of a historical sub-committee. There was some concern among the committee members that some of the oldest residents in Whitecliffs – the ones who had been around the longest and knew the most about the history of the place – are really getting on in years and many of their stories are unrecorded. Our sub-committee is now busily preparing to interview, collect maps and photos, sift through archives, and develop a mini-museum at the old train station in the village. It’s a great chance for me to learn a little bit more about Whitecliffs – and another reminder of how sorry we’ll be to say goodbye in a month’s time. We’ve warned them already that we will be back to visit!

At the end of February, we celebrated in the usual way at the monthly community picnic and Free Day. Once again, we brought A LOT of veggies and I had a great time chatting to people about ways to prepare kohlrabi and the wonders of perennial bunching onions.



Andy and I ducked out of the Free Day early this time, because we had a second February road trip set to go. This time, we pointed ourselves south instead of west and took a meandering drive to Wanaka, with brief stops at Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki. Jaw-dropping sort of scenery. In Wanaka, we were hosted by our friend Jon – a permaculture consultant from Dunedin. Together with Jon, we traveled to Queenstown and Glenorchy to visit the construction site of Aro Ha – a wellness retreat set to open in 2014. It’s an incredible project set in one of the most picturesque places I have ever seen. Check out the beautiful vision of Aro Ha here.

Views from Aro Ha

Views from Aro Ha

Back in Wanaka, we also had a chance to visit with our lovely friend Kate who has been living there for the last handful of months. Kate swept us away to one of her preferred spots in the area – Lake Hawea. After an incredible afternoon, it is now a serious contender for my favourite place in New Zealand. So far. I’ve never seen fresh water so clear. A lake so swimmable. Surrounded by mountains. And no people! It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.

In Lake Hawea

In Lake Hawea

As if I haven’t been spoiled enough lately with visits from old friends, last night Andy and I went out for dinner in Lyttelton with my friend Emily and her mom. Emily and I were fellow Rotaractors back at Queen’s and travelled to El Salvador together in 2006. Now Emily is a doctor and is spending a few weeks working at a hospital in Christchurch. So lovely to have more familiar faces around!

As we round out our final month at Toi Toi Manawa, we are working from what may very well be our most giant To Do List yet. It’s a behemoth. We’re aiming to leave the program and the land in really stellar shape for those who will take over. Luckily, we’ll have the help of a another crew of WWOOFers – Kiwi, German and Canadian – next week.

It remains to be seen exactly what direction Toi Toi Manawa will take after we leave, but you can always stay updated on their website. Over the past year, Andy and I have done a lot of learning here, have met some incredible people, and have had an opportunity to settle into a really nice working rhythm together. We’ll miss the place very much, I’m sure, but we’re also looking forward to the new adventures that lie ahead. Not sure yet what those adventures are going to be, but we’ve got a few ideas up our sleeves…

Stay tuned!

The garden in mid-February

The garden in mid-February

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New Year and New Potatoes

“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” -Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright

This ever-so-delayed blog post reaffirms that I live in a part of the world where January is the busy time of year in the garden! The past month and a half have been equal-parts restful, busy, and very rewarding.

Soon after I left off here in December, we hosted friends of Toi Toi Manawa for an End of Year Celebration on the farm. The celebration included a giant harvest dinner for program donors and their families. Dinner was followed by an evening of campfire, singing, and general revelry with our friends and neighbours in Whitecliffs. A great way to end the program year!

Andy and I spent the latter half of December on the North Island with his parents. A wonderful way for us to reflect, regroup and relax. Although we did feel a bit spoiled having just had a holiday in Australia back in November! Nevertheless, we thoroughly enjoyed Christmastime with the Pedleys and their lovely menagerie. Christmas Day was perhaps my hottest to date – somewhere in the early 30s ℃. Not to be deterred, the Christmas pudding was lit on fire and enjoyed by all. This was followed closely, of course, by a mass migration towards shaded spaces and fans!

We arrived back in Christchurch just in time to ring in the New Year. We spent New Year’s Eve camping with friends at Orton Bradley Park. This included my dear friend Christie who was visiting NZ from Korea for the holidays. Nothing like a reunion with an old friend to ring in a new year! On New Year’s Day, we kayaked in Akaroa Harbour on the Banks Peninsula. A marvelous way to spend a day! The wind that gave us good exercise on our outward journey later carried us back home easily. In between, we set up on a quiet beach for good mid-way snacks and games in the sand. Bliss!

We had a fabulous visit in early January from Andy’s Uncle Jon, his wife Karla and their beautiful children, Kira and Ayanda – all the way from South Africa! It was a real joy to have our first visit of family to the farm and we had a blast cooling off in the river, exploring the garden, jigsaw puzzling, and taking in harp lessons from the very talented Dominique.

A few days after bidding farewell, Andy and I set out on a horse trek in the Port Hills. Otahuna Horse Treks uses the principles of natural horsemanship in their rides. This was an area of particular interest to Andy as he looks for aspects of natural horsemanship that can be applied to draft horse-powered farming. We had perfect weather for our ride. I rode a horse, known for being a bit naughty, called Fire. Meanwhile, Andy was paired up with…Andy! And what a dynamic duo the Andys made!

Throughout January, we’ve been very lucky to host a number of really wonderful WWOOFers. It’s left us marveling at how many incredible people there are floating around this world! It’s been an incredible help to us to have the extra hands around – not to mention the extra skill, knowledge, enthusiasm, and great conversation. We’ve been learning a lot from these folks and are coming to appreciate our participation in the WWOOF program as one of the most valuable elements of our time at Toi Toi Manawa.

We’ve recently made the difficult decision to leave Toi Toi Manawa when our current commitment ends at the start of April. We’re going to miss the farm immensely – and the people that we have come to know through our time here – but we know it’s time for a new challenge too. We don’t yet know where we’ll be come April 2nd – but we’re getting excited for what new adventures may lie ahead!

One aspect of our life here that we will especially miss is our growing connection to the Whitecliffs community. With a small (150-200ish) population, we have gotten to know the people here quite well and have felt more and more a part of the place ourselves. I’ve been actively involving myself in the Township Committee, we recently took a number of WWOOFers down to help with clearing up a future community picnic space in the village, and we enjoy the feeling of going for a walk down the street and stopping for chats with our neighbours along the way. Last weekend, we attended the monthly community picnic and “Free Day” where local folks swap everything from clothes and toys to books and kitchen items. This month, we brought a table stacked high with all sorts of veggies from our garden. What a feeling to watch all of the kids parade around the picnic munching on our carrots! It’s an image that’s going to stick with me, that’s for sure!

I am incredibly lucky to have had visits from great friends while I’ve been on the farm and to be able to share this place with them. My friend Kate, now based in Wanaka, came by for another visit last week and found the garden much changed since her last visit in November! Tomorrow, my dear friend Mel and her boyfriend Steve will be arriving for a much-anticipated, week-long visit with us. I’m looking forward very much to a week of catching up and exploring little pockets of New Zealand together.

And with that, we’re more or less up to present! Phew! With any luck, next month’s post won’t be quite so delayed. And I won’t have to do so much head-scratching to remember what’s happened!

Until then…

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Across The Tasman And Back Again

“Travel and change of place impart new vigour to the mind.” – Seneca

November was a month of firsts:

My first trip to Australia. Meeting Andy’s first niece. Sleeping in a tent for the first time since we lived in one full-time. Harvesting our first vegetables from this year’s garden. Preparing to host our first official WWOOFers.

We spent two weeks of November in Australia – mostly visiting with Andy’s brother and sister-in-law in Brisbane and getting to know their beautiful new baby, Lily. She is an absolute wonder and we loved spending quiet afternoons just being around her.

All tuckered out

Having a snooze with Uncle Andy

Afternoon stop in the p

Afternoon stop in the park

Time spent with the Brisbane Pedleys included all sorts of highlights: Richard’s incredible home-made chai, morning walks in the nearby bush block, excellent rounds of Dutch Blitz, a trip to the botanic gardens, evening kayaking and BBQs – and plenty of good conversation in good company. And a night-time outing to find dessert in a big electrical storm. That’s not one to forget!

Checking out a turtle with Dad near the Enoggera Dam.

Checking out a turtle with Dad near the Enoggera Dam.

From Brisbane, Andy and I took a couple of side trips too. First, we headed south for a few days in the Byron Bay area. That included a visit to Geoff Lawton’s Zaytuna Farm – home of the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. This was our first time seeing well-developed permaculture-style food forests and features like swales in action. An excellent glimpse of some of the elements we’ll be looking to develop at Toi Toi Manawa – minus the banana trees maybe! We visited a fascinating little village called Nimbin too – where everything is rainbow-coloured and the words “sustainable”, “local” and “organic” appear in nearly every store front. I’d never been anywhere like it. To cap off our time in New South Wales, we spent some time hiking and camping in Nightcap National Park. We were highly impressed with the park, its camping facilities, and the upkeep of the trails. On our hike to Minyon Falls we spotted all sorts of creatures – including a goanna. Which I initially thought was the biggest snake I had ever seen! But I was wrong, it was the biggest lizard I’d ever seen!

Happy hiker!

Happy hiker!

On another trip, we headed north to Noosa – a particularly popular holiday destination – and something quite out of the ordinary for us! Beautiful white sand beaches, a river full of storks and stingrays and outdoor activities a plenty. On the way up, we stopped to visit the ginger factory and some of the most fabulous organic supermarkets I’ve ever seen. Once in Noosa we camped, kayaked, swam at the beaches, and enjoyed a total lack of itinerary. A short way from Noosa is Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo. We spent one day there and were thoroughly impressed with the conservation emphasis of the place. Of course, I also got to pat a koala.

Koala sleeping positions - SO good!

Koala sleeping positions – SO good!

Kayaking on the Noosa River.

Kayaking on the Noosa River.

Our short time in Australia was a welcome break and good change of pace for us. And a nice balance of time out and exploring and time in and relaxing.

After we left Brisbane, we found great comfort in realizing our excitement to get back to the farm. Leaving the garden for two weeks at the height of spring took quite a bit of extra preparation – and favours from friends who watered the seedlings and cared for the chickens while we were away. We were ready to get back and find weeds up to our hips but were very pleasantly surprised to find very few weeds and some very well advanced vegetables!

Spring greens before departure.

Spring greens before departure.

And after our return!

And after our return!

A sample dinner harvest

A sample dinner harvest

Even though we found the garden in great shape when we got back, we’ve been playing lots of catch up too. Part of that has been getting ready for all of our December events! We hosted a soap making workshop here last weekend and yesterday we had a display at the Wine and Food Festival in Christchurch. At the Festival, we had backyard chicken and worm farming demonstrations. It was a blast chatting with folks and sharing ideas about what they can do themselves at home. The festival was huge, so it was also a great bit of publicity for Toi Toi Manawa and an opportunity to tell people about what we’re doing out in Whitecliffs.

At the soap making workshop

At the soap making workshop

Toi Toi Manawa tent at the Wine and Food Festival

Toi Toi Manawa tent at the Wine and Food Festival

Both before and after our trip away, we were hugely fortunate to have the help of some really excellent volunteers on the farm. At the moment, we have four WWOOFers with us – two American and two Swedish. All fabulous people and such an immense help for us here. It makes a big difference just to have the fresh faces and enthusiasm around, with new perspectives, new ideas. And tonight, we’ve been making some traditional Swedish saffron buns together. So it’s a great cultural exchange for us too!

Swedish bun time!

Swedish bun time!

Now we’re getting ready to wrap up the year at Toi Toi Manawa. Next weekend, friends of TTM are invited to join us for our end of year celebration – to share memories of the past year and hopes for the year ahead. Soon after, Andy and I will be heading up to the North Island to spend Christmas with his parents – a wonderful way for us to wrap up 2012.

So here’s to a month – and a whole year-  of firsts. And many more to come!

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Inch by Inch, Row by Row…

With garden season well underway, we’ve crossed into the time of the dirty fingernails and the frequent use of a hard-bristled brush by the sink for intense hand-scrubbing. Many of you will be familiar with a particular spot on the thumb-side of the top knuckle of the index finger. Somewhere in the mechanics of gardening, this spot has a particular tendency to attract – and hold on to – dirt. Some call it a farmer tattoo. Once it’s there, good luck scrubbing it out. It’s with you for the season and it’s a subtle reminder that your life involves having hands in the soil. I like it.

One of my morning routines is a visit to our indoor table of seedlings – the ones that aren’t quite ready yet to move out to the sometimes-too-chilly propagation house. My morning visits to the seedlings are something like Christmas morning – every day. Andy will be stirring the breakfast porridge and I’ll be shouting over to him “the first broccoli is up!” or “look how much this zucchini grew overnight!”. I love helping seeds turn into plants that we can eat. Or that look beautiful. Or that bring more bees to us. Or that will improve our soil health. It feels like a real privilege to get to be a part of the process.

In a mere 13 days, we’re leaving for a two-week stint in the Brisbane area.  The timing, of course, means that we’ll be leaving the garden at a pretty critical moment! Which means that we’re doing a lot of planning to try to make sure that the garden can work away independently in our absence and that we won’t come back to find areas too dried out and overtaken by weeds. We’re into a concentrated period of weeding and planting. And watering and mulching. And wind sheltering and plant pep-talking. Hopefully, the result will be returning from Brisbane to find the garden thriving.

In between garden work/play, our weeks also involve Monday morning tai chi with a fine group of ladies in Glentunnel. It’s a great start to the week and we’re starting to get it down well enough to do little bits of tai chi at home in between our weekly group sessions. I’ve also been volunteering once a week at the SPCA – it’s a chance to do something a bit outside my regular routine…and to play with kittens.

On the program side at Toi Toi Manawa – we’ve got a soap-making workshop coming up, more documentary screenings, an exhibit in the Sustainable Living area of the upcoming Wine and Food Festival in Christchurch (our chickens are going to be superstars there!) and more workshops in the line up for 2013 – they’ll include herbs, soil health, companion planting, and bee keeping…for a start! We’ve also registered as WWOOF hosts now and are looking forward to hosting our first official WWOOFers.

On the topic of hosting wonderful visitors – I had a huge treat last week when my dear friend Kate came to visit. I met Kate in El Salvador and was over the moon to hear that she was getting a one-way ticket to New Zealand. There was a huge wave of happiness for me to be picking up a friendly, familiar face at the airport and to have her company on the farm for a little while. As luck would have it, we were contacted by another Kate around the same time – a lovely English woman who had caught wind of Toi Toi Manawa and wanted to come and volunteer for a bit. So all of a sudden we went from 0 Kates to 2 Kates! The two of them were an amazing help to us last week as we blasted through our garden list. It’s incredible what a jolt of energy comes from having a couple more positive and enthusiastic helpers around. And best of all, Kate and Kate found travel companions in one another and are now on the road together in a camper van exploring the South Island. So nice!

I’ll leave you with a few photos and say so long for now. But just before I do, if you’ve got a couple of minutes extra, I’d encourage you to vote for Dream Weavers Collective here. It’s a great initiative offering support for young adults on the autism spectrum in Toronto – and co-spearheaded by my good friend, Amanda.

Happy almost-November everyone!

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Thanksgiving Reflections

We’ve turned the clocks ahead, we’ve sown the first seeds of spring, our neighbour’s new calves are running around in their paddock…and we’re on the cusp of (Canadian) Thanksgiving weekend?

If I were to choose a favourite holiday, Thanksgiving would probably be it. It’s somehow avoided (most of) the commercial hype that weighs down many other holidays, it revolves around a really big meal shared with family and friends, and it’s purpose is simple: take a bit of intentional time together to be thankful. Nice. Of course, the history of its origins in North American is a bit…dubious, but still I like it. So, this weekend, despite the opposite seasons, I’ll do a bit of Thanksgiving celebrating here in Whitecliffs.

The past few weeks have, as one might expect, revolved around the garden. Some of the main activity there has been:

  • weeding the ever-present cooch grass
  • raking beds into shape
  • planting pathways with a dwarf variety of white clover
  • planting the first round of cover crops (mustard, vetch, lupins, phacelia, oats, etc.)
  • planting some early radishes (and hoping it’s not too soon for them!)
  • sowing many more trays of seedlings for starting indoors – and in the propagation house
  • working on the final section of garden fence
  • welcoming four beautiful new laying hens to the farm!

The lovely ladies: Brownie, Clucky, Cheeky, and Martha. Naming credits go to Thoje’s son, Luca.

As you can see, we’re in no danger of getting bored! In between time in the garden, we’ve also had a few events at Toi Toi Manawa over the past little while. We had a seed swap event one Saturday afternoon, where we invited our neighbours in Whitecliffs over to trade seeds and young plants from their gardens and seed collections. It was a rainy afternoon and, besides being a great chance to swap seeds, it was a nice opportunity to enjoy some cups of tea together and chat about our gardens.

The garden – as of a couple of weeks ago. Beds taking shape!

A few days later, we had a community film screening of One Man. One Cow. One Planet. It’s a documentary about biodynamic agriculture, featuring Peter Proctor, who happens to be from New Zealand himself. As we munched on popcorn, we had a good discussion about biodynamics and our various takes on it. It’s especially relevant for us because our friends Dominique and Logan are embarking upon their first season of biodynamic market gardening together. We’ll certainly have plenty to learn from their experiences as the season progresses.

A major highlight came for us this past weekend. We’ve been getting together for dinner now and then with an informal group of folks in the Christchurch area who are interested in permaculture. A really neat bunch of people, most of whom we met at the Australasian Permaculture Convergence we attended back in April. Last weekend, the group ventured out here to Toi Toi Manawa for a potluck dinner, farm tour and working bee. We ended up with about 20 people here – filling up shipping container rooms, sofas, floor space, and tents! With such a wide range of knowledge and experience, this group of people brought us all kinds of ideas. And we had so much fun! It felt really good to have the place so full (when it’s so often just Andy and I here!) and to be surrounded by such enthusiasm and support. And we got lots of good work done too! If you’re interested, there are some more photos of the weekend on the Toi Toi Manawa facebook page.

Fencing building with the team.

As usual, we’ve also been venturing out into the nearby countryside once in a while. One recent excursion was an afternoon drive to Lake Coleridge. Despite having a good idea of how beautiful it was going to be, I was still blown away when we came around the final bend and the lake came into view. I actually dropped my camera. Without another person in sight, we made our way down to the shore for some rock skipping and oooohing and aaaahing at the place. It amazes me that we live so close to such incredible places.

In New Zealand, we’ll be celebrating the harvest season on the flip side of the year. Right now, we’re thankful for the hope and anticipation of spring. The opportunity to grow good food in a beautiful place. The space to learn. The freedom to express ourselves through a garden. And, of course, the ability to share all of this with people all around the world! Thank you for reading.

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Springing into September

There’s a forecast for snow here today…but I’m calling it spring regardless! I may be curled up next to the fire and I may be sipping on a hot cup of wild blueberry tea (thanks Mom!) but the signs are all around – spring has arrived in earnest now.

Remember those willow buds that were just poking out two weeks ago? Look at them now!

The big willow next to the garden.

We closed out August with a great weekend workshop in Lyttelton on Local Food Resilience – facilitated by permaculture educator Robina McCurdy. The workshop guided us through a participatory analysis of the local food systems in the Harbour Basin. It was a hugely interesting – and very practical – workshop and gave us the chance to meet some more like-minded folks. I was particularly pleased that Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) was a major theme throughout the weekend – Robina presents the CSA model as one of the key elements of sustainable local food systems. Really great to see that the conversations are happening, even though CSA as such hasn’t taken off in New Zealand…yet.

Waking up to a view of the Lyttelton Harbour

One of the lovely people we met at the workshop was Jon Foote – a permaculture designer based in Dunedin. After hearing a bit about what we were up to, Jon was kind enough to come and visit us at Toi Toi Manawa. A short walk around the land with Jon sparked all kinds of interesting discussion and new ideas for what might be possible here.   The fresh perspectives were great to hear and most gratefully received. Jon’s got all sorts of good ideas and we’re really looking forward to following his work as he moves ahead in his permaculture career.

A meandering water drainage course on the land. One new idea is to begin turning the edges of this waterway into a food forest.

The following weekend, we had some more new faces here – this time in the shape of the New Zealand Parkour Association (NZPA). A small group came to spend the weekend doing instructor training. In trade for their use of the space, the group volunteered work time with us each day – what a great help! We got lots of rocks and logs moved, greenhouse materials shifted, and big sheets of plastic folded and stored away – all jobs that would have taken Andy and I ages on our own so we sure were appreciative! We were asked to give a food workshop for the group one evening – so we shared a little bit about our eating habits, shopping routines, and the various values and considerations that affect them. We also shared some of the bits and pieces we’ve been learning about nutrition from the work of folks like Kay Baxter. And capped it off with a little cooking workshop for a dinner of bean burritos. Yum!

Perhaps the biggest changes over the past couple of weeks have taken place in our main garden. Since I last wrote, we have finished building the propagation house and are well into seeding in it (leeks, onions, lettuce, cabbage, peppers, celeriac, etc.).

Our little propagation house in action!

At the same time, we are working at preparing the soil in the garden so that when the time comes, we’ll be able to plant there too. That’s meant: removing the black plastic that we had covering the space, measuring out the area and planning the exact placement of beds, doing another sweep of weeding (primarily of couch and dock) and renting a rototiller to prepare the soil. In addition, Andy has begun seeding down clover in the main pathway – the purpose being to suppress weeds and to provide a source of high-nitrogen mulch. This carpet of green is already appearing for us! And now that the rototilling is done, we’ve begun raking our beds into shape too. It feels great to be checking these things off of the list and to be enjoying the great sense of anticipation that comes with springtime.

Andy working hard!

Another advantage of springtime is the appearance of all sorts of edible weeds. We’ve been happily discovering lots of chickweed, miner’s lettuce and dandelion on the property – all edible and with solid nutritional value. Andy and I harvested a basket of dandelion leaves the other day (they’re nicer before the flowers come), gave them a wash and used them in a quinoa salad and an omelet. Delicious and nutritious! They’re also a welcome source of greenery in this time of the spring when our cultivated greens aren’t yet ready. Thank you nature!

We’re very lucky to still have the time to sneak away for the odd off-farm adventure. This past weekend we went for a hike at the nearby Rakaia Gorge. This is a beautiful place with a well-developed walking track that traverses the edge of the gorge – and only a twenty minute drive away!

From the walking track at the Rakaia Gorge

So there we have it. Spring is really and truly springing and I am relishing in that fact. It is a season of hope and of reinvigoration. And that feels good.

Yesterday’s rainbow

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