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Our New Farm - 6 Months In!

Updated: May 2

It's now been 6 months since we started our new farming project, and we have had plenty of epic failures, a dry and very windy season (everywhere!) and many new lessons learnt in the school of market gardening.

After 13 years at our previous farm, last year made the ambitious move to growing in a new location: - on top of a hill; - in an area known for difficult clay soil;

-on ex-pine forest land. Somehow, we were not deterred, especially as our primary reasons for moving were for our children, so the new farm had no other option but to work.

Fortunately, the pine forest we took on was thoroughly neglected by the previous owners, who lived overseas. If the forest had been our primary interest, the neglect would be a problem with a jungle of unthinned trees to tend to. But for growing vegetables, this meant no herbicide residue in the soil due to a lack of spraying. Soil tests also confirmed the absence of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, DDT and heavy metals. So we were good to go ahead.

Our first line of action was to clear the remaining trees and stumps, and then import a pile of well decomposed slash (decomposing tree stumps, logs, bark and branches) and spread it over the proposed growing area. Many commercial composts are bulked up with pine bark and residues (for better or worse...), so we made use of what was easily available on our site. This slash provides a long-term source of organic matter as it breaks down, and a good substrate for fungal activity in the soil. Next, we bought in the gypsum (clay breaker), lime, a local organic product called DCT Laserhume, organic fertilisers and also worked the ground mechanically to open and aerate. And, mountains and mountains and more mountains of organic compost.

Finally we had something that resembled a market garden. Excitedly we got to work sowing our spring seeds and transplants.

But then the winds started and it was very, very dry. It was also occasionally very windy in the Motueka Valley (the site of our old farm), having blown the roof off our greenhouses 3 or 4 times! But this was almost every day for 1 -2 months! Whilst it has been a windy season everywhere, being on top of an exposed hill has exacerbated these wind blasts, and it can be quite stressful for young plants. So, to protect our plant babies we have had our cloches up all spring, all summer and now into autumn they remain. But now the winds have died off, the cloches stand for protection against the pukekos! The local pukeko gang caught the drift that some interesting activity had moved in next door, including many small plants that provide entertainment by pulling them out. Every morning we've been watching these cheeky birds out our window taking their morning stroll through the garden. We've engaged our enthusiastic but heavily clumsy and ageing dog, Devi, to scare them off, and now the pukekos run at the sound of her footsteps. Good job, Devi!

And so, with every crop planted, we see improvements in plant and soil health. Now we wait for some heavy winter rain to really integrate the mountains of compost into the soil, and to attract more life into the subsoil. Farming is very much a game of patience, working at natures timing. Watching a small farmlet come to life is a very exciting project - watching weeds change as fertility builds, soil structure developing, new bugs and animals arriving - both welcome and not-so-welcome - and food being produced. It's pretty awesome.

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