Food forests and gardens

The food forest gardening approach is the creation of systems which are productive and abundant yet which require very little maintenance. It is entirely possible to design and plant a forest which, within a relatively short period of time is productive and relatively self-maintaining.
By exploiting the premise of companion planting, trees, shrubs and herbs can be intermixed to grow on multiple levels in the same area, as do the plants in a forest.
We can consciously apply the principles of ecology to the design of home scale gardens that mimic forest ecosystem structure and function, but at the same time grow food, fuel, fiber, fodder, fertilizer and medicine.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Encouraging animals, insects, spiders and butterflys to live in the garden.

It feels good to know that your garden is not only providing you with food and of course tranquility, but is also a habitat for other wildlife.
A place to start is by building make-shift houses for native bees, lizards, hedgehogs, birds, spiders and insects to provide shelter and privacy so that they can go about their simplistic, non-materialistic lifestyles in peace.

There are plenty of easy ways to accomplish this task.

You can simply pile stones, rocks and pieces of wood in unused areas of the garden;
thick plantings of hedges, low lying shrubs and tall grasses will all become homes for many different animals.

NZ Jeweled Gecko

To encourage native geckos plant native groundcover shrubs with juicy berries like Coprosma and Muehlenbeckia and nectar-bearing flax and pohutukawa. and as above, provide plenty of places for them to live.


Build a Mason bee house.

to do this you just need to drill 8-10mm holes 100mm deep in a piece of wood. This could be a log or some unused offcuts of timber (un-treated), or you can make something fancy looking.
screw or nail another piece of wood at the top for a roof so that rain and midday sunshine doesn't penetrate inside the holes.
(The same idea can be accomplished by tying together a bunch of bamboo pieces)
Then mount it in a tree, on a fence or make it free standing somewhere in the yard.
Face the hive in an east direction, as the bees are stimulated by the morning Sun.

 or a bug house,
Same idea as above, just put bound up short lengths of bamboo in and around the garden to provide a dark, moist place for bugs to live.

 you can build the classic bird house.
My dad built a bird "apartment block" and winched it into the top of a pohutukawa tree in his front yard.  It is now home to a bunch of noisy tuis.
Plant native flowering and fruiting plants to attract native birds such as Kowhai, Kakabeak, Harakeke(Flax), Kawakawa, Rewa Rewa, Tanekaha, Cabbage tree, Tawa, Miro, Hinau, Puriri, Nikau, and Supplejack. As well as any other fruit or berry and nectar producing trees and shrubs. I've noticed Wood pigeons love Elderberry.

Wetas will quickly make a home out of any rotting logs with hollows where they can hide.

Tree Weta

All species of native Stick Insect will eat manuka, but only Clitarchus hookeri can be successfully brought through its entire life cycle on a diet of manuka alone. Other species will eat Karamu, Rata, Pohutukawa,  Rimu and Totara. With Argosarchus, Myrtus bullata, the Ramarama is the essential food plant. Willows, Cedars, Roses and Common ornamental garden conifers such as junipers are also eaten.

Stick Insect

Another idea is to dig small holes and line them with plastic, fill them with water and place rocks around the edges so that there are parts in the garden with water for animals to drink and other life to live in. You might complain about mosquitoes but i've noticed that fantails love eating them.

Another easy idea is plant flowers to attract insects, Asteraceae and Apiaceae family as mentioned in  previous posts are really good, especially Asters, Cosmos, Sunflowers, Daisies and Echinacea from the former and Dill and Fennel from the latter.
Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima)  to attract hoverflies.

You can buy a Beneficial Insect Blend here From King seeds (New Zealand)

White Alyssum, Buckwheat, Yarrow, Bergamot, Lavender, Clover and Russian Sage are also good. 

I have heard that the best way to attract ladybirds to your garden is to leave aphids to live on plants in the garden. The ladybird will only lay its eggs where there is a good supply of food for the larvae.
So resist the urge to kill everything that looks out of place and let nature take it's course.

Common Copper Butterfly

Flowers that will attract butterflys in New Zealand include Hebe (Koromiko), Scabiosa, Cleome, Tweedia, Phlox and Buddelia

Plants that provide food for caterpillars in New Zealand are:

  • Asclepias (milkweed) the genus (named after Asclepius, the Greek god of healing) that includes the (common in New Zealand) Swan plant, Giant Swan plant, Common, Tropical and Swamp Milkweed are hosted by monarch butterfly caterpillars. Tweedia can also be used as a food plant.
  • Broom, Peas, Sweet Pea, Broad Bean, Gorse, Lupin and Tree Lucerne all feed the Long Tailed Blue Butterfly.
  • Natives including low-growing brooms (Carmichaelia spp) & Scree Pea (Montigena novae-zelandiae) and Clover and some other plants from the Fabaceae family will host the Southern Blue Butterfly larvae.
  • Most plants from the Muehlenbeckia genus as well as dock and sorrel will feed the Common Copper Butterfly larvae.
  • Large-leafed Pohuehue (Muehlenbeckia australis) & M australis & M complexa hybrids are host of the Glade Copper Butterfly.
  • Creeping Pohuehue (Muehlenbeckia axillaris) & Maori Dock - Runa (Rumex flexuosus) will attract the Boulder Copper butterfly.
  • Creeping Pohuehue (Muehlenbeckia axillaris) & Pohuehue (Muehlenbeckia complexa) will feed the Rauparaha's Copper Butterfly caterpillar.
There is another sub-species of butterfly native to new zealand called the Ringlet Butterfly and Tussock Ringlet.. There are 6 sub-species known of.
  • Black Mountain Ringlet
  • Butler's Ringlet
  • Forest Ringlet
  • Common Tussock
  • Harris's Tussock
  • Janita's Tussock
They reside mostly in the south island and feed mostly on various tussock grasses including Silver Tussock (Poa cita), Red Tussock - Haumata (Chionochloa rubra), Festuca, Agropyron, Snow Tussock (Chionochloa spp), Blue Tussock Grass (Poa colensoi), Other Tussock's (Poa spp) & some introduced grasses. Little is known about most of these sub-species.

  • Urtica genus (stinging nettle) will provide food for red and yellow admiral Butterflys. 
  • Groundsel/Ragwort will provide for the Cinnibar moth and Magpie moth (Mokarakara)
  • Puriri moths are New Zealands largest native moth and live for only one night. Plant Puriri, Putaputaweta and Kanuka.
Magpie moth (Mokarakara)

 For more information on New Zealand butterflys see
Red Admiral Butterfly

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fungi, and healing the earth.

The main aspect of fungi that we want to utilise in the garden, is the symbiotic relationship that plants have with fungi. Over 90% of all plant species engage in mycorrhizal relationships with fungi.
This relationship includes:
  • intra/extra-cellular nutrient exchange
  • nutrient exchange between different plants through the fungal network 
  • mechanisms of increased nutrient absorption (chemical and physical)
  • increased disease and pest/herbivore resistance
  • improving soil structure
  • enhanced resistance to drought, environmental stress
  • breaking down lignin in dead organic matter to create humus
  • consuming carbohydrates and returning minerals and acids   

Two major types of mycorrhiza occur in Nature - endomycorrhiza (common in more than 80 % of terrestrial plant species) and ectomycorrhiza (specific to conifers and some broadleaved woody species).

Endomycorrhizal fungi develop mainly microscopic spores in the soil whereas most of ectomycorrhizal fungal symbionts develop aboveground fruit bodies.

An endomycorrhizal fungus forms hyphae that penetrate the cells of plant roots where they form balloon-like vesicles and branch out manifold to develop big surface areas dedicated to the exchange of minerals and carbohydrates.
Ectomycorrhizal fungi form a symbiotic relationship with a plant forming a sheath around the root tip of the plant. Ectomycorrhizal relationships are common in our forests. Most trees will only form one type of mycorrhizal relationship with fungal partners.


Paul Stamets has been a dedicated mycologist for over thirty years. Over this time, he has discovered and coauthored four new species of mushrooms, and pioneered countless techniques in the field of edible and medicinal mushroom cultivation.

He has written six books on mushroom cultivation, use and identification; his books Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms and The Mushroom Cultivator (coauthor) have long been hailed as the definitive texts of mushroom cultivation. Other works by Paul Stamets include Psilocybe Mushrooms and Their Allies (out of print), Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World, MycoMedicinals®: an Informational Treatise on Mushrooms, and many articles and scholarly papers. His newest book is Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save The World.   Video-- Paul Stamets -- Mushrooms as planetary healers  Mushroom cultivation, Mycoremediation, the importance of the fungal genome, the old growth forests, the use of fungi in early Europe, and now the re-discovery of these fungi in helping preserve, repair and balance ecosystems.

There are also many health benefits from mushrooms

Here's some other interesting video's relating to psychedelic mushrooms -


by Terence McKenna

I am old, older than thought in your species, which is itself fifty times older than your history. Though I have been on earth for ages I am from the stars. My home is no one planet, for many worlds scattered through the shining disc of the galaxy have conditions which allow my spores an opportunity for life. The mushroom which you see is the part of my body given to sex thrills and sun bathing, my true body is a fine network of fibers growing through the soil. These networks may cover acres and may have far more connections than the number in a human brain.
My mycelial network is nearly immortal--only the sudden toxification of a planet or the explosion of it's parent star can wipe me out. By means impossible to explain because of certain misconceptions in your model of reality all my mycelial networks in the galaxy are in hyperlight communication through space and time.
The mycelial body is as fragile as a spider's web but the collective hypermind and memory is a vast historical archive of the career of evolving intelligence on many worlds in our spiral star swarm. Space, you see, is a vast ocean to those hardy life forms that have the ability to reproduce from spores, for spores are covered with the hardest organic substance known.
Across the aeons of time and space drift many spore forming life-forms in suspended animation for millions of years until contact is made with a suitable environment. Few such species are minded, only myself and my recently evolved near relatives have achieved the hyper-communication mode and memory capacity that makes us leading members in the community of galactic intelligence. How the hyper-communication mode operates is a secret which will not be lightly given to humans.
But the means should be obvious: it is the occurence of psilocybin and psilocin in the biosynthetic pathways of my living body that opens for me and my symbiots the vision screens to many worlds. You as an individual and Homo sapiens as a species are on the brink of the formation of a symbiotic relationship with my genetic material that will eventually carry humanity and earth into the galactic mainstream of the higher civilizations.
Since it is not easy for you to recognize other varieties of intelligence around you, your most advanced theories of politics and society have advanced only as far as the notion of collectivism. But beyond the cohesion of the members of a species into a single social organism there lie richer and even more baroque evolutionary possibilities. Symbiosis is one of these. Symbiosis is a relation of mutual dependence and positive benifits for both species involved.

Symbiotic relationships between myself and civilized forms of higher animals have been established many times and in many places throughout the long ages of my development. These relationships have been mutually useful; within my memory is the knowledge of hyperlight drive ships and how to build them. I will trade this knowledge for a free ticket to new worlds around suns younger and more stable than your own.
To secure an eternal existence down the long river of cosmic time, I again and again offer this agreement to higher beings and thereby have spread throughout the galaxy over the long millenia.
A mycelial network has no organs to move the world, no hands; but higher animals with manipulative abilities can become partners with the star knowledge within me and if they act in good faith, return both themselves and their humble mushroom teacher to the million worlds to which all citizens of our starswarm are heir.

-- Taken from Psilocybin: The Magic Mushroom Growers Guide

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Natural swimming pools

Here's something that has really inspired me!

We all know that chlorine is highly toxic to life, it is used to stop bacteria and algae from growing in swimming pools.
Managed properly, natural swimming pools have crystal clear water and require no chemicals to maintain, as they are self-cleaning mini-ecosystems.
The use of aquatic plants to absorb the nitrates in the water keep it from stagnating!
 more info here
Daniel Tohill at has built a couple around New Zealand.


The Asteraceae or Compositae, ("aster" means "star") also referred to as the aster, daisy, or sunflower family, is the largest family of  vascular plants.  Vascular plants are those containing lignin in their stems. Lignin is one of the most slowly decomposing components of dead vegetation, contributing a major fraction of the material that becomes humus as it decomposes. This obviously makes these plants excellent for mulch.
This family includes medicinal plants such as arnica, burdock, boneset, calendula, chamomile, chicory, mug/cronewort, coltsfoot, dandelion, echinacea, elecampane, feverfew, goldenrod, gravel root, grindelia, liferoot, milk thistle, tansy, yarrow, valerian, wormwood, and wild lettuce.
It offers us delicious foods: sunflower seeds, lettuces, true artichokes, sun chokes (also known as jerusalem artichokes), escarole, and endive. And, it is one of the landscaper's favorite families, for many Asteraceae--such as chrysanthemums, dahlias, bachelor's buttons, daisies, cosmos, coneflowers, goldenrods, sunflowers, zinnias, and, of course, asters--bloom for months with colorful hardy flowers, and many are perennial, too.
The older name for this family tells the tale more clearly: Compositae. Each bloom is composed of hundreds of tiny flowers. With a hand lens, you can look closely at an Asteraceae blossom and see the many tiny flowers crowded together that make up the larger "flower."


Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae)

The Apiaceae or Umbelliferae is a family of usually aromatic plants with hollow stems, commonly known as umbellifers. It includes cumin, parsley, anise, carrot, coriander, dill, caraway, fennel, parsnip, celery, Queen Anne's lace and other relatives. It is a large family with about 300 genera and more than 3,000 species.
The cultivated plants in this category are almost all considered good companion plants, as the umbrella of tiny flowers attracts omnivorous beneficial insects, especially ladybugs, parasitic wasps and predatory flies, which then will hunt insect pests on nearby crops.

The root of these plants is a tap root so it will generally be non-competitive in the garden.
Here's an excellent selection of plants with many uses. The sky is the limit!

Monday, February 15, 2010


Kakabeak, Clianthus maximus, Clianthus puniceus or Kowhai Ngutu-kaka in Maori
is a woody legume shrub native to New Zealand's North Island
Both species have striking clusters of red flowers which resemble the beak of the Kaka, a New Zealand parrot. The plant is also known as Parrot's Beak, Parrot's Bill and Lobster Claw. There is also a variety with white to creamy coloured flowers.
Kakabeak grow to around two metres high, with spreading branches producing leaf stalks up to 15 cm long bearing several pairs of small leaflets. They usually flower from spring through to early summer, but can flower twice a year or even year round.
Kakabeak naturally grows in open, sunny, steep sites, often on rocky outcrops, slips, the bases of cliffs or edges of lakes and streams. It is a relatively short-lived plant, sometimes lasting 15-20 years. Kakabeak has a long-lived seed which may still be able to germinate 30 years after being produced, creating a ‘seed bank’ that holds many seeds ready to germinate when conditions suit. This enables it to grow in shrubland which is not permanently open but is frequently disturbed. The seeds wait for light gaps to appear, e.g. following a treefall or a slip, and then germinate in response.
Being a member of the pea family Kakabeak can fix nitrogen.
The seed pods are edible and the flowers attract bees and birds.
It grows as a sprawling shrub that can be trained as a standard weeping plant or pruned as an espalier or climber. Left to its own devices it will soon grow straggly and open and requires heavy pruning after flowering.
Propagation is by cuttings or sowing seed which should be scarified beforehand.

Here we have an excellent shrub with multiple functions, providing nectar for birds and bees, fixing nitrogen in the soil, providing protein/food for human or chickens etc. and mulch in autumn when pruned after flowering. And it's also a beautiful plant!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Permaculture Guilds

A Permaculture guild is more than fruit tree companion planting or planting companion vegetables and herbs. That's because Permaculture emulates the productivity of natural ecosystems by incorporating animals too.fruit tree companion planting
So, what is a guild?
A guild in Permaculture landscape design is a harmonious assembly of species (plant or animal) physically associated with a central plant or animal species to provide it with some benefit.why do we use companion
So, guild plant or animal species are strategically selected to boost the productivity of the central animal or plant element. The central element can be a fruit tree, for example. The guild members, then, must either improve its yield or reduce the work needed to manage it. fruit tree companion planting
By design, this enhances the overall self sufficiency and sustainability of the system. different methods of self sufficiency
The range of benefits that can be derived from guild species include:
Providing mulch:
Plants that either act as a living mulch (e.g. nasturtium, sweet potato,) or shed mulch onto the soil (e.g. banna grass, poplar) form a protective cover over soil thereby improving soil conditions and retaining moisture. planting companion vegetables and herbs
Nasturtium and borage are great in fruit tree guilds.
Offering shelter and protection from frost, wind or sun:
Hardy nitrogen-fixing “nurse” species (e.g. honey locust, acacia, tagasaste) interplanted with orchard trees can moderate frost effects, nutrify soils, and provide mulch and shading for sensitive fruit trees such as avocado and citrus.
Others planted as a windbreak bordering orchards (e.g. cane grasses, poplar, Casuarina) can be used to deflect or diminish frost and drying or damaging winds.
Hosting predators:
Many predators of garden pests (e.g. wasps) only hunt to feed their offspring, themselves being wholly nectar feeders. Providing forage for adult stages is thus part of companion planting for a bug free garden (most small flowered plants provide this, including umbelliferous plants such as carrots, parsnip, fennel, dill and coriander, and others like various daisies, acacias and tamarisk).companion planting bug free garden
Remove pest habitat:
Larval forms of orchard pests such as fruit fly flourish and multiply in fallen fruit, so seasonally introducing a forager such as pigs or poultry aids in pest control while adding fertilizer (and tilth if left too long) to soil.
Prey on or deter pests:
Insect eating birds (e.g. honey-eaters) can be encouraged by planting a few nectar producing and insect hosting plants (e.g. buddleia, banksias, dryandras, fuschias, callistemon, salvia) scattered around your orchard and vegetable growing zones.
Eagles and other birds of prey can be kept around to deter parrots and other fruit spoilers by keeping rabbits, pigeons or guinea pigs in your orchard. Alternatively, hawk kites flown overhead can be even more effective if not overused. A single alpaca or donkey amongst your sheep will keep foxes away.
Most duck breeds (not muscovy) will clean up slugs and snails and can be ranged through your food producing areas periodically when their appetite for seedlings will not compromise your yield.
Killing root parasites or pests:
(e.g. Tagetes marigolds fumigate soils against nematodes and grasses, while Crotalaria [Australian Bird Plant] disables nematodes that damage citrus and solanum plants [e.g. potatoe, tomatoe, eggplant, capsicum]).
Providing nutrients:
Nutrient enhancing plants can be allowed to grow then slashed periodically to provide mulch (e.g. nitrogen fixing plants such as clovers, tagastaste, acacias, lucerne, and casuarinas; and high humus producers such as bananas). Foraging animals periodically allowed into the system also provide nutrients in the form of manure.
Facilitating root penetration:
Unlike grasses some plants offer an open root structure that does not interfere with the central plant’s ability to feed at the soil surface (e.g. comfrey, winter and spring bulbs, comfrey, globe artichoke). Such plants should be established in orchards in place of grass to boost productivity.f
Grass is a poor companion to fruit trees as it interferes with surface root penetration
Convenient harvesting:
It’s an interesting fact that plants that make good companions often taste great together too! So growing them together not only improves their yield but also simplifies the job of harvesting. (e.g. marigolds grown with tomatoes, parsley, basil deter nematodes and contribute petals to eat in salads; dill grown under apple trees host predatory wasps and tastes great with apples raw or cooked). fru

Plant guilds

I've been thinking about good plant combinations that can be used in the garden.
Using plants with non-competing root structures is one of the most important issues i think.
Here are the root types of a plant guild i want to try growing for example...
The roots will generally be non-competitive, plant spacing will still be important, the cucumber (which will only needs one plant to every 7 tomato plants) will act as a general ground cover to reduce evaporation, the tomatoes will be the main over-story and the onions will fit amongst the middle of everything along with the parsely.
Also i want to use Calendula and marigold amongst the beds for attracting bees etc.
Adding more higher vertical layers will be easy too.
Gooseberry and other currents would work well, as they fruit quite early in the season so can be used to support the tomato plants.

Tomato salsa combination!

Tomato - Fibrous roots
(mostly lateral feeder roots)
Cucumber - Tap root

Onion - Fibrous roots (not much lateral growth)

Parsely - Tap root