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Guardians of the Land - Earthtalk at Awhitu

Earthtalk is a 28 acre organic farm in Auckland's Awhitu Peninsula.  Its guardians, Tanya  Cumberland and Charmaine Poutney, left city life in 1992.   Both employed as change agents in their respective fields, Tanya in the social sector and Charmaine, the education,  they subscribed at the time to do the same for the land.  Today they are being duly rewarded by a new but more vigilant employer, Mother Earth. 

Their four orchards and gardens, planted with more than 120 fruit trees and a variety of herbs and vegetables, including sub-tropicals, produce an average of  30 kilos of produce a week, some of which is preserved.  In addition to this income stream workshops, self-guided walks, group tours, farmstays and grazing also contribute profitability.

Of their fruit crops, which include avocados, pawpaws, cherimoya, casimiroa, bananas, passionfruit and guavas as well as heritage pip and stone fruit, Charmaine recommends feijoas and mandarins as two crops organic gardeners should try to grow.  Feijoas are not only great wind breaks and drought resistant but also extremely versatile, as are mandarins.

In conjunction with Kay Baxter of Koanga Gardens, an expert in orchard design, the couple spent a considerable amount of time planning their 28 acres before planting.  Several factors were considered including the direction of the sun throughout the day, wind, frost pockets, rainfall and analysis of the soil using soil samples.   Questions were also answered about their direction for the land - what was their vision for the land, what did they need to gain from the land, what resources did they have, what  limitations did they have and what threats?

Most threats, especially of the animal variety, they have successfully controlled.  A predator- deterring hedge of lavender, wormwood and rosemary keeps possum out of one orchard as they can't smell the fruit.  Spraying their seedlings with egg powder in an acrylic base (these days sold as Treepel) ensures that if animals smell anything - its certainly not fruit.  Feeding the soil 'with compost, mulch, liquide from their worm farms and  spraying with mulches made from comfrey, seaweed and cow manure,  encourages healthy plants that can fight disease.  Using vermicast to plant into achieves the same end.

Planting close together and diversely serves to confuse pests and ensures that whilst some plants may die others will thrive.  Says Charmaine "modern industrial farming attracts pests - an acre of onions attracts an acre of whitefly-  and planting only one crop can mean the demise of the whole crop".  Organic gardening does not  advocate such practices.   

A basic premise of permaculture is that you also plant close to the house so you can observe your plants,  and some hard work in the spring months with a bucket of hotwater into which snails and slugs are tossed at night will in turn provides tasty fodder for chickens. 

At Earthtalk a bed of plants from the umbelliferae family, including parsnip, Queen Anne's lace, fennel or dill, and others such as pineapple sage, phacelia and buckwheat, attract, by their colour or their flower, beneficial hoverflies and ichneumon wasps.  Nasturtiums are used in the orchard to deter white fly, and herbal leys used as underplantings bring nutrients up from other levels in the soil, using  comfrey, parsnips, and daikon radish.  As for pukekos, Charmaine, says "perserverance beats them.  Just keep replanting what they pull out - they'll eventually give up!."

Summer Planting

Basil, beans, beetroot, burdock, cabbage, cauliflower, capsicums, carrots, celery, chives, chilli, coriander, courgettes, cucumbers, egg plants, gourd, kumara, leeks. lettuce, luffa, marrows, melons, mustard greens, okra, parsnips, potatoes, pumpkins, radish, salsify, silverbeet, squash, swedes, sweet corn, tomatoes and turnips.

Summer Harvesting

Berry and stone fruits, basil, beans, beetroot, cabbage, capsicums, carrots, celery, coriander, courgettes, cucumbers, egg plants, kumara, leeks, lettuce, marrows, melons, parsnips, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, silverbeet, squash, sweet corn, tomatoes and turnips.