Report on Permablitz # 25

Permablitz 25 kicked off at Tarariki Pottery on Old Reservoir Road, Paeroa, home of Mike O’Donnell and Trish Waugh.
A large group of 26 keen blitzers, plus the design team of Trish, Sharon, blue hat (Blitz organiser), Lia, Ailie, Katherine gathered around a fire pit to be warmly welcomed by Mike and Trish. Mike gave a karakia and described the history of the property, sharing how it has evolved and movingly expressed how we are part of their tribe that will carry the seeds of regenerating nature forward.
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Introductions included our name, where we were from and an exercise everyone could do as a warm up, literally!
Trish, Mike and the design teams’ concept plan for the day included creating a fence around the vegetable garden to keep the chickens off; sheet mulched beds around fruit trees; larger sheet mulched areas for planting smaller fruiting plants like guava and Chilean guava, vegetables e.g. silver beet and fennel as well as herbs, e.g. lavender, yarrow, calendula and Cassia ‘John Ball’ and tagastaste shrubs that fix nitrogen. This planting would create a forest garden incorporating the chooks to control small native manuka beetles that breed in the ground over winter and cause damage by eating a lot of leaves in
spring. They are distinctive in dropping to the ground when disturbed.
Everyone got stuck in clearing the overgrowth along the fence lines, and along the roadfront to ‘chicken proof’ them, the fence holes were dug and areas prepped for sheet mulching.
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Distinct edges were created around the beds for weed control. Ailie and Lia ran a workshop on sheet mulching explaining the layers, firstly the soil is limed, then cardboard laid with sellotape removed and soaked, followed by seaweed, horse manure, sawdust, comfrey, wood mulch and finally covered in rotted silage, filling our nostrils with a sweet, pungent/fermented smell, signature of farm life. Trish said comfrey tea would be poured over the mulch to kick start the composting process.
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Lia led a workshop giving us insights into the amazing life of earthworms, inviting each of us to read a pertinent fact she’d gleaned from the book ‘Organic Growing with Worms, a handbook for a better environment’ by David Murphy. I didn’t know for example that worms
swallow soil to move through it and the tunnels created are coated in nitrate rich mucous for ease of movement. These tunnels open the soil for water and oxygen. They also excrete harmless bacteria and antibiotics are found in their poo which is oxygen rich. Bad bacteria like an anaerobic environment. Lia is passionate about worms and says that worms are perfect examples of permaculture at work.
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Lunch was really delicious, beautifully prepared by Shai. There was pumpkin and coconut soup, green and rice salads, guacamole, humus, breads, a cashew chicken dish and freshly harvested mussels. Mike gave a blessing for the meal which began with him playing his flute.
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Just at the end of lunch Trish gave a mini workshop on why she created a food forest. She has modeled it on the work of Robert Hart in Shropshire who is the father of forest gardens for temperate climates. The mulched beds created are an in-between stage from orchard to forest garden. As the trees grow and the canopy closes there will be more shade and what grows will change and there will be more layers in the mix of vegetation.
After lunch activities involved planting into the sheet mulch, more work on the fence and creation of a Taranaki gate (i.e. a wire gate), and a workshop on chickens and how to clip their wings. Only the first flight feathers on one wing are cut to cause imbalance and this is enough to stop chickens flying over fences. The newly built chicken house was moved into the prepared orchard setting. It was built by Mike as a small transportable unit, light and of minimal construction.
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We completed preparation of the vegetable bed for garlic. This involved cutting down the lupins, lightly digging them in, and then covering the bed with seaweed and silage. Mike and Trish plant their garlic later than most so that it ripens and can be dug in January when the weather is dry.
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Group photo below with completed section of fence. There is more of the fence for Mike to finish.
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This was a most productive day with lots of Mike’s words of wisdom and passion to inspire us. To quote from Mike at the end of the day when he shared the healing garden with us, “ In my experience of life I believe it is all good shit. Essentially all that matters is how we are given to reply. That which comes to pass is a master teacher to us all, the past is there to find composure and to embrace, not deny, nor judge nor blame, but to turn it over as a gardener would in the making of compost, aerobically, to breathe life into it. Such does the healer embrace the disposition and the artist find the poem the song. It is within us all to creatively reply. This is a time of great challenge, when the earth is appealing to us all. To sing in the face of adversity I believe is the key to our honouring that challenge, and to realise our work is our song.”
Written by Julia Sich.
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