Foundations & Beans

My last two working bees have been weeks apart. And I really missed being at the Waitaki Community Gardens in between! I mean missed it properly.

I’m finding my feet – like I’ve written before, being the least experienced person in the mix is a really exciting thing. So this week, Ra had Colin and I fill in the foundation she’d spent days digging out – ready for the new tunnel house!

So we barrowed some turf and topsoil from a pile and got to work. I have to say my spadework is improving and I haven’t forgotten Ra’s advice to take turns using the spade with each side of my body (and my back got a fairly even workout as a consequence).

What you see above is the foundation for our new tunnel house and it’s going to keep progressing over the next little while. There are so many different ways to volunteer so give Ra a call or text on 021 115 4884 if you’re keen to help get it up.

I have to say a huge thanks to Rotary International and the Otago Community Trust for the funding so we can grow even more seeds for our schools and community. The satisfaction of seeing something by the people for the people, is very cool indeed.

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to have Grandpa G show me how to plant beans. Yes, a lot of local kids will know that it’s not hard – but I’d never done it before! Such gorgeous neat rows when we were done and it was really interesting to see Grandpa G building up the earth around the plants to support them while surrounding them in well-oxygenated soil – smart! Ra and Barbara sorted the fencing to keep the rabbits out. Another lovely job well done… and as you can see – a gorgeous day to do it on!


If you’re thinking about volunteering or simply want to learn some gardening skills – come join in the fun! Wednesdays 1-3 is the weekly working bee (all welcome) or contact Ra (021 115 4884), or pop up and complete a volunteering form (by the office) and Ra will be in touch. It’s both that easy… and that good!



Another Bee Under My Belt

Last Wednesday the working bee was a washout. Let’s face it, the whole country was drenched. I wondered about whether we could garden in the rain, was there something we could do? But nope. Too wet to do any good.

This week, nothing short of last week’s rain could have kept me away. I’m really enjoying getting away from the keyboard, and putting my fingers in the dirt, learning a bit of this and that along the way.


I don’t think gardening at home by myself would have got me as interested as learning by way of WCG working bee… there, I can ask a question and someone usually has an insight. Gardening apps can only get me so far… today Barbara mentioned it’s best to hold off on pruning the roses until August. Nice one, and thanks Barbara.

So together she and I dug up some Burdock root.  No small feat though, just saying… burdock has a deep taproot (a long root that runs straight to the centre of the earth from the looks of things, with smaller roots springing off the sides and also burrowing to eternity). So we had a very long spade and some serious graft to get this out of the ground.

We took it in turns and got huge chunks of root (and those flapping elephant leaves) dug out and dished up. Who needs the menfolk when you have a couple of well-aged women about?!

That wasn’t the end of it though… the end goal was to make a prebiotic! You read that correctly, ‘prebiotic’ as opposed to ‘probiotic’. You see, a prebiotic provides food for a probiotic to work more effectively. Who knew? Ra did. And now we do and so do you.

Want to know more? Google “prebiotic vs probiotic” or check out some details here.

How we made the prebiotic tincture is:

  • wash the dirt off the roots
  • scrape the hard outer skin off the root (think of it like peeling carrots, only easier)
  • chop the roots into smallish pieces and fill a clean jar
  • pour apple cider vinegar over into the jar and fill
  • put a lid on it
  • wait… ’til it ferments…

Ra says the foam is the really potent stuff, but we’ll have to see what we do next, once we’ve got to that stage. Sounds like we drain it off and keep it as a medicine. I’ll let you know as I know more.

Ok so here’s the completed jars waiting… I’m making some at home too so will see how mine progresses.


If you’re keen to join in, pop up to the gardens tomorrow where you’ll find a tub of burdock root in the hub, break a piece off, take it home and give it a try.


If you want to know more about burdock root (and yes, you can cook it and eat it, just like any root veggie), have a Google or check out some additional ideas here.

I gotta be honest, I’m pretty circumspect about where I get my sources so a good old Google might take you farther than I would want to go. As far as I can tell, burdock root can’t harm you. The only caveat to that, that I can find, is that catch-all opt-out, ‘allergies’. So what have you got to lose? It just might do you a world of good.

I’ll let you know how my experiment comes along. Meantime, happy gardening and if you got some burdock root recipes of your own, let us know below.

Days 2 & 3 of WCG Volunteering

Well, there’s nothing like the feeling of starting a new project… it’s the continuing that’s harder (as we all know).

Life got in the way for last week’s Working Bee and this week I’m airport bound. But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been up.

Popped up on Friday and got to share in some weeding (think my technique may still need work but it was good to weed and chat with the women who do so much for the community through the Waitaki Community Gardens).

Then yesterday, Ra walked me and my visiting friend (Kerin) through our paces on making compost. Green layer, then brown layer and so on until we’d exhausted our ingredients.

Turns out that making compost is a lot like baking. Gather the ingredients, mix and cook. Yet, it’s nowhere near that simple either as it takes six months to turn out perfect compost. Our recipe looked something like this:

Mix the following in layers:

  • organic waste
  • shredded, dried brassica stalks mixed with cow poo
  • fresh grass clippings
  • hay

Normally (I have on the best authority), we’d add some water between layers but as it happened, our ingredients were wet enough.

Then we covered it from the worst of the rain and cleared up.

That first mix should reduce really quickly and can be topped up (using the same, brown then green, formula). Then you turn it every two months, for a total of three times which makes it a six month process for ideal compost.

Of course, this recipe makes it look really simple. As Ra says, it’s all about the microbials and stuff… and there’s a lot to know and look out for… the thickness of layers, tszujing at the right time and for the right amount (I liked tszujing), the time of year, how big the woody bit are… and more…

For example, fresh grass clippings apparently heat up really well but older grass clippings can be mouldy (not in a good way) and clump. Like all artisan expertise – the devil is in the detail. And yet, I already understand more than I did. What’s more… there’ll be plenty of opportunities to actually see the process unfold over the coming months.

More than anything, I appreciate Ra’s patience and her generous knowledge sharing. I ask the dumb questions and she answers without a hint of intolerance. (By way of example, I asked if fallen leaves were ‘green’ or ‘brown’ in the mix and she smiled and said ‘brown, cause they’re dead leaves’ and that makes perfect sense in hindsight but I wasn’t sure).

What’s amazing to me is that as a fully fledged grown up, I’m not often in a situation where I am a complete novice. We all learn a whole heap of stuff over the years… half the time don’t really notice what we know… but as we get older, it can be rare to be in a situation where we are truly ignorant.

At the gardens, I am a complete newby… and I love it! It creates a kind of wonder that I haven’t had for a while. It’s like being a kid again in some ways. That’s a special kind of magic.

While I’ve always been a good reader; I couldn’t learn what I’m learning from a book. Seeing, smelling, feeling, listening to the details… that’s a priceless education.

So what I’m saying is, whether you’re a gardening enthusiast or a newby like me – the feel-good factor of the gardens is hard to beat. Come join the fun!

Kerin and Ra – compost done!

Gardening Newbie, Volunteers!

Today was day one. First time volunteering at the Waitaki Community Gardens and first time gardening. Well… first time gardening this century, pretty much. And I’m feeling it – in a really good way.

I rocked up albeit a bit late and met Ra – the Volunteer and Site Organiser and Colin – a fellow volunteer, already getting stuck in. Friendly greetings kicked us off and then Ra gently suggested we work and talk – good idea (after all that’s why I was there).

So the first job was turning over a garden bed where pretty much everything growing was spent. I wouldn’t have known that had she not told me. I really am that much of a novice! Still, gardening fork in hand  – as it turns out, Ra’s weapon of choice and a jolly good one, we got to turning earth and chatting.

As it also turns out, Couch grass is the enemy. It’s actually pronounced Cooch, like Wal’s neighbour in Footrot Flats and it’s a naughty grass with really long roots that try to take over everything.

Ra’s patience is pretty awesome. I’d overlooked that Couch completely until she told me about it and showed me what to be looking for. She joked that it kinda gets angry being half pulled out and grows back even stronger. I believe her. She seems to know her stuff.

Anyways, this first day I learned some things.

Ra with AMAZING compost and advice – “fill a barrow from one side then the other so you don’t wind up lopsided”.

I learned that good compost is a six month labour of love. I learned that some garden bugs are bad (and should be immediately crushed). I learned that in the normal order of things, the seasons produce layers of stuff, like leaves, that naturally work their way into the soil.

I learned that when filling wheelbarrows, it’s a good idea to work left handed and right handed to even the work on the body (thanks Ra!). I learned that there’s a cool tool called a push hoe (thanks Colin) that can save hours of digging down the track because it pushes the weeds off their roots before they have a chance to dig in.

Yep, after a mere two hours of volunteering, I think I know what I’m talking about… time will tell…

Colin with his incredible push hoe, getting early rid of pesky weeds that won’t be welcome later when they’re even bigger.
Bottom line; I took home a happy body that did something more than sit at a computer all day… a productive something… a community something.

Colin, Ra and I agreed that working and talking is better. I don’t know when I last asked so many questions or had them so well received and answered so happily! We started talking about compost (and that six-month magic brew) and Ra said, we might turn over some at next Wednesday’s Working Bee. Can’t wait to find out how the magic works.

I think I might learn to like gardening. I’m certainly enjoying the freshly picked, yummy apples Ra gave me as a thanks. I’ll sleep well tonight with a couple of gardening hours under my belt. And I feel like I made a contribution – novice gardener and all.