Permaculture on Waiheke Island

One of the most amazing things about where Laura and Daren live is the 20 acres of land surrounding the house. On one side the hill climbs steeply up to a ridge where you can see down onto a bay. On the other side the garden slopes down into a green valley. Darren’s passion is land regeneration and his dream is to create a permaculture garden which will supplement their organic diet with veggies, fruit and nuts and have extra produce to sell at the market. Having studied with the guru of Permaculture Bill Mollison and worked on the Island Quarry regeneration project in Byron Bay Darren has a good idea of what he can do with his newly acquired land. When they moved onto the land Darren spent the first year observing the environment before making any big decisions about what he wanted to do. He made a ‘mud map’ of the property and watched the behaviour of the wind, sun, water, and shade through the four seasons. Together Laura the cook and Darren the gardener fantasised about what fruit and veggies they wanted to grow and made lists of plants they wanted to live with.In the last four months major earth works have created Darren’s landscape design which uses the form of a Fibonacci spiral. Darren chose the spiral for its aesthetic and its functionality in providing the shortest distance with the least gradient on the natural slope of the garden. It also allows him to control the water run off from mountain side. His main concern is to keep the potentially polluted ground water separate from the pure spring water and to soak up excess nutrients and trap silt and contaminants at every opportunity. The spiral forms a road which allows easy access to all parts of the garden; the resulting top soil was piled up on both side of the road to create planting beds. Fruit trees such as fijoa and avocado have been planted on the upper side of the spiral to create a wind break and the vegetables have been planted on the lower side. Using permaculture principals the crops have been planted in combinations that are mutually beneficial. At the bottom of the spiral a pond has been dug out just below the source of the spring. Darren describes it as an indigenous pond where he will grow native salads, watercress, lilies, water chestnuts, fresh water shrimp and trout.

Both Laura and Darren are quick to emphasise that all this work would not have been possible without the help of people who come to work with them as WWOOFers. In exchange for food and accommodation people work for 4 to 5 hours a day, mostly in the garden and sometimes in the house. They have already had a about 35 different people since last august. The first WWOOFer was 17 year old Jeremy from New York who spent his 18th birthday here on the farm. Since then they’ve had a wide mix from the States, Europe and Japan. WWOOFers usually stay from 1 to 2 weeks at a time and Laura says honestly that some have been more successful than others, but 70 to 80% of the time the scheme works brilliantly. Laura now makes sure she interviews people over the phone to find out what skills they have to contribute on the farm so that both parties can benefit equally. The WWOOFers are given their own accommodation in the cabins in the garden and are fed about 90% organically.

Darren thinks that it will take about 10 years before the garden matures and about 20 years until they reach peak production and a full understanding of the site. Having said that I can testify that the veggie patch is already producing delicious treats. After just sixteen weeks we’ve been eating Silverbeet (swiss chard), potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli and beetroot. Other vegetables that have been planted include six other kinds of potoatos, pumkin, poppies, leeks, sunflowers, cabbage and garlic. At top of veggie beds they’ve planted papaya, banana and passion fruit trees which will absorn the run off water from the road. Soon they will be planting kiwi fruit, olives and grapes, almonds, pecan, macademia and walnuts. Not to mention all the other trees they were given as wedding presents. It looks as though Laura and Darren’s lives on Waiheke Island will be productive and very fruitful! :: Permaculture ::WWOOF

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