Our local home ed group had a picnic at Garry and Ali Fosters‘ food forest, Matahiwi, this week.
Their property just out of Masterton used to be a school that closed down in 1971. They’ve been there for 30 odd years, brought up their three children there and in the last four years Garry has been developing their food forest.
For those not in the know a food forest is the ideal permaculture garden where all layers from the top most canopy to the roots (seven layers in all) live in a symbiotic relationship feeding and protecting each other whilst also providing for you and ideally the community. Go here for an article about 5 pretty amazing food forests from around the world.
No digging is involved here part from the action of harvesting roots and tubers like potatoes, yams, kumara (he harvested one beauty that weighed 2.4kg!), chinese artichokes and yacons.
The amazing thing about their food forest aside from the diversity of plants they have is that a lot of it was built on top of a carpark (school carpark) and/or old riverbed, so the “soil” is actually arborist mulch.
Garry is actively (and joyously) crushing long held gardening myths – firstly by growing in mulch alone. (In regards to his fruit trees he scratches into the mulch til he hits soil then plants the trees and lets their roots do the work). He doesn’t dig, doesn’t need to hoe (the weeds easily pull out from the mulch, though he does have the dreaded Italian arum). He doesn’t even make compost..but he does have a chook yard that gets moved year about, putting his mulch gardens on top of the scraps and garden rubbish that the girls have dealt with.
You could say Garry is a biological permaculture gardener whom believes the most important thing is the micro and macro organisms within the growing medium rather than the medium itself.
The fungi and bugs do their job, deep rooted plants bring up nutrients alongside shallow rooted plants doing their business, nature is left to her devices and the reward is a bounty of produce. A lot of people aware of the importance of those micro-organisms often bring them in with EF products but Garry does it alone with his mulch and his mulch alone.
Everything works together so well at Matahiwi and is quite the inspiration, particularly for us folk that live on impenetrable clay ground or old riverbeds.
We’ve been working on our grounds and honestly it feels more like mining than gardening.
We’re using a spade to get the turf off then it’s all crow bar baby. At least my garden beds are making their own borders!
But after our visit here at Garry and Alis’ place I’m re-thinking how I might do the rest of the garden areas.
Garrys’ other horticultural passion is Aotearoa’s native flora. This time round I didn’t get a full gander at them but I did see the biggest Muehlenbeckia astonii I’ve ever seen, they’re usually so wind blown it’s rare to see them at their full 2.5m height! Its seeds are designed to be spread by lizards. In turn it provides food and shelter from birds for them. Natures design is incredible.
Did you know New Zealand has 5 endemic species of mistletoe? I didn’t even know we had one! The one Garry showed me is Ileostylus micranthus. In rongroā (traditional Māori medicine) mistletoe bark was pounded and used to treat “the itch” caused by a type scabie known to the Māori as hakihaki.
There was plenty of Poroporo Solanum laciniatum around Matahiwi too; when the berries are ripe (yellow-orange in colour) they’re a nice snack for people and birds, similar in flavour to the Cape gooseberry. The expressed juice of the poroporo was sometimes used in tattooing and again “the itch” could be treated with poroporo leaves. You can also use the leaves as a hair shampoo. You boil the leaves and use the water for washing your hair, leaving your locks lovely and shiny as well as apparently dandruff and grey free!!
So it was a great day in all – oh, the kids had a good day too!
Look forward to going back in summer when everything is in full swing!