Creating robust systems

20 February 2013
Written by Kath Irvine | Images by Kath Irvine
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Kath Irvine introduces 'robust gardening' as a smarter way of doing things - the more robust our gardens the better our crops, plants and animals cope

Greetings Edible Backyarders,

What an erratic climate we’re living in. Whether problems are self-created or not, it mostly comes down to the same issue - the weather has gone nuts. This has been a summer full of challenges. If I abbreviate my diary it describes the first two months of our Horowhenua summer thus: very hot, followed by cold, followed by days on end of hot humid rain, followed by cold enough to light a fire one night and back to baking hot again. Hell for plants, but fascinating for gardeners. “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Albert Einstein said that (astute fellow, yes).

How do we grow healthy abundant crops in such mad weather? The answer to this is we create robust systems. If you are having problem after problem in your patch or with your animals (low productivity, too many weeds/pests/dieases etc) ask yourself this: How robust is my garden/my farm? What can I do to strengthen my system?

 The more robust our gardens, the better our plants/animals cope, and the less damage control we need (managing problems is so time-consuming)

The most robust garden of all, and the only truly sustainable garden I know, is native bush. This is our leading light folks. This is where we need to draw our inspiration from if we are to create the kind of clever gardens/ farms that will survive no matter what the weather throws at us.

Sustainable is the ‘it’ word – in my 20s it was natural, 30s organic and now (yes, do the math!) sustainable. Call me a purist, my definition of a sustainable system is one that takes care of everything within itself - no inputs and no waste. Seems to me sustainable is more of a noble goal than a truth. And, don’t get me wrong, a goal worthy of our aspirations. However, let’s start being honest. Who among us can truly make that claim? Not me. Not yet. And most certainly not companies such as Xerox who make white paper and claim to be committed to sustainability (please!) Nope, my money’s on robust. It’s a meaningful word that will serve you well in your food-growing endeavours.

Here are my top 10 robust-ers:

1. Local heritage seed/ plants/ trees
2. Strong living soil
3. Ground covers
4. Shelter
5. Diversity, diversity, diversity
6. Rotation
7. Right plant, right place, right season
8. Best watering practice
9. Recycle everything back
10. Good sun and healthy airflow

My heart goes out to all the farmers and market gardeners right now. I hope this challenging climate gives birth to new thought, to smarter ways of doing things. Another quote springs to mind, and it’s from my hero Albert: “You can’t solve a problem using the same thinking that got you into the problem in the first place.” Sit on that. It’ll really get you going.


In The Vege Patch

The first of your autumn brassicas should be in, or going in now. Three months till the broccolis will be feeding you and yours so now is it. Best you put your clever gardening hat on to get new transplants through this heat wave. Here’s how to be a super mum to your new vege.


On an evening

> Water the bed well. You have of course got this prepared last week so it’s all settled in and ready to go!
> Stand your tray of seedlings in a weak solution of worm juice till they are good and wet
> Plant out
> Water with whatever liquid feed it is you've got on the go (do not make a power drew. these are babies needing baby doses)
> Build a wee shade house (that's a photo of my very complicated affair of scrap of shade cloth draped over four sticks!)
> Mulch well
> OR be really smart and tuck your new seedlings up amongst a finishing crop - no shade house required

It’s time to:

  • Plant out salads, chard, brassicas, leeks, stocks (essential winter fragrance!)
  • Sow salads, mesclun mix, spring onions, beetroot, radish, parsley, coriander, rocket, calendula, alyssum, cornflower, larkspur and summer green crops in any gaps made by harvesting.
  • Make some lovely compost

Lots of caring required in your summer patch right now. Think of your veges working hard under that beating sun. Best watering and liquid feeding as required please.

I’m happy to report great success with the raw milk sprays on my mildew-covered greenhouse tomatoes. Those of you along for the tour on Feb 23rd/ 24th will gaze in wonder at the transformation. I love solutions that come from everyday things. Weekly splashes of milk on my toms and zuchinni have stopped the mildew in its tracks. Granted the hot rain also stopped, but am keeping up the milk as part of my being robust programme because you never know when hot rain will strike again.

The onions are strung, the garlics plaited and batches of pesto are in the freezer for a bit of mid-winter sunshine. We’re eating green beans, corn, aubergines, peppers, tomatoes, salads, celery, potatoes, zucchinis and cucumbers. The orchard is providing apples, plums, strawberries and rhubarb.
Life is good. Our plates are full.


Also this month check out what's:



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