We spend a week on the Roebuck Farm, a reference for market gardening in New Zealand. It is an example of efficiency, ergonomy and success of a method that promotes local, good and healthy food.
Market Gardening is a systematic developped and taught by JM Fortier in Quebec, as well as Curtis Stone and Elliot Colleman in the US.
The idea is to produce a lot of organic veggetables on a small area while taking care of the soil life and ensuring economical viability to the business.
At the time when we are there, Jodi Roebuck and his family as well as Linda who works in the garden with Jodi and a woofer, Will, are living there. The veggie garden is right in front of the house. There are 90 beds of 9sqm each, 1800sqm which amounts to about 2000-2500sqm including paths, washing and storage area. Located on a flat land surrounded by hills, the garden could expand to 2ha potentially. The production today provides more than enough revenu for two people and is sold to five restaurants, retail shops and two local farmers markets.
There are a lot of remarkable elements on the farm which also features a sheep flock on the hilly slopes and also going over on some neigbours' land too. Let's see some of those to give you a glimpse.
The washing and storing area. When thinking about gardening, we often think about sowing, working the soil, weeding or harvesting. What we think about less is everything that happens post-harvest. However the time spent after the harvest washing it, preparing it and storing it is pretty significant ! Especially in a system such as this one where the spent on the growing part is very much optimised and the importance given to the commercialization of the produces implies a particular care to process the veggies post-harvest. Jodi's washing station is extremely well organised. First it is properly oriented to make it comfortable to work in, then it draws a path from the arrival of the vegetable until its storage. It is equipped with a bubbler – video HERE (soon) – which coupled with a modified washing machine to dry the leaves makes the whole preparation for the salad leaves super efficient.
The preparation of the veggie beds. There too everything is organised in order to do as less as possible and free up time to go surfing. The soil is covered by a tarp during 8 to 10 weeks in summer time and during 3 months+ in winter after having been mowed, then the soil is aerated with a broadfork (of Jodi' s own design) and compost is added. It is ready for planting ! When a crop i finished, it is immediately replaced. The main crop residus are first taken away by hand then with a rake and the remainder is tilled back into the earth with a small rotative hoe animated by an electric screwdriver. Impressive efficiency !
The potting mix. Amongst the main high value added veggies grown at Roebuck's, there are the micro-greens. Cultivating micro-greens is done in seedling trays (most often here too except for pea shoots) and is therefore using a lot of potting mix. Generally, even with organic growers, the potting mix is a significant outside input. It is generally made with peat which is a non renewable ressource. Some research is being done to find an alternative to peat in the industrial potting mix and the peat portion of the mix is reduced little by little. When it comes to growing micro-greens, potting mix becomes a major input and the ecological impact grows with it. At Roebuck's, the potting mix is homemade ! The garden soil improved since several years is of a very consistancy and homemade mature compost is added to it after having gone through a big sieve which is attached to some poles to make the whole sieving process more ergonomic. The potting mix is then ready to receive the micro-greens ! We are enchanted by this process ! To see the video about micro-greens and the whole process, see HERE and HERE
Managing sheep grazing. Before being a vegetable grower, Jodi is an animal grower. He practices holistic grazing with his sheeps. The concept is to use the sheeps to improve the pasture soil in order to improve the grazing content in order to ensure good food for the sheeps while respecting their need to move. The idea is to use electric fences to move the sheeps easily, they are placed with a high enough density on a field and moved often. The density pushes the sheeps to eat everything there is in the field. They are then moved without pressure guided by Jodi who places himself in front rather than behind the flock and uses his understanding of the flock dynamics (who are the alphas) and of the flight zone of each animal in order to move the sheeps. The idea is then to leave the soil and plants to regenerate and to only put animals back in the paddock once it is ready again. By cutting up his land into smaller paddocks, it is possible without leaving huge areas for regeneration. Jodi practices this way of working since years and doesn't need to work the soil nor bring fertilising inputs which is not the case of more conventionnal grazers who have to make this additional effort and investment.
VIDEOS MADE ON-SITE
Topics: Potting mix and microgreens, small sheep herd raising, market gardening (method, washing station, advice to start and story of the farm's beginnings)