How to make no-dig gardens

Posted on 5 November 2014 | No responses

A few weeks ago I built some no dig garden beds in our new home that we are renting and planted them out with small cuttings and seedlings. After living in Bolivia for the past 2 years, growing at altitude and indoors, in pots, I am excited to back at sea level in the sub tropics, converting grassed areas into abundant food production gardens. Here, my plants are growing so fast that I feel like I should be able to see them gaining height real time. This is how I built my no dig gardens: No dig garden 2 Each layer is around 10cm thick but it all settles to a height of approximately 20cm once finished. When doing no dig gardens and composting it’s good to know your Carbon:Nitrogen ratios to help you pick suitable materials. As always, it’s best to use what you have in your environment rather than buying in extra materials. Below is a handy reference chart I did up of common C:N ratios of materials you might have access to, but if you need a more complete list, just check out this link. carbon nitrogen ratiosAre you still a bit confused about what the Carbon-Nitrogen Ratio is? Well, all organic matter is made up of substantial amounts of carbon (C) combined with lesser amounts of nitrogen (N). The balance of these two elements in an organism is called the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (C:N ratio). The C:N ratio affects the rate of decomposition and the amount of humus formed. For best performance, the compost pile or no dig garden, or more to the point the composting microorganisms, require the correct proportion of carbon for energy and nitrogen for protein production. Scientists (yes, there are compost scientists) have determined that the fastest way to produce fertile, sweet-smelling compost is to maintain a C:N ratio somewhere around 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen, or 25-30:1. If the C:N ratio is too high (excess carbon), decomposition slows down. If the C:N ratio is too low (excess nitrogen) you will end up with a stinky pile.

If you look at my list of C:N examples above, you’ll notice I’ve associated little brown leaves with the highest Carbon materials and little green leaves with the highest Nitrogen materials. This will give you a hint when you are trying to remember what to use. For example, green/wet grass is high in Nitrogen but once it has dried out/goes brown it’s higher in Carbon!

So, for your Carbon layers look for materials that are higher in Carbon, ie. likely to be brown in colour and for your Nitrogen layers look for materials that have more Nitrogen, ie. likely to be green in colour.

MSOT-IMG_0910-e-w920MSOT-IMG_0906-e-w920 So, what did I use? I created the edges of my gardens by digging into the earth a little and placing planks of wood and bricks I found lying around. I then covered the grass with cardboard. My coarse nitrogen layer was roughly chopped up prunings from my neighbour’s garden, as well as our garden – I didn’t have any banana stems but these would have been perfect here! My coarse carbon layer was again from my neighbour’s garden – logs, bark and sticks. My medium nitrogen layer was chicken manure but I imagine many of you might have access to fresh grass clippings too! My medium carbon layer was collected from my garden – dried leaves and stems. My fine nitrogen layer was compost and my fine carbon layer was sugar cane mulch. As I created each layer I watered it well, ensuring not to water it too much. Then, to plant my new seedlings and cuttings I dug a hole into my garden bed, filled it with compost and planted into it. As the plants grow the layers break down at different speeds (course layers break down slowly, fine layers break down faster), providing on-going nutrition for the plants. As we are currently in Spring, I’ve planted beans, tomatoes, lettuce, silverbeet, parsley, celery, mint, thyme, brazilian spinach, zucchinis, kang kong, oregano, mizuna, kale, basil, thai basil, shallots and pak choy… they are looking very healthy and loving their gardens!

MSOT-IMG_0904-e-w920Ultimately, you don’t have to know and remember all that (I just find it interesting). You can just follow the instructions, put it all together like a recipe and then sit back and watch it work like magic!MSOT-IMG_0909-e-w920MSOT-IMG_0907-e-w920 Magic is exactly how it feels to me. Each evening I like to hang out with my growing garden, often with a bottle of homemade kombucha in hand – watering these new lives, observing shooting growth, bigger leaves and insects. I love this time of day… it cools down, the light is soft, the sky displays her changing colours, the galahs peck at the grass, the parrots screech, the cicadas start chirping and all seems good in the world… I take slow deep breaths of gratitude as the day ends and slows.MSOT-IMG_0905-e-w920Each morning I also enjoy sitting on the stairs nearby, sipping my coffee and observing my new babies. I was thinking the other day “little beans… thank you for teaching simplicity by simply being… you don’t need validation or acceptance or to be liked.. you will just be yourself, grow and prosper anyway… all I have to do is love you.“. I am calling it my permaculture meditation. Gardens feed us, teach us, connect us and I’m so very grateful.  MSOT-IMG_0913-e-w920   


This changes everything

Posted on 25 October 2014 | 1 response

Today I’d like to introduce you to Rohan Anderson, if you don’t already know him.

Rohan Anderson is the blogger, photographer, writer, cook, forager, grower and hunter from Whole Larder Love. If you don’t know of him, you should check out his website which details his journey from eating processed food, obesity, anxiety, depression and allergic reactions to ditching his career, growing, hunting, preserving, curing and foraging his food.



Despite his inspiring, creative and very real life, recently I’ve read some criticisms of Rohan which have got me thinking. People don’t like him ‘constantly bashing supermarkets’ and complain that not everyone can live like him and his family. Whole Larder Love frequently covers issues with our current food system, media and materialistic consumption in society. It’s true that his posts are full of passion and even frustration which I think some people perceive as judgement but I suspect that people get defensive when they think their way of life is being criticised, instead of seeing it as a systemic problem. Of course, another option is that people just love being negative on the internet and forget there are real people behind it all, full of contradictions and uncertainties, just like all of us humans.

I believe Rohan is doing amazing things, has made brave decisions and is walking a path many are too afraid to step on to. I identify with his journey from the corporate world to giving up financial security and living life in accordance with his values. We are also aiming for the good life, a life of meaning and purpose, one that contributes to health, kindness, stability and safety. Jean and I hope to one day have our own project, very similar to the one that Rohan and his partner, Kate, have just launched as a crowd funding campaign, The Nursery Project. Theirs will be a Not For Profit initiative consisting of a place where “they can teach, where experts in food and farming can pass on their knowledge, and where people can go to learn practical skills – touch, feel, smell and taste the good life!” They’ll have a demonstration vegetable garden to show what’s possible in a backyard, farm animals, fruit orchards and a large mess hall where they’ll run classes and talks around good food.

I want them to succeed at this! They truly deserve it, everyone who will visit deserves it, the planet deserves it. We need more of these initiatives. We need to support action, today.

Recently I started reading Naomi Klein’s new book This Changes Everything, Capitalism vs the Climate. While Rohan isn’t talking about climate change in his blog posts I can’t help but link Naomi’s writing to his thoughts and the criticism he receives. Some of the very people following Rohan are farmers themselves or are at least open to organic food, buying from farmers markets and ‘natural living’ but they can’t grasp that life could be sustained without supermarkets as we have them today. They say supermarkets are a necessity to sustain our overpopulated planet, that all the bad quality “food, starvation, unsustainable land management, degradation of farm lands, inequality, etc. are all symptoms of overpopulation and supermarket bashing is too easy and overly simplistic, dealing with symptoms not causes”. I can’t disagree that this world is overpopulated, however, I do feel that supermarkets provide an important link to the real problem… stick with me here…

Naomi writes in her new book that a great many of us engage in climate change denial and I can’t help but feel it’s not just climate change we are in denial about. “We look for a split second and then we look away. Or we look but then turn it into a joke. Which is another way of looking away. Or we look but tell ourselves comforting stories about how humans are clever and will come up with a technological miracle… Or we look but tell ourselves we are too busy to care about something so distant and abstract… Or we look but tell ourselves that all we can do is focus on ourselves. Meditate and shop at farmers’ markets and stop driving – but forget trying to actually change the systems that are making the crisis inevitable because that’s too much “bad energy” and it will never work… And we don’t have to do anything to bring about this future. All we have to do is nothing. Just continue to do what we are doing now…”

Rohan often talks about this ‘looking away’ approach that many have in regards to their food too. Rohan and Kate’s 4 daughters, aged 10, 8, 6 and 5 see and experience all parts of the food process. They want to provide the truth for their kids rather than hide it from them. When they kill their hens or roosters the girls help out so that they gain respect and understanding that an animal’s life is taken for that meat. When we choose cheap food at the supermarket, aren’t we looking away again? Aren’t we choosing to ignore the quality of the ingredients? Aren’t we accepting bad land management practices? Aren’t we supporting big agricultural companies like Monsanto? Aren’t we accepting unfair worker conditions? Aren’t we allowing deforestation, for eg, and the ultimate effect it has on climate change? Aren’t we normalising the distance food travels so that we can have variety all year round?

Naomi asks the simple question “What is wrong with us?” What is ultimately stopping us from changing? But all of the answers offered to date are ultimately inadequate – “governments can’t agree to anything, there’s an absence of real technological solutions, there’s something deep in our human nature that keeps us from acting in the face of seemingly remote threats, to – more recently – the claim that we have blown it anyway and there is no point in even trying to do much more than enjoy the scenery on the way down”.

Nope, something else keeps us from changing…

Our culture tells us that “contemporary humans are too self-centered, too addicted to gratification to live without the full freedom to satisfy our every whim… And yet the truth is that we continue to make collective sacrifices in the name of an abstract greater good all the time. We sacrifice our pensions, our our hard-won labor rights, our arts and after-school programs. We send our kids to learn in ever more crowded classrooms, led by ever more harried teachers. We accept that we have to pay dramatically more for the destructive energy sources that power our transportation and our lives. We accept that bus and subway fares go up and up while service fails to improve or degenerates. We accept that a public university education would result in a debt that will take half a lifetime to pay off when such a things was unheard of a generation ago…”

So, “if humans are capable of sacrificing this much collective benefit in the name of stabilising an economic system that makes daily life so much more expensive and precarious, then surely humans should be capable of making some important lifestyle changes in the interest of stabilising the physical systems upon which all of life depends. Especially because many of the changes that need to be made to dramatically cut emissions would also materially improve the quality of life for the majority of people on the planet…”

So, what is wrong with us?

Naomi says “I think the answer is far more simple than many have led us to believe: we have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe – and would benefit the vast majority – are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.

Bullseye! We need to challenge capitalism (as it exists today) and the systems it binds us all in, which includes supermarkets and their relationships with farmers and big agricultural companies. Naomi talks about the need for policy changes and “for us high consumers, it involves changing how we live, how our economies function, even the stories we tell about our place on earth. The good news is that many of these changes are distinctly un-catastrophic. Many are downright exciting… But before any changes can happen we first have to stop looking away.”

Isn’t this partly what Rohan is offering?! Sure, we need big changes in governments and policies but we also need to use our power as consumers.

So, lets just accept that this system isn’t working for us. Lets stop criticising people like Rohan and start supporting them! Lets move things in a new direction. I know this huge machine seems unbeatable but Naomi says “it’s not too late to avert the worst, and there is still time to change ourselves so that we are far less brutal to one another when those disasters strike. And that, it seems to me, is worth a great deal.”

I can’t wait to read the rest of her book and tell you about her ideas…


We all just want to be loved, especially by ourselves

Posted on 13 October 2014 | 1 response

We all just want to be loved, but how many of us truly love ourselves? I am on a constant journey to really love myself. Sometimes I do and sometimes I am far from it.

Back in 2011 I camped in a field in a region of France to build a house out of cob with a bunch of people I didn’t know. We called it cob camp. During this time I had little mobile phone network, no car and no internet access. For those months I would wake up with the sun, spend half an hour meditating, half an hour stretching and [...] Continue Reading…

Bolivian Story: Gabriel Coimbra, bringing nature to urban Bolivians

Posted on 16 September 2014 | No responses

I met Gabriel whilst volunteering at Red Monkey, a vegan restaurant in La Paz, Bolivia. At first I knew him as the guy washing dishes and tidying up but I soon learnt that there was so much more to this young man from the Amazon! One day he gave me some soapnuts he had collected… I hadn’t seen these since we were living in Europe, in the eco stores. I was so excited to use them to make soapnut liquid as an all purpose cleaner and natural pesticide for the white flies on my tomatoes. Another time I tried [...] Continue Reading…

Life’s changing: we are settling in Australia

Posted on 12 August 2014 | 4 responses

Jean and I are lucky we found each other. We have so much love that sometimes I wonder how it could possibly last. In November we’ll be counting 6 years of a surprising and beautiful journey together. I still remember the day we met. My heart fluttered and my knees nearly gave way. I had never been one  of those girls so the feelings surprised me. I convinced myself that none of it was real and it was all in my head so I spent the remaining weekend of that meditation course avoiding him. Little did I know that [...] Continue Reading…

Galápagos Islands: remarkable yet preoccupying

Posted on 25 July 2014 | 1 response

We enjoyed last Christmas on the Galapagos Islands, giving ourselves the soulful gift of connecting with nature. We felt incredibly blessed to be in such a unique place on this remarkable planet of ours as animals approached us unguarded, unafraid of humans and as curious about us as we were of them. We wondered at the unique giant tortoises, tame sea lions and abundant bird life.

Our visit was bitter sweet though, as we noticed the effects of tourism and the swell in population on the islands. We wondered if we should really be there, contributing in that way. Locals profess [...] Continue Reading…

Bolivian Story: Alejandro Barrios

Posted on 25 June 2014 | 2 responses

I met Alejandro whilst volunteering at vegan restaurant, Red Monkey, in La Paz, Bolivia. Ale was in charge of baking the bread and making the vegan cakes. I was fascinated by making cakes without eggs, milk or butter and I knew they must be good because Ale is the happiest, most laid back person there… high on life and baked goods! Actually, Ale’s wonderful attitude to life, his joyful presence and playfulness is what kept me going back on Thursdays to help out in the kitchen. I’m so grateful for the time spent with him, exchanging, learning from him and [...] Continue Reading…

Suburban food gardening in Perth, Western Australia

Posted on 5 May 2014 | No responses

Over the past year I’ve been following a facebook group called Jetto’s Patch, a Perth edible garden on less than half an acre (1482 square meters). Admittedly, my involvement in the group has been minimal as we’ve been in Bolivia gardening in a completely different environment. I’ve quietly sat back and read posts, information and advice from people all over the world but I’ve been specifically interested in Dario and Michele, who nurture their abundant garden with passion and research.

Friends of ours in Perth have found Jetto’s an inspiring and deep resource for their own budding suburban food garden. [...] Continue Reading…

Bolivian Story: Felipe Ballon

Posted on 3 April 2014 | 2 responses

I have known Felipe Ballon since very soon after our arrival in La Paz but most of my time was spent with him in his car! Felipe is the taxi-driver hired by the NGO I used to work with, so we would frequently spend the hour long trip to/from the airport discussing Bolivia and its intriguing contradictions.  As a taxi-driver I particularly enjoyed his punctuality – even when he had to pick me up from the airport at 3 am – and as a friend I enjoyed learning from him as he shared his perspectives on Bolivian society. So, [...] Continue Reading…

Bolivian Story: Maria Calzadilla

Posted on 26 March 2014 | 1 response

One sunny day I went to a Mercadito Pop [a fair] and discovered an amazing electric blue felted hat I just had to have to protect me from the harsh sun we get here at the high altitude of La Paz. The lady designing and selling these unique hats was Maria. I noticed straight away she was a woman caring about design. You know those sort of people, right? They look effortless. They always have something ever so slightly different hanging from their ears or neck, but never too over-the-top or in-your-face. This is Maria – comfortable, unique, creative [...] Continue Reading…

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