Seven lessons from ‘queen’ Dee


Seven lessons from ‘queen’ Dee


Posted 12 August 2011, by Virginia Winder, Taranaki Daily News (Fairfax Media),


Dee Turner adjusts the temp in her "plastic house"

Dee Turner hates weeding. In fact, the permaculture queen and organic gardener simply won’t do it. But banish any thoughts of a messy, overgrown, weed-invaded garden.

Korito Organics, on the lower slopes of Mt Taranaki, is an exceptionally orderly place that evokes words like “tidy, pristine and immaculate”.

“One of the things that people tend to think about permaculture and organics is that it has to be a mess, but it doesn’t have to be,” Dee says. “Untidiness comes from disorganisation.”

Even the woofers (workers on organic farms) who come to stay on the four- hectare organically certified, off-the-grid property are amazed at Dee’s planning.

“My woofers say this is the most organised place they have stayed at.”

They also say: “We work hard, but we also learn a lot.”

That’s her main philosophy. Even though the gardens produce a bounty of fruit and vegetables, Dee is reluctant to sell produce.

“I would rather teach people how to grow stuff or set up productive gardens for them.”

She would also prefer to sell them productive perennial plants.

“I would rather empower them to grow it for themselves.”

Her operation is run to a seven- step doctrine:

zLesson 1: How to avoid weeding.

“I hate weeding, so I just mulch everything with grass [clippings].”

This works incredibly well and there are barely any unwanted plants on the self-sustaining property that Dee and partner Dave Carnahan bought seven years ago. If there’s a new section of the garden she wants to prepare for planting, the 48-year-old sets the chickens on it.

Dee has built a dome-shaped chicken home that can be moved from place to place and fits perfectly over circular beds in her mandala garden systems.

zLesson 2: Planting for pleasure.

“Straight outside your front door is where you want your herbs, so you don’t have to go too far.” In this case, Dee has put in a garden that looks like a series of keyholes and enables easy access to fresh pickings.

Also close to the back door should be a lemon tree. Hers is hiding behind a curved brush fence and sits alongside guavas, a kaffir lime tree grown for its fragrant leaves, another lime tree and a grapevine.

Nearby are the two fire baths, which overlook a pond and regenerating bush.

“In winter, we light the fires at 4pm and come down about 9pm when it’s dark and the lights are out. We can lie there and listen to the frogs in the lake.”

Dee and Dave added the human- made water feature five years ago and were amazed when it became populated.

“Eels came across the land and we were just like this,” she says, opening her eyes and mouth in mock surprise. “And they just went plop, plop, plop.” Then the croaking amphibians moved in. “It needs to be amazingly clean for frogs to turn up.”

The top tyres of a retaining wall close by are planted with strawberries, so in summer the woman from Wales and man from New York can sit in their baths and eat sweet treats.

“It’s entertaining with permaculture, because you are surrounding yourself with things that you eat.”

zLesson 3: Gardening on the cheap.

Dee leads the way on a whirlwind garden tour and we come to a spot behind the house planted with spring bulbs, native flaxes, grasses and cabbage trees.

“I call this my Trade Me garden,” she says. “Everything has been bought from Trade Me, Friday bargains [in the Taranaki Daily News] or garage sales on a Saturday morning.”

The plants, bricks, rope, pots, pavers and broken concrete are all cheap finds – even the cabbage trees. These were popped in this “holding bed” five years ago and are now tall, shaggy-headed specimens that suit this spot and whose fallen fronds provide fine kindling for the fire.

zLesson 4: The bee’s knees.

Dee leads on, passing New Zealand and English lavenders, which are good for bringing in the bees year round.

Not only are bees wonderful pollinators, but the Korito Rd property is also home to hives.

One of the best specimens to attract these honey-making insects is tagasaste or tree lucerne.

“I have about 300 of them planted on the property and they flower in June, July and August, so it gets the bees through the lean times and feeds the wood pigeons.”

Cows also love tree lucerne.

zLesson 5: Under-cover gardening.

A potting and cutting structure covered with shade cloth is bristling with baby hebes, griselinia, Chilean guavas, ake ake, tagasastes, herbs, Chatham Island forget-me-nots, olives, feijoas and plums. Many of these plants are grown from cuttings and then put in PV3 bags.

Dee sells a lot of these plants, but she also enjoys giving them to friends as gifts. “I will just take half a dozen trees around and say, ‘Here you go, here’s a hedge’.”

Further on, we enter the tropics. In the “plastic house”, the brassicas are going strong. Preferring to eat with the seasons, Dee and Dave are now eating stews and casseroles cooked atop their woodburner and plumped out with red and green cabbage and kale, korabi and broccoli di ciccio. “They are little ones and they keep coming and coming,” she says.

It’s 28 degrees Celsius in the plastic house during the garden tour. She regulates the temperate of this hot, humid place by opening the door and windows to allow air to circulate.

It is a bit empty now, apart from the brassicas and a bush laden with scarlet chillies. “In another three months you won’t be able to move in this place.”

zLesson 6: Circles of life.

Outside the plastic house is a wash area, where the vegetables are cleaned. Instead of washing all the soil away, they collect it and put back on the land.

“We are organically certified on this property. That’s why we look at different ways to keep our fertility,” she says, opening the lid of a barrel to reveal a comfrey brew that will feed the garden.

As we walk over this lush land, with Mt Taranaki at our backs, the Tasman Sea twinkling way below us and Mt Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe clearly visible to the east, Dee talks of bartering.

While they raise beef, pigs and sheep “to put in the freezer”, Dee and Dave exchange vegetables, fruit and plants for milk and berries for fish. “The strawberries we grow here are sweeter than anything in the shops,” she says.

It all goes around in this neighbourhood.

We move on to the mandalas, which are a permaculture growing system. Here you need to picture a cartoon flower with a circle middle surrounded by six petals the same size. “These maximise the growing space and minimise the pathways. The last thing you want is to weed pathways,” Dee says. The idea of a mandala bed is that it is easy to tend. Your arm should be able to reach the middle so you don’t overstretch.

These circles are also ideal for crop rotation and are the perfect shape for the chook tractor.

zLesson 7: Anything is possible.

This orderly property is growing. A new house is nearly finished, food forests are being planted and a series of garden rooms planned to represent the different-sized Kiwi gardens.

“This whole property is moving towards showing other people what they can do,” Dee says. “If I can do it, in very challenging weather conditions, anyone can.”

– Taranaki Daily News


(Ed Note: Please visit the original site for a picture gallery associated with this article.)


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