Here's the place to discuss how to grow fruit and vegetables, including how to improve the soil and the requirements of particular plants.

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(Polymnia sonchifolia)

Origin: South America

Eat the smooth root (tuber)

Grow new plants from the knobbly corm

Planting: Does best in a sunny area.  Treat it as a permanent plant (perennial).  Give it plenty of compost, plant in well drained soil.

Plant the corms just below the surface of the soil.  Protect your new corms from frosts by lightly covering. 

They will put up new growth in spring, growing to 1.5-2m high with flowers like a sunflower. 

Do not allow it to dry out if you want a good crop. 

Harvest during winter as you need them after the tops die back.

Eat: They can be eaten peeled and raw, tasting a bit like juicy apple.  Grate onto breakfast cereal, chop into salads, add to stir fries, bake or roast with oil.  They are crisp even when cooked.

Health Properties: Yacon contains inulin which tastes sweet but cannot be digested, it is a very low calorie food, great for diabetics and people trying to lose weight.


Examples: Yacon (sometimes spelt yakon) is grown in the Sustainable Backyard Garden at Hamilton Gardens.


Left: the edible root.  Below: the corm used to grow new plants.


There is more local information about yacon here.

Yacon in flower, early May, Kitchen Garden, Hamilton Gardens, Waikato

More on Yacon...

Paul from Te Aroha has just dropped some spare yacon corms in (the part used to grow new plants): if you would like a couple let me know - ph (07) 834-1482.

He also had information from the website which says alternative names include yakon, Peruvian ground apple, Bolivian sunroot and sweet root.  It features a red-skinned variety.

The web site has information on growing, recipes and health benefits. 

NOTE: this is a British web site - so planting times are for the northern hemisphere: add 6 months to get roughly equivalent seasons for NZ. 

Thanks Paul!

Free Compost & Mulch Materials

Looking for additional materials to create compost?  Download the list below of free (or very cheap) materials. 

Compost uses a mix of materials high in carbon (usually dry and brown) and high in nitrogen (usually wet and green).

Carbon rich materials also make good garden mulch: spread over damp soil ideally 150 mm/6 inches thick to:

  • help the soil stay moist

  • suppress weeds

  • act as an insulator

  • slowly break down to feed the plants. 


Lawnmowers can be used to chop up weeds and old plants for composting: cutting the plants up small means they will compost faster. 

The Grandview Community Garden is looking for a lawnmower: if you have one you’d like to donate or spot one at an opp shop or dump shop, please let Clare or Tim know (ph 021 0387623 or 021 2243109). 

No Dig Garden/Lasagne Garden

The Hamilton Permaculture Trust demonstrated how to make a lasagne garden last week at the annual Low Cost Living Expo, Western Community Center (thank you for letting us share the photos!)

If you collect materials ahead, it will take two people about 1/2 hr to 1 hr to make a garden like this one.

Design: as this was a herb garden, it was placed close to the kitchen.  Try to keep it narrow enough that you don't have to walk on it, so that you don't compact the bed: plants' roots need air.  If you do make it wider, use stepping stones or boards.


1) Mow lawn hard, or clear any weeds. 


2) One person overlap newspaper 10 pages thick or flattened cardboard while the other hoses it down.  Can also add old leaves like the cabbage tree leaves shown here. 

If creating a raised edging, do it now: punga logs, rocks, bricks...


3) Layer of manure. 


4) Layer of grass clippings.


5) Layer of compost.  If you don't have compost, use some very old grass clippings.


6) Lay out plants, then plant them.


7) Water your seedlings.


If you have mulching material, spread it over to help keep the garden moist.  


Maintenance: It will sink a little.  Each year add a bit more compost and/or manure to add fertility: don't dig it over, the worms will turn the soil for you.  Use a trowel for planting.  


Thanks Hamilton Permaculture Trust!




Today is the longest day of the year (most daylight hours), at least here in the Southern hemisphere.  Tradition has it that you plant your garlic on the shortest day and harvest it on the longest day.  However, our climate in the Waikato is sufficiently mild that you can plant your garlic any time. 

I am growing some elephant garlic this year, having got a few cloves from experienced garlic grower Pete Martin (I met him through the Tree Crops Association).

Peter's advice was to cut the seed heads off so that all the plants efforts to reproduce go into the bulbs.  Harvest the garlic when the plant dies back. 

As you can tell from the picture below, I will be busy this weekend chopping the flower heads off, although I might leave one: they are very beautiful and much loved by the bees!


I once read an article where a NZ woman had been advised by her mother that if she only grew three things in her garden, it should be lemons, silverbeet and rhubarb.

One of my workmates has just shifted into a house and has been lucky enough to inherit a vege garden that includes these.   She was a bit unsure about the rhubarb.

Rhubarb leaves are poisonous, but the stalks are eaten cooked as a fruit.  The stalks are usually red, as seen in the photo, but there are also green varieties.

It is one of a few food plants that don't mind some shade. It likes being moist but not wet, and like most of us loves being well fed.

It is a perennial, meaning that it will grow for more than a year - usually several, so a good investment.  It is best not to harvest any during its first year, to allow good root development.  If it flowers, cut the flower stalk off. 

It can be grown from seed, but it is more common to create more plants by division (and if you don't know what that means, come to our plant propagation workshop on 22 Feb 2012!)

Harvest the stalks by pulling off some of the outer stems from near the base of the plant, leaving a few of the inner stalks to keep growing. 

My favourite ways to eat it: stewed with apple, either in a fruit crumble dessert or on my breakfast muslei, or in rhubarb and walnut muffins spiced with cinnamon.  Some people love rhubarb and strawberry pie.  Yum!

For more rhubarb recipes, see the WIC Eating! discussion

Compost Bins

Compost is the best way of improving your soil regardless of your soil type.  It is easy to make your own at no cost - in fact, making compost can save you money as you recycle garden and kitchen waste rather than paying to have it picked up as rubbish. 

In New Zealand, most people use a compost bin to make their compost. You can buy plastic ones, although they may not have enough ventilation.  Some experienced gardeners like to cover their compost, others do not: experiment and see what works best in your location.

Traditionally the kiwi compost bin was built with three bays, like these ones.  Usually one bay is having waste material added to it, the next bay is in the process of being broken down by insects, fungi and bacteria while the third bay is ready gradually being used around the garden. 

The first compost bin (in Hamilton East) has boards at the front which can be slotted in to contain material, and removed as you take it out - useful but not essential. 

There are lots of ways of making compost bins out of recycled materials.  The second one (photographed in the Kaimai Ranges) uses metal stakes to hold the corrugated iron in place.  Other recycled compost bin options include tyres, concrete blocks, pallets and so on.

If you have a 'glut' of suitable garden waste, ideally at least one cubic metre,  you can make a heap without containing it.  

The compost usually takes 3-6 months to break down/be ready. 

There are often free pallets in good condition available outside Community Waikato, 33 Victoria Street (opposite the Celebrating Age Centre) Hamilton – ring ahead to check: ph 838 1583. 

Pallets are usually made of untreated wood.  The wood usually lasts 2-5 years.  

Pallets can be a useful free building material around the garden.   

One of their uses is to make compost bins - (see photos)

  1. Break the pallets apart
  2. Nail into box shape, creating layers that can be stacked - create feet that can tuck into the corner of the layer below.
  3. Place on ground that has been mown hard.  Cover with layer of newspaper. Fill with alternate layers of 'brown stuff' = carbon, and 'green stuff' = nitrogen
  4. Cover (optional).  Wait for the worms, fungi and microbes to turn it into lovely compost!  You can speed up the process by turning it (great exercise!) eg once a week.   This lets more air in.


These photographs were taken at two of our compost workshops taken by the Hamilton Permaculture Trustat the Samoan AOG and Banafsheh's place - thank you for hosting these workshops!


You could use the same idea to make raised beds. 


Tyre shops give away old tyres for free. 

Many will cut out the internal rims for you, so they drain better. 

Thoroughly wash out the tyres before using them.


HOT COMPOSTING: Turn the compost heap at least once a week to mix the outside material to the middle and to add air. This will:

  • keep it hot
  • kill most seeds
  • kill some plant diseases. 
  • make the organic waste turn into compost more quickly. 




Above:  Tyre composting at Grandview Community Garden


Left: Demonstration tyre compost bin at the Waikato Environment Centre, upstairs at25 Ward St, Hamilton (ph 07-839-4452) you can see it along with other composting and worm farming methods (free).




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