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The doctor is in your soil

May 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

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BUILDING a garden starts at ground level, so Hana Miller and Jacob Perkins always start with a good brew of tea.

Not the fine, bone china variety – they make a special microbial compost brew at their Melrose garden.

This tea is specially made with Dirt Doctor philosophy, which in turn gets added to the soil or foliage of plants.

Jacob, 26, originally from Oregon, says the soil is the first place to start to develop a healthy and sustainable system that can feed you and feed the soil with a minimum of input.

“Grow the soil, grow the food,” is his mantra.

soilMAIN3 JimDirt Doctor is the vision of Oamaru’s Jim O’Gorman (left), an agricultural scientist with environmental concerns, who 15 years ago bought the worst piece of land – covered in California thistle – he could possibly find.

After 12 months he had workable, productive soil and Jacob says it is now “the best soil I have ever seen. It doesn’t get any better.”

He says Jim deliberately replicates Third World conditions to show that in a disaster zone his methods work.

He refuses to use council water, instead just trickles of rainwater. He has no electricity (so no power tools), no tractors, no horses, only things that can come in by wheelbarrow.

Jim’s home is a 10-square-metre shack with chicken coops and hothouses for company on his one-man farm.

He teaches at Otago University and has been applying his methods in Cambodia to remove Agent Orange from Cambodia. He was one of the first certified organic growers with an excellent reputation in the country and has regular orders for his food through the farmers’ markets.

Hana, 27, and Jacob present Dirt Doctor seminars in cities around New Zealand. The principle is simple, but based in science.

She says worms play a huge part in gardens and are an essential sign of good soil. They collaborate with plant roots to create highways for water and nutrients.

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SOIL DOCTORS: Jacob Perkins and Hana Miller.

Building a good “lasagne” of compost from kitchen and garden waste is not just fun but easy and free and makes for a much richer application. A basic carbon/nitrogen equation is the formula, “using all these cool little microbes”.

The benefits of weeds are a simple but hard idea for most to get their heads around. Weeds are what keep the soil moist and play an important part of a good garden system.

“A lot of people think a lot of water is required for successful food growing yet this is the role that weeds play,” says Hana. Underneath, the soil is really moist, using less water but producing “amazing” vegetables.

Compost tea is the topical application made from rainwater with fungal organisms to enliven the soil.

Jacob:  “Most of what we teach is about knowing the smaller level of life we don’t necessarily see, but exists.”

His enthusiasm comes from a healthy interest, but also “by osmosis” from his biologist parents. Hana writes for environmental publications.

Both play music and now call Wellington home, after sharing a bike in Auckland for two years but struggling to find like-minded people.

“Community is the key here in Wellington that is lacking in Auckland,” says Jacob.

Dirt Doctors’ next seminar is in Auckland at the end of May.

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is A journalist who loves wide open spaces and fresh air, passionate about the world we live in and keeping our natural world as pristine as we can while still living happily. Responsibility is the first step. Toiti te whenua.
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