6 May 2020

From bowls to brocolli Jess Barnes

From Nine To Noon, 11:26 am on 6 May 2020

A gardening guru and sustainable business operator is urging the public to make compost during Covid-19 restrictions.

The lockdown saw edible plants, vegetable seedlings and fruit trees sell-out across New Zealand days before the lockdown, as people hunkered down into their gardens to make the most of their spare time and advantage of the Autumn weather.

Jess Barnes

Jess Barnes Photo: Supplied

However, composting queen Jess Barnes is reminding us that building soil fertility and improving the condition of the ground is key to achieve any degree of growing success.

Barnes has been busy helping transform a disused bowling club in Porirua into a thriving urban vegetable garden.

The garden’s produce is used in community cooking classes run by the charity, Wellfed.

Barnes also runs operates Sunshine In A Bottle, a business in Titahi Bay, where she collects household food scraps to turn into compost at the bowling green.

She told Kathryn Ryan that, while the Covid 19 restrictions had put a stop to collections, she was encouraging everyone she can to start their own home compost.

“Composting is the best thing you can do for your garden and the environment and the fun thing is it’s like a science experiment,” she says.

There are four key components to being successful. The soil alchemy involves using the correct balance of nitrogen-based material, which is your basic food scraps (no meats); carbon-based items like dried grass, wood mulch, straw, shredded newspaper, egg cartoons and toilet rolls; and then water and air.  

Putting this in a container like the ones sold at places like Mitre 10 or even just piling these up and turning them over every few days will work.

"You’ll know things are things are going wrong if things are starting to smell funny, you’ll have a but too much nitrogen, so you’re going to add more carbon like shredded newspaper. If nothing’s really happening, you’re a bit too high on carbon, so you’ll put in more nitrogen.

“Things that work really well speeding it up can be coffee grounds, just because they are very small so they break down faster. If you have chickens then chicken manure – it breaks down really, really fast and will heat up your bin well and speed up that composting process.”

Her operation at the old bowling green is large-scale and takes advantage of the fact businesses want rid of their food scraps. She takes a big bin of kitchen scraps from them every week, while leaving empty bucket.

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Photo: supplied

“Then I take that bucket of food waste and I actually bring it to the farm that I manage on the old bowling green and that’s where I do a lot of the composting. They have a really big system that works exceptionally well to compost a whole lot of different things.”

The bowling green has evolved to now feature an urban farm called Hampshire Garden. The first beds were established in October last year and local school children helped plant out seedlings.

The space now has 28 fruit trees and by the end of the winter the number of garden beds will increase to 33.

The charity Wellfed received a grant, which pays for Barnes’ wages and the bowling green is leased from the local council.

Although the ground wasn’t affected by pesticides, compaction of the soil was a huge problem initially. Growing diverse cover plants, such as nitrogen-fixers and plants with deep roots helped break up the soil allowing it to breath and stimulate good microbiological activity.

“I’m seeing huge improvements. I saw so many worms today when I was digging, weeding and putting in more plants and that’s so satisfying to see because that is such a good indicator that the soil’s coming back.”

The garden’s role is diversifying too. Not only does it provide produce for Wellfed, it is now also intended to be financially viable, with plans to supply local restaurants.

It is also a community space for anyone to hang out and visit and with the nation’s level 2 response on the horizon Barnes is looking forward to people coming back.

Read more on composting

  • How to compost well