Homegrown healthiness

BIRDS OF A FEATHER Appleton brothers – Ben, 8, holding a dorking rooster;  Tom, 7, with  a gosling;  and Joe, 7, holding a faverolles hen –  will take their feathered friends to the Nelson Growables Garden Fair this weekend.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER Appleton brothers – Ben, 8, holding a dorking rooster; Tom, 7, with a gosling; and Joe, 7, holding a faverolles hen – will take their feathered friends to the Nelson Growables Garden Fair this weekend.

Once, when planting my potatoes, a preschool visitor from Auckland watched, fascinated by my task, then asked why I was "burying them in the ground".

"I'm going to grow them," I replied, a little amused. "I'm planting them in the ground to grow more potatoes. That's where potatoes come from," I explained.

"No they don't," she replied emphatically. "They come from the supermarket."

And, how right she was, I thought. In too many children's experience, their food does come from the supermarket or, worse, the fast-food outlet.

That's why the benefits of growing your own or buying from farmers' markets amount to more than just the produce on offer. Just as gardening programmes in schools aim to educate kids about food, home growing and buying from growers' markets teaches where their food comes from and how to grow it themselves.

And, as anyone who grows even just a few fresh herbs for their salads knows, growing your own is immensely satisfying. And the knowledge of "how to" is hugely empowering, which is probably partly responsible for the popularity of Nelson Growables Garden Week, culminating in this Sunday's Fair at Founders Park.

Those of us who grew up with a garden and homegrown produce and chooks or ducks can be thankful for the life skills it provided.

I grew up surrounded by gardens and animals, an orchard to pick fresh fruit and all kinds of ducks. During the years we kept flocks of aylesburys, cayuga, indian runners, and my all-time favourites, a pair of khaki campbells named Bootsie and Snudge (after characters in a 1960s British television sitcom), who were not only loyal friends, but also laid beautiful blue eggs regularly for years.

Later, when living in the country, I discovered a bonus of keeping ducks was their ability to guard. Whether it's a highly developed sense of territory or just that they don't like being woken from their beauty sleep, ducks will make a quacking racket if disturbed at night, alerting you to any intruder or unwanted visitors.

Then, when my daughters were growing up, we kept bantams in our small central Nelson garden. Although the bantams were tiny in size compared with commercial birds, they laid with astonishing regularity.

But their presence in the garden was more than just about egg production. They had a lovely little pen to live in but were regularly let out and about the garden to help keep slugs and snails under control, although they'd sometimes take their free-ranging a little too liberally.

One such occasion was when a neighbour reported, somewhat alarmed, that they'd wandered into not only her garden, but also the house where they were now perched on the back of her sofa.

Then there was the bantam that, in the absence of roosters - which are banned from urban gardens - seemed a bit confused about her sexuality and started crowing. Eventually she had to be "relocated" when her wannabe top-of-the-pecking-order effort turned into a sound more akin to fingernails on a blackboard at 5am.

We got the bantams when one of my girls was going through a fussy food phase and refused to eat protein of any kind until a chook-friendly encounter at Golden Bay's BencarriNature Park changed her outlook on eggs.

Knowing where the eggs came from seemed to make them so much more appealing to her evolving rationale and was probably a first step in personal empowerment over the food she chose to eat. And I can understand why. I'm pretty fussy about where my food comes from. Whether I buy or grow it myself, I like to know where it comes from, what's been used on it and that any animals had a happy life.

Making sure hens have a happy life is important to Mt Heslington chook breeders Fionna and Gordon Appleton who are taking some of their feathered friends to the Growables fair on Sunday. Experienced poultry breeders offering all kinds of traditional and heritage breeds for sale, they report a huge increase in people keeping chooks, wanting to know where their eggs come from and wanting organic, free-range eggs and to teach their children where food comes from (see sidebar).

Likewise, beekeeping continues to increase in popularity in Nelson as gardeners and home growers respond to the lack of bees and their pollinating power because of the impact of varroa mite.

The grim outlook for bees was exacerbated after the recent findings of a long-term research project published in Nature science journal, laying the blame for widespread bee decline and the likelihood of colony failure on combined exposure to pesticides.

It's a disturbing finding with widespread implications and exonerates suspicions many people have had for a long time, but won't be solved in a hurry.

It probably requires a comprehensive and co-operative global rethink about pesticide use, if that's conceivable.

Meanwhile, keeping chooks and backyard bees is a great way to produce your own honey and eggs and pollinate your crops. It also offers the chance to teach your children where food comes from and the crucial importance of bees, even in an IT, post-modern world.

  • Take your kids and check out tips on chooks, bees, trees, food and gardening at Nelson Growables Garden Fair this Sunday, Founders Heritage Park, 10am to 5pm. Entry $5, kids go free.