I recently spent three weeks at my farm on Norfolk Island, writing and regenerating before resuming my hectic seminar schedule around the globe. When visiting beautiful Norfolk, I always take the opportunity to visit my friend Pete Barney, a talented Nutrition Farming® practitioner. Norfolk Island is in the midst of a recession that is bordering on a depression. Half of the businesses have closed and many of those remaining are for sale. Many homes are also for sale and there has been an exodus of locals seeking work in Australia. The island is technically bankrupt and there is anxiety and uncertainty about a future where Australia looks set to reclaim sovereignty. There may be a loss of self-government and many changes are in the wind for 1700 proudly independent residents confronting a brave new world with income tax, land tax and Big Brother.
In the midst of this doom and gloom, Pete and his wife Sharni are flourishing. They are inspirational evidence of the power of intent, determination and intelligent strategy. There are those that will do well in the worst of times and it can be a productive exercise to analyse the dynamics of their success.
Pete is the grower for Hilli, the most successful restaurant on the Island. All of the fresh produce for this popular eatery is produced on a beautiful property overlooking the ocean. There are no chemicals used and the vegetables and fruit are delivered with the forgotten flavours that are integral to Nutrition Farming® principles. The farm has become the venue for a successful foray into food tourism, where visitors to the island attend a chef class with a real difference.
Prior to the cooking class, they are walked around the farm and become actively involved in selecting the fresh produce for the recipe of the day. They are asked to taste the fruit and vegetables, and the trainees are invariably astounded at the intensity of flavour. Pete then explains the fact that flavour is all about nutrition. The better something tastes, the better it is for your health. He then expands upon the "taste equals nutrition" concept to explain that taste also equates to resilience. The flavoursome produce is not decimated by pests (in the absence of protective chemicals) because the components of flavour are the exact same things that fuel plant immunity.
This is a multi-level, penny-dropping experience for many of the foodies. They have been conditioned by the television chef phenomenon to believe that superb dishes are all about the skills of the Master Chef and there is little emphasis upon the Master Grower who produced the raw ingredients. When they understand that the building block for a superb dish is the flavour of the fresh ingredients, and that food is medicine and flavour is a measure of the therapeutic potential of food, their culinary enlightenment is complete. The "Mastering Taste" school has become an essential experience for visitors to Norfolk Island.
Pete's Nutrition Farming® Strategies
Pete employs a variety of strategies on the restaurant farm. The soil on the ridge where the property is situated lacks humus, and this can seriously impact water holding capacity during the increasingly extended dry periods on the Island. Pete is intent upon building humus as a principle game-plan. There is a constant rotation of legumes, cereals, brassicas and chenopods to maximise the humus-building potential of these soils. Fascinating new US research reveals that this kind of cocktail cropping can be very productive. It has been found that phenolic compounds, which stimulate humus building, are exuded more prolifically when crop diversity is practiced.
Biodiversity is a guiding principle if we are to learn from nature. Each crop feeds different groups of microorganisms. If you were to constantly plant brassicas on the same patch, the exudates released from their roots create a sterilising effect in the soil. This is particularly relevant to all-important mycorrhizal fungi, which really struggle in soils repeatedly planted in brassicas. Legumes leave nitrogen for subsequent crops, while cereals pump sugars down to the roots more prolifically. The correct rotation of these crops maximises their yield potential while also improving soil fertility.
In Pete's operation, the crop residues are not returned to the soil, but instead are fed to the chicken composting station, where they are humified and enriched with phosphate. All of the scraps from the restaurant (including paper napkins) are also fed into compost bays located within the chicken run. The chickens turn the compost constantly while adding their high P manure to the mix. The compost bays are emptied every 6 months and, at that point, Pete blends in Norfolk Gold™ and zeolite to to create a fertilising compost, which is turned twice before use. Each cycle delivers 4 tonnes of exceptional, nutrient-dense compost. This eight tonnes of compost is the principle ground fertiliser (along with some lime) for the one acre that supplies food for 250 restaurant tables per week.
Norfolk Gold™ is a natural fertiliser that NTS has designed for Norfolk Island growers after completing extensive soil testing on the Island. The testing revealed the absence of five key minerals, which provide the basis of this carbon-rich, precision fertiliser. Norfolk Island has beautiful, volcanic soils, so when the missing links are provided, the nutrition delivers superb flavours.
The ongoing foliar nutrition involves alternating Triple Ten™ and Trio™ on a weekly basis throughout the season. Triple Ten™ involves an unparalleled array of chelated minerals and cutting-edge biologicals. Calcium and magnesium are the only minerals missing, as they are incompatible with the liquid phosphate component. Trio™ (always applied separately) delivers the missing calcium and magnesium, along with some extra boron – a mineral that is deficient in 90% of leaf tests. This combination of Triple Ten™ and Trio™ is used with great success, in multiple crops.
Pete is also a big fan of Nutri-Life 4/20™. This popular inoculum can be brewed to be either fungal dominated (primarily Trichoderma spp), or bacterial dominated. Pete favours the Trichoderma version, as he feels that he is getting a strong bacterial workforce introduced via his chicken manure-based compost. Trichoderma build humus while promoting plant growth, production and resilience.
Pete's Nursery Project
When I last visited the Island 12 months ago, Pete and Sharni had just completed a greenhouse to propagate cuttings and produce seedlings. At the time, they informed me that they were considering a nursery venture on their 7 acre block. This time, I returned to a full-fledged nursery featuring some of the healthiest plants I have seen for a long while. This couple are high achievers on every front. Sharni manages The Tin Sheds, the only 5-star accommodation on Norfolk. This seemed like a risky venture in the face of such a downturn, but it has been a tremendous success story. It seems that some of the well-heeled are seeking the peace and unspoiled beauty of this little paradise. Pete and Sharni have just returned from South Africa where The Tin Sheds received a prestigious award for the best 5 star service in the Oceania region, which includes Australia and NZ. It was a David and Goliath feat in the face of considerable competition and is a testimony to Sharni’s drive and marketing insight.
Back to the nursery – Pete believes that his DIY potting mix is the key to his healthy plants and their subsequent transplant resilience. His proven formula involves a coco peat base, to which he adds Norfolk Gold™, superfine line, humates and zeolite. He has shown that this mix can retain nutrients for up to 12 months, in comparison to common, comparably-priced potting mixes that require constant supplemental feeding due to nutrient leaching. He states, "I can see no sense in watching profits washing out of the bottom of plastic pots."
Nutri-Life Platform® (mycorrhizal fungi) is added to the potting mix to ensure that every plant that leaves his nursery is already colonised with this highly desirable organism. Pete also includes Nutri-Life Tricho-Shield™ with the mix, as Trichoderma thrives in this peat medium. He is excited by the tremendous root growth linked to Trichoderma inoculation and he feels that these organisms are a big key to his problem-free nursery plants. The superior nutrient retention is also linked to these beneficial fungi, as they can trap and retain nutrition.
Vegetable Seedlings – Heirloom vs Hybrids
Pete has made the decision to import seed and supply only heirloom vegetable seedlings, rather than hybrised plants. The wisdom of his decision is obvious when you check the health and vitality of his seedlings. There is a growing interest in home vegetable gardening on the Island and Pete describes clients who were convinced that they had “brown thumbs” due to their lack of gardening success. When they use his heirloom seedlings, they often succeed for the first time and are so excited by their newfound "green thumbs". I compared hybrid seedlings from a local Norfolk nursery with Pete's heirloom seedlings and Pete’s seedlings’ stem strength and root mass were at least double.
I always advise home gardeners to seek heirloom originals because there is a fatal flaw associated with hybridisation. When breeders decide they require something different to Nature (usually linked to seeking variety rights), this is not necessarily in the best interests of consumers. There are only a pre-defined number of genes in the gene pool of any plant and they are all ascribed tasks or multiple tasks. When we decide to hybridise, we are, in effect, rearranging the existing genes, and often there is a price to pay for this meddling. The most common loss is the capacity for nutrient uptake. The hybrids may not have the nutrient density of the original varieties and consequently they have lost some of their medicinal potential. If your home garden is to be your ultimate wellness tool, then choose the heirloom seedlings that have not been compromised.
Pete shared a great tip for vegetable growers. When planting tomato, eggplant, chilli or capsicum seedlings, it is far more productive to bury the stem down into the soil (often to a depth of several centimeters). New roots will sprout from the submerged stem section and you will have a much more vigorous root system as a result.
One of the major skills required in the nursery industry involves propagation of cuttings. Some cuttings are easy to root and you can simply put them in a jar of water or poke them into a box full of damp sand to get rooting underway. However, some plants are more difficult to get established from cuttings. I have always struggled with hibiscus, for example, so I asked Pete to share his recipe for fail-safe establishment of all cuttings. Here is how he does it:
Pete's Propagation Recipe
• In a 20-litre plastic bucket, add 8 litres of coco peat and 8 kg of zeolite to create a gritty mixture (this texture is essential).
• Add 200 grams of Nutri-Life Tricho-Shield™ powder to the other dry ingredients and mix them thoroughly.
• Sprinkle in 100 mL of Life Force® Total Cover™ (complete liquid fertiliser) as you are mixing together the dry ingredients.
• In a separate container, mix one heaped tablespoon of Tri-Kelp™ (soluble seaweed powder) with 5 litres of water, and then pour this solution into the 20-litre bucket to moisten the blended dry mix.
• Now your propagation mix is complete. You can transfer it to trays or containers, to root all cuttings very effectively.
Pete suggests that Nutri-Life Tricho-Shield™ is an amazing additive when rooting cuttings in a vase of water. The dense root sprouts are something to behold. It is always a good idea to have a untreated control, so you can see the dramatic difference between treated and untreated cuttings.
If you are interested in accessing any of the inputs described in this article, please contact NTS on +61 7 5472 9900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on our product range, please visit the NTS website at www.nutri-tech.com.au.