Off the Top of My Head
By Paul Murray
As a schoolgirl, Elise Burkevics was “way too cool for farming” despite attending Urrbrae Agricultural High School in Adelaide, South Australia, which specialises in training young people with agricultural aspirations.
More interested in art and design during her school years, it wasn’t until Burkevics graduated and entered the wide world that she discovered a passion for getting her hands dirty and the completion of a permaculture design course with Fair Harvest in Margaret River, Western Australia, really galvanized her passion for growing food and sparked her interest in the environment and sustainable living.
Burkevics moved to New Zealand in 2014 to pursue another passion–snowboarding– and applied to do a permaculture internship in the autumn of 2015 at the LivinginPeace Project in Karamea at the top of the West Coast of the South Island to put her theoretical understanding of permaculture into practice and gain valuable hands-on experience while waiting for the snowfields to open.
The LivingInPeace Project began in 2004 and is located in Karamea at the top of the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It combines the elements of Art, Travel, Permaculture and Education into a sustainable business.
LivingInPeace Project founder Paul Murray offered Burkevics a chance to test her mettle and gave her an opportunity to shine. She enthusiastically accepted the challenge of transforming a neglected patch of garden that had become and jungle into a functional, artistically designed and fertile vegetable patch that would feed the Murray Family with fresh organic produce year-round.
After a discussion to establish the project objectives, Burkevics was given complete management authority to create the garden and she set to work with pick, shovel, fork and spade.
The garden had been continuously cropped for about 10 years, but left fallow for a year while the property owners were absent and had gone wild with weeds and overgrowth. This presented a significant challenge and one Burkevics accepted with glee.
She first sat down and drew up a plan in line with her permaculture design training and decided to first remove the weeds and discover what existing plants, if any, could be incorporated into the garden design. The focus was on food production, so ornamental plants, flowers and non-edible vegetation was removed to make way for vegetables, herbs and fruit. So out came the hydrangeas and other ornamental plants, which were relocated to a garden at Rongo Backpackers & Gallery, one of the accommodation facilities at the LivingInPeace Project to enhance the landscaping around the hostel.
The garden was once fertile and productive with a diverse range of edible plants. Burkevics embarked on an archeological dig to unearth the lost garden and determine if any of the plants could be rescued from the jungle and incorporated into the new design.
On Day 5, Murray decided Burkevics deserved some assistance and Wwoofer Kyla McLachlan offered to help. Together, they removed all the wild vegetation, tamed the jungle and started work on rebuilding the garden.
On Day 6, there was an opportunity to take a break from the project and do some other work on the LivingInPeace Project Permaculture Farm, so Burkevics and McLachlan joined the other members of the Wwoofing crew to make some compost and trim the sheep’s feet…and drink some beer.
After a break, work on there garden resumed with gusto and Burkevics and McLachlan worked well together…progress was rapid. The garden design began to take shape, the pathways formed and the vegetable beds created. They lay cardboard along the pathways as a means of preventing the return of weeds and to provide a base for the river sand that was carted in to line the paths.
Burkevics applied her love of design to the project and came up with a garden layout that was not only functional and practical, but also aesthetically attractive.
Once the sand was laid on the pathways, the garden beds were clearly defined and the white sand formed an attractive contrast with the rich, dark alluvial Karamea soil.
Driftwood and granite river rocks were collected to edge the gardens and further enhance their aesthetic appeal and then the planting began. Silverbeet, brassica, lettuce and other seedlings were planted into the well-composted garden beds to provide a banquet of winter vegetables for the Murray Family to enjoy.
The weeds, grass, sticks and other organic material was piled up and covered to slowly break down and provide compost for the garden beds for the following season.
Ten days later, the garden was complete. The mess of overgrown vegetation gone and in its place, tidy, aesthetically pleasing and productive garden beds with the promise of an abundance of winter vegetables.
To celebrate the completion of the project, Burkevics and McLachlan joined the rest of the LivingInPeace Wwoofing Crew for an “Anachronism” dress-up dinner party and climbed Mt Stormy the following day. Thank you Ladies, Great Job!