Gerald and Caity, the Endterprising Gardeners
Gerald has lived horticulture all his life, particularly working with tree crops growing up at Landsendt in Oratia. Through his family, he’s had a life-long association with Great Barrier Island. He came here as a boy to spend summers fishing and hunting with his cousins, the Mabeys, on their farm at Whanagapoua. Then his parents established the Okiwi Babaco company with Helen and Murray Mabey, purchasing a large piece of farmland in Okiwi, which was subdivided after the partnership dissolved. Gerald, who had by then studied horticulture at Lincoln and overseas, including internships at Longwood Gardens and Lotus Land, then managed the Endt operation on the Barrier, growing tamarillos and cherimoya for 5 years. Here he grew to value food autonomy – the ability to forage and hunt for one’s own food, prepare it and eat it. After returning to Oratia at the age of 30 to manage Landsendt where he had grown up, he missed the freedom and beauty of the island, and was determined to eventually return to live. Two years later he met Caity, who had a dream to grow organic vegetables…
Caity has always been a keen gardener and nature lover, spending endless hours in the garden with her father as a child, and eventually studying botany and ecology. She was especially inspired later in life working at the gardens of Weleda in Hawkes Bay, and for Daniel Bridler at Parau Gardens. She spent many years teaching in various capacities: in Rudolf Steiner education, where she also taught gardening with the children; as an ESOL tutor; and as a literacy and numeracy tutor with SPELD. She is passionate about learning and education, and re-connecting people with the Earth and real food. After moving to Great Barrier with Gerald, she taught horticulture extramurally for NorthTec on the island, alongside growing the farm, with over 60 members of the community participating in Level 2 and Level 4 courses. She now has a part-time role with Auckland Council as Compost Facilitator on the island, all about encouraging, educating and empowering people to compost their food and green waste.
Volunteers are a huge part of Okiwi Passion. Various angels in the community have also contributed many hours and have a knack of turning up just when we need them most. Over the years we have hosted well over 250 wwoofers from around the world. It’s a great exchange – in return for their hard work, we provide not only full board with really good, real food, but also training in organic gardening practices and a wide range of experiences on and off the farm.
Learn more about volunteering opportunities and internships on our Get involved page.
What do we grow? Well, almost everything! We grow traditional, open pollinated, heirloom varieties as well as hybrids (usually for their increased disease resistance and production),
always from untreated seed, and organic where possible. For each type of vegetable, we usually grow several varieties and always try to grow at least one we haven’t grown before.
The variety of colours, textures, sizes and flavours makes life much more interesting for us and for our customers! Last year we grew six varieties of capsicum, eight varieties of aubergine, and about fourteen varieties of tomato of all different colours! We really enjoy introducing customers to vegetables they may never have tried before, such as acorn squash (which initially we had to give away in order to get people to try!)
We have an almost year-round supply of bananas, mostly Misi Luki and Gold Finger, and some other kind of fruit is in season all year-round. To see what’s in season now, check our crop calendar. To order fruit trees or roses, check our catalogues. To learn more about our seedlings, visit the Nursery page.
Our hens are Brown Shaver and Hyline pullets. They have been bred for egg laying and are marvellous foragers, friendly and funny. We keep them in 3 groups of around 20 hens, to avoid stress (they like to know each other). They are housed in handmade houses of recycled pallets and split bamboo. They are currently fed on standard feed pellets rather than organic, for reasons of cost and availability, but free range around the farm at all times with plenty of access to greens, bugs and worms. They also get all the kitchen scraps ( a huge 15 litre bucket a day); they make lovely clucks of excitement when they get juicy rotten tomatoes or a melon shell! The soil is light enough that they can scratch and have dust baths to help with mite control.
The hens are moved around the gardens throughout the year: in winter out in the open gardens and the temperate orchard where there’s plenty of sunshine and fewer crops in the beds, in summer under the feijoas and bananas where there’s shade from the intense summer heat. We used to worry that they would reduce the earthworm population, but we’ve found that once the hens have been moved, the soil where they have been is covered in castings.
Moving the hens is quite a performance. In the evening, when they’re perching in their roosting house, Gerald uses our Kubota tractor to gently and slowly lift the house, hens and all, and move them to their new area. All their water bins and Grandpa’s Feeder bins need to be moved too and fences put up in advance.
Because these hens lay so consistently, they don’t live as long as traditional but less productive breeds. When the hens are no longer laying regularly we give them away to local families and the local school to live out their days, and we bring over a new flock of point of lay hens. Gerald takes our ute to town, all prepared with extra shelving, water and food, and collects up to 40-odd POL hens on our biennial chook run. When they arrive here 24 hours after being collected, they have to be trained to perch and introduced to greens and the real world. They have been raised in barns and never seen rain or sun, let alone a bug, but it’s amazing how quickly they adapt to how a chicken’s life should be!
In the future we would like to trial some dual purpose heirloom breeds of hens and keep roosters as well, so we can breed our own and eat true free range chicken.
The Ooooby Connection
We have an excellent climate for outdoor eggplants and capsicums, which start fruiting quite early here and over a very long harvest period. After the great rush of visitors over summer, we end up with surplus which we have been sending to Auckland through various distributors over the years, but it hasn’t always been satisfactory – low prices and little loyalty (after supplying one organic distributor with excellent produce two summers in a row, the following summer when we made contact to arrange delivery we were informed they now had another supplier). Maybe we were a bit naïve.
Then a friend of ours, Bill Brownell, who is also a grower (Tikapa Moana Orchard), introduced us to Ooooby! What a difference! These guys have been awesome to deal with, always trying to make it win-win, loyal, communicative, a pleasure to be working with, and with a great ethic. We have supplied Ooooby with eggplant and capsicum for four summers in a row, and this has been a valuable addition to our income stream. (To make it viable to send produce to Auckland we can really only supply higher value items due to the added cost of freight.)
Growing on a remote Island has its challenges, and getting our produce to town in time for Ooooby’s packing day can be a little nerve-wracking. We usually put the produce on a plane that goes to Auckland airport, where it’s picked up by courier and taken over to the Ooooby warehouse. We always have a wary eye on the weather — when there’s low cloud or high wind, the planes don’t go; Also, passenger luggage takes priority, so there may not be room for our consignment, and we can’t send the produce too soon or it will spoil. And then we have to hope the courier picks the goods up on time. Yet in all that time, we have only ever had one consignment that didn’t make it!
Aotea/Great Barrier Island
Aotea/Great Barrier Island is the fourth largest island of New Zealand, proudly defending the Hauraki Gulf against the powerful Pacific Ocean and the blasting salt-laden gales that roar over from the Pacific. It is wild and rugged, with steep bush-clad terrain of spectacular topography, mostly under DOC management. The beaches are stunning, with crystal clear water, and pristine estuaries. Numerous small islands make the coastline extremely beautiful. There are only 950 residents and no traffic lights. It is a small community of self-reliant individuals, who pull together in moments of need but also value their independence and isolation. The population swells over the summer to several thousand – camping, boating, baching, renting, sharing a slice of paradise and bringing much-needed revenue to the island.
While Aotea is home to various species of endangered birds such as pateke, kaka and kakariki, it has a large and active population of rats (kiore and ship rats) as well as a very high density of rabbits, making growing crops of any kind a challenge. It is also a harsh environment, with severe drought and disastrous flooding having each taken place within the past five years.
Everything comes to Great Barrier by plane or by boat, and freight charges mean items such as potting mix, organic fertilisers, and chook food become very expensive. With a small population of 950, producing such items here is uneconomic.
- Are these New Zealand’s toughest gardeners? (2015): Article about the gardens on the annual Spectacular by Nature Garden tour on Great Barrier Island, of which Okiwi Passion is a part.
- From anonymity to local (2015): Article about local food and a visit to GBI and Okiwi passion.
- Great Barrier Island: Breaking the stress barrier (2011): The writer visits us during her weekend escape to The Barrier.
- Give back on a bach break (2014): Article about the community garden and composting on Great Barrier Island.
- Rodent tales (GBI Environmental Trust’s magazine, 2012): Gerald wrote this article about the impact of rats at Okiwi Passion and our control methods.
- The great outdoors (NZ Gardener, 2009): This article takes a snapshot of the early days of Okiwi Passion and other gardens on the island.
- Okiwi Passion (2014): A lovely travel blog post written by a couple of wonderful wwoofers who stayed with us over the Christmas period.