As one of New Zealand’s top authorities on organic gardening, Claire Mummery is a fountain of knowledge who has inspired thousands of Kiwis to get growing.
The Aucklander, who has a regular column in The New Zealand Herald’s Be Well section, has been cultivating organic food for more than 30 years, working across everything from small home gardens to large vineyards, orchards and estates.
Passionate about composting, she specialises in the eco-friendly Bokashi system, which uses all scraps, including those from meat and dairy, to increase soil health, reduce the risk of pests and deliver bountiful crops.
With a degree in permaculture, and a certification in the use of effective microorganism technology – an organic approach that can be transformative to soil – Claire has long been a sought-after consultant on commercial projects. She has also spent considerable time in Myanmar, on a charitable project educating students, businesses and councils on utilising food waste and growing organic food – something she describes as “the most incredible experience of my life”.
Claire’s current focus is helping regular Kiwis to not only get growing in their own backyards, but to do it in a highly sustainable way. Five years ago she founded the popular Grow Inspired website, which was followed last year by the Grow Inspired Academy – an online membership site to teach the home gardener how to grow organic food and compost waste.
Passionate and straight talking, Claire is a fantastic public speaker whose natural ability to inspire always makes a lasting impression. Claire can speak about organics, sustainability, Bokashi and composting, zero waste and growing nutrient-dense food, and her time in Myanmar.
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Here’s your chance to learn more about this speaker, philanthropist and sustainability champion
What is your background?
I have a Diploma in Permaculture and have worked on a number of projects that demonstrate the potential of sustainability, such as Waiheke’s Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) project. I developed and managed an acre of land where I trialled nutrient-dense fertilisers and soil restoration. Putting my feasibility study into practice, I was able to grow more than four tonnes of food over two years, supplying and distributing weekly food boxes to 25 homes across the island.
I have also trained at Kyusei Nature Farm in applications of EM in animal husbandry, waterway restoration, septic systems and nature farming, soil restoration and pest control.
What role can gardening play in minimising food waste?
A huge one. I help private and commercial clients establish circular economies of food waste (CEFW) and work collaboratively on projects around the globe with the aim of finding regenerative solutions to growing food by using food waste, which has an array of exciting applications.
Can anything be done to make soil better?
Absolutely. When I was Head Gardener at Poderi Crisci vineyard on Waiheke Island, I implemented Bokashi composting and demonstrated its significant impact in changing the soil structure from sandy manganese to nutrient-rich, water-retaining soil. After developing fertile soils, I had the pleasure of growing Italian vegetables and flowers to supply the restaurant, establishing gardens suitable for weddings and hosting public workshops.
I was able to again use this method at Cable Bay Vineyards to supply food for their two busy restaurants. I also implemented a zero waste policy to process food scraps from the restaurants and grape marque from the vineyards into compost, along with cardboard and paper in the worm farms.
What can you tell us about your experience in Myanmar?
For those of you that aren’t familiar, Myanmar doesn’t have soil to grow food – all they have is sand. Some of the projects I participated in there were finding ways to develop soil beds from nothing and with minimal cost, so that these passionate and self-sufficient people can grow food to sustain themselves from what is around them.
Myanmar was such a humbling experience for me – to be in a country where most people live from hand to mouth, and there are no proper streets or systems for processing rubbish of any kind. It made me reflect on what vast opportunities we have in our own countries already, and how we can better utilise them, working together to make a better place. The kindness and smiles of the people of Myanmar have touched my heart and soul in such a special way that it has become my second home. What inspired me most though was their innovation – their ability to look at a problem and see the solution.
Can you garden even if you live in an apartment or have a really small back yard?
Absolutely – you can grow a fruit tree in a pot that can easily sit on a balcony.
Choose a pot that is going to be big enough for your plant for up to 3 years. Your pot needs to be at least 35-60cm wide and be able to hold 40-80 litres of soil. Most fruit trees have very similar soil requirements to one another, with the exception of blueberries, which prefer an acidic-based soil to thrive. Place a good layer of stones or gap 7/14 in the base of your pot, creating a mound in the middle. This will ensure good drainage, which is imperative as fruit trees really detest wet feet. Next, put a layer of compost and water, followed by a carbon layer of rotted leaves, and shredded, moist newspaper. On top of this, add your compost, rotted manure, bokashi, vermicast, and water it well. Then, add a good layer of container mix and plant your tree, making sure it is planted below the top of the pot as this will allow space for a good thick mulch to be placed on top. Essential for moisture retention to give your tree the best start! Plant your tree and be sure to push the soil in around the root base to prevent big air pockets, which will allow the water to run through. Once planted, put some sheep pellets or manure on top and cover with a thick layer of mulch.