Sowing the seeds

With Whenua Kura students once again enlisted to gather seed from remnant kānuka stands at Te Whenua Hou, the future regeneration of natural farm habitats has a bright future.

According to Ngāi Tahu Farming Project Manager Ben Giesen, the students play an important part in the restoration chain and with 16,000 young kānuka seedlings already germinated and growing on from last year’s seed collection, he is confident this year’s seed haul will ensure many thousands more.

“We have 16,000 kānuka and mānuka plants to go in around the farms in May and we currently have another 45,000 growing at the nursery. We aim to grow the top 15 plants on the Lincoln-recommended plants list here at our nursery and we’re well on the way to that – we already grow some of the top five including kānuka, lemonwood, karamu, kōwhai and flax. We’ve made significant cost savings by creating our own nursery,” he says.


As Giesen and his team have gone about refining the planting processes, they’ve made significant cost savings through trial and error; and the development of their own on-site nursery has been integral to that, as is establishing their own seed sources.

Once the Whenua Kura students have finished gathering this season’s seed, it will be dried for a month before being sieved to remove debris. Seeds are then sent to Zealandia for germination before being returned to the Ngāi Tahu Farming on-site nursery for growing on.

Manager of the Whenua Kura Programme Renata Hakiwai says seed gathering activities provide the students with an opportunity to learn more about the environmental and conservation aspects of farming. It’s about encouraging their commitment to the environment and to kaitiakitanga (guardianship), he says.

“It’s about building connection to the whenua through Papatūānuku and Tāne Mahuta,” he says.

“We want to teach out tauira why biodiversity is important and what the benefits of planting natives provide, not only to the environment with regards to nitrate leaching, but in regard to ‘giving back to Papatūānuku.’ It’s about kaitiakitanga and taking care of the whenua (land).”


Whenua Kura senior tutor, Dr Chris Littlejohn, who supervised the students on the day, say the exercise was valuable in giving the new Level 3 dairy students an appreciation of the need to make dairy production sustainable.

“Intensive dairy production can greatly decrease biodiversity and monocultural systems are extremely vulnerable to disturbances of disease, pests, and weather,” he says.
“Some of these issues can, however, be minimized by increasing biodiversity.”

Lincoln University post-graduate ecology student Rebecca Dollery has been closely involved with the Ngāi Tahu Farming/Lincoln University biodiversity plan since it was drawn up in 2013, and she is constantly experimenting to find new, efficient, cost-effective ways to regenerate kānuka habitats at Te Whenua Hou.


This has included gathering seed from established kānuka remnants and now, trialling ‘natural’ seed dispersal in certain areas.

“Up until now, we have outsourced the germination of our gathered seed but when seed is naturally dispersed it grows so much better, as it naturally adapts to conditions from the outset,” she says.


To that end, Rebecca has established three trials: one area devoted to hydro-seeding; one with seeds sown in a covering of forest litter; and a third with seed planted directly into ripped earth.

“Kānuka grows very readily – basically if the seed touches the ground it grows but I’m keen to find the most cost-efficient and effective method; and certainly sowing directly into the ground would provide us with huge cost savings and reductions in maintenance,” Rebecca says.