Monday 20 May 2019

Seed Processing and Cleaning Equipment

Large amounts of seed need to be collected each year to grow native plants for Mt Chocolate.

With 220 different species to grow and plant, getting the right seed and germinating it can be quite a process.

Seed Processing Steps

  • Collection from the right plant during the right month
  • Drying the collected material
  • Separate the seed from husks, stalks and leafs
  • Washing and or cleaning the seed
  • Fermenting fruit mash for 3 days to kill bacteria and fungi at 20-24 C
  • Separate by washing and or cleaning
  • Drying again to a low moisture content
  • Storage in a container at the correct temperature and humidity

Seed Treatment Steps (possible)

  • Soak in water
  • Freeze
  • Heat up
  • Scarify hard seed coats eg Kowhai

Seed Sowing

  • Sow in seed trays and grow pots under cover.
  • Watch for seedlings last week of September.


So after doing this for a few years, I wondered if there was a way to make and use simple DIY equipment to help with seed processing. It turns out there is a way. Large commercial nurseries and crop farmers may process their own seed using specialist equipment which costs a bit.

Searching on Google, there are loads of small scale things you can make in a home workshop that will do the same job. I'm going to have a go. Below are links and videos to some of the stuff I found.

  • Realseeds (has plans for these air separating seed cleaners).
  • Kimseed (specialises in great equipment for labs and revegetation projects in Oz).

Monday 15 April 2019

Drone over Mt Chocolate

Mt Chocolate was filmed using a drone at 2pm, 23 March 2018.

The drone was flown by a friend of a neighbour. Thank you, mystery pilot, whoever you are.

Monday 8 April 2019

Cake Week Begins

Edinburgh has Fringe festival, Wellington has Wearable Arts and Mt Chocolate has Cake Week.

Each year from April 4, celebrate all birthdays by eating loads of cake.

Family. friends and neighbours, invite yourself for a bit. Cakes have been known to go visiting. You can even bring more cake to add to the week's fun.

Last year so much cake arrived that Cake Week turned into Cake Month.

Cake Week 2019 Begins

Cake Week 2019

And more cake arrived

We went to 2 cake enhanced events during the week which remain unrecorded but were massive.

And more cake kept arriving at home on Sunday.

 And then some more cake on Sunday

Then there was more cake with cream but it got eaten and the camera got forgotten. Thanks, Lesley and Martin.

The Steve & Rachel friends look blurry but the cake wasn't on Sunday evening.

Cake Week 2019 Results

  • We started with 2 cakes
  • Family and friends arrived with 5 cakes
  • All eaten

Saturday 6 April 2019

What Drives Forest Regeneration

A native plant restoration workshop attended by 70 people was held on Friday at the Invercargill Working Men's Club in the morning. A trip out to Otatara Community Nursery followed in the afternoon.

There is a report here.

I went to the workshop and learned a great deal about some very interesting trials and experiments underway around NZ to find faster and cheaper ways to get native ecosystems established. It was the best workshop/bus trip/field day I've been to since moving to Southland in 2014. It had a lot of meat in it. Hopefully, there will be more like this in future.

Her talk asked the right questions and is based on a monitoring programme of 20m x 10m plots around NZ measuring;
  • Basal Area.
  • Canopy Openness.
  • Soil Temperature Fluctuation.
  • Herbaceous Weeds.
  • Humidity Fluctuation.
  • Tree Regeneration Density.
  • Epiphyte Density.

There are a number of these plots around Invercargill. Here are 3 of Dr Wallace's slides from the talk.

Tracy and I are currently establishing a monitoring programme at Mt Chocolate to watch and study what happens over time as the bush regenerates and evolves into a Miro Swamp Forest. And we are also doing a lot of experiments with different propagation, planting, and maintenance methods to see what works best.

There are 3 broad zones at Mt Chocolate.
  • The north end is sunny and dry with thin clayish soil.
  • The middle is shady, cold, wet and sheltered from the wind with deep peat soil. It floods a lot in winter.
  • The south end is exposed, damp and windy with organic soil.

Adding a plot in each zone similar to the People Cities Nature programme could add a lot of insight into understanding natural processes present. A friend Matt is going to help with setting up the plots in winter. We will have to make up some gadgets as well to help make the measurements. Aunty Google will no doubt come up with plans for gadgets.

The afternoon field trip to Otatara visited a plot at Bushy Point and the Community Nursery. It was a really useful day.

Thursday 4 April 2019

Avon and Friends

Avon Peters

Photo by John Griffiths
Avon is the official Mt Chocolate Site Manager.

Much loved by local kids, she patrols the boundaries, for anyone she can smooch.

Some days, the neighbouring horses and her take turns racing each other along the boundary fence after a good bit of nose touching.

She also races her friends coming up the road on the other side of the fence, especially the local postie who dotes on Avon.

Avon plans to be mum to all chickens, ducklings and small puppies who wander past on an evening stroll.

Tuesday 2 April 2019

Phil Waddington on How to Set a Doc 200 Trap

Phil Waddington is the inventor of the DoC 200 trap which is widely used to catch pest animal predators of NZ native birds.

There is a great article about him on the Predator NZ website from 2018.

Predator Fee NZ has some recordings of Phil setting the traps safely on their YouTube Channel.

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Omeo Test

Tracy testing the Omeo Wheelchair at Mt Chocolate on 18 March 2019. It handled the tracks easily. Thanks, Shannon Arnold for the bringing an Omeo for Tracy to try.

Monday 11 February 2019

Seaward Bush Scenic Reserve

Yesterday, Tracy, Avon and I went for a leisurely walk through Seaward Bush Scenic Reserve near Invercargill. This reserve is a small remnant of the Miro swamp forest that stretched from Clifton to Woodlands till 1905.

It was a stunning day so Tracy took lots of photos of plants and uploaded them to iNaturalist for identification.

Wednesday 26 December 2018

Recording observations using a phone app

Photos taken of plants and animals found at Mt Chocolate are being used to discover what is living there now.

We are using a very easy tool called iNaturalist to help do this. It is a free app that can be downloaded onto a mobile phone and then be used to take photos. Some simple notes are added in the field at the time. The app then uses automated machine learning to guess what the plant or animal is. Other people using iNaturalist can also help work out what the correct name is.

So far 55 different observations have been made and most have been correctly identified. These include lots of the different weeds growing at Mt Chocolate and the growing number of native plants that have been planted.

The observations can be seen at

Onion Orchid
5 finger

Friday 21 December 2018

Mt Chocolate 101

Mt Chocolate is the name given to a 10,000 square meter paddock (1 Ha, or 2.5 acre).

Located on the edge of town in semi-rural Clifton, a suburb in Invercargill, NZ. On one side are houses and on the other rolling farmland.

Mt Chocolate was formerly pasture that had been over grazed in recent years by horses and cattle. It was originally Miro swamp forest that was burned by a major fire in 1905.

The land was purchased on August 1 2014 to build a family home and art studio for the owners Mike & Tracy Peters.

In September 2014, the entire paddock was sprayed with Glysophate to kill all grass and weeds and to expose a mountain of buried rubbiish.

A loaned digger (back-hoe) from a neighbour was used to break up the compacted soil and all buried rubbish was carefully removed. This took 2 years.

Planting of NZ native species began in June 2015 in areas where the damaged soil structure had been repaired.

A native plant nursery has been established on site to grow 200 different plant species using Seaward Bush as the ecosystem template to copy. Seaward Bush is a nearby forest remnant from the original fire and has similar geography, climate, and soil.

The nursery grows an average of 1000 plants a year from seed which are then usually planted in July and August during the winter.

Experimental planting trials are being used to find the most efficient way to establish tall Miro swamp forest. The main experiment is with using the native Poroporo as a nursery species to eliminate competition from introduced grasses. The trials are also to work out timing, the best combinations of species, the most effective use of chemical control, and any feedback loops, etc.

There have also been experiments with plant propagation methods including seed processing, watering, use of pine needles as acidifier mulches, etc.

Visitors are welcome by prior arrangement.

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Mt Chocolate Nursery

Mt Chocolate has a native plant nursery to propagate and grow 220 different species to plant at Mt Chocolate over time. The nursery does not sell plants to the public. Though we are happy to swap surplus eco-sourced seed with other propagators.

This year's production target is 2000 plants ready to plant next year.

Currently being grown is;

Monday 7 August 2017

Building the road

Part of creating Mt Chocolate has been constructing a private access way in from Severn St to the future house and art studio. This road is 100m long, is built on clay and includes a turning circle.

A lot of time was spent in the last 24 months, scraping off the top soil for use elsewhere. This soil is a kind of peat and is not suitable under roads but great under trees. The clay however is quite hard and packs down well.

During the rainy months, especially winter, the clay gets very wet and goes puggy making use of heavy machinery difficult. All I had to use was a 1.5 Tonne digger (Back Hoe).

I went and talked to road construction workers in the area and watched while they worked to get an idea on how to do the job. I also asked 2 civil engineers for advice.

The common suggestion was to use "Base Course" from Edendale. This is basically big round river boulders and stones. It packs down very hard, but requires a bulldozer to shift and compact. It has to be delivered by very large twin axle trucks which would chew up the wet and now softened clay.

The solution I came up with was to use AP65 Dunite, an Olivine rock from a Greenhills quarry near Bluff. A 200mm layer of AP65 would need to be laid on top of Bidim Geotextile roading fabric which would lie on the clay. Another 50mm layer of AP40 Dunite would be laid on top of the AP65. Finally a layer of "Top Course" which is fine Dunite.

The small digger bucket could handle the quarried Dunite because of it's jagged shape.

All of these layers needed to be carefully laid using a small truck that carries 3 cubic meters, or 5.4 metric Tonnes. The truck driver had to back in and tip the aggregate without driving on the fabric. The small digger was placed on sheets of plywood on top of the Geotextile on top of the wet clay. The digger bucket was then used to pull the aggregate back over the roading fabric.

Everything was compacted as it was laid, first using the digger, then our 2 ton Toyota Prado, and finally the fully loaded delivery truck. The road will be compacted even more when the clay dries out in Summer.

The road is 4.5 meters wide and is 80% completed.

The whole job has gone really well. Not bad for a total beginner.

A big thank you to Chris the truck driver who delivered the aggregate, and Dave for the loan of the digger.

Wednesday 26 July 2017

An Exhibition Thank You

I would like to thank all the family, friends and neighbours who visited the recent Mt Chocolate exhibition to have a look, showed a lot of curiosity and got Mike thinking even more. 150 visited the exhibition during the week which was a good turnout given the location. In addition 20 attended (child and a parent together) a creative workshop by Mike for dyslexic minds.

Thanks are also given to;
  • Ari Edgecombe, Jan Ormsby, Frazer Murdoch, Steve Solomon and Elaine Matheson from the South Alive Arts Group for help with arranging and setting up the exhibition.
  • Nikki Aaron and Cress Evans from the office, Peggy Peek and Margaret Cook and the other South Alive Trustees for making the gallery available. Peggy for her wonderful welcome to guests at the opening.
  • Chris Cole of Dyslexia Support Southland for organising the creative workshop for dyslexic children with their parents.
  • Chris Dawson from Lego Users Group South (SouthLUG) for the loan of a big bucket of 20Kg of Lego bricks.
  • Chris and Brian Rance from Southland Community Nursery for the loan of 30 native plants.
  • David Fallow for heavy lifting, Steve Woller for a whole lot of heavy lifting and for being a wise sounding board about graphic design.
  • Ross Nicoll from Southland Woodworkers Guild (SWG) for the loan of a scroll saw used to make the 1:25 scale model buildings.
  • And finally Tracy Peters of Bodkin fame for keeping Mike to task, Chocolate catering, guiding visitors, driving, invitations and everything else that happens behind the scenes.