The Fascinating Story Of Sharon Earl’s Gardening Journey

The Fascinating Story Of Sharon Earl’s Gardening Journey

When she’s not creating tiny realistic drawings with pencil, working with leather, or building life-sized intricate sculptures out of wood and steel, Sharon Earl is in her garden. 

Sharon’s ‘no-dig’ organic vegetable garden in Amberley is one of the gardens featured in the upcoming Hurunui Garden Festival, and includes a comprehensive composting system, espaliered fruit trees, and a large worm farm. Read on as she share’s her gardening journey story here…

Words and images: Sharon Earl

For 40 years I have been growing vegetables. That makes me sound ancient, but I was an early adopter. I am 48. So this story is appealing to all of the 8 year olds out there. A packet of seeds and a tiny two square metres of soil is how I began this enthralling journey.

The year was 1982 and my father saw to dedicate a little corner section of his own vegetable garden, to me(!), because I think he recognized in me a natural curiosity for nature and the world around me. He announced this was to be my very own garden and I could grow whatever I liked from the seed packets in his ice cream container collection.

I remember being shown how to dig, to rake and to smooth the soil and then how to tamp down the rows, once sown, with the head of the rake to leave a toothed stamped line. Dad insisted on straight rows highlighted by a string line. I grew carrots and beans and corn.

Young Sharon Earl feeding pet lamb

Fast forward 20 years and I was married with three children of my own. My gardening was now for real, it was for survival. Mostly I must add it was for my brain’s survival, some breathing space from “three under three”.

I recall my daughter at two being no help whatsoever. I started her too young. Seedlings died at her young podgy hands and her over zealous watering.

I remember the frustration. I recognized I was not as tolerant as my father was way back then. Bless him!

Fast forward another 20 years and I am very well versed in the routine of seasons. I still find in winter that my interest wains – so much so that for a few weeks each July I announce to myself “I’m done with vegetable growing”.

And then the sun returns, and the garden awakens, and I find I am restless to get going (growing) again. My enthusiasm and optimism is ignited and another season begins.

I’m someone who listens to advice, reads, researches and experiments. I now have a No-dig garden, having learnt that soil health is the key to success. I decided to not reinvent the wheel. Who was getting things right?


Sharon in the garden

I looked to see what leading gardeners were doing. We are so lucky that technology allows us to peek into gardens across the globe. It is incredible. I saw the work that Charles Dowding is doing in the UK and I have based my techniques mainly on his – narrow garden beds, compost added in autumn, and let the plants get on with it.

I make compost in bulk (I always have). I get a bit nerdy about it, I keep notes on temperatures, and I bore people, relaying such dreary info without their enquiry. I am endlessly enthralled by what is going on at the microscopic level.

I would buy a microscope but I know I’d get obsessed with that and I haven’t the time for another obsession. Maybe one day I’ll allow myself that treat.

I also have a worm farm. It’s big. Made from two large stainless steel tubs. I sell Tiger worms nationwide. I am Head Rancher at Amberley Worm Ranch. It’s so successful that I am having to limit my sales for a time because my numbers are bordering on the other side of static. I’m a victim of my own success. So I really need to find another tub.

Sharon Earl's no dig garden

I agreed last year, with my arm forced up behind my back, to become a host garden in the Hurunui Garden Festival (this year: October 27-30). I wasn’t ready, by a long shot. My real role was meant to be as an ‘Artist’ (my actual job) but because gardening is my central focus that needed to be as equally on display. I was frantic. My place was a wreck and only half set up.

My horse had been living in my back yard due to a brush with Laminitis sustained at her grazing block. Keeping her contained elsewhere was uneconomic so I purchased some posts and timber, installed them and two sets of massive gates with the help of my partner, and brought her home. I built a mini hayshed and for one whole year she and I became room mates. Now repaired she is back at grazing with room to run and another horse named Tom as her friend

I had put down crusher dust to line her fenced arena. Now I was left with a heavily compacted area that had a concrete like crust to it. And with hundreds of visitors just a few months away from arriving what was I going to do!? So I looked to Charles. Via his wonderful online videos I learnt that all would be ok.

I did need to dig initially. The crust was extreme. I broke through with a fork, bending the tines, it was necessary. I then grew green manure crops and did “chop and drop”. And then repeated that twice more.

Now one year on I have set out rectangular beds that are completely No dig. I apply my homemade compost, and worm castings, and let nature continue to repair itself. Between the beds I have placed arborist’s chippings. It’s a manageable way to keep a large area tidy and the wood chips have brought in the fungi my soil needed.

I make compost teas, bubbling them with aquarium bubblers. I apply water sparingly, and prefer to use captured rainwater. I even have magnets on my garden hose on the off-chance that theory works.

I give all ideas a go, why not? It makes the daily tasks enjoyable, thought provoking and gives my partner something to laugh about.

I have now got 29 fruiting trees here. There is no more room at the inn. Fourteen of those are espaliered. I’m so in love with this technique. They give me endless joy. Five are newly planted this spring, and some are now in their fifth year. They are my pride and joy. They fruit heavily, are easy to protect from baking sun, frost or hail. And they delight people, they are living works of art.

So that’s my wee story. I believe we should all be wise guardians of the soil we inhabit. We should do right by nature. And if possible we should grow more than we need, to share with others. I’m still finding I have a non-consistent flow of crops but I wish to help others with produce. That’s my aim.

I’m gifting constantly but I’d like it to have a market gardener’s type routine to it, so my help could have a more predictable output. That’s my goal.

I’d also prefer the recipients came to be part of the picking. Mostly so they have choice in their meal planning, and so we build a connection. Even for them to sit and watch and chat while do the harvesting would be lovely. I think there is something very healing and cathartic about growing food.

I have a plan to get children growing, for the elderly of the community. In my imagination they would work together young and old. I just need to find the time to coordinate the idea in my head into a real life thing.

Sharon is a full time sculptor, artist and gardener/food producer based in Amberley who decided at age 43 to just live her dream life. 5 years later she is seeing the vision of how that could look, becoming more and more of a reality.

“I tread lightly on the earth and believe by opening my garden up for group tours I can help to share conversations on growing healthy food from healthy living soil.”

Check out Sharon’s garden at the upcoming Hurunui Garden Festival!

Also check out:
Sharon Earl Instagram
Sculptor – Sharon Earl Facebook
Amberley Worm Ranch

More posts you may enjoy…

The SEDE Project

The SEDE Project

The SEDE (Supporting Elderly Diet Enrichment) Project.

Home gardeners sharing surplus home grown produce with elderly people in their community.

read more

The Best Way to Eat Leeks!

The Best Way to Eat Leeks!

The Best Way to Eat Leeks!

Leek and potato soup

The Ultimate Leek and Potato Soup

The best way to eat leeks? If you ask me, it’s Leek and Potato Soup! This fail-proof (I think!!) recipe is so simple yet absolutely delicious, you need to try this!

Many years ago on a New Years Day I was feeling rather dusty. My good friend Kristy made me the best leek and potato soup, it was life changing! Up until that point, I didn’t have any good memories of leeks.

As a kid, leeks were served in white sauce. I still remember the squeaky texture of the leeks, and wondering why they had to be in white sauce (surely some cheese wouldn’t have hurt!). So I decided I didn’t like leeks and to be honest the idea of eating them in white sauce again still haunts me (especially when I know it could be made into a fine soup instead!).

I have to admit I don’t have a specific recipe to down to the detail, as I’m an intuitive cook and rely on taste testing along the way but in all honesty I think it’s pretty hard to mess this one up so let’s get into it!


1 large onion, chopped (optional)

Plenty of FRESH garlic cloves*, coarsely chopped (essential)

1 large leek (or 2 smaller ones), chopped

4 large potatoes (skin on, washed), chopped

2 tablespoons of butter*

Decent tasting vegetable stock*

Sea or rock salt and cracked pepper


Ingredient notes:

  • All quantities are approximates.
  • If you can use fresh garlic rather than pre-crushed garlic, the flavour is rewarding!
  • It doesn’t matter too much about how the vegetables are chopped as the soup will get blended smooth, though it will cook considerably quicker if the potatoes are chopped smaller.
  • The butter is for sautéing but also for flavour and creamy consistency, so I tend to go for at least 2 tablespoons. If using vegetable oil or dairy free / vegan butter alternative, you will probably want to reduce that amount down to just enough sauté 
  • Vegetable stock I use powdered Massel or Rapunzel Organic stock. Both of which have amazing flavour! Highly recommend. Otherwise, use whatever one you like.
  • Freshly cracked pepper is much nicer than ground pepper, and I always prefer to use sea or rock salt than table salt!



  • In a large pot on medium heat, sauté onion (if using) in butter til translucent, adding garlic and leek towards the end. You only want to cook the garlic and leek briefly, a minute or less, while the onion should be cooked for at least 5-10 mins.
  • Add chopped potato and mix altogether.
  • Top with enough boiling water to cover all the vegetables.
  • Add salt and stock to taste (refer to packet for dilution rates or do what I do, taste test!).
  • Mix all together and bring to boil.
  • Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low, cover with lid and allow to simmer until potatoes are cooked through, stirring occasionally (this is usually around 20 mins or so, depending on how you cut your potatoes).
  • Once cooked, blitz with stick blender until smooth, add more salt if needed and a generous amount of cracked pepper.
  • If you want a thinner consistency, add more water. If you feel like it needs more butter, add more butter. Some people like to add cream too, I personally don’t think it needs it but you do you. Heck, you can even top with fried potato peels, bacon bits (I prefer these plant-based yummies from Off-Piste) and fresh herbs if you really wanted to…


There you go – simple, delicious Leek and Potato Soup… the BEST way to eat leeks. For extra indulgence, serve with the Southland classic- cheese rolls!!

Leek and potato soup
Leek and potato soup
Leek and potato soup

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Te Wiki o te Reo Māori / Māori Language Week 2023

Te Wiki o te Reo Māori / Māori Language Week 2023

Te Wiki o te Reo Māori / Māori Language Week 2023

Te Wiki o te Reo Māori 2023

11-17 Mahuru/Hepetema (September) 2023

Te Wiki o te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week) is held every September in honour of the presentation of the Māori Language Petition to parliament in 1972. Now in 2023, 51 years later, despite there being some negativity there is a growing trend to celebrate te reo Māori.

There are many ways we can celebrate te reo Māori, like using kupu (words) in every day conversation, and learning and practicing the correct pronunciation of Māori place names. For inspiration we have compiled some mahi māra (gardening) and kai (food) words and phrases in te reo Māori,  and shared some useful links and learning resources.

Learning another language (or any new skill) can be very challenging but is hugely rewarding! Be kind to yourself, go at your own pace – everyone has to start somewhere.

Kia Kaha te Reo Māori! Let’s make the Māori language strong!

Over 30,000 signatures collected for petition to revitalise Te Reo Māori

On 14 September 1972, Ngā Tamatoa and Te Reo Māori Society presented a petition with more than 30,000 signatures to the parliament to have te reo Māori taught in schools. It has been recognised yearly since 1975 as a week for New Zealanders to celebrate te reo Māori together.

Hana Te Hemara (1940 – 1999) was a prominent Māori leader and a founding member of Māori activist group Ngā Tamatoa. The website shares a wealth of knowledge about Hana Te Hemara’s life, the work of Ngā Tamatoa, and the 50th anniversary of their petition to parliament.


Mahi Māra (Gardening) and kai (food) words and phrases in Te Reo Māori

Mahi māra – Gardening

He rawe te mahi māra – Gardening is fun

Kamupūtu – Gumboots

Kei hea ō kamupūtu? – Where are your gumboots

Me whakatō ngā kākano ināianei – Plant the seeds now

Kua kohi au i ngā parahanga hei wairākau – I have collected all the waste to make compost

Kua makuru te kai, nā te angitu o te māra – We have an abundance of food because our garden was a success

Noke / Ngā noke – Worm / Worms

Mā ngā noke e pai ake ai te āhua o te oneone – Worms improve the condition of the soil

Ringaringa – Hands

He kai kei aku ringaringa – I can produce my food with my own hands

Kai – Food

He tino reka ngā kai – This food is delicious!

Hua whenua – Vegetables

He aha te kai o te pō – What’s for dinner?

Parakuihi – Breakfast

He aha te kai mō te parakuihi? – What’s for breakfast?

Parāoa – Bread

Pata – Butter

Homai te parāoa me te pata– Pass the bread and butter

Tiakina ngā toenga – Save the leftovers

Mīti – Meat

Kei te kī te mīti i te pūmua kia pakari ai ō uaua – Meat is full of protein to build your muscles

Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou ka ora ai te iwi– With your food basket and my food basket the people will thrive


Phrases taken from the book Māori at Home: An everyday guide to learning the Māori langauge

Pūrārangi Māori (The Māori Alphabet)

Pūrārangi Māori / The Māori Alphabet

Te Wānanga o Aotearoa have this super handy tool for learning how to pronounce pūrārangi Māori (the Māori alphabet).

Simply click on any button to hear how it is pronounced.

For example; to learn how to pronounce pūrārangi, listen to pū – rā – ra – ngi (make sure to pay attention to the macrons e.g. , pū / pu). Check it out here.




Huatau (Ideas) and Rauemi (Resources) for Further Learning have prepared some huatau (ideas) you can do to use and speak more te reo Māori.

“It could be as easy as greeting everyone you see with ‘kia ora’, starting your Zoom call with “mōrena”, or playing te reo Māori songs in your workplace all day.”

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How to make Rēwena Bread

How to make Rēwena Bread

Rēwana bread is a traditional Māori sourdough bread, Sixth House Photography shares how to make rēwena bread and rēwena starter/bug using potato or kūmara.

I used to make rēwana bread for my family all the time when I lived in Australia. I enjoy the process and I always find it satisfying to eat something I made myself from scratch. It was all going well until the day I accidently put the entire bug in the loaf of bread! Unfortunately, I didn’t realize what I had done until it was too late. That loaf tasted amazing, however since I had no bug after that I stopped making the rēwana bread. That is, until this year I got an email from my son’s school requesting help to make rēwana bread for the Matariki feast.

I believe it is important to help our community when we are able to and it feels aligned with our own values. My son is of Māori descent and I want him to learn about his Māori culture as he grows up. I think it’s great step forward for Aotearoa, New Zealand to be celebrating a Māori holiday, and I was excited to help out.

Rēwana bread is a traditional sourdough Māori bread known as rēwana parāoa. Parāoa is the Māori word for bread. This recipe for rēwana parāoa/bread is an adapted version of the recipe given to me by my son’s Te Reo teacher. I hope you are inspired to give it a go too!



Rēwana Starter Bug


Medium sized potato or kumara
1 cup plain flour
2 teaspoons white sugar


Roughly wash the potato, it’s all good if it still has some dirt and skin on. Cut up the potato and boil in water until it’s soft. Do not add salt!
Strain the potato water and set aside (I put mine in a mason jar).
Mash potato and let it cool down.
When the potato is warm add two heaped tablespoons of the mashed potato to a mixing bowl.
Add flour and sugar.
Add ¾ cup of potato water (save the rest for later).
Mix and cover with a light cloth or paper towel and keep in a warm place.

Feeding your Rēwana Bug

Day 1: Add ½ cup flour, 2 tsp sugar and ¾ cup warm water.
Day 2: Add 1 cup flour, 2 tsp sugar, ¾ cup potato water.
Day 3: Add ½ cup flour, 2 tsp sugar, ¾ cup warm water.
Day 4: 1 cup flour, 2 tsp sugar, ¾ cup potato water.
Day 5: Baking day! The bug should look bubbly now, if not repeat day 1 and bake on day 6.

Rēwana Parāoa Recipe (makes 2 loaves)


2 cups rēwana bug
2 cups warm water
4 cups flour + more flour for dusting
4 tbsp sugar


  1. Add flour and sugar to mixing bowl.
  2. Add 2 cups of the bug.
  3. Add 2 cups warm water.
  4. Mix until you get a dough consistency, adding more flour if you need to.
  5. Sprinkle flour on bench top and knead dough for at least ten minutes.
  6. Take a small out of dough out and add it back to the bug. Cover your bug back up and put it somewhere warm.


This recipe makes two small loaves. So split the remaining dough into two and make two loaves of bread. Grease two small or one large oven tray and set the loaves in the tray. Cover and place somewhere warm to rise until they are doubled in size. This process takes about two hours, but may take longer on a cooler day.


Preheat oven 180 degrees fan bake.

When the oven is hot the loaves have risen bake for 30 minutes.

Remove rēwana parāoa from the oven, wrap in a wet tea towel and let them rest.



Rēwana parāoa tastes amazing straight out of the oven, but it is also nice the next day toasted. Serve as a side dish with your dinner or have it for breakfast with jam and butter.


Other Notes…

After bake day, feed the bug 2 tbsp flour, 1 tsp sugar and 1 tbsp warm water every 2 days and continue to keep it warm. The hardest part is keeping the bug at the right temperature (not too cold not too hot). Placing it in a warm sunny spot is ideal but if it’s a cold day you could try on top of your oven or by the fire place.

Rēwana parāoa is similar to a sour dough and the bug should have a sour smell.

Thank you everybody, happy baking!

Sixth House Photography

Words & Images: Sixth House Photography

Sixth House Photography is a Christchurch based food and product content creator. Specialising in creating natural, healthy and plant-based content which informs and inspires others to live their best life.

We live to thrive, not just survive! If you have enjoyed reading this blog and you have any questions or you are interested in viewing more of my work I invite you to email me on or visit

How to Blanch Vegetables

How to Blanch Vegetables

How to Blanch Vegetables

What is blanching and why should we do it? We asked Jen Pomeroy from The Modern Mess to teach us…

Blanching is a technique where you drop vegetables into boiling water to partially cook them, set and retain the colour and texture, they are then plunged into iced water to stop the cooking process.

You can use blanching for preparing vegetables in advance for salads or quick stir fries, for preparing them for the freezer or in some instances to remove the skin. The blanching times vary depending on what you want to do with the vegetables. Cook them until just tender for salads and stir fries and leave them slightly under cooked if you are going to freeze them.

How to blanch vegetables

Step 1

Cut the vegetables in even size pieces.

Step 2

Bring a large pot of water to the boil and season generously with salt. About 2-3 T. The salt sets the colour in the vegetables and seasons them through.

Step 3

Ideally blanch the vegetables in batches so the water stays boiling.
Broccoli takes about 1 minutes, green beans around 2 minutes, leafy greens only take about 30 seconds. Halved brussel sprouts take about 2 minutes.

You want the vegetables just tender.

Step 4

The key once they are cooked is to plunge them into iced water to stop them cooking. Once the vegetables are cool, drain them well and repeat.

You’ll need to squeeze the liquid out of any leafy greens.

Blanched vegetables can be added to salads or stir fries, reheated in boiling water or packed into bags or containers and frozen.

Words & Images: Jen Pomeroy

Jen Pomeroy is a chef living in North Canterbury and she owns a recipe subscription called The Modern Mess. Jen writes three new seasonal recipes a week and publishes them to her website for members. There are over 850 recipes on the site to choose from, as well as tricks and tips for becoming a better home cook and how to get organised in the kitchen.

View Jen’s website here

The SEDE Project

The SEDE Project

The SEDE Project

Last summer, whenever I had vegetables from my garden that were surplus to my needs, I gave them to my parents. They have been keen gardeners for their entire lives but due to age-related issues are no longer able to look after a vegetable garden. The look of delight on my mother’s face every single time I handed over home grown produce struck a chord and got me thinking. What if the same was done by numerous home gardeners, benefitting many elderly people who can no longer grow their own? Not long afterwards there was an article in the Christchurch Press about an elderly man who was skipping lunch each day due to affordability issues. His situation really bothered me and I realised I should implement my idea about home gardeners giving their surplus fruit and vegetables to local pensioners.

So in March this year I posted on the Rangiora Community Facebook page, outlining my idea. With absolutely no expectations as to the response. It was in fact immediate, extensive and very supportive. Over the following weeks I was interviewed for Stuff, newspaper articles, Radio New Zealand and online publications. I set up a Facebook page before any articles were published so people could contact me and The SEDE Project was born (or should I say ‘planted’).

Given the simplicity of my idea, the extent of the response was very surprising, as it is not a new concept. It’s merely going back to the basics, doing what people in communities have done in the past. I believe it is becoming increasingly necessary to return to these basics, given the relentlessly escalating cost of living. The SEDE Project promotes this in a way that addresses a particular need for help amongst elderly people in our communities. According to Stats NZ, the number of people in New Zealand aged 65+ doubled between 1991 and 2020, to reach 790,000, and is projected to double again by 2056. New Zealand has an ageing population and the need for help within this demographic is going to steadily increase.

The SEDE Project has two options for home gardeners and recipient pensioners. The first option involves linking a home gardener one-to-one with a pensioner for ongoing donations of surplus produce. This arrangement works well. However there are often instances where other home gardeners wish to make one-off donations of produce, usually of an amount that is too much for one pensioner, and often only one type of fruit or vegetable. To resolve this, I implemented a second option, whereby a group of pensioners who live near to each other, usually within a block of retirement units, receive the one-off donations and share the produce out amongst themselves. This also works very well. The ongoing challenge for me is ensuring that supply and demand are as equal as possible.

Overall, the concept has numerous positive outcomes:


Health benefits for elderly people due to sufficient fruit and vegetables in their diet


No wastage of home grown produce.


Surplus home grown produce goes to a great cause.


No loss of pride for the elderly recipients in terms of receiving help, as it is framed as an effective way to use up surplus produce.


Cost of living savings for pensioners, particularly given the escalating price of fruit and vegetables in supermarkets.


No cost involved for the gardeners who donate their produce.


It is so simple – those who can grow produce pass their surplus on to those who are no longer able to.


Our elders feel seen, supported and respected and valuable links are fostered amongst people within the community.


It is an easy way for those who want to help others to do so.


The community helps the community.

So, how is it tracking so far?

At this stage, there are approximately 50 elderly recipients receiving free produce via this initiative, in Rangiora and Kaiapoi. Almost all live in blocks of independent retirement units; several live in their own homes. Fruit and vegetables are received by one-to-one arrangements or one-off donations, and often via both means for the retirement unit residents.

During the colder months supply from home gardeners is understandably greatly diminished. To address this, Satisfy Food Rescue is passing on produce to some recipients over the winter in order to maintain a regular supply to these pensioners. I am extremely grateful to them for this help. Next spring and summer I anticipate that supply from individual home gardeners will increase considerably, and that more home gardeners will come on board also. This will enable the Project to take on more recipients to balance supply and demand, and more elderly residents will then benefit.

To help with distribution, we now have a bicycle courier who can deliver donated produce to elderly recipients in Rangiora.

Our fabulous courier is a local retiree who loves cycling, was keen to be a part of the initiative and offered to do this.

As time goes on I want to implement other ideas that further the aims of the Project:

  • Keen volunteer gardeners maintaining the vegetable plots of elderly people who are unable to do so (and sharing the resulting produce with them);
  • vegetable seedling swaps amongst home gardeners;
  • asking garden centres to donate vegetable seedlings to SEDE Project gardeners;
  • showing beginner gardeners how to establish a vegetable garden (via Facebook posts following a knowledgeable home gardener go through the process);
  • home gardeners donating surplus seedlings to people who are keen to grow vegetables for local pensioners;
  • a workshop to teach people how to grow vegetables;
  • promoting grow-your-own produce as a means of reducing the cost of living for people of all ages.

If you would like to donate your home grown produce, or wish to become a recipient of this initiative, you can contact me via Facebook

Words & Images: Julie Lamplugh, The SEDE Project