Willow Update

It has been nearly a month since we started our willow pollarding and pega pega experiment and we thought it might be time to give you an update.

You might remember that our Christmas Willow was a single branch that we had brought indoors and kept in a bucket of damp sand.

About two weeks after Christmas we brought the bucket and branch outside and removed all of the foliage. We were hoping this would encourage the tree to put its energy into creating roots and new buds, rather than trying to heal the older foliage.

We left the branch outside right near our tap, so we would remember to water it regularly. And two weeks later…

Success! We think. There appear to be healthy new buds forming on the branches. We haven’t probed into the sand, but my guess is that if we did, we would find new root buds as well. We’ll leave this little guy in the bucket until it has some more significant foliage and then will transplant it out to form the first part of our living-firewood-shelterbelt-fence.

The mother willow is doing even better than the cutting. In just four weeks the place where we did our major cutting has gone from this…

To this…

That’s a lot of growth! Now we need to decide if we want to keep all of these new branches and have about one dozen small branches, or trim them, to encourage the tree to put its energy into just one or two. My gut tells me to trim the new branches back, and leave two, but I don’t want to stress the tree too much. Any suggestions?

Peas and Carrots: Bachl-ARRH-ette

How do you know if a pirate is coming to your wedding?
They send an AAARH-SVP.

What will a pirate eat at your wedding?

OK, I’m done, I’m done. Maybe.

One more. Where does a pirate go for her bachelorette party? A BAAARRRHH.
True that.
I should have been worried when I got a pirate-themed invitation earlier in the summer, but I really had no idea just how far my sisters would take it. Pretty far, it turns out.

Once we arrived at camp and had a wander around, we spent Thursday afternoon doing all sorts of wedding prep as our families arrived. After a yummy pizza dinner and birthday cake for my nephew and FIL, I was whisked away by my bridesmaids and bridesman for my bachelorette party.
It started off innocent enough at a secret bonfire where we played a panty game, to the utmost discomfort of Little Veggie Bro. I was presented with panties galore and this fantastic pirate outfit.

My birdesmaids convinced me that I should go ahead and put on the outfit. I wouldn’t be alone. They were going to dress like pirates too. Ummm…yeah, they had eye patches, swords, and cute little black dresses. I had a freaking pirate’s costume. Unfair? Perhaps. But you’re only a bachelorette once. I felt like Lindsey Lohan in that scene in Mean Girls, a gnarly pirate amongst cute pretty pirates.
After a not-so-brief limousine ride and copious amounts of beverages, we painted the town.
Safe to say that the Scranton locals were not accustomed to a band of merry pirates frolicking in their fair city. They didn’t take to us too kindly. We were actually turned away from the only bar in Scranton that we could find that might be classed as a nightclub because they wouldn’t let us in with our “weapons”. Um… we’re not real pirates dude. And these aren’t real swords.

Oh well, all the better for us, because we found a local dive somewhere between Scranton and Honesdale that had kareoke. Have I told you how much I love kareoke? A lot.
Apparently it runs in the family. This bar was everything you could ever hope a local bar would be. Fellas who look like they had been on the same bar stool for weeks. Ladies who could very likely beat Mr. Veggie in an arm wrestle. Honestly, I didn’t know that there were still bars where you could smoke inside. Not only did we get cheap drinks, and maybe a free round or two, but I even got a wealth of unsolicited marriage advice. I think some of the Veggie Sisters may have gotten marriage proposals. And on and on the night went…

…and so that’s how I ended up slightly tipsy in downtown Scranton trying to storm a castle with Veggie Sister Carrot (using a beer as a weapon?).
Those Veggie siblings sure do know how to have a good time.

Eating Us out of House and Home

There is an expression in permaculture that goes something like “You don’t have too many snails, you have too few chickens”.

Well, we don’t have a snail deficiency, we’ve got a baby duck surplus.

Our ducklings have just about doubled in size in the week that we’ve had them. Part of the goal of having ducks was to have a protein source that we did not have to buy food for, making small gains in self sufficiency. We thought we had tons of snails. In fact we were crunching them underfoot walking up our driveway after a late night out two weeks ago. But the recent cairina moschata population boost has put a bit of a strain on our small backyard eco-system. Our normal go-to spots for snails have been picked dry by the need to feed our ducklings’ insatiable appetite.

So, after some internet research we have begun improvising some snail traps. Most people use these traps to lure snails away from their garden beds. We are hoping they lure snails out of their summer hiding places, and into an easy collection point.

Here is an example of the bricks and damp cardboard method.

And here is the toilet paper tube cluster method.
From past experience we know that the beer method works well, but we’re a little afraid of the effects of intoxicating our wee babies just yet.

Ducks cannot subsist on snails alone, even when they are eating 20+ per day. So we are supplementing their diet with another resource we had in abundance, seedy grass. We were using grass to line the bottom of the duck’s inside home, an unused bath tub, and found that they really liked eating the grain from the tops of the grass. Thanks to a preoccupied scyther our yard was a veritable sea of waving amber grain, or as the duckies see it, a sea of food waiting to be harvested.

This is pretty perfect since every grain of grass seed is one more future weed waiting to invade our garden beds.

So far the ducks are proving their worth by ridding us of two potential problems, and converting them both to fertilizer. As William McDonnough says “Waste = Food”, or in this case, waste = … more useful waste.

Have you found any good waste = food solutions lately? Pass them on.

A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream

We like to watch old episodes of Grand Designs in bed. The program is highly entertaining, mildly educational, and somewhat addictive. Luckily our friend Tracy has all of the seasons on DVD and is happy to share them with us.

Over the course of watching the first two seasons I can recognize patterns that often form when couples tackle these types of building projects – particularly those that are renovations. Inevitably, the project goes over budget and over time, the couple gets stressed out, and the episode ends with host Kevin McCloud chatting with the couple by candle light in a drafty room because the house does not have electricity or windows yet.

Let me make it perfectly clear that we (now) have electricity and windows, and that our design is anything but grand. (When Kev wants to start ‘Humble Designs’ we’ll be first in line.) When we bought this property we inherited an existing consent for a renovation that included a large deck, verandah, and walk-in closets. We eliminated these but added solar hot water and insulation. That’s the way we roll.

Solar hot water and insulation are about as eco-thrifty as you can get. That is, you can save money and the planet simultaneously. Each one offers a return on investment greater than any term deposit in any bank. The point at which the savings from energy bills equals the purchase price is called the ‘payback period.’ After that, all of the additional savings are untaxed income: money in your pocket.

However, there is a caveat: you have to be able to afford them in the first place. If you can’t pay cash then you end up borrowing money, and the interest robs a part of your savings and extends the payback period. Although the US and NZ governments have schemes to help homeowners include energy efficiency measures, in most cases the result is more borrowing and more debt. (More on debt in a moment.)

In my opinion, the best approach governments could take would be providing zero-interest loans for insulation and solar hot water. These loans would act exactly like a cash purchase for the homeowner who could then repay the government through savings until the payback period is reached and then, as they say here, “Bob’s your uncle.”

While I have no idea why Kiwis use this phrase, I do have an uncle Bob. I do not, however, have a zero-interest loan. Therefore, I have dipped into my life savings to pay for insulation and solar hot water. This is an excellent investment because:

• Energy prices outpace the rate of inflation and there is every indication that this will only continue and even accelerate in the future. Any hedge against energy price rises is simply smart economically. The green benefits are a bonus.

• At the rate of quantitative easing (“printing money”) in the USA, my US dollars are becoming worth less and less everyday. Why leave them sitting in a bank losing value when they can be in my walls and on my roof adding value?

• New Zealand is not immune to debt either. This land of the long white cloud has significant debt issues on many levels that will come home to roost someday in the not-so-distant future. Whether that will look like Greece or Ireland I do not know. But something is bound to give.

• In a world that seems to be spinning out of control economically, environmentally and socially, it gives me peace of mind to have a tiny bit of control over a tiny property on a short street in a small city on a petite island in a big ocean.

We are not wealthy, but we have chosen to spend what money we do have on insulation and solar hot water for the reasons outlined above. We feel good about that decision, but it does not mean that we don’t stress out about going over budget and over time. After watching another uncompleted renovation on Grand Designs last night, I had terrible dreams that kept me tossing and turning in the summer heat.

I got up this morning, made myself a cup of coffee and started writing. I feel better now because I know we are doing this for all the right reasons. We are taking an abandoned house on a derelict section and turning into an urban homestead. We are sharing our story with anyone who wants to listen. And we are having fun doing it.

Peace, Estwing

First Harvest in the New House

Ok, well technically we didn’t actually grow this on our land. Nelson planted it the day he closed on the house in July, in a paddock that belongs to the famous Hatherly-Joneses of Papaiti. And actually, I suppose we’ve been munching a few random leaves out of our garden for a few weeks now. But this is our first major harvest in Wanganui, which I think is something to celebrate.
And I think it did pretty well, considering we left it to fend for itself, and had to do a bit of an easter egg hunt to find it amongst the tall grass.

Here’s to crops that grow themselves without any need for weeding or watering!

What should we toast with? Garlic bread dipped in pesto, perhaps?

-June Cleverer

R2 E2 (ie: 2nd edition)

Granted, the ducklings, stainless steel nails and Pink Batts are not reused materials, but we are striving to emphasize reuse in this project as discussed in a previous post: R2 (no D2). Corrugated iron is to New Zealand as asphalt shingles are to the USA. A major difference is that iron sheets can be reused in innumerable ways (see below) and then recycled in the end.

Who needs a panel beater?

Baaahd Art

Right on, Mr. 4! (funkypancake.com)

When I re-roofed my farmhouse in New Hampshire, I was in the vast minority of Americans who choose steel roofing over asphalt shingles.

Trollbacken, Summer 2007

But this post is not about new iron, it is about reusing old iron. For example, covering the unpainted/untreated wood from the renovation that we plan to burn this winter.

And creating temporary no maintenance edges to our potato patches while we put our efforts elsewhere.

And, although we won’t embrace this ourselves, reusing roofing iron as fencing has been embraced by neighbors all around us.

Eastern boundary

Northern boundary

Southern boundary

We are thinking of reusing roofing iron when we build our chicken/duck run and coop.

Hey Kiwis, any other suggestions?

Peace, Estwing