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! (

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

Peas and Carrots: Location, Location, Locatio

When I first started planning our wedding I was torn between a camp wedding and farm wedding. We nixed the farm idea when we couldn’t find a farm that would actually grow our food on-site without costing us an arm and a leg. After some turmoil and a lot of research, we ended up at Indian Head Camp. Are you ready for some knock down gorgeousness?

All photos family photos unless otherwise noted.

And here comes a huge bridal blogging fail. I like to think it is a testament to how much fun everyone was having, but I hardly got any pictures of the venue from anyone during the whole weekend. Lots of pictures of the wedding. Lots of pictures of us having fun. But hardly any of the camp itself. I didn’t even get a picture of the cute sign they made that said “Dani and Nelson’s Wedding” that was waiting for us when we arrived. Sigh.

Well hopefully this hodge-podge will give you an idea of what we saw when we arrived on Thursday afternoon.

The sun was shining, birds were chirping, and an army of staff were waiting to make our weekend incredible. There were cabins waiting to be filled with our guests.

And that one, just there on the lake shore, that one was for me and Mr. Veggie. They had turned it into a cute little honeymoon suite, with a double bed and linen and a minibar with snacks. Of course I didn’t get a picture. Grr.

There was a lake ready to be skied on, canoed on, and swum in.

A field ready for softball.

photo: Indian Head Camp

And another one ready to become our ceremony site.

photo: Indian Head Camp

There were ropes ready to be climbed.

photo: Indian Head Camp

And a dining hall and canteen to decorate.

photos: Indian Head Camp

There was even a wee little tipi and fire pit awaiting some late night shenanigans.

photo: Indian Head Camp

This was the first time Mr. Veggie had ever seen the venue, and only my second time. Before our families arrived we took some time to walk around and get a feel for the place. It was then that we saw people there from the other group. Ummm what?!? Other group?

Yeah, turns out that because we were having very small numbers on Thursday night the camp decided that another group could be booked for that night through lunch the next day. Without letting us know. At first I was annoyed, really annoyed.

But then I just thought, “Whatever. We do have a really small group here tonight, only our immediate families. They wont care that there are other people here. And there’s nothing I can really do about this”. So, I just let it be. And I chose to be happy and indulge myself in the beauty of the place and the fantasticly good vibes that the staff were sending our way.

Were there any unexpected hic-ups when you arrived at your venue?