Carbon Neutral Lawn

I’ve been writing a lot about warm, low-energy, healthy homes lately, so I’ve decided to change things up for a mid-winter’s break and write about summery things like yard and garden. For us, the outdoor “renovation” of our weed-infested section has been as significant as the passive solar redesign of our old villa. We have used most of the same design thinking in both cases, and strive to create systems that both save money and a have low impacts on the environment.
Crediting my lovely and brilliant wife with coining the term ‘eco-thrifty’, I have no better way to describe what we have accomplished on our vast holdings of 700 metres squared: a carbon-neutral (well, actually we store carbon), regenerative (getting better, ie healthier, every season) and productive (ie, kai) landscape.
Boy, that was a lot of information after the colon. Let’s dissect it piece by piece.
Our lawn, 3rd March 2013, after 3 months of summer drought. 

 Castlecliff Reserve, 3rd March 2013, after 3 months of summer drought.
50 meters from our lawn, pictured above.  
Carbon-Neutral. Not that it is a big accomplishment, but we manage our 700 square metre section without the use of a mower. At the risk of offending some readers, I’ll put the next point as delicately as possible: In my opinion, petrol mowers are neither eco and nor thrifty. They cost money to buy. They cost money to run. They cost money to repair. They create noise pollution and air pollution. Just my opinion.
Regenerative. We take a holistic management view of our section wherein we retain about a third of it in grass, but avoid the use of a mower by using chooks and ducks to ‘work’ for us on a seasonal basis. During the colder months – roughly May through August – we ‘tractor’ our fowl across our lawn. You may have heard of a ‘chicken tractor’ before, but trust me, they work just as well for ducks.
If you haven’t heard of a chicken tractor, its just a mobile chook pen, and if I have communicated well with my editor there just may be a picture of one somewhere on this page. As an aside, one of my favorite all-time discoveries is Google Image Search. Type in ‘chicken tractor’ and see what you get!
Rosemary, Amelia and Eunice. 
As the chooks and ducks graze the grass, they stimulate root growth, which makes most grasses healthier. Additionally, their poos fertilize the grass and make it healthier still. These healthier grasses out-compete the opportunistic weeds that once thrived in our poor, dry, sandy soils. The more we have tractored the birds, the healthier the grasses have become, which then are even healthier for the birds to eat. This type of a positive ‘upward spiral’ is often called regenerative.
Productive. To go ‘old school’ on you for a moment, almost every square inch of our property contributes to the growing of food. How, you may ask, can that be when I’ve already stated that a third of it is in grass. Well, sure, the chooks and ducks eat some grass, but all of them prefer layer pellets. As you would.
More significantly, we grow our own mulch on our property. As mentioned above, tractoring the birds across the lawn for five cold months a year improves the health of the grasses. But we do not want to be stepping in duck poo all summer long. For the seven warmer months, we let the grass grow for three to four weeks at a time and then cut it with a scythe. The cut grass is dried and then used to mulch our vege gardens. It’s all part of ‘the circle of life.’ Hakuna matata, bro.
Want to learn more? Check out these upcoming workshops:
The Carbon-Neutral Lawn: 13th July, 3-4 pm, or 14thJuly, 3-4 pm.
How to REALLY Compost: 13th July, 4-5 pm, or 14thJuly, 4-5 pm

Winds and Wind Protection

First the bad news: We had gusts of 126 km/hr last week.

Now the good news: Our roof is still on.

And finally, a question: If homes are built to sustain maximum wind gusts, why aren’t many gardens?

Living about 300 meters from the Tasman Sea, we believe they must be. In these parts, the winds are strong enough to blow the Blacks off the All Blacks.

So we have put a lot of time, effort and money into erecting wind breaks.

We have also braced the windward fences to account for the additional wind load caused by the netting. 

Our neighbours did not.

Their fence came down and pulled part of ours with it.

See here, their fence posts snapped at ground level.

And that force snapped one of our rails.

Biologically, here is evidence of wind damage to the ‘wild’ bush lupine growing unprotected in front of our home.

Another legume, tagasaste, also suffered some minor wind burn.

To compare like with like, the next photo is of a native hebe without wind protection.

This hebe is protected from the wind.

Overall, our fruit trees and annual gardens suffered negligible damage. After a storm like last week, I’m glad for our extensive efforts at wind protection.

Peace, Estwing

She’s Crafty: Driftwood Frame Playgym

This is one of the first projects we made for EcoThrifty Baby. We wanted a play gym for her, but were (and still are) trying to avoid plastic as much as possible. Ironic, since tupperware is her ultimate favorite toy at the moment.

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ETB chillaxin on her sheep skin under her handcrafted playgym – lifestyles of the rich and famous.

I made the hanging pieces for this playgym from scrapbook paper glued onto cardboard. I tried to pick natural themes and shapes, but also wanted her to have high contrast and bright colors for her little developing eyes.

playgymThe pieces of ETB’s play gym were scrap book paper glued onto thin cardboard.

ETH scoured the beach near our house for a few days before he found the perfect pieces of driftwood to form the base and hanging frame. He then drilled a hole into the base just slightly smaller than the diameter of the piece that he wanted to use for the frame, and sanded it down to make a perfect fit. The base is heavy enough that ETB can’t pull it over if she tugs on the shapes.

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Driftwood frame with no glue, no nails.

When ETB was a tiny infant we hung the shapes over her carseat and bassinet. When she transitioned into her bouncy chair, they were her favorite entertainment. Now that she is a crawler, this still sits in the corner of her play area. Every once in a while she still bats around the shapes, but I think her days of really enjoying the play gym might be over (sniff, sniff).

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ETB as a tiny bub with her play gym pieces hanging above her.

Screen shot 2013-06-22 at 9.45.16 PMETB is a big girl now and her play gym still sits in the corner of her play space.

DIY Double-Glazing

Let me begin with the following statement: Taking pictures of windows is extraordinarily difficult.
Now that that’s established, I’ll follow up with this statement: DIY double-glazing can take many forms.

Regular readers of this column will be well aware of plastic window film DIY double-glazing. Local man, Jason Quinn, was recently selected as a finalist in the Innovation awards for his product, Space Window Insulation.
We have used his product in our home to a certain extent, but lately I have been experimenting with DIY glass double-glazing as a more permanent way to reduce heat loss through windows. I believe this would be considered “retrofit” double-glazing, because we are doing it to our existing windows – both aluminium and timber.
Before I describe the different ways I’ve done this, a reminder: insulation in ‘trapped air.’ In other words, the second sheet of glass or plastic does not add any significant insulating value, it is the air trapped in between. The aforementioned Jason – literally a former rocket scientist – tells me that the optimal air space (gap) to the second sheet – be it plastic or glass – is about 22 mm. Typically, timber windows have a 25 mm gap between the glass and the interior frame, but aluminium windows offer only a 5 mm – 7 mm gap.
So far I have retrofitted five windows in four different ways. The first one was an aluminium window with Space Window Insulation. The good news is that it was cheap and easy, but the bad news is that there is only a 6 mm air space. Then again, 6 mm of trapped air is better than none.
The next window I retrofitted was in our bathroom. The building code required us to have safety glass, but instead of removing the original glass and replacing it with safety glass, I commenced my first attempt at glass DIY double-glazing. Here is where the difficulty in taking pictures of glass comes in. Follow along the numbered photographs as best you can.
1) As with any DIY project, it pays to organize all your tools and materials in advance.
2) I glued vertical timber battens – primed and painted on all sides – to the aluminium frame. These take up the space of the trough at the bottom of the frame, and provide a 22 mm gap between the two panes.
3) I set the glass with a bead of silicone on both vertical battens.
4) I screwed two horizontal battens – top and bottom – into the timber frame to hold the glass against the vertical battens.
This design worked well, so I repeated it on an identical window in our kitchen, but I was forced to change plans when facing our large lounge window because there was no aluminium trough. I could have used timber battens again to create an air space greater than 6 mm, but the process of measuring, cutting, priming, and painting (two coats) is long and drawn-out. Instead, I used a roll of 12 mm adhesive foam to make an 18 mm gap (6 mm + 12 mm) all around the window. Then I simply used timber battens top and bottom to hold the glass in place.
Finally, in our bedroom – where we have timber windows – I used yet another design. Here it was a combination of adhesive foam and right-angle timber battens. It would take a thousand words to explain it, so I’ll refer you again to a photo: 5) side-by-side single-glazing and double-glazing.
Want to learn more? DIY Double-Glazing Workshops: 25thJune, 5-6:30 pm. 29th June, 9-10:30 am. 30th June, 4:30-6 pm. Registration essential: 022 635 0868 –

Baby Wearing for Beginners

I kind of always knew I’d be into baby wearing. I’m a pretty snuggly gal. But when Eco-Thrifty Baby was born I really had no clue what kinds of slings and wraps were out there, no less how to use them. Luckily we were gifted about 6 or 7 hand-me-down baby wearing devices to try out. Here’s a summary of the ones we tried and kept or ditched.

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ETB fully endorses napping on mom.

Fixed length slingFAIL

We were gifted several of these. The most highly recommended was my brother in law’s  self-named “duderus”, a stretchy cotton fixed-length sling which he lovingly passed on to my husband. Passing the torch in an act of brotherly love. Unfortunately the duderus didn’t do it for either of us. It felt too loose, too floppy, and like she might get lost in there. Its possible that it was the wrong size.

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 We try out a fixed length sling. Strawberries were good, sling not so much. But it was pretty.

We also tried a non-stretchy fixed-length sling. I think this one was definitely the wrong size. I think I used it twice, but always kind of felt like I had to keep one hand under it or she might fall out. It also kind of hurt my shoulder/neck on one side. Even my little peanut of a babe felt like too much weight just to have hanging off of one shoulder. I wanted to love this, I did. But it just wasn’t for me.

Adjustable sling – Eco-Thrifty Mama: FAIL   Eco-Thrifty Papa: WIN

Eco-thrifty Papa loved a sling that we called “The PeaPod”. It was an adjustable sling that clipped at the top and has drawstrings on both sides so you could cinch them closed. It was easy to get her in and out, even when asleep and he found it really comfortable. I, however, just could never quite shake the feeling that if I took my hand away, she wouldn’t just fall down. So, I ended up walking around with one hand always under the sling. Not very effective.

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ETB asleep in “The Peapod”, taking a break from harvesting that cauliflower no doubt.

The Improvised Sling- Obviously a Massive life WIN.

Sometimes we just didn’t have our act together in those early days. And since our baby does her best (read: only) sleeping on me, having some kind of baby-wearing device was totally necessary. When she was little a muslin blanket  with the corners tied over my shoulder worked really well.

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Shooting hoops at a work event. ETB slept through the whole thing.

Stretchy Wrap – Eco-Thrifty Mama: WIN     Eco-Thrifty Papa: FAIL

We had “The Ultimate Baby Wrap” and I seriously adored it. So comfortable. So secure. ETB loved being in there and I could do anything in it. See ETB’s first game of tag, below. Really, ETP also loved wearing the stretchy wrap, he just couldn’t be bothered wrapping it. So, as long as I wrapped him up in it, it was a win for him too. And to be honest, it was kind of a pain to wrap, but after a few days I was super speedy and could even take her in and out without re-wrapping.

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ETB’s first game of tag. 9 weeks old.

The only problem with our stretchy wrap was that it was really stretchy. So by the time she got to about 3-4 months it seemed like she was too heavy for it, because it would stretch so much. But, it was good timing, because by then she had fairly good neck control so we upgraded to the Ergo. I think I would really love a non-stretchy wrap for ETB now that she is bigger, but haven’t been able to find one in New Zealand. It is definitely on my wishlist for our upcoming trip to America.

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Our first time ever baby wearing. ETB about 1 week old. Sooooo little. 

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We do the dishes. Doesn’t happen often, definitely worth taking a picture of.


Our Ergo was handed down to us by my sister and brother-in-law, so I already had lots of practice carrying around the ETNeices in it during my many summers of nannying them. We love the Ergo. We started using it fairly early, although I preferred the stretchy wrap until she outgrew it. We used it as a front pack until about 7 or 8 months, and now use it both front and back. Getting in on with her on my back was a superhuman one-person job at first, but is getting easier as she gets better at standing. I don’t know where we’d be without our ergo, it is where ETB does most of her napping and hence is where I do most of my working.

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ETB tucked into the ergo at about 3 months.

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Right: Baby belay. ETB is my anchor in the ergo.

Frame pack – Eco-Thrifty Papa: WIN  Eco-Thrifty Mama: 3/4 WIN

We really love our frame pack, and ETB seems to too. We started using it at about 6 months, and had to rig the straps up to make them small enough so she wouldn’t fall out the sides. We like it because it is cooler on our backs, seems to take the weight off our shoulders, and ETB gets to look around more. I still tend to use the Ergo more than the frame pack, but ETP definitely prefers the pack.

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Left: We need to invent some kind of holster for the frame pack so ETB can nap in there without me wearing it. Screen shot 2013-06-19 at 9.36.31 PM Right: ETB learning on the job. Laziest apprentice ever.

I hope that was a little helpful to anyone thinking about buying a carrier. I’d love to hear any recommendations from other baby wearers, especially anyone who uses a wrap for their older baby or toddler.

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Here is ETB at the farmer’s market with her Aunt Molly selling the world’s best garlic.

Upcoming Workshops

ECO School Workshops June/July 2013

DIY Double-Glazing Workshops:
25th June, 5-6:30 pm.
29th June, 9-10:30 am.
30th June, 4:30-6 pm.
Choose one that suits you.
This workshop provides examples and advice on DIY retrofit double-glazing including plastic and glass options for both timber and aluminium windows.
Registration essential: 344 5013    022 635 0868 –    
Waged $15, Unwaged, $10. 
The Carbon-Neutral Lawn
13th July, 3-4 pm
14th July, 3-4 pm
Choose one that suits you.
Save money and help the environment by managing your lawn as an organic system that produces food and does not pollute. This workshop introduces three techniques we use to improve the health of our land and grow abundant food with little effort while using no petrol or noisy, smelly, expensive lawn mowers.
Registration essential: 344 5013    022 635 0868 –    
Waged $10, Unwaged, $5. 
How to REALLY Compost
13th July, 4-5 pm
14th July, 4-5 pm
Choose one that suits you.
Most organic growers worldwide will tell you that growing great fruit and vege requires great compost. From my experience, the best compost is that which I make myself. It also happens to be the cheapest. This workshop provides the best advice on making your own high quality compost, trouble-shooting a compost heap, and the bust uses of compost to enhance fruit and vege production.
Registration essential: 344 5013    022 635 0868 –    
Waged $10, Unwaged, $5. 

Styley Maternity Clothes That won’t Break the Bank

So when I say I’m eco-thrifty, I mostly mean I’m cheap. Bonus- being cheap can often have the upside of being eco-friendly (buying second-hand = no new junk coming onto the planet). But just because I’m “eco-thrifty” doesn’t mean a girl don’t wanna look fine.

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23 Weeks. I thought my belly was big. Ha! Wrap skirt from thrift store, tank top from pre-preg.

So, I was kind of hell-bent on not buying maternity clothes. I just didn’t see the point in spending tons of money on sweat-shop made garments that I would wear for just a few months. So, I didn’t. I was gifted a bunch of maternity clothes from my sister and some friends, but to be honest the clothes I wore most weren’t maternity. I just felt more comfortable in clothes that were things I would normally wear, things that I could find at second-hand stores. Things that were more me.

So here are my tips for dressing styley (if I do say so myself) while your body goes through the most dramatic changes possible in a span of 40 weeks.


25 weeks. Stretchy mini-dress over leggings = happiness. Mini-dress from thrift store. Pink sash and mardi gras beads courtesy of my 5 year-old neice. Sick dance moves courtesy of me.

1. Stretchy is your friend.
When else in your life will people tell you how great your belly looks And I swear, the bigger you get, the more the compliments will roll in. So, flaunt it girlfriend. Strethcy will not only show off that bump, but will also give you lots of room for lungs and bladder to expand when baby shifts positions.Image

27 weeks. Ignore my ridiculous face here, and focus on the cute stretch mini dress. Dress from Valley Girl pre-preg. I wore this over leggings all the time (you’d think I’d have a better pic) into my third trimester, and still wear it now. 

2. If you buy something, make it something useful for after baby.

I think I bought a total of 3 actual maternity items. One of them was this cross-front shirt. It was super cosy during pregnancy and is now one of my favorite nursing shirts. The material is super stretchy so it wasn’t awkward or baggy after baby was born, and fit me nicely as my belly went from big firm to  big squishy to (hopefully kind of sort of) medium firm again.Image

30 weeks. Top from Pumpkin Patch, jeggings see below. Me and belly protesting fracking, deep sea drilling, and asset sales. 

3. Jeggings. (Seriously)

This may be the only time in your life where it is ok to wear jeggings. Why? because they are stretchy (anyone sense a theme here?), and you are a beautiful gaia mama. Honestly a friend gave me a pair pre pregnancy and I swore I’d never wear them, but damn if I didn’t live in those things. Even once the waist stopped fitting I did the hair-tie trick, then the bella band, and then just left those suckers open. I’m wearing them in the picture above and below. I don’t wear them anymore… somehow they don’t look as cute without the giant belly.


26 weeks. Rocking the jeggings while I belay my 4 year-old neice. Girl can climb.

4. Buy this skirt (from a second hand shop that sells H&M stuff… or ebay?).

OK, if you can’t find this one, buy any stretchy mini skirt. But really, the texture and super-stretchyness of this one, made it my ultimate favorite. I actually can’t believe I don’t have a picture of me in it, because I seriously lived in this my third trimester, when I had to dress up a bit for work. I would wear it over leggings and pair it with a nice top. Image

5. Emphasize that belly.

Gone are the days of big blousy maternity wear that tented over you and baby, making you into some sort of family-sized camping accessory. Your belly is your best accessory. I know you might not believe me, but you look gorgeous. People are envious of your glow. You don’t look big, you look perfect. Rock that goddess body!


40 weeks. Sari skirt tied over belly with t-shirt tucked in.

Other than the jeggings I still wear all of these clothes now, which is more than I can say for most maternity purchases people make. So be bold, go stretchy and embrace that belly!