Unique Permaculture Internship

We are looking for a highly motivated individual or couple interested in learning-by-doing on a holistically managed permaculture property. Ongoing projects include using fowl to manage pasture…

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organic veggies…

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protecting vulnerable slopes…

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solar cooking…

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eco building…

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also hot composting, fruit tree care, managing pigs and goats, drought-proofing and water management.

This is a minimum 6 week commitment starting in January. Location is just outside Whanganui.

Contact theecoschool at  gmail dot com

Peace, Estwing

Solstice Permaculture Update

OK, the Solstice was last week, but we’ve been busy keeping up with all the growth on the farm. We see some nice apples forming on young trees.

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Pumpkins growing out of one of the many compost heaps.

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Digging spuds with a hungry duck finding worms along the way.

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About to take the trainers off the young plum trees.

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The new cow and calf have been great company for our crazy yearling heifer.

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Here she is ‘kissing’ her ‘niece’.

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Speaking of harmony, this mixed hatch of chicks and ducklings are going well.

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Tomatoes looking good.

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Amazing garlic harvest last weekend.

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The size and flavour are amazing.

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Of course I could not do it without my helper.

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But there is always time for a fence ride. Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 6.52.05 am

After just 16 months we are well on our way to a premier permaculture demonstration property.

    Peace, Estwing

A Letter to My Children


Editor’s Note:This is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle. Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 8.22.36 pm

Dear Verti and Manu,

Unlike Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, I do not have 45 billions dollars to give away, but your mum and I agree with Mark and Priscilla that “we want you to grow up in a world better than ours today.”

“We will do our part to make this happen, not only because we love you, but also because we have a moral responsibility to all children in the next generation.”

I’d like to give the two of you my perspective on what the Zuckerbergs have set as their two priorities to improve the prospects for your generation: advancing human potential and promoting equality.

Advancing human potential probably has a million different interpretations, and I’m sure the Zuckerbergs have different ideas than your mum and me. From what I have learned, the most important things we can do to promote human potential are these:

  • talk to and read to our children as much as possible;
  • limit all screen time as much as possible (down to zero is ideal) before age three;
  • create opportunities for creative, independent play for children;
  • get kids outdoors as much as possible, as long as they wear hats and sunscreen;
  • cultivate attitudes of helping, sharing; and gratitude in children.

I know that the two of you are decades away from becoming parents yourselves, but I need to get this stuff down while it’s fresh in my mind.

What the world needs most is creative problem-solvers. If we wire that in from an early age it contributes to maximizing human potential in individuals and societies. That is the best win-win we can plan for.

From what I understand, people are made of equal measures nature and nurture. It’s the same with garlic. Growing great garlic starts with superior genetics, but that’s only half the game. An exceptional crop requires ample high quality compost, heavy mulch, good soil, regular watering, and pulling at just the right time.

It is the same with growing great children, only with more compost and less mulch.

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Promoting equality is one of the major challenges of our time. Pope Francis himself has put it alongside climate change as the most pressing issue facing humanity. Sadly, both of these issues appear to suffer from an over abundance of personal opinion and an under abundance of research when politicians get involved. Our own community is exceptionally vulnerable to both, yet many of the decisions made by the local government make both issues worse. As economic inequality widens, we all suffer the consequences of increased social problems, crime, and violence alongside the negative effects of a depressed local economy. It’s literally a lose-lose for rich and poor alike, yet the trend locally is making things worse.

It’s sad but true, but what can we do to fight the tide and promote equality? The first and most important thing is to get those people who do not vote to VOTE in every election, especially local elections. Politicians on every level do not speak to ‘the people’, they speak to ‘the voters’. There is a big difference when you look at economic inequality.

Promoting equality also involves advocating for a capital gains tax and removing GST on fresh fruit and vege on the national level. Locally, it means lobbying councilors to reverse the regressive rates system that makes wealth inequality worse in our community while depressing local economic activity. Wouldn’t you think the Chamber of Commerce would be the first group beating this drum to the door of the council chambers?

Yeah, me to, but this is where personal opinion gets in the way of robust research. Most people believe only what they want to believe and what fits their pre-existing perspective on the world. (Research, by the way, shows this quite clearly.) I reckon all we ‘little people’ can do is form robust arguments based on the best available data and findings, and set out to influence hearts and minds.

Everyone is capable of change, and it is possible to change the grossly unequal world we occupy. But it will only happen one person, one voter, and one politician at a time.

If you choose – Verti and Manu – to fight the tide of inequality yourselves, remember to take time out to enjoy the sunrises and sunsets, to smell the flowers, to catch a wave, to dance to Neil Diamond, and to get plenty of sleep. You’ll be in it for the long haul.

Much love from Papa

Creating Magical Moments for Children without Creating Rubbish

Editor’s Note: This is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.

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Whether one attends church every week, once a year or not at all, Christmas is to a large extent a children’s holiday. It’s all about Christmas morning and “the look on a child’s face” when unwrapping gifts wrapped in ribbons and bows. Many of us have memories of this from both the sides – as youngsters and parents. It’s wonderful.

But the moment is fleeting, and many of the toys end up discarded or broken within a matter of weeks if not days. Ironically, a small plastic toy that brings a brief moment of joy could subsequently spend the rest of eternity in a landfill. Talk about heaven and hell!

In this season of pausing to reflect, lets pause and reflect on this extraordinary moment in history we occupy. Something that we buy on a whim at the dollar shop can persist within a buried pile of rubbish for hundreds of generations to come. Compare this to the first Maori and European residents of these islands. Few artifacts persist from each group compared to what landfill archeologists will be finding from us for centuries to come.

Of course there is nothing wrong with the desire to make a child happy, but I would argue that Christmas – or any holiday involving gift giving – is less about the ‘things’ and more about the ‘moments.’ The shiny plastic things that go “beep, bop, bang” are just one pathway to the moments we treasure. There are other pathways.

If the end goal is magical moments, then the design challenge is this: How do we create magical moments for our children without also creating a pile of rubbish?

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Like any good design, this one should be holistic, adaptive and cooperative. It should also dare to think outside of the square. For example, when thinking of ‘things’ to give a child, one consideration is not a ‘thing’ at all, but rather the gift of time. Does that sound cliché?

Whether it’s cliché or not, mountains of research show that what most children want is more time with their parents. Along the same lines, there are two mountains of research showing that reading to children under the age of three is about the best thing parents can ever do. On top of that, it’s free. How’s that for eco-thrifty?

Other gifts-of-time we can give children include a special day at the beach, a trip to the movies, a boat ride, a treasure hunt, a mystery adventure, or a Neil Diamond greatest hits dance party.

Fair enough, but at the end of the day most parents still want to give their kids ‘stuff.’ But even from this perspective we can design much more sustainable solutions than the current one-way trip to landfill.

In the field of materials cycling, the global leaders are chemist Michael Braungart and architect William McDonough. The pair has been working on what they call cradle-to-cradle design for two decades. Put simply, cradle-to-cradle sets the stage for infinite materials recycling with no such thing as landfill. In fact, the motto of this design methodology is “waste equals food” – in other words, the remnants or leftovers of one process are used to feed another process. This is accomplished by creating two materials metabolisms: biological and industrial.

The biological metabolism can be explained in three words: let it rot. Nature has been doing it for millions of years. Any materials that come from living organisms can be returned to the soil to promote the growth of more living organisms.

An industrial metabolism involves all materials that do not come directly from plants and animals, which include metals, minerals, plastics and other synthetic materials. The challenge is to make the recovery and remanufacture processes easy and efficient to ensure 100% recycling so that a broken plastic toy would readily be turned into a new plastic toy – over and over. From this perspective, gift giving could be guilt-free forevermore.

But until that day, another strategy for low-impact holiday giving is to choose durable gifts that will last. Our household does lots of wooden toys, and my parents still have 40+ year-old wooden toys that they get out when the grandchildren visit. Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 9.16.59 am

For Verti’s birthday in August I used driftwood to build a fairy village for indoor play and a swing set outside. The totara, matai and rimu timbers are incredibly durable and will last for decades. If I’m still alive when it falls apart, I will remove the treaded rod for reuse or recycling (industrial metabolism) and let the ancient timbers decompose naturally (biological metabolism).

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Spoiler alert: Verti’s holiday gift from me this year is a strawberry patch outside our front door. Although I bought plastic planters, they will be protected from direct sunlight by a wooden surround made from weathered native timbers. The completed project will be attractive, durable, productive, and provide magical – and tasty – moments for years to come.


Peace, Estwing

Hybrid Post and Beam Emergency Shelter

This is a cool project. I have been working with an amazing social enterprise called Reclaimed Timber Traders. They have a huge yard full of wood that has been diverted from landfill. Part of their mission is to provide building materials post disaster around the world. But instead of sending a shipping container full of wood, I had the idea of pre-assembling an emergency shelter that can be put together by two people in half a day using only hand tools.

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The design is a hybrid post and beam using dimensional lumber to form the mortise and tenon joins. Here is a post made from three 2x4s nailed together. (Note this has been screwed together quickly for a photo op with the local newspaper.)

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This prototype can be used as a model to ‘mass produce’ structures that can be flat-packed and shipped around the world or sold locally as a sleep-out or garden shed.

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A great day and lots of trigonometry!


Peace, Estwing


Early Summer Permaculture Update

It has been a while since I posted an update. Lots has happened on the farm since then. Of course, the garlic is nearly ready – just one more week before the first 500 come out.

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Here is my “Good morning” everyday.

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Oh, I thought some people might be interested in our set up for processing chooks and ducks.

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Last week the farmer across the road was spraying. I have checked and found no evidence of drift.

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The grapes I planted last year are nearly up to the horizontal wires – a milestone.

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Heaps of plums on the trees as long as we can keep the possums at bay.

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Here is our happy family of a turkey poult, a duckling and a chick being looked over by a rooster.

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This pear tree is astonishing. Can’t wait.

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We bought a dexter cow called Toot Toot with a calf at foot. They are pictured here with our Fresian heifer called Heidi.

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I also just picked up a kune kune pig called Turiel.

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Did you notice all of the mammals are black? Can you tell we support NZ rugby?

This Khaki Campbell is sitting on a mixed nest of chook and duck eggs. The first chick has hatched. We have four other broody ducks sitting on eggs as well.

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We dug about 20 kg of potatoes yesterday. This is part of our process of converting paddock to market gardens. There is a crop of cauliflower in the wheel barrow that will go straight into the ground. The spuds in the foreground are Maori potatoes. They will be harvest in another fortnight.

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New potatoes are fabulous. Yum.       Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 12.10.35 pm


Peace, Estwing

Things May Not Be As They Appear

Editor’s Note: This is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.


Timing is everything and you can’t judge a book by its cover. It seems we’re constantly reminded of these lessons. I’ll share some examples this week.

First of all, I faced these truisms late last week when I tried to push the garlic season by digging some bulbs for the Saturday market. On the surface they looked huge – stems thick and green. My hopes were high as I gently lifted the first few from the rich, dark soil only to be disappointed that what emerged did not match what was visible from above.

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Yes, I was pushing the season by two to three weeks, but the stems were already so big I thought… Reminds me of another saying: Good things come to those who wait. Like fine wine, the World’s Best Garlic will not be rushed. The flavour is as good as ever, but more time will fill out the cloves. It won’t be back at the market until next week.

Another example of the importance of timing is how global climate scientists managed to manipulate the weather to cause devastating floods in England, southern Norway and India to coincide exactly with the COP 21 climate change talks in Paris. It’s obvious that climate scientists caused the massive rainfalls in England and India because they dumped the same amount – 341 millimeters – in both locations. This is exactly the type of lazy science we have come to expect from the likes of NASA, NOAA, NIWA, and the IPCC.

At least we can rely on India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and his press office, for giving it to us straight on the flooding. What most people don’t realize is that Modi made a special trip to Whanganui in June to assess the extent of our own flooding as shown in the accompanying photo.

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In the age of Photoshop, many things may not be as they appear.

But seriously, how’s this for timing: the region of Cumbria, England has experienced three record floods in a decade. After the 2009 flooding, residents were told they had experienced a once in a lifetime rain event. Nek minit, Storm Desmond with over a foot of rain in a day. Water levels were half a metre higher than the 2005 flood.

By these measures, Whanganui could experience flooding 50 centimetres higher than this year as soon as 2021. Although there is low probability of this happening, it is not out of the realm of possibility. Cumbria has set a precedent, and even if we stopped burning carbon today there are already decades of extreme weather events loaded into the atmospheric system just waiting for the right time.

England’s Environment Secretary Liz Truss said the increasing frequency of extreme rainfall is “consistent with the trends we’re seeing in terms of climate change.”

Throughout Cumbria, 45 million pounds have been spent on flood defences over the last decade. They were all overtopped, although Floods Minister Rory Stewart claims they slowed the water and allowed more time for evacuations to take place. Timing is everything.

Based on most everything coming across the wires on the environment, economy and society, the only constant we can count on is increasing volatility. As I have written time and time again, the best way to respond to volatility is with resilience, and a particular form characteristic of eco design that I call “pre-silience.”

A simple way to describe pre-silience is a stitch in time saves nine. All this means is that a timely effort now will prevent more work later. For example, a small hole in a shirt can be repaired with one stitch if caught early, but will require many stitches if allowed to tear and grow larger.

Personally, I don’t bother repairing shirts because at the present time they are cheap and abundant from op shops, but I do spend hour upon hour stitching up houses and land. That is to say making both more robust and resilient. I’ve always been attracted to old homes and marginalized land. Repairing both is fun and rewarding work.

Unfortunately, the concept of resilience has yet to arrive in our community to any significant extent, but I believe its time will come. It’s just discouraging that until then so many unrecoverable resources will be misdirected and monies misspent. I’m told that “a stitch in time saves nine” is an anagram for “this is meant as incentive.” But I’m not so sure.

Do Your Maths First Before Buying Solar PV

Editor’s Note: This is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.

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“Don’t rush into solar, says Electricity Authority.” That was the headline on Radio New Zealand News a month ago.

“The Electricity Authority is warning that rapid investment in solar technology with back-up batteries could be an expensive mistake. It puts the potential wasted investment at $2.7 billion to $5 billion over the next 10 years, and said the real economics of solar technology should be understood before people made expensive purchases of solar cells for their roof tops.”

The Radio NZ story echoes a similar warning penned by our “oily rag” friends, Frank and Muriel Newman, in April: “Dark side of renting solar panels.”

Their warning focused on a company called solarcity and their programme called solarZero, “whereby homeowners can get solar panels installed on their roof at no upfront cost – as long as they make a 20-year commitment to pay a fixed monthly fee” that functions as a rental and servicing agreement.

The Newman’s ran the numbers and found that for a “normal” household the total payments over 20 years would be $26,400. My colleagues in the eco design field came up with similar numbers, and determined that the equivalent system could be purchased today for half that.

In effect, signing a contract for the solarZero programme would be similar to taking out a loan to pay for solar panels and paying it off over 20 years. In both cases, economically savvy and fiscally prudent people would decline, and instead invest in products and strategies with much better financial returns.

This was essentially the same conclusion reached by researchers at the University of Canterbury Electric Power Engineering Centre, which I wrote briefly about last week. Those researchers found that grid-tied solar electricity systems were financially viable only for households who could pay cash up front for the panels and who use lots of electricity during daylight hours. In other words, rich people who use heaps of power. That’s fine for them, but not aligned with the theory and practice of eco-thrifty renovation.

Over the course of 500 home consultations, I have never recommended installing photovoltaic panels as one of the top twenty (or more) suggestions that are proven to be cost effective for creating warm, dry, healthy, energy-efficient homes. In response to those who protest loudly, and insist PV is cost effective, I have said for years, “Show me the numbers.” No one has come forth, yet the protests remain. Hell hath no fury like an environmentalist scorned.

Last week I also shared research showing that household PV panels have a much greater carbon footprint than wind or geothermal power that I’m sure ruffled feathers among those still clinging to dogmatic beliefs. I have found it immensely amusing and ironic that I’ve been black-listed by local greens at the same time as being thanked and praised by Federated Farmers. Makes me wonder which group is more open-minded.

Please bear in mind that this column is written by someone who owned an off-grid home powered by PV for eight years, and who presently has a stack of panels ready to mount on the roof. But that’s another story.

In the mean time, here are some other suggestions for fun, easy and cost effective ways of using solar energy: Grow a vegetable garden. Make a solar cooker. Air your washing on the line outdoors.

Personally, I am immensely grateful for the sun, and the rain, and the soil, for contributing to a record crop of the World’s Best Garlic this year. Like the mighty All Blacks, this year’s crop of Allium sativum has truly outdone itself. Available at the River Market for the next four weeks only.


Peace, Estwing