The Constant Composter

Composting is often an ongoing process on most permaculture properties. At any given time we will have 3 to 6 cubic metres of compost somewhere along the process.

Also, we compost everything, including a lot of possums lately. But our basic ingredients are bedding (wood shavings) from our midwife’s chickens, sheep manure, kitchen scraps, and anything else that comes along. Well, almost anything (see below).

Here are the bags of shavings I just picked up.

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I keep the sheep poo under a tarp so it does not leach when it rains.

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Here are the bags from our picnic earlier this week.

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Typical kitchen scraps that do not go to the pigs, ducks and chickens.

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Chicken parts not fed to the pig, although she did eat all of the heads as soon as they hit the ground.

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We got these coffee grounds at the Zed petrol station on our way home. It is cool how all of their stations put the coffee grounds out front for people to collect.

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This is about the 10th possum we have trapped this summer.

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The lot is ready to be turned in.

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This pile has been built and is actively decomposing.

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These two are done, but growing pumpkins at the moment.

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This one we are drawing off the finished compost as needed.

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The only thing I won’t compost is that bloody bio-plastic. Worst product ever. Pure bullshit.

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Peace, Estwing


Love this time of year as we glide through mid-summer. This marks the start of an age of abundance that will last through April and into May. Tomatoes and courgettes are the current staples, but also an abundance of plums and a regular stream of strawberries. At the same time we look forward to the coming pumpkin and peach harvest, and after that the apples and pears, feijoas, guavas, figs and then citrus.

By then it will be time to plant garlic again.

We’ve also had a large and continual supply to potatoes, enough to sell surplus at the local market and barter with friends. Organic, local spuds appear to be another one of those niche products that can be sold in our local market. The colourful Maori potatoes can fetch $5 per kilogram. We have had no trouble with pests of diseases while growing spuds here for the last 18 months. Touch wood.


Peace, Estwing

When Water Flows Uphill

June brought an historic flood to our city. December was the driest on record.

Climate scientists have warned us to prepare for these types of extremes. They have certainly arrived around the world, and according to predictions will only increase in frequency and severity. No matter what happens post-Paris in terms of carbon emissions, the planet is already locked into decades of volatile weather.

What is your community doing about it? What are you doing about it?

On our farm we have designed to address both drought and flood simultaneously. Here is one small example of how I am directing water to flow ‘uphill’ and over a swale to where it will be most useful to the black boy peach trees and blueberry bushes planted along the swale. The higher and longer we can hold water on the property the better. But at the same time we direct water away from buildings made of wood and steel.

This little water diversion project starts on the huge roof of our multi-shed complex. I’ve changed the spouting and run it into a section of Novaflo. In winter the same piece of Novaflo carries the water away from and to the side of the buildings. But for the dry summer I have decided to run the water uphill.

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The weight of the water is so great that I’ve had to build a ‘splint’ to support the flexible pipe from the fence to the barrel.

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Can never have too much baling twine!

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As the barrel fills, the pressure forces water through the hose fitted to the bottom of the side. The hose will eventually be covered by stone as it crosses the road.

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Then it climbs over the swale to the small pond dug behind it.

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I checked it this morning after a small 5 mm shower last night. The bottom of the pond was very damp and the end of the hose was full of water.

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Here is a reverse angle showing the water’s pathway up and over the swale. In winter the swale keeps water flowing down the hillside away from the buildings. But by the end of this dry December the ponds were dry and the small fruit trees were drying out. I was spending a lot of time watering them with a hose and decided that this project was to jump to the head of the line.

This hugelkultur swale was built one year ago and is already thriving compared with the worn out paddock around it.

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My belief is that it’s fine and good and important to talk about cutting emissions and embracing non-carbon based energy sources. But it is equally important to prepare ourselves and our communities for the extremes of both wet and dry. Good design moderates them both for the better. To me it’s all about designing and building resilient systems. This is just one small example on one small farm in the corner of the world. It was made in a morning by materials laying around the place at no cost.

What do you think you can achieve at your place?


Peace, Estwing

Currant Affairs

Our midwife recently invited us out to her place to pick currants.After about 40 minutes we had 2.8 kilograms. We brought them home and processed the lot into eight jars of black currant jam.

We swapped the currants for a couple of black boy peach saplings.

Last winter I pruned the currants for her and brought home the cuttings, which we propagated in the garden. About 80%-90% of them have taken, and so this winter we will plant them out – somewhere around 100 in total.

Small-Scale Agriculture: Be First or Be Best

Making it in farming is hard at every level, but especially for smaller producers. My philosophy involves minimising inputs and maximising outputs using good design and management techniques.

But at the end of a growing season there is always the challenge of selling the crop. Here my philosophy is two-fold: be first or be the best. In other words, if you can be early to market before anyone else you can charge a premium. For example, I saw sweet corn selling 3 for $5 this week!

If you can’t be first then be the best. We grow absolutely phenomenal organic garlic. For anyone who likes to eat or cook, little can compare with starting a meal with olive oil and garlic in a pan.

It is nice to see that there is a surge of interest in quality food and local food. It’s especially nice to see that many “millennials” spend their money on good food (and good beer) rather than bog standard consumerism.

I’ve been growing garlic for over a decade and this year’s crop is truly superior. With proper curing and storage we have eight months to sell it – not a problem when you’ve got the best.

Peace, Estwing

New Year Permaculture Update

Happy New Year. We are looking forward to a great 2016. There is so much going gone here at Kaitiaki. The plants and animals are hard at work rehabilitating this old horse property.

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The plums are days away…

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but the apples are still months away.

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These Monty’s Surprise apples won’t be ready until April.

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Our first crop of grapes is taking form.

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For me, one of the greatest feelings is being able to look at something I started nearly a year and a half ago, and is really taking shape now. I divided these harakeke flax during winter 2014 and planted them into a windbreak. Here they are today.

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Ultimately the netting will be taken down and replaced by the living wind break.

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I just finished a protected chick rearing area.

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Here is a mixed flock of chicks and ducklings.

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The food forest has gone from flood this winter to drought, but luckily we did get rain today.

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This is a reverse angle of the previous photo.

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A mixed flock of chooks and ducks manage the orchard.

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But at least someone is hard at it.

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Peace, Estwing

Donald Trump: Person of the Year

Editor’s Note: This is my last column in the Wanganui Chronicle.


Donald Trump is my Person of the Year. Who else has made a bigger splash in 2015?

Pundits say he plays on anxieties that exist among a certain voter demographic. He appears fearless in his attacks on political correctness. Bombastic is a term we hear to describe him.

But I say his most significant accomplishment has been in mastering a communication technique and ideology that has grown to achieve a critical mass of cultural significance: the double down. This is not to be confused with KFC’s Double Down – a beef burger between two pieces of fried chicken breast with cheese and bacon.

Doubling down takes many forms. It can mean making a false statement, and instead of admitting the mistake, vehemently insisting on the ‘truthiness’ of the statement in the first place. Alternatively, it might mean coming up with bad policy and then working tirelessly to try to justify it. It may be throwing good money after bad. In Trump’s case, it also means making outrageous or controversial statements and refusing to backtrack.

Doubling down means never having to say you’re sorry.

Trump is my Person of the Year not because he invented the double down or that he is the only person that does it, but because he has given it a living, breathing form. He is a meme with a comb-over and a personal jet.

Trump’s political success relies on the fact that many people only accept information that fits their existing worldview. Facts don’t matter. Research doesn’t matter. Trained experts don’t matter. As Ray Davies sang in 1981, “Give the people what they want.”

With the Balkanization of political parties worldwide and the rise of the highly effective climate change denier movement over the last decade, I’ve noticed an increasing trend in doubling down. Everyone does it, it’s just that Trump is the best, or at least most visible. The Trumpification of Western society has reached its watershed moment. It marks the end of apology.

Climate change deniers double down on the same pre-formulated arguments they find on the Internet. Trickle-down economists double down on this never proven economic theory. Even the Chronicle doubled down on misreporting the origin of events waste management in Whanganui.

I’ve noticed a subtle but consistent form of the double down that may best be described as unprofessionalism. In it’s simplest form it means not answering emails or returning phone calls, and then as a response, not responding to not responding. This is practiced across our community and it especially favoured by local government agencies and health system officials.

I’ve also noticed that double downs work both ways. Think of Shamubeel Eaqub or Duncan Garner. The fact that both men had facts on their side doesn’t matter.

If Garner became public enemy number one for counting the empty shops in Victoria Avenue, yours truly was a close second for working with him to highlight a good news story in our community during his visit. You might think having the top journalist in New Zealand highlight a Whanganui success story to a national audience would have been celebrated. Instead I was criticized in the pages of the Chronicle.

I, myself, may be accused by readers of doubling down, but from my perspective there is a big difference between doubling down on facts or the best available research and doubling down on general opinions. But if in the court of public opinion – or the Letters Page – the two hold equal weight, there is no way to advance a robust argument. It’s a no win situation, and one I’m no longer interested in.

The issues that concern me – healthy housing, community resilience and wealth inequality – get little to no traction in our community. There is no organisation, group, business or government department that takes a serious holistic approach to any of these. I’ve reached out to almost all of them over the last five years and the most common response is – you guessed it – no response.

Sadly, although our local government is in a position to address these issues it chooses not to. I have heard wide-ranging concern from informed members of our community about the so-called “Leading Edge” document, especially the Environment section. I share their concern. As a professional in the environmental field for nearly 30 years I have read thousands of books, papers and documents on the topic. Compared to everything I have read, it is among the worst – much closer to tail end than leading edge.

But I should not complain. After all, we live in a democracy and no candidate running for council at the last election chose to use the words “environment” or “sustainability.” “Give the people what they want.”

Although exceptionally weak on the environment, the Leading Edge is extremely useful for allowing council committees and officers to double down on rejecting holistic solution-oriented projects that promote community health and resilience as they have in the past with five simple words, “It’s not in the plan.” Trumped again!

After 192 consecutive weeks, this is my last column. So long, and thanks for all the fish.