Permaculture is about changing the way you think

This is a guest post written by Marina and Heloisa – two interns from Brazil who have just finished their time with us. 

“Exciting!” That was the last word I heard from Dani before she came to pick us up at the bus station and since then this is what has been happening. 🙂

Every day a new discovery, a new point of view (I’ll never look at the bare hills with the same eyes again), a new lesson, a new challenge, a new chance of earning Verti’s love again 🙂 , a new farm adventure and lots of problems and solutions to be found. As Nelson says, there is always an emergency – this is a farm!

Every day when we wake up, there is always a list:blog1

Based on the priorities (if there is no emergency like taking rebel chickens back to their coop or rescuing lost goats) we move on, usually performing:

2 jobs in one – Digging the pond…blog2

… and transferring the clay to protect a sliding bankblog3

Transforming a liability (fallen leaves on the road)…blog4

… into an asset (the leaves will work as mulch to retain the water in the soil)blog5

Along the way we had some communication problems due to our native language being Portuguese (like: “there is a buffalo in your property”, but actually it was a bull 🙂






But as Dani and Nelson are “natural born” teachers, confusion always ended up as a lesson.

Nelson and Dani complete each other: Nelson is a very knowledgeable person that is completely transforming their land to give back all of the resources to nature that have been taken from it in the past and Dani is a very open and people person – always giving some key tips and willing to transfer all her knowledge no matter what (yipee, two more people trying to make the world a better place and accessible to everyone!!). By the way Dani, you are a really brave woman: mom 24 hours/day, Spanish teacher, Kindy teacher, Internship teacher, consulting professional and you still can find some time to cook, eat and sleep J

This month and half we had at Kaitiaki farm was a really intense experience – we had lots of internal conflicts but what helped us to learn how to respect others way of life and Nelson and Dani helped us to transform ourselves – as Nelson says, permaculture is about changing the way you think.

Nelson and Dani, thank you very much for opening your house and life to us! We’ll feel eternally thankful for that (and will try to put in practice all the lessons learned as well as spread everything you taught us). Thank you very much for all the moments and all the great and organic meals 🙂 (this is something that the interns will never feel… hungry!!)


All grown at Kaitiaki: chicken, pumpkins, courgette, tomatoes, potatoes, lime, rosemary, thyme and much love!

-Marina & Heloisa

Quick-Up Sleep-Out

I designed this structure in December to serve two purposes: 1) act as a quick/easy-build emergency shelter in post-disaster situations; 2) act as a DIY-friendly sleep-out/garden shed. The underlying purpose was to develop value added products for Reclaimed Timber Traders, a social service and environmental organisation in Palmerston North.

I have built the shelter three times. Here is the first – tucked into a corner at Reclaimed Timber Traders. The frame is made entirely from reclaimed wood.

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The second time I built it was for a story in the Manawatu Guardian. I had the frame up in under 90 minutes working by myself. Here is the journalist taking photos.

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It is based on a post and beam design, and fits easily in a station wagon.

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On the weekend we had a working bee to erect the shelter at the bottom of our property.

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I suppose making it level is important.

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The frame went together in about 30 minutes with three people. The ply and the iron roof serve as the bracing elements, alongside diagonals in the top corners.

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In an emergency situation, a weather-tight structure can be built by 2 people in half a day using only hand tools. The structure will last a minimum of 50 years.

This structure will serve in part as an emergency shelter – giving children and teachers at Kaitiaki Forest Kindy a place to go when it is blowing a gale in the middle of winter.

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A large window will face north to allow a little passive heating in winter.

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Here is the view from the window.

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This shelter will be a great addition to our developing permaculture property.

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Peace, Estwing

My Farm Truck

Farm trucks – aka “Utes” in New Zealand – are very expensive. Aside from having four wheel drive, I can’t think of anything an expensive, grunty ute can do that my $1,000 Subaru Legacy can’t. With a tow ball and trailer I can collect 700 kgs of kibbled maize. With a roof rack I can carry 6 metre lengths of fence rail.

Recently I had to transport materials for a shelter from the top of our property to the bottom. It’s about half a kilometre and a couple hundred metre drop in elevation. I loaded the Suby.

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Getting the large, heavy window on top was a challenge by myself. (More on that later.)

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But definitely doable.

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The shelter will have an amazing view of this native bush, along with a re-established wetland. It will measure 2.4 m x 2.4 m x 2.4 m.

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Getting the window off was moderately easier than getting the window on, but basically the same process but in reverse.

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This ply is actually a part of the sleep out, but doubles here as a ramp.

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Easy does it.

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And stored off the ground until next Sunday when we have a working bee to erect the structure.

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On the way back up I collected firewood.

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I cut these lengths about 2 months ago. It’s still heavy.

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Job done. Surf’s up!

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Chur, Estwing

The Evolution of a Chicken Tractor

I am a huge advocate for tractoring fowl. I remember seeing my first turkey tractors in Amherst, Massachusetts nearly 20 years ago. I thought they were odd at the time. Now I am a 100% convert.

I have even written about tractoring chickens for

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We have made all of our tractors out of scrap wood. The first one was heavy and clunky.

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We have revised and streamlined the designs over the years. This one is lighter, but small and a little wobbly.

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I really like this one because it is large and easy to move. But the both sides were already assembled from a previous life as a ladder-like object. This design was a one-off because of the nature of the materials.

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At this point I have pretty much settled on this design. I have been reluctant about triangular tractors up until now, but in terms of materials used, strength, weight and even a built-in rain water collection system, I am keen on this design.

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Water falling on the roofing iron runs off into the suspended can. It won’t keep it topped up all the time, but it helps. Additionally, I like having the water can suspended as it moves with the tractor and does not spill. Sweet as.

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If you live in the Manawatu, Whanganui, Rangiteki or Horowhenua regions, you will be interested in attending a DIY chicken tractor workshop in Palmerston North on Thursday of this week. See the Permaculture Manawatu FB page for details.


Peace, Estwing

Permaculture Internship @ Kaitiaki

An internship at Kaitiaki Farm can be an adventure. This weekend we rescued a lamb from deep mud on the neighbour’s property.

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Heloisa and Marina were happy to see the lamb freed. After a few hours her legs warmed up and she walked away. One life saved.

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Later that day we found over 100 sheep from another farm had come through a hole in the fence. No sooner had we herded them back through then we found a bull from another property had come through a different fence and was after our cows.

Of course this all means lots of fence work.

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And more fence work.

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Two skills we always teach our interns are pulling nails…

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…and composting. Back to basics for skill-building and learning.

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Along with the importance of keeping tools sharp.

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Never a dull moment and always a teachable moment. That’s how it is at Kaitiaki.


Peace, Estwing


A Fine Line Between Stupid and Clever

Editor’s Note: This is an opinion piece in the Wanganui Chronicle.


“It’s such a fine line between stupid and…clever.”

This iconic quote from the iconic film, This is Spinal Tap, may be the best way to sum up the US Republican Presidential Primary race. Simultaneously there are moments of brilliance and moments of inanity – if that is even a word.

To give an idea of the latter, Marco Rubio has resorted to primary school bathroom humour just to keep up with the sophomoric insult-wielding Donald Trump. And that’s not to mention Ted Cruz who is the real wordsmith among the frontrunners.

To give an idea of the moments of brilliance, last week The Donald made a statement about the Iraq war during a debate that many believe but dare not utter due to some unspoken Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome of the American right: “They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction, there were none. And they knew there were none.”

After all the extreme statements Trump has made over the last half-year, this is the first time he was thoroughly attacked by the Republican establishment. Recall, Bush II was President when the US went to war with Iraq and his brother Jeb – until recently – was the chosen GOP establishment candidate.

With a price tag over $1 trillion (US) and based on bogus ‘intel’, what possible explanation could be offered by the architects of war? As far as I can tell it is this:

Seemed like a good idea at the time.

 If ever there was a motto for these times of recklessness and unaccountability, it is this. Take, for example, changing the water supply for Flint, Michigan to save money. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Closer to home, we have had more than our fair share of Spinal Tap moments that have leaned decidedly toward stupid over clever. Most obvious is the $38+ million seemed like a good idea at the time looming over ratepayers. To add insult to injury, our wise local leaders chose to pay an additional million dollars to install and operate an ineffective odour fence around the dysfunctional wastewater treatment plant. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Some of these same local leaders also chose to defer drainage work in another part of the city, which has now blown out its cost. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Most recently our community has been hooked for another million dollars in legal fees to pay for a settlement that will never be disclosed. I strongly suspect we lost the dispute, and find the timely resignation of the Chief Executive troublingly suggestive of defeat. But what does it matter heaping another million-dollar bill on ratepayers?

From this perspective, throwing $75,000 at an unnecessary on-line voter trial is peanuts. How else can we desperately ascend the list of Smart Cities without spending money on every shiny techno-gadget that comes our way? So what if the trial is to “work out the bugs” and possibly as plagued as Novopay. We are an innovative community and boldly embrace unproven, hybrid, cutting-edge designs that are sure to save us money, be highly effective, and make us appear more attractive in the mirror. What could possibly go wrong?

Whanganui needs more moments of brilliance and fewer of the other type. “No More Regrets” might be a solid campaign slogan for someone running in the upcoming local body election, although it appears the going slogan is “Make Whanganui Great Again.” Sound familiar?

Democracy works best when candidates run on their records and voters do their homework. It also works best when substance replaces rhetoric, although we all know that to be exceedingly rare. Finally, it works best – as Steve Baron pointed out recently in an excellent opinion piece – when it is transparent.

Baron’s piece on Whanganui District Council Holdings is exactly the type of journalism our community needs: thoughtful, well-researched, relevant, and meaningful. I would go as far to say it is the best piece of writing I have seen in the Chronicle in 2016. Our community desperately needs this type of content to ensure a vibrant democracy. Here’s hoping we see more of it in the months to come.


Peace, Estwing