Our First Month on the Farm: An Interns Perspective

So there we were, two out of shape Brits chugging along in an ageing Subaru down the SH3 to Wanganui, wondering what to expect from the coming 2 months. What would the Eco school be like, we wondered, as we drove the through the pun-strewn town of Bulls. Coming from Bristol in the UK – a very left-leaning and progressive city, by British standards – we have learnt to be sceptical of the capitalist machine, suspicious of large businesses and selective in the things that we buy. Naturally this has made us think twice about where our food comes from, as well as sparking a keenness to learn more about self-sufficiency and organic farming. On the other hand, thinking this way also tends to make us feel a distinct pang of guilt every time we stop for a roadside McDonald’s, or fall for a particularly attractive supermarket bargain.

After a long month adventuring the South Island we were excited to be based somewhere permanent again for a while and it’s amazing how quickly you settle back into a routine even after some extended time out. Dani and Nelson soon set us up with some frequent tasks most of which we perform daily…

We begin our mornings by feeding the chickens and ducks, an enjoyable task but one that needs to be done with speed, particularly in open areas when about ten hungry ducks are on your tail or standing helpfully in the food bowl. This generally takes around 15 minutes and is a good chance to collect eggs, assess the weather and generally find out how all the inhabitants are doing that morning.

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After this task we turn compost three times a week. How to make compost was one of our first lessons and a very important one. According to Nelson for successful compost you need to ensure you give it plenty of food, air and water and the biggest mistake you can make is buying a plastic compost bin- thus eliminating water entering the compost naturally and making it difficult for yourself to add air and food. A plastic bin is also, ironically, not particularly eco friendly when you think about it! To create our new heap we took bags of sawdust and sheep manure and stacked these ingredients up in 5 layers rather like a lasagne (a culinary regular of ours thanks to the abundance of courgettes and tomatoes here on the farm). We then started adding food scraps from the kitchen and anything else compostable such as coffee grounds, egg shells and all of the biodegradable waste from an event that Nelson put on at work. We take the top third off with a rake, add the ‘food’ and then rake the rest over the top three times a week.

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After these tasks we usually start a longer project. We’ve recently been creating a new water storage area in the middle of the goat paddock. The location of the pond was chosen because it is an excellent place for water to collect on the property as it should drain into the pond after heavy rain and throughout wetter periods of the year and will enable it to be stored somewhere useful where it can be accessed if needed, nurture young trees that we intend to plant around it and potentially provide a duck habitat. We dug out the top soil and transported it to a bank which will eventually be an avocado habitat and then dug out the clay underneath and used it to build up an unsteady bank lower down on the property. An important part of permaculture is identifying what resources are assets and which are liabilities and being able to transform liabilities into assets. The pond is an excellent example of this. By creating a place for water to collect where we want it, excess groundwater is transformed into an asset as it is now in a place where it will not cause damage to the property and can be used in times of drought. It is also popular with the goats, pigs and small children!

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Verti tends to come and help with the obligatory evening bird feeding session and then our day ends with a lovely home cooked meal. Twice a week this is our undertaking and including multiple lasagnes we have attempted to adapt our standard Bristol-based repertoire to involve some of the wonderful organically grown vegetables produced here on the farm. Surprisingly perhaps, in spite of all the wholesome fruit and veg that surrounds us the ultimate aim remains to produce a proper British bangers & mash… Only time will tell whether this will become a reality…

  • Sophie and Mike

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Flood and Drought: The New Normal

Over the last 10 months we have had weather records broken for wet and for dry. The heavy, compacted soils we inherited on this property don’t help either one.

Our main goals for the property are to improve soil and soil structure, and to moderate hydrological extremes. One strategy we have employed is building a hugelkultur swale along with a series of small ponds. This is what it looked like under construction on day one.

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This is what it looked like a year later.

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This is the day of our record floods last winter. Note the small tagasaste trees and broad beans.

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Ten months later the pond harvests water off the farm roofs. The tagasaste have grown alongside Jerusalem artichoke.

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One year of growth on the swale despite a very dry summer.

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Slowly but surely we are using nature and muscle to build a more resilient farm for our children and for everyone downstream.

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Peace, Estwing

Driftwood Dream Playground

Our driftwood playground is finally complete…for now.

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The latest addition is a child-friendly ‘bridge/ladder’ over a roofing iron fence from the pigpen to the playground. How appropriate!

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Talk about a design challenge: making an overpass that is kid-friendly but pig-proof.

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All of the playground equipment is made from New Zealand native hardwood. The swing set is held together with galvanised threaded rod.

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It is a good example of chainsaw joinery.

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The wood is rock hard. I dulled the chainsaw blade in 15 minutes. The swing  will easily last for decades.

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And fun was had by all!

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Peace, Estwing

A Muddy Birthday

We celebrated our son Suleiman’s – aka Manu – birthday yesterday. The theme of the party was “Let’s make a mess.” (Manu is good at that.) The featured activity was the mud pit – aka farm pond partially completed. It’s amazing how much joy can be provided by clay and water. Fun was had by all.

No Manu, it’s your 1st, not your 21st!


Peace, Estwing

Waste not, want not, says mayoral candidate

From the Wanganui Chronicle.

Wasted time. Wasted money. Wasted opportunity. These are the things that have defined Whanganui for far too long.

So says eco-entrepeneur Nelson Lebo who today announces his candidacy for mayor of the city.

“If we’re so good at waste, let’s make it our primary industry,” said Dr Lebo, who joins deputy mayor Hamish McDouall and councillor Helen Craig in standing for the mayoralty at October’s local body elections. Launching his campaign with the slogan “Our Waste is Our Salvation” along with the hashtag #WastedLebo, he wants to revitalise Whanganui’s economy, create jobs and cut rates, according to his 280-page manifesto titled What Whaste Whanganui?

His ambitious plan is based around a complete alternative to the council’s proposed $38million wastewater treatment plant, dealing with the waste disposal issue at no cost and, he claims, actually producing revenue.

According to Dr Lebo’s calculations, the construction costs for the new plant, plus interest and operating costs, translates to $80 million over the next 20 years.

“We take $20 million of that and install composting toilets in every household in Whanganui,” he told the Chronicle.

“We manage the collection of the composted ‘night soil’ by forming a council-controlled enterprise and profits from the compost are reinvested to repay the initial $20 million investment over 20 years for a net zero cost to ratepayers.”

The fats and proteins from the Heads Rd industry waste would be directed to a new soap-making company; while organic industrial waste would be made into compost and sold.

“In a strange twist of fate, it may turn out that the very substances that caused the pong can be turned into cha-ching,” he said.

Dr Lebo, an American eco-designer who has lived in Whanganui for more than five years, has secured preliminary rights for the Australasian franchise of the Paper Street Soap Company.

“My colleague in the United States, Tyler Durden, is excited to expand his soap company franchise to this region of the world but, at this stage, is not prepared to talk about it.”

As for the wastewater treatment plant, in almost presidential style, Dr Lebo declared: “We will build a wall around it and we’ll make MWH pay for it!”

Wanganui Chronicle

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