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.
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.
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!
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