Permaculture: Viewed from Above

After two and a half years on a worn out horse property, we are seeing progress. This paddock is slowly becoming a market garden above a swale with peaches, blueberries, key apple, feijoa, jerusalem artichoke, currants and pomegranate.


In the extreme foreground in the photo below we have planted avocados among the tagasaste serving as nurse trees.


The west side of this paddock has some heritage apple trees, persimmon, hazelnut trees, more peaches, raspberries, blackberries and boysenberries. At the top left of the frame beneath the power poles are black currants.


The lower eastern paddock has a small hand-dug pond that holds 25,000 litres of water. The fence line to the upper eastern paddock has a new windbreak consisting of poplars and  harekeke (flax).


Here is another photo that also shows the goats happily eating some prunings in the upper paddock. To the south of the goats (out of the photo) is the orchard with 80 mixed varieties of fruit trees.


Our interns, Liz and Rikke, have been helping in the annual beds where we are growing tomatoes, corgette, pumpkins, potatoes and spaghetti squash. There are also some yakon in there. We recently harvested 1,500 garlic.


Manu and Bee are supervising the interns. The dog named Boy is supervising ducklings in a tractor.


With each passing week this place is looking less like a tired horse property and more like a permaculture farm.

Peace, Estwing

Amazing Abundance: 6 Years on 700 Square Metres

Six years ago we moved onto a weed infested rubbish tip. After a month we had planted a vege garden, fruit trees, nurse trees and natives.



After six years it looks like this.



In a coastal environment, the keys are wind protection and enhancing sandy soils.



This was the same corner a year later.



Wind protection is great for annuals too. This is a different fence line four years ago.



That fence line now looks like this: apples, plums, grapes, guava, Jerusalem artichoke, and a small annual vegetable garden.



The opposite corner of the section looked like this four years ago. Note the peach tree in the bottom left corner.



And now.


This area needed attention five years ago.


And today: feijoas, apples, olives


Reverse angle shot with firewood storage area in lower right corner.


In front of the house where there was overgrown grass, lupine and pampas lilly of the valley – and a large pile of rubbish – there is a grisselinia hedge for privacy and eventually wind protection.


This beautiful, super-abundant suburban permaculture property from scratch in six years has been included in David Holmgren’s RetroSuburbia project as the only case study outside of Australia.

A one-off tour/workshop on this property will be offered Sunday 12th February 1-4 PM.

Space is strictly limited.

Register: theecoschool at gmail dot com


Peace, Estwing

What I have Learned About (Permanent) Agriculture

When I arrived to New Zealand a month ago, I had no idea how it would be to work on a permaculture farm. I hardly had any idea of what permaculture was about. I grew up at a hobby farm with 190ha and have recently been working on a duck farm with 500ha, so I thought that the Lebo family’s 5ha would be ‘piece of cake’. But I was wrong!


My home country, Denmark is, like New Zealand a proud farm country. We produce a lot of grains and potatoes on our very flat landscape. I expected to see something similar here. But arriving in New Zealand has taught me that not only climate, but also landscape decides what the farmers grow and produce on their land. New Zealand has the most beautiful hilled landscape, where it’s often impossible to plow a field. Instead they produce a lot of wool and dairy from sheep and cows that easily graze on the hillsides.
The Lebo family has been taking advantage of the landscape of their property as well. Not only for their own benefit but also to benefit nature and the environment.


Their farm is 99% organic, where vegetables are grown in the flat parts of the property, while cows, sheep and goats are fed with grass from the hillsides. They have rehabilitated the biology of the soil of a compacted horse field, where they today grow lots of garlic, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins and different kinds of fruit trees. They have started rehabilitation of wetland on their property, and planted poplars to keep the soil from sliding down the hill. All of this has already proven worthwhile and will continue to pay off in the future, to them and to the environment, which I found out is exactly what permaculture is about. Permaculture (Permanent agriculture) is about working with nature instead of fighting against it.

Since the day I came to the farm, we have been working hard on both small and bigger projects. I have been fighting thorny thistles and gorse with loppers and a spade. I have been fencing in the hills, which I find ten times harder than fencing in flat Denmark. I have planted, transplanted and watered hundreds of trees and vegetables. I have been weeding, feeding and sweating in the burning sun and I got to know the world’s best tool; the stirrup hoe.


At a permaculture farm you have a small scale but big variation in plants and animals, which gives you different kinds of chores than on a traditional farm, which is often specialised in a curtain plant or animal. I knew that farming was hard work, but at this farm we do everything by hand and tools. No machines. That is hard work – and fun work. It gives me skills that I have never thought, I would get, and I am looking forward to learning more the next few months.

-Rikke (from Randers, Denmark)

Kaitiaki Farm Work Study PDC Internship


Earn your Permaculture Design Certificate while working on a premier permaculture demonstration farm in New Zealand.


Our work study internship programme is unique in the world of permaculture education in that it combines best practice teaching and learning with best practice regenerative land management.


The programme balances content, process and reflection, while nurturing systems thinking skills. It’s about developing a way of thinking that recognizes the connections between diverse elements on the farm and how they interact in four dimensions (over time), along with the hands-on skills required to work effectively with cultivated ecologies.


Kaitiaki Farm is an exemplar permaculture property that is blessed with a diverse array of microclimates and growing conditions. The 5.1 hectare (13 acre) property is located 4 km outside of Whanganui with a population of 43,000.

Along with holistic land management we also embrace appropriate technology, renewable energy and human-scale solutions.


Many of our interns come with low or no rural skills. Motivation, a love of learning, and a strong work ethic are the most important elements for success at Kaitiaki.


We spend a lot of time teaching and talking. This slows down our work but makes the internship what it is – an endless series of ‘teachable moments’. It is also the best way to earn a PDC. This type of learning experience is extremely rare anywhere in the world and would not come from a book or standard PDC course. That said, we have a huge library of great books and lots of connections locally and nationwide of practicing permaculturists.

Interns work three-ish full-ish days and two half days per week, with two days off.


More details here:

The ECO School

Whanganui, New Zealand


Inquiries: theecoschool at gmail dot com


Eco Thrifty Renovation Revisited

It’s been over six years since we started the Eco Thrifty Renovation in Castlecliff, Whanganui. That seems like ages ago.

Here is a series of before and after shots, along with a little background on the design inspiration.


Then and Now

















The focus of the renovation was sunlight: free energy delivered without a service fee. As a passive solar retrofit, the project exceeds expectations and has delivered a warm, dry, comfortable home with exceptionally low power bills.

Let the sun shine in.

Peace, Estwing

Backyard Driftwood Playground Wonderland

At Kaitiaki Farm we believe having in fun – lots and lots of fun. And one of us is obsessed with driftwood.


Hope, All Ye Who Enter

It all started innocently enough with a seesaw when we lived down by the beach. It was easy enough to bring that with us when we shifted two years ago.



I raised the bar for Verti’s third birthday by building this swing set out of native hardwood. Details on construction here:



The next project was easy in comparison.


For Verti’s fourth birthday I made a playhouse out of driftwood and hundred year-old totara fence battens for the deck.


Taking a short break

For Summer Solstice last month I made this slide. Details on the process can be found here:


Beep Beep

In order to protect the kids from the strong midday sun, I have trained plum trees to form a canopy over most of the backyard. As an added bonus, seasonal snacks are readily at hand.


“Let’s play!”

Safety is extremely important when building with non-traditional materials. I use only sound native hardwood timber along with stainless steel or galvanised oversized fasteners. It’s also important to brace all features against racking, and to add extra hardware for redundancy at times.

As with most playground equipment, adult supervision is also recommended. But that’s not a burden with these two!

Peace, Estwing

Permaculture Four-Dimensional Design Case Study: Creating a Micro-Ecosystem for Avocados in a Marginal Location

Two years ago I started preparing a spot to grow avocados. Last week I planted them.


That’s planning ahead 24 months to plant a tree. This is how it started.


This is how it looked last week.


Why so long? A couple of reasons: Young avos need to be protected from frost and strong sunlight. Older avos will die in poorly drained soils. We have frosts and clay soils, so we built an ‘island’ and planted nurse trees.


The mound provides drainage and the tagasaste provides frost and sun protection. Additionally, the tagasaste provide nitrogen, ‘chop and drop’ mulch, and bee fodder.


The other thing that took so long is that our order with the nursery was placed 20 months in advance. The nursery only grafts and grows to order, and makes sure to provide large enough trees of the highest quality.


Two weeks ago I collected 21 trees: Hass, Reed, Bacon and Sharwill all grafted onto Zutano root stock.


This all represents a huge investment in time, money and resources. We plan to make it pay off by caring for the trees until they are well established, and then pruning them to maintain a manageable height. We’ve planted them with heaps of compost and a thick bed of mulch to keep them from drying out this summer. As the avos grow up we will progressively prune the tagasaste out of existence.


We’ve interplanted our A-types and B-types to assure the best cross-pollination. Our family and our interns love avos, so growing our own will represent a significant savings to our grocery bill. We’ll also have surplus to sell locally.


This long, staged process is what four-dimensional design is all about: looking ahead; making a plan; gathering resources; getting your hands dirty; and, seeing it through to completion. In permaculture one aim is to achieve a yield. We may wait another two years for ours, but it will be well worth it.

48 months for an avocado? You bet.

Peace, Estwing

Permaculture Best Practice Tour: Town and Country


The most important skills in permaculture and transitioning to a sustainable lifestyle are: knowing what to do and knowing how to do it properly. In other words, prioritising and quality control.

Not knowing and the fear of failure are what hold most people back. Thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours can be misspent on the wrong projects based on misconception and bad advice.

This tour/workshop demonstrates a wide range of best practice decision-making for rural and suburban properties as well as providing a basket of the most practical skills to make it all happen on your patch. Two exemplar properties in the Whanganui District are included.

Tour guide and instructor, Nelson Lebo is recognised as an innovator in the permaculture and eco design movements. He is contacted regularly by the New Zealand media on all aspects of energy efficiency and healthy homes.


Over the last two decades Nelson has developed three outstanding permaculture properties ranging in size from 700 square metres to 38 acres. His Eco Thrifty Renovation project is the only case study outside of Australia to be included in permaculture co-founder, David Holmgren’s current project: Retrosuburbia.


Kaitiaki Farm is a model permaculture demonstration property that provides a wide range of best practice land use strategies for lifestyle blocks and small farms. Innovative approaches to land management, market gardening, fruit production, home renovation, alternative energy and education are embraced at Kaitiaki.

Topics include: holistic planning; four dimensional design; building soil fertility; composting; wind shelter; water management; growing in sand; growing in clay; preventing erosion; planting and caring for fruit trees; no dig/no till gardening; the best tools and how to use them; growing in small spaces; growing in big spaces; tractoring birds; basic eco-home renovation. screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-5-48-52-am

No better opportunity to get an insider’s glimpse into applied permaculture design in two very different settings.

Past clients and participants say:

“Nelson got us thinking about things differently.”

“I took a workshop with you four years ago and then again for this one. I forgot what a great teacher you are.”

“Nelson explains things in layman’s terms that are easy to understand.”


Register for a full day or half-day. Please specify. Space is strictly limited.

Date & Time: Sunday, 12th February 2017, 9:00 – 4:00. (9 -12, Kaitiaki Farm. 12-1 Travel & Lunch. 1 – 4, Eco Thrifty Renovation.)

Location: Whanganui District

Cost: Full-Day: $125; Half-Day: $75.

Non-refundable deposit required.