Guest Post: Hugelkultur, four-dimensional design and goats!

Kostas, an intern at Kaitiaki Farm, shares some of what he has learned about our systems-based farm management strategy.

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I will share with you, my experience with contributing into a hugelkultur project in Katiaki farm . Hugelkultur is a german word that describes a type of raised bed that is created using mainly branches of wood and soil.

After consulting with Nelson about the project, and introduced myself, Esther and Nicki into the four- dimensional design, which is the idea of taking action with an immediate and later in time outcome, we started our project.

The very last outcome of our work would be to create a raised bed area where an orchard would be established as fruit trees enjoy free draining soil. It all started when Nelson saw the need to hold water in of the highest, compared to lower level, parts of the property, and slowly release it to the lowest part of the property as a way to protect it from slips and overload of the creek running through.

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The area where it will be fully converted to a huge raised bed, some branches have already been placed there.


So, the Katiaki farm team prior to our arrival, dug swales to retain water for days after a storm and slowly release it to the ground adjacent to it. By digging though, there was an excess of topsoil that needed to be placed elsewhere.

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This picture shows one of the swales and on the right, the area where the soil was placed over tree branches.               


In the meantime, all the dead branches on that part of the property were collected and after cut in smaller fragments placed on the area by one of the swales would be.

As soon as the first soil was taken from the ground as part of the swale digging process, it was placed on the branches that were laid on the grass, and technically soil covering tree branches is a hugelkultur bed, where the branches break down slowly releasing nutrients to the bed.

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New branches put next to the existing hugelkultur beds…


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And soil covering them…


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Another swale on the right, driftwood that marks the end of the orchard and hugelkultur raised bed next to them.


After planning to build a small dependent dwelling on the property, the need to create a road to it surfaced. But first a small tree had to be removed as it was in the way. The best way in a four-dimensional-design-sense  in Katiaki farm was to daily cut 4 branches of the tree to feed the four goats, Rosie, Sussie, John Snow and Francis, and use the parts of the branches that the goats did not eat, as a base for the expansion of the hugelkultur orchard beds.

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The tree that has been feeding the goats and the branches of which contributed to the creation of the raised beds.


Then, as we were in autumn and winter was near, and already Whanganui was hit by a few days of heavy rainfall, the swales needed to be dug bigger, to retain more water and so more soil was put on top of the next layers of laid branches to further extend the space of the future orchard.

We still have not finished the project, but the valuable lesson of the story is that by thinking ahead and visualizing the outcome, it is possible to work in a very efficient and economic way that benefits many aspects of the property and life in general. For Katiaki Farm, by planning all the steps, with the least spent energy, the tree has been cut slowly, so that the road to the new house will be paved, the goats have been kept happy, fed and healthy, the swales have been retaining more water and will be trickle feeding the orchard, the excess wood in the property has been used and carbon has been stored in the ground instead of being burned and releasing Co2 and in the future fruits will be produced feeding everyone that visit the farm.

So, before starting a project, maybe it is wise to think about the possible positive outcomes of a four dimensional design that might save you time, effort and possibly money. Think ahead, be smart.

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Beautiful, cheeky, snow love goats!


–  Kostas

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