Big Picture Permaculture: A Watershed Perspective.

The world faces crises of both water quality and quantity. While water quality is almost continually in decline, water quantity both rises and falls – meaning an increase in both severe droughts and major rain events. Extreme rain events are increasing worldwide and we’ve had two here in the last three years, causing flooding and land slips – both of which are made worse by common land use practices in this region.

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This older slip is on a neighbouring farm, leaving this fence suspended in mid-air. 

The big picture approach to permaculture on our farm is to drought-proof and flood-proof the land simultaneously, while also improving water quality for everyone downstream of us. High on the property we’ve done heaps of water management, including building swales and ponds, and on the steep slopes planted over 100 poplar poles.

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On the valley floor we have fenced the stream to exclude stock and planted the riparian corridor with over 1,700 native plants.

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Setting fence posts, August 2016.

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Planting Coprosma robusta, 2017.

The photos below are before/after shots showing change over the last 16 months.

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August, 2016

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November, 2017

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July, 2016

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November, 2017

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July, 2016

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November, 2017

But despite all of this work, our creek flooded six times this winter compared with once most winters. From what I can tell, this is down to two factors: the first is an extraordinarily wet winter and the second is recent logging of the slopes immediately upstream. Where pines once absorbed rains and held the slopes now water runs off quickly and fills the creek bed. It almost feels like all the work we have done has been undone by someone else 400 metres up the stream.

What this also means is that in dry spells the stream will be even lower because the water from winter rains has not been stored in the earth to be released slowly in the spring and summer. Clear-felling slopes is a lose-lose situation for everyone downstream.

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Permaculture is about big picture thinking, holistic problem-solving, connecting the dots and four-dimensional design. When designing, we need to look beyond our own properties for factors that may have significant impacts. As the saying goes, “We all live downstream.”


Peace, Estwing

Inch by Inch, Row by Row: Building Annual Beds

A common misperception of permaculture is that “it is a messy form of gardening” – or that it is a form of gardening at all. Permaculture is a system of design. Growing annual vegetables can be a small part of a much larger farm system. For small-scale organic growers, annual veggies are an important source of income especially during the first years on a property.

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We took a totally different approach. Annual beds have mostly (except for our commercial garlic crops) been on the back burner for the last three and a half years while we’ve focused on water management and drainage, planted over 2,000 trees, fenced 400 metres of stream, renovated the house, and improved soil quality in the paddocks. With off-farm income and a fully-booked internship programme we were able to take it slow, which also happens to be the best way to convert paddocks to no-dig beds.

We lay polythene down for six months…

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…and then broad fork the beds.

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Everyone helps.

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We shift the plastic to a new area every six months and cover it with grass or branches to reduce UV damage from the sun. After forking we form raised rows and plant out the annuals from our nursery.

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Garlic takes up bed space for six months each year, which has meant we’ve not been able to grow much else until now.

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Three more large annual beds will go in over the next 18 months and then we’ll have the market gardens fully up and running – after five years.

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Slow and steady wins the race.


Peace, Estwing

Slow learning in an age of instant gratification

It takes eight weeks to earn a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) on Kaitiaki Farm. We are slow learners.

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Holmgren’s 9th Principle, Use small and slow solutions, should especially be considered when it comes to teaching and learning. Humans learn slowly, and as our digital worlds speed up, the need for slow learning only increases.

Many PDC classes happen too fast with little time to reflect on the learning and little experiential learning. As someone who has spent their entire life as an educator with multiple education degrees, I steer clear of two-week residential PDCs.

That’s one reason we developed our eight-week PDC internship programme that includes total immersion in the patterns and flows of a permaculture farm. Alongside learning permaculture our interns are living permaculture.

Cultivating learners is what we do.

We start by pulling and straightening nails.

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Holmgren’s 6th Principle, Produce no waste, is experienced by transforming materials that others have destined for landfill into valuable resources for future building projects.

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We often straighten a nail and reuse it within a matter of minutes on the farm. Going back seven years, all ECO School interns have learned this as an essential first lesson.

Another skill taught on Day One is managing hot compost. We usually have three individual piles running: one we build through collecting materials; one that is ‘cooking’; and one that is finished and ready to use. Interns turn the active piles three times each week.

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Finally, we emphasise the permanent in permaculture by planting and caring for trees, whether in the orchard or the zone 5 wetland we are establishing alongside Purua Stream.

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Without fail, four to five weeks pass before we see lightbulb moments happening when interns really begin to understand holistic and four-dimensional design. That’s the payoff as an educator – when you know they get it.

Our PDC internships consist of a thousand teachable moments. 

One insightful intern said, “You really need to learn to do things properly because there is no control+Z function on the farm. You can’t Undo something with your fingertips.”



Peace, Estwing








Guest Post: Joy in Scything

Editor’s Note: Here is a post by our intern, Penelope, who is taking a gap year during her university education.


During my time at Kaitiaki Farm, I have continued to find joy in the small tasks that make up our days. Projects sometimes consist of jobs that could be done with fossil fuel powered tools, but we choose to do the slower way which we find has the side effect of producing a better output. I keep finding these are the most meaningful job to do. When we step back and look at the task ahead of us holistically, we often just need to change a mindset to make it enjoyable. I found this to be true in scything the main garden paddock.

Most of the scything here happens in the spring, as the grass starts to really take off and grow after a cloudy, wet winter. This makes the paddocks more unruly, harder to walk though and more difficult to push wheel barrows through. We also can usually can find a good use for some cut grass, either through mulching the garlic beds or protecting plastic in the sun.

The task set forth to the interns was the cut the highest strip of grass in the paddock which will soon be removed of all of its topsoil as a driveway will be build there. So the grass doesn’t need to be there at all soon, so why not cut it now and get some use out of it?

Here is picture of Ivy, a fellow intern, hard at work with the scythe:

I had some very brief experience scything rye at my old college, but this was a more meticulous task. Grass wasn’t as rigid as rye, and I would have to cut closer to the ground for a more mowed feel. The motion of scything is meant to be fluid and I may not have it totally down, but I can say for certain I don’t bury the tip in the ground nearly as much as I did when I started the paddock. Overall the project took about 4 hours to do, including raking up the cut grass and putting it on the plastic that was covering our next garden beds.

By covering a section of the grass covered paddock in a large sheet of plastic, we kill the grass after a few months and can then remove the plastic, broad fork the soil apart, aerate the soil, break it down into a finer tilth, shape some beds and voilà! You’ve made a paddock into a garden bed! (a more in depth look at that could be a whole other post) But as far as the cut grass we had on our hands, we put it onto the plastic so that we were protecting it from breaking down in the direct sunlight- prolonging the life of the plastic for us.

Here you can see the final product, littered with grass piles, but shorter than the grasses on the left.

And here you can see the hay and dried grass that has been put on the plastic to protect it from the harmful sun.

By doing a task without the use of fossil fuels we are contributing to a smaller carbon footprint while working our bodies to manipulate the land we have, for our benefit. The grass doesn’t care of its long or short so why not use a bit of it? For me, manual work always comes with a sense of accomplishment that I have yet to find anywhere else. I cut that grass and then we used it for another project. Lawnmowers are loud and polluting and if we’ve got the time why would not do something that is better for the earth and better for us?