Category Archives: Eco Thrifty Baby

Creating Magical Spaces for Children…and Adults

Sometimes I like to take a break from farm work and build cool things for my kids.

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Yesterday morning was one such time. Taking a break from mid-summer’s chores in the market garden and orchard I grabbed my favourite materials – driftwood and number 8 wire – and started creating.

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My intent was to give the story circle a greater sense grandeur and mystery by surrounding it with gnarly driftwood poles.

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This is similar to what I did for the entrance to the playground two years ago.

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We recently expanded the story circle and planted sunflowers around it. Come February it will look really cool.

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What fun taking a break from growing food to release creative energy in a different way.

Here are some other examples of creative projects.

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A much bigger project that has taken years to ‘build’ is the ‘nature play’ area along Purua Stream. It’s been 26 months since we finished fencing the stream and started planting the 2,000+ native trees, shrubs and grasses.

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The native plants are thriving and have created a cozy nook where children explore nature on their own terms.

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Children, teachers and parents can create lasting memories within this little ‘slice of heaven’ tucked along Purua Stream on Kaitiaki Farm.


Peace, Estwing

Plastic-Free Playground

Special Edition for Plastic-Free July

My kids had been pestering me about getting a slide for ages, but I did not want to buy an expensive plastic one that at some point in the future would inevitably end up in landfill or somewhere worse due to long-term UV degradation and/or wear and tear. So I decided to make one out of wood and steel instead.

I had an off-cut of galv sheet leftover from flashing the flue for my new wood burner that I decided to use to make the slide. I figured out how I wanted it bent and took it to the boys at Steelform Wanganui. For a box of beer they bent it for me. (Chur Barnsey)

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Then I found some wood diverted from landfill by Reclaimed Timber Traders in Palmerston North that suited the dimensions I needed.

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I made the base for the slide out of pine and rimu

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As Kevin McCloud would say, “This needs to be millimetre perfect.”

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In the end it was the perfect compliment to the fort I made for them out of 100 year-old totara fence battens and driftwood on an existing garden structure.

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And a great compliment to the driftwood swing set I made a year earlier.

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Happy Plastic-Free July everyone!

Peace, Estwing

Nature Play- Our weekly breath of fresh air


I’m back.

After weeks, no months, wait… years?!? of not writing I am finally exiting out of baby-landia and getting back in the game. All of a sudden I have two actual kids, no more babies, and am finding that I actually have time to think about life. Time to contribute to something beyond the changing of bums and filling of mouths and “uppies mama”. So I thought I’d start by writing again.

I’ll start in with an easy post. What have I been doing for the past few years? You know aside from the whole diapering and feeding and holding. Which, believe me, is enough. Way more than enough. Enough to fill many a day and night.

But, on the days when I did have some spare energy, I’ve been a part of a mini movement in Whanganui. A movement of committed and sometimes slightly looney parents who are revitalizing the lost art of playing outside. Yep. Just playing. Outside. It is awesome.


We started as a few of us just getting together, then we became a facebook group, and currently we meet up weekly as a play group. It is the best part of my week, hands down, every week.

There is a lot that goes into the philosophy behind Forest Kindergartens and Forest Schools, and I am sure I will go into it in more detail in later posts. It has become a bit of a passion for me now. But put most simply, I love our nature play days because they allow me, no force me, to stop and just be with my kids in nature.

We play. We run. We splash. It is really that simple.

I don’t spend as much time outside with my kids as I want to. And the time we do spend is often while I am doing a chore, or my mind is occupied thinking about what chores I could be doing. Nature play is a scheduled interruption from that cycle. It is a forced pause in our lives to spend time as our “Zone Five” selves.

No matter the weather, or adventure, or misadventure (i.e. massive steep hill climb with toddlers in tow only to find out you’re headed the wrong way) the results are always positive. Nature play = happy mama = happy kids.

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A Living Willow Bridge

“If you’re not having fun, there’s something wrong with the design.”

I can’t remember where or when I heard that, but I’ve always recognised it as true when applied to developing permaculture properties both large and small. Regenerative land management is hard work and burn out is a real possibility. Pacing oneself, enjoying the work, laughing and playing are hugely important. We embrace all of it at Kaitiaki Farm.


Back in September when we were planting hundreds of native trees along our stream we had to cut back some willows. We could have discarded them but that would have been no fun. We planted them instead to form a bridge for the children involved in the Kaitiaki Forest Preschool Programme.


Not much later they came to life.


Not much later branches were growing.


And growing.


And growing.


And growing.


Once the branches were long enough, I pruned out most of them and wove the rest together.


The chief engineer turned up to do some strength testing.


When work is play it’s effortless.

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

Guest Post: Not Homesick

This is the second and final post by our intern, James.

This is the first Christmas I have spent without my immediate family in 25 years of life.  Snow covered mountains, fireside hot cocoa, and village carolers have always been some of the pavlovian cues to get me salivating about the holiday season.  Strangely, without all these things, I have not felt the pangs of homesickness.  Perhaps it is the sunny and lengthening days, or the warm and temperate weather. Maybe it is the bi-weekly beach trips and ocean view, or the constant distraction of farm work.  No, I think it is much more than just a radical change of scenery that has relieved symptoms of nostalgia.


I have never been particularly drawn to children, nor they to me.  I certainly do not dislike them, but am more or less indifferent to unknown children the same way one is indifferent to unknown adults—I try to be kind, but I have never been a socialite.  Within a day of arriving at the farm, little Verti, a four-year-old girl, was pulling my hands out of my pockets just so she could hold them as I was being shown around the grounds. To feel the affection of a small child is heart-melting enough, but one that I had known for less than 24 hours?  Despite her age, the immediate warmth from a total stranger took me aback.   I spent the last 6 months in frequent contact with several similarly-aged children, but none seemed as readily-loving as Verti.


Manu, the family toddler, often tries to attract some of my attention with one of the few words he knows while hitting my thighs, or whatever other body part happens to be available to his height.  Like his older sister, he too is readily physical and affectionate—my meditations and stretching are often interrupted by a slap on my belly coupled with his boisterous giggle.  I open my eyes to his toothy and charismatic smile, begging for play.


On my first arrival I greeted Dani, mother of Manu and Verti, with a handshake.  It was refused as I was told, “we are huggers.”

With my impending departure from the farm, Nelson, the father, has helped me acquire and modify items necessary to my next several months of living out of a mini-van.

I have known the fellow interns here for less than 2 months, and yet I can recall few occasions where I have laughed as often and as loudly.  Sometimes the laughter is debilitating, temporarily rendering me useless for physical work.   I am not complaining.


Conversation among interns, Nelson, or Dani is comfortable, can consist of nearly anything, and flows freely.  Talks are inspired and of substance, rarely superficial in scope.  As our backgrounds differ drastically, disagreements are common but not heated.  I think this openness to one another and new ideas has opened each other’s perspectives to new ways of thinking and being in the world.

This is how I account for an absence of homesickness.  The change of circumstances and lack of usual Christmas cues helps, I am sure.  More potent though, is the camaraderie among interns and enveloping familial atmosphere that the farm exudes.  Maybe it will be different when the actual date rolls around.  I hope I am not misunderstood, as I deeply love my family.  But for now, I could not feel more at home.



High Quality – Low Cost

I’m not fond of plastic toys that are bound for landfill after a day or even after a decade. Neither is OK in my mind.

When it came to providing a slide for the kids play fort I was faced with a dilemma. Plastic slides cost up to $200 for a…plastic slide. I think they are ugly and ultimately break down from UV damage. So I came up with an alternative.


I had an off-cut galvanised sheet from the flashing for the flue from our new wood stove. I took it to the local steel formers and had them bend it for me in exchange for a box of beer.


Then I got some salvaged timber from the shed to make a rigid form.


Here’s what it looks like.


Here is the response.


Total cost: $40

Peace, Estwing

Doing Chores in my PJs

I’m told children benefit from routine in their lives. A farm provides that in spades. Patterns of each day and each season repeat with a regular rhythm.

Manu is such a keen helper he does not bother getting dressed before morning chores. He is the official taster for the chook food.


He also enjoys tasting hammers.


But seriously, he loves helping in anyway possible, even if it is just carrying something.


Or feeding the dog…apple slices. (Dog not enthused.)


Children learn through play, and Manu treats work on the farm as play. For example, hanging a gate is just a different way of saying, “Let’s climb!”


If he only had more horsepower in that thing we could get some serious work done.



Peace, Estwing

Farm Girl

Yesterday morning was spent doing two very mundane jobs: fencing and digging drains. Verti – almost four – spent the morning working with me and Wies, our current intern. Manu – just over one – spent the morning on my back and so he does not feature in any pictures below.

Verti established a good work-life balance by helping out at times but wandering off to pet the goats or play on a pile of branches at others. About three hours passed without a single complaint from her. (Manu got a little fussy after about two hours.)

For her, helping on the farm is normal. For us, it’s learning. As long as she is safe and not tormenting animals, it does not matter what she is doing. It’s all better than sitting in front of a screen.

Peace, Estwing