Category Archives: Eco Thrifty Life

Using Kunekune Pigs in Land Management

Editor’s Note: This appeared in the Whanganui Chronicle on the 13th of January, 2020.

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“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

I wrote about George Orwell’s recognizable Animal Farm quote six months ago in a Conservation Comment focusing on my observations of the gradual erosion of the ‘social contract’ as more and more people seem to take an attitude of “those rules don’t apply to me.” Parking on the verge during school pick-up appears to be a common expression of this form of self-applied superiority, and the bigger one’s ute the more likely we are to find it’s driver applying this form of DIY VIP parking.

But this month I mean it literally – some animals are more equal than others. In the eyes of the law certain animals are provided many rights and protections while others provided few.

Fair enough – after all some animals are critically endangered and others are considered pests. We spend millions trying to save some from extinction and millions trying to eradicate others.

Among livestock, the rules are generally the same but with notable exceptions. Take the WDC Keeping of Animals, Poultry and Bees Bylaw 2015. The bylaw takes particular exception of pigs, requiring they don’t come “Within 50 metres of an adjoining Premises boundary in all areas within the District.”

Pigs! Why is it always pigs? Pigs are smart and clean animals, yet we always hear, “This place is a pig sty!” Barack Obama famously said, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig,” which Republicans claimed was directed at then vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

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I don’t know the origin of the bylaw but assume it dates to a time of poor animal management and/or unregulated hog farms. Times change, and like many outdated policies we encounter a review is welcome. The WDC Bylaw is up for review, which provides an opportunity to consider a pig ‘of a different colour’.

Taking a fresh perspective on land and management it’s easy to see that one porker rises above the rest. Yes, there actually is a pig “more equal than others”, with a name so nice you have to say it twice.

According to The New Zealand Kunekune Association, “The name Kunekune means ‘fat and round’ in Maori. The Kunekune is a unique New Zealand breed of pig. The general consensus is that the Kunekune were probably brought to New Zealand in the 1800’s by whalers operating in New Zealand waters, and were traded with the Maoris. In the late 1970’s the breed was ‘rediscovered’ and at that time it was estimated that there were only about 50 purebred Kunekunes left in New Zealand. From purebred base stock of only 6 sows and 3 boars in 1978, the Kunekune now numbers in the thousands. It is due to the enthusiasm and dedication of people… that the breed was saved from extinction.”

While it’s important to preserve rare breeds for their genetic diversity, the kunekune can also play an important role in holistic land management, regenerative agriculture, bush restoration and even combatting climate change. Yes, you read that correctly.

I first read about the use of kunekunes as a management tool at Yealands Winery about six years ago. We first employed them on our farm four years ago.

Their unique value in land management is that, unlike sheep, cows and goats, they eat grass but not trees, shrubs, vines or flax. As with Yealands, we employ kunekunes primarily as ‘workers’, although we also eat them. As part of our holistic approach to regenerative agriculture we have engaged them to manage grass and weeds in our mixed fruit orchard; around olive trees on a hillside; in an avocado orchard; and around native plantings used for stream corridor restoration.

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During the last five years we’ve planted 3,000 trees on our permaculture farm as we strive to grow more food on the land while simultaneously sequestering more carbon, reducing more erosion, and virtually eliminating Nitrogen pollution into Purua Stream. This type of win-win-win situation is known broadly as ‘ecological design’ where the aim is to work with nature instead of working against it.

The results on our farm have been profound in just five years, and we certainly advocate the use of holistic design that incorporates animals alongside perennial plantings to provide the opportunities for the land to ‘punch above its weight.’

Where kunekunes may be of most use in our District, however, is on the smaller lifestyle blocks where residents may be planting natives and/or fruit trees. Weeding is important in both cases and engaging these friendly grazers could help avoid the use of chemical weed killers, time-consuming hand-weeding, or expensive mulching. But, as you can imagine, on a one-hectare lifestyle block there is not much land that is more than 50 metres from any boundary, which essentially outlaws the use of this important management tool for growing more trees on these properties, which would help the District address climate change on many levels.

In my experience with kunekunes, when managed well they do not create mud wallows, attract flies, or make much noise, while producing less odour than some sheep and far less than a male goat.

A review of the bylaw is not only an opportunity to reconsider this unique breed and what it can provide us beyond simply meat, but also to think more holistically about the interface between plants, animals and legislation to make sure they are working with each other instead of against each other.

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Nelson Lebo manages Kaitiaki Farm in Okoia, where a Master Class on Holistic Land Management will be held 23rd April. theecoschool@gmail.com

RetroSuburbia Book & Property Tour

Join the RetroSuburbia Movement!

We will be hosting an on site RetroSuburbia Workshop and Property Tour following the PINZ National Hui: 27th April, 2020, 2:00 – 5:00 PM.

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Our Whanganui property is the only case study outside of Australia to be included: https://retrosuburbia.com/case-studies/eco-thrifty-retrofit-case-study/

ANZAC Day (Observed, Monday) 27th April, 2020, 2:00 – 5:00 PM. $35 p/p, $55 couples.

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Registration essential: theecoschool@gmail.com

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The book: $89 NZD plus post ($8 plus $3.90 for rural address).

Pick up available in Palmerston North and Whanganui.

To Place Orders: theecoschool@gmail.com

 

Early Summer Permaculture Update

It’s hot and dry already but we have not yet started irrigating the fruit trees. That could change in the coming weeks. In the meantime we’re enjoying a good fruit set in part thanks to our resident bees. These are early plums that will be ripe in about a month from now.

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Additionally, we’ve got plentiful grapes, apples, pears, peaches, guavas, olives, figs, feijoas, and for the first time quince. Flowering on the avocados is massive so we are hoping for good cross pollination there.

We’ve also had excellent germination of the Black Boy peach stones. We’ve potted up over 50 and still going.

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On the animal front we’re up to about 60 muscovy ducklings hatched along with 8 goat kids. One of the kunekune sows is pregnant and due in the next weeks. Chooks laying up a storm with a broody hen sitting on a dozen Wyandotte eggs.

Peace, Estwing

4-Dimensional Design: Master Class

On our farm it takes a month to cut down a tree, six months to build a garden bed, and two years to plant avocados. That’s how we get more done with less effort.

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Before and After

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Building Beds

Time is the 4th dimension, and using it to our advantage saves effort, money, and fossil fuels while establishing and operating highly efficient and regenerative systems. Designing in 4 dimensions maximizes the value of available resources and minimizes waste as well as the need for heavy equipment and a fat wallet. It’s working smarter instead of harder.

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4-Dimensional design thinking is the ‘next step’ that many permaculturists may be waiting for. We have dozens of examples to share during this Master Class.

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In five years we have transformed a worn-out horse property into a fully integrated permaculture farm on a shoestring budget and essentially without the burning of fossil fuels. We engage a regenerative approach to food production on 5.1 hectares on the outskirts of Whanganui. The farm provides excellent examples of permaculture Zones 1 through 5.

Before & After 4

The programme includes: water management; soil enhancement; wind protection; bush restoration; animal management (chicken tractors, browsing goats, grazing kunekune pigs); annual gardening; successional planning; integrating systems; off-farm inputs and outputs; and more…

4-Dimensional Design: Master Class

23rd April, 2020. 1 pm to 5:30 pm. Afternoon tea included. $55 p/p, $85 couples.

Kaitiaki Farm, Whanganui

Dinner and overnight accommodation available before the PINZ Annual Hui.

Register: theecoschool@gmail.com

 

Disease-Resistance Key to Success

When it comes to fruit trees, I have always put disease-resistance as a top priority. Here are two peach trees planted four metres apart.

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The left-hand one is not particularly disease-resistant. I think it was given to us four years ago and I cannot recall the variety. You can see it is suffering from curly leaf, which reduces photosynthesis and overall vigour.

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The right-hand one is a Black Boy peach. We have grown them for eight years and have never had curly leaf. When growing organically, it helps to have cultivars that are less vulnerable to plant diseases.

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Plums, like the one pictured below, seem to be highly disease-resistant.

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We have eight different varieties and have never had any problem with disease.

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Plums are nice, but I do like peaches more. We have about 30 Black Boy peach trees in the ground that produce deep purple fruits.

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We propagate them from the stones and sell them locally to those interested in low-maintenance, beautiful peaches.

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We also grow disease-resistant apples. Apple varieties reported to have higher resistance include: Liberty, Monty’s Surprise, Belle de Boskoop, Peasgood Nonsuch, Priscilla, Akane, Captain Kidd, Lobo, and Reinette du Thorn.

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Avocados are another story entirely. They are known to resent wet feet and suffer from phytophthora root rot. Soil conditions and/or mounding and drainage seem to be the most important factors for preventing stress in avos. Those shown below are stressed from being in pots to two years (a long story), but you can see the new growth forming at the tips. We planted them last autumn in a area with free draining soil, but also added small mounds and drains to be extra safe.

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The avos below come from the same order three years ago but went in the ground straight away.

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Peace, Estwing

Estwing

Micro-Climates Large and Small

An amazing ‘teachable moment’ occurred recently regarding the concept of micro-climates. The “Black Boy” peach stones have been in sand – black sand from the west coast of New Zealand – for the winter. This is our germination strategy.

About four weeks ago, due to changing seasonal sun angles, morning sun reached under a shed roof and struck one small part of the beds. The resulting warmth caused early germination of five seedlings in one little spot. Only now are stones germinating in the rest of the beds.

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That teachable moment gives way to larger discussions on micro-climates and how they can be embraced, designed and improved. While our market gardens are out in the open and often take heavy winds, we have a smaller ‘kitchen garden’ protected from the prevailing winds that also benefits from the ‘sun trap’ effect created by the home and carport.

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We shifted the herb garden to this north-facing location in the car park. Most herbs love hot and dry conditions, as does the dog.

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Similarly, these grapes grow in a north-facing sun trap that is also protected from the prevailing winds. Additionally, most of the leaves are kept dry by the shed roof, which reduces the chance of moulds and fungus growing on them.

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Plants in the nursery receive morning sun but are protected from midday and afternoon sun in the summer.

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The potting bench also receives morning sun but nothing else. This is good for transplants and hardening off purchased seedlings grown in hot houses.

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With heavy soils we have struggled with where to plant citrus. The solution was to build up a “hugel-mound” to improve drainage and increase soil carbon, and to site it in a spot protected from the prevailing winds by existing lacebark and recently planted tagasaste.

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While micro-climates often seek to achieve protection from the wind, there are instances when the opposite is desired. Evapotranspiration beds seek to draw moisture out for the soil using plants and a windy location. This from Wikipedia:

Evapotranspiration (ET) is the sum of evaporation and plant transpiration from the Earth’s land and ocean surface to the atmosphere. Evaporation accounts for the movement of water to the air from sources such as the soil, canopy interception, and waterbodies. Transpiration accounts for the movement of water within a plant and the subsequent loss of water as vapor through stomata in its leaves. Evapotranspiration is an important part of the water cycle. An element (such as a tree) that contributes to evapotranspiration can be called an evapotranspirator.[1] 

Below is a sketch of a mounded ETS bed for grey water treatment using biomass willows and carex grasses. The idea is that the willows grow rapidly in the presence of the  nutrients in the grey water but transpire excess moisture to the atmosphere. In winter when the willows are dormant the grasses take over the transpiration task.

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By understanding micro-climates we can use them to our advantage. These are examples of using the permaculture principles: Observe & Interact, and Design from Patterns to Details.

Peace, Estwing

Estwing

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