Category Archives: Eco Thrifty Life

Making Goats Cheese

After a mid-winter break we are back to making goats cheese on the farm.

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We had a cosy Friday afternoon/evening by the cooker warming the milk (and making a shepherds pie for dinner.)

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We heated about eight litres of milk to just below boiling and then added 700 ml of lemon juice.

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After about 30 minutes we poured the contents into a cheese cloth and let the whey drain out. (We have mixed the whey with grains to feed to the chickens and ducks.)

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The final result is about 2 kg of cheese.

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Thanks for our new intern, Jasmine, for taking some of these and many other great photos of ongoings on the farm.

 

Peace, Estwing

Disbudding Goats for Rednecks Like Me

Horns on goats can cause problems. For me, the greatest concern is animal welfare – in other words, a goat sticking its head through a fence and getting stuck because the horns act as a one-way barb. Two or three days in the hot summer sun can lead to death.

In nature there are no fences so horns do not pose this risk. But in farming there are heaps of fences so we need to design our animal systems with that in mind. We take animal welfare very seriously, so I’ve learned to disbud young kids to prevent horn growth.

I watched some youtube videos and looked at this site.

The first time we tried it my helper who was holding the kid flinched at the wrong moment and we ended up with a unicorn.

So I have added another element to my redneck operation in order to hold the head and neck steady during the process.

This heavy vice works perfectly with a towel draped over it for cushioning. It worked as planned for two kids this morning – they were held in place by my helper who did not flinch at all. (Note: Do not tighten the vice!!!)

My disbudding tool is a pipe of the right size with an improvised but sturdy handle. (Note: Sorry, no duct tape on hand at the time.)

The disbudder has to be hot enough to burn a circle in a piece of wood. I use my camping stove to heat it.

I also use my clippers to shave the area around the buds so I can see everything and because I’m not fond of the smell of burning hair. (I also trimmed my beard at the time as long as I had the clippers out of the cupboard.)

Apply heat for 10 seconds before horns break through the buds – usually between three and ten days after birth. The kids exhibit no signs of post-traumatic stress as they are returned to mum for a quick drink of milk and then frolicking with their mates in the paddock.  

Rednecks rule!

Peace, Estwing

Building Beautiful Beds

We’ve run this workshop three times this year with great feedback. I promised to summarise the process, so here goes.

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Step 1) Lay polythene for five months or longer to kill the perennial grasses and weeds. We cover our polythene with mulch to prevent UV degradation of the plastic and to make the market gardens look nicer. After 20 weeks peel back the much and reuse it somewhere, and then lift the polythene.

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Step 2) Loosen the compacted soil. We use stainless steel broad forks that I had welded up by a friend for a box of beer. Any broad fork will do or garden fork. The point is to mechanically break up the soil. First go lengthwise.

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Then go crosswise.

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Step 3) Break up the soil cubes you’ve just formed into smaller chunks. This is best done when the soil is not too wet and not too dry. It may pay to wait a day or two before doing this step. A rake or a hoe or a garden fork or a spade can be used.

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Step 4) Form beds. Standing on one side of the 1.2 metre wide bed rake the path from the other side up onto he bed. The switch sides and repeat.

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Step 5) Continue to pulverise the soil and rake the beds flat with a back and forth motion to prepare a fine planting surface.

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The end result is a series of raised rows in a no-dig system easily maintained with a stirrup hoe.

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Peace, Estwing

Produce No Waste: A Case Study in Building a Pig Shelter

One of the first skills we teach our interns is how to pull and straighten nails.

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Some interns describe this as the Karate Kid induction to Kaitiaki Farm, and call me ‘Mr. Miyagi’.

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Critics have challenged the notion straightening and reusing nails when they are so cheap to buy in the shops, but to me the intent and process go to the heart of permaculture. A huge amount of permaculture can be distilled into one word: mindfulness. Most of the permaculture principles are simply different ways to say, “Be mindful of…” Perhaps no more so than Produce No Waste.

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I bought some second-hand trusses this week from Reclaimed Timber Traders – an amazing social enterprise in Palmerston North that diverts construction demolition material from landfill and resells it to the public. I got a good price because they had not yet pulled the nails themselves.

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Along with some pre-loved 4x2s and roofing iron we carried the trusses down the hill to the plateau near our hives.

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Reusing the trusses made building the pig shelter quick and easy. As I told our interns, Dani and Felicity, “The key to building is a dry head, dry feet and diagonal bracing.”

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We made sure that the iron overhung all of the timber, that we blocked the structure off the ground with off-cuts of treated pine, and we braced it in all directions. “We are not building for a beautiful, calm day like today,” I told them. “Imagine a gale southerly blowing in the middle of the night. That’s what we’re building for.”

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The whole job took less than three hours from off-the trailer to completion – all while entertaining a three-year-old boy and six goats. The pigs paid us little interest, but hopefully they’ll appreciate the final product made entirely of reused materials save for the roofing screws.

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The 2.7 metre by 2.0 metre shelter cost a total of about $40.

Peace, Estwing

Late Autumn Permaculture Update

The rains have come and much of the ground is now saturated. Many of our pathways have taken on a distinctive brown colour.

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After being nearly dry this summer, the pond is filling.

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And I’ve taken the pump out of storage to pump out the swales as there is more rain in the forecast.

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We’ve planted some beds to winter vegetables…

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…and built new beds for garlic planting.

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Here are 2 & 1/2 cubic metres of compost ready for the garlic plantings starting later this month.

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This weekend marked eight weeks for our kunekune piglets and so six of them were sold to new homes. Here is one of the remaining three. No more fighting over the scraps!

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We have approximately 100 muscovies hatched this summer almost ready to be sold.

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And these nine are just two weeks old.

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Tractoring birds for the last three years has done wonders for improving soil quality and regrowth of favourable grasses.

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And finally, we say goodbye to our three fabulous interns, Karen, Vera and Ali. The next two interns arrive tomorrow.

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Peace Estwing

Designing for Climate Change III

In the previous two posts I wrote about the work we’ve put into restoring our riparian corridor and into stabilising our slopes. This final post is about work we’ve carried out on the plateau at the height of land to drought-proof and flood-proof our property simultaneously.

It’ll be impossible to explain everything we’re doing and why in a series of blog posts, but hopefully readers will get an idea of the intention behind our work: primarily slowing the flow of water during peak periods, storing water safely for later use; redirecting water away from vulnerable areas; planting trees that will hold the soil; planting drought-tolerant stock fodder; decompressing soils to improve their function; designing in seasonal change to our systems.

One way we slow flowing water high on our property is with a series of swales and a small pond. Most of the swales are in and around our market gardens.

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The image below is when we just started putting in beds from the top after building the swale at the bottom.

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This photo was taken a long time ago but shows the water very clearly in the mid-slope swale.

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This larger swale is at the bottom of the market gardens and is large enough to store significant amounts of water. In winter we have the option of using a submersible pump to direct water in a variety of directions depending on the forthcoming weather and other factors we may consider.

Again, this is a very old photo taken while we were digging the series of three basins connected by ditches on contour behind the earthen berm.

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Like all of the swales, we also dug the pond by hand with our interns.

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It currently holds 25,000 litres but each summer we dig it a little deeper. We’ve planted willow rods around it for goat fodder as needed.

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The clay soil that we dug out was shifted by wheelbarrow to stabilise a bank under some pines that were cut years ago. This is directly above a track which is vital to farm management. We buried the drain pipe and backfilled up to the base of the pine stumps.

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A lot of this work was prompted by the 2015 Whanganui flooding (shown above), which left us with slips including one above this track and directly underneath our home.

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We always try to direct water away from buildings. I wrote about this French drain recently.

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This former stable is at the height of land. When we arrived there was no guttering or spouting on the building and all the water was directed against the east side.

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I put up the gutters about three years ago and now we have three options for directing the water: in winter we can run it straight into the huge storm drain along the road…

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…in spring we can direct it into 15,000 litres worth of tanks inside the stable; and in summer we can pipe it out into the “mud pit” along the ridge but a good distance from the stables. This trickle feeds the paddock and orchard from the top in both directions.

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As an old horse property, the soils were compressed and sour when we arrived. We’ve spent a lot of time improving soil function, including liming and putting in the no till garden beds one by one.

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We’ve nearly reached the 2,000 milestone for native trees, shrubs and grasses, so I’ve turned my attention to planting more tagasaste about the place for superior drought tolerant stock fodder and shelter.

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All of these strategies work in conjunction in four dimensions. In total, it’s a great example of designing from patterns to detail, and is the primary lesson of our PDC Internship programme. Our interns may not go on to manage farms, but everyone of them will go on to live in a world of increasing extreme weather events.

Peace, Estwing

Designing for Climate Change II

In the first post I wrote about stabilising the stream banks and feeding out pollarded willows to the goats. I also mentioned the casuarina and cabbage trees planted in the riparian corridor. Here is an image of them.

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Much of this work designing for climate change came after the 2015 Whanganui floods. Here is a picture of the neighbours place the day after.

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This is the neighbour on the other side. Lots of dead sheep.

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But truth be told we had started our work before the June flood. As a matter of fact, just two days before the storm hit the Whanganui region I was finishing up a French drain around our home with the help of my daughter.

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Because it was mid-June we were also preparing our garlic for planting later that night.

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At least someone enjoyed the weather.

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Our calf, Heidi, weathered the storm down in the valley. Note the culvert that I am clearing in the image below and keep it in mind when viewing the image that follows.

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The willow in the foreground gives you the relative location of the culvert, which you can’t even see due to the extensive plantings along the stream following fencing off the riparian corridor.

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But this post should really be about the hillsides, where slips occur, and how to reduce the risks of future slipping. We have planted over 100 3-metre poplar poles that come from the regional government. They should be soaked for a week before planting 700 mm deep in mid-winter.

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We locate them mostly in the valleys where water is concentrated during storms.

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After three winters of planting, we are now up to the upper slopes. On the side of the farm with the goats we use tree guards and on the side with the kune kune pigs we do not use them.

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But I am told that it takes seven years for the roots of poplars to grow broad enough to hold the hillsides against slips, which raises the question: what to do during the intermediate years to prevent slips from taking out the poplars? Our answer has been targeted drainage.

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There are certain areas where we can capture concentrated surface runoff on the hillsides and leapfrog it over the most vulnerable slopes. This is not ideal, but may be a reality in a world of increasing extreme weather events.

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In summer we take the pipes down and store them under trees out of direct sunlight. This preserves the plastic pipes and retains water high on the landscape during the dry season. It is an expensive measure but part of what I call Triage Permaculture. Seasonally installing and dis-installing the pipes is part of what I call four-dimensional design management.

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Sadly, we’ve also had a neighbour dumping water onto our land illegally, which has caused an additional slip.

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Because they will not take responsibility for their own water as prescribed under The Building Act, I have had to put in a drain and a sump (made from a flower pot) and more plastic pipe to redirect the water away from the vulnerable area.

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We’ve also put in a surface drain to draw stormwater away from the top of the slip, which is dangerously close to a fence and a major farm track.

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This has all been a massive effort requiring tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours labour. But at the end of the day, if I want my children to inherit a resilient farm there really is no other option.

 

Peace, Estwing