Category Archives: growing food

Permaculture Update: Avocado, Pork, Honey and Olive Block

We’ve reached a major milestone in the development of our perennial food systems on Kaitiaki Farm. The fencing is in and we’ve just built our kune kune pigs a shelter in the top corner of our valley horticulture block. (Note the hives in the background.)

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The pigs were very happy to see the new growth as the days get slightly longer.

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The windy hillside has already been planted with olive trees. The higher slopes and stream have been planted with native trees, including many manuka for honey production.

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We have over-wintered the avocado trees to protect them from frost, so they are still in their tubs. They will be planted further down the valley in the spring.

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These tagasaste (tree lucerne) will act as nurse trees for the avocados next winter and beyond. By then these little seedlings will be over 1.5 metres tall.

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Within a few years this view will be transformed into a textbook perennial polyculture food production system. Can’t wait.

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A huge thanks to our friend and probably NZ’s best permaculture horticulturist, Rob Bartrum. Chu, bro.

 

Peace, Estwing

Guest Post: What’s on My Hands

Editor’s Note: Our intern Nicki shares her thoughts on poo.

 

 

I’ve been at the farm for about a month and a half now, but it was in my first week that I looked down at my hands, covered in microcuts, splinters, and smudges of some unknown brown substance, and wondered to myself “Is that dirt, poo, or chocolate spread on my hands?”

The first possibility is pretty self explanatory. Farming is a tough, and dirty, job. Whether you have a simple kitchen garden, a few hectares of land, or a production with hundreds of cows, each situation requires time and attention to make sure things run as smoothly, and productively, as possible. You’re moving animals, digging, building, picking fruit and vege, myriads of tasks on any given day. Your hands get covered in dirt, and sometimes it seems that no matter how much you wash and scrub, they stay covered in dirt.

The second possibility of what was on my hands, poo, is what I really want to delve into in this blog. Most people see poo and generally want to get as far away from the stinky, messy stuff, as quickly as they can. But not here at Kaitiaki Farm. We love poo, because it’s an amazingly valuable resource. A huge part of permaculture is holding your resources on your own land for as long as possible, therefore, we quite often find ourselves around some variety of poo. I’ll provide a few examples.

One of the main uses for animal poo on the farm is as an ingredient in our compost. Rich in nitrogen, poo is often added to compost to offset the carbon heavy filled piles. With the hot composting Berkley method we use, you want a 25-30:1 C:N (carbon:nitrogen) ratio. At the farm, we currently have six 1.5-meter compost piles. These piles are a mixture of carbon (i.e. brown) rich materials such as straw, wood shavings, and cardboard, and nitrogen rich (i.e. green) materials that may include, but are not limited to, kitchen scraps the pigs don’t eat (coffee grounds, tea bags, onion and garlic peels), hay, and poo. You can use horse manure, cow manure, chicken, pigeon, etc. Often, when we first start a pile, sheep manure collected from underneath shearing sheds and sold by the bagful, is added to the pile to get the compost process started quickly. If one of our compost piles appear dry and carbon heavy, we’ll go to one of the pig paddocks and scoop up buckets of their excrement to add to the pile the next time we turn it. Eventually, this compost gets used on the garden beds and helps to grow rich, delicious food.

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Pouring established compost into garlic bed furrows

 

Chicken poo is useful on the farm as well. The majority of our chooks are kept in portable chicken tractors that we shift daily to allow the birds to graze on new grass. They get to eat fresh grass each day, and we get free lawn care: no petrol or energy wasted mowing the lawn, and their scratching, pecking, and poo makes for fertile soil. We also get bags of mixed wood chips and chicken coop scrapings from a neighbor that are used as an efficient starter for the compost piles.

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Turning a new compost pile that is made largely of a wood chip-chicken poo combination

 

Additionally, this material can also have other purposes. We recently completely removed some strawberry plants from a bed in order to intensively weed the area. Before replanting, we kept the plants in punnets and other containers, with their roots covered in handfuls of the chip-poo mixture to keep the plants from drying out.

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Strawberry plants covered in damp wood chip-chicken poo mix

 

Finally, the last example of poo I’ll discuss is duckling poo. When it comes time to change the duckling’s bedding, we’ll take the hay/grass/poo combination from the bottom of their beds and either put it on the plastic sheets that cover areas where our market and kitchen garden beds will be (the plastic kills the weeds underneath, and we want to cover the plastic to protect it from the sun’s rays, thereby increasing its lifespan), or over the sticks, branches, and soil that our hügelkultur is comprised of. A hügelkultur is a no-dig raised bed comprised of many of the same materials as a compost pile, but it’s a much more gradually decaying area, that depending on the items included, may supply nutrients for decades. These examples are only a portion of the ways in which we use animal poo on the farm.

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Duckling bedding that will eventually be used in additional ways

 

So, animal poo is obviously a crucial resource, but what about human poo? If one would like to dispose of their own waste in an eco-friendly way, a composting toilet is one option. This cuts down on human waste that potentially gets pumped out to our oceans (sometimes untreated!), and saves heaps of water that we waste each time we flush a toilet. Human waste can be mixed with high carbon materials and composted long term. This practice is often frowned upon, but in my opinion, it’s just fecal phobia.

Even your littlest humans can contribute to the permaculture way of life. If you use reusable nappies, that poo can be added to a compost loo as well. Even if you don’t utilize humanure, reusable nappies are an important part of making the earth a better place. They may seem off-putting at first, but the reusable variety are a much safer and environmentally friendly option than the disposable ones. Whereas a disposable diaper can only be used once, contains chemicals and plastic, and ends up in landfill, reusable nappies are made of cloth materials such as cotton, hemp, or microfiber, do not have any absorbent chemicals, and can be washed and reused. They also save parents hundreds of dollars a year!

Permaculture is all about minimizing waste, and using resources as best you can. On the farm, animal poo ends up in our compost piles, on our paddocks, and in the hügelkultur. So, although permaculture may be all about minimizing waste, waste is something that this farm thrives on. We definitely don’t waste waste here! 😉

Oh, and in case you were wondering about that third possibility of what might be on my hands, the chocolate spread? Well, who doesn’t love that deliciously smooth, chocolaty stuff? We consume heaps of it here, so a smudge or two could quite possibly end up on my hands. I suppose it’s best that I resist the temptation to lick my fingers to find out.

 

-Nicki

 

What I have Learned About (Permanent) Agriculture

When I arrived to New Zealand a month ago, I had no idea how it would be to work on a permaculture farm. I hardly had any idea of what permaculture was about. I grew up at a hobby farm with 190ha and have recently been working on a duck farm with 500ha, so I thought that the Lebo family’s 5ha would be ‘piece of cake’. But I was wrong!

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My home country, Denmark is, like New Zealand a proud farm country. We produce a lot of grains and potatoes on our very flat landscape. I expected to see something similar here. But arriving in New Zealand has taught me that not only climate, but also landscape decides what the farmers grow and produce on their land. New Zealand has the most beautiful hilled landscape, where it’s often impossible to plow a field. Instead they produce a lot of wool and dairy from sheep and cows that easily graze on the hillsides.
The Lebo family has been taking advantage of the landscape of their property as well. Not only for their own benefit but also to benefit nature and the environment.

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Their farm is 99% organic, where vegetables are grown in the flat parts of the property, while cows, sheep and goats are fed with grass from the hillsides. They have rehabilitated the biology of the soil of a compacted horse field, where they today grow lots of garlic, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins and different kinds of fruit trees. They have started rehabilitation of wetland on their property, and planted poplars to keep the soil from sliding down the hill. All of this has already proven worthwhile and will continue to pay off in the future, to them and to the environment, which I found out is exactly what permaculture is about. Permaculture (Permanent agriculture) is about working with nature instead of fighting against it.

Since the day I came to the farm, we have been working hard on both small and bigger projects. I have been fighting thorny thistles and gorse with loppers and a spade. I have been fencing in the hills, which I find ten times harder than fencing in flat Denmark. I have planted, transplanted and watered hundreds of trees and vegetables. I have been weeding, feeding and sweating in the burning sun and I got to know the world’s best tool; the stirrup hoe.

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At a permaculture farm you have a small scale but big variation in plants and animals, which gives you different kinds of chores than on a traditional farm, which is often specialised in a curtain plant or animal. I knew that farming was hard work, but at this farm we do everything by hand and tools. No machines. That is hard work – and fun work. It gives me skills that I have never thought, I would get, and I am looking forward to learning more the next few months.

-Rikke (from Randers, Denmark)

Growing Great Garlic

The keys to growing great garlic are these: start with high quality seed garlic; plant with ample balanced compost; mulch thoroughly; water as needed.

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Bed preparation is similar to any annual vegetable crop: remove perennial weeds; aerate the soil; adjust pH as needed.

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Planting is anytime between the beginning of June and end of July. The go-to date is 21st June. Here are some sprouts under a hard frost.

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Harvest is between mid-December and mid-January. The go-to date is 21st December.

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We grade it into three sizes: seed, sell and eat.

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We tie it into twin bundles of ten for easy counting and easy hanging.

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The Great Garlic Parade!

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We hang it for three to four weeks and then cut off the tops and tails. It stores for up to 10 months.

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Wait six months and repeat the process.

Peace, Estwing

Inch by Inch, Row by Row

Following the flooding of last year most of our time, energy and money has gone into protecting our stream sides from further erosion, which appears to have accelerated since the flood. The process involves fencing off the streams from stock and planting lots and lots of trees, shrubs, flax and native grasses.

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All of that work means I have spent hardly anytime in the annual gardens, except getting all of the garlic in before the end of July. We sold out last year and have about 2,000 in the ground this year. We are establishing new beds on an ongoing basis – converting an old horse property to annuals production is not easy.

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Somehow a few months ago I quickly put some broccoli and cauliflower in the ground. It has thrived in the cool weather with heaps of great compost. Now we are reaping the benefits. This is my favourite variety – Marathon.

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As per my tradition, I also planted Early Girl tomatoes on the 21 of September to ensure ripe tomatoes before Christmas. Can’t wait. These have been interplanted with garlic as a space-saving staggered planting technique.

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Just this week the peach stones have started germinating. They have been in damp sand for about 4 months. We expect around 100 to germinate.

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Here is an example of a yearling Black Boy peach trees, which are selling nicely at the moment. We sold out last year and expect to sell out again this year.

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These were a great surprise this morning. In the years to come we hope to branch out into organic strawberries.

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And these two arrived last week.

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Never a dull moment and never a lack of jobs to do.

Peace, Estwing

Remaining Currant

About a year ago I got a request from a friend to prune her black currant bushes. She has lots of them.

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After I finished, I took the prunings home to distribute to other friends and to propagate for ourselves.

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Now that they have been in the garden for a year establishing their root systems, we’ve transplanted them out into two rows, each about 20 metres long. They are just budding out now.

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Looking forward to a big harvest, but will probably have to wait until December, 2017 to get anything like this.

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Peace, Estwing

Growing Great Garlic

I’ve been growing garlic organically for well over a decade. The product is second to none. We have marketed it as “The World’s Best Garlic” for the last five years. Nobody has disputed the claim.

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There are a few essentials of growing great garlic. First of all, you need the best genetics – ie, seed garlic. We save ours from season to season. After storing for six months, we divide it in the evenings inside where it is warm and dry.

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Another essential component is abundant high quality compost. We make ours by the cubic metre.

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Planting involves generous amounts of compost. It serves to feed the garlic for the six months while it is in the ground as well as retaining soil moisture.

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Once the garlic is up about 150 – 200 mm we mulch with newspaper and hay.

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The mulch suppresses weeds and retains soil moisture.

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The planting design and management relies on these resources: stirrup hoes, newspapers, mulch and compost. See here for detailed description: https://www.fix.com/blog/how-to-grow-garlic/

Harvest usually occurs in late December.

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The garlic is cured and stored…and the cycle repeats.

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We have a very limited supply of seed garlic left for sale. It can be planted up to the end of July. Contact me if you’d like some.

Peace, Estwing