Category Archives: compost

What’s up DOC?

The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) has helped us build fertility on our farm. They had a project recently in our area removing aquatic weeds, raupo and coy carp from a dammed pond, and offered to donate all of this biological goodness to us. Of course I said “Bring it on!”

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We have used the raupo to mulch harekeke windbreaks high on the property.

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We are composting the aquatic weeds and fish along with extra wood shavings to keep the smell down and add carbon.

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Of course the pig eventually got a whiff of the fish and that became a minor temporary problem.

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But we layered the pile up with more shavings and some sheep manure. All good, and thanks to DOC for not sending this organic material to landfill!


Chur, Estwing

The Constant Composter

Composting is often an ongoing process on most permaculture properties. At any given time we will have 3 to 6 cubic metres of compost somewhere along the process.

Also, we compost everything, including a lot of possums lately. But our basic ingredients are bedding (wood shavings) from our midwife’s chickens, sheep manure, kitchen scraps, and anything else that comes along. Well, almost anything (see below).

Here are the bags of shavings I just picked up.

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I keep the sheep poo under a tarp so it does not leach when it rains.

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Here are the bags from our picnic earlier this week.

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Typical kitchen scraps that do not go to the pigs, ducks and chickens.

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Chicken parts not fed to the pig, although she did eat all of the heads as soon as they hit the ground.

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We got these coffee grounds at the Zed petrol station on our way home. It is cool how all of their stations put the coffee grounds out front for people to collect.

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This is about the 10th possum we have trapped this summer.

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The lot is ready to be turned in.

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This pile has been built and is actively decomposing.

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These two are done, but growing pumpkins at the moment.

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This one we are drawing off the finished compost as needed.

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The only thing I won’t compost is that bloody bio-plastic. Worst product ever. Pure bullshit.

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Peace, Estwing

Let it Rot: Anything and Everything

Building soil structure and fertility is fundamental to most permaculture projects. Our farm is no different. At any given time we have three to five compost piles – each one cubic metre – going somewhere on the property.

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I believe in free range compost, and building piles near where the final product will be used.

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This pile had a bunch of pumpkin volunteers sprouting so I decided to let them grow. We will get up to 50 kilograms of pumpkins from these plants for very little effort.

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With a hot composting system, we run all organic matter through it, including possums, dead chooks, goats, and a few lambs that sadly died this spring.

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We have also been building hugelkutltur swales and hugelkultur mounds. Yesterday I was managing the waste stream at a large community event and brought 3 barrels of paper plates, serviettes, and food scraps home. I tipped the barrels among the branches that I have been collecting for this hugelmound. The free-range ducks helped themselves to bits of bread and sausages among the plates.

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The branches will keep the plates from blowing around in the wind until I cover the lot with soil. I have been cutting branches along the drive and around the house and feeding them to Goat Buster. He happily eats the leaves and some of the bark. Then I put the stripped branches onto the mound. GB poops out the leaves he ate and helps improve the soil of the paddock.

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Here is a hugelkultur swale we built less than a year ago. It is thriving with a diversity of plants, shrubs and trees, while moderating water flows on the farm.

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Using these holistic management techniques are already showing significant results although we have been on the property only 15 months.


Peace, Estwing

Holistic Land Management: Permaculture Design in Motion

One year after arriving on this piece of land we are well on our way to developing a premier permaculture property. Like our model suburban permaculture project – the Eco-Thrifty Renovation – we intend to use this as a model for resilience education in our community and worldwide.

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We call this property Kaitiaki Farm. In Te Reo Maori, kaitiaki means guardian. It is the weightiest word I have ever come across in my life, and I do not take using it to name the farm lightly. If our first child had been a boy, Kaitiaki would have been his middle name.

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This extraordinary piece of land has all the makings of a textbook permaculture property and an excellent way to teach best practice in low-input / high productivity land management. It is also a great opportunity for those who want to learn by seeing a ‘work in progress’, I reckon there may be no better place in the world.

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From big concept ideas to specific details, Kaitiaki Farm is a living, breathing permaculture textbook. Most of us learn by doing, so why not consider coming along to the Whanganui Permaculture Weekend 12th-13th September (more details to follow) or coming to a full-day workshop on Sunday, 27th September.

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We believe in offering the highest quality resilience education and that money should not be a barrier to attendance. The Permaculture Weekend is free to attend, and all of our workshops run at half what others charge. When it comes to excellence in community resilience education, there should be no compromise.

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The workshop will cover many aspects of permaculture, including: designing for wind and water; tractoring birds; improving soil structure; composting; swales and drains; nurse trees; slope stabilisation; trees as fodder; pollarding firewood; alley cropping; drought-proofing; market gardening; developing and managing a food forest; scything; and more.

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Peace, Estwing

Good Design & Great Garlic

When it comes to housing and garlic, good design is more important than hard work. In both cases, the core decisions that ensure quality can be counted on one hand. Everything else are details.

In the case of housing, we can look around the world and observe examples of low energy and high performance homes. For the most part, the design principles are universal with the exception of the tropics where important tweeks must be made compared to other regions.

For example, the main goal of good tropical house design is passive cooling that relies on cross ventilation. From this perspective, homes should be rectangular with the long axis running north-south to catch breezes. For almost all other locations around the planet a home should be rectangular with the long axis running east-west to catch the winter sun and exclude the summer sun. In all cases the basic design objective is a passive structure that heats and cools itself as much as possible using natural energy flows.   Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 8.12.51 pm

Beyond passive design, another wise choice to make with housing is to place fixed heaters on internal walls rather than external walls. Placing a heater close to the centre of a home and surrounding it by living spaces would appear to be common sense until you take a trip around Whanganui and see the preponderance of chimneys built on one extreme end of long rectangular and L-shaped homes. It appears there was an era in our city where both common sense and good design were sorely lacking when it came to home building. Some would argue it continues.

Fixing bad design is more expensive than engaging good design from the start, but the good news is that in Whanganui it is far more affordable to buy an existing home and do it up rather than build a new home. For example, our renovated villa ticks the boxes for good design for less than half the cost of building new.

Similarly, growing great garlic can be more a matter of good design than hard work. Again, the principles can be listed on one hand: good seed; great compost; plenty of moisture; minimal weed competition. Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 8.12.59 pm

Like racehorses and livestock, genetics matter with garlic. Buying high quality seed garlic is the best place to start. I was in a big box discount store recently and noticed the so-called “Garlic Seed” they were selling and had to stifle laughter at both its size and price. The best seed garlic is local and organic.

Compost provides multiple benefits to garlic while it is growing, including feeding, moisture retention, and microbial activity. High quality living compost is always better than a sealed 40-litre bag that probably lacks helpful aerobic soil organisms.

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Garlic, like all alliums, grows better with more moisture. A combination of generous compost and heavy mulch can ensure soil moisture remains high even trough extended period without rain. Mulch also doubles as a weed suppressant and encourages worms to be active closer to the soil surface.

For more information on Growing Great Garlic, come along to a workshop on the 21st of June at 3 PM. Registration essential. 06 344 5013; 022 635 0868; theecoschool – at –

Ethical Eating, Kiwi Style with No Pretention

A huge thanks to Nicola Young for putting us onto The Katering Show in her last column. The episode titled “Ethical Eating” is great on many levels. The commentary on pretentious shoppers at a Farmers Market is priceless. For anyone who thinks about the social and environmental impacts of the food they eat, “The Kates” offer a warning not to take ourselves too seriously.

Along the same lines, the phrase “ethical eating” is pretty loaded. I would never use the term as it appears to imply that all other eating is unethical. Yow! Does that include the ‘Reduced for Quick Sale’ apple crumb cakes I buy en masse from Countdown?

In my experience with Farmers Markets and pretentious shoppers, I have always taken a proactive approach but admittedly with mixed results. About ten years ago I brought my produce to a brand new market in a wealthy village a few miles from the not-so-wealthy hamlet where I had my farm. This was during the era when “Artisinal Bread” was coming on the market and gaining a 30% mark-up because of the use of the word artisinal. I was like, “Yo! Sign me up.”

Turns out the extraordinarily pretentious lady who organised the market did not appreciate my “Artisinal Salad Greens” or my “Zesty Zero-Emissions Mesclun Mix.” Rather unceremoniously my stall space was given to a lady who knitted tea cozies, and the so-called “Farmers Market” lost one of its two actual farmers. (Everyone else was a “crafter.”) Screen shot 2015-03-06 at 7.00.38 AM

Fortunately I have encountered no such snobbery at our own River Traders Market…well not much anyway. In all good humour, we market our World’s Best Garlic as, “local, carbon-neutral, spray-free, compost grown, small batch, and artisinal.” It is available with or without the use of Whanganui’s local currency, “REBS.” We were warned not to label it “organic” because we have not paid to join that club, and the labeling Nazis may persecute us.

When it comes to unpretentious shopping for local and/or organically-grown fruit, vege and eggs there is no better place than the REBS stall on Saturday morning. My colleagues do an amazing job of keeping this community-based, cooperative stall stocked with fresh, in-season produce every weekend of the year. From my understanding, the REBS stall is one of maybe only two that have never missed a market day in over six years.

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It seems every discussion of local, organically-grow food always comes around to price. Here I would like to steer the discussion away from  clever marketing and affordability to quality. There is no better tasting garlic available than that which I grow. I will admit to first equal – that’s awesome, mate – but none greater.

In olive oil there is extra virgin first cold press. In coffee there is 100% Arabica beans. In garlic there is fresh, local and grown using exceptionally high quality compost. (I’m not a wine snob so I wouldn’t know the next permeatation.) High quality food costs more than low quality food. Same with cars, houses, mobile phones, computers, beer and “escort services.” You get wacha pay for. Screen shot 2015-03-06 at 7.00.24 AM

It seems every discussion of ‘ethical eating’ also comes around to meat. There is no debate that the vast majority of methods for raising meat animals have large environmental impacts. It is also no secret that cutting back on one’s carnivourous behaiviour or choosing to be vegetarian tick the most ‘ethical’ boxes on the list.

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However, in New Zealand we have the unique opportunity where eating more meat is best for the environment! Too good to be true? Not at all. Step right up for a generous helping of local, organic, free-range, natural, small batch, goat humanely “demised” and lovingly processed by a skilled craftsman-of-a-Kiwi-bloke and slow-cooked to perfection over an entire day by the gentle caressing rays of the Earth’s local star. Screen shot 2015-03-06 at 7.01.17 AM

But how am I going to fit that on a sign?


Peace, Estwing

A Permaculture Day at the Beach

On Friday a mate called me to say there was heaps of seaweed washed up at Castlecliff Beach. This is quite rare.         Screen shot 2015-02-23 at 7.07.57 AM

It wasn’t until Sunday that I got a chance to get there, so we made a morning of it. Verti and Luna and I went to the beach and mama stayed home.

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Verti had so much fun playing in the sand.

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I had a good surf on my SUP, and then we started collecting seaweed.

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We loaded the car.

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Tied everything securely.

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Buckled everyone in.

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When we got home we added the seaweed to our compost piles straight away. We have two piles at the moment that are larger then 1 cubic metre.

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The blue hose in the picture above is putting water into the pile as we have had lots of dry weather lately.

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It was a perfect permaculture half-day getting “multiple functions” out of our trip to the beach.

Peace, Estwing

Call Me “Miyagi.”

We have had a half dozen interns over the last four years. They have all been excellent. We are grateful for the time they have spent with us.

In the first week we teach them a couple of core skills, which include turning a hot compost pile and pulling nails. These skills represent the two “metabolisms” that William McDonough has identified: biological and technical.

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In my opinion, these also teach respect for materials and humility. This week our new intern, Camila, said, “You are like Mr. Miyagi and I am like Daniel-san.”

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Here is Camila practicing her technique.

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“Wax on.”

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“Wax off.” 

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“Like this, Grasshopper.”

Here are our other interns hard at work.

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John, 2011.

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Amy, 2011

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Tommy, 2011

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Jiquao, 2012

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Xander, 2013

I believe it is a great privilege and responsibility to work with interns. For the process to be successful, all involved must see the benefits. In nature we call this “mutualism,” a mutually-beneficial relationship between two organisms where both are better off.

Peace, Estwing

Prepping for Tomatoes Before Christmas

I have had great success pushing the season outdoors by planting tomatoes on the vernal equinox and reaping ripe fruit before Christmas Day. This year is no different although it has been a struggle to do so.

This is what we started with: a sodden, compacted, clay lawn with poor drainage around the house foundation.

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I started by preparing to improved the drainage while also building more garden beds.

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This process took a while as there was lots of soil to move. Simultaneously I was making a cubic metre of compost where one of the garden beds would go.  Screen shot 2014-09-23 at 5.25.12 PM

The hot compost we make takes about 30 days to mature.

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I had a helper for part of the job.

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Finally ready by September 21st, the vernal equinox, to put in the tomatoes.  Screen shot 2014-09-23 at 5.26.34 PM

I had some plastic sheets that our new ceiling insulation came wrapped in. I used it to suppress some of the grass before cutting it to an X and then skimming the turf.

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As the soil was severely compacted, I forked it to help with aeration. These will be no dig garden beds once established.

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I always plant my seedlings with a litre or more of compost. Screen shot 2014-09-23 at 5.27.12 PM

Fold back the plastic…

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…and cover with mulch. Mind you, the plastic will only be in place for this one growing season. After the sod is killed and the tomatoes have done their dash, I will remove the plastic, fork the bed again, add compost, and then just treat it as a no dig garden bed.

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These first six plants are Early Girl. They will bear ripe fruit around the 10th – 15th of December.

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The next six plants are Money Maker. I have good luck with them as a consistent, heavy cropper and relatively good a resisting plant diseases.

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Peace, Estwing

Planting Garlic Between a House and Farm Place

Due to changes in our work lives and a desire to steward a larger piece of land, we will be shifting at the end of this month. However, garlic is meant to be planted around the end of last month. What to do?

Garlic is the only crop that we sell regularly, and when you grow the World’s Best Garlic, it is worth the time and effort. Over the weekend we hurriedly got somewhere over 400 garlic in the ground at the new property. This is how we did it.

We had to transport some of our 3 cubic metres of compost

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We selected a bit of flat land for our market garden.

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We did not have time to convert the paddock into a garden, so we brought in cardboard to kill the grass and topsoil to quickly build a raised bed.

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We have had great success growing garlic on top of sand by using 80 mm of topsoil.

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One key to growing great garlic is to use plenty of great compost. I pull a deep furrow with a hoe and then fill it with compost.

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Nek minit.

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We plant the garlic at 100 mm centres.

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Everyone gets involved.

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After two afternoons of work.

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Peace, Estwing