Category Archives: compost

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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 6.18.04 am

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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 6.17.50 am

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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 6.17.34 am

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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 6.16.54 am

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’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!”

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 7.07.09 am

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 7.06.26 am

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 7.06.10 am

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 7.05.58 am

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.

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 5.27.18 pm

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

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 5.27.32 pm

Here are the bags from our picnic earlier this week.

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 5.28.17 pm

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

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 5.29.44 pm

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

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 5.29.58 pm

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.

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 5.29.10 pm

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

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 5.28.25 pm

The lot is ready to be turned in.

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 5.29.21 pm

This pile has been built and is actively decomposing.

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 5.28.10 pm

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

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 5.27.55 pmScreen Shot 2016-01-27 at 5.28.02 pm

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

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 5.27.46 pm

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

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 5.29.30 pm

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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 6.52.17 am

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

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 6.52.09 am

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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 6.51.59 am

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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 6.51.40 am

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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 6.51.10 am

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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 7.22.25 am

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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 6.53.42 am

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.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 9.00.42 am

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.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 8.59.23 am

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.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 8.59.05 am

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.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 8.58.53 am

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.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 8.58.12 am

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.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 8.58.34 am

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.

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 8.13.20 pm

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 – gmail.com

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.

Screen shot 2015-03-06 at 7.00.53 AM

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.

Screen shot 2015-03-06 at 7.01.07 AM

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