Category Archives: growing food

Late Autumn Permaculture Update

I can’t really call this early winter because cold weather has only just set in. The Indian summer and long mild autumn has caused the muscovy ducks to think it’s spring. These were born last week.

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These males think that it is mating season.

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These bantams were born two weeks ago.

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But now the rains have come and we need to keep all of the animals dry and out of the wind. We built this shelter for the kune kune pigs last weekend.

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Hilda is testing out her new bedroom.

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Our previous interns, Heloisa and Marina, started these willow cuttings about 8 weeks ago.

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Our current interns, Mike and Sophie, planted the willows this week.

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Hilda supervises the planting.

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The willows will surround a pond that we have been digging by hand for the last six months. The pond will collect water in winter and store it high on the property.

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The pond is in the middle of a paddock where the goats live and the pigs spend the day.

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Next to the paddock we are planting a windbreak of willow and poplars.

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Speaking of windbreaks, these harekeke flax have taken hold well. They were transplanted 20 months ago.

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We have started our Black Boy peach stones.

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And we are preparing this bed to be planted as a market garden next spring.

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Peace, Estwing

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


Love this time of year as we glide through mid-summer. This marks the start of an age of abundance that will last through April and into May. Tomatoes and courgettes are the current staples, but also an abundance of plums and a regular stream of strawberries. At the same time we look forward to the coming pumpkin and peach harvest, and after that the apples and pears, feijoas, guavas, figs and then citrus.

By then it will be time to plant garlic again.

We’ve also had a large and continual supply to potatoes, enough to sell surplus at the local market and barter with friends. Organic, local spuds appear to be another one of those niche products that can be sold in our local market. The colourful Maori potatoes can fetch $5 per kilogram. We have had no trouble with pests of diseases while growing spuds here for the last 18 months. Touch wood.


Peace, Estwing

Currant Affairs

Our midwife recently invited us out to her place to pick currants.After about 40 minutes we had 2.8 kilograms. We brought them home and processed the lot into eight jars of black currant jam.

We swapped the currants for a couple of black boy peach saplings.

Last winter I pruned the currants for her and brought home the cuttings, which we propagated in the garden. About 80%-90% of them have taken, and so this winter we will plant them out – somewhere around 100 in total.

Small-Scale Agriculture: Be First or Be Best

Making it in farming is hard at every level, but especially for smaller producers. My philosophy involves minimising inputs and maximising outputs using good design and management techniques.

But at the end of a growing season there is always the challenge of selling the crop. Here my philosophy is two-fold: be first or be the best. In other words, if you can be early to market before anyone else you can charge a premium. For example, I saw sweet corn selling 3 for $5 this week!

If you can’t be first then be the best. We grow absolutely phenomenal organic garlic. For anyone who likes to eat or cook, little can compare with starting a meal with olive oil and garlic in a pan.

It is nice to see that there is a surge of interest in quality food and local food. It’s especially nice to see that many “millennials” spend their money on good food (and good beer) rather than bog standard consumerism.

I’ve been growing garlic for over a decade and this year’s crop is truly superior. With proper curing and storage we have eight months to sell it – not a problem when you’ve got the best.

Peace, Estwing

New Year Permaculture Update

Happy New Year. We are looking forward to a great 2016. There is so much going gone here at Kaitiaki. The plants and animals are hard at work rehabilitating this old horse property.

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The plums are days away…

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but the apples are still months away.

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These Monty’s Surprise apples won’t be ready until April.

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Our first crop of grapes is taking form.

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For me, one of the greatest feelings is being able to look at something I started nearly a year and a half ago, and is really taking shape now. I divided these harakeke flax during winter 2014 and planted them into a windbreak. Here they are today.

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Ultimately the netting will be taken down and replaced by the living wind break.

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I just finished a protected chick rearing area.

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Here is a mixed flock of chicks and ducklings.

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The food forest has gone from flood this winter to drought, but luckily we did get rain today.

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This is a reverse angle of the previous photo.

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A mixed flock of chooks and ducks manage the orchard.

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Sleeping on the job.  Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 3.39.34 pm

But at least someone is hard at it.

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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

More Signs of Spring

The signs of spring just keep coming. What a great time of year. The garlic looks to be a bumper crop with all of the rain and a good blanket of mulch.

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We are also eagerly anticipating strawberries.

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Other residents have different tastes.

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We discovered some overlooked potatoes yesterday.

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Grape vines are growing by the hour.

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The first plums are forming.

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   Although some of the plums look very strange. Any suggestions?    Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 1.34.48 pm

And we really need to start eating more rhubarb.

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Peace, Estwing

Weighing Words

The best of Whanganui was on display last weekend. It was the root hairs of the grassroots; the calcium chloride of the salt of the earth; the best of times – the worst of times. Actually, it was just the best of times. But most importantly, it was real people doing real things.

Whanganui Permaculture Weekend is the premier sustainability event in our region. The third edition held last weekend provided fabulous learning experiences for over 300 people at no cost aside from a gold coin donation to cover venue hire for the shared meal and amazing film: Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective. The film was standing room only and many other events attracted 40-plus participants, some of whom traveled from Wellington, Taranaki, Raetehi, the Manawatu and Rangitikei.

The minimum estimated value of the weekend programme is $30,000. It is an event of the community and for the community: a real event for real people. We gave it to everyone for free.

As a keen observer of this city by the awa for the past five years, I reckon our community has less of a need for conferences that charge $1,000 per person and claim to be about sustainability (as we saw late last year), and more of a need for events that provide practical, affordable experiences and solutions.

Expensive talkfests have their place (somewhere), but they don’t and won’t meet our particular community’s needs. Real people taking real action is what meets our real needs. A good Maori friend once told me, “It’s too much hui and not enough do-ee.”

I’ve been in the sustainability game for nearly three decades and have never found a more genuine approach than permaculture. It’s great to see permaculture gaining traction in and around the River City, in addition to other grass roots initiatives. For example, I know of three start-up garden projects that are in the works or just underway. Good luck, friends.

Almost everything I know about community gardens and permaculture can be summed up in one word: kaitiakitanga. It is the weightiest term I have run across in any language worldwide.

According to Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, “Kaitiakitanga means guardianship, protection, preservation or sheltering. It is a way of managing the environment, based on the traditional Māori world view” (

From my limited perspective, this concept can equally be applied to the TPPA protesters in Whanganui and notably Dr. Chris Cresswell and his recent zen-like car surfing exercise. Chur, bro!

I also think that the success or failure of any garden project relies on having one or more kaitiaki – guardian. In other words, it takes a garden guardian. Sadly, previous community garden projects have failed on this point.

Another weighty word I hold in great regard is ganas – Spanish for desire or inclination. This term played a key role in the 1988 film about a high school maths teacher in a low decile school in East Los Angeles. It is a must see for any teacher or spouse of a teacher.

Ganas and guardianship are the key to success for any gardener, and so it was with great pleasure that I recently visited Sarah O’Neil’s blog: “Sarah the Gardener: Real Gardening in my Real Garden.” Good stuff, Sarah!

Sarah will be sharing her passion for gardening and writing at an event tomorrow as part of the Whanganui Literary Festival. From the brochure:

“Sarah lives on a lifestyle block in the Waikato with her family… Her book, The Good Life: Four Seasons in MY Country Garden, is a funny and inspiring look at the ups and downs of a year in the garden. Join Sarah for High Tea (BYO Gumboots).”

Sounds great, but one question: Do I really have to put on my gumboots again? I’ve been living in the bloomin’ things for months!

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Sidebar: Missed the weekend but want to learn about permaculture? We’re offering books and calendars to Whanganui locals for well below retail prices. Contact us for details.