Category Archives: scything

International Permaculture Day

Kia ora koutou. This may be the first blog post on the planet celebrating International Permaculture Day. (Please note it is Sunday the 4th in New Zealand.) There are good waves this morning, so I’ll make it short and sweet.

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In my practice of permaculture, the principles take a back seat. In other words, I never consciously think about the permaculture principles (Mollison’s or Holmgren’s) when designing and building systems. Instead, I engage what I call permaculture habits of mind, which can also be described as systems thinking.

All that said, one of Mollison’s principles is almost always on my mind: multiple functions. In brief, elements of a system should serve as many functions as possible. Mollison uses chickens as his example. I’ll use ducks, and specifically our duck tractor.

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For six months – from autumn equinox to spring equinox – we tractor our ducks in our ‘back yard. They mow and fertilize the lawn for us.

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I move them everyday. It takes 22 days to bring them back to square one. This is a small-scale of what may be called “rotational grazing” or “holistic land management.” Running the ducks on the lawn has improved the mix of grasses and decreased the unpalatable ‘weeds’.  In other words, the ducks have improved the health of the lawn, and in return the lawn is producing healthier grasses for the ducks to eat.

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During the six months from spring to autumn equinox, I scythe the grass and use it to mulch the garden. In this way, the ducks are indirectly feeding the garden. Over time, vegetable scraps from the garden feed the ducks.

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Additionally, one day when I was in a hurry to hang the nappies, I found that the duck tractor came in very handy as an airing rack.

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Our first intern, John, built this tractor over three years ago from scrap wood. That’s when our ducks we still fuzzy.

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Keeping ‘multiple functions’ on your mind as much as possible is a great way to practice systems thinking and to develop good permaculture habits of mind. Give it a go.

Peace, Estwing

Successive Planting: Summer/Autumn Transition

One way we are able to produce large amounts of healthy food on a small amount of land is our approach to bio-intensive annual gardening. A combination of 80 mm (2.5 inches) of topsoil and copious amounts of high quality compost have allowed us to grow large, healthy and abundant vegetables.

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Another way that we achieve high yields is by successive planting. In other words, as soon as one crop comes out another goes in. For example, after harvesting broad beans last spring I immediately planted pumpkins in mounds of compost.

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Both of these strategies rely on abundant, high quality compost in order to replenish soil fertility to make up for the food removed. We use a hot composting system called the Berkeley Method that ‘disappears’ meat and roadkill in a matter of weeks.

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 Sometimes we use our lawn clippings in our compost, and sometimes we use them for mulch.

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This week I have taken out some tomato plants that were in the ground since the 21st of September – 6 and 1/2 months – and replaced them with broccoli.

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 You will notice there are still some capsicum (bell peppers) in the ground, and I even left two of the eight tomato plants rooted as they were still producing. I simply laid them on the ground on top of dried grass mulch.

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 Each broccoli seedling is planted with a large dollop of compost.

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 The tomato ties – old bed sheets torn into strips – are collected and stored for next year.

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And my helper and I carry on with the next chore.

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Peace, Estwing

Fossil Fuel Free

As the sound of lawn mowers ringing out across neighborhoods wanes in the southern hemisphere and waxes in the northern, I cannot help but to ask…why?

Why burn limited fossil fuels manicuring a show piece?

Why buy and maintain an expensive, loud, polluting machine?

Why pay $2.10 per litre ($3.60 per gallon in the US) to run that machine?

Why contribute further carbon dioxide to an already overwhelmed atmosphere?

Why spend hours on land care that yields no food?

Problems: Global food prices are at a record high and rising. Oil has been above $100 per barrel for weeks and rose $3 today on increased concerns on the Middle East and North Africa.

Solution: Being “eco-thrifty” means going green and saving money. We use no oil to maintain our 700 square meter section using the following low-maintenance/high productivity techniques.

Growing Food

Once a weedy lawn, now a productive garden and burgeoning food forest.

Tractoring Ducks

Ducks eat grass and turn it into eggs, flesh and fertilizer.


Interns Amy and John learning how to harvest carbon-neutral mulch.

Please people. Stop the mowing madness! For the good of your wallet and the planet.

Peace, Estwing