Category Archives: wind breaks

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

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

Guest Post: Kelly on Planting Trees to Stabilise Slopes

Greetings everyone, this is our first blog post as interns at the Eco School. We hail from Portland, Oregon USA and just started our 1 year New Zealand working/learning/traveling experience. The main goal of our trip is to learn more about permaculture, sustainable living and to learn about, and give back to the local communities we visit.

Before arriving in Wanganui we heard there had recently been some flooding. We had no idea of the severity of this flood. When we arrived, about 6 weeks after the major flood, it looked like the river was still way above normal level. There were still traces of silt on the streets and in the grass of the parks. We walked into the i-Site, or tourist info center, and saw a red line on the pillar above our waist height marking that this was the highest flood level ever recorded in Wanganui history. As we drove up the hill to our new home for the next six weeks, it looked like a hungry giant had taken multiple bites out of them. There were slips and erosion occurring everywhere we looked.  Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 6.12.07 am

Slips far and wide. 

There is no doubt that climate change and many other factors have led to this disaster. The hills are wasting away and sometimes taking a couple of sheep with them. Some homes that were built too close to the edge looked like the Titanic going down. You can see the vast difference in the soil quality before and after the slip. Needless to say, there’s lots of work to do!

One of our tasks has been planting poplar trees. We planted 20 trees in various spots along the hillside near slip areas to help with erosion control. They also serve as wind breaks, moisture and flood control, and they can be used for animal fodder in drought season. Permaculture design rule: everything must serve at least three purposes, check.

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Poles above a slip. 

They were a cheap, easy to plant, low maintenance variety that was recommended by the council. At only $7 each, you get a 3 meter high tree. To plant them we dug out as small of a hole as possible that was about 60 cm deep. This sounds easier than it was, with the clay and moisture in the soil, we had to get down on hands and knees and stick our arms in up to our elbows to pull out the dirt. It would stick to the shovel so you’d have to kick it off with your boot. By the time we were done our boots were 5 kilos heavier! We stuck the tree in on one side of the rectangular hole so that the soil only had to be tamped on one side.

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Patrick tamping away. 

We then used top soil that was collected from the some of the slips to fill the holes. Most of the soil we dug out was clay, so the top soil will give the tree more organic material and a better chance at taking root. Then we tamped, stamped, tamped and packed some more. Got to make sure these guys don’t move until they’re roots are established.

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Poles in the ground.

One and a half days later, they’re in and ready to start growing, soaking up the extra moisture, rooting down the hillsides and protecting the beautiful land and animals at the farm. It feels good to be putting something back into nature.

Until next time, thanks for reading.


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

Keep Calm and Think Different: It Takes Money to Save Money, Part 4

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We all know that growing fresh fruit and vege at home can save money while providing one’s family with healthy kai.

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But like many DIY endeavours, there are more effective ways of going about it and less effective ways of going about it. Sadly, I have seen dozens of examples of failed home and community gardens that suffered from poor design and poor management.

For example, many fruit trees have died at an unsuccessful community garden at the top of Carson Street in Castlecliff due to poor design and installation. Hundreds of dollars worth of fruit trees have been “blown away” because the trees were not given protection from the coastal winds and “leached away” because they were planted in sand without sufficient soil amendments.

Unfortunately, when it comes to fruit trees and vege gardens, being cheap can be expensive. In community gardens this represents a waste of money and sends the wrong message to the local community. In a home garden, it may be that a failed attempt discourages a family from trying it again.

The good news is that this can be avoided with appropriate design and installation. I am fond of the phrase: “Do it once. Do it right.”

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This is not to discount the value of making mistakes and learning from them, but it is always better to learn from someone else’s mistakes and subsequent learning. With this in mind, here are a few things I have learned.

There are four main factors in food production: sun, wind, water and soil. Unless you are Maui, the only one that cannot be actively managed is the sun. Screen shot 2014-10-24 at 2.43.35 PM

The easiest of the rest to manage may be water. Living within city limits all you need to do is turn on your tap for unlimited free H2O for your lawn and garden. However, this can be wasteful if you live on sandy soils because most of the water leaches away carrying some of the nutrients you may have put on in the form of compost or chemical fertilizer. Additionally, it is highly likely that at some point in the future Wangaui will have metered water and we will pay for what we use.

At our Castlecliff property we have invested about $400 in topsoil that greatly enhances the productivity of our fruit trees and vege gardens by slowing the leaching of compost away from the plants’ roots. The return on this investment is far in excess of $400 in abundant organic fruit and vege. (It takes money to save money.) Screen shot 2014-10-24 at 2.43.24 PM

We also invested about $600 in substantial wind protection. It makes no sense to plant a fruit tree in Castlecliff if you do not protect it from the coastal winds. (It takes money to save a tree.) Adequate wind protection reduces stress on trees and results in higher fruit yields. For example, one Black Boy Peach tucked away in an especially sheltered corner of our property is perhaps the healthiest and most productive organic tree of its kind in the city. Screen shot 2014-10-24 at 2.44.06 PM

Other fruit varieties on our property include: plums, apricots, prunes, guavas, grapes, figs, bananas, oranges, loquats, feijoas, apples, olives, raspberries, and more peaches.

Alongside good property design and proper installation of garden infrastructure comes good management. Together, they can account for many thousands of dollars in fresh fruit and vege for your family with little effort. The savings on your food bill can be significant but it’s critical to invest first for success later. Screen shot 2014-10-24 at 2.43.58 PM

If you are interested in learning more about the best practices in organic garden design and management, check out the sidebar.

Peace, Estwing



Workshop: Low-Input / High-Productivity Gardening

Thoughtful design and management of a vege garden can increase productivity and decrease the hours of labour. Invest two hours in this workshop and save dozens of hours weeding your garden.

Sunday 9th November, 3-5 PM. Registration and deposit required.

06 344 5013,


Spring Permaculture Update

The equinoxal (sp?) winds are battering Aotearoa New Zealand.

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Here are my attempts to protect our newly planted fruit trees.

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I barely was able to get the garlic fully mulched on the weekend before the gale started.

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After I mulched the garlic I also mulched about 50 new fruit trees.

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Be aware it is important not to place mulch against the sapling itself.

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Having recently purchased this former horse property, we have 25 years of rotted pony poo to work with.

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This gives you an idea of what we have. There are two more piles just as big.

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We are boarding a horse now. This is what he produced in 2 weeks.

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Despite the winds, it’s great to see signs of spring, like this fig cutting leafing out.

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Peace, Estwing

Nature Directs Us for Best Design

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Holy Wellington, Bat Man, the winds have wreaked havoc on Whanganui holiday-makers and on our recently groomed local beach. On the heals of what has been called the windiest October in decades we’ve been hit by another blast in late December/early January.

This tumultuousness appears to exhibit what has been observed by climate researchers, such as Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University (USA): The hotter the world’s climate gets, the more energetic its weather tends to become.

The good news is that eco-design can address this to a certain degree. The bad news is that non-eco-design is likely to fail with greater frequency over time.

One essential part of the eco-design process is looking for patterns in nature. This can be as simple and predictable as morning and evening sun angles during winter and summer.

For a passive solar building, the aim is to allow winter sunlight to penetrate deep inside the structure while preventing direct summer sunlight from entering. Along with the strategic placement of windows, something as simple as eaves can achieve these aims.

Other patterns in nature are slightly more difficult to observe, but still obvious to those who engage eco-design habits of mind. For example, part of the permaculture design process is called a sector analysis, which includes identifying the directions of both the prevailing winds and strong seasonal winds.

There are lots of ways to find out this information: live in a place for a year; do some research on the internet; ask trustworthy locals; look for sub-patterns in nature that reflect wind direction.

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In Castlecliff it is fairly easy to ascertain the direction of prevailing winds. One way is to look at the pattern of trees listing to leeward. On our section we have a large willow that grows 30-degrees from vertical, leaning away from the northwest as shown in the photo. To quote Paul McCartney (and Wings), “The willow turns its back on inclement weather; if he can do it, we can do it.”

Another way is to go to the beach and look at patterns in the sand. The photo shows small ridges that form perpendicular to the wind as well as scour marks that run parallel to the wind and appear to converge at a “vanishing point” in front of Duncan Pavilion.

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While part of eco-design is recognizing patterns in nature, and part of it is working with nature, another part is protecting human constructions from its destructive power. An easy example of this is the New Zealand Building Code’s strict rules on weather-tightness, and earthquake and wind resistance.

Another example is protecting fruit trees and vegetable gardens from coastal winds. We have spent many hundreds of dollars on wind protection on our section. Almost all fruit trees – even those that are marketed as tolerant of sea winds – need a certain level of wind protection to thrive or even survive.

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This is clearly evident at one poorly designed community garden in Castlecliff that lacks wind protection, and where roughly half of the fruit trees have died. Planting a tree without adequate site preparation is neither eco nor thrifty.

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It is hoped that the advice in this column will inspire others to engage in eco-design habits of mind that will result in a healthier, happier, more resilient community for us to share. Again, quoting McCartney and Wings, “With a little luck we can make this whole damn thing work out.”

Peace, Estwing

Reactively Proactive

I had great hopes for the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December 2009…and then I was very disappointed. In the two years since, it has become clear that most governments worldwide no longer consider carbon reductions as an approach to dealing with climate change. Rather, the focus seems to have shifted to adaptation.

That saddens me because we are now essentially condemned to deal with the predicted extreme weather effects of climate change instead of trying to avoid them by reducing emissions.

I consider this a lack of will. It gives me little hope that humanity will have the will to deal with other pressing environmental, economic and social issues facing us.

We are feeling an increasing rate of extreme weather events in our community.

And out our back door.
January 1, 2012

We are on pure sand, and January is usually a dry month.

Yet we had standing water that remained for hours. Permaculture founder Bill Mollison is famous for saying, “The problem is the solution.” A partial solution to our flooding problem can be dealt to by collecting and storing some of the water.

This 1,000 liter water tank is not large enough to take all the excess water during a major rain event, but it will take some. And it will serve other functions too. A major principle of permaculture is redundancy. Currently we only have one water source: city mains. Yet if there is an earthquake like the ones in Christchurch, we would be left high and dry. By having the capacity to collect and store our own water we protect ourselves against natural disasters.
Additionally, we have had some extreme wind events lately which prompted us to put up wind netting last month.

But that was not enough. I recently purchased 20 more meters to install soon.

I have come to the conclusion that governments cannot be depended on to avoid disasters be they environmental or economic. Therefore, we need to protect ourselves. Investing in wind netting and water tanks are just two examples of protecting against weather extremes. Wind breaks and water storage are central to permaculture landscape design. Even on our 700 square meters we are designing for resiliency in these ways and others too. I’ll explain some of those another time.

Peace, Estwing