Category Archives: Eco Thrifty Life

Fat Goats in a Drought

Turning liabilities into assets is a full-time job on our farm. The 2015 floods and land slips focused our attention and efforts on stabilising hillsides and stream banks for the last half decade at the expense of having a big vegetable garden and…surfing.

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But that storm event also shaped our thinking about the holistic management of the farm and what plants and animals would best suit our conditions, and also work in coordination with each other for synergistic effects. The main goal has been to develop a climate resilient farm that withstands extremes of both wet and dry. This summer we’ve been tested.

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You can see in the image above how dry the hillsides are, although patches of gorse remain darker. You can just make out our white goats grazing a paddock with longer grass that we’ve just opened to them this week. But our main source of nutrition for them over the last month has been poplars on the hillsides and willows along the stream.

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The kune kune pigs even nibbled away at the tender tips of the poplars.

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They left the branches throughly stripped.

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The willow below are the first ones we put in after the flood that took cubic metres of soil with it. We rammed them into the banks with the expectation that we would actively manage them as a chop and drop fodder system for the goats during late summer and early autumn so that they would not get overgrown.

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And the results! It’s been so rewarding to watch our fat and healthy goats munching away happily in the middle of a drought.

Peace, Estwing

Using Kunekune Pigs in Land Management

Editor’s Note: This appeared in the Whanganui Chronicle on the 13th of January, 2020.

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“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

I wrote about George Orwell’s recognizable Animal Farm quote six months ago in a Conservation Comment focusing on my observations of the gradual erosion of the ‘social contract’ as more and more people seem to take an attitude of “those rules don’t apply to me.” Parking on the verge during school pick-up appears to be a common expression of this form of self-applied superiority, and the bigger one’s ute the more likely we are to find it’s driver applying this form of DIY VIP parking.

But this month I mean it literally – some animals are more equal than others. In the eyes of the law certain animals are provided many rights and protections while others provided few.

Fair enough – after all some animals are critically endangered and others are considered pests. We spend millions trying to save some from extinction and millions trying to eradicate others.

Among livestock, the rules are generally the same but with notable exceptions. Take the WDC Keeping of Animals, Poultry and Bees Bylaw 2015. The bylaw takes particular exception of pigs, requiring they don’t come “Within 50 metres of an adjoining Premises boundary in all areas within the District.”

Pigs! Why is it always pigs? Pigs are smart and clean animals, yet we always hear, “This place is a pig sty!” Barack Obama famously said, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig,” which Republicans claimed was directed at then vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

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I don’t know the origin of the bylaw but assume it dates to a time of poor animal management and/or unregulated hog farms. Times change, and like many outdated policies we encounter a review is welcome. The WDC Bylaw is up for review, which provides an opportunity to consider a pig ‘of a different colour’.

Taking a fresh perspective on land and management it’s easy to see that one porker rises above the rest. Yes, there actually is a pig “more equal than others”, with a name so nice you have to say it twice.

According to The New Zealand Kunekune Association, “The name Kunekune means ‘fat and round’ in Maori. The Kunekune is a unique New Zealand breed of pig. The general consensus is that the Kunekune were probably brought to New Zealand in the 1800’s by whalers operating in New Zealand waters, and were traded with the Maoris. In the late 1970’s the breed was ‘rediscovered’ and at that time it was estimated that there were only about 50 purebred Kunekunes left in New Zealand. From purebred base stock of only 6 sows and 3 boars in 1978, the Kunekune now numbers in the thousands. It is due to the enthusiasm and dedication of people… that the breed was saved from extinction.”

While it’s important to preserve rare breeds for their genetic diversity, the kunekune can also play an important role in holistic land management, regenerative agriculture, bush restoration and even combatting climate change. Yes, you read that correctly.

I first read about the use of kunekunes as a management tool at Yealands Winery about six years ago. We first employed them on our farm four years ago.

Their unique value in land management is that, unlike sheep, cows and goats, they eat grass but not trees, shrubs, vines or flax. As with Yealands, we employ kunekunes primarily as ‘workers’, although we also eat them. As part of our holistic approach to regenerative agriculture we have engaged them to manage grass and weeds in our mixed fruit orchard; around olive trees on a hillside; in an avocado orchard; and around native plantings used for stream corridor restoration.

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During the last five years we’ve planted 3,000 trees on our permaculture farm as we strive to grow more food on the land while simultaneously sequestering more carbon, reducing more erosion, and virtually eliminating Nitrogen pollution into Purua Stream. This type of win-win-win situation is known broadly as ‘ecological design’ where the aim is to work with nature instead of working against it.

The results on our farm have been profound in just five years, and we certainly advocate the use of holistic design that incorporates animals alongside perennial plantings to provide the opportunities for the land to ‘punch above its weight.’

Where kunekunes may be of most use in our District, however, is on the smaller lifestyle blocks where residents may be planting natives and/or fruit trees. Weeding is important in both cases and engaging these friendly grazers could help avoid the use of chemical weed killers, time-consuming hand-weeding, or expensive mulching. But, as you can imagine, on a one-hectare lifestyle block there is not much land that is more than 50 metres from any boundary, which essentially outlaws the use of this important management tool for growing more trees on these properties, which would help the District address climate change on many levels.

In my experience with kunekunes, when managed well they do not create mud wallows, attract flies, or make much noise, while producing less odour than some sheep and far less than a male goat.

A review of the bylaw is not only an opportunity to reconsider this unique breed and what it can provide us beyond simply meat, but also to think more holistically about the interface between plants, animals and legislation to make sure they are working with each other instead of against each other.

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Nelson Lebo manages Kaitiaki Farm in Okoia, where a Master Class on Holistic Land Management will be held 23rd April. theecoschool@gmail.com

RetroSuburbia Property Tour 13th September

Join the RetroSuburbia Movement!

Sunday 13th, 10-12:30 AM: RetroSuburbia Property Tour

From abandoned villa to affordable eco-home and section. This Whanganui property is the only case study outside of Australia to be included in David Holmgren’s RetroSuburiba: https://retrosuburbia.com/case-studies/eco-thrifty-retrofit-case-study/

$40 p/p, $60 couples. Registration essential. theecoschool@gmail.com

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Our Whanganui property is the only case study outside of Australia to be included: https://retrosuburbia.com/case-studies/eco-thrifty-retrofit-case-study/

 

Registration essential: theecoschool@gmail.com

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The book: $89 NZD plus post ($8 plus $3.90 for rural address).

Pick up available in Palmerston North and Whanganui.

To Place Orders: theecoschool@gmail.com

 

Early Summer Permaculture Update

It’s hot and dry already but we have not yet started irrigating the fruit trees. That could change in the coming weeks. In the meantime we’re enjoying a good fruit set in part thanks to our resident bees. These are early plums that will be ripe in about a month from now.

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Additionally, we’ve got plentiful grapes, apples, pears, peaches, guavas, olives, figs, feijoas, and for the first time quince. Flowering on the avocados is massive so we are hoping for good cross pollination there.

We’ve also had excellent germination of the Black Boy peach stones. We’ve potted up over 50 and still going.

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On the animal front we’re up to about 60 muscovy ducklings hatched along with 8 goat kids. One of the kunekune sows is pregnant and due in the next weeks. Chooks laying up a storm with a broody hen sitting on a dozen Wyandotte eggs.

Peace, Estwing

Designing in 4 Dimensions to Address Climate Change

On our farm it takes a month to cut down a tree, six months to build a garden bed, and two years to plant avocados. That’s how we get more done with less effort.

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Before and After

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Building Beds

Time is the 4th dimension, and using it to our advantage saves effort, money, and fossil fuels while establishing and operating highly efficient and regenerative systems. Designing in 4 dimensions maximizes the value of available resources and minimizes waste as well as the need for heavy equipment and a fat wallet. It’s working smarter instead of harder.

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4-Dimensional design thinking is the ‘next step’ that many permaculturists may be waiting for. We have dozens of examples to share during this Master Class.

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In five years we have transformed a worn-out horse property into a fully integrated permaculture farm on a shoestring budget and essentially without the burning of fossil fuels. We engage a regenerative approach to food production on 5.1 hectares on the outskirts of Whanganui. The farm provides excellent examples of permaculture Zones 1 through 5.

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The programme includes: water management; soil enhancement; wind protection; bush restoration; animal management (chicken tractors, browsing goats, grazing kunekune pigs); annual gardening; successional planning; integrating systems; off-farm inputs and outputs; and more…

CANCELLED

4-Dimensional Design: Master Class

23rd April, 2020. 1 pm to 5:30 pm. Afternoon tea included.

 

Disease-Resistance Key to Success

When it comes to fruit trees, I have always put disease-resistance as a top priority. Here are two peach trees planted four metres apart.

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The left-hand one is not particularly disease-resistant. I think it was given to us four years ago and I cannot recall the variety. You can see it is suffering from curly leaf, which reduces photosynthesis and overall vigour.

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The right-hand one is a Black Boy peach. We have grown them for eight years and have never had curly leaf. When growing organically, it helps to have cultivars that are less vulnerable to plant diseases.

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Plums, like the one pictured below, seem to be highly disease-resistant.

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We have eight different varieties and have never had any problem with disease.

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Plums are nice, but I do like peaches more. We have about 30 Black Boy peach trees in the ground that produce deep purple fruits.

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We propagate them from the stones and sell them locally to those interested in low-maintenance, beautiful peaches.

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We also grow disease-resistant apples. Apple varieties reported to have higher resistance include: Liberty, Monty’s Surprise, Belle de Boskoop, Peasgood Nonsuch, Priscilla, Akane, Captain Kidd, Lobo, and Reinette du Thorn.

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Avocados are another story entirely. They are known to resent wet feet and suffer from phytophthora root rot. Soil conditions and/or mounding and drainage seem to be the most important factors for preventing stress in avos. Those shown below are stressed from being in pots to two years (a long story), but you can see the new growth forming at the tips. We planted them last autumn in a area with free draining soil, but also added small mounds and drains to be extra safe.

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The avos below come from the same order three years ago but went in the ground straight away.

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Peace, Estwing

Estwing

Micro-Climates Large and Small

An amazing ‘teachable moment’ occurred recently regarding the concept of micro-climates. The “Black Boy” peach stones have been in sand – black sand from the west coast of New Zealand – for the winter. This is our germination strategy.

About four weeks ago, due to changing seasonal sun angles, morning sun reached under a shed roof and struck one small part of the beds. The resulting warmth caused early germination of five seedlings in one little spot. Only now are stones germinating in the rest of the beds.

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That teachable moment gives way to larger discussions on micro-climates and how they can be embraced, designed and improved. While our market gardens are out in the open and often take heavy winds, we have a smaller ‘kitchen garden’ protected from the prevailing winds that also benefits from the ‘sun trap’ effect created by the home and carport.

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We shifted the herb garden to this north-facing location in the car park. Most herbs love hot and dry conditions, as does the dog.

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Similarly, these grapes grow in a north-facing sun trap that is also protected from the prevailing winds. Additionally, most of the leaves are kept dry by the shed roof, which reduces the chance of moulds and fungus growing on them.

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Plants in the nursery receive morning sun but are protected from midday and afternoon sun in the summer.

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The potting bench also receives morning sun but nothing else. This is good for transplants and hardening off purchased seedlings grown in hot houses.

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With heavy soils we have struggled with where to plant citrus. The solution was to build up a “hugel-mound” to improve drainage and increase soil carbon, and to site it in a spot protected from the prevailing winds by existing lacebark and recently planted tagasaste.

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While micro-climates often seek to achieve protection from the wind, there are instances when the opposite is desired. Evapotranspiration beds seek to draw moisture out for the soil using plants and a windy location. This from Wikipedia:

Evapotranspiration (ET) is the sum of evaporation and plant transpiration from the Earth’s land and ocean surface to the atmosphere. Evaporation accounts for the movement of water to the air from sources such as the soil, canopy interception, and waterbodies. Transpiration accounts for the movement of water within a plant and the subsequent loss of water as vapor through stomata in its leaves. Evapotranspiration is an important part of the water cycle. An element (such as a tree) that contributes to evapotranspiration can be called an evapotranspirator.[1] 

Below is a sketch of a mounded ETS bed for grey water treatment using biomass willows and carex grasses. The idea is that the willows grow rapidly in the presence of the  nutrients in the grey water but transpire excess moisture to the atmosphere. In winter when the willows are dormant the grasses take over the transpiration task.

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By understanding micro-climates we can use them to our advantage. These are examples of using the permaculture principles: Observe & Interact, and Design from Patterns to Details.

Peace, Estwing

Estwing

Support Stream Restoration

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100% of profits go to charitable permaculture projects

$16.90 Post paid / 2 for $30

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Orders:  TheECOSchool@gmail.com

Water Quality: Designing for Win-Win-Win

A recent poll reveals water pollution is the top issue of concern in New Zealand. Climate change ranks not far behind.

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Here are a pair of articles I have written for NZME (the Whanganui Chronicle) about how we can use good design to address both issues while building more resilient farms.

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Published 2nd September, 2019.

Dr. Nelson Lebo

“All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.”

These words, attributed to Toni Morrison, have been echoing in my mind ever since I heard them in a recent tribute to the late poet. In one sentence she’s able to explain the hydrologic cycle, surface water runoff, groundwater movement, flooding, land drainage, waste water systems design, guttering and spouting, and even spilt milk.

The best I’ve come up with is “Water never lies.” That’s how I help our farm interns understand topographic landforms, overland flow paths, drainage and swales.

I’ve always been fascinated by the way water moves across the land – one of those kids forever playing on piles of soil with buckets of water. I had great difficulty learning to read at school but somehow could read the landscape effortlessly.

When introduced to topographic maps at age 15, I took to them easily as my classmates floundered with the concept. Contour lines sprang into three dimensions before my eyes while peers saw them only as so many squiggles. They scored A’s on spelling tests as I scored C’s.

For the next decade I spent a lot of time trekking and trip leading, and in one instance relied on my map reading and navigation to lead a group of students out of the Smoky Mountains during a freak spring snowstorm that dumped over a metre in 36 hours.

It was not long after that when my understanding of landforms took a leap forward one evening at a presentation by a local naturalist and university lecturer, Tom Wessels, who had just published a book: Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England. Wessels helped me understand the role that life plays in helping shape the landscape and specifically the role of trees.

Not long after that I spent my life savings on a small farm in rural New Hampshire that consisted of steep slopes, glacial till, a 220 year-old farmhouse and pit toilet. It was exceptionally cheap, but served as an invaluable tutor over the next eight years as I floundered toward the good life.

These are the memories that played across my mind last month while planting poplar poles on a hillside above Purua Stream in Okoia. Having already planted 125 on our land over the last four years, I was able to take my time and carefully choose exactly where to place these last 15.

Extreme weather events worsened by climate change were also on my mind. The overriding goal for our small farm is resilience to both heavy rainfall and drought. By planting more trees we address both, but this is only part of the equation. The other parts are shrinking our carbon footprint and sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere.

Along those lines we’re planning to build a super efficient dwelling along with an innovative wastewater treatment system. Passive solar home design is well recognised so I won’t address it here but instead will focus on water.

Much of rural New Zealand suffers from water pollution but it’s not just cows. Older septic systems are failing and because of the high cost of upgrading to modern standards many people choose not to. A friend recently told me how bad the situation is.

Regular Chronicle readers will know that I’ve been writing about eco-thrifty approaches to building and renovating since 2011, and this is no exception. Having studied rural wastewater systems intensively for the last year I’ve adapted a European design to local conditions that addresses not only treatment for health and environmental standards but also carbon capture from the atmosphere.

In most cases wastewater is considered a pollutant and disposal is all about mitigating negative effects. I take the opposite view: it’s a valuable resource that should be harnessed for positive effects. This perspective represents a shift from what designer William McDonough describes as moving from “eco-efficient” to “eco-effective.”

Eco-efficiency is about being less bad while eco-effectiveness is about being good. Which would you prefer?

Additionally, the wastewater design is more affordable to build and has a much lower carbon footprint than others. That is the type of win-win-win approach the world needs in these turbulent times, because water never forgets and nature bats last.

Byline: Nelson Lebo enjoys playing in the mud with his children.

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Published 16th September, 2019

Dr. Nelson Lebo

The New South Wales government has announced it will spend $10 million to relocate native fish from the Lower Darling, which is experiencing low water levels and facing a long Australian summer with little rain forecast. Researchers indicate the causes are climate change and water extraction by irrigators upstream, resulting in an expensive “Noah’s Ark” type intervention funded by tax payers with no guarantee of success.

This is the type of lose-lose-lose situation humanity increasingly faces worldwide: environmental disruption accompanied by poor resource management resulting in an expensive Band Aid response.

Observations suggest these scenarios result from a failure to connect the dots or see The Big Picture. This is often called “reductionist thinking” or “tunnel vision.” It is the opposite of holistic thinking, and leads to a whole lot of costly mopping up afterwards. It’s a waste of time, resources and money. I hate waste!

The most effective way to address waste I have come across was popularized by William McDonough as Cradle-to-Cradle design in which his motto became “waste equals food.” A fortnight ago I introduced how McDonough designs with the goal of “eco-effectiveness” rather than “eco-efficiency,” or, in other words, being good rather than being less bad.

This approach to design requires a holistic perspective and a clear set of desired outcomes. When I design systems I seek to achieve the following: robustness, resilience, effectiveness, affordability, easy replication, and low resource input.

Take wastewater for example. In most cases it’s considered a pollutant and disposal focuses on mitigation. I take the opposite view: it’s a resource that can be harnessed for positive effects.

I’m in the finishing stages of designing a land application system from greywater that turns waste into food by using the effluent to ‘fertigate’ (fertilize and irrigate) willows* and other plants as part of a greater land management plan on our farm that involves growing food, sequestering carbon and building resilience to climate change. This approach to farming is called regenerative agriculture.

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Central to our management plan is growing more trees and feeding them to goats while protecting slip prone hillsides and unstable stream banks. This is a win-win-win farm plan in and of itself, but the greywater design adds to the overall productivity and resilience of the land while offering affordable, effective replication on other properties as needed.

The system addresses environmental challenges in these ways:

1) By using coarse woodchips instead of mined aggregate as the bedding material, the carbon footprint of building the system is reduced through eliminating the need to mine and transport aggregate over potentially long distances. Woodchips, on the other hand, are a local resource everywhere in New Zealand and can be processed and transported using relatively little fuel. Additionally, aggregate is a non-renewable resource while woodchips are renewable.

2) While serving as an aerobic media for the biological treatment of greywater the woodchip bedding material is stored as a carbon sink.

3) Fast-growing willows sequester large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere while also taking up nitrates and phosphates from the wastewater.

4) The system is designed to be affordable and to encourage those living rurally to engage in a lower cost upgrade rather than continuing to use substandard systems or upgrading to an inadequate system. Redirecting greywater takes pressure off existing wastewater systems and extends their lives, thus reducing costs and dispersing wastewater over broader areas of land. (It’s possible this approach can also be used for stock effluent.)

5) Willow branches are fed to stock (in our case goats) which takes pressure off grazing during summer months and helps prevent the need for buying in feed during droughts.

In a nutshell, this land application system is easy and inexpensive to build; adaptable to different soil conditions; replicable and scalable; low in embodied carbon footprint; and, increases the productivity of farmland while sequestering atmospheric carbon. How many wins is that?

* Based on the work of Feidhlim Harty of FH Wetland Systems Ltd.

Byline: Nelson Lebo practices regenerative agriculture in Okoia.

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Support efforts to protect Purua Stream: 100% of proceeds from the 2020 Permaculture Calendar go to permaculture projects, including protecting our local stream.

Peace, Estwing