Category Archives: permaculture

Support Stream Restoration

Filled with inspiring images that can change the way you see the world, with practical examples of each permaculture design principle over the course of a month. Daily icons are reminders for garden activities that take advantage of the lunar cycles, supporting regular planting routines. The annual rainfall chart is a handy way to keep a weather record or an eye on events over the year.

Ethically produced using post-consumer recycled paper printed with vegetable based inks. Internationally relevant and filled with thought provoking images that support and reinforce your values every day of the year.

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

Growing Avocados in Heavy Soils

Our climate suits avocados but not our soils, so we made modifications: in this case digging a drain, building a mound and planting tagasaste.

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Here is how we went about that over the last four years: https://ecothriftylife.com/2017/01/01/permaculture-four-dimensional-design-case-study-creating-a-micro-ecosystem-for-avocados-in-a-marginal-location/

This is the mound two years on from the image above, as we actively prune out the tagasaste and allow the avocados to grow up through.

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This is an example of using tagasaste as ‘nurse trees’: you can see them pruned out as the avo grows.

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And here is that tree on planting day two years ago.

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Here is our intern, Rikke, planting that tree in 2017.

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Here is another intern, Oliver, planting another avocado that day.

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And here it is today.

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Yum! Can’t wait.

Peace, Estwing

Kaitiaki Farm Weekend 2019: 23rd-24th March

We open the farm each year in March for tours and workshops.

Kaitiaki is an exemplar permaculture farm just outside Whanganui, New Zealand. The farm is managed holistically for food production, land restoration and water management. We focus on resilient farming and regenerative agriculture.

 

Saturday 23rd March

12:30-2:00. Innovative Cookers and Dehydrators. This hands-on workshop covers the use and construction solar dehydrators and rocket stoves and demonstrates three different solar cookers.

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2:00-3:30. Building and Managing Weed-Free Garden Beds. This hands-on workshop covers all the steps for converting a lawn or paddock easily into a low-maintenance/high-productivity garden.

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4:00-5:00. Growing Great Garlic. Learn some tips for growing delicious garlic organically. Fee includes one bulb of seed garlic and five litres of compost.

$20 each or $50 for all three.

Meals and accommodation available. Please inquire for options and prices.

 

Sunday 24th March

9:00-3:00. Permaculture Farm Tour. We run a fully-integrated diverse operation on 5.1 hectares integrating plants and animals in distinct relationships based on potential synergies.

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The morning session covers what would be considered permaculture zones 0 – 3 focusing on eco-building and alternative energy, market gardening, hot composting, tractoring fowl, soil fertility, water management, wind breaks, and orchard planning.

The afternoon session covers what would be considered permaculture zones 3 – 5 focusing on water management, erosion control, slope and stream bank stabilization, browse blocks/pollarding stock fodder, and wetland restoration.

$75 Individuals, $120 Couples. Includes Lunch.

Register: theecoschool@ gmail dot com

Location: Okoia, Whanganui.

Primary Tutor: Dr. Nelson Lebo is an eco design professional with two decades experience in permaculture.

Bush Restoration: Permaculture Zone 5

It’s been two years since we fenced off and started planting the stream and remnant wetland on our farm to native species, with 2,000 plants in the ground thanks largely to Horizons Regional Council, our farm interns, and local schools.

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Before fencing and planting the stream was in rough shape. Our stock was grazing up to the water line and putting pressure on the banks.

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This is a photo of the day after the 2015 floods showing the culvert just below a bend in Purua Stream. The water overtopped the culvert by almost half a metre.

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This is a photo of the same area this month. Note the two large willow trees in each photo.

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We have dedicated this area, which is used for outdoor education with children, to Dr. Chris Cresswell who helped plant trees here two years ago. We call the area “Chris Cressant” because of the bend in the stream.

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This week we found a giant kokopu living in the pool underneath the culvert. Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 5.57.07 am

In June we found an eel just upstream of the culvert, which appears to indicate that the concrete rubble ‘fish ladder’ we built has been effective at allowing aquatic species to get through the formerly ‘perched culvert’ and upstream to the restored wetland.

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Horizons is back again arranging more school plantings along Purua Stream on our farm and hopefully other land owners will do the same. What a difference it will make for everyone living downstream, which includes much of the Whanganui community.

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To get your school involved contact Horizons Regional Council or contact us at Kaitiaki Farm, www.theecoschool.net

Peace, Estwing

Late Autumn Permaculture Update

The rains have come and much of the ground is now saturated. Many of our pathways have taken on a distinctive brown colour.

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After being nearly dry this summer, the pond is filling.

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And I’ve taken the pump out of storage to pump out the swales as there is more rain in the forecast.

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We’ve planted some beds to winter vegetables…

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…and built new beds for garlic planting.

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Here are 2 & 1/2 cubic metres of compost ready for the garlic plantings starting later this month.

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This weekend marked eight weeks for our kunekune piglets and so six of them were sold to new homes. Here is one of the remaining three. No more fighting over the scraps!

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We have approximately 100 muscovies hatched this summer almost ready to be sold.

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And these nine are just two weeks old.

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Tractoring birds for the last three years has done wonders for improving soil quality and regrowth of favourable grasses.

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And finally, we say goodbye to our three fabulous interns, Karen, Vera and Ali. The next two interns arrive tomorrow.

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Peace Estwing

Designing for Climate Change

Above all else, we design our farm for climate change. Primarily this means drought-proofing and flood-proofing simultaneously. While we employ many strategies along these lines, here is one that is very straight-forward.

In June, 2015 Whanganui experienced an extreme rain event that caused slips and erosion on our farm. In one area approximately 30 cubic metres of stream bank disappeared overnight.

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When we went to inspect it the next day we were awed by the destructive power of the water.

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The flood was so powerful is sheered fencing wire through pure tension.

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From that day – just 10 months into our ownership of the farm – our thinking about how to manage the 13 acre property took a drastic change. We fenced over 400 metres of stream, planted over 2,000 trees, and put in another 500 metres of fencing to exclude stock from sensitive areas.

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Along the stream we planted a host of native species including grasses and cabbage trees known for their fibrous root systems that hold soil in place. We also planted over 100 Australian casuarina, also known as sheoak and river oak.

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As an emergency measure we drove willow poles into the stream bank in the worst effected areas. We intended to use the willow and sheoak as stock fodder – easily pollarding it and dropping branches over the fence for eager goats.

Over the last two years the willows have grown up to the point where this week we were able to cut branches for the goats for the first time. Although we’re not in a drought at the moment this is the type of emergency stock feeding we’ve designed for in case of long periods with no rain.

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Willow is healthy stock fodder. Here is great link to a resource explaining all about it: https://beeflambnz.com/knowledge-hub/PDF/poplars-and-willows-fodder

At the end of the day, by fencing the stream and planting its riparian corridor with the proper species we are able to flood-proof and drought-proof this section of our farm simultaneously. In a future of increased extreme weather events it seems like the only viable option.

 

Peace, Estwing