Category Archives: permaculture

Fruits of Our Labour

Holmgren’s third permaculture principle is “obtain a yield.” Autumn is when a lot of yield happens. It’s a great time of year.

Another way to appreciate yield is to plant a fruit tree and then wait for years until it bears fruit. We’ve planted over 200 fruit trees over the last three years and it’s gratifying to see many of them producing, which includes: peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, lemons, oranges, grapefruit, figs, feijoas, apples, and guavas.

But we’re still waiting for the big payoff: avocados!

Peace, Estwing

Late Summer Permaculture Update II

Summer is always a busy time of year – made busier by a drought. Thankfully we have had nine amazing interns on the farm over the last four months.

After a hot and dry summer we’ve gotten a good soaking rain – about 60 mm over three days. Enough to dampen the soil and plant a winter crop of leeks.

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And also to prep a new annual bed and soak the compost piles through.

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Strawberries and yakon are responding to the rain.

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Some pumpkins have been harvested and are curing on the edge of the stone driveway.

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There are more ‘winter squash’ among the second planting of tomatoes.

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The third planting of tomatoes is starting to take off.

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We’ve been drying chilis on the solar dehydrator. These will be the next batch to be harvested.

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The beans are going gangbusters even through this trellis has been knocked over twice by severe winds.

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And finally, to bookend our summer the first lot of ducklings are nearly full-grown…

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…while the last lot of ducklings has just hatched.

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Looking forward to a slower autumn.


Peace, Estwing

Guest Host: Caring for Young Trees

Editor’s note: This is a post by our intern Andrew.


Trees play a lead role on our farm. More than just a source of fruit and a pleasing landscaping feature, trees are valued within permaculture design for their complex array of functions within any ecosystem. Trees and forests work wonders in preventing soil erosion, regulating the extremes of humidity and temperature, managing the soil moisture, and acting as a windbreak.

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It is unsurprising that permaculturists are enamored with trees. The ethos of permaculture is to “design and maintain agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.” And the prehistoric state of most ecosystems on earth’s surface was characterized by forest. Here in New Zealand, before the arrival of humans, 85% of the land mass was tree cover whereas that figure is barely above 30% today. A similar story has played out globally as the march of human presence and capabilities has been synchronous with the felling of forests.

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We often imagine history with humans as the protagonists, domesticating other species in our quest for global domination. But an equally valid perspective is to instead think of grasses, in the form of maize, wheat and other staples, domesticating humans to do the work of clearing trees. We open up space for our masters, grass, to grow and flourish.

As any permaculturist knows, the clearing of trees is accompanied by a host of adverse consequences to the surrounding ecosystem. In the Lebo’s case, they inherited a damaged property suffering after years of clearcutting and overgrazing, a hillside in danger of slips, and a flooding creek tearing away at its banks. It is true that left to its own devices, cleared land will slowly grow back into forest over the course of many years. Grasses will be succeeded by shrubs, then small trees, and finally bigger trees.

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But to stop the bleeding, the Lebo’s top priority on this land has been to intervene to speed along the recovery process by planting over a thousand trees. Many of these adorn the bare hillsides and blanket the creek beds to slow erosion and prevent the creek from widening and swallowing more of the land. Others are fruit-bearing, grown as part of a future food forest, both feeding us and the community, providing forage for birds and pigs, and acting as a wind and soundbreak from the main road. With so many young trees, caring for them can be a full-time job.

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Like any living creature, trees need water. Whereas full-grown trees possess wide and deep root systems rendering them more resilient during drought times, young trees still need to be coddled. Much of this dry summer has seen us directly watering the young poplar, olive, and manuka trees dotting the hillside. To increase the effectiveness of the watering, the trees were planted inside small depressions in the shape of small bowls. Since they are on a hillside, this is an important step to ensure that water soaks into the earth directly on the plant and thereby encourages deep root growth.

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In addition, we like to give our baby trees a leg up in the competition for water and nutrients by occasionally patrolling the trees to pull the grasses and weeds in the immediate vicinity of their tiny trunks to maintain a small circumference of cleared space. Many of the trees are so small that they would otherwise be completely overrun and suffocated by the tall grasses and vines that can spring up during wet spells. We lay the pulled grasses back down around the base to act as a mulch. This aids in slowing water evaporation from the soil around the tree and inhibiting the resurgence of grasses and weeds by shading them out.

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As the trees age, sometimes plants are purposefully planted around the base of the tree. Down the road in Whanganui, the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust has bushes of comfrey growing around the base of some of the fruit trees. Comfrey acts as a living mulch to prevent the overgrowth of grass, but it also is particularly useful in its role as a dynamic accumulator, mining nutrients from far within the soil with its deep roots. These nutrients can be added back to the soil by frequently trimming comfrey leaves and laying them down as mulch or by making a comfrey tea out of them.

Much of caring for trees is knowing the appropriate microclimate in which to plant them. For example, we have a few potted citrus trees we are hoping to transplant into the ground soon. However, citrus trees abhor having wet feet, which, given the realities of the clay soils and wet winters, is hard to avoid. With this in mind, we have taken a plot from the garden and built a hugelkultur in order to create a small rise in the land to create a drier corner.

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Avocado trees, while enjoying plentiful water, are also susceptible to root rot if kept too moist. They will therefore be planted at the bottom of our hill but on a small plateau. This area has the additional benefit of being one of the only places on the property with free-draining sandy soil.

Sometimes, a succession of trees should be planted to mimic ideal growing conditions. Take the avocado trees again as an example. When avocado trees are young, they must grow under shade. In our case, we will plant tagasaste as a nurse tree a full season before planting the avocado. Tagasaste is an ideal nurse tree, being easy to propagate from seed and providing nitrogen fixing and shade. In addition, tagasaste is a short-lived tree, so by the time the avocado tree has matured enough to hold its own, the tagasaste can be harvested for firewood.

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On an organic farm, keeping pests and diseases down naturally is important. We have invested in a wide diversity of tree species and varieties to safeguard against any one pest or disease from thriving and wreaking havoc throughout the whole property. In addition, we purchase only the most disease-resistant varieties. Pruning has a role in disease prevention as well. Pruning off dead, diseased, or damaged branches maintains a healthy tree and opens it up to better air circulation.

One last factor that should always be considered is protecting trees from potential damage wrought by prevailing winds as well as other animals on the farm. As Nelson always says, “You have to plan 110% for animals.” We take extreme precautions with bulletproof fencing for the goats on the farm. If they get into the adjacent orchard, they could eat the young trees to death in the course of a short afternoon, decimating years worth of investment.

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All in all, trees are an irreplaceable keystone to any permaculture design. Caring for them can be a handful, but is always well worth the work.



Land as Teacher: The Permaculture Campus

When students enrol in our PDC internship programme they soon learn that human instructors take a backseat to the real teacher: the farm itself.

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Farm life often revolves around problem-solving: restoring degraded soils; stabilising vulnerable slopes; re-establishing a former wetland; planting riparian corridors; mending fences; caring for animals; dealing with drought; dealing with floods; clearing drains; digging drains; addressing pest outbreaks; treating diseased plants; protecting chicks and ducklings from predators… The list, at times, seems endless.

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But it makes for an endless stream of teachable moments over the course of our 8-week residential PDC programme, alongside other projects such as erecting new fences, putting up wood for the winter, propagating grape vines, harvesting garlic, pruning fruit trees, ringing pigs, clipping goats’ hooves, processing cockerels, building chicken tractors, scything tall grasses, dehydrating fruit for storage, or breaking in new annual beds.

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These experiences are overlaid on top of daily and weekly chores: turning the compost; feeding animals; collecting eggs; milking goats; harvesting fruits and vegetables; weed management; solar cooking; making cheese; baking bread; and, starting seeds.Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 6.04.56 am

Interns come to Kaitiaki Farm from around the world – most with little or no farming and building experience. For many, English is a second or third language. Some have already completed a PDC elsewhere. Some left well-paying jobs while others are military veterans. They may be vegan, vegetarian, or paleo.

But what they all share is the desire to learn in an authentic context. This creates an amazing community of highly motivated learners. It’s serious business.

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While we follow the PDC Curriculum, the way in which we do so is responsive rather than prescriptive. In other words, we let the land cover most of the topics and we step in only to round it out. Interns not only learn by doing, they learn the how, why, where and when of managing a permaculture farm.

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Above all else they learn four-dimensional design thinking that can be applied to all aspects of their lives after leaving the farm. In other words, what we really offer is a two-month immersion programme in systems thinking.

Connecting the dots, I believe, is the most essential skill to address the many challenges facing humanity. Not all of our graduates will go on to become organic farmers or green builders, but they all have a role to play in creating a better world through holistic understanding and creative problem-solving.


Peace, Estwing

Late Summer Permaculture Update

It has been a long and hot summer – great for growing tomatoes and basil, but hard keeping many young trees alive. We’ve spent a lot of time hand watering but have managed to keep up with it. This is a shot of part of our young orchard.

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Here is the flax windbreak for the orchard that is now two and a half years old.

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This blackbody peach tree had two spring flushes this year. Weird. I have never seen anything like it.

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Not a lot of peaches but they are large.

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A huge number of Monty’s Surprise apples came down in the wind last week. We are storing them to feed out to the birds and pigs over time.

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We’ve had well over 100 muscovy ducklings hatched this year with more on the way.

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Unfortunately not many hens so far.

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These cockerels will be ready for processing in another 2 to 3 weeks.

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Our bee guys came to harvest the honey this week. Sadly, it’s the second bad honey season in a row.

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And of course it was a terrible growing season for garlic, but we have survived as one of the few organic growers in the country with a half-decent crop.

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Some good news is that Rosie has had twins that are doing well.

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And we’ve been potting up tagasaste in the nursery.

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That’s all for now, Estwing.

Guest Post: What Permaculture Is – A Letter to Friends

Editor’s Note: Karen reflects on her two months of learning on the farm.


Reflecting back over the 8 weeks of our permaculture internship, I wanted to attempt to distil and share what I’ve learned about permaculture.

For a start, permaculture is one of those terms that a single definition won’t cover – it’s multi-dimensional in theory and in practice. On our first evening here at Kaitiaki Farm, five interns around the dinner table gave five different descriptions of what they understood permaculture to be. For example; sustainable agriculture; a systems/holistic approach to farming; working together with nature and natural processes in agriculture. It is all this and more. It is a blend of scientific knowledge and traditional approaches. It is a framework for resilience in an uncertain world.

At the heart of permaculture are the ethics of earth care, people care, and fair share. It’s about considering the part humans play in natural resource cycles, and designing for sustainability of these systems.

Permaculture is not exclusively for those with land in the countryside. We can be permaculturists on city sections, as apartment-dwellers, and as vagabonds.

Permaculture can inform many of our life choices; how we manage our finances; how we share surpluses; how we design our homes and workplaces; and how we form our communities. Permaculture encourages us to consider our actions from all angles.

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Permaculture helps build sustainable communities: Whanganui has a local “green dollar” currency – River Exchange and Barter System (REBS) – where members can barter or exchange skills and produce using River Dollars (which are equal in value to $NZ). There is a REBS stall every week at the Saturday River Traders Market. We transported garlic from Kaitiaki Farm to the market by bike.

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Permaculture helps us design systems which are multi-dimensional, and which factor in resilience. At Kaitiaki Farm the wood-burner warms the house in winter, while also heating the hot water, and is used for cooking. While there is also an electric stove, often a solar cooker is used to prepare meals. Having several different cooking options means the household doesn’t go hungry in a power outage and makes cooking more of an adventure.


Farm Weekend 2018: 3rd-4th March

Kaitiaki Farm Weekend 2018

3rd-4th March

Whanganui, New Zealand

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Saturday 3rd March

11:00-12:30. Organic Gardening Master Class: Work Smarter, Not Harder. Being efficient and effective is all about tools, timing and technique. By taking on a market-gardener’s perspective on organic production all gardeners can punch above their weight.

1:30-3:00. Backyard Chickens. Experienced chicken breeder Cyd Welch joins us for this workshop covering the basics of chook care and management.

3:30-5:00. Innovative Cookers and Dehydrators. This hands-on workshop covers the use and construction of solar cookers, solar dehydrators and rocket stoves, some of which we’ve used for over a decade.

$20 each or $50 for all three.

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

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Sunday 4th March

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

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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, building 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, stock rotation and wetland restoration.

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$75 Individuals, $120 Couples

Primary Tutor: Dr. Nelson Lebo has been farming for nearly two decades and teaching for nearly three. He is best known for innovative and holistic design solutions.

Register: theecoschool at

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