Category Archives: Uncategorized

RetroSuburbia in New Zealand

20-20 Hindsight Revisited

Nelson Lebo

In just four months 2020 has delivered more life lessons than most years do in 12. Along with those lessons have come new terms and phrases: social distancing; self-isolation; contact tracing; essential services.

Witnessing the ‘essential services’ lolly scramble has been mildly entertaining as different sectors lobbied for essential status with plenty of self-justifying rationalization. Ah yes, all services are essential but some services are more essential than others…

From my perspective I tend to think of the essentials as food, water, shelter and companionship.

Of the latter we have been able to provide safe accommodation for a number of adults who otherwise had no place to go for the duration of the lock down. This has resulted in a large bubble filled with board games, jigsaw puzzles, playing Lego with the kids, and walking bubba up the road to visit a neighbour’s horse. We’ve also enjoyed the regular act of speaking to neighbours ‘over the fence’ which has brought our rural cluster of homes closer together.

Regarding the other essentials, it’s been business as usual on our farm as would be the case on any permaculture property worldwide. Growing food, storing water and creating energy efficient spaces to live are at the heart of the permaculture movement, which provides a ready-made textbook for the type of resilience a wider audience is now clamouring for.

Despite what may be implied by the ‘Billionaire Bunkers’ of the South Island, resilience (and sustainability) need not be expensive. As shown by the 2011 renovation of our home in Castlecliff, meaningful results can be achieved on a shoestring budget. Here are some reflections published in the Chronicle on 30th January 2012.

 

Big savings in a year of living lightly

“We are now over the 12-month mark of renovating an abandoned villa in Castlecliff into a warm, dry energy-efficient home. When we set out on this low budget / high performance retrofit we had no specific numbers in mind for energy savings and waste reduction. We simply wanted to push the envelope and do the best we could. As it turns out, our power bill has averaged $20 per month (this includes the daily line charge) and we have spent a total of $20 in rubbish fees for the entire year. I’ve come to call this our “20-20 hindsight” but there is no reason it could not also be a 20-20 vision for others to work toward by the year 2020.

The first Conservation Comment I wrote in July explained the design principles we employed for our passive solar renovation that have helped us achieve low energy bills. There is nothing new or unusual about those principles: solar gain, thermal mass, insulation and draft proofing. Similarly, there is nothing new or unusual about the design principles for our approach to resource conservation: reduce, reuse and recycle. The 3 R’s have helped us reduce the cost and impact of the renovation project as well as the cost and impact of our day-to-day lives. Here are a few examples.

While we have followed the New Zealand Building Code and used treated pine, Braceline Gib, building paper, and heaps of insulation, there are also areas where we were able to reduce costs and impacts by reusing materials. Prime examples include the bathtub, vanity, washtub and toilet in the bathroom, and the bench, sink, mixer, drawers, and shelves in the kitchen. Perhaps the most visible example is the vintage Shacklock 501 multi-fuel range that I bought my wife two years ago as a wedding present and we worked with Building Control to find a way to install safely.

Regarding our household waste stream, we compost all of the food scraps and even our fish and chips papers. We save paper to burn in our Shacklock or our outdoor pizza oven (made from an old wood burner) or to mulch our gardens and fruit trees. We reuse plastic bread bags and other small non-recyclable plastic containers. Again, there is nothing special about any of this, other than the fact that we take it seriously and put out one bag of rubbish for every two months. Perhaps the most unusual thing we do at all is emphasize the costs savings rather than simply the environmental benefits. At the end of the day, eco-thrifty living makes dollars and sense.”

 

Along with the renovation we filled the section with fruit trees and vegetable gardens. Today the home and section are unrecognizable from a decade ago, and have been included in a recent book written by permaculture co-founder David Holmgren: RetroSuburbia: The downshifters guide to a resilient future.

In the wake of the Covid-19 lockdown – which has forced almost all of us to downshift for six weeks anyway – this book and the greater RetroSuburbia movement seem more relevant than ever. Dani and I feel privileged to work with our Australian counterparts in promoting the movement on this side of the Tasman.

As this is my last conservation comment, I want to make sure to thank all those who have supported our community projects over the last decade including the major hardware stores and garden centres. I especially want to recognize the dozens of volunteers for the Curtain Bank and the Repair Café as well as the Whanganui Learning Centre and the Josephite Retreat Centre for their unqualified support.

Kia kaha, Estwing

Permaculture Weekend 2020: Revisiting Resilience

The 7th Annual Whanganui Permaculture Weekend will be held 5th – 6th September with the Festival of Adult Learning Ahurei Ākonga (Adult & Community Education Aotearoa) to follow the 7th – 14th.

The focus this year will be on building household and community resilience.

Please let us know if you would like to get involved.

RetroSuburbia: Castlecliff, Whanganui

Everyone told us, “Do not buy in Castlecliff!” We ignored them. It was 2010.

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 6.34.45 am

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 6.35.06 am

It was love at first sight.

IMG_4876

More than one person scoffed at me for buying this house.

Some called it “A dog’s breakfast.”

IMG_6873

But she came up alright with a lick of paint.

DSCF5638

The home and section were a bit of a mish…

IMG_7347

…but we got there in the end.

DSCF5036

Side yard before…

IMG_1830

…and after.

DSCF5653

This project has become a benchmark for low-cost and high-performance renovation.

There will be a one-off tour and workshop in late April.

ANZAC Day (Observed, Monday) 27th April, 2020, 2:00 – 5:00 PM. $35 p/p, $55 couples.

This Whanganui property is the only case study outside of Australia to be included in David Holmgren’s RetroSuburbia project: https://retrosuburbia.com/case-studies/eco-thrifty-retrofit-case-study/

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 6.48.38 am

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 6.49.49 am

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 6.49.24 am

Space is limited.

Registration essential: theecoschool@gmail.com

Peace, Estwing

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.

20200217_075943

20200217_075933

20200217_075923

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.

20200217_080311

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.

20200205_092411

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

20200205_092324

They left the branches throughly stripped.

20200217_080426

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.

20200212_113224

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.

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 2.03.31 pm

“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.

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 12.17.48 pm

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.

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 12.16.26 pm

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.

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 12.16.06 pm

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