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Spring Permaculture Update

The equinox has come and gone, and it’s all go on the farm. Longer hours of day light and plenty of water in the ground have vegetation in overdrive. Luckily, three interns arrived last week to learn and help out on the farm.

Strawberries are forming.

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And plums.

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The garlic is high.

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And the grass.

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Hawthorn is blooming.

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And poplars are leafing out.

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Bees are swarming, so our contracted beekeeper came to divide his hives.

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The interns headed down the hillside to weed the young olive trees we planted this winter.

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Followed by a lesson in goat pedicure.

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And a dinner of solar chicken.

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Happy the sun has returned.


Peace, Estwing

Regenerative Land Management: The Power of Plants

It’s been 13 months since we finished fencing our stream and had the first school group come for a planting day: Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Tupoho. Since then we have planted over 1,600 trees and plants with the help of three local schools, two community working bees, and 11 farm interns.

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What a difference a year makes!

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Last Year

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This Year

All of the work has been carried out with help from the forward-thinking and generous funding schemes administered by Horizons Regional Council. The final bill exceeds $10,000, and HRC has paid half of that. Thank you!

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Last Year

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This Year

For the most part Regional Councils manage environmental quality in New Zealand with a particular focus on water quality and flooding. By encouraging farmers to fence riparian corridors and plant native trees Regional Councils achieve both of these mandates in a holistic rather than reductionist manner. Other benefits include wildlife habitat and increased biological diversity.

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Last Year

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This Year

Thanks to a wet summer last year and the help of our farm interns – who hand weeded the native trees four times between October and April – the trees have thrived. As you can see from the images, some of the natives have tripled and quadrupled in size – in one year! The Horizons rural consultants said they had never seen anything like it when they came to do an audit in June. Of the 1,600 natives planted we’ve only found one that died.

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Last Year

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This Year

Given the investment of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of labour, there is a huge sense of satisfaction seeing the plants thriving. It was a big decision to fence off 15% of our land from stock and return it to native bush – permaculture zone 5. Looking at it now there are no regrets.

You can support the further planting of native trees along the stream – still about 600 to go – by purchasing a copy of the 2018 Permaculture Calendar. 100% of the income from New Zealand sales goes directly to this project.

2018 Permaculture Calendar Cover copy

Orders: theecoschool at


Peace, Estwing

A Handmade Pond

It took 10 months for us to dig a small pond on the farm.


We started slowly – one wheelbarrow at a time.


Deeper and deeper we dug.


We took a break for a birthday party.


Fun was had by all.


We soaked willow cuttings for  six weeks…


…and then planted them around the pond.


The supervisor made sure it was done properly.


Then it rained.


The goats were excluded so that the willows could grow.


Muscovies took up residence.


And raised a family.


The willows grew.


And the bare paddock became a more diverse ecosystem.


Six of our interns were involved in digging the pond and transporting soil to other landforms nearby. It is one of many approaches to water management we use on the farm that simultaneously drought-proof the land and reduce runoff during heavy rain events, which reduces erosion and slips, and helps protect those living downstream from flooding. Ponds and swales slow water moving across the landscape.

For our interns, the process of making the pond was a lesson in slow learning. We encourage slow learning on our farm – it is at the heart of our PDC internship programme. It’s a place where theory and practice come together in best practice teaching and learning – one shovel-full at a time.

Peace, Estwing

2018 Permaculture Calendar

For the fifth year we are distributing the Permaculture Principles calendar in New Zealand. The calendar is published in Australia using David Holmgren’s 12 permaculture principles.

2018 Permaculture Calendar spread 2

Our ‘business model’ for the calendar is based on the permaculture ethics. We practice “Fair Share” by offering the calendar at the lowest price worldwide, and we practice “Earth Care” by using all ‘profits’ to restore a stream corridor on our farm.

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Our strategy is not based on financial gain but on promoting permaculture through the informative and motivating calendar, and using the minor income to improve water quality and reduce storm damage in our region. It’s a win-win design.

2018 Permaculture Calendar Cover

The 2018 Permaculture Calendar, now in it’s 10th year, is ethically produced with the wholesome look and feel of post-consumer recycled paper printed with vegetable based inks. Internationally relevant and filled with inspirational and thought provoking images that support and reinforce your values every day of the year.

Learn each of the 12 design principles over the course of a month and be reminded of suitable garden activities with daily icons and phase times according to our moon planting guide. Includes a handy rainfall / temperature chart to keep track of the years events and moon icons for north and south hemispheres. Read more about the calendar here.

Produced in Australia on 100% recycled paper using vegetable based inks. Size: A4 (210mm x 297mm) opening to A3.

$16 postage paid/ $14 pick up

Twin Pack $29 postage paid

Order From:

Peace, Estwing

Guest Post — Holes and Poles or: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Read the Landscape

I grew up north of Chicago in the suburbs, far from the daily struggles and concerns that are encountered daily on the farm. At home I had been in the fortunate and privileged position of not worrying much about how much it rained or how little it didn’t, or where water was flowing or where it wasn’t.

But these effects are devastatingly consequential on the farm. Waterlogged soil is devoid of too much oxygen, which causes the plant to die. Prolonged exposure to soggy soil can cause nasty infections and rot on the hoofs of most livestock. One of Nelson’s many tenants of is to be constantly observing what is happening around you with all your senses, and this is keenly important in order to keep the land running smoothly. For example after one particular rain heavy evening Nelson had noticed that the soil in one of the orchard had become too overly saturated, so we worked to dig drains that directed the excess water into swales on the lower parts of the soil. A small issue that could have caused much trouble later on was not only preemptively avoided, but that excess water via the swale would now be stored for future use. A liability was turned into an asset.

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                                       The drain we dug in the orchard

A few days later we also planted coprosma robusta into that same paddock as well as on a couple of other places on the property. Not only do these trees serve as windbreakers when they mature, but they act as another way of absorbing excess water in the soil.

This is important concerning a much bigger incident and the project I have spent the most time on with Nelson during my time on the farm. Last April, a massive slip occurred on the hillside in the back of the property due to runoff water from a neighbor. For Nelson, who had noticed the influx before the slip and was worried about this issue occurring, this was a good lesson on diligently reading the landscape and taking preventive action. (He spoke to the neighbours about it but they refused to do anything to prevent their water from running onto the farm illegally.)

But since it did occur we have been working to prevent it from ever happening again. This is where poles and holes come in — poplar poles to be exact. Like the coprasma robusta that we planted in the paddock, the trees help to absorb excess water. But more importantly, poplar trees have an extensive and deep root system that dig into the hillside and effectively hold it to help prevent future slips.

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The slip as pictured here. You can see two poplar poles planted just off to the left.

            Planting the trees themselves is where the challenge comes in. First comes scouting the location to plant the tress — another important instance of being able to read the landscape. Depressions and low spots on the hillside are the areas where water is going to flow and pool, and hence likely to cause erosion, so that’s where the trees should be planted.

Once the spot to plant the trees is scouted its times to plant the trees themselves. A spade is used to initially create the hole, with the excess soil being placed above the hole. (Later the soil is going to be placed back in. So it is easily scooped back into the hole through keeping it above the hole.) Next we used a hand auger to create a hole with the size and depth we wanted. We dug the hole 70 to 80 centimetres deep, which was about halfway between the bottom tip of the auger and the top of the handle.

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Nelson digging the hole with auger and ramming the planted poplar pole into place

            Once the hole is dug in the pole are placed into the corner of the hole. The poles are then rammed into place from the top. We then spooned back a third of the dirt into the hole and used a tamper to pack it down, rinse and repeat until the hole was filled back up. Finally a protective sleeve went around the poles to prevent the livestock from eating them. And there you have it! But the poles take another 7 years to mature and effectively work to hold the hillside. So while they are an effective preventive long term measure, the best defense in the interim is to continuing to use our eyes and ears to protect the environment from further damage.


– Emily






Permaculture Plants

All plants are created equal – some are just more equal than others.

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For those who practice permaculture, certain plants are key elements for regenerative design, serving to: build soils; provide wind breaks as well as fodder for stock and bees; protect other plants from frost and excess sun; hold stream banks and hillsides; serve as firewood; and of course provide food.

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Tree lucerne (tagasaste) is a prime example of a permaculture plant. We use it on our farm to: fix nitrogen in the soil; protect young avocado trees from frost and sunburn; provide wind protection for the market gardens; feed bees and hungry mama goats.

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We plant hundreds each year so we propagate them ourselves on a regular basis.

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Another example that many farmers in our hilly region use is poplar in the form of 3 metre poles. They are used in slip-prone areas to stabilise slopes while stock is still present. Cows should be excluded for 3 to 4 years. The regional council subsidises the cost of them and offer free advice and which varieties to plant for different conditions.

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Poplars can also be used as wind breaks. We planted these just over a year ago between two paddocks. Those are willow wands planted around the duck pond.

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Along our stream we are planting  sheoak (casaurina), also called river oak in Australia because of its extensive root system.

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Cabbage trees are a NZ native that also help stabilise stream banks. We’ve planted hundreds over the last 18 months.

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We have found hawthorn growing on our hillsides. It has a number of useful traits.

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And finally, Jerusalem artichoke is another great permaculture plant. It’s an edible perennial that also produces a lot of organic matter above ground each year, which dies off in the winter. The tuber is the bit that’s eaten.

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Favouring perennials over annuals is central to permaculture design. While we also have market gardens, I find it more fulfilling these days to be working with perennials.


Peace, Estwing

Boredom Punctuated by Terror

It does not matter what the weather is like 99.9 percent of the time. The other bit can destroy roads, homes, lives and cities. Extreme weather events have been on the rise for over three decades and seem to be picking up in force and frequency in the last five years. The news provides a steady stream of such catastrophes. Climate scientists often call this, “an increased incidence of extreme weather events.”

Two months ago we had a strong wind event that brought down lots of branches on our farm.

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It only takes a few hours of high winds to do the damage.

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In April we had two rain events that caused a large slip – mostly due to a neighbour illegally dumping water onto our land.

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A major challenge for permaculturists is to design for extreme weather events. It will be the greatest challenge of our time. We are developing a resilient farm that can best resist both droughts and floods by turning liabilities into assets and buffering shocks.

Our garlic is high and dry – by design. All of our growing beds are raised rows perpendicular to slope with drainage on the ends.

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Meanwhile, this is how the Whanganui District Council responds – bulldozing wind- and wave-driven sand back into the Tasman Sea. Fighting climate change with diesel fuel! Good luck with that.

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Peace, Estwing