Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Living Willow Bridge

“If you’re not having fun, there’s something wrong with the design.”

I can’t remember where or when I heard that, but I’ve always recognised it as true when applied to developing permaculture properties both large and small. Regenerative land management is hard work and burn out is a real possibility. Pacing oneself, enjoying the work, laughing and playing are hugely important. We embrace all of it at Kaitiaki Farm.

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Back in September when we were planting hundreds of native trees along our stream we had to cut back some willows. We could have discarded them but that would have been no fun. We planted them instead to form a bridge for the children involved in the Kaitiaki Forest Preschool Programme.

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Not much later they came to life.

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Not much later branches were growing.

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And growing.

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And growing.

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And growing.

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Once the branches were long enough, I pruned out most of them and wove the rest together.

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The chief engineer turned up to do some strength testing.

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When work is play it’s effortless.

Peace, Estwing

Permaculture Case Study: A Spring-Fed Water Trough

One challenge we have faced while fencing off our stream from stock has been supplying them with drinking water on the far side. (This is part of our wetland restoration and stream protection project: https://ecothriftylife.com/2017/02/01/world-wetlands-day/  )

Here are three ladies shading themselves near the stream on the valley floor.

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After fencing the entire stream we put in a Taranaki Gate to get stock across a few times each year. Obviously they are not drinking from the stream anymore, so we needed to figure out a way to keep them watered. One option was running the farm’s bore water to them, but that would have taken a bit of time and money.

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The far side of Purua Stream has a large number of springs, so I decided to do a little experiment.

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I located a spot just below the spring source and dug a small hole.

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I cut a six metre section of plastic pipe and placed one end in the hole. I drilled holes on the sides and top of the pipe and raised it off the bottom with twine and a broken fence post. These steps will help prevent soil getting in the pipe and clogging it.

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The pipe runs downhill to a second hand bath.

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Knowing how mischievous cows are, I used warratahs to hold the pipe in place and then the interns covered it with gorse branches that they were cutting nearby. The tub filled overnight and has worked brilliantly since.

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This is what the spring-fed trough looks like from across the stream with the pipe covered with thorny gorse branches.

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This is what it looks like from higher up the valley. This photo shows the cows near the trough.

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This simple and elegant system is a great example of what permaculture design thinking is all about.

Peace, Estwing

The Vegetarian Butcher

“Now that you’ve cleaned a chicken’s bum, I think it’s time to write your first blog post,” he says.

“Makes sense,” I say.

The Vegetarian Butcher

In the span of two days, I assisted in skinning a sheep; watched its butchering; plucked, gutted, and prepped a chicken. Farm life, am I right? That’s a lot of flesh and blood for a vegetarian celebrating five meat-free years and a year of being vegan-ish.

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I’d wanted to be a vegetarian since a very young age, in hopes of being more like 8-year-old environmental activist Lisa Simpson from The Simpsons. I didn’t take the plunge though, until I was 17 and decided I was done supporting factory farms. I did so somewhat begrudgingly because I had (have) a soft spot for meatloaf and chicken tenders and still claim that I’d cave for either, so long as it was smothered in ketchup. I’ve stayed strong, though, and even moved towards a vegan lifestyle last December, excited about the added challenge to cook without the use of animal products. My college running coach wasn’t so thrilled—through university, I was averaging 100km, three weightlifting sessions, and assorted cross training every week—but I felt incredible! I was eating cleanly, feeling fueled, and morally sound.

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Here, as is typical of a farm, the animals are workers. Where Kaitiaki differs, however, is in the tasks expected of the animals. In permaculture, the long-term health of the land must be considered in every decision made. By housing the majority of our poultry in tractors that are shifted daily to new grass, the ducks and chickens are providing a service without degrading the land. In a stationary poultry run, the birds are compacting the soil, stripping away grass, digging ruts, and accumulating poo that’s fertilizing nothing. Eventually there’s no fresh grass or insects for the birds to eat and the land underneath is unsuitable for future cultivation.

dsc_2631There is the added task of moving the tractors each morning, but this tiny pec/delt/shoulder workout is hardly a nuisance when considering the range of good done by our feathered farmhands. While chickens and ducks are for meat and eggs on any other farm, those are merely added bonuses here—rather than demanding eggs from the birds, we graciously accept them as gifts.

So when misfortunes fall upon our animals (i.e. broken limbs or little dogs), it’s time to put my tofu-centric views aside and utilize Holmgren’s third, fifth, sixth, and twelfth permaculture design principle: obtain a yield; use and value renewable resources and services; produce no waste; creatively use and respond to change. In permaculture, we are quick to learn that looking at the big picture and the long term can surmount what seems desirable (or undesirable) in the moment. In this instance, an animal lost is a meal gained. I’ve always said that I’d rather eat meat than see it thrown in the trash; I might soon have to eat my words.

-Liz (Illinois, USA)

World Wetlands Day

It’s World Wetlands Day and we should remember these things about them. From the DOC website:

“Wetlands are areas where water is the primary factor controlling the environment and associated plant and animal life. They can be freshwater or estuarine (located at the coast with brackish water) or both!

Wetlands are where the water table is at or near the surface of the land, or where the land is permanently or temporarily (as with the tides) covered by water. Although once thought of as mosquito-filled swamps or bogs, wetlands actually perform many valuable functions.

Wetlands act like the kidneys of the earth, cleaning the water that flows into them. They trap sediment and soils, filter out nutrients and remove contaminants; can reduce flooding and protect coastal land from storm surge; are important for maintaining water tables; they also return nitrogen to the atmosphere.

In the past, those soggy areas of land were often drained and ‘put to better use’ but now we know they are essential and one of the world’s most productive environments. In New Zealand they support the greatest concentration of wildlife out of any other habitat.”

We have a remnant wetland on our property that has been overgrazed for many decades. It can be described as a compromised ecosystem. This is what it looked like last summer when we had been on the land just over a year. The image shows how our three cows have grazed the grass but not greatly impacted the central channel.

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But not far away – just over the fence to a neighbouring property – it is evident how cattle can do extreme damage to stream banks.

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So the first step in wetland restoration and stream bank stabilisation is to keep the stock out.  These are our three ladies just over the fence from the photo above: our side of the stream is fenced but the neighbour’s is not.

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Keeping stock out of streams means fencing.

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Lots and lots of fencing.

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And the hazards of fencing.

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Next up is planting. Lots and lots of planting. We have had about 1,800 native plants donated to the restoration project, which covers about two acres of land along almost half a kilometre of stream.

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We have had a number of working bees: all spades on deck!

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Two school groups have come for planting days this spring. Here is Tupoho on the 1st of September.

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Community members have come up for another planting day. Here is a group during Whanganui Permaculture Weekend in mid-September.

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Because we got our plantings in at the end of the winter planting season, our interns have been consistently tending the plants this summer – making sure they are watered and weeded.

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Thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours have been invested during the last six months. These efforts are about making a brighter future.

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Wetlands are critically important for water quality, wildlife habitat and reducing the impacts of flooding. Celebrate the value of wetlands today.

Peace, Estwing

Permaculture: Viewed from Above

After two and a half years on a worn out horse property, we are seeing progress. This paddock is slowly becoming a market garden above a swale with peaches, blueberries, key apple, feijoa, jerusalem artichoke, currants and pomegranate.

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In the extreme foreground in the photo below we have planted avocados among the tagasaste serving as nurse trees.

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The west side of this paddock has some heritage apple trees, persimmon, hazelnut trees, more peaches, raspberries, blackberries and boysenberries. At the top left of the frame beneath the power poles are black currants.

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The lower eastern paddock has a small hand-dug pond that holds 25,000 litres of water. The fence line to the upper eastern paddock has a new windbreak consisting of poplars and  harekeke (flax).

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Here is another photo that also shows the goats happily eating some prunings in the upper paddock. To the south of the goats (out of the photo) is the orchard with 80 mixed varieties of fruit trees.

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Our interns, Liz and Rikke, have been helping in the annual beds where we are growing tomatoes, corgette, pumpkins, potatoes and spaghetti squash. There are also some yakon in there. We recently harvested 1,500 garlic.

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Manu and Bee are supervising the interns. The dog named Boy is supervising ducklings in a tractor.

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With each passing week this place is looking less like a tired horse property and more like a permaculture farm.

Peace, Estwing

Amazing Abundance: 6 Years on 700 Square Metres

Six years ago we moved onto a weed infested rubbish tip. After a month we had planted a vege garden, fruit trees, nurse trees and natives.

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After six years it looks like this.

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In a coastal environment, the keys are wind protection and enhancing sandy soils.

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This was the same corner a year later.

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Wind protection is great for annuals too. This is a different fence line four years ago.

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That fence line now looks like this: apples, plums, grapes, guava, Jerusalem artichoke, and a small annual vegetable garden.

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The opposite corner of the section looked like this four years ago. Note the peach tree in the bottom left corner.

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And now.

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This area needed attention five years ago.

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And today: feijoas, apples, olives

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Reverse angle shot with firewood storage area in lower right corner.

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In front of the house where there was overgrown grass, lupine and pampas lilly of the valley – and a large pile of rubbish – there is a grisselinia hedge for privacy and eventually wind protection.

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This beautiful, super-abundant suburban permaculture property from scratch in six years has been included in David Holmgren’s RetroSuburbia project as the only case study outside of Australia.

A one-off tour/workshop on this property will be offered Sunday 12th February 1-4 PM.

Space is strictly limited.

Register: theecoschool at gmail dot com

 

Peace, Estwing

What I have Learned About (Permanent) Agriculture

When I arrived to New Zealand a month ago, I had no idea how it would be to work on a permaculture farm. I hardly had any idea of what permaculture was about. I grew up at a hobby farm with 190ha and have recently been working on a duck farm with 500ha, so I thought that the Lebo family’s 5ha would be ‘piece of cake’. But I was wrong!

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My home country, Denmark is, like New Zealand a proud farm country. We produce a lot of grains and potatoes on our very flat landscape. I expected to see something similar here. But arriving in New Zealand has taught me that not only climate, but also landscape decides what the farmers grow and produce on their land. New Zealand has the most beautiful hilled landscape, where it’s often impossible to plow a field. Instead they produce a lot of wool and dairy from sheep and cows that easily graze on the hillsides.
The Lebo family has been taking advantage of the landscape of their property as well. Not only for their own benefit but also to benefit nature and the environment.

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Their farm is 99% organic, where vegetables are grown in the flat parts of the property, while cows, sheep and goats are fed with grass from the hillsides. They have rehabilitated the biology of the soil of a compacted horse field, where they today grow lots of garlic, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins and different kinds of fruit trees. They have started rehabilitation of wetland on their property, and planted poplars to keep the soil from sliding down the hill. All of this has already proven worthwhile and will continue to pay off in the future, to them and to the environment, which I found out is exactly what permaculture is about. Permaculture (Permanent agriculture) is about working with nature instead of fighting against it.

Since the day I came to the farm, we have been working hard on both small and bigger projects. I have been fighting thorny thistles and gorse with loppers and a spade. I have been fencing in the hills, which I find ten times harder than fencing in flat Denmark. I have planted, transplanted and watered hundreds of trees and vegetables. I have been weeding, feeding and sweating in the burning sun and I got to know the world’s best tool; the stirrup hoe.

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At a permaculture farm you have a small scale but big variation in plants and animals, which gives you different kinds of chores than on a traditional farm, which is often specialised in a curtain plant or animal. I knew that farming was hard work, but at this farm we do everything by hand and tools. No machines. That is hard work – and fun work. It gives me skills that I have never thought, I would get, and I am looking forward to learning more the next few months.

-Rikke (from Randers, Denmark)