Tag Archives: permaculture internship

Three Years on the Land

After three years of good design and hard work, we have transformed a worn out horse property into one of New Zealand’s premier permaculture farms. Significantly, we have done this on a tiny budget and with no heavy equipment or contractors. A massive thanks goes out to our fantastic interns who have come from over a dozen countries to help with the ‘human-scale’ transformation of the land.

Kaitiaki Farm has a bit of everything permaculture: organic market gardens; perennial orchards; swales and ponds; tractored poultry; alternative energy; integrated food systems; wetland restoration; riparian corridors; innovative construction techniques; creative reuse; and community involvement.

Our education programmes are world-leading, most notably the eight-week PDC Work-Study Internship, which is fully enrolled until the middle of 2018. We believe that the highest quality education should be affordable for anyone, not just those who can afford to go to expensive weekend workshops.

We have been privileged and humbled to be educating the next generation of permaculturists who will change the world for the better. Our dedication to people and the planet will continue to guide the development of Kaitiaki Farm and the innovative programmes offered here.

Thanks to all our supporters over the years and we look forward to even greater success in the future!

Peace, Estwing

Permaculture Farm PDC Internship Intensive

Our interns booked in for the August/September internship programme have had last minute conflicts arise. We are in the position to offer a six week intensive (normally eight weeks) programme for the right person(s).

We believe in learning by doing. 

We believe in making education affordable.

Interns earn a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) through an experience of living permaculture on the land. During the August/September programme we will focus on animal care, planting trees, solar cooking, rocket stoves, eco-renovation, orchard management and market gardening.

There is a special emphasis on community education during this particular programme, which culminates with Adult Learners Eco-Literacy Week and the Whanganui Permaculture Weekend.

Dates: 30th July – 10th September.

Cost: $350

More details: http://www.theecoschool.net/workstudy-permaculture-design-certificate.html

Contact: theecoschool at gmail dot com


Peace, Estwing

Early Winter Permaculture Update

We have had a busy autumn here on the farm with our three amazing interns. They left us last weekend after presenting their fabulous design projects.

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After 10 weeks on the farm they have learned a ton about permaculture design.

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Now, for the first time in eight months we do not have interns on the farm. It is a welcome break from continuously having to manage a group of eager helpers. We’ve shifted gears to a slower life with easy chores like drying apples. We had a very large harvest of Monty’s Surprise apples this year and are processing many of them through the solar dehydrator.

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I made this a few months ago out of salvaged timber and an old shower door.

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Before the interns left we made a good push to plant out our strawberries…

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… but we had so many that I’ve had to pot a few dozen up this weekend. Too many strawberries? That’s my kind of problem!

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We also made a good effort of planting garlic, but the process is not quite halfway done so far. I enjoy planting garlic and can take the next fortnight to chip away are the remainder of the 4,000 + cloves that we’re planting.

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Other early winter things happening on the farm: ducklings?!?

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We have cockerels to process once there is enough space in the freezer.

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And the first lot of poplar poles was delivered by the regional council. But those can wait until the August internship begins.

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Peace, Estwing


Permaculture Internship: A Day in the Life

Here is a glimpse of what a permaculture internship on Kaitiaki Farm looks like. It includes regular chores like animal care, solar cooking and cutting firewood in the winter, but it can also include unique projects.

One morning this week our interns had the opportunity to meet with land care specialists from our Regional Council who came to the farm to advise us on a planting plan for our stream and hillsides. While we were in the valley we planted some willow poles at the bottom of a recent slip. (We cut and prepared the poles the previous day.)

Later that day they helped out at a pop-up Curtain Bank we started to hand out free curtains to families in need in our community. Once we got home there was still a little sunlight left so we planted another few rows of garlic.

The permaculture ethics can be summarised as: Earth Care; People Care; Fair Share. Our interns immerse themselves in these ethics along with the four-dimensional design strategies we employ on the farm. After two months they leave us with a Permaculture Design Certificate, a large array of practical skills, and a new perspective on the world and how to re-design it to better serve people and the planet. Our current group of three interns graduate tomorrow. We wish them luck!

For more information on the Kaitiaki PDC internship programme:



Peace, Estwing

Guest Post: What’s on My Hands

Editor’s Note: Our intern Nicki shares her thoughts on poo.



I’ve been at the farm for about a month and a half now, but it was in my first week that I looked down at my hands, covered in microcuts, splinters, and smudges of some unknown brown substance, and wondered to myself “Is that dirt, poo, or chocolate spread on my hands?”

The first possibility is pretty self explanatory. Farming is a tough, and dirty, job. Whether you have a simple kitchen garden, a few hectares of land, or a production with hundreds of cows, each situation requires time and attention to make sure things run as smoothly, and productively, as possible. You’re moving animals, digging, building, picking fruit and vege, myriads of tasks on any given day. Your hands get covered in dirt, and sometimes it seems that no matter how much you wash and scrub, they stay covered in dirt.

The second possibility of what was on my hands, poo, is what I really want to delve into in this blog. Most people see poo and generally want to get as far away from the stinky, messy stuff, as quickly as they can. But not here at Kaitiaki Farm. We love poo, because it’s an amazingly valuable resource. A huge part of permaculture is holding your resources on your own land for as long as possible, therefore, we quite often find ourselves around some variety of poo. I’ll provide a few examples.

One of the main uses for animal poo on the farm is as an ingredient in our compost. Rich in nitrogen, poo is often added to compost to offset the carbon heavy filled piles. With the hot composting Berkley method we use, you want a 25-30:1 C:N (carbon:nitrogen) ratio. At the farm, we currently have six 1.5-meter compost piles. These piles are a mixture of carbon (i.e. brown) rich materials such as straw, wood shavings, and cardboard, and nitrogen rich (i.e. green) materials that may include, but are not limited to, kitchen scraps the pigs don’t eat (coffee grounds, tea bags, onion and garlic peels), hay, and poo. You can use horse manure, cow manure, chicken, pigeon, etc. Often, when we first start a pile, sheep manure collected from underneath shearing sheds and sold by the bagful, is added to the pile to get the compost process started quickly. If one of our compost piles appear dry and carbon heavy, we’ll go to one of the pig paddocks and scoop up buckets of their excrement to add to the pile the next time we turn it. Eventually, this compost gets used on the garden beds and helps to grow rich, delicious food.

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Pouring established compost into garlic bed furrows


Chicken poo is useful on the farm as well. The majority of our chooks are kept in portable chicken tractors that we shift daily to allow the birds to graze on new grass. They get to eat fresh grass each day, and we get free lawn care: no petrol or energy wasted mowing the lawn, and their scratching, pecking, and poo makes for fertile soil. We also get bags of mixed wood chips and chicken coop scrapings from a neighbor that are used as an efficient starter for the compost piles.

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Turning a new compost pile that is made largely of a wood chip-chicken poo combination


Additionally, this material can also have other purposes. We recently completely removed some strawberry plants from a bed in order to intensively weed the area. Before replanting, we kept the plants in punnets and other containers, with their roots covered in handfuls of the chip-poo mixture to keep the plants from drying out.

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Strawberry plants covered in damp wood chip-chicken poo mix


Finally, the last example of poo I’ll discuss is duckling poo. When it comes time to change the duckling’s bedding, we’ll take the hay/grass/poo combination from the bottom of their beds and either put it on the plastic sheets that cover areas where our market and kitchen garden beds will be (the plastic kills the weeds underneath, and we want to cover the plastic to protect it from the sun’s rays, thereby increasing its lifespan), or over the sticks, branches, and soil that our hügelkultur is comprised of. A hügelkultur is a no-dig raised bed comprised of many of the same materials as a compost pile, but it’s a much more gradually decaying area, that depending on the items included, may supply nutrients for decades. These examples are only a portion of the ways in which we use animal poo on the farm.

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Duckling bedding that will eventually be used in additional ways


So, animal poo is obviously a crucial resource, but what about human poo? If one would like to dispose of their own waste in an eco-friendly way, a composting toilet is one option. This cuts down on human waste that potentially gets pumped out to our oceans (sometimes untreated!), and saves heaps of water that we waste each time we flush a toilet. Human waste can be mixed with high carbon materials and composted long term. This practice is often frowned upon, but in my opinion, it’s just fecal phobia.

Even your littlest humans can contribute to the permaculture way of life. If you use reusable nappies, that poo can be added to a compost loo as well. Even if you don’t utilize humanure, reusable nappies are an important part of making the earth a better place. They may seem off-putting at first, but the reusable variety are a much safer and environmentally friendly option than the disposable ones. Whereas a disposable diaper can only be used once, contains chemicals and plastic, and ends up in landfill, reusable nappies are made of cloth materials such as cotton, hemp, or microfiber, do not have any absorbent chemicals, and can be washed and reused. They also save parents hundreds of dollars a year!

Permaculture is all about minimizing waste, and using resources as best you can. On the farm, animal poo ends up in our compost piles, on our paddocks, and in the hügelkultur. So, although permaculture may be all about minimizing waste, waste is something that this farm thrives on. We definitely don’t waste waste here! 😉

Oh, and in case you were wondering about that third possibility of what might be on my hands, the chocolate spread? Well, who doesn’t love that deliciously smooth, chocolaty stuff? We consume heaps of it here, so a smudge or two could quite possibly end up on my hands. I suppose it’s best that I resist the temptation to lick my fingers to find out.




Guest Post: Hugelkultur, four-dimensional design and goats!

Kostas, an intern at Kaitiaki Farm, shares some of what he has learned about our systems-based farm management strategy.

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I will share with you, my experience with contributing into a hugelkultur project in Katiaki farm . Hugelkultur is a german word that describes a type of raised bed that is created using mainly branches of wood and soil.

After consulting with Nelson about the project, and introduced myself, Esther and Nicki into the four- dimensional design, which is the idea of taking action with an immediate and later in time outcome, we started our project.

The very last outcome of our work would be to create a raised bed area where an orchard would be established as fruit trees enjoy free draining soil. It all started when Nelson saw the need to hold water in of the highest, compared to lower level, parts of the property, and slowly release it to the lowest part of the property as a way to protect it from slips and overload of the creek running through.

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The area where it will be fully converted to a huge raised bed, some branches have already been placed there.


So, the Katiaki farm team prior to our arrival, dug swales to retain water for days after a storm and slowly release it to the ground adjacent to it. By digging though, there was an excess of topsoil that needed to be placed elsewhere.

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This picture shows one of the swales and on the right, the area where the soil was placed over tree branches.               


In the meantime, all the dead branches on that part of the property were collected and after cut in smaller fragments placed on the area by one of the swales would be.

As soon as the first soil was taken from the ground as part of the swale digging process, it was placed on the branches that were laid on the grass, and technically soil covering tree branches is a hugelkultur bed, where the branches break down slowly releasing nutrients to the bed.

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New branches put next to the existing hugelkultur beds…


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And soil covering them…


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Another swale on the right, driftwood that marks the end of the orchard and hugelkultur raised bed next to them.


After planning to build a small dependent dwelling on the property, the need to create a road to it surfaced. But first a small tree had to be removed as it was in the way. The best way in a four-dimensional-design-sense  in Katiaki farm was to daily cut 4 branches of the tree to feed the four goats, Rosie, Sussie, John Snow and Francis, and use the parts of the branches that the goats did not eat, as a base for the expansion of the hugelkultur orchard beds.

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The tree that has been feeding the goats and the branches of which contributed to the creation of the raised beds.


Then, as we were in autumn and winter was near, and already Whanganui was hit by a few days of heavy rainfall, the swales needed to be dug bigger, to retain more water and so more soil was put on top of the next layers of laid branches to further extend the space of the future orchard.

We still have not finished the project, but the valuable lesson of the story is that by thinking ahead and visualizing the outcome, it is possible to work in a very efficient and economic way that benefits many aspects of the property and life in general. For Katiaki Farm, by planning all the steps, with the least spent energy, the tree has been cut slowly, so that the road to the new house will be paved, the goats have been kept happy, fed and healthy, the swales have been retaining more water and will be trickle feeding the orchard, the excess wood in the property has been used and carbon has been stored in the ground instead of being burned and releasing Co2 and in the future fruits will be produced feeding everyone that visit the farm.

So, before starting a project, maybe it is wise to think about the possible positive outcomes of a four dimensional design that might save you time, effort and possibly money. Think ahead, be smart.

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Beautiful, cheeky, snow love goats!


–  Kostas

A new chapter, Esther the cowgirl…

Growing up in a suburban town and living in Northern Irelands’ capital city of Belfast most of my adult life working mainly as a performer and artist I have been far removed from where my food comes from. Feeling separated from the food chain and unaware of how my everyday actions directly affect the environment (like the majority of city dwellers are). I set out to change this just 9 months ago when I left Ireland. I have learned more living on Kaitiaki farm in 3 weeks than I have in the previous 8 months! My teachers and hosts Dani and Nelson emphasize the importance of the three T’s, Tools, Timing and Technique before we start any project and encourage a broader type of thinking necessary on a permaculture property. Looking at the farm as one living breathing organism, a spiderweb of interconnected life we must see the everyday tasks in the bigger picture, carefully observing any minor or major changes and what knock on effects they may have.

We do a bit of everything on this farm from growing and harvesting a bounty of fresh fruit and vegetables, planting and maintaining young native trees, raising birds for daily eggs, design projects and so much more. I surprised myself by joining in with the processing of some cockerels. I plucked and gutted a whole bird for the first time, (having been vegetarian for 5 years of my life this was a big step for me). But I have to say my favorite job of all has to be the most difficult one of catching the escapees. This job requires quick thinking, team work, ninja reflexes and determination. We have to catch the odd duck pretty regularly but it gets a little more tricky when it comes to Susan who is the most nervous and athletically advanced goat of all time. It took 3 interns, two chains, a rope, tasty branches and at least 4 different strategies to catch her, get her over several fences and bring her back into the paddock. The sense of achievement after this is indescribable as I was living out a childhood dream, becoming Esther the cowgirl, wrangler of goats.

Since arriving here I have witnessed two freak rain events, having once in a hundred year storms only two years apart. People on lower ground were evacuated from their homes, land slips all around in the naked overgrazed hills, the rivers bursting and casualties on the farm all reinforcing the reality that climate change is happening and we need to be proactive and progressive to provide a future for our children. I feel that learning and practicing permaculture to improve the environment around us and creating good deigns in our homes and in our fields to protect us is the way to do this. This eco thrifty lifestyle and approach to sustainable farming with such a loving family here on kaitiaki farm is the most rewarding course I have ever taken. I am more in touch with nature, my environment and myself. Witnessing life and death as a daily occurrence on the farm definitely makes you appreciate and understand a little more as each day goes by.

– Esther