Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mutually Beneficial

We are in the unique position in that we are both permaculturists and educators. Our home is our classroom and a working model for sustainability. Our school - The ECO School - is perhaps the smallest, lowest budget non-profit on Earth. We are trying to grow it so that it can be financially sustainable, but our business model is outside of the mainstream and many people do not understand it.

The approach we take at The ECO School is an ecological one. We seek to enter into mutually beneficial relationships with individuals or organizations to provide the highest quality of education for sustainability for entire communities: from children through seniors. In nature this is called symbiosis, and more specifically mutualism. Synergy is another way to describe it: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In permaculture this is sometimes called "regenerative design."

We don't walk in to an organization, school or business and say "this is what you should do." We say, "What are your needs and how can we help you? Here are some ideas for you to ponder, but you decide what direction we take together." In other words, we can help others do what they do better... as long as "better" means more sustainably. Here are three recent examples:

Solscape Eco-Retreat in Raglan is in the process of developing into an education and conference centre. They launched an exciting new educational initiative a week ago today, so we went up to help our dear friends celebrate this important milestone. At the same time, we were able to run workshops at Solscape over the weekend as part of Raglan's Sustainable September calendar of events. We were able to bring the highest quality of education for sustainability to Solscape to help raise their profile as a leading facility in this area, and we were able to reach out beyond our normal audience in the greater Wanganui area and earn some money. (Well, it covered our travel expenses so we had a free weekend away with friends.)

The Green Space in Hamilton is a meeting venue run by other friends. I knew they had done an eco-renovation of which they were proud. Since Hamilton is near Raglan (and where I am an enrolled PhD student) I asked our friends if they would like to tag team a workshop for Hamiltonians. Again, the goal was for a mutually beneficial relationship where the Green Space gets local exposure, attendees get an excellent, low cost educational experience and I get to do what I love to do.

This afternoon I will be heading to Kakatahi School to help a cluster of rural schools plan a term 4 curriculum based on the sustainable use of energy. In this case, the principal contacted me to arrange for this professional development programme made possible by grant writing by the Sustainable Whanganui Trust and funding from the Wanganui District Council. This is a four-way partnership that permaculturists may call a "guild." All four entities benefit from this initiative and at least three schools will be in attendance.

Just in case you are interested in innovative, cross-curricular sustainability education, here are a few ideas I sent to the cluster to think about before our meeting this afternoon. I treat my curriculum design work like I do my permaculture landscape design work, starting with a client brief. This client brief came directly from the principal.

Brief: The topic that we would like to use for our planning would be: How can we be more sustainable in relation to Energy? (in our homes, schools, on our roads and on our farms). Each school has slightly different needs, but I think for our first meeting it would be useful to plan a unit of work for a term, based around the Energy theme. Each school could then adapt the unit to suit. It would be an Integrated Unit incorporating Science, Maths, English, Social Science and the Arts. It would be in the context of Education for Sustainability.

Preliminary ideas: Energy is everywhere around us all the time. Integrating energy across the curriculum should not be difficult, but the challenges will be meeting the needs of different schools, different age levels and different learners. I can provide ideas and support for teachers to adapt specific lessons for their students. Below is a short list of possible approaches. These can be clarified and expanded upon at the cluster meeting on the 30th.

• I have a professional development workshop called Eco-Maths that uses a PowerPoint slide show to provide ideas on how the teaching and learning of maths can be based on eco-design and home energy use. This workshop is designed to spark ideas that can be further developed by teachers with support from me or a local engineer, or green architect, etc.

• Our eco-thrifty renovation project has an active blog: I could set up a “kid-friendly” version of the blog, that classes to go to and post questions to which I could respond.

• I am an advocate of concept mapping as a teaching tool. I believe it is especially well suited for complex issues like energy. I would be happy to share some ideas on concept mapping.

• Some lessons on solar energy for Level 1 students can be found on the attached example of cross-curricular lesson planning at a Wangnaui primary school.

• I can share some ideas on science activities on various aspects of energy.

• I have an excellent, colorful graphic that compares the efficiency of different forms of transportation. If you have a colour copier it would be worth reproducing.

Peace, Estwing

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Balance is something many of us struggle to maintain in our lives. With the profound unsustainability surrounding us, the task often appears that much more difficult. This project seeks to find the balance between eco and thrifty but finds - much of the time - that they are one and the same.

Lakota star quilt was a wedding gift.

The equinox is a great global reminder about balance, and a time for us to celebrate the sun.

Since our monthly Wanganui Permaculture Gathering (the third Wednesday) fell on the 21st, we decided to have an "alternative cooking" party with our solar cooker, rocket stove and pizza oven. Our friends brought a thermette (if you don't know it, Google it) and a wood-buring BBQ.

Peace, Estwing

Monday, September 19, 2011

Eco, Thrifty, Lazy

One thing I learned from growing lots of vegetables with no use of powered machinery was how to make efficient use of my time and energy. When facing back-to-back-to-back 12 and 14 hour days of manual labor, one figures out how to be effort-thrifty. Here is an example that I'm sure most of you know already, but with a few subtle notes.

The other day a landscaper dropped off a large pile of grass clippings in front of our home. I wanted to take them around the back, so instead of six to eight wheel barrow loads I grabbed a "tarp" (large plastic bag saved from our insulation purchase).

I've found the easiest way to load the tarp is to hold down the front edge with my feet and rake through my legs. I used this technique when raking leaves in New England.

The loaded tarp is ready to go. Note that in this case the bottom has been cut open but the top zip tie has been left in place. By pulling from the bottom end the top bundles the grass so it does not fall off the back while transporting the load. The rake stays on for the ride if it is needed at the other end of the journey.

I decided I would add the grass to an existing compost pile to heat it up and finish it. The first tarp load I pulled to the edge of the compost pile and lifted the back of the tarp over.

Because the pile is in a corner, I could not repeat this on the other side, so I pulled the edge of the tarp to the top of the pile and then lifted the back over the top.

Nothing revolutionary here, but an example of a quick and easy way to move a load of lightweight material. By using lots of effort-thrifty techniques like this it is possible to do 12 hours of work in 10 hours and with the effort of 8 hours. When your personal metabolism is the energy source, every bit counts.

And on a final note, I always store plastic items out of direct sunlight. Many plastics are UV sensitive and break down in the sun over time. Even a plastic bag from insulation - what many people would toss in the rubbish on day one - can be saved and re-used for years.

And there are many uses for sheets of plastic like this. Do you have any good ideas? Please post them.

Peace, Estwing

Friday, September 16, 2011

Citizenship Day (?!?)

I discovered this week on my Yankee Magazine calendar (thanks mum) that the 17th of September is Citizenship Day. There was no further clarification as to whether this citizenship extends beyond New England, or the USA, but I will assume that this is a global event. And so I'll write about being a global citizen.

When thinking about what it means to be a global citizen, I submit that the permaculture ethics are a good place to start: earth care, people care, fair share. As a matter of fact, that may even be a good place to end. Through this lens, let's look at an example of poor citizenship.

This data comes from a recent article in Forbes: Wasting Away: Our Garbage by the Numbers. One of the saddest bits about this is that I recall numbers like this when I started my career as an environmental educator 20 years ago. But back then the amount of garbage the average American produced was "only" 4 pounds. It is interesting that the current number is 4.4 pounds, because that is 2 kilograms. I have not seen the number for New Zealand, but I suspect it would be similar.

The three Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) are so fundamental that I won't write extensively on them except to say that global citizens would take them into account with every purchasing decision they make. During our renovation and in our domestic life we produce next to no rubbish: about one bag every two months.

I'd like to challenge global citizens to raise the bar for global citizenship beyond the 3 Rs by taking serious steps at energy conservation. We have had great success with our passive solar redesign and are using less than 10% of the electricity of even what is considered a "low user" (8000 kWh/year) in New Zealand.

This is the power bill that came this morning, after a month that included the coldest week in New Zealand recorded history. During this record cold spell, with no supplemental heating except electric, we averaged just over 2 kWh per day.

Even a "low user" can average over 21 kWh per day year round. Presumably, that may vary from 15 kWh per day in summer and 25 kWh per day in winter. By comparison, our 2 kWh appears to fall into the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction category. But its true. You can see the bill above. That is the power of sunlight, thermal mass and insulation.

Indoor/Outdoor Temperatures in C and F at 6 pm, Sept. 4th.

Indoor/Outdoor Temperatures in C and F at 6:30 pm, Sept. 6th.

And we're not even done insulating and draft-proofing yet.

Global citizens who are concerned about drought in East Africa, flooding in Pakistan and Bangladesh (formerly "East Pakistan"), and rising sea level in Tuvalu should feel an obligation to cut their energy use even if much of it comes from renewables like here in NZ. Even renewables have "side effects."

Our friends in Raglan are fighting the wind mills proposed for the coastline to the north. I'll be there a week from today helping them start that fight from home one kWh at a time.

Peace, Estwing

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Low Maintenance/High Productivity Gardening

With garden season in the Southern Hemisphere getting underway, we're offering a popular workshop on eco-effective, beyond-organic gardening. Below is a draft for a book proposal that I wrote two years ago before my thesis writing got underway. It should provide an idea of the 4 dimensional design and management strategies we employ in our carbon positive agriculture.

Garlic planted just wider than a stirrup hoe.

Maximizing Human-Scale Food Production


Organic Weed Control: Human-Scale Design and Management

Weed management is the greatest challenge to both large scale organic farming and the home gardener. Many home gardeners abandon their vegetable patches because they fall behind on weeding and then get overwhelmed. I've seen it happen over and over again. It's a pity because this is completely unnecessary if the garden is designed well in the first place. Planning a garden around weed control may not sound exciting, but the result can save hours of drudgery and frustration, and potentially abandonment. It can make the difference between success and failure, and may mean the difference between a novice giving up after one attempt or making gardening a lifelong passion. For the experienced gardener it means doubling or tripling the size of a vegetable patch with no additional time commitment or expensive mulches.

Low/no maintenance edge even with invasive grasses.

Over the course of ten years I have developed a highly effective organic weed management system that also breaks insect pest and disease cycles, builds soil fertility, and cuts down on watering needs. It is also inexpensive to establish and maintain. The original system, designed for cold climates, relies on a four year rotation in beds from one square meter up to a quarter acre. For milder climates, I've modified the system to accommodate six half-yearly rotations over the course of three years. In both systems, an extra year of cover crop/green manure can easily be added if desired.

Rocket (arugula) as cover crop and seed bank.

In an era of rising energy prices, economic volatility, and changing climate it is significant to note that one person can manage up to an acre of vegetables using only hand tools. Forget carbon-neutral. This is a carbon positive system, as it uses no fossil fuels and actually sequesters carbon in the soil. By converting lawn into garden beds, concerned citizens of planet earth can save time, money and carbon by not mowing, and simultaneously increase their personal food security. Anyone can turn high maintenance/low productivity landscapes into low maintenance/high productivity foodscapes. The keys are design, timing and tools.

On site, scythe-harvested mulch.

It is human nature to blossom at the possibility of building something new, but to wilt at the thought of ongoing upkeep. People tend to love projects but hate maintenance. This system is designed with that in mind. The system harnesses natural energy flows, including human energy. After the initial design and construction, ongoing maintenance is kept to a minimum. Time spent on weeding, watering, and pest control are all reduced. The result is more food calories grown on fewer food calories (and no fossil fuels) burned. I have traveled the world looking for examples of sustainable agriculture and have found few better. Where conventional agriculture requires up to 20 fossil fuel calories burned for every food calorie produced, this system reverses those figures. It produces a net energy profit, instead of loss, and uses no fossil fuels at all.

Chicken tractor 1.2 meters wide - same as the garden beds.

The system relies on thoughtful design, the right tools, and proper timing. It is a low budget system as it relies on a few high quality tools that will pay for themselves many times over in time savings and food production. I developed the system on my farm in Andover, New Hampshire. During my time there, Pedal Power Farm was over 95% energy independent. Keeping costs low and productivity high is crucial to any small-scale farmer. This system is ideal for anyone growing produce in four square meters up to an acre.

Roofing iron placed temporarily to weaken couch and kikuyu grasses.


1) Why rotate?

2) Original four-year rotation for cooler temperate climates

3) Regular, easy weed control

4) Understanding no-till systems

5)Plant spacing and successive planting

6) Modified three-year rotation for milder temperate climates

7) How to make your own compost

8) How to grow your own mulch

9) The right tools, their use and care

10) How to convert lawn to garden as part of the rotation – 3 Ways

11) Useful tips

Peace, Estwing

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 Yesterday/Today

As with birthdays, wedding anniversaries and holidays, we met the 10-year anniversary of the plane crashes of the 11th of September divided. Days arrive a day earlier in New Zealand than they do in the USA. As we awoke on Sunday, 11-09-11 in Wanganui, NZ, our families were enjoying an autumn Saturday afternoon in New Jersey, Washington DC, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. As I write these words on Monday, 12-09-11 in Wanganui, memorial services are taking place on Sunday, 11-09-11 in New York City and elsewhere around the country. Living between two worlds reminds me of an amazing book about the Native American experience called Neither Wolf Nor Dog.

Being dedicated to the sustainability movement but living in a patently unsustainable world gives me the sense of inbetweenness that many Native Americans and Maori feel regarding cultural identity. I don't mean to imply for a moment that I can identify with being a colonized people, but I share a feeling of not belonging to the dominant culture and not living a 100% alternative lifestyle. Like many people, I walk in two worlds and often stumble.

Even though many of our friends and neighbors think our lifestyle is extreme in the extreme ("their %$#^@ mad" as one of our good friends recently put it) I consider our lifestyle fairly normal. We have mains power, mains water, internet service, a mobile phone, a slow-cooker (crock pot), a refrigerator, two circular saws, two electric drills, two computers, a printer, a digital camera, hot and cold running water, and a car. Of that list, for most of my time on my farm in New Hampshire I had only seasonal cold running water, a computer, sometimes a mobile phone and sometimes a car. By comparison, I feel absolutely cosmopolitan now.

And so it was with a sense of privilege that I accompanied my lovely wife on our bicycles to the Castlecliff Club on Friday evening to watch the opening ceremonies and first game of the Rugby World Cup being held here in Aotearoa New Zealand. It is said that rugby is a hoodlum's game played by gentlemen while soccer is a gentleman's game played by hoodlums. When I think of that juxtaposition it reminds me of what it means to embrace voluntary simplicity. Although the two of us hold 4 and 2/3 tertiary qualifications, we live well below the poverty level. In a sense, we are "gentlemen playing a hoodlums game." But of course it is not a game (and we ain't no gentleman neetha'). This is our life, and it is a very good life at that. It is just surprising how few people are genuinely interested in saving money and preserving the health of the planet.

Among the events we chose for our Sunday the 11th of September were: planting native shrubs and grasses in the local dunes; kareoke practice; softball team AGM and muster; priming trim boards for interior doorways and windows; and going to the Castlecliff Hotel to watch the USA play Ireland in their first round rugby match. It was billed as an emotional match for the USA as the team was playing on 11-09-11 in NZ. And the boys put up a good first half against a strong Irish club. The score was closer than most would have predicted, although the US kept it that way with a stingy defense and a lucky last second score.

Watching rugby from the perspective of an American footballer can be counter intuitive. Football is usually considered a game of possession, and rugby - I'm told - is a game of position. Pinned down at their own goal line, a football team would never punt on first down. But it is common in rugby to punt the ball voluntarily to improve the field position while giving up ball possession. Again, I am reminded of voluntary simplicity. Our material possessions are not as important as the position of our relationships with friends and neighbors (although they may think us a bit odd).

This perspective of position over possession became acutely clear to us as the game was winding down in conjunction with my second Lion Brown. A woman who Dani had just met at Kareoke practice (conveniently held at the same venue) came up and offered to buy us a round of drinks. "No thank you," we said, "we're just heading home."

"OK," she said, "then just take the money." She held a twenty dollar bill toward us.

"No. No. That's alright," we said.

"I just won the jackpot and I have to share it or else it will never come back to me."

"No, really, that's OK."

"You have to take it. Its an offering. You have to take it."

We reluctantly accepted and walked outside.

I don't want to read too much into this interchange, especially because it was an intercultural exchange and I cannot offer insights into the motivations of someone brought up within a more indigenous worldview than mine. But I suspect that the sustainability movement has more in common with traditional Maori and Native American perspectives than what most people recognize. I'm curious what you might think about the relationship between the permaculture ethics of earth care, people care and fair share, and the concept of the potlatch ceremony, or giveaway. From Wikipedia:

A potlatch[1][2] is a gift-giving festival and primary economic system[3] practiced byindigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. This includes Haida, Nuxalk,Tlingit, Makah, Tsimshian,[4] Nuu-chah-nulth,[5] Kwakwaka'wakw,[3] and Coast Salish[6]cultures. The word comes from the Chinook Jargon, meaning "to give away" or "a gift."

What do you think?

Peace, Estwing

Friday, September 9, 2011

Hauling Brass

In 1999, a pair of researchers published a book called The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices.

In this book, the authors use stacks of data to say, basically, don't worry about paper or plastic. If you really want to have a small ecological footprint do two things: Drive your car less and eat less meat. These two actions far outweigh other "consumer" choices. And how many people took them up on their advice?

Apparently not enough. From my two decades of experience as an environmental educator, these are the two things that most citizens of wealthy nations (and particularly the English speaking ones, USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) least want to hear. Even many self-styled Greenies in these countries embrace dubious claims about bio-fuels rather than take the bus or ride a bike.

The energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) of ethanol is very low. In other words, it takes about a gallon of diesel to make 1.1 gallons of bio-diesel. The numbers vary depending on whose study you look at. And in the meantime, global food prices skyrocket because globalization has dismantled most of the corn growing around the planet in favor of American exports. In the Asia-Pacific region, I've read that rainforests have been cut down in Malaysia for palm plantations to make palm kernel oil for bio-fuels in Europe.

And there are other problems with driving, as a member of my family - to be unnamed - recently discovered.

And so it was with great pleasure that I set off recently on a rainy, winter afternoon to run some errands. I loaded up the BOB trailer with some bits of your flue pipe that needed to be joined by a welder.

And, naturally, as soon as I got the bike loaded the rain intensified.

So I did not take any photos until I reached my destination...

... where a welcoming committee was waiting for me.

I managed to make it there with the load intact.

I dropped off my flue sections with Jonah, man of many talents, and headed to my next destination.

The PHO was giving away fruit trees. I was contacted about distributing them in our neighborhood, Castlecliff, which is lower decile. I picked up the apple trees, but they had run out of peach trees. But the next week they had been restocked with peaches, so I went back for a few.

The total round trip was about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) on flat roads. Even in the rain it was not a bad ride. After all, I had a warm, dry house to return to with heaps of solar hot water, and soon to be a functional wood-burning stove thanks to Jonah's handiwork.

For as long as the book mentioned above had been around, and for the level of concern that many permaculturists claim to have about climate change and peak oil, I've always been amazed at how few choose to ride bicycles or buses instead of driving. As a matter of fact, I can count on one hand the number of permaculturists that I know who regularly choose alternative (to the car) modes of transportation. Does anyone have any ideas why this is? I've never been able to figure it out.

For a boy who grew up on the outskirts of Detroit, my heart goes out to the unemployed auto workers who suffered the mismanagement of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. I'm in the Michael Moore camp on this one. (He, as you'll recall, is from Flint, Michigan). I wonder how I'd feel now if I still lived in the Detroit area. Perhaps its easier to shun driving when your local economy does not depend on the automobile industry. Could be. But now, I live around the corner...

... from the meat works. This facility is less than a kilometer from our home. Many of our neighbors work at Land Meat and at the Mars Pet Food factory next door that does, I'm told, 1 million dollars of business per day. What does it mean to support your local economy while shrinking your ecological footprint? Where are the trade-offs?

On a whim, I stopped by the local butcher shop where I had heard they developed a "healthy sausage" that contains somewhere between a quarter and a third vegetables to make it lower in fat and calories, but still tasty. I asked the manager if he would donate some of this product to support a Solar Sausage Sizzle in local schools. He appeared interested while we were chatting, but I have not heard from him with a firm commitment yet. Stay tuned...

Where do you see the intersection of permaculture, diet, and transportation?

Peace, Estwing

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Giving Back

We were surprised and saddened to learn last week that the Wanganui Regional Council officials declined to fund the Sustainable Schools Programme for a second year through the Sustainable Whanganui Trust. We were especially surprised given the universal excellent feedback we have received from teachers. Some examples:

We expressed our need to have sustainability issues linked to science curriculum requirements in the run-up to the Science Fair which has been a bugbear for some. Nelson made the link in a clever way linking ideas with a narrative style. Many staff spoke to me about how useful the session was and ALL asked for follow-up.

-Keith Beautrais, Head of Science and Environment, Wanganui Intermediate School.

Was invaluable to have so many ideas that are quick to set up, cost efficient and aimed at the students level.

- Teacher, Wanganui Intermediate School.

Nelson was really involved and passionate in his discussion with the kids - in turn this has helped them to get into their research.

- Teacher, Wanganui Intermediate School.

As a first year teacher I found the presentation provided me with a lot of ideas to hap me to guide my class in their projects. Enviro was not an area that I felt confident to suggest to my students as a topic for science fair until I heard Nelson's talk.

- Teacher, Wanganui Intermediate School.

This excellent feedback is joined by similar compliments on other educational projects we've done outside of schools. This one comes after a powerpoint presentation on "The Principles of Eco-Thrifty Renovation" presented to the Pukenamu PROBUS Club. (PROBUS stands for professionals and business people. Mostly retired.)

Many club members have said to our committee how much they enjoyed the talk and generally they were amazed at what you have been doing and what you have achieved. Your power bill shows just how much we could all save for ourselves and for this earth if our building practices and living styles were focused on the principles you espouse.

- Colin Clancy, President, Pukenamu PROBUS Club

A colleague in the field of environmental education just told me that she presented the idea of the Eco-Thrifty Renovation to a group of 300 at a professional development programme in Winnepeg, Canada. And I just received confirmation that I will be presenting the ETR at the New Zealand Association for Environmental Education conference in January. Here is the abstract as submitted.

A Whole Community Approach to EfS

Introduction: The ECO School is a tiny organisation presently operating in Wanganui. It’s current focus is a project called The Eco-Thrifty Renovation, which takes a multi-modal, multi-generational approach to EfS, and has achieved outstanding success in just its first 9 months.

Content: The Eco-Thrifty Renovation is a 12-month project to turn an abandoned house on a weed-infested section into a sustainable urban homestead while sticking to a tight budget and abiding by the New Zealand Building Code. Meanwhile the project is being used as the context through which to bring EfS to learners in our community from Year 1 all the way through senior citizens. The educational effort emphasises: saving energy through passive solar design and energy efficiency; growing food organically at home; and saving money through the first two emphases. Thus far, the ECO School has partnered with Sustainable Whanganui to bring the lessons of this project to Year 1 and Year 2 classrooms, all intermediate years, and senior secondary students, all within the framework of The New Zealand Curriculum. Additionally, the ECO School runs weekend workshops for adult learners and has presented to the Senior Lions and PROBUS clubs.

Perspectives: This educational effort takes a permaculture perspective that highlights multi-functionality. In other words, this one project provides both formal and informal education, reaches multiple generations of learners, and addresses both ecological literacy and economic literacy.

Summary: The Eco-Thrifty Renovation offers a unique permaculture approach to providing EfS to an entire community of learners. Feedback in just the first 9 months has been excellent.

We have even been getting positive feedback from the red shavers lately.

And even the pekins are contributing...

... to the extent they can.

But we're still waiting on some donors.

So this is the first appeal that we'll send out to potential donors (this means you) for a raft of potential projects to come. If you have enjoyed this blog, if you have learned something from this blog, if you have laughed at this blog, then maybe you can give something back to our education work. We are currently looking for funding for the following programmes:

Solar Sausage Sizzle. For classrooms in Wanganui schools.

Keen Green Teens. Leadership training retreat for high school students in our region.

Kai and Comfort for Kids. An educational programme for parents and guardians on low incomes that shows inexpensive ways to grow food and make houses warmer.

If you are interested in learning more details about any of these programmes, please contact us through the ECO School email.

Peace, Estwing

Monday, September 5, 2011

Nau Mai Haere Mai!

At the moment Aotearoa New Zealand is welcoming the world to this small stage in the corner of globe (do spheres have corners?) for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

At the same time we welcome our 27th follower to the blog (whoever you are, thanks for joining us), and want to share the new look of the front of our unfinished villa. As we are surrounded by corrugated iron on most sides, we did not want to have it out the front. We want the house to appear warm and welcoming from the street.

Welcomes come in many forms, such as a Maori haka...

Probably the worst haka ever. No offense meant to anyone.

... or a welcoming committee.

A ducka?

But we have had trouble with a dog getting in and eating three of our chooks. And someone walked through last week and left two back gates unlatched. So instead of open space or iron fortress, I took more of the old native timber deck and made a low fence to help define the spaces around the villa and to create an additional paddock for pasturing our poultry.

No hinges for gate yet. Waiting for some to come up at the weekly auction.

Although this wood has been exposed to the weather for over 30 years, most of it is still solid as. If anyone knows what type of timber this might be, please let me know.

I found a solid aluminium security screen at an opp shop for $8, and used it to frame a gate. I thought this would be more attractive than galvanized wire netting like we have used elsewhere out back.

Plus, this anodized aluminum will last longer in our sea spray zone. Because the screen is rigid, I did not have to reinforce the corners of the wood frame. This saves nails, or nail plates, or diagonals, or whatever approach one might choose. I did, however, shell out for stainless steel screws to prevent oxidation.

To enhance the look of the fence and discourage dogs (very short dogs like the one that ate our chooks) from digging under, I planted some succulents that our friend Mattie gave me in exchange for doing a garden design for her. (She also gave us smoked fish and chocolate cake. Yum! I love bartering!)

And beyond the gate is a walkway I built with some of the bricks that we bought on Trade Me. We used the rest of the bricks as a surround for our multi-fuel stove (thanks Jonah) and a patio and pizza oven out the back (thanks rockin' interns John and Amy).

Bricks will be relaid and leveled by our next intern.

And finally, in the back of the picture below is our new chook yard for our new chooks. This fence consists of galvanized security fencing almost 2 meters high and galvanized netting along the bottom. We bought all of the materials from Haywards Auctions and Trade Me. The treated posts were left on the section as rubbish by someone previous to our purchase a year ago.

So welcome, kia ora, and peace, Estwing