Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year - New Ducks

We have ducklings! Estwing took me on a surprise trip yesterday to the outskirts of town to pick up an early birthday present. We came home with a box full of chirping little pooh-filled dumplings of cuteness. I'll stop talking and get right to the pictures, since I know that's what you're after.

For now they're living in a bathtub in our future dining room.

We built them a pen outside, but they escaped. Cunning little buggers. We found them nuzzled up under the willow tree while a hungry cat lurked nearby. We'll have to modify it today to be a bit more duck proof.

Our ducks are Muscovy Ducks, which will grow up to be not too cute at all. But for the time being, they are ridiculous. For now they seem to just poop and eat and chirp at inconvenient times. But eventually they will help control pests in our garden, give us fertilizer, and provide us with edible eggs. Here's hoping we picked three females!

We have some names picked out already, but are open to suggestions. Any thoughts?

-June Cleverer

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

R2 (no D2)

It is difficult to write about the 3 R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) as separate entities as they are all part of an interconnected design strategy. For example, by reusing materials we are reducing the need to manufacture new materials as well as reducing the amount sent to landfill and the transportation involved. Thus, by reusing we are reducing our ecological footprint, which includes the carbon dioxide, water pollution, air pollution, soil erosion, and chemicals involved in manufacturing and shipping building materials.

While the building code requires us to use treated pine lumber, stainless steel nails, foil tape, etc., there are still plenty of ways to reuse all manner of stuff both in the house and on the property. For example, second-hand doors and windows are easy to come by on Trade Me and at the local renovation center.

Rimu French doors purchased on Trade Me waiting for installation.

Second-hand windows installed. (House paint is on the way.)

Faced with the removal of half a ton of damaged wall board, we turned a liability into an asset by using it as mulch for establishing our food forest, veggie garden and potato patch. Dry wall is made of gypsum and paper. As long as it is not painted or 'aqualine' (tinted green - used in bathrooms and treated with a fungicide) clean wall board can be used as a garden mulch and soil amendment.

Late October.

Late December.

And finally, partially rotted rafters we found in the corner of the yard along with some old roofing paint and gib clouts pulled from the aforementioned wall board provided just the raw materials we needed to resurrect the poor old mailbox we found under the house.

Peace, Estwing

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wow, Willow Tree!

Remember how our Christmas tree was a branch of willow that we had coppiced and were attempting to pega-pega in a bucket of sand? Of course you do.

Well, that minor trim got me in the mood for a major haircut. For the willow, not for me.

When we bought our house our willow was in a bad state. She had been neglected for years and was covered in a thick layer of vines that had killed one major branch and were choking out all of the upper foliage.
Sad neglected willow.

So I gave her a good healthy dose of TLC. I painstakingly removed all of the vines and dead branches to let the healthy ones flourish. Well shoop, baby shoop. My efforts, combined with the nice sunny weather we've been having, mixed with a good bout of rain allowed her to grow, grow, grow.

I was a proud parent, for a while. Then I noticed that our willow was turning into a bit of a glutton, taking over our yard, and a bit of a bully, shading out everything in its path. I had created a monster.
Ferocious willow.

Another problem was that while our willow tree has three primary branches, most of the growth was the occurring on one major branch on the southeastern side. The tree was unbalanced from the weight of this one branch, which was also drawing most of the nutrients from the roots.

There are two reasons behind this. Firstly, our dominant winds come from the northwest, so the tree is constantly being blown toward the interior of our yard, helping that branch to flourish. Also, the primary branch on the northern side of the tree had been trimmed heavily sometime in the past, and the primary branch on the western side was choked out by convolvulous. If left unchecked I was worried that the tree would eventually topple.
Ferocious June.

After a day of bonding with a handsaw, our willow was tamed, slightly. We took off the lower branches from the southeast side which will hopefully serve five functions:
1) give us some of our yard space back
2) help re-balance the tree towards the fence (you can see that it is still leaning into the yard quite a lot)
3) allow the native trees on the eastern side more light and space
4) makes it tougher for convolvulous to climb into the tree
5) provide us with firewood for the winter

Trimmed willow.

I'm not sure if we used proper coppicing techniques, or if what we did will serve the tree in the long run. Looking at the tree and the property, we did what seemed to make sense. It was hard to know just how much to take off, wanting to reap the most benefit, but not damage the tree. I have a feeling we could have pruned even more heavily, but we will watch to see how the tree reacts, and wait and see how quickly the branches regrow before pruning again. I think the tree is healthier now, at least she looks more balanced and the convolvulous will have a tougher time taking over.
We will watch these branches for resprouts.

Our Christmas tree is still sitting in a bucket of wet sand in a wheelbarrow in our living room. She seems to be holding up fairly well. Once we get around to it we will transplant her along the fence next to the big willow. Eventually we are hoping this will become a living fence, from which we will be able to coppice for firewood, and will replace or at least camouflage the existing iron.
Side-benefit of coppicing: fuel.

-June Cleverer

Monday, December 27, 2010

Boxing Day

Those of you in America may wonder what Boxing Day is really all about. Is it a day for pugilism? For recycling cardboard? A day for getting an 8-piece from good old KFC?

Here on Arawa Place we discovered the true meaning of boxing day. It is the perfect day to weatherproof the box in which you live.



And not a minute too soon...
The heavens open.

-M.C. Estwing

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Jingle All The Way

When you are in the middle of a project like this it is of utmost importance to keep a good sense of humor. We try our best.

Merry Christmas, Happy Belated Channukah, Happy Solstice, and best wishes for a healthy and happy new year.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

R #1

It does not take much to become “world famous in New Zealand,” and even less in Wanganui. We love Wanganui because it is a city of 45,000 but feels like a small town because everyone (nearly) is so friendly and everyone (nearly) reads the Chronicle.

After one short article (Couple hopes green renovation inspires), we could not enter a shop or get on the bus without someone saying, “I saw you in the paper. Good on ya!” But that was three weeks ago and our quarter hour of fame has faded…or so I thought. As the last of the stainless steel fibre cement nails were driven into the Hardy plank yesterday afternoon, I rushed into Mitre 10 Mega on my way to the police auction and annual holiday spot prize giving at Haywards Auctions. I hardly had time to gag at the price ($30 for 500 grams) when a voice rang out behind me. “I read about you in the paper. I see you in here all the time.”

Following a brief interchange, he said, “You must be a real greenie.”

I took a deep breath and replied, “Actually, I’m an economist.”

Brief silence.

“Look, oil is at 90 dollars a barrel and petrol is pushing 2 dollars a litre. Being green is only going to save you money in the long run. Everything we are doing in our house is to save money in the long run. And as energy prices go higher and higher, we’ll save more and more.”

“Yeah, I know,” he shrugs. “I drive a V8 supercharged.”

Brief silence.

“Thanks bro, I gotta go.”

The point of this story is to introduce the first of our Rs: Reduce. It is hard to explain this concept in the context of Western consumer society. It is like explaining the desert to a whale or the ocean to a cactus. It is like the negative image of a photograph.

Additionally, reduction is not really something you do so much as something you don’t do. You don’t…waste. You don’t waste anything: time, money, energy, materials, water, etc.

By designing efficient systems, buying second-hand goods, investing in energy efficiency, and embracing creative reuse, we have reduced: our construction costs, our carbon footprint, our power bills, our waste disposal bills, and our grocery bills. With those savings we can reduce the time we work for money and increase the time we surf!

Peace, Estwing

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Oh Willow Tree

Did you know that willows can be coppiced? Did you also know that when placed in water or damp soil, a willow will resprout roots? We like to use the spanish term for this "pega-pega" ("stick-stick"), mostly because its fun to say.

Anyhow, my desire for a christmas tree this year led me to do a bit of experimenting with coppicing and pega-pega on the willow tree growing in the back corner of our yard. Of course you can't cut down a tree without a lumber-jacket on (I think I just invented a new word), even if it is 20 degrees Celsius.
I headed out bravely into what more closely resembles a junk yard than a wilderness. And after quick rendevous with a particularly overgrown willow branch...

I emerged triumphant. I allowed my trophy husband to pose with me and our harvested tree, because I think he's cute. I was feeling all merry, and humming christmas carols. Its a bit hard to get into the Christmas spirit when its hot and muggy out, but we were trying our best.

Earlier that day I had made some bundles of lavender harvested from the bush outside our front door.

I added these to a garland and angel I bought at Trade Aid and the bride and groom cake toppers my sister made us for our wedding.

Then we set the willow branch in a bucket of sand, and lacking placement options in our home-in-progress, decided to set it in a wheel barrow, for easy transport. Then, while belting out that song from "Love Actually" and listening to that rock and roll Christmas CD we used to listen to growing up. (You know, the one with Sting and Cyndi Lauper singing Christmas Carols). We decorated that bad boy.
And look! It's already filling up with presents.
As the kids at my day camp say... "Only 2 sleeps 'till Santa".

-June Cleverer

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The 3 R's

In the midst of the holiday shopping rush – often called ‘Silly Season’ here in NZ – we have taken a non-traditional approach to…just about everything.

While others fill their yard with festive light displays, we…

While others buy artificial Christmas trees at the Warehouse, we…

While others carefully wraps presents in gift wrap, we…

It seems that in the week leading up to the biggest consumer orgy of the year that I introduce our next three design principles: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. As you may be aware, the order of this trio is as important as the meaning of each one.

With regards to waste management, we want to first reduce the size of the waste stream, then reuse as much of that waste as possible, and finally recycle whatever is left over that we absolutely cannot use on site. We have already diverted over 90% of the waste stream of this project in this way.

My next posts will cover specific strategies for reduction and examples of creative reuse.

Peace, Estwing