Monday, 19 September 2016

Planning Our New Zealand Property - The Journey So Far Part 1

It has been nearly 3 years since we purchased our New Zealand property and started planning our move back there.  We always knew it would be a few years until we actually moved but it was a year longer than we had thought due to me getting pregnant.

The land is 5.5 acres in size on the western side of the north island with average winter temperatures with a low of 5 to a high of 13 degrees Celsius and summer averages from a low of 13 to a high of 25 degrees Celsius.  I have been there when the summer days have been closer to 30 degrees and winter days where there has been frost on the ground but generally the weather would be best described as temperate.  The area averages around 800 mm of rainfall per year which falls fairly consistently over the year with even the summer months receiving on average 45 mm in the month.  This means that there is pretty consistent weather year round farming and growing crops.

Our land is pretty flat sloping from north to south with just one area that dips down towards the neighbours dam and while it is hard to tell in the photo below there are small dips in the land that mean while we do not need to cut and fill areas to build on we may need fill to level building sites.

Looking North to South down the length of our land just after purchasing.

Looking West to East across our land just after purchasing.
You can see the top of the dirt pile we inherited at the front of the photo.
In the past the land has been used for growing crops, mainly maize I believe, and it was re-grassed a few years before we purchased it.  Because we did not know many details about it's use and we had plans for the property to be able to produce much of our food, we obtained a full soil analysis.
At the time the property was in what I would consider average condition by New Zealand standards with: 
PH - 5.8
Organic Matter - 3.3%
Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium at just below minimum target levels and all the other trace minerals will range from below to above average. 

Once we are living there we will be taking steps to improve things with re-mineralisation with the the addition of calcium and magnesium (which will unlock other minerals in the soil) and pasture management to improve the organic matter content.  We will also do another soil test once we have dealt with the calcium and magnesium so see where things are really at.

Looks really healthy but is actually pretty average.
The first principle of permaculture is Observe and Interact and although we are not living nearby where we can watch our land through the seasons there are other things we can do.  
For instance we have visited twice a year in different seasons for the past few years and we have seen the land after lots of rain as well as a period without.  
We have looked at the plants that grow among the grass and while we have lots of plantain and clover and a few different types of grass we also have lots of buttercup which indicates that the soil is compacted and prone to water logging.  
We can also look at what is happening on neighboring properties and along roadside verges.  So when we see trees bent into curves by the wind and established homes with deep shelter belts around them that tells us quite a lot about the wind conditions we can expect.
Our land is quite exposed the area is flat, we do not have any trees at all and we are not really that far from the coast so one of the first priorities was to establish a wind break on our western boundary. We wanted this to be a permanent planting so we decided to also fence the area off.  This left only one issue, the big pile of dirt right in the path of the new fence.  So I set to digging a trench right through which I did over a couple of days.  I had thought it would just be dirt but it was full of stones so I decided that in the future I would be enlisting the help of some machinery to more the rest of the pile.

Cut right through for the new fence

My Dad mowed the area we wanted to plant out, a 4 metre wide strip the length of the boundary (198 metres)

Fence post were laid out then rammed in using a borrowed post rammer.

Meanwhile Mum started the planting.  As this had been planned in advance Mum had been potting up self seeded natives from her garden for a number of months. We have continued to buy Mum potting mix and source extra pots for her pus pot up more plants when ever we are in the county and slowly but surely the planting out continued.

When ever we were back we cleared the grass from around the establishing trees.

Every time we visited we planted out more of the plants Mum had grown on for us and now we have completed the planting (with only dead ones to be replaced for now) and on one visit we had the big pile of dirt removed that I had to dig through to get the fence going.

Ongoing planting

Putting the end panel of the fence back up after the dirt pile was removed

Mums self seeded natives now form the entire planting other than about a dozen plants we specifically purchased for the entire 198 metre boundary.  Over all we have planted more than 500 plants including a few that had to be replaced due to rabbit or hare damage, being accidentally cut by the whipper snipper or just dying off.  We count ourselves very lucky as all we have paid for are a dozen plants and some potting mix for Mum to use.  If we had had to pay for all the plants that have gone in the ground it would have cost us a small fortune.  
Needless to say we will continue to pot up seedlings from Mums and anyone else's gardens into the future as we will need thousands more trees to create suffiecient windbreaks on our property.

On our most recent trip we decided to do some planting out outside our actual boundary fence on the south west corner of our property.  This is to strengthen the wind break on our most exposed corner and also to create additional shelter for the plants in our windbreak that were the last to get planted in the hope that they will establish more quickly with the extra protection.

After clearing the long grass we planted out a whole lot of giant New Zealand Flax (also from Mum and Dads where they grow it around their veggie patch for wind protection) which grows over 2 metres tall and about a metre wide,  Being such a thick dense plant that grows quickly it was ideal for our needs.

The flax all planted out down the side an around the corner.  It has been cut off to form
small fan shapes to allow it to establish.

All planted out and the earliest plants are now well established

With the western boundary windbreak finished other than the odd plant replacement we will not do any other planting without being in New Zealand permanently and doing a lot more planning as future windbreaks will be planted out in relation to buildings and run across the property in an east west direction.

I will post tomorrow about where things are at with buildings as we have made progress over the last 8 months in this area of planning too.


  1. What a huge undertaking with an amazing result, the forward planning has really paid off.
    Windbreaks are most effective when you plant a number of layers, as the wind swirls over the first line of tall trees .It is worth taking a look at diagrams of the most effective wind break planting to see what works.
    I had no idea that wind swirls and drops that way until I saw the diagrams. Your first plantings will be a great protection for what needs to go near them.
    How exciting for you to be not farcaway from moving to your own land.

    1. Yes it is getting exciting Margaret. We have planted 2 rows of trees so far and there is room for a row of the giant flax behind but as they are water hungry we needed to get the others established first. There is also room for another row at the front but we need to choose what that will be as stock will be able to graze those plants over the fence.

  2. Fantastic that you have got the first line in your windbreak established and that you could use "free" stock from your Mum and Dad. What a saving! What an exciting time for you too... with "Peanut" on the way and a move to a new country all in a matter of months. Meg:)

    1. Hi Meg yes free stock is such a massive bonus and it is all very exciting time ahead for us so many new things happening.

  3. I've enjoyed following your transition to NZ, and know how important it is to have those first plants established. They really help the rest of the property develop. Well done, mum and dad for helping too. I know the help we received from my mum, early on, and a couple of times since (mainly babysitting on our big projects) were invaluable. :)

    1. Chris my parents have been fantastic. They go up to our place clear back the grass and replace plants as required. We have been so very lucky to have them only 30 minutes away and happy to "manage" the place for us since we hare here. Lots more news to come and now that it is closer there will be lots to report.

  4. Great work. Those trees got a nice head start :)

  5. Great work. Those trees got a nice head start :)

    1. Yep hopefully now they are established they will rocket ahead.


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