Welcome to Kahikatea Farm! 16 acres in the beautiful Poukawa valley in Hawke's Bay, where we are working towards living as sustainably as possible, including making a living from the land and sharing our learning with others. The three permaculture* ethics of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share (Sharing the Surplus) are at the heart of everything we do. Following the permaculture principles means that we look to nature for our gardening lessons and then substitute plant species which are the most useful for us. That can help us design really resource-efficient and productive gardens, but, as well as that, the use of permaculture principles and systems thinking can even help us design homes, communities and businesses. Once you have a permaculture system up and running, it is bountiful, beautiful and fun!
We established our nursery in 2009 and became certified organic with Organic Farm New Zealand (OFNZ) in 2010 (certification number OFNZ1360). This means we use certified organic inputs such as potting mix and seaweed fertiliser. Where possible we source both organic and local seeds, and many are sourced from our own gardens. We do not sell any plants grown from treated or hybrid seed - this means that our customers can save the seeds from our plants and have the plants come true to type.
We grow over 200 varieties of vegetable seedlings, edible and medicinal herbs, companion plants, flowers, shrubs and trees. We focus on perennials and self-sowing annuals which are multi-functional, hardy, and contribute to a diverse and resilient garden or farm which provides fertility and pest control from within, and which can provide a forage system of food, medicine, fuel, dyes, craft and construction material for you and future generations, as well as a place of beauty and biodiversity. This type of garden is commonly called a 'forest garden' or 'food forest'.
Our plants are extraordinarily healthy - we know because we see it and we hear it from our customers all the time. In the rare event of pests or diseases we have several courses of action available - observe and wait - often things self-correct as in nature; isolate the plants; or spray with an approved product. There are still some approved products which we refuse to use as they can still be toxic to bees or other wildlife.
Our tunnelhouses are not artificially heated. Seeds are germinated using excess warmth from the house (which is on solar power and heated with a wood stove). This avoids unnecessary fossil fuel use and also means the plants are hardier. We still manage to have tomatoes ready for our customers by the end of August if they want them though!
We reluctantly use plastic pots and punnets for our seedlings and plants but we wash and recycle them as many times as possible and we are always happy to take them back from customers as long as they were from us originally. We recycle cardboard containers, and plastic wrapping becomes frost covers or basket liners.
Old or surplus plant material and potting mix is used to create new garden beds on the farm or to make compost to go back on gardens or trees. The water for irrigating the nursery is used consciously and is pumped using solar power generated on site. We even have compost toilets for anyone working in the nursery! Finally, we try to support local businesses wherever possible. You can see some of these on our links page.
Our farm was a 16 acre grazing block when we came to it in 2005. Since then we have been ‘playing’ with permaculture design and have always been open to share our learning with other visitors both formally and informally. We did a lot of earthworks early on, including 3 swales (water harvesting ditches on contour) and 3 ponds. We have planted 1.5 acres in timber and firewood trees, developed 3 acres of wetlands, and planted 2 acres in orchard/food forest. We have 5 acres set aside for further food forest/forest garden development based on what we have learned from the first area. This is a key area of interest for us. Benefits of reforestation for ecological purposes are well documented, but there is now a growing movement of people looking to provide for all their food needs within a perennial system which allows the soil to regenerate and build structure and life without us constantly interfering. That means less work for us too! We did have about a quarter acre of vege gardens from which we supplied the local organic shop and cafes for many years and we are about to turn this into a herb garden - we stopped growing veges commercially this year, partly to focus on our plant nursery and partly out of the desire to grow more perennials and fewer annuals.
We have also built a small (63m2) ‘standard’ board and batten house fitted with many ‘eco’ features including East-West orientation to maximise solar gain, double glazing and extra insulation, solar power, multi-functional wood stove (for cooking, space and water heating), grey water irrigation, homemade paint and plaster, homemade and commercial compost toilets, wrap-around verandah to provide shade and extra rainwater collection, large rainwater collection tanks with run-off to a duck pond.
Jo is a passionate permaculture teacher and gardener. A long time environmentalist, she has a background in language teaching and since 2005 has taught permaculture, sustainability and gardening workshops for Environment Centre Hawkes Bay, Taruna Organics & Biodynamics Certificate, the Building Biology & Ecology Institute, Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT), Lotus Holistic Centre, and since 2010 at Kahikatea Farm itself. In 2005 she founded the Hawke’s Bay Permaculture Group. She was awarded the NZ Gardener Magazine’s 2007 Hawke’s Bay Gardener of the Year for her gardening, teaching and community efforts. Her main interest is in designing and growing sustainable perennial agricultural systems (known as food forests or forest gardens) on both urban and rural scales, and opening people’s minds to a new way of growing.
Aaron was responsible for delivering our plants to our retail outlets and running our market stall until a back injury in 2011 put him out of action. Luckily he has enjoyed the opportunity to be 'house daddy' to our two daughters, Anna (9) and Eliza (7). He also does the finances, which involves making Jo define more clearly what is a 'want' and what is a 'need'!
We also have wonderful contract staff on board:
Ceri Phillips is a graduate of the Level 2 Horticulture and and Level 3 Sustainable Horticulture courses which Jo teaches at EIT. She has a vege garden, fruit trees and bushes, and is working on growing enough fruit and veg for her and the kids. In the nursery here Ceri focuses on providing lots of TLC for our perennial stock.
Sandra Livingstone moved to Hawke's Bay in 2013 where she completed the Level 3 Horticulture course that she'd started in Auckland, and then worked in crop monitoring. She is continually developing her organic vege garden at home. She describes the nursery work here as her dream job and the plants certainly seem very happy to have her here too!
*Permaculture can be defined as
'consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, whilst yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs' (David Holmgren, permaculture originator)