GARY & EMILY WILLIAMS
We both started life on farms, Emily in the flat land of Canterbury, and Gary in the hill country of Hawke’s Bay. We both went to boarding schools and universities in Canterbury, and hence met in Christchurch — after some overseas travel, which is a rite of passage for many young New Zealanders.
Emily’s professional practice was in landscape architecture, and Gary still manages to do some water and soil engineering. We have two daughters in their 30s, who both changed career and went back to university to study — natural therapies and engineering. Now they have partners and further changes in their lives and careers.
We both do some tutoring, of permaculture courses and organic horticulture, as well as some professional training. Gary writes serious stuff about life and the world we live in – see ‘BOOKS’ page.
Our Place is in the Kapiti-Horowhenua bio-region, which has a narrow coastal plain between the Tasman Sea and the Tararua Ranges, with fast flowing gravel-bed rivers rising in the ranges. We are near Manakau Village, between Otaki and Levin, and just 1 kilometre off State Highway 1.
We are the present stewards of about 50 hectares of mostly steep hills (the first ‘bits’ of the Tararua Ranges), with some flatter land at the edge of an old shoreline. When we came here, in 1987, the ‘flats’ was a paddock of grass, with one pine tree and a short row of macrocarpa trees at the bottom end, while the hills were in grass, gorse and scrub.
The steep hilly land of the property was mostly retired to regenerate as native forest. On the remainder we have developed a mixed farm and forestry enterprise, similar to the more diverse practices of traditional farming, but adapted to the characteristics of the property and the local landscape and climate. Our approach is one of organic management, using biodynamic and other techniques to enliven and restore the land, while permaculture principles have also been used to guide the layout and integration of activities, and the siting and construction of the house and farm assets, and the overall integration of the farm.
We have planted tens of thousands of trees, including plantation forests for timber and firewood. As well as sheep and cattle grazing of the flats and the hillside behind the house, the ridge tops and a ridge to the front and to the back on the hills has been kept in grazing. These are the areas of better grass growth, while they are being retained in grass for aesthetic reasons, as access lanes and fire breaks.
There is a small orchard of many varieties of fruit trees, berries and herbs, along with hens, ducks and kunikuni pigs. There are also areas of nut trees, and fruit and nut trees along access tracks and on the north side of tree areas for shelter, shade and habitat. We have added a small diverse food forest area with another pond and hen house.
We grow most of our vegetables, including staple crops of potatoes (with other families) and pumpkins, plus the ‘three sisters’ of corn, pumpkins and beans. We have grown grain crops as well, such as wheat and oats – for our bread and muesli.
The house is sited within the area of flats and adjacent hillside that is most intensively used. It is rectangular in shape, with the long front face to the north (sunny side), and with a carport and garage/workshop forming an enclosed entry area on the south side. The buildings are timber framed, mostly using untreated macrocrapa (some from the few mature macrocarpa trees on the property that were milled). There are solar panels for hot water heating, and solar windows for room heating/cooling along the front wall of the house. Clerestory windows at the roof ridgeline have been used to give good natural lighting, with direct light and warmth in the winter and only indirect light in the summer. An exposed rafter roof construction allowed high rooms, which assists with cooling ventilation, while a reversible fan allows management of the air circulation. A high standard of insulation has been used, and a feature brick wall adds thermal mass to the inside of the house.
We have a wood range in the kitchen for cooking and water heating. There are three water sources: a gravity water supply from a spring, a pumped rainwater supply and a pumped supply to the farm from a nearby stream. All the roof areas drain to water tanks. The spring water (from the hillside above the house) is the best water, and is always used for drinking and cooking.
There is a bio-filtered swimming pool, based on the re-cycling of the water through combined upward flow gravel bed and wetland filters and an aerating/vitalising flowform cascade. Algae growth is minimised by occasional dosing with alum and gypsum, which does not affect aquatic life, such as the frogs that live in the pool. The aim is to mimic a natural river pool, and the flowforms provide the sound effects.
An eco-cabin is attached to our farm buildings (of hay and machinery sheds). It has an independent power supply, of solar panels and a small (800watt) wind machine. This alternative system supplies the lights in the house (plus two points), as well. See “Farmstay” for more about this cabin.