FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

If these questions are the kind you have been wondering about then great we can help you!

What fruit and nut trees can I grow and where is the best spot for them?

We are fortunate in Taranaki to be able to grow a wide range of fruit and nut trees due to the unique mountain to sea topography, which creates a variety of pocket microclimates and habitats.  At Greenbridge we group productive trees with similar needs together ie Mediterranean, sub-tropical, citrus and temperate, all of which can grow well here, if matched to the right habitat.  You will need either an experienced gardener, Greenbridge ecological landscape designer or become familiar yourself with various fruit tree species in order to know the habitat of your garden and select the right fruit trees for it.  Kay Baxter’s ‘Design your own Orchard is a great place to start.  Also see Greenbridges free info sheet on ‘Matching your Fruit Tree to the Right Spot’

Where is the ideal site for veg beds? 

“Out of site out of mind” applies to the siting of veg beds and the closer to the kitchen door you can position the veg beds, the better.  Having said that, vegetables require six hours of full sun in order to photosynthesise  so siting your veg beds where they receive this amount of winter sun is essential.  Other considerations for the ideal spot is; North facing, a slightly sloped area so that cold can drain away and prevent frost pockets from forming and good shelter from predominant winds.  Also see our free info sheet on ‘Essentials for Setting up an Eco-Garden’

What type of veg bed is best?

There are many types of veg beds; lasagna, no dig, bio-intensive, raised, in situ and more!  There is no ‘right way’ to grow vegetables  its more about matching your gardening style and site conditions to the best type of vegetable bed system for you.  The ideal scenario is; bio-intensive, insitue beds (veggies grown directly in the ground, double dug to a depth of 300mm +) and orientated North-South, on contour.  This can be a tall order!  Deep, well aerated beds allow vegetable roots to penetrate deep, accessing nutrients and water easily, and therefore requiring less watering and accelerating growth – which overall increases the resilience of your gardening system and means less work for you.

How big a veg bed size do I need?

Small: 5-10sqm.  Herbs and pick-again veg only

Medium: 20-40sqm.  Average family, most veggies, incl. small perennial bed

Large: 100sqm per person.  For all veg, grains, carbon crops for compost and perennial veg.

What is nutrient dense food, why is it important and how do I grow it?

This is a big topic, so here we go in a nutshell; plants need a high level of humus to grow well and be nutrient dense and this can be added in the form of compost, which contains biologically active carbon.  In bio-intensive gardening, a quarter of all veg bed area is dedicated to growing this carbon, often in the form of grains and woody plants like corn, quinoa  lambs quarters etc (which can also provide food for the table).  Humus is part of the picture of getting the balance of minerals right in the soil so that microbial life can flourish, in particular enough calcium to stimulate soil processes, and that the plants can then uptake these minerals, and increase their nutrient density.  In order to assess the nutrient density of a plant, a refractometer is used to measure the ‘brix’ levels, which represent the plants sugar sap levels and is a good indicator of nutrient density.  A brix level of 12 or above is essential for healthy pest free plants and humans!  It is estimated we are currently getting only 25% of the minerals found in traditional diets and this mineral deficiency is directly linked to the high increase in western disease and immune disfunction.  Whether food is nutrient dense or not, has huge impact on our health and the health of our planet.  Find out more at: www.westonapricefoundation.org or Kay Baxter’s book “Growing Nutrient Dense Food”

What is the best type of compost system? 

There are many compost types; with structures, tumblers or bins – they are all relevant but free style is the easiest!  For a hot compost (free style or contained in some type of structure) you will need a minimum of 1m x 1m squared in order to get the heat up to a temperature to kill weed seeds and stimulate microbes.   The compost can be either in a designated spot (and if so site it higher than your veg beds so that they benefit from any nutrient seep) or directly where you are going to need them ie on the veg bed – super simple!  Use whatever garden waste you have (no pernicious weeds though), keeping a rough ratio of 1:30 nitrogen: carbon.  Nitrogen is the green waste and carbon is the brown stuff like leaves and woody stems.  Break the pieces into 10-20cm sizes, layer up and sprinkle an activator in between like manure or comfrey tea.  Water well and ideally cover to protect from the elements.

How do I incorporate chooks so that they are healthy, my garden benefits and I get all the eggs I need? 

Straw yards are an important cog in a nutrient dense gardening system, producing lots of compost and eggs, while keeping the chooks busy and healthy.  A straw yard is a deep litter bed made up of carbon (could be leaves, mulch, twigs, corn, cut up woody stems etc) that the hens poop on and turn, as is their natural behaviour to do.  It is important to keep topping up the carbon so the system doesn’t become anaerobic and smelly.  Additionally the deep litter also produces microbial and fungal life to supplement the hens diet (done well the straw yard could provide the bulk of the birds protein).  Hens will also need lots of greens and scraps such as meat (hens are high protein eaters having evolved from jungle fowl, so not so much grain eaters!).  With 6-8 hens and a rooster, you will have ample compost (and eggs for an average size family) to annually spread over a family sized (50sqm +) vegetable beds.  Also see our free info sheet on ‘How to Set Up a Straw Yard for Healthy Chooks, Eggs and Compost’

Can I set up my garden to reuse household ‘waste’?

Yes!  There are lots of ‘waste’ products from everyday living that can be cycled back into the system – for the benefit of the environment and your health.  Most scraps can fed to chooks as first priority, as they give you eggs (and perhaps meat too).  Bones can be burnt for their calcium and sprinkled into the top ten centre metres of your garden bed.  Garden waste can be used to make high quality compost, saving the landfill from producing toxic methane, produced when the green waste breaks down.  Pot ash from the fire can be used anywhere you need to raise the alkalinity of your soil.  Black water from the toilet and kitchen sink can be diverted to an environmental system or wormarator to breakdown waste to be applied at the base of fruit trees.  Grey water is a precious resource, that when integrated into your garden raises fertility and reduces watering.  See our free info sheet on ‘Using your Waste Water to produce Luscious Fruit’

How much time will my eco-garden garden take to maintain? 

The time taken to maintain an eco-garden will depend on its size, your gardening style and how much time you have available.  Starting small, building confidence and knowledge is a sensible approach.  Start in zone one (the area directly around the house) and move outward as you have your systems well established and successful.  We find an average veg plot takes 2-6 hours per-week  which is ideally spread out over the week – little and often gets the best results, as you can quickly get on-top of pests and diseases before they get out of hand.  Concentrating on building biologically active soils and diverse plantings, ensures greater health of the system and resilience – minimising the work for you.  The time ‘cost’ of producing your own food is far less than the cost to your health and the planet from not doing it.  “We think we are nurturing our garden, of course it’s the garden that is nurturing us” Jenny Uglow

If these questions are the kind you have been wondering about then great we can help you!

What are the most important considerations when purchasing and developing a lifestyle block regeneratively?

First off ask yourself (ideally before you buy), do I have the time to develop and maintain a lifestyle block?  And the money?  There is good reason why lifestyle blocks turnover every seven years!  They are a lot of work and can sting your wallet.  Lifestyle blocks are best suited to those who have the time for them and are willing to work them, ideally generating a livelihood while regenerating the land.  There is joy in developing a block along sustainable principals and seeing your hard work flourish.  If you committed to this lifestyle, then key considerations are;

  • Water and water!  Ideally for resilience you will have two sources of water ie rain water, spring, river, bore or pond.  This is more important if you are to have stock.  Annual veg in particular is limited in growth by access to enough water during the summer months.
  • North facing land that receives good solar access is a must for productive land use (not so vital for forestry).  East-facing and West facing land can also work, although West facing is harder to create good shelter.
  • Contoured land is also valued from a permaculture perspective (though not from a conventional one).  Contour is valuable because it increases the range of habits and edges, which increases the variety of crops you can grow and therefore resilience to changing weather patterns.
  • Other considerations are; freedom from sprays in past use, stock baring capacity, good existing shelter (ideally) and biologically active soil – though this can be built.

What are the main costs to consider when purchasing and developing a lifestyle block?

  • Land purchase: the initial outlay for the land itself is where you will spend your most money, but the type of property you buy can have a large bearing on development and maintenance costs.  If you are planning on developing the block sustainably or regeneratively, then considerations can be different (as above). 
  • House size; choosing a smaller house reduces material use (and therefore reduces the impact of extracting, manufacturing and transporting more materials on the environment) as well as keeping your mortgage smaller.
  • Professionals; its easy to underestimate the cost of professional fees, whether council consent  designers, surveying  engineering, architectural and more.
  • Access: type and distance is important, with steeper access likely requiring more expensive sealing and longer distance from road to home elevating cost.
  • Water storage: we don’t have a lack of rain in Taranaki, just a lack of storage.  You will require 1-2 water tanks for home use and if growing your veg, an additional tank for irrigation (unless you have access to a bore or river). 
  • Wastewater environmental systems ensure ‘waste’ products are converted to resources onsite. 
  • Energy: photovoltaic, hydro, battery or grid tie? 
  • Earthworks and landscaping: will vary depending on the contours of the site, your aspirations and inclusion / exclusion of stock and small animals.
  • Infrastructure: sheds, hot houses, garden shed, chook coop, bike sheds, EV stations all come with a cost – some you can stage but if you can build a shed first then this will make over all development pleasanter 🙂 
  • Planting: shelter, orchards, biodiversity, native reveg, manuka for bees, high value forestry all have a cost of plants and or labour (unless you propagate and plant yourself). 
  • Income: are you planning to make an income from your block? what are your options? what can your grow? what are your pathways to market?  We can grow a variety of crops in Taranaki but is there a market for them?  What are the costs of establishment?

Greenbridge offers a ball park pricing service for those considering purchasing or are looking to develop a lifestyle block and would like an indication of development costs relevant to their site…see our Land Appraisal Service

Should I design the house first and then the land or vice versa?

Ideally you would undertake a ‘broad-scale landscape design’ first, so you feel confident you have explored options and defined the position of key infrastructure and objectives.  This is the cheapest time to make changes on paper!  Next, design and build your home.  Then undertake an eco-garden design for productive gardens and infrastructure directly around the house.  You can then either DIY landscaping overtime or have Greenbridge professionals install for you 🙂

Can my lifestyle block support a cottage income?

Perhaps!  Depending on your income needs and expectations, a lifestyle block is perfectly capably of financially supporting you; a fruit tree nursery may need as little space as half an acre, and a plant nursery 1-2 acres.  Growing flowers maybe another option.  Garlic, ginger and truffles are high revenue crops that don’t take up much space.  Market gardens can be intensively and sustainably managed.  Manuka honey is lucrative, though you will need to check out regulations. Tree crops such as tamarillo and avocado may also work for you and your site, high value forestry is almost certainly a good long term option and has the potential to regenerate the landscape (depending on tree selection).  Talk to us about your options…

Where is the best spot to site the house on a lifestyle block?

The highest point is often chosen as the house site – which may or may not be the best spot.  Views are often the primary driver for this siting but also expose the house to thermal loss from high exposure.  More important is a North facing house, if you value a warm and dry home.  While views of the mountain and sea are nice, save these for select, small farmed views.  One third of the way down a gentle slope is often ideal, there is often a ‘thermal belt’ that is warmer here than at the top or bottom.  Access is also important, a house closer to the road does reduce costs for infrastructure such as driveways, power, phone, and internet – you may have to balance this with privacy.

What type of shelter and plants do I need?

Shelter species and plants will vary with each site, depending on elevation, salt exposure, soil type, overhead powerlines and other uses you may wish to get out of the shelter ie firewood, fodder for birds and bees.  Check out our Free Info download sheet on ‘Shelter Basics’

How do I deal with pernicious weeds like gorse, kykuyu and convolvulus?

We have probably all heard the saying ‘a weed is just a plant in the wrong place’ and to a large extent this is true.  However, often what is actually needed is a shift in our thinking about said weed.  For example, gorse in New Zealand is considered a pest because we desire pastural land unhindered by spiky invasive bushes, but gorse only establishes itself on land that is eroded with poor soil.  The gorses deep tap roots are actually binding and healing the land as well as fixing nitrogen to make the soil rich – just dig a spadeful under a gorse bush and observe!  You may need to find your peace with whatever weed you have to deal with – we advocate removing it where you may want to grow food and require access and letting it regenerate where bush is to regenerate to provide an ideal nurse crop for forestry.  Kykuyu can be effectively managed organically with black plastic as it is light sensitive.  Talk to us.

In development…

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What does a wastewater system cost?

This can vary a lot, depending on the site conditions, size of the house, and the aim of the wastewater system. A simple septic tank system starts at around $8,000+GST. A system that separates black & greywater and supports the edible landscape starts at around $12,000+GST and can head towards $20,000+GST. Secondary treatment systems start at around $9,500+GST and can easily reach $20,000+GST. These figures don’t include council fees or design fees.

How willing is the council to approve alternative waste water systems?

New Plymouth District Council has approved every design we’ve submitted, including wormerators, compost toilets, mulch basins, and greywater systems.

When you use your greywater to support an edible landscape, does it mean I need to use different soaps and cleaners?

Yes. The eco products available in the supermarkets are suitable. We recommend EcoStore products in particular.

How many wastewater systems have you designed and installed?

Our engineer Kama has designed over 30 wastewater systems. Our partner plumbers have installed hundreds.

Do I need council approval to put in a wastewater system?

Yes.

I have a steep site, can I put in a wastewater system?

Yes.

What is the difference between black and grey water?

Blackwater comes from the toilet and includes faeces. Via treatment and subsurface soakage, it can be used to safely support ornamental gardens, fruit trees and other treecrops.

Greywater comes from the kitchen, shower/bath, handbasins, and laundry. Via treatment and/or subsurface soakage, it can be used to safely support vegetables, ornamental gardens, berries, fruit trees, and other treecrops.

Can I install it myself?

Yes, but we generally recommend you use a plumber.

Do you have examples?

Yes, see our ‘Projects’ page 🙂

In development…

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