On a little piece of paradise just south of Whakatane, every corner offers a natural wonder – a subtropical garden, stream, bamboo forest and earth house – which almost completely sustains the family that lives there.
Louise Shaw, partner Peter West and their children Kerry, Arielle and Toby, have lived on the family property for 15 years, turning a blank canvas into a thriving ecological system that supports the unique roles of animals, insects and micro-organisms.
Mainly native bush, the property has a variety of microclimates in accompanying paddocks, hills and basin. “The diversity here is absolutely amazing,” says Louise.
“It’s not uncommon to see froglets in pasture, flocks of fantails and wood pigeons, geckos, giant dragonflies and a plethora of other native animals.
“That’s only the creatures you see; they’re all a reflection of the health of the creatures you can’t see.”
Louise’s family practise regenerative farming, which focuses on healthy soil, creating healthy plants and animals as a result. “We have soil full of bugs, but they’re not just ‘bugs’,” says Louise.
“They all do an amazing service and most of us don’t actually know what they’re doing, how they’re doing it and how to support them.
“We’ve also made a point of inviting pollinators – flies, bees, wasps and butterflies – by providing for their needs: food, habitat and water with no harmful chemicals. This is something I’m still working on and learning about.”
Louise grows almost all of her family’s food, and the microclimates see a variety of foods thrive. “We eat olives from our olive trees and keep ourselves in avocados.”
They grow hazelnuts and chestnuts, and have fruit year-round – bananas, pawpaw, feijoas, berries, citrus, peaches, plums, apples and pears.
“When my son gets home from school he picks a bag of fruit and that’s his afternoon tea.”
Louise says all the orchard/tree systems are managed with animals pulsing through at different times. “We have cows, sheep, chickens, ducks and often pigs; these are the ‘managed’ animals we use to improve the health of the land,” says Louise.
“I don’t know where I’d be without my sheep; I suppose I’d be sitting on a 4WD lawnmower. “But sheep do a much better job at recycling and mulching than a lawnmower.”
The animals are in excellent health, a result of the balanced ecosystem; they don’t require drenching, and help themselves to a mineral trough of seaweed salt, copper, dolomite and sulphur.
Native and exotic trees surround paddocks to provide additional stock food, and shade in summer. Under trees a range of plants are available for animals to eat.
Louise also grows heirloom vegetables in three gardens. “Kamokamo and zucchini both belong to the same branch of the Curcubita family called ‘pepo’,” says Louise.
“So I choose one of each branch for each of my gardens; that way I can save seed without risk of cross-pollination.”
Louise writes a blog about her interest in seed saving. Annually she selects seeds from healthy, productive plants that have the shape, colour, flavour, or growth habits she likes best.
Once dried and stored she gives them away or uses them herself. “Seed saving is a great way to take control of your food sovereignty,” says Louise. “If I had to buy my seed it’d be very expensive and not suitable for my garden, as most seeds are imported from overseas.”
Louise loves learning about the role different insects, animals and plants play in the ecosystem. “The more I learn, the more I realise that I’m just beginning to learn; and the more I love it.”