We designed the house around what we had. On the path to greater self-sufficiency.

In an area of Ngatimoti, four neighbours who share green values in their lifestyles are about to open their properties to the public.

green lifestyle
Labor of love: The Laufkotters’ home in Ngatimoti was constructed from 80 percent straw and 20 percent clay over a two-year period.

Sixteen years ago, Peter and Mechthild Laufkotter decided their seaside Motueka home was limiting their self-sufficiency, so they made a move that many people dream of.

The couple now live on a 25-hectare block in tranquil Ngatimoti, 20 kilometres from Motueka, with a charming light earth house that overlooks vegetable gardens, fruit trees and surrounding bush and forest.

There they take pleasure in the delights of eating home-grown produce, preserving it for storage in their cellar and for use throughout the year. On their path to greater self-sufficiency they’ve learned many new skills, and enjoy being independent.

“If you live in harmony with the land, it’s something that is deeply satisfying. You put your energy into all the food that you eat. It has a different value than just the nutrition,” says Mrs Laufkotter, a trained dietician who now works as a teacher aide at Ngatimoti School and as a yoga teacher.

The Laufkotters’ property is one of four organic Ngatimoti properties that will feature in the Green Lifestyles tour on Sunday, March 14.

Organised by the Motueka branch of the Green Party, its aim is to show how simple green concepts have been applied to create beautiful homes, gardens and lifestyles for the four host families, and how an eco-friendly life works for those looking for inspiration.

Motueka Greens treasurer Heather Spence says as well as the Laufkotter’s property, the tour will go to a commercial organic plum and apple orchard, a home-based flax-growing and craft business, and a home that features an outdoor bathroom and woodlots.

She says people on the tour – the first of its type held by Motueka Greens in part as a fund-raising event – will be able to talk to the hosts about such things as sustainable house design, different building materials and techniques, and how to achieve things like productive organic gardens, solar power, composting toilets and smart water use.

The tour is structured so people walk a 3km route in groups from one property to the next through fields, woodlots, orchards and gardens.

The Laufkotters, who have three grown sons, moved to the region from Germany in 1981 and lived for 14 years by the sea in Motueka. When they bought their Ngatimoti property about 16 years ago, they bought it with a friend to reduce the mortgage, but later bought his share.

The couple opted for a three-bedroom light earth house, which is of timber construction with walls made from a mixture of 80 percent straw and 20 percent clay. Lighter than mud-brick homes, the house, which is built on a hillside, also has great insulation, says Mr Laufkotter, who works from home as a sign writer.

They built the house over two years, and in a further bid to save money “and not end up with a huge mortgage”, they collected windows, doors and other features for the house during the years in advance of building. They managed to secure a whole house lot from Christchurch, with other parts coming from Nelson.

We designed the house around what we had,” Mrs Laufkotter says.

The home features solar water heating and a composting toilet, which separates solids from liquids. The liquid gets fed to the citrus trees, which, like the nitrogen it contains, and the solids, are also spread around fruit trees.

They said they wanted a composting toilet because they don’t have a huge supply of water on the land.

“With every flush [from a conventional toilet], we might not have much to drink by the end of February,” Mr Laufkotter laughs. Over the years, they’ve established large organic vegetable gardens fed with lots of rich compost and organic manure, fruit and nut orchards and a 50-tree olive grove, and have regenerated bare paddocks by planting hundreds of native trees. They also keep some chickens and 14 Scottish highland cattle.

The cattle are kept mainly to control the pest plant old man’s beard on the property, but the Laufkotters also occasionally kill them for food to keep the numbers manageable. As the Laufkotters are not big meat eaters, one animal supplies them with meat for a year.

Their increasing self-sufficiency means they’re always trying new things and learning new skills. Mr Laufkotter learned butchering and makes his own salami and dried meats, which are stored in the cellar along with homemade juices, wines, beer and other preserves.

Hops that Mr Laufkotter found growing wild in the Graham Valley line the entrance to the cellar, which provides a cool sanctuary in the heat of summer.

“Every season is different and there’s always new things to be learned,” he says.

“Coming from Germany, chutneys didn’t exist. We have learned that [how to make them]. We make them here and never have to buy them,” Mrs Laufkotter says.

We’ve got everything we need here and we never go hungry at all,” Mr Laufkotter adds.

“I don’t have to spend eight hours in my workshop. I don’t have to chase the jobs.”

He also makes his own bread, which led him to last year grow a 20-square-meter patch of barley for a trial, because he wanted to know how to grow grains. The birds loved the experiment.

“I made about 2kg out of 20sqm. If I wanted to support my bread making with my own grain, I’d have to grow a paddock of it.”

Mrs Laufkotter, who makes her own herb teas, says being as self-sufficient as possible takes effort.

“People will come here and say `this is beautiful’, but wouldn’t really have a clue about what it means to sustain something like that.

“I try to be in the garden every day for at least an hour. There are some days on the weekends I would spend the whole day [outside on the property].

“Most evenings in summer, I’d be in the garden until it’s dark.

“When you’ve got a lot like this, that creates a huge workload, but if you know it’s for yourself, you don’t mind.”

One of the nicest aspects of where they live is that their neighbors share their green philosophy, they say.

In fact, once a year, the neighbors get together to maintain White Rock, a special area of quartz at the top of the Laufkotters’ property.

“The best thing about it is you never have an argument about things like spraying,” Mr Laufkotter says.

“They’re all on the same wavelength.”

Source: stuff.co.nz

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