The Crafty Gatherer

From re-purposing beer crates, to keeping snuggly in winter with salt bags, Marco and Tess Partridge are living an adventure of simplicity and sustainability that they  once only hoped to do.

They call themselves the Crafty Gatherer,  gathering people, ideas, plants, and solutions for minimising waste.

The couple, along with Marco’s father Don, their two boys (Tahl, 4, and Jai, 2) and another child on the way, are living a life tucked away in the Papamoa Hills. Overlooking a stunning view of the coast, the family moved on to the 12-acre property about three years ago.

“It’s really ideal,” says Marco. “We were looking for four years but it was the size we wanted and away from town, and the land is great, not too hilly.”

The property, which they bought with Don, has two springs, meaning they can pump the water up into the gardens they’ve developed around the house.

“We had a permablitz up here, when all the trees were planted,” says Tess. “It’s an orchard now, but one day it will be more of a food forest as the plantings come up.”

A permablitz involves a group of people meeting up for the day to create or develop a community or household edible, wildlife-friendly garden, according to a permaculture design. Permablitz Bay of Plenty, which Tess is a member of, networks a community of gardeners who enthusiastically support people establishing edible gardens.

The orchard runs down part of a hill and has peaches, nectarines, plums, pears, apples, elderberry, berries, herbs, thyme, sage, comfrey, strawberries and flowers.

Marco and Tess have also introduced nitrogen-fixing trees such as sea buckthorn, kakabeak, tagasaste and kowhai. Some trees have the rare ability to use atmospheric nitrogen for their own purpose and add it to the soil through their nodule root formation.

Nearby is the trailer surrounded by chickens.

“We call it the chicken tractor,” says Marco.

“It’s their house on wheels. We get the tractor, lock the chickens up at night, tow it, and every three days we move them around to where the cows have been.

“They scratch in the cow poo and spread it around, fertilising the ground and eating the pupae.”

It’s basic and takes time but as they say, all good things do.

“We’ve been gathering ideas from our journeys of travelling and how other people lived on the land,” says Marco, explaining how they started Crafty Gatherer.

“We did a lot of Wwoofing overseas,” says Tess.

WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms – provides volunteers with hands-on educational and cultural experiences, and learning about what is involved to grow produce and animals organically while living with local families and joining in the daily farming and family activities.

“So a lot of our basis came from that,” says Marco.

“And then we lived at Koanga Institute in Wairoa, Hawke’s Bay.”

Marco completed an Appropriate Technology internship at the institute which is the home of New Zealand’s largest heritage food plant collection.

“From that we got a few more ideas and that’s how Crafty Gatherer started,” says Marco. “We saw the need to help people live more simply.”

A builder by trade, Marco also focuses on developing garden and home products that would assist people to enjoy a lifestyle of living off the land.

There are two kinds of wooden clothes racks – the wall hung and pulley system. Also seed-raising trays, and seed-saving screens.

“The seed-saving screens clean your seed so when you’re saving your seed you can separate the seed  and the chaff really easily with different size meshes,” says Marco.

There’s also triangle planting spaces, which Marco says means less weeding and more production than the inline planting spaces.

Their main seller is Marco’s garden forks, which are sold worldwide. The T-Bar fork, known as the Forksta, is a design they came up with to incorporate their larger heavy duty broadfork into an everyday fork.

“The broad fork has been around since the 1800s,” says Marco, “but there was nothing like the T-Bar one.

“It has the functionality of the broad fork but is a much lighter, everyday garden fork.”

In the corner of the back garden are Marco’s wooden top bar beehives.

“It mimics the natural way that bees live,” says Marco. “It’s a Kenyan style top bar beehive.”

The bees are a natural addition to the garden which has potatoes, kumara, watermelon, pumpkin, corn, strawberries, comfrey and carrots. The asparagus is now in its second year.  

“When it all dies back we’ll cut it all down and then it will sprout again,” says Tess. “With asparagus it takes three years before you can take a crop off it. We planted it from seed and it can last for up to 20 years.”

“When we started Crafty Gatherer I was at home with the babies while Marco worked in town,”  says Tess. “And then we ‘switcherooed’ a bit so  Marco is at home with Crafty Gatherer, and I work part-time downtown.”

With baby number three due in July, the couple are hoping they’ll both be able to be home, making an income and driving Crafty Gatherer forward.

“Making more of a community out of it as well,” says Tess. “We want to help people see that living this way is enjoyable. Being more connected with the land, our natural surroundings and our food. Our aim is to grow all our own food, create less waste and live off the land as much as possible.”