Our District

Secrets for setting up The Good Life

Want to keep chickens or grow veges, but struggle to find the time? Making it easy is the secret for a Raumati couple.

Yvonne van Leeuwen and Scott Bowater have streamlined their chicken and plant care with a nifty backyard setup.

The chickens nest in a barrel that pokes into the greenhouse Scott built against the sunny north wall of their sleepout cum office. Just outside is the roosting box, with a bin below to collect the droppings, which then go into a barrel of rainwater to make a potent liquid fertilizer, with a tap right in the greenhouse for feeding the tomatoes and basil.

“We come and see the chickens first thing in the morning, get the eggs, open the greenhouse, water anything that needs it,” says Scott. “It’s not a lot of work once you get properly set up.”

The greenhouse has tomatoes reaching the ceiling, and Yvonne was picking them by Christmas – but their first experience of greenhouse growing has been a learning curve, she says.  “We’ve found a lot of stuff actually does better outside, like the lettuces and peas, it just gets too hot in there.  We’ll grow more greens in there over the winter though, it’s great the way it extends the seasons.”  The bottom of the greenhouse wall is made from rock-filled gabions, creating a heat pad where Yvonne starts off seedlings for the nearby Matai Community Garden.

Insects also thrive in the warm greenhouse conditions, including big infestations of green caterpillars. These are picked off and fed to the chickens - just another way of closing the loop.

Outside in the chicken run, the ground is covered with a deep litter of cabbage tree leaves, great for keeping the chickens’ feet dry and preventing mites. There are also big logs, which are turned over regularly to let the chickens scratch for insects living underneath. The chooks have automatic food and water dispensers to make life easier for their owners. But they also get plenty of greens from the bed by the greenhouse, and are let out most days for a bit of free-range in the wider garden. The 5 chooks came from the poultry farm in Valley Rd, at point-of-lay; “It’s our version of hen rescue,” says Yvonne. She finds the Hyline Shavers a good-natured breed and very good layers.

So what was a scruffy, weed-filled corner of their garden when the family moved from Kaikoura a few years ago has become a productive, self-sustaining area.

Scott says some of the inspiration came from the people they met while living in Kaikoura. “Kaikoura people are very resourceful… there are lots of older people who are growing their own food, and running their own chickens, and they’re such healthy people.”

Following last year’s earthquake Scott and Yvonne organized a fundraiser for the Kaikoura community, and recorded a song: have a look at the Stuff article: Kapiti musicians support Kaikoura community through fundraising concert.


Image below:

  • Greenhouse, chicken run and vege beds are integrated into a system where they support each other  
  • Rainwater and chook poo combine to make a potent fertiliser, with taps both inside and outside
  • The nesting box is inside the greenhouse for easy access  
  • Scott with the tomatoes - despite the caterpillars, they’ve had a great crop.
  • The good life: Yvonne van Leewen