Sustainable Timber from Northland, 30 Years in the Making

February 24, 2021 - Kerikeri, Northland, New Zealand

Last Sunday I drove up from my furniture making workshop in Kerikeri and visited Brian and Gaye Simms at their award-winning farm near Kaitaia, Northland.

Brian has known the land since he was a boy, after inheriting it from his father who cleared the land with his own two hands, to prepare it for farming. The farm is situated on high land with steep hillside and challenging gullies. When the time came for Brian to begin working the area, he picked up on these issues inherent in the landscape and decided to do something about it, from both a farming and environmental point of view.

He fenced off the gullies, rivers and bush, to protect them from dying and potentially trapped animals and planted forest to hold and regenerate the soils. Thirty years on, the farm was awarded supreme winner at the Ballance Farm Environment Awards 2010 and holds a rich treasury of native and overseas woodlands.

Forward thinking is Brian’s forte and when planting, he considered what trees would be beneficially harvested as furniture making timbers. Much to my delight, Brian chose Blackwood. His Blackwood is straight, air dried and free from knots and voids. These features are the result of diligent yearly pruning to ensure they grow straight, true and free from knots caused by the protruding branches.

To contrast with the dark tones of Blackwood, Brian has also planted Silky Oak which gives a radiant shimmer when quarter sawn. I’m looking forward to discovering more about this timber and learning how to incorporate the new element into my making.

Brian harvests the trees himself and selects trees that have reached 600mm or more in diameter. The trick is to cut them just before they start to rot or are infiltrated by insects. An innovative fellow, Brian has built and designed a special trailer to carry the logs and a tractor winch made from an old truck differential to haul them into place. The timber is sawn by a friend and then brought back to a farm shed to dry for 2-4 years.

Brian has converted an old milking shed into a workshop and builds some beautiful furniture from his own harvested timber.

The fact that sustainability and regeneration practices are deep in the farm’s DNA is exemplified by Gaye Simms’ abundant permaculture garden. Gaye is Brian’s wife and has her garden near the house with every fruit and vegetable you could think of. Being a permaculture design, it is well thought out and inherently practical, with no resource going to waste. The lay of the land, excrement from farm animals, solar panels, greenhouses - everything works together holistically to achieve organic and sustainable food.

In terms of sustainability, it doesn’t get any better than this. Brian and Gaye are local to the Northland district, harvesting sick trees and growing abundant food from their award winning farm. I look forward to utilizing his timbers to build sustainable and beautiful fine furniture here at my workshop in Kerikeri.

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