Archive for ‘December, 2015’

The Year That Was

As we come to the end of another year and start bracing ourselves for the next one (in a good way) we breath out a little bit and reflect on 2015 to remind ourselves that things got done, fun was had and challenges were worked through. Here are some highlights for you, and us…

Taking ourselves back to March, we got to go to the Australasian Permaculture Convergence in Penguin, NW Tasmania to catch up with old and new friends, do a little talk and stretch our brains a bit. Directly after this we worked with Dan Palmer from Very Edible Gardens to host an Advanced Permaculture Design course which was a bit life changing – you can see a snippet of it here.

IMG_2658-1024x768Students from our Advanced Permaculture Design course

Permaculture maven, Rosemary Morrow worked with us on our Permaculture Design Course *and* a Permaculture Teacher Training course (she’s a dynamo that woman). Meanwhile Tim Barker ran a rocket Powered Shower workshop at the same time – it was a couple of months of legends in and out of our lives – we respect and love all these talented people very much.

1610912_951679158199663_2881760833289315481_nTim Barker and Rosemary Morrow in the house!

In mid Winter, we worked with Milkwood Permaculture in Sydney to teach one of their Permaculture Design Courses. Back home in Tassie we ran a series of other great workshops over some months, including beekeeping, how to grow mushrooms, fermenting food, introduction to permaculture and real skills for growing food.

3Milkwood Permaculture Design course in Sydney

bee-collage    Beekeeping workshop

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IMG_5149Our fermentation fest students with their kimchi – so proud of themselves!

A project separate to Good Life that Hannah is deeply involved in is the Hobart City Farm – which is pretty much one of the best places in the world. Two years in the making, we broke ground in early 2015 on just under 1/2 an acre of grass – we’ve just harvested over 500kgs of garlic and have lots of diverse summer crops coming on.

12360149_1064195823614662_4803107927118861502_nLouise, Bridget and James rocking the garlic patch

A complete surprise was when Hannah was awarded the 2015 Tasmanian Young Landcare Leader award which was incredibly humbling and heart warming. We love that permaculture is recognised in this field and have so much respect for the Landcare mob and the work they do.

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Another exciting development that happened this year are our educational tea towels which we’re having so much fun with. We currently have three types (about chooks, bees and fruit trees) and more coming early next year. We’ve set up an online shop so you can get your hands on these beauties anytime.

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In and around everything, we’ve also completed around 30 permaculture designs for a range of truly wonderful people working on creating good lives for themselves. Working with people in this space is so inspiring, helping people’s dreams become reality is really, really cool.

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And back at our little homestead, things are growing and developing with more big dreams being hatched for next year, which we’ll tell you about another day. The bottom line is we love our home, its increasing productivity and beauty – so much goodness and greatness can be created on small pieces of land!

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But perhaps the biggest, most life changing ‘thing’ happened on January 8th, when we added a new member to Team Good Life, Frida Maria.

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She’s growing as fast as the hop vines in our orchard and currently likes to spend her time chasing the ducks, talking to the chooks, climbing rock walls, eating *all* the berries and wrestling, for which we are forever grateful – we love a good wrestle.

And next year? We’re going to do it all again in its own unique way. We’ve got a stack load of courses lined up for y’all and lots of dreams and schemes! We’re going to try and prepare for the challenges we don’t know about yet, savor the wins and be graceful in the stuff that doesn’t work. We’ll continue to get excited about life, try and do everything, over commit and then be kind to ourselves as we find our way through it all. Life is big, hard, beautiful, never the same and we just try and remember we are fortunate, *crazy fortunate* and to embrace the ordinary because, when you think about it, it’s pretty darn wonderful being ordinary.

Thanks for your ongoing greatness towards us and happy festive season, may your loved ones be close enough to hug.

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Sheet Mulching

Before I start, a bit of clarifying on the term ‘sheet mulching’ as it seems to vary depending on where you are in the world. In Australia, sheet mulching is different to no-dig gardening, although they’re very similar – one is an extension of the other.

  • Sheet mulching is used to smother the ground with organic matter (generally cardboard, newspaper and woodchips plus some nitrogen materials including animal manures or blood and bone), usually to suppress grass in order to establish more desired plants. The desired plants are planted directly into the original soil through the sheet mulching with some compost if needed.
  • No-dig gardening also smothers the ground, however has many more layers of organic matter to create an instant raised garden bed which you can plant into the same day you make it. If you have really challenging soils and can’t plant into them, a no-dig garden can work great for you. Read about how to create them with the Australian City Farms and Community Garden Network.

Righteo, lets start.

We’ve been tweaking our young orchard lately to stop the grass from creeping in and taking over, something the fruit trees will hate, as will we. Grass sucks a lot of water and nutrient away from trees (and all other plants), so even if you choose to have grass throughout your orchard, your trees will be happier and healthier if there’s a good buffer from their trunk to where the grass starts.

At our place we’ve got a range of invasive grasses which we’re slowing planting out to make way for a more productive landscape. After transplanting the asparagus understory from the orchard (there just wasn’t enough room), we’re now establishing perennial and self seeding floral understory to attract the pollinators, suppress unwanted plants and look good. To help all these plants thrive we’ve sheet mulched the whole area to suppress the grass and add a stack of organic matter. Here’s how we did it….

IMG_5163Some grass moving in on our fruit trees… Grrrrr.

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Step 1

Traditionally you don’t have to do any weeding before you start sheet mulching, however we wanted to really bang our invasive grasses on the head, so the first step for us involved going through our orchard and getting out as much grass as we could with our hands.

If you’re starting with a blank canvas, i.e. a big flat lawn – mow the grass down really short and leave it on the ground (spread evenly). Pierce the soil with a garden fork to help water, nutrients and air find their way into the soil quickly.

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Step 2

Next up we added some minerals and nutrients tailored to what our heavy clay soils need. This included gypsum to help bind the clay into aggregates, chook poo from our feathered friends, some old grass clippings and a bit of blood and bone. It is not essential to add inputs, but like I said, our soil needs it.

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Step 3

Place your ‘weed mat’ on the ground. We’ve used thick sheets of newspapers which *heavily* overlap, ensuring there’s absolutely no gaps at all – that’s a really important detail. You can also use cardboard boxes just remember to remove the sticky tape and avoid the waxed boxes as they’re harder to work with. We never use any glossy brochures/magazines as their chemical ink isn’t desirable for our soils. Before we lay the newspaper down, we soak it in a bucket/wheelbarrow of water, this helps it mold to the surface, prevents it from blowing it away and actually attracts soil critters to hang out around it – worms love it.

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When it comes to the edges of your garden bed, be mindful that this is where weeds usually creep in, you can see below we’ve extended our ‘weed mat’ to go under the timber lengths to help slow the grass down. FYI, this edging of cypress macrocarpa branches is temporary, in the near future we have to dig up this pathway to install a water pipe, so we haven’t been overly ‘special’ with how we’ve built this edge. In time, we’ll be putting in some more solid hardwood timber sleepers.

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IMG_5192Note the overlapping of the newspaper – there should be absolutely no gaps for any weeds to sneak through. 

Step 4

The next step is to cover the newspaper with heavy mulch – we prefer to use woodchips (ideally ramial woodchips) for their high nutrient content and ability to create the right environment for fungi to thrive – other people prefer pea straw (or different types of straw). Below, you can see our espaliered orchard with the middle section half complete and the end closer to us finished off with woodchips.

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Step 5

Plant a useful understory. Where there’s space, why not plant something? We broadcast nasturitum, calendula, nigella, red clover, sweet alice and borage seeds. Within a few months this will be covered in colour and life – above and below the ground.

  IMG_5176Calendula seed above and nasturtium below.

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Now, please be aware that sheet mulching is not the silver bullet to vigorous weeds. Generally they will still find a way to come back – just a lot more slowly. You still need to manually stay on top of things in the early days by the occasional weeding session. Eventually they will be overwhelmed and dominated by more desired plants, but in these early days when there’s heaps of sun and space they’ll keep trying to return.

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While young, our orchard is already one of our favourite places on our property and has started to produce fruit and berries – which is why we hang out here a lot. Working with the soil (which sheet mulching is part of) will help the plant’s overall health and vitality, ensuring that this space will be nothing but beautiful, abundant and cranking.

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Home-made Non-Alcoholic Ginger Beer

Home-made ginger beer is an old favorite that’s easy to make and super yum for your taste buds.  This is an “alcoholic” type ferment, although with this particular recipe the idea is that it’s considered non-acoholic, saying this – it’s very hard to not have *any* alcohol content, so please be aware of this.
This liquid ferment uses a “sourdough” type of culture called “the mother” which you can make yourself. A word of caution – this brew has a reputation for blowing up bottles, the reason being is to make the drink sweet you have to put un-fermented sugar in the bottle.  The yeasts in the brew continue fermenting to create bubbles (CO2) and will eventually create *so much pressure* that the bottles can blow.  The solution is to make a batch for a special event and then drink it all then, do not let it linger on your shelves.
So how do you make it? Here’s our much loved recipe – enjoy!
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Starting the “Mother”

  • Teaspoon yeast
  • Teaspoon of sugar
  • Teaspoon of ginger powder
  • 1 cup of water

In a glass jar, mix these ingredients together and cover with a cheesecloth or a loose fitting lid.  Every day add an additional teaspoon of sugar and teaspoon of ginger, after around 1 week it’ll be ready to use. You’ll be able to tell as it’ll be fizzy (you’ll see little bubbles) and smell incredible.

IMG_5104The mother – she smells *amazing*

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To make 10 Liters of ginger beer

  • 250g grated fresh ginger
  • 100g dry ginger
  • Teaspoon of chili flakes
  • Teaspoon of peppercorns
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • Desert spoon of cloves
  • 1 kg sugar
  • 10 liters of water
  • 6 lemons

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Method

  • Make 3 liters of tea with all ingredients, except sugar and lemon.
  • Boil for 1 hour and let cool.
  • Dissolve in the sugar and add the juice of 6 lemons – add another 7 litres to this brew to bring it up to around 10 liters.
  • Once it’s cooled down, add the mother. In terms of how much of it you add, you can put 90% of the liquid (almost one cup). You can then add more water and keep feeding it to keep it going for the next batch (if you choose).
  • Bottle into old soft drink or beer bottles, we prefer glass bottles.
  • It will be ready in 2 days and it’s best to drink it all within 7 days.
  • Invite mates over and drink!

This simple ferment is just so wonderful on a range of levels. Not only do they taste great, making your own cuts out the need for fizzy drinks from the shop – another thing you can do to reduce hanging out in the supermarket  – enjoy!

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