Posts from the ‘Design’ category

How To Build An Earthship Retaining Wall

As we live on a steep slope we’ve had to build a lot of retaining walls in order to create functionalilty around access, water management and food production. We’ve used a range of techniques to do this including working with old car tyres to build a big earthship retaining wall directly near our house.

Earthship construction is a technique of building developed by Amercian architect, Mike Reynolds. He’s famous for using ‘rubbish’ and earth as building materials. We love his work.

We chose to build an earthship wall as we had a small budget and a lot of excess sub soil left over from our initial earth works. We also knew we could get car tyres for free from the local car yard who have to pay to get rid of them.

DSC01829Our backyard straight after the excavator had terraced it all

We hadn’t built one of these before hand, so spent some time on youtube to learn how (there are lots of clips to watch).

While it’s pretty easy, it’s also a lot of hard work. It would have been whole lot easier if we had heaps of people to help, one of these cool whakker packer tools and *dry* gravely soil instead of the wet, sticky/clay sub soil from our place. This last tip is a really big one, the guy on the youtube video we watched made it look like a walk in the park with his dry, sandy soil in New Mexico. He just kind of poured it into the tyre and patted it down, in contrast we shoveled, packed, whacked, shoveled more, had a cup break to chill out a bit and then came back and whacked more. It was a bit of a mission. But it’s a bloody strong wall and used up a lot of our excess sub soil for which we are stoked.

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Starting out, we cleared the space, tacked on some white geo-fabric to the bank (see above) to keep it from dropping crumbs and made a level pad to start laying tyres. As we were almost on bedrock, we didn’t have to lay any sand/concrete for foundations, we just leveled it off.

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As soon as you start building up from your first tyre, you have to find a way to plug the holes so the earth doesn’t just fall through. We had a whole pile of carpet tiles the previous owner had left under our house which fitted perfectly, so we used them.

We also back-filled the area directly behind the tyres with 20mm blue metal and ag pipe (not pictured) to guide excess water out of this area to a safe spot.

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And when friends came to visit like Isobel did below, they helped, thanks Isobel!

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Pound, pound, pounding…. There was a lot of this and Anton did most of it so he is forever the best.

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We went five tyres high and angled them all slightly back for structural integrity. An important thing to note is that if you go over 1 metre high you need an engineer (in our region at least) to design/approve things which can get complicated and expensive. Because of this we didn’t exceed this limit – it might look taller below, but that’s because the earth around the wall had been excavated and we the paving hadn’t been put down.

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The next step involved plugging the holes with subsoil, the best approach was to simple form balls of sticky soil and peg it (throw it really hard) into the gaps and then pat it in to make sure it’s all bedded down.

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After that, we wrapped the whole wall in chicken wire, this is what the external renders ‘hangs on’ to and helps create a smooth, level surface.

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This is where I should have some photos of the concrete render layers we did (there were two), except I accidently deleted them all, so you’ll have to use your imagination.

We chose concrete render instead of earth for two reasons, the first being this wall is in the coldest, dampest area of of whole property so it needs to be able to handle long months of never seeing the sun and being constantly wet. The second reason is that we’re not overly experienced with earth building, so took the conservative approach.

Recently we (as in, Anton) did the paving around this area using recycled bricks being pulled up from our local town square. This was the final job to do before we painted the wall to look all fancy. So now it looks like this, which we love.

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Note the drainage holes at the base of the wall. In additional to all the 20mm blue metal and ag pipe that’s behind the wall these are also necessary as you *never* want any water building up behind a retaining wall.

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One end of the wall has these nifty little steps leading up to our food gardens (not pictured).

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The downside of these nifty stairs is that our little Frida Maria loves climbing them, when you’re not looking she’ll be up there in 2 seconds having a great time. Which is good and all, it’s just that the potential of falling onto the hard bricks below is a little too un-relaxing for us. So a little gate may be in order.

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We’re looking at doing some more retaining walls this year for another part of block, and while we love this wall – we’re considering using earth *bags* this time round to save our backs :-).

We’d love to see more people using recycled materials to build with inside and outside of homes. The amount of ‘rubbish’ in our world is mind boggling and when we look closer at so called rubbish, you’ll notice that most of it could actually be re-purposed into a valuable resource. The possibilities are endless – it’s just needs you/us to pull our socks up and get creative!

Earthship Resources & Networks

These days there are many precedents earthship houses around the world including Australia, including:

*Just a quick note, car tyres can have some leaching of chemicals which we wouldn’t personally be comfortable putting near food gardens. So this wall isn’t near our growing beds. Everything downhill from it (the leaching will move with gravity) is all brick paving and house, so we’re happy.

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Dreaming & Doing

It’s a nice time of the year. It’s summer (on this side of the world), most people are playing more than working, new year resolutions are being made and things just seem a little bit fresher.  While we don’t really seem to do new year resolutions, last year we did do a whole family “vision statement” which feels like an ongoing life resolution to live by. In an effort to help keep it fresh in our minds and hearts we’re sharing it…

We were introduced to this process by Dan Palmer from Very Edible Gardens who wrote a great article about it in Pip Magazine back in March 2015. If you’d like to know more about the process, read these blogs by Dan. Our vision statement is based on holistic management *and* the permaculture design process we follow, it captures how we want to live and is written in present tense so it feels real.

But why do it? So often in life we make spend a lot of time reacting to things, where we make decisions with a sense of urgency or without good thought, usually due to being too busy.  A vision statement helps us stay clear and focused, it’s a reference point we can check back in with as needed, remind us where we’re going and how we can get there.

Ours goes like this.

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We are a loving and thriving family. We communicate awesomely and make time for one another. We are hardy and resilient.

Within this are many sub points to provide the extra detail which outline exactly how we intend to make this grand vision a reality. We drew it as a mind map as this makes sense to us, so with all the sub points connected, it looks like this.

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Here’s a little breakdown so you can see how all the sub points “fall out” of the one broad vision statement. These sub points are things we can put into action to help us “get there”.

We are a loving and thriving family

  • Practice being thoughtful and emotionally aware.
  • Don’t take ourselves too seriously.
  • Approach things with fun and light heartedness.
  • Stay humble.
  • Keep connected and active in our community.
  • Support creative endeavours even when they’re not always the most practical or functional thing to do, but because they make our hearts sing.

We communicate awesomely and make time for one another

  • Don’t let sh*t linger (i.e. talk through things as needed and make it’s all sorted *before* you go to sleep each night).
  • Eat meals together.
  • Respectfully engage and interact with our extended families.
  • As well as working together, we play together.

We are hardy and resilient

  • Have the right clothes (this is actually pretty important in our cold winters where without the right clothes you don’t really want to be outside).
  • Practice physical expertise, i.e. rolls and climb trees.
  • Our home nurtures us – it is a diverse food-scape and play-scape, built to last.
  • We are financially comfortable.

We should point out that we don’t actually feel like we’re “there” yet, but that’s not the point. The point is we know where we’re going, and that we’re going there together. We base our decisions/discussions and life around this statement, if we’re unsure about something we ask ourselves “does it match up to our vision statement?”. If not, we can let things slide, or at least put things into perspective.

We also expect our family vision statement to change as life unfolds, as change is the only constant. The main aim of the game is to make sure we’re making our time on this planet count, in every possible way. There’s this quote by Mary Oliver which I love….

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Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Our little family vision statement is a hearty step in helping us realise our potential, keep connected and always reach for the stars with our feet firmly on the ground – we’re really tall, so feel like that’s possible. Happy 2016 and beyond, may life be good to you.

IMG_7062Us. Excuse Frida’s bum, she was pretty distracted trying to escape from my arms to smother Riley – the dog.

**FYI – We’ll be going a bit quiet over the next little bit (not so many blogs) while we finish off some work for some very patient design clients and spend some time playing with our families and basking in the glory of Summer.

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10 Things to Consider When You’re Looking For Land

If you’re looking for land, here are our top 10 things (in no particular order) we think are highly worthwhile and important to consider *before* you buy land. Do these things and we promise they’ll make your life more easy and productive.

1. Water

Does the land you’re looking at have any? In urban areas, generally the answer is yes as you’ll be connected to mains, but not always. In this case you can go for rain tanks and different types of passive water harvesting including things like swales and swale pathways. There may also be opportunities to divert water from neighbouring properties and road ways (without heavy pollution). In rural areas, water is a really important consideration, especially when you plan of having animals and/or cropping systems. Look for the following things:

  • Water catchment: Even if your land comes without dams you might be able to put some in – choose land which has a good, clean water catchment to ensure successful water harvesting.
  • Dams: Land that comes with dam/s is a great asset – check to make sure they don’t leak – i.e. holds water and keep in mind that if there isn’t any already, you’ll need additional infrastructure, think pipes, pump/s and maybe tanks.
  • Rain tanks: In rural and urban areas rain tanks are a must for drinking and garden irrigation.
  • Natural springs on farms mean you have a more secure water source.
  • Bores: Have a water test done for bore water to check for things like salinity.
  • Creeks and rivers: Generally there are really strict guidelines around using water from creeks and rivers, talk to you local environment body to find out what these are. In Tasmania talk to NRM South, North, Cradle Coast or your local Council for guidance.

2. Access

It just so happens that we’re not the best people to talk about access. We bought a house and land with no driveway, it’s only legal access is a 100m staircase from the road up a *very* steep hill (around 26 degrees). Luckily we have some kind neighbours who have let us use their driveways to bring in truckloads of garden materials over the past 3 years. But it’s not ideal and we’ve been working on a solution for quite some time now which is almost at fruition (watch this space). So make sure you have easy access, or can get some. This includes roads across all areas of your farm, ideally along boundary lines and to desirable land for grazing/cropping. For urban areas, if you can get vehicle access to your front and back garden this is ideal, it means you can get bulk materials delivered for your garden (compost, woodchips etc) easily. I’ve lived in a house where we had to push wheelie bins and barrows through the house to get into the backyard, not ideal and a bit messy – luckily the landlord didn’t mind.

3. Structures

When I think of the most useful structures (besides a house), fencing and sheds come to mind in a milli-second. If I think for one more second I would add a hot house (or glass house) to that list. Fencing in Australia is generally used to keep livestock in and native wildlife out. We have a lot of wildlife (wallabies, possum, rabbits) which will ravage the landscape and any crops you put in. Fencing can be a major expense, in some cases it may also be appropriate to have portable electric fencing to move your animals around. But if wallabies are eating all your pasture, you’ll still need to consider permanent wallaby fencing so you have some grass for your animals.

4. Aspect

Where we live in cool temperate Tasmania in the southern hemisphere, having access to sun is really important. If you live in a place with no, or limited sun over Winter, life can get a bit hard – for you and your garden. Look for a north facing aspect (that’s south for you folks in the northern hemisphere) and make this high on your priority list. And don’t be swayed by the real estate agent insisting that a south east facing property/house is just as good as north. It’s not, believe me. And yes, I’ve actually heard a real estate agent say this. Of course, if you’re in the hot tropics this isn’t such a big deal, you’ll be looking for shelter from sun and weather with landforms and vegetation – it’s all about context.

5. Vegetation

On a rural block having some established vegetation is generally a fantastic asset. Especially is it’s acting as a windbreak to buffer you from the prevailing winds and can potentially provide you with firewood and building materials. Funnily enough, in urban areas vegetation can often be a limitation as it casts shade and can dominate the soil with roots (i.e. gums). If you’re looking for a gum forest on an urban block this is no problem at all, if you’re looking for a veggie patch and orchard, you may have to consider making some strategic removals. If you are removing vegetation on a small or large area, consider the local wild life, especially the little birds who often love nesting in dense understory. You might think about clearing trees and shrubs gradually to help an easier transition take place.

6. Soils

Some people are very passionate about only working with ideal soils and that nothing else is worthwhile, however not everyone has access to the best soils due to price (it’s expensive) and geography. The good thing is that with time you can build soil. The main thing I look to avoid is soil contamination. If you’re interested in rural or urban land you can get a quick and affordable soil test done for heavy metals and suspected pesticides. Old orchards are commonly treasure chests of old pesticides such as DDT and arsenic, in urban areas lead is the common contaminant you have to deal with.

7. Property boundaries

If you can, check them before you buy the land. In Tasmania you can use The List to do this for free. More than once we’ve worked on properties doing permaculture designs where we’ve found the boundaries are incorrect. Generally it’s not a big deal, but every now and then it can a major factor that needs addressing.

8. Fire

Talk to your local Council and Fire authorities (Tas Fire Service) about certain guidelines you’ll need to adhere to for your patch of land. This isn’t such a major issue for people living in the city, but can be a significant one for rural folks, especially if you plan on building a new house and you’re looking at purchasing a bush block.

9. How much work is this going to be for me and can I/we do it?

An important reality check. The other question to ask is along side this one is how much will this cost me/us to make it how we want it be? Sometimes people neglect these questions, leading to years of frustration and struggle. On the flip side there are ways to gather support and think beyond money, including wwoofing, helpx and your community of friends and family. It’s just important to acknowledge this as a real consideration.

10. Connection to community

Whether you decide to live in a rural or urban area we strongly believe that you should have easy access to community and services relevant to you. This can look like many different things for people depending on where you are and your particular needs. For example after much deliberation, we decided to live in an urban area where we weren’t car dependent and could walk or ride our bikes to work, see our friends easily and do general errands. Obviously we sacrificed other things for this, but it’s what rang true for us and meets our needs. So ask yourself, what meets your own needs for connection to community?

Notice how we haven’t mentioned views?

We know they’re nice, but we also feel that they determine people’s property choices perhaps a bit too much and take priority over the considerations we’ve listed above. A good view generally means you have no/little soil as you’re on top of a ridge line or mountain, all the good top soil is half way down the mountain on or the river/creek flats. While there are definite exceptions to this rule, this is a guiding truth to be aware of.

And of course, if there’s a house – get a building inspector to check it to make sure it want fall down on you.

As you might have already realised, it might not be possible to get all 10 points, you may need to compromise. We compromised on access and structures (we’re building a shed in the near future and have built all our fences). You need to remain flexible and realistic in the face of what opportunities arise.

So we wish you strength in the face of the gung-ho real estate agent, a level head in moments of heightened emotion (looking for land can do that to you) and perhaps a touch of luck in the stars that you find the land/house you’re looking for.

** The feature image on the home page is from some lovely design clients of ours (who chose their block quite well:-)).

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Permaculture Designs

Since late 2014, we officially started offering our design services to the world. While I’ve (Hannah) been designing since 2008’ish, I’ve only done so when there’s been time, or when people have (kindly) hassled me until I gave in. So it’s been a real pleasure to have rearranged life to make room for them to happen regularly. Helping shape landscapes and lives to be more productive, beautiful and abundant is pretty darn cool.

Here’s a small tour of some of our designs…

*All private addresses have been removed to protect client’s privacy

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We do small and large properties, everything from school gardens (like the one above) to private urban and rural properties. After years of working in public and private food gardens, it’s super satisfying to help create more and more productive spaces – you can never have too many!

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Each of our designs come with a report ranging from 5 – 30 A4 pages depending on the type of design service people choose. They’re jam packed full of information and detail, functioning as a guide for people to work from to implement the design themselves, or to pass onto contractors to do so.

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When we do full site designs we pull out all stops and create a tailored manual for people’s home. This is an A3, laminated (so it can hang out in the garden and get messy) bound ‘book’ which provides thorough plant lists, water maps, budgets, timelines of implementation and more.

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On some extra fun jobs, we partner with local building designer, Jane Hilliard from Designful. She designs the houses/structures and we do the landscapes – it’s the ultimate package, designing both the house and land to create a truly integrated, sustainable home. We can’t get enough of this type of design job – it’s incredibly satisfying as a designer to see people think and live in ‘whole systems’.

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And for people who just need a bit of support, or a nudge in the right direction we do Foundation Designs. sadie

A real joy and challenge as a permaculture designer is finding the solution/s to the vast range of ‘problems’ that present themselves when working with landscapes and people. At the end of the day, there is always a solution – and often more than one!

Do we really do all the designs by hand??

Yup, computer programs and me aren’t best friends. We do create our base maps using free software, Inkscape (read about how to do this here)- otherwise it’s just pen, pencil and water colour, we like a bit of ‘old school’. We also pop it into photoshop to write all the tex as my handwriting isn’t amazing.

Do we implement our designs?

We haven’t in the past as we’re pretty full and busy, so simply connect people with the professionals who can do it or support clients to give it a go themselves (whatever is appropriate for the context). However, we’re now looking to start offering implementation as an extension of our design services. So if you’re keen to have the whole sh-bang, just ask us and we can talk details.

Want to learn how to be a permaculture designer?

Find out when our next Permaculture Design Course is here. 

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How to Make A Basemap

Knowing how to make basemaps of properties to scale quickly is a game changer as a designer. At our recent Advanced Permaculture Design course with Dan Palmer, we learned some of these great tricks we’re about to show you, plus from Tim Davies – one of the experienced students – thanks guys!

First up you need a map.  We use The List in Tasmania search for the property you want. If you’re not in Tassie, ask around and find your equivalent.  You can tell a lot from the photographs and topographical information.  EG slope, water features, vegetation, buildings, shadows etc.  The image below shows our place, with property boundaries and contours.

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Once you have found your property, select the Topographic map and print it as a .pdf file.  Make sure that the orientation is best for your basemap and that the box titled “Show Graticule” is ticked.  The graticule shows the scale on the pdf.

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Repeat this process for the “State Aerial” photo.

Save both of these with their names in a folder for the property.  We cant seem to export the Google maps image from The List, but you could do all this strait from Google maps or your equivalent.

We use Inkscape, a free graphic design software program which can be downloaded from here.  This program works on all computer platforms, is free and fairly easy to use.  In a couple of hours you can learn the basics to do all of the following processes.  It now takes us around 30 minutes start to finish, perhaps we can get it down to 10 minutes with more practice!

We have created a series of “basemap templates” with different paper sizes (A4, A3, A2 etc) and orientation (landscape and portrait).  You don’t necessarily need a template but we find it helps if you are doing this process repeatedly.  The image below shows the Inkscape page and in the center our template.

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We have already created a number of “Layers”.  Think of a layer as a piece of tracing paper, that can be removed and edited easily.  We place each part of the design/basemap on its own layer.  This helps later to edit the plan and present all the appropriate information.  You can “lock” a layer by clicking the padlock.  You can make it visible/invisible by clicking the eye.  The layer that you are currently editing is “greyed out”.

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Import the Topographic map to the correct layer.

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Change the opacity to 50%.

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Using the measuring device, set the measurements to “cm”.

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Zoom into the picture, to where the scale is.  In our image the “graticules” represent 10m and they are on the far left of the picture.  Measure the distance between graticule 24 and 23, this comes to 2.74cm.  (sorry about the bodgy photo).

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So take the known distance from the map (in this case 10m) and divide it by the measured distance in Inkscape (2.74cm).

Known distance on Image / Measured distance in program = scaling factor
eg 10m (on scale of printed map) / 2.74 (cm as measured in Inkscape)
= 3.64
x 100
= 364% Scaling factor

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In this case it transformed the pdf to the scale of 1:100.

Use the “Transform” tool to scale the image “proportionally” by 364%.

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Once it has been scaled, use the measuring device to make sure it is correct.  The measurement should read 10.

Does the image fit the page?  In this case the property boundary is too large for our page size at 1:100

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I have two options a) change the scale or b) change the page size.

If you decide to change the scale of the drawing you adjust the size of the image again.  I use the following cheat sheet to help:

•    1:1000 to 1:500 = 200%
•    1:500 to 1:250 = 200%
•    1:250 to 1:200 = 125%
•    1:200 to 1:100 = 200%
•    1:100 to 1:50 = 200%
•    1:500: 1:1000 = 50%
•    1:250  to 1:500 = 50%
•    1:100 to 1:200 = 50%
•    1:50 to 1:100 = 50%
I am going to change the scale of the drawing to 1:200, therefore I will transform the topographic map by 50%.

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If you decide to change the paper size, the following helps (noting you will change the paper size, not the image):
Going Up – 141% per “A” paper size
Going Up 2 x paper sizes = 200%
Going Down – 71% per “A” paper size
Going Down 2 x paper sizes = 50%

As you can see below, the scaling is now correct.  The property boundaries fit within the page template.

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Do the same thing for the Aerial photograph.  Make sure to go through the whole process because it may have scaled differently when it was printed as a pdf.  When it is scaled try lining up the aerial and topographic to make sure they overlap.  Its hard to see here, but our property boundaries match up in the Topographic and Aerial photo -woop, this is a milestone.  At this point i “lock” them so they don’t move.

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Once you have the topographic and aerial photos matching in size and scaled to your page, start plotting on other features.  For example create a layer called boundaries and plot on the property boundaries.  Use the “Bezier drawing tool and the “edit paths” tools ” to draw.

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You can adjust the type and thickness of lines.  You may need to turn layers on and off to pick up details.  Eg the arial photo is better for the house.  The topographic better for the boundaries and contours.

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Do the same for other features eg water, roads, fences, vegetation, contours.

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When you have drawn all this information on the page, turn off the visibility of the aerial and topographic maps – now you have a clean, scaled basemap.

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Go get em tiger!

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Goodbye Chlorine. Hello Natural Swimming Pool!

This blog has been contributed by Hobart local, Jenny Calder. Enjoy!

In May last year myself and two friends bought a home in South Hobart with a glorious mountain view and plenty of sunshine (co-ownership – a novel way of housing ourselves – don’t rule it out). It also had a 10m long swimming pool, used over the last 30 years by the previous owners to operate a learn to swim business.

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Not being fans of chlorine, or large amounts of maintenance, I started researching natural swimming pool options. It turns out that the conversion of pools to natural ponds is an idea gaining in popularity as the the children of the baby-boomers move out of home. It is being promoted by several NSW councils, and has even been featured on Gardening Australia. So, after hosting an unconventional pool party on the winter solstice, we turned off the chlorine. It wasn’t long before it evaporated away and the water turned a glorious shade of green.

 

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Our pool had begun to come alive! I made a trip to the Ridgeway Nursery and introduced a diverse selection of native water plants. I have planted them in pots, placed on top of various pieces of submerged plastic furniture, all from our friendly local  tip shop. The plan is to fill one third of the pond with plants, which will oxygenate the water and use nutrients that would otherwise be used by slimy algae and pond scum.

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I have also introduced azolla and duckweed. Azolla is a free-floating, nitrogen-fixing, water fern, often seen with a red tinge on farm dams. It and its companion duckweed multiply at an incredible rate, and can be scooped off and used in compost. Being high in protein it has been promoted as a supplementary food for chickens. On experimentation, they don’t seem to like it that much, but they do like picking off the bugs and occasional tadpole that come with it.

The evolving ecology of our backyard water-body has been a fascinating process to watch. Six months on, the plants are growing strong and an increasingly loud chorus of brown tree frogs have taken over the night air in the summer time – I am amazed by how much noise such little critters can make! Tadpoles, water boatmen, back swimmers, tiny snails and other weird and wriggly creatures abound, and there are very few (if any) mosquito larvae (we had a pond-dipping and water bug identification afternoon to investigate).

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Dragonflies visit regularly, spiders have spun webs between the reeds, and a pair of wood ducks have made a once-off appearance. I have also planted several pots of mint in the pool, which are providing us with plenty of delicious tea, and we have also started stacking rocks and placing succulents around the pond edges to create hiding places for frogs and skinks. In the future I hope to install a small water pump to circulate the water through an external gravel and reed bed. This will further cleanse the water, and hopefully we can still enjoy fresh, chlorine-free swims!

IMG_3466Jenny adding more plants to the natural swimming pool. She’s wearing a wetsuit as it’s pretty cold in Tassie right now.

home   The pond and young orchard in Jenny’s garden – a blossoming hub or biodiversity

There are many inspiring more swimming pool naturalisation projects to be found online, such as this one. Another inspiring project is Garden Pool, where a family of four are growing most of their own food in an aquaponics system in a converted pool. One day I’d like to look into this too, but the short term plan is bringing biodiveristy into our backyard by creating habitat for some of the amazing metamorphic wetland creatures we share the planet with!

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Meet Mrytus

Our young Myrtus Ugni plants are on fire in our garden at the moment. They are all beauty and bursts of pink sherbet.

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Originating from South America, these plants also go by the name of Chilean Guava and, more recently, Tazzi Berries – Tasmania’s attempt of claiming them as our own. Before having our own, we would make annual visits to the local retirement home where they’re in abundance as a popular landscaping plant. Most people plant them as an ornamental not realising these little berries are full of edible delight.

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These tough plants can be grown in full sun to partial shade, thrive in good soil, but are charging on in a pretty crappy area of our garden. They’re planted in full sun on the edge of a dry bank where the soil is a combo of heavy clay top soil, plus a bit of sub soil mixed in thanks to excavations. After an initial period of regular watering we don’t do anything for them anymore – they’re just getting on with it. Our kind of plant.

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We chose to plant them in this particular spot so they can also function as a living hedge, preventing people from slipping down a fairly steep bank. Left unattended, their average height is somewhere around 1.7 metres, but apparently they can get up to 3m in super prime conditions. We’ll be pruning them to around 1m high and .5m wide, keeping them nice and compact in a tight space.

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As you can see above, the path is really narrow as we’re all about maximising growing space. We made it just wide enough to wedge a small baby in…

IMG_2827  To make sure they can hang out and admire the natural beauty life has to offer.

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The one ‘downside’ (which isn’t a massive downside) is that the fruit is tiny, meaning the harvest is slow and that you tend to eat more than you actually put in the bowl. But we don’t mind. We might if were trying to farm them, but on a backyard scale they’re just fine.

IMG_2818We really enjoy using plants for multiple functions, sure they give us good food, but they’re also being a living fence and providing entertainment for small babes – what a clever plant.

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Our Orchard Design & Development

We’re slowly developing our front garden, turning it into a compact orchard with loose qualities of an edible forest garden and a key focus on cycling nutrients, building soil and looking good. You can read about the development of parts of this space here, which we’re slowly, but surely nudging towards looking something like the sketch below…

orchard sketchWe don’t really have a good photo of what this space looked like before we started work on it. But here’s a photo of the excavator moving rubbish (the previous owner dumped there) when we were in the early stages of getting things started.

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At the moment it looks like this.

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One of the first things we did when we stablised the main steep bank was plant it out with lots of vigorous seeds including white clover, calendula, borage, corn flowers and nasturtiums – plus we had volunteers such as dock and plantain spring up everywhere to ‘hold’ the bank together. We’re now enjoying the “instant” beauty of these plants while we wait for all the native ground covers and small bushes to grow. They’re so small you can’t see them in this photo, but they’re there!

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The central path has been dug out on contour, filled with these fancy things which look like milk crates (designed for grey water systems), wrapped in geo fabric and back filled with woodchips. Most of the time it’s an empty space, over designed to be able to cope with crazy floods (just in case) so there’s no risk of it flooding or causing water logging with the plant’s roots. Eventually we’ll be directing greywater from our house (kitchen/bathroom water) into this absorption trench, currently this is where the overflow from our rain tank (which is so big it never over flows) is directed.

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Globe artichokes and comfrey have been planted on the downhill side of the slope to capture excess water runoff (they love moist, fertile spaces) and to stablise the slope.The comfrey also gets slashed back a couple of times every summer and used as mulch for the fruit trees.

IMG_2171A young apple tree in its early days of being trained along the wires

IMG_2172One of our cherry trees being ‘fan’ espaliered

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We cut down the existing wild plum tree (which was all pip and no flesh) and did a bark graft with a super awesome plum variety. It’s looking pretty exciting and promising!

IMG_2166Kiwi vine with perennial nasturtium and a rogue cape gooseberry in the background

We also planted hops which are a perennial crop that grow super tall into Summer and get cut down every Autumn. The idea is that they can be trained along the same framework as the fruit trees and kiwis, just at a different height, so they can all live harmoniously in a compact space.

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Anton and some of our hops – our first harvest from our young orchard space.

In the photo below, you can see a fluffy plant on the bottom right, along the line of espaliered fruit trees – this is asparagus, which has gotta go. It’s simply too big and dominating for our super compact orchard and will compete with our fruit trees for nutrients and space above and below the ground. I had a moment of false enthusiasm when I planted it so will be transplanting it into another space this coming Winter. In a larger orchard, asparagus can be planted easily, we’re just a bit space poor on our crazy steep slope.

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One day in the not too far future the empty lines of wire you can see will be covered in kiwi vines and mature fruit trees. It will be pretty spunky. But we reckon it looks pretty spunky right now compared to the massively weedy mess it was when we started – think large sprawling cotoneasters and rosehips with thorns that could rip your eyes out. We kinda already feel like we’ve ‘made it’, imagine how we’ll feel once we’re hanging out in there, enjoying some homebrew and eating fruit straight off the tree… Good, really good.

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Advanced Permaculture Design

In collaboration with Very Edible Gardens we’ve just hosted our first Advanced Design Course with Dan Palmer. It was good. Really good.

IMG_2662Anton, Dan, me (Hannah) and baby Frida – who pretty much slept the whole weekend. Bless her socks.

It’s hard to describe what happened over the weekend. Sure, we had a class schedule which we stuck to, covering everything from holistic management, business structure, reading the landscape, implementation of designs and using design software.

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But it was the bits in between, underneath and around the edges which really rocked our boat. Dan designs (and teaches) from the heart. He doesn’t just teach you practical skills to refine your design practice, but he encourages you to ask the big questions of what you want from your life and how design can help this happen. It’s hard to describe, but lets just say we walked way with the drive to become better designers for both our clients AND our lives.

As always, the group of students who came together were diverse, hard working and so so interesting, bringing their own strengths to the course and forming tight networks at rapid rates. Here’s a sneak peak into the weekend…

IMG_2646Dan… Working the room

IMG_2605Students working hard

IMG_2615Lisa and Wendy reading the landscape

IMG_2622Nick, Kylie and Simon also reading the landscape 

IMG_2627Kirsty telling Terry (L) and Jared (R) how it is

We held this course at the Reseed Centre in Penguin, NW Tasmania. This place is an old school and is now owned by 6 people who re-directed their super funds into this community facility to make a space for sustainability and community to thrive. It’s an incredible space which oozes opportunity and potential, and fruit – so much fruit…

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IMG_2644Camping amongst the orchard

IMG_2658Us (minus Anton who took the photo). A group of committed, excited permaculture designers feeling pretty pumped

Wondering how you can get a bit of this ace action into your life? You can sign up to the next Advanced Permaculture Design course which is being run by Very Edible Garden’s in Victoria here. We promise you’ll find it incredibly useful, thought provoking, heart warming, and fun.

A massive thanks to Dan for coming over to Tasmania and working with us – we love collaborating with hard working, thoughtful, talented people. Here’s to not working in silos and making the effort to share our professional and personal experiences to aid one another in being better – inside and out.

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