Archive for ‘March, 2015’

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.


At the moment it looks like this.


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!


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.


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


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.



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.


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.


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.


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…


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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How to Make Biochar with a Dome Kiln

This post has been written by Mike Thomas, a great bloke who was a student on our 2013 Permaculture Design Course. Enjoy!

Last summer at the ‘Plumplot’ (our farm in Margate, southern Tasmania) we built a dome kiln with the aim of making biochar.


I’ll start by explaining biochar and pyrolysis, explain the Dome Kiln and then expand on our experience.


Is charcoal formed for the purpose of:

  1. Increasing soil fertility by housing bacteria and binding nutrients.
  2. Returning captured carbon almost permanently to the soil

(charcoal is about 50% carbon whereas ash is about 5% carbon)

Historically biochar was used to enhance the fertility of the Amazon basin where most soils are only able to grow crops for up to three years and heavy rains leech the ground of nutrient.  Boosted with biochar  and the right bacteria those lousy soils were able to support civilisations.  It is well worth watching the BBC documentary ‘The secret of El Dorado’ which explains this further .

Current scientific studies show mixed results with regard to biochar in different soil types; some showing a 100% improvement and others showing a depletion in fertility.


Biochar is made by a process called pyrolysis. This is the chemical process which occurs in material which contains carbon (such as wood) when it is heated with minimal oxygen.

Pyrolysis can therefore happen in a heated barrel with the lid on and a couple of holes drilled in the side. It takes a lot of wood to keep the barrel hot; In my experience was an inefficient design. Commercial operators have much larger furnaces working on a similar principle.

A cone kiln is a design which originates in Japan. Cones can be made from a sheet of metal or dug into a hole in the ground.  Layers of wood are burnt sequentially such that the layer above ‘steals’ the oxygen from the layer below.  When the cone is full,  the kiln is doused with water and may be covered to prevent oxygen entry. It will remain hot and voila! the contents undergo pyrolysis to form char.

Dome Kiln:

Our kiln is a pit style brick lined cone kiln made in a dome shape.

Advantages of our design are:

  • 2 metre diameter allows huge volume compared with most metal cones for similar burn time
  • Dome shape has a greater volume to lid ratio than a cone
  • Easier to reach the centre from the edge
  • Brick lined pit prevents edge breakdown and mud formation
  • Brick and crusher dust has good heat capacity
  • 1 metre crusher dust edge minimises fire risk

2Kiln construction detail showing support bricks and use of crusher dust

For us the dome kiln solved three problems:

  1. Use of excess wood not suitable for the fireplace
  2. Leaky dam = messy mudpit with no function
  3. Poor soil may be improved

Dome kiln materials:

  • Leaky dam
  • Salvaged bricks
  • Crusher dust (4 trailer loads)
  • Clay as mortar
  • Cement for final brick layer.
  • Flat metal for lid joined and cut to shape

3Kiln site pre construction showing failed dam. See spades for scale in top right hand corner


  • 3 ute loads of wood from Cass our friendly and generous neighbour
  • Big pile of olive and apple prunings

Position considerations

  • Easy access
  • Near water for fire safety and dousing
  • Fire retardant vegetation nearby (deciduous trees)
  • Smoke moves away from neighbours in prevailing winds
  • Flat or downhill to garden

Drying the kiln

Initially we had a problem as the most rain in about 30 years fell two days before our Dome Kiln ‘first burn’ party. With three helpers and a few buckets it didn’t take long to empty it out.

4Blooper!… lots of water in our kiln!

5Severin and bucket after emptying the kiln

6Kiln drying with a hot fire from prunings

The burn

We laid the first layer of wood on pruning coals and when it was burning well carefully placed the next layer.  When this layer was burning we laid the next and so on.

7Wood layers at half full

8Lengths of wood that spanned the diameter of the dome made it easier to lie each layer flat

After 4 hours when the kiln was full we covered the burning wood in horse manure (to exclude oxygen and start building soil) and hosed it down. Finally we placed the metal lid on top.

9Amy shovels the horse manure to cover the char. See lid in background

10Lid in place – Loads of smoky steam escaping!

11Two days later… Biochar!!!

The kiln held about two cubed metres of char. I set up a flat metal ‘anvil’ where the char could be crushed easily by walking on it in our helper Severin’s big boots. He crushed and moved it to the garden in two half days.

12Amy and a sample of the final product

*Acknowledgements and thanks for building this dome kiln go to…

Severin, Freya,Kati, Petra, Anna, Amy Lau, Marcus Higgs,  Finn Fagan, Cass Rea


Urban Living At Its Greatest

Meet Fin and Cara, they’re rad.

We met these two on our first Permaculture Design Course (in Good Life’s name) back in 2013 and have loved bumping into them around the place – they’re doers these two, and rather talented ones at that. Fin is one of the gardeners at The Agrarian Kitchen (and makes a mean homebrew) and Cara works as a school gardener and a graphic designer and can do pretty much anything as far as I can tell.

I paid a visit to their tiny rental home recently in central Hobart as word has got out about what they were up to. Not only do they have a beautiful multi layered garden in their own rental home, they also have a mini market garden AND they have a little shop out the front of their place where they sell homegrown produce, preserves and flowers. Oh the greatness!

IMG_2410Cara and Fin flanked by citrus trees, worm farm, scarlet runner beans, grapes, cucumbers, herbs, chillis and more


These two moved into the house a few months back – their landlord (another old student of ours) used to live here and planted a lot of fruit trees so these guys are now reaping the rewards of his work and taking it to the next level with adding a pumping vegetable garden in every nook and cranny they can find.

IMG_2407Annual and perennial crops (and these two lovely humans) live super closely side by side in harmony


Clotheslines aren’t safe around these folk – they become structures on which to grow edibles such as beans (above) and tomatoes (below). They definitely have their priorities straight…


IMG_2379Walking around Fin and Cara’s garden is like a treasure hunt as you get to find surprises like little worm farms hiding beneath the critus tree.

As well as selling vegies, flowers, herbs and preserves, Fin and Cara sell compost worm kits (online through gumtree) for people to kickstart their compost and garden. I know – they’re on fire aren’t they.

10353724_799478036826454_6638145003553653910_nFin sorting his worm castings from the worm farm


Then, out the back and around the corner of the garden is a small hot house used for propagating all their plants…


And then there’s their kitchen – which is as tiny, spunky and productive as their gardens. Despite its smallness, it’s massively alive with ferments, preserves and good vibes – gotta have those vibes.


10980756_799478130159778_5110270482523560480_nSauerkraut in action

Now, in addition to this wonderful garden – Cara and Fin have also got busy and made a mini market garden at their friends place in the next suburb over. This is where they keep their chickens and grow bulk crops. Check it out…




Finally, there’s their shop! This is where they sell all their excess produce and bring joy to everyone who gets to walk past it.


This sweet-as shop sells all their latest produce from their two gardens plus any preserves or excess seedlings they have. There’s a simple ‘honesty box’ where people can pop in their cash and pick up their goods which means Fin and Cara don’t actually need to stand on the footpath all day, every day. You usually see this type of thing out the front of farms in the country – we love that they’re doing it in down town Hobart. Legends.

IMG_2405  IMG_2402 IMG_2399

IMG_2397It happened to be Valentines Day when I dropped in – so the flower side of things was particularly pumping.

You can drop in and check out their shop anytime, it’s on the corner of York and Gosvenor St, Sandy Bay. If you’re lucky enough to actually see Fin and/or Cara while you’re there, be sure to given them a high 5 for making good stuff happen.

*PS – On a tangent – if you ever need some super funky graphic design work done – Cara’s your woman, she’s a very multi talented lass this one. Track her down through they’re compost worm add here.

**PPS – Thanks to Cara for letting us use some of her photos – all the good ones are hers. In fact if you ever need a photographer – ask Cara.