The Future Of Tasmania

Recently, I was invited to write an article for Island magazine around the theme ‘The Future of Tasmania’ and what I would like it to look like… Here’s what I wrote…

As a gardener, permaculture educator and landscape designer, when I think about the future of Tasmania, this little island at the bottom of the world with clean air, water, decent soils and rainfall – I think about agriculture and our relationship to this spectacular landscape.

Once upon a time the First Nations people of Australia managed this country as a whole for 10s of thousands of years. Like mainland Australia, the Palawa people used fire-stick farming to hunt animals, manage soil health and regenerate the land. Without a doubt they were some of the most sophisticated and successful agriculturalists ever.

Right now agriculture in Tasmania is predominantly based on the same model most of the world is following – big is better, monoculture focused and export orientated. However around the edges of this is an industry of small growers and producers in both urban and rural contexts offering up some of the best food and produce in the world. As an unwritten rule, they’re organic (certified or not), sell a significant portion of their produce within Tasmania and have a strong connection to their community.

Another general rule is that, with a few exceptions, they’re financially just scrapping by as they compete with big business. While small agriculture might ultimately be better for our environment and communities, it doesn’t always stand up to the current reality where lack of government support and debt can cripple enterprises. Something needs to change.

Lets jump ahead 100 years where agriculture is radically changed. There’s an over-riding manifesto of how people do agriculture and it goes something like this…

The whole island is organic due to the necessity of needing to look after natural resources.

Central to education is how we relate to our landscape. Farmers or not, we all know the basics, that without a healthy earth we’re stuffed. No one’s trying to commodify or ravage it – it’s simply not an option.

A significant portion of all cultivated land is under perennial food crops providing high yields and health for our soils and ground water. Annual crops are still grown, but in appropriate sized patches amongst a perennial landscape.

For meat, we no longer only farm livestock such as cows, sheep and pigs, but have also fully embraced sustainably harvesting wild wallabies, possums and the like for protein and for population control. Livestock are grazed beneath large nut orchards and no landscape is put under monoculture crops as everyone knows this only provides short-term gain, which just isn’t good enough any more.

Interstate trade and exporting of produce still happens, but only with a strong filter of sound ethics and only once Island folk are catered for. No one eats crap, processed food as it was phased out rapidly in the 2030s once the health effects were too bad to ignore.

Land ownership is more fluid with people being able to access land without having to go into debt. And while there might still be fences to contain livestock, we manage landscapes as a whole, just like the Palawa people once did.

And at the end of the day in this future of ours, when you look across this spectacular landscape, your heart will beat loud knowing that you’re part of it.

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Farming Insects For Food

I recently interviewed Louise Morris from *almost launched* Rebel Food Tasmania who farm (and will soon sell) a range of insects as delicious and nutritious food. Read on to find out what she and Rebel Food are up to…

Who is Rebel Food and what are you up to?

Rebel Food Tasmania is a new enterprise farming insects as human food. We’re doing things our way and a bit out of the ordinary as we’re working to a local food economy vision. We grow small herds in small spaces that we hope will have a big impact on food, reducing food waste, provide a new business in regional Tasmania, and bringing a new premium product to the Tasmanian food scene.

Farming and eating insects isn’t a new thing. Right now insect products are being sold in supermarkets in Europe, the USA and are starting to take hold in Australia. And of course, let’s not forget that 80% of the global population eats insects as a normal part of their diet. While most of our processed food stuffs like store bought bread, have insects just from the realities of factory and kitchen processes plus food regulations allow some trace insect in commercial foods.

We are in the minority overlooking this source of nourishment.

This past year we’ve been taking a fair bit of time to test our theories, learning about the best feed stocks and testing our insect end products with people who have expertise in nutrition, taste and what works out in the world. It’s a big adventure, and so far we have been overwhelmed by the interest of other people and businesses who are interested in putting bugs on the menu.

Mealworms with native pepperberry and coffee

When it comes to protein production, how is farming insects better for our landscapes than farming larger livestock? 

There is a lot of media going around about insects being the super sustainable protein source of the future. The ability to farm these little critters in small spaces with minimal water, and on food waste is an amazing opportunity.

That said we are also very mindful that what is used to power the temperature control systems is a major component of the energy and financial sustainability equation. It also needs to be named upfront that vertical farming systems can become intensive farming systems if done just for money, which does not do any favours to the animals being raised or those of us eating the food

includes using fairly run of the mill feed sources, such as commercial chicken feed and other highly processed commercial cereal mixes to get them fat and fried as quickly as possible. This flies in the face of producing a nourishing or sustainable insect based food, so we’re doing it our way – with fresh food, a bit of extra time and attention to learnings.

Part of the reason for doing a long period of research and development is to make sure we can actually grow and breed insects from farm and food waste. Housed in temperature controlled systems that are viable and run on renewable energy, and that we are sure of both the quality of the insects on the plate, and that insect farming in Tasmania is a long term viable addition to the Local Food Economy.

Crickets in a tub

What insects are you farming and which one’s your favourite to eat at the moment?

The primary focus is on the domestic cricket (Acheta domesticus), for a flour product that can be included into foodstuffs in the longer term, and also to supply some early adopter restaurants in here Tasmania and Sydney for bespoke bugs on their menu.

To add a bit of interest and variety, mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) and wood roaches (Parcoblatta pensylvanica) are also being grown because, well – why not?! Not to mention they all taste pretty great.

As part of the research and development period, we are fact checking whether it’s true that the insects take on some of the flavour profiles of what they have been eating. Short answer, yes they do.

During pumpkin season and the apple season there was a detectable sweeter edge. Wine marc was an absolute winner for plumper, sweeter crickets (maybe a bit drunk too, who knows) while coffee grounds with mustard leaf is still a reliable foundation feed for giving a spicy edge. Not to mention carrots and root vegetables, they love the carrots as a moisture and food source.

In terms of cooking them up: I’m really enjoying whole crickets as part of dishes, and doing a lot of cricket flour inclusions into baked goods. I’m loving the cooking experiments with mealworms as they have a slight cheesy end taste to them which rounds off dishes beautifully. The surprise of the cooking experiments has been using woodies, they are umami powerhouses. A little bit goes a very long way.

Do they really taste good or do you have to drown then in soy sauce before eating them?

One of my bugbears (excuse the pun), is seeing insects served up that have just had the S#*t fried out of them. This means you lose all the taste profiles, not to mention much of the nutritional benefits of eating insects. I’ve had a few examples of insects presented as a dish where it was just texture and oil. Cook anything like that and it all tastes the same, fried.

An easy introductory way to cook up your first batch of crickets is a bit of sesame oil, in a pan. Throw them in there for a quick fry, add some sesame seeds, and after a minute or so add them to a good salad or Asian veggie type dish, squirt with a bit of lemon and you’re away. They’re also good with avocado, as the crispy savoury element bounces off that creamy avocado base.

What type of environment are they grown in?

Good time to ask as we’re in scale up and future planning, so this is in flux. One system is a shed that is temperature controlled, the other of our test systems is a strawbale room that is not heated, but uses the polished concrete/window/insulation warmth as the temperature control. This is going remarkably well.

Living quarters for crickets consist of large tubs filled with places for them to hide (mostly egg cartons and large brassica leaves at this stage of the season), and as they get older the boys make lots of noise as they chirp and flirt…crickets are mad flirts!

Tasmanian native Pepperberry infused crickets

What’s the role of the Insect Protein Association? 

The IPAA is the industry representative body for those involved in the insect protein business either as food or animal feed producers. We’re working to develop strong industry standards and frameworks to build a long-term viable insect industry for human food and animal feed. Industry wide standards in labelling, practice and transparency that people can trust, produces quality products and has a voice in legislative and regulatory areas to advocate for the little herds that can make a big impact on how agriculture is done.

When can people start buying your product?

We’re looking to be on menus at select Tasmanian and Sydney restaurants early 2018 with bespoke insects grown for their needs. We will be doing targeted events where the importance of flavour and how the insects are grown is part of the story, while scaling up our systems to be making clean, green Tasmanian grown cricket flour as a key ingredient people can incorporate into their everyday dishes.

Will you ship nationally and internationally through your website?

We are pretty focused on making sure we do things right, and that means not getting too big too fast. We will have national distribution options via our webpage and as our production systems grow, we will grow with that. A key for us at this point is not trying to take over the world, but to have a viable farming system that creates a meaningful and viable addition to our food system, is an efficient use of food waste to make more food, and above all produces a delicious high quality product.

Baked tapioca & cricket flour crackers with sesame seeds

Where to from here?

One of the big jobs for the next 6 months is to secure funds to scale up to larger facilities and fine tune our climate control systems, and of course the renewable energy mix supplying them. As we grow, and the bugs grow, we will keep trialling new options of feeding them with veggie farm and food waste to see what is the best food source available for each season. This is one of the most fun aspects of the whole entoprise (pardon the pun), finding new feed sources and new options for increasing efficiency and quality of the insects.

Oh, and did I mention insect frass (their poo)is a great addition to compost?! I am using the frass as part of the compost and veggie patch at home to see how it works on all the seasonal crops we grow and our fruit trees. So far it’s been a winner, with the frass compost tea being a pungent and powerful brew. The insects also get the fruits of their work back from our vegetable patch system. They have many a leafy green, broad bean, apple, squash, and whatever else is in season incorporated into their feed.

Early Adopters

We have some early adopters on the mainland and here in Tasmania including Meru Miso who are trialling fermenting our insects, Quartermasters Arms who have used all three of our insects species in pop up events and some of our state’s best restaurants ready to incorporate insects into their menu – as soon as we are public and launched. It’s all a bit exciting, and a bit overwhelming!

Keep an eye out for Rebel Food and their launch in late 2017. You can follow them on Instagram, and see a bit of the behind the scenes functions of insect farming, some of their foody experiments in using the insects in food (not deep fried) and general entomophagy goings on.

  • You can also listen to Louise on ABC Radio talking farming and eating insects here. 
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How To Landscape A Steep Slope

In mid 2016 we bought the neighbouring patch of weedy/bush land we’d been drooling over for 4 years; and at the beginning of 2017, we started shaping it to include a driveway and more garden/animal space. We’d been drooling over this steep landscape as up until early 2017 the only way into our property was by walking up a very steep, 100m rocky staircase from the road. We had always wanted to buy the neighbouring land to improve access – it just took 4 years to get it done.

When we started earthworks, the view from our house overlooking the new land looked like this.

As our land is very steep, we knew straight away that we wanted to terrace it, inline with what we had already done in our existing garden. So the whole site was cleared, with the green waste taken to the local tip site where the Hobart Council composts it in large hot piles and sells it back to the community.

While we would have LOVED more flat ground, we couldn’t afford to build retaining walls everywhere. Instead, we designed large earth banks with an angle of approximately 30 degrees. Like our current garden, we planned on using these as edible forest gardens and the flat terraces for annuals crops and animals.

After the machine had shaped these terraces, we used hardwood timber from a local sawmill sight to help define and stabilise the edges…

…And a hell-of-a-lot of heat treated pallets to stabilise the earth banks. This techniques has been a real game changer for us in steep slope gardening, as the pallets provide lots of ledges to plant into, making it easier for plants to get established. It’s also easier to irrigate and passively harvest rain, as water is slowed down (a little bit), instead of quickly rushing down each bank.

Around this time, Anton’s day (Gote) sailed his boat down from NSW, parked in the local bay and would come up every day to build a rock wall, dig holes and just be his marvellous, eccentric Swedish self. All the rock came from onsite and was simply rearranged to build our one and only retaining wall :-).

Gote on the far right reclining on his rock wall. 

We then very quickly broadcast a mix of green manure seeds directly on the banks in late Autumn to get things growing. This included red clover, mustard, lupins and rye grass.

Early winter with green manure crops thriving

A couple of times throughout Winter, we’d slash the green manures down – delaying them going to flower/seed so we could get more root growth and more benefits for the soil.

In early Spring, we let the banks go to flower for which the bees thanked us (they loooooved it in there) and covered the future annual beds in non-toxic, UV stablised black plastic to break down the green manure crops without having to dig *at all*.

The black plastic was left on there for around 6 weeks in which time all the green growth died back and the soil biology ate it up.

Today (Oct 31 2017), the view from our window onto our new patch of land looks like the photo below…..

There are thousands of annual veggie plants on the flat terrace you can see and another above this (out of shot).

We have two toggenburg goats, Gerty and Jilly Love Face who moved in just over 2 weeks ago. Gerty provides 1.5L – 2L of milk every morning and Jilly Love Face (who’s 3 weeks old) provides enormous entertainment.

The chook house has been moved to be with the goat run and we’ve planted 20 hazelnuts and 10 mixed trees into the earth banks. Currently the earth banks still have remnants of Winter’s green manure crops. We’ve started cutting and dropping them in place as mulch and will be planting floral and edible shrubs, plus perennial herbaceous layers into the bank over the next year to form an edible forest garden.

Baby hazelnut trees popping up amongst the green manures. 

In between each nut and fruit tree, we transplanted tagasaste (tree lucerne) seedlings that self-seed in the local bush/weedy land behind our property. These nitrogen-fixing small trees are quick growers and will provide benefits to the soil and fodder for our chooks and goats. Eventually they’ll be chopped down once the nut and fruit trees mature and need more space.

Baby tagasaste seedling

And the goats are truly glorious. You can see them below on one of their daily walks and amongst the many daily cuddles we have. Obviously there’s still a long way to go with our property, and more time required before we see mature trees, but today (or this morning at least) I’m just pausing and reflecting on the past 10 months and *really* enjoying the change of view from our window.

 

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The Wheelie Bin Compost Toilet

We recently visited a house with the most beautiful wheelie bin compost toilet. It’s designed to be inside the house, is smell-free, beautiful (in my opinion) and super easy to use. All the good things.

The wheelie bin’s hidden with a timber framework that opens up so you can roll the bin out when needed. 

Making a wheelie bin compost toilet is nothing new, we’ve seen and done it quite a few times in various locations across Australia. I think the first time I saw it done was around 2002 at a cranking music festival, since then I’ve seen them everywhere, from share houses to farms to urban homes . After trialling *many* compost toilet designs over the past 15 years this is by far my favourite DIY version. Mainly because it’s the easiest to use – specifically, you don’t have to handle any poo buckets at all and instead of lifting, you just wheel the full (heavy) bin out of the way and replace it with a new one when ready.

So how is it done?

There are quite a few variations in how to build a wheelie bin compost toilet, for this blog I’m outlining how these people did it for their context. They used a smaller 120 litre wheelie bin so it would fit inside their house. Often bins are placed *under* a house that’s already raised off the ground, so people usually use full size 240 litre bins. This wasn’t an option here.

The main thing you need to do is add a false floor (for aeration and drainage) and a drainage pipe to the wheelie bin (to get the wee out of the bin).

To create a false floor, these folks used spacers which are really strong plastic supports that hold up a metal frame. Unfortunately they forgot to take a photo of the metal frame they made, but they used some strong recycled mesh (you need to make sure it wont bend under weight) they found at the local tip shop with 2 inch holes and covered it with porous garden shade cloth that lets the liquid through but no solids.

Looking into the bin, you can see two spacers ready to support the false floor. You can also see the drainage hole covered with shade cloth. 

The drainage pipe to get the wee out of the bin is made by drilling a hole into the bin as close to the bottom of the bin as possible. They used half inch and 3/4 inch poly fittings to create the leak-proof joiner bits (that’s my non-technical term for them). On the inside they also covered the pipe with additional shade cloth *just in case* any solids do make it through the false floor. You really don’t want the pipe to get clogged and have wee backing up in the toilet.

The drainage pipe covered with shade cloth with a spacer next to it.

The half inch and 3/4 inch poly fittings used to create a leak-proof join.

On the outside of the bin they added a ball valve tap (you can see its red handle below) and connected it to a standard garden hose that runs out through the floor*. The ball valve means that when the bin’s full and you need to move it, you simply turn the tap to off to prevent any wee coming out while you’re wheeling it out.

*Once out through the floor the hose connects to a blue line poly pipe that runs under ground and into an infiltration trench down hill – more on that soon. 

The drainage pipe leaving the bin

To prevent any smell occurring two things are done. The first is a small amount of sawdust is added every time someone does a poo (not wee), this strong carbon ingredient counters the rich nitrogen poo – neutralising it.

In addition to this they added a small fan that’s built into the lid of the toilet, so you don’t even see it (unless you lift it up like I did). This is a standard 240 volt bathroom fan, these guys are connected to mains power but you could also use a fan connected to a 12 volt solar system if you’re off-grid.

The fan hidden under the lid  Me trying to take a photo showing how the whole lid can lift up. The fan is at the back of the lid, directly below the blue cylinder (which is functioning as a splash back for wee. 

Where does all the wee end up?

Great question. After leaving the house, it travels in a pipe under ground downhill into a subsurface infiltration trench that runs on contour for around 20 metres. We’re told that this trench is a large empty cavity that’s created with a plastic framework that’s wrapped in geo fabric to prevent any soil getting in.

Downhill of this hidden infiltration trench are some fruit trees who happen to love the nitrogen-rich wee seeping into their root zone. All these trees are thriving.

My feet, standing on top of the very invisible infiltration trench.

One of their happy fruit trees getting ready to fruit. 

One more really important detail for this design.

Is that they included a door in their bathroom so they don’t have to wheel the full bin through their kitchen to get it out of the house – how clever. Instead they wheel it straight out the bathroom door and a further 1.5m to a flat holding bay where it sits for up to 12 months. In this time they’ll put some compost worms into the bin to help process the humanure, turning it into a beautifully smelling compost that’s eventually added onto their orchard.

The act of composting is one of my favourite things to do and think about. Whether you’re composting food scraps, garden waste or your own poo, it’s all doing the same thing… Harnessing a waste product that’s ultimately becoming pollution in the mainstream waste system and turning it into a valuable resource. You’re turning it into a solution that feeds depleted, or hungry soils that can then support nutritious food production or, feck – even just to support a healthy planet! Composting is the act of supporting life, long beyond our own.

Fantastic resource

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The Home Composting Project

Over the past year we’ve been working with the City of Hobart to deliver The Home Composting Project. This was a multi-layered, creative education campaign that supported people to compost their food waste at home instead of sending it to landfill where it releases harmful methane gases into the atmosphere.

There were three layers to this project:

  • The first was focused on “passive education” that happened through installing large-scale public artwork in the city educating people how to compost.
  • The second layer was all about “active education” which took place through hosting two free home-composting workshops in Hobart.
  • The third layer was advising the City of Hobart in updating their website to include information on how to compost food waste at home.

But why?

Current figures indicate that up to 47% of Hobart kerbside bins are pure food waste[1] – this is both a big environmental and economic problem and a big opportunity. Environmentally, the main problem is that once food waste is buried in the ground it becomes anaerobic, eventually releasing harmful methane gases into the atmosphere.

“Methane is a potent greenhouse gas 28 to 36 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 100-year period.”

Hello climate change and a plethora of social, environmental and economic challenges. We think it’s best to avoid this at all costs, hence turning the problem (food waste) into the solution (healthy compost to return to the soil).

To do this we worked with a group of households to (a) teach them how to compost, and (b) record how much they composted over one month to determine its effectiveness in keeping food waste out of landfill. They each received identical “compost kits” that made accurate data collection possible.

The outcomes for this brief, but effective project Include:

While the outcomes you can see above might appear modest, the power of this model is that it’s easy and affordable TO SCALE UP to be a highly effective approach to help keep food waste out of landfill.

Cost projections show that by investing in an educational program that’s free for the public to access, you could potentially divert hundreds (and eventually thousands) of tonnes of food waste from landfill per year and save tens (and eventually hundreds) of thousands of dollars by reducing processing fees.

A second layer to the project

Involved collaborating with local artist, Rachel Tribout, to create three large compost billboards that were displayed in central Hobart for 3 months. They were educational, beautiful and big – with the largest one measuring 7.8m x 2.3m.

A very happy me with the smallest of the 3 billboards

The third & final layer to this project

Was focused on working with the City of Hobart to update their website to include some educational information, supporting people to compost at home. This involved making easy-to-download flyers from the billboards and making them permanently available to the public as you can see below.

The City of Hobart are now exploring the feasibility of having a kerbside collection service specifically for food waste to further decrease the percentage of it ending up in landfill.   However as outlined in their Waste Management Strategy, this wouldn’t mean support for home composting disappears – rather it would be one of a range of approaches. We’re fans of not putting all your eggs in one basket so support this approach to turning this current pollution into a soil-loving solution.

  • Did you know: The City of Hobart have a unique and quality composting facility where they currently compost green waste that the public give them. Once composted this is then sold back to the community and while not certified organic (the inputs are too variable), it’s currently the best quality compost we’re aware of commercially available.
  • Thanks to the City of Hobart for funding this project – we loved it.

Some references & resources

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The RESEED Centre: A Sustainability Hub in NW Tasmania

Hello World,

I’ve been wanting tell you about The Reseed Centre for years now, and now they’ve got all their ducks lined up, I can. The Reseed Centre is a little known venture tucked away in the northwest of Tasmania. It’s now emerging as a positive and vibrant centre for sustainable living and Permaculture design. In this blog they share their story and invite you to get involved….

“Our adventure started in 2012, when six of us invested in the two-acre property that was the old Penguin Infant Primary School.

The value and potential was obvious to us. It is a joy to walk the grounds among dozens of fruiting trees and vines. The microclimate suits a huge diversity from apples to avocados. The old school buildings have been retrofitted to include a variety of residential, meeting and office spaces. Incredibly there were (and continue to be) local property developers who see little more than “prime real estate” to be bulldozed, paved over with units and sold for a large profit.

In reality none of us individually ever dreamed of being able to purchase such an
amazing property, a situation common within Permaculture circles. So it was necessary to explore different financial models. We settled for a unit trust, which enabled investment of self managed superannuation funds and direct cash investment.

We called it the RESEED Centre, with a focus on Renewable Energy, Sustainability Education and Enterprise Development. We have installed 10 kilowatts of solar power and incorporate education in most of our activities. We provide affordable spaces and promotion for likeminded businesses to get started.

We have been working to develop the RESEED Centre as a hub for positive change, encouraging people to be healthy, live sustainably, reconnect with each other and help build a resilient community. The Centre and its activities offer a positive response to the challenges of our time: economic instability, a changing climate, energy insecurity, loss of community cohesion.

Permaculture design has emerged as a central theme and focus of activity at the RESEED Centre. Good Life Permaculture has led two amazing residential Permaculture Design Courses here. The students appreciated the great teaching, as well as being 500 metres from the beach, town, cafes and public transport.

Hannah and Anton worked with us to create a beautiful and inspiring design for the centre, providing valuable guidance to implement and develop a unique Permaculture learning site. Then came a key lesson and essential principle of Permaculture design: small and slow solutions. Our enthusiasm was tempered by some slow progress through the council planning approvals process.

Draft concept design above and the final design below. From our experience we believe the transformative potential of Permaculture design will only be realised when we delve more deeply into areas of economic models, governance, appropriate technology and forge strong connections with others in the process.

We have learned valuable lessons in working to achieve financial viability, while remaining true to our vision.

We’re now seeking more investors or others keen to contribute in practical ways to continue the good work that we have begun.

Due to unforseen family circumstances, two of our original investors need to withdraw their investment. On one hand this need presents us with a significant challenge, though positively it opens up an unprecedented opportunity for others looking for an truly ethical investment

Can you imagine being part of the RESEED team?

Are you in a position to provide funds or energy to continue this amazing venture?

If you answered “yes” or even just “maybe” to those questions, then get in touch and have a conversation with Nick, Michelle or Robin below.

Those wishing to keep in touch with RESEED Centre activities can subscribe to the newsletter (email Michelle michelle.towle@iinet.net.au) or follow on Facebook.” 

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Beauty In The Weekend

While the concept of the weekend is very man-made and imperfect in many ways, we’re enjoying having some.

Last weekend we overcame the howling wind and rain and went to our mate’s birthday party in a paddock and little house. Despite the chill, it was heartwarming.  Taking time is always heartwarming and when done with loved ones, it’s even better. People care is never time wasted.

Sam, his very large bonfire and some casual archery happening over to the left. A typical Tassie gathering. 

Our very ace friend, Grace ran a spoon making workshop on the porch of her little paddock shack.

Image by Grace

We cut the young, weedy poplar trees down, split them with an axe and Grace shared her super sharp whittling tools with us which make whittling incredibly dreamy and easy.

Image by Grace

I made a funny little “paddle” spoon (the white one below) to add to our existing collection of hand made spoons and butter knife at home.

Not as snazzy as Grace’s spoon collection, but still has the beauty that can only come with hand made.

Image by Grace

We really enjoy our talented, creative friends. Whether it’s spoon carving, lighting *really* large bonfires or building their own little paddock shack (as Grace has below) – they’re a talented bunch. Hanging out with them reminds me of the important things in life – good connections and good times.

You can follow Grace and her spoon adventures over at Heartspoons. 

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Permaculture Design Case Studies

We’re gradually adding a range of permaculture design case studies to our website so you can have a little look at what landscape design can look like in drastically different contexts.

Fat Pig Farm

You might know Fat Pig Farm through Matthew Evans and his TV show, The Gourmet Farmer. As well as being a bit famous, Matthew and Sadie Chrestman happen to be very fabulous – pouring their hearts into their farm and work. They’ve managed to recruit some of the most talented and loveliest people to work on their farm and restaurant – we love working (and eating) there.

We’ve done a range of design work for this wonderful farm, including this most recent design that focuses on wind break design to protect their pumping market garden.

Exposed to some vicious south and westerly winds, this market garden is getting a multilayered windbreak to help it thrive. 

 

Grow Community Garden

Initiated by the community and supported by Mission Australia, this community garden is particularly unique. Surrounded by a school and the local Child and Family Centre, it oozes “community” and is an exciting place to visit – great things will happen here, in and out of the ground. Check it out. 

A pizza oven with steel pergola over it. Two grape vines are planted at its base and will eventually grow up and over the pergola to create seasonal shade, beauty and food. 

A dry-stone bridge providing all-inclusion access throughout the garden and looking darn pretty in the process. 

Bream Creek Community Market Garden

This motivated bunch of people have borrowed a patch of land from a local farmer and breathed new life into it to create a community market garden. Driven by volunteers, it’s an inspiring model and what getting organised can do for a rural region. We love this project.  

Their farm stand shop selling seasonal produce direct from the garden. 

It is such a joy to work with people to (a) create a property design that suits their needs, and (b) watch them turn it into a reality! You can explore more of our case studies and our design services here. 

  • FYI, we usually have at least a one month waiting period for designs, so book in sooner rather than later if you’re keen.
  • If you’d like to learn how to get started in creating a permaculture design for your own place, check out our summer Permaculture Design Course.
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Citrus Skin Fire Starters

Citrus (oranges in particular) grow in winter so we have *plenty* of them around at the moment. Once you realise that you can use citrus skins as fire starters this is actually highly convenient as winter is also when we’re cold – and lighting lots of fires. Good dots to join as composting large amounts, even small’ish amounts of citrus skin in small compost systems can be problematic. They just kind of hang around…. For ages.

For this reason we hardly put any in our compost systems, instead we use them as fire starters for our wood fire inside our house. The oils inside the skin are highly combustable, so when you put a match to the dry skin it coughs and splutters into flame. Here’s a bad, out of focus photo of just that happening to the right. Sorry – taking a photo and playing with fire isn’t the best combo.

To prep them for being fire starters we dry them until they’re crispy hard. We do this by simply leaving them on top of our wood fire for one or two fires/nights.  If your fire doesn’t have even a small top to place them on like ours does (we wish it was bigger), you can dry them in an oven on a low temperature – around 100 degrees I reckon.

 

When you’re ready, stack your little fire with kindling and spread the citrus skins throughout the pile.

Simply add some fire and *Ta Da* – warm, citrus-smelling fire will arrive quickly.

      

What if you don’t have a wood fire?

Of course if you don’t have a wood fire then another option for using up citrus skins is to make a potent cleaning product that can be used for cleaning your kitchen bench, floors, bathroom sink or toilet. Simply stuff your citrus peels into a glass jar and pour vinegar (any type) over it until fully covered.

Leave it soaking for around two weeks, then drain the liquid off into a clean bottle for storage. Once you’re ready, pour it and some water into a container/spray bottle and use it. The ratio for water and citrus mix is around 50:50 ratio, make it stronger if you need to.

The great thing about this method is that after two weeks the citrus skins are so mushy that they break down quite quickly in a small compost system. Just remember to only add small amounts at any one time as the citrus/vinegar mix is super strong and could cause imbalance in your compost pile.

Of course there’s only so much cleaning product you need, so it’s good to be able to have other uses for them too. Luckily you can also eat citrus skin in a broad range of ways, make a tea out of it and so much more – just spend 5 minutes on the world wide web and you’ll be sorted!

  • FYI – the citrus skin we do put into our compost bins is cut up into small pieces – around the size of a 50c coin, this at least helps it break down more quickly.
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Our Permaculture Design

This is part two of a blog documenting the development of our property design – you can read part one here, it’s where we show you our original design/s for our place and some of the big changes along the way.

This blog is showing you our “final” design, I use inverted commas as it’s bound to change as we continue to implement it. Our friend and colleague, Dan Palmer calls this process of constant, responsive change Living Design. I believe any good designer/implementer does Living Design intuitively. It’s the act of choosing to NOT follow what the design on the paper says when you’re presented with new information/observations as you’re implementing it. This means the outcome is more true to you, the land and current reality on all levels. Simple stuff really, but surprising how often it doesn’t happen. So that’s why I used inverted commas, cause it’s gonna change – nothing too major at this point though as it mostly implemented. But change it will.

Righto…. Some of the foundations for developing our design included getting a vision statement down on paper…

A vision statement is a broad, present tense paragraph that aims to capture what you’re aiming to achieve with your property. It’s written in present tense so it feels more real – this helps clarify where you’re heading. If it doesn’t sound, or feel right in your gut/heart with every member of your household, you need to change it until it does. Ours goes like this…

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Our home is bloody beautiful. There’s colour, creativity and food all over the place and while it may not be perfectly neat, it oozes life and love. Every now and then we open it up to the world to share our experience and to inspire others to “get into it.”

 

It’s nice and broad on purpose, there are no design solutions or specifications in there – you’re just trying to capture the *vibe* of the place.

A good design will also map the sectors for your context.

Sectors

Sectors are the external energies that impact the site, meaning that when designing you need to address each one to ensure your design is the best it can be. Some universal sectors are sun (where is it shining from?) and usually wind (where’s it blowing from) and access (how do you get in/out of your property?).

At our place, we have all these plus things like 360 degree pressure from wildlife (wallabies, rabbits and possums). Our design response is to fence the whole block.

Another one is the *very* strong south and westerly winds we get. Our design response is to plant a thick forest garden in that whole corner to soften the heavy blows and put all the annual food production on the east side of the house where it’s more protected.

Another one is our neighbour’s bush block on the east side of the property – this has the potential to be a fire hazard as there’s a large amount of dead wood and dense understory. Our design response is to (a) meet these neighbours (their house is actually a few hundred meters away from our place as they have a big block so we never see them) and (b) see if they’re open to us managing at least some of the bush for fire wood and possibly as grazing for the future milking goats we’d like to have (fingers crossed).

With all this information in mind, we spent some solid time reading the landscape and balancing what we found out about the soil, water, access, vegetation and more with our own dreams, desires and capabilities. Somewhere within that we found what was possible for the land and us.

And so the design below unfolded from the landscape…

To give you just a little sense of the steep slope we live on, you can see a profile of one section of the block below. The pattern we adopted to work with this land is terracing so we can make it really functional – specifically for water management, access and food production.

You’ll notice from one of our previous drafts (below) that we had originally designed a lot more flat space with deeper terraces. However when we showed it to Colin Fehre (our very fantastic excavator driver) he kindly explained to us that we’d have to remove a whoooole lot of earth offsite and build a whoooole lot of retaining walls to make it happen. Ethically and financially we weren’t into this, so as you can see above we opted for earth berms with productive edible forest gardens stabilising them and smaller flat terraces for our annuals.

Long-term this is actually completely great as our landscape will be 70%-80% perennial food plants including nuts, fruit and veggies. Eventually this will give us a high, nutritious yield and require much less work than the annual veggies. So we’re happy.

A close up of one of our drafts from 2016

Permaculture zones

There are 6 zones in permaculture design (0-5), zone 0 being the main hub (i.e. the house or work place) and zone 5 being the “wild/natural” space (furtherest away from zone 0). We have three zones at our home from 0 – 2.

The only thing you really need to know about zones is that they are a tool you can use to place the things you need most often nearest to zone 0 (the hub of your property). This guarantees ultimate efficiency in how you lay out your property. That’s it. If you’d like to know more about zones, have a read of this.  

So that’s where we’re up to. We still have a long way to go with implementing everything we plan to, but the bones are firmly in place and are hearts are firmly set on making it all happen. So stay with us over the coming years and all shall be revealed!

If you’re interested, you can read more facts and figures about our place over at David Holmgren’s Retrosuburbia and get a sense of what our place looks like in recent times below.

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