Posts from the ‘Design’ category

Dirty Hands Composting Cooperative

Recently I interviewed Tom Crawford from the Dirty Hands Composting Cooperative about exactly why he spends so much of his time harvesting food scraps from the urban landscape. Based at the Hobart City Farm, this enterprise is helping to turn a problem into a nutrient-dense solution!

What is Dirty Hands?

“Dirty Hands is a cooperative based business that collects food scraps from cafes and restaurants around nipaluna/Hobart and processes it into compost. We operate in collaboration with a few community gardens and provide compost in return for their use of space.”

Who’s involved and what are their roles?

“Currently we have three people involved in the business. Tom is the founder who started through a Hobart City Council grant in 2016. Gabriela has been involved for the past year and helped Tom evolve the business into a financially sustainable operation. We also have Marissa who has been helping with collections and processing for the past three months. All three are involved in the weekly collection and processing of food scraps into compost.”

Tom Crawford and Gabriela O’Leary – photo by the ABC.

When did you start?

“In May 2016 the idea of a community composting hub was first submitted to Hobart City Council when applying for a grant with the support of Hobart City Farm and Source Community Wholefoods. As of August 2016 the grant was successful. The first collection began in November 2016, and continued ever since. And after over two years of running a free service to businesses, the operations have managed to transition to a fully paid service for the past six months.”

Just wanted to pipe in here and say that this is such an achievement! Making these types of projects financially viable and sustainable is always a bit tricky – so Tom and co are doing an amazing job in this regard. 

What are you looking to achieve?

“The main aims of the business are to reduce waste to landfill; utilise the resources of organic materials and returning it to the soil; and creating employment with a social and environmental focus. Building community awareness around waste reduction through composting is also a big focus.”

Is it hard work to set up and manage?

“The work is at times challenging but rewarding due to the aims being achieved. The collection can be frustrating due to logistics of organising buckets and “tetrising” the buckets into the vehicle, and getting stuck in traffic is less than ideal. The composting is a physical job but satisfying when you get to see the amazing final product: rich dark compost. Cleaning buckets can also be a job that lacks inspiration, but it is part of the bigger picture, and we’re sure that the customers appreciate it.

One of the hardest things for us to do was switching from a free service to paid as paying extra to do the right thing doesn’t always work out. It can be really challenging for businesses as composting is an added pressure for the hospitality sector. But we have a fantastic group of businesses that we work with, and we are always keen for more to join.”

Some of the many food scrap buckets!

What’s your favourite thing about running Dirty Hands?

“We love that the business is set up on cooperative principles, meaning that we all have an equal say in what goes on, as well as equal pay. We also really appreciate working with Hobart City Farm and gaining all of their insights. And WORMS!!! Worms are the most incredible animals, turning food-scraps into gold! The worms have made our operations so much easier due to less physical turning of the compost.

An example of just one of the large worm farms that are built from rodent-proof corrugated iron

What’s your hope for the future?

“We hope to continue building our operation, evolving with the changes and hopefully reach the point where we can transition to an actual cooperative business that can provide a quality composting service to a larger community of people and businesses, whilst staying true to our aims and getting our hands dirty!”

See more about this project here…

Learn how to compost at home…

*All images are provided by Dirty Hands, ABC or The Mercury Newspaper. 

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Do Cold Frames Actually Work?

The short answer is yes – but let me elaborate….

We built a cold frame in late 2018 to create a warmer micro-climate to grow early season tomatoes and eggplants with ease. You can see below how we built it here.

Some of you have asked how it’s gone in its first season. Very good thanks – it went (and is still going) very, very good. Below is some evidence of this.

We ended up harvesting/eating tomatoes 6 weeks earlier which is the best treat ever and eggplants?  In the past growing eggplants usually involves a bit of pampering to make sure they have enough warmth – but this season I’ve only paid them attention when harvesting bowls of them. That’s a nice turn around.

The only minor downside is that this cold frame ended up being a bit short for the eggplants (the tomato plants were a bush (short) variety so didn’t have this issue). But as this only became an issue later in the season (when it’s warmer) we have simply left the lid notched up as you can see above.

Prolific fairy tale eggplants

Likewise with basil – we have much pesto in our fridge and freezer and fresh basil on everything. Abundance!

The cold frame is now slowly coming to a natural end. Over winter we’ll grow a mixed green manure crop to rest and feed the soil so it can get ready to do it all again next year.

In addition to the cold frame, we planted 12 tomato plants (in normal outside beds) which are still pumping away. There’s been so much pumping we’ve almost filled our pantry shelves. And that’s what we call winning!

Usually we’d buy some tomatoes to preserve in our fowler vacola jars – but not this year. This year it’s 100% toms from our garden (plus other fruits and veggies). A maturing garden and gardener (with more skills) is the most beautiful thing.

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Grafting Tomato Plants & Native Kangaroo Apple Shrubs!

The world of grafting plants is wonderful and wacky. You can start with just one pear tree and graft a range of other fruits onto it that are also in the pome family – so you could end up with a pear, apple, medlar, quince *and* nashi tree (plus more). Wow. So even if you only have room for one tree in your garden you can still have a range of fruits.

Sometimes the plants you can graft together are less obvious. This season we grafted some common tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) onto the native Kangaroo Apple shrub (Solanum laciniatum) which are both in the Solanaceae family (aka the nightshade family).

Kangaroo Apples are a hardy, quick growing, evergreen shrub that grow to 2.5m. They have blue/purple flowers followed by poisonous green fruits but that turn edible when ripe. Importantly they’re incredibly tough and will happily grow in average soils with no, or little moisture – whereas tomatoes need lots of compost and water to thrive. This means you can grow delicious tomatoes in areas where you have less fertile soils. It’s a bit magic.

Kangaroo Apple shrub thriving in the foreground and Frida and goats thriving the background. 

Here’s how we did it…

There are many types of grafting techniques, we did what’s called a bark graft. For more detailed instructions on bark grafting, see our previous blog on bark grafting our wild plum here. You basically chop the tree or shrub down to a stump (or just chop a branch off) and seen below.

You then gently peel back the bark and green cambium layer and place a number of tomato branches inside it.

The tomato branch is cut at an angle that means it can slide into the large branch of the Kangaroo Apple. 

You always add more than one branch of the desired plant species you’re fostering – this is so there’s more chance of getting a yield as it’s common that not all grafts will “take” and be successful. Below is one of the finished products (we did two branches) with graft tape holding everything in place and some Tree Stac which protects wounds from unhealthy bacteria or disease moving in.

A few months later and the graft is looking completely different. Two out of three of the tomato “branches” were successful and we’ve been eating tomatoes off them for weeks.

That black surface is the aged Treesac goop and the graft is growing over it. 

The particular variety of tomato is a local one simply called “George”, named after a Greek market gardener who’s since passed away. He grew and sold this amazing tomato which is large in size, but is more of a  shrub – so requires no staking (awesome). Hence, it sits at the bottom of the Kangaroo Apple shrub as seen below. We had some seed gifted to us from Fat Carrot Farm and it’s now our favourite tomato to grow as each plant has huge yields and requires less inputs (mainly staking).

In closing, I’d just like to say that plants are awesome, nature is the best and I love gardening!

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How To Make Your Own Deodorant

There are some things in life that are hard but making your own deodorant is not one of them.

Some say that you should only put things on your skin that you’d be willing to eat, this is one of those recipes where it’s likely you already have all the ingredients in your kitchen.

But does it actually work?

Surprisingly yes! I’m a healthy sceptic so was slightly dubious – after a day of bike riding, digging in the garden or bush walking I can get some pretty impressive body odour going on! But this stuff works – even on those highly active days.

What do you need?

  • 1/2 cup cornstarch or arrowroot powder (I just used cornstarch as that’s what I had)
  • 1/2 cup bi-carb (aka baking soda)
  • 5 tbs unrefined organic coconut oil
  • 20 drops of lavender oil which has antibacterial properties – and smells nice.

The ingredients (minus the cornstarch which I’ve since ran out of… And the finished product in the glass jar. 

Get mixing

  • Simply place the corn starch (or arrowroot) and bi-carb in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  • Add the coconut and lavender oil and mix really well until it’s all creamed together.
  • Pour or scoop it into a clean glass jar where it’ll last up to 6 months.

To use it…

  • As we live in cool temperate Tasmania the mixture sets fairly firmly. I use a teaspoon to scoop it out into my hand, once on your fingers your body heat will melt it into an easy to apply cream.
  • For people who live in a warm climate the consistency will always be a nice and creamy so no spoon’s required – your fingers are perfect for the job.

That’s it – go forth and feel like you’ve got two little bunches of fresh flowers sparkling out of your armpits :-D!


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Our Compost Station

The stuff of dreams this is. We’ve been talking about it for quite some time and we finally finished it. Introducing our dream Compost Station.

FYI – that rogue chook shouldn’t be there

We’ve got humanure bays, a compost bin, worm farm, chickens and goat systems all clustered into one compact, pretty spot and it’s awesome. Why is it so awesome?

It’s wonderfully efficient having all these systems in one place. We can just go to one place to drop off food scraps, humanure and animal manures into various compost options. When I harvest chook or goat poo from the neighbouring yard, it’s dead easy as it’s all on the same contour and I only have to move it a leisurely 1m – 10m. So good.

The worm farm also functions as a seat so we can hang out and watch the goats in comfort (we like to do that a lot). Plus it’s rodent proof, being built from a enamel bath and hardwood frame. You can see a photo journey of it’s construction below.

Anton showing off the false floor needed for drainage, made from reo and shadecloth. 

Worm bedding is then placed directly on top. We’re using half composted straw, nice and moist for the worms.

You can then add chopped up food scraps straight top (and the compost worms)

A layer of damp cardboard (or a hessian sack or woollen blanket) keeps the flies away and moderates temperate and moisture. 

You can read more about building your own worm farm seat (or potting bench) here and what compost worms are here.

The humanure (from the compost toilets) system is ergonomic, tidy and safe with no lifting or handling of raw poo/wee. We’ve got a number of wheelie bins retrofitted to be the chamber for an inside compost toilet. There’s a tap on the bottom of each bin which directs all urine to underground infiltration system – very similar to what’s being done here. Once a bin’s full, it’s swapped for an empty one and the full bin sits in on of the bays until it’s composted for approximately 6 months (that’s what those two green bins are doing). Once ready, it’s then transferred into this new bay where it finishes the composting process with compost worms. At this point there’s no unpleasant smell at all, it’ll stay here for another 6 months or so at which point it’ll return to our orchards. Wheelie bin toilets are awesome – check out Natural Event and The Humanure Handbook for more inspiration.

Edit: You also need to know that we have a flush toilet and that this compost toilet is optional, not for public use and all inputs highly monitored :-). 

There’s not much in it at the moment, but it’ll build up over time. The front timber panels can be removed one by one for ergonomic access. 

Tree prunings we harvest for our goats can be stored easily while they wait to be chipped and put back onto the garden or into the goat/chook run. We harvest weedy Cotoneaster daily for them from our local forest and cycle the carbon back into our landscape once the goat’s have stripped all leaves off the branches. Until now, I’ve been make awkward piles of sticks and branches which get in the way of everyone and thing, not any more. That one cross piece you can see across the front is to help contain them.

The compost bin is rodent proof with a layer of vermin mesh added to its bottom to stop rodents creeping in. You can read and see how we did this here. 

The black bin to the right of the worm farm below is full of dry, brown carbon materials to add to the compost bin and occasionally into the worm farm if needed. Having a stash of ready-to-go carbon on hand helps your compost experience be a successful one as if you only put food scraps into a compost bin you’ll create an anaerobic disaster.

It’s beautiful. Built from salvaged corrugated iron from the local Tip Shop and hardwood timber from a local person’s bush block, it’s completely gorgeous. Why hide your compost bin/system behind the back shed where it’s cold and dark (and you never want to go) when you could integrate it into the hub of your garden?

One of the permaculture principles is “produce no waste”. While a lot of the success with this principle is wrapped up in reducing consumption, it also questions what we do with the waste we produce – this Compost Station is part of our answer for our property. Every morning I drink my morning cuppa staring out the window at this gorgeous creation of efficiency and nutrient cycling heaven.

Special thanks to Anton who built it for me – the ultimate expression of love.

Wondering what we do about large hot compost piles?

  • We like to make hot compost piles in different spots around the garden to benefit different patches of soil – once it’s mature we just spread the compost in place which is easier. So they’re a moving feast that we only make in Spring and Summer when we have bulk garden waste from crops we’re pulling out.
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An Urban Permaculture Home

A beautiful photo story of an urban home Jane Hilliard from Designful and I (Hannah) designed together and that’s just been finished!

But first a little “before” photo. The site was 97% grass with an old double car garage (which was replaced with the small house), a few raised garden beds growing rosemary and weeds, one gloriously old and special apricot tree and a couple of dead’ish fruit trees.

The clients were a grandmother, her daughter and her two teenage kids all lived together in the main house and wanted to build a small house for grandma to move into so they can all grow old *together*. They wanted no grass, a low maintenance edible and beautiful garden. You can see the design we completed for them and read their vision statement below.

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Vision statement: “Our urban garden is productive, low maintenance and beautiful. It is where we forage for food, enjoy the view and each other’s company.”

This is what guided us throughout the design process to create this…

The central bed beneath the existing apricot tree has a baby food forest planted in it – this a multilayered, perennial plant system. This includes layers of white sage shrubs, globe artichokes, comfrey, a border of sweet alice flowers and a groundcover of prostrate rosemary. I’m looking forward to seeing it in 12 months time when it’ll be a flurry of thriving green layers!

The raised veggie beds on the left are for annual vegetables and the fence directly behind them has cable wire which the young passionfruit vines will grow up and along – soaking up the hot sun hitting the fence. On the far right are some existing rose bushes with a floral understory of mixed daisies – yes, even permaculture values flowers of all types for beauty and the bees (they need to eat too).

The bed with the steeping stones is also based off a food forest model with ground covers of mixed edible herbs, sweet alice flowers, mixed currants, native Hardenbergia vine growing up the funky vertical structure and one blueberry shrub (out of shot). The Hardenbergia will eventually create some “soft” privacy between the two homes, creating different garden spaces/rooms.

A baby native Hardenbergia

This bed leads around the west side of the house to the communal compost station shared between the two houses.

Where you’ll find this worm farm made from a recycled bath and hardwood timber.

The northern patio area (seen below) welcomes sunlight into the house and creates a warm, protected microclimate to grow grape vines up the fence line and eventually beneath the laserlite roofing. This will provide summer shade (and food) while still allowing winter sun into the space once the grape’s drop their leaves in late autumn/early winter.

Baby grapes getting ready to grow up that whole fence!

The paths are intentionally generous to allow for easy movement between the two houses and visiting grandkids to run and ride their bikes round and round and round.

The new gate cut into the side of the existing fence to access the new small house is just so special and inviting…

You walk straight into this…

The site that welcomes the residents home every day.

Me with Danny Lees and Sam (from Earth and Wood), being our best smiley selves – eating cake with one of the delightful clients to celebrate completion.

  • Special thanks to Jordan Davis for the photos.
  • If you’re looking for a skilled and friendly landscaper trained in permaculture, talk to Danny from Earth and Wood: 0468 667 633 (website coming soon).
  • For more information on the building side of things, contact Designful.
  • If you’d like to work with us to design your house and landscape, drop us a line at hello@goodlifpermaculture.com.au
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Zucchini Baba Ganoush

For everyone looking for something new to do with your zucchini glut – I’m pleased to be able to introduce you to  zucchini baba ganoush. It’s actually awesome and is a wonderful recipe to add to your “dealing with heaps of zucchini” tool kit.

This is a great recipe as you can use both small and large zucchinis, plus you can use dozens of zucchinis in one batch without becoming overwhelmed with the end product as they cook down significantly. Here’s how it works.

Step one

Roughly chop up your large zucchiniz into large chunks. You can leave the smaller zucchinis whole and just chuck them onto some oven dishes with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. If you’re using really large zucchinis with mature seeds inside – scrape these out and put them in the compost.

Step Two

Put them into the oven at 200 degrees. You want them to get charred on each side, so turn them every 20mts – 30mts (or as needed). This process can take around 2 hours to get them evenly “burnt”. The charred, burnt flavour is delicious and actually tastes like eggplants (I think).

Step three

Gather some desired flavours together. At least have garlic and a bit more salt – we also like adding paprika.

Put everything into a food processor and give it a big whiz until it’s all creamy looking.

Step four

Pop it into a bowl and serve up with carrot sticks or some delicious olive oil crackers – it’s that easy!

Special thanks to Sadie from Fat Pig Farm for sharing this recipe with us – it’s changed our current view on zucchini :-)!

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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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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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