Posts tagged ‘permaculture tasmania’

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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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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Our Permaculture Design Course: A Student’s Insight!

Every permaculture design course (PDC) we run we always offer at least one full scholarship to make sure we support people who need it most to access this training. On our last PDC Permaculture Tasmania also sponsored someone to come along – how fantastic! Meet Shane and read about his experience below.

Shane working hard on his group design project and fellow student, Ryan working in the community garden we hold this course in. 

“I recently completed a PDC with Good Life Permaculture at Okines Community Garden/Centre at Dodges Ferry just out of Hobart. It was a great educational and totally engaging experience which brought together excellent teachers in their fields, and a group hungry to absorb all that was given to them. The course brought together people from a range of countries and diverse backgrounds who left with many new friends and a direction to move in. The venue too was a great choice, showcasing how the local community can be brought together with great initiatives which seek to be inclusive of all.

I had previously completed a PDC with Bill Mollison and Janet Millington back in 2002 and then a family came along and a mortgage and I sort of lost my way a bit. I had always kept in touch with what was going on, and I have used this course as a chance to get back on the horse and gain some new inspiration and direction.

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I believe this course also helped me with my own confidence, being able to say what one thought without being judged on personal values was a great feeling in itself.

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I had always thought I’d had a pretty sound knowledge of permaculture systems, this course however with its fabulous teaching staff helped to flesh it out even more for me and hammered home the point that permaculture “is not just about gardening”. That being said it was awesome to go check out and learn from some great permie ‘gardeners’ on the field trip. The importance of applying the ethics and principles as much as possible without being a ‘permacultist’ was also duly noted, no-one is perfect but it’s worth giving it a good crack. Something really important I had forgotten was to start from zone 0/1 and work outwards, it would have made my life a whole lot easier!

Now I’m back in “real life’ and looking for a change. I’m helping out at a new community garden we’re are about to start in St Helens (NE Tas), the fence is up and we’re getting into a bit of planning using the knowledge I gained from the course.  We will be taking on a work for the dole program there and aiming to provide education, training and health driven outcomes for members of the community, and pass on the permie bug! Hopefully I can encourage more members of my local community to think more deeply about the impacts we all can have and make them positive ones!

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Finally, I fully encourage anyone who is wondering about their place in the world to look into permaculture, be inspired, take a course and pass on the knowledge you gain. If your teachers are half as good as these guys you’ll still find it a positive life changing experience.

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Thank you very much Permaculture Tasmania, and extra big thanks to Hannah Moloney, Anton Vikstrom, Nick Ritar, Jonathon Cooper, Oberon Carter and Millie Rooney. Not forgetting the kitchen crew Lou, Maddie and Kathy and of course Mr Resourceful, that’s you Blake!”

Thank you Shane! Thanks for coming, for investing your time and energy into working out the nuts and bolts for how you can make your own positive impact in your own and your community’s world. Onwards and upwards!

Interested in doing your own permaculture design course?

Join us this Jan 19 – Feb 2 in southern Tasmania for a life changing and affirming learning experience!

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Example Of A Permaculture Student’s Design

We were really impressed by the quality of the work from all the students at our recent permaculture design course. Here’s an example of just one of the group designs completed by some clever, deep thinking folks.

Before we start working with the landscape, the first thing we teach our students is “people analysis”. By getting to know the people living on the land – their needs, desires and capacity you can ensure that any design you create will be a design for *them* and not something you impose onto them. This is possibly the most important thing we try to gently ram into our student’s heads and hearts. We can list too many stories we’ve heard of design jobs gone wrong as a result of people not listening to the client.

Years ago I got to work with Dave Jacke who taught us how to make a goal statement – a present tense statement that summarises what the vision for the design is. This is the outcome of people analysis and functions as a reference point for designing and implementing. This particular design group’s goal statement can be seen below… Notice how you get a strong feeling of what this property is like? That’s what we’re aiming for, rather then specific design solutions.

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The second key step in the design process is to do the “site analysis and assessment” (SAA) process. Simply put, this is where you document what is already on the property (not what you want to design) and the sectors (external energies, i.e. sun, wind, traffic etc) impacting the property.

There is of course a deeper level to this stage as landscapes are already their own “whole”. As designers our job is to read landscapes and differentiate the existing parts and work within those. That’s a really important detail that isn’t always articulated well in permaculture text.

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This is also the stage where you’ll naturally start having design ideas like – “oh this sunny section might be the perfect place for a veggie patch”. However as this is such an early stage of the design process we don’t want to get attached to these ideas, as we haven’t gathered all the information yet. So on our SAA summary we make dot points with key titles next to them describing what’s on the landscape (i.e. sunny patch) and arrows beneath them outlining the possible options that could go there (i.e. possible veggie patch). In the work below one example is a small shack (that’s the “dot”), the arrows (design possibilities) beneath this are:

  • possible sleep out
  • water catchment
  • compost loo onsite

The idea is that you don’t get too stuck/attached with one idea at such an early stage of the design process. So you can just take note of them in an orderly manner and get back to them later on when you’ve gathered *all* the information you need to make an informed decision.

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The next step is to crete a concept design. This is a broad design with minimal detail, showing what goes where in a basic “bubble diagram” as seen below.

At this stage you’re still not fixed on a certain approach to the design, rather you’re testing this concept with the people living onsite. Sometimes you’ll make little tweaks other times you might start again, although that’s rare.

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At the same time as doing the concept design, a permaculture zones map is also developing.

Zones are a method of organising your property efficiently according to the phrase “oftenest nearest”. This means you place the things you need most often (herbs, worm farm, kitchen garden) closest to your zone 0 which is the heart of your property (house or workplace). And place the things you need least often (i.e. native plants for small birds, dam, wood lot etc) furtherest away from zone 0 – in your zone 3, 4 or 5. Not all zones need to be included in one property so you wont see all of them all in the example below. You can read more about permaculture zones here. 

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After any tweaks have been made, you’re finally ready to do a final design showing detail around plants, structures, access, water and more. Funnily enough, this is the quickest and easiest stage of designing as you’ve already done extensive ground work leading up to this point.

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This particular landscape the students were design for was really sandy, so they came up with some nifty approaches to building soil for food crops like this hugelkultur style pit for fruit trees and made ace sketches to show how it could work…

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It was such a pleasure to teach/learn with this bunch of hardworking legends. It never ceases to amaze us what transformations can happen over the period of this course!

Interested in learning about permaculture design?

Join us on our upcoming Introduction to Permaculture this May or our part-time Permaculture Design Course this June and July in Hobart.

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Compost Powered Shower System!

We recently made our first compost powered shower system for our two week permaculture design course held at Okines Community House and Garden.  This is a method originally developed by French man, Jean Pain and has since been replicated and adapted all over the world. While we live in a fairly moderate/cool temperate climate, others with heavy snow also do this to heat water over freezing winters like Ben Falk in Vermont (skip to 2:20 in this video). So you can drop any thoughts you night have that this will only work in a warm climate. Hot compost is hot compost regardless of the climate.

This method is traditionally based on using mostly woodchips and water, we used aged woodchips and aged chook poo (layered fairly evenly) plus water as this is what we had available to us.

  • Before we go any further, we must say a special thanks to our friends over at Very Edible Gardens (VEG) for showing this particular version and answering approximately 100 of our questions.

A brief introduction to hot compost

Hot compost is where you arrange layers of carbon and nitrogen materials like a lasagne with water in between. It needs to be at least one cubic metre for it to heat up, with the desired heat being around 60-65 degrees. This is hot enough to kill off bad pathogens, any hotter and the good biology can suffer. For this particular system we’re wanted it to get as hot as possible as heating water is our focus, not compost for the garden. However saying that, this compost will eventually be used in the local community garden where it was built which will still be beneficial to the soil once it’s had a rest. You can read about how to make hot compost for your garden here. 

First step

Just like making any other hot compost system, layer your carbon and nitrogen materials – weIMG_7385did a couple of layers to establish the footprint of the pile (around 3m in diametre) and set up the internal pipe system. This consisted of four star pickets as the framework and 25mm of poly pipe tied onto it. Dan and Carey from VEG recommended using 100m of 50mm rural poly pipe, but we decided to use 25mm pipe as we could then use it easily on our property once the pile is dismantled. If we had our time again we would use the 50mm – more on that later. 

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We filled in the polypipe’s centre with layers of woodchips, chook poo and water – basically a mini hot compost system to make sure it would heat up evenly like the rest of the pile. Note the mini bob-cat machine. We hired it for the day as we didn’t have 20 people on hand to shovel the 20m2 of organic materials – it made the job possible and made us laugh. Imagine three people over 6 foot taking it in turns to drive –  like giant clowns in a tiny box car…

Water is key to any hot compost working – we alternated between the sprinkler approach (having it running on top of the internal pile) to having two people stationed there with hoses, watering in each layer thoroughly. You really don’t want any dry patches in your pile as this will preventing it from heating up evenly.

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Step 3

Put wire around the edge of your compost as seen below. This helps you build a pile with as much volume as possible – maximising the space you have and ensuring there’s plenty of mass to heat up. Only once you reach the top of the wire will the pile start to taper off into a pointing tip.

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Blake the legend watering in the pile from the top!

The shower stalls

We built the shower block from timber pallets salvaged from building sites and shower bases from the local steep shop, for privacy we covered them in sheets. The stalls were located as close to the compost pile as possible so the hot water leaving the pile didn’t have far to travel – meaning it wasn’t going to cool down before it got to the actual shower head. In the photo below left, you can also see we insulated the hot water pipes leading up to the shower head. 

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The greywater system

We needed to design and build a temporary greywater system to filter the water coming through the IMG_7464shower before it hit the neighbouring wetland. We made a simple, safe and effective bathtub system to do this job. We lined two baths with old doona covers, filled them with coarse woodchips and ran pipes from the showers to them, using gravity to move the water where it needed to go. The woodchips act as a filtering sponge, as water moved through them any grease and soaps were caught meaning the water leaving the system was filtered and safe to enter the beautiful wetlands which lead straight to ocean a few hundred metres away.
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So…. Did it work?

The short answer is yes, we successful showered 30 people over two weeks, averaging around 10-15 each day (spread over the morning and evenings). As expected, people only had short showers up to 5 minutes at the most – which is more then enough. The recharge wait between showers was somewhere between 5 – 15 minutes depending on how many people wanted to have showers.

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Thermometre showing 60 degrees and Anton the babe enjoying his first hot compost shower. 

What would we do differently next time?

Quite a few things…

  • Use bigger pipe (as we were told to do). We used 25mm instead of 50mm pipe as we could easily use that in our irrigation system afterwards. What we didn’t think through properly is that this drastically decreases the volume of water being heated up at any one time in the pile.
  • Cover the pile with the tarpaulin (or any insulating layer, i.e. strawbales) the day we built the compost and not one week later. To be fair, there were *crazy* winds on the day we built the pile so it wasn’t going to work. But a week later, the pile had definitely heated up to 40-50 degrees but the showers were only luke warm at best. So we added the tarpaulin to it and the next morning – boom! The heat was up in the 60s and showers were hot. Our friend Nick from Milkwood tried to reassure us that it would have heated up anyway with a bit more time, as it’s just such a big compost pile. While he’s probably right, the tarp seemed to help bring it home *quickly* which we really needed for the course.
  • Get a longer thermometer stick – the thermometer you can see above only had a stick 45cm long. As the pile was 3m in diametre that meant we couldn’t gauge the centre of the pile’s temperature without digging a little hole in the side and compromising its heat retention capacity. So we just left it to measure the outer edges of the pile – which was still reading around 60 degrees after three weeks.
  • Make the shower stalls a but more weather proof. While it’s summer and mostly warm and lovely in Tassie, we still get days where the wind blows and you reach for your jumper. If we had more time and resources it would have been preferable to make the shower stalls a bit more solid with a roof and solid door. This design would be perfect for the warmer parts of the world!
  • It wasn’t as affordable to build as we had hoped. In the end we had to pay for all organic inputs, hire someone for two days to help build it, buy random bits and pieces and hire the machine – coming in at just under $1500. In theory we were going to source woodchips for free from the Council, organise a community working bee to shovel everything and just pay for some nitrogen (chook poo). Next time, we might think a bit harder about how to bring this price done to make it more viable. Of course, if you live on a farm with lots of resources it’s likely you could do it for under $500.
  • Talk to the school across the road 6 months ago…. We built this pile because we were told there were no showers within easy walking distance. The day before the course, when we were a bit worried about whether the pile would heat up enough (and we eventually added the tarpaulin) I went, stuff it – even though we’ve been told there’s no showers in the school I’ll just go check. Turns out there was a whole shower block 150m from us and they handed me the key in two minutes and happily let us use it as a back up for the two week course. To say we felt a but silly is a gigantic understatement – swear words were mentioned. On the major up side, we got to build a compost powered shower, how cool is that!!! I’ve wanted to do it for years and overall, learning new skills trumps feelings of silly-ness (eventually).

Would we do it again?

For shizzle! Despite the long list of “stuff ups” above, I’m so pumped for this method of heating water. For years it’s been on my list of awesome things I want to do – adding to my skill set and now it’s firmly lodged in my head, heart and hands. I look forward to making our next compost shower – it’s going to be a walk in the park after all the things we learned from this time round!

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Our Property Design In Process

We’ve been at our property for almost four years – you can see some of the work we’ve done on it here, here and here – it’s been a busy four years. Recently we bought the bush/weed block next door to us which more than doubles the size of our block. So we’re now redesigning our whole property to integrate it with this new patch of land. Thankfully, we always planned on buying this additional bit of land, so designed our place with this in mind. Our original design looked like this…

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We mostly stuck to this design when creating it all. Only “mostly” because as soon as you start implementing a design, reality kicks in – you learn new things along the way so respond accordingly. This is a good thing, a great thing actually as it means you’re working with the landscape, letting it unfold naturally rather than enforcing your fixed ideas onto it. When we work with clients we try and emphasise this – that the design we provide them will almost certainly change as you create it – embrace that.

Back in September we started drafting up our new “whole of property” design – it looked like this.

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We let this sit for a while – talked extensively with our excavator driver who’ll be doing all the terracing and building our driveway and quickly knew we had to make some changes to make the design “smarter”.

By smarter I mean we had to find a way to keep all the soil onsite, get ride of the retaining walls as they’ll blow our budget (we’ll build earth berms instead and grow useful plants on them), make the passive water harvesting system more elegant and make every terrace accessible with a wheelbarrow so you don’t have to do awkward carrying/lifting across our steep slope. The new draft looks like this….

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We fully expect to change this design *again* before we start implementing it this January. We also fully expect to tweak it *during* implementation as our landscape is a living entity that we work with and not against.

I’ll provide a second (and maybe third) chapter to this blog to show the design and implementation developments as they unfold. The key emphasise we’ll continue to demonstrate is the responsiveness and flexibility we try and embody when working with land. It’s already perfect as it is, and while we’re introducing some massively significant changes we know we can still do this within the natural integrity of the landscape. Watch. This. Space.

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Okines Community Garden

45 minutes east of Hobart is a little town called Dodges Ferry, tucked in against some sweet little surf beaches. There are many great things about this stretch of coast, one of them is this place, Okines Community Garden. We happen to be holding our 2017 summer Permaculture Design Course and thought you might like a little look around…

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img_6189This garden is particularly ace due to having Gabe and Claire on board (the two groovers you can see to the left) as part-time coordinators to make things happen. Their knowledge, skill and natural flair for greatness really bring this space to life. I *always* love coming here to see the flourishing orchard, veggies, art, chooks and their community in action. Seriously, it’s rare to have such vibrance in community gardens, people always dropping in, working in the food co-op, gardening, talking. It’s good, really good.

The concept of the garden has evolved over time, but at its core it’s obvious that it holds a strong flame for community development, providing a space that people really *want* to be in.

Some of the key things they have focused on creating, or are looking to create include:

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  • a herb labyrinth
  • sale of produce via the market
  • involvement of students from the Dodges Ferry Primary School
  • cooking classes with the fresh produce
  • helping needy people in the community
  • growing native and fruit trees
  • depot for green waste
  • a mulcher for community use
  • an experimental garden to determine best plants for the area
  • workshops to teach growing techniques and crop rotation etc.

One of our past students is a Dodges Ferry local and she was raving about this garden to me. In particular their pizza oven which her family uses regularly – it’s an extension of their kitchen, their home. How cool is that.

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Next door to their cranking pizza oven is a small food co-op run by the community. I love seeing these simple set ups – it’s all you need to distribute good food to folks.

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Their labyrinth  is on the edge of a small wetland, home to a b’zillion frogs and little critters. As well as growing food, these guys are also committed to regenerating the local native plants and water systems of this area, creating a beautiful and much needed balance. An indicator of their success is their resident bandicoots and echidnas. And yes, that’s the ocean you can see in the background, a refreshing (that’s code for cold Tassie water) swimming beach a short stroll from the garden.

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Claire and Gabe are on site Mondays 9:00 am to 4 pm, Wednesdays 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm and Thursdays 10:30 am to 3 pm. Pop in, say g’day, get involved and fall in love with this wonderful space. You can also get in touch with them at dig@okinescommunityhouse.com.au.

We’re holding our summer Permaculture Design Course in the Okines community house, directly next to this great space. Students will have the option of camping on site and really soak up the space over a two week period. If you’d like to find out more info, get in touch for a yarn at hello@goodlifepermaculture.com.au or 0418 307 294.

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Jean-Martin Fortier: Market Gardener Masterclass

We’ve just hosted Jean-Martin Fortier for a flying visit to Hobart to teach a packed out Market Gardening Masterclass. It was such a treat to have him here *and* to have a full room of some of Tasmania’s finest, most dedicated growers and wanna be growers.

With his wife, Maude-Hélène Desroches, Jean-Martin runs Les Jardins de la Grelinette, an internationally recognized 10-acre micro-farm in Quebec, Canada. With only 1½ acres cultivated in permanent beds, the farm grosses more than $100 000 per acre with operating margins of about 60 per cent, enough to financially sustain his family. The focus at la Grelinette has been to grow better, not bigger, in order to optimize the cropping system, making it more lucrative and viable in the process.

Here’s a little look around this special day…

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We held this workshop across the road from the Hobart City Farm, which meant we could pop over, play with their very awesome tool collection and have a sticky beak at a young, small market garden which is largely base on Jean-Martin’s book, The Market Gardener.

IMG_5885The wonderful group of people getting introduced to some of the unique tools living at the Farm.

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IMG_5888Wouter from Seven Springs Farm trying out the stirrup hoe

IMG_5891Bridget from the Hobart City Farm showing how to work the tilther  – a tool that only works the top inch of the bed to prep it for the next crop. 

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Using similar methods to Jean-Martin, the Hobart City Farm are growing 150 tomato plants in their hot house in a space which would normally grow less than half that.

IMG_5898James from the Hobart City Farm doing a demonstration with the greens harvester

One of the tools on show was the quick cut greens harvester, specifically designed to harvest young greens exceptionally fast and efficiently while still maintaining quality. It’s pretty cool.

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It’s not often we get the opportunity to meet the people we look up, so when we do – we’re super grateful and even more so when you find out they’re as cool as you hoped they’d be. Thanks for visiting our little island Jean-Martin and for injecting some of your experience, passion and good vibes into our community of growers – the ripple affects will be long and many.

4 Jean-Martin, squished between the Hobart City Farm team and me (Hannah) – I’m actually involved in both the Farm and Good Life Permaculture – which is nice and confusing, but mostly just nice. Image from Hobart City Farm. 

Cool things to check out

  • You can check out more tools for the market gardener here.
  • You can see more of everything on The Market Gardener’s website here.
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A Courtyard Transformation

Transforming rundown spaces into beautiful, productive gardens is possibly my most favourite thing to do in the whole world. On our recent Permaculture Design Course we did just that for the Reseed Centre where we held the course, creating a kitchen garden for their kitchen and a space for their outdoor dining “room”.

Before we started it looked like this…

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While it had been a garden in the past, it was well overdue for a good overhaul and some careful design thinking to make sure it was resilient, hardy, edible and beautiful. Our design sketch below is what we came up with for this space. Simple, yet full of culinary and edible herbs, existing fruit trees/vines, nutrient cycling and an outdoor space for dining.

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Before our PDC started, this Reseed community cleared the area, making space for us to come in and do our thing.

Our first task was to make the paths to define the area we should/shouldn’t be walking. We dug a shallow ditch for this and back-filled it with a layer of cardboard and a thick layer of woodchips to prevent unwanted plants to grow and to help build soil. The woodchips attract fungi and over time will break down, forming beautiful humus which can then be shoveled onto the garden beds and replaced with fresh woodchips – it’s a great nutrient cycling process.

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We use cardboard without sticky tape and or heavy inks, you could also use newspaper – whatever is available to you. Before we lay it down, we soak it in water to make it a lot more attractive to members of the soil food web to break down. You can see Jo (below) doing a great job of this and keeping cool on a hot day – clever woman.

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We made our garden as a no-dig garden, however put a bit of a twist on it and followed Morag Gamble’s recommendation to put the newspaper/cardboard layer on top of the bed rather than directly on the original soil (the bottom). This has many benefits, as she outlines below…

  • The compost layer integrates more rapidly with the existing soil.
  • Soil flora and fauna quickly get to work without the barrier in between.
  • The compost layer stays a more moist and stable temperature under the paper layer.
  • The newspaper layer prevents weeds from growing in your garden, including the unwanted seeds from your compost. (Unless you are a master composter, there will be seeds in your compost).
  • Less nutrients from the compost are evaporated and lost.
  • Roots of plants can penetrate directly into the soil so stay hydrated longer, can access minerals and have increased resilience and stability.

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We had a ready supply of horse poo from a local (thanks Caroline), so used this despite it having a high grass see content. Putting the soaked cardboard on top (directly under the final mulch layer) will stop the majority of this seed popping up.

IMG_5434The poo crew (Brad, Shu, Graham & James) smashing it.

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To top the whole garden off, we put a thick layer of straw on to keep moisture in and inject even more organic matter into the soil. We planted the garden pretty much straight away. To do this, we punched holes through the cardboard exactly where we wanted the plants, added a small handful of mature compost, mixed this in with the horse poo and original soil and watered it all in.

12654614_1092317510802493_3266034440946739342_nJo and Lisa planting out the seedlings

We put some simple edging of recycled bricks around the whole space to contain it and planted the gardens out with a range of herbs and beneficial plants.

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Beneath the existing lemon tree we planted a border of garlic chives, a ring of clumping comfrey directly around the base of the lemon and the rest to nasturtiums, calendula and borage. A nice little guild of multi-functional plants, all useful, all beautiful.

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The keyhole path creates the shape of the main herb garden, allowing easy access to all points of the garden.

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We also made a worm farm seat to cycle nutrients from the kitchen and provide a bit of social infrastructure for the outdoor dining room. You can read about how we did this here.

IMG_5722Blake demonstrating the radness of the worm farm seat.

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While our Permaculture Design Courses are very much focused on design and not building garden beds, this was a valuable process to take our students through. We got to explain the design we did for this space, talk through our reasoning, implement it and then enjoy the space we created. A fantastic learning process and a beautiful legacy for this group of spunks to leave behind!

Interested in doing one of our Permaculture Design Courses? Check out our next one here.

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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?

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.

Edit: Remember that you don’t necessarily need to buy a large parcel of land. Many people we’ve worked with buy large farms and then realise they don’t need that much area to grow food, keep animals etc. Smaller is often better as you can manage it more easily.

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 in living a life not dependent on driving (and fossil fuels). 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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