Monday, December 27, 2010

Native Grass

 Kangaroo Grass
Before this year, I never thought native grasses still existed on farmland. I'd grown up with the idea that you sow seed for "improved pasture". Clovers, ryegrass, phalaris and such. I thought with the high impact of stock and tillage native grasses would have been banished to state forests.

I was very pleased when my friend identified a few native grasses on my plot earlier this year. I'm new to identifying them, but am excited they exist. I have since discovered that it isn't so bizarre to have native grasses on farms and with careful management, such as holistic management which uses stock for an intense period and then rest, you can have a diverse array of native grasses. As they are native to the area, they are a somewhat more reliable pasture plus don't cost you to establish.

I knew one corner of the cleared area of my plot had native grass. The other day I noticed a second patch of Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra). It has a lovely red this time of year (summer) and has become a more rusty red since I took this photo.

The other I have noticed is Weeping Grass (Microleana stipoides).

Weeping Grass

In December there was a big flood in the King Valley: bigger than in September. The lower parts of my plot were flooded. The water from the road also cut across the plot, flattening the very tall phalaris so I could easily see its path. Principle One in permaculture is Observe and Interact. This was an excellent way to observe!

In my permaculture design of the plot, I had thought the lower area may be prone to flooding so have factored this in. Now it has been confirmed. The trees I had planted were higher up on the slope, so out of harm's way.

The flood also did a fantastic job pushing a lot of blackberry out of the way. If I can get stock in to knock it around some more, I may maintain good access for me to walk to the creek on the north side. The flood dumped so much sand around the creek, a potential new resource for me.

The Black Locust (Robinia psuedoacacia) forest creates a lovely light. It is a welcome retreat from the scorching summer heat (up to 40 degrees) that is sure to come in the next couple of months.
Black locust

Monday, December 13, 2010

Joel Salatin Workshop

Free range pigs

Farming really does pay. Just ask Joel Salatin, of Food Inc fame and owner of Polyface Farm. Farming can support a family plus keep on supporting additional family members. All this while farming "beyond organic" rather than the current industrial agriculture model. How this all works, the nuts and bolts of Polyface Farm, is what I was priveleged to hear about at the two day workshop on Local Farms and Community by Joel Salatin. The last RegenAg workshop for 2010 (can't wait until the 2011 series, despite the FarmReady budget running out for this financial year).

Joel is a very charasmatic farmer and a great communicator from the USA. His farm focuses on growing pasture. His family have taken a degraded landscape that had lost significant amount of topsoil and turned it into a lush farm supporting (or supported by) various animals. The animals are allowed to express their natural behaviour which in turn regenerates the landscape. For example, birds in the wild tend to follow herds and thereby reduce parasites. Hence, the chickens follow the cattle around the paddock on rotational grazing, scratching through cow pats and eating bugs. Pigs love rooting things up, so the pigs turn dropped hay, cow manure and sawdust into compost while looking for the corn that has been sprinkled through it in layers over the very few weeks the cows are fed hay in the shed.

On the first day, Joel took us through the various elements of Polyface Farm:
  • Salad bar beef
  • Pasturised poultry (chicken eggs and meat, turkey)
  • Pigaerator pork
  • Forage-based rabbit
  • Forestry
One of the past interns has recently begun a horticulture enterprise, so it will be interesting to see how that progresses.

Integrate rather segregate is one of the permaculture principles that Joel is excelling at. It has really made me think about including a substantial pasturised poultry enterprise at my plot because a) animals offer such an invaluable environmental service in fertilising and pest control and b) there is money in it.

The second day was on marketing and who is going to do the work. Joel's focus is on selling direct and local. This is all about creating local jobs. Selling direct also means the farmer gets a good price for the produce (I have been told five to one is the common ratio between retail price and the price the farmer gets). Hence the oft quoted line "there's no money in farming", which hardly entices the next generation to keep on the farm. Plus so many farmers are having to supplement their income by working off farm.

I was impressed by the Metropolitan Buying Clubs. Similar to a Community Supported Agriculture scheme, but with more flexibility. Orders are delivered to various hubs eight times a year. Each hub has a hostess who simply provide their house as a drop point and they just need to make sure a minimum order level is acheived across the members. Polyface has increased the number of products they offer, sourcing extra items from like minded farmers at the price the farmer sets. I'll ponder if I can use this model for my business, rather than a set box per week (though it will be different as I will mainly have fresh vegetables rather than frozen meat).

Finally, Joel touched on an aspect close to his heart: including, and creating jobs for, his family. This means being creative in devising new enterprises where each person in the family and their spouse has a role that allows them to express their strengths. The Salatin family have also opened up their farm to interns and apprentices. Leasing rather than buying farms was advocated as an economical way to commence farming.

Planning for succession was an important topic many in the audience had not yet fully dealt with. Nor has my family. The moral of the story: better to find out sooner what will happen with the farm than when you are 50 years old.

I left the workshop optimistic that food grown organically and sold locally was both possible and profitable. The title of Joel's book rings in my ears as a mantra "You Can Farm".

Rabbit Tractor

Friday, November 5, 2010

Biofertile Farms

Paul Taylor and the compost brewer in action

Go to the shed, not the shop. That was the motto for the Biofertile Farms workshop with Paul Taylor and Eugenio Gras. This was the second in the RegenAg series in September.

Throughout the three day workshop we had indoor, theoretical work and then two days outside actually making the compost tea and biofertiliser. An excellent way to do it.

Paul and Eugenio explained how all the agricultural inputs common today (like synthetic fertiliser) actually degrade soil health, and then the common suggested solution is more inputs (like herbicide, fungicide, insecticide) that further degrade soil health. Synthetic fertiliser is typically NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium), in a medium that is mainly salt so that it is soluble. But plants have two different types of roots: tap roots and feeder roots. Tap roots supply water to the plant and the fine feeder roots feed nutrients to the plant. However, the soluble synthetic fertiliser means that whenever the plant drinks, it takes up the nutrients and the salt. This is not what creates a healthy, robust plant. At the same time, soil microbes don’t like to live in the NPK environment.

Why are microbes important? They play a niche role with the plant’s feeder roots. They take nutrients that exist in the soil and exchange these with the plants for food for themselves. So if you want to access the nutrients that exist in the soil, create an environment that favours microbes.

Healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy people. And healthy soil means living soil with an abundance of microbes.

Paul Taylor made compost tea: brewing up liquid for a day that took a good number of microbes from compost and multiplied the microbes to an unbelievable extent. This is then sprayed onto the soil or as a foliar spray. It adds back in the microbes the environment needs to regain health. It was a simple process, but you do need a special, good quality air pump. An asset that would be a great one for a community group or a group of farmers.

Eugenio with the Bio-fertilser that is ready to ferment

Eugenio Gras made three concoctions that are good substitutes for the commercial chemical fertilisers. Very low cost, simple process that small campesinos to large farmers can make. These concoctions are all about getting off the roundabout of all the chemical fertilisers, herbicides, insecticides etc, etc. Instead, the concoctions are both cheap and improve soil health.

The three concoctions Eugenio made were:

  • · Bio-fertiliser
  • · Lime sulphur
  • · Soluble Phosphorous

It may seem a bit difficult, but as someone said: the hardest part in making the bio-fertiliser is following the cow around waiting for her to shit. Yes, you need the fresh stuff, then ferment it.

Other ingredients were animal bones, burnt then pulverised to dust. Also quite simple.

The last of the RegenAg series for this year (but hopefully not forever) is with Joel Salatin, of Food Inc fame. I can’t wait to hear how he runs his very diverse farm, focusing on selling directly to the local community.

We are the ones we have been waiting for - Hopi Indians

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Holistic Management

Measuring how much a cow eats: Tamara Gadzia, Graeme Hand , Kirk Gadzia and Ben Falloon at Taranki Farm

Spring has sprung. The fruit trees I bought from the Heritage Fruit Society are taking off. At least six of the seven grafts of the apples and plums have taken. The seventh is being very secretive as to how it is going. The scion doesn't look dead, it just isn't growing yet. I have faith.

I have been a very quiet blogger, but been very active in my permaculture life. In August I attended the first of the RegenAg (regenerative agriculture as we need to build back our soils before we can consider a stable, sustainable agriculture). It was a great 3 days learning about Holistic Management from Kirk Gadzia.

Holistic Management involves articulating your holistic goal to cover your farm, family, community etc life. You always return to your holistic goal to test your options before making a decision. One technique it focuses on is mob or rotational grazing: intense grazing of a short time and then serious rest so that the plants (especially the roots) can recover. As the paddock has a high number of stock, there is a higher concentration of manure (which is a great fertiliser) and feed is either eaten (and converted to manure) or knocked down and will act as mulch. Keeping the ground covered is super important for water retention, something that home gardeners appreciate.

The standard practice in Australia is instead stock grazing. It has low stock density for a longer period and low coverage of manure over the area. The downside to this is paddocks are often regrazed before they've had a chance to rest, so plant growth is less under set stock than mob grazing. This then leads to stock having to be fed hay, which is extra time and money.

Holistic management grazing technique manages to have better pastures, requires less additional feed such as hay and builds carbon in the soil. It builds soil as when plant leaves are cut, it shears off a lot of its roots. These roots are carbon, which are then broken done by soil microbes and kept in the soil.

The rotational grazing can also move the pasture from annual to perrenial grass. No need for the farmer to pay for new seed every year. The pasture can even move to native grasses, which is impressive to have grasses suited to the local soil and climate. Not bad.

I'd recommend any RegenAg workshops for farmers (whether the farm has been in the family for generations or small block farmers) and permaculturalists. The second workshop was Biofertile Farms; Keyline Design is currently being taught across Australia in October. Then Joel Salatin (of Food Inc fame) will describe Local Farms and Community in November/December. So popular that in Victoria the session has sold out, so they have booked a second one. I look forward to these workshops continuing beyond 2010.

Ben demonstrating the diversion drain in front of him that collects water and directs it to the dam to the right

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ceremonial Lemon Tree

Liberated lemon tree
Late July, I celebrated reaching my goal date of 12 July with friends. I was very happy to be able to take them up to show them my plot in the King Valley, where I’ll be continuing to fulfil my dream of the three part plot.
To commemorate reaching my goal date (which included being part time in the King Valley), we had a ceremonial planting of my lemon tree. It is quite a few years old, only started bearing fruit 18 months ago (while I was in Guatemala and it was in north east Victoria rather than Melbourne). It has always lived in a pot and has been moved around to at least six houses (I don’t want to move house again!). When planting it out, we found it was very root bound in hard soil. So I hope it enjoys the new surrounds.
It has gall wasp (you can see the branches swell up in balls) so I tried to cut this out. Best to cut out off limbs that are infected with gall wasp by August before they hatch. Dispose of the affected branches, don’t compost them.
I also planted out two types of olives, summer and autumn fruiting raspberry canes and a peach (Red Haven). As the creek has washed away the fence, the next door neighbour’s cattle have been getting in. They quite like the lemon leaves. For the short term, I’m planting fruit trees in pots and fruit and vegetables around the cottage on the main part of the property. I’ll transplant later once I deal with fences. The previous owner established many vegetable garden beds on the north side of the house.
Garden Beds beside cottage

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Goal date achieved!

Creek nearly doubles in width with rainfall
I achieved my goal by my goal date of 12 July 2010! I'm now part time in the King Valley and somewhat started on my three projects. Well, I'm at least very focused on them all, seeing as I'm part time.

I celebrated on the day with a bottle of local, King Valley champagne with my parents on Monday 12 July. Then on the following weekend I bought, ironed and hung curtains throughout the farm house I'll be living in (if I can find a housemate). I bought some heavily discounted curtains that have a special backing to help insulate the house. They block out the sun in summer, and keep in the warmth in winter. Some curtain sets were only $50 which makes me wonder why I haven't bought some for my very cold Brunswick house that only has ineffective venetian blinds and no heating in my bedroom.

The other activity top on my list is organising insulation for the roof. I have had a quote from a local insulator who can spray in wool. For around Wangaratta, R4 is recommended (the higher the number, the better the insulation effect). Around Melbourne, somewhere over R3 is the recommended minimum.

Passive solar heating is also important. The bedrooms and kitchen are on the north side: the sunny side for those who live in the southern hemisphere. When I walked into the front bedroom, which had the winter sun streaming in, it was warmer than the living room on the south which had the fire going. I actually double checked to see if the electric heater had accidentally been left on. No, it was passive solar heating. The amazing sun.

Of course, you wouldn't want this in summer. You can avoid overheating in summer by having a verandah or, to involve permaculture design, a deciduous vine over a pergola which will give you shade in summer and allow the sun in during winter (plus yield fruit). Just be careful on how far the verandah juts out: you just need it far enough to cut out the summer sun which sits higher in the sky. But not jutting out so far that the winter sun, which sits lower in the sky, is cut out too. If the sun doesn't hit the window, it won't warm the house. There is actually a mathematical formula for this and it isn't too tricky.

What it comes down to is being comfortable. And it doesn't need to be costly, it should save you money and effort (e.g. having to chop wood). A good guide for building is Your Home Technical Manual.

I haven't done anything on the plot yet, just tidied up the area around the house to start a vegetable patch there. It has access to water, so I'll begin there as I get the plot organised. The Black Range Creek is flowing well: quite swollen and has knocked a few trees downstream in its haste.

Silt deposit from flooded creek

Monday, July 5, 2010

Fruit Tree Workshop

An apple tree potted up and pruned in a vase shape. I hope to make mine this good next weekend

I went to a fantastic fruit tree workshop at CERES on Saturday. And I get to go back again next Saturday to finish it off!

Justin Caverely is our very knowledgeable teacher. If you get a chance to do one of his courses: go for it! The first course I did with him was back in 2007, the Organic Vegetable Gardening. and it really started me to spin off at ever increasing speeds on a new pathway in life: towards my permaculture future. In the vegie growing course, Justin mentioned this concept of permaculture. It all seemed to make sense. Here was a system that used common sense that provided for us with minimal effort, plus it protected the natural ecosystem, all through designing the system carefully.

After the course, I started doing my own research on permaculture. Found out there was a local permaculture network, Permaculture Melbourne. One of their members was running an Introduction to Permaculture weekend. My curiosity continued to grow. I read more, I gardened more, I joined The Digger's Club and spent hours pouring over their seed catalogue. It wasn't particularly wise of me to buy so many seeds, as I soon after took leave without pay for a year to volunteer in Guatemala. Volunteer where, I wasn't sure. But I packed my recently acquired Earth User's Guide to Permaculture by Rosemary Morrow as I wanted to finish reading it and thought it may be useful if I volunteered in sustainable agriculture.

The forces of the world pointed me in one direction: volunteering at a permaculture institute in Guatemala, Instituto Mesoamericano de Permacultura for most of 2009. I didn't even realise how far an Australian design system had travelled! This of course made me want to do my Permaculture Design Certificate as soon as I got back to Australia in November 2009.

Here I am now, one week off from going part time so I can put my energy into starting a permaculture plot and sell my produce directly to householders through a Community Supported Agriculture scheme of weekly box of vegies, fruit and nuts.

I'm just a little excited!

So my tip: go do a course on organic gardening or permaculture at wherever is closest to you. Lucky if that be at CERES and you'll be taught by Justin. You never know where it may lead...

This blog entry was supposed to be about fruit trees, but I got carried away. Details on what I learnt will be after next class. Tip: prune hard and set up the design of your tree. You'll be rewarded.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Count down to part time

Native revegetation of eucalyptus and wattles, top corner

One week before I go part time at my current full time job. This means I will have lots of time available to concentrate on my three projects.

Bring on my permaculture future!

I'll be balancing a couple of days of work in Melbourne and working on my Three Part Plot in the King Valley for the remainder of the week.

The spooky thing is at the beginning of 2010, I picked a date to aim for as a goal. 12 July 2010. A somewhat random date and I picked this as it is the date my term deposit matures. Then I had to work out what my goal was. I decided on:
  • be part time in the King Valley
  • have started my three projects (permaculture plot, preserves business and importing naturally dyed, hand woven textiles from Guatemala)
And guess what? My first week of going part time in my current job is Monday 12 July 2010. So I guess by picking a goal, always having it in the back of my mind, the physical, social and spiritual world made it come true. I'm not sure what "started" my three projects actually meant, but I guess you could say I'm following the permaculture principle "observe and interact" at this point by observing others and gaining knowledge first.

My plot in June winter, up to the ridge

My plot is a triangle. My motto was: keep your mind on the triangle prize.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Earthworks Practicum

The gentle pattern left by keyline ploughing

Walking across the paddock was like walking on a firm sponge: the earth was so soft, it had such give in it, it had no resemblance to hard concrete. If you played footy, you'd be wanting to fall on this stuff. This is what keyline ploughing will do to your land. It will decompact the soil and allow air and water to penetrate. Healthy soil.

I visited Darren Doherty and Lisa Heenan's block near Bendigo for an earthworks practicum. This week, with a group of eager students, he'll be adding a new dam, access roads, drainage ditches and house, cabin and tank sites. I only had the chance to go for one day, and I took it. So I didn't actually get to see any earth moved.

However, I did learn the theory behind earthworks, including more information on keyline design, and get to have my questions answered. Then we headed out to the 22 acre block that has already been keyline ploughed twice in a few years. A keyline plough, the Yeomans' Plow, cuts the earth and so loosens it slightly. It is ploughed just off contour, encouraging rainfall to penetrate the earth rather than run off. It is ploughed just off contour so the water is directed more to the ridge rather than straight to the valley. Which is where it will end up eventually. While walking, I stepped on the access road which hasn't been ploughed and it was your typical hard soil. The rest of it has a wonderful soft feel to it.

Darren Doherty and Ben Falloon have come up with some crazy additions to create the Keyline Super Plow. Check out their clip on deep cultivating/compost tea/biofertiliser/seed planter in one hit.

Darren Doherty and earth mover

While on the block, we did some surveying, marking out the drainage from one dam to a new dam, a sill spillway for the overflow, the new dam high watermark. Then the access road, which will collect water and direct it to the dam. This is what permaculturalists do: the design of the whole system where one element supports many functions. Then we marked out the house site. By this stage, my nose was freezing off in the Central Victorian late afternoon air. We headed back as the sun was setting.

I had to head back to Melbourne that night for work the next day, but first enjoyed yet another wonderful meal at Darren and Lisa's home in Bendigo. I'm looking forward to seeing what it all looks like when Darren posts the video.

Even though I've only got five acres to play with in the King Valley, I'll be able to use my new found knowledge. That's even if I stop eyeing of the relative's place on the other side of the creek for what can be done there. One disappointment, though, was I won't be able to plough the land until Autumn: that's the best time in our region for the keyline plow. That will hydrate the landscape. Once the hydrating has begun, I can then build small dams, access roads and perhaps a site for a house, shed or classroom.

The impact of keyline ploughing: neighbour vs Darren's block

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Edible Weeds

Edible weed quiche and salad

You read correctly: edible weeds. Green stuff that's good for you. Plus the lovely flowers that may come along with them.

I did a course at CERES today on edible weeds, mainly out of curiosity. What in my yard or permaculture plot can I eat for free? Apparently, a lot.

I have two previous experiences of edible weeds: one in East Brunswick the other at Lake Atitlán in Guatemala.

When I lived in East Brunswick, a lady walked past my terrace house, then backtracked and knocked on the door. She pointed at my small front yard and asked if she could pick something. What? The very underdeveloped capsicum I'd planted? No, something which I'd assumed was a weed and was doing very well in my front yard.

She called the plant baqla, perhaps a Lebanese word? It wasn't until I spoke with my workmates I learnt what the Greek word for it was (because the Aussie Greeks still use it), and then what the English word was: purslane.

I fetched a plastic bag for the lady to fill with the baqla, and took down her recipe for how to use it. Similar to tabouli.

In Guatemala, I became accustomed to seeing the local women foraging around the centre and along the track for greens. The greens often ended up in soups or stirred through frijoles. For some of the weeds at today's class, I only knew the Spanish name! Or their medicinal properties.

Today's course was very useful. We were taught some theory behind weeds and why they are good (they are great at collecting nutrients in degraded land by either tapping into a deep layer of soil or absorbing nutrients from the air). Then to the practical: finding and picking weeds from around CERES and the Merri Creek. They're everywhere! This helped me to firm up what the difference between a milk thistle, dandelion and wild lettuce was. The best part was then enjoying the weeds as food.

I eagerly polished off a salad, quiche and smoothie. The salad had mallow, dandelion flowers and leaves, calendula flowers, wild lettuce, angle onion, wandering jew, chickweed, wild fennel and brassica flowers. The smoothie included mallow, nettles, plantain, milk thistle, dandelion and clivers (plus orange, banana and water, so it really just tasted of the fruit but was green). The quiche was a typical quiche using nettle, milk thistle, dandelion and angle onion. So not so typical.

All up, very yummy. I now have a bit more confidence to harvest free food from my yard and the paddock.

Angle Onion growing amongst other bulbs

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I continue my crusade to learn as much as I can to do with permaculture NOW. And I'm not doing too badly. The other night, I sat in a very cold shed at CERES to learn about small scale wind power. I'm assessing how I can power a water pump at my plot or even power a building if I decide to build a house, classroom or storage for my produce.

Was the Australian landscape not covered with windmills at one time, slowly pumping up water?

Prices have dropped substantially for small scale solar power (due to a mix of technology improvements and government subsidies). Not so true for wind power. Quite expensive in comparison, now. Though the government has started cutting the small scale wind power sector some slack: I think they're eligible for the feed-in-tariff now.

A feed-in-tariff means when you connect your renewable energy system to the electricity grid, the energy retailer pays YOU for what electricity you produce. Technically, as Victoria has a net feed-in-tariff not a gross feed-in-tariff, they will pay for what you don't use. Eventually you'll have paid off the system and be earning money from your wind turbine or solar panel.
Not bad.

So I'll go away and ponder my options, weighing up the pros and cons of solar and wind. Or a hybrid. At least wind continues at night. And my plot is in a valley that runs north-south, which tends to be the predominant wind direction. Which makes sense when you're in Melbourne. I listen to the radio for both the temperature and wind direction in summer before deciding if it is really warm or cool: is there a cold southerly or a hot blast of northerly wind?

The tutor is writing a consumer's guide to small scale wind power for Sustainability Victoria, so keep your eye out for it. Very useful. He also recommended "Wind Power:Plan Your Own Wind Power System" published by Alternative Technology Association, for more information on windmills as opposed to wind turbines.

I was wanting to do a workshop on Australian bushfoods, which I plan to use on my plot and even connect with the local indigenous group, and a water wise gardening workshop. Unfortunately, they were both cancelled for lack of numbers. Very sad.
So if you're interested in learning, sign up to CERES workshops (so I can go to the workshops, too).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Good Life

Sometimes it is useful to look to comedy for inspiration. I think Tom and Barbara from The Good Life sitcom of the 1970s display brilliantly what I'm trying to do.
Enjoy the laugh

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The First Dig

Permaculture plot looking north west (creek behind trees)

For my birthday, instead of going out for a lovely dinner with friends, I decided to show them my permaculture plot.
With just a few friends, for the first time on my plot, the earth was moved. It was dug into and scraped against. Truth be told, we didn't do a massive amount of work, seeing that after a midday arrival, then lunch, we only had two hours before the autumn sun set behind the hill at 5pm.
Come spring, I will see a mass of flowers around the two grave sites as 120 bulbs were planted around the edge. I want to clean up the cemetery and give a nice home to William B. Smith of England. I don't know the details of these residents, but hope to find out.
Other friends piled up the fallen wood. I think these trees are robinia pseudoacacia (Black Locust) if it isn't Honey Locust. I plan to chip the fallen wood and use as mulch on the vegetable patch or fruit trees. I will convert this large grove of trees to a food forest. Little by little.
While my friends were doing this, I was surveying the open paddock. This took forever and we did 1m interval readings of 60m. A lot more to do. I want to translate this onto a map if I can work out what technology I need, both a GPS reader and the mapping software.
I planned on replacing a dinner with a weekend away. However, many people couldn't come so I have been having a culinary delight having dinner with many of them over the last few days.

Black Locust grove (looking north)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Permablitz Greensborough

Seedlings in place and awaiting planting

Permablitz: eating the suburbs, one backyard at a time.
What a great slogan! On Saturday I went to my first Permablitz out at Greensborough. A Permablitz is like Backyard Blitz but using permaculture principles. It is very popular, which was good at Greensborough as it was a massive blitz and needed many hands. The site at ACES St John of God Accord is for adults with a disability who are starting a community supported agriculture scheme. They grow and sell vegetables in the local area.
As I've done my Permaculture Design Certificate, I joined Permablitz as a Guild member: I'm one of the permaculture designers. Guild members form a little group to do the design for each Permablitz. It's a win-win-win situation: the Guild members get to practice their design skills, the property owner gets their backyard designed and blitzed for free and those who volunteer on the day get a bit of exercise and learn something about permaculture in the backyard. After the volunteers go to three or so Permablitzes, they can have their own place blitzed. And we
need houses to permablitz: will it be your place?

A prepared garden bed, 1m wide

As I'm a Guild member, I put my hand up to be a team leader on the day. I really, really enjoyed it. It meant I could welcome people, point them in the right direction of what to do and help them learn and share all things gardening and permaculture.
My day as a team leader has really shown me how much I enjoy teaching and facilitating. I really should run workshops and eventually a Permaculture Design Certificate in the future. So I'll be looking into what courses I should do, both permaculture training ones, as well as other mainstream training courses.
After going to many training events over the last five months and helping begin Permaculture Inner North, I'm beginning to know people in the permaculture world and them me. It's a nice to start feeling connected to a community, however large it is.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Seed Saving Workshop

Our Seeds: Seeds Blong Yumi
Over the last few years I've become more and more exposed to the wonderful diversity of seeds. The wonderful treasure they are. And they belong to you and me. Not to multinational corporations. It was your family and my family that selected them, saved them, used them for hundreds of years.
Today I travelled out to Edendale Farm at Eltham. A little gem of a community farm that I never knew about until today. Similar to CERES, East Brunswick, but smaller.
Jude and Michel Fanton gave a wonderful session on how to run a seed saving workshop. They are the founders of The Seed Savers Network and have dedicated the last few years to help set up seed saving networks around Australia and the world.
I saw their uplifting documentary, Our Seeds: Seeds Blong Yumi while I was in Guatemala. I was trying to translate into Spanish for my workmates as we watched it. They were really interested as they could relate. If you want to understand how important to our culture seeds are: have a look. The doco focuses on the Pacific Islands and Asia, but it shares strong similarities to Central America. I'll try and get a copy for myself, soon.
I did the course so that I could build on my skills. I'd like to be able to share the knowledge of seed saving with others in my community. First, I can do a seed saving workshop for Permaculture Inner North. Later I could run seed saving workshops in North East Victoria, amongst other topics. Not that I'm an expert in seed saving, but we all know a little and it adds up.

Monday, April 5, 2010

3rd National Tomato Sauce Making Day

Ok, perhaps not a national day, but it is the third year I have invited my friends around to transform 10kgs of tomatoes into delicious tomato sauce. Like you use on pies. Or homemade sausage rolls. Or with zucchini slice. Or anything. Nothing like store bought tomato sauce and I think so, so much better.

The big day was on Saturday 27 March, but I was too excited about organising the Permaculture Inner North meeting, so I didn't mention it to you.

The day started at 10am and went until around 7pm, I think. Longer than I expected but we were committed to having a great, thick sauce so it cooked for longer than the recipe asked for. There was too much laughter in the kitchen for people to want to go home, anyway. Plus a surprise late arrival of apple pie to spur people on.

It is quite an event as not only do we make the tomato sauce, I set others the task of making pasta (from scratch, using a pasta maker to roll and cut it) and a roasted tomato sauce for lunch. All this is accompanied by a crusty loaf of bread, a simple garden salad, red wine and lovely friends sitting outside on one long table made by my dad years ago. Probably twenty years ago. This is what life is for.

Everyone gets to go home with a bottle of tomato sauce for their efforts.

Here is the recipe for a smaller quantity

Tomato Sauce
  1. 2.5kg tomatoes
  2. 350g apples (about 3 apples)
  3. 1 3/4 cups white vinegar
  4. 250g onions
  5. 1 teaspoon white pepper
  6. 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  7. 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  8. ginger, size of the end of your thumb
  9. 1 teaspoon allspice or mixed spice
  10. 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  11. 3 teaspoons salt
  12. 2 cups sugar
  1. Core the apples but don't peel them Roughly cut up apples, tomatoes and onions and place in a large pot with remaining ingredients
  2. Bring to the boil. Remove the lid from the pan. Boil for an hour ensuring that you stir more frequently as the sauce thickens
  3. Blend till smooth with a Bamix, blender or run through a moule
  4. Carefully pour into hot, sterilised bottles. Seal whilst hot

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The First Meeting

Tonight was the first meeting of Permaculture Inner North and it was a blast.
Eighteen people came. Yes, EIGHTEEN! I think people of inner north Melbourne must have been sitting around just waiting for someone to convene a permaculture meeting. So we did and they came. Most with very short notice. A few didn't even know anyone else in the room: they just saw a flyer at a shop or read the small notice in the local newspaper.
I think the group has a higher than normal number of people who have completed a Permaculture Design Certificate. Though some didn't know about permaculture, at all, they just want to learn more about growing food. And this is all good.
So it's decided: Permaculture Inner North will be meeting the fourth Wednesday of every month, for the time being at Preston Library. That would make the next meeting 6:30pm 28 April. There was also talk of what happens when we get too big. How many community groups have to ponder that issue at their first meeting? Lucky us. But we're naturally designed so we can be split into our local government areas. All sorted before we become as abundant in members as permaculture is abundant in yields.
Next month we'll bring our produce to swap in the first part of the meeting and then one member is going to give us some tips on starting a permaculture garden.
I can't wait!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

One more sleep ...

Only one more sleep until the first official meeting of Permaculture Melbourne Inner North. I'm excited and have done most things to get ready:
  • emailed workmates and friends
  • emailed Permablitz members
  • popped a notice up on the Permaculture Research Institute's forum
  • letter-dropped my street and a few other houses on my way to work (with a little personal note to those who were growing fruit or vegetables)
  • stuck up a flyer at a couple of local Brunswick East shops (Organic Wholefoods and Each Peach cafe which I happily stumbled upon and serves organic, Fair Trade coffee: tick, tick)
  • posted the flyer on my white, picket fence
So imagine my excitement when I saw that three little tear-off slips had been taken from the flyer! Ooh, goody! Plus others have emailed me saying they or their friends would be interested.

So now all I need to do is look up Metlink, my friend, and ask them how I get to Preston Library, 266 Gower St, Preston by 6:30pm tomorrow night (Wednesday 31 March).

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Permaculture Melbourne Inner North

Do you enjoy growing your own food? Interested in organic gardening? I'm helping to start up a local permaculture group for those that live in the Darebin, Moreland or Yarra areas of Melbourne.
If you are interested in sharing your gardening tips with your neighbours or other ideas for sustainability, join us at the first meeting of Permaculture Melbourne Inner North
First meeting: 6:30pm Wednesday 31 March 2010
Where: Preston Library, 266 Gower St, Preston

Permaculture: designing for sustainability
  • Care for the Earth
  • Care for the people
  • Fair share
Feel free to pass on to any of your friends, family, school or neighbours that might be interested.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bird Bath

On the weekend I went to my lovely friend's wedding in Apollo Bay. It really is a lovely place and the spot the couple chose for the beach wedding, at Skenes Creek, was beautiful.
We had a small amount of time between the wedding and the reception, so I figured it was a perfect opportunity to go to the Apollo Bay market that I spied on the way to the wedding.
I was halfway around the market when some pottery caught my eye: flagons, bird baths, platters and dishes.
I was captivated by the bird bath: a beautiful terracotta stand made on the wheel by a craftsman from nearby Birregurra, with a basin glazed a stunning blue. What a perfect contrast of colours. The craftsman was selling it himself.
The woman I was travelling with assured me she could drop me at my house. That closed the deal for me. I'm now the proud owner of a local, handmade bird bath. So I walked away, in my pretty dress for the wedding lugging a bird bath and then strapped it gently into the back seat of the car.
I had been wanting a piece of art for my garden, and I was drawn to the bird bath both for its artistic value and usefulness for the birds in my street.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Grains and Grasses workshop

Another Sunday, another Grains and Grasses workshop.

Well, why not spend Sunday at Barwon Downs learning how to grow and use grains and grasses such as wheat, oats and barley? Or the more unusual ones of maize, amaranth and quinoa?
Our teacher, Nick Romanowski, was a wealth of knowledge. For instance, I learnt that grains go rancid once they are ground or processed in any way. So there are two options:
a) eat very refined grains like white flour which have had all acids and oils stripped out, leaving only starch so a tad boring and not overly useful for the body, or
b) grind your own from whole grains
Now Nick has put his hand grinder into retirement as he found spending 20 minutes grinding enough flour to make one loaf of bread a bit too much effort. But his electric grinder worked a treat, so I'm considering getting one. We got to sample the wares by grinding, cooking and eating a chapati. Not too hard at all.
I tried out my tortilla making skills to form my chapati. It looked like a pretty mangled rectangle. My Guatemalan host family would not have been impressed.
Growing a little patch of wheat on my permaculture plot wouldn't be hard to do at all. It is also a very useful grain, as I love the comfort food of pasta and bread. I'd also like to try growing the Central American grain, amaranth. A good protein source, and is the Central American super grain equivalent of the South American quinoa. I can use amaranth for its leaves and seeds and put the two recipe books from Mexico and Guatemala I photocopied from the IMAP library to good use. Plus the seed heads look spectacular.

Different varieties of amaranth

Small plots require small equipment

Rice drying out

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Yeomans Plow and Digger's Seeds

I came home the other day to find a catalogue in the mail: a catalogue for Yeomans Plows. I had to laugh at myself. How many inner city chics are receiving mail on plows being towed by tractors?
PA Yeomans, way back in 1954, began espousing the virtues of keyline design to hydrate the dry landscape of Australia and create soil. Yes, create soil by converting subsoil into topsoil. Quicker than creating topsoil from above. One of his famous writings was the 1964 book, "Water For Every Farm".
PA Yeomans designed a plow and a keyline design to help hydrate the land: you rip the soil (it looks like a nice clean cut, not turning the earth) parallel to one contour on the landscape. This contour will be on the keyline, where the slope in the valley goes from a steeper slope to a more gradual, longer slope. This point of change in the valley is the keypoint. The rip lines will help aeration and the rain will soak into the earth rather than running off. The water will eventually end up at the bottom of the valley, in the creek. It just will have taken a slower, more productive course to get there.
These are the things I, along with 75 other farmers, learnt when I went to the Keyline Design Course with Darren J Doherty back in January 2010. Darren had a great rapport with both the broadacre farmers, small acreage farmers and permaculturalists (and the various combinations of these). He presented permaculture principles and keyline design in scenarios the farmers could relate to.

The course was organised by Milkwood Permaculture.
Now I'm on the Yeomans Plow Co mailing list and my breakfast reading is The Red Book of plows, shank attachments and crumble rollers.

Well, it is now my breakfast reading, as I have finished devouring The Digger's Club seed catalogue, cover to cover. The Digger's Club have a great range of heirloom and organic fruit, vegetable and flower seeds.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


I spent my Sunday learning about beekeeping at CERES. It was really fun! The teacher, Lyndon Fenlon, was very knowledgeable about urban beekeeping. We covered a lot and then got kitted up in head nets and gloves and ventured out to say hello to the bees.
I must admit, even though I was covered head to toe, I was a bit nervous about being so close to a few thousand bees. But the bees in the hive I worked on were very chilled out. It had recently been re-queened, and a younger Queen Bee puts out a lot more pheromones so all the drone and worker bees know she's the boss (like Queen Bea in Prisoner) and to stay chilled.
I did the course as I'm interested in using beekeeping in my permaculture plot. They are essential for pollination plus they give the great products of honey and wax. Now I have an appreciation of how much honey they give. They produce so much you have to collect the honey around once a month. Quite a commitment. I'll have to see if I'm up for it in the future.
For now I get to enjoy a tub of honey we harvested today.

A typical urban backyard is allowed to have two hives, according to DPI.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sustainable Living Festival

I've spent the last few days down at the Sustainable Living Festival, an excellent and varied event for the community. A lot of interesting organisations, both volunteer groups and businesses, have stalls, but I spent more time listening to the interesting array of speakers.
It was a good opportunity to listen to Professor Ross Garnaut delve into his greenhouse emissions research, focusing on transport. One option to reduce our transport emissions is to switch to electric cars. Garnaut pointed out that the electricity supply would have to be from a renewable source. If Victorians switched to electric cars with continued reliance on electricity generated from dirty brown coal, our greenhouse emissions would actually increase.
I was also lucky to hear Peter Singer speak on climate change as an ethical issue and the possible options of how each country could take responsibility for cutting greenhouse emissions. You could look at historical emissions or a future, equal quota up until 2050. By that method, based on current per capita emissions, Australia and USA would run out of its quota in six years, Germany in14 years, China in 24 years and Burkina Faso in over 2000 years (these figures are from my memory). That gives some perspective on each of our ecological footprints!
Both Gilbert Rochecouste from Village Well and Andrew Lucas from Transition Bell both spoke on what I am excited about: relocalising for a resilient, happy community. I really think this enthusiasm can be harnessed to effectively address peak oil and climate change. And have fun while doing it! Transition Bell have organised some really fun activities, including cooking with the local Croatian community. I love their audacious claims to titles such as “Fruit Tree Capital of Geelong”.
David Holmgren, cofounder of permaculture, spoke on designing fire resilient communities and landscapes. He’s a big advocate for designing the home area as the refuge, with a house being surrounded by a food garden creating an effective fire barrier (as you’re very likely to want to water your tomatoes and hence keep the area hydrated). I’ll have to read his “The Flywire House: A case study in design against bushfire”, available as a free eBook and has been reprinted.
I also bought some baby blue organic cotton sheets by Organature to match my hand-woven, naturally dyed bedspread from Guatemala. They use the off cuts for hankies (I have always used hankies over tissues and mine definitely needed replacing). I quizzed a few ecologically minded printers for my future printing needs, Print Together and Complete Colour Printing. And I subscribed to the Earth Garden magazine, which gives some good practical advice on sustainable living, some of which is by permaculture practitioners.

The Earth Garden magazine sitting on my organic sheets and naturally dyed bedspread.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What is Permaculture?

Ok, so I might have my eyes firmly set on a permaculture future and am definitely inspired by it, but what is permaculture?
The word permaculture comes from "permanent agriculture" or even better, "permanent culture".
Permaculture is a design system based on ethics and principles which can be used to establish, design, manage and improve all efforts made by individuals, households and communities towards a sustainable future. Permaculture systems work more like natural systems such as forests than industrial agriculture, requiring no artificial inputs and producing no waste.
The three ethics are:
-care for the Earth
-care for the people
-fair share
The principles are also a great tool in guiding activities. I would recommend David Holmgren's explanation of the principles, complete with a common phrase and picture to illustrate the point. I am quite proud to say that it was two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, who cofounded the movement, drawing on the best of traditional and modern knowledge.
Permaculture covers many areas and is not just about organic gardening: it is about living sustainably in a community.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Beginning

After a year away from my sunburnt country, Australia, volunteering in Guatemala at a permaculture institute, my mind is brimming with ideas. And ones that I plan to follow through on. My three projects are:
-start a permaculture plot
-start an organic chutney and tomato sauce business
-import naturally dyed, hand woven textiles from Guatemala
Quite varied, right? I have a year ahead with a very steep learning curve and I'm looking forward to it.
I hope you enjoy sharing my adventure via this blog.
After returning in November 2009 from volunteering at Instituto Mesoamericano de Permacultura (IMAP), San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala, I did my Permaculture Design Certificate at Mulloon Creek Natural Farm with Geoff Lawton. So I've at least started on my permaculture future.
Next is to learn about small business.