Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Summer Solstice Produce

This is what we are currently eating from the garden.

And these are what we are currently drying for replanting.

Broad beans are delicious, but they're also good as a soil improver (nitrogen). After I harvested all these beans I pulled up the plants and lay them across the garden bed. Then I raked wood chips over them (carbon). With this as one of our methods our soils are gradually improving season by season, making our garden increasingly productive.

A very merry solstice to you all.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Greywater recycling without storage problems

I doubt very much that if you're reading this blog from another country that you live in a drier climate than we do here in Australia. We are becoming increasingly sensitive to the finite resource that is water. Companies bore it from underground stores of collective wealth, pay councils little for it and privatise it in anthropogenic plastic bottles. You can read more about my ongoing bottled water campaign here. Governments stand by and give out long term leases to companies to harvest water for massive profits. It's yet another unsustainable industry that goes against all sensitive and considered social and ecological principals. I call the bottled water industry a perfect example of 'pop fascism'.

So to cut to more positive water-based activities. Yesterday I plumbed in a hose (that I brought at a garage sale for $5) from our bath outlet to the swale. I spent a few more dollars at the local hardware for some connectors. Now, every time we have a bath or a shower the water runs out into and along the swale and seeps under the thickly mulched beds, which will soon be planted with numerous indigenous grasses and sedges, and exotic fruit trees, vegetables and herbs. Keeping produce alive in the summer months has in the past required much dependency on labourious (handheld hose restrictions) watering. This simple, cheap, gravity-fed system of recycling water will cut time, encourage worms and other organisms to thrive in the soil and provide a healthy environment for the plant life. I have been trying to figure out the best way to reuse our greywater, and knew that if I collect it in a tank it would stagnate and become septic unless we were constantly moving it around. By passively harvesting our greywater along the swale, in the soil and with daylight and microbial life engaging with it, it solves all the problems of storing this precious resource.

Just about any small garden can incorporate a swale. If you're considering harvesting your greywater consider a swale rather than a tank. The money and carbon you will save is considerable. Our swale and hose set-up cost about $50. You can do it for less if you hand dig the swale on contour. And yes, it still works in flat gardens, although you'll need to be able to gravity feed your bath water to the swale.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Two weeks on (swale work)

Click for bigger.

Two weeks ago we put a swale in and remarkably we have had regular good rain since. This much rain is very unusual for this time of year. It has spurred me on to build more food beds and other functional things (such as an all-weather path running down to the chooks) along the swale. I'm building next door and was able to use the leftover concrete mix (stone and sand) for our new path, laying it on piles of old newspaper. Tonight it rained again, and I was able to capture the swale holding water. It poured down, the swale filled up and over about 30 minutes the rain absorbed into the ground and under the thick mulch.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Weed not waste not

Weeds get such bad press, though many I'm finding are just plants doing their thing, expanding in any direction habitable, seeking out their own patch of ground where they can make a good life.

And weeds aren't purely florascabs colonising disturbed soils from being eroded either. Many are useful within the food chain and have fantastic health properties for humans. Recently I started harvesting dandelions from the garden for coffee. I used this step by step guide to get me started.

Dandelion roots washed and ready for roasting.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Making a Swale

We get a fair bit of rain in winter, though little from late spring to late autumn these days. Over the past 10 years the average yearly rainfall has been dropping and it's likely to get worse throughout southern inland Australia. Because of the seriousness of this, and because water is becoming increasingly precious, I decided it time to cut a swale across our 1/4 acre plot for the purposes of harvesting winter water for summer use.

The first thing I did was take my 2m level stick and draw a line across the chosen contour.

I hired Brian and his mini excavator to help break our hard and poor soil, which will soon be full of worms and microbes and rich for growing.

Brian's work was pretty delicate. We baked in the intense sun, Meg brought out cups of our rain water with sliced lemon and spearmint from the garden. This all took place yesterday.

Today, Meg and I started to remove the excess rocky clay and fine tune the swale.

We threw the soil (clay and rock) onto our old mattress springs which we placed over one of the compost bays. We sorted out the rocks, pulled out weeds and added vegetable waste, woodchips, horse shit and water to the sifted clay in a lasagna style compost.

I then had some top soil brought in and Meg and I got to work to spread it out.

A little more fine tuning with the level stick and a rake.

Then tested the level again, this time with water.

And found that the swale works. Yippee! Now for heavy mulching on either side of the swale – stay tuned.

The whole idea of a swale is for winter rains to collect along it and slowly absorb into the ground instead of draining downhill and away from the produce area. Heavy mulching on both sides preserves the moisture underground which in turn allows for worms, microbes, plants and trees to get established and thrive.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Warm fish salad

Here is a recipe that pretty much determined itself tonight. Almost all of the ingredients have come from what's on hand in the garden and from the nearby lake – beautiful Lake Daylesford.



Baby silverbeet fordhook leaves
Green spouting broccoli
Snow dwarf peas
Sugar snap climbing peas
Spring onion
Spearmint tips
Peppery wild rocket
Baby broad bean leaves
Soft oregano tips
Parsley herb
Lemon (from George and Geoffrey)

Redfin (English perch caught by Meg)


Tamari and sesame seed oil (to pan cook fish)
Salt and Pepper
Sun-dried Tomatoes
Olive oil


Throw all the herbs and vegetables into a colander and lightly rinse off any soil. Gut, clean and pan fry fish in sesame oil, add tamari and steam with lid to finish off. Remove cooked scales, head and bones and with the raw gut feed to the chooks for extra protein. Lightly toss fish meat in with garden salad and add salt and olive oil.

The result:


And now for more Fukuoka:
Culture is usually thought of as something created, maintained and developed by humanity's efforts alone. But culture always originates in the partnership of man and nature. When the union of human society and nature is realized, culture takes shape of itself. Culture has always been closely connected with daily life, and so has been passed on to future generations, and has been preserved up to the present time. The One-Straw Revolution, 1975, p138.

Combating heat wave in the garden

We have had more than a week of heat wave and I have an uneasy feeling about the Summer to come. There's been talk of record breaking 50+ degree days on the cards and I'm beginning to rethink some of the garden design to combat climate change as it intensifies more rapidly than most of us could have imagined. This post will concern swales, mulch and shade in a bid to retain moisture in the soil.

Swales are specific to a permaculture garden. I have previously dug spoon drains to take heavy winter rains down to the low point of our quarter acre. The water then escapes down a water board drain. What a waste. I now realise my mistake and am about to turn the spoon drain into a swale that instead follows the contour line through to our new food forest area. This way winter rain will remain where it's needed, absorb deep into the soil and be protected in Summer by the heavy mulching we've been undertaking for the past two years.

Above is the food forest area that we've been preparing for the past 6 months. You can just make out the curving spoon drain, edged by indigenous sedges, that wraps behind the chicken coup and off into a drain. We decided that the raised beds were good for raising seeds however we needed a more random, self-seeding area to tend (or no-tend) in a Fukuokian manner. As a transition from this form of growing in raised beds to small-scale food forestry, our sowing and plantings have become more random, dispersing seedlings and seeds throughout the garden, enabling us to conduct companion gardening experiments alongside indigenous plants. We have no pest problems to date, but even if we did all can be treated with natural methods. Intense biodiversity, either natural or created through biomimicry such as in a garden or on a farm, will only improve the health of our environments and therefore the food that we eat.

When people rejected natural food and took up refined food instead, society set out on a path towards its own destruction. This is because such food is not the product of true culture. Food is life, and life must not step away from nature. Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution, p.138

Above is the newly planted Mulberry tree, planted on the nature strip with local grasses, corn and cucumber seedings. The rocks around the seedlings protect their roots from chicken scratching. The Mulberry has been planted to provide fruit and shade equally. Deciduous fruit and nut trees will also be important to conserve water in the soil by providing shade. Many of our leaf vegetables can't be grown in the hot months with so much burning direct sunlight. Currently a potato crop is planted in the food forest area to help break up the clay. They will relish the sun, however they will also demand more and more precious water. They are growing in only 100mm of compost, horse shit and wood-chips. I'm hoping to get some sort of reasonable crop from them. The soil we inherited is very depressing – disturbed gold-fever clay stained with the blood of the Djadjawurrung. Some colonials however are less violent, and in-fact are a godsend, as the shade from our only mature tree, an English Oak, will attest. Onions, broad beans and rhubarb grow under the oak's semi-shade micro-climate along with indigenous banksias, sedges, poas and lomandras.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Local spuds

Meg and I walked to Tipperary Springs this morning and collected Yam daisies from the forest to grow in our garden. Yams are local to this area as well as many other parts of Australia, and were a significant staple for the local mob, the Djadjawurrung. The Yams taste similar to potatoes and have a flower similar to a dandelion.

Monday, November 2, 2009

New Plantings

I planted a Mulberry tree (Morus Nigra) today on the 'nature strip' among the Banksias and Poa Tussocks. I dug through layers of decomposing wood-chips full of rich microbial biology through to the thin layer of top soil, worms and fine gravel until I hit clay. After two and a half years of heavy mulching, composting and broadcasting biodiversity (gleaned in small quantities on forest walks), the hard compacted and heavily disturbed soils that we inherited are starting to become dynamic.

I also borrowed our neighbour Andrew's lawnmower, mowed the areas we haven't mulched as yet and broadcast the clippings onto our very large potato patch to add nitrogen to the carbon rich wood-chips. As I threw a fine layer of clippings I noticed to my surprise that the seed potatoes that I planted only 5 days ago have already begun to pop up through heavy newspaper, horse shit and newish wood-chips comprising mainly native wattles and gums that were thinned out down the road. Folk are busy around here preparing for the fire season. The local arborists sell a truck load (18 cubic meters) of chips for $150. That's $8.35 per meter. In the past two years we've been buying it at the local garden supplies for $33 per meter plus a delivery cost, which has made mulching large areas very expensive.

With all the compost we've been making from ours and a local cafe's green scraps (free), chook poo (free), collecting horse shit from the local horse riding school (free) and wood-chips (now only $8.35 a cubic meter), we have a pretty phenomenal programme of soil building for very little expense. The banner image above shows my boots atop the horse shit pile at Boomerang Ranch.

Also this week I planted an excess of white and red onions among indigenous Lomandras and Poas. I also planted some Calendula Meg and Zeph bought at the Sunday market. They flower year round, provide edible petals which are best in salads and tea can be made with them which helps boost the immune system.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Growing our own

It will astound most people to realise that a visit to the supermarket to buy food is a greater threat to our environment than all the pollution caused by coal fired power stations. Nearly 30% of the CO2 in our atmosphere is caused by us not growing our own food. Non-renewable energy is used to plough the fields, harvest and process the crop and take it to market. The fertilisers, pesticides and weed killers used to grow the crop are derived from oil. In fact 75% of the energy that is used to grow our food occurs once it has left the farm. The kitchen fridge uses more energy than the farm tractor. In some areas more energy is used to drive to the supermarket than is used on the farm. Up to 25% of the energy is consumed in wasteful packaging. Clive Blazey, Digger's Seeds

This week I planted 8 rhubarb shoots among indigenous grasses along the top of the dry-stone wall. You can't see them, their hiding in the mulch. Rhubarb likes well-drained soil and will grow in full-shade to full-sun conditions. Abundant for breakfasts or desserts for much of the year.

Also planted in aged, thick bush mulch are our broad beans. Frost hardy, their young leaves make a great winter salad. We collected our broad bean seeds from our brilliant crop last year. No money spent, just working within a system of cyclical regeneration, rather than linear death – supermarkets, wage-slavery, et al.

You can never go back to supermarket eggs after caring for your own chooks. They make great family friends. We free-range ours and pen in our vegies. Their shit is as golden as their eggs in a simple system of ecological-economics; circulatory reciprocity. No packaging -much goodness.

Digger's heirloom seeds are sowed tightly in this bed, and will be planted out later when the seedlings are bigger and our new raised beds are built. We typically get about 85-95% success rate with their seeds. A range of seeds including garlic, elephant leek, kale, snap peas, silverbeet, cos lettuce, spinach and broccoli.

The shed of interrelation, SOI (in progress). This will soon become our artist-in-residence shed for budding permies.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shed of Interrelation (part three)

Meg and I insulated and plastered the ceiling of the Shed of Interrelation (SoI) today. You're looking at the small bathroom where a bath and composting toilet will go. The shed is for artists/writers-cum-woofers to take short residencies and rest, make art and work a little in the garden. The shed is a place to encourage transitional thinking in the arts, to encourage permapoesis where art and organic food generation are embedded activities.

In the meantime our winter seeds are rocking. Heirloom elephant leek, garlic, silverbeet fordhook, pak choy, sweet pea, broad beans, broccoli, carrots, black kale, spinach, spring onions, beetroot, baby cos lettuce and cabbage mini. Meg and I were discussing today how many families could potentially be living on this quarter acre in 10-20 years. I think it could feed about 15-18 people in the Summer months and maybe 10-12 in Winter. 

I'm looking down on young banksias and heavily mulched areas with lomandras, poa tussocks, broad beans, almonds, olives, peaches and my chain-sawed eucalyptus balls. The dry stone HaHa wall back-filled with rubble allows for water to pass through it without disturbing the integrity of the wall. You can also see a little of the social warming fence. We persuaded our neighbours not to have a fence that lined the whole boundary, but just enough to have a little more privacy. They also agreed that I could build it as a slatted fence, again for social warming properties. Of course the water tank finishes the picture and finishes an often quoted mantra on this blog spoken by Cuban permaculturalist Roberto Perez at our town hall last year–
Grow your own food, catch your own water, say hello to your neighbour.

Here's a pic of the main house showing flying fox route and solar panels. I'm also showing off my deck building skills here. Split level decks are party decks. You often hear of them collapsing and killing a dozen stomping teenagers, that's why this one is low to the ground. 

I love Zeph's cubby as much as he does. Apart from the obvious – cute, small, red, up-in-the-air – it frost protects our toms. Meg collected another basket full last week. Almost unbelievably the fruit was still ripening despite the plants having died weeks ago. They're not great, but fine for cooking up. You can also see the beginning of the flying fox route and the tail end of the social warming fence. The bed in front of it will be the kick-arse rhubarb patch. Rhubarb is year-round gold for food gardeners. I remember my Dad's awesome patch when I was Zeph's age.

And, finally a place very dear to my heart – the compost area. Underneath the new window of the Shed of Interrelation is a herb bed that's doing OK, but I have decided to dig them out and extend the compost bays to three. We'll also have the humanure from the dry worm composting toilet. Therefore we can have four brews at four different stages. I'm so excited about this. The building of the Shed of Interrelation has already led to so many possibilities, even before the first resident.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Chewers Borers Suckers

A friend of mine has some justifiable problems with the word 'permanent' and its use in the portmanteau 'permaculture' and in my portmanteaus 'permaplay' and 'permapoesis'. He writes:
I was reading Holmgren's 'Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability' last night and read a couple of passages which took me back to our brief exchange about the word permaplay, permaculture etc., and in particular to my mild general objection to the word 'permanent'. So I noted these passages when I read them: xxx "Even the idea of permanence at the heart of permaculture is problematic to say the least." And, xxvii 'The limitation of this concept of sustainable culture is that it suggests some stable state that we might arrive at sometime soon (by applying permaculture principles)".
It goes without saying that individual life is temporary. Cultures, however, are more ongoing. They are mutable and transforming, but ongoing. Some last longer than others, but of course no culture is totally permanent in a literal sense. The ones that last longer directly participate in, or mimic closely, natural systems. We can say these cultures are more permanent than others. The ones that die out more quickly have generally adopted linear, anti-ecological philosophies and economics based upon social divisiveness and relations of avoidance. As I've often quoted, the Dja Dja Wurrung lived in these parts for 40,000 years and aboriginal culture continues to survive in areas of Australia where their genocide was less fierce. Aboriginal culture is based on relations of common substance, they see themselves as contiguous with the world. If you compare continuous Aboriginal culture to our own, you can say it is permanent and ours is not, despite the fact that we have done everything in our power to make their culture impermanent like ours. We see ourselves as exclusive and separated, the corollaries of which (dioxins, warheads, plutonium, DDT) brand our culture abstract, fantastical and impermanent.

If you interpret the word 'permanent' in the above three portmanteaus as meaning 'static' or 'fixed' you've missed the point. Permanent here implies mutability. Nothing exists for very long in a rigid state. The most controlling regimes are generally the most vulnerable to collapse. Immutability equates to impermanency. The steady-state of a forest implies a forest in active, cyclical momentum, where everything is taken up by chewers, borers or suckers, used for life, excreted, only to be taken up and used again in a never ending cycle. The steady-state of a forest can only be mutable. Its health relies on constant change, active reciprocity and chance encounters. A natural ecology, operating within a non-hierarchical, closed-cycle where every organism is a participant, is what a modern permaculture mimics at a systems level. 

Our culture is currently predominated by post-structuralist philosophy: post-modernism. "Keep moving, even in place keep moving." (Gilles Deleuze). Post-moderns brought us some better thinking about race and gender and sexuality, and brilliantly critiqued the modernist male bully, but all this has done little to mitigate our abusive impermaculture. In fact our culture's aggression has only intensified over the past 30 years. Post-modernism coincided with psychopathic Neo-liberalism, as if they begat each other through oppositional warring. But by linear progression – pre-modernism, modernism, post-modernism – Po-mo is yet another urban-centric, ecologically disembodied school of philosophy that "rages against permanency." (Hamish Morgan). 

The sign below is representative of our culture. The three types of organisms found on Earth all coerced into being us, shooting off on their own singular path, everything operating autonomously, everything monological and separating out, everything getting closer to the end of their individual paths. Impermanence. Linear death. Chk chk boom.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Our average daily use

The Federal Labor party has just axed the solar panel rebate and replaced it with a less than encouraging solar credits scheme

We got our panels through a solar nieghbourhood scheme in February. Our bill for this quarter was $74, and as you can see our emissions in the last two quarters have decreased at kick-arse speed (admittedly rising a tad for winter). But, so far we haven't been paid for what excess clean energy we have put back on the grid. We found out today that Powercor had lost our record of payment for the buyback meter ($160). Convenient. Supposedly everything is cool now.

We would never have been able to afford these panels without the government rebate. The role of governments should be to support us to make our lives more and more ethical and less and less destructive, and yet the opposite occurs – they allow themselves, and we put up with it, to be controlled by corporate lobbyists. In this case the coal industry. That's why the Federal government has axed this brilliant scheme as it was just getting off the ground. Under the new scheme I'm not sure we could have managed the extra costs. The old scheme has been far too successful and therefore is a big threat to the 'culture of make believe' (Jensen). The government says on its website:
Unprecedented growth under the Government's Solar Homes and Communities Plan has resulted in closure of this program...
If you have panels already and haven't signed the petition for the Federal government to pay decent solar feed in tariffs, you can do so here. (Thanks O!)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Waterless composting toilet

Since we started planning our permaculture garden two years ago we have given most of our energy to water conservation, renewable energy, heirloom food gardening, worm generation, composting, indigenous planting, companion planting and buying less and less items packaged in plastic. But we haven't yet got to black and grey water recycling and composting. So, after talking with a friend yesterday, who has just returned from a NZ permaculture farm where he saw a basic, home-made one in successful operation, I decided it's time to build a composting worm toilet in the guest shed. Any tips or good advice most welcome.
Design from here.

Sunday morning

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Shed of interrelation (part two)

On dusk tonight, relations of common substance, the world comes in, relations of avoidance in decline. Some new, some reclaimed materials from the local tip. The future of food is under our feet.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Shed of interrelation (in progress)

Click for bigger.

Tomorrow we start work on finishing the guest shed. The idea for this shed is to encourage artist and writer friends to come and stay and work on their various projects while contributing an hour or so a day to food gardening. Permapoesis is permanent meaning making. Sustainable food is central to sustainable arts practice. This guest shed will represent the coming together of these two things, the coming together of a modern permaculture.

Friday, May 29, 2009


We've been eating locally gleaned fruit since January and this week marks the end of the season; apples, plums, blackberries quinces and pears have been in abundance in these parts and we have had free fresh fruit for almost six months.

After eating this food it is not possible to eat supermarket fruit again. In the meantime our own fruit trees are growing up.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Starting off

I first started gardening when I was in primary school. I watched my Dad striking Margarita daisies and asked him to show me how to do it. Several weeks later my first tray had struck more or less, and I had caught the propagating bug. Throughout high school I built up a collection of plants and designed and tended my own herb garden. I built a hot house and turned the old chicken run into a well ordered wholesale nursery. It was probably my nursery, writing, music, drawing, painting and first serious girlfriend that got me through my troubled high school years. 

Before I left home for art school I sold the nursery to pay for a 10 day white-water rafting trip down the Franklin River in Tasmania. This was my first excursion into the real wild. The interrelationship between mimicking ecology (permaculture gardening), creativity and wild nature forms my art practice today.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A steady-state crawl to self-sufficiency

It's been a year and a half since we started the garden. We began with a cleared block and one beautiful 30 year old oak tree. The soil we inherited was highly disturbed and compacted clay. Since we started we have brought in about 18 cubic metres of mulch, weekly collected green scraps from a local cafe, regularly gleaned brown biomass from the neighbourhood, occasionally bagged horse shit from the nearby horse farm, paid for mushroom compost, and free-ranged about 12 chickens. They're outside the window as I write. They bring us so much pleasure.

Here's what the garden looked like in November, 2007. The first thing I did was build a garden shed out of reclaimed materials and a dry stone wall to deal with the cut that our neighbours had created for their house site.

Over Summer this year we got up to about 25% self-sufficiency, while our indigenous grasses, banksias, wattles and sedges took root and began to grow. We failed dismally with both our sunflower and potato crops due to the lack of soil quality, but our leeks, corn, lettuce, garlic, tomatoes, broccoli, broad beans, snap peas, cucumber, onions, pumpkin, spinach, carrots, basil, strawberries, chillies, herbs and rhubarb were incredibly generous in what they provided for us.

So, this winter it's soil improvement time again. More raised beds are about to be built and I've just gleaned more top soil from local council works up the road, brought down by a friendly worker in his truck.

Here's what the garden looks like today.

With permaculture one mimics natural ecologies to grow food in healthy environments. In other words one establishes a significant connection between indigenous and exotic plants, microbes, insects, birds and animals. This constitutes a collective health based on diversity and relations of common substance. Hierarchy, or relations of avoidance, are not honoured here. That's why this garden is based on non-capitalist principals. It goes without saying we don't use anything synthetic on our land. We do, however, kill weeds on our drive by pouring boiling water onto them. This process kills microbes in the soil so we don't do it anywhere else in the garden. And there are many other ways we still behave like capitalists competing for dominance, and this is why our garden to date merely represents a steady crawl away from the dominant culture to a socio-ecological embedded life.