Impressively erudite yet refreshingly down-to-earth, the inspiring David Holmgren shares his thoughts on how grass roots permaculture can change the world.
Impressively erudite yet refreshingly down-to-earth, the inspiring David Holmgren shares his thoughts on how grass roots permaculture can change the world.
Now that we have reticulation to approximately 90% of Edgefield, a world of opportunity for planting perennials has opened up, which was previously unsustainable. Slowly but surely I’m developing the perennial garden, focusing my attention particularly on the east orchard at the moment, which sits to the side of the house bordered by the driveway.
The current chook house and yard is in this zone but we have plans to fence off a much larger area that will encompass the east orchard and the developing “chook herb garden” (plus build an entirely new chicken coop eventually). Here my spoiled feathered friends will be able to roam, forage and scratch to their hearts delight without destroying my veggie patch and herb planters, which they do every time I let them free range.
As this area is directly adjacent to the house, we want it to look attractive, not a giant, ugly chook pen like the current eyesore. So I got a quote for a post and rail fence with robust chain wire fencing that will support vines so I can grow edible, flowering greenery up and over it. The quote made my eyes water. So, like many projects, it’s gone on the backburner for the moment and we’re looking into whether it makes sense to build it ourselves. Sure, fencing isn’t rocket science, but DIY, especially when you don’t really know what you’re doing, can elicit a huge time/opportunity cost. Food for thought…
In the meantime, while my chooks are quarantined to their relatively small yard, I had the lightbulb idea of growing a medicinal herb lunchbox (in addition to other edible trees/shrubs) in the area that will become their new yard. Hopefully we’ll get the fence built before the end of the year by which time these plants will be established and thriving, giving the chooks instant nutrition, medicine and shade.
So far, this is what I have planted, with plenty more to come.
Other helpful chicken-friendly plants include chickweed, feverfew, garlic, ginger, hyssop, lavender, nasturtium, southernwood, rosemary, rue, nettles, horseradish, catnip, pennyroyal, pyrethrum, fat hen, wandering jew, tagasaste and there are plenty more!
I won’t be planting all of these as some are unsuitable for my soil and climate, some are invasive weeds, some are too big etc. But you get the idea. Whatever I plant, it’s going to need to be robust, hardy and as mature as possible before I let my ravenous flock of ladies (and two gentlemen) out into it.
At the invitation of a dear old school friend, we recently headed to her glorious farm ‘Lilydale’ in Gidgegannup (15 minutes from Edgefield in Mundaring) for a divine afternoon of swimming, eating, drinking, lazing and chatting.
Of course, no visit to Lilydale is complete without a stickybeak at her incredibly abundant covered orchard of which I readily admit to being more than a little envious. Whenever I visit, there is seemingly always something in fruit and today it was Satsuma plums. Dark red, juicy and sweet, they were delicious and despite feeling totally stuffed from a magnificent lunch, I ate two.
There was plenty more developing fruit waiting in the wings too.
Unfortunately, I forgot to take photos of the ingenious yet simple method by which they are training their young trees into an open shape. Painstakingly tying each outer branch with string and weighting it to a brick or stone to bend the supple branches, George says it only takes a few weeks for them to become rigid and fixed into their new position. This helps with airflow, which in turn helps to reduce fungal problems. It also opens up the tree into a nice shape and makes it more accessible.
The massive covered orchard is located a short drive from the house on this bucolic 50-acre property and irrigated from a dam that sits slightly above it. Until recently the chooks were left to free range in the orchard but foxy loxy discovered them and the remaining four are now back up near the house in the chook pen. Given the obvious benefits to having the chooks in the orchard (cleaning up rotten fruit, weeding/scratching, eating fruit fly larvae and other pests, manuring the trees) George would like to build a new chook house adjoining the orchard in which the chooks can be safely locked up at night but have free range access to the orchard during the day.
She also has a Warre beehive nearby and they have plans to create a large covered vegetable patch next. A cool room is also on the agenda to enable them to butcher their small flock of Dorper sheep. Not a bad set up really!
Oh and did I mention what a magnificent homestead it is? Surrounded by spectacular, mature deciduous and evergreen trees, lush lawn, avocado trees groaning with fruit, lavender fields, pool, tennis court and parkland cleared paddocks, this is a delightful place in which to while away a lazy Sunday afternoon.
I didn’t get past Day 1 in my blog posts about Edgefield’s reticulation project because it morphed into a monster that devoured our time and money in a way we hadn’t anticipated.
I would like to focus on the positive: we have Stage 1 of a sophisticated reticulation and fertigation system, which through its network of pipes takes water/fertiliser to almost the entire property and will facilitate the building and planting of an amazing garden. I’m thrilled about that.
Unfortunately, it comes at an excruciating cost. And it’s not finished yet.
We were given an hourly rates estimate for the labour component of the job equating to approximately three days, which blew out to more than eight! We have yet to receive the final bill and I am panicked at the thought. While we expected there to be perhaps 10-15% leeway, we certainly hadn’t budgeted for such an inaccurate estimate, especially given that nothing unexpected happened, like hitting rock while trenching or any other issue that could have derailed the project. In an effort to stem the financial bleeding, Jeff and I put our own work on hold and spent several days fitting reticulation, filling trenches by hand and doing as much of the manual labour as possible.
Aside from the financial, we’ve had ongoing issues with the new pump in the well, which is supposed to automatically pump water when the levels in the holding tank drop – the linchpin of the whole system. It doesn’t. And all of this was happening right on Christmas, as we were packing up to go on holidays and briefing the poor housesitters on the nightmare they had just walked into. NOT what I would call a relaxing Christmas.
However, I write this now while sitting under the peppermint trees of our campsite at Ocean Beach Holiday Park in Denmark, Western Australia’s South West. Sipping on an exceptionally lovely Willoughby Park Ironbark Riesling, somehow it all seems a little less stressful. Jeff, Jamie and the five kids have gone fishing. Kate is taking a nap. Life is good (and very dirty).
We’re camping on an unpowered site up the back of the park where it’s first in best dressed for an expanse of dirt under the trees. A film of fine black dust covers everything so there’s no point being precious. The kids (Hugo, Henry, Finn, Lily and Charli) are having a ball riding bikes, playing games, competing, posturing, laughing and fighting incessantly. They are ALWAYS hungry! I’ve given up on telling Hugo to wear shoes. Showers are optional. Swims, unfortunately, are not as common as we’d hoped given the cool weather. So the kids are filthy yet unfazed, of course. We’re having a ball.
We’re home from holiday and the retic seems to be working correctly now. Our house sitters deserve a bloody medal. They were awesome! We have named two of the four new chicks born while they were here, Bill and Sue, in their honour.
It was an epic journey. We have the final invoice from Earth and Water. They have been generous and fair given the circumstances so we are satisfied yet still licking our wounds a little.
We told our Freo and Floreat friends about our the experience while we were away on holidays and they looked at us like we’d lost our marbles. No-one could remotely grasp why we would spend that kind of money on reticulation for a garden that they view simply as hard work. It got me thinking that perhaps I need some new friends that share my love and passion or simply accept that I am seen as that “weird gardening lady”- a moniker with which I am totally fine.
No designer wardrobes for this lady: I spend all my disposable income on trailer loads of shit and poly pipe!
I must admit I’m more than a little excited by our new lawn extension. (Permaculture purists stop reading now but I have defended my personal views on lawn on this blog before.) Our latest effort has doubled the size of our existing lawn to a cool 200sqm of cricket/footy/soccer/frisbee awesomeness!
However, I am quick to point out that it is all reticulated by sub-surface dripper lines fed from our Fuji ATU (Alternative Treatment Unit) septic system, which treats our entire household water (grey and black water from the kitchen and toilets) to Class A level, hence the “guilt-free” claim. Although to be fair, it will probably suffer in the height of a scorching Perth summer if we don’t top it up with scheme water. We’ll see how we go.
I got the guys from Water Installations, who installed the ATU originally, to return and lift the purple dripline pipe from the southern side of the house, where we had initially planned to have lawn, and move it to the front to join up with the existing patch. Luckily we hadn’t got around to doing anything around the back so all the purple pipe was still just laying on the surface, which made it a relatively easy move.
So with the reticulation in place, I enticed my hardworking nephews, Angus (15) and Clayton (12) to lend Jeff and I a hand to install the new roll-on lawn on Saturday with the prospect of some serious pocket money to help pay off their new motorbikes. Thank goodness! It took us six hours to move and level sand, fertilise, roll out lawn and fill in all the seams. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
We used ‘Empire Zoysia’ variety again, which we really like and have used several times before for the following reasons:
This lawn has made such a difference already to how the place looks. The kids can’t wait to run around and kick a footy on it and I will have a whole rabble of kids over here tomorrow for a play date while school holidays are on so I don’t like my chances of keeping it pristine. But hey, that’s what it’s there for. Enjoy!
There’s been so much going on at Edgefield lately, along with a busy work schedule, that allows no time to write this blog (my usual, boring lament)! As cliched as it sounds, spring fever has gripped me and, by association, Jeff. We are powering through our big jobs/infrastructure list! It helps that with both of our consulting businesses going well, there’s actually some money in the kitty for discretionary spending, something we haven’t had much of for a while.
The boys are happy little campers now that they’re finally off their bike training wheels (hooray!) and they have a new bike path of compacted Ferricrete that loops from the driveway around the top of the block. Hugo’s scratched up knees are testament to the thrills and spills of the racetrack…Henry, not so much. We also extended the driveway partway up the block with a 3-point turn for backing up trailers to the four new compost bays Jeff built from recycled pallets we had stockpiled from the house build.
I was late in finalising my orchard plan and when I finally made it down to the lovely Joanne at Guildford Town Garden Centre, the winter bare-rooted fruit tree stock had been well picked over and they had started to bag up most of their remaining stock. Still, I managed to purchase five of the trees I wanted to add to the two heritage apples I had sourced from Poppy’s Patch in Mount Barker and a double grafted Nashi from Tass1Trees. A very expensive truckload of poo (Vegetable Concentrate) from Green Life Soil Co. later and we were in business.
Still to come:
My good neighbour Tony once again came to the rescue with his excavator to save our poor backs on this heavy clay soil. So with holes dug, we planted the trees in mounds, staked and fenced them off individually to protect them from our rather large and intimidating neighbourhood kangaroos.
Edgefield has undergone many, many design iterations and in the latest round we extended the lawn in a long triangle further up the block. (See recent post: “Guilt-free green lawn”.)
FINALLY, we’re making headway on our perennially perplexing water problem: how to sustain this thirsty, abundant garden we want to create into the future? We have explored ALL our options in detail:
To make sense of all these options, their viability and cost effectiveness, and to finally make a decision on a way forward, we engaged the services of Nigel Thompson from Earth and Water who Jeff had worked with some years ago on an eco-village project in Chidlow. He was highly knowledgeable, slightly quirky, but genuine and friendly. We discussed everything including soil, plant biology and chemistry for two hours before even heading outside. Anyone who knows me will laugh at the thought of me discussing chemistry but I actually surprised myself with how much I knew. I kept up with him on (almost) all of it!
Anyway, at the end of it he flipped over a piece of paper and in minutes scrawled a design based on average calculations of our water use and centred on using our existing two wells as our primary water source. Let’s hope they continue to recharge throughout summer! The plan goes something like this:
I’d hoped the advice we’d received earlier that a bore would likely be saltier even than our wells would prove to be false, but Nigel concurred with the bore guy. No silver bullet there unfortunately. So we are now waiting for a quote from Earth and Water to implement the plan before summer hits with a vengeance! Hand watering is taking me close to an hour already and I’m doing a light job in this balmy weather.
We have a consultation tomorrow with Jeremy from Solargain to talk installation of solar panels on our lovely north-facing roof. While the feed-in tariffs are pretty average these days, for Jeff and I who work from home during the day while the sun shines, it makes sense as I understand it. I’m looking forward to learning more about the details and ticking another major box on our “road to sustainability” list.
I’m so excited about the progress we’ve made recently on Edgefield. It is coming together beautifully.
In my opinion, Milkwood Permaculture is one of the best Australian permaculture groups with a fantastic website, newsletter, training, information and general marketing. This link is a little gem of information from one of their latest newsletters and I’m bookmarking this for future reading. I need all the help I can get when it come to choosing the right plants for my garden.
I often get asked gardening questions by friends and was recently asked how to plant a tree (after the tree in question had already been planted, of course.) My friends had just moved into their new house and bought a beautiful mature Chinese Tallow for $500. Now if I had bought a tree for that much money and was unsure how to plant it, I would definitely have asked someone who did, well before it was shoved unceremoniously into a hole dug into Perth’s notoriously bad sandy soil, which is bereft of any nutrients or water-holding capacity whatsoever. To make matters worse, the site was hard up against the side of the house and full of building rubble as well. In it went with a bucketful of Rooster Booster dumped (unmixed) into the bottom of the hole. Hmmm… that’s not exactly how I would have gone about it. To be fair, they were working to a deadline and under an enormous amount of stress, so planting the tree correctly probably wasn’t high on their priority list.
By the time I saw the tree, almost all its leaves had gone brown and died, perhaps from transplant shock, I don’t know. I scratched the bark and it was still green underneath so all hope was not lost. I suggested they buy several bags of compost and sheep or cow manure and in a roughly 3:1 ratio dig it in around the tree as much as possible to give the poor thing something to put its roots into. Then water the hell out of it to help it get established and cross their fingers.
Happily, my friend sent me this photo of new green leaves sprouting, which is actually quite odd given that it’s deciduous and it’s Autumn, but nevertheless a good sign.
How I plant a tree
Note: this is specific to my site in Mundaring (Western Australia), which has heavy clay soils.
This is not meant as a lecture for my friends nor do I for a moment suggest I have all the answers, but having just planted my own fig tree, I thought I would share how I went about it. How I plant a tree, like many things I do here at Edgefield, is an attempt to reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position yet where I’m generating all my own inputs (compost, manure, mulch, etc) but it is my aim. However, I do try and recycle all our household paper and cardboard in the garden though, which puts carbon/organic matter back into the soil. It’s not much but it’s better than nothing.
Hopefully all the horticulturalists and experienced permies out there won’t tell me I’m doing it all wrong. I’m really just experimenting and learning as I go. It’s not rocket science but it does take time to do it properly.
If I had attempted to explain all this to my friend with the Chinese Tallow tree, she’d have laughed at me and thought I was insane. So I only geek out on gardening/permaculture stuff with like-minded people.
Make yourself a cuppa, close the door to all the household noise, sit down and take the time to watch this incredible documentary. It is insightful, moving, educational, thought-provoking, shocking, sad, uplifting and inspiring.
Gotta go…I’m off to plant some green manures at Edgefield.
I had a lovely afternoon with my family in Guildford last Sunday. Being school holidays, we all had a bit of cabin fever and needed an outing. So after soccer in the park, lunch at Little Guildford cafe and a visit to the Museum of Natural History, I took myself off to Guildford Town Garden Centre while Jeff took the boys home. Hooray!
Guildford Town Garden Centre is owned by the effervescent, delightful Joanne Harris who runs an incredibly beautiful, old school garden centre. Here are some of the reasons I love it:
Sadly, it seems to me, this kind of establishment has become something of a rarity these days; a fabulous relic of an era when the independent nursery industry in this country/state was robust, influential and highly visible. Of course, I would think that given that my Dad, Barry Waldeck, was a pioneer of the industry and founder of Waldeck Nurseries, a household name for a while here in WA. In fact, he mentored Joanne Harris in her early days and it was heart-warming to hear her talk so kindly about him (Dad passed away in 2003). Evidently, he was a mentor, great friend and advocate for Joanne and her business.
Joanne and I hadn’t met before but had been in email contact and she had recently helped redesign and plant my Mum’s garden and advised my sister on her garden. So it was lovely to sit down and have a good chat about Dad, nurseries, businesses, kids, education, family, gardens, architecture and, of course, Edgefield (yes, we’re both good talkers!)
My reason for going to the garden centre was ostensibly to buy a few bits and pieces, a Eureka lemon and Navel orange tree, and of course to meet Joanne. But I have been feeling overwhelmed about my garden (or lack of) at Edgefield for some time, particularly my inadequate plant knowledge (although I’m sure I know more than the average punter given my history). I feel this has stymied my efforts to progress the overall design much further than high level ideas about infrastructure and the different elements we want included. When it comes to plant selection and how to put it all together in just the right way to make a glorious, holistic permaculture paradise where everything works in a symbiotic manner…well, that’s where I become a little daunted.
So as I wandered around the garden centre, it occurred to me (durr) that I should book Joanne for a consultation visit to Edgefield to provide me with her general thoughts on our permaculture design and more specific horticultural advice including drafting a list of plant species. So I am now SUPER excited about her upcoming visit to Edgefield in May.
I had thought about getting professional advice like this before with permaculture people I know. In fact, I’d tried to get someone to visit once but encountered little interest despite offering to pay for their time. I still feel a little torn between getting “mainstream” horticultural advice and “permaculture” advice. I want both but I’m not sure they both readily come in the same package. I need a “plantsman”, as my Dad would say, as well as someone who understands my overall sustainability and permaculture objectives. I hope Joanne will be a good choice.
Autumn is ticking on, rain is falling and the soil is rapidly cooling so I am very impatient to get things underway before winter takes hold. While we are very lucky in WA that we have a year-round growing season, winter is generally not the time to plant. I’m oh so tempted to put in an order for some of the bare-rooted pome and stone fruit trees Joanne is having delivered by the hundreds to her garden centre in June. But if I am sensible and patient (a rare occurrence when it comes to my garden) I will wait till I have laid all the groundwork before buying trees. This includes finalising our plan, laying reticulation (a massive, expensive job), digging monster holes and preparing the soil just so. Not a small undertaking but one I really do want to do properly. I have become a bit of a perfectionist as I’ve gotten older (a trait my husband does not always share!)
So baby steps is the order of the day…
We have installed this Fujiclean ATU (Alternative Treatment Unit) in our new house. It treats every drop of water we use, including our blackwater (from toilets and kitchen), to an almost potable standard and reuses it all again through reticulation piped under the lawn and fruit trees. Not a cheap system but well worth the outcomes. I can have a guilt-free green lawn all summer. It’s a step in the right direction to making Edgefield as sustainable as possible. Next stop: solar panels.
How cool is this?
Instead of water wings and inner tubes, Dennis and Danielle McClung’s backyard pool in Mesa, Arizona, is filled with tomato plants, grape vines and wheat. There’s a chicken coop and a fish pond, and the food that comes out of the pool, from tilapia to tomatoes, feeds the McClung family of five. It’s a system that took a few frustrating failures to perfect, but now the McClungs hope to take swimming-pool farming international.
I have now successfully completed my 72-hour Permaculture Design Certificate with last Saturday’s grand finale Permablitz a roaring success. The transformation of this private backyard was truly incredible. Shona and her kids now have an amazing garden to eat, work, entertain and play in. I’d estimate we had at least 40 people volunteer (with plenty more friends of Shona’s rocking up late in the day to drink beer and watch the rest of us sweat.)
The big finale of my permaculture course is tomorrow – the permablitz! Come on down to 31 Collick St in Hilton if you’d like to see a backyard transformed and see permaculture in action. Better yet, come lend a hand and enjoy free homemade organic food for your efforts.
I’ve decided to keep going with this permaculture journey by signing up for a Certificate III in Permaculture which is a nationally accredited course. I’m not specifically chasing the piece of paper but it might come in handy down the track depending on what I end up doing. As I understand it, it’s a very hands-on course and builds on and puts into practice all the things we’ve only touched on in the PDC.
The PDC has been great so far but I still feel far from confident from doing a permaculture design over a property from scratch and that’s what I’m really chasing at this point. The knowledge and skills to be able to confidently walk onto a “blank canvas” property, whether that’s an urban block or a rural acreage, and design a truly sustainable, efficient working property which includes:
A few too many beers on a rare date night with Jeff the night before put me in a less than energetic mood for a day of hands-on work at Hilton Community Garden building an Earthship chook house. NOT what I needed to be doing in the blazing sun when feeling under the weather. So i was admittedly very lazy and did little to help with pounding clay and sand into recycled tyres… We didn’t get very far progressed before heading off after lunch back to FERN for the afternoon sessions.
An earthship for those of you wondering what the hell i’m talking about is a structure made of recycled materials, usually bottles and tyres, held together with a mixture of clay, sand, straw and water called adobe. It is thermally efficient and requires no heating or cooling, harvests all its own water, recycles grey and black water on site, produces all its own energy and is basically THE most sustainable building you can possibly make.
I don’t do it justice so check out the movie “Garbage Warrior” which is all about the origins of the Earthship and is an absolutely incredible and inspiring movie. As the blurb says: “The epic story of radical Earthship eco architect Michael Reynolds, and his fight to build off-the-grid self-sufficient communities.”
I can’t say i particularly enjoyed this week’s PDC, probably due to self-induced fatigue but also because as much as I have respect and admiration for those who build earthships, I think it’s pretty far out on a limb for most people and probably unsuitable to have as part of the PDC. I think it would have been better to mention it in passing and perhaps offer a workshop on it separately for those interested. I can’t see myself building an earthship any time soon.
This week’s PDC was back at FERN with a session on designing for disaster (fire, flood) in the morning with Greg Knibbs and an afternoon session on permaculture in community including alternative economic systems (LETS, share registries, gift cultures, collectives/co-ops, etc). We also made a little more headway on coming to agreement on and finalising the permablitz site design which is coming up soon.
Debate become a little heated when discussing “the evils of money”. Of course, I couldn’t help myself and stoked the fire a little bit by playing devil’s advocate (just call me Capitalist Joe), which got a few people riled up. Unfortunately but understandably, the conversation was nipped in the bud but I would happily have debated the subject further.
I just find it amusing (or should i say bemusing) that some people can be so black or white about a subject, professing to HATE money (while obviously needing and using it) and vehemently disagreeing that money can be useful, can be used for good and, like it or not, greases the wheels of just about everything. I think i can safely say that it’s impossible to live in a country like Australia without it. So while I agree with the sentiment of promoting alternative economic systems like LETS, bartering, gift culture, community share etc, I think you need to be realistic about life as it currently stands. Personally, I’m not going to waste my energy railing against the system and getting upset about all the “capitalist bastards” out there (because I am one) but rather put my energy towards trying to do some good in the community by helping to generate and support alternatives and options. It’s a bit like Bill Mollison (the co-founder of permaculture) who was so upset with the way the world was that he lived like a hermit in self-imposed exile for a number of years. However, he eventually realised that hating the world and going underground wouldn’t make it better so he actually DID something to change what he saw was wrong – he developed permaculture…what a remarkable and worthwhile achievement.
The permablitz on 15 October marks the end of the course which I am a bit sad about. The PDC has been something to look forward to each week; a time to re-engage my brain and do something just for myself. I know Jeff will be relieved to have me back on deck on Saturday though.
There is an accredited Certificate III Permaculture course being offered soon which I am interested in. It’s run in a workshop format; 13 workshops over a year or so on weekends. So it’s doable, I just have to decide if I want to keep going. I think I probably will. If this is going to be a new career path for me, I feel like i need to swat up. The more i learn, the more i feel i don’t know. Same old story i guess. The Cert 3 course is supposed to be really practical and puts into practice all that we’ve learnt in the PDC. Plus it’s an actual accreditation, i.e. a piece of paper should i need it down the track.
We were up in the hills at Dr Ross Mars’ place for a day all about water – management, waste treatment, greywater systems, water tanks, dams, keyline, swales and contour/diversion banks, etc. We moved to KristyLee’s place in the late afternoon to do a practical session on building swales using a variety of different surveying techniques.
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