MJ and I decided to purchase this old quasi abandoned house at the end of 2012, it was with in our budget and we could get it by borrowing 25% of the total value including the money for the renovations, an amount we knew we could manage and pay back relatively fast. We never liked the idea of borrowing money and then carry the burden of debt along for most of our lives so we’ve always been good at saving and accommodating our selves to live our lives with in our means.
The big task ahead were the renovations required to make the place comfortable for us to move in, bear in mind that we had NO experience at all in any of the tasks ahead of us all we had was the resolution to make this work and good people around us to help along the way. We did most of the renovations our selves with lots of help from our friends Steve, Yvonne, Alexis, Jennifer, and super handy man Gavin ( by the way they say friends are the family u choose). It took us about 3 months to complete the work and move into our new home early in 2013.
At the start of 2012, I did a Permaculture Design Certificate at Southern Cross Permaculture Institute with Rick and Naomi Coleman and that experience just changed the way I looked at live in general and many things started to make sense. I decided that I had to share this new found concept with other people and the best way I could come up with was in the words of Ghandi “ Become the change that you want to see” so we agreed to walk the talk and turn our home into an urban Permaculture demonstration site.
What is Permaculture? -many people ask and some have heard the word but don’t really know what it’s about, most people have the idea that it is something to do with gardening…Permaculture, for me is an ETHICAL and sustainable system of design based on a set of principals developed through the observation and understanding of how nature works.
Now, allow me to share with you our Permaculture. We all have different types of resources lacking or available to us but the problem is the solution. Our Permaculture is a no budget to a limited budget one so I’ve opted for the 3 Rs approach: Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle in that specific order. Most of the materials used to develop the design are gathered from the street for free, bartered, purchased from the local tip and as the last recourse bought new. I’ve developed a set of strategies and opted for technologies that work specifically for our situation, needs, context and through design managed to combine them to work as one ecosystem that continuously keeps energy cycling within by having as many closed loops as possible. This is an ever evolving design to be developed in stages, as it matures it will provide us in addition to all of the tangible and intangible benefits with a monetary income through an ethical micro business, Geelong Worms and will bring members from the community into it to inspire and bring about sustainable change in them.
Our home is located on a 354m2 corner block in Geelong, Victoria, with a north/north-easterly aspect. We share fences with 2 neighbours east and north of the house. The south and west fence faces towards Warren street and Barling court respectively. The climate is temperate with hot, dry summers and cold, wet winters in which we can experience mild frosts. The average rain fall is 457mm a year. The soil found was mainly a heavy compacted clay. The distribution of space is approximately as follows:
Drive way: 63m2
Entertainment Area: 11m2
Chook Pen: 10.2m2
Tool Shed: 4.2m2
Solar Cloth Line: 12.5m2
Water Works and Tank: 10m2
Plant the water first so everything else can grow.
Water needs to be harvested, stored and moved. My main water harvesting and storage is soil, healthy soil can store and hold around 70% water, understand that every living organism in soil is a micro water tank so the more living things in soil the bigger it’s storage capacity they also help improve it’s structure and assist in the creation of hummus which stores nutrients and moister.
My first priority was and still is to improve and build the quality of my soil. When I started I had a heavy and compacted clay to work with no air or water penetrating making it inhospitable for most edible plants and critters. Instead of battling against this by trying to break up the clay by physical labour or spend money in products to treat the soil I decided to build new soil on top by using the sheet mulching or no dig garden technique. For this I used the old carpet from the house, went around collecting cardboard and news paper from shops and news agencies, lots of leaves from the street, lawn clippings from friends and MJ brought ground coffee grains from work and complemented this by purchasing a couple of straw and lucern bales. Now I have a approximately 70m2 of soil that can store good amounts of water.
My second water catchment is my roof, it has a capacity of approximately 110m2 . As part of the design, we wanted rainwater to be our main supply. A principle of water is always to treat it at it’s source, so when repairing the roof we had to go for a paint of the highest quality and that was none toxic to be able to harvest water safe to drink.
The water cycle at home is a closed loop and works as follows:
Water is captured on 110m2 of roof .
It’s then moved by gravity through the down pipes and into the fist flush diverter. The diverter has a capacity of 220Liters that is equivalent to 2% of the catchment area which is the percentage recommended to fully clean a roof after long periods without rain. At this stage I can choose to let water out of the first flush in the quantity I see fit and send it into the garden via drip irrigation or keep the first flush full so water moves straight into the 5000L tank.
The water is then moved into the house by a pump. The system has a pressure tank to minimise the usage of the pump as well as the consumption of electricity.
Before the rainwater enters the house it passes through a filter.
If the tank was to run out of water or the pump failed, mains water will kick in automatically thanks to the Rain Saver, a device that works with pressure and is able to detect when one source runs out to let the other one in. Water plays a major function in the design so it must be backed up for the system to be resilient.
Once the water is used in the house it exits through a reed bed which recreates the function of a wetland. It is filled with gravel and a selection of plants that oxygenate, filter and improve the quality of water. Then, it goes into a first swale which overflows into a second swale that overflows into the banana circle. We take special care in not to disrespect the water with the products we put in it so when it exit’s the house as gray water it is of the best quality possible. The water in the swales and banana circle passively irrigates a major part of the garden where most of the fruit trees, some perennials and annuals are planted. The water returns to the house in the form of food, which then returns to the garden via the chooks, the worms or the compost and then back into the house as eggs, fruits and vegies allowing us to have a closed loop in water with in our system. This releases pressure from sewer and water services and reduces the pollution going onto rivers and oceans. The only water that doesn’t get treated on site is from the toilet and kitchen sink which goes into the sewer.
The down pipes are set up as a wet system and they all have screw caps that allow for their inspection and cleaning. The system also has a low point which permits the entire network to be flushed out if needed, this water goes into a drain that waters our native bush. Every drop counts.
Albertina, Pico and Uchuvita are the stars of our garden. They live in a coop made all from repurposed materials including half of the old shower that used to be in our bathroom. The coop is accessed through a single door that opens outwards and allows immediate access for harvesting eggs and cleaning with out the need of going inside the enclosure. A portion of the coop below the girls roost has wire mesh as floor which allows for most of their manure to drop outside and provides for good ventilation and a lot less cleaning. Cleaning is a breeze and doesn’t take more than 5 minutes as all u need to do is hose it down for all the manure to drop on the ground bellow. The coop is inside a fox proof enclosure of approximately 10m2 which has 2 access points. The main one is a normal sized door that leads to the front part of the block and can be open from the middle up or the middle down independently. This allows me to throw things in the enclosure by opening the top half while leaving the bottom half closed keeping the girls in. The second access point is a chook size door that leads to the back part of the block. This design aids in the rotation of the chooks between the back and front of the block so the soil and plants they forage on can rest and recover. Since bringing the girls into the system I don’t cut the grass or weeds any more as they keep them under control for me. They also play a major roll in general pest control specially when it comes to snails and slugs.
Their enclosure is set up as a deep litter system with high carbon material as flooring, in this case dried leaves that I collect from the streets and place to a depths of 30cm. The carbon in the dried leaves neutralizes the high nitrogen and moister in their manure and in the food scraps producing no bad smells at all. Their natural behaviour of scratching and digging breaks, mixes and aerates the materials accelerating the composting process. I start putting the deep litter down as soon as I see leaves start to fall in the autumn. By the end of winter they would have made beautiful compost ready to go into the garden for spring. This autumn, I was able to take fifty 20Liter buckets of compost into the garden before putting the new deep litter in.
Chickens natural diet is based mostly on greens supplemented with grains, seeds and animal protein. In our garden we grow specific things to help with their heath such as worm wood, comfrey, tansy, sunflowers, garlic, citronella silver beat and kale. I alternate worm wood and garlic in their water to help with parasites and intestinal worms. I also place worm wood, citronella or tansy in their nest to keep lice and other insects away. Another thing we do is to wash and dry their egg shells and feed them back to them to supplement their calcium intake. Molasses and apple cider vinegar in the water also aids with health and nutrition. To give them a boost in winter I soak some grain in water with molasses and apple cider vinegar, volcanic rock dust and oats over night.
This technique is mostly used in tropical climates but we love bananas and also wanted to have a bit of a tropical feeling in our garden to remind us of Colombia. The challenge was to recreate a humid tropical microclimate in temperate Victoria. Not a problem!
I needed a final overflow point for gray water and had plenty of high nitrogen materials around and a banana circle is great for dealing with organic matter, moister and turning all this into food.
First thing was to find banana varieties that would tolerate cooler conditions then to find ways to provide warmth, food and water as they are hungry for high nitrogen materials and moister. I needed a final overflow point for the gray water from the second swale so I dug a hole about 1.2m in diameter and about 70cm deep. Took the soil from the hole and placed it as mounds around the circle. Then I filled the hole with mostly branches, logs and twigs with other organic matter like a hugenculture type of thing. After that I placed a black compost bin in the centre for warmth, moister retention and nutrient generation. I planted 4 different types of bananas around, 2 died in the cold and frosty winter of 2015, two managed to survive and are colonizing the circle at the moment. I also planted sweet potato as a ground cover, lemon grass and cintroella for insect repellence.
Turning poo into food while going to the loo.
Compost toilets are one of those thing that people a very fuzzy and have a lot of misconceptions about. If managed and designed properly they are a great strategy for saving and not polluting drinking quality water, waterways, the watertable and oceans. They also release pressure on sewers and produce quality compost to be used around fruit trees. It also eliminates the super annoying splash of wet toilets.
Our system is made up of 2 main components:
A dried toilet which is nothing more than a 20L bucket inside a plywood cube with a toilet seat and a top part attached with hinges to take the bucket in and out.
Humanure Composter: This is a 240L wheelie bin adapted to work as a highly efficient self-contained compost bin. Humanure is isolated in the bin which is fitted with a false floor and vents at the bottom and top to allow for good air circulation.
Humanure is very high in moister and nitrogen requiring a material high in carbon and moister absortion to counter act this. I’ve experimented with dried leaves and they work well as long as they are finely shredded otherwise the gaps between leaves will allow for smell to exit. Sugar cane mulch works but requires large amounts to fully cover and eliminate gaps. Sawdust is the best as it covers well, absorbs moister and minimizes gaps. It also has a beautiful smell. I use untreated pine sawdust which I’ve been told comes from sustainable plantations.
The process is simple, the dump gets dump in the dry toilet together with the toilet paper, a big cup of sawdust goes on top to fully cover the specimen and then the lid gets closed. Once the bucket is full it gets taken to the Humanure composter and once the composter is full it’s left to sit for between 6months and a year for things to be fully composted and safe. The addition of composting worm can speed up this process.
I had to place the compost toilet in the tool shed as I didn’t have space inside the house but I would be happy and confident to put it in because it is safe and has no bad smells at all. I’m the only one using it at the moment. I go once a day which saves 4.5L of water, I also try to do number one while in the garden to feed my fruit trees which saves me another 3L every time. This adds up to about 10.5L a day, 73,5L a week and potentially 3822L a year. We use an average of 100L of water a day for the both of us so this water savings that I do on my own could equate to more than a month’s supply of water during the year.
All the problems of the world can be solved in a garden.
Our garden is a small intensive system made up of mostly perenial plants where we try to emulate a food forest by planting in 6 of the 7 layers excluding the canopy layer which will get to big for our space. We have herbs, fruit trees, vines, berrie shrubs, ground covers, root crops all of this limited by space and the capacity of us to manage. In approximatle 60m2 we house 13 fruit trees, 6 vines, 4 berry bushes and approximately 20 other perennial cooking and medicinal plants. There is also space for anual crops mainly in the 3 wicking beds and a no dig garden bed. At this point in the gardens life, many of the anuals have turned into quasi perenials as they are allowed self seed and they just come back when the weather is right. We have selected plants taking into account that there are early, mid and late season varieties for most plants and we aim to have a sequence in production through out the year instead of having all come in one go.
We have an integrated pest management system that works by having different plants with strong sent , colours and textures that mask the sent of other plants and confuse pests through texture and colours as well as attracting predators to the system. Chooks play a key role in our pest control specially with slugs and snails. When a pest is identified and seems to be getting out of control manual control is used as the size of the garden allows for it.
Seed saving and propagation play important roles in our gardening as every season our produce gets better and our plants more productive and resilient through the adaptation of the plants to our specific environment in terms of water, soils, sunlight and us.