I had a great weekend this past weekend. Mum and I went and stayed at her sister Sandra’s house near Daylesford, they have a great property and it was the first time I’ve seen it.
Yesterday we (mum, Sandra and Elizabeth) went on a tour of David Holmgren’s house and property in Hepburn Springs. I perhaps didn’t learn heaps of new stuff, but it was really good to see things in practice and to see how they take a fairly balanced approach to environmentalism, resilience and ease of living.
So my notes are mostly lists of plants and a few bits and pieces I wanted to remember, but I will record them here in a slightly edited format:
Cypress Macrocarpa – Good for building wood.
Legumes – good to grow in the orchard as nitrogen fixers and living haystacks for the goats
Fejoias – Good for eating and making jam out of.
White Sepodi – planted under a shadecloth – once again I’ve written this wrong because I can’t find it online anywhere.
Avocado – planted under a shadecloth and was their third attempt at an avocado and had only got really little ones off it.
Poppies – we had an orange and poppyseed cake which was great.
lettuce – self seeds
snow peas – don’t self seed
carrots – don’t self seed
daikon radish – can on collect the seed if there is nothing else from the canola family around, including the very common turnip weed (I think).
Comfrey – plant it where you want it (it will grown there forever)
– It won’t spread too far out of bounds (unlike raspberries)
– good for bees
– make liquid manure out of it
– healing plant
Gooseberry – Sandra has a few of these growing around her yard
Acacia Florabunda – interplanted in the orchard
Tagasaste – interplanted in the orchard.
Sheoaks – nitrogen fixing
Yellow Box – Melliodora (which the property is named for)
– Low oils
– deep roots
– strong tree
– doesn’t drop branches until it is about 150years old
– of the eucalypts, this is a good one to plant.
A passive solar house does not mean that people do nothing, they have to actively be monitoring the situation and can’t let it get out of hand. The whole system is like a big ship on the sea – it takes a long time to turn it around and so you have to keep on top of it. Su calls it “Passive Solar, Active Humans”.
Between the mudbrick floor and the regular ground they have an ‘air-gap’ of inch scoria and similar so that if the floor is 20deg and the ground is 14deg the floor is not losing heat by trying to heat the ground.
They have a cool cupboard which works by piping in air from outside via underground. The pipe should be 360mm diameter on the outside, 300mm diameter on the inside. Then it gets sucked up the top of the cupboard by natural methods, or you can put a small fan in.
Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz was recommended by Su and David.
The permaculture lifestyle understandably requires persistence and patience.
You have to decide why you are making decisions – mum and I have talked about this before and after the tour – are your decisions monetary, because of the effect on the environment, the effect on people or to do with having a property/lifestyle that is resilient? This also needs to be taken into consideration when talking to others, because if they are coming from a different perspective you may have trouble communicating about the benefits of doing things a certain way.
In terms of bushfire prevention, there is a strong lean since Black Saturday (Feb ’09) towards having no trees or bushes around houses because they represent a fire risk, however apparently plants near the house can be beneficial if they have low essential oils (so not eucalypts), they hold lots of water and are mineral rich plants – such plants are not likely to burn easily in a bushfire. Chances are if it is so intense that they have dried out and burnt then your house had buckleys anyway.
In the beginning David said that he spend about 3 days a week working on the outdoors of the property, and Su spent 1-2 days a week (I didn’t quite remember which before I wrote it down). She mostly works with the animals and he mostly works with the garden/orchard. Recently David and Su do a day each per week which is barely enough to harvest and maintain everything. However they do have wwoofers doing work.
To keep the property going they really need the equivalent of a full-time person working outside – volunteers and wwoofers can be less useful because they don’t know how to do things the ‘right’ way or your way.
In 10 years of drought they never had a shortage of food for 6 goats, and they only have a little under a hectare.
They are thinking of keeping bees – but to do that you have to have flowers available to them all year around, some plants that they suggested to acheive that are:
A plant called something like “Vertagastasti” – I can’t find it anywhere online, obviously I’ve written it incorrectly, if anyone knows what this is please let me know!!
They used to have raised garden beds, but with the drought they would dry out quickly and so they made one large, low bed with planks across it for access. I think I would do a sort of compromise, with low beds that are large, but accessible by leaning in all the way around, so I’m not compacting the soil with planks.
David reckoned that hand-watering can be most efficient use of water if you know what you are doing, it can also mean that you can water, weed and harvest all at once. However they do have drippers installed, using greywater hoses which cope better with the water from the dam.
There was a little mini-rant about how peak phosphate is a serious problem.
They had a garden that was all planted out in a fairly conventional way, and another that was almost all self-sown. The self-sown plants take up more space in the garden than planting them yourself, and they also take up more time, as you have to leave them to bolt and grow seeds etc. you can’t just pull them out when they are pretty well done. The basic breakdown for them is:
1/4 of the harvest from self-seeded plants
1/4 of the harvest from saved seeds
1/2 of the harvest from purchased seeds.
When pruning raspberries you should cut back all the brittle dead canes and leave the sappy canes. As for our raspberry bushes we will just have to whippersnip the stuff that has all overgrown. After we’ve eaten all the raspberries of course!
The worse a plant smells when it rots the more nutrients are in it, which is unfortunate for making really good liquid manure – his comfrey liquid manure smelt SO BAD and I have a pretty high tolerance for bad smells.
You can extend the life of your goats by continuing to milk them instead of kidding them every year – they had two goats that last dropped a kid 6 years ago and they are still milking them off that, although they aren’t getting much milk these days.
Their sheds were not particularly fire-proof but they had done a few things to combat that:
– they are structurally strong, so the roof isn’t going to fly off in a strong wind.
– there is a spray system that sprays a light mist.
– the pump that pumps water from the dam to the house tank can be diverted to a firehose.
– water flowing through the plastic pipes will stop them from melting in extreme heat – if they melt anyway the shed has prolly already burnt down.
The geese eat the grass and the chooks eat the insects, so swapping them through the orchard keeps everything in check.
Cutting the nitrogen-fixing trees in the orchard and putting the branches around the base of the fruit trees helps to protect the roots from the chooks scratching and exposing the roots.
Goats eat up high, because if they get sick they die, so they don’t eat close the the ground, unless there is no other option, otherwise they get worms.
Electric fences around fruit trees are really the only thing that will keep them out, regular structures are just a fun challenge for goats.
David doesn’t have any eucalypts or pines on the property, only around the edges, because they are a fire hazard and nothing grows under them.
Dock helps break up soil, rye grass indicates healthy soil.
Pasture will compete with fruit trees, blackberries would be a good thing to have under fruit trees, but they are very people-unfriendly.
Plants that have been planted and tended by humans don’t count as biodiversity. Biodiversity is the things that grow on their own.
I’ve heard a bit of this before when I went on a weeds walk through Ceres. We have this idea that native plants are so much better than anything introduced, but it isn’t necessarily true. David’s quote was that we have a “Toxic ideology of Nativism.”
So thanks very much to David and Su. It was a good experience 🙂