2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,300 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The Shared – 3rd January 2014

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WWOOFing at the Permaculture Research Institute

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My interest in Permaculture started back in 2010 and I soon completed my Design Certificate. I think it’s safe to say that it changed my life, the direction I was to take and the learning pathway that I have since followed. Nina and I hosted a PDC ourselves in 2011 and were lucky enough to help facilitate a course in Romania on our recent overland trip. We have since visited many permaculture properties and WWOOFed at smallholdings and farms across the world.

Over the last three years I have also watched many of Geoff Lawton’s online videos, got familiar with the design of his property and hoped that one day I would get to visit the Permaculture Research Institute at Zaytuna Farm in New South Wales, Australia.

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When a place became available at short notice there was no hesitation from me and I hopped on a train to Brisbane, transferred to a car with a previously organised Gumtree Lift Share and then hitched the last 19km from Nimbin to arrive, quite soggy, late on a Monday afternoon. I was pointed in the general direction of reception on arrival and given a detailed explanation of what was expected of me during my stay, the rules of the farm and a few things to be wary of in the snake department – Taipans, Browns and Red Belly Blacks (all very deadly snakes). I got my tent up before dark and was soon happy to be sitting eating dinner with the 10 week intern crew, farm manager, guests (including Bill Mollison) and other WWOOFers.

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I stayed at the farm for a month and worked a week in each of four areas – main crop, small animals, kitchen garden and food forests. The large animals team need more training which was too much to fit into my short stay. My first week involved a lot of food processing as there was large amounts of root vegetables coming up from main crop. Much Kim Chi was made!

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I worked a lot with Adon, adding compost, mulching, planting potatoes, cassava, peas and harvesting turnips, kale, pak choi and potatoes. I got to learn about the chicken tractor system which moves every 2 weeks, leaving behind fertilised rows for planting. It moves through 26 different sections. each containing 8 rows. This means each area gets a twice yearly visit from the chickens. There didn’t seem to be much emphasis on beneficial companions and the bare earth, tillage techniques was not what I expected to see at a world leading permaculture farm.

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During that first week Paul Taylor, an expert on soil fertility, was present on the farm as he was teaching students the soil section of their internship. I managed to skim off a lot of information from him and the interns and was present during the very interesting compost making sessions. This has really kickstarted my understanding of making microbial dense compost – whoop!

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My activities varied more in the second week although I spent a lot of time on main crop. It was very hot down there and very exposed.  I skinned my first chicken, collected buckets of fresh mulberries and wild raspberries, helped lay irrigation pipe with Geoff, did a spot of fishing with Zac and generally got more of an understanding of the farm.

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By week 3 I was tending to small animals which meant feeding and cleaning the rabbits, chickens, pigeons, goats and ducks as well as raising new born chicks. By week 4 I was combining my animal care with responsibility of the kitchen garden with the aim of keeping guests in fresh produce during their stay.

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I learnt a huge amount at the farm from some very inspirational people which included other WWOOFers, students who passed through, Des the farm manager, Geoff Lawton himself and Bill Mollison (who happened to be around for more than two weeks).

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I also have some gripes about the place. I would like to think that the Permaculture Research Institute would be a best practice environment to set an example for students and visitors alike but there seemed to be a distinct lack of people care. Des, the farm manager was grateful for the work of WWOOFers but the rest of the management gave little gratitude. A “thank you” after a months work would be nice.

Given the amount of money that seems to be received from online courses and internships I would like to see the use of 100% organic food on the farm and more awareness about the products they are feeding people – let’s stop with the GM!

I believe that it’s setting a bad example when the WWOOF supervisor is selling corporate products as refreshments to WWOOFers, taking advantage of their need for a cool drink after a hard days work, and yet students were asked to leave the farm as they drank a beer around the campfire on the last night of a $7000 internship – not cool.

Places of learning, especially in the world of community orientated, co-operatitve, integrative, standard setting, permaculture designer manual teaching institutions should be aware that the world is watching and hierarchical, top down rules are most dangerous. I send out much respect to the fellow WWOOFers and students that I worked alongside during my month at the farm but I was deeply disappointed in the people care and lack of respect for the volunteers. I would like to see a feedback system enter the structure of the WWOOF network which could allow WWOOFers to gage the vibe of a host before committing to a months work.

Happy pictures to follow…

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March Against Monsanto – Byron Bay

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Wwoofing with Elisabeth

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Nina and I recently completed a two week wwoof in Cooroy on the Sunshine Coast with fermentation goddess Elisabeth Fekonia. Elisabeth has a wealth of experience in wild cultures, ferments, cheese-making, sourdough bread, animal care and tropical vegetable cultivation, all encompassed in a permaculture wonderland!

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The terraced property has evolved from over 20 years of experimentation – Elisabeth admits she had no idea about permaculture when her and her late husband began the project. Since then she’s gained a regional reputation, teaches cheese-making workshops and has written a handy guide on some of the more exotic vegetables that we can grow here in the sub tropicals.

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Whilst on the farm our duties were extremely varied, the exception being the morning pig and chicken feed. Most of what we ate came from Elisabeth’s preservations or the animals including the pork, chickens, eggs and plenty of home made cheese from Lydia’s milk.

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The property’s waste is recycled back into the system. Whey from cheese making feeds the pigs, grey water from the house irrigates the tropical yams, yacon and sweet potato, humanure from the composting toilet adds fertility to the fruit trees and goats keep the Lantana in check.

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Elisabeth also took me out to a Permaculture Noosa open house event. It’s a great way of seeing what systems other people in the area have. We got a crash course in trimming bananas, red claw farming and left with a bunch of macadamia nuts to plant.

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If you would like to wwoof with Elisabeth (and I highly recommend it) you can find her details at her Permaculture Realfood website

The Patchworks Family

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The last blog update from the Patch was my birthday family mulching session back in December. I thought that now  Nina and I are settling into life in Australia it was about time for a long distance update as the Patchworks family have been at it again.

Mum, Dad, Jonny, Clare, Ethan and Phoebe revisited The Patch in June to finish off the mulch on the elaeagnus and alder hedges along with some extra mulch for the walnut and Patchworks Pippin. They took plenty of photos and as you can see things are looking really good…

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Mum mulching the elaeagnus hedge

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The native hedge in blossom

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Sea Buckthorn berry looking healthy

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Ethan doing a grand job

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Super mulchers

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Nina Eve’s medlar looking amazing!

All this green fingered work seems to have really inspired Mum and Dad.  Mum has always been a keen gardener, it runs in the family, but since retirement her and Dad have given their garden an extra boost and this year their new veg patch featured in the village open gardens 2013. Mum says she has really diversified this year with mixed companion planting and plenty of pest distractors, not to mention tonnes of comfrey! I’m sure they were happy to get a bit of help from the grandchildren.

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Mum looking very proud of her new raised beds. Good job Dad!

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Cheeky smiles all round!

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Phoebe definitely looks like she’s having fun!

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Stunning veg!

A couple of weeks ago Nina and I received news of another visit to The Patch by Mum and Dad. They just can’t keep away! Maybe that’s because I keep asking for photos!

Much to our surprise and delight, the latest batch of pictures revealed the first fruits of our plantings. We have pears on the Williams along with red gooseberries and white currants. It’s only 2 years since the big tree planting and we have the first signs of productivity. Mum confessed that she hadn’t checked too many of the trees as she was worried about snakes but she did manage to pick 8oz of white currants!

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The Williams Pear in fruit!

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Gooseberries!

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White currants!

The Patchworks family visits, updates and photos really makes the distance between Norfolk and Australia smaller. Nina and I are truly grateful for the time and energy that you have put into the Patch. We hope that one day the fruits are abundant and that you can reap the benefits at harvest time.

We miss you

The Big Hitch (Part 2)

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Steve

Steve had been expecting us in Townsville for a couple of weeks, although he was a bit unsure of the exact date we would show up. Nina contacted him through Couchsurfing whilst we were in Indonesia and we somehow managed to arrive on the proposed date.

Steve worked in the mining industry as did so many of the people we met “along the track”. He also seemed to be a professional couchsurf host having welcomed over 200 people into his apartment in the last 12 months. Nina and I had a well earned shower and joined Steve and two other couchsurfers, Anna and Pauline, for our first square meal in days.

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The following day Steve went off to work and Nina and I explored Townsville’s Botanical Gardens, traditional brewery and seafront walks before we cooked for the crew, this time joined by Steve’s brother Kevin. It was a great introduction to the east coast and after a couple of drinks we even had the brothers reciting patriotic poems and songs of Australia!

The next morning Steve gave us a little tour of Townsville and a view over the city from Castle Hill before dropping us at a suitable hitching point just out of town. We totally love couchsurfing and can’t wait to host travellers ourselves!

Thomas & Jonno

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I’m still surprised at just how little time we had to wait in Australia before people pulled over to offer us a ride. It was no different leaving Townsville. I think 15 minutes, just enough time to eat a banana and take a quick leak, before Thomas pulled in.

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Thomas was a nice enough lad. An Irishman looking for work. As we chatted about the type of work he was looking for it became apparent that a) he’d lost his wallet the previous day containing $3400 and b) he had no driving license and so was looking for cash-in-hand work. I felt Nina squeeze my left shoulder from the back seat and we implied that we weren’t going far…

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It was only 204km to Bowen where we were meeting our next couchsurf host, Jonno. Jonno had originally agreed to host us in Rockhampton but as he was in Bowen that evening he invited us to join him and a group of fruit picking hippies at a campsite for a gathering. Thomas decided to take us all the way there and join in the fun that evening, although I’m pretty sure he was more hopeful of scoring weed that meeting people!

So we ended up sleeping with Jonno in Ginola’s tent after a communal meal, card games and a few late night drinks with mostly French and Italian fruit pickers.

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Kevin (Steve’s brother)

This is where the journey gets quite funny. Whilst at Steve’s in Townsville we met Kevin who is Steve’s brother. Kevin offered to give us a ride the 717km south to Rockhampton when he returned home a couple of days later but we had already agreed to meet Jonno in Bowen. Jonno was returning to Rokhampton the following day so we would travel with him. Whilst with Jonno he changed his plans as an old girlfriend was in town and decided not to head back to Rocky.

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Nina and I called Kevin, knowing that he was coming our way in the morning and no sooner had we awoken, brushed our teeth and packed up our bedding, Kevin had arrived at the campsite fresh from a 5am departure from Townsville. We were really glad to see kevin and his granddaughter. A couple of nights previous we had got to know each other whilst putting the world to rights and we were soon at it again chatting away in the car, only stopping for ice-cream on route, before being shown around the family home in Rockhampton!

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vince (Kevin & Steve’s brother)

Who could belief that within three days we had stayed with and travelled with three brothers! Yes that’s what happened next. As we were coming into Rockhampton, Kevin’s brother Vince called to say he was in Rockhampton and would soon be heading down to Hervey Bay to meet “a friend with benefits”. Kevin immediately asked if he minded taking a couple of friends (which we were by now) the 400km south and Vince was happy to oblige, collecting us from Kevin’s house half an hour later.

Vince liked to talk. And I must say we were very interested. He was nothing like Kevin, who was nothing like Steve, but he was interesting in his own way. We got to hear about his time as a prison warden, his motivational speeches as a soccer coast, his opinions on health cures such as hydro peroxide and mega doses of vitamin C before he embarrassingly disclosed his new “before bed habit” which had recently replaced reading. He made us try to guess and then told us he was addicted to a computer game on his phone where he had to build up a farm!

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We arrived at the turn off to Hervey bay, now in Childers. Nina and I decided to jump out and try the campgrounds advertised for backpackers as it was now dark and starting to spit with rain a little, plus it was better for the next days chances of hitching, hoping that we would make it all the way to Dulong the following morning.

Jamie & Scott

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We drudged into the campgrounds at Childers to find row upon row of dorm style accommodation full of “twenty something” fruit pickers eager to do their time in the country for an additional year on their visa. It was a sorry site, looking more like the campsite on the last day of Glastonbury Festival. We snuck into the communal kitchen to make a sandwich but there was nowhere clean to prepare it, just an Italian skinning up on the bench.

We introduced ourselves to Alex and asked if people rent a bed or a dorm or what? He shot off to the next block and returned a couple of minutes later to say he had found us a bed even though the other boys in the room weren’t too happy about it. That’s when we met the boys from England, Jamie and Scott. They were paying $173 a week for a dingy dorm bed and were wary of us kipping on their spare mattress for the night. We got chatting and were sharing stories of our trip, their fruit picking adventures and a meal before the night was over. We were up with them at 5am the next morning and as they left for work we made our way to the edge of town.

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warwick, harry & the Nun

From Childers we only had 218km to Nina’s family home in Dulong. It was ironic that we would stand waiting for the longest time in all our hitching days from England to Australia on the last leg of our journey. It was a fresh morning and we welcomed the sun on our backs as we stood for an hour grumbling at the locals who wouldn’t give us a second glance.

Warwick to the rescue! As always – it’s only a matter of time. Warwick pulled over in his big 4×4, towing a boat on route to a fishing trip on Rainbow Island with friends. They’d been planning it for months and as we drove he received calls on his mobile from friends trying to think of excuses for the girlfriends to allow them fishing. We heard all the stories about how he had a reoccurring illness and time with his mates was the best cure. Warren treated us to a coffee and homemade peanut cake then dropped us at a petrol station in Gympie.

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We stepped out of the car and Nina popped in to use the ladies. As she did a man with a nepalese style hippy hoody emerged from the gents. I ran over to Warwick’s 4×4 as I thought I’d left the camera and as I walked back across the garage forecourt the hippy guy was chatting to a Nun in Tibetan buddhist attire. I only know one monastery in the area and it’s not too far from where Nina lives. They disappeared around the corner before Nina reappeared and when she did I said “quick there’s a Nun around the corner, maybe ask them if they’re going our way” and Nina shot off to catch them.

Nina asked if we could grab a ride with them and if they were going to Chenrezig Monastery. They asked Nina how she knew where they were going. Nina looked at the Nun. They told us to hop in and off we went.

The route to the Monastery took us to a turn off 8km from Nina’s family home and by this time Nina had been in touch with her Mum Christina who was super excited to see us and eager to collect us from somewhere. The Nun made us promise never to become a conservative and Harry dropped us at Palmwoods where we waited for Christina.

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As we hopped out of Harry’s people carrier Nina was starting to well up. We had been dropped off at the National Express bus stop by my parents 17 months ago in Thetford and it was quite fitting that Nina’s Mum would be there to collect us for the last leg of our trip.

We felt so surreal. All those months of travel, all the memories, the people, the places and adventures and now we had arrived, stopped. We waited for a while and Christina arrived for our final hitch to Dulong. It was an emotional reunion.

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Thank you too all the folk who picked us up. Hitch hiking across Australia ended up being one of the highlights of our whole trip. It’s a great way to meet real people going about their normal life. We didn’t have a bad experience and actually only had good ones. Yes hitching is about saving money. It’s also about saving carbon. Most importantly though it’s about connecting with people. Maybe it’s easier as a couple as people feel less threatened but I believe it’s easy if you are open.

Every person that picked us up said that they do not usually pick up hitch hikers or that it’s the first time they picked up a hitch hiker and we feel hopeful that it won’t be the last. Since being home we have already collected hitchers and will continue to do so.

From a travel design perspective, hitchhiking, couchsurfing and the occasional bush sleep helped us to journey from Lombok in Indonesia, more than 5000km, over the course of 5 weeks, to Dulong in Queensland, for a total combined cost for accommodation and transport of $74. Who says budget travel is not possible in Australia?