Category Archives: Diploma

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

March Against Monsanto

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On May 25, people around the world will unite to March Against Monsanto.

Why?

  • Research studies have shown that Monsanto’s genetically-modified foods can lead to serious health conditions such as the development of cancer tumors, infertility and birth defects.
  • In the United States, the FDA, the agency tasked with ensuring food safety for the population, is steered by ex-Monsanto executives, and we feel that’s a questionable conflict of interests and explains the lack of government-lead research on the long-term effects of GMO products.
  • Recently, the U.S. Congress and president collectively passed the nicknamed “Monsanto Protection Act” that, among other things, bans courts from halting the sale of Monsanto’s genetically-modified seeds.
  • For too long, Monsanto has been the benefactor of corporate subsidies and political favoritism. Organic and small farmers suffer losses while Monsanto continues to forge its monopoly over the world’s food supply, including exclusive patenting rights over seeds and genetic makeup.
  • Monsanto’s GMO seeds are harmful to the environment; for example, scientists have indicated they have caused colony collapse among the world’s bee population.

What solutions do we advocate?

  • Voting with your dollar by buying organic and boycotting Monsanto-owned companies that use GMOs in their products.
  • Labeling of GMOs so that consumers can make those informed decisions easier.
  • Repealing relevant provisions of the US’s “Monsanto Protection Act.”
  • Calling for further scientific research on the health effects of GMOs.
  • Holding Monsanto executives and Monsanto-supporting politicians accountable through direct communication, grassroots journalism, social media, etc.
  • Continuing to inform the public about Monsanto’s secrets.
  • Taking to the streets to show the world and Monsanto that we won’t take these injustices quietly.

We will not stand for cronyism. We will not stand for poison. That’s why the world shall March Against Monsanto.

I send this information out to people with the hope that some of you folk can represent in our absence, as will be on Lombok island, Indonesia…

Find one of the 330 cities already participating: http://bit.ly/ZTDsk8

Or you can do some kind of online thing like we will…

by checking the link here http://on.fb.me/ZUxe3o

say no to monsanto!!!

Buses, Beaches and Bangkok

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“Stop the van”!

Yep that was me screaming! I had asked the minivan driver twice to slow down. I had asked the other passengers if they were fearful for their lives. One German guy said “it’s exciting”! The driver ignored any requests. When I noticed 160 on the speedo whilst hurtling around a recommended 60 bend it was enough for me. I was getting out. “Sorry folks, I’m done with this guy”.

Luckily the place we exited the minivan was not so far from the ferry port to Koh Chang, one of Thailand’s most easterly islands.  We explained to the bemused local who saw us jump out, that the driver was crazy. Too much M150, the super strength taurine energy drink that the Thais seem to live for. The local man said that we could take the ferry in the morning and gave us all a ride 4km to a cheap room.

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The next morning we arrived on Koh Chang. We’d promised ourselves, since Paul joined us in China, that we’d head to a beach soon, certainly before he left us to England: it took over two months (once we’d explored a bit of Laos and Cambodia on the way down). It felt even more like we deserved the break off the back of the previous day’s bus and minivan trip from the Cambodian border town of Poipet.

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Island life was great. It felt a little non productive and indulgent on one hand but totally deserved on the other. The last beach we set foot on was the long shingle shore of Batumi, Georgia, last September. I hadn’t swam in the sea since Greece and never had I swam in the Gulf of Thailand. We met with Joe. It was great to see another familiar Norfolk face so far from the sticks. The home-sickness was diluted somewhat and we had some fun times including a twin kayak expedition out to an uninhabited island for a spot of swimming.  Paul and I played a DJ gig one night in Ting-Tong, a cool little reggae venue, with wages that managed to cover our accommodation for the week. Nina danced the night away. The most I’ve seen her bop since I played in Bulgaria. Good times.

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Next stop Bangkok. Only 6 hours by bus from Koh Chang, but with the boat and transfer time it was a full day in transit. We opted for the big bus after I vowed never to take another minivan. Like the other sheep, we were herded on and off vehicles along the well trodden paths of the pancake trail, little stickers attached to show our booking agent and our destination. We were dropped in the famous Khao San Road area of Bangkok. Accommodation was easy to find and super cheap at £2pppn. Here we would spend more than a week of which Joe would be around for a couple of days, Paul’s last 4 days and then just Nina and I for a few more.

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Excluding the suffocating heat and humidity we loved Bangkok! With Joe we explored the huge flower market and did the Chinatown food foot tour. We checked out the giant Buddha at the famous Wat Pho with Paul. We took to the river in the morning, the parks in the evening and the streets at night, mostly looking for Bangkok’s best street food. We were not disappointed. Thailand’s best Pad Thai? Octopus with fat rice noodles. Satay skewers to die for! Real coffee, fresh juices, sweet treats, chilli, river fish, fruit, greens… the list goes on. Keep checking Nina’s blog as I’m sure she’ll be writing about the food of Bangkok…

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It was sad to see Paul off in Bangkok. I’m not sure when we will next meet. The homesickness kicked in once more and thoughts of him seeing my family a couple of days from departure was quite heart-wrenching. “Give them a squeeze from me mate”.

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We booked ourselves onto a bus north to check out some permaculture projects. I felt and feel pretty disconnected from the inspirational projects, people and general world of permaculture. Although this journey is a permie one, I have been sidetracked. Panya Project, Rak Tamachat and many more interesting demonstration sites are in northern Thailand. Unfortunately soon after we’d booked our bus tickets it was budget check-in time. It’s no surprise that although we have mostly remained on budget, as we head into our 15th month on the road, things are tight. We took the decision to compromise a trip north. We detoured once before, heading up to Romania, but that was for a paid teaching position that justified the extra loop. This time is different. We decided that we have a very unclear time ahead of us and so we should move more directly towards Australia.

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So we find ourselves in Phuket, another overnight bus trip south. Here there are 3 major Marinas. We have put together some posters and will advertise ourselves as volunteer crew for any boats, yachts or ships heading south towards Malaysia, Indonesia or Australia. We spent the last two days on a moped in and about the Marinas and Yacht clubs pinning up posters, chatting to potential skippers and getting the general lowdown on boat hitching a ride. From here boats stop in Langkawi, Malaysia and so we may well travel there by bus soon, connecting ports and marinas along the way. There are Wwoof hosts and Permcaulture projects on route so we’re back to a game of dot-to-dot, similar to our european leg. Wish us luck!

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Check out Nina’s blog here

Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang

The Patch – Remote Permaculture Maintenance

Greetings from a far

One of our big concerns once our food forest was planted, and knowing that we would be leaving the country for an unknown amount of years, was how would our little fruit trees and bushes survive the encroaching grass, blackthorn and volunteer plants.

We had no idea at the time. There was no design element that we could think of, other than expensive, non natural sheet mulching techniques. We didn’t give that a second thought. Here’s where I believe design can happen organically, not necessarily at the offset, but when an idea comes to mind due to necessity.

Winter was fast encroaching and so was my 35th birthday. I am in China. I thought everyday about how our mulberry, cherries, apples, pears and sea buckthorn berries needed tucking in for winter. A cosy, thick bed of mulch to keep them roots warm and stave of the early grass growth of 2013.

I plucked up the courage and boldly requested my family to help with the “M” of OBREDIM – Maintenance. “If we can get a farmer to drop off 20 big bales of straw I’m sure it can be done in a half day” I asked squeamishly. Mum was keen and she asked that I email through some detailed instructions…

On my birthday, December 17th, I woke in China to check my emails. Not only had Mum written a great account of their “beautiful day” at the Patch but Clare had attached a whole photo album of the proceedings. We were so happy to see that the food forest had been mulched but more importantly Mum, Dad, Clare, Ethan and Phoebe confessed that they had had a really fun and enjoyable day.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR ENTHUSIASM TOWARDS OUR ONGOING PROJECT AT THE PATCH. PLEASE FILL YOUR BOOTS WITH FRUIT IN 2013

The Family on there way...

The Family on their way…

Clare checking out the walnut

Clare checking out the walnut

Ethan on the pile of bales

Ethan on the pile of bales

Keen niece and nephew

Keen niece and nephew

Greetings from a far

Greetings from a far

Couldn't ask for a better birthday present

Couldn’t ask for a better birthday present

Dad handing out instructions

Dad handing out instructions

Phoebe loads a bales

Phoebe loads a bale

Relaxing in the sun

Relaxing in the sun

They're on it now!

They’re on it now!

Mum shifts the bales around

Mum shifts the bales around

A beautiful day at the Patch

A beautiful day at the Patch

Tea break

Tea break

Hot elderberry cordial

Hot elderberry cordial

Birthday message

Birthday message

Bit of maintenance on the tanks

Bit of maintenance on the tanks

A well earned rest

A well earned rest

Mulch it!!!

Mulch it!!!

Nice and thick!

Nice and thick!

A winter bed...

A winter bed…

Mum mulches the native hedge

Mum mulches the native hedge

In full mucling swing...

In full mulching swing…

Clare looks satisfied

Clare looks satisfied

Spread it about!

Spread it about!

Perfect job

Perfect job

Native hedge mulched

Native hedge mulched

Ethan relaxes (in mulch)

Ethan relaxes (in mulch)

Phoebe joins him

Phoebe joins him

Beauitful

Beauitful

Nearly done..

Nearly done..

Perfect, thank you so so much

Perfect, thank you so so much

China DJs

B2B

B2B

I arrived with Nina in Dali a month ago. It was clear when we did our last budget check-in that we had overspent a bit getting here. We decided that we could only stay in China if there was a way to sustain ourselves. We had also heard that DJs from London get paid pretty well here. The London Underground Tour of China was born.

London Underground Tour

London Underground Tour

I played a couple of paid gigs here in Dali at the Bad Monkey. The days in between have been mostly spent preparing a bio to present to clubs and venues, artwork for flyers and posters, recording mixes and burning CD’s, both for promotion and to sell. Now that Paul has arrived we have contacted many clubs and venues and arranged a bunch of dates over the coming busy period of Christmas and New Year.

3 to choose from

3 to choose from

Unfortunately there are only two of the crew here but it feels nice to spread the Slackbanta vibe into the Middle Kingdom and hopefully onto South East Asia. Here’s the dates so far;

24/12 PRIVATE PARTY, DALI
24/12 BAD MONKEY, DALI
25/12 BAD MONKEY, DALI
28/12 THE MASK, KUNMING
29/12 TBC. KUNMING
31/12 DRAGONFLY, CAICUN
01/01 DRAGONFLY, CAICUN
02/01 THE CLUB (TBC), KUNMING
04/01 THE SHELTER (TBC), KUNMING
12/01 THE CAMEL, KUNMING

And here’s one of my more chilled out mixes…

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The Redeye Express

Another stop

We’d crossed the border into the north west of China after a 22 hour overnight sleeper bus which was quite pleasant. However all we wanted now was a train ride, you get a bit more space and it’s generally a more comfortable ride than the buses. I stared up at the display board in the main train station. It didn’t take much deciphering to realise there were no seats or beds on any train heading south. It was a muslim holiday and everything was booked for 5 days ahead.

Another sleeper bus seemed the only other option for the 2900km journey south. We scouted around for a bus and after trying a couple of different stations in opposite sides of the city we were finally sold a ticket for a sleeper bus and told the journey would take 26 hours. We went for some food, pumped water through our filter and boarded the bus a few hours later. There were no beds on the bus and there was no way to take back our tickets. We wanted to head south and this was our only option. A translation from another passenger hinted at 38 hours and after sitting for 2 hours in the station we hit the road, bitter that we’d been lied to, bouncing in our unfixed seats above the back axle of a very ropey looking bus!

The most arduous, weirdest, smokiest, longest and coldest journey of our overland trip was underway. Within a few hours we were driving across the desert in a sand storm. Everyone looked a little scared as the bus was thrown around, creeping forward when visibility allowed. We soon had to pull over and for some reason once the passengers got out the driver locked the door leaving us all to avoid the sheets of metal being blown around outside, covering our faces and huddling together. We still don’t know why he wouldn’t let us back on the bus???

No sooner had we got going again we were stopped. This time for 5 or 6 hours. Next came the snow storm and the frozen highway. It was becoming clear that however long this journey was supposed to take, we should double it and add on an extra few hundred hours. The no smoking rules had been chucked out the window, and outside it was too cold to open them to let the smog clear, Nina’s feet were swelling as we’d been sitting so long. One ten hour delay seemed to melt into another…

We started counting the hours between broken sleep.

“Hey guys we’re coming up to our 48 hour mark”

It was Sam’s birthday and we spent the whole day and night in a traffic jam watching the local’s eat chickens feet whilst we went hungary, hoping we would soon get going again and stop somewhere for food. The spitting continued all around us, a quick go on the ipod every few hours helped to forget where we were. If only there was something interesting to look at out of the window, but it was bleak.

On day three we started to enter into landscape with people and houses and later that day we were driving through Sichuan with high pastures, tibetan cowboys on horseback, yaks and traditional houses. We were delirious by now and kind of settled into the journey.

We arrived in Chengdu on the forth day morning, 83 hours after boarding the bus in Urumqi. It was hard to feel anything but delirious. Sleep was slim pickings since the first night but we’d made it and we can probably thank the other passengers for their contentment. It must have rubbed off on us.

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Read more about the journey on Nina’s blog – proverbial chicken’s foot: a bus ride from Urumqi to Chengdu

Farewell Kazakhstan…

When we finally walked from the embassy with our China visa in hand we’d been in Astana for 13 days. Some would say that’s an unlucky number and we never planned to be in the bland and sterile capital so long but we had been very fortunate. In our final opportunity to acquire a visa for China we managed it independently – travel forums had suggested it was not possible but we persevered and with the kind hospitality of our adopted Russian/Kazakh family our stay was extremely pleasant.

They took us in when our strange landlady turfed us out. We were treated to cooking lessons of all the Russian and Kazakh recipes they knew and on our last weekend we did a spot of fishing. Whilst I showed Sam the basics of lure fishing with a spinner Andrey had his own way. He donned a scuba suit and strapped on a harpoon! Half and hour later he emerged from the near frozen broad like a Mad Max swamp hunter with a bunch of pike hanging from his waist. Definitely a more efficient way of doing things. Sam and I stood gobsmacked still trying to untangle a knot from the reel whilst Andrey was supping warm tea preparing to descale the fish.

We devoured them, gently fried with onions, later that evening before the family served up the Kazakh speciality, Beshbarmak. It was our last evening with Andrey, Anna and the boys and they were not going to let us leave without eating horses arse! Yep, literally. We’d accompanied Andrey to the market a couple of days before and after tasting fermented mares milk he marched us around to his favourite meat lady. He picked a monster horse sausage and also a funny tubular piece of meat which he explained he would have to cook separately as not to taint the flavour of the other cuts. It wasn’t until the meat had been boiling for 3 hours and the whole house stunk that I asked what part of the horse it was… the answer explained the very strong smell, the nearly inedible taste but apparently desirable choice cut…Horses arse!

The next morning we dropped the kids at kindergarden and Andrey and Anna took us all to the train station for our 20 hours overnighter to Almaty – origin of the famous apple.

We had hoped that the majority of our time in Kazakhstan would be spent in the wild apple forests of the Tien Shan mountains bordering China and Kyrgyzstan collecting seed of the father of all apples to disperse to our friends in various parts of the world, doing our part to save the genetic diversity of the worlds most eaten fruit. Easy to say all that when you didn’t do it. To my disappointment by the time we arrived in Almaty, because of our China visa hold up, we had only one day before our Kazakh visa expired and so immediately boarded an overnight sleeper bus into the the north west of China…So long malus sieversii. Farewell Kazakhstan…

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Overland Travel Check-in

This week Nina and I completed our monthly travel check-in here in Astana. We departed England back in January and on the 23rd of each month we try to complete our check-in. An important part of permaculture design is to accept and respond to feedback. For a land-based design this involves observation of your garden or farm and making changes to things that can be improved to benefit the whole system. It’s no different with our travel design really, just that our tweaks may be behavioural or logistical…

We use the four questions taken from my diploma guild meetings and talk to one another for a short time whilst the listener scribes some notes to refer back to. It’s very important that the listener does not respond, we call this active listening, so that the talker gets the opportunity to voice all their thoughts. Here are the four questions;

What’s going well for you?

What are you finding challenging?

What are your next achievable steps?

What are your long term visions?

Answering these questions really helps to celebrate great times, grumble about what’s getting you down, understand some actions to get the next thing done and also dream about the future. It sounds a bit geeky but we find it’s been a very valuable part of our overland trip.

We also tagged on another element to our check-in which involves understanding whether one another’s needs are being met. We have a big list of our needs and ask each other if we feel they’re being fulfilled. If the answer is “no” then we may give a suggested tweak to make sure that need is met going forward. Some of our needs are… music, nature, solitude, spontaneity, warmth, community, intimacy and the list goes on….

So it’s 9 months since we left England. Geographically we are around half way to Australia. We have spent time in Morocco, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Georgia, Russia and now Kazakhstan. I feel it’s a good time to refer back to the goals we set out in our travel design. Are we walking the talk? Are we doing what we set out to do? This is another important part of permaculture design. Observe and interact. Accept and respond to feedback…

Our goals as set out in January…

  • to get to Australia in the most environmentally responsible way – well we could walk or cycle but we never really considered that option. So far we have taken buses, boats, trains and hitch-hiked along the way. On arrival in Australia we will calculate our carbon footprint and sequester it using new techniques we have learnt.
  • to have fun, enjoy the experience and remain healthy – there is absolutely no way that this journey cannot be an enjoyable one. There have been challenges but every day is a new and exciting experience.
  • to learn about other cultures and people’s way of life – living with families and working on farms in different countries is helping us gain a greater understanding of this.
  • to gain new practical skills and traditional understandings – building in Morocco and teaching on a PDC in Romania have been my practical highlights. Communicating with no local language is also a great new skill that I’m enjoying.
  • to use skills and resources as a gift or exchange – help in the gardens of our hosts and swapping seeds along the way is a great way to remember the people we have met so far.
  • to engineer opportunities to incorporate my diploma – this is certainly one of the more challenging goals but so far I have made designs in Spain and Italy with more work to follow in China
  • to express creativity – playing at the Beglika Festival in Bulgaria was fantastic and having the time to experiment with music and writing is a real privilege.
  • to Wwoof in each country we pass through – we didn’t manage it in the countries that we transited through but have in all the rest, learning new skills and making new friends.
  • to connect with wilderness and natural surroundings – Greece has certainly been my wilderness highlight – trekking through the Vikos Gorge was spectacular.
  • to inform and report on important and interesting topics – hopefully my blog is doing that and I also like to add useful info to the Lonely Planet travel forum to help others along the way.
  • to remain within our allocated funds – it’s a squeeze doing this journey on such a shoestring budget but we are just about on budget. Couch-surfing and hitch-hiking have been essential for that.
  • to spend some time with friends and family – one day with my parents in Venice, the PDC in Romania, travelling with Sam and meeting folk in China…
  • to support one another, honour ourselves and harmonise our needs – I feel this is the most important goal and one that so far is making the journey a full and rich experience.

I am thankful that I was introduced to these processes through my permaculture tutor, the PDC’s that I have attended and the co-creation of this life with Nina.

Heading East


I write from a shared room in Batumi, Georgia after crossing through 4 countries in 4 days with our new recruit – Sam. After veering north into Romania, a slight diversion to our projected route to Australia but well worth the detour, stacking functions with DJ sets at the festival in Bulgaria and our first permaculture teaching experience, we are back on track and more east than we have been so far.

I think we proved that travel can be cheap(ish). I’m not sure what it would have cost to fly from Romania to Georgia but we certainly managed it on a shoe string; Beclean to Bucharest on the overnight train (no bed) for £15. We killed a few hours in Bucharest then hopped on an overnight bus to Istanbul for £28.60. Not much sleep on that one and a strange sense of being persecuted for being smelly! Enough time in Istanbul to stock up on dried fruit and lukumi before departing to Ankara on a five hour bus ride – £8.50. We learnt a good lesson in Ankara and made our train by a matter of minutes. We boarded the Dogu Express for a 22 hour journey along the Euphrates river at 7pm two days ago – £16.00. Our last night in Turkey welcomed a full on slap up meal – tastey – before bus, bus, minibuses all the way to Georgia!!! £13.70.

So all in all our 4 day, 2538km journey cost a total of £71.70. Not sure if a flight would be cheaper but we have had a great time so far. Georgia has been kind on entry and the food is fantastic…

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