Tag Archives: Food Forest

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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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 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

Patch Packdown

I’m writing this post from a blue washed rooftop in Chefchaouen, Morocco.  We arrived a week ago after a fairly hands on last week at the Patch in England.  We managed to do everything we felt we needed to do to leave it in a good place for the future.

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The Main achievement was turfing, sealing, tidying and guttering the roof and setting up the water tanks.  With the help of Dad and a few days graft we should now always have water on site to help keep the young fruit trees nourished in their early years.  Still no news on the planning application however the water tanks are essential to good harvests in years to come.  With more help this time from Mum and Nina’s tireless shit shovelling efforts we managed to sheet mulch every single tree and section of hedging that was planted last year.

Two or three soft fruits were planted around each fruit tree, and many interplanted with nitrogen-fixing shrubs, mostly, seabuckthorn berry.  We laid thick sheets of cardboard and then dumped on a good load of old horse poo and mulched around each one, joining to form islands or guilds.  Next went in comfrey root cuttings and on top we sewed a mixture of beneficial insect/bee plant seed, mineral miner seeds, herbs and basically anything we had from the seeds saved last year .  For minimum effort and a few minutes sewing we produce the possibility of plenty of beneficial plants popping up.  The alder hedge, elaeagnus hedge and the edible hedge all got heavily mulched that will hopefully kick start a growth spirt this year.

Nina put the veggy garden to bed under black plastic weighed down by tyres.  This should ensure a weed free experience when we next want to use it.  We had a general clear up and an all round nice “Bon Voyage” bonfire with Woody to mark the end of a massively productive year at the Patch.  Here’s hoping friends and family can enjoy some fresh fruit soon…

Patch Update…

Happy new year everyone!  We have not heard anything yet from the council regarding our planning application but we’re keeping our fingers crossed.  More trees arrived from Martin Crawford at the end of November and we planted the remaining food forest specimens straight away.  We also got a bunch of shrub and understory soft fruit and various other interesting bushes which we planted too.  Using cardboard we heavily sheet mulched around each tree creating small guilds and covered over with plenty of 15 year old horse poo and then green waste top dressing for mulch.  This should hopefully kill back the grass whilst providing some extra organic material to our sandy soil whilst the fruit trees are establishing.  Work on the roof continued and we’re close to finishing off now. We’ve completed the turfing and put the weather boarding around the outside. A gutter for water catchment is all that’s needed to finish off.  It’s a strange feeling putting in so much work at the patch and to be leaving it all behind but on our return to England we will have some well established fruit trees hopefully.  Best news of all is that Nina and I booked our tickets to leave England and we’ll be heading off on our first leg to Australia by bus to Morocco in 2 weeks!  From there we’ll begin to plan the rest of our journey and we’ll be doing the first of our Wwoof to Oz exchanges.

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Project Report 1

Well I feel that I have finished my first project report ready for tutor and peer review.  After starting a couple of months later than the rest of the gang I have been slightly rushed but in keeping with the 80:20 rule it’s better to get the work in than spend another 80% of my time getting 20% more work done??? I could definitely tweak my CV and will be spending some time on that in the coming days.  It’s been a little stop start as the haven of my parents house which I had to myself to start this project is now full with people and concentrating was difficult.  Plus we are now fully immersed in The Patch with the roof to finish and plenty of trees to plant, mulch and support!  Watch this space for updates on the freshly planted food forest including lots of soft fruit, sea buckthorn and comfrey going in and this week we will be finishing the roof at last!!!

Forest Gardening by Robert Hart

I’ve just finished reading this amazing and insightful book by Robert Hart.  When learning about designing a food forest I kept hearing about how not to do it like Robert Hart did which intrigued me.  Mostly people have talked about his closed canopy temperate forest garden which didn’t allow much light to the lower layers.    I say that it’s a good job somebody didn’t do it perfectly as it has allowed the rest of us to learn from his non-perfect garden.  In this book however Robert talks in depth about his philosophies and world views with great suggestions and solutions whilst referencing some great work that I had not come across before.  A must read for perma-junkies or indeed anyone interested in world changing!