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Permaculture - applying the basics with Homehill Farm

John and Jean write a blog about their property Homehill Farm in rural NSW, here's their thoughts about permaculture basics and how they apply them at their place.

Casuarina wind break
In trying to put together a post explaining how HHF has used Permaculture we found it difficult to decide how to present the information or for that matter where to start.  We went back to basics and re-examined the publications by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison i.e. Permaculture One, Permaculture Two and Permaculture A Designers' Manual. In addition, further investigation was made into other sources such as Wikipedia.

Home Hill Farm (click to expand and see the notes)
Do we go through the 12 Design Principles or do we address the core tenets? Maybe it would be better to look at how we incorporated tools such as Patterns, Layers, Guilds, Edge Effect, Zones etc?

If we did all that it would be a huge post. In the end, we decided to just look at how we compare against the generally accepted description of Permaculture and the Core Tenets; audit our work, in other words.

The best summary of Permaculture that appealed to us was from Wikipedia and is:

“Permaculture design emphasizes patterns of landscape, function, and species assemblies. It determines where these elements should be placed so they can provide maximum benefit to the local environment. The central concept of permaculture is maximizing useful connections between components and synergy of the final design. The focus of permaculture, therefore, is not on each separate element, but rather on the relationships created among elements by the way they are placed together; the whole becoming greater than the sum of its parts. Permaculture design therefore seeks to minimize waste, labor, and energy input by building systems with maximal benefits between design elements to achieve a high level of synergy. Permaculture designs evolve over time by taking into account these relationships and elements and can become extremely complex systems that produce a high density of food and materials with minimal input.”
Well the reality is we didn't buy the property because it had all the elements needed to create a Permaculture heaven and then sit down and plan the layout. We bought the property because it had a soul pleasing view, it was within reasonable travel distance of work and it was cheap.

Planting the orchard

the orchard today
 It had a crap house and the soil was non existent. Had we not been focused on relocating our possessions 150 km and settling into a new job and new community, we may have taken the opportunity to spend time planning the layout and working towards the completion of that plan. We had after all both attended a Permaculture course held by Taree TAFE only a couple of years earlier.

Instead, we had to find/build a place to house our chooks and we needed to get some vegetables planted. So we started without a plan. This was a mistake that has taken 20 years to retract and is still working against us in some areas.

We did some things correctly, but more from luck and happenstance.

• The vegetable garden was built close to the house. It could have been closer but we didn't want to block vehicle access to the garage where our belongings were being stored in boxes.

• The first temporary, and then permanent chicken run, was well placed but not incorporated into the vegetable garden.

• We discovered that living on a rocky outcrop enables every gust of wind to treble in strength. We planted a westerly wind break of fast growing Casuarinas immediately which, within a few years, created a microclimate that worked in unison with the orchard trees. On the southern side we built a lattice work walled garden for protection from the almighty southerlies and let the native forest further down the slope away from the house grow.

• The house's aspect is south easterly with a broad view over the valley. Part of the west was protected by the garage. But the exposed house suffered from the westerly sun. A pergola was built on the western side and vines planted which quickly gave relief from the Summer setting afternoon sun.

• Water would have become/ was an issue for maintaining fruit trees and vegetable gardens, and/so we acted quickly to install a 7 mega litre dam. In hindsight, before any of the trees were planted ,we should have installed swales and tried to reduce our irrigations needs.

• The roof was removed and we installed new insulation (after removing the resident rodents) including over the verandas. A massive change in Summer comfort. We still use the air conditioner but now it is just for a couple of hours at the end of a 40 plus C day to dissipate the radiant heat from the interior.

• We left the natural forest of Spotted Gums to regenerate and keep only a few cattle to keep the understory clear of heavy vegetation.

Gradually, each year, we target different areas in an endeavour to reduce waste, labour and energy. The various elements are gradually pulling together. The task remains unfinished but the systems are slowly coming together. We may never reach a point where it is possible to sit back and say “well that's all done”.

Western side of the house before the garden

Western side of the house now, just magical!

But we are having a lot of pleasure working towards that ultimate goal.

Who are John and Jean?

John and Jean are a semi retired, semi self funded and semi working couple. 

Jean, a carinvore, first taught English and History at high schools and then went on to teach Academic English at university.

John, a vegetarian, spent 30 years in computer technology.

They both now job share part time as farm labourers on a small beef cattle property near their 25 acres in the Williams Valley.

Intially interested in organic farming methods, it was easy to embraced Bio Dynamic processes and Permacutlture guidelines and are continually exploring the realm of self sufficiency by growing and making as much of their own food as possible. Apart from growing vegetables and fruits, they make cheese and other dairy products from raw milk, brew beer, make wine, cider and perry. Nothing is too mundane to try at least a couple of times, including making coffee from home grown beans.

A collection of poultry reside on Home Hill Farm including, chickens for eggs and meat, Guinea Fowl for amusement, Indian Runner ducks for entertainment and a peacock for prettiness. Two cats, one of whom works as a ratter, and three dogs, one who converses with Jean. There are three companion cattle for undergrowth control.

A belief in minimsing waste and caring for the earth and for all life forms features at HHF; this includes taking responsibilty for personal health through all forms of exercise and quality food. 

What do you think about applying permaculture to your place?  Comment over at John and Jean's blog, Adventures at Home Hill Farm.

Would you like to guest post?  Email me at eight.acres.liz at gmail dot com

My previous permie guests have been:

I'm looking forward to hearing about some more permaculture experiences!

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