Inspiring Permaculture activities

What another fantastic weekend! Chris and I have just finished a two day Serious Vegies workshop at the Alexandria Community Centre. The workshop was run by the talented crew from Milkwood Permaculture and the incredible, infectious and knowledgeable Costa Georgiadis. I can assure you, it doesn’t get much better than that!

The course was absolutely fantastic and both Chris and I have arrived home, filled with inspiration and confidence that we’ll soon be able to take our vegetable gardening to the next level. If you enjoy growing vegies but feel you’re lacking that special knowledge to really get the best from your garden, then get yourself in to the next Serious Vegies course with Milkwood Permaculture at Alexandria. You won’t regret it.

I’m going to talk more about the course later but in the meantime I want to tell you about my visit to a beautiful and very inspiring urban Permaculture garden a few weeks back.

Come with me as I take a walk through Deb’s hard crafted garden, a garden based on her very own design which uses a range of practical and functional interconnected Permaculture systems.

When I look at our two gardens, they couldn’t be any more different: ours steep, rocky and surrounded by natural vegetation; hers low gradient, clay soils with a couple of native trees yet the similarity lies in the process of planning and making a beautiful, functional and well designed garden following Permaculture principles.

Deb started her garden only two years ago and based it on a well considered designed at the completion of her PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate). This is where she carefully considered the layout and placement of components taking full advantage of the northerly aspect, low gradient, natural features and built environment. With a little bit of help from a contractor for the building work and some assistance from her local Permaculture group, Deb has produced an amazing garden with much of the great quality work done by herself.

Deb’s garden isn’t huge but the result is a well thought out, nicely spaced garden supported by a wide range of functional components and a lot of interesting food plants. But it isn’t all about food either, it’s about using and redistributing resources around the site, it’s about retrofitting the house for functionality and sustainability,  it’s about greater resilience and it’s about distributing and sharing knowledge and solutions with others.

As soon as you come into the front yard from the street, you are greeted by a lush productive vegetable garden on the right. Water is a main feature of Deb’s garden and there are several ponds, two of which are in the front yard providing habitat for predators and insects and for the capture and storage of water.

The front yard is divided by two parallel multifunctional swales built along the contour. These provide access into the gardens but also cleverly stop water from draining away too quickly.  Water is supplied to the swales in a few ways: from rainwater falling directly into them, from rain falling outside the property and flowing into them through gravity, or in the form of over flow from a clever water storage system hidden in the top corner of the garden. Either way, when the swales fill water slowly seeps into the ground wetting the roots of vegetables in the adjoining beds. Water continues to move downslope with gravity continuing it’s cycle of watering beds lower down in the system. It’s a very clever and efficient system that distributes water to quite a large area of the garden.

As you move down the driveway towards the backyard you pass another pond with garden beds either side. This area has a beautiful aesthetic quality and is an attractive feature at the main entrance to the house.

Heading into the backyard now you pass the newly built hemp-crete chicken coupe and yard on the left. The Silkie inhabitants are not only adorable but provide eggs for cooking, manure for the garden and nutrient-rich runoff directly to the garden beds below.

The backyard is quite different in appearance and functionality. It is the area known as the food forest where mainly fruit trees and perennials are grown. There are two swales in this area which run across the property providing a very efficient supply of water to the gardens.

One of the main water supplies in the back yard is provided through a clever grey water system which is gravity fed from the laundry through a stormwater pipe.  Initially water is filtered through a three metre gravel reed bed which is the first step in the decontamination process. The water slowly trickles into an adjoining reservoir where it is aerated with a solar pump purifying the water even further.

As the reservoir fills, crystal clear water trickles over the edge and is released into the adjoining swale. As in the front yard, water seeps into the ground feeding plants on the lower side of the swale.

Ponds are a prominent feature of this property and are strategically located throughout. They provide habitat, microclimates, water harvesting and storage, irrigation and beauty.

To create vertical space Deb has used a series of hardwood posts which attractively divide the garden but also provide a support for espalier fruit trees.  She is growing a variety of fruit this way including apple, pecan and apricot and I can’t wait to see them in bloom in a couple of years.

At the back of the house a large timber deck provides exceptional views over the entire back yard. The deck also serves as an extention of the house providing a beautiful undercover area to simply relax or entertain friends.

A series of potted fruits and a raised garden bed enhance the visual connection between the house and the garden and are within easy reach from the kitchen. A few potted exotics and a small pond in the centre of the deck provide additional microclimates and habitat for small insects, frogs and lizards.

Beneath the deck lies a 1200ltr water tank but a closer look under the little wooden hatch reveals a small fish hatchery with about 10 mature trout. They’ll soon be harvested and the water prepared for a summer harvest species of native Silver Perch.

The fish hatchery is one of the components of a clever aquaponics system and the nutrient rich water is pumped up and released into a large productive raised vegetable bed on the deck above.

Just in front of the tank on a small star picket is a small white box insulated with a polystyrene box. A native stingless bee hive of course housing a small productive colony of Trigona carbonaria. There was plenty of action at the hive entrance as the bees made their way to nearby flowering plants, collecting the rich spring nectar and pollen to return to the hive.

I could have spent hours dreamily wandering through Deb’s garden, totally immersed in the clever Permaculture systems and figuring how I could put some of them to use in my own garden. But a glass of wine, some lovely cheese and delightful company was waiting me on the deck. It seemed like the perfect way to finish up a magical walk through a very inspiring Permaculture garden indeed.

Before I get into the serious side of vegies, I hope you’ll join me when I take a look at getting our seedlings ready and organised for some productive spring planting.

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