Permaculture journey

Our home, “Sunshine Cottage” is located in the village of Taylors Arm, NSW surrounded by trees, fields, hills amidst the subtropical Nambucca Valley landscape. A 1930’s dwelling on a fully fenced 822 sqm [close enough to the typical Australian dream quarter acre block], it enables us to enjoy the surrounding rural environment without having to afford maintain a large property.

The property and house are oriented primarily to the north and east. Established vegetation includes grassed areas, a mixture of mature trees, flowering shrubs, climbers and plants which are bird, bee and butterfly attracting. Our water supply comes only from rainwater collected from our roofs. Greywater is recycled to the garden. Our blackwater goes into an onsite septic system.

My husband and myself have owned the property since 2005, continuing the work he started in 2002 when he purchased it as a knockdown but instead decided to renovate the 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom, fibro house with its 10 foot ceilings and wide sunny verandah. The interior is old-style with small rooms connected by a hallway, and fitted with carpets, blinds and curtains; basic but energy efficient and comfortable for the two of us, our dog and visitors.

In the early days we got a new corrugated iron roof courtesy of a mini-tornado and subsequent insurance claim, and with a view to our future utility installed 2 whirlybird extractors on the main roof, ceiling insulation, 3 ceiling fans, a combustion wood heater, gas stove, commercial stainless steel kitchen sink and bench, window awnings, and erected a lock up garage and carport.

During the decade we worked in the city to pay off the mortgage, we spent the majority of public holiday weekends and our vacation time here making improvements and doing maintenance. At the end of 2015 we downshifted from fulltime employment and a rented apartment in Sydney, to reside here permanently and begin working on our dream of living simply and creatively.

Since then we’ve added additional rainwater tanks [increasing household-use water storage to 36000 litres/8000 imperial gallons/9500 US gallons], another whirlybird extractor to the skillion roof, a glasshouse-garden shed, composting areas, brick paths, ag lines and rubble drains, laundry & kitchen greywater diversion to the garden, more trees and plants, a caged garden area with raised beds for growing edibles, and re-stumped the house.

In April 2017 we began sharing a dozen laying hens and one rooster with our neighbour who has a chicken coop in her yard. Over time numbers fluctuated and although we added four new hens in 2020, egg numbers dwindled to the point in October 2021 where we decided to have a break for a while although our neighbour is keeping on the remaining few as pets, and rethink it. In the meantime we support local egg producers like Yamstick Farm. From time-to-time, to supplement our own, we utilise a small vegetable garden bed and rainwater tank in the yard of another neighbour, as well being part of a wider community.

The property’s challenges involve troubleshooting infrastructure legacies left by previous owners, limited space, limited water, poor native soil, and the usual gardener’s lament of insect pests and invasive weeds. Our own, aged mid 50’s and 60’s… are health and financial constraints.

Our strengths are our love of old and secondhand, ability and passion for reusing, recycling, upcycling, foraging, trading, salvaging, repairing, building, making, growing… as well as patience, persistence and pragmatism. When we need to buy new we do it thoughtfully.

From 2017 to 2019 I studied Horticulture at TafeNSW in Coffs Harbour. During 2019 I discovered permaculture and wonderfully, that it complemented our approach to life. In 2020 I completed Certificate IV Permaculture via TafeNSW National Environment Centre distance education, site analysis, urban permaculture design and plan for the property which we are implementing and/or adapting as we go. 

During 2020, to kick off the five year plan: we made 11 wicking bed-lasagne garden planters; installed a 1100 litre rainwater tank dedicated for garden use, which catches water off the glasshouse-garden shed’s clear polycarbonate roof. The tank is elevated on a tank stand fitted with a sink which drains into a bucket so the water can be recycled onto the garden. So far in 2021, we’ve had a solar PV system connected, expanded garden beds, created more usable productive areas, increased our composting capacity, and planted fruit trees & roses.

As well, in response to an extensive rain event during March 2021 and ensuing pervasive mould throughout the house and its contents, we extended the ag line and rubble drain system to further divert excess water groundwater away from the house and installed 3 additional ceiling fans to promote air circulation indoors.

@November 2021.

“One of the most important things about permaculture is that it is founded on a series of principles that can be applied to any circumstance—agriculture, urban design, or the art of living.
The core of the principles is the working relationships and connections between all things.”
― Juliana Birnbaum Fox, Sustainable Revolution: Permaculture in Ecovillages, Urban Farms, and Communities Worldwide

For more: click on permaculture, permaculture ethics and permaculture principles in the Tags section; or the posts below.

On my bookshelf…

Dig, Meredith Kirton

Garden Pests, Diseases & Good Bugs, Denis Crawford

Retrosuburbia, David Holmgren

The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency, John Seymour

The Little Veggie Patch Co’s guide to Backyard Farming, Fabian Copamolla and Mat Pember

The Permaculture Home Garden, Linda Woodrow

The Weed Forager’s Handbook, Adam Grubb & Annie Raser-Rowland

The Wondrous World of Weeds, Pat Collins

What Garden Pest or Disease is That, Judy McMaugh

Guidebooks on weeds, native plants and regeneration, available from local Landcare offices.

Other interesting treechange-downshifting books…

Art, Life, Chooks: Learning to Leave the City and Love the Country, Annette Hughes

Choosing Eden, Adrienne Langman

Going Half the Hog: A Hobby Farm in Tasmania, Nick Flittner

Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Called Helga: A not-so-perfect tree change, Todd Alexander

You’ve Got To Be Kidding: a shedload of wine & a farm full of goats, Todd Alexander