Working Harder Than Ever

Again, it’s been a long time between posts, hasn’t it? I’m not very good at this. But I am sure you’ll forgive me.

It was about this time last year that I started talking about dropping out – buying land, establishing an off-grid haven, and living simply and more deliberately. Work was evil, I said. And here I am, the middle of 2014, working harder (well, I like to think smarter too) than ever before. But you know what, I’m actually quite enjoying most of it.

In recent months, I dropped down to 3-days a week at the day job. The decision was made for three reasons: 1. my sanity; 2. it helped my employer retain me for another 6-12 months, as their budgets tighten – I am now cheaper than before; and 3. it frees up time to work on other things. This day job, for the time being, is vital. It allows me to pay the bills. I am still in the urban (a couple of kms out of the city) and pay rent to boot. However, I enjoy this house and the land and the area – so my sanity is further enabled.

I work Monday to Friday at the day job, which is bearable, and then I have 4 days to do other things. Including, working on Pip Magazine, growing my small business, and generally drinking coffee, talking walks, napping, reading, hiking, cycling – all those fun things. I don’t think I could ever go back to the 9-5, Monday to Friday, after experiencing this…

In other news, I have been hard at work in the garden – here in Adelaide. The ‘earth works’ I did early on, when we first moved, has paid off and over the past month or two we have been harvesting silverbeet, kale, several varieties of lettuce, radish, coriander, parsley, sage, dill, thyme, and spring onions. Oh, and the mandarin and lemon trees have been very generous.

I haven’t been up to the block for at least 8 weeks. I’m a bit disappointed in myself for not spending time up there. I am unlikely to spend too much time up there during the warmer months – because it’ll be damn hot. So I must squeeze in a few visits before it warms up too much. To slash the green manure crop. To ensure the irrigation system is working correctly. And to burn off all the dead Mallee I knocked over last time.

The Interwebs for Off-Gridders

I just read a post on Reddit promoting an off-grid festival in the UK. Many commenters siezed the opportunity to ridicule the irony. Posting about an off-grid event using the grid (the internet)? I don’t think there is an irony at all and responded:

“I sympathise with the idea off-gridness. Mostly because I don’t subscribe to the idea that the best way to deliver utilities is via the grid. Telecommunications, including the internet, necessarily depends on networking – on the grid as a conduit to share data. Just as our words (and ability to convey them) do when sharing information on a smaller scale – perhaps in the same room, with a friend. Do we need the grid to deliver electricity? In some situations, perhaps. But certainly not in all, or most. I own a small bush block in rural Australia. To connect to the grid (sewage and electricity, I do have access to a community bore for non-potable water) would cost me several thousand dollars (in actual fact it probably costs a lot more, it’s just city folk would be subsidising me). For the same money I can get a good solar system with battery bank and install a greywater management system.”


I get quizzed all the time about internet access and mobile phone coverage. But the thing is, I don’t even aspire to being off-grid. I just choose to be off-grid where it is most sensible – from an environmental and economical point-of-view. To follow off-gridness to its logical conclusion would mean that we would even use roads. Roads are part of the grid. They allow the movement of people and goods the same way telecommunications allow the sharing of data. 


On Locavorism

I just read an analysis of locavorism on an unexpected website, The American Conservative. One of the comments, by Escher, reads:

“With most people working crazy hours just to get by, locavorism may unfortunately stay the preserve of the upper and upper middle classes, who have the time and money to source high quality local produce…”

I have heard this argument time and time again. In response to veganism, homecooking, seasonality, organics… This ought not be the case at all. Locavorism – and other ideas and concepts – is about encouraging Joe and Jenny Bloggs to give a crap about food. How did the thing so central to our lives get pushed to the back, and endless toil and TV to the fore? No wonder we’re so fat, lazy and celebrity- and tabloid-obsessed.

Observation and Zone Planning: Avoiding the Muddy Trudge to the Back of the Garden

I was quick to start digging soil at my new place. Perhaps this was at the expense of more considered observation. However, time was not on my side – I wanted to get a winter crop in and make the yard look a little more presentable. One factor I was very observant of, though, was solar access. My kitchen garden had to be in a sunny part of the yard. So I spent a week or so monitoring the suns movement through the sky – tricky when you’re at work at day – to determine in which part of the yard I would concentrate my planting. Initially, I was thinking quite close to the house. However, it soon became evident that there wouldn’t be enough sun. Scrap that. Instead, the area I selected was right up against the back fence – as far from the backdoor as you can get.

As I won’t have to do much watering during the short days of winter this will not pose any problems. Any maintenance can be done at the weekends – for there isn’t enough daylight for me to spend much time working on the garden during the week. And come spring, the days will be longer and it will be a more pleasant place to be later in the day.

But what about herbs? I have planted a few varieties in the main beds. They’re doing really well. However, what are the chances of me trudging through the mud at 6pm on a Wednesday night to harvest chives to enhance the evening meal? Very slim indeed. Bland omelettes it will be. Or will it?

This scenario illustrates the logic behind zone planning. Zone planning, according to Mollison “means placing elements according to how much we use them or how often we need to service them” (Mollison, 2011). Well my kitchen garden satisfies that. I need to access it about as much as it needs me to pay it attention. In most situations, the kitchen garden is situated in Zone 2/3. The house – the centre of activity – is Zone 0. Which means there is a Zone 1 somewhere. Perhaps this is where my herbs can go? Mollison says yes. “Zone 1 is close to the house. It is the most controlled and intensively-used area and can contain the garden, workshops, greenhouse and propagation frames…” Deep Green Permaculture is more specific: “Elements that are located in this zone include all the things that you need to access most often, or that need the most frequent attention, such as… a kitchen garden to provide vegetables and salad greens which have a short growing season (time from planting to harvest) and herbs for teas and culinary use…”

But how am I going to locate my herbs in Zone 1 if there is insufficient sun? I put my observation goggles on…

Turns out, just to the right of the backdoor, behind the laundry, the area in front of the rainwater tank gets several hours of sun a day. It is also a nice little microclimate due to the sun heating up the metal of the rainwater tank which then radiates onto the concrete before it. A perfect place for herbs. But in pots they will have to go.

Next on my list was compost. At the moment I am relying on the trench composting method – dig a hole or trench and bury your scraps. This is helping me build soil in an area I intend to expand the kitchen garden come springtime. But again, this isn’t ideal. The area I have been ‘trenching’ is right up the back too. So I don’t take out the compost every day. Much to the annoyance of my partner. But it’s cold and wet and muddy…

Having a regular compost heap or bin in Zone 1 wouldn’t be ideal. So a worm farm is the answer. Deep Green Permaculture is with me on this. Worm farms are a more agreeable method of composting kitchen scraps in Zone 1, especially if the area also acts as your outdoor entertainment area as it does for me, for they are clean, relatively odourless, compact and, dare I say, novel. So they can easily be placed at or near the backdoor. Encouraging you to use it often rather than letting your kitchen tidy bin or bucket become smelly. So that’s the next thing on my list to make – a worm farm.

Until then, some photos of the progress:

Zone 2/3 - Kitchen Garden

This is the brassica bed. Loads of winter veg with some lettuce and silverbeet growing strong. And some radish starting to germinate.

The beginning of my little Zone 1 herb garden. Pots have been chosen for obvious reason - it's concrete. However, this is the right response to my observations. For the alternative would have been to place the herbs in a section of garden bed that simply doesn't get enough sun.

The beginning of my little Zone 1 herb garden. Pots have been chosen for obvious reason – it’s concrete. However, this is the right response to my observations. For the alternative would have been to place the herbs in a section of garden bed that simply doesn’t get enough sun.

Mollison, B. & Slay, R. M. (2011). “Introduction to Permaculture” (Second Ed.). Tagari Publications, Sisters Creek, Tasmania.

Update – Working, Moving, Digging, and Planting.

Hi. I’m Paul. Nice to meet you again. Does it feel a bit like that for you? It does for me. Sorry about my extended absence. Though, I did duck in last week and shared a piece I wrote some time back about CERES in Melbourne and the launch of Pip Magazine.

So what’s been happening? Well, work dominates my day. The middle bit of the day sees me don business attire and work in a somewhat-geeky IT environment as a Project Officer. The day is spent fielding software issues and feature requests, training users, writing documentation, and trying to change the organisation for the better. Well, we think so.

Lately, my lunch breaks (and much time before and after my day job) is spent trying to bring onboard new supporters for Pip Magazine – if you know any businesses that might want to advertise in our fine periodical, let me know – and introducing new readers. A round about way of saying, managing the advertising and marketing.

Then, some days, I have a clean of two to do in the evening. Bookwork. Payroll. Customer service. All for my business.

Times have been hectic as you can imagine.

Oh, and we moved house. Oh, and I try to get up to the block every few weeks. “How’s that going?” you ask? Very well. The fruit trees we planted are looking healthy. The green manure germinated well. Last time I was up there, a weeks ago, I knocked over a couple of dead Mallees. Which opened up the whole south western corner and has provided ample room to place a shipping container or caravan.

“So you moved house? Tell me more” you’re wondering? (Well, I suppose.) The lease on our old place was coming to an end. We wanted something a bit more suited to our needs. We wanted something with a bit of a yard. So we rented a house, a suburb away from the old unit, for not much more money. The yard is big. The house is big. It’s much more homely than the other place. I like it here.

You see, I have resigned myself to staying on in Adelaide for a bit. I have managed to negotiate my work down to 3 days a week (pending approval) which is exactly what I need at this stage. I will still have a steady income. I will have time left to work on other projects. I will have time to be idle. Something I feel I haven’t a second for at the moment.

We’ll see.

This weekend I spent in the garden at the new place. The backyard, when we moved her, was a jungle. Couch grass growing in every corner. Mint where the couch grass was not. Nasturtium where the mint and couch grass hadn’t taken over. And miscellaneous other stuff. Lots of hefty agapanthus in the choice sunny spots.

So I slashed some of it and dug up the rest. We now have two small garden beds, of about 5-or-6-square-metres all up, in which to grow food. That’s in addition to the mandarin, peach, olive, fig, and lemon tree that were already here. The soil is delightful. Rich, brown, full of worms. To make it that little more decedent I dug in some well-rotted cow manure and compost. Today I planted a veritable mix of winter veg:

– Several varieties of silverbeet;
– Mixed lettuce;
– Tuscan black kale;
– Savoy cabbage;
– Snowball cabbage;
– Romanesco broccoli; And
– A heap of leftover curly parsley, coriander and spring onions (I have most success with these when grown from the stumps).

To be sure, I am exhausted, sore, but content. Back to all the work tomorrow.

UPDATE: Below, some photos:

photo 1 (1)photo 2 (1) photo 3photo 4

CERES Harvest Festival and the Pip Magazine Launch

Yup. I am still alive. Sorry about the neglect. Life has been busy. I’ve been juggling lots of projects and have lots of things to share…in the coming weeks. For now, a piece I wrote a few months back but haven’t published. As some of you know, I took on a role as Marketing Manager with Pip Magazine – a new Australian permaculture publication. Back in March it was our official launch at CERES in Melbourne. Here is my little write up:

The train twisted and turned through the heavily industrialised inner-west of Melbourne. The landscape grew taller and taller and the air became thicker with pollution. Shipping containers stacked six high, feedlots teaming with cattle destined for export to Asia, overhead wires everywhere; this is what population growth and affluence has brought us. The containers – destined to move stuff from one part of the globe to another. The pollution – a consequence of this activity. The overhead wires – keeping us connected, with electricity and telecommunications, for we are now so dispersed. The cattle – a proceed of a heavily globalised world and the developing east, raised on land that hasn’t Australia’s food sovereignty at heart.

I chose to travel from Adelaide to Melbourne by train in an attempt to enjoy a slower and smaller form of transportation. Yes, the journey is much longer than air travel. But I saw something in that. The journey gave me the opportunity to read and relax; to drop-out. Something, in the go-go-go world, that requires a bit of isolation to devote one’s self to completely. The journey also presented me with an opportunity for considered observation. Of people, of the countryside, of the industrialised grease-traps that our cities have become.

But there is hope, you know? A 20 minute tram trip from Melbourne CBD, on the banks of Merri Creek, sits the Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies (CERES). CERES is a vision in permaculture. Formally a landfill site, CERES is now a lush and productive 4 hectares, demonstrating to the like-minded and curious alike, what a more sustainable world could look like. Large solar panel arrays and wind turbines, known as Energy Park, dominate the sky at the entrance. There’s a visitors and learning centre. A organic market that oozes the charm of a historic town square, selling in-season produce, some of which was grown in Honey Lane Market Garden, which it overlooks. There are private allotments for those that want to grow their own but mightn’t have the room at home. A village green that is used for talks and concerts. The brilliant CERES Organic Cafe, serving up beautiful food and really (really!) good coffee. And a myriad of buildings, built from natural materials and creative reusing what has already been produced. CERES really is the sort of place you could lose yourself for a day.

Last weekend CERES hosted its annual Harvest Festival their “biggest and best festival of the year: a little slice of country in the heart of the city”. It also marked the launch of our little contribution to permaculture, Pip Magazine. At 11am, Editor of Pip Magazine, Robyn Rosenfeldt took to the village green with co-originator of permaculture, David Holmgren, and author of The Holistic Life: Sustainability Through Permaculture, Ian Lillington. It’s been fourteen years since Australia had its own permaculture magazine, Permaculture International Journal, for which Lillington use to write, and Pip comes at the right time. A time when the world is in need of drastic change. Change that is starting in our little community. Holmgren is convinced that the grassroots is where the change needs to start. For a little push away from the status quo could have far-reaching and significant consequences as to how we head into the next century. Rosenfeldt emphasises the purpose of Pip: it’s a magazine produced by the community, for the community.

Harvest Festival saw breathtakingly diverse crowd of people converge on a small slice of Melbourne. Business people in suits, families with prams and whinging toddlers, hippies with tall heads of dreadlocks, hipsters sipping on green smoothies, people of countless nationalities; young people, old people, rich people, poor people. People. That’s what Harvest Festival is about. People. People and how they interact with the natural environment. Importantly, how people can interact with the natural environment but have the most positive, and littlest, impact upon it. The food was overwhelmingly simple and organic and healthy. The music, rich with meaning. The banter: of things that matter.

Harvest Festival was a really big deal for Pip Magazine. It was not only an opportunity to symbolise a launch, but an opportunity to meet the community who will be filling its pages over the years to come. Also, it was an opportunity to get some copies in the hot little hands of those that dropped by the stall. And for that, we are very grateful.

So, does permaculture and Pip have the ability to turn those wastelands I saw on the train trip in, into thriving utopias of diversity and abundance? Absolutely, let’s make that the goal.”

Crowdfunding: RipeNear.Me and Madelaine’s Organic Eggs

I’m in awe of crowdfunding. For those that don’t know what it is, it’s where many people come together and pledge small amounts of money to fund a much larger goal. The campaign might be to start a small business, a community group or garden, buy a piece of equipment, for someone’s medical operation they can’t afford, maybe even to help somebody pay their bills.

I helped birth a few Australian magazine, Pip Magazine, using crowdfunding. We had a goal of $9,500, which we needed to help print the first issue, and we blitzed it. It proved to be a useful method for gauging community interest too. Well, there are two crowdfunding campaigns on the go at the moment that I have supported and think you should too:


Website: RipeNear.Me

RipeNear.Me is an meeting place where you can swap, give away, sell, and buy surplus produce. Perhaps you have more lemons than you can poke a stick at – put them up on RipeNear.Me and someone in your area looking for lemons might be in touch. I’ll let the video do the rest of the talking:

Madelaine’s Organic Eggs

Website: Hollyburton Farm – Madelaine’s Certified Organic Eggs

Even the free-range eggs we buy aren’t produced as ethically as we may like. ‘Free-range’ is more of a term to be legalistically manipulated than worked to in good faith. Well, Madelaine takes the whole idea to a new level. Her chickens freely graze on grass and bugs by day, are fed a nutritious diet of organic grains and natural supplements, and each egg is lovingly gathered, cleaned and sorted by the lady herself. A long, backbreaking task that Madelaine would like to get around by buying an appropriate piece of machinery. Over to her video to tell you more:

So, share the surplus and send a few dollars to each campaign if you can. This is how things are starting to happen nowadays. Collective, community-driven funding.

Ngarkat Optimism in the Barren and Unproductive Murray Mallee

I’m currently reading a rather dry but illuminating paper called, “The Biological Survey of the Murray Mallee South Australia” (Foulkes and Gillen, 2000). I stumbled upon it looking for literature on native plant species found in the Murray Mallee. Under the “Land-Use History” heading (Foulkes and Armstrong) I found two interesting, if contrasting quotes:

Explorer, Edward John Eyre, speaking of the district to the elusive Ngarkat people: “to the
native the most valuable and productive for here the wallabie, the opossum, the kangaroo rat, the bandicoot, the liepoa [mallee fowl], snakes lizards iguana and many other animals, reptiles, birds etc abound”. To which Foulkes and Armstrong (2000) respond, “This indicates that the standard of living must have been reasonably high.”

This contrasts a rather cocksure statement by none other than Charles Sturt, who laid eyes on the region during his 1829-30 expedition: “[the Mallee is as] barren and unproductive as the worst of the country we have passed through”.

It’s amazing how the same landscape can mean such different things to different people from different backgrounds with different interests. It still happens today. When I tell people about the Mallee a pained look casts over their face. “How boring”. “There is nothing there”. “It’s dry and lifeless”. Perhaps. But, once upon a time, the region was foraged and hunted by a small, but well-fed tribe of aborigines. They saw something in it that the Europeans didn’t. And lived there, in relative peace, for 40-50,000 years (Foulkes and Armstrong, 2000). Mind boggling number, isn’t it?

Source: Foulkes, J. N. & Gillen, J. S. (2000). The Biological Survey of the Murray Mallee. Biological Survey and Research Section: Heritage and Biodiversity Division: Department for Environment and Heritage, South Australia.