My Permaculture Design: An Overview – Entertainment

The things I enjoy most are simple. Reading a book with a glass of red wine, the mild afternoon sun kissing my face. Pottering amongst a native woodland, the sound of cracking leafs and bark under foot, the faint scent of Australia—eucalyptus oil, wattle, salt and roo dung—sailing up my eager nostrils. Digging dirt, pulling plants. Tapping words out like these. Sitting in a comfy chair, pondering the universe, having an idea and remembering some great thinker wrote it—to verify it and realise I got the name right. Having great conversation over food and wine with my nearest and dearest, without any drama arising. Aimlessly walking through Adelaide—no plans, no restrictions, not a care. The smell of libraries. Standing in the middle of the street with a chatty neighbour—learning about them and realising you have things in common. Turning compost. Picking herbs. Working on something of importance until my body aches and going to sleep early from exhaustion, to awaken the next morning completely refreshed. A pint at a country pub that has an authentic, unpretentious vibe—just good, hardworking locals treating themselves at the end of a long day. The sort of guys ‘n’ gals that’ll give anybody a nod and a “How’s it goin’, mate?” Living by my values, openly and proudly.

This is the last post of the series. It’s about what I find entertaining and what makes me tick. What makes you tick?

My Permaculture Design: An Overview – Health

Well looky here, I have done it again. I went a few more days without writing a post. For a rather apt reason, I might add. I have been knocked about a bit by a temperamental wisdom tooth. Which, fortunately, seems to have gone dormant once more. And then there has been the heat–oh it’s been hot.

So why is this post apt? It’s about health.

Without one’s body one cannot do much. That’s why health is paramount and should always be put first. Fortunately, I have had a fairly clean bill of health all my life. I have suffered from some sinus issues in reason years, which haven’t caused too much grief. Then there’s the wisdom tooth that has made itself known a handful of times in the past 5 or so years. But other than that, I have done pretty well for myself. Though, I would say that this past year has probably been the most testing.

I felt my best during my vegan years. Especially when I was running my cleaning business by bike. It was nothing for me to cycle 10-20km in a day and clean for 7 hours straight. I felt light, clean, and happy. The fresh air that I breathed in abundantly, every day, certainly helped.

Alas, I now find myself sitting behind a desk in a climate controlled office for 8 hours a day. I walk to and from work, which is nice—about 25 minutes each way—but the sedentariness combined with a lack of time outdoors, trivial stress, and long wind-up and wind-down times, has taken its toll. I don’t feel right.

Also, I have introduced some animal products back into my body. I kind of regret this and am finding it hard to back away. I need to eat more plants.

What I look forward to about this project, from a health perspective, is being able to grow large quantities of fresh, organic fruit and vegetables that can be eaten straight from the garden. Not being close to the nearest supermarket or take away will ensure that I am disciplined enough not to resort to the easy option, which I do occasionally now. More than anything else, I look forward to being able to reduce my stress. I want to live more on my terms and less on the whims of an employer—which, to be sure, dominates most our lives.

I need air. I need a big blue sky. I need meditative activities like cycling down long country roads, pottering around a vegetable garden, doing productive things with my hands. I need less time in spreadsheets.

My Permaculture Design: An Overview – Money

When I got my first well-paying job the love affair with money began. Money, I thought, gave me power and freedom. If I wanted to go somewhere, I could. If I wanted to buy something, I could. So I went places and bought things. And then went to further afield and bought bigger, better things. Then the money got a tighter, so I took on consumer debt. Eventually the majority of my pay cheque went to servicing the debt and what was left over wasn’t enough to go places and buy things anymore. I was unhappy. I had been stripped of my power and freedom.

This scenario isn’t unique to me. It’s how most of the middle-class get by. They spend beyond their income, take on debt to extend their buying power, and then get strangled by the repayments and interest. Banks are the only winners.

Money has driven this project. That is, my desire to get away from the stuff is my inspiration. The plan is to deal with money less. By reducing my need to earn and spend.

So far I am mortgage-free and own a couple of blocks of dirt. All they cost me is less than $1k in council and water rates each year. I will be able to build—just—the house of my dreams with cash too. Then I will build a bit of a buffer in my savings account, for a rainy day, and feel comfortable that my income can be drastically reduced—to about 10% of what it is now. My outgoings will be some food, transportation, medical, clothing, internet, insurance, phone, superannuation, entertainment, the odd gift, the occasional building and gardening supply. At this rate, I won’t even have to pay taxes! That’s the plan. That’s the level of involvement I want to have with money. I want to be more ‘producer’ less ‘consumer’.

My Permaculture Design: An Overview – Technology

I was really looking forward to today’s post. It’s on a topic with which I have a turbulent relationship. It’s a topic that permaculture addresses very well. In fact, permaculture has helped mend my relationship with it. The topic of this post is technology.

Confessions of a Technophile

I use to be a ravenous consumer of technology, in particular electronics. I would upgrade my phone regularly. I decked our my kitchen with cheap, single-use appliances because they were cheap. I worked in a high-tech industry. Technology was fun. If anybody forwarded a critique of technology, I would jump straight to defense-mode. What would they know? Laggards! I became an unofficial ambassador for Apple (yes, a fanboy) proselyting to any Windows user who would listen long enough. Even managed some converts. Where’s my cheque, Apple? But with age came wisdom. I became tighter with my money as I became disillusioned with working for it, so restricted my tech-hit.

I started to pay more attention to the environmental impacts of consumer technology. Not only do electronics use a lot of juice in the home, the embedded energy contained within snazzy little vessels of convenience and entertainment was sky-high. Buying kettles that would only last a winter of coffee-making or stick-blenders that saw more dust than meringue just didn’t seem sensible or justified. It had to stop.

There was certain technology in my life that I couldn’t live without. But as my awareness grew, I ensured quality was the first consideration. Thankfully, Apple has been loyal to me–their products have always had a substantial lifecycle. Since I was a teenager, I have owned three Macs back-to-back–with a few short-lived Windows machines in between. I need a computer–it’s how I work, educate myself, write these brilliant posts, maintain certain social connections, pay bills, and generally manage much of my life. I have no hesitation in buying a new Mac every time one dies of old age. But certainly not for vanity.

My iPhone is about to cark it. I’m in two-minds about replacing it with another smartphone. I am considering replacing it with some cheap, pre-paid thing and carrying my iPad (yes, yes, I have one) with me in the event I need to check email or look something up on the go. I have it. I should use it more. Rather than shelling out for another ‘overlapping’ device.

To be sure, technology isn’t only about electronics. A broad definition of technology is “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes”. “Tools, machines, techniques, crafts, [and] systems” that arise from scientific understanding are all manifestations of technology. But for the sake of this article, technology will be expressed as manual techniques, tools and machines. A shovel is technology, as is a bike, as is a certain methods of weeding, as is a backhoe. Some are equal, some are not.

Appropriate Technology

In many ways, technology is getting away from us. It’s manifesting itself in bigger, faster, more distant forms. No longer are we prospecting for resources in our backyard, we’re looking to other planets for things we consider valuable or which are in short supply. To carry out such long-distance explorations we need huge, fast rocketships that can withstand extreme environments, made out of titanium and aluminum that has been produced by intensively mining our reserves and refined by using complex machinery fueled by other technologies. Our cars are becoming more complicated. In the past, a bush mechanic could fix the dicky clutch in a Hilux with a bit of fencing wire, a length of duct tape, and a stubby of beer for hydration. Now, airbags have airbags within airbags. The mechanics spanner has been replaced by a laptop. And we’re not far off not having to drive at all–cars have been taught to drive themselves! There’s a common thread amongst all these new high-technologies. They’ve lost their humanness and will, according to projections, take on an epihumanness–the technologies that we create, or that creates itself, will have its own consciousness.

In his book, Small is Beautiful, Keynesian economist, Dr Ernst F Schumacher, championed the concept of ‘appropriate technology’ (or ‘immediate technology’). He wrote of “small-scale technology, relatively non-violent technology, ‘technology with a human face’”. In the chapter, The Need for Immediate Technology , he described it as “fairly simple and therefore understandable, suitable for maintenance and repair on the spot” Justifying further: “Simple [technology] is normally far less dependent on raw materials of great purity or exact specifications and much more adaptable to market fluctuations than highly sophisticated [equipment]. Men [and women, Schu’!] are more easily trained: supervision, control, and organisation are simpler; and there is far less vulnerability to un-foreseen difficulties.” Nowadays we don’t even attempt to gander under the bonnet of our car. We call roadside assistance if we break down and take it back to the manufacturer’s service centre to have its regular checkup. This is partially due to what technology has become–beyond the grasp of the average human–but also due to us and how we have come to be. We are no longer skilled in managing all aspects of our life. We don’t necessarily cook, clean, wash up, garden, unblock a clogged drain, or hem our trousers. Many, if not all of these, tasks are outsourced to an expert for a fee or to some high-tech gadget. Rather than use ecological heating and cooling systems in our house–which don’t cost any money at all–we use high-tech solutions like electric evaporative cooling and gas heating.

Whilst this critique of technology sounds rather irksome, there is hope still. There is appropriate technology after all. But what makes technology ‘appropriate’? I believe the permaculture principles shed some light on the answer, in particular Holmgren’s 12 Principles: Observe and Interact, Catch and Store Energy, Obtain a Yield, Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback, Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services, Produce No Waste, Design From Pattern to Detail, Integrate Rather than Segregate, Use Small and Slow Solutions, Use and Value Diversity, Use Edges and Value Margins, Creatively Use and Respond to Change. Obviously, some of these principles don’t act as a good filter for all proposed technologies. How Design From Pattern to Detail might apply to a petrol chainsaw, I’m not sure. But Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services could be applicable. It might mean the difference between buying a petrol chainsaw that requires fossil fuel, that is made from oil that has been shipped over vast distances; or an electric version, which is powered by the solar panels or wind turbine on your roof. Perhaps after careful consideration a manual bow saw will do.

Likewise a car. A high-end BMW sedan may not be an appropriate transport solution at a cattle station in the middle of the Nullarbor. Perhaps a rugged four-wheel-drive ute is a better option. It will depend on your needs, which are established through observation and interaction with your environment. Conversely, the ute may not be the best option for an inner-city peak-hour commute. Public transport or cycling, or walking may be a better option. These options all cost the commuter less, are better for the environment, the latter two, are better for one’s health.

One of the most inappropriate approaches to technology I have heard in a long time, was the Gates Foundation’s “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge”. The challenge: “to develop “next-generation” toilets that will deliver safe and sustainable sanitation to the 2.5 billion people worldwide who don’t have it.” The winner of this travesty was the California Institute of Technology (CIT) who “received the $100,000 first prize for designing a solar-powered toilet that generates hydrogen and electricity”. According to an article by the IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre, each unit could cost as much as $1,000US. Not to mention the $500,000US that has already been spent on research and development.

For the cost of one of these toilet units I could comfortable build forty basic composting toilet units. The humanure they produce could then be composted down over a year or two and used to revitalise the soil and grow productive crops. But the CIT toilet produces electricity? So do solar panels. Solar is an established technology and is consequently cheap. The foundational research and development has already been done. I am sure if the prize money was spent on solar power for the communities to which the program was targeted, their needs would be met–$100,000US buys a lot of panels. To me, this challenge seemed to be more about having a bit of fun with high-technology than genuinely and appropriately addressing a real problem. Big, fast, and distant wins again.

Technological Utopianism

According to Wikipedia, “[t]echnological utopianism…refers to any ideology based on the belief that advances in science and technology will eventually bring about a utopia, or at least help to fulfill one or another utopian ideal”. Most people I know are technological utopians. They have strong belief that technology will pull us through the apparent global issues we are set to face. Many of my friends don’t support insurgency warfare, such as the Iraq War. However, they support the perceived improvements to standard of living that western insurgency is bound to bring about. Such intervention will bring these rather primal cultures out of the Dark Ages and into a new, democratic uberworld, which is driven by technology and tolerance and freedom of choice–or consumerism.

Recently on Facebook (yes, I see the irony), somebody shared their prophecies for the next 40 years. They predicted that “[a]utomation [will] extends to more fields of work, increasing unemployment rates”, by the early 2030 “[u]biquitous computing/pervasive networking [will] enter mainstream society, [warranting] all “things” interconnected”, and “[c]loned species of animals once extinct [will] begin to appear in zoos and homes”. My initial response:

“What’s happening to the environment in the meantime? We have a plethora of other situations to address before we can ever think that far ahead.

These fantastic predictions are typically made ceteris paribus (with other things the same). By environment I don’t just mean climate, I mean every single aspect of the environment; the entire loop. Significant technological advances predictably have a significant impact on the environment–from the ways in which the money was earned to fund them (take our current unsustainable economic model), to the materials that are extracted (or maybe recycled) to build them, and to how they are disposed. And all the other considerations.

These high-tech fantasies tend to tickle the imaginations of those content with (or oblivious to) the paradigm of rapid growth.”

The original prophet replied ambitiously: “By around 2060-2080 we’ll likely be able to play mother nature and quite literally engineer our weather, making our world whatever we want it to be”. He added some consumer electronics to his list of technological advances for the future. He then called me a pessimist. I rebuked:

“I’m not pessimistic. I just think that there’s more important things to be doing with our time than designing new gadgets that will inevitably be bought by the masses and add to the problem. Don’t discount peak-resource–that’s enough to put a really big spanner in the works. (But we’ll never collapse… I hear people assure.)

I say it’s high time we start bringing technology back to human-size. There is an obsession with giantism that’s evident in the list above. We are so far removed from our own condition in how we conceive technology now. This is good in a way–we’re smart and ambitious–but it’s slowly missing the point. At all levels. From researcher to consumer. We ought to stop and smell the roses for a minute.

Foremost, I think this. For us to operate under a just, equatable and sustainable economic system–none of this is possible and I’m okay with that. Further, for us to navigate the ‘issues’ we face in the world we require such a system of economics.”

And the debate went on for a while. My rival set in the belief that we can achieve lots and all the crap we are set to face will somehow get fixed along the way. Myself, adamant that this is a flawed argument–that we are making technological progress at nowhere near the rate that was expected by the likes of Keynes; and that we simply don’t have the resources or funds** or discipline in order to do it. To be sure, with a sprinkling of agrarian romanticism on the side.

I think I will leave it for another post, my views on exactly what I see as addressing the problems we face. However, decentralisation, slow and small solutions, and appropriate technology are what I have in mind. (Check out Holmgren and Bookchin to get an idea in the meantime.)

** In recent years, institutions like NASA, have received severe funding cuts due to high-levels of governmental debt and slowing economies. The same is true in the EU at the moment. To assume that scientific funding will continue to be at the front of the mind of governments, does not take into consideration the state and volatility of the global economy. And let’s not forget how economies grow–through the very activities that cause the environmental damage that we are needing to correct. The more we grow, the bigger the problem.

Appropriate Technology in the Murraylands

Now that you have some idea on the basis from which I view technology, I will give you an idea of how it might be applied at my property.

Electricity will be generated by a renewable source, solar, and back-up will be stored in a battery bank. A diesel generator will be used for further redundancy.
The house will be heated and cooled ecologically–passive solar design (well-insulated straw bale construction, virtually airtight, north-facing windows for maximum winter sun, eaves to block summer sun, cross-ventilation) with good thermal mass (concrete slab or earthen floor). Extra heating may be provided with a wood heater which can also be used for cooking. Fuel will be sourced from within the property (firewood yielded from trees and roots that have been cleared for development and fire protection) and local suppliers. Extra cooling may be provided by a fan powered by solar electricity.
Consumer electronics will be used sparingly and appropriately. Do I really have a need for a hair straightener? The consumer electronics and appliances I will run are: 45W MagSafe charger for an 11” Macbook Air via a 12V adapter; small 12V flat-screen TV (optional); three lamps with 5W LED globes; one outdoor light with an appropriate sized LED globe; 120L refrigerator; 12V hot water service (optional); 12V single tub washing machine; Ryobi ONE+ charging deck, and I am sure a few other things I can’t think of right now.
Hand tools will be used for most tasks. Power tools will be primarily cordless electronic, like the Ryobi ONE+ range–including chainsaw, drills, circular saw, etc.
Water will be moved around the property using gravity. In the event that a pump is needed it will be good quality and energy efficient–preferably 12V.
Transport will be by foot, bike, and public transport (in that order). Trips by bus will be made sparingly and any items purchased in bulk. In the event supplies need to be delivered, a local supplier will be considered first.
An internet connection (wireless, ADSL, or satellite) will be connected as a way of telecommuting for work, personal, and educational purposes.
A mobile phone will be used for keeping in touch with friends and family and conducting business.

My Permaculture Design: An Overview – Clothing

I did end up taking a day off blogging. Yesterday, as the day went by, I fell ill. I’m still crook today, took a sicky from work, but having spent most of it in bed, thought it high time to do something productive. Today’s post will be a short one.

Clothing. At first I wondered whether it is worthwhile to do an entire post on clothing. It seems kind of self-evident. And I think I say this as somebody that doesn’t care much about clothes. I use to. I use to concern myself with buying the latest fashion and brand name. When quizzed by the uninterested I would get defensive and would justify the premium price on the quality of the material and manufacturing, and the uniqueness of each piece. It didn’t take too long to ask myself a very loaded, McManusesque “What the?” What was I doing? Who was I trying to impress? As I tried to fight this narcissistic depression, I continued–and still do to this day–to be surrounded by people to whom fashion matters. I would try to suppress it and found myself feeling out of place. Fortunately, the expensive clothes I bought a long time ago continue to hold together, meaning that I don’t need to continue to consume to beat the social anxiety.

Thoreau, who inspired the list that contains clothing as a necessity of life, was critical of fashion: “We worship not the Graces… but Fashion. The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveler’s cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same”. He wondered why clothes had become a thing of novelty rather than utility. After all, “the object of clothing is, first, to retain the vital heat, and secondly, in this state of society, to cover nakedness”. But, obviously, clothing is a lot more than that. It’s an object of cultural identity, of self-express, of belonging. Go to a fancy bar dressed as a hobo and see how far that gets you. Likewise, wear the wrong shoes to a nightclub and you will not be allowed to enter. However, the utility matters too. Go trekking for a week in the rain decked in cotton. It’s impractical. This is nature denying you entry into her nightclub.

My tastes in fashion (well, clothes) has been assumed by utility. I believe buying secondhand is a good thing–and quite trendy today, too. I also believe buying quality, especially for a specific purpose. It’s not good buying cheap shoes that need to be replaced constantly, to save a buck. It’s a false economy. You’re better off buying quality from a cost point-of-view. But quality should come first–not style.

When I am living in Murraylands, I can be authentic with my laxness as to what I wear. I will not be trying to impress anybody. My clothes will be practical and hard-wearing. Perhaps some items will be ‘brand name’, but that will be incidental. Because sometimes–sometimes!–the expensive branded stuff is the best quality, but that is to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. When I return to the city to socialise, what will I wear? Whatever I already own that’s still holding on. Then I will opt for second hand first. New, quality, second. Importantly, I won’t buy–as I haven’t for years–clothes for the sake of fashion.

My Permaculture Design: An Overview – Work

Actually, changed my mind. I felt like jotting something down so wrote todays piece on Work as planned.

Work. It’s so fundamental to our life. In this economic state at least. I, like most middle-class kids, have worked since I was 15 or 16. I’ve have a lot of fun. Met a lot of nice people, many of whom are still good friends. But I have gotten to the point where the very act of working seems oppressive and arbitrary. If Seth Godin can ask the question, “What is school for?” then What is work for? To be sure, it’s a societal expectation. If you don’t work, you are seen as a bludger, or if you’re self-funded, teetering on boredom. But what if you can meet your financial needs without subjecting yourself the perils of paid work? That’s my aim.

The desire not to work very much is at the core of this whole episode. I have so much I would prefer to be doing so its high time I do it. Shamelessly, I like to awaken naturally. That may be at 6am or 7:13am or 10am. It doesn’t seem much that this is something I like. But it’s something within my control. If I damn well want to be able to wake up when I want, I damn well will. Then there are hobbies and pastimes and loves and passions. I like being domestic. I like running a house. My house has been neglected ever since I started full-time work. It’s struggle to enjoy it when I am exhausted by work. At 10am I would prefer to be pottering through my lush garden, coffee in hand, a list of todos, at home, to occupy my noon. Alas, paid work dominates. That’s where I spend most of my waking hours. In duress. Doing stuff I don’t believe in.

But one still has to earn money, right? Well of course. The prospect of being a dole bludger doesn’t appeal to me. Even if it means I get to reclaim all those taxes that I have paid to false causes for so long. I want to earn my keep. I believe meaning can be derived from paid work–but only meaningful work, which is not the work most of us do. Fortunately, I have a business that pays me a reasonable profit. Reasonable in living-off-grid-on-the-smell-of-an-oily-rag kind of way. That’s what I am going to live on. I am going to run my business from afar. Which I have been for the past 9 or so months. I am confident a few extra kilometres isn’t going to make a difference.

To do this, will require maybe 4-6 hours a week. The rest of the time is all mine. Time in which to get bored. Potter. Waste. Be creative. Think up ways to spend it. And work on all the projects that will directly impact my life rather than my employers profit margins.

I wish to add a bit of diversity, though. I will sell some of my surplus. Maybe vegetables and fruit. Perhaps I could write an ebook and sell it? I have the option of doing some freelancing–I have a set of skills that puts me in good stead for this. Then there is always the option of picking up the odd job here and there around town. Options. So many options. If I can provide a tip to anyone, if your job is insecure, don’t put all your eggs in one basket if at all possible.

My Permaculture Design: An Overview – Transport

I don’t have a drivers licence. I have never driven a car. And I’m okay with that.

I really don’t know the reason why I didn’t get a drivers licence when I was 16, like everybody else. I guess I have never had the need for one. In my late-teens, when I entered the workforce, I lived in the outer suburbs and commuted vast distances to work and to socialise. I quite enjoyed the hour-long bus journey. I was studying at the time so it proved to be a good opportunity to chew my way through  my dense textbooks. This was long before distractions like smartphones. Sometimes I would just listen to music and stare out the window. Other times I would fall asleep. I even missed my stop on a few occasions.

Eventually, the trip became burdensome and I wanted to move out of home. I quickly realised that by moving closer to work the rent would be more expensive but I would pay less for transportation–the cab fares on those big nights out were a killer. So I rented a small flat within walking and cycling distance from work and saved myself a lot of time and money on bus and taxi fares. What’s more, everything was so close–shops, pubs, , cafes, clinics; everything. For the past 7 or so years I have lived in or very near to the CBD.

It’s all good and well to get around without a car in the city or urban areas, but the country? This is a criticism I have heard many times. In fact, it’s probably the one I hear most. “Surely now’s time to get your licence and a car” I’m told. Nope. Not at all. I can move to the country without a car.

During The Build

Probably the trickiest part of the project without a car will be during the build. I want to build a shed first and then a house and I want to do it quite gradually–as the money and time becomes available. I want to use as many salvaged materials as possible. The likes of Gumtree are a tremendous source of free and cheap secondhand building materials. These things are strewn all over the metropolitan area. Many are large so I can’t exactly carry them on a bus. Also, I don’t have a yard in which to store them. So how will I gather all this stuff? I reached out.

With the advent of the car has come an inalienable sense of independence. I know people that drive to work–suffering from the congestion, fuel and carparking costs–simply because they want to be alone; they don’t want to have to sit next to a smelly obese man. You would think in accepting this these people wouldn’t complain about the predicament they opt into. This isn’t true–their social media profiles are always abuzz with complaints and rants about how shocking the roads and traffic are–even though they are the traffic–and how exorbitant fuel and car parking prices are. I was willing to ask for help from the community.

First, I needed a place to store building materials. I went to Twitter and a nice greenie from the eastern suburbs has offered me storage space in exchange for some materials for free to build a new chicken coop. I offered to provide her with materials and free labour. Second, I need a way of gathering materials locally and delivering them to my storage place. I could pay couriers and whatnot but that would become very expensive. So I asked around. Turns out my mother’s next door neighbour has a trailer and a ute, and would love some extra cash in his pocket for a little weekend work. It’s amazing what you can achieve if you just ask.

To get my stuff from Adelaide to Murraylands will probably require much of the same. Trusting the goodwill of your fellow man. I am not asking for gifts at all–this is a value exchange. They provide me with a service, I provide them with money or something of value. Like the ‘True Blue’ Aussie currency: a six-pack or slab of beer. In failing that, I will pay for a truck–as most people do when moving vast amounts of stuff from one place to another. My dad will also be helping with the build so will have a vehicle that can be used for incidentals.

Other than that, I will make several weekend trips to the block as I build and I will probably catch the coach for that.

Day-To-Day Commuting

When I am based at the block–temporarily or permanently–I will make use of the very suitable coach service to get around. When I was searching for land, one of the key criteria was access to public transport. Just like when you’re looking for a house in the city really–you check what buses or trams or trains are nearby and whether they are going to get you where you need to go on time. The Murraylands bus service operates seven days a week, twice a day in each direction on week days. So, handily, I could bus it into Adelaide in the morning–get there about 10:30am–have a few hours to do what I need to do, and bus it home at 1:30pm. When I make Adelaide trips I will probably stay for a few days at a time, to make the trip worthwhile.

As I mentioned in yesterdays post, Food, there is a supermarket in both directions from my town. With two buses each weekend travelling in each direction–so a morning and an afternoon bus each day, essentially–I can do my shopping, and run my errands, in either Tailem Bend (or Murray Bridge) or Lameroo. Both of these towns cater my day-to-day needs. Specialist services can be sought in Mt Barker or Adelaide and special trips can be made to visit them.

For shorter (or lighter) trips I can cycle. There are small towns with basic facilities within an hour cycle in each direction. Could make for a pleasant weekend trip.

“But what if you need to collect timber or other bulky items?” Well, what does the person with the Hyundai Getz do? Usually, they will have things delivered or ask a mate. That’s what I will do. I wrote on my previous blog:

“From my experience with the Australian character, a note on the bulletin board outside the village store or pub, with an offer of a crisp-fifty and perhaps a dozen farm fresh eggs, is unlikely to go ignored. And, will be a lot cheaper than running a car in the long term. Or why not ask the chap at the store if he’ll deliver for a fee? We drive cars as a matter of independence as though we’re afraid to ask for assistance. I’m happy to ask for help. But for the most part I wish to be independent – of a petrol engine especially.”

There’s a permaculture that applies so aptly to my choice not to drive: Use Small and Slow Solutions. Permaculture Principles explains it:

“Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.

The snail is both small and slow, it carries its home on its back and can withdraw to defend itself when threatened. The proverb “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” reminds us of the disadvantages of excessive size and growth while “slow and steady wins the race” encourages patience while reflecting on a common truth in nature and society.”

I think this is tremendously true of driving and owning a car. It’s a lot of responsibility–they cost money to run and repair. If your car falls, it’s a hard fall that’s likely to cost you a lot of money and / or inconvenience. Sure, coaches aren’t exactly small or slow, but they are not my ongoing concern. I pay my fare, allow the experienced operator to do what he or she does, as I enjoy the journey. Bikes are the epitome of slow and small. The mechanics are simple to understand and cheap and easy to maintain and repair. Bikes convey you at a speed that isn’t vastly inhuman like that of a car. The wind is in your face, you can be forgiven for taking in the scenery to the sides of you. In fact, the cycling experience is very human–your body is the engine, without you, it doesn’t move.

Tomorrow, Work.

My Permaculture Design: An Overview – Food

My interest in food escalated about five years ago when I changed to a vegan diet. I spent a lot of time reading about food, in particular food ethics. As I began to realise that something was askew with how we raised animals for their meat and by-products, I started to see the flaws in how everything else was produced. I read Singer’s “Animal Liberation” and “Practical Ethics”, Pollan’s “Omnivores Dilemma”, and the film based on it, “Food Inc”, and “The Botany of Desire”. I even read Keith’s “Vegetarian Myth” which made some very interesting points about industrial agriculture.

I became more choosy about what I put in my mouth. I started to grow some of my own and saw the benefits not only in terms of taste and freshness, but to my wallet. Guerrilla gardener, Ron Finley said in his TED Talk, growing your own food is like printing money. But the benefits don’t stop there: it’s great fun. I love nothing more than pottering in the garden for hours. In the morning, a cup of coffee in hand. In the evening, a glass of wine. At my old place in the Adelaide CBD I helped establish a guerrilla community garden. I loved having such an expansive space in which to tinker, think, and grow fantastic produce. Where I live now I am limited in what I can do. I yearn for having the space to become more self-reliance for food.

Near my town in Murraylands there isn’t exactly much choice on where to do one’s grocery shopping. The town itself has a post office—which I am lead to believe sells milk, newspapers and gas bottle refills—and a pub. A few towns over there is a general store that stocks some groceries and your usual greasy takeaway foods. Within 30km, in both directions, there are IGA supermarkets. 70km west is Murray Bridge which has a wider range of stores, including fruit and vegetable shops, butchers, bakeries, and major supermarkets.

I wish to grow most if not all of my fruit and vegetables and to have some left over to preserve, give away, and sell.

Growing My Own

I am fortunate enough to have 2000-square-metres at my disposal. Of course, I am not going to just go out and crop the whole space. I, true to permaculture principles, will first observe and interact. I will pay attention to how the land lays in a broad sense—how sun, rain, wind, heat, cold, frost; birds and mammals all interact with it—and the tiny detail too. This will inform me where I should place the elements of my design, and where best to place my food growing zones. As mentioned in the first post of this series, Shelter, Zone 1 shall be located near to the house and will incorporate plants that are commonly used and require regular attention. I will grow grape and passionfruit vines over a structure attached to the north face of the house, creating shade from the hot summer sun and letting in light, as the vines lose their leaves, during winter. Incorporated into the outdoor living area will be a small raised garden bed, no more than a couple of metres from the indoor and outdoor kitchens. The surrounds of this bed will also double as a seating area—true to Mollison’s principle of “Each Element Performs Many Functions”. In this bed will grow commonly used herbs—basil, parsley, dill, chives, thyme,—greens—various types of lettuce, spinach, silver beet and Asian greens like bok choy,—and every day veggies like cherry tomatoes and chillies. I may also place a lemon tree in this space; handy for creating a quick salad dressing.

A path meanders through the native scrub and arrives at a sunny clearing which is home to Zone 2. To the west of the path, under the shade of a big Callitris, is the chicken house. A guild of deciduous fruit trees to the north, provide shade in summer and let light in during winter. What’s more, as the trees mature and start to fruit, some of it will be allowed to fall into the chicken house adding to the girls’ diet. On the other side of the path is a trio of compost bays. The Zone 2 growing area is a maze of interplanting, a la Alys Fowle. No rows here. A diverse range of species will be grown in a way that is complimentary and supportive. The soil as I write, is poor—sandy and unable to much water or nutrients. The soil will be worked for as long as it takes, with clay and manure and compost and loam, and straw. In order for anything to grow in Zone 2, the soil will take work. Hence, I intend to start small—perhaps borrowing from Lolo Houbein “One Square Metre” method—so as to not immediately bite off more than I can chew. Eventually, I want to get this cottagey food garden to around 100-square-metres. I certainly have the space.

Further on still, in Zone 3, will be a conventional orchard, full of the fruit and nut I love to eat. It will be watered by drip irrigation. The orchard will be interplanted with beneficial species in the understory to help feed and protect the valuable productive trees. A small vineyard may be established as I would love to try making my own wine. A general purpose cropping area—yes, rows—will also be established here for seasonable surplus. Plants I want to grow to sell / trade, such as summer tomatoes and corn, and winter brassicas.

Zone 4 will be experimental. It’s where I will work on a little project. I want to—try to—establish a native ‘bush tucker’ food forest, within a patch of existing native vegetation present on the eastern ¼ acre block. Probably in the northern corner.

Zone 5 will produce no food. It will be left as is, save a little clearing to keep the CFS happy and my straw bale house safe.

I have no interest in raising animals for consumption.

Buying Food

Once established I hope to produce all my fruit and vegetables. Vegetables are realistic in the first year. Seasonal eating will be key and surplus can be preserved to consume in the off-season. Most fruits, apart from things like strawberries, will take a while longer and shall be bought in the meantime.

It would be expensive and time consuming to commute to Murray Bridge or Adelaide every week to do my grocery shopping. I intend to make a trip to Adelaide at least once a month to buy bulk items from good wholefood supplies like Goodies and Grains. It might even prove cost effective to buy some bulk items online and have them posted. My weekly or fortnightly shopping will be done in one of the nearby service towns (Tailem Bend and Lameroo). Both towns have full-range IGA supermarkets (Lameroo has two, a few doors away from each other for some reason) which are reasonably priced. I will buy my food in bulk so that I don’t have to make regular trips into these towns. After all, my means of transportation is coach—I am better off filling up a 50L hiking backpack and having a few carrier bags—than making lighter, more regular trips. Perhaps these supermarkets can do home delivery? That’s not something I have looked into yet.

Occasionally I might cycle into the next town across, which has a general store, to pick up bread or a cheeky pasty.

Playing Domestic God(ess)

Cooking almost entirely from scratch will be vital in terms of cost and is also something I want to do as a meaningful activity. I want to bake my own bread, hence the cob pizza oven I propose for Zone 1. During summer most cooking will be done outside on the BBQ or in the oven. During winter the gas hotplates in the internal kitchen and the wood fire will be used. Meals will be fresh, hearty and primarily vegetarian. If I have good layers, eggs will be a good protein source for many meals. A days menu might look like this:

Breakfast: Espresso coffee with an omelette made with fresh veggies and herbs from the garden.

Lunch: Garden fresh salad with lentils or chickpeas. Sandwiches made with home-baked bread.

Dinner: Curry or stew or pasta or soup or pizza, made with whatever is available in any given season and a few grains and meats brought in from outside. Greens will be picked from the garden every day to have as a side salad.

Snacks: Fruit, nuts and the odd bit of store-bought dark chocolate.

I want to preserve my surplus. I want to grow enough of my favourite things so that I have some in the pantry for the off-season. Pasta made with home-made passata from the summer tomatoes. Yum. I intend to buy a Fowlers Vercola (Gumtree always has them second-hand.) I want to learn how to make preserves and pickles and sauces and jams. On my Adelaide trips I will visit the Adelaide Central Markets and buy in bulk produce that’s cheap, in season and that I don’t grow at home, to keep me busy around the preserving pot. Hey, there might even be some people in or near my town that are willing to swap or sell me some of what they grow?

That’s Food done. I am hungry now. Stay tuned for Transport tomorrow.

My Permaculture Design: An Overview – Community

Yesterday was all about Shelter. The infrastructure in which I reside. Today’s post is about a different kind of infrastructure. The infrastructure of people—and plants and birds, it turns out, at the end of the post.


Community means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To some a community is a group of people that live near each other. To others, it is a group of people that share common interests. When I think of community, I consider both definitions.

Rural areas are renowned for their ‘community’, mostly in a geographical sense, but also for their shared values. It’s no surprise that most people that choose to live in a distant, homogeneous place, come to share similar values. Rural communities are built on a set of values. These values persevere—they transcend any individual or family. The wide community is broken into sub-groups based on age (young, middle-age, and elderly), occupation (farmers with farmers, tradies with tradies, nurses with nurses), hobbies (football, lawn bowls, baking), and other shared characteristics. Conversely, in the city, with such diversity spread across a geographical areas, such homogeneity isn’t as obvious. Hence, your typical suburb or urban street or apartment block where people don’t talk to one another. Wen Lee’s story about the futility she experienced in trying to borrow a few tablespoons of vegetable oil from a neighbour (I would have just used olive oil) is one I understand. People seem to be home but don’t want to socialise—they have their own, geographically separate, social groups for that. I’ve had this many times; where neighbours (or fellow community members if we are to keep with the vernacular) look at me suspiciously for wanting to gesture at them or say hello. “What does he want?” passes rhetorically through their head. I cut my loses and walk on. Obviously this isn’t always the case, I have lived in many places where there has been a strong sense of community and openness.

I am already a member of a number of communities. There are my close friends and acquaintances. Work contacts. And several online communities, related to permaculture, transition, and simple living. These, at this stage, are largely ‘virtual’ communities, so can be maintained from wherever. Over the next year years I would like to foster in-the-flesh connections with some of the people that belong to these communities. Taking the relationships from interest- and value-based to into the geographical.

What do I expect of community in the Murray Mallee? Well some have warned that I may be seen as an outsider—an eccentric. I have more hope than that. Sure, I mightn’t be part of the football culture in the area, or drink at the pub of an evening with farmers as they unwind after a long day. But I would like to strike up amicable relationships with those that live near me on the premise that we simply look out for each other. I realise I might need to win some people over, so shall keep an open, generous mind. My prospects are slightly oddball, but that’s ok. I shall show the local community the benefit to them. We’ll see how it goes.

So far I have spoken to one person who lives in my town. He works at the council. He was a very friendly fellow who spoke highly of the town and its people. He thinks I will be fine.

Vital to my ease is the understanding that my other ‘communities’ are not far away. It’s a hop, skip and a jump to the world from which I come. My safety net. This proximity was part of the grand plan and shall be exploited should the need arise.

The prospects ahead do not feel isolating. More than anything I have myself. My thoughts. My mind. That’s largely what I wanted from all this after all. I wanted a space in which to cleanse my mind. The plants and kookaburras and sand and sun shall become my fellow communitarians. There is a community for every occasion.

I realise that I might not develop deep ties with the local community out in the boondocks. I’m okay with that. I’m use to it.

Tomorrow’s post will be a doozy, Food.