All moved in to our little rental house. The pantry is full of Mudgee passata, large baskets of last seasons’ potatoes, and the remains of the garlic harvest.
The walls are faintly pink, the decor somewhat questionable and the rainwater (currently) gets piped off to god-knows where. There is a lemon tree, and a back fence. And a plan…
We’ve been in this house a week or so now. It’s close to a beach and to a headland, it’s structurally sound, and everyone gets their own room. Things are different. But they’re still good.
I realise this is, in some ways, the flip of most aspirational homesteading – most of us plan to move OUT OF not INTO the ‘burbs.
Most of us don’t switch a faraway hillside farm for streetlights and garbage collection. But i guess we have. For now, that is.
Its a time of every emotion you can think of. Of trepidation, of exhaustion, of hope, and excitement, and of uncertainty too. All common experiences, I know.
I’m not complaining. We are fortunate to be able to do this – to make big decisions based on what our current family needs are. And on what our future family goals are. And then to be able to act apon them. We’ll be fine.
The last few weeks has held many interesting challenges and conclusions.
For example, power. Finding the least awful power company is trickier than it looks. It’s always a fun morning when you spend it ringing around with the opening line of:
“Hi, I’m just looking to get the power connected, and I’m trying to figure out which company is the least barstardly. Is your company actively or covertly involved in any Australian or off-shore fracking projects right now?”
The sad answer seems to be that THEY ALL ARE, if you do a little research. That’s right. ALL OF THEM. Sigh.
Our compromise on this one was to go with 100% green power via Energy Australia, who, from our research, seemed to be not quite as screamingly entwined in destroying our planet as the other power companies.
Apparently (and i’m fast realising how powerful it feels to be a passive consumer who must take their power companies claims at face value: i.e. not very) 100% green power means that my power company will purchase the equivalent of 100% of our usage from renewable power sources.
Hmm. Here’s hoping on that one.
Anyway. The lights work, the stove turns on. For all these things, we are grateful.
Before we’d unpacked a single box of household goods, Nick had already scouted and decided the best position in the garden for the shiitake logs, and faithfully positioned them forthwith.
Priorities are important.
In other good news, not only does the house not leak, it does all the regular things a house should do. It also has a fine mushroom cultivation basement, and a smallish backyard.
With bonus lemon tree.
There’s also a back fence, and a very tepid garden. Which is fine with us, and one of the highlights of this property.
Simply put, I don’t think the landlords are going to notice if we rip out their few and straggling weird ornamental plants, and transform this backyard into a rockin’ edible ecosystem.
And as with all the rental food gardens I’ve been involved in, asking forgiveness trumps asking permission. Every time.
So. we have a blank slate. And a north-facing wall as well. And knowledge, a seed cabinet, and gumption aplenty.
I think we can even sneak in a small firepit. I’m unwilling to participate in a childhood without access to weekend campfire cooking, if I can possibly manage it.
Speaking of food, i can happily report that we’re well provisioned by the rather ridiculously excellent local food options hereabouts.
The bulk of beautiful food we’re sourcing is via a community food co-op called Greenbox, based in Gerringong.
Greenbox is damn impressive. It’s community run, the range is huge and every single item has a provenance AND a food miles description.
You can get a seasonal box, or pick what you want. There is everything from veg to local meat to dry goods to cordials. I am a little bit in love. Not enough to not want to grow my own as much as I can, but nearly.
Our other main point of sustenance are our mates at the incredible Buena Vista Farm (we’re holding a few courses there, and will continue to do so), also in Gerringong.
Their pastured egg yolks are fluorescent, their bone broth second to none.
They make everything from pate (with their own pastured chickens’ liver) to sourdough to sauerkraut to bacon jam (yes, from their own pigs). I steel myself to only purchase one round of their whole-egg custard per week.
On top of all that, there’s the Kiama Farmers Markets each and every Wednesday afternoon.
It’s fast becoming a family tradition: Ashar goes and acquires important rocks, seaweed and sandy wet shoes from the shoreline while i buy eggs and custard and maybe just one loaf of Berry Sourdough’s olive flatbread.
So. Until the garden grows, we shall not starve.
The pantry (i didn’t take a photo of it as it’s a complete mess) is full of baskets of potatoes, pumpkins, garlic and many, many jars of passata. Mudgee is still with us.
And the internet works. All by itself! Unlike in our previous situation where we had to create a bespoke hilltop solar powered internet solution to get a signal. Ah, memories.
We’re now busy planning exactly what will go where in our backyard growing space, and how to best incorporate a simple crop ration plan.
The front yard, a sloping sea of lawn, is another matter. Actually, maybe you can help.
Know any leaky dinghies (er, you know, rowboats) that need a home?
Arr, for we be planning to set sail on a front yard public herb project, and we be needing some largeish rental-friendly planting containers (that last bit was in pirate voice).
Wishing you a warm space to read and dream this new year into being from the depths of blustery winter.
What are you planting or planning at your place this week?
Excited for you and can’t wait to see what you will be doing in your small space. A bonus for we readers who have only small spaces but still want to be as independent and sustainable as possible Here in the Hunter Valley NSW I am tucking in (and conversely uncovering)daily , tomato and other tender plants as we dip to 2 and 3 degrees at night. The re purposed bathtub against the north facing back fence filled with daytime heat capturing water bottles at the base of each plant and covered over with double shade cloth ,late each afternoon… Read more »
Good luck to you Kirsten. When you lived at Milkwood Mudgee I could relate to your climatic difficulties as I live in the wilds of Rylstone out Nullo way. With a solid frost this morning and -1 as the temperature, this is a far cry from your coastal dream – did you mention tomatoes? But hey, I enjoy your story.
Thanks Bryan! No ‘cleansing frosts’ down here so slug-o-rama all winter… each climate certainly has it’s advantages 🙂
I wait with baited breath to see what is possible in a rental situation. I will soon move out of a south facing unit into a still small but north facing rental situation on the central coast. Was greatly inspired in recent workshops by David Holmgren and Nicole Foss in Newcastle and always inspired by your innovative ideas. Cheers.
I’m so excited to be following you at the beginning of this next adventure. My place is a rental and I’m new to permaculture, so will be following along with avid interest. I just had a fruit salad tree delivered this week after cashing in a gift certificate from my sister who sent it to me as a house warming present last year when I was about to purchase my dream home – alas I was retrenched so the sale fell through. Today is planting it in a pot day so that we can take it with us when the… Read more »
I’m with you on that – at the end of the day, what matters is that you’re planting food (and as many perennials as possible) – exactly which little fingers and bellies eat it all in years to come (yours, or others) is secondary to the act of ensuring abundance for whoever can benefit from it.
Whilst we own our home we have very limited space (think 4m wide terrace) so I’m interested to see how you transform your little patch of suburbia. It’s all about looking at the positives and doing what is best for your family, balancing current and future needs/goals/wants. Looking forward to following your journey 🙂
I love your determination to apply permaculture principles in the now. Permaculture is not just (or perhaps even) some hippy fantasy of pastoral abundance, but a continuous stream of sometimes difficult decisions about which sacrifice to make for what gain.
Besides, a healthy lemon tree is a gift and a treasure in the ‘burbs. Even if it’s a bush lemon. Multi-graft it! B)
I think Momentum are free from fracking investment (but do look after the power station that flooded Lake Pedder)
Does your landlord not know that you guys have a world famous blog?
Having moved to Victoria form that region I can say I miss the surf at Bombo beach.
All the best.
Well if they do come across this we hope they’ll be with us in spirit. And we’ll of course give them preserved lemons and shiitakes. There’s a lot of peeps in the world however, so it seems unlikely… thanks for the compliment but not everyone’s across milkwood (thankfully, in some ways)!
Good luck and congratulations on making the move. I, too, shall be interested to watch and maybe adopt some of what of what you do. I have a yard waiting to be cultivated- not started for many good reasons; I plan on no-dig- the soil is so de-graded, not a worm in sight, even where I’ve been digging in vegetable etc. scraps…and I find I can’t quite manage lots of digging. My blog will be showing the progress, can’t wait to get going. Thanks for milkwood blog- I love it!
No problems with that camp fire as long as you make it a cooking place. All you need is a grill on a pivot and it’s a legal BBQ.
very good points. And we just happen to have a grill on a pivot right here…
Good luck with it all. You will do fine. It must have been hard to leave Mudgee, but you can’t keep a good permie down!
Kirsten there are quite a few things to grow at the moment. Your coastal environment is a far cry from our -2C frost at Tamworth this morning. I have completed the first of my wicking beds…6m X 0.75m.. and have planted carrots from a seeded plant elsewhere in the garden, climbing peas (3-4 varieties) and transplanted some self sown lettuce. There will be at least another 5 of these beds built in my fruit fly free enclosure and rotational beds for the “tomato” patch over coming months. I had to go wicking and raised beds because of the neighbouring 6… Read more »
Can’t wait to see what you guys are going to come up with in that smaller space! Much like what with I have to work with. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with the smallest bit of soil 🙂
“…asking forgiveness trumps asking permission. Every time.” I so need to remember that for my own landlord.
To lovely new beginnings Milkwood crew.
As much as moving is challenging and at times sad, it sounds like you’re going great guns settling into your new space. This week (in fact just 15 minutes ago) saw me planting some peppercorns I’d soaked in warmish water as an experiment to see if I can grow my own piper nigrum. We’re cold mountain climate here so they will go inside the passive solar greenhouse we are having constructed today. 🙂 Otherwise it’s repotting mangoes and avocadoes, sourcing pineapples and pots and lots of organic potting mix. 🙂
What in the world is bacon jam?
Change is scary, but also sometimes necessary. Most people do want to move to the countryside, not the other way around. Having lived in the countryside for a while though, with kids and all the school buses to get to school – I get it when people need to change locations.
I’d be scoping out the new digs and dreaming up an edible forest too. I think you can grow more on a suburban block, because there is less land to manage. Less land means you’re forced to focus on efficiency.
Glad to hear you’re settling.
We have baby banana trees in a variety that produces 100-200 a bunch in Wollongong climate – you’re welcome to collect some to establish that subtropical food forest 🙂
Hello Kirsten! Now, I have completely and utterly missed something here! You have moved away from Mudgee? Forever? Or will you be going back? That wonderful little house you built at Mudgee? Is it done and dusted at Mudgee? I don’t keep up with everything you write but I don’t understand how I missed all this news! I usually read one or two of the articles each week. I am just floored. We were all cashed up recently and I was trying to convince Renata to move to Dorrigo. If I had known there were plans afoot, then I could… Read more »
Sorry you missed it Dean – yes we’re in Kiama, the short version of why is here: https://www.milkwood.net/2014/05/03/forward-ho – proximity to schools and community won the day over remoteness (a common story, we’re now realising). The MUdgee property will no doubt one day nurture another family who are better suited/resourced for the place. All good, life is long. All the best for wherever you end up!
Hello Kirsten, all I can say is wow, wow, wow and wow! My very best wishes to you three! We should have all teamed up though, and bought land in Dorrigo! (More whimsy).
hey KB, what about Diamond Energy. Did you look into them?
Love you guys and really enjoy your posts! You are inspiration to so many people. I hope you are able to get your space “working” for you and that you are happy. Have you ever heard of the Deavres family who live in Pasadena, CA? They have created an awesome urban homestead on a quarter acre of land. Their website is at You will be inspired by what they have done in such a small space. I keep going back to see what’s new on their “farm.” It’s pretty amazing!
I am also currently researching to find the “least bastardly” energy company who is not involved in the CSG industry and not actively undermining the RET, like the Big 3 dirty energy companies; Origin, AGL (first two actively involved in the CSG industry) and EnergyAustralia. Get Up are currently running a campaign in VIctoria to ask members to switch to RET friendly companies like Powershop (Vic only), Momentum and Diamond https://www.getup.org.au/campaigns/climate-action-now/energyswitch-faqs/ When I contacted Get Up about the situation in NSW, they suggested Momentum who supply 100% hydro power into the grid for every kW that you use. When I… Read more »
I have emailed Momentum again with further questions and asking for an official position on CSG. Let me know if you’d like me to forward on any further info I get.
Good luck to you all on your new adventure. I am sure you will be converting the neighbouring burbs into growiing their own goodies before the summer! I am planning expanding the farm into raising meat chickens and a few lambs. Also a Maremma perhaps to help with guard duties if I can convince the neighbours that barking at night to scare off dogs and foxes will help their flocks too! Best wishes and keep us informed along the way in your own tongue in cheek style. Nina
Hi there. ..an amazing adventure begins again. You have great skills that will lead you well. I’m also a suburban farmer and on my little block of paradise I know breed meat quail and meat rabbits. I also have chickens. I have MANY working towards my soil in my front yard veg patch. I also have more than 20 fruit varieties.All pollinated by my wonderful bees.
So u see…iit is possible to have lots going on in the suburbs.
Cheers n can’t wait to see your new haven grow.
Are you serious about wanting a rowboat because our neighbour has an old wooden sailing dinghy(with no mast) that they are trying to get rid of. Not sailable but plantable Its in Oak Flats. I could send you a photo.