The march of the yabbies

Nick and some new friends from the creek

Recently we’ve un-ravelled one of the mysteries of nature that’s been plagueing us for years here at Milkwood. How is it that if you build a dam or a pond, in the middle of nowhere, that over time it naturally becomes inhabited with water-loving creatures like yabbies? How do they know the new water source is there? Can they smell it? Is there some sort of inter-species bush telegraph? This one really had us stumped.

But now, we’ve seen it for ourselves, so we can tell you too. In certain conditions, the yabbies just walk there.

Re-setting the spillways

[caption id="attachment_777" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Our very full swale snaking past the house and into our very full dam"][/caption]

For the last 2 and a half years we have waited for the big rain which would test the capacity of our water-harvesting earthworks. And waited. We’ve had a bit of rain here and there, but the summers have been hot and dry these last two years, and we had gotten used to life with half-full dams and swales which were good roads, but rarely wet.

Seven Thousand Oaks

Vicki Mason Oregano, Wattle and Rose brooches. Photo by Bill Shaylor

Recently I found myself sitting in a Melbourne basement talking to interesting people for a whole day. It was an unusual Sunday for me. Once upon a time, this sort of thing was quite normal in my life, but these days my Sundays seem to be spent either hosting Permaculture courses, or digging holes, or considering lichen, or re-thinking the planting design for the second food forest below the main swale. So a day spent chatting in a basement was quite a treat, in its way.

This long chat was a forum as part of the Seven Thousand Oaks festival. I think i was there in the capacity of an artist/farmer who also delves in sustainability education, but I’m not certain… what i do know is that I met a bunch of amazing and inspiring folks and came back home full of new ideas and different directions relating to Permaculture, mapping, social sustainability and covenants. Including the following:

The fire and the fury: Alexandria Permablitz

 beds in progress

Hundreds of native tree seedlings, check. Copious quantities of newspaper, check. Bathtub in frame ready to turn into community worm-farm, check. Multiple uteloads of horse-bedding pea-straw, check. Tools, lunch for 50 hungry helpers, fruit trees, vines, potting mix, manures and a ride-on ripper, check. This can only mean one thing: we must be having a Permablitz .

The recent long weekend saw the considerable energy and enthusiasim of over 50 folks explode apon Alexandria Park Community Garden in Sydney. We run our Sydney courses in the same precinct and we've watched this community garden's crew move forward with a bunch of big jobs and features in their garden over the last year. It seemed to us what they needed was a big influx of temporary energy to get over some of the hurdles they faced in establishing and defining their garden so that it could be of maximum benefit to the community, and bring in new members. …

Sydney Permablitz! Monday 14th June 2010


Please join us this coming Monday for an all-out, fabulous explosion which will create biodiversity, edibility and community along the edge of a football field in Alexandria, Sydney. It’s a Permablitz! 10am-3pm on Monday 14th June: everyone’s welcome. Bring your friends, your granny and your gloves. And it’s free! A combined effort by Sydney Permablitz, Alexandria Park Community Garden and Milkwood Permaculture

Permaculture Design: Quirindi Public School Community Garden

quirindi school community garden

Quirindi School Garden Permaculture Design by Milkwod Permaculture – larger image here

Here's a design we did a while back for Quirindi Public School Community Garden. Quirindi Public School is the centre of a diverse farming community in a small town in Central West NSW. Their climate is temperate and not dissimilar to Milkwood – heavy frosts in Winter, quite hot in Summer, and rainfall once predictable and now erratic. Quirindi, like much for the Central West, has also been in and out of drought for the past 7 years.

Late last year Quirindi Public School invited Nick along to do a consultancy and design a permaculture community garden and outdoor classroom. Nick took along Milkwood Permaculture interns Stephen Couling and Ko Oishii, this is what they collectively came up with – a design incorporating current and future use, active learning areas, butterfly garden, vegetable beds, rainwater harvesting, community composting and multiple opportunities for a growing community involvement.

We look forward to seeing Quirindi Public School's garden grow, blossom and fruit with many good things.

FRESH movie screening: Sydney May 28th

fresh movie

Milkwood is hosting a screening of new documentary FRESH at 7pm on Friday, May 28th, at Alexandria Park Community Center in Sydney. The screening is free and everyone's welcome. Directions to the venue are here.

Come along and enjoy free organic popcorn as you watch (or perhaps re-watch) one of the best documentaries around on food as we know it and what we can do to reclaim good, clean fair food in the western world today. Following the film will be an open forum on possible strategies for local food systems in the Sydney basin and beyond.

FRESH celebrates the farmers, thinkers and business people across America who are re-inventing their food system. Each has witnessed the rapid transformation of their agriculture into an industrial model, and confronted the consequences: food contamination, environmental pollution, depletion of natural resources, and morbid obesity. Forging healthier, sustainable alternatives, they offer a practical vision for a future of all our food and our planet.

Among several main characters, FRESH features urban farmer and activist, Will Allen, the recipient of MacArthur’s 2008 Genius Award; sustainable farmer and entrepreneur, Joel Salatin, made famous by Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma; and supermarket owner, David Ball, challenging the Wal-Mart dominated economy.

This will be the first of a series of film nights we're running at Alexandria Park this winter – it's kindof an off-shoot of the Urban Permaculture Design Certificate we're running at the same venue each weekend. We've got access to some amazing documentaries that offer insights and solution-based approaches to some of our biggest questions and problems in the world today. All screenings are completely free and kids are welcome. We hope to see you there.

How to Make a Wicking Bed

wicking bed team

A wicking bed is an excellent technique for growing things in environments where water is scarce, and has two main parts. The bottom half is a contained reservoir filled with gravel and water and the top half is filled with soil, mulch and plants. By periodic flooding of the deeper half of the bed, mature plant roots get a big drink. And because it's contained, that water gets a chance to 'wick' upwards into the soil, hydrating the soil of the bed and the smaller roots within. Pretty simple, really, but amazingly effective, very water efficient and ripe for endless variation.

Below is a photo essay outlining the process of creating a wicking bed using everyday tools and materials, which took 5 people about 4 leisurely hours to make. It features the efforts of Milkwood Permaculture's awesome Permaculture Design Certificate students in Alice Springs earlier this year, led by Nick Ritar who also designed this particular wicking bed system..

Milkwood Tinyhouse floorplan


milkwood tinyhouse floorplan

Following on from my brief explanation of the basic design for our lakeside tinyhouse (ok, damside – details, details), here's how we're approaching the inside bits. The house is split across two levels, hugging the two-step cut that forms our zone 1, cut into the hillside. Downstairs is kitchen and living space, and the bedroom / studio is up top.

The bottom level comprises a small but serviceable kitchen including a woodstove, and all the normal kitchen stuff like washup, benches, pantry and fridge. In addition to the upright fridge we're creating a cool cupboard next to the sink on the right. A cool cupboard is a well sealed space which takes a passively-cooled inflow of air into its base and releases that air via convection out its top. On the way through, this constant stream of cool air passes through wire baskets full of foodstuffs that are best kept at a cool temperature and actively cools them. I'll go into detail on this feature during its construction process soon. Read More…


Urban dispatches from the undergrowth

lucas and bon scott

Lucas Ihlein. And Bon Scott.

We are very pleased to announce that the esteemed Sydney blogger and artist, Lucas Ilhlein, will be keeping a weekly diary of the ongoing process that will be our part-time Urban Permaculture Design Course in Sydney this Winter, starting May 29th. Lucas will be attending our course as a student and will lend his unique perspective to a summation of the class (as he understood it) on a weekly basis.

As the course progresses, from the end of May until mid August this year, i imagine we’ll all get a pretty clear idea of what a Permaculture Design Course involves and also how it intersects with the life of an inner-city artist who lives in a flat but dreams of reviving city-wide goat keeping, vegetable swaps and edible footpaths.

Comrade Ilhlein will be providing these urban dispatches at his blog Bilateral. Bring on the urban permaculture.

Holistic Management: Herbivores, Hats, and Hope


Grazing animals bad, undisturbed grass good. That's how we personally thought regeneration worked, five years ago. And we were not alone. You could be forgiven for thinking that any and all grazing animals (particularly of the introduced kind) have no role whatsoever to play in regenerating pastures, soils and land, simply because we know how much damage badly-managed grazing and animal management can do. And we as a society do love a good bit of polarity, especially when it comes to nature. Perhaps it's our quest for simplicity. At the same time, we inherently know that an ecosystem cannot be simplified down to a set of polar opposites.

However we frequently farm the land and expect it to give back without much thought or consideration for the complexity within the pastures, the biological relationships, the edge effects, the soil. The results of this approach speak for themselves – widespread desertification, aridity, loss of topsoil, salinification and the introduction of a catastrophe of chemicals and hormones into the food chain, which our grandchildren will not be the last to bear the legacy of Read More…