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Living the Homesteading Dream – Part 7

Living the Homesteading Dream – Part 7

Weeds and Bugs and Raccoons, Oh My!

I’m in the middle of the garden, dusk just tipping into darkness, wearing nothing but my underpants when I realise that chasing a raccoon whilst clapping and shouting—we’d just finished reading that they don’t like loud noises—might attract attentive neighbours with something they’d not likely seen yet.

And, believe me, they’ve been watching this little permaculture homestead come together for a couple of years now, so they have seen some stuff, if only via glimpsing across these boundary lines every so often out of perplexed curiosity.

The raccoon lopes away, turning to look back, suggesting this half-naked man’s—that’s me—effort is but a dream. I should have just stayed in bed because it seems to know that I’ll be back there soon enough, leaving the garden an unattended smorgasbord once again.

It started with our wood mulch pathways. Every morning we’d wake up to find them disheveled, the cardboard below them torn up in areas. Rocks from the garden borders would be tossed askew. Mulch in the garden beds would be tugged this way and that. Apparently, there were just too many earthworms for the resident raccoon to resist, so putting it all back together became a morning ritual for us.

The stakes got higher, though. When the strawberry mounds were promising huge harvests—we’d already pulled a couple of bowlfuls without making a dent in the future bounty—the raccoon started scrumping (Emma’s English term for stealing the farmer’s fruit in a sort of rascally way). The strawberries were all disappearing, with the raccoon having set the little green lids daintily on the ground after having snacked on them.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

These 3 tips will help you create a thriving pollinator-friendly garden this winter

These 3 tips will help you create a thriving pollinator-friendly garden this winter

The busy buzz of pollinating bees is a sound most of us associate with summer. If you live in temperate regions of Australia, you may start to notice fewer insects as the weather gets colder. Across most of the continent, however, some flower-visiting insects are active all year round – and some are more common in cooler months.

Planting winter-blooming flowers is a great way to support beneficial garden insects. Now is the perfect time to start planning your pollinator-friendly winter garden.

Flowers are an important source of food for insects such as bees, butterflies, wasps and hoverflies. Sugary nectar is an important source of carbohydrates, while pollen packs a powerful protein punch.

Planting flowers also attracts and sustains predatory insects. This can help keep pest species under control, meaning less need for pesticides.

cabbage garden
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay Planting flowers means less need for pesticides.

Know your winter-active insects

First, let’s look at which pollinators and helpful predators you can expect in your garden in winter.
This guide, as well as the below gardening tips, applies primarily to temperate regions of Australia where temperatures become cool over winter.

The temperate region comprises the areas shown in blue below. It includes the coastal rim that curves from inland of Brisbane down to Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide, as well as Tasmania and the southwest tip of Western Australia.

Australian climate zone map
Australian climate zone map – Bureau of Meteorology

One of the most common pollinators is the Western honeybee (Apis mellifera). This introduced species evolved in cooler regions of the world and tends to be more cold-tolerant than most native bees. They’ll start to leave the hive when the temperature rises above 13℃, but are most active above 19℃.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Frost in the Garden

Frost in the Garden

Plants That Love It, Protecting Plants That Don’t

It seems many a gardener spends the winter locked up inside, hiding from the chilly weather, darning socks in front of the cookstove, the gardens tucked in with mulch and awaiting the spring. But, that’s no way to be when there is a large collection of plants that adore a little frost tickling their leaves.  Many plants willing to brave freezing temperatures if given the right encouragement.

In short, a good lot of us could be growing a good lot of fresh food year-round, no greenhouse necessary.

Just for fun, and because our fall garden is kicking out the good stuff so far this year, and because a few holdovers from the summer are still producing in mid-November, it felt like an appropriate time to revisit some of those plants that not only endure cold weather but improve with it.

Equally so, it’s worth remembering that, with a few tricks here and there, we can coax some of those summer gems to extend their output for a month or more.

Plants That Improve With Frost

Around these parts (North Carolina), it is well known and widely accepted that collard greens are notably and inarguably better after a frost. Though a bit more tolerant of heat than, say, kale (they will grow in the summertime), collards are planted in late summer all the same, and gardeners in the know wait to harvest any until after a good frost slaps the bitter taste away.

Last year, a mild winter, Emma and I played pick-and-eat with collards over the entire season. We let them go to seed in spring and replant themselves…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Repurposing Wood


Not so long ago, my wife Emma and I bought our property, a place for which we’d been looking for nearly four years. And, in doing so, the enormity of what we were about to undertake sunk in. I’d been gathering up wood in anticipation of us needing to build a home, but the pace had been leisurely and the collected resources a bit aimless in there (re)purpose.

Amazingly, the property came with a bonus: There was already a structure on it. A picnic shelter, that is our future home already had a slab and a roof. This was a major relief because we’d been contemplating how to balance foundations, ecology, and building codes for the floor of the house. Suddenly, that was done. We’d have never voluntarily poured concrete, but we are happy to (re)use a slab. As for the roof, it was an instant spot to keep materials out of the weather.

However, with the dimensions of our home now official and the plan roughed out in a real way, I started calculating the amount of wood we had versus what we needed. We were short. Very much so. Hoping to get started within the next year, I realized we were going to have to seriously up our efforts for squirreling away some wood for the project. We wanted to repurpose the bulk, if not all, of our lumber, so that added a challenge, amongst the many before us, that many builders don’t have to worry about.


What We Had Stacked

From the moment we’d decided we were going to live in North Carolina, I’d started looking out for lumber. I started with pallets. At our last home in Guatemala, I’d become quite the pallet enthusiast, particularly building tables, benches, and garden furnishings.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Excerpt From “De-growth in the Suburbs, A Radical Urban Imaginary.”


Over the next 4 weeks we will be sharing with you excerpt from Samuel Alexander and Brendan Gleeson’s new book, “Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary”.

This book addresses a central dilemma of the urban age: how to make suburban landscapes sustainable in the face of planetary ecological crisis.  The authors argue that degrowth, a planned contraction of overgrown economies, is the most coherent paradigm for suburban renewal. They depart from the anti-suburban sentiment of much environmentalism to show that existing suburbia can be the centre-ground of transition to a new social dispensation based on the principle of enlightened material and energy restraint.

Prelude: The Great Resettlement

This book opens, as it must, by acknowledging that the human species stands at the precipice of self-made destruction. At the very hour when modern humanity arrived at the pinnacle of triumph – a global market economy promising riches for all—the skies have been darkened by the terrible spectres of ecological and social threat. Global warming is only one of these storm clouds, but this alone has the potential to lay waste to our species, as well as most others. At the same time, vast oceans of debilitating poverty surround small islands of unfathomable plenty, exposing the violent betrayal of the growth agenda, euphemistically (or just deceptively) known in public discourse as ‘sustainable development’. This is a race leading towards an abyss, both enabled and entrenched by a sterility of imagination.

The late German scholar Ulrich Beck spoke of how triumph and crisis simultaneously emerge and remerge in a world pervasively and con- tinuously remade by capitalist modernisation.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Backyard Chickens, and the Interconnectedness of All Things


This 3-Part Series articles starts off with our cultural lack of understanding about our place in the web of life, which is at the root of why our efforts to address ecological destruction aren’t working yet.

If you were mainly interested in chickens, stay with me – I’ll get onto backyard chickens in the second part of Part 1, and then I’ll stick almost entirely to chickens for the rest of the Series.

Please note, though, that this is not a “how to take care of chickens” Series (you can find those everywhere). This article Series is about “how to appreciate chickens as more than just egg-layers and garden-scratchers.” You’ll find out the importance of this, as you read the following section.


I’ve been reading some of Charles Eisenstein’s writings. In his books and articles, Eisenstein points out that regardless of how hard we work in a piecemeal way or on a superficial level to address the social and ecological challenges we face, collectively we are still missing a fundamental piece of the puzzle. It’s a piece that must fall into place before deep change can occur on a broad scale.

That missing piece has to do with our culture’s ways of interpreting reality, and our place in it.

Ecological destruction and social upheaval will continue until we as a culture experience a fundamental change in the way we view our place and role on earth, and our relationship with the rest of life.

So long as we continue to hold onto a (now obsolete) scientific worldview that says we are alone in the universe, we will continue to place ourselves above and apart from nature, and to prioritize our own wellbeing at the expense of other lifeforms.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How to Diversify Your Small Urban Farm


If you’re a small farmer, it can be hard to make a living selling $3 bunches of kale. You likely just don’t operate on the scale that’s needed to profit from this model of simply growing the classic vegetable suspects and hoping your customers buy enough to make it worth your while.

Luckily, there are ways to diversify your small urban farm that can help make it more sustainable in terms of keeping both the earth and your bank account happy and healthy. Let’s take a look at why you should diversify and how you can do it.

Why Diversify?

Diversifying your small urban farm is a good idea for many reasons. First of all, it’s good for your farm’s soil health and the health of the earth in general. Growing different types of crops helps promote sustainable growing practices. This is a big reason why environmental awareness is worth teaching. The more variety in what you grow and produce, the better off your soil (and therefore what grows in it) will generally be.

When you’re working with a diversified farm, you’re also protecting yourself from risk. If you’re running a monoculture operation and have a crop failure, your entire enterprise is at risk. But if you have your eggs in more than one basket, so to speak, you’re more likely to be able to bounce back from disaster.

Additionally, diversification is important to get consumers to demand more than orange carrots and bell peppers. When customers buy foods they’re unfamiliar with, they in turn introduce their kids to new foods and create a cycle of demand. With so many foods and seed varieties out there, farmers can do their part to educate people on all the different things they could be eating. Again, this way of eating is better for the earth and better for human health.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

5 HA Polyculture Farm Design–Suhi Dol Revisited


Paul Alfrey from Balkan Ecology Project shares with us his observations and thoughts in regards to a visit he made to a farm he designed and how it slowly developed into a polyculture of fruit trees, aquaculture and vegetable gardens. 

Last week Dylan and I set off on a road trip to discover the flora and fauna of the North East of Bulgaria. Our first stop was to Catherine Zanev ‘s farm in Todorovo, North Bulgaria. As those of you familiar with our project may recall, this was a farm I designed in 2013. I had not visited the place for some time and was very excited to see how the plans had emerged into reality.

Catherine’s goals for the plot were to create a polyculture farm with focus on producing fruit for juicing, to include vegetable production for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) scheme and to experiment with dye plants. The design was complete by 2015 and implementation began that year.

The 5 ha polyculture plot Suhi Dol on the right, locally practiced intensive monoculture farming on the left

The design concept for Suhi Dol was to create an agroforestry system of “Belts” that are comprised of mixed species fruit trees, soft fruits and nitrogen fixing shrubs planted in “Rows” under-storied with support plants, herbs and perennial vegetables. Between the rows are the “Alleys”. The Alleys have potential to be used for growing hay, cereals, vegetables, herbs or rearing pasture raised poultry such as chickens or turkeys. Integrated throughout the belts and around the perimeter are various beneficial habitats to enhance biodiversity. The designed system is an elaboration of Alley Cropping and is based on tried and tested models of our small scale forest garden systems scaled up.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How to Green the Desert: Europe’s Heatwave and Some Holistic Suggestions


In the Northern Hemisphere, the balance of light is turning ever more towards darkness as we approach the Autumn Equinox. This is following a summer which in many places was unusually hot and dry(1, 2). This is perhaps not unexpected; climate change scientists have been predicting extreme temperature spikes for a number of years(3). However, it seems that a lot of farmers were nevertheless unprepared and many crops have been lost(2). Such occurrences can be seen as unfortunate; but can also serve as lessons for us. When you look at the factors exacerbating aridity, it seems clearer than ever that industrial farming is ill-equipped to deal with adaptation. This article will explore a little what happened in the heatwave, particularly in the UK and look at an example of a permaculture site which survived unharmed.

Dry continent

Throughout Europe, rainfall in the summer of 2018 was so low that many places were reported as having droughts. While some of the affected areas of the drought were wild places, such as the forest fires which swept through the coniferous forests of Norway and Sweden in June and July(4), the main losses were from the farming industry. Both Lithuania and Latvia declared national states of emergency in July(2, 5). Germany and Poland were reported as experiencing severe losses in wheat production(2), with many farmers in Germany resorting to destroying their crops since they did not have the resources to continue watering them(2). Many cattle farmers, such as in the UK, had to use their winter supply of animal food to feed their cows(6), since the grass had all withered and dried, creating a temporary solution and more problems in the months to come.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What Might Buildings, Settlements and Even Regions Look Like Through the Lens of Permaculture Design? Part 2


This is part 2 of 2 of a transcript of a talk given by Paul Jennings to the recent SBUK Big Straw Bale Gathering. Paul has built his straw-bale family home on a ‘One-Planet Development’ smallholding in Wales (costing £12,000).

You can read part 1 in this link.


Site design improves building function. Working from patterns of landscape design and land use, we work to details, like how our buildings fit into the landscape. From pattern to details is a technique of nesting one pattern or design in another, a higher order system. For example: a bioregional pattern to localities; localities to site developments; site landscape developments to buildings, gardens or orchards; house to conservatory; conservatory to watering system or composting process; watering system to plant species choice or gardening practice.

Credit: Paul Jennings

Hopefully then, you’ll see that design of good buildings, the sort which we might readily call “ecological”, cannot really begin with just building design. By definition the ecological must be linked in a complex web of relationships to both higher and lower order systems. If ecology is your thing (and it should be your thing) then the short phrase which is your house makes no sense unless combined in a sentence which refers both to landscape and how you deal with your bodily wastes, or what you use to clean your worktops, or how much of your own food you grow.

So let’s place our buildings in an understood and designed landscape where windbreaks reduce our energy needs, and where zonal design reduces work and helps us to create self-sustaining abundant household and settlement economies of the sort we are going to need.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What Might Buildings, Settlements and Even Regions Look Like Through the Lens of Permaculture Design? Part 1


This is part 1 of 2 of a transcript of a talk given by Paul Jennings to the recent SBUK Big Straw Bale Gathering. Paul has built his straw-bale family home on a ‘One-Planet Development’ smallholding in Wales (costing £12,000).


My partner and I built our first straw bale house in 2000, a very low spec Nebraska-style cabin on shipping pallets, with reclaimed windows, vigas cut on the site for a single pitch roof. It was 20m long and 6m wide, like a straw bale railway carriage; reclaimed forklift truck floor and earth rendered walls. We built it without planning permission, on the farm rented by the co-op we were members of, became something of a local cause celebre, and when we left, the building transitioned through accommodation for another couple, to an artist’s studio, and was finally disassembled, recycled and composted. £4000 build.

We’ve done quite a lot of funky self-building since, and we’re living in another straw bale cabin now on an OPD project in Carmarthenshire. £12,000 build. I’m not going to talk about straw bale building though, at least not directly. I’m going to talk about issues related to it, and how I think Permaculture design might be relevant to straw bale builders.

Asked why Permaculture emerged in Tasmania, David Holmgren said that it’s a place where nature and modernity collide, both creatively and destructively. It was a place where the ferment of the 1960s, the rising awareness, after the publication of the Limits to Growth, of the strain being placed on the Earth system, and on-the-ground resistance to environmental destruction, coalesced into a rising environmental consciousness.

Holmgren says of Bill Mollison, Permaculture’s perhaps more famous originator, that his “life and ideas epitomised a creative bridge between nature and civilisation and between tradition and modernity.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Link Between Minimalism and Permaculture


There is an inherent link between permaculture and minimalism, so it’s no wonder why people are finding ways to combine the two ways of living into one super-philosophy. Both minimalism and permaculture hinge on utilizing highly efficient systems to make room for the important things in life: interconnectedness, abundance, and sustainability. Let’s take a closer look at the link between the two ideas:

People Care

Permaculture puts great importance on taking care of people. In fact, people care is one of the three main ethics of permaculture. Permaculture can influence communication, help foster connections between people, and support healthy relationships. People tend to create lasting connections while working together to meet a common need, and these types of situations are very common in the permaculture community.

Perhaps people care is intrinsic to permaculture in part because the local food movement is rooted in relationships and values. When you’re practicing permaculture, it’s impossible to separate people from food — and why would you want to? Half the joy of eating something is knowing the story of how it came to be on your plate.

Similarly, minimalism also seeks to improve personal well-being, often through relationships. Some minimalists are motivated by financial or environmental reasons, and a majority seem to be at least partly motivated by personal mental well-being.

Clutter (both mental and physical) can pile up quickly, taking up far more of your bandwidth than it should. It’s difficult to think clearly and creatively when there are piles of junk here and endless shopping and to-do lists there. Minimalism helps people clear away the junk and make room for what matters — and that’s often relationships and self-care.


Permaculture creates abundance — abundance of food, connections, systems, and value. When you visit incredible permaculture sites, abundance is everywhere. Everything seems to be teeming with life, color, sound, and energy.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Most Ethical Renewable Energy Systems


The main thing in renewable energy systems is the embodied energy: the energy over the lifetime of the product versus the energy of manufacturing it. Lithium batteries are used a lot because they are lightweight, but they don’t last. Lead-acid batteries, like car batteries, are also short-lived. An old technology, the nickel-iron battery, lasts a long time.

Lithium batteries are great when there might be a space or weight issue, but they are consumable products. Lead-acid batteries decays as they give energy. The nickel-iron battery powered the first electric cars, some of which had batteries that worked over 100 years later. These are not acid, but alkaline, made with a potassium hydroxide mix.

While they are only 1.2 volts, which means a lot of batteries and a lot weight, in a stationary situation, such as a house, the embodied energy is much, much better in nickel-iron batteries.

Key Takeaways:

– Renewable energy is best judged via embodied energy: the amount of energy it provides over a lifetime versus the amount used to produce the system.

– Lithium and lead-acid batteries both have short lifespans, decreasing their embodied energy, and as a result, they create more waste.

– Nickel-iron batteries, a very old technology, lasts an incredibly long time and have much more embodied energy.

-In a stationary situation, such as powering a house, nickel-iron batteries, though they require more space and weigh more, are a more ethical choice.


Water Harvesting Earthworkds “Design to Reality”. Part 1.


So, you have been contacted by a client and you’ve discussed the client’s brief. You’ve started to look at the contour map, aerial images, whatever data you can find on the site. And with the client brief in mind, always remembering WATER IS LIFE, you set to the task of patterning the landscape using functional forms.

You start to look at what’s the most economical way to hold water in the landscape, move water around the landscape passively and make it perform as many duties as possible before it leaves the site.

Next is to develop the mainframe design theme. A big part of this is looking for high water storage sites. So we take the approach of looking at the contour map to take into account where the highest possible spot is, where water can safely be stored on the site in dams, (always considering how much catchment area is above the potential dam site or if there are any hard-surface run-off areas above the dam site).

Reader’s will understand catchment area, but hard surface run-off areas aren’t so well utilised and it’s just a bit of pattern recognition to identify when you look at a new site.

Identifying hard surface run off areas

Hard surface run-off areas with a bit of design thinking, can brought into our water harvesting systems. At times it doesrequire good observation skills to identify them, but there are generally clues for the observer.

There are many examples of hard surface run-off areas, sometimes called ‘hard-ware’. Your roof, a road, any compacted surface or a rock outcrop are all examples of ‘hard-ware’.

Gravel roads run off 85% of the water that hits the surface. Concrete areas 100% minus whatever evaporates, and your roof 100%.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

12-Plus Methods For Keeping Challenging Weeds and Pests Out of the Garden


With organic gardening, especially at the outset, comes a few new challenges for transitioning growers. Pesticides and other chemicals have, for several decades, become the go-to solution for all things in the garden, and now that many of us are clearing our heads from that fog, we are left to rediscover methods for dealing with everyday garden problems. 

When herbicides have been the trick for combating weeds, how do we do it without the chemicals? Where aphids once elicited a poison spray (on our food no less), how do we now stop them from eating our crops? When voles are feasting, how do we protect our food without resorting to awful compound killers? This is our food after all, so we have cause to protect it! If we have to do so without chemicals (which seems a form of protection in its own right), what are we to do? 

The permaculture way is to find somewhat natural solutions (we kind of stage them) to such problems. Bill Mollison is famously quoted as claiming there isn’t slug problem but rather a duck shortage. In other words, we can control slugs with ducks and get more production from the system on the whole. With permaculture techniques, solutions to problems have multiple functions in the garden. Not only will pest insects be thwarted, but pollinators will be invited. Not only will weeds be suppressed, but the soil life will be enlivened. Stacking solutions is how permaculture gardens, much more organically than typical organic gardens, handle weeds and pests, as well as fertility, soil structuring, and so on.  

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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