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Low impact farming - my permaculture project


Jan 7, 2009
Enjoyed reading your update. I live in Canada so cannot imagine some of the subtropical species you are working with! I googled the tiger worms, they are much bigger than the worms I used in my bins. A guava orchard sounds wonderful!

I hope you post some pictures too.


Yeah I will post some photo's. I'm not a real photo person in that its always the last thing I think of and my pictures are usually crap, completely failing to capture what it is I intend. But I will try and take some soon. The biggest issue is that I am only home for about 6 days of the month as I travel extensively in my job.

Anyway I'm at a crossroads with my project. I was all set to buy a small acreage in my local area, got bank approval for a loan etc. But I got a big case of cold feet over the property. I just felt in my gut that aomething wasnt right about it and no amount of due diligence has been able to either put my fears to rest or discover what it is thats bugging me. So now I need to know what to do.

Since I cant resolve to buy that particular property I need to look elsewhere, and I have two choices.

Choice 1 - buy an agricultural plot. I am allowed to put farm buildings on this kind of plot but I will never be allowed to build a house or live on it. The advantage of these plots is that they are considerably cheaper than residential plots. In many cases just 1/3rd the price of a residential plot for the same sized land. The downside, you cannot get cheap loans for them, they are commercial loans and are considerably more expensive. But for the size of plot I want (less than 10acres) I can afford to pay cash, but it will use up a considerable amount of my cash reserves, leaving me with only a small deposit for a separate house.

Choice 2 - buy a residential plot. I will over time be permitted to put a house on it (subject to approval and a lot of hoop jumping, usually at great expense). I can get a mortgage for the plot at home loan rates even without a house on it, but I'll also be paying a huge premium for the land especially in the under 10acre category. Hobby farms are popular and small acreages are the most expensive properties you can buy. It will allow me to retain cash reserves by only fronting a deposit but then there's the interest qnd the massive expense of putting a house on it.

Now I'm unsure what to do. I can rent a house again, that is easy. Its the land I really want at this stage but I dont know which way I should go. Any ideas?


The Power Of Polyculture

I was never really convinced that this had a real impact on productivity until I tried it. The idea is that a large group of the one plant makes it easier for pests for that plant to thrive. You've grown them a food farm of their own. But can grouping many species together really make much difference? Yes it can. And here's why I believe so...

Canopies - when you have a patch of all plants at the same width and height, you lack one of the most advantageous systems in ecology. The canopy. Having a canopy can trap up to 80% more moisture in the local microclimate helping all plants within it to thrive. Condensation forms on the leaves of shaded plants and eventually drips to ground level like irrigation.

Diversity of insect life - when you get a range of plants you get their range of residents as well. The more diverse the resident population the more likely it will be that one will keep the other in check preventing plagues of any one pest. We've seen this with our citrus plantings. Every now and gain we will see an outbreak of aphids on the citrus plants. When I say an outbreak, I mean whole stalks covered in a thick layer of them. Thousands, if not millions of them. It's enough to wipe out the entire yard. Yet as soon as these aphids appear like this it is only a matter of days before the surrounding population of lady birds moves in, lays a heap of eggs and their larvae wipe out the aphids. Without the umbellifer plants in the garden we would not have a lady bird nursery present that naturally and effectively keep the aphids from destroying our garden.

Hiding the crops - when you have a great mix of plants in the one section the garden takes on a wild aspect and replicates natures own defense against predation of crops. Simply being out of sight. Whether the predator is a possum, bird or grub, they have to find the plant first. A nice large patch of lettuces is an open invitation to snails and slugs, yet we have hundreds of Cos lettuces self seeding in the garden at all tmes of the year and never have a problem with these pests at all. Mostly we have to go foraging for the lettuces, tomatoes and other goodies because they have sprung up under something else. What a treasure it is for us to find, also that it is not been found by anyone else.

When I first started gardening here a year ago, The temptation was to plant patches of monocrops, and each time they failed or had limited success due to predation. Once I started scaterring mixed seed about everything became a lot more productive. The latest crop is a mix of carrot and buckwheat, one was sown over the other. So far, no carrot fly and the carrots are almost at harvestable stage.


Evolution - The Urban Microfarm

I decided to stick with my job a little while longer and move to a new area with it. I havent given up my permaculture goals but its changed slightly. I am moving to an arid, mediterreanean climate. I'm excited to be gardening in a climate with less ideal characteristics, its more of a challenge.

I plan to buy a house with as much land as I can afford. That will probably only give me a garden space or around 400sqm (4,300sqft) at its maximum. The challenge now is to provide as much food for myself as I can in this limited space. An urban micro food farm. It will require me to really plan the garden and utilise as much free space as possible. I'll also need to develop a friendly microclimate to stretch the growing season and conserve as much water as possible. While I'll have access to town water, water costs in Australia can be really high and during water conservation periods (spring\summer) using town water for the garden is generally prohibited entirely. Time to buy a tank for roof harvest and use wicking beds.

The crazy thing is, although this city is in a arid zone and prone to heatwaves, its amazing how unfriendly the garden spaces typically are. When looking for houses I've noticed the fashion is to build paved outdoor areas or concrete the entire backyard. That is only going to do one thing, absorb the heat of the day then release that back all around the house at night, effectively heating it up. I'm amazed that people are not using the power of evaporative cooling by growing deciduous vines on pergola's instead. Although most homes there have reverse cycle air conditioning, my goal is to live comfortably in this climate without aircon. Big challenge.

Annual rainfall is less than 500mm, about 1/6th the rainfall I am used to. Average temps in the summer are low 30C (86F) and in the winter below 10C (40F). Although top temps in the summer can easily get into high 30's and low 40's (86-104F) during heatwave season. Ironically this climate actually allows me to grow a much broader range of plants than I could in the subtropics. The big limiter with the subtropics is of course humidity. I was limited to basically tropical crops there, now I can grow the full range of temperate crops. Yay! Although the guava's and tamarillo's wont be reappearing on my menu without a greenhouse...boo!

Next step, buy a house and move.


So....might have a little trouble fulfilling this dream right now since I've rented an inner city pad with a 12sqm paved courtyard. I think I've got room for a small water garden and maybe a citrus tree in a pot. Talk about challenged.....:doh:

I can attest however that I'm living a minimalist lifestyle in a tiny home though. No furniture right now and about 500sqft of living space. Temporarily trading in my permaculture ideals for eco and handmade home furnishings instead. First project is the mattress, since I'm currently sleeping on an airbed, then I will slowly get some secondhand stuff to refurbish.

The great pity is my landlords went to huge expense to create a garden in my front yard and are maintaining it themselves. Its pretty (box hedges forml garden) but I would have done their landscaping for them if they'd let me create a garden on what is now a useless patch of lawn. I could be growing tulips, hollyhocks and lavender there.....*sigh*. I'll be looking for land to buy and eventually build on but as it stands I'm stuck city living for another year.