About the “Permaculture In Action” series
As I travel often and practice nomadic permaculture, I started a “Permaculture In Action” series of periodic blog posts describing the practical permaculture work I do in various places that I visit.
In case you missed it, feel free to check the first episode of this series: “Permaculture in action: Central Coast, NSW, Australia. One of our most popular hits so far !
Intro: Hazelcombe Farm
Hazelcombe Farm is for Tobi and I one of our special places in Australia; and Dan & Nicki, the owners of the farm, are like a second family to us. We first met them in 2017 as part of our HelpX network, and we have absolutely adored them from day 1: their vision to regenerate the Totnes valley, their courage and hard work everyday to make it a reality, their beautiful personality, their wonderful stories and outlook on life, etc.
Adon, a young man who learnt permaculture at the Permaculture Research Institute at Geoff Lawton’s Zaytuna Farm plus around the country for a few years, also lives at Hazelcombe farm and develops the water and food systems.
I invite you to watch their introductory videos to get an idea of what it’s like to stay there:
Tobi and I have stayed a few times with Dan, Nicki and Adon, basically every time we travel in the area; and we always help with different projects. This time around, I went on my own for a couple of weeks as Tobi was busy with work. Here are the 3 main ongoing projects I helped with:
Project #1: New garden bed with companion planting
A few apple trees grow in the garden bed by the front deck but are under stress due to the intense summer heat; we had a few days above 40⁰C when I was there. Nicki therefore wanted to plant cucumbers so they would provide shade to the apple trees. We started “improving” the bed by weeding lightly, then applied shredded cardboard for carbon, mature compost for nitrogen and other nutrients, and a thick layer of straw to preserve moisture. You can read about the benefits of mulching in my blog post about practices in veganic permaculture.
After planting the cucumbers, I looked-up good companion plants for apples and cucumbers, and found-out nasturtiums are great for pest control for both. Luckily, I found a packet of seeds in the seed storage area and added those to the bed.
After 2 weeks, the cucumber seedlings are coming-up nicely and we should soon proceed to thinning as they should grow about a foot apart from each other. Not many nasturtiums had come-out when I left. The seeds might have been too old, or they might have had too much water as we had a few strong storms, or they might just pop-out a bit later.
Project #2: Hazelnut orchard and multi-functionality
The 100+ hazelnut trees hadn’t been pruned in a while and it had become difficult to stroll in the orchard. So I did a bit of clean-up; here are the before / after photos.
Permaculture principles explain that one element should fulfill multiple functions and that each function should be served by multiple elements.
This short video explains the multiple benefits that the hazelnut orchard provides.
Project #3: Hot compost, vegetable garden & food preservation
The cycle “compost – vegetable garden – harvest – food preservation” is a beautiful example of a closed loop system. The output of each element or activity becomes the input to another one, avoiding waste, ensuring the flow and recycling of nutrients, and creating value at every step of the chain.
New heap of hot compost:
Adon’s hot compost is the most efficient I’ve seen so far. Road kill carcasses for instance are “digested” in just a few days, leaving only bits and pieces of bones. It is easy to make, and it plays a key role in quickly building-up soil fertility to support new plant growth.
The basis to build such a compost is to be large enough – the heap should be no less than 2 cubic meters – and also to be diverse in composition: the supply in carbon and nitrogen are from multiple sources such as various crops and weeds, coffee ground, left-overs of whey following cheese-making days, sawdust, fallen tree bits, various animal manures, etc.
Then the usual rules of thumbs apply:
- Aim for a 30:1 carbon/nitrogen ratio,
- Water-down as you build-up the heap to activate microbial activity,
- Periodic turn the heap to keep it aerobic and maintain a 60-65⁰C temperature.
Maintenance of the nursery & main vegetable garden:
Adon has created a beautiful and very productive garden with:
- A mix of annual & perennial species
- Biodiversity: Pioneers / nitrogen-fixing species such as comfrey & scarlet runner beans, and other categories of plants including greens, cruciferous, veggies & flowers
- We set-up additional trellis and tripods to support the growing tomato plants
- And we did a light weeding on the walking paths and placed the weeds around the crops for mulching (pull n’ drop)
- I also helped weeding and cleaning-up the nursery
Tomato & Peach harvest & preservation:
- On the way back from Mudgee town, there is a peach tree on the side of the road. The guys stopped one day to forage the wild peaches and put them to good use.
- Harvesting tomatoes is a daily job at the moment ! Kilos and kilos of tomatoes ripen-up and are turned into tomato salads, sundried tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, tomato soups, etc. There’s nothing quite like the taste of a home-grown tomato; it’s like eating sunshine. 😊
Other ongoing activities:
Of course, there are many more things going on at Hazelcombe Farm. Here are some other examples that one can be excited about.
- A 2 Megalitre dam and system of swales on contour were dug in the recent months. Although the area is fairly dry, we all get excited with every new rain coming our way and slowly filling-up the water systems. Overtime, it is replenishing the aquifers, regreening the valley, and creating water security against droughts.
Ongoing building of the root cellar:
- This requires quite some skills, from building to blacksmithing, and takes some time. It’s progressively coming together and will be something to be proud of when it’s finished.
Daily animal management:
Dan & Nicki look after the animals every day, and there are many:
- 3 different flocks of chicken
- A few dozens of pigeons
- A herd of always hungry and cheeky goats
- 1 Horse & 2 Cows
- And 7 Dogs from a few months old to 15 years young… !
If you’re interested in learning more about Hazelcombe farm, feel free to visit www.hazelcombefarm.com.au and get in touch with Dan & Nicki. They also host sustainability living weekends twice a year where you can learn many skills to prepare for self-sufficiency.