We have now officially been living at Loganberry Forest for 2.5 years! I thought this would be really good opportunity to take stock of what we have achieved to date in our journey towards self-sufficiency and the development of the property (and home) with permaculture principles. Firstly for ourselves – it is very easy to feel discouraged sometimes and think we aren’t doing enough, fast enough when we look around at all our 20 acres which is still largely grassland. Secondly, our account of our progress may help you if you are also heading into a similar (or not so similar) undertaking especially if you are planning to lead a similar lifestyle.
By lifestyle I mean we are not working on our property full time and do not have extra people like WWOOFers helping us at this stage (although i’d love to host some one day when we can provide some kind of decent accomodation). We have really quite busy lives balancing jobs (Dan works full time and I work 3 days a week), a 3 year old and are about to have another baby. We also have done a possibly excessive amount of post-graduate study in this time with Dan chipping away at his actuary qualifications and me finally finishing a PhD a year into our lives here.
We started off incredibly excited to finally be moving to Loganberry Forest. We had actually owned the place for a whole year beforehand and had only been able to visit a few times since were living in Roxby Downs, Central Australia (1200km away) while we reorganised our working and financial lives to be able to make the move.
When we first arrived in spring 2015 we immediately prioritised projects that would bring us food the fastest without a great deal of expense. Since that first year we were living on one one wage while I finished my PhD. Dan built our fixed chicken coop and run and we got 10 chickens for eggs. I focused on getting a kitchen garden up and running which first involved removing head-height grass and weeds.
Within 3 weeks we had our first harvest: a radish 🙂 Other fast growing crops though were to follow quickly after including spinach, lettuce and some sugar snap peas that i’d planted from seeds i’d saved from our previous desert garden. So we actually got 2 seasons of peas that year just by moving climate regions!.
Then it was summer and and we got a decent harvest of tomatoes and zucchini and fruit from the trees already growing on the property and I foraged for wild blackberries. I didn’t have a proper big pot for canning or time to do so that year, so apart from a few tomato relishes we mostly relied on our chest freezer for food preservation. Unfortunately Dan accidentally turned it off when we went away on holidays and we lost it all. Lesson learned there.
That was about all we achieved that year. We were massively time-limited as after the initial burst of progress and excitement of finally moving to Loganberry Forest wore off, I had to face the reality of actually finishing my degree so we could move on with our lives. So it was a full year of small amounts of garden maintenance during the day and looking after Finn who was then 1, punctuated with epic study sessions and entire weekends spent in the Victoria State Library (the only one open decent hours).
By the time I submitted my thesis for examination in Summer 2016, the kitchen garden was back to having head-high grass and other weeds although I found quite a lot of food to harvest underneath it all. Then the work was reclaiming the garden beds, planting a summer crop months later than we should have, although we still got an ok harvest. Sadly that year the chest freezer actually broke and we lost all our harvest…again.
This was the year of real progress! Having finished my PhD I could now get paid employment which we could largely put towards various projects at Loganberry Forest. For the first 6 months this was a consulting job in Melbourne 4 days a week but I didn’t last long due to the frustration of of 4 hour daily commute and leaving and arriving home in the dark. I might have been growing food during this period, but often didn’t have the time or energy to harvest and cook it on those work days. So I looked closer to home and found a great opportunity working in research at a local university 3 days a week which has proven to be a wonderful workplace and a fabulous work-life balance for family and the farm.
By far the biggest achievement of the year was the greenhouse. This was a conversion of two lean-to sheds that we had inherited with the property. They had an asbestos roof we had to professionally remove and then it was simply a matter of replacing most of the corrugated iron with clear laserlite polycarbonate roofing material onto the original shed frames. It made a single 9x10m unheated greenhouse. For details about how we built the greenhouse and designed the layout inside, check out the video I made here.
This greenhouse has made an enormous difference in the scale of our food production. Previous to this, we had always been limited by the extremely short summers before plants would be hit by frost. The greenhouse greatly extends our summer growing season and offers us more of a spring-type climate in the colder winter season for increased growing possibilities. It also helps us in self-sufficiency in the production of seedlings as it has a much more consistent environment for growing plants from seed, so that we no longer need to buy from nurseries.
The greenhouse has taught us a lot of lessons that we have now applied to gardening outdoors. We learnt that having low wooden sides to raised beds is a whole lot better in our soil than simply doing no-dig in the garden without them. It makes the garden bed flatter which is better for watering more evenly and the organic matter we add doesn’t erode off so easily into the path areas beside them. We also experienced the true value and time savings of automated watering systems.
Another other major project for the year was the construction of a mobile chicken coop based off the free design called the ‘chickshaw’ by Justin Rhodes. This paired with a mobile solar-powered electric fence means we could get the chickens to work to convert the orchard into a food forest. I also have a video on this here.
It’s a longer process than we expected to remove the grass in the 156m2 area within the chicken fence, perhaps since we only have 18 chickens. However it is entirely passive work for us. All we need to do is let the chickens in and out in the morning and evening and make sure they have food and water while they do the manual labor and negate the need to involve soil disturbing tillers.
That year, Dan also renovated our bathroom and toilet. We hadn’t meant to
do this so soon into living at Loganberry Forest, although had been aware that it was something we’d eventually like to do. But the discovery that the floor underneath was rotting away made it a more urgent matter. Dan did the entire project himself which took many weeks of him working late nights. He did a brilliant job.
The Last 6 Months, Where we are at and Future Plans
The most recent times have been focused on making the most of what we already have. We have been harvesting so much food now and want to ensure that it is preserved in a more reliable way than previous years given our disastrous freezer experiences. I now have a proper pressure canner so now i’m canning a lot more, as well as dehydrating, fermenting and freezing. To create more storage room we have moved our laundry to a covered area outside and converted the laundry into a larder. Our hope is that between the stored food and the ongoing production in the greenhouse, that we will be continue to be self-sufficient in vegetables throughout winter. Maybe we might not even NEED (vs want) to buy any vegetables ever again!
Currently we are occupying about 1.7acres of our total 20 acres. The rest of the land we lend out to a neighbour for his small flock of sheep and that non-monetary arrangement (I like to think of as an example of the ethic of fair share) has worked really well. Unlike a formal agistment arrangement where we might charge rent, it gives us more flexibility to negotiate taking back individual paddocks when we are ready for them in the future and no responsibility for the maintenance of fences that we wouldn’t otherwise even want. This manages our grass fire risk – something we legally have to take care of and the neighbour does any additional grass cutting along the boundary that is necessary. Until we have the means to revegetate the land, this is a far better alternative than slashing and bailing hay which would ultimately deplete our soils of their nutrients.
The 1.7 acres is also plenty for us at this stage. We haven’t yet fully developed this area to its greatest potential so we are unlikely to spread outwards anytime soon. Being in our zones 1 and 2 these are also the areas we need to get most right and they will have the biggest impact on our day to day living.
The next big project on the horizon is to create a new kitchen garden out the front of our property where it will get better sunlight all year round (and then a refocusing of our current kitchen garden on perennials). Since this will be visible from the road i’d also like this be an attractive space, with features such as archways to grow climbing vegetables. We will probably start this in a couple of months so we have some space to grow winter vegetables. It feels too irresponsible (and not particularly thrifty) to water an additional garden bed on mains water in summer, so it won’t be irrigated until we can save up the funds for a really large rainwater tank which will collect from the house roof. And likewise we are working towards getting a 5000L rainwater tank for the greenhouse.
What i’ve listed thus far are all projects where we build something new towards our master plan for the property and our self-sufficiency. What that doesn’t express however is the large amount of ‘maintenance’ work that goes into looking after a place like ours. Presently there is a lot of mowing necessary in spring/summer, there is foraging and harvesting and planting out in the garden beds we have established and taking care of our flock of chickens and ducks. Very ‘un-permaculture’ things like grass mowing, we are most definitely working on designing out of our system.. The reality is since Loganberry Forest started as a conventional sheep farm with a conventional orchard, lawns to mow and no rainwater tanks, it takes time to redesign the landscape. We divide our time (and funds) into redesigning new more sustainable systems for the future and preventing the inherited less sustainable systems from getting out of control and potentially becoming a (fire) hazard.
Overall we are finding it a very fulfilling experience working towards this dream. We have no regrets by taking the perhaps less conventional life-path (by our suburban upbringing standards) of living rural and spending a large amount of time growing and preserving food and working towards greater overall sustainability. It certainly makes for a fun childhood for our kids too.