It is a bit over two years now that my family and I have been living at Loganberry Forest and working to create a self-sufficient(ish) permaculture homestead. This is a description of the property when we first purchased it so that we can truely document our progress and understand its unique assets and challenges.
The property is 20 acres in size and located in rural Victoria, Australia in the town of Mount Egerton. It was formerly owned by an Italian couple who set it up as a weekender/hobby sheep farm, self-building a small 3 bedroom brick home and fencing a series of paddocks on what is almost entirely grassland. They planted a small orchard in front of the house with apples, pears, chestnuts, cherries and almond trees and there are a couple of fig, nectarine and peach trees scattered about elsewhere.
Apart from the orchard, there were not many trees on the property, just a few extremely large and old eucalypts and some pine trees in a couple of patches as shade for the sheep, as well as some ornamentals around the house. Really it was just a lot of grassy paddocks with a steep hill rising at the back of the property which is actually part of a former volcano.
The house was connected to mains electricity and water, but was off-grid for sewerage (septic system). There were no rainwater tanks anywhere on the property with the rainfall onto the house roof and a number of sheds directed via channels and pipes into a moderate sized dam. The house is inconveniently east facing (not ideal for passive heating and cooling), has terrible insulation and a wood fire as the only built-in heating. I mention all of this as we consider our home zone 0 our permaculture design and an important part of creating a sustainable lifestyle. Suffice to say the house is not a model of environmental building and warrants a decent amount of improvement and thus something to work on as much as the land around us.
Other buildings on the property consisted of a large professionally built shed, two slapped together lean-to shelters with asbestos roofing and another hand built shelter for the sheep further up hill.
To summarise the positives that we saw in this property that lead to us ultimately choosing it as our forever home and long term permaculture project:
1. Location, Location, Location!
We were not looking to ditch regular jobs completely at this stage of our lives and therefore proximity to major centres of employment were important to us. Our property is only 1hr from the Melbourne CBD and 20 minutes from Ballarat both which have decent job opportunities in our respective fields as well as all the services (like schools and hardware stores) we could ever need. We consider ultimate sufficiency to include financial independence and one of the most low risk means for us to get there is to continue to include regular employment to fund the homestead project and save for the future.
The first thing that really drew us to this particular property is the large hill at the back. Twenty acres is actually far more land than we need since we don’t intend to raise large animals as we don’t eat them (or rarely in Dan’s case). However the hill provides enormous potential for water harvesting and gravity fed irrigation with good head pressure.
3. Small House and Great Shed
For us having a small house is an asset. I’m personally very attracted to the tiny house movement but since we have a family and the means to own a more ‘normal’ house it just makes sense to have a smaller version of one. Prior to to our move to Loganberry Forest we lived a minimalist lifestyle which had many benefits for us. Homesteading isn’t terribly compatible with minimalism so these days it is really only applied to certain aspects like my wardrobe. Having a big shed has been great for storing all those odds and ends we keep ‘just in case’ for building and garden projects. This helps us consume less resources and save money as well isolates that kind of clutter to the outside of our home.
4. Reasonable Soil, Good Rainfall and Great Dam
We get somewhere around 690ml a year on average which is decent for our region and local lore is that our dam has never been dry which may be due to a spring. This will be a great resource once we can get the infrastructure required to move that water to our planted areas.
We are on the Victorian Volcanic Plains geological unit which greatly impacts the type of soil we have: volcanic with a high percentage of clay. There is a greater amount of clay on the lower slopes which is typical since clay particles are easily washed down slopes and concentrated in valleys. Clay is both a pro and a con when it comes to soil. Since i’m talking about the positives here, it is fantastic for holding onto soil nutrients and moisture compared to sand.
1. Poorly designed house
I have already mentioned the poor design of the house with regards to passive heating and cooling and energy efficiency. It clearly hasn’t had much work in 20 years and perhaps wasn’t built terribly professionally to begin with, so there is a lot of work to be done there, which Dan intends to do himself overtime.
2. Cold Climate (by Australian Standards)
We are in a cold temperate climate in one of the coldest regions in Australia short only of high mountains in Victoria or Tasmania. We get frosts in autumn, winter and spring – sometimes even in summer. It snows lightly a couple of times most years. The house and current garden areas of Loganberry Forest are located close to the base of both a north-south and east-west valley which creates a particularly severe localised frost pocket. This seems to impact our soil temperatures and delay warming in spring as i’ve noticed that the same species of flowers at our place bloom months behind those that aren’t in our valley just a few kms up the road (as well as flowers in Ballarat). Our climate of course have some positives like the ability to grow stone fruit, berries and brassicas, but fails miserably with citrus (and again only a few kms up the road at higher elevations and maybe different soils they seem to have no problem).
3. Heavy Soil
The high clay content means we need to work on improving our drainage to prevent water-logging in winter. In high rainfall times there can be a tendency for mature fruit trees to fall over in the saturated soil. Our veggie gardens do much better when they are raised beds.
The name we have given the property ‘Loganberry Forest’ is obviously more aspirational than descriptive of how we first found the land. It reflects both the food forest element of our long term permaculture design plans and the fact that loganberries were one of the first things we planted when we moved here. We are very excited to call this place home and see enormous potential in it to create a truely sustainable and abundant landscape for our family and community.