Another Internship Comes to a Close

It’s project time and all the interns at Zaytuna are busy working away at their individual endeavors. The past two months has been a real roller coaster ride – a wild dive into a vast new world of information and knowledge and everyone is enjoying the practical opportunity now given to delve into their own area of specific interest. Students have chosen their own projects involving Aquaponics, Aquaculture, Food Forests, Compost, Kitchen Gardening, Solar Energy, Cobb Building and a human powered Water Pump!

Working with the specialist Zaytuna crew led by Geoff Lawton, Interns have taken the solid theoretical base that has formed the Internship core and applied it to work in the field.

French Intern Nicolas Netian and Denis O’hare from down the road, have taken on the design and construction of an intensive aquaculture system. In aquaculture, the focus is on farming aquatic organisms such as fish, crustaceans, molluscs and aquatic plants — in this case Silver Perch is the order of the day and a small netted cage framed with 50mm PVC Pipe was used to cultivate the fish. The system is estimated to provide for at least one fishy affair for hungry students per week and will grow in time under further management.

Aquaponics is closely related to aquaculture and involves the design of a sustainable food production system that combines a fish farming with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic relationship. In aquaponics, effluents (fish wastes) accumulate in the water, increasing toxicity for the fish. This water is led to a hydroponic system where it is taken up by the plants as vital nutrients, after which the cleansed water is recirculated back to the fish. Canadian yogi Greg Kaps has designed an intensive aquaponics system, based on a simple three levels water flow. The fish will be cultivated in a 1000L tank that has been dug into the side of the kitchen garden slope and leveled. This tank water is fed from a 200W bilge pump located in an adjoining pond and an overflow valve near the top of the tank maintains this water level. All overflow water then travels out though a 25mm poly pipe to the second ‘Grow Bed’ layer of the system – two bath tubs filled with 350mm of 50mm-sized gravel. Each bathtub drain is fitted with a tower syphon filter that causes a suction action once the nutrient rich water reaches that level, causing the water to purge back down in to the pond, where the cycle begins again! The bathtub grow beds will be used in conjunction with the existing kitchen garden, increasing supply of fresh salad greens and herbs straight to the kitchen!

The eight-year old food forest of Zaytuna Farm is one of the most impressive features of this continually progressive Institute. Bananas, papaya, custard apple, coffee, sweet potato, brazilian cherry, indian guava, feijoa, and mulberry, are grown amidst an extensive understory of thriving nitrogen fixing pioneers including tipuana tipu, ice cream bean, leopard tree, bunya pine, cassia, casuarina and caliandra, just to name a few. This is a beautiful example of the diversity that is key to the Permaculture design, a system that produces a continuous yield with minimal maintenance whilst actively engaging in critical soil regeneration. Californian Daniel Parra Hensel and Jaako from the icy poles of Finland have been immersed in the forest, choppin’ and droppin’, mulching and seeding – identifying all the hundreds of species encountered along the way.

Federico from New Caledonia has given birth to the most recent life on Zaytuna Farm – a delicious heap of steaming compost that is now cooking away at around 60 degrees Celsius. Fede has the ambition to embark on a commercial composting business upon his return to Caledonia and this is his first real taste of the process that is so vital to our earth’s rehabilitation, providing the soil with the diversity of microorganisms it needs to propagate vital, nutrient rich foods. In between checking on his plump pile of probiotics, Fede also found time this week to knock up a quick little house for the resident birds who are very happy with their fine new abode – a nice place to rest their weary wings in amongst the kitchen garden!

Federico’s better half, Bertille, has designed the brand new kitchen garden, which will supply fresh greens, veggies and herbs to the kitchen chef, Mr. Ish, who with the help of his right hand man Tony, whips up the goods.

Bertille’s design involves six raised garden beds that will grow a wide variety of fresh salad greens and vegetables, surrounded by kaffir lime, lemons, passion fruit, mandarin, lemonade, oranges and a rock herbery. The pinnacle however is undoubtedly the beautiful hand painted gourd bird houses, which will become home to some very lucky fine feathered friends, who will just happen to provide the garden with their nutrient rich manure and keep pests under control!

The entire PRI site is powered by a stand-alone, 48V, series parallel solar system. Zaytuna Farm is completely off the grid. Sydney born and bred, I’m very happy tinkering away between the positive and the negative up here in the heart of The Channon. Over the week I’ve installed four new 24V, 65W Copper Indium Selenium panels to the existing splayed array, giving the system an extra boost in charging capacity. The new camp toilet/shower block has also been supercharged by installing three panels linked in parallel to a single 12V battery. This system also provides power for the extractor fan, which operates as part of the new compost toilet.

Also from Sydney, Adrian Blackburn has been busy getting his hands in to the clay, sand, straw and water mix that makes up the fantastic natural building material of cob. Ado has worked during the week cobbing the new rocket stove hot water system for the camp shower block. Not only is cob a natural, chemical-free building material, it is also a fantastic insulator and is perfect for holding in the heat that the rocket stove produces inside the 200L barrel of water that the copper pipe runs though to provide a wonderful hot shower! Using a wire frame, one initial application of cob was made, followed by a second chaff mix that acts as an extra refined strengthening layer, which also makes for easier application of the final lime render, which seals the deal and provides a strong, smooth finish.

The final project undertaken during the week was by Lismore intern Bronwyn White, who is committed to aid work in developing countries and after working on projects in the Philippines, is now dedicated to expanding her knowledge further afield. With this focus she has devoted her time this week to the construction of a simple manual water pump that can be incorporated into her future design work in international aid.

One of the great principles of Permaculture is diversity and there is no better example of this than the diversity found in a bunch of 10 PRI interns! The projects chosen reflect this variety of interests and skills and show that through the coordination of people and elements from a range of different backgrounds and abilities, we have the power to establish systems that can provide the ingredients necessary for a happy and productive community. It is important that we strive to understand that our difference is the key to our harmony and this truth can only be implemented effectively when we remove ourselves from the ego-system and focus our attention toward our specific functions within the eco-system.

We are building relationships based on cooperation and trust, directed toward a common objective, which at this time must be the rejuvenation of our land, the reconditioning of our daily routines and the generation of practical, thoughtful, community based systems that will create an environment conducive to long term growth and habitation, instead of short term profit and an inevitable irreversible loss.

The internship projects have provided students with an enormous opportunity to expand knowledge in our respective chosen fields, whilst also presenting PRI with practical improvements across diverse areas of the development. This balance of exchange is what successful communities personify and encourage, creating an environment of mutual respect and diverse contribution toward common goals. The internship has been an enormous learning curve in both practical and theoretical accumulation of knowledge and the experience of living as part of a small intensive community. Every intern has taken so much out of the experience and now finally after ten wonderfully challenging weeks, the experience has come to a close. Everyone has drifted off quietly away, back into the real world, not one of us without being transformed. Now is the time to reflect – to let it all sink in and to brace for the next leap of faith into the future. Happy travels everyone. May all our roads be inspired and focused upon the achievement of our function – whatever we realise it to be.

Until we meet again in the forest….


  1. Nice wrap Stevie – thank you mate- what an enjoyable and transformative time this was. We are so fortunate to have the opportunity to come together in learning from wide and far. I am enlivened by the experience, and grateful for what is going on out there around the world – underneath (but slowly rising to) the surface. Great to meet you all – and I look forward to the feeds as they come in from wherever you are and whatever you are doing. Diesel (from down the road)

  2. Great job Steve. I am here sitting at the Sydney airport reflecting on my internship experience and I figured I would go on the PRI site to read an article while waiting and to my surprise found this article on our internship. Perfect timing. It was an amazing experience and you all will be missed. See you all out there in the field. Thanks to all the wonderful PRI staff for an incredible 10 weeks. Cheers!

  3. Nice one Steve. I even learned a thing or two from every ones projects. To all the guys, It was a real hoot.


  4. It is almost a love in. Can we have on going updates on the projects at the PRI? It would be good to see how they are managed.

  5. Steve, what an amazing experience for everybody, including the staff and teachers. We bonded as a family, and grew as individuals. You guys rocked! Steve, see you in the fall for another incredible internship. Lesley

  6. Good read, thanks :)

    Could we get some information on your implementation of a rocket stove water heater? I’ve read Milkwood’s post on theirs, but would like to see if you did anything differently.


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