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City Kids Move to the Country – Part VII

My property has been behaving itself since my last City Kids update. Without the tropical downpours and flooding Queensland suffered last summer, it’s been much easier to manage. The slope down under the house no longer hosts a makeshift waterfall, and the gravel driveway has stopped flowing like a river and getting washed down the storm water drain. I’ve learnt where the potholes are, filled most of them with gravel, and the remaining ones are easy to dodge once you know how.

My absolute delight this season, though, hasn’t been the orchard or the veggie patch, although they have made great progress, it’s been the five young ducklings whose parents honoured me by choosing my property to raise their precious offspring.

The little grey fluff balls quickly grew from the gorgeous ducklings we’re familiar with, into gangly teenagers with long legs that nestle under their developing wings, tripling in size in just a matter of weeks. They’re incredibly trusting, and often the seven of them (mum, dad and five youngsters) sit happily on the driveway until I’m less than two meters away in the car, then gradually, one by one, stand up and waddle down to the dam in a procession. It makes me laugh every time.

As far as permaculture goes, they’re a great resource, because their incredible amount of manure can be found strewn from the top of the orchard, between the three swales, all the way down to the road. I never would have imagined seven little birds could produce so much shit. And better still, it’s completely free, since I don’t have to pay to feed or house them.

The fruit trees on the swales are growing; some faster than others. Surprisingly, the more temperate varieties seem to be the ones taking off (remember, we’re in sub-tropical Queensland); the peach, apple and fig are going strong. Some of the citrus are a bit slower off the mark, except the ruby red grapefruit, which will soon be laden with fruit, if all the tiny buds develop.

In hindsight, I think we were super excited and simply bought the first citrus we found, instead of seeking out strong, straight and vigorous specimens. Now, when I look at one or two, they have a kink in their stems that I must have been blinded by a lover’s enthusiasm to still have bought. But anyway, I fed them a couple of times in the past six months and they seem to be picking up the pace now that the weather’s warmed up.

This morning I looked out my back-steps at my zone one. The vegetable beds and frog pond have been nestled in grass pathways since we transformed the back-yard last year. It was a simple, effective and cheap pathway solution that didn’t require more work or expense. But with the recent rain they’re nestled amongst a little more greenery than I’d like. The grass has shot up, unevenly, around all the edges, making it look like a hickeldy pickeldy mess.

Filled with a sudden burst of inspiration, I dragged large cardboard boxes — which have been waiting for such a moment — into the veggie patch. Working from the back corner, I laid them out, smothered the grass beneath, and tucked the cardboard under the logs and brick edging of the beds. In about half an hour I’d finished the majority of the area and run out of cardboard.

On to stage two.

Back at the beginning of last year a farmer was selling off large, and I mean large, bales of fine hay, for a bargain price. I had seven delivered and after remulching the swales and down the edge of the driveway on my PET day (Permaculture Energy Transfer) I’ve had three left; sitting, waiting for the next project — and enough energy from me to use them.

Today was the day.

I grabbed a massive bag and filled it with load after load of hay, spreading it over all the cardboard. After about an hour or so of heavy work I reminded myself of the virtues of stopping for a drink.

Sometimes getting a job done takes precedent in my focused mind over the logic of taking care of myself. Refuelled with doggedness I haven’t felt in a while, I finished the job and took photos of the transformation.

I know from my friend Cath Manuel’s garden, the hay will settle down with rain and foot traffic, and soon lay flat across the paths.

Part of me misses the lush green of the lawn, but the more practical side is glad to have created order and clean lines, which won’t require fortnightly maintenance during the growing season.

I might plant pinto peanut, with its pretty yellow flowers and nitrogen-fixing abilities, along the edges to soften the look. Or I might just encourage the existing clover, since that is a bit easier to spot snakes slithering though (which, for the record, haven’t been spotted again since the exciting sighting in the nectarine tree last year, God bless my fluttering heart.)

Spurred on with energy from seeing the result of my labour (what is it about exercise that the more you do, the more energy you have?) I picked up my tools and finished tying fishing line to the polypipe archway to create a curved trellis for the breakaway luffa vine. Its wandering branches are insatiable, looking for more and more places to climb. Finally, another job begun almost a year ago, ticked off the list.

Time for a bath and glass of wine in the makeshift outdoor tub.

Sitting in the bath, and admiring the new pathways, a tiny little wren fluttered to the fence. He was unaware of my presence and flew closer, landing on the snow pea trellis, where he left a welcome miniature donation of manure. Still closer he came, until he was just one meter away on the Madagascar bean where he chased tiny insects among the vines weaving in and out of the bamboo teepee.

Then I noticed a ladybird, no two — obliviously going about their day-to-day tasks and easy to spot with their contrasting orange on the green of the luffa vine. A cream coloured butterfly (or is it a cabbage moth? I don’t care anyway, there’s enough here to share) floated between the kale leaves.

I took another sip of wine.

“This is the life”, I think to myself. It’s not just about growing food. It’s about creating places for nature and being honoured every time it comes near. Sharing my space with wrens, ducklings, ladybugs and butterflies, not to mention dragonflies and half of Queensland’s population of frogs, brings me more delight than a visit to any Westfield shopping center on a Saturday. These are the moments when I remember why I live here and marvel at the lifestyle that’s snuck up on me, in a way.

I moved to the country to grow organic food because of my health. But it’s brought me so much more than better health. I’ve found community amongst the fellow gardeners in my small town, and of course at Permaculture Noosa, where people are so willing to share their knowledge and help.

I’ve found purpose in my life unlike the purpose I felt in the city, where it was very much a life focused on myself. Out here I love being involved with the community garden committee where we organize workshops, demonstrations and working bees. I love being able to learn from Nikolee, our resident landscape architect, how her profession intersects with permaculture to bring a very clear and beneficial community garden design to council.

But most of all, I’ve been surprised to find my life has taken a totally new turn. After ten years as a professional artist, I’ve been moved to help people grow their own organic food.

About six months ago I started a weekly newsletter, blog and from what I know, the world’s first interactive online video-based gardening course to pass on the knowledge and skills I’ve picked up from my incredible local community and the PDC with Geoff Lawton and Bill Mollison last year.

While it was scary at first, not knowing how people would take a young girl like me online, it’s been wonderful to help clients up and down the east coast of Australia create their own organic veggie patch.

I’m sure all these experiences were available in a city. There are numerous strong community gardens in Brisbane. I was just moving in different circles while I lived there, and missed the opportunity to be involved. And I could have set up my new online gardening courses while living in the state capital. But it takes a lot of time to put the modules and technology together, and I like the space country life brings. I like sitting in the veggie patch, staring at the dam (and gazing at my navel) and coming up with crazy, impossible ideas that just might work, and often times do.

KFC is a long drive away, as are shopping centres and manicurists, and on days like today, when my car is at the mechanic for the weekend, it makes playing in the garden the most logical and fun thing to do.

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt this year? Permaculture is a process, not a destination, and stacking your knowledge, over time, with action and implementation, over time, is what brings edible and soul-satisfying results.

Begin with the knowledge you have, put it into action, use the resources (both material and social) around you, and remember to enjoy and share the abundance you create along the way.

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6 Comments

  1. Great article Nicola! Nice to hear you’ve really taken to the country life and your garden is looking terrific by the way!

  2. Great article Nicola! Nice to hear you’ve really taken to the country life and your garden looks great too!

  3. I can’t help in seeing your opening photo but comment on your wheel barrow. What a magnificent barrow is the kelso narra barra – the VEG team is a huge fan of these fine implements, and on one occasion recently the tradie that pours our tank slabs and whatnot and I waxed lyrical about their merits!

  4. Ha! That’s funny Dan – I barely even use my wheel barrow – tending to use buckets and dragging things on sheets instead. But you are right, that design is very sturdy and am glad to hear your enthusiasm spills over :)

    And Gustoso, a pond is a wonderful addition to your garden and your life. I adore the frog around here and love to have them visit. Make yourself a pond, it doesn’t have to be complicated, and you’ll be glad you did.

  5. Thanks Anthony :)

    I don’t know what it is though, every time I write about the weather it seems to trigger more flooding.

    The roads are cut off again and the river looks as wide as a football field (usually it’s only about 8m across). Ah well, at least there is food in the garden.

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