The top valley dam, nestled amongst rainforest
All photographs © Craig Mackintosh
After Geoff’s Urban Permaculture talk at the Noosa Permaculture Group meeting on March 21, 2013 (watch for the video, which I’ll upload in about a month from now), we headed a few kilometres north, to the Permaculture Research Institute Maungaraeeda, Sunshine Coast, where Tom and Zaia Kendall kindly put us up for the night. It was a great opportunity for me (and thus you) to see their site. We arrived in darkness, and soon drifted peacefully off to sleep to the sound of frogs, fruit bats, and other critters that I, and my tiredness, failed to identify.
After a sound sleep, however, I awoke early, grabbed my camera, and headed out to take a few pics to share with all you interested folk, in the couple of short hours I had before we needed to head south once again!
My cute and comfortable shelter for the night
Ever-helpful Geoff guides Latifa up the giant staircase of their cabin
Beauty abounds here. Large, colourful butterflies flit gracefully at eye-level, below the occasional squadron of parrots passing overhead (rainbow lorikeets, crimson rosellas, king parrots, various cockatoos, etc.). Water and sunshine are abundant. Nature seems to rejoice without reservation in this climate, and for the human element in the landscape, this property provides the added advantage of peaceful isolation from the noise and stress of the world outside.
The very practical Tom Kendall — now an accredited PRI PDC Teacher
Tom’s early morning routine includes leading the cattle out to pasture
As well as the beauty and peacefulness, Tom and Zaia’s site, in the Sunshine Coast’s hinterland, is an excellent, developing example of practical, on-the-ground permaculture in action. Indeed, the latter helps secure the former.
A swale running along the top of this pasture helps to keep it a lush green,
despite the stony/shaley composition of the poor soil here
The swale, right, also provides hydration for a developing food forest (left)
The landholding is about 34 acres — 10 of it cleared, with the remaining 24 being intact, lush rainforest. Although this was my first visit, it was Geoff’s fourth. From his observations, having seen the property develop over a period of several years, it was clear that Tom and Zaia are hard-working, industrious types. Although there is still a lot to do, they are steadily turning this property into a little haven of relative closed-loop self-sufficiency.
Dad, otherwise known as Bully the bull
Mum and bubs
At the moment Tom and Zaia are 100% self-sufficient in water (rain water harvested), meat and eggs, and about 60% self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables (i.e. over 70% across the board for food intake). They make their own cheese, butter and yoghurt, separate their own cream, and produce other specialties like ghee and kefir. Nuts and grains are the weak point on the site, but even here they manage to make bread, pancakes and muffins with local bunya nuts.
The ‘Full Moon’ contour dam
Other infrastructure includes two composting toilets, a wood-fired shower, and a secondhand solar hot water system that Tom purchased in a disfunctional state, and in true Tom style, fixed up himself.
The site’s electricity is currently provided by a 50/50 mix of photovoltaic and mains power. As they can afford, they are aiming to add more solar capacity with a view to completely eliminating any dependency on the grid.
A biogas digester is the latest project, and now under construction…
… positioned in close proximity to the manure source — the cattle yard. Biogas
digesters can provide free heating for cooking and hot water. (See another
biogas variant in action at bottom of this post.)
A solar panel powers a pump that pumps water for irrigation up from the top dam
to the water storage tanks you can see partially hidden in trees (upper right side)
Paradise regained. Zaia gathers ingredients for breakfast from the garden.
This is Tom and Zaia’s ‘Health Food Shop’ — loads of vitamins and minerals,
but without all the plastic bottles and glass jars….
The upper left of the photo above shows a pest control management system
(aka a ‘spider web’) Tom and Zaia have been trialling.
It’s a novel idea that seems to work quite well.
Repurposed rebar works well as a trellis for these beans
The head honcho in the chicken yard
The chicken tractor marches steadily across the property,
with a food forest getting planted in its wake.
Goats grazing the wall of the top dam
One eyes me suspiciously
Billy the Kid
As mentioned above, the site’s soil has a poor, shaley/rocky base that translates to it not holding water and nutrients well (in technical terms, it has a poor cation exchange capacity). Tom and Zaia thus need to focus on increasing the organic matter content of the soil, and the property’s swales are helping to do that, as well as improve the site’s water retention. Over time, as humus levels increase, the soil will only become increasingly fertile and resilient to climate stresses.
A beautiful environment to inhabit…
… and not just for the humans.
So what do Latifa and Geoff think of the site?
Sadly, it was too quick a visit, and we had to go. But, I hope you enjoyed the ultra quick tour nonetheless. In short, Tom and Zaia are working steadily to prepare for a volatile future, whilst simultaneously helping to lead the way in showing others exactly how they’re doing that. We need more and more of these examples to get established. If you want to gain a very practical experience, and glean some lessons you can put to use in your own personal and site development, whilst supporting another much-needed permaculture demonstration site with your tuition fees, then be sure to get on one of the PRI Maungaraeeda’s upcoming courses.
Geoff and Tom talk shop before we go
Tom and Zaia share that kind of pleasantly warm and understated personality that I know would lead to our having a terrific friendship, if our visit could only have lasted longer! Perhaps you can take advantage of that opportunity instead.
And so, after getting some assistance to get out of the muddy hole yours truly left our vehicle parked in the night before…, we headed off, hoping to visit again soon.