View of Zaytuna Farm over the main crop garden
In Australia, you can’t mention permaculture without mentioning Geoff Lawton. Zaytuna Farm is the demonstration property he runs with his wife, Nadia, and a team of dedicated permaculturists. It is a ‘must-see’ on the world permaculture touring map and luckily, it is only a couple of hours away from Brisbane. I visited recently and my head is still spinning from everything that I saw — it’s an amazing place.
While, like most eco-minded people, I often fantasize about owning a large rural property, I have to admit that I am more of a villager than a farmer. Still, I was interested to see what lessons I could take away from the 66-acre property that I could apply to an urban abundance project.
My top 10 lessons (in no particular order) from Zaytuna farm:
- Patience! Don’t try to do everything at once. The farm has been in operation for 12 years and is still evolving. Perhaps I shouldn’t worry that my garden is not ‘finished’ after 5 months of work!
This is ‘Rocket stove 2.0′ – it replaces an earlier cob stove.
It’s not as pretty but easier to maintain.
- Work with what you’ve got. The farm team are experts at using existing landscape features, ‘volunteer’ plants (AKA weeds) and recycled materials — such as an old spring bed base upcycled to create a compost sieve, newspaper plant pots and animal shelters made from home grown bamboo — to name just a few.
- Intensive = productive. The main crop garden was absolutely packed with produce of all kinds — potatoes, brassicas, onions, beetroot, leafy greens — it was all there. And the urban demonstration garden was overflowing with herbs and perennial crops such as strawberries and yam beans. We can do this in the city people!
The muscovy ducks love to hang out in the banana circle and ignore their purpose built area!
- Learn by doing. It is more important to try out an idea than to wait for it to be ‘perfect’. Many of the innovations on the farm are constantly being adjusted and updated. For example, they have recently added pipes to the worm farm to improve air circulation within the castings and to allow for a more controlled method for extracting worm juice.
A ‘hotel’ for beneficial insects, located near the vegetable garden.
- Share with others. Sharing knowledge, experience and food with others makes for an enviable lifestyle. The farm relies on its people, including volunteers, and provides a safe, healthy environment for them. Self-reliance shouldn’t mean isolation!
The urban demonstration garden is packed with herbs and perennials
- Create an oasis. Zaytuna is full of beautiful, tranquil vistas from the open countryside views to the bamboo avenue to the gorgeous main dam that invites you to take a dip. And yes, even in the city we can create a little haven away from the rushed, noisy madness, even if only on a micro scale.
Worm farm made from a bath tub with new aeration/watering pipe
- Life looks different than on TV (no, really?). Don’t get me wrong, Zaytuna farm is very impressive and quite beautiful. But it is also a real place where real people live and work. Nothing beats seeing something in person.
Chickens do the hard work of converting green waste into compost – and they love it!
- Use appropriate technology. Yes, digging by hand gives you a sense of rugged satisfaction, but sometimes a bit of machinery comes in very handy on the big jobs. On the farm, we saw Geoff’s beloved blue tractor in action as well as WWOOFers hand-making newspaper seedling pots. Don’t be a slave to the romantic notion of doing everything the ‘natural’ or ‘hand-made’ way. Sometimes that is appropriate but sometimes that makes no sense at all!
- Biodiversity is your silent guardian. Zaytuna farm is in the lush subtropics of Australia, smack bang in the heart of fruit fly country. And yet, fruit fly is not a problem here, despite the absolute abundance of fruit trees. I suspect that the wrens, dragonflies and other wildlife are controlling this major pest and the trees are resisting attack due to healthy soil biology.
- It’s all about design. At the heart of the farm is its design mainframe. This carefully planned property maximises water, creates amazing productivity and biodiversity while providing for the needs of all its inhabitants. That sounds like something we can all do in the city don’t you think?
I just wanted to dive into the main dam – so inviting!
A big thank you to the team at Zaytuna — especially our tour guide, Salah.