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Passive Solar House
house is made from compressed rammed earth bricks. The long axis
is east-west, so that the front of the house is north-facing.
This allows the free absorption of winter sunlight which contributes
to the moderation of the seasonal house temperatures. In effect,
the house temperature rarely goes beyond 18 to 28°C day and
night, season to season. In fact, the house works so well that
the minimum internal winter temperature is often higher than the
outside maximum during the day. While a typical winter temperature
range may be 3 to 14°C, the house temperature ranges from
15 to 19°C.
The house has verandahs
on the west, east and south sides and only an eave overhang of
about three-quarters of a metre of the northern side. The verandahs
protect and shield the house from the harsh summer sun. As the
sun angle to the horizon changes as winter approaches, more and
more of the northern wall is exposed to direct sunlight. The bricks
have a high thermal mass and can thus absorb heat. A clear roof
of polycarbonate sheeting in the solarium also allows winter sunlight
absorption. A bladed solar pergola prevents summer sunlight penetration.
The domestic waste treatment
has two components. A dry, composting toilet (DOWMUS) minimises water
use (no flushing). All of the greywater from the bathroom, kitchen and
laundry is passed through a settling tank which allows lint, food scraps
and other solids to be captured. The effluent is then pumped to an infiltration
area which is about 702m (7 x 10 m). This system of trenches, filled
with stone and subsurface irrigation pipe, disperses water over the
whole area. A large range of plants including sugar cane, bananas, canna
lilies, vetiver grass, comfrey and sweet potato effectively absorb nutrients
Research has also been undertaken
to determine the nutrient stripping capability of indigenous wetland
reeds and rushes. Both submergent and emergent macrophytes have been
tested, in trials testing both pond and subsurface conditions. Results
indicate that while all wetland plants store nutrients, some are more
efficient than others in absorbing, storing and moving nutrients.
Zone 1 Gardens
Zone 1 is the area nearest the
house which is visited the most. Here, vegetables and herbs which are
used daily are grown and harvested. The types of food crops grown varies
from season to season. In summer, we grow vine crops such as watermelons
and pumpkin, and others such as tomatoes, capsicum and eggplant. In
winter, we grow broccoli, cabbage, onions, parsley, lettuce, kale, silverbeet,
brussel sprouts and spinach. Some of the excess is sold to a couple
of organic shops in town. These garden beds are usually companion planted.
We intermix vegetables with herbs such as rosemary, lavender, sage,
chives and garlic to help repel pests and improve soil fertility.
Many of the garden beds are seasonal,
with changes to the types of vegetables grown while retaining perennial
herbs. The main food producing gardens are located on the east and south
sides of the house.
Zone 2 Orchards
A large range of fruit and nut
trees are grown. Fruit trees include apple, lemon, orange, mandarin,
plum, peach, guava, mulberry, fig and nectarine. Nut trees include pecan,
macadamia, almond, chestnut and quandong (Australian native peach).
While most of these trees are young, many are producing.
Soft fruit trees, such as plums
and fig, are netted in the chicken pen (to minimise bird attack), while
most of the apples and citrus are grown outside this fenced area. Many
of the fruit trees are companion planted, with nasturtiums, tansy or
rue grown underneath the trees to repel pests.
As another activity of the farm,
about 100 fruit trees have been bagged in 100 and 150L bags as advanced
stock for sale in a couple of years time. The apples are multigrafted
(two low chill varieties) and there are olives, weeping mulberries and
seven different varieties of citrus. These will be sold as advanced
organic fruit trees in a year or two.
Zone 5 Natural bush
The original farmland was very
degraded and eroded. All of the top soil had long gone and only clay
was left. It has been a slow process to rehabilitate and replant the
creekline area with local plant species of casuarina, grevillea, hakea
and acacia. In addition to these shrubs, bamboos have been planted to
help reduce soil erosion. Both clumping and running bamboos have been
used in the revegetation project.
Chickens, ducks, geese and emus
are kept on the farm. All food scraps go to the chickens or geese before
it is raked up and put on the compost pile. Even newspaper and cardboard
have been thrown around the pen. You would be surprised how well this
breaks down and makes great soil. Fodder plants, such as tagasaste,
honey locust and leucaena, surround the pen and provide shelter, and
some leaves and seeds to their diet.
The geese love to be let out
and go for a wander to the dam or creek. They graze weeds and make lots
of noise when people are nearby. No wonder people say that they make
good "guard dogs".
The emus are really just big
chooks, although the chickens don't think so! They roam around the perimeter
of the property and eat many invasive weeds such as flatweed and plantain.
More permaculture practitioners should incorporate the use of native
plants and animals in their designs. We should be farming and harvesting
kangaroos and emus instead of sheep and cattle, and developing and promoting
our own edible plant species.
The farm has one large dam which
contains marron (a freshwater crustacean), fish and aquatic plants,
which provide shelter and food for the animals. Many other tanks are
used to grow a range of aquatic plants for wetland restoration, greywater
treatment experiments and to restock dams and waterways.
Generally, more protein can be
grown in water than on land, and there are several small ponds around
the house where water chestnuts, taro, watercress and lotus are grown
and harvested. Eventually, marron and fish will be able to be harvested
from the dam.
Seed collection and germination
are important activities at the farm. A shadehouse (geodesic dome)
keeps plants cool in summer. Plants are grown until they can be
planted in the yard or sold to nurseries or the public. A hothouse
is used to keep frost-sensitive plants alive and well during winter.
Over the years, the hothouse has also allowed us to grow tomatoes
and other vegetables in winter and to house the chickens at night.
A large range of plant
species are cultured and maintained in the nursery areas. These
include bamboos, fodder trees, fruit trees, herbs and vegetable
seedlings. Cuttings are struck and plants are "potted on" until
needed or sold.