Liz Hanson helps Matthew Hayden understand the workings of a permaculture garden in episode one of his show. She has lived on her seven-acre farm near Noosa for 13 years and knows a thing or two about sustainable living.
The farm is completely self-sufficient. There are solar panels on the roof of the house, rain water tanks, 18 chooks, bee hives, two cows (a third on its way) and a huge fruit and vegetable garden. There is also a natural dam on the property and Liz has very carefully replanted this area so wildlife can thrive.
Liz’s garden is based on the principles of permaculture. “In permaculture we try to emulate nature,” she expains. “It is a closed system. There is no waste and no chemicals are used. It is about fostering healthy plants, healthy wildlife and ultimately healthy people. We call it a ‘design system’ because we design our way out of work.
“In permaculture we have three ethics. Care of the earth, care of the people and share your knowledge. If I can encourage everyone to get some fresh food in their garden, like parsley or shallots or some herbs, that’s great. At every meal there should be something that is less than an hour old.”
Liz’s vegetable garden not only looks good but it only takes two hours maintenance work a week. She says once you have your permaculture garden up and running it’s like making bread - it gets easier with time.
The “pick garden” which is at the back door to save energy, has herbs and veggies such as bay leaves, thyme, sage and shallots. Within close range to the kitchen Liz has cleverly planted vegetables that are mainly perennial/self-seeding so she doesn’t need to water them as much.
The four main vegetable beds wrap around the house in old water tanks and include spinach, lettuce, kale, cabbage, broccoli and pumpkin. In permaculture it is important not to plant everything in rows so disease does not wipe out entire crops. Alongside her raised beds, Liz has planted custard apples, citrus trees, dragon fruits and dwarf avocados.
Liz likes to use manure and straw on her vegetable beds. There is a “no dig” policy in permaculture because digging creates chaos in the soil. “It’s like throwing a cow into the air and expecting it to land on all four feet,” says Liz.
When the garden is especially busy in the summer, Liz occasionally uses Woofers. These are people who volunteer to work on a farmstead for board and lodgings. Sound like fun? Check out the website at www.wwoof.com.au.
Liz’s top garden tips
- Permaculture is 10 parts thought, to one part hard work.
- Micro-manage your garden. All spaces need to be filled or they will be filled by things you don't necessarily want.
- Utilise successive planting. When something is harvested, add manure and mulch to the space and start again.
- You need to get the mineral balance in your soils right which can be expensive initially, but it is then retained with proper management.
- Never dig anything in. Soil is a series of strata with unique animals and functions and these layers shouldn't be intermixed.
- Cherry tomatoes are less susceptible to fruit fly than other varieties of tomato due to their tougher skin.
- Seed saving is important to continue your cropping.
- Capsicums are best grown in spring and autumn.
- Warrigal Lettuce is a great native ground cover and very popular at present in restaurants. It’s also known as New Zealand Spinach.
- Fruit and nut trees need as much care and attention as vegetables.
- Let your cows in once a fortnight to keep the grass down.
- Vegetable growing areas must be placed in full sun.
- Watering systems are useful but always seem problematic and require regular attention.
- Have handy places throughout the garden to dump stuff.
- To prevent people spraying chemicals adjacent to your property, put up a sign saying 'Organic Property – No Sprays'.