Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Live the Permaculture Life

I've created a series of Permaculture Life workshops to share simple, affordable, 'no-fuss' and effective ways to: 
  • detox your home: room by room;
  • make toxic-free face and body products;
  • create an abundant food garden;
  • prepare great family-friendly meals using seasonally fresh produce from your permaculture garden.
I invite you to join me in my garden and on my verandah for some enjoyable, creative and always practical workshops to gather really worthwhile skills for simple living - for a good life and for a healthy planet. 

It's also a great chance to head out to a peaceful rural valley, slow down, breathe deeply, take in the great views, and reconnect with nature.

If you click on the images below, they will take you to an Eventbrite link where you can find out details and make a booking.

These workshops are always organised when the sourdough organic wood-fired bakery at Crystal Waters is open so you can drop in for some delicious loaves and a great organic coffee before we begin. If you wanted to make a weekend of it, you could book into the Crystal Waters camping ground (crystalwaters.org.au/things-to-do/eco-caravan-park)

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Monday, 29 May 2017

Luffa helps fight the war on waste - and you can eat it too!

Do you eat your dish scourer, or compost it?

If it's made of luffa, your answer could be yes.

Using luffa we could replace scourers made of non-biodegradable plastics and get rid of another source of waste in our homes. Just imagine how many plastic scourers are in landfill around the world and how long they are going to stay there, and consider too the chemicals used to make them.

I love growing these in my permaculture food forest - they are so abundant and versatile. Luffa makes great dish scourers, body scrubs and is fabulous food too. You can eat most parts of it.

The luffa you see typically (loofah, dishcloth gourd, vegetable gourd) is from:
  • Luffa cylindrica (cylindrical luffa) is still good to eat, but the preferred one for making dish and bath scrubs.
Another popularly grown luffa is:
  • Luffa acutangula (angled luffa) which is the tastier of the two and a bit smaller.

Luffa is an abundant annual vine from the cucumber family (Cucurbitaceae) grown over the summer. In warm climates it is prolific, but it can also be grown in cooler climates in a greenhouse.  I'll be planting more here in southeast Queensland (Australia) in Spring after any chance of frost has passed. I'm going to start making a new big arbour for it so I can produce enough for our household uses this year.


Slice up the dried luffa and use it as a dish scourer. To keep it fresh, rinse it well and let dry after use. When it's getting a bit old, just compost it or add it to the worm farm.


A perfect body scrub that can be used as a natural sponge or added into soaps. Its a wonderful way to exfoliate. It's gentle and can be used on sensitive skin and is great for those suffering from eczema and psoriasis. Again, let it dry after use to keep it fresh.  These natural sponges make really nice gifts too.


Fruits: I really enjoy luffa as one of my abundant summer vegetables. In India, young luffas are popular in curries. If you want to eat it, you have to pick it young before the fibrous centre forms. Typically harvest them before they get 10 cms long. You can also use luffas instead of zucchini in many dishes. Eat them raw, sliced into a salad. If you keep picking the mature fruits, you'll encourage it to keep fruiting.

Leaves: The leaves are an abundant summer leafy green - always there to pick. In Malaysia, the young leaves are eaten raw. You can add them to most dishes you would use spinach in, and they make great little wraps.

Flowers: The beautiful large flowers are also edible.

How do you eat your luffa?


Luffa rapidly grows to cover a trellis, a shed, an arbour or a chicken pen. Make sure it's strong though because luffa is prolific fruiter and each one of those fully grown fruits is heavy.  The quick growing vine is used to easily create a privacy screen along a fence too. It's great for screening ugly structures too.

How do you use luffa in your garden design?

A previous post I wrote about sponges is:


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Friday, 26 May 2017

7 Reasons to Eat Basil Seed

The seeds grown in your garden offer so much food, nutrition and medicine, yet the extent of their value is often overlooked. Take the abundant Basil seed for example. This is a post from May last year. I decided to repost because I can see my basil seeds getting ready for harvest again!

Typically in gardens we are encouraged to chop the seed heads off annual basil bushes to get more leaf growth. This is of course a useful tip, but I'd like to share with you some of the many benefits of actually allowing basils to seed, and how you can utilise these flavoursome, nutritious and medicinal seeds. (In India they are called sabja seeds and in Arabic they are known as falooda seeds.)

The delightful flowering Lemon Basil bush - such a wonderful aroma from the leaves and the seeds, and such a happy plant for the bees.

1. Basil Seeds Ease Headaches

Lately I've had a few headaches, not a usual thing for me, so I have been exploring my garden for some natural headache remedies. One I found is basil seed - eating them, and using their oil.

As I explored further, I realised there were many other benefits to basil seeds - and there are just so many on each bush!  Another wonderfully abundant plant that happily self-seeds and can be easily propagated by cuttings.

2. Add Basil Seed to Flavour a Curry

I love the fresh flavour and aroma of adding freshly crushed basil seeds to curries - particularly lemon basil! 

Lemon basil seeds harvested today from my garden. I let the seeds dry on the bush, then chop off the seedbeds and collect in a paper bag. The seeds will come out in the bag with a bit of shaking and rubbing.

3. Eat Basil Seed to Improve digestion

I didn't realise until recently that basil seeds are used in India similarly to Chia. Like Chia seeds - when soaked in water for 30 minutes, basil seeds swell up and can be added to drinks for extra fibre and nutrients. As a sweet drink with fruits and yoghurt they can improve digestion, and help with detoxification. 

4. Eat Basil Seed to Lose weight

Because they swell and make you full, basil seeds can also assist in weight loss. 

5. Sooth Coughs with Basil Seeds 

Basil seeds are helpful in soothing coughs, sore throats and colds. The seeds are included in many herbal cough syrups. Make your own soothing tonic for the respiratory system by mixing crushed basil seeds, honey and ginger with warm water.

6. Basil Seeds are Uplifting

There is an uplifting effect from eating basil seeds. They also help to ease mental fatigue, nervous tension, melancholy, depression and migraine. Because of its calming effects, it is commonly used in aromatherapy for clarity and mental strength.

7. Basil Seeds Repel Insects

The seeds can be used as an insect repellent. Simply mix coconut oil and crushed basil seeds. (NB: you could eat this, but it's better rubbed on your skin!)

As a little aside, another wonderful plant I talk a lot about at this time of year is Rosella. I eat the leaves in salad and stir-fry and dry the deep red calyx for a high Vitamin C tea . Did you know that you can dry and save the seeds as a great chicken food? You can also roast and grind the seeds as a yummy flour.

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Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Seven great uses for homegrown Aloe vera

Aloe vera is a particularly easy plant to grow - an essential I think in just about every garden. It is cultivated around the world and has been used extensively as a traditional medicine. Many a verandah and windowsill have a pot of Aloe vera growing and it is widely grown commercially for the use in skincare products.  

It is well known as a sunburn plant - offering cooling relief, but it has so many valuable uses in the home that help me replace commercial packaged products.  

Aloe vera in my garden amongst the Pineapple Sage and under the Lemon Myrtle

Ancient medicinal texts refer to it. Aloe vera is mentioned on Mesopotamian tablets in 2100 BCE. The Ebers Papyrus from around 1550 BCE talk about Aloe vera being valuable for burns, ulcers, skin disease, headaches and worms, and in 77 CE Pliny wrote “There are many uses for it, but the chief is to relax the bowels, for it is almost the only laxative that is also a stomach tonic…”.  It is also written of in the Juliana Anicia Codex of 512 CE.

Mature Aloe vera in my garden (with Yarrow growing around)  - the larger leaves are dark green and full of gel.

The Aloe vera I grow has white spots on the leaves when it is young, but then the leaves turn green as the plant matures. When it flowers, the metre-tall spikes are topped with yellow flowers with no stripes or dots on the petals. This I understand to be the more medicinally valuable variety to use.

Attractive and tall flower stems of my Aloe vera

What is Aloe vera good for?

There are so many benefits, but I have planted Aloe vera right at the edge of my verandah to harvest easily for:
  1. leave in hair conditioner - simply rub the gel in your hair and comb through. This does not need to be washed out. When I do this, my hair feels softer.
  2. face moisturiser - gently rub the gel into the skin. It feels great.
  3. after-shave moisturiser - I use on my legs to prevent dry skin after shaving.
  4. elbow and knee moisturiser - it really helps to prevent and heal dry skin
  5. insect itch relief - its cooling feel on the skin helps to soothe a whole range of insect bites
  6. burn relief - I open a leaf and strap it on with a bandage for immediate relief. I leave it on for hours and find that blisters don't form and it prevents scarring.
  7. healthy digestion - adding some clear gel to homemade juices keeps the digestion system healthy

In my permaculture garden, the things I use a lot are placed close like Aloe vera but also Lemon Myrtle and Kaffir Lime and of course herbs like Basil, Coriander, Thyme and Rosemary, and my salad greens.

Which bit of Aloe Vera to use?

I use just the gel inside the Aloe vera leaf - it is clear and odourless. I don't use the green outer of the leaf or the yellow latex (aloin) that oozes when just cut. It can be irritating to the skin, and there have been concerns about whether it is safe to use. If you are buying Aloe vera juice - make sure it is jsut from the inner leaf gel. Consuming the whole leaf is no longer recommended.

How to harvest Aloe Vera Gel.

To harvest the Aloe vera gel ...
  • I cut off a leaf as close down to the base as possible.
  • I stand it up and allow the yellow sap (latex) to drain for a few minutes. (This can be an irritant to some people's skin and can be staining).
  • I cut off  a chunk (as much as I need) of the leaf and carefully slice out the clear gel.
  • If I have leftover leaf, I keep this in the fridge for later use. My Aloe vera leaves are now thick and huge so it often takes me a few days to use a leaf.

Where to grow Aloe vera?

Aloe vera prefers warm climates and in really hot areas it actually needs shade to prevent it from drying out and getting sunburnt (dry red/brown tips). It can grow in cooler areas too but usually in pots so it can be moved to a sheltered position or indoors in winter.

Aloe vera can tolerate poor soil and survives neglect, but to get big fleshy leaves full of gel it does need some sun protection and water. This makes sense considering the leaves are over 95% water.

How to propagate Aloe vera.

Aloe vera can be easily propagated by removing one of the new shoots that grow out from the base of the stem (pups) and replanting either in a pot or directly into the ground. Where I live, I find it does much better in the ground where it can access more water and nutrients, and in the protection of partial shade. 

(source: www.aloe1.com)

Other names for Aloe vera

Aloe barbadensis, Aloe indica, Aloe perfoliata var. vera, Chinese Aloe, Indian Aloe, True Aloe, Barbados Aloe, Burn Aloe, First Aid Plant

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Friday, 19 May 2017

Urban Agriculture : food literacy, ecoliteracy, connection

Urban agriculture is the theme of my podcast this week. From next week, my Simple Life segment will be aired live on ABC radio every Tuesday night at around 9:30 (moved from Thursday).  You can tune into Evenings on 612ABC.

With about 90% of Australians living in cities, more than ever we need to take urban agriculture seriously and support the flourishing of food growing in the city - for the health of people and the planet. A healthy city is one that can feed itself. 

Urban agriculture is actually a huge global phenomenon, but often quite unnoticed. Over 800 million people are involved in doing urban agriculture (mostly in developing countries), producing over a fifth of the world's food. In Australia, around a quarter of our food is grown in urban and peri-urban areas on just 3% of the agricultural land. There is rapidly growing interest. In 2013, a study by The Australia Institute reported that 48% of people are likely to grow food at home. 

From another perspective, urban agriculture is important because around 400,000 Queenslanders experience food insecurity every year and urban food growing can help people access fresh, cheap or free local food.

Here Evenings host, Trevor Jackson and I, talk about urban agriculture. In this podcast I explore a wide range of issues that urban agriculture helps us to address including: 

  • FOOD LITERACY: Urban agriculture can help us feed people good food and increase understanding of food.
  • CONNECTION: Urban agriculture can play an active role in cultivating community, building connection between urban and rural communities, between neighbours, and also in creating a connection to place and land.
  • ECOLITERACY: Urban agriculture can help restore the urban metabolism, reduce food miles and embodied energy of food, and support the establishment of small scale polycultural systems.

We need to rethink the city as a farm and explore how food growing can be incorporated into every neighbourhood and every new development.

Some previous posts:

Previous blogposts, podcasts and films I have made about urban agriculture include:

24 November 2016 (detailed information)

5 Jan 2016 
27 November 2016 

22 March 2017 
12 April 2017

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7 Days to Grow Your Own Natural Fertiliser

There is a plant you can easily grow in many parts of the world for fabulous soil improvement and nutritious animal feed that doubles it's size every seven days - Azolla (water fern, fairy moss...)...an abundantly useful resource and well worth harvesting.

Azolla (Azolla pinnata or Azolla filiculoidesis a native perennial water plant that grows wildly on a dam near my house. Close-up you can see that it is a lovely looking little floating fern. It has little dangling roots that suck up nutrients and clean the dam.

The kids and I have been out harvesting it regularly to add to the compost, the garden and to feed the chickens. 

I've been watching it spread across the dam over the past couple of weeks. The kids and I keep harvesting, but there always seems to be more. We are planning to go and collect as much as we can before the frosts come and it sinks. It is a fabulous food for animals and excellent for making compost, liquid fertiliser and improving soil structure.

A hands on (and feet in) kind of homeschool lesson on pond ecology - and a super fun splash in the pond trying to work out how to float Monty.

The reasons I love Azolla:

  • it's a great way to produce an amazing amount of useful biomass quickly
  • it is so prolific - doubling every week
  • it is very easy to harvest since it is just floating in small pieces - kids love helping me too
  • it is a compost activator and it can replace animal manures in the compost
  • my chooks love it - it can be used instead of conventional feed
  • it's great worm food in my worm farms
  • earthworms love it too
  • It cleans water
  • It creates a protective habitat for many species
  • It helps to reduce bank erosion
  • It reduces evaporation rates
  • It reduces pond temperature - helpful in really hot times
  • It takes up nutrients in the water, thereby cleaning the water.

Yesterday's collection. Today we had another load the same. 

Even a small urban garden could benefit from a small waterbody containing Azolla. You could grow it in a tub on your verandah and grab handfuls regularly to add to worm farms or directly only potted plants. All you need is a handful to get you started.

It's easy to keep in a pot, tub or bathtub at home too. (a few waterlilies in there too)
You can set up an old bathtub too and grow enough to feed your chickens.

Like legumes and pioneers in permaculture systems, Azolla is also helpful in fixing nitrogen and as it decomposes it puts lots of nitrogen into the soil.

Azolla farming is popular in Asia. IN rice paddies azolla acts as a natural fertiliser, and because it creates a mat, it suppresses week growth. Cutting the cost of fertiliser and weedicide is a great benefit to small farmers - as well as being better for their health and the health of the environment.

Do you grow it? How have you been integrating it into your system?

Extra information:

Milkwood did an excellent blog about it back in 2012 https://www.milkwood.net/2012/08/06/azolla-water-fern-as-protein-rich-animal-feed/ if you want to read more details.

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Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Aboriginal Elder's perspective on Permaculture, Dreamtime, Going Walkabout, Life Purpose and Culture

Join me and Australian Aboriginal Elder, Wiruungga Dunggiirr (www.dreamtimewalkabout.com) in a wide-ranging conversation about permaculture, finding life purpose, bush foods, bush medicines, the Dreamtime, creating a new Dreaming, going walkabout and creating a shared culture. 

With great humour and humility, Wiruungga, an Elder from the Namba Gumbaynggiirr Nation, in the central coast of New South Wales, gives us a fascinating insight into Aboriginal culture, but also the reality of life on Aboriginal communities today. He often fills up his bus and takes loads of clothes, food, toys and other basic household items out into the desert and Aboriginal stations.

I love the way Wiruungga talks about old permaculture and new permaculture - this makes so much sense.  I think there is so much more we can learn from old permaculture ways.

He teaches aboriginal studies, spiritual healing, bush tucker, bush medicine, rituals from the Never-Never, dance, ceremonies, fire ceremonies, making boomerangs and stone tools. 

Wiruungga has been present during permaculture workshops we have led at our place to chat with participants. He has also led one of our Nature Kids programs - teaching them art, dance and language. When he’s not on walkabout, we are honoured when he is able to join us and share his knowledge and gentle wisdom. 

Wiruungga also takes non-indigenous people on walkabout to explore Aboriginal culture, to learn about bush medicine, bush foods, spirit, dance and more. He takes people into the desert, to meet with aboriginal communities and meet with Elders. You can help him deliver clothes and basic household items and where needed set up fresh food gardens.

Wiruungga in front of his fully loaded bus - getting ready to set off on another journey to Aboriginal communities to deliver food and clothing, and reconnect himself spiritually. He'll be gone for at least five weeks.
Wiruungga's rainbow bus.

I'm hoping soon to go walkabout with him, with my family, to learn more about bush foods, bush medicine, but of course also about the culture that has sustained this landscape and its people for tens of thousands of years. I want my children to grow up learning from and understanding more about the indigenous culture of this land, directly from indigenous people and being out in nature.

We met and chatted in the talking circle at the Maleny Neighbourhood centre - a great spot surrounded by bushfoods and permaculture gardens.

We had such a great conversation and covered so many different topics. You'll find these themes in the film.  

0:49 Journeys to Keep Culture Alive
1:39 Time for the New Dreaming
3:47 Old Permaculture New Permaculture
5:07 Getting Gardens started in Aboriginal Communities
7:55 Not Enough fresh Food in Aboriginal Communities
8:24 Too Much Sugar
8:54 Healing Diabetes with Bush Food and Bush Medicine
9:47 Going Walkabout to Harvest Healthy Food
11:25 How do you Find Water in the Desert
11:25 How is Deep Knowledge of the Land Passed On?
12:35 Wiruungga’s Very Long Hair
13:49 Wiruungga on Being Himself
13:49 What is Life All About?... Explaining the Dreaming
15:22 The New Dreaming
17:25 We are One Mob... Let’s Care for the Earth
18:09 Supporting the People of the Desert
22:09 Building Bridges and Opening Conversations
23:12 Wiruungga’s Funny Encounter in the Forest
26:04 Advice from an Elder
27:18 Where did Wiruungga get his Bush Medicine Knowledge?
28:45 Sharing Knowledge of Culture Freely...
30:49 Are you Listening?
31:47 Bushtucker Tea and Drinks
34:29 Natural Personal Care in the Bush
34:29 Eating in the Bush and Natural Wrapping
38:24 Build a Gunyah - the Indigenous Tiny House
38:20 What’s smudging for?
39:30 How do Non-Indigenous Connect with Land?
41:04 Connection Through Totems
43:30 How to Connect with Wiruungga Dunggiirr
44:40 Clothing and Toys Needed for Women and Children
46:03 Ask ‘Why Am I Here on Mother Earth?’

I encourage you to grab a cuppa and sit down to enjoy the film above.

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Nature kids discover huge fish lying dead on river bank

This afternoon our kids thought they found a huge lungfish on their river walk - well actually 4yo Monty found it. There were amazed, excited .... and confused. It was dead, and we're not sure why.  The first ethic of permaculture is 'earth care'. Today's un/homeschooling lesson was very much about this.

(As it turns out, it seems they found a very large eel - Marbled Eel Anguilla reinhardtii - according to a kind commenter. The children's learning journey continues - and ours along with them. 

The reader suggested this site to identify it. Many thanks!  http://fishesofaustralia.net.au/Home/species/1426

The following information is still interesting about lungfish and we'll be keeping a look out for them now we know so much more about them.)

What was misidentified as a lungfish, is actually an eel. We had no idea that there would be massive eels like this in this swimming hold. 

The Queensland lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri) is an incredibly interesting fish - it's linked to fish that were on Earth before the dinosaurs - 380 million years ago in the Devonion period when Australia was still part of Gondwana. It was actually during this time that fish evolved to quite significant diversity, and often dubbed the 'Age of Fish'.

Adult lungfish are typically around 1 to 1.5 metres long and can live up to 60 years, possibly a hundred. 

One of the amazing things about lungfish is as the name suggests, it has a lung. This means it can not only breathe in the water through gills, but and on too through it's one lung. It can survive out of water in drying river beds, billabongs or even gullies for extended periods as long as it is kept moist in mud or aquatic weeds.

Adult lungfish have dental plates, not teeth, for grinding their food - small fish, tadpoles, mussels, snails, shrimps and some aquatic plant material.

The head of the eel.

The kids thought fish would be happy and healthy in our river environment considering they found it high up in the catchment where there is little pollution and habitat resembles this description:

Adult Lungfish in the Mary River are associated with overhanging riparian (riverside) vegetation, woody debris in the water, and dense macrophyte beds. They shelter in complex, shaded habitat. They most prefer habitat with overhanging vegetation and macrophytes in relation to their availability, and often use habitat with woody debris, although adults are not as reliant on submerged branches as some other Australian freshwater fish. The species avoids open water and eroded banks.
Source: http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/sprat/public/publicspecies.pl?taxon_id=67620

The curious investigators...

The Queensland Lungfish has been listed as a vulnerable species under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The kids took measurements and photographs and will send these to the Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee (MRCCG - www.mrccc.org.au) tomorrow. They are about to begin being water quality monitors for the MRCCG and later in the year will participate in a frog count.

Measuring the eel.

Caring for rivers, for riparian zones and taking care that our activities don't adversely impact on these areas is important. Through good design and management of our settlements and land use species such as this have a better chance of survival. The QLD Lungfish is listed as vulnerable, but are becoming increasingly threatened with human activity disturbing their habitat. 

Getting to know your waterway, your catchment, what lives there and how to care for it is a wonderfully important thing to do yourself and with your children. It's an ongoing learning journey that is absolutely fascinating.

More info: 

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