Tag Archives: permaculture


Every so often you get to have an unforgettable experience.  Just about every visit to the retreat provides a different kind of experience and there is a wonderful opportunity to learn from each of them.

With the warmer weather, one keeps an eye out for reptiles but I haven’t seen any for some time. Over the nearly two years, I have seen just two, a black snake and a brown snake – neither close to the cottage.  With that in mind, I was sitting near the fire pit reading and enjoying the spring sunshine  when a movement caught my eye.

Immediately, the primal instincts kicked in and yes, I froze.  Having had a meter long snake slither under my chair at Mataranka, I was hoping that this was not going to be a replay.

I looked up. Two beady eyes were fixed on me. A long forked tongue darted in angoanna snipd out of the mouth and then I noticed it had legs…… a Goanna!

A mental sigh of relief and keeping as still as possible, I reached for the camera in the chair pocket. It turned its head to look at me and we sat and stared at each other for what seemed to be an age. Keeping in mind that goannas have been known to think humans are trees and climb them, I decided to remain still and wondered how long we would stare at each other…

Breathe…… that’s what I tell clients to do all the time! Then curiosity got the better of me, I started to wonder about the metaphysical message of Goanna, knowing that I would have goannato wait until I returned to the city for reliable internet access. We continued to stare at each other for a little longer and I thanked it for coming to visit, whereupon it got up and ambled off, looking very much like a small crocodile, and disappeared under the fence into the bush property behind the retreat.

The message I took from that encounter, before I looked up the symbolism, was the need for stillness.  Having spent the previous 6 weeks or more with pneumonia, I had been in an altered state of consciousness for some time. Priorities have changed and I am again drawn back to the metaphysical and energy healing that has been a part of my journey this far.

It was to be a couple of weeks before I could return and with high temperatures forecast for the next week or so, it was important to help the oak tree seedlings with their survival. Deep, slow watering every couple of weeks will help to encourage them to do their best.  Each tree is planted in well aged compost from the toilet and the sawdust will help to break down the heavy clay as well retain some moisture around the roots.

Shepherd Crook labyrinthWith energy levels a little higher on this visit, having had some acupuncture and homeopathic treatment, I managed to tidy up the little labyrinth in no time at all.

This is a “Shepherd’s Crook” labyrinth and what I love about it, is that there is a choice of how to get to the centre. This allows time to ask a question and instinctively take the right or left path. I didn’t have the heart to remove the pigface or trees and one has to maneuver around them.

Later that afternoon, I took my book to the fireplace and settled down to catch up on some esoteric reading, when I heard a whoosh and looked up to see a wedgetail eagle swooping into the tree above me. The feathers on its belly and the detail on the wings were clear as it flew out of the sunlight….. Eagle flying in from the sunthen there was a little thud as it seemed to crash into the canopy above and then it was gone, but continued to circle.

I quickly got my phone out and pressed video…… trying to capture the moment but unable to track it properly because of the position of the sun. It made several circles and it was then that I realized that it was looking for the bird that had fallen but would not land because humans were there.  A sudden movement caught my eye and I found a tiny pardelote fledgling in the leaf litter with the bull ants already sensing this was their next meal. IMG_3629

I caught it and pulled the ants off, but there was no hope of getting high enough to put it back into the nest. It hopped around for some time and I did put it into a tree, but it soon fluttered back down to the ground. All I could do was to leave it and hope that it developed enough strength in its tiny wings to get back to the nest.

Whilst all this was going on, various small birds gathered, including this robin who perched about a metre away and kindly stayed still long enough for a photo to be taken!

There is a great sense of wonderment with the metaphysical meanings of the various creatures that appear at the retreat and combined with the strange and often historical nature of the dreams that occur whilst there, I am curious to find out more about the history of the area. Watching the seasonal changes is a great lesson in awareness and whilst it would be easier to use chemicals to control some of the weeds and artificial fertilizers to enhance the soil, I remain committed to organic  or permaculture practices.




Busy as a Bee

Busy  beeSpring has arrived, even though most of the wattles have finished flowering and various seeds are sprouting.

I had just about given up on this one…. when I took a closer look at a different shade of green in the centre of the labyrinth.  The outer ring is punctuated by garlic shoots spearing up through the heavy clods of clay – although one or two have been pruned by some hungry creature….. hmmm!! Me-thinks there might be a  pre-seasoned rabbit or two?

The labyrinth construction started on Good Friday this year and we took some time off to enjoy the Rushworth Easter Parade on  the Saturday.  The dogs accompanied us and didn’t enjoy the experience as they were unused to crowds, so I sat out with one of them in a grassy area at the top of town.

Nearby are Oak trees that must have been planted in the Gold Rush days of the 19th century.  They stand guard over the memories of better days for the little town. It is said that it takes around 120 years for an Oak tree to mature and produce a good crop of acorns – these have tolerated drought, heat, cold, frost…. and the ground around them was blanketed with them.

I pocketed a few and took the time to plant 5 in and around the labyrinth. No sign of any growth for many months, except for a variety of plants classed as weeds. A month or so before Easter, I had also gathered some acorns from an Oak tree that was overhanging the fence at my son’s first house out of home. He and his young family were moving out and I thought it would be nice to have some trees as a memento of where they first brought the baby home. Acorns duly potted up, 2 sprouted almost straight away. Not having any use for the pots and thinking I would use the soil for compost later, I left them where they were. To my surprise, just a few weeks ago, I counted another 10 Oak tree seedlings emerging….

Now if only the sage seeds would start doing something!!!! I’m waiting on the Grass Tree seeds to germinate as well. They grow wild in the forest just a couple of kilometers down the track, and many have been vandalized. I bought the seeds, but now I know what they look like, may stop and have a look for some next time I’m down that way.

A single Jacaranda seed, saved from a school excursion my daughter went on years ago, has been potted up and I’ve noticed that the city neighbors Jacaranda trees have some seed pods on them…. time to ask if I can harvest them! Some of the towns to the east of Rushworth have Jacarandas planted in the main streets and look spectacular in flower. I can envision a stand of them along the driveway, perhaps interspersed with the glorious yellow of Kowhai trees competing with the wattles for colour. I still have some Kowhai seeds saved from the house where the children were first raised.

The Oak trees will be planted out closer to where ever the planned retreat building goes, to partly act as shade and being deciduous, as a fire break – but also to offset my carbon footprint. I also see it as building an inheritance for whoever is custodian of the land long after I have gone.

labyrinth12Half a dozen Pomegranate trees are thriving in pots and another 10 or so continue to live in crowded conditions in a corner of the city garden. These are now about 4 or 5 years old and as I thin them out they are growing much stronger and taller.  Having read of the health benefits of pomegranate, i’m sure that I will have a veritable forest of them shortly! As the trunks are rather “leggy”, I’m thinking of using them as a screen in front of the labyrinth.

A pot bound Avocado  that is about 8 years old is destined to make the road trip once I have a couple more seeds sprouting.

mowed area3Visitors are arriving in early October for “A Back to Basics” camping weekend. In preparation an area has been mowed – partly to remove the unwanted Biddy Bush – but mostly to discourage snakes which are likely to be starting to stir after their winter hibernation.  That’s it in the foreground…. 12 months regrowth. It doesn’t have much of a smell to it, but it must contain some volatile oils, because you can pull it up out of the ground (only after a good rain) and put it on the fire – green and wet – and it burns like crazy.

mowing2Driving the tractor is a great time to meditate – you have to be mindful not to mow rocks and to keep fairly straight lines – although I had fun going in circles mowing around the labyrinth.

Another bonus is that a lot of the capeweed flowers were lopped off, and although they might look pretty and the bees seem to love them, I would rather not have them there. It seems that the only natural solution to get rid of them is to mow  before the flowers set seed and mulch, oversow with other grasses and top dress the lot with dolomite.  All the other advice is to spray with roundup or similar…..I don’t really want to become a Monsanto customer. From what I can ascertain, capeweed grows in over tilled soil and where there is little topsoil enriched with humus. It is also a hazard to horses, causing a magnesium deficiency – not that I have any stock at all – except the itinerant kangaroos, who seemed somewhat unhappy that their feed had been mowed and a couple of displaced hares who seem to have moved into next door’s thicket of Biddy Bush.

In between all of this, my city business is also starting to grow with the arrival of Spring. I’m coaching, seeing hypnotherapy clients and this past week has been full of networking activities and late nights. All about that in another post……..

Winter plantings

Sub zero morning

A recent bout of the flu slowed down the plans for planting more productive trees and herbs, as well as the cooler weather and the likelihood of losing plants to frost.

However, over the last month a lemon tree has been planted where the “wild area” meets the paddock and seems to be surviving quite happily.I keep meaning to take up some citrus feed for it….and to start looking around for some other citrus varieties such as oranges, mandarin and grapefruit to plant nearby as well.

A passionfruit vine Chilly Winter's morninghas been planted along the fence that marks the paddock boundary and I discovered  that getting organic certification for the property will not be possible – even though most permaculture sites have articles about safely composting everything – including properly composted humanure – and no pesticides or chemically based fertilizers will be used. Its new leaves and tendrils have been a little tinged by the frost, but otherwise seems to be liking where it is.

The plan is to have mini orchards or small groves of productive plants scattered around the property, modelling permaculture principles. For instance, the pomegranates will go on a slope below the labyrinth where the Biddy Bush has been cleared and to the south, on the rockier slope near the wild area, is a site more suitable for a small stand of olives. Both are relatively hardy species and should do well.

Had the government kept the Carbon Tax, I could have planted an area of non fruiting trees for carbon credits, which would have been an appropriate thing to do as we are spending a lot of time travelling back and forth from the city to the retreat. Not to worry, I shall proceed anyway….it’s all in the planning of where the best locations are for various species.

Already the damp winter has taken its toll on the Pinwheel Hakeas – they were originally found in Western Australia – a couple have “turned up their toes” and fallen over. I’ve harvested a few seed pods and they reside for the time being in a paper bag on the dash of the car, where the heater warms them up. Once open, the bag will be held over an open, smoky fire to encourage them to germinate.

An almond tree and the pomegranate trees live in pots back in suburbia for the time being and will travel up to the retreat inFlinders Ranges Wattle the next couple of weeks to acclimatize before planting out. I’m thinking that the almond tree will replace one of the fallen Hakea trees (which means I will have to get a couple more- maybe 3 – for pollination) along the driveway. That will certainly add some colour and if the almonds set, I’m sure that the Cockatoos will be pleased.

? Bent Leaf WattleAt present there are a couple of varieties of wattles in glorious yellow. One of these is a Flinders Ranges Wattle according to a weathered nursery tag at its base. I will have to watch this one and quite possibly won’t be propagating any more from seed- if it sets any. It’s not listed as a weed in Victoria to my knowledge, but is in Western Australia. Over on the north eastern edge of the property is another small stand of wattles, which I think are bent leaf wattles.  Around the cottage and the labyrinth are Mallee Wattles, whilst the wild area has some scattered specimens of Spreading Wattle – which is white and quite prickly and has been happily flowering since mid May. Spreading Wattle

To further attract the bees and to add more riotous colour to the driveway, I would like to put in some Jacaranda trees. They seem to grow quite happily in nearby Tatura and Shepparton, but I need to investigate further to see if they are likely to end up as a weed. Because the retreat is close to the State Forest, I’m happy to include other species of deciduous trees and shrubs if they are productive and contribute to self sufficiency.

Fire Baked PotatoThe labyrinth sage still seems to be quite happy and the kangaroos still have enough feed to ignore it. A couple more weeks to go before I start to grow more from seed to plant out in springtime. A Rosemary cutting has been planted near the fire pit – nice and close to reach for if there is roast lamb cooking in the camp oven! The mallee wood burns well, but it was a little too chilly this weekend to stand outside in the evening to enjoy the fire! Very grateful that it wasn’t raining as well.

With the low temperatures this weekend, there is serious investigation into purchasing a wood heater for the cottage. The small electric heater that is installed is not very efficient at coping with O’ C  and below and extremely power hungry. The challenge now is to find one that is the right size for the current cottage and will also be efficient in heating any planned extension. With plenty of fallen wood on the roadside verge and around the property, this seems to be the most cost effective heating option.


Observing the environment


Prejudices, it is well known,are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow firm there, firm as weeds among stones.

Charlotte Bronte
Another all too brief sojourn up at the retreat, with some more clearing of bushes, tending to the labyrinth and the beginnings of a walking track (fire break) around the perimeter.
Mound of Biddy Bush alight in the overflowClearing the Biddy Bush or Chinese Bush has just about been completed and the debris was pushed into a large pile in the damp area of the dam overflow to minimize the fire spreading.
Whilst it was sad to see so many tiny Blue Wrens and other little bush birds displaced and homeless, the ongoing fire risk is too great to let the bushes stay. They kept busy collecting twigs from previously slashed bushes and rebuilt during the day.
Just one small section of the debris was lit and within seconds, this inferno took off. Some 5 hours later – after burning red-hot, the pile was reduced to ashes, which will be added to a composting area.
AshesEventually deemed safe to leave, we made periodic trips to check on it during the evening (& the Yabbie nets). On one of these trips, not only kangaroos were sighted in the headlights, but a large hare. This is the third time I’ve caught a glimpse of it!
The evenings are spent thinking about building projects. Now the proud owner of a metal bath, which originally was sourced to have as an outdoor bath heated by a small fire under it, it will most probably reside (still outside) on a verandah to built at the front of the cottage.
A bath with a view!
The first of the fruit trees has gone in  – a lemon tree and although kangaroos and wallabies have inspected it, so far it seems to be off their menu.
A passionfruit vine was gifted to me and it will possibly be installed as part of a green fence around the labyrinth.
Other trees in pots are waiting to make the trip up to the retreat.  There are half a dozen pomegranate trees – a result of planting out the spent seeds from a pomegranate feast 3 years ago. Quite small still, but hardy as they have been in a crowded spot, they should take off now they have been potted up. They should do quite well  and I’m intending to hedge them in front of the labyrinth, which should also offer a little more privacy as people walk.
There is also a 7 year old Avocado tree that has been on the deck for some time and is calling to have its roots set free and the half dozen or so Oak seedlings are progressing well.
Just yesterday, a small almond tree was given to me and that will be planted out on the next trip.
As with all projects, enthusiasm needs to be balanced with practicality… but there is the trap of over intellectualizing and doing nothing…

Progress at the Retreat

The Paddock December 2013 The Paddock May 2014 Paddock viewed from North boundary Dec 2013 Paddock viewed from North Boundary May 2014Visible changes are taking place, and whilst the photos aren’t taken in the same spot, this gives a sense of the work that has been done.

It was too hot from December to March to do any slashing of the scrub without creating a fire hazard.

The scrub, commonly called Chinese bush is self seeded and is a fire hazard even when it is wet and green.

It seeds prolifically, and just one plant can produce over a million seeds in a season.

What it does tell us; is that the soil here has either been overgrazed in the past or is depleted in nutrients.

One method of controlling the bush is to overplant the area once it is slashed with a green crop, such as clover – which will smother the emerging seedlings and provide green manure for the soil.

The difficulty in removing this scrub, is that there are also young saplings of gum trees and a couple of varieties of wattle, including Golden Wattle to avoid.

Poison is not an option as we want to develop the property as organically as possible. What has been made apparent, now that the scrub has gone, are the contours of the property.  It slopes gently down to the centre of the property, revealing the natural flow of water that feeds the two dams.

Plans for the future include developing much of the area using Permaculture principles.

Labyrinth site Easter Labyrinth outline 13 Centre of the Labyrinth 14 Centre of the labyrinthAnother problem is Guildford Grass or Onion Grass and this is prolific in the area of the labyrinth.

Single blades of grass that come up from a bulb and toxic to stock in large quantities.

Not even the kangaroos seem to have a taste for this.

Again, chemical removal is not really an option as it will leave residual poison in the ground for several seasons. Apparently use of a rotary hoe on a regular basis helps to keep it in check and reduce the incidence of re-infestation.

At present, I’m in the process of removing the top layer of soil, with the intention of getting rid of weeds so that I can put a topping on the path.

However the Onion Grass is very resilient and just bends with the shovel, so after reading the agricultural notes about it, am thinking of using a small tilling machine in the area.

This will most likely save time and my back!

In the meantime, work continues and mapping the progress with photos makes for a welcome break from digging.

We want to observe a full year of seasons before commencing any building projects. The first project is to restore the soil and then we can start to plan what plants to put in and where.

Already I am growing some oak seedlings and whilst the trees would not be used or harvested in my lifetime, future generations will have access to them.



Time flies when you are having fun…

I thought it was just a few weeks since the last update and was surprised to find that it has been a couple of months….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere have been a number of projects on the go, the largest being the preparation of a country retreat.

It is being developed as an eco-friendly place and will be very much “back to basics” with an organic/permaculture overlay. With quite a lot of work to do, including fencing and weed removal, it is anticipated that it will take a little while longer before it is officially open to guests.

The scrub being cleared is highly flammable, so not a desirable feature and hopefully it will break down into good mulch.

A labyrinth is under construction in a previously cleared area and should be completed for day visitors to walk in time for the Winter Solstice.

Additional projects underway are:

  • some collaborations with other Hypnotherapists and we hope to see some exciting new therapy options to come out of these discussions
  • the revival of the Melbourne Chapter of IACT, (International Association of Counsellors and Therapists) with meetings scheduled to be held on the 2nd Monday of each month (unless there is a public holiday).