Deprecated: Function eregi() is deprecated in /home/www/greenjourney.com.au/plugins/content/contusvideo.php on line 39
Cath Manuel (Horticulturist, Permaculture Designer & School Garden Co-ordinator) decided to live a more self-reliant life with her husband, Paul (School Teacher) and two young boys, Edison and Archey. The family’s move to a semi-rural property in the Sunshine Coast hinterland has enabled Cath to put her skills into practice, creating a Permaculture design plan for their 3.5 acre site. With a philosophy of using as many onsite resources and recycling sustainable materials wherever possible, Cath and her family have made great progress in bringing many of the elements in their design plan into reality, with others on the drawing board as future projects.
They’ve already established an abundant kitchen garden and orchard, integrated chooks, improved their health, use environmentally friendly products and continue to save money on home grown produce. They are continually working on their goal of living a sustainable and abundant healthy lifestyle and helping others do the same.
We purchased our first home at Sunrise Beach, on the Sunshine Coast in 1997. We enjoyed having the beach so close and I loved our little piece of paradise so we created a beautiful tropical style garden. Living on sand created difficulties when it came to plant choice, but we improved the ‘soil’ and grew a gorgeous range of colourful plants.
Our catalyst for change came when our two beautiful boys arrived a few years later. We knew that our house and small yard in the suburbs wasn’t where we wanted to live as a family … so after looking around the Noosa Hinterland areas we found our home and fell in love instantly.
It had a nice big house and the 3½ acre block was perfect for my plans for a Permaculture-based property. After a long wait, we finally settled and moved into our new home.
While waiting for settlement, I spent months planning and designing our property – making a ‘wish list’ of what we wanted to include.
This was helped by completing a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) with Janet Millington at Eumundi. It was important to us to get the design right before we began work so to help with the process, I ordered an A3 size aerial view site plan from the Sunshine Coast Regional Council showing all the contours. A map like this was a vital tool to start with and allowed me to overlay the property design.
I completed my PDC and finalised our property design after we moved into the house in 2008. The first weekend we arrived, we built a two bay open compost system. It was important to get one of our basic resources up and running quickly so we could start growing our own food. The two bays allowed us to turn the compost from one bay to the other over about 20 days to build compost quickly.
We also started on the kitchen garden. We had allocated a kitchen garden area close to the house – about 25m long x 8m wide. Our overall aim was to build the garden from entirely sustainable recycled materials. Wherever possible, we used resources from our own property, including using soil and timber from the forest floor and horse manure from a neighbouring property.
Our kitchen garden is a large area and we wanted to convert it from grass to food, so we decided to use some of our old bed sheets, towels and several bags of rags from a second hand store to sheet mulch. We reused these in the garden because we knew they would take longer to breakdown than cardboard or newspaper, which may not have been sufficient to smother the thick lush grass and kill it in time.
Before we moved in, a storm came through and knocked a number of trees down in our forest. Rather than let them rot down on the forest floor, Paul cut lengths of timber from some of the trees that had fallen down and these became garden edging.
Three new garden beds were built on top of the sheet mulch. The topsoil was loose around the roots of the fallen trees when they collapsed, so we used this humus to fill the three raised kitchen garden beds. We collected manure from the horses on the property next door to also use in the new gardens.
In our first three months, we planted six fruit trees (two papayas, a lemon, lime, mandarin & coffee tree). We wanted the gardens to establish very quickly so we got planting fruit trees early on as I knew these would take a few years to start producing. It was a lot of fun working together in the yard and the boys absolutely loved the space. The ride on mower was a hit and so was the 2 acres of untouched forest, including a flowing creek. Oh what fun the boys had!
We established a worm farm in old bathtub – the bath was $20 from a recycled building materials store. The frame was made from old timber off cuts and the lid is an old door.
It took some time for us to observe where the best place would be to put the dams, food forest and chooks so these elements went onto the plan after I completed my PDC and some time after we moved in. We’ve made allowance for dams and the food forest and we will add them in the future.
We planted another 20 fruit and nut trees over the next 12 months including more papayas, bananas, starfruit, custard apples, oranges, limes, macadamias and avocado.
During this time, the chook house and yard was built with a blue picket gate. They have an 8m x 4m space to free range.
The addition of chooks was great for the boys who enjoyed raising the chicks. When we decided to add chickens to our system, we hadn’t had them before and like many first-time-chook-owners, it was a learning curve! There were all those extra mouths to feed.
Our chooks work a deep litter system – a floor of mulch, prunings and scraps are piled up in their pen which they scratch and work over until it produces compost. Every few months the chook pen is raked out and the resulting compost is used to fertilise our fruit trees. They of course supply us with fresh eggs that the boys love to collect.
Anytime you have animals, there are always ups and downs. After an extended period of heavy rain, five of our chooks got sick from a parasite and sadly died. This was a hard experience for the boys to cope with but one that is part of life. Now, we’re down to just two girls.
In November 2010, the three timber raised beds were replaced with tin and hardwood on the corners. The tin came from a friend’s old roof that was being removed and the hardwood was sourced from an old fence. The new beds were filled using a no-dig system with more manure, three bales of green lucerne to add nitrogen, shredded paper from the school office, lawn clippings, garden prunings, mushroom compost, newspapers and a large bale of sugar cane mulch.
We had to re-sheet mulch the pathways in the kitchen garden after the rain last year so, looking for free resources, we went to our local IGA store. We sourced a bale of their flattened cardboard boxes which were laid on the pathways and topped with cane mulch.
We treasure our home grown coffee. Our initial tree produced 3kg of fresh beans that Paul dried, roasted and ground which yielded 2kg of finished coffee. With love in every cup, this amount was never going to be enough to share with all our family and friends, so in the following 12 months, we put in a coffee grove of another eight trees.
We’re on tank water here but have added a second water tank to use for both our house and garden. Once the dams are built, a pump will come up to a holding tank to drip feed out to the trees and garden for irrigation.
Over the last twelve months we’ve looked at what we eat and enjoy and use most of, and increased our production of these foods. We’ve added three new varieties of bananas – we now have a total of four different kinds. Our family also loves sweet potatoes so we’re growing more of those too and more herbs and plants for medicinal reasons.
I enjoy cooking and especially Asian food, so an area in our kitchen garden has been set aside to grow our Asian ingredients. I make my own green curry paste and grow ingredients like kaffir lime, lemon grass, papaya, galangal, turmeric, ginger and chillis. Other ingredients we use a lot of are Cos lettuce for Caesar salad, onions and bok choi. These are some of our staple foods.
Our son, Archey has his own Strawberry Patch and enjoys harvesting those for his school lunch box. We also have three tropical apples, two mangoes, a blood orange, tangelo and a Washington and a cottage garden with flowers and perennial herbs. This multi-functional garden not only looks pretty but also provides us with ingredients for culinary uses, herb teas and medicinal plants.
On the home front, I try to incorporate a sustainable life into my household inside the house too. For example I don't use any chemicals when cleaning and we all use organic skin products; even the boys have a beautiful organic body wash. We have a bio-cycle system so we can't use any chemicals or products with phosphorus. When cleaning I use enjo cleaning cloths, old cloths, water, vinegar, bicarb soda and eucalyptus oil. I also like using a spray bottle of lavender oil and water to disinfect the toilets. I compost all our food scraps, office paper, tissues and any other materials that will break down. Our general waste is down to about one kitchen bag per week and I purchase as many recyclable items from the supermarket as possible. I don't like cling wrap, so use Tupperware or glass, buy in bulk to reduce packaging and make lots of homemade products to reduce spending and wastage. We also make our own bread and I love making my own curry paste and pickled green papaya.
By using my horticulture and Permaculture skills and knowledge, we’ve been able to provide our family with many delicious meals, ingredients for preserves, fresh eggs, plenty of sweet fruit and with our own water supply and solar power, feel that it’s all finally coming together. I enjoy planning the next season in the garden and thinking about the amazing foods that we can harvest.
There’s so much satisfaction knowing that we can walk outside and pick the fruit as we need it, or my boys can stand in the garden eating something they have just picked (oh the strawberries are good)! They don’t realise it yet but they’re filling up their little bodies with so many vitamins and minerals that I just have to smile and tell them to eat whatever they want.
Now my deep passion for growing and sharing food has extended to the desire to teach and show others how this can be done. I feel that as a wife and mother to provide something to your loved ones that you have put all the work into producing, is so incredibly satisfying and this is what I want everyone to feel. That satisfaction that you have worked hard for the delicious fresh food on the table and you have watched and nurtured it grow then harvested it just at the right time and served it up to your family and friends.
So from that deep passion came my consultancy business and workshops. To be able to share with others the skills and experience I have is so satisfying for me. I know that I want to share my knowledge with everyone as I think it’s a waste if others can’t have those unique experiences as well. I have been so blessed to have the skills in something that I love to do, so why not help others do it all too. I am a member of Permaculture Noosa and the Cooroy Community Gardens committee arranging workshops and working bees and now work as a Sustainable Property Consultant, helping environmentally mindful people live a more sustainable life.
WORDS OF WISDOM:
- “If we did all the things we were capable of we would astound ourselves.” - Thomas Edison. I’m sure you all will astound yourselves if you just give it a try!
- Make a ‘Wish List’ of what you want on your property and work towards it, one step at a time.
- Start a compost system – it’s one of the main resources for your garden.
- Use local, preferably on-site resources and sustainable materials whenever you can.
Watch Cath & Paul's Inspiring Story to see how they made their 'Sea-to-Tree Change':
Want to stay in touch with Cath?
Please leave your comment! | More Inspiring Stories