Forest Garden course dates

Some of you have been waiting for the dates of the Forest Garden weekend course I’ve been planning, and I’m pleased to say that they are now posted on a new page on the website, which gives loads more information about the course.

Quick hack – January 4 -6 2019.

Running during the summer holidays might enable more people to attend, plus you get to work on your forest garden designs for a few months before winter (peak season for planting bare-rooted fruit trees that might be the lynch-pins of your design).  Course numbers are limited to 18 to ensure a quality training experience.

Please share this with friends who might be interested – I’m excited to be sharing both the wisdom I’ve received from Dave Jacke, Martin Crawford and others, but also to pull together a crew of people passionate about creating forest gardens.  I predict a fun weekend and many stimulating conversations and networking opportunities! 🙂

Timber rack roofing

Just a quick post tonight to share the joy of recycling a roller door into a roof!  [Share this to all your buddies who are into The War on Waste.]

You’ve seen the construction of the mighty timber rack…  this afternoon we rolled up a ‘stripped’ rollerdoor (no longer functional or repairable), put it on the roof structure and tek-screwed it down… simple as that…

… instant roof!

looks great from under neath

Christoph put all the screws in and was justifiably proud of his efforts!

Permaculture moral of the story – observe the inherent qualities of an object, not just the label society puts on it.   A ‘dead’ roller door isn’t scrap metal – it’s a perfectly fine 2.5 x 4 m piece of steel just waiting to be re-purposed!

Whatcha planting this Sunday?

This Sunday will be 10 C, cloudy and a slight chance of rain….  a great day for putting in a new apple tree!  Dig your hole now, to be ready for the weekend.  🙂

I’ve pulled out four trees on MM102 rootstock – bigger than the usual dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties that I sell – and have them ready for pick up now.  Maybe one of them would like to be at your place?

[All trees are in pots & are $25 each.  Bring feedbag or similar to put them in, to keep the car clean on the way home.  :)]

London Pippin (aka London Five Crown)

“Very old cooking and eating apple with the distinctive 5-lobed base. Originated in either Essex or Norfolk. It was recorded in 1580. Fruits have crisp, white, acid flesh. Of its many synonyms Five Crown is the most widely used in Australia” (from

Dual purpose, late harvest.  Good drier and keeper.  Flowers late (FT 5)

Calville blanc d’Hiver

“The perfect choice for tarte aux pommes, its spicy aromatic flavor makes it one of the world’s top culinary apples.” (from

Cooker, flowers mid/late season (FT 4). Self-fertile.   Very high in Vitamin C.

Stayman’s Winesap

Dessert apple from Kansas (1895).  Cross between Stayman and Winesap, it is medium-large and a good apple.  Flowers midseason (FT3) but is a triploid so has sterile pollen.  No problem if you have other FT3 trees nearby or live in town.  It was considered the best of the Winesap ‘sports’ or seedlings.


“A red flushed summer apple. Quite sharp with a raspberry or redcurrant flavour.” (from Keepers Nursery, UK)

Dessert apple from Worcestershire dating back to the mid 1700’s.  Partially self-fertile, but benefits from having other mid/late flowering varieties (FT4) nearby.

Please email or send me a text on 0409 551 539 to arrange pick up (prefer 9 – 10 am Sunday morning).  I have many other trees available, on M9 and M26 rootstock as well as MM102.  Let’s arrange a time for you to drop in next week with your list.  🙂


Winter building

Although we are in the middle of winter, there are still some great days for building.  It might only be 10 C but if there’s no wind and the sun is out, working outside can be fine.  Adeline from Singapore wanted to do some building work, so we decided to jump start the big timber rack that has been sitting idle for a few months.

We visited old mate Richard’s and pulled apart a heap of pallets which Adeline then painted:

timber rack Chestnut Farm Adeline Singapore WWOOFER

painted timber beams Chestnut Farm

On Thursday, Adeline and I fitted the last of the steel crossbeams on the timber rack.  It was going to be hard to do that after we’d roofed and clad the thing.

timber rack

Our trusty guides at the Weather Bureau predicted a fine still day on Friday, so I contacted Marty, who recently completed the Permaculture Design Course, and he came over to help.  He’s going to be building and wanted to practise… seemed a fair trade!

We had so much fun on Friday that I didn’t take any photos!  (Marty & Adeline did so I’ll add some of theirs later.)  We got all the roof rafters up; don’t they look pretty all painted white with their front ends lined up so straight!

Yep, I’m pretty happy with the line of those rafters… we fixed the two end ones then ran a string line between them to set the rest by.  Just like Jimmy would have.  If in doubt, ask yourself… “What Would Jimmy Do?”

We’ll put three rows of battens – front, centre and rear.   Last Friday, we only put up the first two pieces of the front row.  While we mucked about up top, though, Adeline did massive quantities calculations working out which sheets of recycled corrugated iron could be cut to go together with minimal waste… and then put up three sheets on the back wall – she loved getting stuck in with the grinder.  Not enough work with power tools for girls growing up in Singapore, me thinks.

This week we’re being hit by cold fronts and massive winds so the rack will sit for a few days – maybe some more progress next week?  If you want to help out or learn a bit of basic construction, let me know.  Extra helpers for a few sunny hours can be a great asset when it gets decidedly cold mid afternoon!

Visa chaos

Last Saturday night, Clara Nitsch, who has been a long term WWOOFer/helper here at the farm for many months, was refused re-entry to Australia after a short trip to New Zealand.  Clara had gone to NZ to spend time with a friend there, but also to ensure she complied with her tourist visa, which allows a maximum stay in Australia of 3 months at a time.

girls on couch smiling
Clara on a happier day!

When she was stopped at Tullamarine, Clara explained to Border Force that she was WWOOFing here; that she worked a set number of hours each week in exchange for room & board.  The officer claimed that she must be being paid to stay at one place for an extended period.  There’s your first cultural gulf right there – the inability of a person working within a conservative government structure to understand why another would choose to explore the world through WWOOFing, Workaway, HelpX or similar schemes.

[WWOOFing has declined significantly since the changes to 2nd Year Working Holiday visa laws; to the point that after a couple of years of having no enquiries from the WWOOF system, I am no longer registered as a WWOOF host.  Other schemes, particularly Workaway, seem to have become more popular and nearly all my helpers in the last 3 years have come through Workaway.]

Regardless of which scheme they use, visitors to Australia (whether tourists or working holiday visa holders) are surely entitled to choose to spend their holidays any way they want.  Border Force don’t get to make them go to Uluru or the Great Barrier Reef, buy crap fake boomerangs or have Aussie flag tattoos.  If visitors want to learn about permaculture or sustainable agriculture or just like hanging out with chickens on farms, they have the right to decide how they want to spend their holidays… or do they?

Clara was completely accurate in describing the work arrangements here.  I have never paid her or any of the many other helpers I’ve here over the last decade or more.  I’d be very happy to sign a Statutory Declaration or testify in court to that effect, but Border Force didn’t ask me to do that.  Seems like an obvious thing to do, but they don’t ring anyone to check facts.  It must be a bit of a power rush to be judge jury & executioner all rolled into one.  I understand that entering another country is a privilege, not a right, and that Border Force officers have a tough job where they have to judge whether people are telling the truth or not.  I used to be an auditor and I know that, over time, you get a pretty good sense of whether people are lying to you.  On Saturday night, Border Force got it wrong.  Clara was telling the truth.

But once they decide that they aren’t going to believe you, what hope have you got?  How do you feel when you are confined in a secured room, your phone and passport are taken from you and you are subjected to a series of obtuse interviews over many hours? When you went overseas last time, did you have your dossier of ‘defence’ documents with you, or the phone number of a local immigration lawyer…  and there’s the old conundrum of “How do you prove that you haven’t done something?:  Reminds me of the joke “When did you stop beating your wife?” Tricky, huh?

Many helpers have stayed here at the farm for months at a time.  Many helpers have returned to the farm multiple times.  I’m proud of the score of international friends I’ve made over the years, and their testimonials are evidence of the value of the WWOOFing/helping experience.

Clara had taken what she thought was a brief trip to NZ to comply with her visa conditions.  I wonder if her pattern of leaving the country regularly – ironically, to comply with visa conditions! – was what prompted officials to take her aside and question her in the first place?   Being only away for a week, she’d left lots of important things here (e.g. laptop, official documents, most of her clothes, etc) so when she was forced to get on a plane to Germany on Saturday night, all those things remained here.  Messy shipping arrangements are still to be made.

Clara now faces the prospect of being banned from re-entering Australia for years.  The arbitrary nature of the decision to cancel her visa is extraordinary.  If a different official who understood WWOOFing more or had a different attitude had interviewed her, she’d be working on the farm today.  Instead, she’s back in Germany looking at WWOOFing opportunities on permaculture farms in England.

In the big picture, what’s going on?

Have Border Force decided that they don’t like WWOOFers?  Did someone have a quota of cancellations to fill?  Should Germans who travel be taught to make small-talk?  Should incoming visitors pretend that they are champing at the bit to see the penguin-parade at Phillip Island or go to Sovereign Hill?

The whole thing is rather surreal.  One thing’s for sure; if you are here with WWOOF, Workaway or HelpX, complying with your visa conditions is no longer enough to ensure you get to stay in Australia, you also have to get lucky at airport roulette.

Clara constructing cubby hosue framework
Clara learning about pre-fab stud wall framing

Storage rack build

Had a very productive 48 hours (well, yesterday and this morning) building a new storage rack along the back wall of the paint shed.  Thanks to new helper Victor for his work yesterday  – here’s the end result, man!

Vertical posts screwed into the wall with 100 mm tech screws.  Horizontal support rails screwed into the uprights (and into the wall) with 100 mm tech screws.

Victor checking the position of the horizontal rails on the front structure.  The front is built ‘free standing’ and attached to the wall-mounted timbers by the shelves themselves.

Shelves are 24 mm melamine offcuts from a local furniture factory.  Industrial waste product becomes sweet, high visibility, easy-to-clean shelving.

End of day one: all uprights in position, half the frame painted and some shelves installed.

Clara did a heap of helping on Day Two – especially painting the recycled pallet timber frame so that it looks good and reflects light within the shed.  (No electric lights in here).

Day Two (lunchtime) finish… couldn’t resist throwing a few tools on the shelves to make them look occupied.

It’s the little things…

While juicing some Carolina Black Rose grapes, Pepper found this little dude in a big bunch of grapes…

She thought it was Christmas…  “What a cute baby snail!”

After letting it crawl all over her fingers for a while, she went to show everybody else then gave it a special home in the garden.  I was reminded of  something I’ve heard David Holmgren say repeatedly – how when we observe the environment, we often need to pay attention to the small things.  Good onya, Pepper… you’re on the job!  🙂

Tiny house foundations

You know that we’re working on 3 small buildings simultaneously – one is going to be a paint shed and the other two would have been called ‘sleep outs’ in the 60’s but we now call them tiny houses and it’s much cooler, right?  Because the buildings here at Chestnut Farm don’t contain cooking or bathroom facilities, they’re not fully fledged tiny houses, but the basic challenge of constructing a small building is the first hurdle for prospective builders, so I’m hoping these posts will help you pick up a few things.

I want to show two different ways to build tiny houses; one with post and rail construction to support the walls & roof, and the other featuring pre-fabricated (on site) stud framing fixed to plain concrete slabs.

On Monday, we finished the low formwork (or ‘boxing’) for the paint shed.

The posts were put in last week (see previous post)and some cross timbers added for support and also because we can add them without them getting in  the way of pouring the slab.  Post and beam is much quicker than stud framing, and uses a lot less timber.  You need heavier timbers, but fewer of them.  One disadvantage of round posts is that they get in the way if you want to line the building.  Note that the slab is off-set from the posts, so that the posts will be integrated into the slab.

The offset is the same distance as the beams are thick, so that corrugated iron fixed to the outside of the beams will slide down neatly against the side of the finished slab

After finishing the formwork at the paint shed, we jumped across to the Apple House site.  This will be the same size and shape as the paint shed – 2.4 m x 4 m.  (If you’re thinking of a tiny house, mark this out on the ground and walk around in it: it’s a very human-friendly shape for a multipurpose room)

The Apple House is adjacent to the top dam and will nestle behind the seedling apple which is at its NW corner.  We’d shifted some fill during the dam renovation in December, but were (yesterday!) lucky enough to get another 6 ute-loads from a nearby housing development.  These extend the ‘bench’ around the building – meaning we can build a small level garden around the building, which will be aesthetically pleasing, but also fulfil a key structural function in resisting any movement (under the slab) of the fill from the dam.

Jump ahead a few hours and here’s Clem rechecking that everything is level and that all the distances are right.  Once you’ve checked all your sides are the correct lengths (the short ends are 2.4m and the long sides are 4 m) the key test is to measure the diagonal from corner to corner.  If those two distances are the same, you have created a rectangle.  If not, and your side measurements are correct, your corners aren’t at 90 degrees – you’ve created a parallelogram.  (If that happens, a bit of shuffling of timbers should get it right.  Easier to demonstrate than to write about!)

This big pile of fill – mostly topsoil mix – came from a local earthmover, Paul Mullane, who I highly recommend.  Top operator and great guy to boot.  Paul was doing a job in Wendouree, heard we needed some more fill and dropped this off at about 8.30 am.  It provides a heap of further support for the fill under the slab – we’ll also spread some on top of the clay fill we’ve already spread around the Apple House site.  It’ll help our garden grow – thanks, Paul!

Meantime, with the side timbers in place (note small timber pegs at strategic points), I started shovelling a shallow trench around the inside edge of the future slab.  It’ll be about 350 mm wide and 200 mm deep, whereas the rest of the slab will be only 100 mm deep.  The thicker edge makes the slab stronger and is located near the edge because that’s where the weight of the walls and roof come down.

Lunchtime and Clem & Jackie have already got stuck into Paul’s load of fill.  Some is spread around the base of the apple, and some on the exposed walls of the dam.  We’ll spread more around the South side of the Apple House (where the straw is) tomorrow.  [The straw was there in case it rained – clay subsoil is disgusting to walk on once it gets wet!  It sticks to your boots and you walk it everywhere!]


Up she goes!

We’re putting a little shed up at one end of a long screening fence.  The fence will come later.  We’re getting the shed up now.  It is 2.4 x 4m which means it does not require a building or planning permit.  We’ll build it solid and wonderful, of course, because we want to be good stewards of our resources, hate repeating work and because we want to prove that a patient amateur builds as well as a rushed professional.

Jackie & Clement set up the four corner posts after Clement did a marathon job digging the holes (some of them were pretty nasty!)

Yesterday, Clem and I put up the rest of the posts.  Today, Jackie & Clem took turns digging out shallow trenches for the concrete form work, and painting the posts.

They line up pretty well, too, those posts!

The plan is to erect 3 buildings of about this size (all under the magic 10 sq metres); the other two will be for WWOOFers to stay in.  (Think old school ‘sleep out’ but funky design, solar passive orientation, good insulation and NOT made out of 1960’s asbestos sheeting)