As we swelter through another tough summer with record temperatures and virtually no rain a small holding in the Karuah Valley is not only continuing to remain productive it provides us with inspiration on how to survive in our changing climate.
Limestone Permaculture at Stroud covers a mere one acre but that acre supports 140 animals, 350 fruit and nut trees plus a wide variety of seasonal edible crops.
All this is done on minimal water thanks to the use of permaculture principles.
The garden belongs to Brett and Nici Cooper who moved from suburban Newcastle 14 years ago to transform their plot into a highly productive food bowl. They had been practicing permaculture principles at their home in Newcastle but wanted to challenge themselves by using those principles on a larger scale and becoming food producers.
Today their garden is a shining light for those seeking to practice permaculture and sustainable or regenerative farming or food production practices. Produce from the plot is available at their farm gate stall .
Recently the Coopers were awarded '2018 winner of Good Organic Gardening Magazine’s – Australia's Greenest & Most Sustainable Garden'
Brett holds regular farm tours which attract visitors from throughout the Eastern Australia. He also offers training courses in permaculture principles a method first developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1960-70s to counteract the dominance of industrial farming methods that are highly dependent on non-renewable inputs.
At Limestone its all about the soil – nourishing it and thereby increasing not only is productivity but also just as importantly its water holding ability.
“Healthy soils are the basis of everything we do and they act like a sponge taking in any moisture they receive which given this summer and the last has been very little, “ Brett said.
“The best way to achieve healthy soils is to replenish them by applying fish and seaweed emulsions, homemade compost and teas, rock minerals and vermicast liquid.
“Our guiding principles are to build resilience in our garden by using permaculture principles like forestry layers where the trees can protect the lower layers by providing shade and wind protection.”
Brett describes these methods as developing a healthy 'soil food web'.
Water is a critical input especially give the current drought. In the previous nine years the average rainfall at Limestone was 1050mm in 2018 that figure dropped to 720mm and so far this year there has been no rain at all.
To maximise any rainfall water is harvested from the home and shed roof tops and stored in tanks plus the permaculture Swales on contour. collect the rain and direct it back into the garden rather than letting it flow across the soils.
More rain water tanks will be arriving soon to increase storage.
Limeston also makes great use of exclusion netting as it not only provides protection of pest and birds and especially Queensland fruit fly but it also provides between 15-18 per cent shade factor.
The exlusion tunnels are used on veggies susceptible to pests like cabbage moths and fruit fly but once the season is over the tunnels can quickly be removed the chooks come in and so their work.
“The exclusion netting means we don’t have to rely even on organic pest control – they really eliminate all the stress in pest control,” Brett said.
He is now growing more fodder crops like tree lucerne in vertical fodder rows and would one day like to minimise the amount of inputs needed to feed his goats, chickens and ducks.