Farm tour of Kin Kin SOULS: Permaculture Demonstration Site (plus, one tip you must know before for setting up your first swale)

Tom Kendall may look like your typical pot-smoking hippy, but in fact, he’s one of the most hard-working individuals you’ll meet. He’s dedicated his life to developing a Permaculture demonstration site and educational facility, Kin Kin SOULS: Simple Organic Utopian Living Space, on his 34 acre property.

Nestled in the hills of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, his property is as ‘clean and green’ as they come… no alcohol, no drugs, and no chemical fertilizers or sprays.

Kin Kin SOULS is the heart and soul of Tom and his partner Zaia Kendall-Sevenstern. The pair moved to the property in 2005, and immediately set about transforming it into a productive, food growing system. It now includes cows, goats, geese, and chickens.

Coming from a bio-dynamic wheat and sheep farming background in Western Australia, Tom’s been able to handle most of the handy-man type jobs himself; building fences, digging large (and I mean large) swales; constructing buildings out of recycled materials; and establishing the kitchen garden in their zone one (close to the house!).

Tom also has a passion for bananas, and grows some of the most delicious I’ve tasted. When the rest of Australia has been paying through the nose for bananas after cyclone Yasi wiped out many of the crops in North Queensland, Tom has had a steady supply of the sweet lady finger variety. Better still, his organic beauties are a fraction of supermarket prices.

The property tour, or open garden day, attracted a crowd of eager faces, ready to share in the development of the property. For folks who’d visited Kin Kin SOULS before (it was my first time) it was a great opportunity to see what’s changed since the last open garden in May 2010. Notably, the growth of the food forest area and increased production in the veggie garden, as the soil keeps improving with cow manure being cycled in to build up the fertility.

Down in the paddock, three doe-eyed cows are part of Tom and Zaia’s menagerie. Tom hand-raised and bottle-fed all three. Since he plans to milk ‘Toffee’ down the track, it’s important they build a mutual respect and trust for one another. He says he pats and cuddles her daily. Check out the bond he’s fostered, with his arms wrapped around her neck and her soft gaze; they look like a great match!

One project taking up Tom’s attention is the development of his food forest. Using a chicken tractor (a movable, secure chicken run with a few girls safely inside) to clear the ground of weeds, scratch up the dirt and add their valuable contribution in the form of manure (super high in nitrogen!), he then moves their pen to the next patch. Planting out the prepared earth is super easy and he has made sure to use a diversity of species to reach his goals of a productive fruit orchard.

Tom’s food forest idea comes from the chapter ‘Accelerating Succession and Evolution,’ in Bill Mollison’s book Introduction to Permaculture.

“A forest is never finished, it’s ever evolving; it’s like a city,” explains Tom. “It can go from Eucalypt forest, to rainforest, to redwood forest; it’s always changing.”

The idea is to use these natural principles of evolution and ‘aid’ those processes along. Planting a diverse range of plants to perform different functions often provides this helping hand. It’s pretty rare to see trees growing alone in nature. An understory level of plants and ground covers usually accompanies them.
In a food forest, the idea is to form a ‘guild’ of plants that suit your region. A guild usually consists of support species that put nitrogen into the soil; plants you can harvest, or ‘chop and drop’ for mulch; and flowering plants that attract pollinators and beneficial insects.

Tom says, “Our food forest includes a mixture of fruit trees; six different support species including pigeon pea, crotalaria, ice-cream bean tree, pinto peanut, alfalfa, and clover. For the ‘chop and drop’ I’ve put in arrowroot, talsi basil and pineapple sage. The basil and sage also add aroma and produce flowers to attract beneficial insects. The rest is just stuff I’ve thrown in; ginger, turmeric, and of course comfrey as a nutrient accumulator.”

It can be a bit of trial and error finding a guild that works for you.

“I planted chia and it went crazy and smothered everything. It grew to four or five foot tall. I should have chopped it back, but I wanted to harvest the seeds. So, anyway, I got rid of that,” he says.

This system of growth, where Tom’s thinking about ‘stacking’ his yield through time and space, is something I’m personally super keen to see in action. I can’t wait to visit their place again to learn from its development.

“The whole property is always evolving into something different. I’ve only been here for five years, but the veggie garden is ever evolving and becoming more productive. Especially as the soil improves,” he says.

Behind the house, up on the hill is a massive dam (which in Permaculture terms is in a great position since it means there’s less need for pumping water lower down the property. But it needs some clever design work to ensure no unforeseen ‘tsunami’ occurs, washing away the lower residential areas).

Unfortunately the dam suffered a leak for a number of years. But none-the-less, Tom assured us that when there’s been heavy rain, the overflow is directed into the largest swale I’ve ever seen. The Grand Canyon comes to mind when I think of it; it’s very impressive!! The swale first fills the dam to capacity, then, when it’s full, acts as a channel and diverts the overflow to the other side of the property. Safely away from the house below.

One step you must know before you dig your next swale, or you may regret it!

Tom shared a tip I’d endorse after creating my swales last year. (No idea what a swale is? Click here to read about our swales’ development). The tip is, have your plants ready to go into a freshly dug swale. Plant them out as soon as you can. Put them on the mound, and in the ditch if that’s to be covered, as soon as it’s been dug. Mulch well! Otherwise grasses, weeds and downright pesky plants will happily fill the gap for you. And, after they take up residence, it can be much more difficult to clear the weeds and plant what you actually want to grow.

So keep that in mind next time you make a swale. Have your plants ready and get them into the freshly turned earth, pronto! Done properly, swales will save you time, money and effort through irrigation, water management, and soil production.

A flock of newly inherited geese were hanging out in the chook pen, along with two calves when we came down to have a gander (ha! Like that? Gander at the geese…) Anyway, with all the bodies squeezing in to visit their pen, they decided to seek some privacy in their little shed. Moments later there was a scuffle and out they came squawking and flapping madly, followed by Tom’s dog, ‘Doofus.’ It felt like a hilarious real life scene from the children’s nursery rhyme, ‘Old Macdonald.’

Tom’s main passion these days is teaching. He’s set up three cabins on the property where students stay while taking their Permaculture Design Certificate. It’s a hands-on course with lots of practical wisdom, passed on from a knowledgeable Permaculture practitioner with a wealth of DIY skills and initiative. You can book into his courses by emailing info (at), find more information at or phone Tom and Zaia direct (+61) 07 5485 4664.

The 8th Natural Wonder of the World: Tom Kendall’s massive swale

Thanks Tom and Zaia, for sharing your place with us. I can’t wait to see how the fruit forest develops and look forward to your next massive bunch of bananas! Keep up the Permaculture spirit; living what you teach.