Permaculture Beginnings at ‘Caroola’ (NSW, Australia)

Caroola Homestead

‘Caroola’ is an example of a small-scale conventional farm conversion to permaculture (small by Australian farming standards), or at least it will be. It’s not often you get to see a project of this type through its lifetime and the thought processes behind it, so I thought I’d share, and welcome any comments or input. In order to encourage other small scale farmers and would-be tree changers to see what can be achieved with degenerated and non-profitable land to make it sustainable in terms of economics, the earth and the people, I thought I’d share my story.

Choosing the location

Having grown up on a farm on the western side of the snowies (Tumbarumba) and spending too many years doing the commercial thing in Sydney and Singapore, I had found myself on the North Coast of NSW at Bellbrook (between Armidale and Kempsey). However, the property was way too large and I was specifically looking for something in a temperate climate location, as I appreciate the seasonal variety, deciduous trees and the range of fruit and nuts that can be grown in temperate conditions.

With family in Canberra and Sydney I figured the southern tablelands was the go, and after looking around Braidwood, Bungendore, the southern highlands and out to Crookwell, I discovered 100 acres adjacent to the Kings Highway between Bungendore and Braidwood. Called ‘Caroola’ it has most recently been used as a pony stud, so the soils are compacted and paddocks well chewed down, with not much in terms of polyculture in plant species. It is actually located less than 50 metres from Mulloon Creek.

Being just 10 minutes from Bungendore I felt was advantageous with access to a vibrant but not too-big country community with facilities including a supermarket, bank, chemist, doctors, physiotherapist and more. What’s more, it’s just 30 minutes to Canberra, so within easy reach of larger facilities and services.

After dealing with solicitors and council and banks, I finally settled during the last week of my PDC in Melbourne – yippee! Caroola’s entrance is on the Kings Highway, so it’s easy to get in and out, and there are separate access tracks (once on the property) for the sheds and the house. The road is generally quiet except for long weekends when the Canberra traffic seems to flow endlessly between Canberra and the coast.

It’s just half an hour to Goulburn and two and a half hours to Sydney, which seems pretty central to me.

Easy access to the highway

The site that I chose

‘Caroola’ is a predominantly cleared block. It runs east-west along the Kings Highway and is very close to Mulloon Creek. The property is divided into 10 paddocks in a noughts and crosses fashion with a laneway up the centre plus the house and shed yards. It has nine dams and various east-west and north-south tree lanes that are already established. Some of the tree lanes are pine, others gum and the more recently planted ones a mixture of acacia’s and sheoaks. I really need to get in there and do some better plant identification.

The land slopes down from the Great Dividing range toward the west and is located at around 700m in altitude with approximately 750mm of annual rainfall. I have ordered a 10 metre contour map, as otherwise, all I know is the altitude and not the slope across the property. The area is subject to relatively strong winds from the south west and tree belts have been planted around the sheds and house to protect it from this direction. There is, however, no tree protection from the highway itself so that will be one of the first major projects. Temperatures can range from -10°C in winter to up to 40°C in summer, although those would be extremes.

One of the larger dams

Surveying the house

The house is well positioned with the length of the verandah facing north and catching the bulk of the sun. The living areas are predominantly to the north with bathrooms, bedrooms, laundry and store room to the south. There are two wood-fired heaters, one in the centre of the house and one in the front lounge room, although one is a pretty inefficient open fireplace. The verandah is already covered with a deciduous vine so the winter warmth and summer sun issues are well addressed but there is definitely room to optimise heating and cooling.

All in all it’s a relatively good house design from a heating/cooling efficiency point of view. Minor modifications such as turning the glass-house in the south into a shade-house and enclosing part of the front verandah to form a glass house are two things that are immediately obvious, as is the addition of solar panels and/or a wind generator for farm electricity needs. Composting toilets and fire-heated hot water will probably come after that – I really can’t see the effectiveness of the existing bathroom facilities with single-flush toilets.

What’s in the garden?

The garden is predominantly ornamental, with a few fruit trees, vegetable gardens and some strawberry beds hidden in the far corners.

There are many established trees which I am yet to identify and a huge, huge lawn which needs to be reduced or I shall have to bring in sheep to mow it (a definite possibility) or it would take me all week to do even on a ride-on.

There is an overgrown old tennis court which has many large gums growing as suckers, but the external fencing is still intact and could be used for bird protection for some sort of fruiting crop.
The vegetable beds definitely need enlarging and enclosing into a rabbit-proof area near the house. I need to start planting out forest gardens around each of the individual trees in order to reduce lawn space. I would also like to add a fire-pit, communal area in the centre of the existing lawn area.

Existing vegetable beds

What about the sheds?

The shedding consists of a chicken house, a garden shed, a carport, an old wood shed, two old water tanks for wood storage, a single stand shed with shearing platform an old meat-house and a large shed with 6 stables in it which is two-thirds concreted. There are a few resident wombats living in the shed area, so any advice on that front would be greatly appreciated.

In addition there is a small set of cattle yards, a round yard for horses and a loading ramp.

The sheds are generally in good condition, with the exception of the woodshed which needs new upright and vertical beams, however I just can’t see myself using 6 stables, so will have to work out what to do with those. The sheds do not currently have power connected, so I shall have to solve that problem too in order to set up a proper workshop.

Shedding at ‘Caroola’

Next steps

While I enjoy the fresh country air and ‘observe’ the site, the following is just a short list of next steps in my permaculture journey:

  • Obtain or create a contour map
  • Develop an overall farm plan
  • Establish better vegetable gardens
  • Research animals
  • Work out the best rabbit control methods
  • Install some more water tanks
  • Obtain quotes for solar/wind power systems
  • Plan forest gardens
  • Research permaculture related business ideas and opportunities
  • Swale designs and tree planting

Existing laneway

This is just an introduction to the property — stay tuned for updates about its development.