Permaculture Design Certificate

Sorry about another long gap in blog posts.  I just got back from doing a twelve-day Permaculture Design Certificate course in Kin Kin (on the Sunshine Coast between Noosa and Gympie) with Tom Kendall at Maungaraeeda, the permaculture centre that he and his wife Zaia run.  Fantastic experience.  After doing some research on available PDC courses (see below), I went to Maungaraeeda with high expectations – and they were exceeded.  Tom is a wonderful teacher, very warm, very knowledgeable, and very committed to ensuring his students get the most out of the course.

The course sessions are based on Bill Mollison’s book Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual  – Bill Mollison, one of the founders of permaculture, was one of Tom’s PDC teachers (the other was Geoff Lawton).  The sessions run for 72 hours over 12 days, and are given credibility by examples drawn from Tom’s long agricultural experience.  He grew up on an 11,000 acre wheat and sheep farm at Grasspatch, north of Esperance in Western Australia, which he took over after his father retired.  In 2000 he sold the farm and moved to the Sunshine Coast, where he bought the property that is now Maungaraeeda in 2005 and developed it as a permaculture-based operation

An outdoor class in the food forest

An outdoor class in the food forest.

Classroom sessions were frequently interrupted for practical activities, including several walks over the property while Tom explained specific permaculture features of the management.  It is a delightful setting, in a small valley just outside Kin Kin, with the house and food production areas down near the road, the grazing areas above that, and rainforest along the ridge-tops.

Tom in a fairly new food forest, surrounded by mostly support species.

Tom in a fairly new food forest, surrounded by mostly support species.

But Maungaraeeda isn’t just about Tom.  Zaia is in charge of Administration and Marketing, but in reality her role goes far further than that, and every aspect of the running of the place, from the first contact one has about enrolment to the mouth-watering meals, shows evidence of Zaia’s warmth and attention to detail.  From the moment I set up my tent on the lawns near the student dining area there was a strong feeling of “home”.

Tom and Zaia are supported by two long-term volunteers whose personalities and contribution to the running of the course added to the warm atmosphere.

Part of the kitchen garden at Maungaraeeda.

Part of the kitchen garden at Maungaraeeda.

And then there were the other students (there were nine of us in all). All I can say about them is that I think I had the extreme good fortune to find myself among a group of amazing individuals from whom I learned a lot, and whose company I still miss now, five days after the course ended.  We parted with promises of keeping in contact and setting up a “class wiki” to share our permaculture experiences and I really hope that happens.

The class and Tom, posing behind a fruit tree we planted and surrounded with about 30 "support" species.

The class and Tom, posing behind a fruit tree we planted and surrounded with about 30 “support” species.

There was a choice of accommodation – byo tent, a dormitory bus, or cabins.  I took my own tent, and even though it rained for part of the time, and was often pretty cold at night, it was really comfortable – particularly after they lent me a camping mattress to keep the ground chill out.

One of the lovely cabins, or you could bring your own tent.

One of the lovely cabins, or you could bring your own tent.

I promised above to comment on how I came to decide on doing the PDC with Tom.  In fact I had been thinking of doing a permaculture course for a while, and realised about six weeks ago that there would be a window in my commitments around late June/July, so I checked out the courses that were available and not too far away from Southeast Queensland.  The three I found were: the one taught by Tom; one led by Geoff Lawton (but presented by seven named instructors plus unspecified others) at Geoff Lawton’s Zaytuna Farm; and another at Northey Street City Farm in Brisbane, also with multiple instructors.  Costs ranged from $1,230 to $2,585, with Tom’s falling in between.

After I’d looked at what information I could find about the three organisations and particularly the backgrounds of their instructors, there really wasn’t any option for me other than Tom’s course.  Courses with multiple instructors didn’t appeal at all.  Permaculture is a “package” and needs to be taught and understood as that, not as a series of topics.  Cost was an issue, but not nearly as much as value-for-money, and with Tom’s practical background and his very hands-on ongoing experience in setting up his own permaculture farm, plus the small class size (they limit classes to 15) the value was definitely there.

Did the course change my life?  Yes, and a lot more than I had expected – not in the sense of an epiphany or even a change of direction, but in giving me more confidence that I now have a good theoretical and practical grounding for achieving the goals we have set for our property; and the knowledge that I have someone I can turn to for advice in the future.  Not only that, but now, whenever I see any agricultural area, my brain immediately starts mapping out swales – I guess you could say that my “permaculture eyes” have been opened.

Now that's a swale - Tom has swales on his property ranging from this down to hand-dug swales through the kitchen garden

Now that’s a swale – Tom has swales on his property ranging from this down to hand-dug swales through the kitchen garden.

Back again!

Yep, it’s been a long time between posts.

Lots of reasons: severe damage to arm muscles and tendons fighting fires last October, leading to difficulty doing most things; very severe wet weather, requiring track maintenance and other out of the ordinary chores; needing to set up bibliographic database for someone special; finding new data sources and getting engrossed for a few weeks in researching a period in my father’s life for the biography I’m preparing on him; etc.etc.

It has been wet, wet, wet.  We’ve had 565mm of rain to the end of February.  That’s nearly 75% of our average annual rainfall, and the highest January-February total since we started recording rainfall here in 2007.  Even in 2011, when we had the Grantham and Toowoomba floods in the area, we recorded only 505mm.


A pretty typical view from the porch in January and February

A rare shaft of light from the west on a rainy afternoon

A rare shaft of light from the west on a rainy afternoon

Now the wet weather seems to have gone for a while (give or take a cyclone hanging about some distance off the NE Queensland coast and uncertain whether to visit us).

A lot has been happening since my last blog.  Lots of days when we couldn’t go anywhere, either because the creek crossing was so far under rushing water that there was no way any sensible person would try to cross it, or the crossing had been so trashed by said rushing water that even our Subaru would have done itself some damage trying to cross.  Not that we were hankering to go anywhere – there’s always the feeling when we set out down the hill of “Why am I leaving all this peace, beauty and rampant nature – even for an hour/day/whatever?”

Once the rain seemed to have eased our good friend and neighbour, John, dropped by with his tractor and repaired the crossing.  For most of January and February the Subaru had been parked on the street side of the crossing, so that when the water was low enough to wade across we could get into town.

2013 Jan Aust Day flood CrossingP1040951_web

Looking downstream from the back creek crossing on Australia Day (26 January)

2013 Jan-Feb CrossingP1050018_web

The state of the crossing once the water went down

2013 Jan-Feb CrossingP1050036_web

John rebuilding the crossing

Autumn skies at last

Autumn skies at last

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