Permaculture in Action

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Urban Permaculture

My daughter Meghann and her partner Dom are a part of an environmentally aware group of people, esentially as  part of their local Transition Town. On the weekend at Meg's party I was able to meet a number of these young people. They were all very interesting, all doing amazing things in their own ways, and it was quite heartening to meet them and to know that Meg has such wonderful friends down here.
One of these people is Kat and today I got to go to her house and spend some time with her. Kat lives in a small house on a small block in a suburb of Melbourne. She is in the process of transforming this space along Permaculture design principles with the intention of  establishing it as a model of urban sustainability. She is not  ready to share it with the public just yet but was kind enough to give me a tour.
At the front gate visitors will be greeted by a food forest. There are various berries, an avocado,and currants to name just a few of the fruit trees she has already planted. It is surprising the number of trees she has in such a small space and she plans to plant more! Hanging under the verandah, using the available vertical space is an assortment or bikes. From the front yard we walked around the side of the house to find a large custom built water tank to take full advantage of the available space. Behind the tank is a sun trap open to the north and enclosed by the white walls of her house and the neighbours. Kat says that even on the darkest of winter days this area is quite light due to the reflection of these white walls. There are more fruit trees here and it is heavily mulched. There are plans a foot for chickens to be housed here in the not too distant future.
One of 2 water tanks.This area faces north and is shaded by grapes in summer. Kat plans to build a worm farm seat here.
Next we come to the greenhouse area to be completed within the next few weeks. It has been sited to take advantage of the northerly aspect.

Light is reflected off the white walls.
Kiwi in pots down the side. They will be trained up over a structure. The  photo is taken from where the new greenhouse is to be built. 

In the back yard we find more fruit trees, and the vegetable gardens. Kat hopes to be self sufficint in vegies and most of her fruit.She has 2 big water tanks for the house and garden and has diverted water runoff from the back fence to a pipe that supliments the garden.

Vegies in the backyard covered by netting to protect them from possums

Nestled in behind a clump of arrowroot  is a bath tub,heated from beneath by a small fire.Kat plans to add a shower in the future.An old tool shed is being renovated and repurpoed as a studio or bedroom. It will be finished with a mud and straw slurry mix giving the building a straw bale look.
From there we took a look at zone zero- the house. Kat is in the middle of retrofitting the house, but I was impressed with what she has achieved so far and loved hearing of her future plans. In the lounge room she has replced the gas heater with a slowcombustion heater which she uses for as many functions as possible. So not only does it heat the living area but she also uses it to boil water, and for drying clothes and herbs etc. She is able to close this area off so that she is only heating or cooling a small area. She has stuck bubble wrap to windows to insulate them and covered others with thick curtains and built concealed pelmets for those people who may not like the look of pelmets. Most of the materials used in these projects are repurposed from the renovations going on around the house.

Fireplace with brick surround. Even when the fire goes out the bricks continue to radiate heat. the bricks were sourced from the backyard and the mosaic made from broken china.

Bubble wrap on windows for insulation

In the bathroom Kat has built a composting toilet at very little cost. The waste is taken outside to finish it's decomposition in big barrels. There was suprisingly no smell at all.
There are many many projects she has on the drawing board,inside and outside. Her energy usage is a very low 1.3Kw per day and she is self sufficent in water. I was inspired by her enthusiasm, her ingenuity, her integrity and her vast knowledge covering many areas on sustainability issues.Eventually the house and garden will be opened up to the public as a model of urban sustainability.

 We also dicussed her involvement in a local CSA ( community Supported Agriculture ) which I will post on later.


  1. That is very inspiring!

  2. Wow! I love the bricks around the woodstove, awesome idea. How is she cooling the house? I use a wood stove for heat, but for cooling I am still using a/c. I waited to turn it on, but when it's 90 degrees inside and no wind, I caved. Cooling my house is one area I am stuck at since our summers are brutal!

  3. What an inspiring post. In many respects we think it is harder to do these things in the city and town ... but this example is awesome and puts me to shame.Sounds like more and more people are getting on board with this stuff.

  4. I am so impressed! It is in urban environments that models for change really need to happen, and this one has such good ideas.

  5. with these kids comming through - us old blokes can start to think of having a break.
    nice reporting Kate lol (lots of love)

  6. Just found your blog, I'll have to come back when I have a little more time, it looks great!!