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A selection of our writings from 2009 to the present. If you'd like to keep up to date with our latest posts, please subscribe below.

The post-supermarket homefront (nearly a decade on)

Hello spring! What a flowering we’ve had this year! So much fruit set. Yippee!!
Some of our activities in the garden at this time of year include picking off the cabbage moth larvae to feed to the chooks (thanks Meg!), feeding weed tea to the onions (thanks Woody!), and cutting off the frost burnt leaves on the potatoes (thanks Patrick!).

All our produce ends up in the kitchen and much lands on the fermenting table, which is Meg’s shrine to our household’s health. We call this the Pandoran hub of the house, after Pandora, known since early Greece as the goddess of fermentation, hope and insight – who Patrick calls, in his latest book, the healing goddess of the underworld of our gut. The gut is where 90% of serotonin and 50% of dopamine is produced in our body. These are the happy chemicals essential for a good life. Give the body microbiome-killing industrial food and medicine and you have a significant problem, individually and culturally.

Here’s an example of Pandora’s goodly alchemistry performed by Meg. In this homemade apple cider vinegar made last autumn there are many beneficial herbs and weeds from the garden including: rosemary, coriander, dandelion, plantain, mallow, horseradish leaf, lemon thyme, calendula, hawthorn berries, rosehips, parsley and sheep sorrel. You can look up the benefits of each of these plants using that old thing, the Internet. Be sure to cross reference and go to peer reviewed papers if they exist. Otherwise trust your gut. She knows. Each plant contains vital minerals and nutrients, and the vinegar helps extract the minerals otherwise locked up. We use a little of this brew each time in salad dressings.

Meg’s raw milk cheeses are another form of wild fermented goodness. We don’t eat much animal protein, but adding this contraband local material into the mix of our life certainly adds a cow-kick punch to our week. Thank you gentle creatures of field and herb.

At this time of the year the cellar is becoming depleted, but there’s still something delicious to find on each journey into this other Pandoran underworld. Bottles such as our former SWAP, Marta’s Polish pears, or our dried plums, toms and citrus, or Meg’s raw wild fermented soft cheese balls preserved in olive oil with herbs.

So many of the processes and activities we carry out each day offer an array of learning moments, but play is equally as important.

If Woody wants to jump on the trampoline he does so, but fairly soon he’ll come over and say, “Can I have a job.” Sun drying herbs is probably not a labour that takes his fancy, so he’ll probably opt for the trampoline before lunchtime.

Speaking of which. Lunch is probably our favourite meal. A typical lunch? Patrick’s wild and slow fermented 100% spelt sourdough with sprouted lentils, Meg’s veggie spread (tahini, miso paste, olive oil, lemon juice, crushed garlic), her famous three-cornered garlic kraut, and her semi-hard raw milk, wild fermented cheese. Fit for any aspiring neopeasant. Yes, we know, this is all sounding so Portlandia. For a laugh we call it Daylesfordia, but the radicalism of how we live is not to be scoffed at. Just try us. We do all this well below the poverty line, and while our agency springs from two generations of privilege, the future for us is found in emulating the ecological intelligences of our peasant and indigenous ancestors. We make the bold gut claim that if everyone in the West lived with similar simple nourishment and low carbon lifeways we’d seriously mitigate the effects of climate change, obliterate pollution and species extinction and reduce many human health pathologies produced by unchecked modernity. Yes, it’s a big claim, and too big to go further into here, but we will happily chew your ear off, lock horns or swap knowledges with you if that’s your thing… Warning: trolls will be composted. Mmmm. Time for lunch.

This spring Patrick has built the outdoor kitchen in time for summer. Here he checks that the bread tins fit in the oven below.

Patrick has also just finished the greenhouse, with the help this year of SWAPs Connor, Marta and Jeremy. The suspended worm farm that sits under the bench catches all the drips and keeps the worms moist and happy. It’s really great having the worms so close to the kitchen. Scraps are either thrown out the window to the chooks or given to the worms. Gravity fed everything!

Water recycling has also required a lot of thinking this year, and as a result we are 100% water off-grid. All waste water is now directed into the garden at multiple points, gravity fed.

We continue our commitment to car-free living, although of late we’ve had to borrow a car here and there to go look for our gut-damaged teen Zeph and his best friend, trouble. Zeph’s rebellion has been to eat toxic corporatised food and drink. The inflammatory results have been startling, and extremely unsettling. Collecting wood on foot and on bikes, never over-harvesting but taking fire-prone buildups of fallen branches keeps us fit and healthy, and our carbon footprint very low. This wood cooks, dries, heats, bakes, boils, brews, roasts, toasts and generally keeps us warm and nurtured. We no longer need the appliances that do all those things. Year after year we live with less and less.

We daily clean out the wood stoves and sort the potash from the charcoal, using both useful products in the home and garden. The potash is returned to the perennial parts of the garden and the forest from where we pick fruits and mushrooms, and the char we crush and pee onto to activate before we use it in the annual beds. Unactivated charcoal can take up nitrogen out of the soil and therefore can negate plant growth. By activating it you get a slow release fertiliser.

We use sawdust from a local mill to sprinkle on our poo. The black hole (below right) is a bucket of charcoal for wee. In making humanure it is important to separate the urine from the faeces, otherwise it gets too nitrogeny and therefore stinky. Patrick made this dry composting toilet system which can either be used as a squat or conventional sit toilet, for less than $100. If we had to do it by the book it would have cost more like $10,000 rendering it impossible for us to make the change. The EPA approved systems are good, especially if you don’t understand the science of composting poo, but if you follow basic principles all you really need is a bucket, sawdust, compost bays and patience. We estimate we now save 20,000 lt of water a year by removing the old flush toilet. That’s 20,000 lt extra we can put on the garden and grow some decent food.

Building more humanure composting bays has been a priority with all the extra goodies going into our closed loop system. We have three humanure toilets now and plenty of visitors. Reclaiming old pallets and building bays into an existing wall makes this a straight forward and cost neutral operation.

The result: fertility of the highest order. We rate humanure as the best compost we’ve ever made.

Woody is wood obsessed. Every day he has a relationship with trees, timbers and various tools. Whittling,

chopping,

and playing.

This has been a brief snapshot of our lives this spring. A tremendously big warm thank you goes to Mara Ripani for the photos. A big congrats to Connor and Marta who are getting married in Feb. They met at Tree Elbow and fell in love.

A more detailed account of our lives and a manifesto of how we live can be read in Patrick’s forthcoming book, re:)Fermenting culture: a return to insight through gut logic. You are all most welcome to visit our garden at Tree Elbow and join us to warm this book into existence in a few weeks time. There will be tastings of our ferments, music and readings.

We are also now hosting regular house and garden tours. The last one for the year will take place Sunday Nov 19, 1.30 – 4.30pm. $30 per person. There are still a few places available. Contact us for more details.

The buildings, growings, gatherings and storings of this regenerative age

It’s been a busy 6 months of building, producing, gathering and crafting, so busy in fact that we haven’t had a moment to blog. Until today.

Teaching younger folk to build has been our focus over the past year, starting with James and Zeph building The Cumquat, then more recently, Connor, Jeremy and Marta helping with the north-facing greenhouse.

We’ve built a number of other buildings too, including the Yause (named after Jeremy Yau, who came to SWAP with us in February and has been here ever since).

Jeremy moved into the Yause after just 7 weeks of building.

We also built the Cookhouse, the name we gave our low-tech sauna.

We used local cypress timber and discarded sheep’s wool to line the inside of Zeph’s old cubby, and we found an old wood heater at the tip which we bought for $30 and restored with a lick of stove paint. Thanks Zeph!

It works a treat!

We also installed more water tanks for further veggie production (nearly everything we spend money on is intended to take us away from further requiring it),

To preserve our gifted old timber windows (thanks Vasko!), Connor painted them before the rains set in.

and we started work on the Smithy, where Jeremy and Patrick will be setting up a blacksmith and wood crafting workshop to teach others.

There have been many other smaller projects we have worked on this year, such as completing the cellar – building more storage for our preserves, ferments, booze and cheeses. We are so close to going fridge-less now! Just a cool cupboard to build and a fridge to offload.

Home production has also been extensive with many hands making light work. Buster, who rode her bicycle from Brisbane, came to SWAP with us and hung about with Woody, decking the trampoline with summer fruit to sun-preserve. Thanks Buster!

Our bees have had a remarkable first season, storing food for themselves and for us in the near completed anti-aviary.

We robbed them of a third of their summer production,

obtaining a whopping 15 kgs out of a total of 45 kgs of honey that they produced in just 6 months. Astounding! Thank you beautiful creatures.

The annual veggie production began to ramp up again too,

and not only did we learn more about bees from our friends at Milkwood Permaculture, we learnt a thing or two about intensive veggie production too. We have begun to double dig all our beds.

Home production of perennials has also increased this year with plants such as hops for brewing and for sleepytime tea,

and kiwi fruits, which tease Woody with their unripeness well into early winter.
We have been gathering other perennial crops in the garden too, such as acorns – harvesting them for pancake meal and beer making,

and gathering together for all sorts of events with kin and community. From community garden working bees and free workshops that we’ve organised,

to fermenting workshops, including Culture Club’s wonderful community pickling day,

mushroom and weed foraging workshops that we’ve led,

and Friday night local food gatherings, which we’ve hosted weekly at Tree Elbow.

We’ve had so many remarkable guests stay with us over the past 6 months. David Asher came from Canada to share his passion for wild fermented raw cheeses,

permaculture teacher, Penny Livingston-Stark, came and feasted with our community and shared her remarkable story alongside David Holmgren,

cousin Pepper and Ra were regular visitors,

comedian Lawrence Leung (who slept in the Yause) and independent filmmaker, Celeste Geer, came with a crew to film for Catalyst,

and of course our three long-term SWAPs, Connor and Marta (here stacking a fine compost on the nature strip),

and Jeremy (here working on a forge blower he’s making from discarded material), have all been stalwarts at Tree Elbow this year.

Long term resident Zero, a huge personality in a little dog suit, will turn 49 this winter, rendering him the most significant elder of Artist as (extended) Family,

and while Zeph has been extricating himself from Artist as Family collaborations, he still makes regular appearances (often with friend Owen) to Tree Elbow, bringing his zest for disruption, bravado and beautiful independence, and keeping us all on our toes. Onya Zeph!

The way we get around and retrieve resources, or go out to participate in the community is very much about our continued practice of a low carbon consciousness. Bikes are essential for this cultural and economic transition. We’ve been car-less now for seven years!

Riding and walking into yet another wet and cold season means we are once again hardy to the change of weather. While community friends and other loved ones fall sick around us, colds and flu will be a long time coming into our neo-peasant home.

Walked-for, dug, and directly-picked food, dirt on hands, active and accountable living and mobility, goodly sleep, and generally being outside all gather as the ingredients for a health-filled, resilient and low-carbon life. While this is not THE solution to the many varied problems of industrialisation, it is for us a genuine response to the predicament of our age.

We hope you have found some spirit here, spirit to aid your resolve as we find strength and inspiration in yours. For those interested in a deeper unpacking of our practice and of our cultural fermentations, Patrick has an essay just published in Garland magazine. If you have similar life hacks you would like to share with us or any other Qs related to how we live, please leave a comment or send us a message. (NB: Trolls will be composted.)

Over for now,
much loving and flowing of gifts to you, and from and to the worlds of the world,
Artist as Family

On the bike path to fairer economies, politics and societies

In July 2007 The Age newspaper published a letter of Patrick’s where he conjured up a little vista into what a fairer, more just society might look like. One that was beginning to repair the damages of an extractive, anti-ecological culture and hold accountable those who knowingly act against life to the detriment of the world’s communities. Malcolm was then environmental minister in the Howard government and we were in the thick of the ten-year drought.

Almost nine years later our household and community economies, based on relationships more than money, are slowly maturing. We have been practicing a low-waste, low-fuel, walked-for food economy with community and friends where gifts play a big part. “I’m just going to drop off the compost to Malcolm and his colleagues, my darling!” yells Meg, as she heads off with Woody.

We held a mushroom foraging and identification workshop a week ago, and offered two forms of payment. Cash or working bee. More than half opted for the latter. This is another Meg. She took the work in the garden option and weeded around the veggies.

And this is Angela, who helped her.

Angelica, our previous SWAP, returned and brought her typical joy, and new pruning skills direct from her urban farming course at CERES.

The biodynamic duo, Moe and Chris, worked on a bed overrun by rhyzome-cunning bent grass,

while the helpful, engineer-minded Pearson assisted Patrick in building the almond, quail and bee enclosure.

The morning’s productive working bee ended with Meg’s delicious potato and leek soup cooked on a fire outside with a loaf of Patrick’s fresh sourbread to dip in. The shared lunch gave over to the afternoon’s mushroom foraging walk, and despite the 8 days since rain we found several edible species, some dangerous tikes and a whole heap we put into the category of little brown mushroom.

This time of year this is what our dinner hauls look like:

The day after the mushroom walk, Meg put on her teaching cap and shared her passion for fermented drinks with co-conspirator Raia Faith Baster. This second Culture Club event at the Senior Citizens wing of the Daylesford town hall was free, which Meg organised with her HRN cap on. The disseminating of knowledge where all have access to skills and ideas is very much part of performing a fair society.

Our most recent SWAP is Letitia, who has been learning from us forest crafts, wholistic land management practices and other performances of regeneration and renewal. Notice the possum dreys above her and below.

While she was turning 2m high blackberry canes into useful groundcover with a simple tool and her stomping boots Letitia uncovered a ringtail drey in the hawthorn and blackberries. If we don’t do this work the CFA will set a fire to this forest next season and all the possums will be smoked out or killed. Here’s an example of indigenous and newcomer species non-dualism.

We shared lunch and a walk around a nearby sculpture garden with our friend Richard Tipping (whose sign work you can see) and his partner Chris Mansell. 
We spent time at the community park in town helping create a new natural playscape area, under the guidance of our friend and low impact building designer, Annabel Mazzotti. 
We attended a meeting at our local council to discuss the very real possibility of implementing wholistic and organic land management practices – perhaps a first in Australia.
We said farewell to Nina, who SWAPped with us during the Bruce Pascoe fest. Nina is heading back to France after two years of travelling and knowledge building and sharing in Australia. You will be missed, but you’ve hooked us up with Danny. Merci Nina et bonne chance!

We are about to begin a 6-week building apprenticeship with former SWAP James and Artist as Family’s Zephyr, so we’ve been busy collecting materials from building skip bins and the local tip.

The building that James and Zeph will construct, under Patrick’s tutelage, is called The cumquat, and at the end of their 6-week crash course they should be fairly confident to build their own home.

Stay tuned, Dear Reader. We look forward to showing you the development of The cumquat, which will become a dwelling for more non-monetised SWAPping, thus enabling more learning and sharing of the knowledges that are attempting to model a set of responses to the multifarious predicaments of our time.

VOTE 1 for relocalised, low-monetary, low-carbon, more-than-human transitions to fairer, more diverse and biodiverse societies!

or in Bill Mollison’s words:

The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter.

from Introduction to Permaculture 1991, p177 

A month of growing, fermenting, retrofitting, foraging, forest work and lively, lovely people

It’s been a busy time for us up here in the hills to the north of the falsely-bartered city of Melbourne. We’ve had a string of wonderful young SWAPs come stay. This is Nina, far left, who was SWAPping with us when Bruce Pascoe and Lyn Harwood came to visit and speak at our town hall with David Holmgren and Su Dennett — we consider all four true elders of our respective communities, as well as our close friend, Pete O’Mara (far right and almost off screen), who dedicates so much time to the young people in our town. 

The couple of days we had with Bruce and Lyn were wonderful and Nina took some sweet snaps as well as pitched in with whatever needed doing. Here Patrick and Bruce get ready to plant yam daisies in Daylesford’s community garden beside the library.

About 400 people came to the various different events we (working on behalf of HRN) organised. Our dear mate Ant, and Patrick have begun work on a film that will cover the incredible day of knowledge sharing and thinking, particularly the social warming aspect of the day and of course David Holmgren and Bruce Pascoe’s wisdom and research.

Our dear friend Su, who started HRN back in the day (with Maur