So here we are…

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All moved in to our little rental house. The pantry is full of Mudgee passata, large baskets of last seasons’ potatoes, and the remains of the garlic harvest.

The walls are faintly pink, the decor somewhat questionable and the rainwater (currently) gets piped off to god-knows where. There is a lemon tree, and a back fence. And a plan… 

Obligatory 'before' shot of our north-facing future tomato growing emporium

Obligatory ‘before’ shot of our future north-facing tomato growing emporium

We’ve been in this house a week or so now. It’s close to a beach and to a headland, it’s structurally sound, and everyone gets their own room. Things are different. But they’re still good.

I realise this is, in some ways, the flip of most aspirational homesteading – most of us plan to move OUT OF not INTO the ‘burbs.

Most of us don’t switch a faraway hillside farm for streetlights and garbage collection. But i guess we have. For now, that is.

Its a time of every emotion you can think of. Of trepidation, of exhaustion, of hope, and excitement, and of uncertainty too. All common experiences, I know.

I’m not complaining. We are fortunate to be able to do this – to make big decisions based on what our current family needs are. And on what our future family goals are. And then to be able to act apon them. We’ll be fine.

The headland just up the hill. Lots of wild greens to forage here, if you can manage to look down from that view.

The headland just up the hill. Lots of wild greens to forage here, if you can manage to look down from that view.

Obligatory 'before' shot of the tepid garden, soon to be stacked with veg.

Obligatory ‘before’ shot of the currently tepid garden, soon to be stacked with veg.

Our mushrooms are loving the extra humidity. That's one regular harvest sorted!

Our mushrooms are loving the extra humidity. That’s one regular harvest sorted!

The last few weeks has held many interesting challenges and conclusions.

For example, power. Finding the least awful power company is trickier than it looks. It’s always a fun morning when you spend it ringing around with the opening line of:

“Hi, I’m just looking to get the power connected, and I’m trying to figure out which company is the least barstardly. Is your company actively or covertly involved in any Australian or off-shore fracking projects right now?”

The sad answer seems to be that THEY ALL ARE, if you do a little research. That’s right. ALL OF THEM. Sigh.

Our compromise on this one was to go with 100% green power via Energy Australia, who, from our research, seemed to be not quite as screamingly entwined in destroying our planet as the other power companies.

Apparently (and i’m fast realising how powerful it feels to be a passive consumer who must take their power companies claims at face value: i.e. not very) 100% green power means that my power company will purchase the equivalent of 100% of our usage from renewable power sources.

Hmm. Here’s hoping on that one.

Anyway. The lights work, the stove turns on. For all these things, we are grateful.

Hello shiitake.

Hello shiitake.

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Behold.

Behold.

Before we’d unpacked a single box of household goods, Nick had already scouted and decided the best position in the garden for the shiitake logs, and faithfully positioned them forthwith.

Priorities are important.

In other good news, not only does the house not leak, it does all the regular things a house should do. It also has a fine mushroom cultivation basement, and a smallish backyard.

With bonus lemon tree.

There’s also a back fence, and a very tepid garden. Which is fine with us, and one of the highlights of this property.

Simply put, I don’t think the landlords are going to notice if we rip out their few and straggling weird ornamental plants, and transform this backyard into a rockin’  edible ecosystem.

And as with all the rental food gardens I’ve been involved in, asking forgiveness trumps asking permission. Every time.

So. we have a blank slate. And a north-facing wall as well. And knowledge, a seed cabinet, and gumption aplenty.

I think we can even sneak in a small firepit. I’m unwilling to participate in a childhood without access to weekend campfire cooking, if I can possibly manage it.

Speaking of food, i can happily report that we’re well provisioned by the rather ridiculously excellent local food options hereabouts.

The bulk of beautiful food we’re sourcing is via a community food co-op called Greenbox, based in Gerringong.

Greenbox is damn impressive. It’s community run, the range is huge and every single item has a provenance AND a food miles description.

You can get a seasonal box, or pick what you want. There is everything from veg to local meat to dry goods to cordials. I am a little bit in love. Not enough to not want to grow my own as much as I can, but nearly.

Our other main point of sustenance are our mates at the incredible Buena Vista Farm (we’re holding a few courses there, and will continue to do so), also in Gerringong.

Their pastured egg yolks are fluorescent, their bone broth second to none.

They make everything from pate (with their own pastured chickens’ liver) to sourdough to sauerkraut to bacon jam (yes, from their own pigs). I steel myself to only purchase one round of their whole-egg custard per week.

Kiama Farmer's Markets. They've got it all, including free childcare, if you like pebble beachers and soggy shoes.

Kiama Farmer’s Markets. Ashar searches for seaweed along the shore while I sort out the weekly egg supply.

On top of all that, there’s the Kiama Farmers Markets each and every Wednesday afternoon.

It’s fast becoming a family tradition: Ashar goes and acquires important rocks, seaweed and sandy wet shoes from the shoreline while i buy eggs and custard and maybe just one loaf of Berry Sourdough’s olive flatbread.

So. Until the garden grows, we shall not starve.

The pantry (i didn’t take a photo of it as it’s a complete mess) is full of baskets of potatoes, pumpkins, garlic and many, many jars of passata. Mudgee is still with us.

And the internet works. All by itself! Unlike in our previous situation where we had to create a bespoke hilltop solar powered internet solution to get a signal. Ah, memories.

We’re now busy planning exactly what will go where in our backyard growing space, and how to best incorporate a simple crop ration plan.

The front yard, a sloping sea of lawn, is another matter. Actually, maybe you can help.

Know any leaky dinghies (er, you know, rowboats)  that need a home?

Arr, for we be planning to set sail on a front yard public herb project, and we be needing some largeish rental-friendly planting containers (that last bit was in pirate voice).

Wishing you a warm space to read and dream this new year into being from the depths of blustery winter.

What are you planting or planning at your place this week? 

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31 Comments

  1. nancy
    Posted July 2, 2014 at 7:32 am | Permalink | Reply

    Excited for you and can’t wait to see what you will be doing in your small space. A bonus for we readers who have only small spaces but still want to be as independent and sustainable as possible Here in the Hunter Valley NSW I am tucking in (and conversely uncovering)daily , tomato and other tender plants as we dip to 2 and 3 degrees at night. The re purposed bathtub against the north facing back fence filled with daytime heat capturing water bottles at the base of each plant and covered over with double shade cloth ,late each afternoon has helped keep the tomato blooming and the other salad greens flourishing.The eggplant has been cut right back but is still putting out new buds. The permanent basil bush, lavender and borage flowers are keeping the bees coming round. I have just received notification that my hazelnut trees and seeds have been shipped from Diggers.Christmas in July!!!

  2. Bryan
    Posted July 2, 2014 at 7:32 am | Permalink | Reply

    Good luck to you Kirsten. When you lived at Milkwood Mudgee I could relate to your climatic difficulties as I live in the wilds of Rylstone out Nullo way. With a solid frost this morning and -1 as the temperature, this is a far cry from your coastal dream – did you mention tomatoes? But hey, I enjoy your story.

    Bryan

    • Posted July 2, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks Bryan! No ‘cleansing frosts’ down here so slug-o-rama all winter… each climate certainly has it’s advantages :)

  3. Karen Lamb
    Posted July 2, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink | Reply

    I wait with baited breath to see what is possible in a rental situation. I will soon move out of a south facing unit into a still small but north facing rental situation on the central coast. Was greatly inspired in recent workshops by David Holmgren and Nicole Foss in Newcastle and always inspired by your innovative ideas. Cheers.

  4. Posted July 2, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink | Reply

    I’m so excited to be following you at the beginning of this next adventure. My place is a rental and I’m new to permaculture, so will be following along with avid interest. I just had a fruit salad tree delivered this week after cashing in a gift certificate from my sister who sent it to me as a house warming present last year when I was about to purchase my dream home – alas I was retrenched so the sale fell through. Today is planting it in a pot day so that we can take it with us when the next dream house comes along!

    The veggie garden is very small and full of annuals at the moment except for a thyme bush I’ve had in there for a few years, but I do have sage and onions planted among the roses in the front garden and marjoram, dill, chives, a second thyme and more sage seedlings are beginning to poke their heads up along a garden set along a north-west facing brick wall.

    We’re lucky enough to have wonderful landlords who are more than happy for us to do what we like with the land and there’s a lot of it! I’m aiming on slowly transforming the rest into a mini food forest, but am not sure we’ll be here long enough! I tell myself any transformation is good transformation. I’m in the middle of tossing up whether mushrooms or chooks should be next.

    I look forward to following your journey! The South Coast Producers Association here have a wonderful Farmer’s Market on a Friday morning in Bega. I’ve been visiting only sporadically but you’ve spurred me to go more often. Thank you!

    • Posted July 2, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink | Reply

      I’m with you on that – at the end of the day, what matters is that you’re planting food (and as many perennials as possible) – exactly which little fingers and bellies eat it all in years to come (yours, or others) is secondary to the act of ensuring abundance for whoever can benefit from it.

  5. Alacoque
    Posted July 2, 2014 at 9:28 am | Permalink | Reply

    Whilst we own our home we have very limited space (think 4m wide terrace) so I’m interested to see how you transform your little patch of suburbia. It’s all about looking at the positives and doing what is best for your family, balancing current and future needs/goals/wants. Looking forward to following your journey :)

  6. Posted July 2, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink | Reply

    I love your determination to apply permaculture principles in the now. Permaculture is not just (or perhaps even) some hippy fantasy of pastoral abundance, but a continuous stream of sometimes difficult decisions about which sacrifice to make for what gain.
    Besides, a healthy lemon tree is a gift and a treasure in the ‘burbs. Even if it’s a bush lemon. Multi-graft it! B)

  7. Posted July 2, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink | Reply

    I think Momentum are free from fracking investment (but do look after the power station that flooded Lake Pedder)

  8. Peter
    Posted July 2, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink | Reply

    Does your landlord not know that you guys have a world famous blog?
    Having moved to Victoria form that region I can say I miss the surf at Bombo beach.
    All the best.

    • Posted July 2, 2014 at 11:40 am | Permalink | Reply

      Well if they do come across this we hope they’ll be with us in spirit. And we’ll of course give them preserved lemons and shiitakes. There’s a lot of peeps in the world however, so it seems unlikely… thanks for the compliment but not everyone’s across milkwood (thankfully, in some ways)!

  9. Posted July 2, 2014 at 11:59 am | Permalink | Reply

    Good luck and congratulations on making the move. I, too, shall be interested to watch and maybe adopt some of what of what you do. I have a yard waiting to be cultivated- not started for many good reasons; I plan on no-dig- the soil is so de-graded, not a worm in sight, even where I’ve been digging in vegetable etc. scraps…and I find I can’t quite manage lots of digging. My blog will be showing the progress, can’t wait to get going. Thanks for milkwood blog- I love it!

  10. Posted July 2, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink | Reply

    No problems with that camp fire as long as you make it a cooking place. All you need is a grill on a pivot and it’s a legal BBQ.

    • Posted July 2, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink | Reply

      very good points. And we just happen to have a grill on a pivot right here…

  11. foodnstuff
    Posted July 2, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Good luck with it all. You will do fine. It must have been hard to leave Mudgee, but you can’t keep a good permie down!

  12. Posted July 2, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Kirsten there are quite a few things to grow at the moment. Your coastal environment is a far cry from our -2C frost at Tamworth this morning.
    I have completed the first of my wicking beds…6m X 0.75m.. and have planted carrots from a seeded plant elsewhere in the garden, climbing peas (3-4 varieties) and transplanted some self sown lettuce. There will be at least another 5 of these beds built in my fruit fly free enclosure and rotational beds for the “tomato” patch over coming months. I had to go wicking and raised beds because of the neighbouring 6 fig trees with invading roots. I love my figs as well as tomatoes.
    I would normally be planting potatoes at the moment but it has a green manure crop for the winter which will be flattened and planted out in August.
    Might be a bit late for spinach but silver beet, celery, various winter active lettuce, radish, parsnips and peas will all grow now. Then there are the onions family. Some say plant garlic on the shortest day but I would rather do it on the autumn equinox and you should be able to get a good harvest from any of the other onion types.
    Your northern wall sounds like you could try a couple of early tomatoes with night time protection. Coastal people can do so many things!
    Hope you settle in well with your new garden.

  13. Posted July 2, 2014 at 6:18 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Can’t wait to see what you guys are going to come up with in that smaller space! Much like what with I have to work with. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with the smallest bit of soil :-)

  14. Posted July 3, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink | Reply

    “…asking forgiveness trumps asking permission. Every time.” I so need to remember that for my own landlord.
    To lovely new beginnings Milkwood crew.

  15. Posted July 3, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink | Reply

    As much as moving is challenging and at times sad, it sounds like you’re going great guns settling into your new space. This week (in fact just 15 minutes ago) saw me planting some peppercorns I’d soaked in warmish water as an experiment to see if I can grow my own piper nigrum. We’re cold mountain climate here so they will go inside the passive solar greenhouse we are having constructed today. :) Otherwise it’s repotting mangoes and avocadoes, sourcing pineapples and pots and lots of organic potting mix. :)

  16. Janet McConaughey
    Posted July 3, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Permalink | Reply

    What in the world is bacon jam?

  17. Posted July 3, 2014 at 4:59 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Change is scary, but also sometimes necessary. Most people do want to move to the countryside, not the other way around. Having lived in the countryside for a while though, with kids and all the school buses to get to school – I get it when people need to change locations.

    I’d be scoping out the new digs and dreaming up an edible forest too. I think you can grow more on a suburban block, because there is less land to manage. Less land means you’re forced to focus on efficiency.

    Glad to hear you’re settling.

  18. Liesel
    Posted July 4, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink | Reply

    We have baby banana trees in a variety that produces 100-200 a bunch in Wollongong climate – you’re welcome to collect some to establish that subtropical food forest :)

  19. Dean Driscoll
    Posted July 8, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink | Reply

    Hello Kirsten! Now, I have completely and utterly missed something here! You have moved away from Mudgee? Forever? Or will you be going back? That wonderful little house you built at Mudgee? Is it done and dusted at Mudgee? I don’t keep up with everything you write but I don’t understand how I missed all this news! I usually read one or two of the articles each week. I am just floored. We were all cashed up recently and I was trying to convince Renata to move to Dorrigo. If I had known there were plans afoot, then I could have started talking to you about forming a community, (I whimsically suggest).

    • Posted July 8, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Sorry you missed it Dean – yes we’re in Kiama, the short version of why is here: http://milkwood.net/2014/05/03/forward-ho – proximity to schools and community won the day over remoteness (a common story, we’re now realising). The MUdgee property will no doubt one day nurture another family who are better suited/resourced for the place. All good, life is long. All the best for wherever you end up!

      • Dean Driscoll
        Posted July 9, 2014 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

        Hello Kirsten, all I can say is wow, wow, wow and wow! My very best wishes to you three! We should have all teamed up though, and bought land in Dorrigo! (More whimsy).

  20. Posted July 8, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink | Reply

    hey KB, what about Diamond Energy. Did you look into them?

  21. Kat
    Posted July 8, 2014 at 11:38 am | Permalink | Reply

    Love you guys and really enjoy your posts! You are inspiration to so many people. I hope you are able to get your space “working” for you and that you are happy. Have you ever heard of the Deavres family who live in Pasadena, CA? They have created an awesome urban homestead on a quarter acre of land. Their website is at You will be inspired by what they have done in such a small space. I keep going back to see what’s new on their “farm.” It’s pretty amazing!

  22. Posted July 8, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink | Reply

    I am also currently researching to find the “least bastardly” energy company who is not involved in the CSG industry and not actively undermining the RET, like the Big 3 dirty energy companies; Origin, AGL (first two actively involved in the CSG industry) and EnergyAustralia. Get Up are currently running a campaign in VIctoria to ask members to switch to RET friendly companies like Powershop (Vic only), Momentum and Diamond https://www.getup.org.au/campaigns/climate-action-now/energyswitch-faqs/ When I contacted Get Up about the situation in NSW, they suggested Momentum who supply 100% hydro power into the grid for every kW that you use. When I contacted Momentum they said this re. the RET: “Momentum is a subsidiary of Hydro Tasmania, the biggest renewable energy producer in the country. It (Hydro Tasmania’s submission to the RET Review) says the RET is a key policy for the transitioning of the country’s energy sector, and should be maintained, and expanded beyond 2020.” On the question of CSG, the man I spoke to didn’t know much about it (they are about to expand into the domestic gas market) but, to his credit, made some inquiries and wrote this “while I haven’t been able to find any official statements, I’ve been assured by the centre manager that we have nothing to do with Coal Seam Gas and ours will be natural Bass Strait Gas (presumably LPG). I’ll try and find out more about this, but it’s a start nonetheless.” He welcomes me to email him with more questions. When you say that all the companies are covertly or overtly involved in CSG projects, do you have any info on the companies that Get Up is suggesting/promoting? This is very important to me too. Thanks.

  23. Posted July 8, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I have emailed Momentum again with further questions and asking for an official position on CSG. Let me know if you’d like me to forward on any further info I get.

  24. Nina Saxton
    Posted July 9, 2014 at 8:05 am | Permalink | Reply

    Good luck to you all on your new adventure. I am sure you will be converting the neighbouring burbs into growiing their own goodies before the summer! I am planning expanding the farm into raising meat chickens and a few lambs. Also a Maremma perhaps to help with guard duties if I can convince the neighbours that barking at night to scare off dogs and foxes will help their flocks too! Best wishes and keep us informed along the way in your own tongue in cheek style. Nina

  25. Posted July 9, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Hi there. ..an amazing adventure begins again. You have great skills that will lead you well. I’m also a suburban farmer and on my little block of paradise I know breed meat quail and meat rabbits. I also have chickens. I have MANY working towards my soil in my front yard veg patch. I also have more than 20 fruit varieties.All pollinated by my wonderful bees.
    So u see…iit is possible to have lots going on in the suburbs.
    Cheers n can’t wait to see your new haven grow.

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