I have just finished the first day of a 10 week internship and permaculture design course (PDC) at Purple Pear Farm which is a permaculture teaching and learning site based in Anambah in the upper Hunter Valley. Run by Mark and Kate (Mark whom did one of the last PDC’s with Bill Mollison back in the day). The farm is on 14 acres of land which is set up with gardens, animals, kitchens, learning spaces and a young food forest.

Arriving nice and early I was given a prime spot to park up Bernie (my van) next to a fellow van dweller and was introduced to the other interns who all seem like a lovely bunch. We will be getting to know each other rather well over the course of the 10 weeks i’m sure. There are 7 of us in total, coming from different background and for different reasons.

The morning was a sit down walk through of the rules, and expectations of the course. We’ve been given a roster of housekeeping and farm duties. I’m the kitchen wench for this week πŸ˜€
Mark and Kate are our hosts and teachers during the stay. We got given our own garden knife and mini hoe to keep, which was so kind of them and unexpected. We used some paint markers to decorate our tools.

After the formalities we got to see more of the property. We had morning tea under a blossoming mulberry tree which was home made muffins and biscuits. Coffee with raw milk. The site is also home to an outdoor daycare/pre-school, so there were lots of little ones running around. One of the youngens got bitten by an ant and I learned that plantain (a common ‘weed’) is a great antidote to alot of minor stings such as ants, nettle stings, mozzy bites etc.

Kate also suggested that we could paint a mural in the playground area on the canteen/kitchen. A project I’d really like to take up. I already have some ideas of a garden theme with butterflies, frogs and flowers.

Morning tea conversation was interesting as we were just all getting to know each other. We discussed making Biogas as an alternative energy source. The infrastructure itself is more difficult to built and design, perhaps we could build a tank style stand. The process involves using manure and food waste to harvest methane that can be used for cooking and heating (as an alternative to unsustainable gas sources). Mark pointed out that although its a great idea, the fuel that would be used to make the gas would mean there wouldn’t be much organic waste left for compost/pig food so we were thinking about where we could get it. Partnering with Oz Harvest or local cafes is an option.

After morning tea we set off on a farm tour to get a feel for the property and learn more bout our roles and duties moving forward. It was a super windy day and you could really tell when you were in an area with good wind breaks. Casuarinas (she oaks) are notably the most effective on the farm.

Mark says we will be doing some building of large picnic shelter in the playground area, which I’m sure will be a challenge. Bana Grass was pointed out as being an excellent grass as it has many uses such as: fast growing, easy to propagate, used as animal fodder, drought tolerant and although it isn’t native to Australia it is easy to control/doesn’t go to seed. In this instance it was being grown to shelter some young peas.

We only just scratched the surface about bio-dynamics. We were shown some experiments that Mark is doing involving hollowed cow horns filled with clay and manure and buried in the soil over winter. You then spread the contents throughout the farm, apparently. I’m looking forward to getting into more detail about this seemingly strange technique and the benefits of it.

The resident dogs are very sweet, Rusty and Jessie Jr and very friendly and followed us as we did the farm tour. We also met the gaggle of Geese who are pretty funny looking and make a lot of noise.

We met the pigs (who are huge) Nutmeg and Wiggy, they are kept for gardening and manure generating purposes only as the farm is vegetarian. We also fed the goats who are pretty cool, they eat a lot of weeds and are used to control overgrowth on leads throughout the farm.

During our stay on the farm, we have all been allocated a Mandala Garden to take care of. My Mandala’s name is Henry, and it seems I have been allocated the garden which has had the most upkeep (compared to the others). We had the task of going and observing what was there and seeing how we might improve it. Purple Pear farm does not have any market gardens (in rows) they just have 7 interlocking mandala gardens which I thought was quite interesting. The mandala gardening concept was created by Linda Woodrow and seems to integrate perennials and annuals together in a cohesive system.

The mandala gardens are teaming with bees from the on-site bee hives. Mark told us that that they purposely let a-lot of their brassicas go to seed because the bees love it and it makes a delicious tasting honey. The bordering dams are bursting and theres a lot of mud about. I will wear my gumboots tomorrow for sure. We also saw some swales in action, absorbing and controlling the dam overflow and some newly planted guilds to protect young citrus trees on top of the swale.

Full dam with the swale on the right. In the middle are newly planted citrus trees and support species

Lunch was absolutely delicious. Funnily enough the table was set with a Gulgong tea towel, and we sat down to a feast of curry and home made bread. The curry was made from some wild growing Warrigal Greens and cheese that was kind of like feta.

After lunch we spent some time with our Mandalas and wrote some notes in our journal about it and then called it for the day. We went back to the hut where we enjoyed an Indian style drink which was home made yoghurt, water and honey. It was tasty and is supposed to assist digestion.

It has been a full-on day, I’m quite exhausted and looking forward to day 2 and getting used to being here. I’m not sure that I’ll write a post for each day, perhaps each week so I can actually make it a worthwhile article. I’m also collecting some footage to make a video πŸ™‚

I’m sitting in my van now enjoying my first ever cup of nettle tea and eating an Anzac cookie my mum made for me.

The sunset is glorious now as the wind has settled down. I took a stroll and said hello to the two resident dairy cows and two shaggy ponies – Coco and Sir Bowie Charles.

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