Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hothouse Makeover

Last year we built our hothouse (See it here) and for the most part it worked really well. We had early tomatoes (they grew phenomenally), capsicums and cucumbers and were able to get seedlings up earlier for planting out when the weather warmed up.

As we were away for much of the winter we needed to have a hothouse makeover day to get everything going again. We used this opportunity to make some improvements using found and recycled bits and pieces.

The fairly flat roof rain allowed water to form pools and the weight of the water would cause the plastic to droop. Each day after rain we would have to push the plastic up to empty these pools, and this would create a waterfall of water running down the side (which could soak someone if they were too close). We solved this problem by stretching chicken wire tightly across the roof under the plastic. This supports the plastic and prevents pooling of water. An added advantage is that the tightness braces the whole structure preventing it from wobbling so much in strong winds.

We have also added guttering on one side to collect rainwater. This is fed into a 44 gallon drum and allows watering cans to be quickly filled with fresh rainwater which is preferable to using dam water.

We have finished planting in the hothouse and have rotated plants so they are not in the same spots. We have 6 tomatoes, 12 capsicums, 2 eggplants, 4 climbing cucumbers, 12 basils, 2 lemon grasses, 2 perennial climbing chillis (from last year) and heaps of lettuces. We also have numerous plants and seedlings in pots.

Having a hothouse is particularly good this year as it has turned out to be quite a cool start to spring. At least we should be able to get some early vegetables on to our table, even if the cool days continue.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Big Wet gets even Wetter

2010 is set to be our wettest year for 30 years. Over the weekend we had over 150mm of rain which makes it our wettest October since we started keeping records. Although this has delayed our spring planting for a few days, it has given us many exciting (and sometimes amusing) sights.

Not only are our tanks and dams all overflowing profusely, but every depression in the ground is now full of water and creating little streams of runoff. As our son Greg commented, there seems to be water seeping out of every nook and cranny. Our wheelbarrow gets extensive use shifting all sorts of materials and this weekend we even had barrowfuls of water to shift (but nowhere needed water).

Our jetty nearly went underwater

When we were first looking for a property to purchase, one of our dream criteria was a permanent stream or natural spring. Tenderbreak has finally given us our springs (temporary we think?? ). They are popping up everywhere, as water seepage follows channels below the ground till it eventually comes to the surface. These are feeding our gullies which have turned into small streams, our main gully has turned into a fast flowing creek, Pauls Creek has turned into a raging river (nearly washing out our access road and the Yarra River has turned into an inland sea down at Yarra Glen.

When the dam outlet pipe couldn't cope, the overflow went over the driveway

Now we have a new range of adventure activities on our property.....white water rafting, surfing, canoeing, riding barrels over waterfalls or for the more fearful having “boat” races using leaves, sticks or bark.

All this beautiful water has given us an opportunity to flush water out of the dam. We opened the gate valve on the outlet pipe open for several hours allowing stagnant water sitting at the bottom of the dam to flush out. The fresh, nutrient filled rainwater then topped up the dam. The fish should find this very refreshing.

Releasing water out of the gatevalve

Some more photos that give an idea of the sights that behold us.

Emergency road repairs!

Rapids in Pauls Creek

Horse "float" Parking

Yarra Glen Race Track
Surfs Up as water enters the Yarra River
Pauls Creek is now a river

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Murray and Vicki

Murray & Vicki have been staying with us since May. At the beginning they helped manage the place while we took a break, but once we returned home were happy to stay on (like long-term WOOFERS).

Whilst at Tenderbreak, they have been extremely busy gathering firewood, weeding, planting hundreds of onions, bushfire prevention work, helping out with tours, renovating our extensive network of garden paths, mulching and many other tasks. They have also used their culinary skills to create some wonderful meals and edible delights for us, including the Midnight Xpresso Chocolate Cake for Heather’s birthday and a wonderful cheesecake for Kathy and Sally’s birthday. On top of all of that they have entertained us with their recorded and live music.

Murray is a bit of an “ideas man” and came up with a unique way of using saplings. We laid them in a tight parallel pattern to make a raised footpath over a boggy area that had formed near the gate that leads to the chook pen. As you can see in the photo, it is not only very practical but also quite aesthetic, low cost and has low embedded energy.

Dedicated cook Vicki out in the rain collecting lemons for making lemon butter.
Vicki loves cooking and quickly mastered the subtleties of managing a slow combustion wood stove. She also “harvests” weeds with great thoroughness- our garlic patch has never looked better.

However what makes these long term stays memorable and special, is the bond that develops between hosts and visitors. As with our earlier guests, Murray and Vicki are easy to get along with, they blend in so well they are like part of our family. It is a real pleasure to sit around the dinner table eating delicious home grown meals with a glass of wine (or home-made ginger beer) and enjoying each other’s company. Thankyou Murray and Vicki, for sharing our journey with us.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


After a long break over winter we are recommencing tours of Tenderbreak Permaculture Farm.
Bookings are required for tours on:-
Sunday, OCTOBER 24th, 2010 &
Sunday NOVEMBER 14th, 2010
Both tours run from 1:30pm to 4:30pm and include afternoon tea.

Our tours are suitable for anyone with an interest in permaculture, organic gardening, passive solar house design, tank water, mudbrick building, property design and layout, chooks and ducks, solar power, grey water systems and sustainable living. In fact our tours are a bit like doing a mini Introduction to Permaculture Course.

Although our property is a large bush block, we provide information and ideas that are suitable for both rural and suburban dwellers. The size of the groups is limited to ensure there is plenty of scope for questions and discussion. Contact us for more details or for bookings at

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Big Wet

2010 will be remembered by us as “The Big Wet” after “The Long Dry Spell“. We have been keeping rainfall records since 1995 and this year we have already had more rain than the annual total in each of the past 4 years. We are on track to match (or possibly surpass) the annual rainfall total of our last “Big Wet” which was way back in 1996 (It’s a long time between wet years).
All our tanks and dams are full and overflowing., which means we will have plenty of water for the coming summer should we need it.

The rainfall is also just what our bush needs. Steady, consistent rain soaks down deep into the ground for the trees to draw on in dryer years. It is also providing essential moisture for the massive amount of regrowth that is occurring after the fires. Many of the saplings have grown at remarkable levels. In just over 18 months they are well above my height (some are 5m).

Along with the massive amount of green at ground level there are plenty of other surprises to be found. At the moment the purple flowers of the native Hardenbergia are at their peak, along with the yellow flowers of the various wattles. We have even found two Hardenbergias which differ from the hundreds of others in that they have pink flowers.
Our property has several gullies running through it. These usually only flow with water after heavy rainfall and this year (for the first time in ages) they are running most of the time. Our main gully is very pretty with its winding stream, especially where the water drops over a rock ledge creating a beautiful waterfall over 1m high.

Although more than half of the bigger trees in the forest are now dead, there is a huge amount of life at ground level. Perhaps the saying “You can’t see the forest for the trees” should be changed to “You can’t see the forest for the regrowth”.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I Can See Clearly Now

Up until now this blog has been fairly factual and mostly focused on our ideas and work on our Tenderbreak property, but this entry is different in that it covers an emotional journey we have been on.

It all started when we returned from a 9 week trip which involved exploring my family roots, meeting a number of wonderful permaculturalists and plenty of walks through open spaces and to the tops of mountains to let the fresh air blow the cobwebs away. After 9 weeks of pure bliss we returned home.

Blue skies
Instead of waking up invigorated and ready to fire on all cylinders I found myself in a place I had never been to before. After a very relaxing holiday with nothing more to think about than what to do the next day, there was suddenly so much work to be done and things started looking very bleak. This was made harder by the fact that this year was the cloudiest and wettest one for many years, so it was a battle to even start outside jobs. Then on top of all of this, was the return to our fire ravished bushland with thousands of dead, blackened tree skeletons with bare arms stretching skyward.

Even though I was quite aware of the fact that I had so much to be grateful for, the negative stuff started taking up all the room in my head. For the first time ever, I began to wonder about other “roads” we could be on. Growing most of one’s own food and running a house with independent services and planning new projects requires constant management and lots of hard work. On top of this, the forest which was one of our key attachments to this property had (like us) undergone major trauma. It would remain black for many years to come. It wasn’t only the forest that was black however. I knew I could choose to look at the half empty or the half full glass, but it was the empty half that filled my mind and dominated my thoughts.

The forest starts to heal
As I sank deeper into this horrible space it was Heather that kept me afloat. She knew how debilitating depression could be after a serious and painful back injury severely reduced her mobility for most of 2001. She gave unending, loving support and using her wisdom, worked at lifting me up to a brighter place. She put up with my constant negativity and guided me along the rocky path that I was following. I won’t go on about  the detail too much, but the trigger which finally helped me get out of the dark hole, was a song. The song that I will be forever grateful for, was Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now”.

Heather and I were sitting down having our morning coffee, and she had put on a CD. As I sat there gazing sadly out of the window, the words floated across the room and went straight to my heart. They completely overwhelmed me.

Thinking about it now, I know it was a combination of a relaxing moment with a steaming cup of freshly ground coffee, a nostalgic song with words that were speaking directly to me and most importantly, the company of a beautiful and loving partner. It was the perfect coming together of all those magic elements that gently lifted me up and opened my eyes.

For those that don’t know the words they go like this:-

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all the obstacles in my way

Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) Sun-Shiny day.
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) Sun-Shiny day.
I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I've been prayin' for
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) Sun-Shiny day.
Look all around, there's nothin' but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothin' but blue skies.
I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way

Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) Sun-Shiny day

Up until now, I thought this was just a lightweight bright and breezy tune, but now I feel every line was written specifically for me. Since that moment I really can see more clearly. I have re-found my enthusiasm and drive. My head is filled with plenty of things to write about, and this blog will blog along again. Of course there’s suddenly so much else to do as well, so entries will have to wait till I have time to spare.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Inspiring Events Coming Up

Our calendar is chock a block with interesting, inspiring and interesting activities over the coming months. You may be interested in joining in too.
This Sunday... March 28th
The annual Petty's Orchard Antique Apple Festival is on Sunday March 28th. There will be over 200 varieties of apples to taste, heritage orchard tours, local produce stalls, cooking demonstrations, great organic food & cider, Rare Breeds BBQ, educational presentations from Vasili (Vasili's Garden - SBS), Peter Allen (Heritage Fruits Society, Mountain Districts Permaculture Group), Adam Donaldson (Snake Gully Cider) and more. The photo shows the "Apple Tasting tent". Thankyou to Belinda ( ) for providing this photo.

 The address is the corner of Homestead & Monckton Rd, Templestowe . For more information phone 0407860320 or email

Eltham College Training Services have put together this series of talks, which start next Tuesday and run to June the 8th. The program is :-
  • March 30 “Securing Our Food Supply: Who needs Supermarkets?” With Graeme George
  • April 27 “Surviving Black Saturday with the help of Good Planning and Design” with us (Andrew and Heather)
  • May 11 “Focus on World Poverty: Feeding the world” with Rick Coleman
  • May 25 “Fish into Food: Unusual Edibles and how to grow them” with Stephen Onions
  • June 8 “ Being Really Water Wise: using your water twice” with Rory Fort
All talks will run from from 6pm to 8 pm and will be held in the Eltham Professional Learning Centre (Eltham College), 1660 Main Road, Research. $5 entry also includes a tea or coffee.
To book a seat or for more information contact ECTS, ( ects@ or Ph 03 9433 9859 or check out their website .
We are helping to present a course called “Alternatives in Food Growing” at Selby Community House. Topics include grafting, composting, bee keeping, fruit tree pruning, harvesting/storing, preserving, tips on vegetable and other food growing. Site visits to be scheduled.
The course is held on Wednesdays 7 to 9.30 pm and runs over 8 weeks
Our presentations are as follows:-
• Wednesday 24th March – Introduction to Compost, Basics of Seed saving and general growing tips
• Wednesday 14th April – Amateur Bee Keeping, Pest management, Choosing & Managing fruit trees
• Sunday 18th April – Site visit – Tenderbreak Farm – Dixons Creek 1.30-5.00pm including Afternoon Tea
For bookings and more information email Tracy at Selby Community House
Perhaps we will see you at some of these events.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Autumn Equinox

The autumn equinox has passed, and so has our annual Autumnfest celebration described in our last post. The weather was kind, the music was great, the displays were interesting and informative, the food was tasty and the products were of great quality. In short, everyone did a wonderful job. We had a great time and we hope you did too. It was a wonderful day with around 35 displays, stalls and entertainers and hundreds of visitors (many of whom had not been to our market previously).
There were many highlights. The music, song and dance lifted the spirits and was very entertaining. The crowd particularly enjoyed our own little Riverdance performance by Irish Dancer Kate Bilton and her pupils (appropriately in the vicinity of Healesville’s River St.).
Another highlight was the songs of the Mountain Country Carol Singers. Their hilarious song about “Fluff” really resonated with the listening crowd. Performances by buskers representing the Healesville Music Festival (to be held in May) also added to a day of relaxing entertainment.

There were many displays focussing on the environment and sustainablity. Kurt van Wyjk’s electric car drew plenty of interest; especially the development cost of $15000 and the extremely low running costs.
The solar and wind power display by Solarquip reinforced the advantages of generating your own power, and Glen was able to give an update on what the Federal Government is now offering by way of financial assistance.

Art, craft and jewellery stalls provided a wide range of decorative items and plant stalls had a good range of garden and herb plants for sale.

The animal displays always attract interest and Amanda’s gorgeous goats certainly did that. This was the first time they had made a public appearance off their Steel’s Creek farm and they really took it in their stride and lapped up the attention. Many children enjoyed the hands on experience of giving them a pat.

 The youngsters also had fun joining in the activities organised by the Arts Council.

The food supplied by our catering stalls was delicious.
There was food for every taste and enough for breakfast and lunch. We could choose between mouthwatering crepes and quiches, exotic Middle Eastern dishes, freerange beef and pork sausages (from the Yarra Valley) and drinks such as hot chai and Mexican hot chocolate (to die for).

All these stalls used organic and free-range ingredients and the aromas from everything being cooked or baked on the spot was so tantalizing to the taste buds.

Of course our regular stalls selling local produce allowed everyone to go home with armfuls of organic locally grown food that they could eat during the coming week.

If you missed this year’s festival, don’t despair we’re going to it all over again next year. However in 2011 it is going to be bigger and better. We are going to apply for a grant from the shire that will enable us to advertise our festival much more widely to attract more stalls and more people.
We intend making Healesville's Autumnfest the "must attend" festival in this area with more entertainment, informative speakers and a focus on preparing our community for the environmental and social changes that are going to affect us in the next few years.
When we have more information we will post it on this site. If you know of anyone else who would like to be kept informed about next year's event please tell them to get in contact. If you like to be super organised you might like to mark next year’s date (Saturday March19, 2011) in your diaries.

Hope to see you then (if not before).

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Healesville Autumnfest 2010

Healesville Organic Farmers’ Market presents

Autumnfest, 2010

Saturday March 20th, 8 am to 2pm

@ the Healesville Railway Precinct

Our annual festival to welcome the arrival of autumn also celebrates the Market’s sixth birthday. Over the past 6 years, stallholders have battled rain, hail, wind, scorching temperatures and the stress and fear that came with Black Saturday. No matter what nature’s challenge, your loyal stallholders still keep coming week after week. Thank you to all our customers for your support through purchases and friendship. Without you the market could not keep going.

The Healesville Autumnfest grew out of the Healesville Organic Farmers’ market. It embraces the philosophy that human beings need to feel connected to the earth in their daily lives. The autumn festival is a way of reminding us that the seasons shape our lives and our activities. The date for the Autumnfest is the closest Saturday to the Autumn equinox.

Bring your friends and tell your neighbours. As with past Autumnfest celebrations, the usual stallholders will be joined by plenty of extra stalls. There will be a variety of entertainment, informative displays, art and craft demonstrations and stalls selling good tucker for one and all. Some stalls will focus on domestic animals such as goats, pigs and chooks and will provide information about these animals.

Food stalls will include crepes, organic pork sausages, chai tea, Mexican hot chocolate and more. Forget breakfast at home. Come along and eat with your friends at the market. Afterwards you could shed those calories by walking the Healesville Labyrinth which is in the adjacent park and history buffs can check out the Healesville Tourist Railway.

Entry is free and you could make a day of it by visiting other attractions in the Healesville area in the afternoon.
A project of Yarra Valley Permaculture Group

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Permaculture Resources & Courses

If you are interested in finding out more about permaculture consider joining a group (there could well be an active group in your area). For details of groups and events see the Permaculture Melbourne website ( or search the web for a group in your area

Most groups offer informative newsletters, a chance to network with people who are happy to share their skills, visits to properties to see what others are doing, and access to a host of free or low cost workshops on topics like grafting and pruning.
The best way to “get into permaculture” is to do a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course. Now is the perfect time to check out what’s available because there are many courses getting under way in the near future.
If you would like to do an “Introduction to Permaculture” or a Permaculture Design certificate (PDC) course we particularly recommend those run by:-

• Graeme George PH 5962 5070 Courses in the Yarra Valley, Croydon Hills & Brunswick Email:

• Peter Allen ( Courses in the Dandenong Ranges & Eltham PH 0418665 880

• Cam Wilson Course at Heathmont
Many people do not realise that Permaculture is much more than organic gardening. It is actually a design system that can be applied by anyone whether they live in the suburbs or the country. Permaculture designs take the total picture into account, including food systems, water supply, energy use, building design, fire defence, waste minimisation, maintaining environments, diversity, urban solutions and much more. After the course, you will be in a position to draw up a design for your own property from scratch, or if infrastructure is in place, “retro-design” the property to make it work better. Some of the courses are subsidised and offer excellent value for money.

There are many websites with information about permaculture and sustainable living. Here is a selection that we recommend:-

• Great site for information regarding permaculture concepts

• Pete runs a whole range of courses & sells fruit trees & shrubs. He has a wealth of knowledge about fruiting plants, which he is happy to share.

• Information about permaculture & groups around Melbourne

• Great for information about events relating to local food production from backyards to larger operations

• David Holmgren is a co-originators of permaculture and his website contains information and publications relating to the subject

• Belinda lives in the Dandenong Ranges and produces an informative blog which covers a wide range of topics

• A suburban journey towards sustainability that started after Gavin’s green “epiphany” (a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into reality). Gavin’s blog is very readable and informative. He is passionate in his beliefs, and entertaining in his delivery. Once you start reading you will find it hard to resist joining his blog as a “follower” and checking in on his journey

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tenderbreak is in the News

Tenderbreak is in the news again. Earth Garden Magazine has published an article about our Fire Bunker in its latest edition (Summer 2009), which is available at newsagents now. The latest issue also contains articles about aquaponics, quince trees, a DIY electric bike conversion and much more. EG comes out quarterly and has a focus on articles relating to sustainable lifestyles.

The inaugural summer edition of Yarra Valley & Ranges magazine also contains an article about our place. Celeste, who took the photos, manages to make the place look very classy. This new publication promotes the unique food and wine, people, places, gardens and art and culture of our region (The Yarra Valley and surrounding area). If you cannot find it at your newsagent their website is .

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Insulation Rebate Program

At the moment the Federal Government is offering a subsidy to existing home owners to help them insulate their roof space. The program has been so popular that the government has scaled back the amount offered from $1500 to $1200 and it may be dropped altogether when allocated funds run out. The scale back means that in most cases the rebate will not completely cover the cost of insulation, but for a medium sized house it will only involve a small outlay.

If your house lacks adequate insulation we reckon it would be worth checking out this program. Details can be found at

Our daughter Kathy and husband Steve did just this in November, and are very happy with the result. They now have R3.5 insulation throughout their house and have already noticed the difference on hot summer days. They are looking forward to seeing how much difference it makes to winter temperatures.

We do not usually advertise businesses, but we were so impressed with the service offered by Janelle Murphy and her partner that we are happy to recommend them. They are a small business and we found them to be very ethical, knowledgeable and to offer good service and value for money. Their company is called Australian 5-Star and is based in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne (email

Janelle is also an accredited and very helpful energy rater (she does 5 star energy ratings of building plans) and is an accredited Home Sustainability Assessor. This latter qualification enables her to evaluate the energy use of a home and is aimed at providing home owners with ideas on how they can reduce their energy and water bills, increase the comfort of their home and help reduce damaging carbon pollution. The assessments can also be used to obtain a no interest “green loan” for sustainability measures. See for more information.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tenderbreak Permaculture Tours

After a short break over summer we are recommencing tours of Tenderbreak Permaculture Farm. Over 1000 people have attended one of our events. Some have even been twice. Bookings are required for the tour on:-

Sunday, MARCH 7th

It runs from 1:30pm to 4:30pm and includes afternoon tea.
Our tours are suitable for anyone with an interest in permaculture, organic gardening, passive solar house design, tank water, mudbrick building, property design and layout, chooks and ducks, solar power, grey water systems and sustainable living. In fact our tours are a bit like doing a mini Introduction to Permaculture Course.
Part of the tour looks at defensive strategies against bushfires. The fires of Black Saturday burnt most of our 96 acres, but we were able to save our house and most of our infrastructure. We can now give an account of what aspects of our fire plan worked well and what needs to be improved.

Although our property is a large bush block, we provide information and ideas that are suitable for both rural and suburban dwellers. The size of the groups is limited to ensure there is plenty of scope for questions and discussion.
Other dates are available for group bookings.
Contact us for more details or for bookings at

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2009 The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Personally we are glad to see the end of 2009. It started off badly with horrifically dry conditions which put our gardens, the bushland and us, under great stress ....... and then came Black Saturday. Although we came through it relatively unscathed, the damage done to Victoria and Victorians that day, left its scars on us. Even now almost one year on, reflection about what happened can bring on lumps in the throat, tears to the eyes and an overwhelming feeling of sadness. Each summer for quite a while, (if not forever) we are going to be very much on edge during high risk days.

The year continued badly on the personal front, with the deterioration in health of Andrew’s Dad. Just when we thought he had stabilised, he went downhill and passed away on Boxing Day. Although we knew he was at risk, it still came as a shock.

The year has not been all bad though. We have had many enjoyable experiences, met many, many wonderful people and have learnt much about ourselves and aspects of the journey we are on.

On the people front, we have met hundreds of wonderful people on the “Permaculture in Action” tours we run, and at our stall at Healesville Organic Farmer’s Market. We also greatly enjoyed the company of Emily and Tim and Shelly who stayed with us for extended periods during the year. (See earlier posts). The highlight for Andrew was his surprise 60th Birthday party. We also enjoyed setting up and hosting Sally’s Yarra Valley Open Studio in September.

On the gardening front our fruit trees are one year older and bearing more fruit, we expanded several of our veggie growing areas and built our wonderful hothouse. Our animal flocks have increased in number. We searched high and low for a source of Khaki Campbell ducks, and found a breeder (by chance) within 5 minutes of our house. Our drake is very happy with his four wives. We have also added 4 bantams to our collection of chooks.

We are now looking forward to the new year and the positives which will come with it. Hopefully we will get our next construction project moving, do some more work on the house and of course we have plans to plant more fruit trees and bushes.

Roll on 1010 - we are looking forward to carving 10/10/10 in a mudbrick when that date comes around.
Free Hit Counter