Using permaculture ethics & design principles to transform an old energy guzzling bungalow into a showcase of sustainable design. It's about energy cycling, building community, self-reliance,creatively using & reusing materials... all without spending heaps of money.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Open for Tours on Permaculture Day
Richard and Peter with HIA GreenSmart 
2012 finalist certificates in 2 categories

Tours run on Sunday May 3rd 2015 at 9am, 11am and 2pm - each running for about an hour. Just $5, children free!

Owner builder Richard Telford and Builder / Architect Peter Lockyer (morning sessions only) will be running tours at Abdallah House, an urban rebuild and permaculture demonstration site on 580m2 (1/7th of an acre) in the rural township of Seymour, central Victoria.

Features include:

  • passive solar design, with raised living room slab
  • reuse of original building along with many loacally sourced 2nd hand materials
  • integrated cellar / tank stand / cool cupboard
  • low energy consumption home (around 3kw/h p/d) with 1.5kw solar array
  • rainwater capture in tanks and earthworks
  • chooks and small netted espaliered orchard
  • fossil-fuel free heating and hot water system
  • use of large Red Gum which was milled on-site
  • greenhouse with experimental aquaponics
  • vegetable gardens and multi-grafted fruit trees
  • humanure composting system
A range of permaculture books will be available for sale on the day. Cost for tours is $5, under 16 free. No booking required. Proceeds tithed to Permafund.

For enquiries phone Richard on 0402 503 763 - View or share the Facebook Event

For more see the overview of the project

The recently completed greenhouse with 200lt tank and raised tile garden bed

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The 'glass cube' solar cooker design Pt1

My mate Dylan and I have been talking about making a solar cooker for a year (or two) now and we finally made some time to put our ideas into action. Rather than stick to a standard design we decided to experiment a bit.

There's basically two types of solar cookers. The box cooker and a parabolic reflectors. The box cooker is an insulated box with a transparent lid and light directed towards it. These are generally slow cookers, usually used for roasting or stewing.

A low cost wooden box solar cooker. Source: Solar Cookers International

The parabolic cookers all work on the principle of reflecting light to a concentrated source. These are quick cookers - good for boiling water or a fry pan.

Gustavo Ramírez, a co-founder of Ecovilla Gaia in Argentina demonstrates a parabolic solar cooker. Photo taken by Richard Telford in 2006
We were wondering about the box cooker idea, but the box being made out of glass - to increase the amount of light and heat that it could collect. With the addition of reflectors we thought that theorised that the box would get pretty darn hot. The original idea was to create a double glazed box and lid - to help keep the heat inside. With our first prototype we created a single glazed box with a double glazed lid.

Dylan, being a glazier, amongst other things was the right man for the job! We found a day to put our ideas into action.

Making up a double glazed sheet for the lid - 530 x 530 x 23mm high, using 6mm glass

Making the box. Glass, silicon and tape - 460 x 460 x 300mm high.

A bead of silicon is covered with acetate (silicon does not stick to acetate), and then a sheet of glass placed on top with a weight to create a flat surface and a reasonable seal. Acetate strips were removed when dry.

The finished experimental box delivered to Abdallah House.

Initial testing. The glass cube cooker with insulated polystyrene / foil lined walls (2 sides) and base with a 260mm dia x 40mm high steel plate for thermal mass.
This example only got to about 55-60ºC at the base on a sunny day - which was similar to what it reached with no insulated sides.

Second Test: Glass cube solar cooker with steel plate for mass, polystyrene with foil for the base (inside) and reflectors directing light / heat on the outside.
The method reflected a lot more light into the cube and it got significantly hotter. With the thick steel plate in the base, and an enamel pot (red) with 1lt of water in it the box got to a maximum of 105º (about an hour after the suns zenith), measured at the bottom. The water got to 85ºC after 2 hours. Top temperature of 26ºC on a clear day.
NOTE: These temperatures are not very accurate, and are measured from the bottom of the cube - the top would be considerably hotter.

Time Box temp ºC Water temp ºC
12:30 85º 22º
1:00 90º 57º
1:30 100º 72º
2:00 105º 81º
2:30 102º 85º
3:00 90º 84º
3:30 80º 82º

As a standard box cooker can get to 150ºC (not sure where measured from), these are not very impressive results. We probably need to set up a standard box cooker to compare. If the glass cube was double glazed I think that results would improve somewhat. Our feeling is that once it gets to a certain temperature inside the cube the single glazed glass cannot contain the heat.

Third Test: Glass cube solar cooker with insulation / foil on the inside and reflectors on top
We decided to move more towards the box cooker idea to see how it would perform with insulated sides. The results were considerably better and pushed the limits of our choice of materials over the edge. The temperature readings were 110-120ºC at the base. The polystyrene deformed on the South-West side and base and the inside of the double glazed glass cracked.

The polstyrene on the south west corner melted, the steel plate made a depression in the polystyrene and the inside sheet of glass on the double glazed unit cracked - so it got pretty hot

Now we have to put our heads together and find some time for stage two. Maybe in the new year?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Raising beds - concrete tiles and reo put to use

Principle 6: Produce no waste

In an effort to get more engaged with my local community I began writing a regular article for  the Telegraph, our local newspaper. My plan is to write an article every couple of weeks about projects that I'm involved in or inspired by - I've decided to call the column: Do It Yourselfer. These articles are being reproduced on the Permaculture Principles blog.

On this blog post I thought that I'd reproduce the first article that I wrote with some more detail and links to expand on what I've been up to. If you've got any thoughts about this idea or the projects, please leave a comment - and feel free to share these posts if you find them of interest. - Cheers, Richard Telford.

The first of the Do It Yourselfer articles published in the Telegraph. Note: I didn't write the heading - which is not what I'm trying to say. Reproduced below with added pictures and captions.

Do It Yourselfer #1

I like to get my hands dirty and have a go a just about anything. It’s something that runs through my veins. When asked “what’s your profession?” in those probing forms that you have to fill out, I started answering “Do it Yourselfer”. Seems to be the best fit for a generalist like me.
So, what’s this article about? I had this idea for writing a regular piece about things to do around the home that could inspire people to have a go themselves. There’s somethings that work, and there’s others that don’t. There’s lots of ideas and knowledge ‘out there’, so I thought it would be good to share some of what I’ve learn't and been inspired by.

Raising beds

When I deconstructed the dilapidated house on the site that was later to become Abdallah House I was confronted with one material that I was really challenged to find a productive use for. Old concrete roof tiles.
There’s a lot of these in the area. As I understand it, once the protective coating wears away, they start to soak up moisture when it rains that can double the weight of a roof. This can cause the roof to sag, crack and leak.
So, what to do with 750 tiles? I ended up using most of them to build raised garden beds - there’s nothing new about that, or is there?
Initially I thought that garden beds should be low rather than high, so that the water doesn’t drain out of the soil. But, when heavy rains come, the beds can flood and the plants die (I learnt that one).
Heavy rain caused flooding of garden beds in the backyard

I dug the tiles in to about half their length and held them in place with soil. String lines were used to ensure that the beds were straight and level. The capping tiles came in handy for corners.
Footpaths around the beds have been dug in lower, providing the soil to raise the beds and acting as basins to capture and store rainwater.
A thick layer of mulch was added onto the paths, which help to maintain moisture, reduce weeds and provides a good walking surface. The mulch eventually breaks down into a rich compost that can be dug back into the beds, building them up further over time.

Sting line set up as a guide for setting tiles into the earth about 150mm for a raised garden bed.

Soil from the path around the tiled area dug in to raise the bed. The recessed area will act as an infiltration basin for storing rainwater
Thick course mulch used to fill in the recessed paths, as Peter Lockyer talks about the house design at SHD14.

What I found was the moisture from the soil wicks up into the garden, and the raised bed encourages the plants to send their roots down to access water as required. The beds do dry out in the summer, which they would anyway, but you can take advantage of those freak rain events by capturing the water that usually drains off the hard dry surface.

The path around garden bed at the front of our house has been designed to catch and store water, which seeps into the soil to be later accessed by the plants.

In a tweak on the idea, I used a light reinforcing mesh, of the 200 x 200mm variety, to create a curve that backs against the brickwork of our recently completed greenhouse. The 6 metre by 500mm wide off-cut was hammered in 200mm into the surface leaving the top one and a half rows, about 300mm above ground.
The tiles were dug in about 50mm at the base and a large amount of soil was added to raise the beds about 400mm from ground level. The pressure from the soil locks the tiles into a gently sweeping curve.
This garden bed will be used to grow corn with beans to climb up the stalks, providing some shade for the greenhouse in time for summer.

Using reo as a form, tiles are set into the soil about 50mm and soil filled in to hold the tiles in place.

Raised garden bed outside of greenhouse
Also published on the Permaculture Principles blog

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Why produce the 2015 Permaculture Calendar?

Principle 3: Obtain a yield

I've been working towards making a living from doing what I love. This has been a long process which has been helped by the fact that we live a simple lifestyle. Reducing our overheads so that our family of four only requires around AU$10,000 a year to cover our normal living expenses.

For the first time I have generated enough income through the ongoing development of the Permaculture Principles website to cover our living costs - the majority of that has come from the sale of the Permaculture Prinicples Calendar - which is now being distributed from partners in the UK, USA and NZ as well as from here in Australia at Abdallah House.

The sale of other permaculture publications, many of which I've been involved in producing, also contributes to the running of the website. Since July 2013 I've committed to putting a portion of this income aside, along with that of the calendar, to support the wider permaculture community.


It was important for me to ensure that I embodied the values that I highlight in the website and calendar. I've applied the ethic of Fair Share, in part, by donating (or tithing) 10% all profits that I generate from the Permaculture Principles business to Permafund. This financial year past my contribution was $1013.77 - The donations given to the Permafund are used to promote Permaculture projects to assist with resilience in the developing world, in places of extreme need and in projects promoting permaculture.

The 2015 Permaculture Calendar

Since taking over the co-ordination of the calendar in 2012 the 2013 and 2014 editions have sold out. I have high hopes that the calendar will continue to be supported in the same way and have increased the print run slightly to 3,000. It's not a lot in the big scheme of things, but challenging enough to produce, market and sell. I feel that this project is worthwhile on many different levels.

The main purpose of the calendar is to help people learn the design principles. It does this through the familiarisation with the principles using the name, icon, an image and short story - one featured each month. Enough time to absorb some of what each one is about and how it might be applied.

Each of the photo descriptions brings to light and important project or observations that could easily get swept away during our high paced lifestyles. They illustrate how the featured principle has been applied, that may inspire the reader to think about applying them in their own project or lifestyle.

The principles are the building blocks of permaculture. To this is added a basic moon planting guide which I've found valuable in motivating me to plant certain types of seeds and get active in the garden. Our family uses the calendar every day to plan ahead and see what's coming up.

If the calendar sounds like something that you'd like to check out then visit the website.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bringing Nicole Foss to Seymour

Principle 8: Integrate rather than segrgate

While we have set ourselves up quite nicely on our small block, it's not enough. There's a lot that you can do to prepare for change, to reduce your overheads and provide for more of your own needs where you live, but if times really do get tough, what happens to everyone else? There's only so many pieces in my pie.

Michael Leunig - Off the chart
What goes down must grow up. Illustration used with permission from Michael Leuing
I've been following the work of Nicole Foss on her blog The Automatic Earth for a few years. She's helped me get my head around why another economic crisis is on the way and what we need to do to prepare for it. Realising the scale of change that we confront and the speed at which it will affect us has helped motivate me to raise this awareness in my local community.

On hearing of her latest tour I met with the new BEAM committee (I stepped down as president last month) to put forward a proposed event. With BEAM's support, I've taken it on and are bringing Nicole to Seymour on Thursday the 2nd of October. We'll be having a bit of a BBQ in front of the VRI Hall (near the railway station car park) from 6pm, with the event kicking off at 7pm - $10 per person, students free.

I'll be making a short presentation about how our local communities have been working behind the scenes to prepare already and put some of what she has discussed into a local context. I'll also have some permaculture publications available for sale on the night.

If you live somewhere nearby I hope you can join us - should be a great evening that will stimulate some great discussions, and hopefully actions.

Some more about Nicole and the event:

What if housing prices took a sudden drop? If the next financial crisis was worse than the 1930's Great Depression? If fuel and food prices skyrocket?

Nicole Foss 2014_2International speaker and writer Nicole Foss, who toured recently with David Holmgren, will come to Seymour on Thursday October the 2nd to explain why we are facing an era of financial crisis and rapid economic contraction and what we can do about it. She will address the implications of the global situation and the need for us to simplify our lives and focus on building resilience in our local communities.

“Reaching limits to growth will impose severe consequences, but these can be mitigated. Acting to create conditions conducive to adaptation in advance can make a difference to how crises are handled and the impact they ultimately have.” Nicole Foss

In her solution orientated presentation, Nicole will be detailing what we can do in advance to secure our families and communities for the long term in light of a coming period of uncertainty. She will discuss alternative methods of trade and ways to organise ourselves in challenging times.
There will be advice on how to prepare for fossil fuel shortage and economic collapse, looking at the range of choices available to people at the individual, family and community levels. She’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of living in various environments; urban, rural, suburban retrofit, intentional communities and eco-villages.

Nicole will share practical views on how to prepare for the looming threats of financial crisis, peak oil and limits to food and water supply. While collapse may or may not be imminent Nicole provides a vision for the future to make any eventual fall less severe for those who prepare.

VRI Hall at J W Elliott Reserve, Seymour Victoria (near old steam train)
VRI Hall at J W Elliott Reserve, Seymour Victoria 

Arrive at 6pm for BBQ, event starts at 7pm on Thursday the 2nd of October at the VRI Hall near Seymour Railway Station. Cost $10. Free for students. Brought to you by BEAM: Mitchell Environment Group.

Download the Nicole Foss Flyer - please share the event with your networks or in Facebook

Nicole featured recently on Radio National's Big Ideas - Listen to it here: Building Resilience in an Era of Limits to Growth

Brief Bio

Nicole M. Foss is co-editor of The Automatic Earth (TAE), where she writes under the alias Stoneleigh. She and her writing partner have been chronicling and interpreting the on-going credit crunch as the most pressing aspect of our current multi-faceted predicament. The site integrates finance, energy, environment, climate, psychology, population and real politik in order to explain why we find ourselves in a state of crisis and what we can do about it. Prior to the establishment of TAE, she was previously editor of The Oil Drum Canada, where she wrote on peak oil and finance.

Nicole ran the Agri-Energy Producers' Association of Ontario, where she has focused on farm-based biogas projects and grid connections for renewable energy. While living in the UK she was a Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, where she specialised in nuclear safety in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, and conducted research into electricity policy at the EU level.

Her academic qualifications include a BSc in biology from Carleton University in Canada (where she focused primarily on neuroscience and psychology), a post-graduate diploma in air and water pollution control, the common professional examination in law and an LLM in international law in development from the University of Warwick in the UK.

She was granted the University Medal for the top science graduate in 1988 and the law school prize for the top law school graduate in 1997.

Links to her Work

The World According to Automatic Earth

Nicole Foss on Global Financial Bubbles

Nicole Foss on Cheap Energy

Nicole Foss on Alternative Energy

Nicole Foss on Decoupling

Testimonial_from David Holmgren