Sunday, March 27, 2016

Design Submission for PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate)

Hi folks.
Thought it was about time a post was made on the original design we came up for the block here. This was the design I submitted to the online Permaculture design course run by Geoff Lawton in 2015.
Probably not the best example of a Permaculture design but thought it would help give folks some idea on what we have planed for the site here.
I have included a video below the design that has a full walk through of the block as it stands today if you want to see what it looks like now before too much work has been carried out.

Permaculture Design Plan for "Bits Out the Back" 
Urban Farm

North Ipswich, Queensland Australia
May 2015

This North Ipswich property is home to a family of four that have a keen interest in growing as much food (fruit, veggies and animal protein) as possible and practical on an average urban block.

Location and orientation

The site is a 680m² urban house block located in North Ipswich, SE Queensland Australia (27°36'12.14"S - 152°45'52.36"E).
Highest position on block is 28M and the lowest is just over 24M above sea level.
The block is orientated NW to SE with an average slope of 6.6%.

(Solar position map provided by Flood map provided by


Ipswich is considered to have a subtropical climate with average Summer temperature ranges of 19.2-30.8°C (65.6 – 87.44°F) with a maximum sun angle of 85.75°.
The average Winter temperature range is 6.2 – 21.8°C (43.2 – 71.24°F) with a maximum sun angle of 38.9°.
The average rain fall is 854mm/33.6”, the majority of which falls between November through to May.
The majority of rain events come in from the NW to SSW, with the Summer afternoon thunderstorms coming from W to SSW.
The prevailing winds are generally from the West in the mornings, with a swing to the East in the mid to late afternoon.

History of the site

Most of the history of this property comes from talks with an elderly neighbour whose family has lived in Ipswich since the early 1900’s. The property was once part of a farm dating back to the late 1800’s that was progressively broken up in to smaller lots.
Land just to the south east of the property was once used as a refuse tip by local residents during the late 18 and early 1900’s. The blocks were terraced off using soil from the refuse site leading to large amounts of fragmented solid waste being deposited in the top soil. The current residents have unearthed such “relics” as old cutlery, a penknife, crushed food tins, medicine bottles, fuel tins, many pieces of broken glass, ceramic stone wear and china.
The house is a timber weatherboard on concrete stumps that was built in the mid 1950’s and was purchased by the current owners in 2002. It had several small ornamental gardens installed in the front yard. One ran the length of the front fence, 2 ran either side of the front path leading to the house and the fourth was a small square bed in the centre of the yard, all of which were in disrepair when the current residents moved in.
The backyard contained 3 mango trees and numerous Chinese elm trees that ran the length of both sides of the property. The 2 stringy/turpentine mangoes were removed along with all but 4 Chinese elm trees which are being coppiced and used to make compost since.
All current gardens, chicken pen/yard and aquaculture systems have been constructed over the past 6 years.

Desired outcomes of design.

The main focus of this design is on the rear yard of the property with a few changes/additions being carried out in the front yard.
The requested outcomes of the design were;

  • A better utilisation of natural energy resources, in particular rain water collection and solar energy.
  • Become self reliant in compost/vermicompost creation via organic material grown or collected on site.
  • Enhancement of onsite soils through various composting and mulching methods.
  • Inclusion of more perennial food producing plants.
  • Inclusion of more flowering/beneficial bug attracting plants and herbs.
  • Inclusion of shitake mushroom logs
  • Encourage more native wildlife into yard including the addition of a native bee hive to help in pollination.
  • Providing space for the education of others in the production of food/resources through open days and workshops.
  • Increase the available yield with the intention of on selling excess to supplement income.

Substantial inroads have already been made towards these ends with a number of vegetable beds, a few fruit bearing perennial plants, aquaponic system, aquaculture system and egg laying chickens already on site. Not all of the elements are in their optimal positions so a redesign is called for.

Some elements will need to be removed or relocated with new elements added to help increase the yield potential and functionality of the property.

Current layout of block

Existing Elements

As mentioned above, extra top soil was brought in many decades ago to help terrace the property and as a result is deeper at the rear of the block.
This sample of soil was taken from the centre of the back yard lawn, where the majority of the new plants will be situated. It was tested for pH using a chemical test and came back with a reading of 6.5. All other samples taken were between 6-7.

The soil sample was given the “Jar” test and the results indicate that the soil is a silty/loam with very little clay or organic matter present.
The soil around the existing lime tree and herb bed suggests that both earth and compost worms are present in healthy numbers which will help condition the soil around the new plantings. Numerous varieties of mushrooms also appear after rain events indicating mycelium are present in the soil.

One concern is the level of lead that has been deposited in the soil close to the house.
A DIY swab test has been carried out to confirm the use of lead paint on the house itself but no testing has been carried out to find out at what levels are present in the soils due to flaking as of yet.

Due to this no food plants have been grown in this soil near the house. It has been suggested that a comprehensive soil test be carried out on the soil surrounding before leafy greens and root crops are planted out.

Plant elements
These are the available plants that are currently on site;

  • >40m² of wicking garden beds/barrels
  • Banana patch
  • Moringa tree
  • Dwarf Red papaya
  • Tahitian lime tree
  • Bowen/Kensington Pride mango tree
  • Ice cream bean tree seedlings
  • Multiple juvenile dwarf fruit trees currently in air pruning pouches until they can be planted out
  • Chinese elm trees (coppiced for compost production)
  • Flowering herbs and plants

Many of these will be used to propagate new plants for the proposed plan.
Owners also have an extensive seed library and are members of various plant/seed sharing and trading groups.

Animal elements
Owners are restricted in the number of poultry that are allowed on the property so have ventured into aquaculture to help provide animal protein on site.

  • Chicken/poultry enclosure with 3 laying age chickens
  • 2600L aquaponics system with 80+ mixed native perch (Jade and Silver perch)
  • 2000L aquaculture system with 36 Jade perch
Structure elements
Raised house with;
  • Electricity from the grid
  • 1.5kW grid tie in solar system
  • Town water
  • Small 1000L makeshift water storage system
  • Hoop house structures
  • Chicken pen
  • Fences
  • 2 x 1m³ compost cages
  • 2 x bathtub compost worm farm
  • Clothesline

Construction resources on hand
Various resources have been accumulated and stored on the property for later use.
These include;

  • 2 x IBC tanks for new aquaponic grow beds
  • 20M of chain wire fencing for chicken pen/yard renovation
  • 5 panels of “school yard” fencing for chicken pen/yard renovation
  • Reclaimed galvanised pipe for building grow bed racks and plant trellises
  • 40M x 50mm/2” rural grade irrigation pipe
  • Sheets of reclaimed corrugated roofing iron
  • 4 x 500L stock tanks to use as ponds, red claw rearing tanks or garden pond
  • Bathtub

The Design plan
The majority of the property has been designated Zone 1 due to the elements it contains and as it will be visited a minimum of once a day to feed animals and harvest food. A small zone 2 food forest has been incorporated at the rear of the property.

Zone 1

The front yard, side yard and front entrance

The major changes recommended for the front section of the property are;

  • Remove and compost banana clump in front right corner after propagation material has been collected. This will allow more Winter sun to enter the front of the property.
  • Plant a row of blueberries and a dwarf fig tree across the centre of the front yard. Compatible understory plants to be included under these trees.
  • Build an arbour across front path, planted out with grape vines. Wicking barrels will also be situated under arbour for other climbing annual crops such as beans and sweet potato.
  • Construction of a swale on contour across front of yard to collect and soak water. This will also help alleviate the flow through and washouts under the house during heavy Summer rain events. The swale will only be planted out with edibles if lead test comes back clear, if not it will be planted out with bird and bug attracting ornamentals.
  • A small front deck to be added with an open rafter roof containing a small trap door. This will allow easy access to the roof for solar panels and roof maintenance. Deciduous vines will be grown over the rafters to provide afternoon shade from the Summer sun to living areas of the house.

  • 3 slim line 2500L tanks will be hooked up in series to give 7500L/1980gal (US) of water storage capacity. Water from these tanks will be used to supply the washing machine and planned down stairs toilet via gravity.
  • Pineapples will be located next to water tanks. They will be grown in air pruning pouches raised off the ground and irrigated via Wetpots.
  • The clothes line will be moved to the NE side of the house to free up growing space in the back yard. In this position it will still receive 6+ hours of sun a day during Winter.
  • Existing wicking IBC beds may be clad with reclaimed pallet timber as it becomes available to help protect them from UV degradation.

Rear deck and backyard
The residents will be building in under the house to provide extra office, kitchen, bathroom and communal workspace. An upstairs extension is also planned to increase the family living area with an extra room and a semi covered deck. Two rain water tanks will be housed under the deck on the NE side. The open space on the SW will be paved with reclaimed bricks from the current garden and used as a communal workspace/entertainment area.
The deck itself will be home to a 1200L/320gal (US) aquaponic system used to grow culinary herbs, greens, salad tomatoes and strawberry plants. It will also serve as an outside living/entertaining space.
Redirection of water flow from the driveway has been taken into consideration. It shall be redirected, slowed and soaked using the raised wood mulch paths.
The final redirection of surface storm water will be addressed upon completion of the renovations.
Changes made to the yard itself include;

  • Removal of current hoop house, wicking beds and barrels.
  • Inclusion of a wood chip path linking different elements allowing surface water to slow and soak into the ground.
  • Ponds to be added for both wildlife and edible water plants.
  • Pergola to replace current shade structure over aquaponic area.
  • Aquaculture system will be removed to make way for more aquaponic grow beds.
  • Installation of a compost heater to warm the water of the aquaponic system during Winter, keeping the fish actively feeding.
  • Chicken pen to be moved to the opposite side of the yard for better access to sunlight during winter and renovated to include new access points.
  • Include larger day yards for the chickens extending into Zone 2.
  • Compost cages moved closer to source of materials i.e. chicken manure, green manure crops and pruning’s from Chinese elms.
  •  A self harvesting black soldier fly farm to be set up next to the chicken pen to provide extra protein to the chickens.

The new wicking beds will be made using reclaimed building materials and soils from the existing beds. Due to the slope of the land and the need for wicking beds to be level, some beds will need to be placed on small terraces.
Reclaimed materials from the existing hoop house will be utilised to build a new hoop house to cover these new beds.
Shade cloth will be used through the hottest periods of Summer, and insect cloth to be used to exclude Queensland fruit fly in Summer and cabbage moth in Winter.
Woodchips to be used as paths between the various beds, and once the materials are broken down it can be reclaimed as garden bed mulch.
Wicking beds are chosen due to their water saving capability and their low maintenance of only needing to be watered periodically, saving time spent in the garden.
A tap will also be plumbed into the hoop house to service the wicking beds and chicken pen.
Ponds will be made out of 100L/27gal ½ barrels and tubs that are already on hand. It was required by the owners that any body of water is elevated from the ground to exclude cane toads from breeding in them. The barrels will contain native blue eye fish to feed on any mosquito larvae that may breed in them.
Plant selected for the ponds are water chestnuts, azolla and duckweed. More ponds made from reclaimed wicking barrels may be installed at a later date for duck weed production for use as chicken, fish and compost worm feed.
The existing Tahitian lime tree will be left in place and will have various other citrus such as; lemon, orange and mandarin grafted onto it, in an attempt to make a citrus “fruit salad” tree. The intension behind this is to allow different branches of the tree to be espaliered.
The new pergola over the aquaponics will replace the existing hoop house. This will prevent overflowing of the system during heavy rain events. A small tank will be used to collect rainwater from the structure and the solid roof will also provide a place to mount solar panels to power some aspects of the system, such as the air compressors.

The chicken pen itself will be renovated with main door opening at the end of the pen, making access from the pen easier. Two new day yards will be created with separate doors leading to each
from the night pen. These new day yards, with the inclusion of a “living greens” fodder feeder will flow into Zone 2.
Discussions have been had in regards to installing a grey water treatment system. For now that improvement has been shelved until plumbing for renovations has been taken into account.
The plantings in the centre of the yard will be stacked to help allow for optimal sunlight penetration during the shorter cooler months, including a deciduous dwarf mulberry on the north east corner of the aquaponic system. Plant elements in this section of the zone will include,

  • Dwarf fruit trees including; mulberries, fig and papaya.
  • Various berries including; blueberries, raspberries, native raspberries, strawberries
  •  Fruiting plants such as; pepinos, melons, pumpkins, squash, cucumber and cape gooseberry/ground cherry.
  • Root/tuber crops including; sweet potato, QLD arrowroot and ginger family spices.
  • Chop and drop green manure crops such as; pigeon pea, comfrey and field pea.
  • Herbaceous culinary, medicinal and beneficial insect attractant plants such as; rosemary, tarragons, basils, nasturtiums, yarrow, marigolds, dill, lavender, chamomile, lemongrass, cumin, aloe vera, calendula and cloves.

Zone 2

Zone 2 is situated at the back of the property and expands into the neighbouring yard to the NE. The neighbour allows grasses to be collected for the chickens and a number of “weed” Chinese elm trees to be coppiced for use in compost making.
While the chicken pen itself is visited daily and is considered to be in Zone 1, the day pens are treated as being in Zone 2 as the plants located there only required attention every few weeks.
Following on from the Zone 1 chicken pen alterations, the “livings greens” fodder feeder is to be removed from inside the chicken pen and one will be installed into each of the day pens. This will allow them to have access to fresh growing greens without them scratching the plants out and extending the life of the food source.

Other fodder and fruiting crops will be grown close to the fence lines, allowing the chooks grazing access without damaging and digging them up. These will reduce the need and reliance on purchased feed.
The SE corner is to be fenced off to prevent access by the chickens.. This area will also be home to
the shitake mushroom logs & included food crops.
Chop and drop crops have been included to reduce the movement of mulching materials through the yard. The plants in this zone will be stacked according to size.
Canopy plants;

  • Existing Bowen mango
  • Bananas
  • Native finger lime
  • Moringa
  • Ice cream bean tree

Understory plants;

  • Dwarf lychee
  • Dwarf mulberry
  • Dwarf macadamia
  • Dwarf coffee

Bushes, climbing and ground cover plants;

  • Turmeric
  • Various gingers
  • Galangal
  • Queensland arrowroot
  • Pigeon pea
  • Comfrey
  • Sweet potato
  • Lemon grass
  • Cucurbit
  • Dragon fruit
  • Shitake mushroom logs

The finger lime and dragon fruits have been placed into this zone due to safety concerns for visiting children.
The ice cream bean and Moringa will be used in the beginning as chop and drop crop, so may not be a permanent feature of this design.
A native bee hive is being sourced and will be installed into this zone.

Time line for works

The majority of the work will be carried out by the residents as time permits. Some help will come from friends and family that have the skill sets required to complete the tasks.
Plans are yet to be drawn up for the major renovations to the house, therefore the works will commence in locations that will not directly affect the construction process to the house.


Some tweaking has been done to this plan but nothing major so far. A few elements have already been removed like the chicken pen & fish farm. A hive of native Tetragonula Hockingsi bees has also been added with plans to add more in the future.

Hope this clip will also give you a better idea of what we have to work with,

Hope you've enjoyed the read folks.
Cheers & all the best.


  1. Wow Rob! This is really amazing, I wish I had your drive.

  2. Wow Rob! This is really amazing, I wish I had your drive.

  3. Excellent design and fun reading! Thanks for sharing this Rob, it's wonderful! (Robin, Gardeninggirl1107)

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Hello Rob...I am in central Kentucky, USA. I have been bitten by the aquaponics bug and love your informative videos. What software program did you use to do the designs of your yard/garden? I use to do landscaping and mowing. I currently don't have a good design software to use for designing landscapes or gardens. Keep up the good work and thanks again.

  7. Howdy Rob,

    Would you mind telling us what software you used to draw the sketches?
    It looks great!
    Thanks for sharing the info!

  8. How's it going Rob,

    Looks like a great plan, look forward to seeing it develop. You have a talent for communicating and entertaining, as well as growing.

    Glad to see your going to be doing BSF and Greywater as future projects.

    Thanks for sharing as always.

  9. OK... you're really convincing me to kidnap you and hold you at my house in Florida until you figure out what I need to do! Great plan for your house, and congrats on your certification!

  10. Morning Rob;

    Looks like a great plan and equally challenging for a man with many skills. I am looking at buying a house and my permaculture hands on some land to play with ironically close to Ipswich.

    It will be great to engage with the Sth Qld Permies. Thanks for the vids, been watching for some years now.