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The Soil Hugger is back – HAPPY WORLD SOIL DAY 2018!!!

Hello to All,

Today marks the 3rd anniversary since I stopped delivering you lovely folks my posts on everything from Bergamot to Crane Flies, DIY plant pots to soil macro fauna extraction kits, and seed raising to pest inspections. I am sorry to have been gone so long.  However, 2019 will bring a new range of posts from our learning curve on the farm. But before I move onto where we are now,  I thought I would give you a pictorial history of the past three years with some snippets of descriptions…. let’s see if I can finally construct a blog that is less than 1500 words!

Cue the Benny Hill theme music….

CHAPTER 1 – PhD – Bringing Carbon Modelling to the Farm Gate

Field Sampling (with the permie nut, aka my guru, aka my absolute lifesaver!):

With some doing it pretty tough…                       And then nature called things to a halt….

Bit of soil sifting and grinding:

Carbon and Nitrogen analysis – combustion at ~1800°C and collection of gaseous products in different chambers for weighing.

Carbon Nitrogen analysis

Particle Size Analysis – the Jar Shake Test for the OCD among us. Many many steps to get all particles in suspension, then pipette out suspensions at a given depth and after a given settling time. Then you oven dry and weigh the result. The gorgeous range of colours in the field soils make it all worth while!

Water Repellency Testing – not as scientific as it sounds! Water dropped on soil surface and observing penetration time if <260 seconds (Water Drop Penetration Time – WDPT). Then Water+ethanol in increasing concentrations dropped on the soil surface until its penetration time is <10 seconds (Molarity of Ethanol Droplet Test – MED).


Bioassay and AMF analysis – growing Dalkeith Clover in a greenhouse within the field sampled soils and then counting the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi on the stained roots under a microscope.

 And then lots of modelling (of the computer kind)…

Once my work is in the public domain, I’ll link a copy for you of my SWARM (South West Australian RothC Modelling) tool for the determination of soil carbon tuned to south WA conditions and structured for land manager rather then scientist use. I’ll also link the presentation I did which takes you through the model, but for now, you’ll just have to wait.

CHAPTER 2 – Kids Stuff – From big things, bigger things grows…. Nature Play at local primary school.

Through a laps of concentration at a school P&C meeting, I accidentally became the designer, logistical interface and site manager for the construction of a nature play – with a huge amount of help from some wonderful friends. What an experience, but what a result. (Did I mention how grateful I was to permie nut for all his patience, ideas and sharing the blood, sweat and tears!?!?)

CHAPTER 3 – Bit of Travel …. to a Soil Research Institute of course… Rothamsted Research and the 6th International Symposium on Soil Organic Matter. Still can’t believe how lucky I am!

Seed and soil archives – head here for more info – absolutely awesome to walk among this bottled history. (The link here is really worth a visit). “The Rothamsted Sample Archive (RSA) was established by Lawes and Gilbert in 1843…Samples consist of ground and unground wheat grain, straw, soil and herbage together with fertilisers, manures and lime from the Rothamsted Long-term Experiments (LTEs). In addition, several thousand soils collected from around the world in the 1920’s-50’s are stored in the archive together with samples from discontinued experiments. About 1200 crop & 200 soils samples are added annually.”

I felt like Po, the Kung Fu Panda, in the Hall of Warriors and I met so many ‘Master Shifu’s!!!!

UK Trip2

CHAPTER 4 – Planning a future – Deep breath, here we go again…. stepping into the unknown – but that is a whole other story. Everything has been a learning!

(And this is just a small glimpse at the inside challenges!)

So as you can tell, it’s been a crazy few years, but I am so excited to be back and to transition our learning journey onto a rural landscape. I look forward to resuming our Journey together.

Til Next Time.



Good Evening All,

Just a quick note in honour of World Soil Day in the International Year of the Soil – December 5th, 2015.  Did you miss it? Never mind, we can celebrate it tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day….

FOUR gifts for you today – (1) For the first time in 18 months, I’ll actually deliver what I promised to write in this next blog; (2) a brief reminder of how to hug that soil we depend on for so much, (3) I’ll give a brief rundown on my new field of study (which is slowly becoming clearer to me), and (4) an early Christmas present – Kiwano under the proverbial microscope.

Let’s tackle them in reverse order as I’m hoping to keep your interest at least through this fabulous fruit discussion and, being in the holiday mood, I thought we’d shake things up a bit!

(4) an early Christmas present – Kiwano under the proverbial microscope.

Exhibit A: Chilacayote (Cucurbita ficifolia) – See Previous Posts

Exhibit B: Bergamot (Monarda Citriodora) – See Previous Posts

Exhibit C: St Mary’s Thistle (Silybum marianum)

Exhibit D: The Slipper Gourd (Cyclanthera pedata)

Exhibit E: The Lion’s Ear or Klip Dagga (Leonotis nepetifolia)

Exhibit H: Kiwano (Cucumis metuliferus)  

NAMES: Once again, there are many names applied to Kiwano which include horned melon, African horned cucumber, jelly melon, hedged gourd, melano, gakachika or blowfish fruit. (Ref)  For me, whilst I like the idea of blowfish fruit, that name more signifies a non-edible context for me.  No name is as descriptive as the horned melon and I am all for calling a spade a spade, rather than a “manual geomorphological modification implement”.

Note of caution: If you would like to sound knowledgeable and be the centre of attention at a gathering of gardening novices, then use the name Kiwano….. From experience, dropping the term horned melon into a conversation leads to either a long silence, several constructive comments from that friend who loves to deliver the conversation to the gutter at the first opportunity (yes, we know who we are!) or a rapid topic change….

At least with this one, its pretty hard to miss identify it once the fruit is bearing and no matter what you call it, the description will quickly put you on the same page!

african cucumber seedsSCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION: 

Along side the Chilacayote the Horned Melon belongs to the Cucurbitaceae or Gourd family, which consist of over a hundred genus, the most important of which are (Reference):

  • Cucurbita – squash, pumpkin, zucchini, some gourds
  • Lagenaria – mostly inedible gourds
  • Citrullus – watermelon (Citrullus lanatus)(Citrullus colocynthis) and others
  • Cucumis – cucumber (Cucumis sativus), various melons
  • Luffa – common name also luffa

Genus – Cucumis – this genus contains the “twining, tendril-bearing plants” including:

  • Cucumis anguria – West Indian gherkin
  • Cucumis dipsaceus – Chuzzle Cucumber – had to include a picky as its gorgeous!)
  • Cucumis ficifolius – Fig Leaf Gherkin
  • Cucumis humifructus (aardvark cucumber)
  • Cucumis melo (musk melons, including cantaloupe and honeydew)
  • Cucumis metuliferus (horned melon)
  • Cucumis myriocarpus (paddy melon)
  • Cucumis prophetarum (another spikey cucumber thing (excuse my use of such an elite technical term, but there appears not to be a common name) used in traditional Indian medicine, but more recently identified as useful in the treatment of diabetes – even made the mainstream science journal!)
  • Cucumis sativus (cucumber) (Ref)

This reference has some beautiful photos of examples across the Genus.

The majority of this genus originate from Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and Australia. The Horned Melon is native to Sub-Saharan Africa and is considered a traditional African food crop as well as providing a critical water source across the dry season in the Kalihari Desert. (Ref)


“Seed – sow early to mid spring in a greenhouse in a rich soil. Germination should take place within 2 weeks. Sow 2 or 3 seeds per pot and thin out to the best plant. Grow them on fast and plant out after the last expected frosts, giving them cloche or frame protection for at least their first few weeks if you are trying them outdoors.” (Ref)

“Cucumis metuliferus is a ANNUAL CLIMBER growing to 1.5 m (5ft).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 10 and is frost tender. It is in flower from Jul to September, and the seeds ripen from Aug to October. The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Insects.The plant is self-fertile.

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil.” (Ref)

We’ve grown them successfully in Perth and have a new batch in the early seedling stage (very late, but when you’ve got to work around supply a school fete…..).  I’ll let you know of our success, but here are some snaps of the aging process from a couple of years back when we had a lovely crop.

kiwano seeldings2african cucumber gafrican cucumber o

This is a younger one from REF 

Interestingly several articles talk about Kiwano being readily available in US markets, so whilst perhaps naive in the hope that they have not been imported, I would imagine in the more southern states conditions are suitable. (Ref)  The guru believes he has seen one occasion when the fruit was for sale in Perth, but it is a rarity here still.

Note that the whilst the spikes look dramatic, they are not really harsh and are more like fleshy lumps.  They are only an annoyance for holding the fruit firmly.


We found them pretty cucumbery with limited taste and lots of lumps.  However, we loved the way they looked and likely kept them until they were over ripe, so not very good examples.

Anecdotal reports – “The fruit’s taste has been compared to a combination of cucumber and zucchini or a combination of banana, cucumber and lemon. It is also said to taste like an unripe, watered-down banana. A small amount of salt or sugar can increase the flavor. Some also eat the peel, which is very rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber. The fruit can be used in cooking, but when eaten raw, most suck out the pulp and spit out the seeds.” (Ref)

Fruit – raw. Insipid according to one report, whilst another says that it is rather bitter. Said to have a banana-lime flavour and often sold in speciality stores in Europe and America, the fruit is not considered to be very desirable in its native area and it is only eaten in times of scarcity. Seed – raw. Rich in oil with a nutty flavour but very fiddly to use because the seed is small and covered with a fibrous coat. Leaves – cooked.” (Ref)

The PFAF website mentions that “the sprouting seed produces a toxic substance in its embryo” so perhaps avoid that – I tend to trust this website.

Perhaps a better idea is using them in recipes of which I have no idea, but lots of other do, so head off and have a look.  Although whilst I’m not a fancy cook, throw anything in a hollowed out casing and you’re bound to impress!  This site has one example. Or this one.  Really I think anything goes.



Often used as cocktail glasses and as an ingredient, what’s not to like?


We had no issue with pests or disease affecting the plant over a Perth Summer.

Our friend Wiki states : “It was found that kiwano is resistant to several root-knot nematodes, two accessions were found to be highly resistant to Watermelon mosaic virus (WMV-1), but very sensitive to the Squash mosaic virus (SqMV). Some accessions were found to succumb to Fusarium wilt. Resistance to Greenhouse whitefly was reported. Kiwano was reported to be resistant to Powdery mildew, however in Israel powdery mildew as well as the Squash mosaic virus (SqMV) attacked kiwano fields and measures had to be taken. ” (Ref)

On the other hand, the seeds are thought to help expel tapeworm if dried, ground, consumed as a water/seed emulsion and then followed with a “purge” to expel the worm. (Ref) However, every site that talks about this appears to have very similar wording, so I would guess this has come from one source…. please hunt around yourself to ensure you trust sources of any medicinal advice.  Exactly the same wording and without references generally means blind regurgitation so advance with caution.


The kiwano was featured in an episode of Star Trek as an

out of space fruit, although from the photos, it looks like they picked a very unspikey one! (Ref)

Not to forget Charmed (Ref)

Great for Halloween, although here you’d need to get them in very early….. but the timing of our summers here in Perth, chances are in two years you’ll be okay!

(Ref) (Ref)

So in summary, I guess this is what I would call a fun, conversation started fruit.  Not particularly nice to consume, but a hardy plant that wants to live (great for Perth!) and with an exotic looking fruit that you can play with.  We look forward to another season of quirky conversations and perhaps a few cocktails in the name of research!

(3) A brief rundown of my new field of study

And now the scary bit….. I have embarked on a research project and, whilst I am very keen to hear feedback and seek interested people, this discussion is not meant to be recruiting people, more an opportunity for me to put my plan into words and share it.  With this work I am treading a very fine line between “lab research/mainstream agriculture/corporate interest/dollar driven/journal article producing” activities and the production of “cheap, quick field testing/acknowledging local knowledge / regenerative agricultural practices and knowledge / both dollar and other success measure driven / interpreted practical application of said journal articles”  tools.  Whilst the two rarely come together, with any luck each can learn about the other and cherry pick the wins, which hopefully will lead to a win for soil in the long term. So, hold on tight, here is the plan…..

The overarching goal is to combine local knowledge of farming land with existing research, publicly available data and simplified carbon modelling tools, to support the translation of relatively poorer performing areas into more healthy, productive systems.

By looking at rainfall behaviour (plus the value derived) across a farm, and then drawing parallels with good versus poorer areas; carbon deposition; fertile soil depth and other indicators, it is thought that a broad scientific basis can be documented to support the following:

(a) allocation of incentives towards positive action rather than outcomes only (e.g. outcome based carbon offset payments puts the risk with the landholder, payments for action proven to improve carbon storage removes both weather based risks and insures against government policy changes, etc) and

(b) enable quantification of broadly valuable changes rather than measurement on a single benefit reward (e.g. water use value, plus carbon offset potential, plus long term productivity/income/nutrition security, plus water table health….).

Also by providing a guide/assessment tool for what changes might be made to improve poorer areas and the extent to which these changes will benefit the soil (and hence landholder), a coarse cost/benefit analysis can be conducted at a farm specific level to bring more confidence to decision making with respect to land management change.

This research aims to draw together the:

(a) local knowledge of the landholder with respect to their specific soil properties, water behaviour and land management practices (wins & losses);

(b) existing research into soil health – carbon, biology, etc (balancing productivity & long term potential);

(c) soil success measures (For the purpose of this research a “soil success measure” is defined as a positive outcome related to a change in farming practices/management where that change influences the land’s soil properties.  May be productivity, drought resilience, soil carbon, etc);

(d) soil properties (clay vs sand,  water repellency, etc.), landscape influence (topography), and farming methods (soil exposure, inputs/amendments, etc); and

(e) existing tools for both the soil carbon response to change (a proposed health indicator) and climate change prediction specific to South Western Australia.

The aim is to deliver the existing research associated with the success measures identified to the “farm gate” in a location specific and practically implementable form.

The plan of attack must be in 5 sections for the purpose of this research and so I have split it into:

  1. Simulations/modelling – using the existing carbon modelling to determine key influences on soil and how the models may be utilised at a farm wide assessment level.  There is a bit of a play with climate projection impacts in here too!
  2. A questionnaire – targeted at collating the potential success measures in order to build a ‘total benefit’ picture which is to be assessed against the effect of improved rainfall usage. There are three questionnaires – for the landholder/manager; for the support bodies (Landcare, NRM, researchers, agronomists, government policy makers, etc); and for the offset purchasers (can we draw attention to soil carbon sequestration as both an offset box ticker and a social impact/local content options!)
  3. and 4. are audit/sampling/analysis sections looking at different water usage locations on specific farms and assessing these as reflected in lab based testing of soil health.  3. is the sampling of locations based on a water audit type assessment (to be constructed!).  I.e. how well do we use water at the point where it falls (rainfall).
  4. See above, but more focused on other soil success measures that may be indirectly influenced by water value – carbon, biology, etc.  I’m keen to compare the lab info with infield simple testing – from soil colour change to brix, to jar shake testing and water repellency tests.
  5. Finally this will all collate into the construction of an open source tool for farm assessments to identify options for water use/value optimisation initiatives.  Connecting the modelling, laboratory and in-field audit/testing on a farm-wide and region-wide scale.  Also to draw in the existing research (completed by far more erudite folks than yours truly), so that for a given success measure, a landholder can see that for their particular soil type, X, Y and Z are a means of improving these in conjunction with better value obtained from rainfall.

And, once you’ve picked yourself up off the floor from laughing to hard at the though of achieving this in just a few years, perhaps you forgive my spasmodic Soil Hugger blogs over that period.  Its a huge job and sometimes I feel its just so obvious that its a waste of time!  Better use of water where it falls = better soil.  (Applying a little TORK on the big scale!)  You may find it suspiciously Permacultural / Regrarian as we progress down the path, but what better way to communicate these platforms with industry/government than through science and statistics.

However, I’ve been lucky enough to score an independent benefactor, so I am (a) free to pick and choose the direction I head, (b) do not have a person/company with a vested interest steering my line of inquiry and (c) someone believes what I am doing is worth investing in.  If I can help one farmer understand a little better why something worked for his neighbour, but not for him or to understand the long term picture of their particular means of farming (good or bad), then it has all been worth it. And hopefully there might be an article or five to keep the University keen to keep me.

So it should be fun and I’ll learn a lot to share with you. Wish me luck!

(2) A brief reminder of how to hug that soil we depend on for so much.

Recap on how to fix your soil…..pot, yard, acreage, farm….the answer it pretty much the same:

We apply a little TORK (or in the sandy soils of Perth it could be considered to be CORK-ing the soil!)

—T                     Texture – develop texture aspiring to loam

—O                    Organics – Fine (compost) and Coarse (Mulch)

—R                     Rock Dust – Long-term Macro- & Micro-Nutrients

—K                     Kelp – Introduce Sea Minerals and growth tonics

—As a pre-cursor, please note that I am not endorsing any product over any other within my comments.  There are examples included so you can see what a specific product available local to me brings to our pure sand, but it is important that you —chose locally available, ethical and economical substitutes to fulfill the same function. Do your research also about how much of the composition is providing benefit.  Buying the pre-mixed form to apply as is may save you time, but buying the individual components and then applying the ratio you need may end up cheaper than diluted or general application products.  Similarly coarse (less soluble) additions give the soil longer to ‘use’ them before they flush out of the soil with watering/rainfall.  Liquid fertilisers give a quick nutrient boost, but then wash away easily.  So it can come down to a question of (i) urgency of results as well as (ii) whether you are time rich or money rich.  It depends on your circumstances and its up to you.

  • T                     TextureTriangle with sizes copy

We’ve talked about texture at length – in Perth sands this means we need to add C for clay (hence the CORK acronym works here).  A jar shake test will let you know where you are relative to the oasis that is loam and hence what you need to apply to get there. The silt element will be added by the soil life breaking down the organics, so that one is covered without any extra effort.

We use West Australian pure calcium bentonite clay which is readily available, kaolinite clay is also available in bags, and there are many clays and clay blends which can meet your needs and often be sourced locally (dam walls etc).  For poor sands (and with water restrictions!), clay should be mixed in deeply (25cm+) to maximise the water holding around the future roots – by hand or rotary hoe.  Thorough mixing of bentonite with sand/soil is necessary to avoid clumping in the short term (hence the rotary hoe).

For less dramatic application or where plants are already established, the clay can be applied to the soil surface before the mulch (or next application of mulch!) is applied and it will enter the soil gradually as you water.  Make sure you cover it as the clay has a knack of clumping and if Volume Components of Soil copyyou walk on it may stick to your shoes  –  its never a good idea to walk on soil though as compaction reduces the pore space and reduces the surface area for soil life and space for water distribution.  However, I believe that it is this clumping and messiness that leads many to purchase pre-mixed products to avoid the hassle.  Again think about your plan of attack, understand the positives and negatives, know if you’re time or money rich and hence set yourself up for success.

The clay can normally be purchased in 20kg bags.  The application rate will depend on the product, the state of your soil and the means with which you elect to apply it (dug in or superficial application).

  • —O                    Organics

Soil Food Web Expanded copyCompost – fine organics – can be created in any number of ways which may be formal or informal, compost bins (in any incarnation), via chooks, worms or just as an aged form of coarse organics.  Any organic waste removed from your property (kitchen scraps in the sulo bin, green waste collection, etc) is your system leaking nutrients. A fabulous person once said “There is no such thing as waste, only stuff in the wrong place.” (Thanks, Charlie – song, website) Feed you soil fauna and in turn your plants to support the next yield.  If you must control the soil food web rather than just feed it, look to control life with life, to return the pest into the food cycle to benefit the system.  By taking the pest out by chemical means, you may remove not only the pest, but also kill/remove/send away other members of your food web through the direct effect of the chemical or the removal of their food source.  The pest will return faster than the predators as you promote their food!

Mulch – coarse organics – Can be simply the act of dropping the prunings of your plant on the ground at its base and letting fallen leaves decompose where they lie.   This effectively returns all the nutrients taken from the soil (to produce the leaf, limb or whole plant), back into the soil, as well as creating new habitats for your garden life.  Alternately prunings etc can be left to dry out and then chipped for faster break down and a more conventionally neat look.   However when you’re getting started and have not yet got green “waste” to work with, investing in some imported mulch (street tree, donated by a friend or other) might be the way to go.

The aim of the mulch is to mimic the debris which litters the floor of a forest.  Covering soil is the number one goal for healthy soil especially in Perth over summer, when new plants might be fried.  It is critical in the moderation of soil temperature, prevention of erosion and to minimise the moisture lost to evaporation (not only due to the sun’s heat, but the hot winds too).  Whilst we talked about mulch above, this cover can also be provided by picking hardy ground covers to plant (sweet potato is a personal favourite!) as living mulch; ensuring larger plants protect it; or better still, all of the above.

The beauty of the organic component is this element can truly self sustain – build the soil and the life will come…bringing with them castings, manure, bodies and plant accessible nutrients.  It’s uncanny how quickly life returns to barren ground once mulched.

The application rate would be classified as “more is better” especially with neutral pH mulch. With kitchen food scraps, other imported nutrient sources or compost products delivered to other parts of the garden, it is important to understand that, whilst the soil fauna might like it, some plants are built for limited nutrient situations (the pioneers) and some need to be spoon fed mass nutrients – over time you’ll figure out which is which.  Too much nutrition and your pioneers are no longer required in the evolution of your food forest and will tend to fade…. a good thing…. they become terrific trellis’ for climbers and reflect that your system is working.

As an aside, for the plants that you intend to remove from your garden (no longer wanted or dead) always ensure that the roots are left insitu.  This means that deep in the soil profile organic matter remains to sustain the soil life until the next plant’s roots dive as deep.  This retention of roots acts to increase the depth of the living soil profile and increases your carbon sequestration (amount of carbon stored in the ground and hence less CO2 in the atmosphere! Win Win!).

  • —R                     Rock Dust (Long term / Slow release Macro- & Micro-Nutrients)

—Contains: Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium, Calcium, Carbon, Magnesium, Sulphur, Silicon, Iron, Copper, Zinc, Manganese, Boron, Cobalt, Molybdenum and Selenium in a balanced, slow release form. —(The Green Life Soil Company)  Some producers also bond it with beneficial microbes (bacteria & fungi -VA Mycorrhizae) to innoculate the soil and help establish healthy microbial populations.  However unless you have organics in your soil to feed the microbes, they won’t stick around (or will just go dormant), but if you do have organic material available, and plants growing then chances are you’ve got your microbes working for you already.

There are lots of producers of Rock Dust in many different sized packages (small tubs to 20kg bags) but, as mentioned before use local ethical suppliers where possible and check out the product to ensure it meets the mineral needs across the board.  —It usually comes in a moistened form and is a mixture of granite and basalt rocks which has a significant spread of nutrients covered.

—Typically its great to hoe this in at the start, but applied under the mulch is a valid option also.  It is applied at 1-2 handfuls per square metre.

  •  —K                     Kelp (Sea Minerals)

The application of sea minerals is a general boost to the fertility of the soil and hence the productivity of the plants.  Information suggests that the application, due to the improvement in health, enables better heat, drought and frost tolerance as well as a better resistance to fungal attack and the impacts of insect attack.  Generally it can be considered as a faster release provider of a broad range of trace elements and minerals.

—In Perth we can purchase the coarse meal form of kelp, a fine powder (to be dissolved in solution) or liquid kelp already in solution with other additives.  The only example of composition I have been abSeasol analysisle to find was for Seasol which represents an example of the latter.  Again it is up to the buyer as to the volume and hence expense that is appropriate for them.  We typically go for the coarse meal as we work in young sandy soils and don’t want it dissolving and flushed away before the soil wakes up.  Horses for courses as they say.  Again, —choose locally available, ethical and economical option to fulfill this function to meet your soil’s needs. Anyway here is the example of Seasol’s contribution to your soil for you to see the breadth of minerals.

Application again will depend on your product, but typically the pure coarse kelp meal requires 1-2 handfuls per square metre and should be applied as per the rock dust. Work it into the soil mix or just get it under the mulch layer to start being eaten.

So “TORK-ing to your soil” is the key to providing you with the components you need to get started and bring in the little guys who make up the living bits of the organic piece-of-pie. They will do the rest.

For more of a detailed recap head back to:

Soil Series – High Level Components of Soil – (Episode 2.1) – Mineral Particles and Pore Spaces

Soil Series – High Level Components of Soil – (Episode 2.2) – Organic Matter

Soil Series – High Level Components of Soil – (Episode 2.3) – Resultant Soil Properties

PLEASE NOTE: The size of the pot/property only defines the cost versus time-frame versus source of inputs.  Support local, go for diversity and set yourself up from the start. No point spending your hard earned dollars on soil food that will run straight down through sand to the aquifer below or on plants that will get water logged in soil that won’t drain.  Understand and respect the patterns of the sun and its (potentially harsh) impact on the soil.  And perhaps most important of all keep your soil covered and hence your soil life protected from both the heat and cold.

On larger properties, it is often better to maintain the status quo across the majority and focus on a nucleus/small area to amend as you start out.  This will both help you learn what your doing with minimal expense/loss as you will make mistakes (especially in plant selection and care – nature has taught me that lesson!) and give you the confidence to experiment without fear.  Once you’ve got your nucleus working for you, you’ll have the knowledge, contacts and an existing ecosystem to help expand the operation.  And may the weather gods shine (or more hopefully rain) on you!

HAPPY SOIL – here are a few link to commiserate what we have done on a larger scale, to look as what we might do and to celebrate the wins as attention turns slowly away from FOOD SECURITY to NUTRITION SECURITY.

Mr Permaculture / Mr Pemberton / Mr MGee – Down Down Down (Song for Soil) – Permaculture Day 2015

Thanks to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN for the infographic above and their work to raise the importance of soil in the minds of those not directly seeing this critical link in the worlds food, fiber, fuel etc  They have a Year of the Soil page too with lots of resources.

Soils for Life also has some great information and is specifically Australia based.

Soil Science Australia can also have some useful links.

The Regrarians –

We try to put all our information up as well –

I’ll try to add more and more links over time so you can find your own gems amongst them.  Please fire any through you find too!

(1) Promised Delivered – Happy World Soil Day – hope you had fun!

And so with that I will wish you all a safe, constructive Christmas…. and, perhaps more importantly (in the words of my daughter – 2yrs old at the time – and the best expression of good wishes for everyone in 2016 I have ever heard), A HAPPY NEW YOU.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi — ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.’

Until next time.


Permaculture 102 – Permaculture Design Part 3: The Client Interview Sheet – Part 2.

At last we come back to our BIG adventure…. bravely attempting to document (me) and stay awake through (you) the nitty gritty of the Client Interview aspect of the Permaculture Design Process – believe me, it is far more exciting in person and when we get to planning our trip to site, you’ll be on the edge of your seat!

We’ve already gone through (a) the Permaculture Ethics and Principles; (b) the layout of the property – have an aerial diagram and some initial interpretations; (c) performed an assessment of the impact of nature on the block (the Sun’s mainly, but also wind, water, fire and others) and (d) finally we started a ramble through the client questionnaire and the reasoning behind the specific questions.  And it was there on Christmas Eve, with baited breath, I left you all …. mid way through the questionnaire as preparation for Santa’s arrival could no longer be put off.  And so it is only fitting that, more than 3 months later, as we bask in the cooler weather of an alternate super long weekend, we head back to pick up the proverbial design ball and run with it….


1) April 10th – Transition Town Stirling is having a Movie night – the reason I mention it, is because I’ve organised for it to be “Dirt, The Movie!”. Not so much an education on what soil is, but more the opportunity to see some famous soil names/faces and to follow the journey of how we treat soil and what hope there is for the future. For info on the Movie Night head HERE, for some information on the Movie itself head HERE.

2) May – Please note that I will be a little quiet in May as I will be helping with a Permaculture Design Course (head HERE for information), but that just means I need to do lots of blogging in April to make up for it!


Permaculture 102 – Step 3B – The Client Interview Sheet Continued

A little recap…

(a) What is the aim of this step:

This step gives us the first look at the other major natural force in the garden – the GARDENER.Late Jan 2015 before refresh small 2

Having talked all about the importance of Sun in an urban design and Water in a rural design, gauging this particular force trumps all.  It is perhaps the most critical element in the planning of the garden, primarily to allow us to facilitate the work performed by the gardener into being a supportive force for nature’s evolution in the space.  The aim of this step is to trigger the thoughts of the client on items they might not have considered in their wants / needs and to highlight future discussion topics in order to get the most out of the site visit.

In this step we’ll continue to walk through the remaining questions and provide a little background as to the reasoning behind each query.

Its critical throughout this step to keep in mind the Permaculture Principles – both with respect to ourselves and to the client.

(b) What you need to start this step:

  1. The questionnaire returned by the client (or completed by yourself with your “owner’s hat on” if it is your garden we are talking about).
  2. The diagram from Step 1 – either on a computer, printed out, self drawn or what ever works for you to refer to as you read through the questionnaire.
  3. Some pencils/pens/textas (or virtual options if you are working on a computer) of different colours.
  4. Empathy – Your clients (and indeed us at this point – but just you wait…) will have varying degrees of understanding of what they want and need.  They are often are a little embarrassed about how much (or little) they know and that their expectations must be a mile off what is possible.  Psychology 101 – The more comfortable people are, the more they will talk (even off-topic discussion are sometimes helpful) and the more information you will gain into setting up a system that will compliment the owner and be capable of long term success.

(c) What you’ve got when you finish this step:

By the end we’ll have a good feel to the Client’s hopes for the location and know a little about the opportunities and challenges of the site and its (mental and physical) climate.  All set to pack our kit bag, have a last minute soil resuscitation refresh and then head to site.


Okay, completed questionnaire in one hand, diagram from Step 1 in front of us and pencil in the other hand.  Bear in mind that when you go to site, it is recommended that you take a copy of the completed (if available and possibly with “notes to self”) plus a blank questionnaire so as to prompt discussion and fill in your own assessment of the answers from the discussions held.  Let’s step through typical questionnaire…. if you want to view it in its native form as we use it, head to the TP Website – Free Notes Section – Site Design and Client Interview Checklist.

We’ve been through:Client Interview

A. The Formalities

1. The Client – Already covered.

Including: 1.1 Client’s understanding of Permaculture Design; 1.2 Occupancy (Years to date / Future Plans); 1.3 Number of People on Site; 1.4 Age (s); 1.5 Occupation (s); 1.6 Eating Habits; 1.7 Likes, dislikes and allergies; 1.8 Routine Habits; 1.9 Lifestyle – Current and Desired; 1.10 Time to Spend Working Onsite – Current and Future; 1.11 Budget for Design / Site Works; 1.12 Skills (Building / Gardening / Craft); and 1.13 Disabilities.

 2. The Client’s Wants and Needs

2.1 Overall Vision for the Site:

The answer to this question might be general (supply veggies for the family) or specific (pond here, chook run there); expansive (full yard, every tree itemised) or limited (small patch off the left); childhood memories (Grandma’s fresh grapes) or ideas of a better future (I want my kids to eat real foods); in line with Permaculture principles or not.

This is a great question to open in Section 2 with.  We have talked all about the client (or us, as the case may be) as a person/family in Section 1 in a practical sense, but now we are inviting the weird and wonderful.  We get to see their tentative plan before the thoughts get boxed into priorities, needs and practicalities.

1 New Guinea Bean SMALL 2 (Large)

The client gets an opportunity to think about what they want and what they wished they had. It also invites discussion between family members who might not be able to attend the meeting. You’ll remember we talked about “all the bits in a design (elements) and how their interaction with one another needs to be considered – so the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (system)”  The family must be considered as elements within the garden and the garden designed to ensure that both benefit from the relationship.  With a little questioning, designs can be developed with features to work towards ongoing interest of all members. Having buy-in to the overall vision provides a degree of ownership and responsibility – valuing the “stakeholders” (the investors – $$$ and time; the consumers – at the table; and the employees!)

Whether they write a saga or nothing, there is a lot for us and them to learn about their ideas and that of their partner/flatmate/family – documented or discussed.

With our site map in hand and with an idea of the client’s vision, we can get an insight into our client and their concepts relative to their location and space.  For example, if they have only a small courtyard and yet have visions of a pond, chook run and providing veggies for the family, either you need to do some early-intervention expectation management or some pretty snazzy designing! Or if they have small plans for a significant space, then perhaps attending some free garden tours might help open their eyes to the huge possibilities.

If you’re doing your own design, here is where you look to your memories of Grandma’s back yard, or the way your Mum’s kitchen smelt when you were a child; you think of the fruit that you get excited about as the price drops when it comes into season; that weird looking fruit you saw when on holiday in exotic climes (I bet I’m the only one that thought it was “exotic climbs”….  thinking of my years trekking Himilayas! I wish. Grammar 101 lessons required for me.); the berries you loved, but now fear buying as the only locally purchasable option is imported; the lemon delicious pudding you wow’d your guests with at the last dinner party, but the neighbour who gave you the lemons is selling their place….et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Google comes in handy if your exposure to producting gardening is limited – there are some great websites for edible plants which will step you away from the apple, orange, banana norms – not that there is anything wrong with them!  Let your mind wander and see what you’d love to have – even if its silly for the space or climate, there may be other, similar options or putting it in a wicking barrel rather than in the ground.  We’ll figure it’s practicalities (or lack there of) out later, for now, dare to dream.

african cucumber seeds barrels as ponds smaller Front Garden Final 5 smaller

Think outside the plant field too – ponds, amphibians, or perhaps insects are your thing

giant-long-legged-katydids Pattern 1  frog

(Katidid Photo Reference – Giant Long-Legged Katydids photo by Houston Museum of Natural Science)


2.2 Prioritise Goals

Now we start to guide the client through the process of apply the “boxes” – what is most important to them? What should be integrated as a priority and what might need to be discussed early to manage expectations.

Although, of course, at the top of every priority list should be “prepare the soil” as each item in the list of goals can generally be traced back to that.  Our (The Designer’s) list may not necessary be the same as the client’s (even if this is us as we look to design our own space), but it should incorporate some of the Client’s top goals early on or at least a plan to get there….. in order to put the YIELD in “Obtain the Yield”, but we’ll discuss that a little later.

Alternately if the top goal is impractical in the immediate context, then a little psychology needs to be employed to bring the client around to that understanding.  In no way am I saying that we have a one size fits all list of priorities and, as designers, we talk the clients into alignment with this list.  As in every service provision situation, the Client is always right….. excepts when that means setting them up for failure and bad experiences which will limit their journey.  For example – and my pet hate (excuse the pun) – if Chickens or rabbits or similar are at the top of the priority list, but the client will be away for extended periods (holidays, FIFO, sick relatives elsewhere).  Then consideration needs to be given to the benefits versus system self-sufficiency versus neglect of each aspect of the design.  If there is not a fabulous neighbour (paid in eggs!) or a like minded friend/relative close by, then chances are this system will fail for both the chickens and the owner.  This may need to be teased out in conversations and the rearrangements of priorities be facilitated during the meeting.  Some introduced garden life requires far less attention than others, perhaps there is a better suiting alternative.  Existing pets also need to be considered, but necessarily to the exclusion of….. as “free range” chooks may or may not mix well with a highly excited fox terrier or an overly affectionate rottweiler.


Chiliakyote size sm2.3 Short and Long Range Priorities

We get an idea of urgency – too often a client wants a “landscape” now that will last, which is not part of the evolution that occurs within a Permaculture Designed space.  Taking the client back to a fundamental education of Permaculture may be required to adjust the expectation or to determine that Permaculture might not meet their current needs.  Designs are typically delivered with stages, and an evolution of the client with the space that comes from understanding the reasoning of element placement is critical in the design.

Again, this response indicates what expectation management is required and what attention to “Permaculture Principle Number 3 – Obtain a Yield”


(As an aside, Permaculture may not be for everyone and it would be a shame turning a person off producing their own food by trying to impose certain principles.  Some folks like neat rows and segregation of crops which has its own pluses and minuses, but will not fit within a natural pest control ambition and hence not normally considered under the banner of Permaculture.  Similarly Organic gardening has its own ethics which causes its practice to work within a different set of constraints and management techniques.  Don’t be afraid to consider declining or deferring the client to alternate educators.  It may be a lose/lose situation and better to encourage them down an alternate path than have them head back to no knowledge or care of their food’s origin.)


2.4 Prioritise Concerns (Spouse, Rainfall, Soil, Short Term Residence etc..)

This is the “cheat of all cheats” when it comes to an effective design….. if you can solve one of your clients concerns, you’ll have them onside and invested in the process!

At the risk of giving away a trade secret (again), a key saying associated with “Permaculture Principle Number 1 – Observe and Interact” is “the problem is the solution“. Things are not always the way they appear, the negative aspect we see can be coupled with a compensating positive or actually be harnessed in a way to make it a positive feature for the existing system.  Weeds are a prime example – many seek to eradicate them, when an alternate view can see them as nature covering bare soil (to limit temp fluctuations, to shelter micro-colonies), preparing the soil for less hardy species (by drawing nutrients to the topsoil as they perish, compost and replace themselves), a source of high nutrition in salad (and for livestock) and often the most water wise kick start to a barren landscape.  Similarly a flooding issue might be rectified by reducing the hydrophobic (water run off) nature of the soil by long term amendment of the soil or controlled diversion – the water at scarcer times is better utilised by the plants, the flooding is averted and your client is (or you are) stoked!

Its likely these concerns have cropped up in questions previously, but as mentioned before, by phrasing the questions differently either the client can elect not to answer all questions, or their thoughts get stimulated and you get another angle on the problem….. perhaps getting a little closer to their perceived source of the problem.  After all they are on site observing for far longer than we’ll have the opportunity to – learn from this, even though your interpretation may differ from theirs.


2.5 Specify Wants and Needs

Again we get insight into the client/family and their knowledge about both themselves and their space. This query provides further information associated with Question 2.1 – splitting the dream into wants and needs.  Additionally it should be noted that sometimes, but not always, the needs are the top priority identified in Question 2.2.  See how the picture starts to evolve.

However your client might NEED fresh garden greens all year round, but as a top priority to achieve this you must ensure that your soil can retain moisture and nutrients otherwise in summer you’ll find yourself in trouble.  To have fresh greens all year round, there may need to be an adaption of palate and an openness to trying new plants for producing iceberg lettuce all year round is a hugely labour intensive effort.  (Perhaps the next fad diet – eat only what you grow….. you’ll soon discover the work to nutrition ratio of each item of food! Some don’t supply you with the energy to reach the back door carrying them! You heard it first here – The Soil Hugger’s Diet.)

On the other hand a pond might be documented as a WANT, but when you’re struggling to get pollinators into your garden to produce your fruit (or pests munch your greens before the leaves even open) as you live in “triplex-ville”, you’ll discover the necessity of water sources where there is a balance between a drink for predators/pollinators; below surface predators to minimise mosquito population growth (infact attracting the mozzies to lay here can reduce your total mozzie population!); and plants to feed those below surface predators. Depending on your location you may NEED a pond.


2.6 Desired Level of Food Self Reliance

This is a thought provoking question and is very dependent on the area, the client’s (and client’s family’s) interaction with the garden, and the client’s (and client’s family’s) diet.  Are we aiming for a self sustaining productive garden aimed at long term self sufficiency with sporadic grazing or are we looking for a high yield all year around?

When cross referencing this query with the Eating Habits is section 1, we get a good feel for the types and quantities of products that the client expects at this stage. And when looking at short and long range priorities we can identify what some areas of the garden will need to achieve.

PFAFIf high level of self reliance is required and we need all year round production, then  PFAF ( is a handy website to learn about seasonal (you’ll need to adjust to Perth!) plants and their uses, growing conditions and interesting quirks…..  You’ll see it has been one of my inputs for investigations.  As always with internet information, do your research before acting on any single source of information (me included!).






 3. Site Overview – we’ll be a little brief as some aspects we have covered already or it is just as a Client thought-trigger.

3.1 Property Size

Good for confirming the scale we have from Intramaps and the clients understanding of the space they are working with.  In this query the focus is on the whole block, which sometimes starts the client considering the front of the house and down the sides as well as the obvious just outside the back door plots.

3.2 Property Tenure (zoning, easements, local council)

Provides information relating to the extent of changes possible.  E.g. an above ground bed might or might not be preferred over an in-ground bed over a semi-mobile wicking pot.  Permanence versus trip hazard versus impacting others; a large nut tree planted above a “required access” section of sewage piping. Also any legal individual property requirements and rules of animal use, and land use.

3.3 Other Plans

There may be plans to install a shed or pergola or similar sometime in the future – discussion of where these might fit and options for their installation (e.g. living pergolas rather than tin might be cooler in summer, with plant selection being important for summer shade and winter light/warmth). Also any other council plans, rezoning, neighbors triplex plans to plan privacy screens etc.

3.4 On Site Resources (wind, water, light, carbon, buildings, shade)

Are there already systems installed – external tap locations, rain water tanks, wind breaks, compost piles, wood piles, waste building material, significant trees. Rocks, sand and clay are all resources that might decide one building technique above another.

Some will be obvious from the map we have, some will be hidden, but suggesting the client think about what they already have to offer is an important introduction to Observation within their yard.

Items like taps or rain water tanks can influence where high water use or specific hand watering requirements may be located to minimise the frustrations of maintenance activities.

3.5 House and Building Footprint

This should be obvious from the map we have, but it is important to understand the size taken up by the house itself; its position and orientation on the block; and the area adjacent to it (eg eves, paved areas) which limits the functional productive space

Floor Plan copy


3.6 Vehicle Needs

Where do they park, do they store a trailer, what are the walk ways between the car and house – heading back to understanding habits.  Or where do we need to put hardy plants that can cope with a little vehicular trimming….

3.7 List of Plans, Maps, Drawings

If the resident has additional plans, maps etc – as our map might be out of date and our design require some work around new structures, underground utilities or take into account the removal of some constructions. Where is the kitchen window and exit door to place the kitchen garden, how doe the internal pathways in the house come out into the yard. They may have reticulation, shed wiring, and other plans they will help you produce a site layout design or just avoid trouble. Plans and drawings take a lot of time to produce, take the time to find all the existing ones, hardcopy’s and digital that you can.

3.8 Historical Land Use (Soil Contamination test?)

Just a general discussion if any consideration has been given to the location in the past?  Some have had soil tested and not understood the results so they end up in the back of a draw, some have just moved in so have no history, some have rented out the property but known the gardening service and others have lived in the house, but left the yard to “evolve naturally” for the last 10 years whilst life was spent in the house just surviving the busy times.

All answers give us an idea about both the yard and the people.  If the soil has been tested, it shows an interest and expense put to caring about the soil. Make this expense worth while by interpreting the results and weaving the findings into the design and everyone has won.

If they’ve just moved in, then it is important to emphasis that you don’t need a blank canvas to start with – FIRST BIG TIP OF THE DAY## DON’T REMOVE ANY PLANTS BEFORE ASKING FOR A DESIGN.  Too often we are called in to a barren landscape with the comment that we’ve cleared out all the useless stuff so we can make a Permaculture Space….. I shed a tear for the million (no exaggeration!) microclimates and their occupants now swept away, the nutrients which were once in the soil and part of the cycle now heading off as green waste, the soil life now exposed to the sun’s might, the larger life habitats which helped with pollination, importation of nutrients from elsewhere…. need I go on.  No tree is useless if it casts a shadow, no weed is useless if it has a leaf to capture energy…. they are all part of natures way of returning the system to a forest from whatever starting point.  See the opportunities and if you are yet to know how to, then take time to sit and observe, they’ll show you.

Gecko small willy wag tail small 8 copy

Over the course of this design process we’ll see that we can use that “useless” tree as shelter for vulnerable new plants, we’ll discover what that “weed” is achieving in the soil, we’ll spot the bee attractors… as you can tell, there is so much to see if we only know or take the time to look. Say NO to deforestation in every sized space! Wow, put the placard away, SH, back to topic….

If they’ve left it to “evolve naturally” due to lack of time, what has changed?  Do they have more time now for a specific reason or will times get busy again soon?  Whilst you cannot predict life’s twists and turns, if nothing significant has changed, then you need to consider the time available for the guider of your garden and start, perhaps, even smaller than you normally might, or make that early yield a little more visual.

Having said that, if the client is indeed yourself, how are things changing for you?  Are you going have time to set up the system? Are you going to have time to look after it in its infancy?  Or should you do an overall plan and then attack each area bit by bit so the higher time consuming areas are spaced out over time.  Easy, quick activities can be put in place to prepare the other areas so that when you get around to

3.9 Known Land Issues (Erosion, Flooding, etc)

As mentioned previously, if there are particular problems that can be simply fixed at the outset, there is a much greater chance of achieving a positive attitude in your client and enabling your system to utilise sun, rain, wind etc in a positive manner.  These are the free energy sources in a world of expensive amendments.

3.10 Privacy Current / Desired

Gardens can be designed as welcoming, guiding or subtly excluding visitors.  Rather than the 7 foot front wall, which makes a space hemmed in.  Hedging (dense or sparce) or tall grass systems (bamboo, bana grass or sugar cane) can help with visual privacy and the bana grass in particular is great for baffling noise and replacing it with a (mostly) gentle rustle.

3.11 Neighbour and Adjoining Land Limitations

This may be associated with legal limitation (e.g. planting in jointly owned or council land), the clients relationships with neighbours or habits of those who frequently visit or pass by your property.

Council verges must be carefully assessed with respect to your local regulations.  For example the line of sight of you, your neighbours and other road users must not be comprimised, so working in line with existing street trees for larger plants and only using low vegetation any further forward is essential.

Alternately a neighbour (down wind) may have horrid hay fever and therefore there may be limitations on what you want to afflict them with.  Or your neighbour might make the best apple and rhubarb pie….. what will we plant…..hmmmmmmm.  Seriously though, whilst good fences make good neighbours, agreed common ground gardens make good conversations.  As long as all parties are happy, then sometimes the limitations are less constricting than first imagined.  However investment in these common grounds should be limited such that if the land is required (and it was not yours to use as you saw fit), it should be easily and cheaply returned to its original state.



BUT should the client review the questions, they get an overview of the many influences on the site which we consider and may also trigger thoughts to help with more information in the above questions.  I will run through them briefly as we have already discussed many in our Assessment of the block previously.

Having said that, the last four are useful, but not essential to know prior to arrival at the site.


Sun angle on house with shadows winter copy4.1 Latitude and Climate Zone


4.2 Elevation


4.3 Slope Orientation and Solar Access (land to sun angle)




Back to the privacy question really, you may be looking to block the view of a two story eye-sore just beyond the back fence or avoid occlusion of ocean or valley views.  Consideration of these requirements are essential when planning significant fruit trees, nut trees or deciduous plantings which will seasonally impact the success of keeping the client happy with their outlook.

4.5 Contours and Slope (steepness)


4.6 Microclimates

We’ll come back to this later, but a micro-climate can be described as a location where the impact of the major environmental factors (sun, rain, wind, fire etc) is influenced by what is present in that location.

It can be as simple as a log lying on the ground – the bark on top is exposed to the sun and wind, some creatures like this location; underneath is typically moist for longer and cooler, some creatures like this location; some creatures like to bore into the wood to make nests; spiders might span the gap between sections of the log and ground to catch creatures on the through breeze…..  Then as you look further and further from the log you’ll see the influence diminish as the duration of shade provided through the day reduces and wind buffering drops, but still these are different conditions seen as perfect for different life.  Going deeper within the soil under the log, you’ll see (if you could), the moisture and decomposition influence changing.


(Picture Reference:

All these locations associated with the one log can be considered individual micro-climates as their exposure to sun, rain, wind etc will differ and invite creatures of different preference to make a home.  Compare this to just an expanse of sand and you only have the depth profile changing and hence an array of micro-climates changing only as you go deeper – but note that even this is not necessarily devoid of micro-climates and life.  Compare this again to a forest, and just ponder about the explosion of influences and dynamic climates through out the season……

Whilst not simple, putting a little thought into considering micro-climates, who they attract, what might grow well, what structures are in place already and so on, it’s amazing how this helps with observation and understanding our impact.

An application example might be trying to grow tropical trees in Perth – to get humidity without significant water use or electricity, you need to build up a system which puts water into the air in an enclosed space….. a close planted group of trees, transpiring from their leaves can be very effective…. you construct a living micro-climate such that if you go on holiday and the retic fails, the living micro-climate (depending on the time of year!) has a much better chance of surviving than a humidity controlled greenhouse whose controller fails.

4.7 Water Sources and Storage – Guru Guest Comments

Bore water, scheme water (mains), rainwater, greywater or tankered-in ….there are many sources of water. As part of an effective water audit study for the site we need to know the sources, their quality, what we are using them for (drinking vs irrigation), the cost, how much and where we are going to store them. This is more applicable for rural settings when it comes to sources – rain into dams etc, but there may be rain water tanks or grey water systems installed which already have retic set up or are in locations where planning of gardens around that location will make it simpler for watering purposes.  This may be practical or not, but knowing where they are before you arrive gives you a mind’s eye picture as well as an understanding the Client’s recognition of water being an important resource.

Typically in an urban yard all that’s considered is the mains tapwater, but the most effective water supply system will be a combination of several sources at different times of year. If this is interesting you have a read of the Guru’s latest Water Workshop notes and we’ll revisit the topic in a whole blog of its own.

4.8 Water Quality and Seasonality

As Above

4.9 Rainfall


4.10 Bore Quality, Water Table – Guru Guest Comments

Bores are an excellent source of irrigation water.  Using desalinated, chlorinated, fluoridated water to pour on the living soil is crazy when you think about it. We can all have a bore and even though the depth and quality varies (so you might want to test it), a bore is a great resource. The Perth Ground water atlas , Dept of Water, and Water Corporation offer lots of advise on Bores.

Bores seem to be frowned upon at the moment but I think as always people are missing the point. Yes there is domestic and commercial over abstraction BUT I have no gutters and impound all the rainwater that hits our block into the deep sand aquifer that feeds my bore no water flow leaves my block (only sewer waste). With a roof of 250m2 and a rainfall of 800mm I am putting 200kL from my roof into the soil not including the rest of the block (450m2x800). If we all did this the ‘underground rainwater tanks’ (our subsoil shallow aquifers) would all be full and fresh.

Borehole water


4.11 Frost and Heatwave Timings (max / min Temps)


4.12 Days of Drought


4.13 Sunny and Cloudy Days


4.14 Water Catchments and Size – Guru Guest Comments

Your whole block is a water catchment, but generally we are looking at hard surfaces that run off water that we can collect. Roof size and run-off coefficient (of roof material) will be needed as well as yearly and monthly rainfall data to size and plan rainwater tanks. On a farm or peri-urban block your catchment might be a hillside that is channeling water into your dams.

SH: Again, we’ll revisit the water topic in a whole blog of its own – as I’m keen to get the full picture.

4.15 Wind (direction, speed, temp)


4.16 Erosion and Land Damage

Discussed above in examination of Clients concerns, but some will also be visually obvious during the site visit.

Photograph of seaside house that lies nearly on it's side with one end on higher sands and one side on the beach.

(Reference –

4.17 Land Use Patterns and Zones

We’ll talk about this more as we move into the design, but it may be obvious that they are already walking a certain way to the car, to the mail box, to the bin, to an existing compost, which can be used as a frequently accessed location for those aspects of the design that might need daily attention.  Zones we’ll talk through as we hit the design, but these are just splitting the design landscape into areas that fulfill a certain function.  They may be defined based on closeness to the house – e.g. frequent use herbs are closest to the house exit nearest the kitchen as we want them as easy picking while the meal is being prepared OR the chickens are a little further from the house as there may be the potential for flies. – or slope / existing terracing or the clients capabilities/access.  Let’s come back to this.

4.18 Soil Types

Done in very great detail.

4.19 Mineral and Soil Life Tests

Done in very great detail.

4.20 Drainage/Adsorption Rates

General comments here may be helpful as there are different sands in different locations and this may be the first aspect we address. You can do a simple water infiltration test and will need this information if designing septic systems and leach drains.

4.21 Existing Vegetation (Natives, Exotics, Concerns, Tree Crops)

Please let there be existing vegetation! All good information and insight into the client.

4.22 Gardens (Fruit Trees and Veggies)

As above

4.23 Vines

As Above

4.24 Other Crops

As above

4.25 Habitation (Fauna, Native, Exotic, Pests, Predators)

As above, but also information here helps you understand the client – both from a “cup half full” perspective and an observational ability.  Some see the lovely visitors, some mis-identify pests/predators, some just like to sit and let it all wash over them.  There is a lot to gain in this query (if the client survives the interview sheet to here) as it sets a bit of a baseline on fauna education requirements.  As you know from my past writing – and my SECOND BIG TIP OF THE DAY## IF IN DOUBT (AND PREFERABLY EVEN IF NOT IN DOUBT) DON’T KILL IT BEFORE YOU UNDERSTAND ITS ROLE IN YOUR GARDEN. Do some research, make an informed choice and aim to control life with life, not with death.  Chance are if there is one, there are many and our good lady nature is waving her magic wand and giving you an opportunity to learn.

Looking up a loofah apple SUNFLOWER 3 Sweet Potatoes 3

And we have survived the (sometimes dry) Client Interview Sheet.  Next stop….. pack our bags and set off to site (plus a step back in time to the early naughties – 2003 to be exact – Dr Who would be impressed) as we explore the barren landscape of our design “canvas”.

Thanks again for joining me on this learning journey.  I hope you and your loved ones have had a smile-filled extended weekend and (now I have to confess yet another imperfection in the Soil Hugger!) a ripper kick-off to the footy season – just when I had started to worry about how to procrastinate with the ICC over!

We’ll try to stick with the design theme for the next few blogs to keep the ball rolling and get our design pencils warmed up, but I am also conscious of the delights awaiting in our plant section….

Exhibit E: The Lion’s Tail or Lion’s Ear or Klip Dagga

Exhibit F: The New Guinea Bean

Exhibit G: Wild Passionfruit

Exhibit H: African Cucumber

Plus I have been experimenting with Ice-Cream Beans, which might throw another topic into the mix – Why is everyone talking about them and why am I seeing them in so many designs….. AND I’ve been noticing changes as the season changes, so there will be a short series just on the fun observations to be had.

We shall see how disciplined I can be to stick to topic….hmmmmm.

Until then, Enjoy.