Designing a property using permaculture principles

Recently I finished a permaculture course with David Holmgren and Beck Lowe over at Melliodora and I thought I would share some of the processes that went into our permaculture property plan. Some of the people in my class did beautiful artistic and very professional design plans on their computers, but alas that is not my skill set. Mine is somewhat rudimentary, but it does the job.  

If you have a larger property it is easy to want to jump in and do all the things. But that approach is often not the most sustainable. Doing anything fast usually requires a massive amount of resources and it is also incredibly hard work which brings with it high levels of stress. To me, sustainability is not only about what materials we use and how we consume, but it needs to take into consideration the personal cost.

I remember several years ago listening to a podcast that interviewed Mathew Evans from Fat Pig Farm. He talked about an area in Tasmania that was attractive to people wanting to live a sustainable and self-sufficient life. They would come full of passion to grow and raise all their own food while stepping lightly on the earth. They had such beautiful and noble goals, but several years later they would often end up burnt out and separating. The pressure and exhaustion of trying to do it all have taken an irreversible toll on their family life. This story stuck with me and serves as a reminder that living sustainably is not only about caring for the earth, but it's also about making choices that are sustainable for us emotionally, physically and relationally.

What is Permaculture? 

Permaculture is a set of twelve design principles created to help guide people to live well on the earth with a focus on caring for the earth, sharing the earth's resources and while also caring for people. Permaculture is a movement that came about in the 70's through the passion and wisdom of Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. 

Permaculture is about more than gardening. The permaculture movement is incredibly broad and whether you are old, young, single, a couple, have a family, renting, live in the city, live in the suburbs, are on a property or travelling around the country there will be permaculture design elements you can apply to your life. 

There is something for everyone, in all seasons of life. 

Permaculture encourages us to consider the life we want to live and filter the choices we make through a process that helps us to be better connected to the earth, what resources our choices will require and how to connect to our community in a meaningful and authentic way.  

You can download free-to-use free to use graphics and find out more about permaculture HERE
One of the great things about permaculture is people all over the world are living out the 'people care' aspect and there is an abundance of reading material available for free, from the library or on YouTube. 

Designing a property using permaculture design principles

Throughout the design process for our property, sustainability was a priority. Not only with the way we design the practical elements of the farm but the things we do here need to be sustainable in a practical and emotional sense too. The reality of our situation is that Grant currently works full-time off the farm. This is for several reasons. One Elsie was little and I wanted to be at home with her but two Grant is the highest earner and raising a family and setting up a farm is expensive, no matter how frugal and careful we are. If one of us has to be off the farm full time, we may as well bring as much money as possible to justify the time spent away. He also loves his job and I love being at home with the children so it works on all levels. I have also returned to part-time theological study which I can do externally with the hope of one day getting some kind of pastoral care/chaplaincy work in the future. 

Instead of trying to do it all, we focus on the things that will bring the most value to us as a family, and that which we will enjoy the most. With that in mind, my permaculture design focussed predominantly on our house paddock which is a few acres. 

Because we are busy, things can easily be overlooked so it was important to me to design the house paddock in a way that increased incidental supervision and observation. In the house paddock I wanted;
- deep litter chicken yard
- anti-avery orchard (covered to deter birds/possums)
- a shady garden for a child-friendly play space, lots of herbs, easy pick greens, pollination, relaxation
- maincrop vegetable garden
- greenhouse
- some grass for the guineapigs and for kids to play on


Stacking Functions

Stacking functions is a major design component of permaculture. How can we do things so they require the least amount of energy and resources whilst maximising the functionality? How can we ensure systems work together in a beneficial manner? 

One of the things we have done is to design the chicken yard so the chickens can access the orchard in the future and the main crop area in times of rest. The chickens can eat insects, scratch up the soil, eat rotten fruit etc which is great for the chickens, the soil and the fruit trees. 

Current site plan of our yurt site. 

This is our current house paddock design. Prior to this winter, there was very little garden, it was mostly mowed pasture with a couple of garden beds. I had tried to garden in the past but it took us a few goes to get the design right. Each failure brought us closer to understanding what we wanted and what would work for our family. Over winter we were busy bringing in rocks from around the property to create garden beds and then each fortnight bringing in either a load of compost or gravel for the paths. It has been a slow and steady process done as finances have allowed. We wanted curved paths and stepping stones so as the garden matured it would feel a bit wild and magical for the children. So the children would be drawn into the garden and really want to explore it. 

Long term permaculture garden plan

Along the southern fence there is a wormwood hedge which has natural flea and parasite-repelling properties, because it will grow through the fence the chickens and the goats can help themselves. I can also easily harvest it for chicken bedding when required. The chicken yard also shares a fence to the house yard so scraps can easily be tossed over the fence to them. 

Realistically, minimising the effort required to do a task means maximising long-term success. 

The compost area has been redesigned to utilize rodent-proof bins in the future. It is also near the gate which will be our main parking area so scraps can be taken out on the way to the car. I will probrably set up an area for compost teas here too. 

The design is very compact and interconnected to utilize incidental supervision. This is so I can keep an eye on the animals and so the dogs can patrol against possums and foxes. The dairy goat yard is close which means it is easy to keep a close eye on labouring does and newborn kids. During the day the goats are free range, and are only secured overnight. The milking shelter was a pre-existing structure on the back of the woodshed. It was built when we extended our solar system and it makes sense to utilize what we have whenever possible. It's a little low but I am only short and sit down to milk so it works well for me. 

Hoopla in her milking shed, trying to push past me so she can forage.

Good fresh milk from Hoopla.

Retrofitting the yurt

Initially, when we bought the farm, we intended the yurt to be a short-term home for our family, with the long-term plan to build a home on the north-facing slope, which from a permaculture design sense is probably the better site. We then intended to rent the yurt out as a farm stay experience, to host  WWOOFers in it and for interstate friends/family to stay in who sometimes visit for a week or two.  

However, due to the current economic and political environment, we have decided to extend the yurt, utilizing recycled materials where possible. We will then retrofit the yurt into a more energy-efficient and fire-resistant building, leaving the north-facing hill as pasture for livestock for the foreseeable future. 

The pros to the yurt position are that it’s well-placed for bushfire resilience at the bottom of a valley near a permanent creek.  As we are off-grid this area gets more shade which is particularly desirable in our hot climate. The shade is more valuable to us in summer than the extra sun in winter, as we have an abundance of wood in our forest for the wood oven in winter. Keeping cool is significantly harder due to only having a small solar system. We can gravity feed our water to the yurt utilizing the western hill and there is flatter ground on the yurt site which is easier for gardening. 

In hindsight, would we choose a yurt? I’m not sure. It is certainly not the best “permaculture design building” around by a long mile. 

But, we were a family of then 5 who moved 2000kms away from home and couldn’t afford to rent a house for the duration a build would take. We needed a home fast on an incredibly small budget.  After camping for 4 months, I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth left to tackle a slow DIY natural build. We chose a yurt because it is essentially a timber-framed building that can be clad in timber or perhaps plastered at a later date. Though the circular shape does make that a little more challenging, it is commonly done.   

Other permaculture thoughts...

I have done an extensive, property plan including fencing plans, water plans, bushfire resilience and more, but it might be a bit long to share here! 

If you are interested in permaculture, I'll pop some links below of some excellent places to start though there are many more. These are challenging times and becoming better connected to your local community, utilising community resources and building up household resilience and sufficiency are all good things. 

Much love,


  1. I enjoyed reading your permaculture journey and seeing your new design. It's great to hear your thoughts and reasons for your choices. I've recently bought a house.....suburban block, not acres of paddocks....but it's still a challenge to plan a layout that will have all I need and still work for me as I age further. I've been reading Linda Woodrow's blog, as she documents her journey from a place similar to yours to an urban block,and it's such a help to read about these lived experiences, and I work out what I can take from them. I hope you'll consider sending this story to Grass Roots magazine, I can imagine it would help a lot of people.

    1. Good luck with you garden designing Nanette, Retrosuburbia might be a helpful resource? Raised garden beds with a wide edge for sitting on while working has been a great design feature which was talked about in our permaculture course too.

      That's a good idea to submit a similar article to Grass Roots, I have been drawing a blank on submission ideas recently! xx

  2. Loved your post. I really think I might make 2024 my year to do a permaculture course. Can I ask what is an anti-avery orchard?

    1. I hope you do decide to do one and that you enjoy it a lot!

      An anti-every is simply a covered orchard so that birds and other critters can't steal all the fruit. xx

  3. This was a fascinating read - it's always interesting to see how people adapt permaculture principles to work on their own properties. Love the idea of the winding garden paths.

    1. Thanks Celia! when working with natural materials, curved paths etc can be easier then making it straight and true that's for sure. xx


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