Brogo Permaculture Gardens – Food Forest

Brogo Permaculture Gardens:

In the Summer of 2012 I had the privilege of working with John Champagne, Aaron Sorenson and Todd Cleary at Brogo Permaculture Gardens hosting a Food Forest Workshop. I was very excited for this project as Todd is a permaculture earthmover and we were going to be building some swales and benches in a gully formally covered in blackberry and turn it into a productive edible landscape.

Blank Canvas Gully at Brogo Permaculture Gardens

With the help of John’s knowledge of the site after developing it as a permaculture site for 15yrs I developed a zone and sector map of the site. Brogo is on the south coast of Australia but inland by about 40kms. It gets frosts in winter and the soils are decomposing granite meaning that water and nutrients don’t stay in the soil for long. An interesting aspect of the Forest Garden site is that one slope faces North East and the otehr South West. The North East slope gets lots of sun in the summer making it a dry land type of habitat while the other slope is in shade in the morning and doesn’t get much direct sun meaning it holds more water. This slope is subtropical and had volunteer tamarilos popping up.

Zones and Sectors of Brogo Permaculture Gardens

After John worked to clear the blackberry over December and January the course was ready to begin. John´s plan is to obtain a yield to sell at the thriving South Coast Producers Markets and to Restaurants in the area using the fantastic south east food website

Todd and Aaron arrived from Wollongong and we started surveying the site in detail. Finding the keypoints of the gully to incorporate into the swale and bench design so as to catch and store water during the dry summers and also to harvest water from the driveway using the culverts and lastly to develop a contour access track from the shade house to the site to avoid having to walk up and down the slope.

Todd and Aaron set up the dumpy level
Aaron and John Survey the Contours

With the site surveyed Todd started on the top swale and also gave us all a lesson in the importance of raking and leveling the swale mound as you go. I learned heaps about working with machinery operators during these six days thanks to Todd’s expertise

Todd explaining swale raking

The students arrived the following day and were treated to a great mix of Food Forest info. There was heaps of knowledge in the room between John’s experience at Brogo and Aaron’s excellent work in school and community gardens in Wollongong and my work at Milkwood.

Top Swale around the gully completed

After a brief on Food Forest theory we went out for some observation and design work. By the end of the first day the students were helping to form the top swale and survey the site as well as plant bamboo and vetiver grass on the disturbed soil to catch the nutrients and prevent erosion.

Students planting bamboo

In the second day of the course the students were treated to site tours of Brogo permaculture gardens and of another former student of John’s who had started a forest garden. That afternoon Todd completed the first of two benches below the swale. These were on contour and 3m wide to enable access to harvest the fruits of the forest.

This forest garden was to have a relay planting pattern, first pioneer herbs and trees would go in to hold the soil, catch nutrients and grow a micro-climate. Afterwards the productive trees and shrubs would go in to produce a yeild. Avocados were to be the cash crop in the sub-tropical section and carob in the dryland patch.

Surveying access paths with a water level
Todd and John building the first bench

By the end of the third day we had the main-frame of the site in place and students were sowing a mix of pioneer herbs by seed and also planting divisions of comfrey, vetiver, yarrow and other dynamic accumulators around the site.

Pioneer Seed Mix for the exposed soil. Dock, plantatin, two types of millet, clover, dandelions and any other pioneers I could get my hands on.

Now I’m itching to get back to brogo to check out how the site is going. After the course we had heaps of rain and everything took off. Looking forward to the next course at Brogo Permaculture Gardens.

Watering the vetiver after the course

Student’s are treated to a lesson in John’s “research site” planted over 15yrs of living at Brogo Permaculture Gardens
Life springs forth

4 thoughts on “Brogo Permaculture Gardens – Food Forest

  1. himself says:

    love the first picture – am i looking at amazon deforestation? Clear felling scorched earth, no animal strips <10% native plantings the rest food (for humans) and mostly exotics. and amazonian peasants get a bad rap why?

    • Hi Himself, I probably should have explained that black canvas a little better. There is no situation where I would encourage people to clear-fell existing forest in order to plant a forest garden, you should always start with your most degraded land. We need intact forests to provide the ecological capital that drives a Forest Garden. John Champagne and Brogo Permaculture Gardens is very lucky as it is surrounded by intact, functional bushland ecosystems around Mumbulla mountain and Brogo Dam.

      While the picture may look shocking, the disturbance caused by clearing the blackberry is a trigger of the succession process which we will manipulate and guide in the creative, afforestation process (Dave Jacke calls this successional aikedo). Without disturbance, this gully would likely stay as blackberry and the blackberry would continue to spread.

      The gully which we planted was previously home to nothing but blackberry, acacia and boxthorn. Given that blackberry spreads very vigorously we wanted to control it. The blackberry was removed with a weed-wacka and also using goats that were borrowed from a neighbour. The acacia and box-thorn was retained given it’s habitat value for beneficial birds and insects.

      A number of natives were included in the Forest Garden as suppourt species including boxthron, indogophera, Callistemons and Grevillias. These provide food and habitat for beneficial birds. Native herbs that have regenerated as well as exotics are now providing food and habitat for beneficial insects. If a tree is native or not does not determine its food or habitat value to wildlife, just ask the plethora of Cockatoos that eat acorns for half the year around Canberra. That said, we try to use native plants first, when possible, to fulfill a desired function in our Forest Gardens. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find native herbs in many nurseries but I use them where possible. Where exotics are ecological analogs of native species, they serve the same ecological function, I have no qualms about using them to create a forest garden ecosystem. A Food Forest is not just about creating food for humans, rather it is about building a model ecosystem with food for beneficial wildlife included. During my last visit with John a colleague of mine asked John how he controlled pests and insects on his fruit trees. John replied “I notice the pests arriving, then I watch it over the next few days and so far, all the insects just get eaten by the birds”. Now that is a functional and productive ecosystem for everyone.

  2. Margie Broughton says:

    We have 152 acres on Stockridge rd Brogo that we purchased in December. 13 I am so impressed with your project. We are not quite sure what to do with the property as previous owners have neglected & now it is over run with wattle. Years ago it had been goat farm. The place is so beautiful and we really want to do something to improve it. We would love to learn more about your project. We are in our sixties not quite retired and have some energy to still contribute to the world. May be a bit ambitious on our part but need to care for the environment in what ever way we can. Would love to hear from you or we will follow your journey on web thanks and all the very best wishes with such a worth while project. Margie

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