Zaytuna the Permaculture oasis in Northern NSW

2 05 2012

In 2001, as a Greens candidate for the seat of Ryan, I campaigned on the issue of Peak Oil as a real threat to our lifestyles.  A few people listened, some even voted for me, but to this day, Glenda believes my biggest convert was Geoff Lawton.  At the time Geoff was only starting out as a Permaculture Guru, but he and I were nonetheless invited to share the stage at Northey Street City Farm.  I would do a gig on Peak Oil, followed by Geoff’s now famous Greening the Desert project demonstrating how the future could be survived.  From a few things Geoff said to me at the time, it appeared he was not aware of Peak Oil……

Geoff doesn’t remember me.  Can’t blame him, he must meet hundreds or even thousands of times more people than I ever do.  The point of this is that last weekend, Permaculture Noosa organised a bust trip to Geoff’s place, Zaytuna Farm at The Channon in Northern NSW.  He, and his merry band of volunteers, run the Permaculture Research Institute.  And what a hive of activity it is…….  Geoff calls it a “people farm”, where instead of producing total self sufficiency, he produces new blood, inspired and ready to spread the word on surviving the looming collapse.

Zaytuna Farm is a demonstration site and education centre.  You’ll find it in the village of The Channon in NSW. The farm is 27 hectares of ex beef cattle/dairy farm land with an 800 metre boundary on Terania Creek.   Geoff purchased it in 2001, and Zaytuna has since been constantly developed as a showcase of Permaculture design and land use.

Zaytuna is some 45 km from Byron Bay, with an altitude ranging from 83 metres to 30 metres. Its aspect is towards the east to north east with some steeper southern slopes, and gentle northern ones too.  An extensive series of 15 dams (valley dams, ridge point dams, contour dams) and over 2 km of water harvesting swales have been excavated to drought proof the farm during the dry winters.  Food forests have been established and are constantly being extended as more teaching facilities are about to be built.  An amazing variety of bamboo has been established (at least 30 species) for various uses including fresh shoots for food, timber for building, weaving, fishing rods and living hedges.  Bamboo also makes excellent windbreaks. 

Kitchen gardens for growing a huge variety of vegetables and herbs have been planted around the house and commercial kitchen, with species varying from Mediterranean to subtropical.   There is a one acre staple crop garden in the central valley for amaranth, corn, potatoes, broad beans, peas, kale, pumpkins, melons, sweet potato, and cassava. Dairy cows and goats are milked every day. A 2.2 km electric fenced laneway, 6 m wide, has been established around the grazing areas of the farm with several access gates creating a self grazing system to increase the fertility of  the grazing landscape.

Saanan-Nubian cross goats bred for both meat and milk and a flock of ducks and chickens for meat and eggs are free ranged throughout the food forest systems for both weed control and fertility.  Rabbits have been added to the equation of small animal productions, and Geoff told us that over the past eight months, they have produced 75 offsprings for consumption….!  A small Fox Terrier catches mice and rats, while a Cattle dog keeps the foxes at bay…..  Maybe I should invest in such a fox deterrent too…

An impressive yet simple aquaponics system was demonstrated by Geoff… it’s fired me up to possibly even have a go at making one for Mon Abri, if I can find all the bathtubs to recycle needed to make it all work.

The nursery shade house and poly tunnel system fully run on solar-powered drip and mist irrigation where seedling vegetables, fruit trees, legume trees, forest trees and bamboo, are all propagated on site.

Compost, natural anaerobic pro-biotic ferments and worm farms are the main sources of fertiliser for the farm.

The main buildings at Zaytuna are made from straw bale and natural lime plaster.  All drinking water on the site is harvested from roof water rainwater catchment.  All toilets are composting, and all the grey water produced on site is filtered through reed beds.  The electricity needs for the entire farm are met by solar, the energy consumption for this many people being a paltry 13kWh/day according to Geoff.   Most households are not able to run on such low energy demand!

All in all, the visit was awe inspiring, and proof positive that we can survive all the crises we now face, we only have to face them head on and change the way we do everything.




3 responses

7 05 2012

Thanks for this post Mike. I have long admired Geoff Lawton and this is the best description of Zaytuna I have ever read, I feel like I have visited myself!
Did you attend a course there, or just a visit? I would love to visit myself one day.

7 05 2012

No, no course Kaye, it was just a three hour tour….

17 03 2016

For those with limited spsce try using the stainless steel tubs from old washing machines. A bit of fly screen in the bottom to help keep the dirt in and fill with quality soil or potting mix. The barrel of the tub has perforations that allow for good drainage and you don’t have to bend over to plant or harvest. I have grown everything from potatoes & carrots to garlic, leaks & capsicums.
I got mine for free from a white goods repair place as they just had to dispose of the old machines and were happy for me to take them away. The sheet metal of bodies have uses too or can be taken to a scrap yard. {:~)

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