Easing off the Grid

Today I’m talking with my gorgeous friend Karen about her family’s move north and their fabulous garden.

Making the Move

What made you decide to move up to Byron from Sydney?
We always knew we would leave the city once we had a child – we just weren’t sure where. We loved Sydney and we had a great life but we wanted more. More nature, more time, more connection and more community. So we spent each holiday for years travelling to places we loved, to investigate them as potential spots to settle in.

The main thing we were looking for was community – a left-leaning, socially progressive, open minded community to be part of. 

We looked at Hobart, Bellingen and Maleny before settling on Byron. We finally moved the year before our son started school. We had enough of the corporate matrix life and we found the most amazing tiny little community school in Byron. And for some strange reason we fluked the school waiting list. Once we found the school, everything else fell into place. I think the timeframe between actually finally deciding to go – and disengaging from our jobs, leaving the house and hopping in the car with our belongings was less than 4 months. It happened very quickly once we committed.

Settling into a bountiful new life

How long have you been there now?
We have just passed our four year sea-change anniversary. Everyone says if you can last the first year of a sea change, you have made it. We love it here – certainly no regrets!

You have an amazing, bountiful garden. How did you start it and what are you growing right now?
We started off with hay bale gardening. Google it – it’s great – particularly for renters or with those with small or restricted spaces.
We finished our landscaping only last year when we finally committed to a spot to build the raised garden bed. We are on our second season and this crop is much better that the first. We are currently growing corn, beetroot, tomatoes, cucumbers, cos lettuce, zucchini, radish, leeks, celery, pumpkin, sweet potato.

We have also planted a lot of fruit trees around the place including raspberries, blueberries, mango, mulberry, melon, avocado, lemon, lime, orange, pineapple, lychee, peach, dragonfruit, passionfruit and bananas. 

The fruit trees will take a while before they start producing. We happily wait and watch them. I’m most proud of my pumpkin vine. I bought an organic pumpkin from the farmers market, saved and dried the seeds and then a year or two later, planted them straight into the ground between our screen trees. Most of the seeds sprouted and are now happily growing flowers. The pumpkin vine also becomes the living mulch between the screen trees – saving weeding and gardening work. I did a permaculture course when I first moved up here as I had no idea and completely brown fingers before moving here. Permaculture teaches you some great things – in terms of working smartly with nature to make things easy.  

Easing off the grid – the journey to becoming self suffucient

How long do you think it will take you to ease yourself off the grid completely?
We hope to install solar in 2019. Then it will just be a matter of growing more food. So far we are self sufficient in water, oregano, mint and ginger!

Has everything been purposefully grown or have there been happy accidents?
Lots of happy accidents. I often plant things and then forget what it is. At the moment we have 2 lovely big melons coming up. However, I can’t remember if they are watermelons or rockmelons. A great piece of permaculture advice – only plant what you like to eat. After one bumper season of kale that never got harvested – we know we will never plant kale again! So whichever type the melons turn out to be – we know we will enjoy eating them.

What do you love about being able to grow your own food sources?
There is something special about watching a tiny baby fruit grow. It’s great to walk in the garden and admire the growth and it’s little baby fruit. The plants seem to blossom with the attention. And then we get to eat it with joy. It’s a real privilege to be part of the process. And of course I know exactly what pesticides and herbicides have been used. Or what kind of chlorine wash has been used to ‘clean’ the produce. None. 🙂

Reaping the rewards

What dishes have you made recently with food that you’ve grown?
Roasted beetroot and goat’s cheese salad and zuchinni and bacon frittata have been winners. I roast beetroot in the oven and store it in the fridge in jars. It lasts ages and it’s perfect to grab and make a roasted beetroot and goat’s cheese salad for lunch. Beetroot is also great to shred some in the food processor – again storing it in the fridge for lovely Buddha bowls. Our zucchinis were particularly plentiful too. One was double the size of a milk bottle. When you grow your own food you soon realise how ridiculous the supermarket cosmetic food standards are. Nature is so diverse and doesn’t grow perfect uniform specimens. The diversity and uniqueness of each piece is to be celebrated and not wasted.

Brought to you by…

This article wes featured in Edition 5 of Earthed Interiors, featuring my ‘Mysterious Tuesday’ print. Shop the designer goodies here and read the magazine here – and don’t forget to subscribe to get Earthed delivered straight to your mailbox!

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Mysterious Tuesday fine art print by Jordan Harcourt-Hughes