I love bees

So I was hitchhiking to Sydney a couple of weeks back, on my way to visit some friends before an international departure.
It was raining and cars were passing me by the dozens, all unperturbed by my thumb hanging out over the side of the highway.
After forty five minutes John pulled up and offered me a lift, he was very friendly and a little shocked by the fact that it had taken so long for someone to stop. It was ok by me, i was just happy to be out of the rain.

As conversation does, when you just meet a person who offers you a ride for the next three hours, it started formally.
John was a school teacher in some small town out west which i can not remember the name of, and on his way to visit a friend for the weekend. John was a good talker and easy going. Formalities eased off as I reclined in my chair listening to John talk about his family, although after having just spent a day and a half with Tim Malfroy (beekeeper extraordinaire) my attention was still with bees.
Not long after we pulled up at a road side vendor selling tubs of honey! A segway into discussion perhaps? I mean who doesn’t love honey? I have always, but never quite understood the ins and outs of a hive and just how great a roll those little guys play in this world.
So I brought up the topic, John was interested in knowing more, and I was excited to share my newly acquired knowledge.

We spoke about DCA’s which I have still not quite come to terms with, then entered heavy ground when the discussion turned to the topic of “where have the bees gone”.
It seems that John was interested to know more but at the same time not sure wether it was really important information. As far as he was concerned honey and bees could have been separate discussions. I gave it my best, relaying all the information that I had learnt through documentaries and some on line literature.
I felt that my story was received like a fairy tale and one that would have possibly made it home with him to be retold at the dinner table, but no further.

The city got closer and the thoughts of bees and nature and getting excited about lettuce coming from the garden or eggs coming from the chooks bum, all got a little diluted by the traffic.
Conversation shallowed and I said goodbye to John a short train ride from my destination.

So I think that I have been stung by the bees, they excite me, truly. And not just because they are Italian or by the fact that they are mostly female but also by the thought that a society of insects who have evolved over who knows what period of time, function in a manner where they provide so much for so little.

Right now I love that we (milkwood) invest our time in making food grow, regenerating poor environments, and in thinking about systems that better suit not just human needs but also those of nature. This is pretty important stuff!

A queen bee is determined by her swarm. They alter the shape of the cell that her egg is laid in and nourish that egg differently to the others. Then hatches a queen. She mates once in her life and that is enough “love” for her to lay hundreds of thousands of eggs during her five year life, with all the genetic diversity needed for succession.
Incredible, no?

We have been designing an Apiery here and today was the first day of implementation. It was warm and the bees were out in action.
Sabina will blog more about that later but I will leave it here with some pics from the hive.




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A shot of permaculture espresso to last a long way

Juergen and I are on a Permaculture Tour, travelling around Australia to connect and learn from amazing people and projects on the ground. Back in Malaysia, we had a small permaculture education & demonstration site, where we ran the first PDC in Malaysia. We organised 2 other courses the following year in 2010, and interest in permaculture has been growing steadily since! However, we do have a long way to go. When I look at how permaculture has taken off around the world and compare it to Malaysia, we are but a tiny sprout finding its roots. The time is right, but the soil is in need of some ecological, and perhaps even some geographical intervention 😉

Considering the fact that Malaysia and Australia are close neighbours, I have often wondered why hardly any of the worldwide permaculture action ever found its way into my teeny little country, less than one twentieth the size of Australia.We may be blessed with one of the world’s oldest rainforests, and recognised as one of the 12 mega biodiversity countries in the world, but it’s fast disappearing! According to the most recent report by Wetlands International, forest destruction in Malaysia is three times faster than all of Asia combined! During the last five years alone, we’ve lost 10% of our forests, and one third (872,263 acres) of our carbon sequestering peatlands to mass palm oil cultivation.

Needless to say, most Malaysians have no idea as to what they’re loosing, and could benefit from a strong shot of FAIR SHARE permaculture ESPRESSO! We Malaysians have much catching up to do, and I’m here to make some of it it happen. By the time I finish my six, hopefully nine months of permaculture travels in Australia, I hope to establish a strong network with folks here, and look at how we can build a permaculture bridge from Australia all the way to Malaysia. Already, we have established connections with several Malaysian NGOs, government bodies and universities that are very interested in incorporating permaculture in one way or another, and I am keen to see how some of these needs can be addressed through a collaborative effort.

Education and awareness building, as well as having working models on the ground is crucial to the success of mass permaculture infiltration. Importing teachers to conduct our PDCs has been both enriching and inspiring. To grow deep and far reaching roots, we will need to build local resilience and have locally grown permaculture teachers and doers. I’m working towards becoming a teacher myself, and intend to start working on my permaculture teachers diploma during our trip; looking at different models and approaches to permaculture education, and how it is taught to a diverse cross section of learners with varying needs, and learning outcomes. I recently did a Teachers Training with Rosemarry Morrow, a wonderful source of inspiration that led me to believe that there’s nothing more exiting and fulfilling as empowering people to realise the wisdom within themselves… which in a nut shell, is exactly what permaculture is all about.

So, here I am at Milkwood, stop no.1 on our permaculture tour, feeling very at home despite the occasional 0 to -5 degrees chills. It feels like I’m at the right place at the right time, with a great bunch of people, and ample opportunities to be, to learn and to share. Thanks Nick and Kirsten for choosing us for this much sought after internship spot.

a morning cuppa and Kirsten's wooly mammoth keeps me warm

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Bee Forage Calendar

Today three of my fellow interns (Ashley, Jurgen, and Olive) quickly cranked out a bee forage calendar that was so awesome it cried out for a digital version. Species have been selected for cold temperate Australia (this is definitely not the subtropics!). We’re all beginners when it comes to bees, and damn close toe beginners when it comes to botany, so please forgive any mistakes and omissions (especially under the “uses” column).

We’ll improve it as time permits, in the mean time I hope it provides a useful starting point for others. If you have any corrections or additions we’d love to hear them!

Please note that the months indicate when the plant will be flowering in the southern hemisphere, where summer is from December to February!

I’ve posted the calendar to my website:


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Sanks Wose

For me food has always been synonymous with people.

Ashar is Kirsten and Nick’s beautiful little boy and he LOVES Rose, infact we all love Rose as she is the amazingly talented chef who nourishes us three times a day here at Milkwood.

Ashar is amazing, he is a great little talker and addresses us all by name each time we converse. Adam is Adam, Claire, Claire, Sabina, Sabina and he even nails my name which puts him about 100 miles in front of most people as the majority mispronounce Olivier, but not Ashar. That privledge is saved for Rose, or in the articulation of a two and a half year old, Wose!

I met Rose almost 8 years ago. She was 20 years old and into the second year of her chefs apprenticeship. She was a fairly shy girl with not always a lot to say. We got along pretty much straight away and I have been fortunate enough to share a friendship with her ever since!

Rose loves food, she loves people, she loves kids and is passionate about nature, gardening and especially nutrition. Rose is very artistic and once drew a picture for me as a gift, I framed it.
She has an amazing smile and a contagious laugh, in fact she is a great candidate for bad jokes as she laughs at lots of things easily, often cracking herself up!
When Rose talks about food she gesticulates with her fingers using them as if she was picking salad or putting the final touch to a dish. She is a quiet achiever.

When you know and believe in good food you want to share it with people, in fact I would say that most of the greatest cooks I know in this world love sharing their talent. Rose is one of these people, and don’t we all feel richer and fatter for it!

I have attached a pic of Rose with her daily bake, sourdough bread! She rocked up with the “mother” on her first day here and has been nurturing it and nourishing us since.

At lunch today we ate savory pumpkin tart with a beetroot and sweet potato salad, delicious, thanks Rose, or in the words of young Ashar, Sanks Wose!





Filed under Cooking, Introductions

The Fox

Two geese had disappeared and many eggs as well. Foul play was suspected and affirmed when remnants of the beloved birds were found in the same spot. A fox- hunting by night and eluding us farm folk by day. Well Farmer Boss wasn’t havin’ none of that. “What are you doing, Nick?”, we asked one day as he walked by the earth dome the interns were busily rendering. “Hunting fox,” he replied.

Later that evening, as we were having supper, Farmer Boss was still out stalking the fox in to the night. Suddenly he radio-ed in on the walkie-talkie that the hunt was successful. An hour later, as I walked around the corner with my clean laundry in hand, there it was- a fully grown male fox, laying on his side, still but seemingly not lifeless. Though it was motionless, I could somehow sense the movements the fox was capable of; the leaps and bounds, the crouching, darting and pouncing his nimble legs and sly body has performed for a lifetime was still somehow expressed in that scene under the dim light of the wool shed. A few of us admired the catch as we listened to the hunters’ story of searching, waiting, honing in on the behavior of prey and seizing opportunity to go in for the kill.

I was indeed moved by the whole thing. Can I justify the death of this fox? Was this fox the perpetrator of the missing geese? How will the environment be effected by the absence of the predatory creature? Do I feel sad, happy, indifferent? What is it like to stalk and kill such a beautiful and (to me) this spiritually significant creature? What will happen to the body, bury or compost? And… what of that gorgeous fur?

I have heard stories of a previous Milkwood intern who had taught herself to tan pelts and had flipped through a book in the wool shed library pertaining to the topic. Never been interested in using animals for parts. In fact I had been slightly traumatized before by a calf slaughter demonstration and since have avoided such things. But this was very different- I was propelled by the compulsion to not waste an opportunity. As I looked at the helpless fox, a story of a beautiful wild life played out in the face and fur of the animal. Every meal that generated the growth of the coat, every rainstorm the fur protected him from, the musky smell that accompanied his prowess and defined his territory was all there still expressed in the outer layer of an endless orchestra of a life that has come to a resting place right before me. It’s almost like I had the responsibility to honor the fox by preserving what my eyes beheld as most beautiful- that fur.

Sleep was lost as the kitties and I researched how to skin and tan a fox pelt. The next morning I arose to find to my great relief Olivier in the wool shed drinking his mate and playing with his iPhone. “I’m keen to skin the fox if you are!”… I knew I could count on Olive to give me a hand. The first incision was a touch awkward for me, but the rest was easy peelin’. Then it was just a matter of scratching off as much meat and tissue from the skin as possible, grinding some rock salt and layering it on thick. The pelt now rests on a wooden plank beneath the wool shed, conveniently on an old sheep run angled just enough for any juices and condensation to run off. In a few days I’ll make a soaking solution of alum, soda, salt and water to soften and preserve the pelt.

As for the rest of the fox, lets just say the compost heap is cookin hot! No meat is left on the bones after just a few days of decomposing in the middle of lasagna layered straw, grass, ash and compost. The biology and chemistry and HEAT that happens in a compost heap is something else! Have a look at what Madame Claire has to say. Thanks and much profound respect to the fox, the geese, Mrs. and Mr. Farmer Boss, my fellow interns and Chef Rose, Milkwood and to the universe at large for this opportunity to learn and grow. The cycle doth continue.


Filed under Animals

Learn somethin’ new every day

One fine day, the sheep needed to be fed. Nick, who I amicably refer to as Farmer Boss, took a fellow intern Jurgen and I in the Ranger buggy to feed the wiltipol sheep. Stocked with sheep grub, we zoomed through the olive grove in attempt to beat the hungry flock chasing after us toward the feeder trays. No sooner than I decided to hold on for dear life did a mess of lambs dart out in front of us clumsily kicking and prancing- as aimless as they are adorable! We poured the grain and chaff and stood back and observed the ewes gather and munch lustily. Our attention was drawn to the olive trees. Farmer Boss Nick pointed out the lace wing pest that had wiped our nearly every tree of a particular variety (good thing there are several varieties in the grove!) Another problem with the olive trees is black sooty stuff. These trees are sick, and like any sick organism, these trees need a remedy. A simple remedy in particular would do a lot of good, not just in one way, nor two, not three, but at least four ways. Farmer Boss Nick prescribes simply to raise up some hardenburgia violacea. This will draw some beneficial mycelium in the soil, attract some much needed predatory insects, provide more diverse sheep fodder, fix some wonderful nitrogen in to the soil, and probably more. This exemplifies a key tenet of permaculture: stacking functions. Awesome. It’s good to be here.


Filed under Animals, Gardens

Layer upon layer

With the market garden growing at a rapid rate, tree planting by the hundreds and the Bio-fertile farm workshop just around the corner, we are in desperate need of some compost. So it was off to collect all of our ingredients and make some compost lasagna.

It’s the ‘Berkley method’ of compost we are using here, also known as ‘Fast compost’. All our waste products will be converted into amazing soil full of all the nutrients and good bacteria to meet the needs of the plants, in 2-3 weeks. Yes, you did read it right, WEEKS. You have to see it to believe it.

We gathered our ingredients in no time at all. We needed high carbon content material and high nitrogen materials too. The right mix is 30:1. It’s important to break everything up into small pieces, both to increase the surface area the microbes get to sink their teeth into and to make it easier to turn with a fork.

Our ingredients we found around the farm, and from the local racetrack that gives away as much horse manure soaked wood chips as you can shovel. We had Jerusalem artichoke stems, old compost pile leftovers, hessian bags, cardboard, horse manure, wood chips, hay, blood and bone, ash from the rocket stove, green manure, kitchen waste, even a dead fox! It’s important to water in each layer also and evenly spread the materials.

We layered each in an order of carbon and nitrogen needs into a removable cage and covered it with a tarp. After one day the temperature was at 20 degrees, tomorrow it should be at 65 degrees and ready for it’s first turn. We will then fork it like peeling an onion making a donut of compost and pile it into the cage again. We will repeat this process every time the compost gets to 65 degrees, and in 2 -3 weeks we will be ready to spread the love.



Filed under Gardens