Meander Valley Gazette

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Permaculture paradise

RuralJoanne EisemannComment

JUNE 2018 | Lorraine Clarke

‘PERMACULTURE’ IS the term coined by the late great Tasmanian Bill Mollison for his world-renowned systems of working with nature to develop permanent agriculture. ‘Paradise’ is a Persian word for a well-watered garden with a panoply of trees producing abundant perfect fruits. Graham Swinsburg has created just such a paradise, and shares it with others who come to learn about permaculture, or relax in his Farmstay accommodation.

When he purchased his 15 hectare property at Weegena, it was mostly bush with a few hectares of cleared land. “I set up a tent and moved in,” he said. He set to work creating stone and timber buildings from the property’s own resources, which look as though they have grown out of the landscape.

He dug a rock-lined wildlife pond filled by water diverted from a roof. Lines of nitrogen-fixing lucerne trees were planted to serve many functions including shelter, feeding the cow, early forage for pollinating bees, and soil improvement. Graham dug swales, shallow ditches on contours, that delay the flow of rainfall off the sloping land, allowing it to be absorbed by the soil for use by trees. A dam collects runoff water that is reticulated around the property.

Orchard trees were planted from 1990 to provide sustenance for the family. Many years later, each mature tree is laden with hundreds of kilograms of superb fruit, and his delicious organic produce finds a ready market at the Deloraine Vegie Shop, Wholesome House and a juice outlet in Launceston.

Bush wildlife and birds must be vigilantly excluded to protect the fruit crop. Graham initially made wire cages around each tree, then built a floppy fence. He has resorted to cracking a stockwhip and shooting hazelnuts from a slingshot. He now finds that hot-wires stop 95% of hungry marauders, and Lucky the Jack Russell terrier bails up the other 5%. Late in the season, the trees are netted to thwart currawongs.

Graham studied Horticulture at TAFE to support his passion for home-grown organic food. “I just love growing things and seeing the fruits of my labours. I’ve got all the infrastructure here now, so all I have to do is a bit of brushcutting and harvesting.”

Graham has always used permaculture principles and biodynamic techniques to grow superb crops. All systems are interdependent and mutually beneficial. Permaculture design is foundational to success, with zones being allocated for each function. Vegetables and herbs needed daily grow closest to the house.

Hens are restrained in a composting pen while fruit and vegetables are growing, with all kitchen scraps and weeds being tossed into their pen for them to scratch about in. The hens free-range in winter, clearing up insect pests and weeds while fertilising trees.

Some of the hardest workers on the farm are housed beneath layers of old carpet, fed on waste fruit and Elgar Farm’s organic cow manure. The worm castings, “black gold” to Graham, are barrowed around to the fruit trees each year.

Graham offers Eco-Farmstay accommodation with a difference. Some come for the peaceful bush setting and proximity to many of Tasmania’s tourist destinations, but there is the option of taking a 2-hour Permaculture Farm Tour, free for those who stay 3 nights or more.

The high-rise cubby house built for his own kids is the Hilton of all cubbies which enchants visiting children. Clients rate the Elvenhome Farmstay so highly that Graham was recently awarded Airbnb Superhost for the 9th consecutive time.

“I want to be able to share what’s possible on not-so-great soil. To be able to show city kids where food comes from is very rewarding. Some have never seen a cherry on a tree.”

To book a Permaculture Farm Tour, or a Farmstay, go to

Photo | Mike Moores