Why did the Wallaby cross the road? – wisdom, action and support for young people

Another high profile international sportsman, Wallaby David Pocock, picked up the ball and starting running in the Australian federal election. What motivates young people into climate change action. And how can we support them?

Climate activist Greta Thunberg discussed EU plans to tackle the climate emergency regarding the Climate Law, a proposal seeking to commit the EU to carbon neutrality by 2050. Thunberg criticised the committee proposal as insufficient: “The EU must lead the way. You have the moral obligation to do so and you have a unique economical and political opportunity to become a real climate leader”. Greta went on to say “You, yourselves, declared that we are in a climate and environment emergency. You said this was an existential threat. Now you must prove that you mean it.”

It is vital to follow “ a science-based pathway”. “Anything else is surrender.” “This climate law is surrender. Because nature doesn’t bargain and you cannot make deals with physics.”

Introducing her, environment committee chair Pascal Canfin said the energy of young people transforms society. 

Climate activist Greta Thunberg by European Parliament – This file has been extracted from another file, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=88931682

Ready, Set, Action

Candidate David Pocock played rugby internationally and has 83 with awards. He told the Canberra times that running for the senate is “a huge challenge and it’s an exciting one,”. Although the Canberra region is the home of the federal parliament house it has an independent political nature.

David Pocock says "we need new voices in politics standing up for our community with long-term thinking and a visions for our future.
Wallaby hopeful David Pocock https://assets.nationbuilder.com/davidpocock/pages/112/attachments/original/1650602626/David_Pocock_Policy_One-Pager.pdf?1650602626

Despite modern town planning, Canberra suffered in recent heatwaves (43 degrees Celsius (110 Fahrenheit) on January 4, 2020). The residents felt and smelt the smoke and dust from the fires of 2019-2020. And their once popular local tourism industry, the snow fields has begun to slowly melt away. Canberra knows first-hand the impact of climate change.

Take Action

Be Supportive to be Active

The sad thing for young people is they can’t see the change and many older people won’t admit the losses. But given the right education and ability to research, they quickly learn the changes that demonstrate climate crisis. Young People need easy access to records about losses of biodiversity to make forecasts effective response.

Next, we must stop politicising and blocking action on climate crisis. Then, develop empathy, real support (secure housing and employment) and foster leadership.

Taro, monstera, yams, cumquat, sweet potato, watercress and more enrich this young person’s balcony

Climate action steps in each Permaculture Zone

At the heart of our action (Zone 0) we develop listening and empathy skills with non-violent communication. Then we step into actions for Zones 1-2 by documenting ideas and giving skills development. As well as giving real life assistance such as accommodation, sharing resources and financial support. When we share the workloads, offer business guidance, offer informal training for young people, we create employment readiness.

Next up, Zones 3 and 4 accommodate the sharing of resources. These include workspace, seeding capital, equipment, plants, and produce offers young people a chance to develop their own businesses. For example, Mark Sheppard of New Forest Farm offered start up resources such as apples for young people to make a cider business, herbs and flowers for another young person to start floristry and herbal remedies. Established generations have much to offer the next generation. And young people have creative ideas and energy to make it work.

Finally, Zone 5 supports remaining wildlife and models of sustainability.

Learn how to design a sustainable society and environment using Permaculture skills.

How To Make Soil – Faster

Good soils do vital work. They sequester carbon and nourish the plants. And therefore they nourish us. Here’s how to make soil faster.

There are five components of soil topsoil. Firstly the soil needs air. Secondly, it needs water. Water to get into it – not just to sit on it or run underneath. It needs nutrients. it needs organic matter or OM as some people call it. And it also needs organisms. The organisms allow the good soil to continue to grow – to continue to cycle and make the organic matter into nutrients. Poor soils can offer specialist niches so maybe there are some native plants or adapted food plants that prefer poor soils, particularly poor soils. So, before you set about creating the perfect soil, investigate the value of the existing unusual soils.

macadamia seedling
macadamia seedling

Ground-braking Threats

To make good soil we need to think about the threats or the barriers. Whatever effort we make we don’t want it to be undone. So, we need to consider erosion from flood, wind, and the damage caused by too much sun. T

he next step would be to identify your resources. Look at the vegetation that’s already there perhaps that’s valuable vegetation or perhaps you can take some of it to create better soils. Look for tools that you can repair or borrow. Or are there some tools that you can create? And then, use your waste the waste is a valuable resource. And find ways to build the organisms that are on the site.

The Guardians of Good Earth

Fungi and glomalin are critical to holding soil particles together reducing erosion and supporting the plants. So, if you have young plants. And they don’t have the beneficial fungi and glomalin from their parents, you might need to bring a little bit of that to the site.

Most people will notice the weeds on a site. Some people say a weed is simply a plant out of place. Because a permaculture system works to create a diverse collection of food plants, a weed would therefore be a plant that dominates the food forest and doesn’t support diversity.

And weeds can be indicators. For instance, flat weeds on the bare ground can indicate compaction whereas lush green weeds can indicate an abundance of nitrogen.

Weeds are generally willing workers. They’re pioneer species. They do three main things: They mine poor soils searching for minerals. And then they shelter the earth because nothing else will grow. They go in there first and they shelter the dirt from erosion. And thirdly they do create habitat for animals, especially insects.

a common weed - petty spurge, contains skin medicine worth $130 per script
a common weed – petty spurge, contains skin medicine worth $130 per script

The Good Weed

There are medicinal weeds for instance this common weed that I know is petty spurge. It contains a chemical that my family has been prescribed to reduce their skin cancers. Many weeds are the forefathers of ancient foods. The reason why we don’t eat them now is that humanity has modified many of these foods so that they’re easier to harvest, more palatable and they have less defensive chemicals in them. So, be careful some of them are highly toxic. But some of them are fine.

Sprouting seedpod of Illawarra Flame Tree
Sprouting seedpod of Illawarra Flame Tree

The 5 Components of Good Soil

To create soil we need to think about those five components. These are 1. air, 2. water, 3. nutrients, 4. organic matter, and 5. organisms. By creating those five components we will have good soil. So how do we aerate the ground to accelerate soil creation?

Giving air to your soil

Air needs air. Air lets the micro-organisms breathe and allow water to penetrate. There are loads of ways to add air to the soil. We could dig it – but don’t turn it. Because the minute you turn the soil (especially on thin soils or poor soils) what you’re doing is you’re killing the microorganisms. And their dead bodies become fertilizer. But we can’t afford to do that in thin soils like Australian soils.

Alternatively, we could rip the ground which is like slicing a cake. But not plow it. Because plows can turn it. You could use a keyline plow which just rips like a comb going through the hair. Another way to aerate the soil is to spike it like little stiletto marks all over the surface. But a quick and easy way to start the aeration process is to use earthworms. And you can build your earthworms with no-dig and mulching to hydrate the earth. That is, to put more water into it. We can use keyline irrigation, plan to contour the garden paths. Or use swales and wicking systems. Ultimately mulch reduces evaporation. This includes edible living mulches like sweet potato.

self replenishing living mulch
self replenishing living mulch

Nourish your soil

The easiest way to nourish the soil is to use compost. Compost will help acid soils become less acidic bring them to neutral and it will help acidic soils to become neutral. In some cases, you might want to apply rock dust or ash if the soil is particularly acidic. Adding organic matter creates the compost. And that creates the nutrients anyway. We can add organic matter by mulching the area with prunings or using pioneer plants and then harvesting them.

no dig gardens at Permaculture Visions after 2 years. using waste to create soil - Silk Farm Mt Kembla NSW
using waste to create soil – Silk Farm Mt Kembla NSW

Waste not

The easiest way to add organic matter is to use waste. Any biodegradable waste can be applied to the soil even if it’s just added to the top to feed the organisms. You have two choices you can try and build up what’s already there to support the existing organisms. Or you can add food and organisms from nearby forests. This is quite a typical traditional method by the French. The French farmers would go into a nearby forest and harvest worms and organic matter from mature trees and bring that into the fields.

In fact, soil organisms are a vital part of the nitrogen cycle. In order to use and continue to generate nutrients, we need organisms. If we do nothing the soil that we are stewards of will most likely erode. Although, in some areas, doing nothing might be the right thing to do! It could allow the earth to heal.

If we follow traditional advice, the soil will grow at about a centimeter every five years. And that’s too slow!

enhanced growth and soil creation in just 2 years - Silk Farm Mt Kembla NSW Australia
enhanced growth and soil creation in just 2 years – Silk Farm Mt Kembla NSW Australia

Ways to make soil grow faster

The easiest way to build soil is to use our own biodegradable waste either as mulch or in the compost or worm farm. Also, use the weeds. If the weeds are particularly tough you can turn them into liquid manure also known as compost tea. Next time you have a fire make biochar. Biochar is an amazing way to support the microorganisms, After this consider using animals to provide fertilizer weeding and waste conversion. And finally, start a forest with pioneer plants and use them to build your supply of organic matter.

Learn more by enrolling with us PermacultureVisions.

Overwhelmed? – How to Rejuvenate Flooded Soil

Permaculture design reduces risk. Risk causes heartache, resources and effort loss. And one of the greatest risks comes from flood. So, soil scientist, Ian Thomas shows us how to work with nature to heal the soil. And build abundance again.

Perhaps you heard about Australia’s the biggest flood event on record. The flood was heralded as a one-in-hundred year event. But then, a month later, it flooded again. The people in Lismore are famous as creative, resilient and lively. But the latest flood event has shaken the community and destroyed a vital food growing region of the nation.

Ian Thomas, soil scientist, advising flood victims for free

Some of the risks from floods may surprise you. These include contaminated water with sewerage, heavy metals, pesticides washed down from farms and people’s basements. Other chemicals include pollutants from industrial sites such as hydrocarbons from Petrol stations.

The problem with chemical contaminants is that we just don’t know which ones are lurking in there. We can’t smell or taste them. So let’s not assume that’s ok. Contaminant testing gives us peace of mind.

Ian Thomas

Meet Ian Thomas, Foodscaper

Soil is a complex topic. So, Ian offers guiding principles to help people revitalise their gardens. In response to the great flood, he offers a free short course to help flood victims or anyone who feels overwhelmed by deluges.

“When food is grown to be as nutritious as possible, not only does it taste better, last longer, is more nutritious and better for us,
but it’s also easier to grow and has less pest problems”

Ian Thomas, soil scientist and foodscaper

The Danger Period

4-8 weeks after a flood is the period where plants are picking up contaminants. Assume flooded plants are contaminated, use gloves. Remove food plants or give them a heavy prune to stimulate regrowth. Any plant tissue that grows later, will be ok. Compost the contaminated plant material but don’t use this compost on your food gardens. Use it on ornamental plants.

leafy greens catch and store contaminates

Do plants eat contaminates?

Leaf crops are the worst crops for absorbing contamination because they have a large surface area. And the leaf is transpiring moisture and the moisture after the flood leaf crops absorb toxins and biohazards.

On the other hand, fruits don’t transpire. Fruits that didn’t get flooded, are the least likely part of a plant to gather toxins. This is because the plant doesn’t want to pollute it’s offspring. For root crops, more toxins are held in the skin than in the centre.

Key Flood Recovery Steps

First up, get your soil tested. Then, dispose of any plant tissue that were flooded. Compost the material for ornamental gardens. Let them go and start afresh. Don’t risk your health. Prune hard to stimulate new growth.

Next step, rejuvenate your soil to fast track the natural decontamination ability of soil micro-organisms. Soil microbes can eat toxic compounds and harmful bacteria.

Decontaminant with Plants

Rather than use harsh chemicals which kill vital soil organisms. Plants are effective decontaminants. Phyto-remediation uses plants to immobilise, degrade and remove contaminants. The star helpers for Phyto-remediation are Sunflowers, brown mustard, corn and maize, brassicas, broad beans, radishes, lettuce, sorghum, barley and oats.

Phyto-remediation plants mop up a wide range of contaminants. Image by Ian Thomas

Clever little soil microbes

Soil microbes enhance phytoextraction. But in the short term they have the potential to increase contaminant solubility, improve mobility of contaminants. But they work to modify soil conditions such as the pH, redox and mineral balance. Using plants to address the issues of contamination gives the best long term results.

worms and microbes are willing workers

Rejuvenate your soil with plants. Buy bulk cheap seed to mop up contaminants. Soak and inoculate the seeds with compost. Loosen the soil surface (wear a mask in case of contaminated dust). Cover the area with mulch thinly. Thin the plant for maximum photsynthesis. Then remove the plants before flowering or fruiting. Compost them on ornamental garden beds.

Ian addresses the next steps in upcoming videos. He goes on to demonstrate how to assess and improve the soil structure (part 2/5). Boost soil microbial activity (part 3/5). Grow as many plants as possible to help boost community food security part 4/5). Check out Ian’s channel and find him on FB and Instagram. https://www.thegourmetgarden.school/

Thank you Ian Thomas for another great example of how to work with nature to heal the environment.

Difference between a Swale, a Trench and Channel

If only everything about Permaculture was exciting as trenches and swales. Knowing the different surface water management tools such as a swale, trench or channel improves every permaculture plan. It prepares us for drought as much as flooding rains.

Channels know where they are going, and get on with it. Whereas, a trench needs to get full before it looks for an exit. But the humble swale hugs the land, and lets it all sink in.


Let’s start with the humble trench a trench is a long hole in the ground it can capture the water and it can hold it whereas a ditch can capture and hold water but it usually gets the water to run away. To move away, for example, from a road or paddocks. In permaculture design we want to use the water at least three times before filtering it and sending it away.


Hugelkultur uses berms made out of wood and leaf litter. These berms run slightly off the contour so that the water, frost and snow can keep moving down the hill.

Interception Berm made of leaves and prunings


Berms (mounds) when positioned well can trap or guide water. In this instance, the water originally ran straight down towards the house. So, ta berm worked to trap the water and made the garden more productive. In another example a berm became a swale instend of digging. On our property is very difficult to dig. It takes hours to dig a trench or swale. The soil is solid clay which is good for making pottery. So mounds are easier to construct.


In the 1970s Emile Hazeslip coined the term synergistic gardens. She created diverse microclimates and different levels of moisture for the different plants. These gardens were productive and almost doubled the surface area for growing.


A swale is a combination of a trench and a berm and it sits on the contour line. The water in swale doesn’t travel downhill. It just sits there and seeps into the berm below.

Often a swale is shaped as a wide shallow trench (like a pan) with a berm below. Conveniently, the soil dug out of the trench creates the berm. When the trench is shallow and wide it forms a gentle pathway.

swale temporarily holding rainwater at Permaculture Sydney Institute

Making the pathways inside a shallow trench is handy for compacting that soil and to keep the garden accessible. That’s because we tend to clear the pathways as we work. We actively reduce any trip hazards. also, we rarely go in the garden when it’s raining heavily. So, when the pathway fills with water but move off quickly. Meanwhile we relax indoors as the flow of water works to clear away debris.

At this farm called Conscious Ground in Mullumbimby, the berm looks really tall. But in fact it’s on a steep slope. This food forest has a wide level trenches and berms on contours across the slope. [If you want help understanding contours, see our student tutorial on mapping and elevation].

The trench is wide enough for several people to walk along together and is accessible by machinery.


Ditches are common water management devices for flatlands with little runoff but they can also be the start of erosion channels. When there’s nothing holding the soil together, the ditch is destructive. Drip by drip, the life in the soil washes away. In this patch of sparsely covered lawn a gully has started. In fact, erosion commonly starts with just a little ditch between a road and a fence

What makes the best swale?

A swale needs three things: a trench, a downhill berm and plants. It needs plants uphill to stop the swale from silting up. And the swale needs plants downhill to prevent erosion by wind, water or animals.

Water distribution channels

Channels work well on large properties (housing developments or broadacre farms). Keyline designs channels to move water from wet areas to dry ridges. Unlike a swale, trench or berm, Keyline channels slowly distribute water. Keyline planning works closely with the contours, the rainfall and soil type.


Plant growth is dependent on access to water. Creating a plans to manage the water naturally builds abundance. And your food forest journey begins.