Interview with Silvia Allen of Telopea Mtn Permaculture Farm

 

In September 2020, Ann Stanley talked animals, permaculture and biodynamics with Silvia Allen of Telopea Mtn Permaculture Farm. Silvia and husband Peter sell fruit trees and boxes of heritage apples at farmers’ markets, including Eltham and Collingwood Childrens Farm and (in normal times) have regular open days at the farm. See their website for information about the 1,200 varieties of heritage fruit they grow and the range of courses they offer.

Natural ecosystems include both plants and animals, which work together to fill complementary roles in the web of life. Biodynamic farms and gardens work to bring plants, animals and soil together through living, conscious relationships, so that each support each other and balance the whole.” (www.biodynamics.com/biodynamic-principles-and-practices)

When Silvia Allen speaks about the animals at Telopea Mtn Permaculture Farm in Monbulk, her love and care for them as individuals is obvious.

If you visit the farm you might see friendly sheep, Chester, Bianca, Della, Bella, Toddie, Mandy and Jenna hanging round at the gate just beyond the house. Or three-and-a-half-year-old Kimba, the Maremma dog, keeping an eye on the poultry nearby. Further down the property, you’ll see Velvet and Ziggy the llamas, Evie, Ivy, Alice, Lillie and Wilbur the goats, and the ducks and geese.

Many readers will know about the contribution of Peter and Silvia Allen to teaching permaculture in Victoria. Or about the range of trees, vegetables, cider and cheese produced at their farm. Their knowledge of all things permaculture, from design to soil to integration is encyclopedic, gained from years of practical experience and extensive study. They have passed on their expertise to around 700 PDC graduates, helping many on their road to more sustainable living and food growing.

Silvia and Peter bought the property 25 years ago and were offering Permaculture Design Certificate courses within the first six months, using their own permaculture design as a model for teaching. Telopea Mtn Permaculture Farm is now a showcase of what is possible, although Peter does concede that if you can’t do permaculture in Monbulk with its deep soil and prolific rainfall you might have trouble doing it anywhere!

Animals are integrated into the permaculture design of the farm and all are workers, providing food, stress relief and pest control services as well as turning weeds into manure. The sheep are milking sheep but, as they usually have multiple babies, they are not milked. But there are two baby goats, a male and female, and in two years’ time Silvia intends to begin milking the female. Silvia points out that that goats and llamas eat different kinds of weeds, that geese are great lawnmowers and that chickens under apple trees eat the larvae of coddling moth. Kimba is great with foxes and rabbits and even sounds the alert if there are non-chicken eaters, like wombats, visiting. The chickens in the bottom orchard eat fallen fruit and add fertiliser to the soil.

There are spectacular avocado trees laden with fruit on the property as well as around 1,000 other fruit and nut trees, including apple, plum, quince, fig, bananas, jujube, carob, babaco, pecan, walnut and hazelnut – all growing in the nutritious soil. Many of the trees are over 20 years old.

The goats eat the hazelnut, walnut and apple prunings and take care of the blackberries.

Says Silvia, “Whatever we grow is consumed by the system – there is no burning off. Excess growth is fed to the animals and recycled in biodynamic compost heaps.

Silvia and Peter follow the principles of biodynamics, a system that complements permaculture. Silvia remembers her conversion moment at an international permaculture conference in Western Australia where she witnessed first-hand a biodynamic farm that stood out lush and green amid the brown of surrounding properties. When she examined the biodynamic soil, she saw the multitude of organisms thriving in it. It was a lightbulb moment.

Silvia and Peter use biodynamic preparations sourced from a supplier in Bellingen (see www.biodynamics.net.au/product/biodynamic-soil-activator) and also add lime to their acidic soil. They also use Seasol which, along with the biodynamic preparations, gets the microbial life in the soil thriving.

It’s about feeding the soil not your plants. If your soil’s not right then your grass is not right then what your animals have to eat is not as nutritious,” says Silvia.

Telopea Mtn Permaculture Farm is an old-fashioned farm based on integration, careful observation of plants and soil, and hands-on care of animals. It comes close to the biodynamic ideal in which “Each biodynamic farm or garden is an integrated, whole, living organism…made up of many interdependent elements: fields, forests, plants, animals, soils, compost, people, and the spirit of the place.” (www.biodynamics.com/biodynamic-principles-and-practices)

If you want to know more about Silvia and Peter’s farm, you can watch this video by Gardening Australia.

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