How Theory and Practice Converge on a Permaculture Farm

Ross Mars
Tuesday, 5th April 2016

Ross Mars explains the various techniques used at Candlelight farm which help to create a permaculture demonstration site, but also a fully functioning home and ecostay.

Candlelight Farm is a 1 ha property in Mundaring, which is about 30km east of Perth. Besides being like many clichés that it is a demonstration site for permaculture, the property is quite unique. We were fortunate enough to buy the property which had some unusual trees to begin with, bottle kurrajong, giant bamboo, Irish strawberry tree and many more, all of which were planted by a man who started the local nursery.

From the very beginning, since 2006, there has been a conscious three-pronged approach to develop the property:

1. Setting up and monitoring research-based endeavours;

2. A site where it is possible to examine all 12 design principles in action;

3. Where people could experience sustainable living practices.

Let’s have a brief look at each in turn.


Having a scientific background makes research methodologies and strategies relatively easy to undertake. The focus so far has been on growing soil – trialling various compost production methods, making compost teas and biofertiliser, adding soil amendments to the acidic clay soil, and changing the nutrient balance of the soil to see the effect of corresponding changes to weed populations.

There has also been a focus on water, and this has included building a sand filtration treatment plant as a Biolytix retrofit, water and nutrient management strategies for the nursery, treating the bore water to change its composition, and monitoring the function and nutrient output of an aerated wastewater treatment plant (Klaro) and a greywater diversion system.

Having nursery facilities also permits trials of germination and propagation techniques for different plants, and many of these types of experiments have been undertaken by my accredited permaculture training students.

Permaculture design principles

Without listing and discussing all of these, you can examine large scale organic waste recycling, extensive 8 star strawbale buildings (used as Mundaring Ecostay), energy production (renewable), integration of the landscape with buildings, polycultures and guilds, restoration of degraded landscapes (resulting in conservation of endemic species - especially the quenda and a multitude of birds that live here), and opportunities to observe, interact and respond to our environment.


One of the straw buildings that make up Mundaring Ecostay

Basically the site is with food production all-year-round, including many varieties of bush tucker, useful herbs and multifunctional plants, plus grape vines (lead image).



Polytunnel bringing on plants for the garden

Living practices

Permaculture is about designing human settlements, and therefore showcasing best practices for living sustainably. This doesn’t mean you have to live simplistically or extremely frugally. Not everything has to be low-tech, but living more simply can have its benefits.

Candlelight Farm does have a number of simple, appropriate technologies to see, such as the use of building materials that include rammed earth, strawbale, mudbricks, integrated roofing panels (ceiling, insulation and roof all in one), and cooking and heating low-tech solutions such as a solar drier and oven, wood stoves and a haybox cooker.

At the same time we embrace modern technologies such as heat pumps for hot water (preheated by solar water panels), an aerobic treatment plant for wastewater recycling to irrigate gardens, mains water switching devices to allow town water to enter house fixtures when the rainwater is depleted, cold water diversion from the HWS to a rainwater tank, greywater diversion devices to capture effluent from bathrooms and laundry for garden irrigation use, and grid-connected solar power.


Solar on the roof

All of this makes a great learning and teaching environment, and many of the ideas discussed in my latest book, How to Permaculture Your Life, started off as trials and experiments at Candlelight Farm.

How to Permaculture Your Life is now available through our Green Shopping page. You can read a review of the book HERE

Further resources

Ross Mars is also the author of:

Getting Started in Permaculture

The Basics of Permaculture Design



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samadamsuk |
Mon, 11/04/2016 - 12:16

Thanks for sharing this. Such an inspiration - I love the integrated approach of human and food health and productivity. Great to have the research element too. I hope we are in a similar place in years to the moment still in planning stage here: