Inspiring permaculture life at Melliadora

Why has my stay at Melliadora been a life-changing event? It is not just staying with wonderful people, but to experience day by day their simple but meaningful life. And how, without realizing it, I was living permaculture principles in everything I did. It actually did not occur to me until I went to my next wwoofing farm, and saw how differently the average Australians lived! What a culture shock it was for me! I thought everyone was retarded to buy over-packaged things from the supermarket and use flush toilets!
I also did not realize it, because living with a low environment impact was not that hard to do at all, and even most enjoyable!

Anyway I will try sharing with you the lifestyle at Melliadora, so you might get inspired to adapt some elements to your own life (or not). Yes I insist on the word "adapt" because in Permaculture there is no dogma! Do not copy and paste a technique, learn to observe and interact...

Living a permaculture life-style can be seen as managing the energy flows that come in and out of the system.

Managing Water

Melliadora has 3 different types of water :
- city water (although now that a new rainwater tank has been installed they have enough capacity to disconnect it, and avoid being polluted by all the additives in it, chlorine, fluoride...).
- rain water (the only one we dare drink when we don't have mineral water from the nearby springs!)
- dam water (only used in the garden)

The climate there is a Medeterranian-like-type, that is to say with a (usually, but with climate change it depends) wet spring and autumn and a dry and hot summer that can be very long. So it is crucial to manage the water efficiently.

That is why Sue has developed daily habits that minimize water usage. As she very rightly points out (not in these exact words, but close) : if we want to save water, we should not only focus on water intensive activities we do occasionally, but focus on reducing the water usage of things we do on a daily basis!
It's like fixing the leaking tap rather than stopping to treat yourself with an occasional bath.

Doing the dishes

You will find my article about it here.

Washing clothes

They do have a washing machine, an old model that is 30 years old and you can't find any more! Who cares, it's the time when programmed obsolescence was not yet the norm.
We are allowed one load a week, which is more than enough when you wear the same working clothes for the whole week. Between washing days we can wash by hand.
Of course Sue makes her own multi-purpose soap made out of used oil (instead of using good oil that is food!!!) and wood-ash (from the stove), which is good for showering, dishes and clothes.


For human health, no need to take a shower every day. It's actually healthier not to shower too much. Here once a week is a good average.
But not taking showers does not mean staying dirty! You can keep clean without a shower : In fact we clean everyday by using a washcloth for face, armpits and private parts. That's all you need, really.
Oh how about the hair you might ask? Well the good thing is with hair, the less you wash it, the less it gets greasy. You just need to train it progressively and it will do fine with once a week.

Cleaning the house

Cleaning day is every Friday (except on very busy workshop weeks), where the basics are done. And a thorough clean up is done once a month of course just before the open day.
The only produce used to clean and disinfect are baking soda and white vinegar! Simple, efficient and easy!

Going to the toilet

Of course any modern state of the art toilet are composting ones!
Not only does it save water not to use flushing toilets, but you get the benefit of recycling all the wonderful nutrients that are in your poo, and which rightful purpose is to go back to feed the soil. That's what happens in Nature anyway.

At Melliadora there are two systems :
- one standard sitting toilet where the bucket has to be emptied, the Joseph Jenkins style;

- one very simply built squatting toilet, actually it's just a hole in the board covering the place where we empty the first one. It avoids having to empty it, and squatting is actually much healthier for you!

 Goat stall on the right, and squatting toilet on the left under the board.


To avoid changing the bucket too often and fill up the compost, we only do solid deposits in the toilets. To pee we simply go find a nice spot outside (yes even us girls!), just like this good old kangaroo!

A particularity here is that there is no toilet paper! What do we use? Well we have learned to master the technique of the 3 shells of course! :-D

Well... not reatlly. ^^
We use state of the art natural locally grown wipers that nature generously provides for us : plant leaves. So then you learn to master the art of choosing your favourites : slick and wide dock leaves or soft furry kiwi ones? :)
Another alternative used is to recycle old yellow pages that you cut in four. It actually works pretty well.

Managing human energy

Managing wwoofers

Being a wwoofer host is not that much of an easy task : you have to manage a working team, organize projects to do, making sure you have all the equipment to do the job, trying to give the right jobs to the right people, taking time to show them how you want things done, answer their questions, share a bit of your knowledge... and having them at home living with you is even more challenging for your personal life. So it is to every person to find the right balance between personal space and wwoofing time.
David and Sue's solution is to only have 2-3 woofers at the time that stay for 3 weeks. That way they keep the forth week of the month to themselves. On the wwoofer's point of view, it's also an ideal length of time : enough to experience the farm, and not to long to run into complicated situations. Having few wwoofers at a time also allows better social interactions. Changing wwoofers every month also gives the opportunity for more people to experience their site, so share their knowledge to more people.

When you receive so many people, it gets pretty tiresome to repeat the same things all the time. They tackled this by :
- Having clear rules written down on the bedroom doors
- Explaining tasks to all wwoofers at once rather than one by one
- They use their monthly property tour as the first wwoofer's first day. It has several advantages : the wwoofers take advantage of the tour to get information of the site; and people might come from big cities and do ridesharing to drop off wwoofers with no means of transportation. Indecently it also uses up all the glasses on the shelf and allows for a regular shelf clean-up. (One element, several functions!)

That's what allowed our great girl team to be efficient workers and have a great time! :)

Rhythm of the day

We optimize our activity when the big light in the sky is on! Better adapted to our natural biological cycle and saving electricity. So we get up and go to bed early.
7:30 am : breakfast preparation and meal
9 am : work
11 am : tea break (optional if urgent work needs to be done)
1:30 pm : lunch
3 - 5 pm : work
7 pm : dinner
As the blue light from computer screens triggers attention, we are asked to shut down computers latest at 10 pm.

It must be understood that although this was the daily schedule, it was not strictly followed by the clock. Room is left for occasional lateness, for example when we're having such a good conversation at the table or when extra urgent work is needed done. I like this flexible framework, it installs a routine so one knows what to expect, meanwhile staying adaptable to circumstances.

One day, while we were working on clearing up the chicken coop, we even finished by having an amazing lecture from David for one hour! About soils, trace minerals and different continents... it was amazing and we were all so grateful to him for sharing so much knowledge with us.

Designing for community

Community (or rather communitIES) is crucial in the permaculture paradigm : We will always rely on groups of people to meet our needs, so it is essential that we learn to interact with them in a positive manner to both sides.
- friends : of course are invited for a meal or parties occasionally
- neighbors : They are always invited to the open days, and they regularly exchange produce from their gardens when they have excess.
- market scheme : Melliadora is a deposit place for veggie boxes, and people can also buy from Sue bulk produce. The table is set for people to help themselves, write down what they have taken and pay in the box. This is a great example of what can be done in a trusting community.

Designing for succession

During our life, we grow, thrive and decline. As Sue and David are advancing in age, they find their house too big for their needs. They are only waiting for their son to move in their house for them to go live into the "Tee house",  a cute little holding they have built on the property, initially as a wwoofer accommodation, but that turned out being a real little one room home.


Sue is in charge of food and cooking, because she wants to make sure things are done in her way, saving energy.

Rules : no drugs, no coffee, no tea. Sue's motto : "Do not use today the energy of tomorrow". And from my observation, I have never seen anyone her age with so much energy, so I think she is the person to follow her advice from!

* Fruit and vegetables are all from the property. If extra is needed to provide for a course for example, they are bought from a local vegetable grower.
* Grains and other dried things she buys bulk, from the purchasing group she has created. She is in charge of the orders and makes sure she provides herself from the most local and organically grown sources as possible. She may buy from over-seas but only dried things and in small quantities.
* Milk is from their own goats that are milked twice a day and with with she makes her own cheese.
* Meat is only eaten if it has had a happy life and has been killed on the farm, not in a slaughter house where animals are stressed. They usually get it from friends or have their own animals killed.
=> As a general rule, if she cannot buy it bulk or directly from a local grower, they do not eat it. So that is how they have not been in a supermarket for now 5 years!! Nor eaten bananas in several years, and limes are a rare delicacy.

Cooking is made only on a wood-cooking stove and oven. They do have a small gas stove they use occasionally for convenience if they need to heat things up quicker.
Preserves are without any added sugar, using only the natural sugar in fruits. Sue might occasionally use honey, but avoids cooking with it as it is such a shame to waste this magic substance... and when you think that only a tee spoon of honey is the entire lifetime's work for one single bee!

This is the kind of delicious meals we end up having :

Managing Exergy*


As mentioned above, cooking is done almost exclusively with wood. All their wood comes from the simple maintenance of their property, coming from orchard, hedges, etc.

Cooling food

As any household producing a lot of their own produce they have a cellar to store potatoes, preserves.
But the most interesting feature they have in their kitchen, apart from a classic small fridge, is a "cool cupboard" (picture).
The concept is very simple, it is simply a tube taking air from underneath the house, going through the cupboard and up through the roof. The air coming from under the house is cool and gets progressively warmer so rises up. It is actually a much better way to store vegetables than the fridge, as in the fridge they dehydrate to quick and the temperature is too low.


 Heating house

"The best heating is insulation!" as my father rightly puts it! In the case of Melliadora, not only is the house insulated, David designed it as a passive-solar house, making the most of orientation, slope, windbreaks and natural building materials to maximize the sun's potential to warm up the house in winter while cooling it down in the summer. With no heating at all, on a sunny winter day the temperature of the house would be around 18C!

The only source of extra heating is the cooking stove which is fed more in winter. Even when it works in the heat of summer the house manages to stay cool enough!
The bedrooms are oriented to the South side (cold side in the southern hemisphere) and are not heated at all. It is actually healthier to sleep in cooler rooms.

Heating water

Water is heated with wood through the slow-burning cooking stove in the kitchen.
Alternatively it could also be heated directly by the sun with solar panels before going through the stove, but as the wood stove is constantly heating anyway, it's actually not that much effort to get hot water too.


With solar panels on the roof, they produce most of their own electricity and are connected to the grid.


When they need to use their one car, they always try optimizing trips. But because they never go shopping for food, and work at home, they considerably reduce their need for going places by car.
And even when Sue wants to go to town, instead of using her car for her alone, she actually hitch hikes to use the spare seats in other people's cars! It just does not make any sense to have all those cars driving around carrying only one passenger!
Another corollary advantage of such a practice is that she gets to meet so many people of her neighborhood she would have never known otherwise! And this is so important to know your community.

As for long distance traveling, they no longer fly. They would not support the millage, and they also have traveled enough in their lifetime. When David is invited to talk in a conference oversees, he asks to have a skype conference. When they travel long distances in Australia they travel by train.

Managing money

"Money is like water" (quoted from an aboriginal woman) Like water, money is made to flow. It can flood and cause damage when there is too much at once, it stinks and rots when you leave it too long in one place, yet without it, it is hardly possible live in our society.

It is crucial to understand the purpose of money in order to use it properly. Money is simply a tool we use to exchange goods and services. So yes, when you have a lot of money, you can buy lots of fancy things and have someone make serve you drinks on a golden platter. But is that the purpose of life?...

Anyway, David and Sue have chosen to live with the minimum amount of money possible. Their smart and economic lifestyle enables them to "live like kings under the poverty line!"

Also, if their business happens to make more money than they need, they employ someone extra for a few weeks. It is a means for them to get more office work done (something that always seem to accumulate...) and share their surplus (3rd permaculture ethical principal). They do not stockpile what they do not need but encourage the money to flow in their local economy.

Well that's the basics of the way of life here, I hope you have more questions than answers about permaculture! Please let me know what you would like to know more about, so it could be the subject of more detailed articles.
Meanwhile, have fun making changes to your own lifestyle! And remember, start small, go slow. Smiling on the way is the most important thing to do! ;)