Planting a Food Forest at Caroola


There are few better ways to spend a long weekend than out in the spring sun. Over the Labour Day long weekend, a small group of us had the privilege of going to Caroola farm to learn about holistic management and permaculture. Following this, we were given some hands-on experience, weeding and planting in The Forest Garden.

About Caroola Farm

Caroola farm is small scale, family run property. Formally a pony stud, Penny and Paul have been working to restore the degraded pastures since 2012. In January 2013, a fire came through the property, and they have worked to restore the property to be a productive site for both growing and grazing. They now grow and sell a broad diversity of produce, their outputs resembling a well-balanced seasonal shopping basket; fruits, vegetables, herbs, meat and eggs.


Penny describes that although plows are quite an invasive tool, they are an effective means of breaking up initial compaction; including of hydrophobic soils after fire to increase permeability and provide aeration.


The first thing we saw on arrival were the hens, our first insight into the ethical and sustainable farming practices at Caroola. The hens can be used for both meat and eggs. They are pasture raised with a supplemented diet, and roost in trees.

A sustainable approach

At Caroola Farm, the owners practice holistic and permaculture management styles. Holistic management is the practice of grazing paddocks intensively for short periods of time before allowing them to rest for long periods of time. This prevents the overgrazing of any one plot; grazing allows for nutrient cycling and subsequent resting allows for the regeneration of pastures. (Savory and Butterfield, 1998). A limitation of the long resting period is the need to be productive in a limited space. At Caroola, this is managed by cycling stock, so one paddock may sustain pig, cattle, sheep or chook stocks over a period of time. Although manager Penny emphasised that there is no hard and fast rule as the state of a paddock is highly dependent, she suggested that a resting period would be no less than 180 days.

“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.” – Bill Mollison

Permaculture was born out of an understanding that many agricultural processes are destructive, degrading topsoils, destroying biodiversity and affecting climate stability (Alexander, 2016). Agriculture is responsible for large losses of topsoils, and often requires large inputs of pesticides, fertilizers and fossil fuels (Cribb, 2017). Permaculture offers an alternative to traditional, resource intensive monoculture crops; it is a human designed system that mimics natural cycles and structure, demonstrating connectivity and sustainability. It considers the need for structural diversity to create resilience, and operates within a ‘closed loop’ system without the need for large, external inputs. This approach to agriculture is highly valuable, and arguably necessary for food production to be sustained, ecologically sensitive and adaptive.


The Forest Garden

The Forest Farm at Caroola consists of a multi-strata collection of plants; there are trees, shrubs, herbs, ground cover and root species within the same garden, collectively providing a diversity of functions and a variety of produce. Complimentary functions may include attracting pollinators, repelling pest species or providing protection from the elements.

We spent the rest of our time at Caroola removing weeds in The Forest Farm – primarily mustard and grasses – from tree guards and around the base of already established fruit trees. These weeds were left on the ground to act as fertilizer. In the afternoon, we dug holes around the drip-line of trees and did some planting of ground cover and root species followed by watering and fertilizing using home-grown and mixed fertilizers.


Caitlin and Josh, pulling out mustard plants to make way for planting in The Food Forest

Thank you to Penny…

I have a keen interest in sustainable agriculture, understanding that the way in which we produce and consume food has massive impacts upon the ecological systems and diversity on which we all depend. Despite this, as is the case for most people my age living in cities, I have very little practical experience with agriculture and food production. This was a highly valuable experience, and I’m very appreciative of Penny for her time and for giving us the opportunity to practically engage with permaculture. Thank you also to Anna, who organised this visit with the with the IFSA at ANU.


Emily Smith, u5560343


ALEXANDER, S. 2016. A revolution disguised as organic gardening: in memory of Bill Mollison. The Conversation.

CRIBB, J. 2017. Surviving the 21s Century: Humanity’s Ten Great Challenges and How We Can Overcome Them, Switzerland Springer.

SAVORY, A. & BUTTERFIELD, J. 1998. Holistic management: a new framework for decision making, Island press.



About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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