At work with nature

Written by Kerrie Alexander

Dawn Bryant is the queen of her permaculture kingdom.

The big-hearted 59-year-old just exudes passion for her hobby as a honey farmer, gardener, designer, mother, wife, and equally brilliant cook.

When you first set foot on the 10-acre Booral property, which was bare when Dawn bought it 14 years ago, it’s clear that every inch of her outdoor space has a purpose.

Firstly, with 16-year-old Heidi the dog by our side, we take a tour of the garden that absolutely blew my mind.

We pass the modern Queenslander house that has an abundance of grapes and passionfruit growing on the verandah railings.

There are honeybee boxes dotted around the property, as well as plenty of native bees doing their job pollinating all of Dawn’s gardens, helping them to flourish naturally.

When the COVID-19 shutdown hit the Fraser Coast, Dawn and her husband John had about 90kg of honey to sell to locals.

It’s the one hobby they do together, while the rest of the garden is Dawn’s domain, and anything with a motor is left to John.

It’s incredibly hard to capture what permaculture means in one neat sentence but Dawn explains it well.

As we pass the garden with snow peas, lemon, lime, pumpkin, cabbage, choko, silver beat, tomatoes, coriander, carrots, society garlic with eatable leaves and zucchini, Dawn explains that everything has a purpose.

She snapped off an opened pomegranate of the tree and we all tasted the delicious bits of fruit she calls “jewels for jam”.

Just that one fruit can be used in salads, frozen in snap lock bags and used later in cakes, slices or toppings or be turned into a jam or jelly.

The skin, and every other bit of food scrap on the farm, goes directly into the scrap bin to help feed the 18 chickens that produce a plethora of fresh eggs daily.

There’s paw paw trees, chilli and cassava and every lettuce you could think of including my favourite, the sorrel, with bright green leaves that taste like lemon has been drizzled over the top.

Almost every leaf in the garden is either eatable straight off the stem or can be cooked in a plethora of dishes, like stir fry, as an example.

Dawn said the permaculture life is about getting back to nature and living a healthy lifestyle.

There are no pesticides used on the farm, only boiling water, and salt to kill the weeds, and over three-quarters of the property boasts plants that can be used for medicinal purposes.

Green vegetable shakes and herbs and spices are used to ward off colds and sooth sore throats.
“I’ve been here 14 years and there was absolutely nothing but the house, half the shed and any palm tree on the property. There was no fence, no gardens,” Dawn said.

“It sooths your soul and I think it must be in my blood because I always think about when I am going out there with bare feet and no gloves … there’s just something about getting into the soil and growing something that produces for you, and just watching the seedlings grow.

“I would garden anywhere.”

The other major focus for Dawn is sustainability; living off the land with hardly a need to visit the supermarket.

Dawn also breeds sheep, and the butcher comes once a year to replenish the freezer.

During the local shutdown, there was enough food to sustain the whole family, plus two German backpackers who traded work for food and board, for about six months.

Dawn can turn the simplest items from the garden into a meal, with vegan cheeses, jams, chutney’s, relishes being a specialty, as well as 30 years’ experience making homemade Worcestershire sauce.

Countless bottles of honey products are also stored in the pantry, including a honey mead which is a dry and sweet alcoholic honey liqueur that took out second and third place at the recent Fraser Coast Show.

Her cakes, fruit, vegetables, jams, and relishes, also saw her win Grand Champion of the Pavilion two years running at the Brookfield Show in Brisbane.

“During the Corona lockdown no one went anywhere, we didn’t need to go to the supermarket.

“We just got one order of flour delivered from the wholesalers and the rest we just ate off (the land).
“The German backpacker was a massive eater, so we just had massive, big salads, I also made bread and crackers.”

Next, we venture out into the back paddock where Dawn points out the little black pellets of sheep poo are collected and delivered to the chook pen, where a hole is dug, the manure thrown in and covered to sit and age, and later used as garden mulch.

We visit the site of Dawn’s latest venture, the camp kitchen, built out of recycled materials and will eventually boast a wood stove and a pizza oven, that she will build by hand.

Behind the camp kitchen are a row of rare lemon scented iron bark trees.

The trees’ leaves are dried and used to make tea.

“In the morning the smell drifts to the house and it’s just unbelievable,” Dawn said.

“Even just using the leaves in the house as a scent is nice but I like to use it for the teas.”

The “Corona” garden on the other side of the house is again home to an abundance of fruit and vegetables, and bathtubs full of ginger.

Dawn points out the sweet potatoes dotted around the property, explaining that Chinese often cook and eat the stems to help arthritis, and the leaves can also be used in meals.

Then we head to the house where the smell of the mushroom and lamb stew cooking on the fireplace instantly gets the tummy rumbling.

Dawn pops the kettle on the fireplace and graciously offered us a sample of bits and pieces taken from the garden and created into something super special.

Recipes that you will never find in a store because they’re Dawn’s creations or sourced from old-school cookbooks.

Set out under the jars of dried homemade teas and across from the pantry filled with jams and preserves was an offering of ricotta swirl cake, mixed with homemade lemon butter and decorated with pomegranate, vegan cheese and Greek yoghurt balls rolled in herbs like parsley, dill and chives … all flavours to die for.

The kitchen is also the place where Dawn and a handful of her like-minded permaculture friends often meet, and swap ideas, food, recipes and cuttings.

While not everyone is a whiz in the kitchen, Dawn said even the simplest of vegetable or fruit gardens could make a difference to what you cook and how you eat.

Even on the smallest block, Dawn said residents could start with simple veggies like radishes and herbs that will be ready to pick within about four weeks.

Pumpkins are also easy growing, as are lettuces and cucumbers.

“You can start with as little or as much as you like, even just get a box and plant some seeds or seedlings or dig up a little patch and just start.”

Many thanks to Dawn for welcoming us into her home and telling her amazing story.