The Rammed Earth House 2016

The Rammed Earth House
Charlotte Bay 2428
Housing Type
Standalone House
Number of bedrooms
Number of bathrooms
Justin Cooke
Project Type
New Build
Ian Sercombe
Entry Fee
Gold coin donation per person
Charity donations will go to
Opening Hours
10.30am - 12.30pm 2.00- 4.00pm


Morning – 10.30am – 12.30pm

Afternoon – 2.00pm – 4.00pm

Tour participants need to register here for tickets, maximum 20 people per session. Part of the proceeds from Garden to Table Permaculture are donated to a small village in Africa to support their Permaculture food growing projects. A donation of $2 to $5 will be collected on the day.

Nestled amongst a Eucalyptus Forest on our eight-acre property, we we try to live a sustainable lifestyle and love to share what we have learnt on our journey. Justin is a Natural Earth Builder and Megan is a Permaculture Teacher & Garden Designer, together they continue to build their dream home & sustainable productive gardens. The main three ethics we have followed during building our sustainable house and creating our edible gardens are Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share.

Many years ago the property was cleared for logging and the previous owners planted around 3000 Eucalyptus trees. One acre of land was cleared to make room for the house, dams and gardens and to comply with Council Regulations for building in Flame Zone 3 as an Asset Protection Zone for bushfire safety. Most of the logs that were cleared were used to create the post and beams for the house.

After clearing the land we purchased a mulcher and set about mulching cleared trees to turn them into woodchip to cover the bare earth. Using a 5 tonne excavator and driver the first dam was dug on the south side of the house. The soil from the dam was tested and used to build the Rammed Earth Walls on stage 1 of the project. At this stage we also tested a variety of other earth materials including light earth & mud brick and we found rammed earth to be the quickest material to build with. Whilst we were building we lived in a caravan that the chickens now call their home. We then built a bath house with an onsite greywater treatment system. Once the Council-approved reed bed was complete, we were allowed to live on our land so we moved into stage 1. As owner builders, we then went on to complete stage 2 and 3 of our home. The house is almost finished with some landscaping still to be done. The next phase of the project is to build a pizza oven and entertainment area on the north side of the house with an earth floor. Instead of using paving we will make an earth floor hard surface in an undercover area. This area will be used to teach Edible Garden Workshops and host our organic gardening workshops & Permaculture Courses.

Living on a rocky ridge is a blessing and a curse! Everywhere you dig there is hardpan clay and rocks. In Permaculture we say the problem is the solution, so we continue to use the rocks to build curved raised garden beds and the foundations for the rammed earth walls.

Living in the bush with Wildlife
Throughout the garden we have planted both native and exotic species, which have uses in an edible garden. Plants for flora and fauna, bee & bird attracting and habitat for wildlife have all been placed into the design. Living in the bush, we have plenty of wildlife visiting our garden including kangaroos, which graze on the grass, possums which love to eat the chook food and parsley. We have fruit bats that love to feast on our bananas and birds that love eating our tomatoes. In Permaculture we say “some for us and some for the animals”. In our garden there is an abundance of food and enough for all of us. In our subtropical climate during summer, fruit fly is one of the main pests we try to control. We use a variety of methods including building a large polypipe frame and covering with a veggie netting to exclude the pest.

We also pick up fallen fruit which gets fed to the chooks, and juice or freeze any surplus of our tropical peaches and guavas.

Making soil from scratch
In terms of pest and disease control we believe that all sustainable gardens start with healthy soil that is full of microbes, fungi and bacteria. We make our own compost and we use the soil created by the chickens in the straw yard. The chickens eat our food scraps and ‘weeds’ and in return they turn it into rich soil that we then use on the garden to grow our food. It’s all about nutrient cycling in a Permaculture Garden. Plants that are considered ‘weeds’ in conventional gardens, such as chickweed, are a nutrient-rich food for the chooks. Like anything in life, it’s the way you look at things that change your perspective on what is a weed and what is a useful plant!

Food Forest
The property features a ten year old food forest planted on swales, dripping with delicious sub tropical fruits including olives, bananas, guava, feijoa, fig, mango, citrus and strawberries. A chook tractoring system, no dig gardens and a chop and drop mulching system have improved the soil on this rocky ridge where there is now a productive ecosystem. Happy chickens free range in a fox-proof chook house which is our old caravan. Starting with zone 0 the house has been developed over the last 10 years with design features of rammed earth, light earth and mud brick, solar passive home including an on site grey water treatment system, solar panels and even home grown bench tops!

Kitchen Garden
About 6 years ago we set up our kitchen garden that thrived and produced an abundance of annual vegetables. We noticed last summer that due to the dry weather and climate change the roots from the gum trees about 20 – 30 metres away, invaded the garden so we are in the process of changing this area into raised wicking bed gardens.

Wicking Beds
In June 2016 we built our first wicking bed using some upcycled materials including corrugated tin & timber. We researched the liners for wicking beds and discovered that builders plastic may eventually leach chemicals into the soil so we purchased a food grade rubber liner that is much thicker and heavier and will last longer than plastic, hopefully more than 10 – 15 years. To try to stop the gum trees from entering the garden bed we poured earth and cement mix on the bottom of the bed with the rubber liner over the top. We then placed aggie pipe along the bottom of the bed with an upright PVC pipe on the side to check the water level. There is also an overflow pipe at one end so when the water level gets too high the water will flow out. On top of the aggie pipe we placed about 40mm of blue metal fines and over this some geotech fabric. We are just in the process of filling this first wicking bed with soil to a depth of about 30cm. A wicking bed is like a giant self watering pot and the soil will wick the water to the root zone of the plants which is the most efficient way of watering with no wastage.

We are not connected to mains water so all of the water on our property is from our 45 thousand litre water tank. We have 3 dams and in summer we use the water from the house dam to water the gardens.

Over the years we have learnt what works and what doesn’t work to have a functional productive sustainable garden. Gardens are a dynamic and ever changing space that needs to evolve with the people who live in them. It’s about creating a space that works for your lifestyle. For us it’s important to be able to walk out the kitchen door and have organic food at our fingertips to nourish our students, our local community and ourselves. Bringing food from the garden and enjoying it around the Table with friends is what it’s all about!


Building Type
Mud brick
Rammed earth
Recycled and reused
Kitchen/bath cabinets
Sustainable materials
Rammed Earth, light earth, mud brick, up cycled floor boards
Healthy home materials
Lime wash paint, natural oils for timber
Windows and Doors
Louvre windows
Clerestory windows
Window/door materials and coverings
Renewable energy
Solar PV grid connect
Water heating
Solar hot water (flat panel)
Passive heating cooling
Cross ventilation
Active heating cooling
Ceiling fans
Type: ,
Type: ,
Water harvesting and water saving
Above ground storage
Type: ,
Greywater system
Low flow shower heads
Low flow taps
3 Dams, Water tank & Swales
Energy efficiency
Efficient lighting
Efficient appliances
Water wise plants
Edible garden
Native plants
Wicking beds, Worms,
Council property located in:
Great Lakes
Connected to gas?