Kai loved exploring the Bullock’s property.
This weekend, Chris M.,Chris K., Kai, Julie’s brother Matt, and myself made a road trip down to the famous (in permaculture circles) Bullock’s Homestead on Orcas Island, WA. It was fantastic.
We’d heard of the Bullock’s property before, had read about it in books, and had stalked their activities and photos on their website. We knew that our visit, which included a planned 3-hour tour, would be inspirational and motivating.
A lot of the property includes terraced gardens and pond systems.
The Bullock’s are three brothers who grew up in California with a strong appreciation for the environment and self-sufficiency. Thirty years ago they bought 5 acres together on Orcas Island (which is now 10 acres of owned land plus an additional 5 acres of leased land) and have, through years of observing and nurturing the land and experimenting with different permaculture principles, transformed it into a magical, gorgeous, food producing property that supports a variety of different ecosystems, plant, bird, insect, animal and human species. It’s breathtaking and amazing.
A shot of some of the annual beds that include veggies, herbs and flowers.
- You don’t have to be rich to pursue this kind of lifestyle. I love the fact that the Bullock’s have built their homes and garden paradise on a low-budget. They repurpose dump-bound items and give them new, very useful lives on the property (like old solar panels!). They accept free cast-aways from neighbours and have designated ‘junk’ spots on the property to store these items until a need arises to use them. They also make use of old tools (like 100 year old water pump systems) that don’t rely on batteries and can be easily fixed. Thoughtful, creative things like this are so inspiring because they’re accessible and affordable and give a sense of independence back to a society that has become so dependent on store-bought everything.
Jane shows us some of the recycled solar panels and pumps that bring water from the lower portions of the property up to the higher-placed water tanks.
- Creative living spaces make daily life activities fun and interesting. The Bullock property includes outdoor kitchens and sleeping areas in addition to the brother’s indoor living spaces. The outdoor kitchens are so inviting and just totally awesome. Other creative living space ideas include their ‘moonlight friendly pathways’. Pathways through the gardens and up the terraced hillside have been lined with pale grey gravel in places and purposely surrounded by plants that have silvery-coloured leaves. These two design aspects reflect moonlight, making the pathways more visible at night. LOVE IT!
Shelves in one of the outdoor kitchens.
Could anything be better than capturing natural energy for off-grid operations? From what I saw, it seems as though the Bullocks and their apprentices live almost completely off the grid. They have a close-looped water system that gets pumped by solar panels up to water tanks, down through garden beds, along a pond and marsh system and back again. In case of water shortages, the slower pumps are turned off and a faster gas pump is put into use. If that breaks down, their domestic-use well water is a third back-up option. Solar energy is also captured to power things like a DIY food dehydrator, hot water for showers, and a boom box on wheels (garden to music wherever you go!).
Have patience in your observation and interaction with plants and ecosystems. The Bullock’s property really is an incredible example of growing perennial food-producing plants in a sustainable, thoughtful way. They have a wide variety of fruit trees, nut trees, berry bushes and other edibles growing everywhere. Apparently, when they first moved to the property, it was so overfarmed from previous owners that hardly any topsoil remained. You’d never imagine that that had been the case now. The Bullock’s have planted and mulched and planted and mulched and lived in a way that has created a truly thriving and life-giving space. Their interactions with plants and ecoysystems have taught them what grows well where, what grows well together, and what is possible that was once thought impossible. Whenever our tour guide Jane spoke about plants for wet-areas, my ears perked up because we live on a really wet piece of property. Something that they’ve discovered that I found super fascinating was that quince trees grow really well in wet, soggy soil (the kind of conditions that most fruit trees would never survive in). They’ve also discovered that p
ear trees can be grafted successfully onto quince trees. Now their swamp is lined with pear-producing quince trees. So cool!
Anyways, I took a bunch of photos. I’ll let them speak for themselves.
A HUGE thank you to the Bullock’s for hosting our tour group and to Jane for the GREAT tour!
For readers interested in doing a similar trip, the Bullock’s website provides information for visitors.
Chris in the ‘Aloha Lounge’. The Bullock brothers brought this canvas parachute-like tent home from Hawaii.
I don’t remember what this is called, but it’s an insulated box kept in the outdoor kitchen. Food items like rice are brought to a boil on the stove and then placed in this ‘unplugged’, covered box to complete their cooking cycle.
Jane shows us some Japanese Fuki plants. They look similar to rhubarbs and produce edible stalks and roots. They apparently grow great in wet areas. Anyone know where we can find these around here?