In my first post I mentioned that I would sometimes stray away from technical subjects, and instead focus on the adventure of creating a magical, food producing forest on my land. I haven’t blogged about it yet, because to be honest, I couldn’t figure out how to generate a nice time-lapse from the weekly photos that I’ve been taking for the past year or so. That particular journey (putting together a time-lapse) will be a blog post all by itself, and involved shaving many yaks. I’m still not particularly happy with the time-lapse that you will see later in this post, but at least its a start. Alas, sometimes pragmatism has to win over perfection if you just want to get something done.

This blog post will provide some background for future gardening posts, and acts as an introduction into the “compost” part of this blog.

The Dream

My dream is to have a thriving garden, almost every part of which produces something edible. Nut trees, fruit trees, vegetables, bushes, chickens, worms, everything you can think of. I don’t want to have to rely on the constant application of commercial fertilizers and pesticides, I’d like it all to be organic. Ideally, I’d also like it to be a mostly closed system, where I don’t even have to introduce materials from the outside in order to sustain it. I’d also like it to be pretty to look at (I like green things) and to maybe provide a bit of privacy for the house (the back yard is a little open, we’re on a hill).

Trying to find a way to accomplish the above dream led me to the concept of permaculture.

Permaculture is a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, environmental design, construction and integrated water resources management that develops sustainable architecture, regenerative and self-maintained habitat and agricultural systems modelled from natural ecosystems.

Source: Wikipedia

The definition sounded like it fit, so yay! Its nice to have a name for something. It helps when talking about it (and searching for it).

As far as I can see, it comes down to realizing that the garden will be a complex system. consisting of many disparate parts that must interact along specific channels. Kind of like any software project…

The Location

I’ve got a fairly normal sized block of land in Forest Lake, QLD. Its a little over 600m2, and the house takes up a large chunk of it.

To assist with visualisation, my awesome fiancé used SketchUp to create a model of our house and the surrounding land. Here are some screenshots of the model:


Honestly, she’s pretty amazing when it comes to this sort of thing. She went and measured up the entirely of the house and land and then spent a few (wo)man days of effort modelling it all. We’ve used the model to discuss things, model new ideas and communicate them to builders and landscapers. Very very useful.

When we moved in in late 2010 the gardens were not that bad, but not that good either. We were mostly attracted to the house itself to be honest. It was the only place that my fiancé and I both walked into and said “This place feels right.”. If you are looking for a house to buy, that’s pretty much the best sign ever by the way. You should buy that house.

There were at least some garden beds around the perimeter, and the plants were doing okay. The lawn was mostly weeds, some Couch grass and that really annoying Crows Foot grass. The back and side yards were fairly heavily compacted as the previous owner had sold caravans (and was constantly moving them around). The soil consisted of mostly clay, rock and pain, was hydrophobic as well (not a lot of organic matter to help retain water). Rainstorms were particularly annoying, because the water would just run right off and into the lowest corner of the back yard, which made that corner squelchy and gross.

The model above actually includes some changes we’ve made since we moved in. There was a tank under the rear patio and no concrete slab down there (just dirt), and there was 2 shrubs near the western side of the fence in the back yard. About two years after we moved in we had underneath the patio sealed and the existing lawn torn up and turfed (with Sir Walter Buffalo).

You can see the way it used to look in this picture (with bonus dogs!).

The backyard, pre-concrete and lawn.

The concreting and lawn work made the back yard quite nice, but maintaining the lawn is an ongoing process. I’ll probably go over that in a future post.

Its not perfect, but its enough, and I think I can make it something awesome.

The Plan

I’ve got a lot of ideas. Some of them are insane and some are feasible, and for a while there, I couldn’t easily differentiate between the two. There was a time I considered turning an old water tank we had into a tank for aquaponics! I didn’t even have a normal vegetable bed yet! That would probably have been an expensive lesson in failure (or maybe an awesome lesson in how to be awesome, I’ll never know).

Luckily cooler heads prevailed (i.e. not mine, credit goes to the awesome fiancé again) and I started with smaller things, like compost, and vegetable beds.

The Professionals

While I love solving problems (its what I do!) its never a bad idea to involve a professional when you’re looking to do any sort of long term project like this. This is where I engaged the help of All You Can Eat Gardens, a local Brisbane business that helps people do exactly what I’ve been talking about. I got them to do a concept for the whole yard, taking into account my own ideas and applying their own professional experience. It turned out pretty good, and I found them to be very communicative throughout the entire process (although they get quite busy, so I had a fairly long wait before they could get to me).

This was their concept:


It pleases me greatly on some sort of engineer/graphic design level. I’m not entirely sure why. The concept also came with a document detailing a lot of things in the concept diagram, resources to follow and other useful tidbits. I think it was a worthwhile investment.

At some stage I’ll go back to them and get them to do a detailed design (in which they help you plan out in detail exactly what goes where and how to do it) but for now I’ll just follow through on the general stuff in the concept and keep learning at my own pace.

The Progress

So far (and with the help of my fiancé), I have:

  • 2 established vegetable beds, made with leftover bricks, both with a drip irrigation system.
  • 1 recently built timber bed, which won’t be ready (i.e. full of soil) until next season. Building this bed was a great learning experience, and I’ll do a blog post about it at some point in the future. 
  • 2 compost bins, which are awesome.
  • A mulch pit, which has helped me to improve various areas (yay organic matter!).
  • A thriving herb garden in a previously barren area under the patio.

Here’s a time-lapse (one photo/week, over 47 weeks) of the eastern side of the house. This is the location of the vegetable beds, the compost bins, the (short lived) worm farm, the mulch pit and a few other things.

That particular time-lapse is hosted on gfycat, and is available at http://gfycat.com/EnchantedDearestIrukandjijellyfish if you want to look at it directly. If you’re running a modern browser you should be able to pause, speed-up, slow-down, reverse and all other kinds of nifty things. If you’re running an old browser, sorry, its a fairly massive animated gif for you (get a better browser!).

I have photos that I can use to make similar time-lapses of other areas of the yard, but they take forever to stitch together into animated gifs that don’t look terrible, so they might come in future posts.

The eastern side is really a test area, where I can get a handle on things before I involve any more of the yard. It probably won’t be the permanent location of the vegetable beds at least (not enough sun), but its a great, isolated place to learn. The compost bins have been effective, I use them to dispose of all of the vegetable scraps from the kitchen. The compost I’ve harvested from them has been rich and black, and I’ve used it to enrich the perimeter beds and to improve the soil on the very barren western side of the house.

Not too bad.

The next steps are to continue building out vegetable beds (1 more, then replace the two brick ones with wood as well) until I have all 4 needed for crop rotation, and to keep building up the soil.

More to come!


One of the most common ways to communicate the principles of the various Agile software development methodologies is games. I like to think that this is because the Agile software development methodologies are more like games than the others, focused more on the team, the overall goal and responding to change, rather than following some meticulously planned process that “guarantees” success. Jeff Patton presented a nice talk that incorporated those elements at his Yow! 2013 talk (which is well worth watching).

I’m sure there are a lot of games that people use to teach the principles of Agile development methodologies, I’m aware of (and have run) two, Scrum City and the Lean Manufacturing Game (which might actually be called the Lego Lean Production Game). I ran both of these games in the workshops for the new Agile Project Management course at QUT (Semester 2 2014, INB123, replacing the Prince 2 Project Management course), and they proved to be quite effective in communicating critically important elements of Agile to the students. It helped that they were also fun and very physical, which helps engagement.

A fellow tutor for the Agile Project Management course (Andrew McIntyre, the great and powerful) came up with the idea for another game, teaching elements of Scrum using Sudoku puzzles. The other tutors and I helped him flesh it out a bit, and we then used our poor students as test subjects to see how it worked out in reality.

It was awesome! Also hilarious.

And thus Scrumdoku! (don’t forget the exclamation point) was born. At a high level, the game is focused around teaching planning and the optimisation thereof, where teams have to maximise the value of delivered Sudoku puzzles over some number of iterations.


50+ individual Sudoku puzzles.

Standard 9x9 is easiest. I found the generator available at http://www.opensky.ca/~jdhildeb/software/sudokugen/ to be perfect for this. You’ll want about 60% Easy, 20% Medium, 15% Hard and 5% Very Hard. I needed 4 copies of each puzzle, as my workshop had 4 teams of approx. 8 people each. Make sure you get solutions.

Pens/pencils, depending on how confident the teams are. One for each person.

Erasers (highly recommended). Again, one for each person.

Willing Participants (obviously).


3 Iterations. I used 7 minutes planning/retrospective, 20 minutes work. Make sure you timebox aggressively.

Make sure you leave enough time to actually complete a Sudoku puzzle. 20 minutes felt a little long, so maybe try 15? Experiment and see what feels best for you.

During planning each team will commit to some set of puzzles, of their choosing.

Completed and correct puzzles are worth an amount of points relative to difficulty.

The generator I linked has Easy, Medium, Hard, Very Hard. I used 2, 5, 8 and 13 for value.

Incomplete or incorrect puzzles are worth nothing, and are lost forever.

Participants may choose to mark a puzzle as “Must Have”, in which case it will be worth double points if completed. However, if not completed or incorrect it will be worth double negativepoints.

No electronic solvers.

There’s some amazing Sudoku solvers available on phones/tablets now. Just snap a picture and the solver will tell you what numbers go where. Speaking of Sudoku solvers, Peter Norvig has a fantastic article on writing a Sudoku solver. Go read it, its great.

Optional Rules

These rules can add a hilarious…I mean “educational” element of stress to the game. Use as you see fit.

  • Incorrect puzzles previously delivered can be reintroduced later as “bugs”, which must be fixed before any other work, and are worth nothing.
  • Reserve some of the puzzles for “expedite” challenges. During the middle of an iteration throw one of these puzzles at the team, and tell them that it must be completed before the end of the iteration or their score for the iteration will be zero.
    • This can have some interesting side effects, as if the team has over-committed with a large number of “Must Haves” they can choose to intentionally fail the expedite challenge and zero out their scope, saving them from a large negative score. One of my teams actually did this, and I totally didn’t see it coming.


Make sure to setup one area for each team involved in the game. Separate the planning area from the working area, like in the following (terrible) diagram.


Note that where I have said “puzzles”, that’s the planning area.

Start by introducing the teams to the rules (not the optional rules though, they shouldn’t see them coming, for maximum effect). Give them maybe 5 minutes to discuss and ask you questions. Don’t spell everything out, let them be responsible for getting to the detail by encouraging good questions.

At that point, show a nice visible timer (http://www.online-stopwatch.com/ isn’t bad) with 7 minutes on it, and tell them their planning time has started. No puzzles can be started until the planning time has finished. Note down what each team has committed to, and which puzzles (if any) are marked as “Must Have”. I found it most helpful to mark the puzzles themselves, much easier to keep track of later when marking, but make sure you also note down their commitments in some public place, like a whiteboard. I used a simple table on a white board, and a simple notation of:

[Puzzle Number] [Difficulty] [Optional: Must Have] [Correct]

27 M ! [Tick] would indicate that puzzle 27, which was a Medium, was marked as a Must Have and was correct.


Once planning has completed, start the timer for execution (20 minutes is pretty good) and let them get started.

Once that timer expires, collect all of the puzzles (regardless of state) and start the timer for 7 minutes for planning and retrospective. While the teams are planning, mark the puzzles, and note down the cumulative score for each team in some publically visible place. The quicker you do this, the quicker the teams can have feedback on how they are doing. Ideally, it should be before their planning finishes, although even without marking the teams will have some idea about how they went.

Planning/retrospective time up, iteration time start.

Rinse and repeat until done.

Have a prize for the team with the best score. Its always a fun note to end the activity on.


As with everything in life, people are bad at estimating, even when the estimating is implicit. Teams will almost certainly massively over-commit in their first iteration and then commit to a more reasonable amount in the second, quickly establishing what they are able to accomplish in the time provided. The interesting point here is that Sudoku puzzles are basically the same, even though they vary in difficulty. After the first 2 iterations, the teams will probably still not be all that great at estimating, but they will improve. Software, unfortunately, rarely conforms to the same sort of pattern as the Sudoku puzzles, which means that you may never see software development teams be able to make accurate estimates. I’ve been trying to estimate software for years now, and while I’m definitely better than I used to be, the most important element to delivering on time, is to have flexibility in what you deliver, not in getting the estimates perfectly accurate.

Other observations:

  • You may see a participant assume a command and control role, deciding what will be done and assigning out work in the first iteration, which may or may not work.
  • Some teams will establish themselves a mini-backlog and work through that in priority order (those teams are awesome).
  • People may try to cheat, by saving partially completed puzzles in one iteration so they can continue to work on them in the next (that’s why you note down the committed puzzles publically).


Like most of the various Agile training games, the game allows for two main outcomes.

One, it teaches Agile principles to the participants (which you should reinforce at the end with a summary). The participants don’t even need to know the principles beforehand, the activity itself can be a great way to introduce them.

Two, it allows you to watch participant behaviour. Watching the way people react to situations can tell you a lot about them, which you can then leverage later on. If you play this game after introducing Agile concepts, you will easily be able to see those who took them to heart (in comparison to the people who just fall back to their old ways).

Also its fun to watch people squirm.