The Food Forest

Indoor-outdoor Strawbale Living Spaces

Reinvent your home and garden with strawbale building

Strawbale building is sweeping across Australia as progressive architects and environmentally sensitive home builders realise that this simple technology gives them the opportunity to create walls with uniquely natural shapes, textures and colours; walls that are strong, weatherproof, cheap and easy to build yourself.

The superb insulation qualities, the cost savings, the satisfaction of being involved in the building of your own home, (often despite a complete lack of trade skills) and the sheer beauty and flexibility of the medium have created a group of enthusiasts who have moved on from building their houses to construct studios, walled gardens, gazebos, cold-rooms and even super-insulated dog kennels for lucky hounds!

It is great to live in a straw-bale house but remember that no climate on Earth is so brilliantly suited to outdoor living as Australia’s, so maybe it is time to scrap the old English notion of locking ourselves inside the house to eat and socialise. Whilst Aussies have embraced the barbeque as form of outdoor cooking in summer, it is often a relatively primitive affair lacking in environmental comfort and lubricated by large quantities of fatty and starchy food. Now it is time for healthy outdoor eating for most of the year and you don’t have to go to the south of France or Italy to see the walled garden, the vine covered trellis with attendant herbs, fresh vegetables and fruit with an outdoor food preparation area… big slate tables and wood-fired ovens. It is all happening as part of Australia’s strawbale building revolution and in this land of improvisors you may see a sink built cunningly into a garden wall and a smidgin of polycarbonate sheeting to keep the UV rays and the odd drop of rain at bay.


'Provencal conversation' by expatriate Australian artist, Stella Bowen captures the feeling of outdoor living sheltered by living plants and the organic form of the courtyard which is so easy to achieve with straw-bale construction

cob oven area

A sheltered outdoor space for food preparation and conversation. All the herbs for a Mediterranean feast are in the raised bed garden on the left and soon grapes will droop from the trellis! The cob oven produces magnificent pizzas and rolls.

The 160 year-old homestead at The Food Forest was built with thick rock walls and tiny casement windows, the precious glass having been brought by sailing ship from England. This severe demarcation between inside and outside is inappropriate for our Mediterranean climate and has been revolutionised by extending the paving of the verandah into a strawbale walled, vine covered outdoor food preparation and entertainment area featuring a cob oven for making pizzas and bread, a barbeque and a raised garden bed with every fresh herb you need to add vitality to a meal. The trellis over the area also incorporates polycarbonate cladding which allows natural outdoor sunlight to flood the area but cuts out 99% of the harmful UV rays which kill and make life miserable for many people in Australia. Together with the strawbale wall to the south west it provides shelter against wind and rain. The area is also shaded by trees and is adjacent to food gardens, the big cool rainwater tank and the court where tennis, basketball, hockey and cricket can be played under proud gaze of parents as they sip a glass of red to keep their anti-oxidant levels up!

One of the most empowering things about straw-bale building is its absolute simplicity. If you can make something out of papier mache or plasticine, you can build it with straw. At the Food Forest we had never tried to build a wall until we came across straw bale construction. Two years later we had a studio with a beautiful walled garden, a gazebo and a passive-solar extension to our house with a walled outdoor cooking and entertainment area.

Click here to see a plan of our outdoor area.

outdoor sink

A recycled stainless steel sink is cunningly incorporated into an outdoor wall

eco gazebo

An eco-gazebo demonstrates how seating in-the-round can be easily constructed using strawbale techniques

strawbale wall

Generous, organic forms emerge naturally as you build

trellis construction

The pole-frame construction of the roof-trellis sheltering the indoor-outdoor area near the homestead

well rendering

Applying the first coat of render to the wall that provides shelter from south-westerlies

cob oven bread

The cob oven with a superb batch of bread rolls