After writing The Permaculture Student (www.thepermaculturestudent.com), I soon realized that just having a permaculture class in traditional schools wasn’t enough, we needed schools that were entirely dedicated to teaching permaculture to children the full academic year and not in summer. In my research and education, I also have come to realize that we cannot force anyone to learn anything, that all is choice-based if we are seeking true intent, and if we do not recognize and design choice into our learning systems, we will never develop the earnest and ethical life-long learners, problem-solvers, critical thinkers & innovators we sorely need.
We’re heading back to Christmas Hills. Site of our amazing 5 week workshop back in March. This time we’ll be completing a Mudbrick, Cob, Timber, Glass and Recycled bottle wall studio with huge round sliding windows and an amazing arched door, with a stilted deck.
Join us for hands on building and theory about everything you need to know to build your own natural home on a small budget. We’ll be completing the structure, rendering the walls, and teaching you about earthen floors, waterproofing, creative carpentry, foundations, doors, windows and making decorative walls using cob and recycled materials.
All situated at this amazing community full of inspiring natural building projects (earthbag vault, geodesic dome, pizza oven, rocket mass heater, yurt, tipi, train carriage house, shipping container house and other carpentry wonders).
I live in Washington State, USA, and you may already know that we’re experiencing a state-wide drought. This is shocking: everyone jokes about how it’s always raining, so you’re lucky if you get a tan, but it hasn’t rained as much lately. Supposedly we were going to have the same amount of rain but the snowpack would be depleted, which in turn affects the rivers and creeks, but I’ve noticed we’ve had less rain, and a hotter sun.
Some people I’ve talked to are getting to the point where they consider it par for the course, and are shrugging it off as if to say, what are we supposed to do about it? Others are searching for solutions, and are finding them in permaculture systems.
I’ve been worried about what drought, wildfires, and climate change in general will mean for food security and rising grocery store prices. Even the lushest areas of Washington have a high risk of wildfire this year, and other states in the US struggle with drought, raised risk of wildfire, and are voicing concerns about what this means for resource management. Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and South Dakota are all being asked to respond.
As far as food goes, I’ve already noticed produce getting more expensive and it’s only encouraged me to take the matter into my own hands. Look, the point of this article isn’t to scare you, and anyways, you and I both know there’s a solution.
In my previous article, we explored how the basic principle of water is that of flow, and so in order to work well with water it is important to be aware of what the flow is and where it is going. On a practical level, this involves some basic observation and a wealth of techniques which can be used to help utilise water to the advantage of your garden or farm.
One technique that is quite well discussed in the world of permaculture, though in my experience relatively unknown anywhere else, is the use of swales. Here I will share some practical tips for creating swales and optimising the flow of water.
The five-fold path to water wisdom
One of the most useful references I find is Toby Hemenway’s book Gaia’s Garden (2), in which he recommends five practical steps to conserving water: high organic-matter content, deep mulching, locating plants according to water needs, and soil contouring (2). This article will concentrate on soil contouring; however, it is prudent to bear the other four in mind during your design process, as part of the ‘multiple elements for each function’ principle.
‘Abundance’ is a hallowed concept in Permaculture. Abundance is what we permaculturalists aim for: abundant, multifarious yields of fruits, nuts, herbs, medicines, fibres… all things useful and edible.
The way I see it abundance is nature’s reward for careful, insightful design work. I like abundance. As a form of feedback it tells us we’re doing something right. In my mind the word ‘abundance’ conjures up the world of Sofia Coppola’s gorgeously realised period-extravaganza: Marie Antoinette. The costumes, designs and settings in this film reek of opulence. They’re sumptuous. Abundant!
It’s as natural as natural can be: Plants, from trees to chives, start small and get bigger. We can’t really escape that fact. The trick for those of us looking to cultivate, to instigate food forests and healthy polycultural gardens, is somehow getting from our seedlings to something that will provide us with food, or timber, or chop-and-drop mulch, or windbreaks, or all of these things. Whatever it is that we’ve envisioned happening as an end result of burying that seed or rooting that clipping, it general involves a plant reaching some semblance of maturity.
But, how do we get there? In most cases, going from seed to seedling is fairly straightforward, but when is the right time to take that dainty little sprig of life and put it out into the big bad world? How can we help it survive those first troublesome days, weeks, or years? Hey, it’s something every parent has to deal with at some point. At least with plants, we are able to keep a close eye on what’s going on, there’s no peer pressure or tuition, just a plant that wants to do everything it can to live a fruitful life. How can we not do our best for it?
When it comes to our energy needs, there are three main problems. We have confused needs and desires, cheap energy and not educated ourselves enough on understanding energy. Let me explain. Need is a word that gets used out of context all the time, it falls into the category of words like have to, should, got to and must. When we hear those words, we feel as if our choice is taken away and we are presented with something we HAVE TO DO or else. The reason I bring this up is, what is it we need in our homes that require energy? People say all the time to me, but I need a Dryer; I need Air-con… I need, need, need. When in reality they are just desires. Things we would like to have to make our days easier so we can get more done in a day. So that we can go to work to pay for our electricity bills! In reality, more people on earth live without electricity than with, so we don’t need it at all to survive. Have a think about how much excess electrical load you have in your home just because it saves you time or helps you do something faster.
The next part of the problem is cheap energy. Cheap energy is what has made us go out and buy a lot of electrical devices that save us time. That way we can go to work and make more money as it’s cheaper to have the electricity work for us at home while we go work. This has helped a lot of desires become needs. Cheap energy has helped bad building designs to get built because we don’t need to insulate or think about solar aspect anymore. We just put the air-con on, and that will heat and cool the house at the touch of a button! Cheap fossil fuels have had an enormous part in making renewable energy seem expensive. Fossil fuels receive a huge chunk of currency from governments to keep the energy coming so that we don’t get upset when there is no energy at the power points. If they charged us the true cost of what it takes to get energy to our power points, I guarantee that would instantly help reduce the need for energy in our homes. The math is simple, multiply your energy bill by x10, and that’s how much of a discount the government is paying for you every month right now to subsidise fossil fuels. And that is worldwide.
About a year ago I began volunteering at a small school and permaculture education center just south of Austin, Texas. At the time, I was working at a nursery in the city. I had an interest in plant care but no real awareness of permaculture. Since then, I have been on the fast-track to full permaculture immersion, learning by working.
Right around the time I was introduced to permaculture, I received the opportunity to be part of a start-up company doing this work in central Texas. I have spent the last year working with a team dedicated to ecologically viable methods of land management. So far, I’ve been learning the basics of ‘whole-systems’ design and installation. I’m discovering the unique qualities of the climate in this area and how permaculture design works here.
This work is teaching me to look at the environment in a different way than I have before. Where I once felt disconnected from my surroundings, I now feel motivated to interact and find sustainable living solutions. I am beginning to see how complex the ecosystem is. And at times, I am brought to a state of wonderment as I think about how each piece fits together. Working with the Earth certainly has its rewards.
What’s most rewarding for me is the promise of local abundance that I see possible through permaculture methods. The ability of these designed systems to provide for our needs is remarkable. And on our projects, we always look for ways to use local resources that the land is already providing. We use natural materials such as Juniper wood, and we utilize the city’s waste streams by gathering cardboard for sheet mulch.
The UK Permaculture Association will be hosting the 12th International Permaculture Conference and Convergence (IPCUK) in the heart of London this September. The theme this year is Designing the world we want and I’m going to be there as a keynote speaker. It is my pleasure to be one of the sponsors for this event and if you watch the video above you will find a unique discount code where you can save up to $85 on tickets (offer ends 31st of July 2015). IPCUK is an established and prestigious conference that brings leaders together, it forms new alliances, creates new strategies and showcases a range of sustainability innovations. So join me at the International Permaculture Convergence and Conference in London this September.
I recently completed Geoff Lawton’s Online Permaculture Design Course and the PDF I submitted is attached for readers to peruse.
At the age of 75 I am no longer physically able to manage the work of running a large accommodation business and the extended property, but do not wish to sell my home and farm. I am in good health and anticipate I could live into my late nineties as did my parents. For some time I have been interested in transition towns and intentional communities. While participating in the OPDC I was intrigued when Geoff Lawton described Land Share Trusts and this influenced my final submission. I have noted the possible ways in which my property could be developed to establish a number of Livings.
My late husband was German born and I have visited Germany a number of times. I was fascinated by the manner in which villages had been established as a cluster of houses with the farmers going out from the village to work their small sections of land. It is this land use concept that I consider could be practised by Lessees living in Glen Aplin while sharing the use of my land.
FOOD bring us all together; it is a common need and it can be incredibly delicious and also stressful! If you want to get back in touch with your inner hunter/gatherer, learn the skills to create your own food heaven, re-connect with why you are in food production, or inspire your kids in the garden; then join other like minds in a successful outback veggie patch and learn from one of Australia’s leading Permaculture experts – Nick Huggins! Over two days we will learn and apply the basic principles of why, how, where, when and what you can do to create a sustainable, delicious environment, reconnect to your food source and create abundance in all areas of your life…YES, even in the outback of Australia!