Succession Secrets Boost Production

Fuelling an Upward Spiral

Food forests often get old and woody as they mature. The fruit sits high, out of reach of mere humans and the permaculture garden looses it’s edge. Bunya Halasz, with support from Flávia Assuncao and their community, pioneer forest management strategies to increase production and diversify harvest on commercial farms. Through targeted disruption of natural forest succession, a richer production begins.

Part of our student moodle video on how creating glades boosts plantings

Magically, the forest grows with a wealth of diversity and resilience. In this short video Bunya is harvesting a pineapple with slips for replanting. Cassava lays in background. The soil is rich and diverse plants surround him.

Strategic disruption triggers succession. With skill, an upward spiral of successions evolve. Disruption naturally results from the collapse of old trees, wildfires or storms. Sometimes, the existing diversity and resilience of the mature soil system fuels an increase in production.

Bunya and Flavia’s team carefully execute a disruption to boost production. Their technique is developed on traditional farming in the tropics with their deep knowledge of the species, soil ecology and climate.

Bunya-explaining-the-diversity-to-production-spiral – enhance this image. Photo: Flávia Assuncao

Beyond a boost in production, the yield expands. Their yield now includes pioneering knowledge, skills sharing, empowerment of others and supporting diversity in the community.

Flávia is heartened by the community who value their diverse produce

What is Succession?

There are two types of succession. Primary succession builds on rock, creates soil and supports grassy plants. Whereas Secondary succession builds up layers of plants, deeper soil and a web of life.

Finally, the canopy of a mature forest closes. And a few trees become the dominant species. In a food forest, this limits our diversity of crops. At this point, the fruits of the forest ripen in the sun at the top, far from reach for mere humans. Very few annuals, herbs, shrubs or smaller trees can survive. And the area below becomes empty and becomes dark. Sometimes, a closed canopy is useful. For instance, a closed canopy can help combat weeds or to create shaded paths and work areas. But production is limited to one layer only – the canopy.

worms eye view of forest during day time
Bamboo forest showing growth at the top. Photo by kazuend on Unsplash

Disruption Opens Opportunity

One way to overcome the loss of easy pickings is to disrupt the system. Disruption enables a new wave of primary succession that immediately benefits from the deeper soil. In addition, the leafy harvest reinvigorates the soil system.

Red cedar stump regrowing at our permaculture demonstration site in Mt Kembla NSW Australia
Red cedar stump resprouting at our permaculture demonstration site in Mt Kembla NSW

Suddenly, production intensifies when the canopy opens. Lower layers once common in a primary succession, thrive again. And they grow better due to the rich soil conditions.

Spiral succession is fuelled by three factors:
increased light, released root sugars and organic cover.

Careful planning is instrumental in maintaining the wealth of organic resources. Of course, the planning depends on knowledge of species needs and careful timing. After all, chaotic large scale disruption can damage diversity and resilience.

Coppiced Logan tree interplanted with Emergent tree, banana, pawpaw, yam and much more

Mimic Nature: Slash, Sequester, Succeed

Overgrown food forests and young alley crops both benefit from this new style of succession planning.

Part of our student moodle video showing how coppicing works

Reinvigoration of Woody Forests

At ConsciousGround in the rolling hills behind Bryon, the old food forest was coppiced and interplanted. Then, the new plants were protected with mulch made from the slashings. Furthermore, the coppiced trees regrew. This provided lots of fruit within easy reach. Now the site supports an understorey of pineapples, taro, bananas, herbs and a wide diversity of trees. In addition, flocks of turkeys and chickens browse fallen fruit.

Like the surrounding rainforest, the layers vary with vines and herbs. This reinvigorated food forest is bursting with banana, papaya, berry, native fruits, yams, cranberry hibiscus, taro, tamarillo, sugarcane, cassava, arrowroot, ginger, pineapple, sweet potato and culinary herbs.

wonderful culinary creations by chef Nic Barrett and his wife Kath Austen at Consciousground NSW
Wholesome and delicious culinary creations by chef Nic Barrett and team at Consciousground in NSW

Power of Emergent Trees

Emergent trees act like solar panels, gathering light from above and protecting smaller plants below. Bunya’s team, keeps 10-20% of the compatible emergent tree cover to protect the site from harsh summer sun in Australia. At first, they trim the side branches to force the emergent trees to grow tall and strong. In a few years, the emergent trees become strong enough to support a ladder. Then the team cut and harvest them as poles. Consequently their root systems either die or retreat. This unlocks nutrients for the next plants. As a result, another succession begins. And a resilient production spiral arises.

Part of our student moodle video on use of emergent species in agroforestry at GrowingRootsPermaculture

Enriched Commerical Mono-cropping

Hosted by the innovative The Farm at Byron, a rare agricultural beacon is demonstrated. Here you can see the power of intensive diverse cropping taught by GrowingRootsPermaculture in conjunction with Living Agroecology and Hungry Earth Agroecology. This plots using spiral succession and permaculture are brimming with produce.

Layers of production at The Farm in Byron. https://thefarm.com.au/
Layers of production at The Farm in Byron.

The progression from monocropping through to alley cropping and then low canopy agroforestry is clear. Diverse intensive production replaces standard commercial mono-cropping. The plantings start with annual crops such as corn and beans. As the annual crops are mature, perennial plants are introduced. Spent stems and leaves shelter young plants from sunburn or frost. Next plantings are fast-growing emergent species. Emergent species shoot up to capture light. As a result, they also serve as mist collectors and wind or frost protection.

Support GrowingRootsPermaculture. Join their upcoming living agroforestry course.

Learn more about permaculture with comprehensive notes and videos delivered on our new moodle.

Our Quick Microclimates Course

Our quick online course on Microclimates helps you create better living and growing spaces with 6 natural energy factors. Boost your use of natural energies to optimise comfort and production. This course shows you how to work with nature to create the best living space. And best of all, your living space will have more natural light and warmth.

Image of sun smiling on a suntrap designed farm with Link to affordable Microclimates course on Udemy
Image of a suntrap designed farm and Link to affordable Microclimates course on Udemy

Description

Our course on Microclimates creates better living and growing spaces with 6 natural energy sources. Boost your use of natural energies and optimise production. This course shows you how to work with nature to create the best living space. And best of all, your living space will have more natural light and warmth.

Microclimates boost the productivity and enjoyment of outdoor and indoor spaces. This course helps create a diverse range of microclimates. It helps you understand what factors combine to create a microclimate. Energy sources and influences create microclimates, we break this down for you. There are key natural energy factors that influence a microclimate. This course explores each factor. Valuing and using sunlight is vital. This course shows your how to create a suntrap. Next up we discover how to harness warmth and store it in different types of thermal mass. Next we use or diffuse wind. Cool elements such as winter wind and frost are also addressed. Finally, we look at lesser known factors such as altitude and geo-thermal influences.

Bananas love shelter from the wind from the hedge behind them. In turn, they shelter a basil crop.

This course also provides design ideas, real-life examples, and ways to communicate microclimate ideas to others. You can create a range of microclimates in your own space: indoors and out. By the end, you will empowered and ready for simple action to improve your lifestyle and growing potential.

Once you know how nature works, you can imitate it. The costs of comfort and production are reduced and our footprint on the earth is lightened.

Here is our MICROCLIMATES COURSE ON UDEMY A Beginners Permaculture Skill

No previous knowledge is required. Get comfortable and ready to improve your lifestyle.

Electric Car Culture Gets Ugly – Occasionally

Electric Cars in Our Wide Brown Land

Recently we bought the cheapest new electric car available. We don’t normally buy new stuff because we know the impact from buying something new. Buying new stuff encourages more manufacturing. However, in this case, we have encouraged affordable, emerging clean technologies.

After all, if we want change, we need to be active in building a better, more sustainable culture. As the understanding of Electric Vehicles [EVs] grows in the community, everyone’s future gets greener.

My dream in the 80s, maybe one day can come true.

Driving a short range electric car requires a major cultural shift. Not since my student days have I lost sleep wondering if I will get safely to my next destination without running out of fuel. Could we be stranded on a long stretch of road with paddocks all around us? Would the local mechanic shake their head and giggle?

Electric vehicles are definitely quiet, clean and fast. They are perfect for city life. But how would a short range EV function on a 2000km journey through our wide brown land that has just flooded and is full of school vacation merry makers? What could go wrong? Who else would be changed by our little adventure?

First up, lets give a nod to the electric car, it’s benefits and quirks.

1. Electric Cars are Fast

A word of warning: don’t try to race against an electric car at the lights with a petrol or diesel engine. You can’t win. Sadly, the old culture of drag racing is now totally unsatisfying. Take off is immediate in an EV and there’s no fuss with gear changes. It doesn’t require precision or skill because there is no gear box.

Different Driving Technique

Unlike the petrol car, there is rarely any need to apply the brake in an electric car unless you genuinely have to stop. All the electric driver needs to do is take their foot off the ‘throttle’ or turn off the cruise control and the car immediately slows down. In effect, easing your foot off the pedal is like engaging a brake. And as the electric car slows down, it recaptures energy. The car’s momentum puts energy back into the battery. Neat.

2. Electric Cars Wear-Out Less

Driving an electric car requires a slightly different driving technique. Driving an electric is very similar to operating a sewing machine or a slot car. The accelerator pedal controls the power almost instantaneously. As a result, the electric car uses the brakes a lot less. So there is less damage to the braking system and less braking noise or pollution.

3. Quiet and Clean

The electric car generates less noise pollution. It is very quiet. Frankly it is too quiet to get through a crowded street. And more than once someone has stepped out in front of the car as if it is a not a serious threat. We need whistles to scare off the pedestrians and wildlife.

It is also very clean. It has no oil except for lubrication. So it generates a lot less pollution on the road surfaces and in the waterways. The cleanliness of the engine will attract a wider range of service providers. Young people will enjoy this technology. And more women will become interested in becoming a EV mechanic. However, because there are less moving parts, there is less need for physical repairs, so they will have less to attend to. Electric cars last longer and very cheap to refuel. It cost us less than $40 to travel 2000kms.

4, Clever

What qualifies something as clever? Conserving energy is clever for the user and their environment. The electric car uses less overall energy because it uses only what it needs. Unlike a petrol engine where the brake screeches off all the power, the electric car captures excess energy and returns it to the battery.

Stay smart and don’t believe everything the car tells you. A healthy range prediction can diminish quickly when a storm hits and you need lights and the demister.

About Those Ugly Moments

Our car has a modest range of only 270kms. So, once we left the first big city, we drove into a power-scarce frontier. There are few charging stations on the road. And not all off the stations are working. Broken charging stations disrupt plans. They ‘upset our applecart’. And during the busy season, the stations were often full. So, we quickly developed strategies to ease the stress.

EV Etiquette

Sometimes the charging stations were occupied and the driver blissfully absent, leaving no indication of when they would return. The best solution was to leave a polite card on the windscreen politely asking them to call us when they return. Take a bunch of cards on your journey.

Some charging stations simply don’t work. Get ready to call the supplier to alert them to this. Be patient with the old ‘turn it off and back on again’ tech talk. Keep your cool by not setting a tight time frame. The suppliers do indeed ‘have you by your short and curlies’.

Get ready for robust parking bay discussions with articulate mature white men. I saw not one other female EV driver on our interstate journey. This is an issue shown a recent paper showing why women are giving up on EV’s in California.

In Byron, whilst waiting for a station to become available, an older gentleman in his EV rolled past. Finally, the charger was free. So, we moved in. But a heated discussion with the older driver exploded.

At one recharge station, debate burst and
sparks began to fly.
Our position as first in line was hotly contested.
But the only evidence I could offer as proof of waiting was my half eaten ice-cream.

Unfortunately, there is no official queuing system. The recharge stations need to be redesigned so that there is space to queue or wait alongside or behind the charging vehicle.

The EV community app called Plug-share has facility to assist waiting users but not everyone bothers to use it. Instead, Tesla drivers have their own app. So, they wouldn’t want to use two apps. But they do like to the convenience of both general charging stations as well as their own. But, really, that is as ugly as it got for us. When the debate was resolved, he calmed down and had a chat. Quick charging takes about 40min and that’s a good chance to walk around the town to avoid the junk food.

Our Rescue Plan

Before we set off we packed a long caravan cord, took a tent and bedding and didn’t book accommodation. We quickly learned not to book accommodation until after we charged the car for the last run. That is super risky during school holiday periods with every family on the roads.

The friendly Chelsea motel in Coffs Harbour was helpful after finding the charging station broken down.

A Friendly Inn

Our next rescue option was to get a motel overnight and ask if we charge with a general power socket. The cheaper motels have friendlier staff. Younger people were keen to support this new technology. They fully understand the need to recharge. They recharge their phone habitually. But few people believe that an electric car costs less than $5 power to recharge.

So we asked for use of an outdoor plug. One high end motels said they didn’t have outdoor plug. But cheap motels usually have a laundry room. Alternatively, we could run the cable outside under the door but can create a trip hazard. Eventually we negotiated to pay the extra fee for the electricity. Then I pointed out that the motel can list themselves as EV friendly they were very happy.

The Last Ditch

When you can’t get a motel with access to a simple power socket, seek a powered site at a caravan park. Plug in to charge you car over night and pitch your tent.

Part of the planning needs to include bringing a hamper with you. Once you are plugged in for the night, the meal options are limited to those within walking distance.

Sun Setting on Petrol Cars

At the end of day, we need to understand and accommodate the needs of Electric vehicle drivers. We must encourage women to become a valuable part of the futuristic culture. Given that women in Australia still earn less than men and take more clean, service roles, supporting cheap electric vehicles ensures that they are more affordable for girls. On the other hand, buying exclusive electric vehicles encourages high end manufacturers to keep making more and more exclusive, unaffordable cars. Steer clear of the exclusive brands.

New cars still cost the earth in embodied energy and lithium mining. If you are considering a a new car, make it an electric. When driven with pride and care and it will serve for generations.

The electric car offers more than transport, they are a battery to extend the use of our solar system. When we charge the car using our modest solar array, we are boosting the value of our solar electricity system by using the excess for the car, rather than pumping it all to the grid. Future cars will permit you use them as a house battery, where you can withdraw power from the car overnight.

Electric cars are more energy efficient and offer a cleaner future. The understanding of how they work and to how better cater for EV drivers benefits everyone.

Convergence Ready For You

a hen looking back over her shoulder as she stands on a peak above a sea of mist

Your Special Time to Breakaway

Gone are the days of hugging and shouting at Convergences, squeezing into a venue to hear a great speaker or being tousled by the crowd to see something amazing.

Fortunately, the Australian Permaculture Convergence is bravely holding space for you to participate in something amazing. The program is loaded with diversity and interesting discussion. Every convergence needs diversity. And best of all, your enthusiasm counts.

This is all the space this participant had, using grey water for a garden." Rowe Morrow speaks on Wednesday 
Outcomes from teaching Permaculture in 10 refugee camps
“This is all the space this participant had, using grey water for a garden.” Rowe Morrow speaks on Wednesday
Outcomes from teaching Permaculture in 10 refugee camps

If you live in Australia, here are 5 great reasons to buy your tickets, pack your bag and venture out again. The time is ripe in Australia. The scene is set for a great convergence.

So, come along to celebrate natures abundance – 12 April to 15 April 2021

Maybe you have become quite comfortable with staying at home. Here are 5 good reasons to make a special break and converge once again.

Cleverness is limited to working with the miniscule known - Quote from Stuart Hill

1. Broaden Your Reach

The best reason for going to conferences is to meet with likeminded people and peers on a level footing. Convergences bring together people from all different climates and experiences with common needs and discoveries. They are a great way to meet new people and get a feel for how other people respond to challenges.

As usual, the permaculture convergence will welcome you to sit with people from a wide range of backgrounds and experience. As you build new connections you can reconnect with people you haven’t seen for a while and discover where their dreams led them. In fact, each convergence can feel like the chance to open a time-capsule full of inventions and ideas.

  • Linda Woodrow, Author of 470 presents – Imagined Futures: The role of imagining in creating the world we want
  • David Holmgren – Permaculture and the climate emergency in the Australian context 
  • Robina McCurdy – Empowering Bioregional Food Sovereignty
  • Stuart Andrews – Natural Sequence Farming 
  • Starhawk – Earth Activist Training

2. Convergences Expand Our Mindset

You will hear a lot about new approaches and techniques, learn from elders and listen to the newest faces starting out in Permaculture.

Bunya Halasz –

Bunya Halasz - Successional Agroforestry – an Exploration of Humid Tropical and Subtropical Systems

Successional Agroforestry – an Exploration of Humid Tropical and Subtropical Systems 

Of course, convergences give us the opportunity to ask presenters questions about their work and the rationale behind it, which you can’t do when reading journal articles or watching a video. As a result, convergences are authentic and interactive.

  • John Champagne, Jed Walker and the Permafund team – Permafund – microgrants for community projects worldwide
  • Michael Wardle – Trees, their needs, and the myths of dynamic accumulators
  • Virginia Solomon – Designing Permaculture Jobs
  • Andrew Pengelly – Bush Medicine Walk – Wednesday W2
Dianella Mt Kembla public walkway
  • Shane Sylvanspring & Trudy Juriansz – Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) principles and Permaculture principles
  • Tim Barker – Appropriate Technology for Resilience 
  • Tom Kendall- Design elements of a functioning biodigester in Australia
  • Charlie Brennan – Sensing Place – hearing trees and rivers
  • Robin Clayfield – Growing Community – Abundant Tools for Dynamic Groups, Effective Collaboration and Empowered Action
Davidson plum flowers

3. Collaborate

You don’t have to be a formal presenter, you talk to people about what you are doing, share ideas in workshops, add energy to a group or get feedback with a mentor over lunch. Talking about what we do with others offers ideas and energy to future generations.

  • Robyn Francis – Fair Share in the Anthropocene,
    Emma Brindal – Fostering Earth Care in folks of all ages,
    Fionn & Laura Quinlan – Families in Transition – Sharing Land & Visions,
    Nick Radford – A Permaculture Language,
    Shaoying Wang & April Sampson-Kelly – Designing a Chinese Village with Permaculture
  • Mark Jones & Billa Lauiti-Kolkr – Working with First Nations Custodians- a Discourse for Permaculture Leaders
    Erin Young – Sociocracy: Shared Leadership for Positive Impact
    Helen Schwencke – Inviting Nature to Dinner – How to grow food and support the little guys ( with Dick Copeman)
Lizzy Smith talks about Risk Management
Lizzy Smith – Risk Management for Permaculture Projects 

4. Convergences help us Smile

“It isn’t work if you’re having fun” said a great environmentalist lecturer Ted Trainer. Creative energy is vital for innovation. And Permaculture is always innovative. Our designs relate to the here and now as well as planning for next generations. It is here that we can enjoy the challenge of building a cleaner future for all. As a result, our interactions at convergences help pioneer our Care of People practices.

  • Victoria Holder – Hidden permaculture in hospitality & why you don’t know about it
  • Dominique Chen – Decolonising Food Yarn
  • Jane Milburn – Permaculture your wardrobe
  • Ko Oishi – Northey Street City Farm – 25 years of design exploring opportunities and constraints
Ko Oishi - Northey Street City Farm – 25 years of design exploring opportunities and constraints

5. Synergise

Many minds make light work. The exchange of information during a convergence bears many fruits and build a brighter future.

  • Dick Copeman – Responding & adapting to climate change – a permaculture perspective
  • Morag Gamble – Permaculture Education Futures
  • Elisabeth Fekonia – Ferment your Food 
  • Carly Garner – Inspiring NextGen Earth Stewards
  • Megan McGowan – Permaculturing our Permaculture: A case study
  • Beck Lowe – Retrosuburbia 101

‘So why attend? Can’t I read about the convergence later or watch the video?’ Well you might ask. In truth, a convergence is something that you feel, see, hear, taste and interact to enjoy. In the end, it is like going to the beach. You smell and hear the surf, you feel the rush of cold water and sand goes everywhere. After all, a video of the ocean never feels the same as being there.

For those of you who can’t attend. We will keep the team spirit pumping. For those of you who are packing already – See you there!