Field Day Experiences Develop Design Skills

get out there and explore permaculture design

We provide field days to develop skills and experience in Permaculture design. These field days are open to Permaculture design course graduates, trainees and teachers.

And they are free for our Permaculture Visions course participants.

We have 50 topics for the field days ranging from practical workshops such as how to use an A frame, mapping using triangles, zoning, sector planning, and reading the landscape through to determining the potential and capacity of a site or communicating design ideas. We also explore social permaculture topics such as the ethics of intervention, systems thinking, community resource mapping and much more.

basic mapping of a site using triangles

Our Permaculture Design Process

Our Field Guide to Permaculture has 4 phases: 1. Research values and data, 2. Explore capability and culture, 3. Ideate functions and patterns 4. Communicate and implement

using an Aframe to mark contours

1. Research values and data

The design practice starts with a research phase where we are setting and reviewing our design team members objectives, meeting the clients and users and determining their wishes. We state our ethics and how this applies to the process. We develop skills for negotiating the value and costs of the design to us and the client. Then we refine our skills for interviewing the client.

Finding solar access, keypoint, and thermal band for a valley

2. Explore Potential of the Space and Culture

The next step in the design process identifies physical attributes and their potential for improvement. This includes planning Sectors, strategies to improve soils, water management, asset optimisation, and risk preparedness. Then we consult to historical records and listen to elders, explore community values, client and user habits and beliefs, cultural symbolism and networks.

communicating strategy to redirect surface water away from the pathways and into garden by installing rollover mounds
redirect path water to reduce erosion

3. Ideate Functions and Patterns

Before we focus on through-puts like composting systems. We identify the real functions required. We examine the connections and find ways to optimise energy and nutrient cycling. This part of the process is creative and fruitful. We look at zoning, creating multiple elements for each need and multi-functional components.

communicating design idea to use looped swales

4. Communicate and implement

Finally we practice communicating ideas and aim to stay involved in the implementation process.

How to get involved in these workshops

Contact us to get invited to the field days. If you are a permaculture elder, we welcome your input for free. All other experienced participants, please pay what you feel.

If you are newbie, welcome. If haven’t done a Permaculture course yet, you can enrol for as little as $225 in our introductory module and get unlimited access to the 6-weekly field days.

enrol in the introduction to permaculture course

8 Understandings Missing from Permaculture Designers Manual

PERMACULTURE – A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison by 1988 illustrated by Andrew Jeeves, is a masterpiece. But it has 8 understandings missing from the text that are vital for permaculture design today.

The definition of Permaculture has evolved

Initially Bill Mollison and David Holmgren defined permaculture as an ‘alternative, sustainable agriculture. David commented that it has evolved to one of permanent or sustainable culture.’

Later, Graham Bell wrote, “Permaculture is a way of life which shows us how to make the most of our resources by minimising waste and maximising potential.  Conscious design of a lifestyle which is highly productive and does not cause environmental damage.  Meeting our basic needs and still leaving the earth richer than we found it.”  

Below is a Photo of Graham and Nancy’s site

The definition will continue to grow and develop whilst ever people are working at it.
In this era of climate uncertainty, the definition would read:
Permaculture is a designed, sustainable way of living
where we align with nature
to minimise waste and maximise potential’.

Original mission of the Permaculture Designers Manual

Page 1 states the book aims to cover aspects of:

  • Designing and maintaining a cultivated ecology in any climate (but this does not include arctic and not climate change adaptation nor catastrophe hardiness)
  • Principles of design (however, the original text does not list the principles or detail them). Later on, David Holmgren develops a set of permaculture principles. But the principles need to remain open to development as the practice of permaculture design evolves.
  • Design methods in chapter 3 are a collection of approaches with some details (but not a clear process)
  • Patterns in nature and some ways to apply this
  • Climatic factors (but there is an assumed level of knowledge of how energy works and how to choose the best technology or strategy. And this is what people really need in the climate crisis to cut their energy usage and waste)
  • Water
  • Soils
  • Earthworks (but there no discussion about impact of earthworks on soils. Also, there are few alternative earthwork strategies for urban sites)
  • Aquaculture (not value of oceanic carbon sink)
  • Social, legal and economic design aspects. (These are limited and based on western systems).

So, lets unpack some of the areas lacking for the modern Permaculture designer.

1. Catastrophe hardiness – now our top priority in era of climate change

Designing and maintaining a cultivated ecology in any climate is the first mission stated in the book. But it doesn’t tackle very cold climates. And it was not able to predict the extent of climate change adaptation needed today. Nor would any of us have appreciated the impact of associated catastrophes. Today, we need to design beyond resilience and for catastrophe hardiness.

Also, since the Designers Manual was written, Permaculture has developed better social structures. Because it recognises that destruction caused by wars and pollution can only be addressed by ethics. Social design is crucial for humanity to live in harmony with nature. We all need to see and feel connection with our environment. This is the first step in respect for the world and others.

2. Permaculture Design Principles

The principles are not listed together or detailed in the designer’s manual. In following years, David Holmgren develops principles however, Mollison’s principle of multiple function and multiple elements for each function is not longer a high priority. All philosophies benefit from further discussion. The principles are not hard and fast. They are to treated as a knowledge base that is constantly collaboratively evolving.

3. Chapter 3 Design methods lack example processes

The ‘inputs and outputs’ thinking is part of the era of mechanistic thinking. In order to observe a system, we often zoom in to see the details. But this thinking can tempt us into seeing each detail as a component, independent of the whole system. The text can lead us to reductionism: where we reduce everything to parts. We start to measure inputs and outputs. This is simplistic science and we need to move toward holistic thinking. Today designers use alternative terms ie. ‘environmental participants’ [Stuart Hill] or ‘kin’.

Now, we also recognise the need to develop the design process as cyclic. As Transition Design lecturer Cameron Tonkinwise warns us, we need an attitude of staying with the design challenge.

Also, the experimental approach to design that was briefly mentioned is sometimes misunderstood by Permaculture designers as lack of planning and development. Adam Grubb of Verge and Permablitz said he stays involved to ensure that the implementation is fitting with the goals of the design. An essential part of the process lies in educating and empowering the users.

Since the Designers’ Manual was written a lot of good examples of cyclic design systems have developed including Bunya’s System of agroforestry, Synergistic farming, Transition towns, Transition design and engineering.

4. Energy and Technology Options

There is an assumed knowledge of how energy works. And now, more than ever, energy has become an important issue. Energy use is fuelling our climate uncertainty. So, each individual person needs to get skilled at managing their energy use.  Furthermore, there is no guidance on how to choose the best technology or strategy. Instead it shows details of particular technologies ie. 2 person shovel. What future generations need are tools on how to measure the efficiency of a technology. They need to know how to invest time and money for their future.

harvest and store water in urban design

5. Earthworks and Alternatives

This chapter is lacking a need for discussion about impact of earthworks on soils [this has being developed by Darren Doherty], Furthermore, we need ideas for alternative strategies for earthworks and water management for urban sites. This includes wicking systems, and using pathways and gutters to allow rainwater to do the work.

Despite Mollison’s repeated suggestions that we design to suit the landscape, many permaculture designers are still changing the soil and landscape to impose an ecosystem with their favorite species. Instead, we need to observe and accept conditions, then make slight modifications in order to grow what suits the site. This includes native foods.

This limited design perspective is in part due to the approach to the design process. We need to stop asking our clients what they want, like asking them for a shopping list. Instead exercise observation and experimentally. Then design to amplify the good stuff.

6. Our Modern Context Acknowledges Broader Value

Today, many permaculture sites have wider potential than first expected. This includes carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, and many other community and research benefits. The science has grown. Aquaculture and food forests also yield valuable carbon sequestration. Martin Crawford of the Agroforestry research trust says the first task of his food forest is carbon sequestration. For him, food is a bonus. Mollison wrote that the yield is, theoretically unlimited. And future research will reveal how many other bonuses fall into that yield.

Lizzy Smith (Queanbeyan) has Kangaroos free to roam through her Permaculture garden.

7. Zones 0 and 6 Now on Map

Since Mollison’s writings, the concepts of Zone 0 and Zone 6 have emerged. Zone 0 boosts indoor growing (ferments, sprouts, indoor plants) and activities such as recycling, repairing and retrofitting. And Zone 6 acknowledges and develops connections with the wider community.

We now know that mature urban permaculture spaces grow more than food and fibre than can be recycled on site. Urban sites often become islands of wildlife habitat, social connection and food sharing points. Also, Zone 5 deserves to be designed not just as a secluded patch but as a wildlife corridor, linked with parklands, waterways and street verges.

King parrot eating pears
Some of the residents on our demonstration site

8. Social Design Aspects

The few Social aspects mentioned in the text are based on western systems. Rowe Morrow warns that western culture constantly talks about the self rather than our community. She points out that our social systems are inherently violent. And we need to design to support our core cultural values and practices to achieve a thriving perma(nent)culture.

Books for a better future

According to Richard Telford of Permaculture Principles, books will become more expensive to produce. However, books and courses will always be a valuable resources because they provide expertly guided learning as opposed to randomized surfing of information.

Texts for a better future

Text books will always be useful because they guide the learner. Better still, some empower choice. Rather than recommending specific technologies, we need to show readers how to make better choices. We benefit from expert guidance on the finer details to select tools, investments and species. No book can keep up with technological changes. So, the books of the future will only stay relevant if they empower choice.

Authors of inspiring texts, such as Albert Bates, happily accept and respond to feedback. And their texts are easily edited and adapted.

The extra chapters needed today in Permaculture textbooks include: better understanding energy, catastrophe hardiness, sustainable social culture, urban strategies and techniques, and refining of the Permaculture principles.

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Plug The Losses – Improve Permaculture Design Flow Tools

April Sampson-Kelly and Nick Radford, discuss how good designs plug losses. Like closing a door on a cold day, these actions build efficiency with very little effort.

Creatively Cut Losses

My first response to a design when I’m called in to consult is to look at where the losses are on a site and try to plug the losses. Not completely so that water floods the site. But sufficiently so that the site is not losing nutrients and losing water that it may need. So, I guess you identify the needs of the site. And then I go about plugging the losses. This could be the losses of nutrients water and organic matter that can flow away from the site. Or in a social context, the losses could be people we fail to include.

Water used to stream down the path

Leaky Weirs

Nick gives an example of about a fresh site that is often degraded., “There’s too fast a movement of that water. It will be moving too fast. And it will be carrying with it soil. And you’ll see erosion. Lee Davidson was a teacher of mine he’s this amazing Wastewater Guru from Lismore Uni and he had the 80/20 rule where he said you can do 80% of the job with 20% of the resources. Plugging – leaky plugging the big leaks is a classic example of that. And you can often just put stuff in the way to slow things down.

redirect path water to reduce erosion

Peter Andrews (author of Back from the Brink: How Australia’s Landscape Can Be Saved) , would have his water system at a creek where it would be dry. But then it would flood. But briefly. And then dry out again. And he would just put stuff in the way. He used logs and plants and he didn’t care if they were weeds or rocks or whatever. And it would slow things down. That’s what a leaky plug does.

Erosive waters in Suburbia

For students who want to just get started – they can recognize where is there erosion. Where can you see soil? are there bare spots? Is that unnatural? Sometimes nature is trying to convert this place into a thicker covered land. And so you can just help it along by plugging the leaks and putting stuff in the way. Whether it’s a pile of mulch or rocks or logs or whatever”. Nick notes “A good leaky plug will operate under all different flow regimes.

Aboriginal Flow Control Techniques

The Brewarrina Fish Traps central pools use low flow. There’s little fish traps in there. And then, when you got floods it doesn’t wash away. And further afield, there’s higher ground shaped for the traps. Nick says “It would be amazing to learn from for our water management. I’m deliberately making pipes leak in certain situations. So, when you’ve got gentle flow most of what is coming through is going to drip out of the pipe and into a garden bed. But when you got full-on flood flowing most of that water is going to get carried through the pipe.

Angles not Barriers

And when if you’re arranging logs to support soil you don’t want to make a barrier.

“Bill Mollison said “when you if you put a a barrier in the way of flow it will break” so there a bit of technique for how do you make this leaky plug do its job without being destroyed in the peak times. And often you angle it. So, if you put in a log in the way of a water flow, you’ll angle it. The slow flow will nestle up against the log and just slowly pass across it. And when water slows it drops silt and you get soil buildup. During an intense flow you’re not blocking the flow. The water keeps going.

Dianella plant: a bush tucker and soil conserver

Plants Adapt to Flow Change

Ultimately, plants are the masters of this dilemma. I was talking of Lee Davidson before he went to all these storm water drains and where they were just smooth concrete and they were polluting the the ocean because everything was going in the drain such as car oil and all sorts of toxic stuff. And they just going straight into the into the sea. And so they deliberately planted reeds in the base of these big concrete drains and during slow flow the reads would just filter out all of the particles. And they sit there and the reeds would hold this together and gradually build the floor of the the concrete drain. But then when you’ve got full-on flood they just lie down and cover that soil and and protect themselves. We’ve got many allies out there in nature.

Thank you to Home and Garden Designer Nick Radford of Bellingen Permaculture.
Learn more with us at Permaculture Visions.

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Reading Landscape with David Holmgren 

Reading Landscape with David Holmgren is online and free to watch for everyone.

“We hope that Reading Landscape gently fans those ancestral embers of deep, creaturely connection to place. You are free (and encouraged!) to share this film with others by sending them here. Don’t miss the live panel Q & A with David (Holmgren), David (Meagher), Honor, Meg and Woody that sparked a great conversation at the Reading Landscape premiere in Castlemaine. Watch the playback here.

The film notes “Walk with David Holmgren (co-originator of the permaculture concept) across Djaara Country, as he shares his insights and discusses his unique approach to reading landscape, a wealth of knowledge and wisdom developed over forty years.

David’s approach contributes to re-embedding reading landscape into our cultures as a known and fundamental human capacity, providing an opportunity for humans everywhere to deepen their connection to place.”

Observe and Interact

David encourages to build our observation skills. Learn by doing, not simply by being told what to do. Acknowledge these are sources of knowledge and information are not replaceable by academic learning.

David says Permaculture comes from two models. Firstly, we can learn from patterns in nature and secondly we can learn from indigenous people’s skills. We need to get people out looking at landscape and recording what they can see. Through this process people recognise that they can learn a whole lot for themselves.

Time Worth Spending

“You’ve got to spend time on this…observe and interact” (such as gardening or walking) “unmediated”, without other distractions. So we can be present in the moment. Then, we give full attention to everything that is going on. Sue mentions how she loves their outhouse because it forces them to go outside along a long path and through the garden. Sue “doesn’t consider the task as reading the landscape but more as absorbing the landscape and being absorbed by the landscape”. She believes that “Nature is the best teacher.” Sue aspires for all children to be part of this land.

Reading Before Settling Down

When David and Sue chose their property site they used social and physical knowledge of the region. They considered geology, different types of biological factors and soil, protection from fire and sense of community and the history of the site.

The existing old pear on his property “signifies deep moisture for over a hundred years and the climate suitability of the species to the site”. In their selection for a suitable site they also considered the effects of climate change.

Succession – See Landscape as Snapshot of the Whole Process

We can read the patterns on the landscape, how seedlings can thrive where they are sheltered by thorny plants like blackberries. And how these plants grow to shade out the thorny blackberries. We can play along with this, leverage the action, nudge the system in the right direction. And the exciting part of reading landscape is being able to predict the future.

Beyond Dreaming

Bec, a Djaara women in the film tells us Indigenous people talk about process. And they pass on laws and teachings on how to manage the land. They walk in flow with its changes.

Macroscope (big picture) and microscope (detailed) viewing needs to both done at once. The small details can help inform our understanding of the wider landscape. To be able to step back we need a sense of the scale of the space and time. Also, David implores us to search for the signs of things that may only happen occasionally, but can be very powerful. Climate, geology and hydrology can overpower nature.

Also, revel in the power of the edges, David says “Look closely at edges”. The edge is “where one things turns into another”. Reading landscape is a great way to find opportunities.

Finally, be prepared to be wrong. Build your skills and start to recognise patterns that suit your region. But then find where the rules no longer apply. Learn from elders. When reading the landscape, resist the temptation to judge. Strive to keep your curiosity and the joy of enquiry.