Top Permaculture Trees

How Can We Compare Trees?

photo taken at australian tropical foods nursery QLDAre you searching for your ultimate tree? Do you want the highest yielding, easiest to grow, most multi-functional, resilient, long living, best tasting fruit, most nutritious fruit, best timber, not-too-tall tree with fruit has no pests or disease? The search for perfection was at its height centuries ago. Our ancestors had done thousands of years of genetic selection.  But then, in the industrial era, mankind settled on a bland diet where “75 percent of the world’s food was generated from only 12 plants and five animal species”.

Our Winner Is…

mulberry-cheesecake
Mulberry Cheesecake with edible flowers

We like abundant tasty fruit from shady, low maintenance trees. Our favourite is the Mulberry (it is a shrub in cool climates).  The branches are pliable and strong weaving material. In spring, we use the branches as barriers to stop the chicken digging up our seedlings. We also make hiding places for the chickens to escape dogs or foxes during the day. It apparently has edible leaves, (although we haven’t been hungry enough yet to taste them). They make good fodder for poultry and cattle.  The timber is useful and we use mulberry as fuel in our winter fires. The Mulberry tree is very tough. It can be coppiced or pollarded and happily conforms to the shape you desire. It is self-propagating in a mulched garden and forgiving of most vandal attacks in a city-scape.

A Yummy By-Product

mulberriesMost Mulberry trees are not used for sericulture anymore (its primary farming role).  The Mulberry was carefully genetically selected for over 5000 years to feed silkworms. The biggest advantage of this fruit for our site is that these fruits do not succumb to the destructive native fruit fly. Other wildlife, especially the water dragons, love eating mulberry and will climb the trees or patiently wait for the fruit to fall. Lucky, there is plenty to share.  Be careful not to hang your washing overnight near these fruits because the droppings from flying foxes or birds will stain your clothes. Which brings us neatly into another function – Mulberry makes a fabulous natural fabric dye.

Conservationists warn against ‘Hardy’ food trees

King parrot eating pears

If you live in an area close to fragile native forest, the Mulberry isn’t your ideal candidate because the birds will eat and poop the seeds and it could possibly displace some of your native trees. But if you live in the city and trees are in short supply there, you can enjoy your visits from the birds and know that any food you grow in the city takes pressure off existing native forests which are being felled to make way for farmland.

Prefer Amazing Taste or Amazing Packaging?

pearsMulberries are sweet and juicy. But why are they not in the shops? They have a big commercial flaw. Unlike some berries, the mulberry requires dexterity to harvest it and the fruits perish quickly.  Today, most consumers choose to buy apples (often these have been stored for years).  But we could simply stop and reach up to pick the fresh fruit that grows on the corner outside old Aunt Dolly’s house.

Multi-function: a Key Permaculture Principle

What-I-love-about-treesEach Element in the design should be used and positioned to perform a range of functions. Each plant in a permaculture design provides food, timber, mulch, shelter for the garden and house, soil conditioning, water harvesting and more.

top10 trees at silk farm NSW AustraliaBeautiful FRUIT Trees:
“So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.”

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Get Cracking On An Egg

What good is in an egg?

Are eggs good for us and for the planet? egg n sproutsThere is a lot of debate about this and there is evidence to show that even some medical practitioners are confused about the nutritional value of eggs.

Eggs are a nutritious food. They contain 11 different vitamins and minerals in good amounts…They are also one of the few food sources of vitamin D, a nutrient many of us lack – putting ourselves at increased risk of conditions ranging from brittle bones to cancers.”

Eggs  keep you fuller for longer. This helps us go to work with a contented tummy. Go to work on an egg was an advertising slogan used by the United Kingdom’s Egg Marketing Board during the 1950s as part of more than £12 million it spent on advertising. Lets put the advertising  aside and have a look inside the modern egg.

Don’t hens produce methane?

Most land-dwelling animals, including us humans (dare we say?), produce some methaneOver 60% of total CH4 emissions come from human-related activities. [1] old_chook_n_chicks
Most people blame the cows. But are chickens contributors too?

Cows don’t have teeth to break down their food.  Cows have hardened gums, they rip at their food, drink a lot of water and then ferment the grasses in their guts. They produce ferment in their gut to increase the nutritional value of their very fibrous food. They have 4 stomach chambers to be really sure that the ferments create nutrition for them before the food is wasted.  Cows burp a lot of methane. 

Cows are vegetarian whereas chickens are omnivores. Like cows, hens don’t have teeth either but they peck tiny, almost-readily digestible amounts of food every time. The hen has a stomach like a dinosaur – she eats a bit of grit and this helps grind up the food. Hens need less water per volume of dry-food than cows, so they have less ferment.  Hens love meat in their diet as easy protein and they love to be part of a rich web of life (bugs, ants, worms, beetles and more).

Poultry are not fussy ‘foodies’

Hens will eat food-waste, garden pests chicken reap Permaculture visionsand the less palatable proteins [yucky stuff].   Hens (if trained from early life) will eat most garden weeds, food scraps, snails, insects, small snakes and moths. Sadly, they will eat small frogs, worms and beneficial insects, so we need to fence them out of areas where you will be nurturing wildlife.

Permaculture Principle: ‘Integrate Not Segregate’

cartoon duck 003
ducks and chickens like to forage

Hens want to be integrated. Their natural habitat is not a hot shed with wire fencing. Through good design and management we can reduce our own work-load (chickens will clear and eat the weeds, distribute their fertiliser and focus where ever we drop a little food for them). Of course there is a delicate balance between protection and freedom. Protecting your chickens from dogs, hawks/eagles and foxes needs to be balanced against allowing them self-determination especially in severe weather events such as wild-fire, floods or high wind.  Through intelligent design, we can provide choices for the chickens. We can offer them several protective day-shelters, water sources and safe night-time housing.  Chickens are woodland creatures, they love to hide in dense scrub, eat berries as well as insects and make baths out of dry dusty soil at the base of large trees.

Not all eggs are the same.  eggsBut even the battery-laid fresh egg is still good protein. Not all hen lifestyles are the same.  In a permaculture design, the hen is a valuable tractor, pest controller, live entertainment an incubator and companion.

The hen in a permaculture design serves a lot more functions beyond egg-laying. When birds are not stressed by over-population, enjoy a healthy diet and feel secure, they can lay for years. Some birds have been known to lay eggs after decades.

Here is a way to integrate chickens into a complex web-of-life and suits a small garden.

chicken-weeds-worms-tower

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Silk – The Fabric Of A Forgotten Culture

Recently we sent a request to advertise our Silkworms in a local agricultural newsletter. We received a curt rejection stating:
‘Silkworms are just pets for children…What do Silk-worms produce anyway?” 

Actually, Silkworms produce a lot more than just their famous Texan-Horn-and-Silk-armchairhigh value fabric which is strong, beautiful, soft and insulating.  Silk-worm pupae are also edible and the worms produce neat pellets of fertiliser.  Agriculturally speaking Silkworms definitely are ‘childs-play’. They and their hardy food source, carbon-building Mulberry trees, are very easy to grow and harvest. Silkworms are probably the most domesticated protein source on the planet.  The worms grow to 70 times their body size in just a few months. They are easy to handle using simple tools and require no fancy farming machinery.

chinese-pedlar-ming-dynasty-chicago-museumSilk was one of the first agricultural products known to man. The silk route facilitated trade from far eastern countries to the middle east and Europe as early as the dark ages. Whilst silk was quietly being made by farmers for Royal families in Asia, European hunters were chasing the brutal undomesticated forefathers of sheep, cows and horses.  Silk is still considered one of the best fabrics for high fashion products such as suits. In Asia, the trade secrets are heavily guarded and recent technological innovations have made it much easier to process the silk.

Why has Silk been forsaken?

  1. Fossil fuels now produce silk-substitutes such as nylonchicken-finds-worm and synthetic polyester.
  2. Fossil fuels have also changed the way we farm. Fossil fuels enable farmers to cheaply transport, shear and process high fibre yields from larger animals such as sheep.
  3. Many small products like silk, tea, cacao/chocolate and coffee beans are labour-intensive and hard to mechanise.

What’s So Great About Traditional Knowledge?

Gene’s can be altered but not created. Why let any genetic material be lost forever? Many people have fought to retain valuable genetic material in the hope that this genetic material will be valuable for future generations. Furthermore, it is easier and cheaper to keep producing living seeds than to store them in a seed-bank.  Bio-security controls also make it risky to move species from one bio-region to another. If you have a genetic strain in your bio-region , this strain has probably adapted to your area and could be hard to replace even if you were able to import it from another region.

In the same way we are losing gene material, we are also at risk of losing traditional knowledge.  Many ancient crafts, techniques and recipes are distant memories.

One of the most powerful principles of Permaculture is to build diversity. By encouraging diversity we broaden our options and we foster resilience in our own designs and in our community.  Silk farming is one little example of thousands of years of research and living in harmony with nature.

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Micro-Earthworks Boost Soil-Life

Gentle and Easy

Without water, the soil beneath our feet is vulnerable rock with trapped nutrients. Sometimes a few weeds will volunteer to try to help build soil and stop the soil from eroding away.  Throughout the world there is a strong correlation between lifeless soil and a lifeless climate. This is because the forests seed rain and build life. In the tropics the nutrients live in the mulch from fallen from trees. Whereas, in temperate zones the soils are deep and rich.

But most of us live in urban zones where the soil is nearly lifeless. And most people can’t afford machinery to redesign our patch. Frankly, even if we had the money, the machines can’t get in and the job is too small.

Earthworks for Earthusers

Given that more women than men grow food around the planet – here are some ideas for simple and effective earthworks without digging and without machinery.Swales-Microearthworks

Earthworks by machinery can be expensive so most of us try to manage without.  But when water management is neglected, the site struggles to reach full potential.

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The principles of permaculture earthworks are valuable for the preservation of soil and creation of abundance.  These basic permaculture earthworks principles help build mirco-organisms, enable plants to access the nutrients, save water and reduce erosion. We can apply the principles for earthworks on any scale: on farms or on a little veggie patch.

Permaculture Earthworks Principles

Water management is taught in detail In permaculture design training. When someone comes to do a permaculture design after years of managing a site, there are many regrets. It is easier to design before you start. However, here are a number principles that can be learnt on the fly:

  1. Catch, store and use every drop that comes to your site. Waste not any water that passes by.
  2. Recognise the 3 sources of water: Condensation, Rain and Underground springs
  3. Slow potentially erosive water. This is the core value of Natural Sequence Farming.

    Paths are great harvesting water. Redirect this water to reduce erosion.
    Paths are great harvesting water. Redirect this water to reduce erosion.
  4. Take water out from the gulleys and send it to the ridges (this is a  powerful tool from keyline water design)
  5. Set up filters. Take responsibility for the quality of the water that leaves your site. The water that leaves you can be cleaner than when it entered.
  6. Use natural energies and filters to support your food forests. Filter, store  and transport water naturally through the permaculture system with biological resources (rather than plastics hoses and pumps).

Design with Pattern thinking

Designs with patterns such as streamlining and using lobes (small diversions) create opportunities to maintain the direction and speed of water flow.  The water will follow the design intention. It will pool and settle-out fine minerals and keep the channels productive and flowing. The water can even help maintain these flow-paths. In truth, you can’t argue with water. Water knows what it likes. What you need to do is sit and listen and coax the water to slow down and spread out.

Design for Wollongong West Primary School where the children can build mounds to capture and direct water, have fun with the maze-like pathways that rise and fall
Design for Wollongong West Primary School where the children can build mounds to capture and direct water, have fun with the maze-like pathways that rise and fall on the bends

Shake It Up

Use a variety of storage devices. Commonly, people want ponds or tanks to give them potable water. These are valuable but they are static and unable to evolve. On the other hand, bogs and forest are more effective to release the water safely.  Once a pond is full, it can do nothing to manage the next drop. Whereas, a forest is a continually working water-filter. It grows with the build-up. It can even respond to a deluge. The forest drops branches and traps more silt. The forest fungi burst into reproduction. Under-storey plants cup and store water, tree branches and leaves fall to protect the soil, seeds germinate. The forest is constantly adapting.

You can learn with us about how to make small, slow yet effective ways to build soil. You can also enjoy learning about earthworks and have a play in some mud.

Schumaker College has raised garden beds
Schumacher College has productive raised garden beds with trenches to direct water flow and duck traffic

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