Permaculture on a Shoestring

Do Permaculture design on a shoestring. Harness natural energies, turn waste into a resource and boost social connections and well being.

A chicken fairy god mother
Be a green fairy god-mother.

10 Permaculture Living Skills on a Shoestring

  1. Live with principles
  2. Get clean energy
  3. Cut the waste
  4. Use resources well
  5. Build biodiversity
  6. Breathe cleaner air
  7. Save water
  8. Creatively Make-do
  9. Invest in Social justice
  10. Start positive

1. Apply Permaculture Principles

Apply Permaculture Principles to Everyday Life. Multiple functions for each element in the design is a key principle. “If I can’t get at least 3 reasons for having something, I’m not having it.” says Permaculture Elder Judith Collins. And then, integrate the elements, so that nothing sits alone in the system. Everything connects and contributes to the other things. For example, the bushes shade the paths. These paths are shaped to direct water. The water nurtures the garden. The garden attracts birds and insects. This give us joy. Then, we share joy and food with others.

This also applies to skills. These skills have many uses beyond the home. They can be applied in the workplace and for the good on your community.

2. Get Smarter Energy

https://www.saulgriffith.com/ promotes electricification for better future universal energy systems

Change to better energy sources such as solar systems. Saul Griffith explains how electrifying our energy network builds better future energy systems for all.

Permaculture Elder, Judith Collins EarthKeepers, Buxton, NSW

3. Cut the Waste – Stop Buying Stuff! And Grow

Judith Collins of EarthKeepers challenges us to know where our food comes. And if you really need to buy something, check out local makers and support the markets rather than so called ‘super-markets’. And farmer Gerard Lawry at EagleRiseFarm points out “There is no co-incidence that the supermarkets present their fresh foods to look like market stalls”.

4. Use Resources Well

Now that you have decided what to waste cut, look to see what other waste materials from the home can be converted. Identify and reduce your waste by conducting a home audit.

If you don’t have much space, you can use Bokashi to convert your food scraps, if you have a balcony, then you have room for a worm farm. If you have a garden, there is room for worms, compost and chickens. Grow food in wicking pots or rain gardens.

Utilise things more by saving the seed from the foods you eat. Get creative by repurposing stuff that you can no longer use. Mend, redesign your clothes. Then when they are finally no longer useful, compost them.

5. Build biodiversity

Design your life to blend with the surrounding wildlife. Build awareness of the natural world. Stop to smell the wildflowers. Find the unique perfumes of native plants. Create space in your domain for wildlife. You don’t need anything, not even a shoestring, to enjoy nature.

6. Cut the Chemicals – Breathe Less Toxins

Stop polluting your home. Cut out chemicals by using low toxic cleaners. You can easily make your own cleaning fluids. In fact, vinegar and sodium bicarbonate will clean nearly everything. Another permaculture principle is to start small so you can feel successful. You can do this right now, in your home. Try sprouts, food and herbs, and making your own vinegar. For outside the home, try minimal disturbance techniques to handle weeds. Get to know how nature works and work with her.

strawberry guava

7. Save Water

Saving water is vital because clean water is a valuable resource during dry periods. Plants and animals depend on clean rain water. So do the river systems. We can contribute to the healthy rivers by building carbon in the soil, planting trees and supporting insect life. A basic start would be to create birdbaths. Next, install rain gardens. Catch and store rainwater in a tank or direct it to a pool. Something that takes a bit more research but is radical and resourceful is to install a compost toilet and an outdoor shower.

redirect path water to reduce erosion

8. Get Creative and Make-Do with Shoestrings

There are various types of waste. And this includes having too much stuff because stuff demands requires storage and maintenance. Other forms include wasted opportunities.

Simple steps to cut waste are to seal out drafts. Mend things like leaking taps or frayed clothes. Learn to use basic tools, how to sew, tie knots and make do.

Use paper mache and old cotton rags in the garden to create swales, cover weeds or feed the worms. Good soil can be created from food scraps and paper waste.

Above all use the shoestrings – walk, cycle and use public transport. These simple steps keep us fit and reject the the fossil fuel industry. Plan to make your next car an electric car.

cockatoo dropping a macadamia nut
cockatoo enjoying a macadamia nut

9. Invest time and effort in others

Invest in a Circular economy by spending your money on products and services that are created locally. This builds social justice. Social justice is a vital part of reducing the pressures on our planet. Without social justice, we get more pollution, more harmful chemical use and more frequent environmental destruction through wars.

Be generous and kind. Fix stuff before you give it to charity. And be generous. Better still, fix things for others. Repair cafes are wonderful ways to link skilled retirees with young people in need. Better still, show a young person how to do stuff. Or help a local family that needs a hand. Have an informal meeting with neighbours and find out what your community needs and has the passion to do.

10. Start Positive, Act Now

Knowing how and where to start is a skill in itself. Stuart Hill recommends we do one thing before we go to bed that will move us closer to our goals. Starting small is one way to achieve this. He encourages us to take action by refreshing our mindset. This enables us to make bigger changes. If it requires us to lie boldly to ourselves about what we can achieve, then do it.

SPECIAL POST – Why Onion Makes Us Cry

Juliana Mitry, tells a folk tale about why the onion makes us cry. Juliana owns Balinese Spice Magic in Wollongong and hand-crafts Tempeh.

In this short video, Jules relates the Balinese story of why we cry when we cut onions and how soft and sweet it is. Juliana grew up in the Mountains in Bali, with an amazing array of homegrown food and spices.

A tale of social justice, the Balinese way.

You know why you’re always sad every time you grind onion? My mom told me it’s because onion and garlic used to be sisters. Can I tell you a story? yeah! There used to be sisters called Bawang. and Kasuna. Bawang is the onion and Kasuna is garlic. Onion is the older sister. So, she used to do all the work and Kasuno is the white sister. She’s done nothing but pamper herself. “

One day the mother went to the market so the mother said ‘Okay, you two girls, you have to do work today. If you do a good job, I’ll give you a treat. I’ll buy you some cakes and new stuff from the markets. And mum says to Onion, what do you want? and she says ‘that’s fine mummy, as long as you get home, I’m fine. and the second sister said ‘I need new clothes and I need everything new. So, the mother went.’

So, the big sister basically did everything. Starting from getting the putty out to the yard and then pounding it to get the seeds out. And then dry it in the sun and and pounding to get this just the husk off the rice. She basically done everything cleaned the house and then went to the river [this is cutting the story short].

Garlic delays, Onion works straight away

Every time she (onion) asks a sister to help the sister says “okay! you do that part I’ll do the other part”… “you do that part I’ll do the other parts”. It is always all the same answers. So, Bawang, being such a nice girl she thinks “I’ll do it because it’s just easier than waiting for Kasuna to do it”.

“Then the mother came home and there’s still you know like a one part that of the onion left behind. It was putting the rubbish out. But then Kasuna says I’ll make sure that I do that because you’ve done everything. I haven’t done anything. I’ll do that!” So, onion agrees “okay I’ll leave you that. And she went to the river, washed the clothes and everything’s been dirty because she’s doing all the work herself.

Picking banana leaves for cooking wraps

When garlic hears her mum coming she sits herself in all this husk (the rubbish) and started crying. She was pretending that she did all the work and that the big sister never did anything. “

The sad thing was that poor onion got beaten and kicked out of the house. This is why you feel her sadness. But it a positive story because it’s has good karma, like in like most of Asian stories. The stories always support what is right. The Karma is because onion’s done good and she fell asleep under a tree, a magical bird calls her. ‘wake up, wake up little one, why are you sleeping here? Onion said ‘life took a really bad turn for me and nothing I do is right! “

learning to glaze old windows save a lot of money and provides opportunities to be creative.

The bird says ‘because you look so sad, I’ll give you a treat like you can ask for you whatever you want’. Onion says ‘I just want a home’. The bird asks her to sing for me? The bird blesses her and brings her to the grandmother.

Check out the variety of talks from the Permaculture Community on our Youtube channel.

Design Process not Procedure

Dan Palmer invites us to discover the design process beyond a rigid set of procedures. And design for highly complex and evolving living systems.

The late Dan palmer sensed a strong distinction between procedure and process.

Evolutionary Design Process Versus Control Thinking

Here is some of what Dan shared “I’m passionately interested in permaculture design and particularly permaculture design process like how is it that we go about realizing permaculture’s potential. How is it that we get from someone arriving on some land that they want to evolve with, and make more productive, to being in the game and having some things growing and letting the system continue to evolve. “

“When we want to do something – we default to a procedure. A procedure is like a recipe or a model it’s a linear sequence of steps. ‘Step one for example – Step one: Observe, Step two: Design. Step three: Implement, Step four: Evaluate … Just like – Step one: mix the banana and the flour, Step two: add the eggs that sort of thing.”

Geared up for Procedural Thinking

“We’re very geared. Actually geared is the right word. Because it’s a mechanical analogy and procedures are kind of mechanical in the way they work. Or mechanistic. And so often when I see people talking about process and design process and giving examples of permaculture design process – that’s not what they’re talking about. To me, what they’re talking about is a procedure.

And there’s nothing wrong with procedures they’re great. Just the other day I tried cooking something I hadn’t cooked before and I needed a procedure right. Yeah if I just launched into I would I’ve got myself in a lot of trouble. So, I was very grateful.

So, there’s a place and a huge value in procedures. There’s also a huge danger, a huge risk if we mistake procedure for process. And what we can do is – ‘here’s my permaculture design procedure and it’s better than yours, and it’s better than theirs and…. we don’t want to jump from step four to step six, we need to do step five.” The risk comes from imposing a procedure.

Design Process Happens in the Now

“Process is adapted to the moment. And it’s like a constant dance that I’ll pull in procedures as appropriate. But I’ll also be very ready to drop them and let them go. And to do whatever is the right thing to do next.

“I came across a beautiful quote about this from Carol Sanford. I’m reading through her book The Regenerative Business. She said “Processes occur in real time within the changing circumstances of the real world. They are not procedures. One of the unfortunate residues of the mechanistic way of thinking is that most organizations (we could say that most of us) try to turn processes, which are alive and based on what is happening in the moment, into procedures which are predetermined. And, I love this bit: Processes require people to be present and awake. Procedures put people to sleep and make them mechanical.

dancing ferments

“I love the idea of processes that mean we’re awake and we’re conscious, and we’re aware, and we’re alive. We don’t know what wants to happen next. We’re discovering it.

Process Enables Co-evolution

“One way of thinking about it is getting like helping design or set up processes of co-evolution between human health and ecosystem health these are the kind of processes that humans always stewarded up to… That entails a fundamental transformation of our entire way of being as humans.”

“A lot of the conversation for me [about design process] is first getting that penny to drop that this is not a copy and paste-able bullet point list that you can just take out whatever you’re doing teaching your permaculture design course today drop the list I’ll give you in and do that tomorrow. This is a process that will unfold indefinitely and it will be years before perhaps it really starts to sink in. It’s baby steps. It’s a big process.”

Illawarra Flame tree seedpod

Procedures are timely. Know when to use them.

“I have had a lot of conversations with people who say we need procedure. Yet often the procedures we default to, are… mechanical. They’re starting with fragmented, separate elements.. and gluing them together. As opposed to the idea of transforming whole systems and working with all the energies of a place as a coherent whole.”

“If you’re interested in permaculture you’ve signed up for some tricky stuff. Permaculture is not rocket science. It’s actually a lot more complex. Because it involves soil biota and biology and water flow. And it involves so many different disciplines in a flowing integrated way that it’s hugely complex. When you’re dealing with any kind of complexity you can’t predict it. No one can predict it.”

Planning is Essential. Plans are Useless

“We’re engaged in planning. And we get enough clarity about what makes sense to do for the next one, two or maybe three.. steps. Then, of course, we’ll keep planning. Because the plan (if we had one) would have changed. Things evolve so fast. Particularly when you’re dealing with biological systems, with gardens and all that. It has to be a very dynamic ongoing planning and doing process. No fixed or static plan is ever going to last for that long.

“And the trap, of course, is if you’ve got one (a plan) you can fall in love with it and continue to force it on the situation. Even when the situation’s like “no thanks – this doesn’t work anymore, things have changed: the climate’s changed, the soil has changed, the water cycles changed” That’s a big one, isn’t it? That’s huge.

[This shift in thinking is] “a design process transfusion”.

Dan Palmer
Gilly’s Kitchen design plans, work and social connections – a co-evolution

Co-Evolution Goal of the Design Process

Dan warned “This is closely related to the existential crisis humanity finds itself in. Unless we can shift out of mechanistic procedures into living processes we can’t actually get to the beautiful, heart-stopping possibilities that permaculture is all about: getting back into a co-evolutionary dance with the rest of life.”

You can support Dan Palmer‘s family and donate to makingpermaculturestronger.net to maintain the library of his work.

Make Your Career in Permaculture

Richard Telford made a career in Permaculture by putting his values and ethics into his work. He works with a “just do it” passion and commitment to meet the need.

What Richard Knows

Richard knows “You can create a career for yourself in permaculture using your previous experience. Most people have some kind of Interest or career before they get into Permaculture. And then, they have some kind of crisis point where they go “what am I doing?… This doesn’t align with my values!”.

And so, rather than dropping a career, embody principles and ethics into your whole being. So that, everything you do aligns with permaculture.

First Step

Find somebody who’s practicing what you’re interested in and work with them. Gradually try and embrace it. Incrementally improve the way that you do things.

Richard’s Career Path

Richard tells his story. “Well I was working in advertising as a graphic artist in the early 90s. And I built up my skills and a career in that over a number of years. And found that the people I was working with, and things I was doing really didn’t align with my values. So, I just decided to hit the road and go exploring.

Richard and his Kombi Van

So I bought an old Kombi – a 75 VW Kombie van. And hit the road traveling around Australia with a plan to travel around for a year. I did some freelance work. As I was going, I came across permaculture. I actually saw a sign on the road that said Permaculture with an arrow on it so I followed the sign and saw another one another one and ended up at Bill Mollison’s place [in Tyalgum]. And Bill was teaching at PDC at the time I poked my head in. He gave me a grumpy old look. So, I had a look around and went on my way. I think that started my journey of interest in permaculture and I continued traveling around Australia.

Richard with his restored Kombi

Travelling and building skills

The plan was to go for a year and it ended up taking me about five before I got back. But I got involved with the Rainbow gatherings up in Cairns. And some of the protests from there. That was really amazing. Because it showed me that if you really want something to happen you’ve got a put in. And do it yourself. It was also my first real experience of intentional community.

We travelled across in a convoy after the Rainbow gathering to Darwin. And got involved in some of the protesting up there at Jabiluka. And I discovered the book ‘Introduction of Permaculture ‘ by Reny and Bill. I started to see suburbia in a completely different way and asking “why aren’t we growing food in the streets?”

Darwin Jabiluka protest

Questioning Everything

In the Jabiluka protests and that was really questioning the way society exploited natural resources. And I produced a zine we called ‘Tribe’. It was the first time I’ve really using the skills to do something that I believed in. So, I continued traveling around Australia and ended up down in the southwest W.A. (Western Australia). I became involved in the protest to save Karri and Jarrah forests in the southwest.

Finding Connections

Northcilffe Western Australia Lane Forest Protest

I made a connection between the Jabiluka protest and the saving the old growth forests. I saw that it was all part of the same problem. And one thing that I really got from the protest was it was quite aggressive. Coming from the protest side it was very confronting to be telling the timber workers that they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. There were lots of really full-on protests happening. Forest workers coming into the sites and bashing people and things. And I just didn’t want to get involved in that.

Action – The Tree Sit

I thought a tree sit would be a pretty safe way to to approach it. And it gave me a ‘ticket in’ to go for respite at Carter’s Road. So that was the beginning of a whole other journey at Carter’s Road Community.

Meeting Leaders

I met up with Jody Lane and Chris Lee and a bunch of other amazing Margaret River forest protesters. And the house that they’d set up as a respite for Forest protesting became an unintentional community. It was a permaculture-based unintentional permaculture community. I guess it had a dozen residents or so. There were a whole bunch of other people coming through the place fairly regularly. When I arrived the core members were about to go away for a Joanna Macy retreat. They needed somebody to look after the place while they were away. So, I offered to do that for two weeks and ended up staying there for about two years!

Mentors

During that time David Holmgren was traveling down the west coast. I was really curious who this other fella was. Because, I’d only heard of Bill. And so, I went out to meet and hear David speak. I offered for David, Oliver and Su to come over and see what we were doing at Carter’s Road (now called Fair Harvest). We showed them what we’d been working.

I let David know that I wanted to do work if he needed help with graphics, graphic artwork or design let me know. David told me that he was putting together a book about the principles and wanted some help to design the icons. So, that was the first permaculture project that I did – the Permaculture principal icons.

Driven by Passion

My passion is really around visual communication. And helping people get an understanding on different levels. So, you get initial sort of grasp of what something is and then you can go deeper and deeper if you so desire and that sort of aligns really well with with visual communication and the way an advertisement’s set up because, yeah, sort of grabbing someone’s attention and layering depth into that. After doing the icons I was interested in how do you present that information in a way that’s a bit more digestible to people because the the book was pretty hard going. I think for a lot of people – especially as an entry level book. It’s not really suitable.

Permaculture Principles website

Seeing the Need

At the time I was searching for how to find out more about permaculture and everything I found on the internet was really around people’s projects and farms and things like that it wasn’t really anything that just explained what permaculture was. So I looked at incorporating the icons and work that I did and the work that David did and the essence into a website which is the permaculture principles website.

In 2008 David Arnold was working to put together the permaculture calendar. It was all about the same kind of thing – helping people get an understanding of what the design principles were. So, we worked together on developing the calendar. And have merged the calendar in with the website over the years the principal’s website. Initially it was really just sort of a summary of the principles and ethics. I worked with David and Su’s son Oliver Holmgren on a upgrade to the site and we started to develop a store for the Holmgren Design website. I was selling books from under my bed!

https://au.permacultureprinciples.com/product/retrosuburbia/

Achieving Goals

When RetroSuburbia came out, that’s when the business sort of really took off. So, we started employing others. We’ve got Christine Cahusac handling all of the sales and we’ve been developing the distribution side of the business for selling primarily David’s books but also other permaculture self-published books. And I’ve also been involved working with David and Su in producing doing the artwork for RetroSuburbia – quite a number of their titles.

https://au.permacultureprinciples.com/product/earth-restorers-guide-to-permaculture/

Earth Restorers Guide to Permaculture is the latest book – the most recent one that I was involved with. I worked with Emma O’Dell who now works with us as well. She handled the artwork but I was sort of directing that with her. So it’s managed to tie together all of my interests really particularly the RetroSuburbia project because the house that I’ve built here in Seymour – Abdallah House is one of the featured case studies in the book and lots of the things that I’ve been doing are in that book. It helps to tell my story. I’ve managed to do the artwork. And now, I’m distributing and selling. And it’s the whole box and dice in that book for me!

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