Twilight Permaculture – Retiring Not Downhill

Happy 40th Birthday Permaculture

40 years ago the first permaculture book was published.  The design concepts by Mollison and Holmgren first appeared with Permaculture One. This humble beginning grew to influence many grass roots practices. Now is a good time to glean some of the wisdom from our elders.

Glint in Wizened Eye

Self reliant eldersPermaculture is bubbling with inspired individuals who prefer to spend time refining their little inventions rather than go out to protest in mass rallies. These folk are essentially optimistic, they enjoy developing alternatives. What unites permaculture designers is their ability to design and their pioneering spirit. Permaculture design is a patient art. And the rewards include surprising insights and meaningful connections.

Been There, Done That

Occasionally there’s a chance to see elders proudly demonstrate their unique contributions.  For 40 years these unique individuals have been passionately building the permaculture test-models.

Yes, there is bound to be a pile of flops and discards, but there are many gems of great work.  Their fledgling design projects integrating solar energy, rocket-stoves, rain-gardens, composting toilets, worm-farms, rain-water tanks, mulch and yoghurt or Kombucha have become household realities.

Judith Collins of EarthKeepers, Companion Planting Author
Judith Collins of EarthKeepers, Companion Plants Author

After 40 years some of these glorious pioneers may have slowed down. Some, such as the eternal optimist, Bill Mollison has returned to mother nature. The younger, David Holmgren has now matured into co-operative living.
Holmgren and his partner, Sue, have cleverly downsized the personal space and expanded their options by sharing the rewards and ongoing physical work of their productive home site.

Some of the permaculture-designed pioneering communities, like Malaney, have now installed their own graveyards.

The beauty of permaculture design lies in its ability to adapt and respond to change. How do these elders adapt in their twilight years?

Retiring?

We can all list the things that we want to retire FROM, but did you know it is vital for our physical and mental health to know what we are retiring TO?

Permaculture, even in our twilight years, offers decades enriched with meaningful employment.  “Permaculture gives us a toolkit for moving from a culture of fear and scarcity to one of love and abundance” Toby Hemenway

Passing on know how

Janet Millington defined her twilight period as her personal energy descent period. She pioneered wicking beds with integrated worm-farms to intensify food production and waste management close to the kitchen door without any back strain. She and Carolyn Nuttall built a rich legacy of school permaculture programs.

Environmentalist and longtime host of CBC’s The Nature of Things David Suzuki, at the age of 79, writes that “‘it’s time to admit you’re an elder and start getting on with doing what elders should be doing, which is speaking out’”.  David Suzuki talks about living in his twilight years. In fact, every elder in our community has a wealth of experience directly relevant to our community and our unique bio-region.

Take Stock

Permaculture designers around the planet are busy.  They are the type of people who would rather do stuff rather than talk about it. For them, there isn’t a lot of time to talk about it because they feel a strong sense of urgency to get on and build a better culture. They want to show it can be done.

But herein lies the challenge. In order to demonstrate a happy alternative to consumerism, we all need to talk about it. At least, sometimes.

If you are one of the lucky ones who can join us at a Permaculture Convergences enjoy the rare chance to sit and listen. Grab and elder and quiz them about their failures.  Invest time to travel about to see what the pioneers have put into practice and how they have designed their twilight lifestyle.

Soon we are leading a grand Permaculture Tour. Come and join us in this one-off  opportunity.

Solar Still Waiting

Soaring Heat In the Kitchen, Abundant Solar Outside

Home-grown bananas in solar baker

Temperatures reached a record 47c/116F in Sydney, Australia in January.  But the second shock was the spike in cost of gas and electricity. The sun burns bright overhead while people turn on the air-conditioning in their kitchen.  Despite the impressive range of affordable solar cook-tops and ovens, few people use solar ovens. What is really holding this technology back?

Super Solar Ovens

Worlds largest solar cooker feeds 20 thousand people per day.

Cheap as Chips

Solar Ovens are dirt cheap. Well, almost. They are as cheap as straw (for insulation), two panes of glass and a a sturdy box. They are popular in countries such as India because they are clean and free to run.  You don’t need a chimney, fossil fuels or cow dung to fuel it. A Solar oven wastes nothing – the slow cook version does not waste a single drop of water or spice.  The nutrients and flavours are sealed in.

Our first solar oven cost more in shipping than in the actual price. Seems we were ‘first wave’ solar-cookers in our shady village. (It seems were both first and last wave too).  We paid about $250 18 years ago – at that price each meal cooked has cost less than 5 cents. If you are off-grid, this technology can pay back in just a few uses.

We now have a handful of different versions including the dangerous parabolic which burnt a hole in a wooden planter [photo below], a lightweight portable and the tubular baker. But I still prefer the old faithful that has survived being caught in the rain and filled up with water.

Solar ovens are durable, free to run, simple to make and easy to use and repair.
Best of all solar cooked food is flavoursome and nutritious.

Our Cultural Addiction to Piped Energy

 

Whilst ever we depend on a switch and convenient appliances, we are dependent on large scale innovation. If we step outside to try new technologies in the raw we get the chance to fuel our creative side.

The more powerful versions of this technology are rough, hot and glaring. But here is a great opportunity for the modern celebrity chefs and entrepreneurs to cook up a brighter future for everyone.

Set Your Goals Last

Build Values First

Stuart Hill urges us to be driven by our ethics and values, feelings and passions rather than particular goals or resolutions.  By revisiting our ethics and values at the end of the year we can keep the positive fire burning.

By listening to our feelings and passions we give ourselves the energy to create a better future. Though acknowledging our passion we formulate a vision, purpose. Once our passion is invested in our future, we can find energy to develop goals, and sustain the plans and activities.

  1. Self reliant eldersAwaken your ethics and values
  2. Acknowledge your feelings and passions
  3. Research your ideas, visions and design (doing this permaculture course is a critical tool in developing systems thinking and building your own design)
  4. Create action plans
  5. Finally start the regular activities that will help you realise your goals. At the end of each day, set goals that help achieve the actions you set in your plan.

Hill urges us to:  “Act from your core/essential self – empowered, aware, visionary, principled, passionate, loving, spontaneous, fully in the present (contextual) – vs. your patterned, fearful, compensatory, compromising, de-contextual selves”

Core Values for Social Permaculture Design

Every person is different. No two permaculture designers will have the same passions and goals. Here are two different applications of Hills suggestion to act from your core self:

  • Ana* knows her core self [empowered, aware, visionary, principled, passionate, loving, spontaneous, fully in the present] involves working with rare fruits and edible flowers. She builds skills in growing food plants. She also develops her catering projects, observing what drives people to try new foods. She searches for the best way to harvest and cook these unusual foods. Ana strives to find way to integrate rare foods into household gardens and onto the plate.   Finally, she aims to build community awareness.  Whenever Ana has a set-back (like the time vandals broke into the nursery to destroy plants) she listens to her core passion. This gives her energy to mend flaws in her action plan.
  • Zane* knows his core self [empowered, aware, visionary, principled, passionate, loving, spontaneous, fully in the present] loves working with people. He listens and helps them relieve their hunger by helping them to grow food, build water catchment and storage and make efficient stoves. There are more than a few daunting barriers in achieving the long-term goals of this project. The barriers include social perceptions, land access and resources (like seeds and access to water).  Over the years, Chris has some devastating set-backs.  Sadly, the setbacks include natural disasters. He knows these disasters will strike because the projects are on marginal land. Revisiting his core passion gives him some solace. Through re-visiting his core he recharges his passion. With renewed passion he strengthens his action plans.

[*Names have been changed for privacy reasons.]

Discover your core principles and enjoy the discovery.

Happy new year from us at Permaculture Visions.

Worm Farms of the Great Indoors

Urban Permaculture Adventures

Growing up in a gorgeous permaculture garden builds some unusual adult expectations. Our children played with worms, cuddled chickens, climbed trees, nibbled on flowers and sometimes fell into patches of stinging nettle. When our son grew up he was shocked by the city waste and frustrated that he could no longer compost.  Confined to a totally indoor existence, his idea for an indoor worm-farm was conceived.

Our first worm-farm towers were developed by one of our permaculture design course graduates, Robyn Crossland. The worm-farm adventure is ever developing.

Waste in a Tiny Space

We looked at old worm-farm systems which are pretty cool and decided to create a tiny version. The coffee-addict indoor worm farm was the smallest prototype.  Then we up-sized to an old kitchen bin.

Even though we have plenty of space outdoors, we didn’t expect the indoor worm-farm to be so convenient. We loved it. The waste items that are not suitable for the poultry (such as banana peels) go directly into the worm-farm.  So, we kept one for ourselves.

Do Worms Like being Indoors?

Worms like a steady temperature, they don’t like hot black housing in the full sun. Worms instinctively hide from sunlight. Nor do they thrive in cold mouldy places. Compost worms, [Perionyx Excavatus and friends] come from the tropical treetops. Our great indoors are cosy for worms, especially in winter.

Are Worms Smelly?

Worms don’t smell bad.  Rotting food smells bad. Imagine having house-mates who don’t bother to put out the garbage until it gets smelly. That was the situation our son was living with. How could worms living in the food waste possibly be worse than that?

The first challenge is to learn what can be put into the worm-farm.  Basically, worms can eat anything that was once living, but they prefer not to eat citrus or onion. Meat can be a problem because it goes off quickly. So leave out meat, onion and citrus and add some shredded paper and cotton rags every now and then to reduce wetness.

What Do I Need?

For a Simple Worm-farm You need:

  • a fully sealed but not air-tight container. It is important to be able to keep out other creatures (like cockroaches, flies or vinegar flies)
  • Use a recycled strong plastic bag (grain bag) with small holes cut into it for drainage.  This protect the worms from accidental drowning
  • Position an upturned pot or two to support the bag off the base. This provides space at the bottom of the farm where fertilizer-rich fluid may collect. Also, the pots provide something for any lost worms to climb back up.
  • Include some bedding inside the bag. Bedding is usually an open-weave fabric. It holds the worm eggs. You can use hessian or a loose weave rag, preferably no nylon or plastics, only natural materials.
  1. What Do I Need To Do?

    Feed the worms kitchen scraps and torn plain paper. Worms love coffee grinds and banana peels. If you are going on a vacation, fill up the bin with fallen leaves and weeds from the street or your potted plants.

  2. Take the worm bin outside periodically to tip out the liquid build-up.  How often depends on how much liquid you put into the farm. We check ours each week. We don’t put any liquid into the farm, just coffee grinds and banana peels.
  3. Sort out the worms from the castings outside or in a bathroom as it can get messy. Use the castings for potting mixture for more potted plants or feed the castings and liquid manure on a street tree or in a local park.

Advanced Potted Worm-farm system

layers in potted worm farm tower invented by robyn crosslandFollow the instructions for a Basic Worm farm then add plants on top. You need:

  • a tight fitting pot to sit on top with potted herbs and
  • a feeding tube that runs all the way down the pot plant and to a hole to the worms in the next section down.
  • add a cap over the feeding tube (you can use an upturned pot)

Are Worms Fast? Yes But…

Worms are not the fastest composting organism but they are low risk. If you want fast composting, make a black soldier larvae farm.  [Don’t have a larvae farm indoors without really strict hygiene controls].

What Kills Worms?

Like everything else, neglect is one of the biggest killers for pets. Indoor worms are likely to die from too much liquid, too little food or too much food. But there is one killer lurking in many household kitchens – insecticide. Poisons would account for sudden deaths. Avoid sprays and cleaners entering the worm bin.

Happy Worming!

small indoor worm-farm made from old water filter