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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Still Not Digging It – no-dig gardens

No-dig gardening is not just the easiest way to convert compacted crusty sub-soil to lush gardens full of food. Nor was it simply the best way for us to combat an acre of vigorous grasses that grow more than 2 meters high up and over our young trees. On a global scale, No-dig gardening is the best way to grow food without releasing any carbon into the atmosphere.

Martin Crawford understands the power of no-dig gardening in his food forest. He has a beaut book Creating a Forest Garden: Working with Nature to Grow Edible Crops”

No-dig gardens at Permaculture Visions demonstration site.
No-dig gardens at Mt. Kembla Permaculture Visions demonstration site.

Learn more here about the no-dig gardening method we used over the past 20 years to build our food forest.

The no-dig garden made with cardboard provides:

  1. protection from erosion for the soil
  2. moisture trapping (if laid carefully in reverse-tile pattern).
  3. evaporation barrier
  4. carbon and organic matter
  5. worm-food
  6. composting of a waste that is often sent to landfill
  7. weed-control and conversion to worm-food
  8. food without killing soil micro-organisms
  9. habitat for soil fungi

On the down-side we do need to be careful to remove all plastic-wrap, ties and tape attached to the cardboard as this is a real threat to small animals and reptiles.

Jerusalem Artichokes sunning to improve sugars
Jerusalem Artichokes work in the no-dig gardens to break heavy soil and provide food.

Join us in an upcoming practical workshop on no-dig or simply learn with us online.

Make Your Permaculture Cup of Tea

Tea doesn't have to cost the earth.
how to make a cup of tea with the smallest frootprint possible

Industrial Cup Of Tea compared to the low ecological footprint Tea by Permaculture

Captions here in English, Français, Español:

Industrial cup of tea / Tasse de thé industrielle /  té hecha industrialmente
Oil / Pétrole / gasolina
Tea / Thé / Té
Supermarkets / Supermarchés / Supermercados
Transport / Transport / Transporte
Packaging and transport / Conditionnement et transport /  Empaquetado e Transporte
Bag factory / Usine de production de sachets / fábrica del bolsas té
Energy Transmission / Transmettre / Transmisión de Energía
Hydro or coalfired or nucleur power / Énergie nucléaire / Hydro carbón o Poder despedido o nuclear

Permaculture cup of tea / Tasse de thé en permaculture

Rainwater / Eaux pluviales / Agua de lluvia
Wood fired or solar stove / Four à bois / madera alimentada estufa o estufa solar
Water waste recycled / Eaux usées recyclées / Residuos de agua se recicla
Solar wind power / Énergie solaire et/ou éolienne / Energía eólica Solar
Hand made or second hand (recycled) cup / Tasse fabriquée à la main ou recyclée / hecho a mano o taza reciclado
Pottery artist / Artiste potier / artista de la cerámica
Local clay / Argile locale / arcilla local
Woodlot / Petit bois / Arboledas

French translation courtesy of our student in Quebec Sonia J. Fath