When I first learned about Permaculture Design in 1993 I was working part-time with a toddler on my hip and a lively pre-schooler in tow. I read lots of books in library, was inspired by the documentary Global Gardener. I experimented with bits and pieces of permaculture. There was no local permaculture network at that time. What I was doing, was trying imagineer a better future for family without the full set of permaculture design thinking skills.
So, with the support of my extended family I traveled to the mountains to learn with visiting permaculture teachers Jude and Michel Fanton and Rosemary Morrow. Rosemary’s books got me thinking about the power of simple art to teach complex issues with some clarity.
But the journey had to start at home. With small successes at home, growing delicious and rare foods, my interest in permaculture was sustained. If I hadn’t experienced the health from growing food I would be back shopping for the latest fashions, stressing over debt and working in a heavily competitive environment to earn enough to live a few glamorous weekends.
Not every day is a happy day. But every day is a lesson about nature. This I share with students and fellow permies. Pioneering Permaculture ideas helps build a healthy future for humanity.
Over the decades I have created designs for others but I know the most successful implementation has happened with those clients who actually understood how the design worked. Since I started teaching permaculture online in 1995 I have had students from 65 countries. These students have been remarkable and I am very proud of their work.
Imagineering is theimplementingofcreativeideasintopracticalform. That is exactly what permaculture design does.
Few people, once they are in the full swing of life, take time to sit down to study again. Most folks set up house, take a job in a new area, plan their holidays and embrace a family life without much planning. They might get the chance to do the odd one-day course and piece together a lifestyle that they enjoy.
The advantage of doing a full course in permaculture is that you get to piece together all the concepts – the tangible and the intangible.
Perhaps that sounds like a load of philosophy, not practical permaculture. Um, yes there is a bit of philosophy needed when you want to imagine a future. To imagine and engineer your future you might want to think about what you love most and how to nurture that. Other concepts are how to design a lifestyle, a community, how to use money effectively, or how to mimic patterns in nature. Other intangibles include dealing with debt and stress. How to see the world differently and not just as a set of problems.
It would be wonderful to be able to steer the permaculture design as your needs change. It would be paradise to understand how the design functions, know how to connect with it and build the abundance. Yet the ultimate permaculture experience is the empowerment.
In the earlier years of Permaculture interviews London asked: Short of starting a farm, what can we do to make our cities more sustainable?
Mollison answered: Catch the water off your roof. Grow your own food. Make your own energy. It’s insanely easy to do all that. It takes you less time to grow your food than to walk down to the supermarket to buy it. Ask any good organic gardener who mulches how much time he spends on his garden and he’ll say, “Oh, a few minutes every week.” By the time you have driven to the supermarket, taken your foraging-trolley and collected your wild greens, and driven back home again, you’ve spent a good hour or two — plus you’ve spent a lot of money. Permaculture can be as simple as sitting down and drawing the plan then a little effort in implementing it and then some time in harvesting the rewards.
Do you love your garden to death? Most gardens thrive on enthusiasm but this can accidentally kill it in just a few easy steps.
The good news is that a garden doesn’t usually die quickly. But the flip side of the slow decline is that it is a quiet, sulking kind of demise. You might wonder what you’re doing wrong. Or perhaps you wonder now what is really lost in a the death of a garden?
Essentially, poor design kills a garden. Step outside and ask yourself: How can a garden suffer and die?
Few people understand their landscape. Fewer discover what gardens really need in order to thrive. Basically, it’s all about the soil. There are 5 simple, yet vital, components in soil for growing healthy plants.
The 5 ingredients needed for good soil are: Air pockets, in-ground stored Water, Minerals, Organic Matter and Organisms. Plants need little pockets of air in the soil so they stretch out their roots and grow. Luckily, air is free. You don’t need to rush out and get any specialist aerating tools. Just sit down and observe how the air is being lost. Most commonly, air is lost from a garden by people treading all over it. Secondly, air can get pushed out by poor water management. The third way to suffocate the garden is to allow visitors, children, pets, wind and rain to bare the soil. If your garden is doing poorly then leaving the soil to lie naked to the elements will certainly top it off.
It is easy to kill a garden with bad water management. Check that there is water in your soil. The best test is to see if you can actually dig a hole. If you need a machine to dig a hole then you have soil that is perfect for making pots but not growing plants. If you find your soil blowing away, you have soil perfect for making children’s sand-pits. Build up the organic matter and this should start a beautiful habitat for micro-organisms.
In an era when we are rushing from one activity to the next, it is easy to think “if a little bit is good then a lot is even better” This is not true of Garden-Love-Potions like fertiliser. Even natural, organic and locally sourced fertiliser is only required sparingly and only as a kick-start. Once the organisms are thriving, let them be. Don’t let your relationship with the soil become toxic.
Enthusiastic people are prone to over-commitment. They put their hands up at community meetings, cook-up great feasts for family and friends, work on the board of directors for lots of projects and then, OUCH – the inevitable mishap brings their plans tumbling into chaos.
Design the garden to provide for itself. Let the leaves sit to decompose in flower beds. Design to let the water slowly percolate through the garden beds. Let the plants self-seed.
In truth, plants like being part of a community. A sapling that is planted all on its own has to endure full sun, hurling winds, stinging rain and children’s misguided footballs. Whereas, deep in a forest, a sapling is nurtured by its elders and then rises to fill their void when they are struck down by the elements. A harsh adolescence for a garden will either kill it or forever bear the scars.
Some gardens are on high alert. They are cracked up and full of weeds because they are desperately trying to correct imbalances and build a habitat for wildlife again.
Lets talk about weeds. When a garden has weeds this means the gardener has neglected to plant anything else that would thrive in that place. Sometimes weeds are your friend, helping you rejuvenate an exhausted soil. Pulling out the weeds can be akin to pulling out the life-support for a garden. If your garden needs a lot of maintenance, it will not give you much joy. Vandana Shiva challenges us “What will life look like when we finally win the war against nature?”
Some gardens are Fashion Victims. They are in a constant stateofhystericalraptureorecstasy. They try everything possible to be dramatically striking.
Is you garden desperately screaming for your attention? Do you make it change the colour, shapes and philosophies just to stay lovable? Perhaps, one year its Minimalism next its Abundantly White.
Being trendy is not gentle on the planet or your wallet. Anything that is in right now is highly likely to be out next season. Garden fashions include vast areas of lawn. Worst of all is the fashion that covers a garden with hard surfaces. These kill the soil underneath and concentrate fast flowing water onto the little remnants of natural plants and soil. A resilient design includes rain gardens, and soft landscaping. A resilient garden gently adapts over the decades.
A new way of growing food has emerged in this modern era. Some factories can grow food without any living organisms in their soil. [In the hydroponics industry it isn’t even called soil – it is called a growing media]. Factory garden systems need a constant supply of nutrients, climate control, sophisticated water systems, reliable energy supplies and very close monitoring. Sitting in a hydroponics factory really doesn’t feel the same as sitting in an abundant permaculture glade full of food and wildlife. What this tells us is how amazing a natural system truly is.
Let’s pause before you really kill that garden. Would you be better off with an amicable split? Can you afford the guilt? OK, maybe, but can you really afford the diminished real estate value? You could sell up before the relationship gets really ugly.
If you are too busy for a garden, you might need a garden that doesn’t need you? Luckily for you and the planet, a forest doesn’t ask for any input except to be allowed to exist. The forest plans to be there for you whenever you want to connect. Help protect a forest for a better future for us all.
Needy gardens have a weak structure that will break under the slightest neglect. These gardens have grown accustomed to a regime of control. They expect to be pruned as soon as possible after the wind has ruffled them. They cry for water then as soon as the sun gets too intense because they have developed shallow root systems or have been kept contained and imprisoned in a totally man-made environment. It is not the garden’s fault. It is the original set up that created this dysfunctional system.
The only hope for a needy garden is to redesign it. Accept that nature is more powerful than you, even when you think you are the one in control. Learn to let go. Masanobu Fukuoka developed the art of letting go and observing what is most the productive and compatible way to garden. Everyone’s garden is different and every solution requires observation before action.
Your garden doesn’t understand you. You stand outside on a beautiful, sunny day but you feel cold. The pergola vine doesn’t drop its leaves to let the winter light. That shrub your Aunt gave you is now a huge tree and keeps dropping leaves into the neighbour’s pool. They never invite you to their parties. Your washing line is covered in pollution from the city, so you use the clothes dryer. The electricity bill is ever-increasing. The path to the bin is mossy and slippery. The friendly neighbour’s weeds are all over the fence. You wave politely. A flock of birds roost in the branches of a tree that hangs over the driveway. They sing joyously as they poop all over your car. The children’s play area is burning hot. So, they beg to play virtual reality games instead but they are full of energy.
The house gets noisy so you decide to drive them to their favourite playground miles away. It is attached to a take-away restaurant. Your Grandfather asks why the children are getting fat. Is this garden determined to kill you? The lack of garden design is the culprit.
The garden media push is intense and at times, irresistable. Garden expos, magazines and television shows love making us feel that our garden is inadequate. Getting home, we view our own space as dated and full of chores.
We want that totally NOW garden. Go get that enthusiastic and uncommonly attractive design team in the Video. Yes, throw out the existing plants, get in some fancy trees, truck loads of soil, plastic weed-mat, mountains of cement and bright paint. Crush the old garden!
But there can be happy memories and cozy familiarity in tending something old. It costs a lot (emotionally and financially) to kill a garden. Yet it costs very little to be kind, observant and reconcile your love affair with your garden.
Take control of your well-being and cook for yourself. You’re worth it
Plan the menu to dish up the healthy foods you love and are in season
Check what is in the cupboard before it expires
See what is growing in your garden
Write a shopping list
Buy locally made alternatives
Make your own sauces
Buy seasonally available food
Buy whole foods that will store well
Let people serve themselves at the table
Store food correctly to reduce pests in the kitchen such as weevils and cockroaches
Eat the Leftovers in curries, pies, pasties, pasta sauces, on pizzas and in lasagna or soups.
Have a rat-proof system of feeding leftovers to your chickens in the mornings, then put remainder in a metal enclosed worm-farm at night.
Turn your scraps back into food. Grow pumpkins and tomatoes from the seed. Grow ginger, sweet potato and shallots from a small piece of the tuber.
Each morning, chickens are ready and keen to work. They strive to convert food-waste to fertiliser. Gobbling scraps and frolicking in the garden is their idea of chicken-heaven. A little training may be required to teach old chickens to try new foods. One way to start your chickens eating the food waste is to offer them scraps each morning before offering them seed. A permaculture design helps you manage your chickens. It designs spaces for them to access a lot of their needs and it uses zoning and other design tools to absorb their products such as manure, dust and noise.
Superb Self-Motivated Workers
Chickens do a lot more than just eat your scraps. Dancing a funny kind of shuffle, scratching to aerate the soil then trimming the edges of the garden paths are natural activity for chickens. Most Chickens like to bathe in a dust bath which they make for themselves. Design their space to give them access to a dusty corner. Add diatomaceous earth to keep the bugs away.
In addition to all these natural attributes, chickens will hunt. They eat snails, baby snakes and a lot of insects pests and beneficial. So, you do need to manage them. They will also eat your food before you do. How can the docile domesticated chicken be expected to know what you want to eat or keep in the garden? If they like your scraps, then you can bet they will prefer them fresh. The hens will probably like to eat your favourite herbs and veggies. You are their master, guide them well with fencing. Fencing also keeps them safe from predators like dogs and foxes.
Kryptonite for Chickens
Not all chickens like the same foods, just the same and you and me. They will most of our scraps however, there are some you should not feed to them. We never feed our hens raw egg-shell because we don’t want them to get a taste for raw egg and start eating eggs in the nests. We pop the egg-shells into a metal bowl and store it in the oven. The shells dry out and get baked in the next preheat. When we open the door to put a dish in the oven out comes the baked egg shells. They are crushed with the end of cup and more shells are put on top. Eventually we feed the lot to the hens as part of their shell grit.
Mowing is another chicken specialty. Your hens will help mow the grass. They are not super neat but if you put grain along the edges they will start there. Build your flock gradually. Start with just a couple and slowly build the numbers two by two. If you get the right ratio of chickens to grass, there will be no bare earth. Two bantam chickens can neatly graze an established lawn of 1/8 acre. However, If you notice the lawn area is suffering over the winter, simply lock them in a straw yard. As spring approaches, your hens will bound out ready to work. These animated balls of fluff fertilise your garden with their manure and feathers. Ultimately, it is clever design of the garden layout and fencing that will give you management options.
A Daily Gift
At the end of the day you might even get some of their world-loved eggs. Eggs are the best protein and conveniently delivered in their handy little hard-cased compost-able packaging – Egg shells!
If chickens were as popular as cats and dogs,
the world's food waste would be halved
You could be forgiven if you thought that permaculture was about self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency is not the idealised ‘GOOD LIFE’ as speculated in the 70’s by BBC. If you want long days of lonely, repetitive hard work and the very real risk of starvation and disease, then self-sufficiency would be for you.
Alternatively, if you are looking for a lifestyle that connects you with nature and your neighbours, boost your Self-Reliance.
In a nut-shell, Self-reliance enables empowerment through increased local production by giving, trading and/or sharing. ‘Self-Reliance’ values and cares for the weak and the elderly. Self-Reliance has the power to strengthen community connections, improve our health and the planet’s health.
Community Values You
Permaculture promotes a sense of community. The basic ethic of Caring for People drives us to build better communities. By consulting the community we design adaptable structures – physical and invisible. Physical structures include social hubs, educational and recreational areas. Invisible structures include trading centers, banking systems and news exchange facilities.
Permaculture designs for whole ‘villages’ not just individual households. This increases the efficiency of the waste cycles. Resources (physical, intellectual, social) are more immediate and usable. At best, the cycle of local production and disposal of the waste are tightly connected.
Self Reliance Grows By Sharing
Frequent exchange of little resources requires very little planning. In a busy community, resources are shared, traded and loaned. ‘Hand-me-downs’ are passed on as needed. Harvests and meals are casually shared. Valuable and timely knowledge is offered informally.
One of the most obvious features of this ‘informal’ economy is that the consumer and producer meet. They tend to be kind to one another. In his free e-book, Permaculture Strategy for the South African Villages Terry Leahy explores the power of the gift economy. The gift economy fulfills the permaculture principle of ‘working where it counts’.
In surprising contrast to this, small holdings can be highly productive and rewarding. This works especially well when the local community supports local food production directly through farmers markets.
Given that Rural suicide is significantly higher than urban, healthy relationships are the key to survival. When farmers need assistance (psychological, medical and veterinary services) help needs to be close at hand. Enriching the community bonds through localised trade helps to build bridges and understanding.
Owning a large property is huge responsibility
Large properties have heavy maintenance requirements. The cost of neglect can increase the risk of disasters such as fire. A community management team can help share this responsibility and combine resources for tree loping, noxious weeds control, soil erosion management, water pollution filtration, and emergency response.
Elders adopt the ‘benefactor’ model
Elders can share their workload whilst mentoring young people. Sharing your resources, skills and know-how creates a closer-knit community.
This is known as the ‘benefactor’ model. This model works well for Polyface farms and other small communities. As a result, a succession of skilled people in a specialist field is ensured.
Permaculture values people as well as our environment.