Wicking – Amazing

transported raised beds at Earth Keepers in Buxton NSW

The Gentle Gardener’s Dream

sit back and enjoy not having to water
Lay back – you do not have to water your wicking pots every day
  • robust
  • low-maintenance
  • compact
  • highly productive
  • transportable (take your garden or farm with you)
  • suitable for hard surfaces including parking lots and roof-tops
  • a great way to use space underneath trees, not competing with the tree roots
  • able to be constructed and maintained without great physical strength. Perfect for families
  • suitable for wheelchair users and people who don’t want to bend over all day.
  • no dig, no carbon released into the atmosphere, no pain
  • less likely to get trashed by your chickens

Wicking For Pots and Open Gardens

Wicking beds can be built in large tubs, baths, barrels, ponds, or raised beds with a lining. However, if you too want to avoid plastics, you can recycle an old rainwater tank, a bathtub, a wooden barrel, or large old commercial food tin.

What’s Wicking?

Chicken drinking with straw

Wicking is a simple technique of letting water be sucked up by plants whenever they require it. This works the same way as a drinking straw. The straw works by creating a vacuum at the top. The water rises to fill that vacuum. In a similar way, the soil and plants can wick up water as they use it.

All we need to do is provide:

  • Water in the reservoir at the base
  • Overflow hole or pipe
  • Close contact between the base of the soil and the water vapour

Good ‘ol Osmosis

Osmosis is nature’s way of transporting water through the soil and plants. Osmosis happens when we soak ourselves in a bath for a long time. Our skin gets puffy and wrinkled. Organic matter in soil soaks up the water one cell to another.

Earth Keepers excellent soil

Plants transpire water during the day and the sun dries out the surface of the land. This creates a vacuum of water at the top. Soil that is rich in organic materials, can carry moisture up to the dry surface by osmosis. [Remember to use mulch to reduce water loss.]

Stacking

Jeremy Yau of Sydney has lots of wicking beds because space is at a premium. And the surrounding trees give the home valuable shade in summer. Jeremy employs the permaculture principle of stacking. He has placed some wicking beds beneath tall trees in the chicken run. Some of the wicking tubs contain large shrubs. His chickens roam around the mini food jungle without being tempted to trash the plants. In fact, they get to nibble anything hanging over from the sides in a run that would normally be empty of pickings.

jeremy-yau's-place

The most valuable feature of a garden made of wicking beds is transportability. When you relocate, you can hire some heavy lifting gear to take the garden with you or sell the garden separately.

The technique of water wicking can be used in all garden beds. However, wicking is particularly valuable for difficult areas ie. boggy soil, hard-pan soil, rock or concrete slabs.

Natural Wicking

mound-garden-swale-water---cross-sectional-view

A primary goal in a permaculture design is to reduce soil erosion and nutrient loss. This is achieved by slowing the movement of water in the landscape. The addition of wicking gardens lets the soil and plants draw their own water.

Firstly, use garden mounds, ponds and above-ground trenches to trap the rain water and allow it to seep through. Secondly, use edge materials that resist erosion but have gaps to allow water to percolate through. These materials include papier-mache, rocks and recycled loose bricks. Finally, ensure that the gardens consist of rich high organic matter because this allows wicking to occur. You can add wicking material such as old jute or hessian bags at the base of the garden beds.

The Resilient Bog

If you are lucky to have boggy soil, then you can simply build the garden beds on top. Pile on the compost, put in a chicken dome, then plant it out. The height required depends on what you wish to grow, how much it rains and how the size of the reservoir of water.  Experiment with a mixture of shallow (ie. Lettuce, tomato) and deep-rooted (kale, Spinach, carrots). The water in the boggy ground below will wick up if the soil in the bed is full of rich organic material.

Purple Pear NSW use-climbing-annuals-as-windbreak--natural-wicking

Purple Pear in the Hunter Valley NSW., Australia is a busy community supported agricultural farm. With years of patient composting they have created lush and abundant gardens on a boggy field. They use bathtub wicking beds for their carrot crops and use the bog-based mandala gardens for leafy greens.

wicking-beds-in bathtubs Purple Pear

Wicking Delights on Rock

Most gardeners wouldn’t dream of setting their food gardens on rock or concrete. But then, most gardeners are not as inventive or determined as food gardeners. In a permaculture design we put the food close to where we can observe its needs and readiness. So the position is partially dependent on the site conditions but mostly on the end-user’s needs.

When creating gardens on rock, choose areas where the rock is flat with a shallow basin. This dish shape will form a hanging swamp and a good lens of water for wicking. If you don’t want the path to be the pool of water, dig a small trench on the high side. Earthkeepers in Buxton NSW built many of their gardens on bedrock.

mound-garden

You can WOOF or make an appointment to visit Purple Pear or EarthKeepers. They are great examples of mature permaculture gardens and the hosts have decades of experience.

Learn more with us.

Study Permaculture with us at Permaculture Visions.

Learning Outside Boosts Learning Within

 Step Outside and Enhance Your Learning

seed-pod_edited-1

Walking and being outdoor changes the brain. Students can become more creative, more observant and less stressed. There are many benefits for the students and the educators to step outside.

Sadly, teachers have a lot of administrative pressures. They have to ensure that they address the many areas of the curriculum. We can support teachers by offering them studies that explain which part of the curriculum the outdoor activities meet. Being outdoors boosts our physical and mental health.

Health, Movement & Exploration

Connecting children with nature reduces more harmonytheir stress. It also increases the chance of nature being less stressed by human impact. Connections with nature enable a child to understand how nature works and builds empathy for others and their respect for the natural environment on which their lives depend.

Nature-based activities can enrich the learning program. We can even go one step further and design an amazing garden class-room.

Nature-based Games & Activities

Rose and the big leafNature-based games are as old as …?

The process of re-discovering and developing nature-based games can be a lesson in history and creativity. What did children play with before plastic toys became abundant? This is a wonderful opportunity to build imagination. Encourage the children be part of this re-discovery.

unusual-foodsActivities include weather observations, seed-raising, ‘mini-beasts’ or ‘micro-creature’ measurements and mapping of their web-of-life, drawing and classification (worms, insects). Science experiments about pH, cooking and cultural discussions about food, hygiene and disease, microscopic adventures about fungi and bacteria, research into origins of medicinal plants and much more.

In the garden children can use tall sticks (ie. banana stems, sugarcane, sunflowers, artichokes, sage) as structural material to build tipis, towers or sculptures. The garden classroom can be a great resource for learning about aboriginal houses or traditional home structures, building and shelters. edible-basketWhether you build a full-size replica or models, the children learn how to use genuine natural resources like poles and natural rope.

Weaving with edible plant material (especially from strong vines like kiwi-fruit and passion-fruit) is a meditative and mathematical activity.  Food plants provide healthy, low allergy weaving and building materials.

What is brown and sticky? A stick of course!

Storytelling and Story writing

The range of light levels within a  garden allows children to find their ideal light level to suit their reading, writing and working. Storytelling in an open space can be difficult in the city if there is a lot of environment noise, or it can become a theatrical challenge. The garden classroom can designed to amplify the production. Outdoors, the story-teller has an excuse to dramatise the text in order to be heard.

The garden classroom is a fresh and ever-evolving space full of material for story writing. Children can explore new ways to tell a story or better grasp old poetry, the importance of traditional story-telling, the tribal ‘sense of place’, the dreamtime and ancient maps.

But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head, 
And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer, 
And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed, 
While the others stood and watched in very fear. [Banjo Paterson]

How Can We Design a Garden-Classroom

Apply Fundamental Permaculture Design Principles

bumble_bee_yellow_flowerPermaculture principles are a valuable tool to apply to learning and can guide our design of a productive learning space. There are various permaculture principles but here we can examine two of the fundamental permaculture principles:

1. Every element provides many functions
2. Every function is met by many elements.

For example:  a simple letter-box/mail-box is an element. It collects the mail, displays a house number, is a guidepost in heavy weather. It can also support a vine or can be, albeit unwittingly, an insect or arachnid  home. One of these  functions (the less desirable one) of ‘housing insects’ can be supported by various other elements i.e. hollow trees, bee boxes or the neighbours letter-boxes :>

1. Every Element provides many Functions

2. Every Function is met by many Elements

Permaculture Principles in the Learning Space:

  1. goddess-treeEvery Element in the learning space
    provides many Functions

    One of the elements in an outdoor space is a shade-tree. This shade tree can provide many other functions: wind and rain protection, leaf litter for mulch, poles, habitat for wildlife, a structure to hang a swing or decorative artworks, a play space.

  2. Etipi with edible vinesvery Function in the learning space met by many Elements.

    The function –  shade, can be  supported by many  other elements. We can use deciduous trees, domes, tipis frames with woven vines , suspended shade material (recycled sheets can be used), sun hats and/or umbrellas.  Children may enjoy painting and erecting old sheets or drop-cloths as an art project to add colour to the space. Poles can be gathered from fallen or pruned branches of nearby trees. Using recycled materials and resources from nature builds empowerment and problem solving.

have a giving spiritIdeally, the process of design consults the school staff, the community and the children. The design needs to be able to adapt to the changing community needs. Consulting the stakeholders helps us define the elements desired. Work with the shape of the land and do a full permaculture design with the confidence of knowing that compost resources will be abundant if the children deposit their food scraps and the garden. Maintenance workers can provide some weaving material as well as mulching material such as grass clippings.

Permaculture design for community garden

Engaging Community

pride in growing food and sharingThe school garden may be one the few green spaces in a city. Many of the residents near the school welcome the opportunity to participate in growing food, creating a beautiful gardens with the children and increasing habitat for birds and native bees.

Encourage the community to find ways to safely integrate adult participation. Perhaps the adults are active in a separate area at a separate time to the children. Hopefully there will be times when the whole community can come together to plant trees or tend the garden or celebrate the harvest.

“Now, you’re talking!”

coffee tree flowersThere are some food plants that get adults truly motivated. These include such as coffee bean and green-tea bushes, native foods (bush tucker and survival foods), culinary flowers and spices. If you are lucky to have immigrants living in your area, invite them to share their stories about food and spices and how it is traditionally grown and used.

What is brown and sticky? A stick of course!

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. … There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
— Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

 

 

 

 

Dark Side Of Double-Digging

Double-Digging Crudely Hits Pay Dirt but…

the ultimate aim of production must be to create a harmonious network of rich and free beingsDouble digging is a technique where you dig, put the soil to the side, dig a bit more and toss that second lot of soil into the first hole. Essentially, you are turning the soil and bugs upside down and letting their shocked, dead bodies feed the your new plantings. In thin soils (like dryland soils) you would be bringing up the subsoil and trying to turn it into top soil. Double digging is destructive.

Double-Digging can be Instantly Impressive

The growth on plants (and sometimes the weeds) is quick and leafy. Double digging is an old farming technique used for centuries in countries with cool climates, deep soils and a careful regime where the soil is rested for long periods to try to recover. If you are in the modern world where land is expensive and there is pressure on you to do use (no time to rest it), or you want to use the space that is close to your backdoor not far away in a forgotten back corner of your garden. Then double digging is not your best option.

There is a serious cost to double-digging. Put bluntly, double-digging does irreparable damage to your soil. Double-digging

  • kills the micro-organisms in the soil.  chicken-diggingThe dead creatures make double digging so amazingly productive. Their little bodies become instant fertiliser for the crops.
  • damages the structure of fragile soils and tempts erosion due to weathering by water and wind.
  • can bring up the useless, hard clods of subsoil unless you are digging on a rare fertile flood plain.
  • has a high risk of erosion from the moment vegetation is removed or hard-hoofed animals are put to graze. The typical Australian soil is only centimeters deep. This risk is amplified by the process of digging.
  • releases carbon into the atmosphere.

Industry is too prone to measure success in the immolate terms of cash or profit, and soil and soul can suffer in the process - L Elmhirst 1944Digging can be satisfying.

We can buy a fruit tree, dig a hole and put the tree in the ground. In a short time the tree may be fruiting and voilà we have the start of a food forest. Or do we? A real food forest captures condensation (more condensation can come to your garden than rainfall).  A Permaculture forest builds soil.  Condensation is trapped and rainfall stored in the soil.  Water is used and re-used.  Organisms are nurtured not sacrificed.  A good permaculture forest design optimises the use of natural energies and serves to increase the health of the soil.  Healthy soil gives us healthier trees and more nutritious fruit.

What Soil Really Wants

umbrella fungi North-America Badgerset farm

Good soil has 5 components:

  1. Air (digging does increase the air, but so do worms)
  2. Water (digging can increase water penetration) but if not designed well it can lead to erosion
  3. Micro-organisms (digging kills many of these). Mulching provides them habitat
  4. Nutrients (plants including weeds can mine for nutrients and make good air pockets with their long roots) Biochar can boost the nutrients in the soil as well as increase habitat for micro-organisms.
  5. rock or other growing media such as recycled brick.

Healthy soil grows in height over the years. We can see the somewhat gruesome evidence of this in ancient graveyards where the ground level has risen.

Jerry Glover
Jerry Glover displays the impressive roots of grasses versus grain

What could be more satisfying than Digging?

Simple No-dig Gardens

No-dig gardens can be designed to capture and filter the rain-water and protect the soil and micro-organisms from erosion.  No-dig gardening

  • is physically easier and faster to set up
  • suppresses weeds
  • can regenerate soil (fertile, rocky, sandy or solid clay)
  • requires less effort
  • uses waste materials and
  • evolves into a beautiful garden

our hills_hoistarium
Our abundant little no-dig garden perches on rock-solid subsoil that could not be dug by man or woman.

No dig gardening requires a little patience but the soil is regenerated, fertility is enhanced and the organisms are constantly building in numbers.

Joyous Songs of Worm Charmers

There are many traditional farming techniques where the nutrients and organisms in local forests are brought to their fields to ‘seed’ worms and nutrients into the fields to improve fertility.  Some people have turned it into a quirky sport like worm charming.

Have fun learning about healing the earth with a permaculture course.

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Hard and Soft Technologies

 Can’t Live Without You – Dear Technology

help-meTechnologies can be classified as Soft or Hard. Most technologies sit within the range between these two extremes. Knowing the difference helps us choose a technology to do a task with the least environmental cost.

Basically, Soft technologies are those handled by people. Whereas, Hard technologies don’t need people to watch over them.

“We use hard technologies to make things easier and faster, by reducing the number of choices for users. Hard technologies are brittle and stifle creativity. They prevent us from doing things and that is why we use them.  They are complete. Hard technologies act as filters – they structure our spaces and limit what we can do.” Jenny Mackness

Elaborating on technologies

A fire pit is a soft technology because requires a skilled operator to start it and keep it going.  However, a wood-fired oven is a slightly ‘harder’ technology because some of the physical effort is reduced by the addition of walls and a chimney.  Eventually, the electric heater was developed. It required less effort and provided speed. This is how the technology of heating became ‘Hardened’.

Very Hard technologies don’t need humans to keep them in operation. A solar passive house is the ultimate Hard technology – it functions without an operator.

Soft and Pliable Technologies

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Ferrocement – a creative soft technology

Soft technologies are flexible and empower creativity. The user has to plan and orchestrate processes. This requires skill and creativity. Soft technologies may appear to be simple but they require time, skills and observation to function.

Co-Evolution

bikeMixed technologies can be an intelligent conversion or enhancement of technologies. The bicycle is the perfect mixed technology. It is the most efficient form of transport known to man. A bicycle requires human energy, skill and observation to operate it. And so we Segway to the Motor car. The common car is a mixed technology.  The self-powered, self-driving car will be a hard type of technology.

Hard Technology Improves Peasantry lifestyle

An example of a soft technology is a house that constantly needs cleaning. Consequently, hard technology deals with inevitable issues such as waste management. One example is the The flush toilet. This is a hard technology, requiring little handling to do a vital job. A simple pit-style of toilet (the old hole in the ground) is a hard technology whereas a good composting toilet is an evolved mixed technology.

chicken-weeds-worms-towerIn a simple chicken house, the poop builds up. The chicken in the wild would not tolerate this, it would move house and allow nature to recycle the waste. The domesticated-chicken-owner is constantly cleaning up after them.

Imagine a chicken house design that is self-cleaning. The Chicken-Worm-Tower is a mix of simple animal housing technology with good flow-management strategies (the waste from the upper level becomes food for the lower levels).

Softening Up The Hard Technologies

Traditionally, a building is a hard technology however, skills can be developed to soften any negative effects of a building.  With observation and adaptations the building becomes a mixed technology.  Adaptations develop and the user learns to drive the structure. These adaptations include simple tools like opening critical windows to allow breezes through. More adaptations include the use of heavy curtains to prevent air circulation and heat loss. In more extreme cases the user reduces heat-loss by applying insulating materials and plugging drafts.

Does a Technology have to cost the Earth?

Choosing a technology deserves a little bit of environmental analysis beyond the immediate financial cost.

  1. technology-save-us?What is the embedded energy in the product?
  2. How long will it last?
  3. is it able to adapt with my needs?
  4. How is it repaired?
  5. What waste is generated?
  6. Is it easy to dis-assemble and recycle?

Hard and Soft Technology of the Permaculture Site

A young Permaculture site is a soft technology. It requires vision, care, skill and training. The user needs to be flexible and creative. As the site matures we see the space become a Harder technology.  The mature forest is robust and requires less maintenance.

The hardened environmental system rewards us with food and improved habitat. Within the mature food-forest we will enjoy being creative and we have more resources to play with.

Learn more about Permaculture Design with Us

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