Permaculture Principles: Stabilisers, Enhancers and Flows –

Evolving Our Permaculture Theory

Permaculture design thinking has brought success in many situations. Permaculture seeded the transition movement, built huge aid development programs and helped millions of urban gardeners worldwide. Permaculture techniques have enriched farm regeneration.  But you don’t have to leave the armchair to use permaculture thinking. New groundbreaking social structures are popping. And business strategies have emerged.

Core Ethic – Care

 be as flexible and mobile as nature herself

In 70s permaculture activists were fighting for a way to conserve native forests by growing more food in the cities. Now permaculture is fighting for healthier environments for both the people and the wildlife. We see huge populations without breathable air, clean water or healthy food. World Health Organisations now recognise that planet health and human health is closely interconnected.

We strive for a fair share but the ultimate success would be a win-win. A win for a rich and diverse environment and a win for human health and prosperity.

Principles: Stabilisers, Enhancers and Flows

bike - technology perfectionA holistic design approach can contain steady stabilisers, fancy enhancers and an ability for energy and information flow.

  • System stabilisers build resilience into a design.
  • System enhancers enable acceleration.
  • The principles that encourage flow let the system self-check, adjust or adapt.

Mollison says ‘A permaculture design is like a bicycle’.  With this new perspective we can see that the seat, pedals and symmetry of the tool ensures stability. The tyres providing padding to the wheels, the suspension under the seat, the gears and the brakes are all system enhancers. The bicycle chain enables the obvious notion of a flow of energy from the pedals to the wheels. But another clever system flow device is the steering. The steering mechanism lets the rider respond to changes in the path. This allows information to flow from the bicycle to the rider. Adaption can be instantaneous and smooth. The modern bicycle is a clever and comfortable design. A skilled rider can steer without touching the handle bar and often without concentrating.

Permaculture aims to design a culture that is as comfortable, 
responsive and sustainable as a bicycle.

A Fresh Look at Early Permaculture Principles

Permaculture principles stabilsers,-enhancers-and-flow-mechanisms

Bill Mollison’s Principles:

Mollison didn’t formally list a set of permaculture principles in his text. But he and many other permaculture teachers have gleaned these from his texts including Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual.

Permaculture Principles To Build Stability

    1. Relative location: position elements in the design so that there is minimal transport between them.  Use natural forces where ever possible to work for you.
    2. Multiple functions for each element: Each Element in the design should be used and positioned to perform a range of functions.  For Example: A driveway for vehicles can also be used to harvest water and low growing plants can be planted onto the center strip of the driveway.
    3. Multiple elements for each function: Satisfy each required function with more than just one element.  E.g. heating can come from multiple elements – a mini greenhouse; a wood-fired stove, geothermal, solar radiators or trombe wall.
    4. Energy Efficiency: Run your equipment to its potential. Share (or hire) equipment.  Support durable technology that is adaptable and is easy to maintain.
    5. chicken-weeds-worms-towerStacking increases the productivity of a system.  A forest often has many layers: bulbs, moss, grasses, ground covers, Fungi, Herbs, Shrubs, Small trees, Epiphytes and Aerial plants, Vines, Climax Species, Parasitic plants.  We applied this handy design tool in our chicken house design. 
    6. Consider Context: Work with the natural and social energies of the landscape and the community.   At the steps of parliament house, Berlin (The Reistag), there is a grassed area that is designed to withstand wet conditions and high pedestrian traffic.  In this situation, the compromise of hard and soft landscape tools works well with nature and also provides for the needs of the people.

Permaculture Design Enhancers

    1. Peppermint Tea
      Homegrown Tea

      Stress-free Yield: By giving each element several functions we can accept that not all the functions can be performed all the time.  A duck will hunt for snails, eat weeds and fertilise the garden. She will swim, preen, mate or shout at strangers.  The eggs that are produced per busy duck are lower than in controlled conditions but the sum of all the functions is greater.

    2. Use Biological Resources. Fossil fuel is best used
      unusual-foods garden mt kembla
      Food Diversity

      when it makes itself redundant eg. a Tractor can work a landscape that will no longer require a tractor to manage it.

    3. Diversity includes a variety of species of food plants or animals.  Diversity in nature builds resilience and resistance to pest attack.  It also lets us find which variety works well in our own particular climate and micro-climates.
    4. Information and Observation replaces Energy:  Intensive systems with feedback and observation are more productive and reduce waste.

Permaculture Flow Mechanisms

    1. Natural Succession: Imitate nature in your plans to help a system evolve to meet your needs.  Build a food forest that looks and behaves very like your local natural forest.
    2.  Appropriate Technology: Maximise the use of a technology by sharing or hiring equipment. Make sure your equipment works to full capacity.  Choose the simplest and most effective technologies first.
    3. Energy Flow: harness existing energy flows E.g. Wind, wave solar, gravity or running water.

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Getting Into The Permaculture Zone

Permaculture Zoning

This permaculture design was created by April 15 years ago and has travelled the world extensively. It has been used to promote courses and workshops in many countries.
zones are used in permaculture design

Zoning isn’t something you do on a yoga mat but it can be used to design anything from a farm, a work station, garden, home, kitchen, caravan, tent, luggage, handbag or even a wallet.

Zoning is a Permaculture design technique that positions the elements (like herbs, trees, chicken house) in our design in areas according to their need or our use. The greater the needs or use of the element, then the closer we place it.

The beauty of Zoning is its flexibility. This design tool is scale-able.

The design tool called Zoning can be applied on large farms, city apartments, urban homes,  kitchen design,  and even in the design or re-design of a little bag. (You can redesign a bag by inserting pockets, wallets or compartments. In the same way we can re-design a property by using fencing for the zones).

A Little Bag of Zones

Many bags have the knack of swallowing items and scrambling them.  That’s because they are not designed for function but usually for looks. We can apply the design technique of zoning to the re-organisation of a bag (a handbag, a sports-bag or regularly used luggage).  Everyday important items such as keys, phone, and medicine would be kept in upper pockets or pouches (the Zone 1 are) and less regularly used items would be allowed to sink into lower Zones. Finally, the forgotten items will drift into the far recesses of the bag.

handbags can have design zones too

It’s not us – it’s them!

Not all items that we need will like being kept in easy reach, in Zone 0. It might seem wonderful to have a tree that produced fruit salad or a herb garden that gave us all our favourite herbs. The reality is, not all fruit likes full sunlight, and not all herbs like to grow in pots. Sometimes the best zone for an element is determined by the needs of that particular element.

Zoning The Herbs

hills_hoistarium

When we use herbs regularly, like our tea herbs, we can keep some of them in easy reach by planting them in pots on the kitchen window sill in (Zone 0). This suits the peppermint but not really a green tea bush which prefers space to grow into a small tree and likes to live on the edge of the forest (Zone 3). Other herbs might only be available when in season (like Coriander), and prefer a protected nook in Zone 2. Exotic herbs like Ginger and the bay tree might need to grow in the forest so we plant them in Zone 4. The herbs in Zone 5 could include rare indigenous herbs.

Zoning On a Bigger Scale

zones-picIn a larger scale Permaculture design we break the design up into Zones according to the amount of attention and space each area requires:
Zone 0. The Home. Indoor production (sprouts/ferments) and processing of food, waste,
water collection, repairs and education.
Zone 1.  The area outdoors that needing regular observation, tending and harvesting
eg. plants we can browse and use each day.- intensive garden beds with keyhole access.
Zone 2. This area has less intensive managed areas but with animals needing daily attention eg. poultry, rabbits, worm farm, snail farm. Orchard trees.
Zone 3. Occasionally visited areas with self-fed animals (stock) and seasonal wide-ranging crops eg. corn, wheat, rice, pumpkin, bamboo.
Zone 4. Wild food gathering (eg. nuts, native fruits) Wood for Fuel, self seeding trees.
Zone 5. A Natural area – a rarely visited area. This zone is best linked with neighbouring wildlife corridors. This can be sometimes managed to reduce risk of catastrophes ie. fire, pollution, drought or hurricanes.
Zone 6: The greater bio-region or social context.

Zoning is a powerful permaculture design tool. It is used in conjunction with other design tools such as sector planning, analysis of elements and connecting the relationships of elements.  Learn more about Permaculture. Enjoy doing a Permaculture Design Course with us!

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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

 

 

 

 

Classy Consumers Cut It

Good for Environment, Good for Me

We all care about our physical and mental health.  We can all recognise the beauty of a healthy environment. Unfortunately, there are a lot of products out there that damage the environment and our health. Consumers put constant pressure on producers to cut costs and use the cheapest materials. Only now are we seeing the true cost of plastics and other non-biodegradable resources (read on to find out how common polyester clothes are the biggest ocean polluter).

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2009/03/22/general/oceans-awash-in-toxic-seas-of-plastic/
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2009/03/22/general/oceans-awash-in-toxic-seas-of-plastic/

The Classy Consumer Demands Better.  This consumer is mindful of their impact. They buy less and demand responsible sourcing, durability, classic style and quality. In fact, some well made products have exceeded the consumers expectations.

citrus_butterflyNothing is Truly ‘At No Extra Cost’

Most consumers demand discount prices, pretty packaging and special extras.  The packaging that comes with our purchases is not actually free. We pay for all that packaging that we simply throw away. The cost of the packaging is in the price of the object. In addition to this hidden payment is the burden on many others to pay to rid it from the oceans.

Plastic-is-ForeverProducts and packaging made with biodegradable materials are increasingly rare. Young people are wondering how we survived before plastics. It would be nice to have a green triple bottom line: fair prices, classy looks and good for the environment. Even when I find a trustworthy company, I need to read the label, question the materials used, estimate the product durability and the capacity of the item to be re-used or re-purposed.

Our Consumption Influences Production

There are ways to avoid being a passive consumer of waste. There are questions we can ask and more choices than ever before.

  1. Plug the everyday losses. Most people have wasted money, time, energy, resources and food-waste. There are abundant weight-loss programs, pills, cosmetics, books, personal energy at the gym instead of walking to work. There are currently more overweight people in the world than starving people. To put this into perspective, more than 17 thousand people die of hunger each year.
  2. Liter of Light is a global open source movement aiming to provide ecologically sustainable and cost-free lighting for simple dwellings with thin roofs.
    plastic bottle light source: Liter of Light is a global open source movement aiming to provide ecologically sustainable and cost-free lighting for simple dwellings with thin roofs.

    Embrace free energy sources (this includes our own physical labour ie. walking, gardening, making things). Most of us enjoy free access to sunshine, wind, gravity, animals, plants, water, rain, microorganisms.

  3. Take pride. We all produce energy, ideas and things. We make heat, noise, movement, kinetic energy, movement, thinking, planning. Take pride in what we produce and check that it adds value to life.
  4. Cut the embodied waste. Many people have surplus money, wasted housing space, storage space. Then there is that pile of surplus possessions like extra bikes, unused boats, old cars, tools, furniture, clothes, shoes, books. There are mountains of gadgets thour award winning business and siteat we hoard, throw out or give as gifts. Start sharing and look to hire instead of buying. Hiring a boat, a caravan, a holiday house, an evening gown, a machine or more enables the item to be well stored, maintained and shared.
  5. Become productive (make stuff, fix things, build relationships, pick food, cook, pickle, make cider, forage, be inventive with your gifts). Do a permaculture course to learn more about cutting your waste and designing your own productive lifestyle.
jacob_magraw-mickelson image
jacob_magraw-mickelson image www.bottlecapjourney

Get Close and Personal

Rather than feeling overwhelmed with the extent of our impact, we can make a start where it counts two ways – less toxins up close and a change for a better environment. These changes include washing powder, shampoos, creams, lotions and cosmetics.

By not buying any plastic-based products we make a difference to what we put on our bodies and what washes out into the environment.

Gentle Footprints Can Wash Away

chinese-pedlar-ming-dynasty-chicago-museum_2We are all consumers. Every minute we are consuming something (energy, space, food, light, warmth).  Our footprint doesn’t have to leave a mess for the next generation to try to clean up.  If we insist on biodegradable products, our footprint can safely wash away. With mindful choices we can turn our consumption into an enriching legacy for future generations.

Am I a Silent Polluter?

lloyd-surprisedMany of us pollute the seas without even knowing. Each time we wash our clothing, micro-fibres wash out past the high-tech filters and into the sea. One of the latest and surprising research findings about plastics in the ocean is that the biggest source of the invasive pollution (worse than micro-beads from cleaning products) is polyester clothing.

It is very hard to purchase all natural fibre clothing (especially undergarments that hold things in the right places) but by buying less and using it for longer, we can make a difference.

Natural clothing fibers include:

ladybird on clover

  • Rayon (made from wood pulp)
  • Cotton
  • Bamboo (processed without heavy chemicals)
  • Linen (made from flax)
  • Hemp
  • Jute (a very coarse fiber used for things like carpets, not clothing)
Natural animal clothing fibers include:

Try to buy direct from humane farmers who care for their animals

  • Silk
  • Wool (fleece from sheep, goats, alpaca, lamas)
  • Angora (collected from Rabbits)
  • Mohair
  • Cashmere
  • leather/suede
natural fibres with natural dyes like beetroot WEA UK
Beautiful hand-printed natural fibers with natural dyes like beetroot on display by WEA students at London IPCUK – designing the world we want

 

Making Meaningful Connections

Permaculture Has Designed Connections

Permaculture is not about What You Have. Permaculture is about How You Connect Things.

chicken-weeds-worms-towerPermaculture is a way of thinking and designing that looks at the whole system. Permaculture is not just a collection of clever, yet separate, units.

Some people may think they are doing permaculture because they have used sine common permaculture strategies. They may be catching and storing the water. They may have created some typical permaculture elements like no-dig gardens.  Whilst permaculture may look like a collection of these ideas, it is actually a whole systems plan based on the way nature interconnects the elements.

energy flow chart

Why Plan?

When we look at the little parts we may be focused on a collection of problems. We can get trapped in the search for solutions but when we step back to examine the whole system (our whole lifestyle or community) we may actually begin to see patterns of behaviour, good and bad interactions between parts and insights into how we can link things together to optimise their function.

By building effective connections, the value of each element is enhanced.

systems_thinking

Functional Physical Relationships

King parrot
Wildlife are part of a functional system

In the garden we can easily build functional relationships between elements. We can use

  • a shade tree to shade a truck,
  • a deciduous fruit tree to provide reactive, seasonal shade for the house
  • we can allow access for the chickens to help clean up fallen fruit.
  • A pond could provide ambient light, humidity and habitat for pest-controlling creatures such dragon-flies. A pond call also be integrated into intensive gardens.
  • Mixed herbs and vegetables which can be positioned within easy reach of the occupants.
  • The pond can also be part of a total water management plan that diverts water away from the house keeping the footings and occupants dry, mould-free and secure in a more durable home.

Put simply, we link units closely by their needs and waste products.  This enables one need to be satisfied by the waste products of nearby units.

 

Functional Social Relationships

Systems thinking can also be applied to economies, networks and social relationships. Healthy regular connections with supportive contacts can build a resilient and responsive social network.  We all need validation, a sense of purpose and achievement. In permaculture we are actively creative. We can be more productive outside our standard work-space. We can all benefit from being giving and sharing. We can enjoy the peace and satisfaction of goodwill.

time_and_tide

 

Biomimicry & Permaculture Today

Janine Benysus, in her ground-breaking book Biomimicry, acknowledged Permaculture as a way to create food forests by mimicking the workings of the natural forest. The insights are still relevant. She had predicted Nature would be a powerful educational model. There are now an abundance of designs based on nature. One of these thriving design sciences is evident in the number of good mature permaculture sites worldwide.

And as we develop more observation skills, Nature becomes our patient mentor.

Revisiting Biomimicry’s Principles

Janine Benyus1: “9 Basic Principles of Biomimicry and how they work:

  1. Nature runs on sunlight. This is true of nearly every living creature, but not all.  The very rare exceptions include tubeworms in the depths of the ocean that eat chemicals released from volcanos. There are recent discoveries showing a few rare organisms do not need full sunlight. And sadly, with climate change we are witnessing the struggle of some plants to survive in full sunlight. The permaculture strategy to stack plants in a food forest is valuable here. We can fit a lot of plants into an intensive space and out-compete weeds.
  2. Epping forest, London IPUK delegates from Africa and Hong Kong marvel at the wasted abundance in a major city

    Nature uses only the energy it needs. If a creature harvests more than it needs, the harvest is not wasted. Squirrels often forget where they buried their nuts, these nuts either sprout into new trees or are eaten by other creatures. The trees benefit from this forgetful relationship.
    Most predators will kill only the weak animals in a herd. Most kill only as needed. There are always puzzling exceptions. Foxes will bury their kill and dig it up to eat later, they believe in banking. But it is difficult to see the wisdom of a predator that kills all the flock of hens without leaving some animals to reproduce. Perhaps cunning doesn’t imply planning skills as seen in Ants farming fungus or aphids.

  3. Nature fits form to function.
    When a function is needed, a form evolves: The camel evolved great nostrils to minimise water-loss. The termite uses insulation to prevent the nest from overheating. Bears and skunks burrow for comfortable hibernation. Functional design today learns fr
    om nature.
    Nature Knows How - Soft Technology
  1. Nature recycles everything.
    Energy, chemicals, and matter are used and reused by nature. Where there is desolation, very little matter is moved or transformed but where there is life there is constant change.
  2.  Nature rewards cooperation.
    bumble_bee_yellow_flowerThis is essential in the web-of-life. Many plants rely on close relationship with their pollinators. Flowers reward the bees by providing them with nectar. There are often competitors and cheats in a natural system (eg. robber bees who by-pass the stamens and raid the nectar by drilling holes in the base of the lower) but the bulk of the work is done through happy, productive relationships.
  3. Nature banks on diversity.
    Through diversity, there are many different types of creatures, with a variety of habits and needs. There is an intricate co-habitation in a rich tapestry of living organisms.
  4. we found our niche and we are filling it!Nature demands local expertise. In some species, we find local expertise, size and functional diversity in the one colony. Ants are a good example of diversity and are one of the most successful and diverse species on the planet (15–25% of the terrestrial animal biomass.[8)
  5. Nature curbs excesses from within. When there is a limit of resources, many natural processes will curb population growth. Some species are less fertile without adequate nutrients. Some species of animals can delay the implantation of a fertile embryo, enabling them to delay pregnancy until the season is more favourable.
  6. Nature taps the power of limits.
    This principle was more
    controversial at time of writing and is has mixed metaphores (a limit is not a power source) so it is difficult to qualify.
    Janine wrote:
    “real survivors are the Earth inhabitants that have lived millions of years without consuming their ecological capital, the base from which all abundance flows.” Our ecological capital includes energy, nutrients and genetic material.  Fortunately, for humanity, there a constant and free energy input from the sun, a strong life force and a rich bank of genetic material.  With careful management we can maintain a clean supply of nutrients.

permaculture_farm_Ideas-1024x601Limits create responses. Innovation such as variation and diversity is stimulated by limits.  Because farming exports nutrients, there are real limits. 

Some farming ideas can help reduce nutrient loss ie. with the use of good water management to help minimise erosion. We can build soil organically by supporting micro-fauna and flora.

An integrated system like Permaculture uses less ecological capital.  It recognises our limits helps us focus for resilience.
1Benyus, Janine (1997). Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. New York, USA: William Morrow & Company. ISBN 978-0-688-16099-9.

Build your resilience by learning more about Permaculture with us.
We are different by design.

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Cooking and Fermenting – Ancient Pleasures

Peachy Reasons To Cook

from: Australian Museum

Why did our ancients invent fire and start cooking?
Here are three old and solid prongs in the hot debate about raw foods and cooking:

  1. Food Security
  2. Enhanced Nutritional Value
  3. Food Safety

1. Cooking for Food Security

Storing food makes life comfortable and dependable. It is really handy to be able to store your surplus foods, send some to a distant relative, trade some or have the weekend off from farming and mend some clothes. The farming of grains changed humanity and shaped the landscape. Suddenly, communities had long-term food storage of grains, tubers and dried pulses.  From this food revolution shaped our culture. Towns were founded, cities grew and supplies for adventures and wars were fueled.

The traditional methods of preserving food were:

April and the Pizza oven
Garden Prunings used for fuel at Silk Farm

Cooking foods to a temperature of 100°C for a minimum of 5 minutes will kill many food-borne disease microorganisms (ie. salmonella, e coli, campylobacter, listeria). This enables us to keep foods for longer because they do not decay as quickly.

2. Cooking for Enhanced Nutrition

The nutritional value of foods are often enhanced by cooking.

  • Heat makes many foods tastier (the sugars are released, flavours enhanced, and the fibers become more digestible.)

    cooking well geothermal copy
    Geothermal cooking well Rotorua NZ
  • Many vegetable fibers are naturally indigestible and heating and pounding helps to make them suited to human consumption.
  • The beneficial phytochemicals produced by plants such as peas and tomatoes are more readily available when cooked (but not to be cooked in carbon steel pans).
  • Most plant toxins are destroyed. Early varieties of plants such as beans originally contained lectin phytohaemagglutinin which is destroyed by cooking and fermenting.
  • Some cooking methods are more nutritious than others. Slow and sealed cooking locks in the nutrients.
  • Cooking can also destroy nutrients especially in oils and fats, making them harmful.

Not all Apples are Apples – What?

Malay Apple - Syzygium malaccense
Malay Apple

Identical apples of the same variety will rarely have the same nutritional value. Their richness of nutrients depends on the quality of the soil that the apple tree grows in.

As for nutritional value of meats, the animal’s exercise, stress levels and diet will affect the type fats and fibers in the meat. (Freely ranging animals have more nutrients and better quality fats. “Wild-animal fats are different from both farm-animal fats and processed fats, says Dewailly. Farm animals, cooped up and stuffed with agricultural grains (carbohydrates) typically have lots of solid, highly saturated fat.”

3. Cooking for Food Safety

cherub-chicago-museum_art_chicago

Many bacteria, viruses, some poisons and harmful micro-organisms lurk in our foods. This includes liver fluke (which can be transmitted by snails). Most of these threats can be killed by cooking. But not all.

Bacteria [ie. Salmonella] usually dies when cooked. Some by-products (ie.  the botulinum toxin) can be destroyed by heat but other toxins from moulds, micro-organisms, viruses or bacterial growth can still make us sick.

Good health is not so much about which foods are best to eat, or how to prepare them or what hazards to avoid. The ‘proof is in the pudding’ as long as it is a healthy mix of nutrients.

Enrol to learn more with us about Permaculture Living
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Freedom From Obsession

Who wouldn’t want freedom from economic slavery? What would a world of economic honesty look like? Many of us sing: “I OWE, I OWE IT’Schook-on-computer OF TO WORK I GO”. In reply to this mournful choir you may hear voices offering hopeful refrains. Ted Trainer urges us to explore simple living. His is an alternative to the obsessive consumer slavery.

Here’s the good news! It costs nothing to aim for lower expenditure. There is no risk of failure in our quest for freedom.  Challenging the economics of global consumption can benefit us in surprising ways.  We can stop to smell the roses, enrich our social interactions, question what we really need and reduce our waste.  Some of us will develop creative, productive habits. Others might explore green technologies. We can all build lifestyles that work toward physical and mental health and a healthier, more peaceful Earth.  “What people must see is that ecologically sane, socially responsible living is good living; that simplicity makes for an existence that is free.” – Theodore Roszak

Playful productivity

Dr Ted Trainer is a visiting Fellow chicken-diggingat the University of NSW. He invites us to go one step further than the noble pursuit for freedom from economic slavery. He suggest we turn work into fun.  Much of Ted’s work is invisible.  He explores the intricacies of social connections and aims to find ways to support inventive and creative thinkers.

On his alternative lifestyle education site at Pig-face Point, Sydney, Ted has a playful approach to food production. He shifts the focus from a sense of work to a sense of exploration and creation.

Ted says “Work doesn’t feel like work when you’re having fun”.   Part of his site was designed for fun (bridges, arches, islands, caves, etc.) and other parts have purpose (dams, rammed earth shed, cob oven, and home-made furniture from found branches.  He uses his site as a model to show people how to create an interconnected, well-resourced and equipped ‘village’ or housing complex.  Here is one of his students 3D models where we can see retrofits of whole suburbs to better connect the community, reduce waste and increase local production.demonstration model before & after peak oil

Creative adaptation

Ted is like a happy nutty professor escaped from the lab!   He has a lot of energy experiments (tidal energy, water wheels, methane gas, composting toilets, etc.) For years I had believed someone else that said that a methane converter couldn’t work in our cooler climate. Now I know that to be untrue.  Simple bio-gas chambers off composting toilets can work in warm-temperate zones.  Ted had one working off his toilet. If Ted, hadn’t bravely tried this, I wouldn’t have seen it for my eyes. He also had some low-tech stuff which demonstrated in a fun way, like a simple hose coiled to pump water as you turn it.

Essentially his experiments are not just about the individual successes or failures.  His efforts show that is worth trying new things and not just believing other people’s assertions. Ted has an inspiring attitude.  Some of Ted’s writings are available online at social sciences at University of New South Wales and at the simplicity institute.

This Video is a Ted Trainer Interview on ‘The Simpler Way’

Get Cracking On An Egg

What good is in an egg?

Are eggs good for us and for the planet? egg n sproutsThere is a lot of debate about this and there is evidence to show that even some medical practitioners are confused about the nutritional value of eggs.

Eggs are a nutritious food. They contain 11 different vitamins and minerals in good amounts…They are also one of the few food sources of vitamin D, a nutrient many of us lack – putting ourselves at increased risk of conditions ranging from brittle bones to cancers.”

Eggs  keep you fuller for longer. This helps us go to work with a contented tummy. Go to work on an egg was an advertising slogan used by the United Kingdom’s Egg Marketing Board during the 1950s as part of more than £12 million it spent on advertising. Lets put the advertising  aside and have a look inside the modern egg.

Don’t hens produce methane?

Most land-dwelling animals, including us humans (dare we say?), produce some methaneOver 60% of total CH4 emissions come from human-related activities. [1] old_chook_n_chicks
Most people blame the cows. But are chickens contributors too?

Cows don’t have teeth to break down their food.  Cows have hardened gums, they rip at their food, drink a lot of water and then ferment the grasses in their guts. They produce ferment in their gut to increase the nutritional value of their very fibrous food. They have 4 stomach chambers to be really sure that the ferments create nutrition for them before the food is wasted.  Cows burp a lot of methane. 

Cows are vegetarian whereas chickens are omnivores. Like cows, hens don’t have teeth either but they peck tiny, almost-readily digestible amounts of food every time. The hen has a stomach like a dinosaur – she eats a bit of grit and this helps grind up the food. Hens need less water per volume of dry-food than cows, so they have less ferment.  Hens love meat in their diet as easy protein and they love to be part of a rich web of life (bugs, ants, worms, beetles and more).

Poultry are not fussy ‘foodies’

Hens will eat food-waste, garden pests chicken reap Permaculture visionsand the less palatable proteins [yucky stuff].   Hens (if trained from early life) will eat most garden weeds, food scraps, snails, insects, small snakes and moths. Sadly, they will eat small frogs, worms and beneficial insects, so we need to fence them out of areas where you will be nurturing wildlife.

Permaculture Principle: ‘Integrate Not Segregate’

cartoon duck 003
ducks and chickens like to forage

Hens want to be integrated. Their natural habitat is not a hot shed with wire fencing. Through good design and management we can reduce our own work-load (chickens will clear and eat the weeds, distribute their fertiliser and focus where ever we drop a little food for them). Of course there is a delicate balance between protection and freedom. Protecting your chickens from dogs, hawks/eagles and foxes needs to be balanced against allowing them self-determination especially in severe weather events such as wild-fire, floods or high wind.  Through intelligent design, we can provide choices for the chickens. We can offer them several protective day-shelters, water sources and safe night-time housing.  Chickens are woodland creatures, they love to hide in dense scrub, eat berries as well as insects and make baths out of dry dusty soil at the base of large trees.

Not all eggs are the same.  eggsBut even the battery-laid fresh egg is still good protein. Not all hen lifestyles are the same.  In a permaculture design, the hen is a valuable tractor, pest controller, live entertainment an incubator and companion.

The hen in a permaculture design serves a lot more functions beyond egg-laying. When birds are not stressed by over-population, enjoy a healthy diet and feel secure, they can lay for years. Some birds have been known to lay eggs after decades.

Here is a way to integrate chickens into a complex web-of-life and suits a small garden.

chicken-weeds-worms-tower

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Difference Between Organic Gardening and Permaculture

The Permaculture garden is a lot more than an organic garden. Although organic food production often has many clever design elements, the foundation of permaculture design lies in the ethics. The ethics are both care of earth and care of people.

Intelligent cultural design is mindful of its relationship with its environment.  We are not just living in a period of energy resource limits. We are now heating the planet dangerously with our energy exhaust.  Whilst wealthy people can cope better with the impact, most people cannot afford to move or get air-conditioning,  or truck water in. Even the wealthy cannot fix the nitrous oxide build-up or save their beach homes. And we all need to eat.

Permaculture thinking can be applied to many physical and social structures. It is energy-wise and collaborative to minimise the impact of a culture on the surrounding environment. A good permaculture design has great potential. It can connect neighbours. The biggest Permaculture site in the world, The Chikukwa Project, has helped the whole community.

The permaculture environment is the result of a caring lifestyle.
You will see:

  • Focus on closing the nutrient and water loop by using waste, and reducing the dependence on inputs.
  • Creation of healthier soil and diversity of produce.Our Permaculture Design and Demonstration Site.
  • Responsibility for waste. There is an aim to eliminate waste. i.e. no excess nitrogen nor weed seed, released.
  • Variety keeps residents engaged and excited about growing their food.
  • Imitating nature by conserving the soil and water, and genetic capital. There is an intensive use of space. Plants are allowed to set seed and are inter-planted for pest control. You are unlikely to see food plants in rows. The permaculture site will look more like a food-forest with some open glades full of herbs and perennials.
  • Optimisation of natural energies, e.g. wind, dust, leaves, bird droppings.
  • Nutritious food and habitat for people AND native animals and birds.
  • experimental permaculture chickenDependence on observation. Permaculture design is a mixed technology.  Bill Mollison (co-founder of permaculture movement) said that permaculture, like a bicycle, it is adaptable and has great potential but is only as good as the user.
  • Minimal risk. If we fail at permaculture, nature simply takes over. The soil will continue to heal, the forests grow and someone else can step in to rebuild our efforts.

difference between organic gardening and Permaculture

What’s the difference between Organic Farming and Permaculture?

permaculture plans for farmsPermaculture uses organic gardening and farming practices but it goes beyond. It integrates the garden and home to create a lifestyle that impacts less on the environment.

There is a significant difference between closed and open food-production systems. In a truly closed system (one in vacuum or in space) energy is not lost it is simply transferred from one being or element to another. In a permaculture system, (which can never be fully closed), energy is ideally used by one element effectively and passed on for the benefit of the next before it leaves the system.

Organic Farming promotes the use of natural fertilisers, making use of the natural carbon cycle so that waste from plants becomes the food (fertiliser) of another. In organic farming however, as with ALL farming, minerals are being lost from the farm every time a truck load of produce is carted to market.

The Ideal Permaculture ‘Farm’ brings production of food closer to consumers and the consumer’s wastes back into the cycle. It also reduces the energy wasted in transporting the foods by producing the foods where the people are. In permaculture, the people contribute in their daily life toward the production of their food and other needs.

Soft Technology Tea - Tea doesn't have to cost the earth
Tea doesn’t have to cost the earth

When is Permaculture not Organic?

There will be times when a permaculture system is not strictly organic:

  • being adaptable as nature when we use local resources rather than imported certified organic resources
  • When we want to increase diversity by bringing in unusual plants/seeds from a non-organic plant supplier
  • Permaculture is capable of enhancing a supply and converting it to organic. for example: when we grow food-plants along polluted river or roadsides to filter out toxins and break them down to safer levels. We know we may not be able to eat these plants but we can keep them as our ‘catastrophe’ backup.

Essentially Permaculture is trying to close the energy loop by optimising what we have.

Fostering A Culture of Community Recycling

compost is pretty hot stuffThis is not usually due to an intentional use of pesticides, but often due to the use of a by-product that would otherwise be wasted. We could use old shoes as pots for plants, an old truck tyre/tire to hold the edges of a pond. Sometimes the choices are difficult and we have to do a quick cost/benefit analysis. For example: At Silk Farm we use recycled oil (to make fire starters) and the oil cans (for our simple worm-farm towers) from a non-certified organic restaurant who sometimes uses leaves and fruits from our garden. This ‘trade’ stimulates our local relationship and fosters a culture of resourcefulness.

Permaculture Can Actively Convert Resources

worm towersWe would need to weigh the benefit of a using a free local waste (ie. horse manure) versus supporting a good organic supplier who may be in another country. When we design well, the permaculture system can act as a cleanser or processing agent. Sometimes, we can transform then utilise a polluted waste (within what is realistic achievable).  In the case of the horse manure, we could ask the owner about their anti-worming medication, check that it can be broken down by high-temperature composting then go about re mediating it before using it.  Good permaculture design will aim to have a better output than input. Organic gardening may not have checks to reduce the system’s impact on the wider natural system.

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