Category Archives: Permaculture Visions Demonstration Site

Permaculture Visions Demonstration Site activities and observations

Going Bananas –

Get Some Real Banana Bread

One of the greatest challenges for building a sustainable culture is learning to eat what the climate and soil want to grow and not forcing it to produce what our culture is accustomed to eating.  During the recent ‘Hunger Period’ when Cuba was is economic turmoil, the locals grew food on street corners and in government city farms. The power of that community was celebrated yet Cubans hung on dearly to a cultural remnant called white bread. Bananas grew everywhere during that time and still they grace street corners because nobody needs to remove them. (See tips below on how to grow or remove them).

Home-grown Special

Given that most people around the world can grow bananas and most can keep hens or quail for eggs (if you can keep a cat or a dog, you can find a way to keep quail). Imagine growing and cooking pancakes from your own garden on your home-fuelled stove.

Green Banana Great Cooking

Bananas, green or yellow, make a great flour.  In addition, it is gluten-free and full of nutrients. Real Banana Pancakes are super easy. Basically use two eggs for each banana and add milks or spices to your tasting.

Use It or Share It

In our warm temperate permaculture garden we have designed some micro-climates that the bananas love. And best of all our bananas ripen in winter! Winter is usually a lean time our food forest so this abundance is enjoyed. We have thousands of bananas which we readily share. but now we know how to use up the green banana, we can enjoy more of the crop.

The other abundant crop here in winter is from the Rocoto Chilli trees.  No typical western recipe springs to mind to combine these two delicious resources. Green Banana + chillis = Cayeye and Cabeza de Gato (Colombian Mashed Green Plantain) with home-made Salsa on the side. Yum.

Green Bananas of any variety can substitute for plantain in most recipes. If you want a quick and yummy snack, you can make green banana crisps. simply slice the green banana, salt it then fry it.  This fast food will keep for weeks because it dries out crisp as it cools.  Alternatively, you can dry your bananas in a solar dryer.

Want A Banana Beer With Your Banana Fries?

The passionate and experienced researcher, Bruce French, has studied the amazing array of produce from rare and under-appreciated food plants. Before you get into the beer, find out more about the benefits of a range of banana ferments.

There are many recipes out there for banana beers. Most use a cereal crop such as maize to get it going, but anything once living will ferment. If you are keen to make pure banana beer beware it just may take a few conventional beers prior to get the stamina to like it.

Bananas are Tough

In all honesty, in good soil and mild climates, Bananas are hard to remove. If you need to remove them simply dig up the pups to give to other people, cut the main stems with a bread-knife, cover the area with an old tarpaulin, you can cover that with mulch and potted plants for a year.

Did you know?

Did you know that the banana stool is not a tree? Bananas are a herb. In fact, it is the tallest flowering herb.

Bananas are more than just a lunchtime companion. Every part of the banana is useful. For permaculture designs, the banana is a great erosion stabliser, good to grow on fast eroding banks and in gullies and shallow or intermittent water courses to slow the water down. They have a tendency to travel slowly over the years because the new pups need to grow in the shelter of their parent. Each mature banana stool will only fruit once so you can chop it down and feed it to the poultry, or a worm farm, use it as mulch or garden edge. With some practice you can cut tall fruiting stems whilst keeping the stem vertical. This way,  the bunch is not damaged as you chop. This also means you don’t need a ladder to access a big bunch.

Design To Exclude Wind

The biggest thing that will limit your crop is wind. Wind rips at their leaves, reduces the local moisture available to their roots and can spread disease. Bananas love sun-traps. In your permaculture design, sun-traps have multiple functions.

Sadly, the main threat to commercial Bananas worldwide is disease. So, check that you are not violating agricultural restrictions. These restrictions are there to limit the spread of disease.  The modern banana was predicted to become extinct by 2020, but we can all help turn that around by choosing unusual, organic and less than perfect varieties when we shop. Diversity is the key to our resilience.

And Wait, There’s More!

Nothing need go to waste from a banana plant. The leaves can be used for fencing, temporary roofing, bedding in the hen house, even as a compostable umbrella. Many people cook foods in the leaves and big leaves are a beautiful throw-away platter.  It is also possible to make paper out of the banana fibers. This video shows a school girl making banana paper.

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Liberty Chic Fights Waste

Eliminate Your Food Losses

How to reduce food waste

9 year old hen and her chicks

  1. Take control of your well-being and cook for yourself. You’re worth it
  2. Plan the menu to dish up the healthy foods you love and are in season
  3. Check what is in the cupboard before it expires
  4. See what is growing in your garden
  5. Write a shopping list
  6. Buy locally made alternatives
  7. Make your own sauces
  8. Buy seasonally available food
  9. Buy whole foods that will store well
  10. Let people serve themselves at the table
  11. Thai Basil and mint: home-grown teas

    Store food correctly to reduce pests in the kitchen such as weevils and cockroaches

  12. Eat the Leftovers in curries, pies, pasties, pasta sauces, on pizzas and in lasagna or soups.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.

Feathered Friends

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

chic in egg getting ready to tend the garden

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.

Ancient Hunters

Rooster defends against predatorsIn 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

a tad of fowl confusionNot 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.

Chickens Mow

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

home-grown eggs and sprouts

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

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Do I Need A Rooster?

A Rooster – An Optional Extra

You don’t need a rooster (male chicken) in your flock.  Your hens (females) will live happily without a rooster. Sometimes, a rooster is handy to guard the flock and help solve problems.  But when the claws are out, a rooster is no real protection against predators like wild dogs, quolls, wild cats and foxes.

rooster-defend-chick

A rooster can be a gentle leader. A good rooster helps finds food and he eats after the hens have eaten. A kind rooster will check out the nests for suitability and he sometimes pretends to lay in his efforts to assure the hens. Some roosters may be brave and put themselves in danger to protect his flock.

But beware, many roosters are simply mean and selfish.

Breeding Your Own Chickens

chicken-with-chicksIf you wish to breed your own chickens, you can get a rooster or you can buy fertile eggs.  The main strategy of a breeding program should be to keep the loyal and gentle roosters. Don’t judge a rooster on looks alone. Even if you choose a quiet one, his gentle nature can change if he gets stressed. Watch for aggression and be prepared to cull.

Complicated Relationships

rooster-crow-234x300

Roosters and hens have very complicated relationships.  A rooster will sometimes lie to his hens, clucking the signal “I’ve found food” when actually, he has not found any food and is just drawing them nearer. In these moments the rooster takes advantage of the temporarily puzzled and distracted hen and will mate with her.  The amazing flip-side of this is that the hens nearly always know they are being lied to but choose to play along.

If you are keeping hens in a protected space, safe from dogs and foxes, you don’t need a rooster.  Hens are very happy to lay eggs without having the complication of a rooster.

If you have a rooster, it can be harder to find their hens nests. The hens can go broody often, loose weight and lay less eggs. All the eggs will need careful monitoring for freshness. Be careful, fertile eggs can be laid weeks after a rooster is gone.

World Peace Starts at Home

Few people enjoy the sound of a rooster crowing in the morning. There are laws against these pesky noise disturbances. Find out the laws. If you can’t have a rooster, support a local breeder instead. There are lots of conscientious breeders like Avonstour in New Zealand who would love your support. If you want to breed quiet poultry, breed quail instead.

one word - great

The Permaculture Rooster Works Hard

The Permaculture Rooster has many functions. He keeps alert for dogs, cats, snakes and eagles. He searches for new foods and suitable dust-bathing places. He is hot on the heels of the keeper each morning. He pays attention to where the weed-clearing is to be conducted and will return during the day in case he missed something. [The keeper is careful to define the work-space by throwing some seed or food-scraps]. The keeper can call the rooster when he is needed and the brood will follow.

chickens-weedingThe permaculture rooster works hard in the garden with the flock. He also listens and responds to distress calls from laying hens. He enjoys hiding in the bushes when the flock are resting or taking a bath. The permaculture rooster is camouflaged and on guard in the bushes. He is agile, fit and trim (not so great for eating) and smart.

A happy rooster can live a full 8 or 10 years.  The rooster maintains his dignity yet lets the keeper attend to him if he gets sick or injured. But like all great gurus, he will slow down, and eventually hand over the reins to a younger guy.  When his time is up, his body will make great fertiliser for a young tree. He needs to buried deep so the fox can’t find him.

Gentle Genes Live On

chick_egg

The chicken is one of the most well-traveled, cuddly and functional companions of the human race. The beauty of the chicken in a garden system is it will eat stuff we can’t and shouldn’t eat [like maggots and centipedes].  Chickens can turn also pests into eggs.

The humble egg is the most nutritious source of protein in the garden.
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Big Bill Chilling – Making Your Rental Home Cozy

Get Yourself Cozy For A Lot Less

Most of the western world spends a third or more of their income on heating and cooling their homes. But in poorer nations, around 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires. Even if we live in a leafy part of the world, where we can grow our own fuel, getting a clean wood-fuel stove is not always an option.
The growing number of people who rent a home can’t use a fuel stove because there is simply no chimney. So, how do we get cozy and cut the continuous big bills? Is natural energy possible in a rental home?

Here’s Mr Bean’s take on the cold – to get the ideas started.

The best energy principle for Cozy Living:
When air moves, it cools down.

How Energy Works For Us:

  1. Air transfers its energy to whatever to hits. When air hits the window, it transfers its warmth to the glass and the glass then transfers energy to outside when the outside is cooler. Energy (via Entropy) likes to go from hot to cold, from order to disorder, from a heat source to the wider universe. If want to stop sending energy to the universe, slow the airflow down by having smaller living spaces (you can use curtains to section off smaller areas in a large open-plan home).
  2. earth_sun_day_fireyThe sun provides a lot of natural light and warmth.  With double glazing, this warmth can be trapped. It is the still air between the two sets of glass panes that provides the insulating layer in double glazing. The insulation is not from the panes. So, if you want to let natural light through but don’t want the heat to escape than any two layers of material ie. recycled bubble-wrap, perspex, fabric will work. If you choose to use a plastic wrap, be aware that it can melt to the glass so put a layer of white curtain up first, then the wrap. A simple white curtain will trap the air between the windowpane and the room and continue to provide light. If you are serious about stopping heat loss at night, you can use a heavy blind or comforter and make sure the edges around the window are well covered. Have a cover over the top to stop warm air rising. A pelmet can be made out of wood, covered cardboard or an extra length of material draped over the curtain tops. Avoid Styrofoam as it kills many animals and never decays. Styrofoam rises from the dead to kill again.
  3. Check the sun’s path for your location. The sun-less windows and walls of your home can be a cold sink where all the heat is zapped. Not much morning sun comes in on the west so there is little or no point in keeping these windows open for natural light unless they are your only morning light source. These are the windows that warrant the most insulation at night.Totnes-(304)Wes_April
  4. People generate a surprising amount of heat. Imagine if we were able to contain this heat and not let it continue to slip out into the universe. Can you modify some of your routine so you get to bed early where it is snug and warm? How can you optimise your access to natural light and warmth?
  5. Gravity can also work for you. The beauty of heavy curtains is that they are self-closing using gravity. You don’t have to constantly ask for people to close the door. And curtains can be easily opened to release excess heat into other rooms of the house. Curtains made out of recycled woolen blankets can be fire-retardant and can be cleaned.
  6. Little John Owner at www.PlantBasedServices.com
    bookcases as insulation

    Insulation stops heat transfer. There are several ways to insulate the home and wood is one of the best insulators and also offers thermal stability. Wood has high R rating and great thermal stability. If the walls are not to be tampered with [possibly because they have toxic paint or asbestos in them] then you can use internal wood paneling. The thicker the wooden panels, the better the thermal mass. If you don’t own the home, you can build or salvage a lot of tall timber bookcases and fill them with books. (Be careful to attach the bookcases so they won’t fall forward).

  7. beauty-of-thermal-massGet the right amount of thermal mass. Thermal mass is not a substitute for insulation, it is the home’s air-energy battery.  Too much mass can mean the room can take forever to heat up or cool down. Do the calculations to find the right amount of thermal mass for you climate and room sizes. Experiment with your thermal mass by adding thermal mass objects one piece at a time.
  8. Air moves from high density to less density. Any passing breezes will suck out air in the house. It is not uncommon to see people stand and chat with their front door open. An open door can act like vacuum, sucking out any heat within. If you are lucky to have a door that is in a sunny spot – you can boost your natural energy source by installing a little greenhouse on the door – the greenhouse door will cut drafts (by creating an air-lock) AND the greenhouse will help heat your house. Your greenhouse airlock can be as light as a tent and made out of recycled plastic (like packaging for furniture) or glass, can be relocated to your next home. Alternatively, you could make the airlock out of white curtain material and a waterproof roof. The main aim of an attached greenhouse is stop airflow and let natural light through.

Simple Steps to Cut Your Heat and Money Losses

  1. Nature Knows How - Soft TechnologyRug up in the living room. Wear warm clothes but make sure the visitors are cozy too. You can offer your visitors some wraps and slippers. Permaculture is about building a sustainable culture.  Building a culture that is cozy and fun for everyone is more likely to be sustainable. If you are having lots of visitors, it is great to share a cozy fire and if we use big theatrical style curtains to slow the air flow, the visitors can also enjoy the warm atmosphere.
  2. Try using a trombe wall.  You can make a trombe wall out of thermal mass like a heavy timber bench seat positioned in a sunny window  “A Trombe Wall made from the local mud and brick offers better relief from the smoke and the cold.”
  3. nz-greenhouseLook up and look down. Many people forget that heat is also lost through the ceiling and floor. Low ceilings are easier to heat than high ceilings. If you have a high ceiling, make sure it is insulated and install a fan that can be reversed in winter to push warm air back down. Check all sky lights are well sealed and consider getting double glazing on them.
  4. An extra floor pad with high thermal mass is useful where the sun can shine upon it.   If you can’t insulate the floor, you can use lots of rugs underfoot to stop drafts.
  5. Install a solar heating system that can go in through a window. Support manufacturers who use recycled components e.g. CanSolAir solar furnaces. A ‘floating floor’ can be used as a low-cost low-thermal-mass large-area heater. It canraditor bench seat could have solar hot water pipes contain pipes that are heated. The heating can be done outdoors by the sun. You can even use recycled pipe, a compost pile, or tank that is heated by a slow outdoor burner. A floating floor would be tricky to take with you, but something like a bench seat above it could be handy and fun. The pipes could be a simple coil of black pipe that sits outside the window and comes in through the window via a modified wooden panel with holes for the pipe inlet and outlet.

Turn your Savings into Investments

solar-raysWe don’t need to suffer the cold and we don’t have to suffer big bills.  There are lots of options for getting cozy. The first focus would be to reducing the losses.

Once your energy losses are cut, you can evaluate how much heating you need.  Invest your savings in energy from nature like capturing the warmth from the sunny windows onto thermal mass or getting solar heating piped in through a modified window pane. These tools and skills are transportable and can travel with you to your next home.

Cutting your big bills gets you the resources to build a sustainable future.

We enjoy our solar hot water radiators
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Top Permaculture Trees

How Can We Compare Trees?

photo taken at australian tropical foods nursery QLDAre you searching for your ultimate tree? Do you want the highest yielding, easiest to grow, most multi-functional, resilient, long living, best tasting fruit, most nutritious fruit, best timber, not-too-tall tree with fruit has no pests or disease? The search for perfection was at its height centuries ago. Our ancestors had done thousands of years of genetic selection.  But then, in the industrial era, mankind settled on a bland diet where “75 percent of the world’s food was generated from only 12 plants and five animal species”.

Our Winner Is…

mulberry-cheesecake
Mulberry Cheesecake with edible flowers

We like abundant tasty fruit from shady, low maintenance trees. Our favourite is the Mulberry (it is a shrub in cool climates).  The branches are pliable and strong weaving material. In spring, we use the branches as barriers to stop the chicken digging up our seedlings. We also make hiding places for the chickens to escape dogs or foxes during the day. It apparently has edible leaves, (although we haven’t been hungry enough yet to taste them). They make good fodder for poultry and cattle.  The timber is useful and we use mulberry as fuel in our winter fires. The Mulberry tree is very tough. It can be coppiced or pollarded and happily conforms to the shape you desire. It is self-propagating in a mulched garden and forgiving of most vandal attacks in a city-scape.

A Yummy By-Product

mulberriesMost Mulberry trees are not used for sericulture anymore (its primary farming role).  The Mulberry was carefully genetically selected for over 5000 years to feed silkworms. The biggest advantage of this fruit for our site is that these fruits do not succumb to the destructive native fruit fly. Other wildlife, especially the water dragons, love eating mulberry and will climb the trees or patiently wait for the fruit to fall. Lucky, there is plenty to share.  Be careful not to hang your washing overnight near these fruits because the droppings from flying foxes or birds will stain your clothes. Which brings us neatly into another function – Mulberry makes a fabulous natural fabric dye.

Conservationists warn against ‘Hardy’ food trees

King parrot eating pears

If you live in an area close to fragile native forest, the Mulberry isn’t your ideal candidate because the birds will eat and poop the seeds and it could possibly displace some of your native trees. But if you live in the city and trees are in short supply there, you can enjoy your visits from the birds and know that any food you grow in the city takes pressure off existing native forests which are being felled to make way for farmland.

Prefer Amazing Taste or Amazing Packaging?

pearsMulberries are sweet and juicy. But why are they not in the shops? They have a big commercial flaw. Unlike some berries, the mulberry requires dexterity to harvest it and the fruits perish quickly.  Today, most consumers choose to buy apples (often these have been stored for years).  But we could simply stop and reach up to pick the fresh fruit that grows on the corner outside old Aunt Dolly’s house.

Multi-function: a Key Permaculture Principle

What-I-love-about-treesEach Element in the design should be used and positioned to perform a range of functions. Each plant in a permaculture design provides food, timber, mulch, shelter for the garden and house, soil conditioning, water harvesting and more.

top10 trees at silk farm NSW AustraliaBeautiful FRUIT Trees:
“So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.”

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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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Silk – The Fabric Of A Forgotten Culture

Recently we sent a request to advertise our Silkworms in a local agricultural newsletter. We received a curt rejection stating:
‘Silkworms are just pets for children…What do Silk-worms produce anyway?” 

Actually, Silkworms produce a lot more than just their famous Texan-Horn-and-Silk-armchairhigh value fabric which is strong, beautiful, soft and insulating.  Silk-worm pupae are also edible and the worms produce neat pellets of fertiliser.  Agriculturally speaking Silkworms definitely are ‘childs-play’. They and their hardy food source, carbon-building Mulberry trees, are very easy to grow and harvest. Silkworms are probably the most domesticated protein source on the planet.  The worms grow to 70 times their body size in just a few months. They are easy to handle using simple tools and require no fancy farming machinery.

chinese-pedlar-ming-dynasty-chicago-museumSilk was one of the first agricultural products known to man. The silk route facilitated trade from far eastern countries to the middle east and Europe as early as the dark ages. Whilst silk was quietly being made by farmers for Royal families in Asia, European hunters were chasing the brutal undomesticated forefathers of sheep, cows and horses.  Silk is still considered one of the best fabrics for high fashion products such as suits. In Asia, the trade secrets are heavily guarded and recent technological innovations have made it much easier to process the silk.

Why has Silk been forsaken?

  1. Fossil fuels now produce silk-substitutes such as nylonchicken-finds-worm and synthetic polyester.
  2. Fossil fuels have also changed the way we farm. Fossil fuels enable farmers to cheaply transport, shear and process high fibre yields from larger animals such as sheep.
  3. Many small products like silk, tea, cacao/chocolate and coffee beans are labour-intensive and hard to mechanise.

What’s So Great About Traditional Knowledge?

Gene’s can be altered but not created. Why let any genetic material be lost forever? Many people have fought to retain valuable genetic material in the hope that this genetic material will be valuable for future generations. Furthermore, it is easier and cheaper to keep producing living seeds than to store them in a seed-bank.  Bio-security controls also make it risky to move species from one bio-region to another. If you have a genetic strain in your bio-region , this strain has probably adapted to your area and could be hard to replace even if you were able to import it from another region.

In the same way we are losing gene material, we are also at risk of losing traditional knowledge.  Many ancient crafts, techniques and recipes are distant memories.

One of the most powerful principles of Permaculture is to build diversity. By encouraging diversity we broaden our options and we foster resilience in our own designs and in our community.  Silk farming is one little example of thousands of years of research and living in harmony with nature.

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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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World First Online

We are the pioneers of online permaculture training and mentorship. Serving continuously over 20 years, we have tutored participants from more than 67 countries. Thank you for working to make a better future for everyone.

Still Not Digging It

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.

Art Of Permaculture Intensive Workshop

Art of Permaculture Intensive Workshop to be held at Sydney Permaculture Institute. Imagine if there was a chance that you could express the complex ideas in Permaculture creatively with clarity and power.

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About Art and Permaculture

Do you sometimes have an idea you find hard to express? Do you wish you could simplify things so others can better understand? Do you want to enrich your projects with good promotional material? Join us in exploring your artistic side, building skills and learn the basics of communicating powerfully and quickly.Image3

Art has always asked the difficult questions. It has often been the brave voice of reason. And sometimes the shining light in troubled times. Through Art we can help make a difference:

  • Stimulate self questioning,
  • Open discussion
  • Build awareness and
  • Inspire people to create changes and
  • Empower people to become part of a beautiful and productive solution.

About the Trainer – April Sampson-Kelly

Image1aApril has been teaching permaculture for 20 years and in more than 60 countries. Because she teaches permaculture online, using her own text and to many people who need visual prompts, her artwork has traveled the world. Permaculture is a very complex design system and requires a lot of different skills to be understood and practiced well.  Her artworks first set up to explain a lot of the tricky concepts in Permaculture. She has also done a range of permaculture designs for clients in Australia and abroad.

April started with a Masters degree in creative arts and has been successful in various artistic projects. She started as an accomplished musician, composer, and lyricist. Her inspiration began as she and her family began building their permaculture food forest in Wollongong 20 years ago. April started teaching permaculture online in 1993 and in her goal to present permaculture in plain English with lots of images and illustrations; she started developing different artistic media to develop permaculture education. She noticed that through art her permaculture clients and fellow educators are able to illustrate, communicate and inspire permaculture ideas. Now her work has traveled the world to promote permaculture. She and her son were the illustrators for the logo for 2014 International Permaculture Day.   Some of her permaculture graduates have been inspired to design permaculture card games, more teaching tools and beautiful graphics.

Workshop Outcomes

During this workshop you will explore all the amazing ways Art can influence design and empower you to explore your concepts. From Patterns through to details we will explore various media, learn their limitations, skills required and find different media that enables you to convey ideas. Even if you think you have no artistic flair, you will be encouraged to explore your ideas and build your creative realm.  With April’s unique combination of a deep knowledge of permaculture and  passionate artistic background you can build the skills to create  inspiring, beautiful and memorable designs. This is one of her iconic designs that have been top in online search ranking for over 10 years.

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The Art of Permaculture

This workshop is for: permaculture designers; landscape architects and designs; design students; teachers; artists; community and school garden designers; anyone interested in art for self skill development and fun.

Workshop Program

  • What is your definition of Art? What different art forms can we explore (realism, fictional and propaganda)?
  • Recognise how art has been integral and powerful in helping permaculture and environmental issues be better understood in the world.
  • Discuss the types of design platforms, advantages and limitations (from spatial art through to software).
  • The basics of design, how the permaculture principles can be applied to our workplace and lifestyle.
  • Discover your unique aesthetic, find you art mentors/idols, determine if you are visual, aural, or kinesthetic.
  • Explore reactive versus proactive Art.
  • Determine where mainstream is and how you may be able to communicate to mainstream without compromising your goals and preferred techniques.
  • Know your market
  • Discuss what challenges artists face (i.e. writers block, client relationships)
  • Define your goals and become empowered through focusing on how to get your passion to pay.
  • Find out how to create employment, find your right-livelihood as a communicator and artist.
  • Pitfalls and benefits of being self-employed.
  • Discuss ways to overcome copyright concerns.
  • Ways to collaborate with other artists and ideas people.

You will set your own goals, define your priorities and create the beginnings of new artworks. There will be lots of exercises in quick fixes, fun cheats, a little light-hearted art-soul searching and most of all an exploration of tools for staying inspired, connected to nature and making powerful permaculture messages.

All artworks shown are the work of April Sampson-Kelly.

Book me in!