“Venie Holmgren passed away recently with her family by her side at the ripe age of 92. A remarkable life bringing up a family with her husband Jack in Fremantle, WA and involving herself in peace activism when nuclear weapons first appeared and the Vietnam War was in full swing. When Jack died in 1975 Venie bought a campervan and traveled ……… everywhere. The end of her long journey led her to the Bega Valley where she bought a 180 acre bush block near Burragate to pursue a simple, self reliant lifestyle. The development of Venie’s property was later documented by her son, David Holmgren, the co-originator of permaculture when he published ‘Permaculture In The Bush’ in 1985.
During this period Venie began writing and become an accomplished publishing poet. It was also a time she applied her activist skills and commitment to the campaign to save native forests in our region, being arrested twice for obstructing log trucks.
When the Burragate property became too much work for her to manage after 16 years of solo self reliant living, she moved into Pambula where she penned her travel memoir, several more books of poetry and traveled widely as a performance poet.
Due to the permaculture link, I was fortunate for the conversations had with Venie over many years and involved her, along with David, on the first PDC I taught at the Mumbulla Steiner School in 1994. She was supportive of the work that SCPA did locally as she was so passionate about local activism and creating the world that we do want.
Rest in Peace Venie Holmgren……..much loved xx
Venie was there at the beginnings of permaculture in the late 1970’s and played a critical role in ensuring its global status today. Her property in Burragate was a regular visit on PDC’s……designed and constructed by her son, David Holmgren, it also meant there was a lot of regular contact with him.”
“Technologies can be soft or hard and everything in between. Soft technologies are those enacted by people, e.g. knitting needles are a soft technology – they need people to be of any use. Hard technologies are the ‘physical stuff’. A fridge is a hard technology – it can function without being enacted on by people.
We use hard technologies to make things easier and faster, by reducing the number of choices for users. Hard technologies are brittle and stifle creativity. They prevent us from doing things and that is why we use them. They are complete. Hard technologies act as filters – they structure our spaces and limit what we can do.” Jenny Mackness
Soft and Pliable Technologies
Soft technologies are flexible and empower creativity. The user has to plan and orchestrate processes, which is more difficult. Soft technologies may seem simple to produce (in retrospect) but require time, skills and observation to be used.
Mixed technologies can be an intelligent conversion or enhancement of technologies. A bicycle is the perfect mixed technology. It is the most efficient form of transport known to man. It requires human energy, skill and observation to operate it. And so we Segway to the Motor car. The common car is a mixed technology. The self-powered, self-driving car will be a hardened technology.
A Chicken-Worm-Tower is a mix of simple animal housing technology with good flow-management strategies (the waste from the upper level becomes food for the lower levels). A simple pit Toilet (the old hole in the ground) is a hard technology whereas a good composting toilet is an evolved mixed technology.
Modifying Hard Technologies
A building is traditionally a hard technology but with observation and adaptations it can become a mixed technology, we can learn adapt and drive the structure by opening windows to allow breezes through, installing heavy curtains prevent air circulation and heat loss, reduce heat through window panes by applying reflective foil, or plugging drafts.
Does a Technology have to cost the Earth?
Choosing a technology requires a little bit of cost analysis beyond the financial cost.
What is the embedded energy in the product,
how long will it last,
is it able to adapt with my needs?
Can it be repaired?
How much waste will be generated when it breaks?
Can it be dis-assembled for recycling?
A young Permaculture site is a soft technology, it requires vision, care, skill and training. The user needs to be flexible and creative. But when the mature Permaculture is designed well it becomes a harder technology. There is less work to do. Once the water management and forests are established, it is harder to manipulate or damage the environmental system and when we learn to work this technology it rewards us with food and improved habitat. Within this world we can still be creative and we have more resources to play with.
Are 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…
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
Most 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
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?
Mulberries 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
Each 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.
What an amazing era of technology we live in! Super efficient technologies pop up daily. But when the average earth-user reaches out to adopt them, there’s no-one there to guide them. It’s tough and expensive to yearn for new technologies. The pioneers have to be prepared to take an active role in implementing new technologies and providing constructive feedback.
A key permaculture principles is: Information and observation replaces energy use. The more we learn and observe, the less effort we will need to spend getting it to work.
Are your thinking about adopting a new technology? Maybe it is solar air-conditioning. This is a great recent science invention based on adsorption (not absorption). Or perhaps you want to convert your conventional toilets to a compost system. Well, how do you go about it? who can advise you independent of the sales people of a particular brand or particular technology or method?
There are lots of teething problems and pitfalls in the commercialisation of the eco-technologies. Consumers risk failing with the business that strives to help them. When we recognise the pitfalls for the businesses, we can assess them better and help them and others.
Each Eco-technology manufacturer needs to build their:
supply chain security with distribution methods
support network for parts
expert after-sales service
methods to listen and learn from user feedback
installers – trained installers
demonstration sites where people can touch and feel the gear before committing
The early adopters of new technologies pay a lot of money for products that are usually only just at the adequately functional stage.
These consumers often have to
write their own ‘operations manual’ and
source after sales parts and
make modifications or improvements are at their own risk
be able to service the equipment themselves
At Permaculture Visions we were the first people in our region to set up a solar-hot-water radiator heating system. We took temperature measurements for 12 months to help provide feedback to the supplier and write our own user-guide. With some self-maintenance it is still working well. Sadly the provider, along with many local manufacturing companies, has closed down.
Speeding up the Eco-technology uptake
Eco-technology uptake can be sped up on three levels: government, business and grass-roots. Greater government leadership can:
provide regulating authorities who provide advise on national and international standards
limited and targeted subsidies can make big impacts.
Business can bridge the gap
There is a gnawing gap between displays of new technology (crowing about it) and honest appraisal and evaluation. The consumer has to know their own needs and be able to assess whether the new technology is appropriate.
If you have a head for technology, are people savvy and don’t have an investment (financial or emotional) in any particular type of technology, here is a good business opportunity for you. You could advise people on which technology would suit their needs best. You could set yourself up as an aggregator. There are some aggregators for individual technologies ie. solar but there are no aggregators for a range of eco-technologies. This can be done as a consultant or in software format.
Business and institutions need to SHOW, EVALUATE, INFORM, SOURCE improvements and MAKE COMPARISONS.
Choices on the domestic front
Whenever we make a purchase, we are making a technological decision. If we choose an old technology, we might feel we are playing it safe – but are we really safe? When we reach out for an older, proven technology our choice has two impacts.
It supports the current way of life that is not sustainable and governments are already acting to limit this technology.
It fails to support technological advances unless there is a real improvement on the old technology.
The safest option is to adopt a mixture of safe and new technologies to serve our need. This is like wearing ‘a belt and braces’ to be sure the pants stay up. Consider first the soft technology options. There are a lot of natural and traditional technologies that cost very little to set up (eg. planting deciduous trees on the sun-side to cool the house in summer, using double glazing to hold heat and allow natural light).
Tailor and Blend your technologies
Optimise your soft-technologies like permaculture and dabble intelligently in the cutting-edge eco-technology to build a path to a healthier future.
30% of the world’s population are suffering disease and malnutrition. Most suffer malnutrition whilst surrounded by nutritious food plants. Some drive past perfectly good food plants on our way to the shops to buy less-fresh foods. (Did you know there are thousands of edible and nutritious flowers?)
Modern agriculture measures success by volume and not by nutritional value. And so, mechanised farming is geared to maximise the yield. Industrial farming needs predictability and conformity yet healthy societies need variety and nutrition.
Bruce French said “when we breed for yield we get a great big bundle of nothing”. If we want to get more than just nutrient-depleted fibre, we need to look to food species that grow happily in our bio-region and use farming techniques that care for the soil. Crops for a future based in Malaysia researches the effects of different cropping systems and under-utilised food species.
Let Us Eat Weeds
Bruce met a woman in Cambodia who was weeding out Momienh (Cleome gynandra). She said, “Everyone else tells me it’s a weed. They say pull it out to grow some cabbages and lettuces.” Bruce told her “Momienh is far more nutritious than western vegetables.” She was so pleased. She said, “No-one’s ever told me that before. I didn’t know. I thought it was just a local plant that was very unimportant.”
In her presentation on secrets of humble plants, botanist Gurib-Fakim shows how weeds can feed and provide medicines.
Grounds For Good Food
World Bank & UN stated that Genetic Modified crops, aiming for higher yeild, are not the way to address world hunger. What we do need is to maintain healthy soils. Intelligent and educated farming can preserve the nutrients. Healthy Soil a living, dynamic system. We now know that the old subsistence farming method of ‘slashing and burning’ destroys the natural fertiliser. Nitrogen and Sulfur are lost – going up with the smoke. Only potash is left. There is no quick answer. The methods need to fit the situation. But the best step is education. When we make nutrition our goal, we find ways to hold nutrients in the soil, in our food and cycled it back with care.
Bring in the evergreen revolution. Permaculture design invests in sustainable food growing practices in it’s ethics to care for people and care for the environment.
Everyone is affected by Affluenza. “Globally affluenza is a back up of the flow of money, resulting in a polarization of classes, and loss of economic and emotional balance.” The debilitating side-effects of Affluenza include addiction, depression, and other social disorders. An Affluenza pandemic can even trigger war.
The biggest causes of Affluenza are:
faith that money buys happiness
reliance on self-esteem linked to economic ‘value’
dependence on social status
Money doesn’t always motivate
Beatrix Potter was an excellent example of someone who was curious, engaged and motivated. She studied animals and fungi with the sole purpose of building knowledge. Her study was not financially motivated, nor was she supported by the then chauvinistic scientific community. She was motivated by her passion. Later she was motivated to achieve financial independence from her parents and she turned to writing and illustrating. When she had achieved the goal, she used her surplus money to fund conservation projects.
Step safely outside the Affluenza zone
Albert Einstein produced most of his theories without funding. Funding often traps us into doing what the funding body wants. If we want to be truly free to follow our passions, we need to set up a small income stream of our own. Aim for a smooth transition by keeping a safe income stream flowing until the new income stream is viable. List your genuine needs. Respect these needs in your effort to live more simply.
Small Steps To Create Lasting Change
Creating change by implementing small and successful steps is a fundamental Permaculture principle. When change is sudden it can have unforeseen effects. How many times do we hear about broken promises and forgotten New Year’s resolutions? We don’t hear about small successes because, on a daily basis, we all make small changes. This is not news. Permaculture is healthy lifestyle planning with a view to working with natural energies and lowering our impact on others and the planet. Once we have the plan we simply make small changes to fit.
5 Easy Cures for Affluenza:
Get a sense of Purpose by adopting a responsibility. eg. Start a garden that will flourish with your attention, care for a productive animal like a chicken or learn how to start a worm-farm or beehive
Re-connect with nature. Build your survival skills and self-confidence by learning to work with nature, not against her.
Be productive outside the usual day. Repair something. Make something.
Immerse yourself in of gratitude. Praise others. Say thanks when someone does something special for you. Be proud. Celebrate the invisible successes (social) as well as the visible ones. Be an active member of your family and community. Globally, we can be proud of important successes such as the education of women and children. Share your tangible successes such as your compost heap, home-grown fruits, hand-made shopping bag.
Share and Let Go. Be generous with your compassion and respect. Give away surplus. Being sensible about giving away surplus may involve repairing something so that it can be properly used and valued by someone else. (For example: why not fix that button before you pass that shirt on?)
It’s that time of year when a lot of our best food is thrown in the bin. [A staggering 20% of food is thrown out annually.] Thousands of dollars in nutrient wealth is lost by humanity and the environment.
The best use of left-over food is to eat it next day (hence the term ‘giving someone the cold shoulder’). The second best use is to make it into something different (meat-loaf, curries, lasagne etc). Third best use is to preserve it (freeze it, pickle it etc). The next best use is to feed happy domestic natural recyclers chickens, worms or soldier-fly farms]. But if the food is off, the question of finding the best composting technique arises.
Healthy Compost – Good For Everyone
Who cares about the state of our soils? Most soils in urban areas are compacted, depleted, polluted and lifeless dust. Recreation areas, streets and water ways can be rich in heavy metals and pollutants. Healthy soil means healthier living for everyone.
There’s no doubt that compost is the best tool for healthy soil. It holds moisture, gives nutrients, and brings dead materials to life, it can break down many types of pollutants and correct acidity.
One cup of compost can eventually renew a whole garden. It demonstrates the paradox of life – it can replicate itself. But very slowing, especially if you tread on it, take food or ‘weeds’ or grass clippings away or limit it’s food source (leaf litter, food scraps etc). Compost is one of those rare resource that we can’t have too much of.
Compost is also a fabulous way to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. When food scraps are sent to landfill, they are covered up and this causes anaerobic decomposition. “Eventually this releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide”. A similar process can occur in neglected compost bins in the home.
Why the hot debate? Let’s dump the tragic stinky compost image and brush up on this life-enriching practice.
Better Compost Techniques
In the forest, the composting system works slow and steady. On the farm, nutrients are being shipped off to market and need to be replaced quickly. In urban gardens and garbage bins, the compost is often sweating, choked by layers of random debris including deadly plastic.
In the forest, the fruits are eaten by birds, bats or other wildlife. Their manure feeds the forest plants and fungi. A permaculture food forest that is supplying healthy food for a community needs to be managed so there is enough food for people as well as the forest and the wildlife.
In a Permaculture food forest, we aim to:
grow fruit that is less likely to attract pests and disease. We can invest in hardy varieties by not giving the weak varieties special treatment. Mark Shephard uses this breed-them-tough attitude at New Forest Farm. This doesn’t mean we have to abandon rare varieties, quite the opposite. We can try rare fruits and may stumble across one that suits our bio-region well and tastes great. We need to allow for losses due to experimentation in the permaculture plans.
avoid composting methods that feed pests, rodents and disease. In Australia there is an indigenous pest that is spreading rapidly with climate change. The Aussie fruit maggots destroys fruit as it ripens. It has now spread south into the traditional agricultural fruit-belt of the nation. There are hundreds of food plants that do not get fruit fly – invest in these. Try something different for lunch.
Good Thermal Composting
Thermal composting kills weed seeds, has bacteria that break down many oils and synthetic chemicals including anti-worming medicines that may be found in horse manure. Hot compost hosts natural bacteria to break down the material into accessible nutrients. We need to monitor the compost temperature well to check that it is ready. If we use it when it is still too hot it will not only cook your plants it will rob them of nutrients. The plants can go yellow and look sickly. [You can perk them up with some liquid manure or worm-farm waste]. Essentially, try to keep your compost in piles while they are hot. Let the pile get burning hot and wait until it cools down before putting applying it around fruit trees.
Double The Value Of Your Compost!
Let’s apply the Permaculture principle of multiple uses for each element in the design. We know the compost pile can get really hot so, we can use this heat to kill a weedy patch. Hot compost can even provide some hot water. If you don’t want any of the rich nutrients to escape you can put your hot compost pile onto a recycled tarpaulin, then when it has cooled off, remove the tarp and plant into the rich soil below.
The easiest ways to compost without worry are to use a worm-farm, soldier-fly farm or sealed drum that you can rotate.
Our Christmas tree is now 10 years old and is slowly getting bigger! It is now over 2m tall. When it outgrows the doorway it will be allowed to reside in the garden. It is an indigenous Araucaria evergreen called a Bunya Bunya.
Bunya Bunya’s have massive (35kg) cones of edible nuts. We must be careful never to stand under a Bunya when it is in fruit. Bunyas are an ancient species, surviving over hundreds of millions of years. But very few of these proud ancestors were stuck in a pot and harassed by summer ornaments. Our Christmas tree has character. The young leaves are bright green and there is a positive glow about the tree. We must forgive this tree for having bent branches due to the annual decorations and an imperfect trunk due to constant traffic on the balcony where it usually resides in the ‘off-season’.
Before you rush out to buy one of these trees in time for Christmas just 8 years later, be warned! There is a reason that this tree species is an ancient survivor. Beneath the good looks is resilience (it is heavy and strong) and great self-defense strategies (it’s pretty anit-social). Getting a Bunya Bunya to come indoors is a battle that needs armory and planning. Even after using thick clothes, eye protection and gloves, we bear the scars. A Bunya Bunya gives nasty scratches to anything that goes near it including possums, deer, birds and festive revelers. The plan is to bring the tree in when the days are dry. This makes it lighter to transport. We then let it have Christmas ‘drinks’ in moderation to avoid the risk of death by over-watering.
‘Tis The Season Of
There are workable alternatives to living in a sea of toxic plastic. This is the season of great consumer-power. Lets enjoy supporting farmers, restorers, artists and craft-makers who make the effort to rid our world of non-recyclables and invest in ethical gifts.
Value Biological Resources
A fundamental principle of Permaculture design is to use biological resources. An investment in renewable resources such as a living tree requires only a little maintenance. Like a fine wine, it gets better as it ages. Traditionally, most people would cut or buy a cut tree (you can use a branch), bring it in and then find a use for it after Christmas. Most people have to compost there tree somewhere.
Real Is Better
A real tree is a far better choice than a plastic tree. The plastic tree not only gets shabby with age, it is nearly impossible to recycle because it made of many different types of plastics and not made to be easily disassembled.
A simple native conifer or pine tree that is fragrant and not spiky would be an excellent investment. If you have patience and skill, invest in a rare indigenous tree. This will give you pride and revolutionise the legendary tradition of having a real Christmas Tree. If you want to a few sample, dig up a weedy pine sapling from beside the road. If you are feeling highly skilled and have no growing space, try a bonsai Christmas tree. Bonsai’s can live for hundreds of years.
Let’s start a fashion growing potted Christmas trees and if we succeed we can give the spares as a special future Christmas present.
There are two basic goals in a permaculture site plan: Use natural energies to increase our productivity and make the key features serve multiple functions. A permaculture design for a community garden would address some key steps to build resilience and long term success of the community garden:
Choose a site with a good position. Check there is a gentle slope. A slope that greets the morning sun can provide lots of growing time. If there is too much sun, shade plants will help to reduce the glare.
Ensure the entry has good visibility. Make signs and gates that look welcoming.
Plan and implement good water filtration and re-use.
Include strategically placed perennial food plants for windbreaks, privacy screens and shade in hot summer months. A typical western community garden has a lot of annual plants. Aim to include carbon-sequestering perennials. Perennials need less maintenance. These food plants are good structural plants and last for several years and sometimes decades. The space will mature and be enhanced as it ages.
Native animals and insects would be encouraged to help with pest control and increase biodiversity. Position some big trees on the far corners of the sun-less side of the site. These trees will trap condensation. They will also provide tinder for cooking, mulch for the garden, sticks for small trellises or plant ti-pis, a shady corner for nursery plants and habitat for wildlife.
Encourage participants to learn to cook and eat what grows easily rather than force the landscape and climate to grow what they are in the habit of eating. The notion of re-educating our palette can be very helpful for us to cope with climate uncertainty.
Strengthening Community Heart
Include spaces to enhance the social unity in your community garden.
Create spaces to:
meet and exchange ideas (this can also be a stage) Northey Street City Farm has a small outdoor stage under a mature tree. For decades this space has served as a great space to hangout day and night.
share tools and enjoy harvests together
Entertain one another and have fun. In our recent design here for a Permaculture community garden we have made the whole site in the shape of an amphitheater. This demonstrates the true creative spirit of permaculture – to serve many functions!
Stacking The Action
A multi-functional community space like this can run events throughout the seasons and at different times of the day. This is the stacking principle taught by Bill Mollison. When we stack different plants together we utilise the vertical space and when we put things into the space at different times of the day or year, we are utilising the 4th dimension – time.
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’S 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
Dr Ted Trainer is a visiting Fellow at 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.
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.
“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.
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 and 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’
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. But 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.
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 high 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.
Silk 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?
Fossil fuels now produce silk-substitutes such as nylon and synthetic polyester.
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.
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.
As the tide gently rises to lap around my ankles I shuffle up the beach. Sometimes I keep reading and simply adjust my improvised perch. I adjust easily. But if I heard screams and saw a big wave suddenly looming I guess I would scream too then abandon everything (except a baby or my granny) and run for the trees.
What can we do to plan for climate change? Living in the ‘sunburnt’ country, Australia, a lot of our responses are ingrained into the culture. We don’t go to the beach in the heat of the day. We squint unless we wear sunscreen, hats, sunglasses. This protective plan and now instinctive.
Right now we are sitting at the high-point of the El Nino cycle in what is predicted to be the hottest year on record. The fire season started with fury on the first day of spring and the equipment our nation shares with other nations to combat fire is still being used in southern USA at the tail end of their fire season. The spring days have already been over 45c/113F and summer is yet to shine upon us.
At what temperature will my house become unbearable to live in? At what temperature will my shade-giving plants give up? How can I sleep more comfortably? And what changes can I put in place without great cost? Before I trap myself in one space all day by installing an airconditioner I need to know my options. Before I agree to a huge electricity burden and depend upon repair costs [which will simply make the planet even hotter] I’d like to explore the world’s-best sustainable, inexpensive, low-tech solutions.
Temperature: People who live with high temperatures have different work and play habits. If you live in a hot dry region like Coober Pedy, you might enjoy a cool retreat underground or under your house. If you live in a humid hot space, the palms that catch breezes and other shade plants will thrive. You will aim to build up off the ground, put in breeze traps and deep eaves to shade all the walls but let the breeze through.
Make sure you have a good water supply. With a good permaculture design, you will catch and use any rain, condensation and underground water. When we catch water with a network of designed swales, we can cool the garden. A cool garden can be designed to direct and cool the breezes entering the home.
Get the right building materials. In a dry hot region we want thick walls to block out the sun, in more humid areas we choose materials that don’t store heat through the night. Some shades can serve several functions. A shutter can be a work of art or double up as a solar dryer or fire-protection panel. You could put the solar panel angled to the sun over the wall or window as a great power generating shade, roof or eave. With the right design you can collect breezes and provide shade. Some plants such as grapes, choko and passionfruit are really quick to provide shade and can be cut back easily later.
Drive your home or workspace like you would operate a ship. Set up sails to catch breezes, limit indoor heat sources ie. ovens, deflect radiated heat. Monitor and control the natural energies in the home. ie. In homes that are well insulated it might be best to keep it locked up until the afternoon. Some homes are called earth-ships because they are designed to fit with the landscape and be able to be operated to stay cool in summer and warm in winter. Some structure such as Wollongong University SBRC and Illawarra Flame House are so well designed that they are self-governing.
Experiment with new living and work habits. We can try working, cooking and eating outside. It could be cheaper to install insect screens than a year of air-conditioning. Do active tasks like gardening in the cool of the evening. It can be cheaper to run a light at night than to ignore a task until winter. Perform quieter tasks like office work during summer and active tasks in autumn. Enjoy an old fashioned siesta to give you energy to work in the evening.
Get creative and sharing. Creative minds adapt quicker and can enjoy the challenge of problem-solving. A change can feel like a holiday and our efforts today, successful or not, will help everyone in the future.
The Permaculture garden is a lot more than an organic garden. Intelligent design uses free, sustainable energies and resources. It is energy-wise and collaborative to minimise the impact of a site on the surrounding environment. A good design has great potential. It can connect neighbours. The biggest Permaculture site in the world, The Chikukwa Project, has helped whole community.
The permaculture garden is also part of an overall lifestyle of care. 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.
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.
Dependence 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.
What’s the difference between Organic Farming and Permaculture?
Permaculture 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.
When is Permaculture not Organic?
There will be times when a permaculture system is not strictly organic:
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
This 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
We 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.
Permaculture has two core ethics: Care Of the Planet and Care Of People. Between these ethics is a balancing tool – the aim for fair share.
In the early decades of Permaculture the focus was on how to care for our planet – how we can keep the planet habitable by man and the species we co-exist with. Slowly, there was a growing realisation about the importance of social aspects of Permaculture.
No matter how much care we put into our environment, we cannot allow the social structures to be degraded. War, hunger, the ravages of climate change and industrial excess can destroy the efforts of those who care and live gently on the earth.
When I was a little girl I watched our neighbour plant a bountiful forest of rare native trees. When the forest matured her marriage broke down and she had to sell. The next owner told us how he had been given a chain saw for Christmas and within a week he had ran out of trees to cut down. I was a powerless witness to the impact of social disconnect and disharmony with nature.
These 5 Basic Social Skills in Permaculture can help build resilience in our community, enhance the reduction of waste, build peaceful solutions and support each others efforts.
See the abundant connections. Everyday everyone has an impact. Bill Mollison believes that every thing gardens. Now we see that every person garden because every one of us has a say in how our food is produced. (Some people choose to let machines garden the fields and manufacture their food, other people forage in a burgeoning community garden). A great way to enrich these connections is to enable people to use the land well around them. We can design legal systems that allow use of common land, maintain solar access for natural energy systems , support efficient transport routes through better town planning, and share surplus food to eliminate the shocking waste worldwide.
Build trust and foster kindness. It costs nothing to be kind. We need only a small amount of time to listen to others and connect them to resources they need. Let kindness be our instinct. Do not let our fear of barbarians imprison us, break our real-life social connections and destroy our society. Ignore the old rules of competition and build a find new strength through collaboration. Many strong models have enjoyed collaboration. One of the most successful collaborators in the environmental movement is the Eden project in Cornwall.
Open Doors by offering support. The permaculture movement is a confident, mature and growing movement. There is a rich display of productive food forests worldwide. Find ways to help the creators of these food forests to open their doors by offering support for open days like International Permaculture Day in May. Most permaculture pioneers have built their permaculture systems on their own, they have had very few workers, very little money (which is great because we know that if they can do it alone, we can all replicate the model) and have a lot of passion. Make the effort to get to know these elders and perhaps they will mentor you.
Multiple Functions for each element of your social design – in the same way a hat can be quickly used as a basket to hold fruit, we can create social tools that perform many functions. An informal meeting can enable exchange of ideas, goods, recycling waste, sharing library books, a smile and encouragement.
Multiple elements for each function. If the function is to simply collect fruit, we can then find more than just the hat, we can use a coat or a rug or an apron. Another example of this concept can be applied to the typical ‘meeting’ space. Not everyone who is a valuable team member can meet in the same way, not everyone has time or patience to sit in a meeting. When we make an effort to write down the minutes/ideas and wishes we suddenly enrich the experience – we allow our aspirations to travel the world, through time and through history. Others can contribute when they are able.
If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Without water, the soil beneath our feet is just unused nutrients and rock. If a lifeless patch is lucky, a few weeds will volunteer to try to help build soil and stop the soil from eroding away. Throughout the world we find a strong correlation between lifeless soil and a lifeless climate. Rainfall is generated by forests. Once the forest is gone, the soil can wash or blow away and the degradation cycle begins.
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. The principles of permaculture earthworks are valuable in 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 these earthworks on any scale: a farm or a small patch of earth.
Aim to catch and use every drop that comes to your site
recognise that there are at least 3 sources of water: Condensation, Rain and underground springs
Take the water out from the gulleys and onto the ridges (this is a powerful tool from keyline water design)
Set up filters so that the water leaves you site cleaner than when it entered.
Use natural energies and filters as much as possible to support your food forests. Filter, store and transport water through the permaculture system with biological resources (rather than plastics hoses and pumps).
Design with patterns (such as streamlining) to create opportunities for the water to actively maintain the direction and speed of flow. The water will follow the design intention. It will pool and settle-out fine minerals and keep the channels productive and flowing.
Ponds hold potable water, they are static and unable to evolve. 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. A forest is a continually working water-filter. It can even respond to a deluge. The forest floor fungi bursts, 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 enjoy learning about earthworks and have a play in some mud.
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.
Recently, we went to IPCUK – International Permaculture Conference and Convergence in London. Permaculture Conferences are a great chance to exchange ideas and get a sense of where the movement is headed. This conference had a bright confident atmosphere and there was a deep sense of maturity and belonging at the convergence. Congratulations to Permaculture UK. The hosting association was strong, purposeful, empowered and well-organised with great teams and buckets of enthusiasm.
Great Cultural Icons
What I loved most about this conference was the was bright and tangible cultural flavour. Of course, the meetings were openly welcome for all the international delegates, but always there was a lovely English cultural flavour.
There was a touching sense of pride and value in:
Native foods (such as apples, berries, cider, beer, sandwiches, cheeses)
Traditional folklore such as wreaths for crowning the hard-working-well-deserving volunteers, and traditions such as natural plant dyes. We enjoyed reading the landscape, learning about ancient forest animals, the shaping of the forest by horse riding, hunting and tree management.
The Arts – Theatre, poerty and song. Three Acres and a Cow did a fantastic play that sang about the clearances and the value of ‘a people versus the land.’ This made me surprisingly sad because I am descended from people those very same people who were undervalued and shipped off. Later, as I left the English Autumn, I realised how blessed I am that my people landed in a rich and creative culture. A behind-the-scenes session by Charlie MacGee was magical, personal and fun. I was so proud of you and pleased our little crowdfunding donation was very well spent in your early years!!
Tributes to the local history: even the venues were of cultural significance. The Conference venue [The Quakers Friends house] is an old English Society that has changed the notion of peace around the world. The Convergence venue [The World Scout Headquarters] is also an English international movement and has taught many young people world-wide life skills. (including myself). We enjoyed a guided talk through Epping forest by permaculture teacher, Richard Webb. It was great to see these cultural icons. (people, traditions and places)
A Clear Future for the Permaculture Movement
Since the last Permaculture International Conference and Convergence a lot of social aspects of the movement have been developed. The movement is getting more skilled at finding the balance between people care and earth care.
On the grass-roots level we are seeing a lot of strategies that were once touted as alternative-living or hippy practices (composting, solar power, growing your own food, supporting local markets, fixing things and having a go at doing-it-yourself) now recognised as common-sense and even good business strategies.
There is strong direction in building the evidence-based research and a world-wide research community to investigate, document and publish findings. There is also incredible growth in permaculture education at university level (The new Permaculture Design and Sustainability Program at CQUniversity looks very exciting).
The education and training for people of all walks of life and backgrounds is also expanding and a clearer map is forming of global best-practices which include mature and bountiful demonstration sites and communities.
Finally, the most promising development for me was the emergence of co-operation, overcoming the competitive corporate thinking that rules most of the western world and building a new community of resilient, intellectual harmony.
Co-operation on The World-Wide Permaculture Stage
The Next-Big-Step project got hundreds delegates together listening to one another and
talking about their passion and challenges and we saw the beginning of a plan to bring permaculture together as a truly cohesive, aware (documenting one another’s projects: successes, failures and goals) and well-researched movement. Here is a link to their working papers if you want to be involved.
This Convergence demonstrated the incredible potential of co-operative projects rather than competitive permaculture. Competitive behaviour will sometimes rears it’s ugly head in permaculture This is all part of a democratic, empowered society. It was a joy to see the maturity of a movement that can sit together and learn from one another regardless of how famous or successful each individual has become.
There are some amazing specialist varieties of trees that are very powerful. These ‘super-trees‘ produce diesel nuts, have leaves that can burn wet, produce abundant fruit, support a web of life, a big enough to live in, provide timber that never rots, live for thousands of years, support a wild-life of fungi underground, hold the steep slopes of mighty mountains and others can communicate for miles underground.
There are at least 10 types of trees that we can depend upon: Fuel, Food, Oils, Forage, Structural, Conservation, Carbon sequestration, Soil managers, animal barriers, and Fungal & Microbial Habitat.
Fuel – You can choose from solid fuel and flammable leaves, bark, oil and ‘diesel’ nuts. Solid fuel from trees can be collected either as natural droppings (cones from nut pines, fallen wood) or as planned cuts (thinning, or felling of short term forest for soil creation). David Holmgren writes that solid fuels are the most useful energy resource globally because: we can plan for their harvest, they are easy to cut, require little training to use, convert easily to energy, hard to steal or vandalise, and renew themselves. Some timber ie. Eucalyptus leaves will even burn wet.Diesel and Petroleum treesburn like candles.
The Brazilian tropical rainforest tree Copaifera langsdorffii commonly known as Capaiba (Tupi Indian word cupa-yba) is a legume and known as the diesel tree. It can be tapped sustainably like maple trees. More powerful is Pittosporum resiniferum. This oil can also be distilled into a very pure form of n-Heptane. BioGas fuel can use coppiced tree material with animal manure for conversion of biomass via composting for methane collection. One of the biggest challenges for the conversion to natural energy use is finding a form that is compatible with the system we already have. Nicole Foss talks about our limitations due to the current dependence on particular forms of energy. At the moment, mankind is dependent on electricity from an aging grid network and liquid fuel or gas for transport. Biogas and other energy transition technologies allow us to convert existing equipment such as gas cookers and tractors.
Food & Alcohol (more than 80% of the world’s food species came from the rainforest). The permaculture food forest usually intercrops fruit and layers of nut trees. We use strong food trees to support vine crops and short-lived trees act as nurse trees to maturing species. Tall evergreen trees are positioned in the shaded corner of the orchard and often used as wind-breaks.
Oils – There are a myriad of herbal, medicinal, culinary and cosmetic oils from trees including Eucalyptus, olive, and Neem.
Forage/Fodder. This is an excellent resource that is often overlooked by conventional modern farming. Many trees provide excellent, nutritious fodder for animals. They can be grown as living fences,(applied at Avonstour) hedges or as shade trees in the corners of paddocks. The cattle fertilise the fodder trees and the run-off is filtered well by the abundant layers of forest shrubbery beneath. Forage Examples include: Oak, Poplar, Acacia aneura (Mulga), Albizia Julibrissa (Leguminous, deciduous, fast growing, regenerates) Dodnaea viscosa (Hop bush)
Structural/Shelter – Many trees were known to be big enough to shelter a traveller. Even Plato wrote about trees too big to put his arms around.
Conservation/Wildlife Habitat The preservation of habitat makes good economic sense as much as ethical sense. If nothing more, we can keep healthy forests as a bank of diverse genetic material because most of it we have not yet recognised it’s full value to us. We may be able to create clean air, water, soil and find nutrients but we can’t recreate genetic material.
CarbonSequestration is the long-term storage of carbon dioxide or other forms of carbon to either mitigate or defer global warming and avoid dangerous climate change. Long living trees are excellent guardians of carbon. Many trees live thousands of years (including olives) however, clonal colonies of trees have the potential to be immortal. Pando, an 80,000-year-old colony of Quaking Aspen, is the oldest known clonal tree.
Soil Management- able to hold banks of steep slopes, trap centuries of silt, create their own rain and micro-climate. Trees have been shown to seed the clouds to help make rain.
Animal barrier systems -, Hedges can be stronger, longer lasting and more durable than fences. Not all hedges have to be chaotic, some can be trimmed to sit up off the ground, allow small creatures to pass underneath and larger animals/people and cars to stay out.
Fungi & Microbe Incubation is an amazing new discovery for conversion of sugars into energy sources.Paul Stamets shows how mushrooms can save the world.
Gift giving is up there with the biggest consumer spending frenzies of our lives. It is as emotionally charged as buying a home, a car or a holiday. Some people might think the easy answer is to stop spending and stop giving gifts. Some might think that it is better to give money so the recipient can choose to spend it how they wish. But giving money is giving up on all the trimmings that go with the act of giving. We give each other things to show we have thought about them, want to share things with them and give them surprises. In contrast to this – being mean makes people more isolated, more distrustful, less caring and self-centered.
Generosity is an up-ward spiral of positive thoughts, an enriching psychological experience. When we are generous, we are kind and say encouraging things and act to support others. We can turn the gift-giving into an opportunity to good for others, for producers and for the planet.
Gifts For The People You Love And The Planet You Treasure
Locally handcrafted gifts are three way gifts – They give to monetary support and encouragement to
1. your loved one
2. the planet, and
3. your local artists and economy
Buying Antiques allows an item to be loved again. Antique collectors value design, craftmanship and durability. Antique items have character, are unique and often have a life-story to reveal. There are many amazing pieces of history that need a good home, to be dusted, polished and cared for. We don’t need to buy anything new when there is so much stuff from the past.
Fossils and other historic items need care, you can give these to a friend who will exhibit and value them OR you could give a gift of membership to your local museum.
Handmade jewellery or handbag jewellery or
bookmark or spectacle holder made from recycled necklace.
Tickets to see a show (there’s little wrapping or waste, simply pop it in a hand-made card).
Hire a ride in a vintage car, this is especially good for people who need a special outing but can’t go out for a long period.
Photos of their childhood, family members and travels presented as a small non-plastic ‘poster’.
Hand-made photo frames.
A real razor blade, not a disposable one.
Under-arm de-odorising rock salt crystal.
Handkerchiefs or cloth serviettes instead of paper tissues. These are amazingly good finds in the op-shops and markets – You can find some still in their packaging and of a very fine quality linen.
A silk pillow case to prevent hair from getting knotty in bed
A silk eye pillow with dried herbs and calming oils
A basket of homemade ecologically sound cleansers.
Cosmetics and toiletries made from natural ingredients and not tested on animals.
Their favourite home cooked meal frozen in a resealable serving dish, ready for a weary day. include recipe in a card.
A hand made scarf/bow/tie or cloth jewelery bag.
A hand-made musical instrument or clothing
A live potted Christmas tree, that can be planted out after Christmas. This could be a native pine OR a large chilli plant full of chillis (for a Summer Christmas – southern hemisphere) OR a shrub that is full of flowers such as a rose (to make rose syrup and other delicacies).
Home made preserves and chilli sauces
A Packet/s of seeds. OR make a suprise packet out of mixed seeds (check they are all edible in case they are mistaken)
Subscription to a seed saving group, soft technology magazines, organic gardening magazines, rare fruits association etc.
A donation to a charity such as Tear or other like organisation on the recipients behalf.
Hand-made compost bay.
Worm farm made from found materials. The Potted worm farm looks great with a plant on top and you can water it whenever you pop over.
A non-disposable lunch kit with a thermos or drink bottle, lunch box with separate compartments so no wrap is required, cloth serviettes. You can add a few velcro fastners to make a cloth serviette into a durable, washable wrap.
A fountain pen and coloured inks.
A cup to carry everywhere.
Cloth nappies and a pledge to help hang them out.
Energy saving shower head.
An eco-tour or eco-holiday voucher (you can offer to take them on a bush-walk or holiday or their choice).
Durable garden tools.
Books on organic gardening, composting, herbs and flowers, native species.
Field guides on birds and local reptiles.
solar recharger for phone – this is great to take on a hike, in case you get lost! Also include a flint or even a little survival kit.
A garden pond with optional solar powered fountain.
A fruit dryer.
A yoghurt maker.
Rechargeable batteries with re-charger.
A tent and small, efficient camping equipment. To encourage clean bush walking and adventure.
Dried herbs and flowers from your garden and instructions on their use as a tea.
Natural wool or angora sweaters, scarves, hats, gloves, socks.
Hand-made baskets, natural fibre washing baskets, paper waste containers, pot plant containers, picnic baskets.
Canvas, string or cane shopping bags, ham bag. A supermarket cloth bag with a favourite fabric pocket sewn over the logo as well as a bit of elastic inside the sides. These bags are always too wide and floppy.
Potted kitchen herbs in organic potting mix (you could make this yourself).
Edible house plants such as sugar cane for hot spots, mint, shallots, monstera vine.
Gift voucher for nursery plants or environmental products and courses.
Beeswax or remade candles.
Hand-painted recycled glassware.
Organic Christmas Cake or other special treat.
A homemade Christmas wreath of grapevine and other home grown materials.
Blankets (cotton or wool) suitable for the lounge and living areas.
recycled material turned into Cloth kitchen washers/cloths/ car washers etc. You can simply cut and hem the edges.
Redeemed toys (repainted bicycle, trike, scooter, rocking horse). Use safe paints, preferably organic paint products. These items could be antiques but beware of toxicity of old paints and any loose parts.
Homemade cushions and bean bags with environmentally friendly safe stuffing.
A wooden loom and natural fabrics for weaving.
A dolls or action figures tent made of recycled fabrics and stakes.
Science series books by David Suzuki.
A homemade backyard swing or tree house, a rope climbing aparatus.
A small gardening kit, tools and seed.
Wooden or cane furniture.
seeds for novelty plants such as giant pumpkins.
Roller skates or bicycles to encourage energy efficient travel.
Recycled or re-used paper fastened as a book.
Weather proof boots.
Pets such as ducklings and hens, Guinea pigs or Rabbit in hutch to mow the lawn.
Wrap gifts in Re-useable materials
unused photocopied music scores
Material Shopping bags
Tea towels or Hand towels
Sari or Beach wrap
hand made paper or
hand made bags
How To Avoid Wasted Food After Special Celebrations
Plan you menu
Write a Shopping list
Measure your serving sizes or let people serve themselves
Store Food Correctly
Eat the Leftovers
feed the leftovers to your chickens or worm farm
Permaculture is a design tool. The permaculture design principles can also be applied to the design of a small business. Here are some examples of applied Permaculture Principles. The principles used here are those taught by Bill Mollison (and some by David Holmgren).
1. Identify Your Elements
An element is a component of your system or business. Your list of elements may include: intellectual property, office, marketing, natural capital (such as water, fruit/nuts), presentation material such as boxes, jars, labels, product information, transport, time for delivery (especially for services), customer feedback processes. These elements are then analysed to determine their needs and all their potential functions, not just the functions we seek. We then use the principle of relative location to link them together to optimise efficiency.
2. Use Relative Location
Connect elements by their function and needs. Elements can be linked in a energy chain or network. Here’s how it could work in a simple system like an orchard:
An Orchard needs protection from fire, a good water supply. It also needs to be weeded and rotten fruit needs to be removed.
The processing shed can capture rain water which can be used by the fruit processing system then fed to the geese, then it could go to the orchard if we locate the shed uphill from the orchard and use gravity as part of the water management.
Geese can weed, mow the fire break, eat rotting fruit and provide droppings as a natural fertilizer.
Through the principle of relative location we link the shed, the orchard and the geese (a biological resource). Some elements are linked more closely ie. Workers need education and procedures. Procedures need feedback from workers.
Position elements of business so that there is minimal transport between them.
Use natural forces where possible to work for you. (Eg. Information transferred by email, mail or fax so workers don’t have to travel far to work.
Use local inputs. Physical elements such as manure can be collected, filtered and processed nearby, are easily relocated and you can determine manageable sizes (in the same way bee-farmers move their hives).
Sunlight can warm the wall of a processing unit – be aware and determine if this is helpful or increasing your refrigeration costs.
Solar power can be used to run computer monitor systems.
Your office can be mobile and paperless.
We can bring the information to the customer in a variety of ways.
Waste can be valued. It can be integrated into the system, process and sold. ie. waste water can also act as fire-prevention by being positioned in a useful location near a main path and up high where it can be distributed easily needed.
3. Enable Multiple Functions
Each Element in the design should be used and positioned to perform a range of functions.
Marketing is performed in a variety of ways, through different media, and to different types of customers.
Services and Products are modular and durable. Customers can tailor their purchase or use by purchasing the components they want, expand or reduce interconnecting parts and purchase as and when they want it.
Transport can be shared with other suppliers, businesses or projects.
Tools and equipment can be shared with other businesses. Sharing includes hiring.
Equipment and physical resources will be recycled or reused as much as possible.
Multiple elements for each function
The variety of skills can satisfy other functions either for other elements or for other like-minded businesses (for example: your efforts to promote sustainability will help other similar organisations). Therefore, you can band together and form a co-op or just a friendly relationship with other businesses.
A business function is satisfied with more than one element: eg. Other businesses refer customers to yours because your marketing has been general as well as specific and has helped build general interest in sustainability.
Use a range of inputs ie. herbs or fruit, especially seasonal and local ones, to create the products whilst maintaining the quality expected by your customers.
Rely on more than one source for your supplies. Ie. water, produce or power collection needs various methods to create resilience during dry periods. Rainwater tanks, condensation traps, in-ground collection such as swales and rain pits. Similarly, use a wide range of suppliers or types of inputs to build resilience when a supplier is suddenly unable to meet your needs.
Use a combination of security measures such as dogs, geese, friends with neighbours, fencing, hedges and housing.
Use variety of pest deterrents such as animals (cats or ratting dogs) indoors in warehouses to deter rats, ultra-sonic beams to scare away rodents, as well as rodent-proof construction of shed walls, floors and doors. Steel wool is eventually biodegradable and is an excellent rat-hole plugging material. Unfortunately a lot of degradable materials and techniques have been abandoned and forgotten in the Plastics era.
Use a combination of hazard prevention measures such as a building a culture of care, clear signals, clean workplace, good relations with workers.
Use different means of support. Ie for fences we can use metal stakes interspersed with wooden poles made from woody weeds. When a farmer plants living fences or hedges as well as wire fencing, she is creating a durable, long-term security system. Hedges can last hundreds of years. She could use the wire fence in the short-term (up to 20 years) and be confident that the hedge will only require low-tech (but specialised crafting) for good maintainance.
Pumps can be solar-powered with a back-up facility such as a windmill, hand pump or ethanol-powered generator. Etc.
4. Stress-Free Yield
By giving each element several functions we accept that not all the functions can be performed all the time.
The workers can choose to from a variety of tasks unless there is a strict time frame, then there should be a rotation system so they don’t get bored or injuries from repetitive work (such as picking fruit, or bending over to pick salads).
Listen to ideas of workers, suppliers and customers to improve the system.
Production may be lower than in forced conditions but the sum of all the functions is greater (ideas, harvest collected, respect and observation of trees).
A reduction of stress on each element in the business, if they are all working for the good of the business, will result in the sum of efforts will be greater. Every worker and component will run efficiently and have greater productivity.
Safety is a very important consideration, without safety in the workplace; the cost can outweigh all profits over the years of the business.
Early in the implementation of our permaculture enterprise we aimed for stress-free yield because we knew our work was pioneering, and vulnerable to stress. We didn’t borrow money for the business because this would have enforced a level of profitability that would be stressful. We didn’t seek government funding because the project would have to meet the government expectations rather than the real customer needs.
Small and Slow Solutions
A small business can be a pilot for a larger company or you may discover that you are happy staying small.
Some services and products can be expanded or contracted according to market demand.
Obtain a Yield
Ensure that your short-term efforts have some immediate rewards but keep some profit for long-term goals ie improved software and documentation methods)
refine work procedures (homework answering, student management),
Re-evaluated your measures of success
sharing surpluses once the business is functioning well by providing scholarships, support or donations to others in need.
5. Energy Efficiency
Use existing physical, social and biological capital to maximum energy potential: share resources such as cars, support local transport, build structures that can work to shelter the garden as well as store heat for night-time, require minimal energy in maintenance, and are durable. Avoid abandoning ideas, technology, machinery or computers that are not competitive without first examining ways to update/expand and increase their efficiency. Many users do not use their equipment to full potential, they are still learning the potential of the current one while considering a new model.
Some offices can be made more efficient by natural resources such as natural lighting, solar or sun-heating, coupling the room with a greenhouse window or room. Remember that customers will expect your office to be a working model of sustainability. Ideally it should not look expensive but should be simple, comfortable, accessible, well-lit, full of natural fibres and a view of a garden.
6. Biological Resources
Maximise the use of biological and physical materials.
Consider the full life of the product.
Search for biodegradable alternatives that can be used as mulch or compost at the end of their first use. Eg. A wide-spreading tree is a more efficient use of resources for a shade house than one made of wood and nails. In the promenade at Notre Dame Paris, the trees form a durable, seasonally adjusting, air filtering shade. In the narrow streets of El Bosque in Spain, citrus trees are the posts to guide to cars, their trunks are painted white and flowers grow at the base. Consider only biodegradable packaging and insulation such as popped-corn for fragile packages instead of plastic pieces.
A clever small business example is GroCycle in Totnes, UK where the business cut the processing cost of growing mushrooms by using an abundant pre-processed waste – coffee grinds.
7. Energy Flow
Design to harvest and use natural energy flows E.g. Wind, wave solar or running water. Animals can be guided into narrow paths that serve to compact and stabilise slopes on contour. Water can be used to maintain an edge. Gravity can aid harvest machinery by collecting fruits from the top of the hill and roll the machinery downhill as the loader fills with fruit and becomes heavier. We can position collection points, processing equipment and export sheds with a road out at the bottom of the hill. This can help minimise the need for imported energy inputs.
Reduce costs of storage of products or equipment by keeping the product fresh and utilizing the just-in-time processing concept. We can keep the order process prompt and maintain a closer contact with our customers.
Let nature do her work
In a Business design we can use natural energy as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to tell a customer that nature can offer a similar service. Consider the Osteopath that recognised that the customer needed to walk to help heal their back. The customer who takes this simple advice may no longer be a regular customer but will refer other.
On a chicken farm we can set up systems where the chickens can feed themselves.
On a Maron or Yabbie farm we can create ideal conditions that support natural breeding rather than engage in expensive artificial breeding systems.
Silk worms can be housed close to or in the trees if we can devise protective shelters.
Nuts may be able to harvested more easily during particular climatic conditions.
Allow crops to self seed or allow crop residues to act as nurse for a different crop.
8. Natural Succession
Imitate nature in your plans to help a system evolve to meet your needs.
For commercial crops investigate systems similar to Fukuoka. Eg: You could allow the grasses to become seeded with herbs and flat ‘weeds’, grow tall grasses and pioneer species that act as green manure (Oats, Wheat, Sorghum) to protect young climax species (eg. fruit trees) from frost and insect attack.
A social example would be to glean the wisdom of our elders (canopy and support species)
Be active in social or professional guilds (companions and guild people) and seek a niche for our talents (a place in a complex society)
Allow time to explore growth opportunities as they appear (as in the forest when the canopy opens and new light appears).
9. Value Bio-Diversity
A farm would aim to include a variety of species of food plants, pollinators, animals and workers. This principle works in Business when we value a diverse range of supplies, techniques and technologies.
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.
There are some government subsidies, customer value (including organic and Forestry certification systems) and other Integrated Pest Management rewards for farmers who strive to preserve. These are tangible economic rewards for the active efforts of businesses to preserve and promote diversity in natural systems.
Diversity creates opportunity for initiatives and inventions.
Explore a range of biological solutions to complement and eventually replace the conventional.
This concept aims to maximise the productivity of a system. In the same way a food forest can have numerous layers. A business can have many layers and zones:
Family and friends provide support and promotion in personal circles
Associations, educational bodies and accreditation bodies provide support and quality maintainance
Like-minded businesses provide branches of promotion
Customer Relationships – we can use diverse channels for promotion and feedback. Observe and accept feedback as a chance to connect better with your customers.
11. Appropriate Technology
Optimise the use of a technology by making it serve more than one need, have it work to full potential without overload. ie. David Homgren says “the easiest way to double efficiency of a car is to take an additional passenger.”
Favour simple and effective technologies. Consider delivery and running costs, it is efficient, prompt and reliable. Here is a comparison chart to help choose the best-fit in efficient technologies.
Favour natural fibres and avoid destructive materials such as plastics or inefficient fuel-dependent delivery.
Information and Observation replaces Energy
Smaller, more intensive, localised systems can be more productive and adaptable. They can take advantage of reduced costs/waste involved for transporting a product to the consumer.
Specialised products and services develop by information and observation. The natural succession or staging plan can conclude with the sharing of the business experience or intellectual property with franchisees, senior employees, students or prospective business purchaser.
Ensure your business is well equipped with tax and legal information, for example if you are not aware of the tax costs upon sale of the land or business, then the overall profit figures may be greatly altered. If you have to pay more tax in capital gains than you have earned as a business based on the family land, then the net result is not worth the effort. On the other hand there may be a wide range of tax advantages. Information is critical in business.
Aim for optimum production with minimum intervention. This is how new farming techniques such as SRI have evolved.
Work with the natural and social context. Fit the design into its surroundings. Look at the wider social environment as a key to what will work. At the steps of parliament house, Berlin (The Reistag), there is a huge ‘lawn’ area that is designed to withstand wet conditions and high pedestrian traffic. It works with nature and provides for the needs of the people. Another example can be seen when planting expensive crops in poor regions. These require more human intervention (in the form of security). Whereas a design that considers the social environment involves the community; provides work; and shares the profits with that community. It also benefits from pride, protection and support from that community.
In nature: consideration of context can mean the choice of mixed species suited to the sites natural advantages. E.g. water collection, condensation trapping, shelter, sediment as occurs at an oasis. We can also see what to avoid. E.g. if the design is within an area of natural fragility we would avoid planting trees whose seed are carried by birds or wind.
The Web of Business:
From the initial source (sun, rain, wind, and animals) energy is diverted, used, released again and transferred from one element to another. Energy connects the elements. Their common use of energy forms the web of relationships.
From the source to the sink (the place where the energy leaves the system):
Energy stores increases
Organisational complexity increases (but there are many new management tools to help to enable better self- determination and team work between workers.)
A business can be truly sustainable and ethical when it is resilient, responsive and responsible. This is a hard conversion in the short-term, especially when competitors are cutting costs by using economic slaves and polluting the environment. However, being ethical and environmentally responsible facilitates long term market harmony and prosperity.
In-process waste recycling and choosing natural energies can reduce costs.
Environmental responsibility is a means of value adding to a product.
There are government funds and other avenues of support and some economic incentives for acts of conservation and protection.
When a business does not behave ethically it eventually faces market disapproval and risks failure through legal processes. Ethical is good. Many businesses have had to face huge legal costs of unethical, economic or environmentally damaging acts in recent years.
Innovative business that work with nature are complex and may require patience and development of specialist skills and knowledge.
You can team up with other business. Many businesses have been successful in forming partnerships that provide a hub for small, diverse and complimentary projects. Ie. The Eden Project provides a space for like-minded businesses to work with, Mark Shepard of New Forest Farm supports small business projects that use his large living capital.
Small businesses without debt have a better opportunity to grow according to the proprietor’s wishes.
There is growing network of environmental organisations and mentors to support ethical growers, producers and service operators.
The ultimate aim of production must be to create a harmonious network of rich and free beings. When there is fair share, care of the earth and care of people as our core ethics, we search for a way to integrate our needs and productive efforts. We can tread delicately upon others and other creatures and become mindful of the impact of our actions. We can minimise the unnecessary disturbances and waste and enjoy seeking that which truly feeds our bodies and minds.
Permaculture differs from other ecological and social movements because it’s core focus is design. It is not a lobby movement (although many of us may feel the need to lobby governments to achieve our community goals). It is not just about conserving our existing bio-diversity. It offers solutions that are based on consultation and seek a fair way to build a resilient future for humanity and for plant and animal life.
Permaculture design begins with ethics, optimism and planning. Permaculture design adapts dynamically as a result of keen observation and feedback. Each person’s design will be different but we all have the same ideals: to find a way to live that cares for other people and cares for the planet.
Zoning is a Permaculture design technique where we put the elements or items of a design in areas according to need. The needs of the item and our use of it. For instance, we need tea herbs, so we plant them in pots on the kitchen window sill, (zone 0) some more near our doorstep (Zone 1) and other types of mint that love a lot of space, can serve other purposes such as suppressing weeds and only need occasional attention (such as mint) further away, perhaps in Zone 3. Permaculture Techniques such as Zoning are scale-able. The design technique 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. This is similar to how we re-design a property by using fencing for the zones).
There is a world of difference between making money and making a living.
Making a living requires a greater intelligence.
Sure, we are going to have to accept some lost opportunities if we choose to curb our greed a little, but then we we get the chance to see rich benefits of preserving resources for others and for our environment.
We can aim to find ways to save energy for the rainy days, enrich existing resources for our children’s children and build a better future for all.
Some people might think that living a Permaculture lifestyle means going back to peasant farming. Actually it is the opposite. Permaculture steps beyond the industrial era, beyond the technological era and into a balancing era.
The two core ethics of Permaculture are People Care and Planet Care. These ethics are balanced beautifully by the use of high-efficiency low-cost designs. It is the focus on intelligent design, awareness and use of Biomimcry and constant search for efficiency that drives the long list of Permaculture achievements.
There have been huge gains in solar power, responsible composting systems, bio-diesel fuel from algae, Plastic-eating bacteria and many recent discoveries that give us strides in efficiency. Science is fast catching up with Permaculture ethics, realising that only through balance can we have resilience and true sustainability.
In the quietly revolutionary 70s hippie-era ‘alternative technology’ made massive improvements in the lives of many people. Simple little modifications to ancient old techniques led to new inventions like The Rocket Stove, Bio-char, bio-gas fuel, Humanure and many domestic experiments in Solar and wind which are now commercially viable.
What price would you put on a fence that repaired itself, sang to you in the morning, reduced the harsh wind, was warm in winter and cool in summer and gave you privacy, trapped silt and improved the soil beneath and gave you mulch? Not long ago, these resources were common-place. Hedges were the strong, self-renewing fences of the developed world. Hedges provide a web of habitat for bees, small birds and a myriad of insects including the beneficial insects.
Reasons why hedges have disappeared:
1. The modern pursuit of perfection has eliminated many of the skills and resources of the Romanticism era. Yet a tidy world is an a truly empty one and many people strive to reconnect with nature.
2. Hedges have died out of use in rural areas due to industrial scale farming machinery. In urban areas it is due to the great population and housing boom pushing out farms on the edges of the cities. Today, few communities can afford the space to reintroduce hedges. They introduce trees because people can walk under and around individual trees.
3. The third reason why hedges have died out of use is the increase in the transmission of invasive species. Hedges in conservation areas can encourage invasive species and can be harder to maintain.
The easy solution is to build living fences that are narrow, strong and acceptably ‘tidy’. If you have an existing fence, start planting shrubbery along it now. This shrubbery can be pleached together as it grows. You can espalier fruit trees such as fig, apricot, mulberry, pomegranate, brazilian cherry, blueberries, jabuticaba, sage, daisy, hibiscus, carob, olive, tea camellia. If you choose small trees and shrubs you will have less maintenance and low-growing fruit. If you need people-stoppers try thorny lemons, finger-limes, sugar-cane, and other medium height spiky plants. Put low growing or dense edibles at the base ie. Dianella caerulea, Arrowroot, begonia, jerusalem artichokes and lemongrass.
If you don’t have a an existing fence to support and protect your young living fence you can build a woven fence. Use random prunings in the simple weave, make stakes out of strong branches (simply trim any unwanted growth if it occurs) and incorporate the cuttings of the species you want for your living fence beside the strong stakes used in the fence. The woven fence will support and protect your cuttings.
Every single day – a tree transforms sunlight and water into:
Fuel – Wood and Oils, Food, Forage, Fodder, Structural timber, Conservation Habitat, Carbon Sequestration, Soil Management, Water management, Oils, Nuts, Fruits, Edible leaves, Mulch, Shelter, Animal barrier and fodder, Fungi Habitat above and below the ground, Alcohol, Cloud seeding (fungi and dust), Temperature regulation (cooling hot air, warming cold air), Wind and Frost mitigation and many more powerful acts.
“Ferrocement Steps with Lace and Wild Tiles” sounds like an exotic recipe yet our Ferrocement creations are made very simply. They are practical (a step or water retention basin) and pretty. It costs nothing more than a pinch of pizazz and time to add frills to the functional creation.
We use whatever materials we already have on hand. We buy only a bag of Cement, and combine this with reclaimed gravel, off cuts of wire mesh a bit of old lace and some broken tiles or ceramics. We use old bricks and dirty gravel as the aggregate and as the tint.
Making cement is easier than cooking, all you have to do is make sure you mix it well, then leave it to bake. As it bakes we add pretty impressions or embedded broken tiles. We tap the tiles into place with the end of a hammer and simply press the concrete up to the sides of the tiles with a gloved finger.
Timing is everything for adding the decoration. We make the concrete (mix of cement and an aggregate of reused gravel or sandy soil) fairly sloppy, like soft-serve ice-cream. When it wobbles like a Buddha’s tummy, you can embed tiles into it. As the concrete mix gets slightly firmer, you can put lace on it and press that in gently so the lace is partially covered. Wait until the sheen on the concrete is gone and the surface is powdery, then lift the lace away carefully to leave the imprint.
As soon as the surface powdery dry, wipe each tile with a clean dry rag. If you miss a bit during the tile-cleaning you can come back later using a tiny bit of vinegar on a small fresh rag tied to the end of a stick for precision, but it is much easier to do the cleaning before the cement sets rock hard.
The full cost of making this step (which also doubles as a water catchment and directing platform) was $5 cement, recycled broken bricks, old lace curtain (we last used this as part of our emergency bee handling kit) and tiles.