How To Kill Your Garden in 10 Ways

Killing It?

Do you love your garden to death? Most gardens thrive on enthusiasm but this can accidentally kill it in just a few easy steps.

The good news is that a garden doesn’t usually die quickly. But the flip side of the slow decline is that it is a quiet, sulking kind of demise. You might wonder what you’re doing wrong. Or perhaps you wonder now what is really lost in a the death of a garden?

Essentially, poor design kills a garden.  Step outside and ask yourself: How can a garden suffer and die?

 1. Suffocating

Few people understand their landscape. Fewer discover what gardens really need in order to thrive. Basically, it’s all about the soil. There are 5 simple, yet vital, components in soil for growing healthy plants.

The 5 ingredients needed for good soil are: Air pockets, in-ground stored Water, Minerals, Organic Matter and Organisms. Plants need little pockets of air in the soil so they stretch out their roots and grow.  Luckily, air is free. You don’t need to rush out and get any specialist aerating tools. Just sit down and observe how the air is being lost.  Most commonly, air is lost from a garden by people treading all over it. Secondly, air can get pushed out by poor water management. The third way to suffocate the garden is to allow visitors, children, pets, wind and rain to bare the soil. If your garden is doing poorly then leaving the soil to lie naked to the elements will certainly top it off.

2. Drowning

It is easy to kill a garden with bad water management.  Check that there is water in your soil. The best test is to see if you can actually dig a hole. If you need a machine to dig a hole then you have soil that is perfect for making pots but not growing plants. If you find your soil blowing away, you have soil perfect for making children’s sand-pits. Build up the organic matter and this should start a beautiful habitat for micro-organisms.

3. Poisoned

afluenza-cureIn an era when we are rushing from one activity to the next, it is easy to think “if a little bit is good then a lot is even better” This is not true of Garden-Love-Potions like fertiliser. Even natural, organic and locally sourced fertiliser is only required sparingly and only as a kick-start. Once the organisms are thriving, let them be. Don’t let your relationship with the soil become toxic.

4. Exhausted

Enthusiastic people are prone to over-commitment. They put their hands up at community meetings, cook-up great feasts for family and friends, work on the board of directors for lots of projects and then, OUCH – the inevitable mishap brings their plans tumbling into chaos.

Design the garden to provide for itself.  Let the leaves sit to decompose in flower beds. Design to let the water slowly percolate through the garden beds. Let the plants self-seed.

In truth, plants like being part of a community. A sapling that is planted all on its own has to endure full sun, hurling winds, stinging rain and children’s misguided footballs.  Whereas, deep in a forest, a sapling is nurtured by its elders and then rises to fill their void when they are struck down by the elements. A harsh adolescence for a garden will either kill it or forever bear the scars.

5. Stressed

Some gardens are on high alert. They are cracked up and full of weeds because they are desperately trying to correct imbalances and build a habitat for wildlife again.

Lets talk about weeds. When a garden has weeds this means the gardener has neglected to plant anything else that would thrive in that place. Sometimes weeds are your friend, helping you rejuvenate an exhausted soil. Pulling out the weeds can be akin to pulling out the life-support for a garden. If your garden needs a lot of maintenance, it will not give you much joy. Vandana Shiva challenges us “What will life look like when we finally win the war against nature?”

 6. Swooning

Some gardens are Fashion Victims. They are in a constant state of hysterical rapture or ecstasy. They try everything possible to be dramatically striking.

Is you garden desperately screaming for your attention? Do you make it change the colour, shapes and philosophies just to stay lovable? Perhaps, one year its Minimalism next its Abundantly White.

Being trendy is not gentle on the planet or your wallet.  Anything that is in right now is highly likely to be out next season. Garden fashions include vast areas of lawn.  Worst of all is the fashion that covers a garden with hard surfaces. These kill the soil underneath and concentrate fast flowing water onto the little remnants of natural plants and soil. A resilient design includes rain gardens, and soft landscaping. A resilient garden gently adapts over the decades.

7. Starved

A new way of growing food has emerged in this modern era. Some factories can grow food without any living organisms in their soil. [In the hydroponics industry it isn’t even called soil – it is called a growing media].  Factory garden systems need a constant supply of nutrients, climate control, sophisticated water systems, reliable energy supplies and very close monitoring.  Sitting in a hydroponics factory really doesn’t feel the same as sitting in an abundant permaculture glade full of food and wildlife. What this tells us is how amazing a natural system truly is.

Let’s pause before you really kill that garden. Would you be better off with an amicable split? Can you afford the guilt? OK, maybe, but can you really afford the diminished real estate value?  You could sell up before the relationship gets really ugly.

If you are too busy for a garden, you might need a garden that doesn’t need you? Luckily for you and the planet, a forest doesn’t ask for any input except to be allowed to exist. The forest plans to be there for you whenever you want to connect.  Help protect a forest for a better future for us all.

8. Deprived

Needy gardens have a weak structure that will break under the slightest neglect.  These gardens have grown accustomed to a regime of control. They expect to be pruned as soon as possible after the wind has ruffled them. They cry for water then as soon as the sun gets too intense because they have developed shallow root systems or have been kept contained and imprisoned in a totally man-made environment.  It is not the garden’s fault. It is the original set up that created this dysfunctional system.

confusion

The only hope for a needy garden is to redesign it. Accept that nature is more powerful than you, even when you think you are the one in control. Learn to let go.  Masanobu Fukuoka developed the art of letting go and observing what is most the productive and compatible way to garden. Everyone’s garden is different and every solution requires observation before action.

9. Lost

Your garden doesn’t understand you.  You stand outside on a beautiful, sunny day but you feel cold. The pergola vine doesn’t drop its leaves to let the winter light. That shrub your Aunt gave you is now a huge tree and keeps dropping leaves into the neighbour’s pool.  They never invite you to their parties.  Your washing line is covered in pollution from the city, so you use the clothes dryer. The electricity bill is ever-increasing.  The path to the bin is mossy and slippery.  The friendly neighbour’s weeds are all over the fence. You wave politely.  A flock of birds roost in the branches of a tree that hangs over the driveway. They sing joyously as they poop all over your car. The children’s play area is burning hot. So, they beg to play virtual reality games instead but they are full of energy.

The house gets noisy so you decide to drive them to their favourite playground miles away. It is attached to a take-away restaurant. Your Grandfather asks why the children are getting fat.  Is this garden determined to kill you? The lack of garden design is the culprit.

10. Crushed

The garden media push is intense and at times, irresistable. Garden expos, magazines and television shows love making us feel that our garden is inadequate. Getting home, we view our own space as dated and full of chores.

We want that totally NOW garden. Go get that enthusiastic and uncommonly attractive design team in the Video. Yes, throw out the existing plants, get in some fancy trees, truck loads of soil, plastic weed-mat, mountains of cement and bright paint. Crush the old garden!

But there can be happy memories and cozy familiarity in tending something old. It costs a lot (emotionally and financially) to kill a garden. Yet it costs very little to be kind, observant and reconcile your love affair with your garden.

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Big Permaculture Design

One of our latest projects has been to produce a large-scale design for a yoga retreat.

Our Design Process

  1. Conduct diagnosis of existing site features (including risks).
  2. Prepare guiding policy. The permaculture design offers a detailed plan to build wealth and empowerment to the residents and visitors.
  3. Set an action plan based on the fundamental ethics and ideals. These actions are driven by passion and feelings of the residents and result in self-reliance, abundance and greater harmony within the local community.yoga retreat permaculture design

Diagnosis

watershed for permaulture design

Firstly, we examined the current land use and drew up a sector analysis. One of the aspects of the sector analysis was the narrow solar window. The yoga retreat sits in a narrow valley. This means the morning sun is late and the afternoon sun falls away early in the afternoon.

We looked at all the natural energies on the site. The analysis included the surface watershed to and from the property. We identified which risks were threatening property.  The risk diagnosis alone will save the client in substantial costs far greater than the cost of the design. There were expensive threats to key structures. One of the threats to the foundations of a building was by local deer.  Another structure was suffering erosion by surface water from a poorly directed drain.view of solar window to yoga retreat - permaculture design tool

Permaculture Zoning

deerAlthough the current practices on the site by staff and residents were fairly sensible, there were plenty of opportunities to increase efficiency.

Zoning enables the design to put groups of elements into an area based on their needs and products.  Put elements that require high levels of observation and attention close to the staff and resources.  When an element requires less attention, it is positioned further away.

Delicate sprouts and seedlings require daily observation and attention to keep them watered and pest-free.  Simply position needy elements near to the care-givers. Zone 0 contains the elements that demand the highest level of attention.

In contrast to the sprouts and seedlings, vegetable greens are harvested as they become ready.  These elements are slightly less needy. They belong in Zone 1.

A tree that bears fruit only once a year goes further away in Zone 2 or 3.  Crops that need lots of space include pumpkin vines, corn or choko. So these go in Zone 3.  Crops that are harvested only as required (e.g. tinder for winter fires) are positioned far away. But they sit along a track to make the harvest, storage and transportation easy.  Deer and other large animals are directed to outer zones only.

permaculture design large property zoning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sun Trap Gardens

The sun-trap garden faces the morning sun. Plant deciduous trees on the north-east boundary. The winter sun will penetrate through the bare branches.  Whereas, evergreen trees sit on the southern and western boundaries to shelter the sun-trap from hot afternoon suns rays.

sun trap permaculture design

Water Management

Slow the water to consolidate your resources.  One can never argue with water.  Water knows gravity and follows. Slowing the water increases the chances for plants to absorb it.  Water falls gently to the plants below.

redress water flow permaculture design

Easy Tea Gardens

before and after improvements tea garden permaculture design

There were areas where expensive and thirsty lawns had died off to expose the dusty soil below. The design adds wicking beds of tea herbs. These structures are multi-functional. They include relaxing garden seats.

Making A Sacred Space

April under boulder at Wave rock WA

A Sacred space is positioned beside the riverbank. The focal point could be a very large rock or platform. Large rocks are abstract but majestic. Abstract creations are not easily damaged by passing travelers. Sculptures, one the other hand, are at higher risk.

An alternative focal point is a defined space. A space can hold reverence. Often a sunken area formed by mounds, a glade of trees or walled garden feels inviting and embracing.

Social Strategies

Residents will learn to eat what grows easily in their environment. This is easier than forcing the landscape to grow foods that we are in the habit of demanding. The notion of re-educating our palette helps us to adapt to climate uncertainty.

Connections with the broader local community are enriched by the allocation of space for a community garden. This design element is a win-win. The community garden would help maintain the neglected corner of the property whilst benefiting from ideas and better connections to the local community.

Key Activities in Staging Plan

  1.  Redress the risks
  2.  Build diversity and intensity within the existing gardens before building any new garden areas
  3. Use natural attrition plan to replace evergreen trees on northern side of structures with deciduous trees
  4. Start at Zone 0 and work outwards. For example: grow sprouts, seedlings and tea herbs. These provide a good yield for minimum cost and effort. Then add companion plants to the orchard.

Start small and build on the successes.

Build your own permaculture design skills. Study with us at Permaculture Visions.

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Free From Techno-Confusion

Be Freed from Confusion About New Technologies

confusionThe brave step of supporting a new technology can be full of confusion.  Techno-confusion is mounting as more, and more technologies are invented. The world is desperately searching for technological improvement to help solve climate uncertainty.  [Permaculture is one technological and cultural solution.] Yet even as we discover healthy technologies, humanity will continuously aim to reduce inefficiencies.

Everyone wants to be part of the solution. Many of understand why it is good to search for clean and efficient technologies. But most of us are confused about ‘how to tell what is best’

Joy_Of_Understanding_Permaculture_Visions

How can we rid ourselves of confusion, build our confidence; make informed decisions; remain unswayed by emotion; ignore slick sales pressures and side-step [or lead] new fashion trends?

At PermacultureVisions we created a decision tool to help you determine your own values and priorities. It may also lead you to consider environmental aspects.  The least it can do is help save you time and money.

Master the Art of Decision Making

get an apLectures are useful to get up to speed on facts and figures. Tutoring helps you understand the factors in those decisions. Mentoring guides you as you tailor the choices to suit your individual needs. The table  below is part of our mentorship and teaching program.  Instead of telling you what to buy, like a sales team, we would rather help you make technological choices.

How Can I Compare All the Different Technologies Available?

We can evaluate new technologies and compare like products when we consider each feature and cost. Here is a guide to help you compare technologies or products with similar purpose. This evaluation tool was developed with our students Morgan Stephens, Tessha Mearing, and Penny Cross.

home-grown-teasThe aim of this tool is to equip permaculture designers with a means to evaluate a new technology themselves rather than being told what is best. Technologies change rapidly, so advise can get conflicting and the technology efficiency is dependent on the context of the user.

You can set your own rating value. This will reflect how important this aspect or feature is in your choice. Sit back with a cuppa, set the priorities and enjoy!

GO TO THE COMPARISON TABLE HERE

Be An Innovator

My_Car_Future-top-slice

The consumer can become the leader.  The consumer can test, adapt, and develop techniques and strategies. We can give informed feedback to the product-developers. If the product has modular parts, we often find new uses and by-products . Further inventions can be lead by the grass-roots users.

Be mentored in Your Permaculture Journey

Do a permaculture course with us today.

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Learning Outside Boosts Learning Within

 Step Outside and Enhance Your Learning

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

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

Health, Movement & Exploration

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

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

Nature-based Games & Activities

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

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

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

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

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

What is brown and sticky? A stick of course!

Storytelling and Story writing

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

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

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

How Can We Design a Garden-Classroom

Apply Fundamental Permaculture Design Principles

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

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

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

1. Every Element provides many Functions

2. Every Function is met by many Elements

Permaculture Principles in the Learning Space:

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

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

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

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

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

Permaculture design for community garden

Engaging Community

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

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

“Now, you’re talking!”

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

What is brown and sticky? A stick of course!

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

 

 

 

 

Is Chicken Threatened by Climate Change?

The Chicken Companion

chick_eggThe Chicken is one of the most successful species on the planet.  The chicken has traveled the world, exhibited in shows and been pampered affectionately.  For centuries they have enjoyed the best seats, fully catered free rides on ships, planes, trains, buses, canoes and rafts. Contrary to recent reports, Chickens are likely to adapt faster to climate change than humans. They have adapted twice already during their companionship with humanity. They are set to stay.

Chickens Process Waste and Provide Perfect Protein

egg-n-sprouts

Over Ten Thousand years ago, the chicken became the first domesticated animal.  What attracted the chicken to people was the abundance of waste. Chickens don’t mind eating slightly off-meat and love maggots and other distasteful horrors. Chickens rarely compete with humans for food. They eat a wide range of food and grit. People probably decided to keep the persistent chickens because they are relatively easy to catch at night and have highly nutritious eggs. They would have seen how quick and efficient chickens are to clean the waste.

What do Chickens have that we don’t?

silkie chick

Chickens often have carers. Chickens are also opportunistic eaters and learn to adapt to dietary changes. They are persistent parents. In good conditions they will breed every year. The chicks learn quickly and are independent within a few short months. Quite often, if things go poorly in the mothering house, a chicken will simply take a short break, fraternise with her favourite rooster then start laying and sitting again. Each generation provides a chance to genetically adapt. Even old hens [ie. our 9-year-old chicken, ‘Ginger’] suddenly started laying again if the conditions are right.

Chickens wake up with purpose and sleep well.

Chickens have been bred to be docile. Many domestic animals can die from stupidity. Chickens are highly unlikely to cause themselves harm.  Chickens have been known to accidentally drown or get trapped. Nor are Chickens so gallant that they choose to die. However, Roosters have been known to nobly defend the flock.

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Fast Movers

Chickens come originally from the dense forests of the Tropics. Scientific evidence has demonstrated that they have already adapted twice before to enable them to grow obese anchickens-weedingd to breed all year round. They can adapt again, if they are given the r. Dr Carl-Johan Rubin of Uppsala University. 

When we provide chickens with the chance to shelter in the cool sections of a food forest, they help to control the weeds, fertilise the trees and clean up fallen fruit. Their tendency to get fat makes it easy for us to catch them when we need to.

Creative Chickens Train Their Keepers

It is us, the keepers that need to adapt if we wish to continue enjoying the company of Chickens. We can devise solar passive chicken houses, give the chickens some self-determination about where to lay or hang out during the day and take time out to observe them.

chook_small_facebookDon’t just dream about it – do a permaculture course and enjoy the change.

 

 

Dark Side Of Double-Digging

Double-Digging Crudely Hits Pay Dirt but…

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

Double-Digging can be Instantly Impressive

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

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

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

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

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

What Soil Really Wants

umbrella fungi North-America Badgerset farm

Good soil has 5 components:

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

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

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

What could be more satisfying than Digging?

Simple No-dig Gardens

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

  • is physically easier and faster to set up
  • suppresses weeds
  • can regenerate soil (fertile, rocky, sandy or solid clay)
  • requires less effort
  • uses waste materials and
  • evolves into a beautiful garden
our hills_hoistarium
Our abundant little no-dig garden perches on rock-solid subsoil that could not be dug by man or woman.

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

Joyous Songs of Worm Charmers

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

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

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‘To Compost Or Not To Compost’

Compost Girl

‘Deck the Bin with Loads of Compost’

savouring-jackfruitIt’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

earth_repair_kitWho 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

umbrella-fungi-North-America-badgerset-farmIn 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:

  1. cockatoo dropping a macadamia nut
    cockatoo dropping a macadamia nut

    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.

  2. 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!

Recycled Tarpauline Gardening
Healthy Gardening without chemicals

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.

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Micro-Earthworks Boost Soil-Life

Gentle and Easy

Without water, the soil beneath our feet is vulnerable rock with trapped nutrients. Sometimes a few weeds will volunteer to try to help build soil and stop the soil from eroding away.  Throughout the world there is a strong correlation between lifeless soil and a lifeless climate. This is because the forests seed rain and build life. In the tropics the nutrients live in the mulch from fallen from trees. Whereas, in temperate zones the soils are deep and rich.

But most of us live in urban zones where the soil is nearly lifeless. And most people can’t afford machinery to redesign our patch. Frankly, even if we had the money, the machines can’t get in and the job is too small.

Earthworks for Earthusers

Given that more women than men grow food around the planet – here are some ideas for simple and effective earthworks without digging and without machinery.Swales-Microearthworks

Earthworks by machinery can be expensive so most of us try to manage without.  But when water management is neglected, the site struggles to reach full potential.

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The principles of permaculture earthworks are valuable for the preservation of soil and creation of abundance.  These basic permaculture earthworks principles help build mirco-organisms, enable plants to access the nutrients, save water and reduce erosion. We can apply the principles for earthworks on any scale: on farms or on a little veggie patch.

Permaculture Earthworks Principles

Water management is taught in detail In permaculture design training. When someone comes to do a permaculture design after years of managing a site, there are many regrets. It is easier to design before you start. However, here are a number principles that can be learnt on the fly:

  1. Catch, store and use every drop that comes to your site. Waste not any water that passes by.
  2. Recognise the 3 sources of water: Condensation, Rain and Underground springs
  3. Slow potentially erosive water. This is the core value of Natural Sequence Farming.

    Paths are great harvesting water. Redirect this water to reduce erosion.
    Paths are great harvesting water. Redirect this water to reduce erosion.
  4. Take water out from the gulleys and send it to the ridges (this is a  powerful tool from keyline water design)
  5. Set up filters. Take responsibility for the quality of the water that leaves your site. The water that leaves you can be cleaner than when it entered.
  6. Use natural energies and filters to support your food forests. Filter, store  and transport water naturally through the permaculture system with biological resources (rather than plastics hoses and pumps).

Design with Pattern thinking

Designs with patterns such as streamlining and using lobes (small diversions) create opportunities to maintain the direction and speed of water flow.  The water will follow the design intention. It will pool and settle-out fine minerals and keep the channels productive and flowing. The water can even help maintain these flow-paths. In truth, you can’t argue with water. Water knows what it likes. What you need to do is sit and listen and coax the water to slow down and spread out.

Design for Wollongong West Primary School where the children can build mounds to capture and direct water, have fun with the maze-like pathways that rise and fall
Design for Wollongong West Primary School where the children can build mounds to capture and direct water, have fun with the maze-like pathways that rise and fall on the bends

Shake It Up

Use a variety of storage devices. Commonly, people want ponds or tanks to give them potable water. These are valuable but they are static and unable to evolve. On the other hand, bogs and forest are more effective to release the water safely.  Once a pond is full, it can do nothing to manage the next drop. Whereas, a forest is a continually working water-filter. It grows with the build-up. It can even respond to a deluge. The forest drops branches and traps more silt. The forest fungi burst into reproduction. Under-storey plants cup and store water, tree branches and leaves fall to protect the soil, seeds germinate. The forest is constantly adapting.

You can learn with us about how to make small, slow yet effective ways to build soil. You can also enjoy learning about earthworks and have a play in some mud.

Schumaker College has raised garden beds
Schumacher College has productive raised garden beds with trenches to direct water flow and duck traffic

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10 Amazing Tree Powers

Specialist Trees

There are some amazing specialist varieties of treesDartmoor-Tree 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.

  1. FuelYou 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.
     http://mfujioka.web.fc2.com/diary/ph047.html
    from ◇筑波大・藤岡アングラ> ◇写真と日記

    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.

  2. Food & Alcohol (more than 80% of the world’s food species came from the photo taken at australian tropical foods nursery QLDrainforest). 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.
  3. OilsThere are a myriad of herbal, medicinal, culinary and cosmetic oils from trees including Eucalyptus, olive, and Neem.
  4. 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)
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Carbon Sequestration 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Fungi & Microbe Incubation is an amazing new discovery for conversion of sugars into energy sources. Paul Stamets shows how mushrooms can save the world.

What-I-love-about-trees