Sunday, October 10, 2010

perma what?

Soooooo for the past week and more, instead of books and artyness, here I've been rabbiting on about permaculture.... and then it dawned on me (or rather a booky friend made me aware) that I've not explained what this perma-thingy is......

so let's call this post - 'permaculture in a few pics and sentences' (yep - a brief and nowhere near comprehesive or conclusive introduction to the basics of permaculture...)

(making compost at 'the crossing' earlier in the week - we'll be turning this when we go back this week...) 

Permaculture derives from a combination of the words 'permanent' and 'agriculture' and originated in Australia (aussie, aussie, aussie - oi! oi! oi!) in the later 1970s when young uni student David Holmgren met up with Bill Mollision (known as 'the father of permaculture') in a uni course in Tasmania. Over an intense few months Holmgren and Mollison developed a system of wholistic, integrated living and working with land in a sustainable way that became the basis of the book 'Permaculture One' (essentially Holmgren's thesis)..... and a whole new (now internationally renown) way of thinking about farming, gardening and living on the land was born!

 If you ask a hundred permaculture advocates what permaculture is you'll get a hundred different answers - but with 3 core ethics in common: 'care for the earth, care for people, fair share'. Now it will come as no surprise to most that with these as core ethics, permaculture was initially adopted by the 'alternate' or 'back-to-the-land' folk (and it still suffers from the whiff of 'hippie' about it - especially in these parts)... when it did enter more mainstream consciousness (into the 1990s) it became synonymous with organic gardening and sheet-mulching... but permaculture has always been much, much more than this and if I give you a quick listing of different topics covered in my 72hr Permaculture Design Certificate it will give you a bit more of an idea of the scope: climate, ecology, map reading, methods of design, soil, trees, agroforestry, shelterbelts, patterns in nature, microclimate design, compost, water, keyline, earthworks, eco-house design, aquaculture, food forests, kitchen gardens, broadacre farming, transition towns, urban planning, community design, intentional communities, designing for disaster.... (little wonder that my brain is hurting right now!)

 (reading the landscape at 'the crossing'.... who can see the white ant in this pic?
and who can tell me if this is the nasty 'eat your house down' termite? - or one of the benign forest dwellers?)

Aside from the three guiding ethics, most permy advocates also either consciously or unconsciously acknowledge the 12 guiding principles of permaculture:
1. observe and interact
2. catch and store energy
3. obtain a yield
4. apply self-regulation and accept feedback
5. use and value natural resources and services
6. produce no waste
7. design from patterns to detail
8. integrate rather than segregate
9. use small and slow solutions
10. use and value diversity
11. use edge and value the marginal
12. use and respond to change creatively
(these are spectacularly explained and elaborated upon in Holmgren's text 'Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability')

(monitor lizard at 'the crossing'....
we observed! we interacted!.... so that's principle one sorted eh!)

Perhaps the other main thing that permy creatures mostly agree on is that permaculture designs are based on an understanding and use of zones..... so that things used daily (or more often) are placed close to the house - with things used/ needing less attention placed increasingly further away. Given that I'm undertaking a course that leans towards Holmgren's view of permaculture, zones are defined as follows:
Zone 0 = the house and the people living in it

Zone 1 = the vegetable garden, compost/worm area, small livestock (eg chooks, ducks)... this is the area that will be visited everyday (or many times each day)

Zone 2 = the food forest orchard, poultry area... (the chicken shed is often sited between zone 1 & 2), ducks, geese grazing area

Zone 3 = cropping or commercial area (maybe fruit trees, corn, potatoes, etc... whatever grows well in the region), larger animals (goats, sheep, cattle, alpaca)

Zone 4 = forest cropping (woodlot, furniture trees), shelterbelt, windbreaks, fire retardant hedges, fodder crops (for animals), other useful plants (eg dye plants, fungi)

Zone 5 = natural systems or areas left untouched to protect wildlife, waterways and land

learning the principles of keyline.... ok so it's just a great excuse for adults to go play in the sand!

Righto - so that's the very brief, generally uncontroversial version of permaculture... but what all this may mean or meld into is almost limitless (well you saw the overview of this course - and one could devote a lifetime to understanding each little area). 

But some of you may still be scratching your head wondering why I'm so excited by it all, and why I've posted all this here - in a place that most of my blogging friends have come to expect arty things (and not on my sams creek farm blog)..... wellllllllllll it's not just that I'm a gardening/ farming girlie from waaaaaaay back.... what if I told you that I'm attempting to meld booky/arty/crafty makings with permaculture/sustainability/site/ pragmatic philosophy (yeah! sounds like a heap of fun eh?) ..... well yes it's a challenge, but I have high, if somewhat vague hopes that I might just get there yet....

stay tuned!



  1. A bit hard for my eyes to identify the termite, but I'm guessing it's a "good guy" and not coptotermes.

    Strength to your arm, Ronnie!I hope your enthusiasm is infectious.

  2. Thanks Ronnie! Sounds like an intense and amazing course.

    Sad to admit I thought ALL white ants were bad-guys - but then I do live in the land of the Queenslander and I wouldn't mind a penny for every Queenslander that's been nibbled by a white ant or three (including the one I once owned).
    Enjoy your next week!

  3. Ooh, now we're talking! You mean there are benign white ants..? I thought they were all spawn of Beelzebub, hence my horror when I found a tribe of them nesting under some plants that had mysteriously started to die back... Guess I'll have to go and have another look and try to find some information about the harmless ones so that I CAN identify them! Have fun, Sara x

  4. I could see the termite but not to identify. This is all very interesting Ronnie, and I'm happy to keep reading until that Eureka! moment when I suddenly realise how you're going to combine the permaculture with book art.

  5. ahhh the cryptic white ant question sucked you all in didn't it - and if you are waiting for me to answer it.... well you'll be waiting for some time! apparently it's very difficult to tell good from bad without a microscope and some solid training..... BUT this little ant was discovered next to a termite mound.... and those mound builders are different from the house eaters (or so phil gall - who led us into the wilderness at 'the crossing'- told us...)..... still it would be foolish to assume that just because this fellow was next to the mound he was FROM the mound..... he might be the house eating termite species living next door to the nice guy.....

    priniciple 1 = observe and interact ..... (and I suspect the interact in this case is - find out definitively

    oooo off to another series of visits tomorrow - so you can expect a pictorial review to soon follow!

  6. thanks for an interesting read of the principles...gosh your brain must be well and truly spinning! look forward to reading more, janine


thanks for all your lovely comments - your words are greatly appreciated xx