Saturday, 29 May 2010

Permaculture Principals

1. Work with Nature, Not Against It
Permaculture landscape design aims to consciously create agriculturally productive ecosystems that have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. As such, Permaculture systems are designed to mimic natural ecosystems, and work with nature, not against it. It is a recognition that nature knows best, and understanding her ways and cooperating with them is essential.

If we throw nature out the window, she comes back in the door with a pitchfork. Masanobu Fukuoka

Working with nature reduces the reliance of the system on inputs of energy and materials thus promoting self sufficiency and sustainability. In contrast, conventional agriculture has virtually waged war on nature and so requires energy intensive and environmentally damaging inputs to maintain control and productivity.

As one example, consider weeds:

Weeds are conventionally controlled with herbicides: poisons that are expensive, climate unfriendly, and ecologically damaging.

Permaculture recognizes that weeds are nature’s way of improving conditions to favor the gradual succession of degraded landscapes to mature, productive forests.

They are ecological bandaids over otherwise bare soil to protect and feed soil life. Weeds add life energy in the form of biomass and nutrients. They provide ecology and wind protection, and restore structure to compacted soils.

We can use weeds to provide microclimate, nutrients and wind protection for the plants we want to establish while seeking to rebalance soil conditions so that weeds are no longer nature’s imperative for the site.

2. The Problem is the Solution

Everything is potentially a positive resource just waiting for us as Permaculture designers to work out HOW to use it!

Trying to impose a predefined concept of “how things should be” in your system is very expensive of energy and resources. Working to optimize benefits and yields from what you have only requires a change in the way we see things.

A Permaculture perspective allows you to recognize and harness the assets all around, so that they become solutions rather than problems.

For example, a strong cold wind can be funneled to a wind power generator or directed into a house to chill food.

You don’t have a snail problem, but a duck deficiency!

3. Make the Smallest Change for Greatest Possible Effect

For example, when choosing a dam site, select the area where you get the most water for the least amount of earth moved.

4. The Yield of a System is Theoretically Unlimited

The greatest determinant of system yield is the creativity and resourcefulness of the designer!

Even when you think you have fully optimized a Permaculture system another innovative designer might see opportunities to add more productive elements or recognize useful yields you overlooked.

For example, a shed roof can be utilized as space to grow pumpkins; flies can be trapped as food for fish; damaged fruit can provide a marketable seed resource…

5. Everything Gardens

Every living thing interacts with and impacts its environment. In natural systems, the impacts of one species create the ideal conditions for many others.

Through careful observation such impacts can be harnessed to provide suitable habitats for supporting desirable elements in your Permaculture system.

For example, rabbits make burrows and defecation mounds, scratch for roots, keep grasslands trimmed short, and create favorable soil conditions for weeds such as thistles.

The burrows can form habitat and shelter for native animals, the lawn trimming action used as an aid to fire protection, and the soil conditions utilized to grow edible thistles such as globa artichokes.

Decisions regarding control, management or toleration of system elements therefore need to first carefully consider their “gardening” impacts and how these might be utilized to create useful system yields.

6. Wise Resource Use

Throughout human history, failure to use resources wisely has been a consistent cause of collapse of civilizations.

“The key principle to wise resource use is the principle of “enough”. Today’s luxuries are tomorrow’s disasters.”

recycling and lifestyle and sustainabilityBill Mollison

To be sustainable, sane people and their societies must therefore:

1. Use resources efficiently, thus reducing waste and hence pollution.

2. Oppose the usage of any resource that leads to pollution or destruction of sustainable resources. Such resources include pollutants, persistent biocides and other poisons, radioactives, ocean outfall sewers and large areas of concrete and highways.

3. Only use resources that are either increased by modest use (e.g. regular grazing of fodder shrubs maintains production of fresh, palatable fodder), unaffected by use (e.g. sunlight, wind, rocks, rainfall), or degrade if not used (e.g. ripe fruit, annual crops, grasshopper swarms and roof water runoff during rain).

4. Non-renewable resources are reduced by use (e.g. oil, coal, mature forests, clay deposits). These should only be used if such use results in a proportionally greater, relatively permanent and sustainable improvement in ecosystem yield (e.g. construction of a dam or home).

Permaculture Yield

In Permaculture landscape design, the designer’s objective is to store, direct, conserve, and convert to useful forms any energies that exist on or pass through the site.

This is basic to self sufficiency and sustainability and is achieved by analysis of energy ZONES and SECTORS. Once the needs of the system have been met for growth, reproduction and maintenance, the surplus energy usefully stored is the system yield.

The only sustainable way to capture energy flowing through a site and usefully store system yield is in the form of life. While batteries expire and leak, heat escapes or insulation breaks down, living things like forests increase their energy store in the form of reproduction and growing biomass.

So it is the sum and capacity of life forms that determine total system yield and surplus… you could say its LIFE ENERGY!

Theoretically there is no limit to yield

There is always room for another innovation to increase the number of life forms or the productivity of the existing elements in the system.

Here are a few examples of Permaculture strategies we can use on small farms to boost yields:

• Increase water storage (ideally 12-20% of landscape) and usage in your landscape

• Utilize strategic land forming to conserve and optimize soil and water resources

• Recondition and fertilize your soils so they reach their productive potential

• Establish windbreak and forage forests (ideally 20-30% of landscape)

• Establish wildlife corridors

• Value add through strategic processing and marketing

• Formation of community and financial cooperatives

• Low tillage cropping to save soil, energy, moisture and growing time

• Crop diversification strategies such as different species, genetically selected varieties, ripening-times, growing microclimates, trading relationships and forms of yield storage and preservation

• Overcoming cultural barriers to yield utilization such as irrational reluctance to keep poultry to make productive use of waste, slaughter excess stock for meat, or eat snails

• Reduce competition by non-beneficial species

• Better integrated and strategic crop timing, harvest and utilization

• Increase the number of beneficial connections between elements (life forms, structures, etc) within the system, so that the products, behaviors and wastes of one can be utilized to create yield by others.

• Encourage natural cycles. Life itself cycles nutrients giving opportunities more species to find niches and produce yield. Geese recycle grass as feces and feathers, which provide niches for fungi, bacteria, grass roots and foliage to flourish, re-metabolising it back into life.

Interrupting cycles (e.g. through drought and other climatic factors, the use of biocides, or extinction of a species) diminishes yield, reduces life (order) and increases entropy (disorder).

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Green Cleaning

Who would have thought that WIRED would have a 'green' section!?! This article on green cleaning tips around the home was on their site a couples ago. Scary reading, but some great natural recipes too, well worth a read.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Oil and Water

Came across this beautiful video recently, by environmental photographer, Ed Kashi, which I find powerful on many levels. The work (photography) is jaw dropping, and the concept/projects are a sharp much needed prod!! The almost humble delivery of narration is extremely powerful not so much an 'in your face' journalistic style, more of a 'here's the facts, now you decide what you want to do about it' which I find much more powerful!!!

Seeing him promote the handing down of knowledge and action and choice to the next generation by way of activism is a beautiful dimension, and one that fits in with previous discussions I have had about myth, and the whole area of narrative
and storytelling and lore! The exploitation of tradition and ch!!

I watched it a couple of times, I need to watch it more. What I particularly liked was the two projects being portrayed back to back, which serve to blast our misconceptions about 'Africa is all the same' by showing the Niger delta, so polluted and so overly industrialised, against the much more destructive (in my opinion) Madagascar version, where the people are *choosing* to cut down that pristine wilderness!!!

A commodity much more valuable than what they ultimately seek to trade!!!!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Garden Sustainability

Surprised to see Wired magazine in on the garden sustainability act...

So, you've started your first garden. Perhaps some tomatoes, zucchini, other vegetables and herbs? Maybe even a few flower beds for color? You'll save a chunk of change on groceries, but your initial investment required to get your garden started was likely quite a bit of money. Soil, soil conditioner, mulch, plants, fertilizer and more -- it adds up quickly.

If you start all over every year, you'll quickly find your garden is taking over your bank account. Luckily, most gardening setups can be a one time expense, provided you use sustainable gardening methods. Not only are sustainable gardening methods better for your wallet, but they are gentler on the planet as well. A sustainable garden uses less water, generates less waste and generally makes better use of the resources, space and time you use up growing your plants.

1 What is a sustainable Garden?
1.1 The life-cycle
2 Composting
3 Mulching
4 Watering
5 Dealing with pests and disease
6 Processing your seeds
7 Conclusion
7.1 Helpful links

What is a sustainable Garden?
Sustainable gardening refers to a garden that can be used productively over and over without the need for excessive restarting costs or additional materials.

Some argue that a true sustainable garden should use only organic materials, but that's really up to you. Using the occasional commercial pesticide or other non-organic product doesn't mean your entire garden isn't sustainable.
For health and safety reasons, we suggest sticking to primarily organic gardening, but the main keys to sustainability are reuse of materials, reduction of waste and increased efficiency.

The life-cycle

The basic life-cycle of a sustainable garden looks like this:
High quality compost goes into your garden's topsoil, rejuvenating it from last year
Seedlings grown from seed or taken from cuttings are planted
Mulch generated from raked leaves or local mulching services covers the compost and protects and conditions the soil
Water from sustainable sources, like a rain barrel or other rainwater capture system provides water
More compost throughout the season to feed your plants
Soil treatments, non-chemical pest prevention, sympathetic planting and predatory insects protect your plants from slugs, mites and other pests

You harvest your food, saving enough seeds for next year's plants and putting all the waste matter back in a compost bin where it will turn into compost ready to use next year

Of course there's considerable leeway in this scenario, and you don't have to follow every step. Even something as simple as starting a compost bin can be huge time and money saver when it comes time to plant your garden next year.
Let's break this cycle down and take a look at each part and see what you can do to make your garden more productive and more sustainable from year to year.


Black gold.
When organic material like plant matter decays, tiny microorganisms feed on it. The organisms take in carbon and give off all sorts of nutrients that plants need to thrive.

For those with an allergy to all things hippie, keep in mind that composting isn't derived from some 1960's feel-good movement -- it's how the entire ecosystem of the Earth functions. Composting is happening all around you. Why not tap into it and stop spending your hard earned money on ridiculous things like enriched soil?

Contrary to popular belief, composting isn't difficult, nor is it smelly. Proper compost piles should have a deep earthy scent, a bit like the woodland soil after a rain.

For more details on how to set up a productive compost bin, check out our article on how to Compost.
Once you've generated some "black gold," as compost aficionados call it, work it into your topsoil before you plant. Most plants' roots stay in the first six inches of soil, so concentrate on working your compost into that area.

By doing so, you'll be returning nutrients to the soil -- minerals like phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, zinc, manganese and iron all help your plants grow.

Compost also improves the texture or "tilth" of the soil. This has a dual benefit; if your soil is naturally loose or sandy, compost will help it retain water better. Conversely, if you have very heavy clay soil, the compost will improve drainage.

In either case the end result is healthier, easy to maintain plants that need far less fertilizer and are more productive.

While composting is an essential element of sustainable gardening, another important factor in soil preparation is minerals. Soils the world over tend to be low in minerals. This can be more easily remedied than many people realize, with the simple action of adding rock dust to the soil. Here's a great article about a thriving, productive garden in Scotland—in a region mostly known for growing rocks and not much else:


Mulch refers to putting an additional layer of organic material on top of your soil.
There are several reasons mulching is smart -- it suppresses weeds, keeps soil moist, prevents soil runoff, keeps your soil from being compacted by rain, keeps soil temperatures down, increases the number of beneficial earthworms and microorganisms in the soil and keeps mud from splattering on your plants.

In fact, most gardeners regard mulch as then most important part of sustainable, low-maintenance gardens.

OK, so it's good stuff, this mulch. What sort should I use?

Is it a pile of mulch? Or modern art?
Just about every gardener you ask is going to have a different opinion on this, and there are no right answers.

It depends on what you're growing (for example pine needles are cheap option that work well for plants that need highly acidic soil, but a terrible idea for plants that want a more neutral soil).

How much mulch you should you use? A good rule of thumb is to use two inches of mulch on top of your well composted soil. You can add more mulch if it starts to break down over the course of the season.

Also, make sure that you never put mulch on top of plants or have mulch touching their stems. A sadly very common, but very bad idea, is piling much against tree trunks. Not only do these "volcanos" of mulch look ridiculous, they're horrible for the health of your trees.

Simply scatter a two inch layer of mulch over your compost and top soil, making sure to keep it a few inches back from the stems and trunks of your plants.

As for what to use, that's up to you, but avoid commercial mulches with dyes. Not only do they look ugly, the wood chips used often come from sources that may have harmful chemicals. Stick to organic materials like shredded wood chips and bark, leaf mold, "pine fines" (very fine-textured pieces of pine bark) or husks. Some gardeners even use recycled rubber from old tires.

Our favorite is leaf mold, which is rarely sold at commercial shops, but can easily be made -- just run your mower over a pile leaves several times, catching the chopped up results in the grass bag. Don't have an excess of leaves to chop in your area? Try asking your local government if they have any. Many local governments provide it for free or very cheaply. Check your local government website to see if its available in your area.


Unless you happen to live in the tropics, chances are you're going to need to water your garden.

Rain Barrels

The sustainable way to do that is using a rain barrel to catch excess water whenever it rains. You can buy rain barrels complete with hose attachments and then just place them below your gutter's exit spout. That way you capture run off and can use it to water your garden between rains.

Go Local
But even with a rain barrel there are still plenty of ways you can cut down on watering. If you're planting an ornamental garden choose local, drought-resistant plants that are well adapted to your zone (check with your local gardening store to find out which drought-resistant and local plants do the best in your area).

Hit Your Target
A simple and inexpensive drip irrigation system.

Another way to cut down on watering is to only water where it's needed -- the plants' root zone. Anything beyond the root zone is simply going to feed weeds and be a waste of water. This why switching from a typical sprinkler system to a targeted drip system is probably the single most water saving move most gardeners can make.

Drip systems range from the very complex professionally installed sort (expensive, but potentially money saving in the long run) to the simpler variety you can build yourself. Ask your local garden shop to point you to the flexible hosing and check out
this illustrated tutorial on Flickr. Even something as simple as a plastic bottle can create a basic drip system -- see this tutorial from You Grow Girl.

Another tip: plant intelligently. That is, plant plants that have similar water needs next to each other. One way to do this is to
Build a Square Foot Garden.

Dealing with pests and disease

Once your garden is up and running with quality, well-enriched soil and a nice layer of mulch, it's time to deal with nature's pests and diseases. If your soil is good and you plant things native to your area you shouldn't have too many diseases to worry about, but pests are another matter.

It might be tempting to simply spray on one of the nearly infinite number of commercial pesticides, but not only is that expensive, possibly hazardous to your health and terrible for the environment, it generally isn't necessary.

The praying mantis is one type of predatory insect you can use to keep your garden pest-free.

Human beings have been cultivating plants for over 10,000 years; commercial pesticides on the other hand didn't come about until roughly the 1940s. So yes, for every pesticide there is nearly always an organic, less-hazardous solution.

One popular sustainable solution is planting sympathetic plants. For example, many of the pests and diseases that affect tomatoes can be prevented by planting marigolds nearby your tomatoes. There's also some evidence that tomatoes grow better and bear more fruit with marigolds growing around them.

Similar sympathetic solutions exist for other plants, try searching the web to find out what works well with the plants you've chosen for your garden.

Another solution is predatory insects, for example lady bugs (often sold at gardening centers) eat aphids, a common source of problems for rose bushes.

Processing your seeds

So you've successfully grown your garden, harvested your fruit, vegetables and flowers. Now winter is coming, so what about next year?

There's no need to buy new seeds every year; you can use seeds from this year's fruit and vegetables to grow next year's plants.

In most cases, you'll need to process the seeds slightly, usually by fermenting and drying them, but the process generally isn't too difficult. Just select some fruit from the very healthiest looking plants and then remove the seeds from the fruit.

In the case of tomatoes, it's simply a matter of washing the seeds and then placing them in water and leaving them somewhere warm for a few days. Once the fermentation process is complete, there will be a fine film of "scum" on the top of the water. Just scoop that off and then spread the seeds out to dry. This can take a while, up to a week in the case of some big tomatoes. Once the seeds have dried just package them up in something airtight and you're ready to go for next year.

Most common vegetable plants can be harvested for seeds in a similar manner. Just consult your local garden center experts or do a bit of internet searching to find out the details for each plant.

Another thing to remember is that bulbs like irises or tulips can be dug up and over-wintered somewhere indoors, then replanted again next year.

If you're feeling really ambitious and have a greenhouse of some sort, you can take cuttings of your more successful plants and grow them indoors over the winter. Cuttings work primarily with woodier plants like tree and shrubs though there are exceptions.


Gardening can be a very expensive proposition, but fortunately it doesn't need to be that way. In fact, if you follow all the suggestion above and are willing to put a bit of effort into it, sustainable gardening is just about free.