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Why Permaculture?

Why Permaculture?

It’s been several years since I first stumbled upon permaculture, and several years minus a couple of months since I started doing my best to practice it.  Many people have a similar story, and my guess is, like me, they’ve been asked dozens, possibly hundreds, of times what permaculture is.  But, it’s been a rarity—if it has ever happened at all—that someone asks me why permaculture. That might actually be more notable.

When permaculture came into my life, my wife Emma and I were on a trip through Central and South America, hopping from farm to farm on work-trades to both stretch our budget while traveling and learn a bit about growing our own food. We cared about the environment, so we’d guessed organic farms were the way to go. It only took a matter of weeks to begin hearing the term permaculture as byword. We borrowed some books and were soon engrossed in the practice.

Our life has radically changed for the better. We’ve become stronger people, physically and mentally. We’ve become more capable, able to grow and preserve our own food and to build our own home, while consistently adding to the toolbox: forage wild mushrooms, make an earthen pizza oven, design a grey water system, start a social business… The world, from twenty feet away to the entire global construct, looks totally different, and while it may sometimes be scary, there always seems to be identifiable, simple steps for us to take, right now.

Why Permaculture?

 The grand appeal of permaculture over basic organic gardening is that it is so much more. We had aspirations of living on a piece of land and growing a lot of our own food, but there were so many more ambitions beyond that.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Importance and Complexity of Community

I deeply believe that people are the only critical resource needed by people. We ourselves, if we organise our talents, are sufficient to each other. What is more, we will either survive together or none of us will survive.

–Bill Mollison, from Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual

 

Community is paramount to permaculture. This is not a practice for isolationists because isolationists can’t change the world in a positive way, and ultimately that is the goal behind every garden, eco-home, and water catchment we build. In fact, the “culture” part of the permaculture term cannot be realised without a social group that shares values, traditions, and practices. In essence, those gardens, homes, and dams are all embodiments of that culture, and without people—that’s plural—to create, utilise, and share the fruits of these efforts, permaculture can’t exist.

While we may be attempting to individually take responsibility for ourselves (and, yes, that’s a wonderful thing to do), it is our collective effort that matters most. If we each live in our own sustainability bubbles, then we are doomed to repeat mistakes, to use more resources, to fear others, to limit our potential… and that’s not even getting into the basic psychology of person-to-person social interaction, something COVID quarantines have revealed as principal to a happy existence. For better or worse, we need each other.

Even so, community can be a difficult thing. It’s often wrought with rules and ruling classes. Conflict is inevitable. Belief systems become complex and spiritual: How many versions of Christianity/Islam/Judaism exist? How well historically do they all get along within the respective religions and outside of them? Designing sustainable homes, productive landscapes, and water catchment systems is a far easier undertaking than deciphering the mysteries of human interaction. Nevertheless, it’s every bit as important. After all, it is one of the three ethics of permaculture: People Care.

 

 

My Permaculture Design Mistakes

My Permaculture Design Mistakes

Wrong Turns in the Right Direction

Like anyone, I find it much more inspiring to talk about gardening and building successes. That rhubarb we planted last year has gone nuts!  Emma and I have probably foraged 15 kilos of chanterelle mushrooms so far this summer, so much that we are having to give them away despite the fact that I eat mushrooms on toast just about every morning (unless I’m having tofu scramble with chanterelles). We just passed our framing inspection for the cabin we are building! Good things are happening, no doubt, but life isn’t always beautifully blooming roses.

In short, in permaculture, we are all fallible (even the fabled Geoff Lawton, as you will learn by the end of this). Of course, for the most part, we share our successes, and for the most part, that’s also what we want to read about: successes. We want to know what works! But, like any good craft, sometimes it’s the lessons that we learn from our slip-ups that make us wiser in the long-run. At least, at the beginning of this list, that is what I’m going to say. Believe me, this is no exhaustive catalogue of minuscule catastrophes but rather a brief accounting of the ones that are currently unfixed and on my mind.

I want to share them because sometimes, when things go awry, we feel like no one else struggles, as if all other permaculturalists are out there making the right moves, relaxed supine atop a stack of butternut squash. Well, that just isn’t so. To grow a garden, to build a home, to manage water, to raise animals, to live off-grid… they are all replete with repairs, reconfigurations, and re-imagining. Part of the process is often not getting it right. At least, that’s what I like to tell myself, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Here goes:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Protein for the Plant-Based Permaculturalist

Protein for the Plant-Based Permaculturalist

A Parade of Pulses

Whether plant-based eating (veganism) is the guiding force behind your diet, or you simply enjoy having plant-based dishes just because plants taste good, there is something to be gained from experimenting with plant foods. In particular, pulses are great for providing some substance and protein to plant-based meals. And, for those omnivores amongst us, this doesn’t mean meat doesn’t exist, but that’s not to say you can’t enjoy (or try) a bean burger or some other leguminous treat every now and again.

My wife Emma and I have been vegans for nearly a decade now. Luckily, we came to the practice with a penchant for beans and rice. I, being from Louisiana, grew up with a myriad of this particular combination. And, having lived in Central America for several years, Emma also developed a taste for it. A pot of beans, a pot of rice, and some fresh vegetables has long served us as an ample and nutritious meal. Sometimes the combo comes out as soup, sometimes the items are plated separately, or sometimes the beans may become more sauce-like to be doled out over the rice. We might use Cajun seasonings, Indian spices, Middle Eastern flavours, Mexican palettes, or even Italian herbs. The trio has served us well for many years and has amazingly provided us with plenty of variety.

However, of late, we’ve been experimenting more. We’ve been learning to branch out, converting our beans and peas into new creations, things that have opened our menu. It’s been especially satisfying as summer has kicked in, and the heat and humidity has become overbearing, an atmosphere in which a hot plate of beans and rice often doesn’t sound all that appealing. For those interested—and if you aren’t that’s fine, no need to continue reading—I’ve compiled some of the new (and old) ideas we’ve been kicking around this year.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Enrich Garden Soils without Paying for Amendments

Enrich Garden Soils without Paying for Amendments

A big part of permaculture is building soil. The loss of quality soils is one of the largest, most prevalent concerns on the globe, and of course, without good soil, producing healthy food just isn’t in the cards. So, really, before we can fill those storage bins with winter squash or stuff the cupboards with canned tomatoes, we have to get to the task of building the soils in which to grow them.

Unfortunately, mass agriculture methods have stripped soils of their vitality:

  • Monocultures have the tendency to deplete soils of whatever nutrients the cash crop likes,
  • and then that cash crop is shipped away with all of those nutrients instead of being fed back to the soil to recycle them.
  • Large-scale tilling makes the soils susceptible to erosion via wind and rain,
  • and it also destroys the web of soil life that helps to cycle organic nutrients into minerals and fertility.
  • Furthermore, those organic nutrients are typically removed during the harvest,
  • Which is done with massive machinery that compacts the soil so that it has to be tilled.
  • That’s before we get into chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and herbicides, which are about as healthy to soil as living on Slim Fast shakes and antibiotics would be to our bodies.

Without further belabouring this point, which is easy to do, suffice it to say that permaculture approaches soils and food production differently. Nevertheless, inherited soils often need special attention on the route to recovery, and even well-looked-after soils benefit from extra nutrients here and there. After all, it’s difficult to recycle every scrap of food we take from a plot back into it. With that in mind, here’s how to enrich soils without constantly importing minerals and other amendments.

Dynamic Accumulators

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Collecting Clean Water from Polluted Sources with Natural Filtration Systems

Lake
 Image by Hasse Lundqvist from Pixabay

Collecting Clean Water from Polluted Sources with Natural Filtration Systems

Being involved with permaculture helps one develop a mild obsession (and that’s putting it mildly) with water. Long before I was a certified designer, just an avid reader of permaculture texts and articles, and a compulsive watcher of Geoff Lawton YouTube videos, I was looking at landscapes completely differently, with an eye that begged for contour lines and took aim at potential dam sites. I imagined this water feature connected to that one, which fed another downslope when it overflowed across a level sill, the entire countryside dotted with water storage and well-hydrated food forests.

One of the ideas I’ve always been excited about but never quite got my head around was using hard surface runoff from roads and/or polluted areas. It seemed counterintuitive to spend so much time developing natural, chemical-free permaculture sites then funnel tainted water onto them. Of course, in certain environments, any drop of water available is worthy of collection, but still… how could we? Well, I was recently watching some videos from the upcoming earthworks course with Geoff Lawton, and I finally got an answer.

We can set up natural water harvesting and filtration systems to make the most of dirty hard surface runoff, as well as provide us with both clean water and rich compost for our forest gardens.

Soakage Systems

The water catchments in this situation need to centre around soakage rather than storage. In other words, we don’t want to catch the dirty water in dams and allow the pollutants to remain in the water. Instead, we want the water to gather and soak into the landscape, where natural elements like soil and plants can begin to clean it.

Solar, Wind, & Subterfuge

Solar, Wind, & Subterfuge

Raw Realities of Renewable Energy

Something that long hasn’t set well with me in the green movement is that so much of it is based on marketable products. For example, not long ago, the world was set alight by the idea of plant-based soda bottles. It was as if making plastic from plants had solved all our issues, and suddenly, using these innovative new bottles made the plastic-bottle experience guilt-free. Of course, that wasn’t the case.

Bioplastics, in many ways, are likely more problematic than petroleum-based plastic. In the case of Coca-Cola’s “PlantBottle”, the end result was the same non-biodegradable chemistry. It just had to be derived from plant-based ethanol instead of fossil fuels. With that in mind, it’s probably worth pointing out just how much fossil fuel was required to grow, harvest, transport, and process the plants to make that plastic. In reality, we’d only found a new way to make the same old problem, which really boils down to the fact that disposable plastic bottles are detrimental to the environment.

In other words, the packaging both literally and figuratively changed, but the end product wasn’t green at all. That didn’t stop the marketing bonanza. Soon, “plant-based”, “biobased” and “biodegradable” plastics were everywhere, and the prefixes “bio” and “plant” persuaded consumers that now an end to the issue of plastics was in-hand. We were on route to a viable solution, and buying our water in biobased plastic bottles was aiding in this answer. What a sham!

The truth is that we needed to (and still need to) drastically reduce our use of plastics and eliminate disposable plastics, but this would be detrimental to a convenience-based economy that hugely relies on fossil fuels, plastic packaging, and nonessential “necessities” to survive. The answer isn’t a new type of plastic, i.e. a new way to continue along the wrong route. Rather, it is a re-imagining of how we are living, a version of vitality not reliant of caffeinated cola products distributed in plastic bottles.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Overpopulation, Nature’s Revenge, & Pandemic

Pandemic
 Photograph by 15734951 (Pixabay)

Overpopulation, Nature’s Revenge, & Pandemic

Don’t Dismiss the Design Option

Has the planet simply had enough of people? Are there are too many of us, and this pandemic is the paramount example? It’s easy to let our minds meander this way, but we have likely had more serious pandemics (Let’s see this one reach its conclusion before we declare that). In just gross number of deaths, and certainly in percentage of population infected and lost, there are similar, perhaps even more frightening, catastrophes littered through our history.

  • The Spanish Flu happened in 1918, infected approximately 500 million people with an estimated 50 million deaths. The world population was a little under two billion, roughly a quarter of where it stands today. Humanity decreased by 10%
  • The Black Death, or the second coming of the Bubonic Plague, is estimated to have accounted for 75 million deaths in the 1300s, when the population was less than half a billion. That’s less than one-tenth of today’s population.
  • Eight hundred years prior to The Black Death, in the 500s, The Justinian Plague, is believed to have taken 50 million, just over a quarter of the planet’s population at the time. That was less than 2.5 percent of the current population.

To avoid belabouring the point further, pandemics are certainly tied to big numbers of people, in particular tightly packed populations, but to sum them up as a result of overpopulation alone is just not the case. We are 1500 years removed (and 7.6 billion people amplified) from the Justinian Plague, which was 1000 years after the first recorded plague in Athens during the Peloponnesian War.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Permaculture Pantry

Early Garden
 Photograph by Emma Gallagher

The Permaculture Pantry

Naturally Prepared

Going to the supermarket, in this time of pandemic, has increasingly begun to look more like a game of Russian roulette.  While the odds may still seem to be considerably better than 1 in 6, the stakes keep increasing and the likelihood of COVID-19 coming to a house near you (or, at least, me… in the USA) inevitable.  But, we have to eat, and food has to come from somewhere. Most folks out there are accustomed to figuring it out on a day-to-day basis.

I used to laugh at my dad because he was a connoisseur of store-bought canned goods and always had a pantry bursting at the seams with okra in stewed tomatoes, beef tamales, and anything that had recently been on special.  It was as if he were preparing for the end of times, though he had no other prepper tendency about him. Stacks of vegetables could easily be three high and five deep, with a couple of dozen rows per shelf. The man loved to eat.

He passed away a little over a year ago, and when messaging with my surviving stepmother recently, we had another giggle because he’d be laughing to himself now. We all poked fun at him for decades, but he never faltered. If he’d use a can of corn, he’d buy two to replace it. I’m not sure where the compulsion came from, but fourteen months later, she hasn’t even made a dent in the stockpile.

Food from Storage: Provision

I seemed to have carried with me (and my wife Emma along for the ride) a penchant for the prepared pantry, only with a love of dried goods rather than canned goods.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

10-Plus Edibles That Make Great Houseplants

House Plants
 Image by donterase from Pixabay

10-Plus Edibles That Make Great Houseplants

Herbs, Hibiscus, Citrus and more

To be completely honest, I’m not usually that high on house plants. It’s for simple reasons really. I’ve done my share of babysitting them, and they tend to be high maintenance, requiring regular watering regardless of the weather, prime positioning around the windows, and a periodic supply of imported fertility. I like to maintain that, for those of us not living in urban settings, there is plenty of room outside to grow stuff in the earth, where these plants are part of—even when cultivated—thriving ecosystems.

However, as I settle into life in North Carolina, USDA Zone 7, and in particular with autumn fully upon us, I can feel myself rethinking things a little. Earlier this week, with the first frost forecasted, I found myself out in the garden digging up two habanero pepper plants to pot and put inside. They’ve been fruiting beautifully for the last month or two, and it just feels wrong to see them perish in lieu of such production, with so much life on the horizon. They still have half a dozen peppers growing on them. So far, the transplant seems successful.

With that in mind, I decided to revisit ideas on plants I’d like to, at the very least, grow indoors during the winter. Unlike growing a typical garden of greens, green beans, and so on inside, these are perennial plants that can’t survive the winter here, so our house would then become a greenhouse for them. In turn, we’d get to enjoy, even if minimally, some crops we might not otherwise have the capacity to grow here. In other words, the trade-off feels justified and in the summer, we could stick them outside and treat them like the other plants: special but not better than the apple trees or tomatoes.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Multi-Functional Living: Wood Heat

MULTI-FUNCTIONAL LIVING: WOOD HEAT

This year Emma and I are taking something we did last year and making it more functional: We are heating with wood, full-time. Previously, we often had fires at night, giving the heating system a break and enjoying the atmosphere, but it was noncommittal. Some nights we didn’t bother. We used the wood-burning cook stove even less than that, though we did love the event it made of a meal, as well as pulling a couple of rocking chairs in front of stove while dinner was bubbling. It was all in an effort for us to learn the ropes with building, using, and maintaining fires.

Winter has hit hard and early this year, but we have yet to let the heating click on. We’ve set the thermostat at 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celsius), to prevent any freezing damage or some such thing should we fail to keep the fire stoked. And, in addition to new lessons in heating 100% with fire, something much more involved than nighttime romanticism, we are becoming more and more in tune to the multiple functions heating with wood has. It seems very much in keeping with our permaculture principles.

Function #1: Clean Up

We live in the forest. So do our neighbors. So do the strangers down the road. Throughout the year, a number of trees have fallen. They fall across roads. They fall into gardens. Limbs drop in yards. Leaning red oaks threaten houses. And, trees—regardless of who’s around to hear it—do fall in the woods. A number of factors go into the fact that throughout the year, lots and lots of firewood can be produced by purely cleaning things up. Here are some examples:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Repurposing Wood

REPURPOSING WOOD

Not so long ago, my wife Emma and I bought our property, a place for which we’d been looking for nearly four years. And, in doing so, the enormity of what we were about to undertake sunk in. I’d been gathering up wood in anticipation of us needing to build a home, but the pace had been leisurely and the collected resources a bit aimless in there (re)purpose.

Amazingly, the property came with a bonus: There was already a structure on it. A picnic shelter, that is our future home already had a slab and a roof. This was a major relief because we’d been contemplating how to balance foundations, ecology, and building codes for the floor of the house. Suddenly, that was done. We’d have never voluntarily poured concrete, but we are happy to (re)use a slab. As for the roof, it was an instant spot to keep materials out of the weather.

However, with the dimensions of our home now official and the plan roughed out in a real way, I started calculating the amount of wood we had versus what we needed. We were short. Very much so. Hoping to get started within the next year, I realized we were going to have to seriously up our efforts for squirreling away some wood for the project. We wanted to repurpose the bulk, if not all, of our lumber, so that added a challenge, amongst the many before us, that many builders don’t have to worry about.

Pallets

What We Had Stacked

From the moment we’d decided we were going to live in North Carolina, I’d started looking out for lumber. I started with pallets. At our last home in Guatemala, I’d become quite the pallet enthusiast, particularly building tables, benches, and garden furnishings.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

12-Plus Methods For Keeping Challenging Weeds and Pests Out of the Garden

12-PLUS METHODS FOR KEEPING CHALLENGING WEEDS AND PESTS OUT OF THE GARDEN

With organic gardening, especially at the outset, comes a few new challenges for transitioning growers. Pesticides and other chemicals have, for several decades, become the go-to solution for all things in the garden, and now that many of us are clearing our heads from that fog, we are left to rediscover methods for dealing with everyday garden problems. 

When herbicides have been the trick for combating weeds, how do we do it without the chemicals? Where aphids once elicited a poison spray (on our food no less), how do we now stop them from eating our crops? When voles are feasting, how do we protect our food without resorting to awful compound killers? This is our food after all, so we have cause to protect it! If we have to do so without chemicals (which seems a form of protection in its own right), what are we to do? 

The permaculture way is to find somewhat natural solutions (we kind of stage them) to such problems. Bill Mollison is famously quoted as claiming there isn’t slug problem but rather a duck shortage. In other words, we can control slugs with ducks and get more production from the system on the whole. With permaculture techniques, solutions to problems have multiple functions in the garden. Not only will pest insects be thwarted, but pollinators will be invited. Not only will weeds be suppressed, but the soil life will be enlivened. Stacking solutions is how permaculture gardens, much more organically than typical organic gardens, handle weeds and pests, as well as fertility, soil structuring, and so on.  

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

12-Plus Methods For Keeping Challenging Weeds and Pests Out of the Garden

12-PLUS METHODS FOR KEEPING CHALLENGING WEEDS AND PESTS OUT OF THE GARDEN

With organic gardening, especially at the outset, comes a few new challenges for transitioning growers. Pesticides and other chemicals have, for several decades, become the go-to solution for all things in the garden, and now that many of us are clearing our heads from that fog, we are left to rediscover methods for dealing with everyday garden problems. 

When herbicides have been the trick for combating weeds, how do we do it without the chemicals? Where aphids once elicited a poison spray (on our food no less), how do we now stop them from eating our crops? When voles are feasting, how do we protect our food without resorting to awful compound killers? This is our food after all, so we have cause to protect it! If we have to do so without chemicals (which seems a form of protection in its own right), what are we to do? 

The permaculture way is to find somewhat natural solutions (we kind of stage them) to such problems. Bill Mollison is famously quoted as claiming there isn’t slug problem but rather a duck shortage. In other words, we can control slugs with ducks and get more production from the system on the whole. With permaculture techniques, solutions to problems have multiple functions in the garden. Not only will pest insects be thwarted, but pollinators will be invited. Not only will weeds be suppressed, but the soil life will be enlivened. Stacking solutions is how permaculture gardens, much more organically than typical organic gardens, handle weeds and pests, as well as fertility, soil structuring, and so on.  

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Ornamental Plants That are Edible and/or Edible Plants That are Ornamental

ORNAMENTAL PLANTS THAT ARE EDIBLE AND/OR EDIBLE PLANTS THAT ARE ORNAMENTAL

When I first began growing food and working with ideas of permaculture, I lived in the tropics where many edible plants leaf out large and are exceptionally stunning. Moreover, the places I found myself building gardens tended to be free-for-alls, where anything goes and HOAs didn’t interfere with what people planted on their property.

Last year however, after twelve years abroad, I moved back to the US. Where often people aren’t allowed to grow food at home. Because I’m more into rural areas, I don’t foresee much issue in this regard to me personally. However, I’m often asked for advice and eventually, I may do some consulting work.

Suddenly, the idea of having to gett around these committees and associations seems an important avenue for getting people into home food production. I already knew that it was possible to create an “ornamental” garden entirely with plants that are edible. However, now in the temperate climate, it was time to learn some of the plants with which to work.

(Please follow links, if necessary, for Latin names and more information.)

Perennials

Sticking with the principle that perennial plants are always a plus, I would want to recommend several to go into the garden. The selling points – there are many. Perennial plants put fixed roots into the soil, which take nutrients less intensively than annuals. In terms of appearance, they often appear earlier and provide earlier blooms as well, and in many cases, they hang on a bit longer. Ultimately, they are lower maintenance, often spreading out on their own, which makes for easy gardening.

Hosta

Perennial Edible Ornamentals

There are several ornamental plants that grow perennially, some of which are noted for being delicious as well as attractive.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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