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Collecting Clean Water from Polluted Sources with Natural Filtration Systems

 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.

Permaculture Alternatives to Waste-to-Energy (W2E)

Kowhai Festival
 Photograph by author, Trish Allen.

Permaculture Alternatives to Waste-to-Energy (W2E)

Waste-to-energy (W2E), particularly incineration, is being promoted as a good alternative to landfills – it gets rid of all that plastic we use and generate energy, right? In this article I’d like to first outline what’s wrong with W2E and then talk about permaculture alternatives.

So What Is Wrong With W2E Incineration?

W2E is a continuation of the ‘take-make-dispose’ economy which lulls people into the belief that we can continue our wasteful ways without changing our behaviour. But we live on a finite planet and most environmental harm comes at the extraction stage – so why would we want to burn resources and get rid of them? It doesn’t make sense. We need to get away from an extractive to a regenerative culture.

There are multiple negative impacts of W2E plants, which are seeing many being decommissioned internationally. For example, the toxic ash that remains after burning still has to be disposed of in a landfill.  This can be up to 25% of the original volume of waste material, but with more toxicity. So incinerators don’t do away with the need for a landfill, instead they require a landfill for more toxic and dangerous waste.

Aside from the toxic ash, W2E incineration plants create an on-going demand for waste to fuel the incinerator. They are very expensive to build, have huge embodied energy, and once built, have to run for years to get a return, locking us into a destructive system.  Right now our planet’s ability to sustain life is seriously at risk. We cannot afford the luxury of investing in bad ideas.

Our young people are calling for Climate Action now and we have a major responsibility to urgently reduce emissions. Incinerators create emissions. New Zealand’s electricity is currently 80% clean (water, wind, solar, geothermal) so why would we want to start burning trash to generate power?  It just doesn’t add up environmentally, economically or socially.

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

Permaculture and Money – Part 3

Permaculture and Money – Part 3

The Practice of Being Open

In part 1(1) of this series, we explored the relationship between money, psychology and violence, while in part 2(2) we looked at some ways in which the stories we tell as a culture to do with money could be seen as encouraging destructive patterns of behaviour. Looby Macnamara would describe such destructive patterns as “spirals of erosion”(3) and this part will explore in more detail some practical ideas for how we can transcend such erosive behaviours and create “spirals of abundance”(3) instead.

Alternative Economic Theories

In parts 1(1) and 2 (2), I mentioned theories about the possibility of a moneyless society, or a society where money takes a different role, such as Sacred Economics(4) author Charles Eisenstein and Satish Kumar, who among other roles was a practicing Jain monk as a child(5).  Both of these writers can be said to be influenced by EF Schumacher, whose book Small is Beautiful (6), published in 1973, critiqued the unsustainable model of resource and profit-driven industrialised capitalism, and recommends instead a philosophy of “enoughness” and appropriate use of technology(6).  Schumacher was himself influenced by Oriental thinking and in particular Buddhist ideas of moderation (see for example ref 7). In modern society, we can see an example of “enoughness” in practice in the Thai concept of “sufficiency economy” (8).

Peace Pilgrimage

The above examples show some ways in which alternative economic ideas have been influencing the world, and are somewhat encouraged in some mainstream societies. Yet if money is the very problem, it seems we need to explore more radical alternatives.

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

Ways To Treat Wildlife Humanely When Creating A Homestead

 Photograph by Pixabay (Pexels)

Ways To Treat Wildlife Humanely When Creating A Homestead

Beginning a homestead and trying to live as sustainably and being self-sufficient was once a lifestyle for a huge proportion of the population, but today this low-impact way of living is seeing something of a resurgence. One factor that can sometimes be overlooked when starting a homestead is the impact that this type of lifestyle can have on wildlife in the area, but by being conscious of the implications of the homesteading approach, you can take steps to ensure that you are living in harmony with the wildlife around your homestead.

Preparing The Area For A Homestead

Once you have obtained the land on which you want to build your homestead, one of the first steps is to try and remove and keep wildlife away from where you will be building. A temporary fence here can work very well, preferably one with a relatively small mesh so that even small animals cannot get to the building area and hurt themselves. If you are seeing signs of animal activity in this area, it may be worth speaking to an animal removal expert so they can be safely removed before you start the building work.

Building Your Homestead And Outbuildings

Building sites can prove to be great spaces for animals to hide and build their nests, so when you are building the homestead, try to leave as little material as possible around where animals could try to nest. When it comes to dealing with the debris, waste materials and other building materials, you should also try to ensure it is kept in a dumpster or debris skip before it can be disposed of safely. Otherwise, birds or other wildlife can get access to this debris, and could harm themselves.

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

Permaculture and Money – Part 2

 Photograph by Author, Charlotte Ashwanden

Permaculture and Money – Part 2

Living and Giving Abundance

In part 1 of this article series we looked at the curious concept of money and how it can be seen to be contributing to the institutional violence of much of modern society. This part will look at some alternative ways of viewing and interacting with money, while the next part will begin to explore some practical ways in which we can all begin living more abundantly.

Stories For A New World

In part 1 we explored the idea of transcending current modes of thinking or behaving, in order to engage in new ones. As John Paul Lederach points out, if we really want to find new ways of living then we cannot simply create a vision of a different place – we also need to be aware of where we are right now (1).

As Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, put it,

“It is not merely our attitudes about money that must change…rather, we will create new kinds of money that
embody and reinforce changed attitudes” (2)

A Change In The System…

Some alternative economic theories include ideas such as the creation of local currencies like the Bristol Pound (3), non-centralised currencies such as Bitcoin(4) or bartering or exchange systems such as those put into practice using Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS), for example in Australia with the Australian Community Exchange System (5). All of these can be seen to represent important options for those looking to put permaculture into practice by moving away from the monoculture of solely using money.

Or Of The System?

However, such alternatives can be seen to still be based on the premise of exchanging for a fixed rate which is decided abstractly and therefore they still hold within them the inherent disconnection from nature and subsequent destructive tendencies which using money carries with it (2, 6).

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

Permaculture and Money – Part 1

Permaculture and Money – Part 1

Cash, conflict and crisis: How is money connected to limited and violent beliefs, and how can we transcend these beliefs?

Permaculture design is about finding ways in which parts of a system can harmonise together, creating regenerative patterns and structures which can help us to develop as part of an interconnected whole(1). We can use permaculture design not only to help us to change physical systems such as in gardening, but also with less visible social structures. One of the most universal and destructive of these ‘invisible structures’ can be seen as the globalised, competition-driven economy, and more specifically, the concept of money which upholds it.

Back in 1949, physicist Albert Einstein said “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive” (2). Decades of environmental destruction, characterised by the perpetuation of a seeming disconnection between humans and nature, along with the current global “crisis” catalysed by people’s reaction to the Corona Virus, seem to show these words as more pertinent now than ever.

This article series will explore some ways in which money itself can be seen as the destructive element encouraging this disconnection. This part will look at some theories of how money, violence and psychology are closely inter-related, while subsequent parts will go into detail about alternative ways of using or relating to money, and some practical ways to achieve this in your own life.

Money & Mind

Many proponents of a moneyless society, such as Sacred Economics (3) author Charles Eisenstein and Moneyless Manifesto (4) author Mark Boyle, have theorised that money itself is perpetuating violent and destructive behaviour in human society (3, 4).  That is not to say that we should necessarily get rid of money, though there are many ideas for how we could do that (more about this in part 2).

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

Overpopulation, Nature’s Revenge, & 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…

Planting Seeds in Crisis

Planting Seeds in Crisis

Food and seed sovereignty in uncertain times

As governments of more and more countries introduce various kinds of lockdowns (1) during the ongoing virus “pandemic” (1), we appear to be experiencing what many would say is an unprecedented global “crisis” (see for example 2). This article will explore the opportunities inherent in such a situation, in particular with regard to food and seed sovereignty and, ultimately, the sovereignty of our own lives.

What is crisis?

There are many theories about the origins of the Coronavirus and the curiously strong grip its presence has on media and governments worldwide (3, 4, 5). For example, that the virus was made possible by factory farming (3) or our current mistreatment of farm animals (4). Or the theory postulated right here on Permaculture News by Nirmala Nair that perhaps it could be “a symptom of dwindling microbial biota – a result of the past 50 years of accelerated industrial food production, processing and movement of food around the world?” (5)

Regardless of the actual origin, at any time, the influence of media and government propaganda is something to be aware of. This seems a particularly important moment to be aware of news and actions aimed at inducing emotions such as fear and panic, and to provide a counterpoint of calm, reflection on wider issues, and compassion.

With this in mind, let’s look at the etymology of the word ‘crisis’. Though often used in a negative context, we can see that the roots of this word come from the Greek for “decide, judge” (6). A time of crisis, therefore, can be seen as a time for making decisions – for becoming aware of the choices we face as a species and a planet and to decide on a course of action. Though decisions could be scary to some, this time can be seen as an opportunity for us to decide, individually and socially, how we actually wish to be living our lives.

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

Applying Food Forest Growing to Farms

Food Forest Farm

Applying Food Forest Growing to Farms

Beyond Garden Scale

Gardeners know too well the feeling of overwhelm when facing a new landscape. The seemingly infinite possibilities brings up the question, “Where do I start?”. Fortunately, there is a process we can use to answer that, it’s called permaculture design.

From Food Forest to Farming Dreams

Some of you might remember a special place in Holyoke Massachusetts called Paradise Lot.  This garden is still one of my favourite places in the world!  That’s right, Paradise Lot continues to attract visitors who enjoy the explosion of perennial vegetables, rare and unusual fruits, a unique story, and backyard scale permaculture in action.

Along with Eric Toensmeier, and many other friends, Paradise Lot was my first big garden design challenge. The question of “Where to start” defined our early process. Thank goodness, at the time, Eric and Dave Jacke were writing a book called “Edible Forest Gardens”, and our garden became the case study.  The garden is where I learned many key design strategies: The Problem is the Solution; Constraints Focus the Design; What Was, Plus What Is, Could Be; Watch Out for the Red Gazebo and many other principles.

I lived, breathed and ate that garden for thirteen years. During that time a new thought seed was planted. The beginnings of a vision of what a garden like this could be beyond one-tenth of an acre. This idea didn’t hold my thoughts very strongly, but it did take root. Then, by around 2012, when my wife was pregnant, and we enjoyed the bounty and success of a thriving food forest, global climate change impacted our lives.

Making The Most Of What We Harvest

 Photograph by Jill Wellington (Pixabay)

Making The Most Of What We Harvest

Secondary Uses for Common Crops

It’s nearing the end of our main growing season here in North Carolina. Halfway through October, our tomato plants are not much longer for the world, perhaps even living on borrowed time now. Summer squashes have given way, and winter squashes are strewn out waiting for the first frost.

We’ve also got some cold weather stuff in the ground. Cilantro has reseeded itself. We’ve planted rounds of carrots, beets, chard, kale, and radishes. Collard greens, a local favourite, are on the go. Kohlrabi is in the ground. Because we’ve been building our home, we’ve dropped the ball on getting some of what we’d like to have planted—broccoli, fava beans, leeks—this year.

But, what’s on my mind is more positive: It’s how much we’ve enjoyed our common crops this summer. More so, part of what we’ve enjoyed has been making the very most of them. We are steadily adding to our repertoire of possibilities, expanding our diets and production into new realms.

As dutiful permaculturalists, we’ve always sought out secondary (edible) uses for our harvests, ways to get more function from what we have cultivated. Here’s some of what has us excited this year, as well as some notes from the past and hopes for the future.

Carrot Tops

Common Crop Carrot Tops
Photograph by Rachel C IMP (Pixabay)

With our second growing season in North Carolina, we showed marked improvement in our carrot harvest. The roots have been the most flavourful I’ve ever eaten, and they’ve come out of the ground with a heft we didn’t get last year.

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

How to Make Instant Garden Beds


A common problem when just starting a garden is dealing with the fact that we’ve not had time to condition the soil, fostering it into something heaving with fertility. Or, maybe we just aren’t that far into gardening yet anyway and don’t know what to do. Basically, it seems we are left with the option of using what we have and hoping for the best, or we can spend a heap on importing soil and compost and such. Fortunately, there is another route, an inexpensive way to make garden beds instantaneously.

Often referred to as lasagna gardens or sheet mulching, an instant garden bed requires little to nothing being brought in, and it can be cultivated right away (though it will get nicer as time passes). It begins with kitchen scraps, maybe some manure (or other high nitrogen items), old cardboard boxes or newspaper, and some mulch material such as dried grass, straw, or shredded leaves. In other words, most of what we need is already around waiting to be used.


One of the nice elements of this kind of garden is that it doesn’t require digging and tilling. Rather, whatever grass or weeds are growing in the garden space, leave them right where they are. Fresh green material provides a good boost of nitrogen.

Atop this, add a bucket full of kitchen scraps (no need to wait for it to compost) and, if available, some well-rotted manure, whatever is around: horse, rabbit, cow, chicken, etc. If manure isn’t available, other high nitrogen items would be more fresh grass clippings or spent coffee grounds from the nearest coffee shop.

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

How to Start an Urban Farm


Like any new venture, starting an urban farm is a daunting and difficult task. Not only do you have to find land to farm, but that land also must be suitable for growing food. Not only do you have to know how to grow food, but you also have to know what to do with your bounty when harvest time comes around. What has often been referred to as “the simple life” is actually extremely complex and intensive.

And yet many people around the world are choosing to start urban farming ventures of their own to strengthen the bonds of communities and teach people that real food comes from the ground — not from supermarkets. It sounds like an obvious statement, but our food system makes it quite easy to hide all the sweat, work, and dirt that goes into food production and only focus on the finished, packaged products that line the grocery store shelves.

Why Start an Urban Farm?

It’s an unfortunate but true fact that threats to public health are everywhere in today’s modern world. Our food system, one that contributes to the greater problem of climate change, is a huge part of this issue.

How often do we visit the grocery store and buy fruits and vegetables with stickers that mark them as world travelers without ever thinking of how long their journey to our plate might have been? This is even easier to do when the food we buy is so processed that it doesn’t look like real food at all.

In a world where 36 percent of American adults are obese, the state of the food system in the U.S. is a crisis we must address. And what better way to take action against it than to start an urban farm to better feed yourself, your friends and family, and your community?

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

Fixes for Nutrient Deficient Soil


Basic understanding of plant health comes from the soil they grow in. Their nutrition is vital to their health and overall sustainability, so it’s essential for plants to get all of the macronutrients necessary to thrive.

However, there are times we still struggle with a plant mysteriously dying off long before its time. It happens, but this is often indicative of a bigger problem with the nutrients in the soil. If one plant is struggling, others nearby may be too.

One method that has worked for me is specifying what nutrients appear to be lacking and why. It’s obvious that plants need nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (commonly known as NPK), but plant health is complex and nutrient deficiencies can stem from many places.


Pale yellow, stunted leaves are a sure sign of nitrogen deficiency. Nitrogen is essential in photosynthesis, cell health, and chlorophyll development. Nitrogen depletion in soil happens when large amounts of carbon are added to the soil, typically after nearby plants decay and die. Microorganisms will use available nitrogen to break down the new carbon source and quickly deplete the nitrogen available to the plant. This stunts the plant’s growth.

To correct a nitrogen deficiency, consider planting nitrogen-rich plants like beans and peas nearby. Adding used and rinsed coffee grounds to the soil to promote nitrogen production. Rinsing the grounds will not affect acid levels of the soil. A plant with plenty of nitrogen available to it will appear leafy green.


Phosphorous ensures healthy cell division, fruiting, and root growth. Similar to nitrogen deficiencies, plants with a lack of phosphorus will struggle to grow. The edges of their leaves may darken to a brown or reddish-purple. Flowers or fruits will not grow. Some contributors to phosphorus deficient soil include cold temperatures, heavy rainfall and acidic soil.

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

Greening the Desert with Permaculture


“I have never seen soil like this before” was the comment that Bill Mollison made during a visit to the Greening the Desert Project in 2011. At the time, he was referring to the poor state of the soil in the small village of Jawasari, Jordan. An area of the world where the landscape has been damaged by not only extreme pollution and the overuse of recycling nutrients but also by the climatic conditions of the location. At 31° North of the equator, 400-meters below sea level, in an area that receives less than 50-millimeters (2-inches) in annual rainfall, and Summer temperatures reaching over 50°C (122°F), the Dead Sea Valley is considered one of the world’s worst agricultural scenarios.

So, when I and thousands like me first saw the Greening the Desert video, we thought, if this is possible in one of the lowest, driest, and harshest environments in the world then we can do this—grow food, harvest water, repair soil, enhance the ecosystem and build community—anywhere in the world. The solution has been found, and it’s merely adopting the same design methods, the persistence, and the passion.

Growing up in Jordan I have seen agricultural land being encroached on. The neighborhood I grew up in slowly turned from fertile farming land, growing grains and vegetables, into a residential apartment block that was everything you would expect from a concrete forest. I witnessed small farmers struggling to stay profitable, and confessing to losing their land to salt due to commercial planting methods, the advice they get from agriculture departments, chemical fertilizer salesmen and the lack of long-sightedness in the agriculture policy in Jordan overall.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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