Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability (David Holmgren)
Permaculture One (David Holmgren and Bill Mollison)
Permaculture: A Designers' Manual (Bill Mollison)
Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture (Toby Hemenway)
The Basics of Permaculture Design (Ross Mars)
The Ultimate Guide to Permaculture (Nicole Faires)
And now, I think I’m ready to share some thoughts about Permaculture and how we can (and do) apply it on our farm(s). In case you want to know more yourself, I recommend both Linda’s book and Gaia’s Garden for a start, and particularly for smaller gardens. If you have a farm, you probably need to keep reading and get into Bill Mollison’s design manual, but the other two are still a good place to start. Principles and Pathways is a good one to get deeper into the philosophy of permaculture, but don’t be disappointed with the lack of practical solutions, use the other books for that.
|This tree loses its bark in early summer and is called "salmon bark"|
In these posts I’m just going to talk about one principle at a time. As I said in my last post, there are two sets of principles (although now I’ve learnt that Bill Mollison’s are also referred to as philosophies), but they both cover the same content, just in different ways. I am going to use David Holmgren’s principles simply because there are twelve, one for each month J
The first principle on the list is Observe and Interact. Obviously I have to start somewhere, but I do need to point out that this is not to say that we only need to apply this principle once at the start of a design, the principles are arranged in a circle because design is a cycle, in which we observe, make a change, and observe again. We need to be continuously observing and interacting with our environment in order to refine and optimise our designs.
We have been very lucky to have had lots of time (almost a year now) to observe our new property before we had to start developing anything. We have spent time thinking about where to put the house and then how to orientate the house. Where to put the shed in relation to the house and then everything else that we want close to the house.
Late last year I joined a permaculture discussion group on Homegrown and as part of that I started a permaculture design for our house yard. The first step was to gather all the data about the climate and landscape. For me, this was even better than just observing the property for a year. We were able to look at data from the previous ten years (since the airport was built nearby) to see how the temperature and rainfall fluctuated between and within years.
the best source of climate data is the Bureau of Meteorology (affectionately
known as “the bom”). Use this page to find the closest weather station to your property, you can then download the
observations as .csv files which you can open in excel and then do a bit of
analysis of averages and maximums/minimums.
It is also possible to get the sun path chart for your property if you know the gps coordinates (which you can easily find onine, just google latitude and the name of your town), so you can work out how the sun angle changes with the seasons. The best source that I found was here.
I used a number of different sources to map the property. We have the “property map of assessable vegetation” from the QLD dept of environment (can be downloaded for properties in QLD here, which includes vegetation and waterways), google maps, and my own GPS map. I drew all the important features from these sources onto one survey map (from when we bought the property), so we now have a rough idea of roads, creek lines, dams, fences, distances and paddock areas.
You can find my initial permaculture design observations on my google docs here.
The problem with the weather observations is that the property is 10km from the airport where the readings are taken. This means that readings are really only an indication. As much of our rainfall is due to storms, there can be no rain on one property and 50 mL on another close by. We need to keep our own records in order to know the real annual rainfall and temperature variations on our property.
In December I started keeping a detailed diary for the farm(s). I was going to start in January, but then I thought best to just start, and not worry about it being the start of the year or not. I was going to buy a diary, I thought that if I had a special diary that I had paid for, I would feel obliged to use it, but then I couldn’t find a diary that was suitable. In the end I decided to make my own. I just used 3 days per page, with extra space on the Sunday page. A month prints out on 8 leaves of paper, so the entire year (when I print it) will be only 96 leaves. I keep it clipped into a simple folder, and try very hard to fill it in every evening. The most important thing is rainfall and number of eggs, and then any notes about where the cattle are, so we can keep track of when they were moved to different paddocks. At first this is mainly for Eight Acres, as we aren’t at Cheslyn Rise everyday to read the rain gauge, but once I get into the habit of making notes, I hope that it will be easy to continue to observe both properties as I get the opportunity.
Another tip from Linda Woodrow is to name things. Even if you don't know the proper name, if you name something yourself, you will remember it. For example, there is a tree on our property that was in flower in December and I called it our Christmas tree, that will help me to remember when it flowers. It also helped me notice where that tree was growing and how many other similar trees weren't in flower at the time.
An example of the Observe and Interact principle in practice
When we moved to Eight Acres we knew that we had one area in particular that was very badly eroded and seemed to get worse everytime we had a decent rainfall event. When I first heard about swales and hugelkultur I wondered if we could use those ideas to help with our erosion problem. I could see that we needed to fence the area to keep out the cattle (who were just walking all over it and making the erosion even worse), and we needed to do something to prevent more of the bank washing away. First I build a small swale/hugelkultur at the top of the slope, just using logs and piling up grass clippings and mulch. The logs stopped the mulch washing away, and the mulch helped to catch the top soil coming down the hill. I could see that it was working, so I kept expanding the system gradually. I then started to plant arrowroot and comfrey, and anything else that I had spare, to try to generate some more organic matter and start to build up some soil. So far these plants have struggled, and maybe I need to think more about what else I could get established there, its hot and exposed and there's not much soil yet. In some places the
Rhodes grass is starting to creep over the bank, which is
ideal. Maybe it will take several years
to really see an improvement, but at least I think I’ve prevented it from getting
In this simple example, I think I observed the problem, I
tried a small system, I observed that it worked and I extended the system
further. This is what we need to do at
each design stage of our larger property.
First observe the cause of a problem, or a possible inefficiency that
could become an opportunity for improvement, make a small change, observe the
impact and continue to build the system as appropriate.
|after (different angle, sorry!)|
How have you applied “Observe and Interact” at your place?