I recently took my first Permaculture Design Certification course. I have wanted to take one for a long time and finally found the time. What is Permaculture? Here is the Wiki definition:
"Permaculture is a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, and environmental design that develops sustainable architecture and self-maintained agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems"
I like one of Bill Mollison's (the father of Permaculture) definitions the best. He said Permaculture is "the active application of what you observe in nature, to the things you construct".
Many people have different definitions of what Permaculture is. I like to think of it as "a toolbox of ideas, based on natural observations, that we can use to make smart, sustainable and ecologically beneficial decisions, in construction, agriculture and human interactions."
The core tenants of Permaculture should give you a good idea of what the movement is all about.
- Care for the earth: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply. This is the first principle, because without a healthy earth, humans cannot flourish.
- Care for the people: Provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence.
- Return of surplus: Reinvesting surpluses back into the system to provide for the first two ethics. This includes returning waste back into the system to recycle into usefulness.
The course was full of great information, but one of the best parts of the class was human interaction. Humans are social creatures and I think everyone needs to do more to understand each other. I barely know my neighbors after living in my house for over three years. I need to fix that. How many of us really know the family next door, or down the street?
One of the social activities we did was making a huge crock of fermented vegetables. Everybody brought in a knife and cutting board and cut up cabbage, carrots, ginger and garlic. Not only was this fun, fermented vegetables are one of the healthiest things you can eat. Every culture has some form of ferment associated with them.
Ferments were around the whole course. For the catered class lunches, a local companies specialty fermented foods were served. I recommend checking out Fab Ferments if you want to try some amazing products.
And of course, we learned the basic principles of Permaculture, which are:
- Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
- Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.
- Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
- Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
- Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
- Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
- Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
- Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
- Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
- Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
- Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
- Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.
There are many websites and books devoted to explaining the teachings of Permaculture. I recommend starting with Toby Hemenway's book, Gaia's Garden.
We visited many places during the course. One of the weekends was taught at Greensleeves farm in Alexandria Ky. I would like to thank Gretchen Vaughn for welcoming our class to her farm.
We learned how she grows enough produce to support a CSA. They also sell at farmers markets and to select restaurants in the area. Last I heard they were looking for an intern. If you are interested in an experience like that, get in contact with Gretchen.
It was pretty chilly the day we showed up at the farm. This greenhouse was so warm, I didn't want to leave. They start most of their plants in it and use it to brood chickens. A wind storm had ripped the top layer of plastic off, so the class helped put it back in place. The farm has many laying chickens and a couple sheep.There are plans to expand the farms operations in the future when the food forest begins to produce.
We spent a couple weekends at the Enright Ridge Urban Ecovillage. Our class was in the Imago Earth Center in the middle of the ecovillage. We started building, what will be a very long forest swale, in the woods of the nature preserve. This will slow down the water in the landscape and help fight the massive erosion happening in the area.
After digging the swale, we went on a tour of some of the houses in the ecovillage. Intentional communities are very interesting. Everyone we met had something different going on. We saw people raising bees, chickens, sheep, ducks and many varieties of plants. Some for personal use, some for commercial operations.
Towards the end of the class some of us went to an optional apple grafting workshop. We learned how to take scion wood and graft it onto hardy root stock. I grafted six different varieties of apples and will be planting them very soon.
Cob is a fun and forgiving building technique. One day I would like to design and build my own Earthship.
- Zone 0 - House or center of your design
- Zone 1 - Area closest to the house, managed intensely, kitchen garden, herb garden
- Zone 2 - Further out from the house, perennial plants, raised beds, compost, bee hives
- Zone 3 - Further away still, less managed, nut and berry shrubs, large scale crop production
- Zone 4 - Semi-wild area, food forest, timber management, forage, wild edibles
- Zone 5 - Wilderness area, observation, hunting, generally left alone