Wednesday, 29 May 2013

2013 Food Forest PDC - a fantastic experience!

Well, last weekend saw us complete the 2013 Food Forest Permaculture Design Certificate. All we can say is what a fantastic experience it was.

The Food Forest market garden

The PDC course itself was great - there was a good coverage of topics and some excellent presenters who really knew their stuff ..........and what better venue to hold it in than a certified organic working permaculture property that is not only productive but beautiful?  Lots of hands on activities throughout the course saw us put into practise what we were learning, enabling us to build skills while reinforcing the learning process.  And the experience was made all the richer by the people who attended. They were an enthusiastic and inspiring bunch and we all learnt a lot from each other. People came from all over the place - Canada, Italy, South America, as well as from around Australia. There's certainly something to be said by surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals who care about what's happening to the earth and want to do something positive about it.  It really recharges your batteries.

The range of permaculture projects people were leaving to embark on was enormously varied - from a project to create a permaculture food forest to feed school children in Uganda, to creating a sustainable local school, to revamping suburban and larger blocks, making community gardens and creating permaculture farms.  The enthusiasm extended beyond individual projects - people were happy to help each other to make projects become realities. We're looking forward to seeing how the projects all progress.

Okay, and the food was pretty darn good too.

Pear and pomegranate salad - all ingredients harvested from The Food Forest

So bye bye Food Forest. For the time being anyway. The upcoming Strawbale Building workshop sounds very tempting. In the meantime we'll be enjoying the organic shiraz, pickled olives and pistachios we took home from with us.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Container planting

You don't need a lot of space to grow vegetables.

Nor do you need to spend big bucks on fancy containers.

A simple styrofoam vegetable box (free of charge from the green grocer!) can become a small portable garden. Perfect for balconies or other small spaces, it is capable of growing a considerable amount of food:

Container planting at The Food Forest

We've used half wine barrels as container gardens at our place. This one grew fruit and vegies when our Tahitian Lime (centre) was small:

A wicking bed is a good waterwise idea for growing herbs and vegetables in containers. Wicking beds work like self-watering pots, allowing the plants to access water as they need it. They can be large or small, above ground or below, and work really well for small beds and boxes. They have the benefit of requiring less watering because the water is supplied at the root level so there is little evaporation or nutrient loss.

Sounds complicated you say? Actually, no - they are very easy to make and cost very little. The Gawler Natural Resource centre has some easy to follow instructions for building a wicking bed in a foam box.

Photo source

If you'd like to use wicking methods on a larger scale, there are also instructions for creating a wicking bed in a raised bed.

Photo source

So no matter how small your space is, it is possible to grow herbs and vegies without a lot of money or hassle.

Happy gardening!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

What is Permaculture?

So what is Permaculture?

In brief, it is a design system for sustainable living and land use.

Wikipedia defines it as follows:
Permaculture is a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, and environmental design which develops sustainable architecture and self-maintained agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems.

The concept was developed in Australia in the 1970s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and is now practised widely around the world. It is based on the following 3 ethics:
  • Take care of the earthCare of all living and non-living things: soils, species and their varieties, atmosphere, forests, microhabitats, animals and water. This is the first principle, because without a healthy earth, humans cannot flourish.
  • Take care of the people: Look after self, kin and community. Provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence.This is important because people have a big impact on the world they live in.
  • Set limits to consumption and reproduction, and redistribute surplus: Healthy natural systems use outputs from each element to nourish others. We humans can do the same. By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles. Once we have taken care of our basic needs we can contribute surplus time, money and energy into helping others achieve the same.

The above ethics give rise to the 12 permaculture design principles:
  1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation. This is the foundation of a good permaculture design.
  2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need. Some of the sources of energy include sun, wind and run-off water flows, as well as wasted resources from agricultural, industrial and commercial activities.
  3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing. We should design systems to provide for self-reliance at all levels.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: Understanding how positive and negative feedbacks work in nature enables us to design systems that are more self-regulating. This reduces the work required to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature's abundance to manage and maintain yields and to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe common patterns in nature and society. We can use these patterns as the backbone of our designs, filling in the details as we go. This is where permaculture employs zone and sector planning to aid as a starting point in site design.
  8. 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. The system becomes more than the sum of its parts.
  9. 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. Smaller systems can be collectively more resilient than one large system. Doing anything that is self-reliant in nature is also a powerful application of this principle.
  10. 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. Nature shows us that there are many  different ways of doing things. Employing variety affords insurance should one thing fail e.g. polyculture versus monoculture systems. This principle also emcompasses redundant design i.e. having in place backup ways of doing something should one way fail.
  11. Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system. David Holmgren views alley and shelterbelt forestry as systems where increasing edge between field and forest has contributed to productivity.
  12. 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. We need to respond to changes that come from outside the control of the system.

These 12 design principles can be applied in all climates and on all scales - from balcony gardens to suburban house blocks to large scale agricultural properties and even regional communities.

Our suburban garden

The emphasis in permaculture is working with natural systems and their energy flows to maximise useful connections, minimise waste and reduce the amount of energy that you need to put into the system to maintain it.

In a permaculture design the focus is on how the elements of the design work together as a whole, rather than on the individual elements themselves. Well designed permaculture systems are able to produce a large amount of food on a small amount of land, using minimal inputs and creating minimal waste.

Geese and chickens in a orchard have multiple functions - fertilising, keeping the grass down, cleaning up windfall fruit and removing pests

We've been 'permaculturising' our own suburban block for some years now.  Taking what was a bare patch of lawn we have created a productive garden comprising fruit and nut trees, herbs, berries and perennial and annual vegetables. We've incorporated bees to aid in pollination and to produce honey. We've also been steadily retro-fitting our 1930s brick home in a variety of ways including installing PVs, solar hot water, water tanks and a wood heater which heats our home using mainly waste wood from arborists. Composting, preserving the harvest from our garden by bottling and dehydrating fruit and making jams and other preserves, making our own beer, vinegar and soap are just some of the things we've done so far on our little permaculture journey. The list goes on.......and there's lots more we plan to do. 

The main thing we've learnt along the way is that if you take a step-by-step approach to becoming more sustainable it makes the process entirely do-able.  Start small with things that are easy and/or cheap to accomplish and then work your way out from there.

The Food Forest - a short photo tour

The Food Forest is a 15 hectare, certified organic permaculture farm and learning centre in Gawler, just 1 hour north of Adelaide. 

It is the result of the vision of its owners Graham and Annemarie Brookman who purchased the property in 1983 when it was essentially a bare paddock. It now hosts over 150 varieties of organically grown fruit and nuts, wheat and vegetables, honey and carob beans, as well as free range eggs, nursery plants and timber.

In addition to running a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course each year, Graham and Annemarie also run a variety of short courses and host open days. It's a beautiful learning environment and the residential aspect of the PDC really allows you to immerse yourself in learning about sustainable living.

Here are a few photos taken around the property:

The heritage-listed homestead was built in the first few years of white settlement in South Australia. It has been extended using passive solar design with a combination of straw bale, stone and well insulated corrugated iron.

The original homestead

Under the verandah - original homestead

Strawbale extension to original homestead

Grapevine on pergola shades the strawbale extension

The old stone barn has been converted to a learning centre where the course lectures were presented, and a communal meals area.

Old barn - meals area

Old barn - indoor learning centre

In the learning centre - David Holmgren teaching

Just by the learning centre is the composting 'loo with a view'. It's a Clivus Multrum composting toilet and reedbed system which transforms human by-products into rich compost for fertiliser, as well as reeds for mulching and bamboo for furniture and structural work.

Composting toilets - loo with a view!

Behind the main house is a strawbale pergola with cob oven and herb garden - just perfect for plucking fresh herbs to put on your pizza before it slides into the oven.

Strawbale wall pergola with cob oven - in zone 1

Strawbale building techniques were also used to build the accommodation for those attending the course.

Strawbale accommodation

Even the farm's coolroom was made from strawbales.

The 'sand-pit' teaching area was a great way to demonstrate concepts such as keyline irrigation. And yes, it was made from strawbale too!

I can't finish this post without a photo of the food.  The meals were magnificent - all healthy, local and in-season food with a lot of the ingredients harvested directly from the Food Forest.

We're looking forward to returning to finish the course.