PDC…..Week 1

As noted a couple of posts ago I planned to start a 13-week permaculture design course with Forest Edge Permaculture. Yesterday was day one.

An hour’s drive took me to an outer eastern Melbourne suburb and a very steep, large suburban property. Just the slog up the long entrance drive set my heart racing. The house is situated roughly at the centre of the property and an equally steep permaculture garden rises up and away from the rear of the house.

Our teacher is Cam Wilson who lives at the property with wife Jessie and 13-month-old Ro (short for Yarrow, named after a useful permaculture herb. Ro is a very active and engaging little boy).

Cam, Jessie and Ro are house-sitting while the owners are away working overseas. In return, Cam has designed and produced a beautiful and productive landscape and this was to be our ‘schoolroom’ for the duration of the course. There are 13 of us, 4 guys and 9 girls (in my case I use the term loosely, being what I estimated to be, a good 20 years older than the next oldest. Never too late to learn something new!).

So….we began in the living room with an introduction to the permaculture concept and more importantly, the reasons why it was developed. And so we began with my old friend Peak Oil. It was refreshing to be in the same room with a dozen peak-oil-aware people. Such a thing has never happened to me before!

The permaculture concept was designed by a university lecturer Bill Mollison and his student David Holmgren in the early 1970’s, in response to the oil supply shocks of that decade. Realising that oil was a finite and non-renewable resource that would run out some day, they started putting together a system for creating sustainable human habitats and permaculture was born.

We started with the three permaculture ethics:

  1. Care for the Earth
  2. Care for people
  3. Fair share (set limits to consumption & reproduction and redistribute surplus)

Nice and simple.

After the ethics come the twelve permaculture principles and following each one is central to designing sustainable permaculture systems. It looks like we will be spending one lesson on each principle, with forays into the garden to see each one at work.

Principle 1. Catch and store energy.

This one started with us dividing into groups of three and sprawling on the floor with textacolours and sheets of butcher’s paper. Cam called out a number of words and we dutifully wrote them down. Worm, sun, tree, sparrow, micro-organism, eagle, grass, water & so on. We were asked to draw arrows connecting the various elements and write why they were connected. Sparrow—> worm (sparrow eats worm) and so on. At the end our sheets were a mess of connections and all arrows led away from the sun to the other elements. Conclusion: all things on earth are connected and the sun is the energy source that powers it all. I guess most of us  knew that anyway. The trick is to catch and store that energy.

I’m not going to go into huge masses of detail from here on because any good permaculture book will provide that for you. I do recommend that if you’re really interested you buy a good book on the subject.

Briefly, we can catch and store energy in 3 main ways: water storage (in the soil, in ponds and wetlands); nutrient storage (in living biomass and in soil organic matter); carbon storage (in timber and fuel forests, soil humus and food for people & animals).

After a delicious hot lunch provided by Jessie, we went out into the garden to see permaculture in action. The back section seemed even steeper than the driveway. Right at the top is a 30,000 litre water tank. Water collected from the house roof is pumped up to the tank. Watering of the garden takes place by gravity, through dripper systems.

The top section of garden is the orchard; a dozen or more fruit trees planted on mounds created by digging out swales (water-collecting channels, dug on contour—the contour bit is most important). Underneath the young trees, the ground was covered in thick growth—wheat, clover, vetch—what the average gardener would call weeds and all deliberately sown. I queried….wouldn’t this growth compete with the trees for water and nutrients? No…. while the trees are dormant they don’t need nutrients. The growth is storing nutrients and water in the soil (as roots) and in the top growth. As the fruit trees flower and come into leaf this growth will be slashed and left to lie on the ground, where it will rot away and feed the trees. We all said…”aah”…  as enlightenment dawned, and I thought of the bare ground beneath my own trees.

The lower part of the garden is terraced vegetable beds, all full of healthy-looking plants and all covered with an incredibly thick mulch of pea straw. Cam says that most vegetables need only 6 hours of sunlight a day and to shield these beds from the hot afternoon sun, he’s in the process of building a trellis over the top that will support  grapevines. The vegies get morning and midday sun and the vines shade out the hot afternoon sun, providing grapes and mulch in return. Already I’m thinking of how I can duplicate this in my own garden.

Other features of the property included a large, newly-completed pond which will shelter frogs to help with insect control and a chook pen with three enormous chooks that were happily scratching around in the orchard and pecking at our boots as we stood there. A glasshouse for raising seedlings and growing winter tomatoes has recently been added to the side of the chook house. The pond was cleverly designed so that the overflows (in two directions) sent water into other garden beds. I can’t even begin to describe how that was done, but we all said…”aah”…again.

I think we were all overwhelmed by it all and are looking forward to next week. Already, as I look at my own non-designed garden, I’m seeing new ideas.


5 Responses to “PDC…..Week 1”

  1. Kayepea Says:

    Aaahh! Now I see why you are so committed – it all makes so much sense, and I think it is also the easy way you have of explaining. Must get R to look at this blog – then maybe he’ll be converted too. Good luck with any changes you make in your garden, I’ll stay in touch.


  2. Chris Says:

    It’s nice to see a garden “working” isn’t it. I love visiting places I can get ideas from too. 🙂


  3. Permaculture reflections « Foodnstuff Says:

    […] the most important thing I’ve done in recent years. I’ve just been reading back through the posts I wrote as the course unfolded and re-enjoying the memories. (I wonder what they’re all doing […]


  4. maidenfarmer Says:

    Cam and Jess live not far from me outside Bungendore
    Top young man, very clever
    I think the world will be ok when I meet young people like Cam and Jesse


    • foodnstuff Says:

      What an amazing coincidence! He is a very clever young man; they are a lovely couple and Ro was a delight. He had just started walking when we were doing our PDC and into everything! I’m disappointed that Jessie hasn’t added to her blog since their little girl was born, must be a couple of years ago now. I would love to know what they’re up to. I can only get a bit of info occasionally through the Mulloon Farms website.


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