In yesterday’s lesson we continued to look further at some of the 12 permaculture principles:
Principle 2. Obtain a yield.
We started by looking at the concept of sustainability, something which, it seems, very few people understand. Here’s the definition we considered:
“a system is sustainable if it produces more energy than it consumes, with at least enough surplus to maintain and replace the system over its lifetime.”
Looking at it in energy terms is probably one of the best ways of approaching sustainability since nothing on earth happens without a supply of energy. We looked at the concept of embodied energy or emergy, being the amount of energy it takes to create stuff, and an old friend ERoEI (energy returned on energy invested), something that any ‘peakoiler’ learns to understand very well.
So, energy audits are important. For example, we can look at our diet in energy terms:
1. Vegetarian diets are very efficient, providing they are grown at or close to home, with minimal energy inputs.
2. Omnivorous diets make the best use of complex natural systems, e.g. animals covert inedible plants into edible animal protein.
3. Carnivorous diets have a valid place in special ecologies, e.g. in cold areas where gardening doesn’t provide a sufficient food base.
Principle 3. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback.
To use a car analogy: positive feedback is the accelerator; negative feedback is the brake. We can self-regulate more readily when we have an appreciation of our level of use of a resource, e.g. living off tank water gives us a much greater appreciation of our water use compared with an invisible reservoir far away.
Principle 4. Produce no waste.
The common saying ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ can be extended to: refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle. It’s also a hierarchy of energy use, with recycling taking the most energy of all. Makes you think again about the ‘feel good’ vibes of recycling. Maybe not the best option after all. Just refuse.
Principle 5. Design from patterns to details.
We spent a bit of time on this one, to quote Bill Mollison: “pattern is the most important subject of permaculture.”
A pattern is a type of theme of recurring events or objects, which repeat in a predictable manner. By harnessing and working with the recurring patterns in nature, we “work with nature rather than against it.”
For example, if we wish to design and create a food forest, we need only to look at the patterns in a natural (evolved) forest, noting the characteristics of the various species and their function and repeating this in our design. We can thus go to any part of the world taking this pattern with us, and working with local knowledge, create a successful design even though the species we use may be unknown to us.
Good patterns feel good. The best permaculture patterns make our lives easier and our gardens more productive and they increase our sense of aliveness and well-being.
A good book on the subject is A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander.
After lunch we headed into the garden for some practical, physical stuff.
We created a new planting site using the sheet mulching technique. The guys barrowed in a few loads of nice, rich horse manure and the girls raked it out to a 10 cm depth over the bed. Meanwhile others were busy soaking large sheets of cardboard in a bath of water and this was laid over the top of the horse manure, the idea being that it would eliminate light and prevent seeds in the manure from germinating. Finally, the whole bed was covered in about 20 cm of straw. This will become the curcurbit bed and in a couple of weeks we’ll be planting this out with seedlings of cucumber, pumpkin and zucchini. We’ll make a hole in the straw, cut out a bit of the cardboard, pop in a handful of worm castings and plant the seedlings. We were assured we’d probably be eating some of the produce before the end of the course. (Considering the rate zucchinis grow, I’m not surprised).
Next week it’s soils, the soil food web, worms, compost and compost tea. Can’t wait (so long as I’m not expected to drink the compost tea!).
For a fuller treatment of the 12 permaculture principles, here’s David Holmgren’s website on the subject.