We started week 4 with a quick look at the hot compost heap we made last week. The volume was much reduced, indicating that decomposition was taking place. Cam had turned the pile once through the week and although it had smelled OK (no anaerobic breakdown was occurring, which is what causes it to smell), he considered that it was getting too hot and therefore had too much nitrogen, so needed more carbon to get the carbon/nitrogen ratio right. It should be about 25/1. With too hot a pile, some of the benefical micro-organisms would be killed. We re-layered the pile using a bit more straw to increase the carbon content.
Back inside, and as it was a cold day, we gratefully snuggled into the doonas that Jessie had thoughtfully spread over the couches. School was never like this!
We were to begin doing some design work (the core of permaculture) and started with another of the principles:
Principle 6. Integrate rather than segregate.
In natural systems, the connections between things are as important as the things themselves. So in permaculture design, the purpose is to place the elements in the system in such a way that each serves the needs and accepts the products of other elements. In other words, the elements in the design are integrated rather than segregated; each thoughtfully placed, instead of being just dumped anywhere.
We did what’s called a Needs, Function, Products analysis of a typical permaculture system element, the humble chicken. Listing its needs (food, water, shelter, etc), functions (scratching, eating insects, etc) and products (eggs, fertiliser, meat, etc), gives an idea of how and where it can fit into a system.
We split into 4 groups and each group was allocated an element in a permaculture system and asked to design a system to integrate that element with the chicken system. Our group got greenhouse/chicken, so it was onto the floor with butcher’s paper and textas to draw up a system which integrated the two. Each group then took turns in displaying and explaining their system. It’s not as easy as you might think and it got worse, as we then had to design a system that integrated the sum of each group’s elements and the chicken. There was a lot of head-scratching and general hilarity while Cam interjected with hints and suggestions. The more elements you add into a system the harder it is to successfully integrate them, or at least, the more thought it requires.
It was wanting expertise in the design element of permaculture that prompted me to take this course and I’m starting to realise that a successful, working permaculture system doesn’t just happen in five minutes.
We moved on to zone and sector analysis. Sectors are about the outside energies that affect a site, such as sun, winds, shade, frost, etc. Zones relate to energy saving involved in visiting or working with each element in a design. The house is zone 0. Zone 1, close to the house, is the most frequented zone. Zones 2, 3, 4, and 5 are progressively further away, for elements less frequently visited. Sectors and zones must be taken into account in a good design.
After a brief look at animals in a system (which are the best chook and duck breeds, etc), we finished with an introduction to the forest garden; a garden which mimics the elements of a natural forest, but one in which all the products are edible, or useful in some other way.
A good reference is Forest Gardening by Robert Hart. Here’s a link to some information about the garden he established in the UK (there are many links on the subject, just google).