It was just a year ago this week when I struggled up a long, steep driveway in suburban Heathmont to begin 13 weeks of a Permaculture Design Course with Forest Edge Permaculture. In retrospect, probably 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 now?).
What did I learn?
- A much greater understanding of the permaculture concept and how useful it’s going to become as we enter the era of energy decline. Particularly, a greater appreciation of the design element of permaculture; it’s not just about organic gardening, but about designing sustainable systems to minimise energy use and maximise yield.
- An appreciation of the concept of a food forest. I’ve lived alongside a couple of acres of remnant natural forest for 10 years and although I saw it as a collection of elements (plants, animals, fungi and bacteria), working and interacting as a complete functioning ecological system, I never thought to use that system as a template for designing a similar system, but one which would concentrate on providing a maximum of food and other resources. So now, a formerly traditional garden—a collection of annual vegetable beds, herbs and fruit trees—is being reworked into a permaculture food forest.
- An appreciation of the value of holding up water flows on a sloping site so that water doesn’t run off, but is retained and more effectively absorbed into the ground. Hence the ongoing construction of swales behind every fruit tree. It has made an enormous difference with the rain we’ve had this year—after every rain event the swales were full of water and I could see the results in the winter-ripening citrus trees; larger and jucier fruit than usual. (I’m pleased to say the novelty has worn off; I’m no longer rushing down the back, often in teeming rain, to watch the swales filling up!). I’m now continuing to dig swales behind the stone fruits, apples and pears. It will be interesting to see the effect on the summer-ripening fruit. Even with no or minimal summer rainfall, I will no longer have to put a slow sprinkler (gravity-fed from the tank) onto each tree in turn, but will simply fill each swale on a regular basis with the hose. It should save a lot of time and get the water where it’s needed most.
- That I was simply wasting good greywater by running it on the ground and using reeds and rushes to absorb it, when I could have been using it to grow more food.
If there’s a downside to all this new learning, it’s this: finding out that the average person hasn’t the slightest understanding of the fact that business-as-usual is over; that an energy-constrained future is going to be very different from the energy-abundant past we’ve all enjoyed and that we need to prepare while we still have some of the energy from that past remaining. Thus, the anger I’ve encountered in trying to get people to understand and prepare has been disappointing. Maybe the only way to go is to encourage people to grow their own food simply because it’s cheaper and healthier, rather than trying to get them to accept reality and put aside their cherished fantasies of a greater and more glorious energy-rich future.
Swale behind the orange tree