Permaculture Challenge #5

Yes, you're right, I missed Challenge #4 but, let's move right along.
Challenge #5 is, "Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services." The subtitle for this is, "Let nature take it's course", which says it all really. It's often difficult to even notice what resources and, especially, services are being provided. Some things are obvious, like water, air, pasture and sun. However, there are others, which may be vital, but completely off our radars eg the activity of soil micro-organisms. A few decades ago, I studied and loved soils as part of my Agr Sci degree at Lincoln. Very recently I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Dr Christine Jones, about soils. It was great to learn where the research has gone in the intervening decades and the support that that gives to organic/permaculture systems of management.
As David Holmgren says in "the" book, "The proverb "let nature take it's course" reminds us that human intervention and complication of processes can make things worse and that we should respect and value the wisdom in biological systems and processes.
Below is the link to a talk similar to the one I went to. There is lots of great information in there.

Integrate Rather than Segregate

posted Sep 20, 2015, 2:06 AM by Family Organics

Original Image
To Quote David Holmgren right from the outset..."In developing awareness of the importance of relationships in the design of self reliant systems, two statements in permaculture literature and teaching have been central:

 - each element performs many functions
 - each important function is supported by many elements."

We've tried to apply this at our place in various ways.
We can obtain water from several different sources. Most of it is gravity fed but we also have an electric pump and a petrol pump as back up options.
Our power is provided by solar and wind with generator backup. Hand in hand with generating electric power we reduce our need for electricity by cooking and heating water mainly with wood. We also use gas as back up for cooking. A major reduction in our need for electricity is the house design which is passive solar, capturing the heat of the sun and storing it in the concrete floor to heat the house. Cooling in Summer is part of the design too, the eaves keep the sun out and clerestory windows provide effective ventilation.

When we make a trip into town we try to do several things while we're there...common sense really. Some may think we took that slightly too far the evening we were going to a show in Opunake. Before meeting friends for pre-show dinner we nipped down to the beach, swapped shoes for boots and collected seaweed for the garden! You'd all go to a show in your farm ute...wouldn't you?

Design from Patterns to Details

posted Sep 9, 2015, 6:56 PM by Family Organics   [ updated Sep 9, 2015, 7:24 PM ]

Not being a natural designer, I find this principle particularly challenging. But lets hear a bit from David Holmgren...
Pattern the necessary precursor to the process of design.

A pattern which seems to be increasing in popularity is that of the forest, being used as the basis for establishing a food forest. In other words, by taking the forest as our pattern, we can observe the different layers and niches and then move to filling those niches with particular plants, (the detail). There are a number of approaches to creating a food forest. I tend towards muddling through!

In the Winter of 2014 I decided on the basic layout and where the paths would go, to define the separate guilds
. The pattern of the paths is two opposing sine waves...approximately. We also planted most of the main fruit trees, comfrey around each one and an area of mixed grain and legumes as soil building green manure. As mulch becomes available I'm mulching more and more of the area.

This past Winter we transplanted some more fruit trees in, and a number of support species. I'm sowing seed of a range of legumes, herbs and fruiting shrubs to fill in the layers. The process will continue for years as it gradually changes from a bunch of individual plants to become a functioning

Permaculture Challenge #5 - Produce no Waste

posted Jul 20, 2015, 3:01 AM by Family Organics

I guess the obvious way to produce no waste is to have interlocking enterprises where the waste from one element in our systems becomes the resource for another eg garden weeds to rabbits; rabbit manure to worms; worm wee to the garden; worms to chooks; chooks,weeding and fertilising the garden and so on.
However, the waste that has been particularly on my mind is my time and effort. Winter is a good time to ponder on the way we do things and to try to streamline our systems for the new season.
I'm trying to get away from feeding commercial feed to our ducks and chooks so positioning elements like crops and compost/worm piles to allow for self feeding can save a lot of time each day. I've already got several compost worm piles stategically positioned around the food forest area to provide high quality protein ie worms. Now I'm planning where best to grow the veges that I'm planning as bulk feed for them, (and us too for that matter). Things like pumpkins, (Kamo kamo do best here), Jerusalem artichoke, corn and sunflowers. The chooks will be rotated through the food forest and will be able to help themselves, maybe with a little help from me, to whatever is ready while they're in each area.

So, just one example of trying to streamline my workload in order to "Produce no Waste".

Permaculture challenge #3

posted Mar 28, 2015, 8:26 PM by Family Organics

It's been so long since I last wrote that the permaculture calendar with it's permaculture principle per month has now caught up with me, so why not just stay in sync with that? 

The principle for March in the calendar is "Obtain a Yield". Indeed, I've been really busy obtaining yields of many kinds from the garden and scrambling to "Catch and Store" all that energy. 

As usual, a quote from David Holmgren's book, "Permaculture - Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability"... "...if we enjoy abundant, high-quality harvests, this will sustain us once the novelty has worn off and through the inevitable seasonal ups and downs." He also points out that any systems we design, which don't result in a yield will wither away. And it's not only in the garden where we need to see results for our actions. Who wants to keep turning up day after day to a job which doesn't satisfy or spend much time with people who wear us down?

Autumn is such a good time to reflect on yield...the major time when the efforts of the season are rewarded. Actually, the reflection is more for Winter. At this time of year there is still much work to be done drying, bottling, jam and chutney making. The influx can be near overwhelming but, what joyful work, and the sight of rows of jars for Winter eating is a wonderful thing. So to are the packets and jars of collected, dried and cleaned seed awaiting sowing in the Spring to come. I say this as though the work is all done, but the truth is that the kitchen is still a whirl of activity and the living room floor is half covered in drying beans, peas, amaranth, quinoa etc. (We have a concrete floor!)

On thinking about yield, there are those who say of permaculture systems, that if the design is right then eventually "all" one has to do is harvest. Just putting it out there that harvesting and storing are hard work too! Satisfying, but time-consuming work nevertheless.

Wishing you all a happy harvest season as you enjoy the yields resulting from a season of timely actions.

Permaculture Challenge 2

posted Dec 15, 2014, 2:53 PM by Family Organics

On to the second of the Permaculture principles in David Holmgren's book...

'Catch and Store Energy' or make hay while the sun shines.

" We are used to thinking of energy as fuels that are supplied to us through the economic system, but energy (in a diversity of forms) is the driving force behind all natural and human systems. Food, which we think of as body fuel, is the most important energy that people (like all animals) catch from their environment." (David Holmgren).

One thing we have been doing these sunny days is, not making hay, but pumping water... up hill. The solar panels generate excess power on sunny days so we pump water, from a tank that frequently overflows with rainwater, up the hill to two tanks which sometimes run low. The water then gravity feeds back to the house.

We have vast numbers of helpers in catching and storing energy..anything that takes energy from the sun and stores it in it's own substance; plants, animals, microbes. Then we get to harvest the results and store them for later use. We're not quite into surplus harvests yet, but it won't be long before we are bottling, pickling, fermenting and freezing surplus fruit and veges. Later they'll be used to fuel us and wwoofers and the energy will be used to nurture and nudge our system to create the conditions for future harvests.

If you would like to add your comments, head to the Family Organics Facebook page and join in. I'd love to hear from you.

Permaculture Challenge

posted Nov 22, 2014, 4:11 PM by Family Organics

A quick update to start with...We have two batches of new chickens and another batch on the way. The first of our guinea pig population explosion arrived today. It's the first litter for the mother and she had two cuties. There are another three litters due any time. The three young geese are doing nicely and have managed to not drown themselves or anything stupid like that so far. Here's hoping. It's interesting to watch them. The females sit on and hatch their own clutch of eggs but then all the adults, males included, look after all the goslings.

We've had three wwoofers here for the past two weeks which has helped so much with getting work done at this busy time of year. 

And the challenge? I was weeding around some plants recently and feeding the weeds to the guinea pigs, which lead me to thinking about "stacking of functions" ie one "thing", be it an item of equipment, a building, a job etc having more than one function. Like the old saying, "killing two birds with one stone". Of course three or four would be even better. Anyway, all that got me thinking about the permaculture principals in David Holmgren's list and I thought it would be a bit of fun to challenge myself, and anyone else who would like to join in, to be thinking about those principals and log, (on the Family Organics Facebook page), the way I/we use them. The full list is below but let's just work on one at a time starting with the first one and add one every couple of days. Should keep me on my toes.
And remember that permaculture isn't just about growing food. I'd be keen to hear how people apply the principle in other areas of life, the universe and everything, (for Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy fans :) )

Spot the waxeyes.

posted Sep 1, 2014, 4:11 PM by Family Organics

Walking up from the garden the other day I noticed a dozen or more waxeyes fossicking about amongst a patch of nonhearting lettuces. Very busy they were, poking their beaks right down in the foliage. "What could they be after?" I wondered. Water? Slugs..too big surely? And I didn't think they'd actually be eating the lettuces. Closer investigation revealed the answer...aphids deep in the looseleaf depths. So, bring on the waxeyes!
I dashed inside to get the camera but my own fossicking in the lettuces had made them wary and the best I could do was a photo of the flock flitting in a nearby area of bark.

Look Mum, no spray!

posted Aug 25, 2014, 7:18 PM by Family Organics

The main feeding roots of fruit trees are close to the surface. Grasses also feed mostly close to the surface and compete aggressively for nutrients. That's why they're so successful! And it's also why many people spray under their fruit trees. So what's an organic producer to do? 

One of the Permaculture principals is to, "integrate rather than segregate". 

A grand companion for fruit trees is comfrey planted in a circle around each tree. Each small piece of comfrey root will sprout so at sometime during winter I dig up and divide a chunk of comfrey and plant about 5 equally spaced pieces about 80cm from the trunks of newly planted trees...or any tree that doesn't currently have it's protective circle. To get the comfrey off to a good start, mulch right around the tree and comfrey to suppress the grass that is there. Just be careful not to pile the mulch right up to the tree trunk or th bark is likely to rot and the tree will die. Not a desirable outcome!

As you can see from the photo, when the comfrey dies down in Winter it leaves a grass free circle right around the tree. The white stuff in the photo is sheeps wool, (dags and bellies), which has been used as a mulch

But wait, that's not all. In the permaculture spirit of not planting anything unless it has multiple functions, Comfrey's benefits go way beyond keeping down the weeds. It's roots go down deep and draw up nutrients from deep down in the soil profile and deposit them back on the surface where they become available to nearby plants, in this case, fruit trees. The leaves can be cut and soaked in a drum of water to provide liquid fertiliser. It flowers so is beneficial to bees. It can be used as a compost activator. Just be sure you don't put any of the root in the compost or you will never see the end of it! The leaves are much higher in protein than most plants so it can be used as a food for animals and in moderation for people. And then there are medicinal uses eg as a healing salve. The list goes on and a web search will reveal everything you ever wanted to know about this special plant.

Not feeding the possums

posted Aug 6, 2014, 2:27 AM by Family Organics

I have a plan...and it involves thwarting possums. I'm sick of growing fruit just to see it stolen by the little furry fiends. And the trees smashed to add insult to injury. So, the plan. To surround an area with a high netting fence, topped by an electric wire. There are already several fruit trees in the area which produce fruit we don't get to eat, but I plan to enclose enough ground to plant a bunch more trees, a food forest in fact. With the help of various wwoofers we have installed one hugelkultur bed and nearly completed another. Briefly, this involves laying down a pile of logs and smaller branches and covering them with soil. I could flesh out the details in another post or there are loads of pictures and explanations on line. Our hugels are on contour in order to slow and spread the water which flows through the area so that it soaks into the soil to be used by whatever we plant there. The first of the new trees went in last week, with more to be planted soon. There is plenty of variety; Apricot, Pear, Plum, Plumcot, Strawberry tree, Fig and a few others. In order to qualify as a food forest , however, and not just a plain old orchard, there is much more to come. We need to consider all the layers of a forest and also all the diversity of creatures that could inhabit the forest, (possums need not apply!). So we need to provide habitat and food for birds, insects and microorganisms as well as support species for the main trees, eg nitrogen fixers and deep rooted plants that draw up and accumulate nutrients. Examples of what will be added to the mix are Comfrey, Jerusalem artichokes, Globe artichokes, Berries, Tree lucerne, Pigeon peas, Bulbs, Roses... the list goes on. As does the fun of discovering new plants to fit the niches.

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