By Editor – Susan Pryor
I accompainied my sister who has an interest in Permaculture and other methods of sustainable, organic and alternative ways to conserve fuels, inhibit carbon emissions and live sustainably and self sufficiently as much as possible, to this Introductory Tour on Permaculture and here is what I discovered.
What is it?
Permaculture is a word that is heard quite frequently and means a lot of different things to different people as it turns out!
Words ranging from; eco-system, evolutionary, planting, food forest, a-way-of-life, holistic, energy, bio dynamics, companion planting, sustainability, to soil health and organics we thrown into the circle as the group introduced themselves and shared what they thought Permaculture was – however definitively speaking it is none of these while at the same time it can be all of these and more.
Host and teacher Klaus Lotz loosely described Permaculture,
‘as a design that can be applied to anything building stronger, healthier, abundant communities, agriculture, trade, business, social networks ,land stewardship (as opposed to land ownership which he describes as an illusion), in which the design elements and practical concepts are sustainability and re-generation’.
It is an ‘holistic’ inter-connected ‘design’ and a ‘model’ by which one lives and works by. This holistic inter-connected design model can be applied to farming, gardening, building, education, health and wellbeing, communications, relationships, communities, work and trade, finances and administration and business practices – to name but a few – in fact it can be used as a paradigm for anything and these are the principles of the model.
PRINCIPLES of Permaculture:
These principles are applied before the design begins and continuously thereafter.
Underpinning the over arching Principles is the Science.
The Science of SYNTROPY
The word ‘Syntropic’ came up very early in the Tour and Klaus described this as the ordering of everything from simple to complex – he described ‘dense’ plantings as ‘syntropic’. Curious I checked out the definition and according to Ernst Götsch; Syntropic Farming, is working the design so as to arrange different species from the initial implementation of the system through each step in maintaining and establishing food forests in such a way that they produce their own fertilizer. To that end planting trees, grasses, and herbs in high density, is essential. All these plants need to share
‘the characteristic of vigorous regrowth after pruning’.
Well ‘farmed’ this periodic pruning gives – ‘
in addition to the supply of light for our crops’ – substaintial organic matter of the variety required by that plant ‘in large quantities which, on top of the soil, create a prosperous life in it’
and, nourishes the plants.
As we wandered to vegetable gardens and orchards the density of the plantings was one of the striking features of the way Klaus and the team were managing the system.
This system is not the same as ‘Organic Farming’ – and while it is not the same it can be ‘organic’.
Whatever the principles are applied to; is viewed as an organism. It is easy to understand this when applied to a living entity such as a farm or garden; however it is equally as applicable to community, business and trade and ultimately all of these are inter-connected in the holistic model.
Many if not all our contemporary models are based on compartmentalisation and stop-start models involving blocked or locked up energy systems or single function elements without interaction and inter-connection or a living adaptability or organic evolutionary aspect as part of the operational model.
Originally coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgran; It is based on inter-connectedness and inter-dependence, connections and ethics.
ETHICS of Permaculture
- Earth Care
- People Care
- Fair Share
Permaculture is also about re-generation and sustainability and while it is not about self-sufficiency per-se; self sufficiency can be a by-product of applying the Permaculture model.
This ‘balance and exchange cycle’ that the Permaculture design concept is based on is easily observed in nature –
where everything is inherently interconnected.
In the field this means perennial plantings rather than annual plantings. In field and forest it means companion planting and planting species that provide support for seedlings and saplings; it means integration of animals for manure and non-invasive methods of harvesting some of that manure to create bio-gas as a sustainable fuel that is not fossil based.
In the words of one advocate
“It is about solutions and the solutions are in the problems.”
It is about asking better questions.
Gardens move like tides as one plant is established which over time eventually gives way to another plant – the science of succession shows us that canopy plants provide a nursery for seedling plants that eventually become the dominant species and in due course will in turn become the feed (as they drop leaves and fruits and eventually rot away after their life has ended) for future species. This is what makes natures landscapes interesting and ever-changing!
A big part of Permaculture involves an understanding of Carbon and the undisturbed Carbon cycle within nature. This Carbon is being lost due to deforestation and agricultural tilling and ploughing of land; once we plough the land, de-nude forests and leave soil ‘bare’ the natural cycle of ‘stable Carbon reservoirs’ within the soil or the sequestering of Carbon into the soil are broken and carbons are released into the atmosphere or are unable to be ‘drawn back into the soil’ all adding to the ‘Greenhouse Effect’.
Carbon however; can be actively sequestered into the soil
through the creation of bio-cha, which is a specific form of charcoal that undergoes a process which enables it – once put back into the soil (not on top)- to stabilise Carbon and keep it within the soil as stable Carbon reservoirs and here Carbon provides soil with nutrition which means nitrogen applications are no longer necessary, and the nutritional process provided by bio-char lasts for 100’s if not 1000’s of years.
Any area of soil that is bare with sunshine pouring down upon it is deemed as not creating energy therefore in contemporary farming practices the disturbance of the soil annually for crops which leaves the soil bare of plant life for some time and cultivates a
mono-culture is not the best use of energy –
it is infact an example of the stop-start flow of energy; and requires copious applications of energy in the form of nitrogen and fossil fuel based machinery to re-start the energy flow.
In nature from forests to bush and pastures and even in the sea there is always complimentary, companion and successional growth, and habitation by insect, animals and other organisms occurring as each species provides a logical pathway and scaffolding for the next species;
which co-habit together not only harmoniously but often co-operatively and helpfully.
In Permaculture this principle is applied as the ‘patterns of nature’ are replicated in the design process so plant species and growing and animal activities are zoned to maximise energy flow.
The Tour took us over a small area of land with two different soil types; all of which was lush with growth, almost tropical in density and teaming with life. It was easy to see that if one were to take man out of the design altogether; nature would continue very successfully and revert very quickly to an absolute natural wilderness – I like this as it reminds me of my tramping days when I observed the practice of
‘Leave only footprints take only memories’.
Every leaf off every tree is valuable to that tree, to the forest floor and as Klaus harvested bananas he returned the rest of the trimmings from the branch to the soil around the banana palm – eventually I imagine the banana peels and any unused bananas would end up back there too!
Half way through the Tour we were treated to a variety of teas, including calendula, coffee leaf, and coffee with the most tasty home-baked cookies I have ever eaten. Apparently there is a ‘Tea Garden’ on the property and that inspires all kinds of juicy excitement and anticipation in me!
By this stage the hubbub of chatter amongst the participants had grown as information and ideas were exchanged.
A short drop loo, made in mud bricks; provided bathroom ‘relief’. The toilet itself used sawdust to absorb moisture and reduce odours – in fact there were no odours at all, except…
…the pleasant fragrance of the saw dust!
I came away inspired. I discovered unbeknown to me the Permaculture model is one I have naturally gravitated towards as I already practice many of the principles in my own gardening and farming activities; it sits beautifully within the Yogic Philosophy of life.
Since the Tour My sister and I have discussed various aspects and features that stood out for us or created curiosity and have asked each other many questions such as; ‘If Permaculture uses Nature as a model what is the purpose of lightening hitting Earth?’ or “What part do forest fires play in Nature; is that a ‘natural’ for of bio-char?” “How can we harvest crops easily from a food forest?” and “Do we need to plant that species of tree or just some tree of that genre?” or “Cow dung is deemed a baddie in New Zealand and yet here in bio-gas is a process that utilises cow dung – how come our government and scientists are not using it?” I have no doubt Klaus will have answers or at least damn good opinions to discuss about these and of course following the Permaculture model of Principles, Science and Ethics we already have the answers – for they lie within the questions!
The Six Month Permadynamics Certificate Course on offer that enticed my sister to take the Tour excites me and previously I was not even considering it!
Six months of once a month staying on the farm –
immersed in lectures and the practice of Permaculture first hand from passionate experts and being with two of the loveliest most humble and hardworking ‘salt-of-the-Earth’ people Klaus and Frida our Tour hosts, is really appealing!We provide this info freely pro-bono – please support us.
Coming Up on PermaDynamics Farm:
Permadynamics 6 Month Certificate Course
Growing Mushrooms Free Course
Food Forest in Syntropy Course
Certified Organic, FAMILY-Run, Syntropic FARM
Klaus, Vanessa, Frida, Matt & Josh
316 Clements Road, Matapouri, Northland. New Zealand.