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cob_handbook

Got a Cob On – Building a Natural Kitchen

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Morgan’s Gift for Cob Building

I was presented with an exciting opportunity this week. I got talking to Morgan, who up until now, has built all of his structures with wood and bamboo grown on the property. However, we’ve been discussing expanding the menu and offering more roasted dishes along with pizzas with homegrown ingredients.

He suggested that it would be a nice project for me to build a cob oven with the garden guys. This is brilliant for my permie learning journey as I wanted to expand into toying with natural building next, so it gives me the perfect opportunity to try my hand at a new skill, while also giving me another design to add to my portfolio.

The day after we discussed this, he threw a book at me called ‘The Hand-Sculpted House’. It’s a guide to working with cob and although I read some things here and there, this is one of the most comprehensive guides I’ve ever read. Not only does it discuss the physical methods of completing it, it also talks about the psychological improvements to one’s life with cob design, as well as the philosophical underpinning and historical background. It’s a great read for anyone looking at diversifying into cob building.

So hold on to your seats as you start to see that project develop over the next couple of weeks.

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The Mystery of the Wilting Tomatoes

This week there was a little bit of an issue. A whole row of my tomatoes started to die and I really couldn’t work out why.

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Wilting tomatoes from unwanted guests

I have spent the last week or so trellising everything to give the tomatoes support for the next period where they start to really burst outward and upward. Equally, I have been spreading charcoal on the beds as well.

My first reaction was that one of these two actions had caused the tomatoes to wilt. However, like with all systems, we need to look for the feedback loops, and while this may have caused some disruption through root tear or chemical imbalances, it still led to the question of why only one row was affected.

I was completely stumped, so I went to my team. One of the great things, as I’ve mentioned before, with working with local guys, is that they know their land and they tend to know any problems that are occurring. While I don’t know the name of the specific issue, having observed the plants with me, they showed me how the plant was turning brown from the root upward, demonstrating that the issue is within the soil. With our mix of broken Spanglish, they managed to get across to me that it is some form of parasitic fungus which attacks the roots. It’s common here, especially when planting non-native species such as this.

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Bug Eaten Non-Native Beans

My response to this was two-fold. On the first hand, I made a neem, chilli and garlic insecticide. The ingredients are left to steep in water for a day or two and then sprayed on the plants. This will help to keep that parasitic fungus back in the same way that it keeps insects back.

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Natural Insecticide

Secondly, with a more long-term look, I tried to consider how to keep this issue from returning. Fungus tends to indicate high levels of carbon, and the rice husks on the bed are adding carbon to the soil. Where I am planting nitrogen-fixing cover crops in this area, they haven’t spread very far yet, meaning the likelihood is that the rice husks are unbalancing the system somewhat with too much carbon. In response to this, I sprayed a home-made nitrogen fertilizer that I had previously been fermenting.

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Natural nitrogen fertiliser

For this, I walked around the property and pulled leaves and fruit from as many different leguminous plants as I could find. I placed them in a five gallon bucket, filled with water. I placed banana leaves on the surface to keep everything under the water (to stop it rotting) and I popped the lid on for two weeks to let it brew. Boy, did it stink when I opened that lid. Hopefully, however, it will help to give those plants a boost and keep that fungus back.

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Ponzi Permie – Is the PDC a Pyramid Scheme?

During my travels, I have come across some opinions of the permaculture movement being somewhat of a ponzi scheme; mostly in relation to the Permaculture Design Course. Though worded in many different ways, the general disgruntled rumblings surrounding permaculture are in relation to training teachers.

Here’s the issue that keeps cropping up. The PDC is expensive, there’s no doubt about that. While the PDC teaches you to design the systems to live a more sustainable and regenerative life, it doesn’t necessarily teach the skills to implement it so easily; a great deal more learning and experience is needed after. However, the argument comes in that quite a few PDC teachers don’t have farms of their own but instead travel around spending their time teaching courses, as this is a more reliable route to making money. These courses bring people into the permaculture forum, leading them themselves to shell out the dollars to train to become a PDC teacher. While the course should be teaching people to go out and practice, instead it is leading them to spend further money to become a teacher to teach others the PDC, then enrolling more people into the system of having to spend money to become a teacher, withut ever really building their own projects that demonstrate success and longevity.

While all this is going on, PDC teachers tend to go from place to place, helping on projects or even designing, but rarely following through with the full period of implementation, never allowing them to further gain the experience of implementation over time and long-term reassessment of a site. While the idea of teaching permaculture is to encourage others to live a more self-sufficient life, many people are not in fact actually following through with this, leading to the question of whether permaculture is merely a conceptual ideology rather than a practical reality.

It’s really difficult to address this concern. On the one hand, it’s no secret that Bill Mollison was not keen on traditional education and felt that people should learn from the nature around them. So while the permaculture institutions in each country seem to be enforcing a strict curriculum that must be followed to become a ‘permaculturist’, some may disagree with this method, likening it to a ponzi scheme, or just another indoctrinating education system.

On the other hand, however, I can personally say that the PDC was extremely important to helping me to think in the way I do. To connect the dots. The PDC puts a whole group of people on the same page. If we want this to work, we need to work together, fighting the good fight from all corners of the world, but on the same page. Not only does the PDC teach a basis that gives everyone a backbone to work from, a way of thinking to help increase their own empowerment.

With regards to becoming a teacher, I think it’s important to recognise that permaculture is not a mainstream idea. It’s getting there, but it’s not there yet. We’re not building fancy gardens to feed the world, we’re encouraging people to take their own power back and show them the way to learn to do that. This requires a mass paradigm shift, which really isn’t simple. Awareness and education are the best tools to doing this, and so having as many teachers as possible on the ground spreading the message is important.

The only reason that people would consider permaculture be a ponzi scheme is because there’s money involved. Yes, people do become PDC teachers to have some money in their back pockets. But why is that so wrong? While we hope for a utopian world of self-empowered humans creating abundance all around, the reality is that right now, we live in a world run by money. A well-constructed permaculture dwelling can provide you with most things you need, but unfortunately, there’s a need for money; even if it’s to buy the things you need to build your site.

In my journey, I can honestly say that making money is hard and not having it is worrying. We’ve been indoctrinated to need to be financially secure, which leads us to feel undervalued without it. Despite the fact that people can be rewarded in more ways than money, it is unrealistic to think that anybody would be happy to carry out work without a certain amount of financial gain.

For example, I have worked on many sites for food and accommodation. While I am grateful for the lack of those outgoings, it’s hard back-breaking garden work out in the sun all day. Every terrace I dig, every seed I sow, every shovelful of manure is toward building someone else’s future. So yes, gaining food and accommodation for my work leaves me with all I need in that moment, but it doesn’t allow me to work toward my future. I am gaining neither financial security toward having my own property, nor am I working to improve something I will later benefit from. I’m doing the work for somebody else to benefit.

Becoming a teacher means that I would be able to gain some financial means while also having ample time to help other people’s projects and to spread awareness. Those financial means would allow me to one day have a site that I can build on, while also enabling me to worry less when helping other people’s projects as my nest egg is safe.

It’s not a ponzi scheme at all. It’s a way of creating self-sustainability and empowerment in all ways. We live in a financial world, we need to consider that.

But and I stress this, anyone teaching PDCs and not practising is guilty of bringing this scene closer to being a ponzi scheme. Teaching permaculture is a noble thing to do and to be the best teacher you can be, you need to gain experience and enhance your skills, while also practising the messages of community and cooperation that we preach.

5 Observations from my Tropical Garden

OK, so I have been working on this garden in Nicaragua for about a month now. It’s rainy season so it’s been a bit of a busy kafuffle trying to get everything ready before the big rains come. Due to this, there have been a great many changes to the garden very quickly. Here are a few things I’ve observed from working.

  1. Tropical rain is hard to deal with

When it comes to rainwater harvesting, the tropics have their own set of complications. While half the year it’s throwing rain out of the sky like a clown with a bucket, the other half is dry as a bone. While obviously we want harvest as much rainwater as we can in order to keep the plants satisfied in dry season, when that rain comes down in rainy season, it comes so thick and fast that the beds become saturated.

As some work had been done in one area before I came, I can actually compare the different methods used. The guys here had already transplanted tomato plants into terraces when I arrived, without preparing the soil. This means that when it rains, while the terraces help to halt the water, once the bed becomes full, it overflows and the soil starts the erode down the beds. However, I used sheet mulching with rice husks and weeds on the new beds I built. This not only suppresses the weeds, but it holds the water, absorbing it into the rice husks.

I have noticed a few things with this method. The soil isn’t eroding and the weeds are suppressed which means the seedlings seem to be sprouting up at record rate. With the tomatoes, you can see that some areas are more eroded than others, and in those eroded areas, the tomatoes are not growing so well or dying off; especially at the top of the bed.

I’m trying to combat this by laying rice husks down. It’s not impossible but it’s tedious to weave in and out of the plants. Rather than laying green mulch, I’m planting edible cover crops in between; some give nitrogen to the soil, some shade, some are simply weed suppressants, but all of them help to hold and harvest the water.

  1. The insects love anything non-native

When I first arrived here, I was fortunate enough to bump into Scott, one of the teachers at Rancho Mastatal. It was my first day here and his advice was invaluable. He told me that it’s hard to grow food here because the insects are ferocious. I was a little confused at first, because everyone has to eat, but then I realised he was referring to the kinds of vegetables we can easily grow in the UK.

I observed the garden to work out where the insects like to flock to and where they stay away. It became apparent very quickly that native plants were far more hardy to the attacks of the insects. I started to chat to the local guys to find out more about edible weeds and indigenous plants. They pointed me toward a wild bean, certain squashes, indian lettuce, wandering jew, cucaracha, katuk, chaya, and other such plants. I’ve been planting these in the garden and so far, they seem to be much more hardy. While the insects are slowly mauling the tomatoes, they tend to steer clear from these more native species.

The shows that part of permaculture is to think about how to adapt to your surroundings. While it’s great to have an iceberg lettuce for a solid BLT, using native edible leaves as lettuce is going to have a much higher success rate.

  1. The jungle will always try to take the land back

I’ve noticed that I need creative ways to keep the jungle back. Whether that’s using thick mulch or cover crops, it is important to suppress the weeds in order to intensively grow enough food. While I have of course worked in other gardens with weeds growing, the jungle is a different ballgame. If I weed a bed, leave the soil bare, and come back that evening, there will be weeds again.

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Right now I’m experimenting with all different ways. I’ve been planting lemongrass at the edges to use their dense root system to keep back weeds. I’ve also been planting squashes all around the patches, as their large leaves help to keep the weeds back using shade. Varying cover crops a will help me to work out which plants work best with with vegetables to keep the weeds back without affecting the growth of the veggies; the variety also increases the biodiversity.

  1. A decent plant nursery is essential

When I first got here, the garden guys were using plastic crates filled with soil as a plant nursery. There are a few issues with this that prevents seedling sprouting.

Firstly, the rain is so heavy that it leads to the box saturating and becoming swampy. There’s no places for it to drain. Equally, they used the same soil from the ground, without mixing in sand, making it difficult for things to root easily. Secondly, the boxes aren’t shaded and the blistering tropical sunshine leads to seedlings withering; they need some kind of shade.

This week I would like to try to create a plant nursery to start planting lettuce seedlings and peppers. I’m thinking of using plastic bottles as a means to harvest water and build it from bamboo, ensuring drainage, while also giving shade.

  1. Terracing creates a series of microenvironments

I’ve never worked so closely with terraces before and seeing them every day enables me to understand their power. With all gardens, different areas should be treated differently due to their ranging features; some areas have more shade, water, wind, light.

However, interestingly, by creating terraces, we have created several different areas to work with. The top of the terracing tends to get more flooded than the bottom, which doesn’t appear to make logical sense, but it does. This means that plants that like wet feet, tend to be doing better up there; such as lemongrass. With this observation, I planted yucca at the bottom (north). Planting it here was a conscious decision as its northern location means it won’t shade out the garden, but it is also quite drought hardy, so it would be fine with less water.

I have planted varying crops all over the place. As they grow or don’t, I will be able to see what does well together where and replicate this in similar areas. This planting and revision enables me to learn from what I’m dong and to re-evaluate the system to increase its productivity through pattern recognition. It’s frightfully interesting!

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Inanitah – Social Permaculture in Action

This past week I took the opportunity to go and visit a property on the island called Inanitah. Wow.

I knew about this property before I came here because I wanted to check out other permie projects on the island, both in order to garner ideas and seeds but also to create a sense of community for myself. With my permie journey in mind, I’ve also got my eyeball out for the next step on my learning path as a spot to learn a new skill; namely natural building.

Inanitah is stunning and an exceptional example of what can be achieved through employing self-sustainability practices. On a physical level, the examples of permaculture are second to none. Every building is made from cob, sourced locally on site, roofed with palms grown on site, and furnished with handmade timber furniture, also grown on site.

When it comes to the agriculture, it is obvious that a large majority of the greenery is casually edible while also adding to the beauty of the place. The kitchen is teeming with food, all grown and produced on site. Bulging pumpkins and pungent herbs surround you, with leafy greens ready for the picking and juicy fruits and veggies stored and preserved everywhere you look. Within my first five minutes of being there, I was treated to dinner time with home-made coconut milk being whipped up in front of me.

I took a stroll around the property and was dumbfounded by its sheer locational beauty. Perched high up, there is a jaw-dropping view of the volcano ‘Concepcion’, which can be enjoyed from their biopool and accompanying solar hot tub.

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Solar Pool

One of the major things that struck me about the place was the feeling of tranquility. Every person that I met went out of their way to greet me with a hug and barrage of questions. Everybody immediately knew I was new to the scene, which demonstrated the close bond between volunteers and customers alike. One thing that really gave me tickles in my tummy was that several people greeted me with the phrase ‘Welcome Home’. That gave me that warm, fuzzy feeling that draws me to social permaculture; the magic in being able to create bonds between people by dealing with everyday life to address conflict and create harmony.

In previous interactions with permaculturists, I have been baffled by their inability or unwillingness to help me. They’re often arrogant or strangely competitive, which is against everything I thought we were meant to stand for. However, this place was not like that at all. When I arrived, I immediately met their new in-house permaculturists, Piers, who previously worked at Rancho Delicioso in Costa Rica. He took a good chunk out of his day to walk me around the garden, explaining to me what each plant was and its uses. Their garden is a combination of native and non-native plants, yet native plants dominate to increase sustainability and help prevent the barrage of bugs that demolish non-native plants. This was a great lesson for me as it gave me deep insight into the best plants I can use in the garden, especially in relation to leafy greens. I was very honoured that he’d take the time out to take me around. He also gave me seeds and cuttings for everything I would need, which has really beefed out my own garden, something he didn’t need to do but has really cut back on my costs and helped to accelerate my development.

Further to this, I got a chance to see a group of them work together in their community. So people often ask that with a totally efficient garden and shelter, what do you do with your day all day? You go have fun! These guys took me to spend the afternoon looking for edible mushrooms and it was both educational and fun. There’s something so satisfying about running around on a wild goose chase, scouring for food for your dinner that nobody knows about, like a well-kept secret.

This is what permaculture is about to me. Looking at these people working together harmoniously, welcoming strangers into the fold, and willing to share their knowledge is a breath of fresh air to be a part of. Not only have I managed to further my garden, meeting these people has created a new community for me to be a part of and to seek knowledge and advice from. That’s why I’m drawn to social permaculture; if we want this to work, we need to make the people work and Inanitah has really nailed that down.

Not only that, having set out the permie learning journey for myself, being able to make new connections opens doors to further my remit of knowledge and being able to be a part of new exciting projects. One of the problems that keeps us static in our lives is our inability or lack of motivation to seek out the next step. With my steps categorically laid out, I know what I’m searching for and Inanitah may well be the next stage for me, and I would be honoured to work with those bunch of gooduns!

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Feeding the Forest – The Right Thing to Do

Since I’ve been here a couple of weeks now, I’ve had a great deal of time to explore the property and understand the inner workings of the plants that live alongside me here. Morgan, the owner of the hostel, has had the property for 12 years. When he arrived there was nothing here; now it looks pretty similar to the neighbouring jungle around it. However, from closer inspection and from lengthy chats with Morgan, I have come to realise the purposefulness with which the plants were chosen.

Although many of the backpackers don’t seem to notice, we are surrounded by an abundance of food and useful plants. I’d like to give you a wordy walk through of what we have here.

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Papaya Canopy

What’s in the Forest?

Firstly, we have an amazing amount of food. Morgan has planted lots of coconut trees. The meat is used for food and for making milk and oil, the water for drinking, and the trees themselves provide much needed shade for the hostel. The property itself is considerably cooled by the canopy layer that the coconuts provide. Under this very high canopy are large fruit trees, such as mangoes, bananas, plantains, breadfruit, and jackfruit, which again provide shade and food. The bananas also serve as food for the chickens and turkeys, who not only eat the fruit, but scratch underneath them to find bugs. Neem trees are also abundant and are used to make insecticide for the garden, as well as providing shade. There are also many smaller citrus trees and papayas. We’ve been considering increasing the use of these fruits by making syrups and juices for the bar, and perhaps making a still to make home-made moonshine for the customers. Equally, papaya stems are hollow and make incredible natural straws, creating a phenomenal replacement for the horrifying damage done by plastic straws in our natural water sources. There are also several trees planted for timber, which has been used to craft the entire hostel, while palms are used for the roofs.

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Neem

When it comes to the bushy layers, lemongrass and cuban oregano can be spotted, used both for culinary purposes and for their medicinal properties. There is also a smaller bushy tree, often confused for papaya, but it’s actually called chia. Not like chia seeds, but pronounced with a capital ‘I’ – ChIa. This plant has big spiked lobed leaves like papaya, but the leaves can be cooked up and served in the same manner as spinach.

There are quite a few creepers crawling along the ground including a wild tiny melon and squashes. Down on that ground level, you’ll also find an abundance of what appear to be weeds, but are actually edible greens, such as wild peanut and an odd succulent type plant that seems like samphire but less salty.

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Squash

Punctuating the green sea are beautiful flowers, both edible and ornamental. Of the edible flowers I recognise are hibiscus and canalillies. Morgan told me that they previously used flowers in the salads but it dwindled away over time. My penchant for beauty in food has led me to encourage him to take this back up again, which I’m excited for. It motivates me to learn more edible flowers so I can scavenge them on site or plant them.

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Canalillies

For those that have a good eye for rhizomes, there is a blanket of yukka/cassava that lines the pathways, creating shade and providing starchy goodness for the restaurant’s fries. They serve excellently to break up the soil, which although relatively sandy, can become quite compact after a heavy rain.

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Bananas and Yucca

Winding up the trees you will find dragonfruit, passionfruit, and malabar spinach. I’m in the process of adding loofahs to this and more spinach.

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Breadfruit

I’m very overwhelmed by the fruitfulness of this place and the potential it provides to take Morgan’s hostel one step closer to self-sustainability. When I asked him about why he plants all these things but doesn’t market the ecological side of the property, he said he does it for his son, so that his son will have everything he ever needs right in front of him: food, building materials, medicine, beauty. He followed this up by saying it was the right thing to do. Sometimes I feel like we get caught up in the complexity of creating a perfect design, forgetting the reason for why we do these things. We do this because it’s the right thing to do to help the future generations. We’re out there in all weathers, brains ticking over, trying to push the imagination to find more ways to increase the yield in a regenerative manner, not to prove that we’re the best permaculturists, but because it’s the right thing to do.

For me, being able to see it in action has really spurred me on. Often we visit permaculture sites which are ‘on the way’ but never getting there, or we meet permaculture teachers who bounce from place to place never dedicating themselves to the implementation, leaving the follow-through to fall through. It’s humbling to stand with a normal guy, who doesn’t brand himself as some kind of ‘save the world’ permaculture expert, and hear him profess he does this because it’s the right thing. Because it is, and when you see it in action, you feel it more than ever before.

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Insider Secrets – Bringing Together Local and Global

This week I moved down to Nicaragua. After categorically listing the journey I intend to take, I have decided to start on that road by building a small-scale intensive garden for a connection of mine I made when I was previously on Ometepe Island. Morgan, the owner of the hostel for which I’m building a garden, is the kind of man that continuously makes you raise your eyebrows in heartfelt surprise at the many tricks of knowledge he has up his sleeve. On the face of it, his hostel appears as a drinking haunt for half-arsed backpackers trawling the same trail as all the other fish in the sea. But when you look slightly closer at the inner sense of community within his circles, you see a glorious mix of locals and internationals intermingling to get all the jobs done and Morgan flitting between them all with equal understanding, appreciation, and eagerness for each.

When I first suggested to him that I come down and build a garden for his restaurant, I was aware that his whole site was a menagerie of tropical trees and flowers planted himself. However, when I first visited a year ago, I wasn’t looking through permaculture lenses so in reality the true depth of the intricacies of his plantings had never occurred to me. No doubt it doesn’t occur at all to the backpackers who travel through there, distracted by the excitement of their short breaks from regular life, juiced up on alcohol and adrenaline from all the wonderful places they’ve swooped through. It’s not fair to say people don’t notice the beauty, but they don’t necessarily notice the multifunctionality of the beautiful site; me included.

However, this time around I was entering with a new perspective and a different purpose. This enabled me to pop on my observation googles to notice what was hiding among the jungle chaos of the place. I was headed to build a garden on a spot which had previously been used for growing, but had become overgrown. Before I even got to the garden, I noticed that the bar itself is surrounded by a plethora of fruit trees and various other edibles. Mangoes, pineapples, squashes, coconuts, bananas, and plantains are casually hanging around dripping with goodies, and that’s just from a quick glance.

The thing is that the intricate density of all the green that splurges across this climate and landscape is difficult to comprehend. You need to have a helping hand. Often in permaculture we can be a little…let’s say know-it-all. The principles set out by Bill Mollison and David Holgrem have served as a fantastic manual for working; the issue is that often we butt heads with local people when we come in with our white people club of new age farmers and tell them how they should be doing it. I’m not doubting the validity and excellence of permaculture and regenerative agricultural methods, but nobody knows the land better than the people who have had their hands in it every day of their lives.

I’ll be honest, when Morgan introduced me to the garden guys, local guys who had worked there for many years, I was intimidated. These guys have done this every day in the blistering heat, wearing jeans and knocking back whisky while they get the job done. I couldn’t see them really taking my ideas, physical self, or vision seriously. While we want to think that our brand of feminism is the way forward, there’s no escaping the fact that traditionally, women do not work in the fields here. I was prepared for them to reject my capabilities. I was wrong.

They welcomed me into their team with open arms and spent a great deal of the first couple of days helping me with observation. And here is the key. If I had been observing that land on my own, I would have missed many an interesting attribute. These guys helped to point out native foods to me which I would have considered ornamental or weeds, such as the Indian Lettuce and the wild beans that grow here. Equally, they were able to show me where to find wild chillies and neem trees so that I could deal with the insects which ravage non-native plants (another phenomena they told me about).

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Indian Lettuce/Spinach

In the same breath, I was able to describe to them the issue with the slightly wonky terracing, while also explaining sheet mulching as a method to help hold the soil and the water, to assist with the job of the terrace.

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Mulched Terraces in Little Morgan’s

Here is the crux; by bringing both sides together, we can expand our belt of knowledge to understanding not only the principles, but site-specific application. It’s really comforting to join an encouraging team and to increase the social diversity to bring all our ideas together. Not only are they ready to listen to my thoughts, they are willing to share their insider knowledge with me, which has been crucial in helping me to design a garden which won’t be reclaimed by the hunger of the tropics!

 

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Living Edge Giving Veg – How To a Make Living Fence

Walls, fences, barriers, they’re so restrictive. They keep people out and keep people in and both of these things has a very negative feel about it. But maybe that’s because those non-living fences have get rid of the beauty of interatcions on boundaries. They turn a place that could become a magical fusion of both sides through a medium, into a stale and lifeless boundary that separates two sides.

Why Love Living Fences?

Living fences embody permaculture’s principles in their very conceptual breath. On the basic level, living fences demonstrate the example of multifunctionality. You plant the fence posts and they grow into trees which not only provide the needed barrier around you garden, for example, they provide shade, food, habitat for wildlife, mulch materials; they hold soil and prevent erosion, they hold water in their roots, they create a less formidable and more arable microclimate, and many tree suitable for living fences are also nitrogen fixers. Great, look at all those benefits that a steel barrier couldn’t provide.

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Knocking in Living Fence Posts

But it’s deeper than that. To pull the old rabbit adage out of the permaculture hat, living fences epitomise ‘more edge, more veg’. While this attitudinal principles can literally refer to the fact that more edge enables you to plant more vegetation, living fences embody the symbolism of the deeper-rooted meaning here. When two things exist, they exist in their own manner, say a pond and the land. When these two things meet each other, they interact. This creates a whole new area for development, a new space for magic to happen. When water meets the land’s edge, you get a mixture of both; wetter land and more silty water. This unique environment enables other things to grow that wouldn’t have grown on the land or water, such as reeds, water cress, lemongrass…

When you apply this idea to living fences, you see that the tree fence provides an avenue for what’s on the outside and what’s on the inside to interact in a more magical manner. Say you’re building a fence around your garden to keep the chickens out. Planting a living fence now provides an extra shaded area and perhaps more nitrogen. The tree attracts more insects, so your chickens will be attracted to this area, tilling the soil, eating the insects and manuring on the soil. So on the one side, your chickens are working the soil and so is the tree, and now you have this area just inside your fence which is high in nitrogen, slightly shaded, has been aerated and has a plethora of insect and microbiology; sounds perfect to plant some ginger!

By providing a catalyst for the two sides to interact, you now have a whole new place for yield.

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Madre De Cacao Living Fence in Belize

Living Fences with Live Stake Propogation

There are many species of trees you can use for this but it’s best to look at your native climate to understand the best ones for you. We used Madre de Cacao but according to Andrew Schreiber, you can also use:

  • Scouler’s Willow
  • Austree Willow
  • Balsam Poplar
  • Black Mulberry
  • Blue Elderberry

I’d like to add Moringa, Poplar, Elder, Willow, Gliricidia, Gumbo Liimbo, Jatropha, and Madero Negro to the list. There are many more.

  • You want to try and cut the branches for propogation when the tree is dormant. For us, we were in the tropics, so this isa little harder but look for a time when the tree seems to be dropping most of its leaves. Otherwise, winter is best.
  • You need to cut branches that are about 4 inches thick for the main supporting posts, and then little think whip branches for weaving. You’re looking for newer branches here. Look around the base of the tree.
  • Mark out the place you want the fence and line that fenceline with the posts. They muct be the correct way up (i.e tip of the branch at the top). It is also good to cut the branch at an angle so that it has more surface area to work from
  • Living_Fence_Outline_Belize
    Outlining the Garden with Madre de Cacao post in Belize
  • Knock the posts in about half a metre deep.
  • This next bit isn’t essential, but it provides fencing while the trees grow and also allows the trees to mould together (TREES ARE AMAZING). Weaved the smaller branches between the posts.

That’s it. Then you let it grow. It gives a very Alice in Wonderland feel, which in truth, we all want Wonderland so why not?

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Permaculture_Cross_Curricular_Mindmap

Classroom Prisoners – Permaculture as Cross-Curricular Education

So I talked a little before about outlining your own journey to understand where you want to be in the end, to understand what you need to learn. Outside of the four square walls of the oppressive schooling environment, I’m learning to learn in a far more effective and viceral manner. And this is the problem with school; you’re tied to a desk and expected to learn one way and only one that suits the standard format of statistical outcome spreadsheets. Are the children learning or ticking boxes for the sake of the government’s need to prove their ‘achievements’?

The Problem with School

The problem I often see in the schooling system, not that I’m the first to say this, is the compartmentalisation of learning.

Here’s science class. Sit down and learn your science. Here’s geography class. Let’s learn geography here as a completely isolated construct to science.

It makes no sense to me that we would separate these interweaving concepts. It somehow takes out the mystery and magic, the excitement and epiphanines. I’m just spitballing here but I think a lot of it has to do with trying to create a standardised education that’s easy to deliver to children in an organised and easily packaged manner so it looks good in the data. I hear my sister, a primary school teacher, complain about ‘data’ all the time. Data? What data. How can you measure somebody’s capacity to have learned when you apply it in an isolated manner.

I have seen a change though. I see my sister apply cross-curricular thinking to her 6 year olds; trying to develop links between subjects across the board. However it’s insanely difficult to do that when the only stimulus you have is a concrete box in which they sit, an interactive whiteboard, and some crepe paper. You can learn all this theory about the world as much as you want, but as any millenial will tell you, this school system tells you nothing about how to actually be, live, breathe in the world. I was atrociously underprepared for what adulthood would throw at me because I didn’t know how to recognise interconnectivity in the system.

We see a rise of school gardens as a political nod at the envrionmental movement. Here you go, shut up, we’ve given the kids a garden now, what more do you want? What more do I want? I would like you to use it as the multi-faceted tool that it could be utilised as. I would like you to train your teachers into enticing and influencing creativity and pattern recognition in their pupils through this incredible medium that represents basic human needs in its rawest form. I’d like you to encourage children to become self-sustainable so they don’t have to live their lives believing your lies that they’re not good enough or clever enough or brave enough or smart enough to do it themselves and that they need governments to hold our hands in everything they do. This of course is a far bigger paradigm shift…one I firmly believe starts in the garden but it certainly doesn’t end at the tip of a trowel.

Permaculture as a Conduit

Permaculture. Ah. The baffling complexity and simultaneous simplicity of the concept is striking, even overwhelming. Many mistakenly see it as away of doing really good gardening. That’s short-sighted in my humble opinion, as it renounces the incredible capacity for it to demonstrate manners in which we can teach social, economic, and personal development.

Starting this journey, I realise the breadth of everything I need to learn. School teaches us abstract concepts without providing us with applicable scenarios. Kids switch off. Why in God’s name would a 15 year old care about erosion of soils? For serious, it’s not interesting to a teenager, no matter how jazzy your Powerpoint is.

If you want someone to care about something, you have to give them a reason to care; a stake, some ownership, a sense of pride and responsibility.

Wouldn’t it be far more engaging if you said to a 15 year old ‘Here look, by the end of this term, you’ll be making and selling your own hot sauce so you’ll have a bit of money in your pocket, a sense of self identity, a project of which you can be proud, something from which you can demonstrate your responsibilty, and skills which you can take out into the world. However, to get to that stage, there’s a few things you need to know.’ I know I’d be far more willing to hear about soil erosion. Maybe that’s just me.

Permaculture_Education_Mindmap
Permaculture Education Mindmap

Let’s picture what permaculture can teach kids. While the many branches of water management, natural building, cottage industry etc are all connected, let’s take the small example of the school garden; what can they learn? How about the chemistry and biology of soil and plants? What about the physics and mathematics of earthworks. How about the nutrition? Pattern recognition? Mapping? Natural geography? Botany. Energy recycling. Waste management.  How about all the economics they learn from producing products: profit and loss, distribution, marketing, inventory, problem-solving, planning. How about the community and social skills they learn? The philosophy of whole systems thinking. The documentation teaches photography skills, video skills. Want a child to learn IT? How about learning to use complex 3D design programs, video editing? How about the ability to historically look back at the land and understand previous usage; both people and planet. Climate changes, human geography. Entrepreneurship. Art. Home economics.

Sure kids won’t be interested in it all. But the one thing I have really learned through permaculture is that, yes, while I want to make beautiful natural cherry syrups, I have to learn all the processes that go into getting the cherries first and that journey makes it more worthwhile. It gives me a stronger sense of achievement and appreciation for what I have finally produced. Not only does it give me pride, ownership, and economic reward, it also teaches me value. The sheer work that goes into producing stuff and learning that process myself helps me to value things differently, reducing my consumption. It takes you out of the faceless, irrelevant classroom, and puts you in a place where where your learning becomes relevant to the real world.

I know I’m not the first to say this. I’m not the first to push this point across and I’m probably not the most articulate in doing it. However, it has given me the idea of perhaps producing a few resources aimed at education, for schools, parents, homeschoolers. So we’ll see how that goes. We’ll see if we can stimualte to activate.

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