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So this article is a little less about giving advice and a little more about the bewildering scenario I witnessed the other day. So currently, I’m located in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic before I move on to build a garden elsewhere. One thing I’ve noticed about being in a city after coming from the smothering silence of being alone on a farm, is the sheer interruption of pollution around you. Whether it’s the bellowing street vendors, the neighbourhood dogs, the scream of overhead helicopters, or raucous racing cars, there’s always some kind of noise piercing your peace of mind. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it an attack on your senses, but the sights, sounds, and smells of large cities like this certainly provide a jungle of visceral intrusions. For urban permies, this is your world, and I bow to you in the patience of it all, especially the lack of control you have over your own life in a place where being so crowded with others who do not share your vision, means that you are subjected to enduring the decisions that they make.
One of these such decisions barged into my life the other day while I was sitting reading Donella H Meadows book ‘Thinking in Systems: A Primer’ (excellent thought tool by the way). Ironically in the book, she was talking about looking for leverage points in systems where you wouldn’t necessarily realise they were, to help relieve problems at the source, rather than just patching up symptoms and waiting for the pipe to burst again. I heard the mechanical roar of machinery and then saw a dude blasting fertilizer on bin bags, walls, and even a pizza delivery motorcycle.
I’ve noticed that there are many mosquitoes in this city. Flies are also a problem. But so are stray dogs. While the flies and the dogs might not seems connected, of course they are, it’s just where you’re looking for the answers. Apparently there was a ZIKA scare here a little back so the people are avidly trying to control the mosquito population to help curb the chance of a recurrence of this issue. There’s no problem with this; the problem comes when these control measures are futile because they’re not properly assessed.
Take this, the last job I was on, there were a lot of mosquitoes. So I asked myself, why? There’s many reasons why you find mosquitoes within your vicinity: an abundance of their food, insect attracting plants, and places they can breed, are but a few. I noticed on the site that when it rained, there was a great deal of standing water and the cycle of mosquitoes would thicken for the following week or so as the water slowly drained away or evaporated. In this scenario, I designed a rainwater system which would reduce the amount of standing water, which would reduce the amount that mosquitoes could breed.
This is not what is happening in the city. When you look at the collection of mosquitoes, flies, and street dogs, you’ll find they congregate around certain weak points; the garbage sitting on the street. One of the things I noticed, sadly, about the Dominican Republic, is the high level of dumping, leading to areas where garbage is piled all strewn all around. While I have seen billboards denouncing this action, the question remains while it still happens, as this weak point is where those mosquitoes, flies, and dogs are gaining their strength. The likelihood is that the disparity in wealth means that poorer people cannot afford the private services for garbage collection, a service not provided by the government. This leaves them few other options.
But what’s most baffling here is how the government are spending money on dealing with the issue. Rather than devising a garbage collection system that’s universal to its people (at least in the city), it sends round spirited young fellows to blast any pile or rubbish or rubble with pesticide. Adorned in a huge atomising body suit, these lads walk up and down the streets and spray everything in site with pesticide. Are the residents warned of this? Do they have a say in this? No they don’t; it just happens.
Obviously, my view on pesticides is far from favourable. I see their toxicity as something I’d rather avoid clogging up my lungs with and if I had children, I would definitely not want them to be subjected. Equally, to unwitting dog owners strolling the streets for their daily walk, it puts their animals at danger from being poisoned by licking or eating this garbage. Whether you agree to the damage that pesticides do to our world or not, it seems unfathomable to me that residents would not be warned about this, at least so they could be out of town for a day while the gasses choke the sky.
It also seems incredulous to me that this is the solution that they’ve decided to invest in. No doubt it’s probably cheaper than a garbage system that is affordable to all people, however this is a waste of money. It doesn’t solve the problem at all. Instead it leads to the government needing to frequently shell out money to have garbage fumigated, that continues to pile on the streets and grow pests anyway. The leverage point that they’re tackling isn’t a leverage point at all so the system is still going to kickback in the same way and nothing will change. It’s like increasing pressure through water pipes and patching up the leaks, when you need to either turn down the pressure or widen the pipes.
And this is the issue here that has led to many of our world’s quick-fixes. Rather than addressing the issues of overpopulation or a lack of quality soil or poverty, we try and fix it by pushing through a plaster to patch up the holes by taking more, consuming more, killing more. Systems work most effectively when they’re in balance, so when something becomes imbalanced, like the prevalence of a pest, we need to look at what’s causing that imbalance and remedy that. Not blow toxins in the faces of unwitting urbanites. They’ve already got enough problems with the car fumes to contend with; don’t be spraying extra cancer in their faces.
So I’ve embarked on this adventure to complete my Permaculture Diploma in Applied Design. That means I need to complete 10 designs in a minimum of two years. Obviously, I would like to do this as quickly as possible while broadening my knowledge, gaining hands-on experience, and really trying to become a well-rounded permaculturist.
We’ve all got goals. We also all have things we want to learn. But all too often I hear the murmuring cries of ‘Oh I wish I’d learned to play an instrument’ or ‘I’d love to know how to draw’.
Sometimes it seems like we constantly feel like we’re past our sell by dates, as if learning is limited to school-age individuals. As if the familiar adage ‘ you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is actually true. I think it’s as true as you make it. After all, if you don’t even try to learn how will you ever learn?
I think it’s not as simple as setting your mind to something and going for it. Often we have a menagerie of things we’d like to learn but we have no time/money/resources/inclination/*insert excuse here* to do it. Instead, we trundle along as bundles of sad faces wishing we were more than we’ll ever become.
One thing about the diploma is it teaches you, nay, forces you to set a learning path. A learning yellow brick road if you will. Sometimes the overwhelmingness of the amount of things we want to learn causes us to collapse into a ball under the pressure and we never even get started. I felt so blown over by the prospect of starting this self-taught diploma that being able to devise a learning plan for myself felt like too much, as though I needed all the information at once and had to learn everything simultaneously like an orchestra conductor forced to play all the instruments while trying to keep the symphony together.
Pen to Paper
After a deep breath, and a kick up my own bum, I decided to start small. I tapped myself on the shoulder and asked myself why I’m taking this journey and what I’d like to learn along the way. Yes, permaculture embraces complex agricultural techniques, logical applications of water systems and all manner of complicated social structures so intricate my brain might burst, but I don’t have to start there. And I don’t have to be restricted to those things either. So I asked myself, what do I want to learn in life?
And here’s the trick of the trade, my fellows. GET IT DOWN ON PAPER. As the ink slips out that pen you start to colour your own learning landscape. You start to see how you can bring those skills together to stack functions, with one following on from the other, utilising one to help learn another.
Here’s where I started:
Seeing it on paper helps to ruse that go-getter in you. My good friend and amazing blogger Super Lucy J has jumped on this bandwagon to become inspired on her learning journey; as soon as you see it being laid out, it really gets your toes tapping.
Beginning, Middle, and End
So you have this paper peppered with possibilities of lucrative learning. But where do you start? For me, I wanted to tie in these skills I want to learn with where I need to go with my diploma. So I asked myself, ‘where am I now and where do I want to be?’.
Right now, I’m just dipping my toe in the concept of designing permaculture systems and I want to be in a place where I can strategically design, implement and manage complex social structures. I know that where permaculture uses the patterns in nature, I need to understand the basics before I’ll ever get there.
Like a child writing a story, I looked at my beginning, middle, and end. I need to start with the practical basics, somewhere in the middle I will start to focus on social permaculture, and toward the end I want to be looking at more complex social systems. Then I broke this down further to ask myself, which 10 steps do you need to learn?
I have decided that I need to learn about:
Waste System Design
Renewable Energy Systems
Methods to Economic Sustainability
Fairshare Volunteer Programs
Outreach Educational Methods
Food Security Programs
Community Empowerment Methods
Tying Together the Symphony
Now I know my beginning, middle and end, I can look at what I’d like to learn and ask myself where it fits in that journey. What skills do I want to learn and how are they going to complement the steps I’m taking in order to lead to developing my all-round knowledge and capacity? Place the skills from the first mindmap with the steps you want to take. This final step helps you to know where to start.
For example, I can’t draw. I just can’t. It’s like my brain has this amazing idea and then my hand is drunk. It just wiggles on the paper and mocks my internal creativity. However, if I want to be a permaculture designer, I need to practice this skill; I need to learn to draw. So that’s where I’m starting. I tie together the first step of garden design with the first skill of drawing and I begin to practice, hence the somewhat horrifically child-like drawing of my timeline to follow (logically, the picture probably should go here, but I need to warn you in case you wanted to wear sunglasses or cover your eyes).
I can now look at that first step on my learny journey and say to myself ‘OK, Emmy, chill out. This is what you need to do’:
Find a place/project that specifically pertains to garden design
Order the skills logically that you’re looking to master
Use that time to implement those skills
When you start to get these rushing streams of ideas down on to paper, you start to see the connections and the chronology more easily. For example, take the first step of learning garden design. The catastrophe of skills I’d like to learn seem to order themselves when you think logically. Take a look.
Straight away you can see that the need to learn to draw goes before learning to use Adobe Illustrator, as I’ll be digitalising the drawings after I’ve made them. Equally, learning to make compost tea will come after making garden ferments, as I’ll make the ferments at the same time as I make the compost and I’ll have to wait for the compost to develop before I can make the teas. When you see it laid out, it dances together to form its own logical sense to you.
The Permie Learny Journey
Here’s my first attempt at drawing out my learning journey. It’s rudimental to say the least, but it’s a start. Next time you see it, it’ll be jazzed up in Illustrator and you’ll be convinced I’m a professional!
Anyone who works on their garden knows that compost is the thing you put on plants to make them do well. Few people know why unless they’ve dabbled in a little soil science.
While this blog doesn’t aim to repeat the knowledge imparted by most other permaculture blogs, it does seek to divulge some of my personal experiences in permaculture techniques, to help prevent you from making the same mistakes as me. So we’ll cover a quick background here and then go on to my most recent foolishness.
Why is Compost so Damn Good?
I’m not going to give you a science lesson but simply, when we employ permaculture techniques, the idea is to accelerate the success of plant growth. In our dying world, it is no longer enough to sustain ourselves; we need to go further to regenerate the mess we’ve made and to do it with a little urgency. Succession in agroforestry terms basically refers to the stages in which ecosystems move through, from the first pioneer plants (or weeds as you laymen like to refer to them), up to a mature forest.
The soil is also making a personal journey in that time, most basically moving from bacteria to fungi. Bacteria breaks down green stuff like leaf drop, feeding on the nitrogen in the plants. Fungus breaks down brown stuff like straw and dried leaves, feeding on the carbon. In order to accelerate succession, we need both. Compost is a lovely amalgamation of both of these things with bacteria and fungi bumbling along in there, breaking down the stuff we put in, building soil for the plants we want to grow. A rough calculation for this is that you need 40% green stuff, 40% brown stuff and 20% high nitrogen (manure or kitchen scraps, but manure is better). I’ll address how to make quick hot compost another time, but for now, this is about my adventure with sheet mulching.
What in the Heavens is Sheet Mulching?
When we make compost, we tend to make it in a nice, neat pile, relatively close to the garden. However, this still requires that we distribute it around the garden with our back-breaking labour. Sheet mulching is a beautiful technique which increases efficiency by building compost on the spot, pertaining to the permaculture principle of relative location. Not only does this make our lives easier, it also keeps the ecosystems that develop in the soil undisturbed. While turning compost and moving it to put it in place allows oxygen to enter, which helps to fire up the decomposition process, it also disturbs the complex life systems forming inside. Imagine you’re a happy little basteria, building a life for yourself down then, having built your own community and home with other bacteria. You’ve got yourself a bacteria job and you’re putting bacteria food on your bacteria table for your bacteria kids, taking them to their bacteria extra-curricular activities and having a bacteria pint down the bacteria pub with your bacteria mates. Then all over a sudden the dreaded natural disaster of the ‘spade’ wipes out your whole bacteria life and family, and you have to start over again from scratch, or worse, you get burned up in the process. Sheet mulching keeps those systems intact and undisturbed, and keeps them happily working away.
It’s basically making compost in the bed, which improves the soil straight off the bat. Recently I was reading a blog by a highly Christian, middle of America, homesteading Mummy who referred to this technique as ‘lasagne beds’. This made me chuckle but I really liked it as a descriptive title.
So it’s this simple…or so I thought. You dig you bed. Then you place a layer of high nitrogen (manure most often), followed by a layer of green material (weeds, leaves, etc), followed by a layer of brown material (dry leaves, straw, rice husks). This brown material should be wet. You need generously thick layers of each and over time you pile these up over and over, which decomposes making rich composty soil in place. Not only this, the covering of the soil suppresses weeds, preventing erosion by rain, and holds water in the soil.
So Where Did I Go Wrong?
The tropics are luscious, thick eco-systems of pure production, but the nutrients are held in the plants, and not so much in the soil. The moment it gets in the soil, these overarching trees are sucking it up and expanding their growth. Not only does this mean you have to constantly feed the soil, it means that as quickly as you work to manage the growth, the jungle extends its spidery tendrils to take the land back.
When I laid down my sheet mulching, I thought it would be most effective to hoe the land first and clear the weeds out, to prevent them growing through. You can, in fact, just leave them and pile on top and the deprivation of sunlight from the other layers will kill them off, allowing their nitrogen to leech back into the soil. That was my first mistake; doing too much work for no reason. Just too in love with my hoe.
My second mistake was thinking those weeds would die once I pulled them up, because logically that’s how life works no? No. These weeds are resilient little beggars.
I used dried leaves as my brown layer as we had an abundance around the site, but I found that the weeds underneath that I had pulled up, continued to grow searching branches, weedling through the leaf layers to find the sunlight, while their roots struggled to find solid ground. Often I feel like I’m personally doing this in my daily life, so I could most definitely sympathise. While the majority of stuff was decomposing under the top leaf layer, there were a selection of more viney weeds that would just not give up!
After speaking with one of my permaculture mentors, Itai Goldman, (when I say speaking, I mean freaking out and having a mild nervous breakdown) what I realised I should have done was the old bio-cardboard trick. Luckily, I’d been fermenting up a good old witch’s brew of nitrogen weed fertiliser in the background so I had that at my disposal to use. Rather than digging up all the weeds, I should have soaked the cardboard (make sure it has no ink on it) in the ferment and laid this over the weeds. That way this opaque layer would really stop them getting sunlight. Then I build my lasagne layers on top.
I did this in the end over the layers I had already put down and just piled more over the top and it worked. It stopped those weedy greens struggling to come back through. I was also a little more picky on what I laid as green material. I used cut-grass as the lack of roots meant that the grass would die off quickly without struggling to regrow.
The beds are happily mulching away now. I haven’t planted in them yet although you can plant pretty much straight away. As I used raised beds, when it rains the water collects in them and the mulch holds them. If it’s dry, at the beginning, I would water the beds a little to encourage the brown leaves to decompose, as when they dry out they do nothing but sit and sometimes blow away in the wind.
What I Learned?
You can read all the books in the world about this stuff. You can indulge in all the blogs with different techniques. Only when you start to do it, do you realise that everything really is site-specific. I didn’t realise the voracity that these vine weeds would seek to stay alive and no blog or permie book really talks about that; because it doesn’t occur on their sites.
Next time, I’ll stand back and observe for longer and really take into account what is occurring on my site and what is likely to be a setback for the generic technique I’m applying, or should we say a hurdle I may need to overcome. Just because our PDCs taught us a little knack we can use for growing, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be consistently thinking about how our site specifically will work with this technique, and what feedback loops the system might throw at us. As our good buddy Elvis taught us ‘Wise men say, only fools rush in’.
Coconut oil has found its place as the wondernut of the organic world. We’re obsessed with it, advised by organic visionaries worldwide to use it on our hair, as a medicine to clean out our lungs, as a moisturiser for an all-over smooth finish, and to increase our heart health and lower cholesterol.
Now, while I am a huge advocate for coconut oil, I find the usual marketing dramas of fads to be particularly honed in on coconut oil. Obviously, as its growth is limited to countries with hot climates, its price is absolutely driven by the transportation it takes to conveniently appear in a store near you. However, the extra tags banging on about how its supreme quality ‘hand-made’ ‘home-made’ ‘all-natural’ ‘dipped in gold’, drive the prices up to become a product that can only be accessed by yummy mummy middle-class yoga bunnies with more spare cash than the GDP of many developing countries. And while I’m not saying these people don’t have the right to this product, they shouldn’t have the monopoly. So in true permaculture style, we look to the homesteading techniques of doing it ourselves.
Recently, I’ve been in the Dominican Republic. My boss, Carolina, decided one day that we would make coconut oil. I had always been under the impression that making oil was a cumbersome and frankly too difficult task for the likes of me, despite never having actually researched the process. I found out, however, that pretty much every Dominican woman knows how to make coconut oil, as they use it for their hair.
This is why I’m on this journey though, isn’t it. To learn the cultural practices and hands-on skills that are utilised by varying peoples worldwide, to enhance their lives and remain self-sufficient to a certain extent. I’m like an art curator, collecting these skills in the basket of my brain, creating an encyclopedia of self-sustainability in my mind, and then sharing it with all of you.
So, despite the self-imposed barrier imagining the difficulty of making coconut oil, it’s quite a simple process. Here’s how you can do it at home:
You will need:
A heating device
If you want to get super rudimental like we did, you can do this in a self-made rocket stove, or as I watched local all-round handy-lady, Lucia, you can make it over an open fire.
You need the nut of the coconut. So if it’s still inside the green/yellow outer shell, you need to remove this. Next you have to remove that hairy, brown layer on the outside.
Grate the coconut with a cheese grater. Grating it gives you smaller pieces which increases the surface area, allowing the oil to be extracted more easily. Keep that coconut in a heatproof bowl.
(At this point, thinking I was some kind of authority on innovation, I asked why they didn’t just put the coconut in a blender, to which they laughed and laughed and laughed. The reason is because you would need to add water which dilutes the oil and makes it harder to extract the oil as a pure substance. They also pointed out that if it was easier to blend it, didn’t I think they would be doing exactly that. Fair point.)
Heat the water in a large pan. You will need enough water that it generously covers all the coconut shreds, but there’s no hard and fast rules for the quantity; mainly because it’s going to evaporate.
Once the water begins to boil, take it off the heat and pour it over the coconut. Cover this for about 10 minutes.
Remove the lid and let the coconut and water stand until the water cools off. It doesn’t need to be completely room temperature, make sure its still a little warm, but not too hot. This soaking and cooling should take about 20-30 minutes.
Now, get the pan you used for heating the water. You wanted to strain the coconut so that all the water goes into the bowl. Get physical with this, ladies and gents. Really get your hands in and there squeeze the liquid out of the coconut. While not necessary, the wonderful lady I did this with, squeezed everything out and put the coconut back for a minute and did it all over again.
Set the coconut aside, pour the coconut liquid from the bowl back into the pan, and put the pan back on the heat without a lid.
You need to heat until the water evaporates. As it heats up, the oil and water will separate with the oil settling on top of the water, like the science experiments we did as kids.
Once all the water is evaporated, you’ll be left with oil. Make sure you’re paying attention here as you don’t want to heat the oil, so be ready to take it off the heat when the water gets to a low level and you can skim the oil off the top.
This oil will be a very light brown colour and will have a much nuttier smell than regular coconut oil, but it works wonders. I’ve been using it for a few weeks now and my skin is so soft, I’m scared I’m going to slid off my most seats I sit on!
If you really want to get your permaculture on and stack those functions, you can dry the coconut shreds out and use them as a sprinkling for your morning granola. Alternatively, we fed the scraps to the chickens who absolutely love coconut it turns out!
So while this may not be a first priority in everyone’s case, this article is a little about being resourceful.
So let’s set the scene. Back last year I was on a job helping to clear an overgrown garden to turn it into a more fruitful and utilisable landscape. It has previously been owned by a woman who had reached her 90s and had completely lost the ability to care for the area. Overgrowth was an understatement, especially when we found a rogue greenhouse lost in a jungle of trees that had wildly taken back human innovation as their own. However, the long-term leaf drop from the overgrown trees had led to the development of an extremely productive and beautifully deep layer of humus, creating fantastic soil.
Anyway, while we were staying on the property, we needed to cook for ourselves. After buying the ingredients to make a casserole, we later found that the oven didn’t work. While permaculture and natural building advocates the construction of rather elegant cob ovens, we had neither the time nor the resources for this. Instead we chose to build an oven with the resources we had around us, constructing a rather rudimentary but extremely successful flowerpot oven. While you may feel you will never need this, it could come in handy for making pizza on a camping trip!
Here’s how you can recreate this very simply.
What You Will Need:
Large terracotta pot – This needs to be large enough to serve as the cavern for your oven
Heatproof rocks – While we used bricks, you need to be careful with bricks or flint as they can explode
A grill that fits inside the pot
Fuel – We used embers from a wood-fire we were burning (a fine example of an element having many functions!). You want something that will burn well and reduce to long-lasting embers
Here’s What You Gotta Do:
Create a circle using the bricks or rocks. You will need to keep a gap in one side for the air to flow through. It is best to consider where the wind is coming from and place the gap on this side.
Place the fuel within the circle and get a fire going.
As the fire begins to burn down to embers, place the grill over the rocks.
Place your food on the grill.
Place the terracotta pot over the grill and cover the hole on the bottom with rock.
After about 15 minutes, remove the rock from the top to use this hole as a chimney. This will allow the air to circulate around.
The food will be heated in three ways; from the direct heat of the fuel below, by the circulating heat within the pot, and via the thermal mass radiating from the heated pot.
It took around 40 minutes for our chicken casserole to be ready and around 30 minutes for the lasagne we cooked the next day!
I have recently moved to the Dominican Republic to pursue a project and have been fortunate enough to meet the creative and productive soul that is The Growing Dutchman, Chris Kaput. We’ve been able to put our heads together and the ball’s already rolling…
One of the important and until recently neglected areas of permaculture that needs much evaluation and a plethora of innovative minds is social permaculture. Encompassing everything abstract that embroils human beings, social permaculture looks to evaluate and devise social and economic systems. From structures of governance to methods of resolving conflict, from techniques for creating a sustainable livelihood to systems for fair sharing profit, social permaculture is a difficult topic to master, especially with the extremely complex and seemingly spontaneous behaviour of human beings.
Going It Alone
From the outset, as an individual embarking on a permaculture journey, making social connections is important to gain social power through networks and communities, both locally and globally. I know that I am not the only person who has experienced the loneliness of this life, heavy like the burden we shoulder when we agree to enter this uphill struggle to overturn the paradigms of destructive systems within our world.
More than once I have heard the heart-wrenching stories of people saying that they felt themselves to be crazy due to their belief in this way of life on account of the blatant ridicule and dejection of their peers. In fact, when I was completing my PDC, this was a topic that came up so often.
One of the most interesting and authentic cats on our course was a Romanian guy called Liviu, who explained to me that in his culture farmers are considered peasants, and the very concept that he would choose this life and see it as the means to repair the world and provide freedom made him fit for a mental institution in the eyes of his friends. He spoke of the judging looks from shop vendors when he entered their premises with dirty clothes, silently disregarding him and considering him disreputable. He spoke of the loneliness he felt when he walked his gardens, knowing nobody within his remit shared in his passion. And most importantly, he talked passionately and vividly about the invigoration he felt having been afforded the opportunity to spend time with 24 other people from all walks of life who also indulged in his passion.
Liviu, like many others, demonstrates the importance of social connections. Not only as a way to help us find some sense of much needed human belonging, but also as a way to make this work. With a battery of cliches at my fingertips, I’ll plump for the simple adage that ‘many hands make light work’.
Switching the Lights on in the Dominican Republic
Embarking on this journey alone has been tough and definitely lonely. My outer mirage of tough girl ‘I don’t need nobody’ independence has wavered a few times while I’ve been 24/7 alone on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, the intricate spider of social media affords us the ability to connect with strangers who share in our passions. While forums may offer remote help, certain social media outlets can provide us with direct connections and a chance to meet new people.
When I tentatively released my debut post on the Facebook group ‘Permacultura en Rep. Dominicana’, after having reread and re-typed it about 48 times to make sure that the 5 lines of garbled Spanish came across as the cool, laid-back and knowledgeable permaculture wizardess that I so clearly am, I expected maybe the odd ‘like’ or ‘Welcome new friend’. Instead, I was inundated with welcoming messages and people adding me to find out more about my project, with serious offers to visit and help out in anyway they could. Something I had not expected from this island, I must say.
One of those friendly faces was Chris Kaput, who immediately offered to link together seeing as we were located conveniently to one another. Not only did we have coffee to chat, he also took a trip out to the farm to help me consider the lay of the land (leading to him losing the soles on his shoes as we chased the floodplains to understand the water flows!). This was followed up swiftly by an invitation to co-host a workshop with him at Sacred Women’s Fest.
From Abstract Connections to Productive Skill-Sharing
While social connections can help us in a myriad of ways, from helping to get physical work done to providing us with skills outside of our remit, my most recent experience with Chris has shown that ‘two heads are better than one.’
While we each have our own projects to focus on, by combining our skills, we have been able to lend a hand to each other while picking each others’ noggins. This weekend, having been set back by car troubles that prevented us from delivering said workshop, we set about to apply our time to other areas of our projects that needed to be pursued.
I am up to my neck in trying to develop a rainwater harvesting system for 7.3 acres of land that currently experiences serious flooding and erosion during rainstorms, followed by long periods of drought that mimic desertification during dry season. While the tropical climate inherently means that much of the nutrients is stored in the plants, the fast-pace rushing water is eroding the beds and large areas of the land, bypassing the trees and heading straight for the neighbour’s property. Essentially, all our hard work is being reaped by the guy below.
Concurrently, Chris is looking to improve his own city property to model it as a shining example of urban permaculture while simultaneously providing online resources that demonstrate how to do this, highlighting the reality of the evolutionary journey of a permaculturist; kerfuffles, mistakes, and all! One of his pressing projects was to build a pallet wood deck to provide a place for humans to chill while the plants can thrive in the remaining space. He’s also looking to consider better use of the garden space.
So while we were held up by the mechanic’s late arrival, we decided to put our skills together and really stack functions to get two jobs done at once. While I helped Chris build his deck (mainly working as a human level to level out the deck sections he had already prepared), we discussed the water systems at my place and the functionality of his garden. While this doesn’t seem all that innovative as an idea, the hands-on work really gets your juices flowing as the blood is able to circulate around the body, opening the blood vessels in the brain and inducing those ‘Eureka moments’.
Having recently read Brad Lancaster’s Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, I felt I had a pretty good beginner’s grasp of water systems, but implementing them into the site becomes a whole different story. By having someone to work with who has viewed the same plot of land with different eyes, we were able to both bring our own individual insights into the plan. Moreover, in true devil’s advocate style, I found that Chris was able to really question the final plan I was considering. His input helped me to consider feedback loops of which I hadn’t thought, while simultaneously teaching me to break it down simply and clearly so that my clients would be able to understand.
And while all these discussions were going on, we managed to craft a deck and plant a cover crop of mung beans and mustard, which are already happily sprouting away!
For me, this demonstrates that by stacking our time together, we could also stack our functions and collaborate to offer each other’s skills. This skill-sharing helps to build upon individual innovation; after all, we can’t think of everything ourselves. With that in mind, consciously and pro-actively making social connections is integral to creating a truly productive permaculture community; both locally to you and as a worldwide entity and supportive family.
It’s not about ego. It’s not about your name in flashing lights above a swale telling people that this was solely your idea and you’re the go-to-guy for permaculturing the world into a new age of regeneration. It’s about getting this done and getting it done right, having thought of all the feedback loops and building systems that meet the needs of everyone with the help of everyone. So we don’t mess it up all over again.
There’s nothing like a good chicken roasted with plenty of savoury garlic. So why not start seasoning them early!
When your chickens get mites you can see them become extremely agitated. It’s not too dissimilar to a child squirming under the burden of head lice or the incessant fidgeting we succumb to when the mosquitoes come out to play.
Signs of Mites
Some of the early signs of mites are not all that obvious to the average person. You will notice that the chicken’s comb (that floppy strange glove attached to their head) starts to look all droopy and sad, kind of like an emo fringe flopping in front of their face. It may also look a little crusty and white like when you wake up with your eyes fused shut by conjunctivitis. This also happens to their wattle; that flappy, red beard under their chin.
You may also notice that the feathers around the tail of chickens start to fall out. It is most noticeable where the back meets the bum and the feathers plume out into a tail. That’s because they’ll scratch that area with their pecky little beaks which causes the feathers to drop out.
As the mites develop you may start to see them. They appear like a plague of locusts on their faces and they swarm most visibly around areas that aren’t covered in feathers. What you’ll see is little black or slightly red dots milling around their eyes and beak and on their red bits.
You may also notice a change in egg production. Firstly, you may see little blood spots on the eggs themselves and then a drastic drop in egg production. Who has the patience to focus on dropping an egg when you’re swarmed with a plague of gnawing beasts?
How to Make a Garlic Mite Spray
A sensible permaculturist is one that hopes for the best but plans for the worst. In this case, when you’re looking at having chickens, it’s a good idea to plant some garlic around their coop. Try a perennial variety like Elephant Garlic so that it reduces the need for annual replanting and management. You can check out this great article on The One Straw Revolution written by Larry Korn on how to grow perennial, low-management garlic (full sun, make sure it doesn’t have a wet bottom and feed it with rotted manure and leaf mulch).
Sidenote, you might as well plant mint too as it keeps the rats away.
Once you have a healthy supply of garlic, you can make yourself a little preventative garlic mite spray. Here’s a recipe I use for 15 chickens that I apply every other day:
You want to combine two full cloves of garlic with half a litre of water. I do this by chucking it in a blender, but you can just chop it finely too.
Place the mixture into a jar and let it sit for at least 24 hours.
Sieve the mixture and place the garlic back into the jar with new water; this can be recycled until the garlic has no more smell or starts to rot (about a week or so in my experience)
Pour the mixture into a spray bottle or a pressurised sprayer and combine with another half a litre of water.
Now you want to spray them, which I’ll be honest, they are really not down with. Try to get them into a small area and be prepared for them to run and try to fly away (it’s best not to be in an enclosed area in case they fly at you, talons at the ready). Now think strategically and try to spray them as quickly as possible, one at a time, making note of which ones you’ve sprayed and which you haven’t.
I would also advise that you clean the coop regularly and thoroughly spray the coop, the bedding (try not to wet it too much) and the walls, especially any nooks and crannies. Do not forget the ceiling.
How To Make a Garlic Mite Ointment
It is also a great idea to apply an ointment to prevent the mites from settling on the chickens faces. This helps to get rid of them more quickly as well as keeping the chickens a little more comfortable.
You’ll need some neem oil, some of your concentrated garlic mix and some citronella oil. A little bit of me feels like this could also be a wonderful baste…
Mix together a generous glug of neem oil (about a quarter of a cup) with 3 tablespoons of garlic and 4 drops of citronella oil.
You need to catch the chickens one at a time. This is by no means easy. Some people use a net, some just go for it, but one thing is for sure, you’ll need to be holding them.
You can use a cottonbud to apply the ointment; I use a toothbrush with soft bristles as it makes it easier to spread.
Spread it on their faces, combs, wattles, feet, and any areas of bare skin where the feathers have been lost.
Do this every day if you see the signs of mites.
I tend to use the ointment if I start to see signs of mites, but I spray the garlic mite spray every other day regardless to help keep them away. We are quite prone to mites so I feel this is necessary but you may want to do it just once a week.
I wonder if they’ll have a garlicky taste come harvest time…
Get your tin foil hat on, and strap yourself in because where we’re going, you don’t need roads. We’re going on an abstract rollercoaster ride into my mind, while I explore social permaculture and its possibilities.
While doing my Permaculture Design Course in Spain with the infamous permaculture cowboy, Doug Crouch, we were asked to complete a personal project. 5 minutes. That’s all you get to spew out the convoluted cauldron of ideas sloshing around in your brain. We were asked to take one element from our design and talk about how it was multi-functional to the site we’d designed.
A Brief Project Brief
The project involved designing an eco-village on 6 hectares of land, which had previously be used as a mono-cropped wheat field. The land is part of Suryalila Yoga Retreat and has been sitting idle since its past life as a wheat slave. Severely degraded due to its time as a poor, abused monoculture, the site is in dire need of regenerative approaches to restore the land and turn it into a diverse ecosystem which is being efficiently used. Each group was designated one hectare of the property to design.
With ideas abound and the chance to throw our imaginations down on paper, the project stipulated that we must have one place of residence and a cottage industry on our site, while also fitting neatly with the tranquil vibes of the yoga retreat.
My Final Project
My group, after careful observation and analysis of course, chose to utilise our little slice of the wheat field pie as an educational centre to teach food processing, fermentation and preservation. Quite ingenious if I do say so myself; a much needed area of education often neglected in the ‘permanant agriculture’ definition of permaculture…BUT WHAT DO WE DO WITH ALL THESE VEGGIES?!
When it came to selecting my individual element to show as a multifunctional wonderproduct, I felt that while 5 minutes was ample time to describe the multifunctionality of a market garden, I’d stupidly up my own personal ante to make it extremely difficult for myself totally unnecessarily. I chose to turn this quite simple project into an abstract social endeavour, exploring how the market garden can provide social multifunctionality. While not only causing that all-too-familiar brain hernia that occurs when you delve deep into the abstract, I found that with each interactional connection I managed to draw, I was faced with a new scenario which opened another vortex of intricacies to be sucked into. The old ‘edge effect’ syndrome, some might say, where new world’s of boundless and unfathomable possibilities form when two elements interact.
Hey ho, after figuratively puking Mendelbrot’s fractals all over too many pieces of paper to be considered environmentally conscious, I felt 3 zoomed-in tiers were sufficient for a 5 minute presentation, in which I neeed to speak as quickly as the 2000’s rapper, Twister.
After experiencing a sea of glassy eyes from my less-than-enthralled classmates, I attempt to break it down here for you in a more controlled and slightly more understandable manner than I flooded it in the face of my audience that day.
Section View – Core Model Energy Cycling
In hindsight, I have a sneaking suspicion that the arrows go the wrong way. Let’s ignore that for now and pretend it’s perfect. After all it’s the thought that counts here. Graphic design is not one of my fortes…yet.
- PEOPLE CARE SHOULD CREATE EMPOWERMENT WHICH IN TURN SHOULD LEAD TO FURTHER PEOPLE CARE
On the highest and broadest level, this model demonstrates how a market garden can provide a site to establish people care leading to their empowerment. From helicopter parenting to hardcore socialist statism, our modern society can demonstrate the dangers of disempowering people through poorly executed systems of people care. While we often find ourselves wanting to help people by doing it for them, handing them charity, or hurling unsolicited advice, this leads to dependence…in relationships, to parents, to the state; or it leads to rebellion…the hipster movement, political rioting, increased escapism (some might say permaculture!). Empowerment requires that we create a platform where people are able to learn how to learn. This helps to create self-empowered, self-sufficient individuals who are able to work out how to develop new skills for themselves and how to solve problems or complications that may arise within their lives.
Whether people are dealing with relationship conflict, a blocked pipe, or a lack of food security, true people care looks to provide them with the learning tools, access to information, and emotional support for them to devise their own methods forward to best suit their needs. An empowered individual who has reached that position through people care given in this manner, is far more likely to respond by paying this type of people care forward than by crashing and burning in a wallowing pit of self-pity and disenfranchisement.
In terms of a market garden, our site would create a space for local people and long-term volunteers to create their own cottage industry relating to food processing, fermentation, and preservation. By providing 6 month – 1 year internships for people to devise their own small cottage industry, individuals involved in the program are able to work through the entire process of becoming self-sufficient as their own boss with their own business. From the business planning, through to the physical implementation, sourcing distributors and customers, marketing, selling the products, taking inventory, crisis planning and management, book-keeping and so on, the individual has the platform to learn all the skills while having access to educational resources to support this learning curve. A small percentage of profits made would be given to the site manager, as a means of keeping the plot economically sustainable to continue the program.
2. BY INPUTTING EDUCATION AND WIDER SOCIETY PERSPECTIVES, ENERGY IS CYCLED TO CREATE ECONOMIC SUSTAINABILITY AND TO GAIN LOCAL SOCIETY PERSPECTIVES
So the second tier of this ever-complicating system splits into two further tori of energy cycling. From left to right, we start by inputting education into the system. The market garden provides a platform for education. Physically, hands in the soil, sun on our backs, and sweat on our brows, the market garden provides the natural stage and lighting to highlight the complex patterns and interactions in nature; perhaps the best tool for educational liberation we can offer. While the market garden would also offer a place to provide weekend workshops and guidance from our on-site permaculturists, individuals partaking in these internship progams will be able to access these resources and pick the brains of the experts while simultaneously experiencing the educational momentum in real-time. In other words, we give them the space, the information, and the imagination for them to innovate.
Through these innovations, interns are able to build cottage industries which provide a financial income to themselves, which will be profit-shared with the project. For every jar of pickles they sell, for every gallon of garden ferment they produce, for every pack of dried fruit vended, a little income is returned back to the site to create economic sustainability. In this regard, by caring for people in a liberating manner by providing the setting for self-propelled and community-supported education, the market garden induces the energy cycle toward empowerment through economic sustainability both for the individuals themselves, and for the project. Piece of cake, right?
So let’s move on over to that second green doughnut of scrumptious complexity on the right-hand side, see if we can’t stick our teeth into that.
The yoga retreat in which this plot is situated is frequented by a plethora of international volunteers, guests, and visitors. Our PDC, alone, featured 5 continents. If only the UN was as diverse and brilliant as us 25 whippersnappers, eh. This is a clear demonstration that intentionally or not, we’re chucking wider society perspectives into this smouldering pot of permaculture. Often well-travelled, the profile of visitors and staff creates a paradigm whereby local interns are able to learn about the diverse methods of sustainability and regeneration that are employed across the globe. This input enables a shift in perspective, broadening the scope of their learning capacity. This not only links to providing further education, but by combining wider society participants with those from local geographies, it enables us to create a cycle of information exhange. The wider society perspectives help to broaden the minds of local people, while their local perspectives help to condense that wider knowledge into become locally specific. It helps to induce the exchange of globally-used permaculture principles for insider information on indigenous techniques and father-to-son secrets. That way, when said volunteers, guests, and staff move on to other corners of the globe, they can take those specific techniques with them and apply them in other similar locations exhibiting comparable microclimates.
Take it this way, say Brad Lancaster pops on over for a visit, he could be like ‘Here, mate, I notice it’s getting a little desert-y out here in Spain. Let me tell you all about the benefits of digging a swale to harvest rainwater’, like he does in his Arizonian home; a subclimate which Spain is increasingly resembling with its vast desertification. On the flipside, our local Spanish farmer can regale him with tales of how the people have managed to farm their 300-year-old drought-hardy olives as a means of income and food security both in spite of and taking advantage of the increasing desertification.
Not only does this back and forth help to educate both parties, that education goes on to help them create better products, more comprehensively managed systems, and more effective cottage industries, thus creating further economic sustainability. Look at those people caring for each other leading to empowerment where they have the confidence to properly care for each other which leads to empowerment. And it just goes round and around, and everyone gets the empowerment and people care. It’s just too damn perfect isn’t it. Thank God, the whole world exists merely as an abstract theoretical model on paper that I pulled from my limited mind and never in messy, practical reality…
3. THE NITTY GRITTY – THE ‘HOW WOULD WE DO IT?’ THEORY
Now above we’ve explored the ‘WHAT’ and the ‘WHAT SPECIFICALLY’ that we’re trying to achieve. Now we’re looking at the ‘HOW’ (the ‘HOW SPECIFICALLY’ was certainly not going to fit into a 5 minute presentation and it led me on a serious rabbit-hole tumble when I started to consider it).
The blue tori spiral down a little further into exploring how we could induce energy cycling through modes of operation. On the first hand, again left to right, we are splitting the educational input into two main methods; a curriculum that we provide interns through workshops and more directed classes; and the personal education they can pursue themselves through the resources we offer, such as books, online resources, and expertise.
The curriculum itself enables the interns to learn the hoops through which they need to jump to create a sustainable business. This would be through offering classes and education of business planning and strategy, horticultural design and implementation, processing techniques, marketing strategies and campaign planning, book keeping, etc. By doing this, we enable them to create a business which effectively creates products.
The input of education through a curriculum leads to the output of economic sustainability through products. On a personal level, interns who are more economically secure are able to further their education, perhaps through completing a permaculture diploma or going to college, and the education we provide enables them to access the economic means to further educate themselves and so on. For the project, the creation of products create economic sustainability which enables us to continue providing education, while perhaps expanding it with our new financial means.
By creating a platform for people to educate themselves personally, through personal research, this can help contribute to academic research. Academic research may be abundant in theoretical permaculture, but living examples provide study opportunities to prove the validity of the philosophy and theory. Personal education and projects provide the opportunity for academic research to be developed, which not only serves as scientific win for permaculture, it also provides an extra source of income, through both selling that research and publishing books and information, but also through the publicity this brings, encouraging more people to embark on courses through us and to partake in internships. That academic research, of course, not only provides economic benefits, but cycles back to further the educational aspects.
OK, so let’s shift to the right side. Social power can be a difficult term to master (where of course everything up until this point has been smooth sailing and expressly simple). In basic terms, social power refers to your position in society, the connections you hold and the networks in which you thrive in. I swear I’ve bounced around so much that if social power was money, I’d definitely have a yacht.
As noted above, the guests and staff at Suryalila are often well-travelled and therefore tend to have a network of international connections. They bring these to the table, opening the doors for local people to connect more broadly, even if this is limited to online connections. However those connections are fulfilled, this enables them to gain social power further afield.
Importantly, by combining these two groups and offering these connections, local people are able to provide local connections. So if our project needs to be hooked up with a ton of manure from the local cow farmer, our local participants are far more likely to be able to provide that. This helps us to gain further local recognition to expand our reach into the local community, enabling us to provide further opportunities for education within that community while also accessing local resources. These local connections afford us the opportunity to build a better and more effective site-specific program, demonstrating permaculture and localism at its best, which helps to further entice those international participants.
The last doughnut was already covered above with that little hypothetical conversation with Brad Lancaster and the anonymous farmer. But in reference to these right-hand blue doughnuts, the wider society and local society are both served by each other, helping to keep that flow of energy, where all active participants of the program are able to educate and support each other, providing that people care that leads to empowerment through broadening knowledge and increasing economic sustainability.
In conclusion, by providing people care through creating a self-liberating platform where everybody supports each other, sharing their knowledge and experience, the market garden can become a multifunctional tool which enables empowerment through providing various cottage industries that not only educate, but also create economic sustainability, while equipping people with the experience to recreate their business operations outside of our venue.
And it’s just that easy.