Morning mist meanders through the wood, high on the hill above Ridgedale Farm. The temperatures are dropping, probably just a cool change after the extended period of sparkling, high summer surroundings we have enjoyed over the last 10 days during the PDC. I’ve never experienced a full seasonal shift in a truly cold temperate climate before. I’m guessing Melbourne (where I grew up) doesn’t really compare to anywhere this far North.
Last night I spoke about my beautiful home in Australia, the Bellbunya Sustainable Community (www.bellbunya.org.au), introducing the students to our landforms and water strategies, our lush annual gardens, the views, volunteers, our goals and how we all do our best to create a safe, sustainable and healthy environment for ourselves and the many scaly, feathered and furry critters that live with us on the land.
Richard discusses GIS programs and photogrammetry technologies that can open up possibilities of regenerative design. There’s a pretty cool invention called an ebee that you simply shake and then toss into the air and away it goes, mapping the land and then returning to land itself where it started. Cool stuff! More suited to a larger survey firm due to it’s cost of $30,000, but it can very quickly create orthographic maps and 3D contour models of very large areas.
However the technology is moving so quickly, Richard will soon be able use his hand piloted quad-copter Phantom Drone to do the same thing. “Not so long ago you would have had to go around mapping physically for these kind of projects, which is very time consuming. It’s very potent technology at our finger tips and it’s only going to get more rad, which is just opening up the possibilities of regenerative design.”
We move into Urban and Garden Design and ways to establish gardens. “If you want to grow a lot of your basic food effectively, look at professional vegetable growers”, guiding us to techniques by Elliot Coleman using mini poly tunnels in colder climates as well as John Jeavons work. If your goal is to produce your own food then you’re going to want to find simple effective ways to do that. “Growing vegetable is generally fairly easy, do it for a few years and you’ll know all you need to about that to get a decent crop. There’s many ways to start that, there’s many ways we can integrate good ways of doing things into more conventional organic ways of doing things to stack functions and care for soils.”
One way of educating yourself and your family out of vegism is to join or start a Seed Swap or Seed Savers group. Our Seed Savers network back in Noosa is one of the most active in Australia and we have such an abundance of not just heirloom seeds and cuttings, but also learned and practiced information from members who are growing on many different aspects, growing conditions and soil types. This shared knowledge is invaluable. This is Community Capital!
Looking at specific types of garden beds, we start with raised beds, alerting us that these are not so appropriate to drier climates as they are effective to improve drainage or building beds where there is no soil. However, they are perfect for community gardens that can provide easy access for people with a disability or for senior members of the garden group. Double digging techniques are next, with some initial hard work but they are very beneficial to get organic matter deep into the soil and creating a loose soil to plant into.
No dig beds that use cardboard and rotten manure which is “super nice for the soil if you’re ripping out nutrients from annual vegetable beds”- R.P, then mulch on top with straw or something else available and is a very quick way to build fertility. Similarly lasagne beds are just as effective a way of utilising unused available materials.
Dry climate strategies might be drip line design, contour patterning and wicking beds that incorporate gravel at the base of the bed with a water pipe in it and organic matter piled on top. Trying semi-buried unglazed ceramic pots is an ancient technology that may work in drier climates as well.
Before morning tea Richard gives us a tour of a former residence near Stockholm, explaining the power of networking and connecting with neighbours and your local community. Including some help from Hare Krishna volunteers who arrive courtesy of the Swedish Transit Police, “I mean these two were trying to get to the North of Sweden and they don’t really believe in the concept of money and the Swedish Train Authorities do, we found them on the station and they came to stay for a month. They were awesome help, they would go off and pick berries and mushrooms and left enough for the whole winter”.
The construction of the garden beds involved a local farmer discovering Richard in his field measuring his bails of straw to see if he might buy some to use to mulch their new beds. During the conversation the farmer gets quite interested in what they are doing and ends up delivering 40 bails of moldy hay, during which time the farmer sees their planned food forest so delivers more bails. On one of the hay runs the farmer mentions the piles of old manure he wants to get rid of ( write this whole story just because it’s so wonderful):
“so half an hour later he comes back with his muck spreader and he was so excited he brought his son along, and it’s like a test of his skills cause these guys farm together and they probably don’t socialise so much, you know they work together all day and here’s some young people that are really interested, talking to him and feeding him cakes and coffee and he’s having a really nice time. So he’s really up for it, and get really excited because they want to see how good they use their machinery to make it just the right width on the bed and so they do a really nice job. So an hour later we’ve got 10cm of manure perfectly lined and we didn’t have to do anything except roll some hay bails out, so that was super nice and he’s like… ‘you know what?’(class still giggling at the ongoing excitement) ‘I’ve got all this rotten silage, that’d make a really good top layer we could come and do a top layer” and I was like ‘Well how do we do that?’ and he says ‘I can do it the much spreader as well, I’ll be back in half an hour.’ And he comes along and he covers the whole thing beautifully and he does a way better job than we could have done by hand and it would have taken us a week. So two hours later we’ve got a new neighbour friend who basically built our garden for us in two hours and who’s got a machine to help us do lots of cool stuff.”
We’re seeing stacking of functions, inclusivity not exclusivity (community connections) in motion.
When Richard introduces Jean Pain’s technology of woodchips + water piping = super hot water, the class sparks up with questions flowing quick and fast. “How high is the pile?” “Do you end up with compost?” Where do you get woodchips?” “How long do they last?” Super efficient energy production in the form of hot water. This leads Richard to one of his new passions since purchasing a forest… mobile saw mills! “I have a friend who’s a very good tree surgeon, he brought home on his 5 tonne trailer a several hundred year old Oak trunk, and that piece of timber, with a 5000 euro saw mill, well each slab of that log I can turn into a 2000 euro table. You can’t buy pieces of wood like that and people just throw that away, people chip it.” Another number on the shopping list, a Lucas Saw Mill.
We learn about saving lettuce seeds and find out the one’s, as with many plants, one’s that do well in bad circumstances are probably winner’s, looking for healthy and vigorous and slow to bolt. Be sure to mark your seeding plants well and then clean, dry and sort. With tomatoes and cucurbits you’ll want to ferment them. Looking at bean seeds, we can test by biting, any teeth marks will mean the bean is not ready, and when they are be sure to discard any that are a weird shape and colour or have any holes in them.
When storing seeds Richard emphasises the importance of labelling the seeds well by type and date, paper bags in a wooden chest. Looking at smaller, fine seeds it’s good to ask “How am I harvesting these?” You need to think about how to collect them efficiently so that you don’t lose too many from being knocked or blown away by strong winds.
“Micro-climates and stacking, that’s what urban design is all about.” We hear about the Permablitz movement partly founded by Dan Palmer, whose company V.E.G. (Very Edible Gardens) is going great guns bringing Permaculture principles to traditional Australian urban landscapes.
As an example of community engagement in the UK, Incredible Edible based in Great Todmorden, U.K, which has spread all over the world. They are growing food all over the towns public spaces, from graveyards to canal pathways and the train station. They've set up college level trainings to move people on to professions as market gardeners. The kids don’t seem to vandalise their surroundings anymore because there is now an inherent respect and sense of ownership. The policemen are growing sweet corn, tomatoes and beans out the front of the station and the support workers at the main garden facility are re-offenders who spend their community service time grafting trees and storing seeds. Compared to regular rehabilitation methods this sounds pretty clever, not to mention totally empowering.
“You don’t leave a lot of space if you stack well and plan well.” Richard highlights this by explaining the design for a canal long boat he lived on some years ago, that had benefits of being able to stack a year’s supply of free firewood found on shore which feeds super efficient heating systems, a rooftop garden and utilising irrigation water that pipes into the canals, catching it in buckets to water the hanging vertical salad bars hanging above the gunnels. One of his neighbours kept chickens on the roof and running them on the old horse tracks that run beside the canals, which are also interconnected across the country by bike trails.
In the afternoon session there is a glimpse of the final stretch when Richard starts discussing the Design Process and as part of the initial development of goals and the mission statement, he indicates any of the Holistic Management documentation as highly valuable material as a resource to define your objectives.
The following essentials is walked through to compliment the 26 stage design process we are working with:
- Priority mapping and brain storming (the P.C. term is Idea Showers) of ‘Must, Should, Could’s’
- Developing a Base Map - what’s already there? (structures, access, forest, water)
- Sector Analysis – what are the energies passing through our site?
- Existing species analysis – what’s growing or living there and how can I use them? (trees, birds, etc)
- Resource Analysis – what exists on-site? ($, people, netwoirks, market, skills available)
- Conceptual Design – playing with ideas, shapes and patterns, just playing!
- Final Design – clear,
- Phase Planning – Multi- year plans
- Bill of Quantities (prospective budget)
- Summary – Did I meet the client’s goals? Can I supply alternative options? Really digging down through the resources to find an adjustment that may see the project get across the line.
“Good design starts on paper. When working in a group in can be very supportive to split off from each other when you all have a good idea of the site & objectives and generate patterns, themes & concepts. Then you can come back and see where they mesh, where your common threads lie. If there are blockages at any point perhaps a S.W.O.T. (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and constraints) will come in handy.
It’s the thinking that he’s keen to see, how we are putting everything we have learned in this course applied to a conceptual design to create functional interconnections between elements, energy management supported by flowing energy streams from both on and off the site. He also concentrates on how we will present to ensure the information is clear. Sometimes students can get ‘lost’ trying to describe their design ideas in the new language they have learnt over the course. Richard suggests efficient and concise methods to explain the strategies using the design principles as a language.