I can hear Capoiera music coming from the classroom yurt, “It must be after 6.30, Armando’s morning class is under way” I think to myself. Time to rise for the second day of the PDC here at Ridgedale Permaculture. The ‘welcome’ bell rings at 6:55am and the morning tasks are well under way by 7am with all the new residents moving chickens, tidying compost toilets, and foraging berries from the forest that borders the property.
Over another scrumptious breakfast of farm produced Filmjölk (a mesophilic fermented milk product that is made by fermenting cow's milk with a variety of bacteria from the species Lactococcus lactis and Leuconostoc mesenteroides… thanks wikipedia) it’s basically fermented milk that tastes like yogurt with the texture of marshmallows (yum!) hand milked the previous day topped with fresh blueberries from the woods. I sit with Bettina and Stephan, a couple from Belgium, and we discuss fascinating experiences from intentional communities we have visited. I learn about a wonderful ‘daily task designator’ mandala game (http://sites.ecovillage.org/en/product/community-mandala), designed by one of the founder’s of the Valle de Sensaciones community in Spain. A quick glance later tells me this may be a fun way to generate interest in turning the compost at Bellbunya, my community back in Australia.
After breakfast we’re straight into class reviewing the Design Principles, extending to other ecological designers whose work is highly relevant and discuss the application of redundancy at Ridgedale, from future plans for crayfish and fresh water aquaculture to the budding ‘medicine cabinet’ already planted along a significant edge adjoining the riparian buffer in the top field. Redundancy; to meet every need in a variety of ways. I see Richard attempting to do this with almost every element on the farm, sourcing fish from the local lake to eat and fish waste serving as a protein supplement for the broiler chickens as well as freezing down foraged local berries to store for his family over winter. My morning “I did not know that” moment comes courtesy of why berries and Sweden are so intertwined. The long daylight hours during summer means berries are rich in colour, aroma, minerals, and vitamins, especially riboflavin or B2. Keep the sunlight coming I say!
So now we’re starting to stack functions in space & time, which Richard demonstrates using his poly-tunnel. Here at Ridgedale the main tunnel runs East to West due to a dilemma in it’s size, but were it facing north to south it would allow for height in the centre to be utilized as a growing space for longer term plants, perhaps even espaliered fruit trees. In this instance the tunnel will serve as winter space for animals performing various work so the farmers don't have to; clearing crop residue, fertilizing and cleaning up seed.
How do you really know? You only truly know by doing yourself – “Ideas and concepts are pretty limited in this world without Action… Constant observation and timely interaction are key.” The ‘action’ method of learning, testing out ideas (eg, double dig vs. sheet mulch vs. raised bed), see where it takes you and observe what you learn. I use this method in my own learning, with minimal concern for what some would could failures (the financial ones I try to avoid). Even though Edison said, you’ve just found 1000 ways that don’t work, sometimes what might be perceived as a failure becomes a previously unseen solution to a question you weren’t yet asking…whoa! Back to the practical application method, you may find the questions you need to ask upon implementation of a project; Do I have enough people? Can I apply another strategy (resources)?
We also briefly discuss leverage points, poor functioning elements or positive areas of engagement that can be utilized in such a way so as to effect the most change with least amount effort or output of energy. ADD MORE about leverage??
We look at the Inputs and Output Analysis of morning Fica choices of coffee or peppermint tea, an industrial raised pig and a woodland fed local organic pig. Our analysis of coffee opens up concerns around warfare over oil and the destruction of old rainforests to make way for unsustainable coffee plantations that operate in a way opposite to how coffee actually thrives. Compared to peppermint tea grown here on the farm, which like our woodland fed pig, sees some initial inputs in the form of finance, land and soil analysis, that slowly decline to welcome space for steadily increasing outputs such as education, small enterprise, social capital and piglets. I and many of the class are truly engaged by Richard’s explanation of the re-introduction of environmental triggers to spur on events that were not occurring prior to the trigger, e.g. pigs passing through a woodland encouraging new species to emerge, such as has been recorded at Polyface farm in Virginia. The same pattern of climatic triggers is emphasized in the tropics in Willie Smitts short "Restoring a rainforest" regarding the germination of hardwood seeds lying dormant in seasonal grasslands.
And then we step into the Zone and Sector Analysis. I have a flashback to my days as a Landscape Architect and create the connection to Ian McHarg’s (Design with Nature, 1969) overlay techniques, by starting to direct you to not only where you can’t put things, but where you can place elements that are perfectly suited in response to your sector analysis. “My house won’t go there because of prevailing winds, so perhaps I’ll plant some Photinia as a windbreak and a fire break, also creating a suntrap and an opportunity to plan a road along a minor ridgeline.”
Reminder to self! contact Hart at Karuna Farm in the western ghats of India where they could use the fast growing, nitrogen fixing leguminous Indian Coral tree knocked down as a hedgerow, and then grow Bouganvillia over the top to create an animal and security boundary fence, giving the spiky characteristics of both the tree and the climber, while providing an aesthetic rainbow of varying colour through their the land.
The students pick this up very quickly and to support our Zone and Sector analysis we start looking specifically at the logical placement of elements in relation to the human habitat, commonly referred to as Zone 1 (or 0) through the Zone 5. Richard explains the different shapes of zones and that they are not the circular patterns emanating from the centre, as demonstrated in many design books. Ultimately, we can aim for opportunities be place elements in a relative location to create functional interconnections and inspire energy efficiency & stack functions.
Richard consistently highlights tools & techniques He employs in his design work for clients, and is careful to point out weaknesses in some Permaculture approaches, integrating other design frameworks where appropriate; We visit the archives of P.A.Yeoman’s and learn about the Keyline Scale of Permanence, a design methodology that helps solve some of the problems of priority in the design of a farm landscape.
A useful thing is to know is what your climate used to look like (particularly in a very damaged environment) so you can design into what it may behave like in the future as well as connecting with neighbours and experienced residents who can share their knowledge. We reflect on the patterned human responses in our various climates/ locations, noting this is often the greatest barrier to regenerating ecologies & economies. We look at the importance of Topographic maps and how this relates to functional placement in Keyline design; which leads us to a detailed explanation of appropriate and very handy technologies in the form of several key software programs for rapid design and generation of a Bill of Quantities.
Afternoon tea time includes some general relaxing on the lawns outside the classroom yurt (it’s currently hitting high summer temperatures in Sunne and we’re all a little cozy sleepy after lunch). We take a break from P.A.’s scale (Keyline Design is on Day 4) so we move on to a group discussion of PASTE information generating sheets (Plants, Animals, Structures, Tool & Events) followed by a review of a detailed Design Process.
Richard then takes us to Luxembourg to demonstrate this process in an Urban Design example of property that incorporates aquaponics, compost toilet systems, obtaining yields (mushrooms & understory crops) in marginal spaces (below Black Walnut trees) with free resources (forestry commission supplies Beech logs) and the management of coppicing Hazel trees to manufacture berimbau’s (a single string percussion instrument from Brazil) to support the residents’ micro business of teaching Capoeira…. I can sense another “Wow” moment building.
This is what a PDC with Richard Perkins is like, “Wow” moments funded by super relevant, mind blowing information. Laying to rest after another massive day, having spirited across thriving global climates, dancing with ideas of functional design after exposure to several engineering absurdities, I close my eyes wondering where Day 3 will lead my imagination.
Upcoming trainings at Ridgedale Permaculture
If you are curious about the solutions that will allow us to restore the planets ecosystems whilst maintaining a stimulating and meaningful life living in resilient and mutually beneficial supportive ways then this is for you. Are you looking to develop a career in professional Permaculture design? Wanting to establish your own project or farm? Our Permaculture Design Courses are highly regarded internationally, with 90 hrs+ of curriculum based learning & internationally accredited via P.R.I. (Aus) & P.C. Assoc (UK) here is a chance to take a fully up to date PDC with one of Europe's most active Permaculture Professionals.