“Don’t forget the one and only (No) Talent Show”. Richard reminds the students that they are expected to share some type of skit or performance this coming Friday evening as part of our final night celebrations. These are always a treat and as Richard explains, also a way of demonstrating community. “The idea is how do we entertain ourselves here in the middle of a field without having to go and buy stuff or go to events, we just make an event.”
“C’mon let’s play a game”. One of the best ways to incite spontaneous reaction and get the blood flowing in the morning is to surprise people and this is one of the best games I know of getting some very, very strange sounds out of people. The Super Hero game begins. Basically there are three super hero powers that come with specific actions or moves and an accompanying sound, which is not so important and usually ends up being invented the split second before the action anyway.
The idea is for the person in the middle of the circle to slowly scan the perimeter and suddenly turn to challenge a member facing into the circle by making one of the three actions, if the person responds with the same action they change places and commence challenging the other Super Heroes. Super Hero sounds like “GAZAAROW” and “PERSHOOM” and “AHHHHHHH” are not uncommon, hence it is a terrific way of waking up and getting everyone laughing first thing after breakfast.
I had only briefly heard of the term Holistic Management before I arrived at Ridgedale. It’s a method of managing a property holistically, from finances, livestock management, soils and vegetation, the whole lot; with respect to the complex systems we naturally engage with in farming, ecologiy, economy and social & wellbeing factors. Everything is included in an overall ‘Holistic Context’ that is driven by what you actually want your life to look like; Of which your working life plays a major part. At a farm scale, “the aim of the high-impact grazing practice is to encourage improved rainfall infiltration, higher nutrient inputs from the grazing animals and a change in pasture composition and quality.[i]”
[i] Kate Stark, http://www.theland.com.au/news/agriculture/livestock/general-news/graziers-prepare-to-heal-the-earth/
When talking about holistic management at a large to very large scale, mostly being used in arid, dry, and degraded landscapes, Richard explains “it’s worth noting that many of the goals are the same as with a lot of common Permaculture strategies; build soil, hold water in that soil capable of nourishing plants and build healthy community dynamics, usually this is achieved without seeding, or feeding or fertilizing, they’re just moving livestock and able to achieve the same results quicker and cheaper than you could using many other techniques. So they’re going for the same thing they’re just going about it a very different way… and they’re able to restore very degraded land like that. It’s really worth reflecting on that I think” – R.P. Any decisions that we make involving complex systems are going to lead to unexpected consequences, one example being the behaviour of water on Ridgedale’s fields now having been influenced by the minor intervention of the Keyline Design. This is not a major consequence though and Richard already has this covered using specific placement of pocket ponds as a solution if the issue did ever arise.
We look at Ridgedale Farm’s grazing plan and working with their goals, resources and the quality of life they are looking for; what is known as the Holistic Context, helping to clearly define what it is they value and what they want to achieve in their Statement of Purpose.
This is what is different, about the courses here at Ridgedale. We are being educated in simple, scalable solutions, from a backyard or balcony to a 300 hectare farm. The interns will be learning more about Holistic Design come Monday as part of the intensive introductory course that will carry on straight after the PDC.
In closing Richard remarks, “I think you have to have a context to manage in. If you can’t define what you’re going for in your life, the things that need to be in place for you to get there and things that need to be in place for many generations to live that life, you can’t really make effective decisions… Holistic Management totally empowers Permaculture Design.”
Next up for Sunday is Dryland Water management. “Everything in dryland design is about making water do the work, because that is the limiting factor in a massive way”. Adopting anti-evaporation measures to assist with the retention of water in a dry climate, and finding useful leverage points for effective water design, like placing mounted tin sheeting on the top of hills in the landscape to catch water up high and provide gravity fed systems. Some other key elements to consider when planning for a dryland climate:
- Long thoughtful observation
- Observe unusual events
- Look for starting points
- Points of erosion (river baffling)
- Start at the top of the watershed
- What can you do to store water up high? How can you use gravity?
- Water has the least kinetic energy up high
- Small and Simple
- low risk (won’t break the bank)
- managed with observation and simple interaction
- Slow, Spread and Sink
- Make water work for you
- Move water through the landscape slowly, walking not running, through your site, along the longest edge passively, to effect the most life
- Planning Overflows
- How much work can we make water do?
- Stack functions
- Dam walls + roads
- Roads catching and moving water
- Reassess continually
We look at catching roof water and drip lines of over-head structures as starting points for developing a self irrigating edge. “A very good strategy in a dry landscape is to establish deep mulch beds full of organic matter, which can hold water like a sponge, and people in the past in the Mediterranean for example they grew grape vines and pumpkins over there roof of their houses to shade their house. That’s where we start, where something unusual is happening. Where does water naturally concentrate, and we work out from that”.
In a flash back to Ben Falk’s presentation we look at the slow, spread and sink principle, making water work for us to effect the most life forms as possible and moving along the longest edge, not eroding. One of Richard’s inspirations, Darren Doherty advises “You need to be blue (water), before Green (vegetation) before you are Black (soil, Carbon, profitable!)”.
We see an example from a project Richard worked on in Mexico where a major return from the visit was the treatment of the trees in the project’s orange grove. Using the catchment calculations we can quickly work out that each 5 x 5m tree, in a 550ml p/a rainfall area, is capable of collecting somewhere near 16’000 litres. The digging of a basin around the tree and it’s drip line, which is then filled with compost and covered with thick mulch, all on top of the newly installed drip irrigation to (replace the spray system) allows the team there to start “driving a set of exponential reactions”. Establishing groundcovers that will help heal and protect the soil and also provide a form of nutrition to the residents, shaded by understorey, nitrogen fixing trees like Eleagnus, that are providing the fruit trees with all their needs as well as dropping mulch to add to the organic matter being broken down by the new micro-organisms that are moving in. Such enormous benefits all actioned by “very simple stuff, none of it breaks the bank, with no major earthworks.”
Before lunch we watch the John D. Liu film ’Forests Keep Drylands Working’. A figure like Asia’s areas of dry and arid area totalling 18 million square kilometres, that’s pretty damn scary. Ponder this the ruins of all the planet’s once great civilisations, are all found in drylands. The good news is the patterns of recovery are the same as any successful natural system, we just have to mimic those patterns with help from the people it most effects, like those in South Africa at The Participatory Restoration of Ecosystems Services and Natural Capital in the Eastern Cape (PRESENCE).
“Water is life. Life is mostly water. Just by slowing water down, walking it around, life can happen. It water’s not under control, life will suffer” – R.P.
In the afternoon session we head out with Kate who has been recording a very large amount of tangible data on grass consumed by our cows, the effect of the egg layers who are following the cattle across the fields and the types of nutrition they are gathering from the cow pats they have learned to shred and spread, much like the chooks at Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in the U.S. All of this will be used to compile significant background information to assist Richard and Yohanna with their holistically managed plans for the grazing, soil regeneration and other productive elements on the farm.
The final session sees Eric Toensmeier, Author of Perennial Vegetables and co-author of Edible Forest Gardens Vol. I & II, joins us from the U.S. with a full presentation on Perennial Crops for all climates. We learn about perennial beans in cold climate systems, a cereal for the tropics and sub-tropics call Nipa that also grows very well in brackish water and on lands heavily impacted by salinity (hello Australia!!) and the increasing use of high protein leaves as nutrition sources for humans and livestock in the form of leaf protein concentrate.
Such a wealth of information from this man and he is once again bombarded with interesting question from the students about Apricot kernels, perennials we can expect to see becoming more prevalent as planting, particularly Mesquite of which certain cultivars make very good human food. Keep an eye out for that one.
Another massive day down, time for the sauna. See you at sunrise.
Last PDC at Ridgedale for 2014 Runs in Sept
Say you wanted to study Permaculture or Regenerative design and you really wanted to understand how to design your own farm or project; they'd be all these books you should read, maybe some films on the internet, or maybe you download information from the internet, and all that may avail no action. All that could avail is a basic understanding of principles & elements of design, in a way similar to an artist's palette. You could have all the colors and brushes but unless you know how to paint you're going to end up with a big mess. That's where we got to in today's society, a big mess.
We're here to support you getting the best education possible, details of the upcoming (& final Ridgedale PDC for 2014) can be found here.
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