Widening My Circle

I know I’ve been really quiet since starting the PDC.  One reason I think is became I’m synthesizing so much of my earlier permaculture learning with that provided in the class. Through my previously study, I had a great deal of information. I did a lot of study on my own. The way it is coming together in the PDC (particularly through the order in which the instructors present the information  in the PDC)  is giving me new insights into permaculture beyond the garden.   I think I’m waiting for the new learning from the PDC to catch up with the study I had done.

Secondly over the past month, I’ve determined that this blog needs to have a broader focus; that ultimately I have a broader area of  interest than what I’ve been talking about so far.

My original about me/about the blog statement says:

I am interested in investigating permaculture’s relevance to household renovation, municipal water and waste water system design and the transition economy in an urban/suburban context.

Really I am interested in learning about ways and systems to shift our minds not only toward a transition economy but to a more self-determined economy and consciousness. Permaculture as it is typically defined is a subset of this discussion.

Widening the Circle from Resurrection Fern

One of my earlier and most popular posts talked about the book … and the echo followsThis post  focused on  the way that rural poor people in India, Africa Central and  South America were using “permaculture solutions” to make decisions about and gain greater control over the factors that effect their lives. My focus in this blog thus far has been a focus on permaculture to the urban/suburban context because that’s where I live. Nevertheless the solutions of these so-called “third world” people are of interest because we in  the so-called “developed world” who are interested in permaculture are engaging the same forces as we attempt to make this shift to a transition economy.

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.  

Albert Einstein

Right now I’m struggling a little to articulate the concepts in my mind fully but know from here on out this blog will be covering a little broader territory. I’m sure I will get clearer as I continue to post.


Unable to See the Way Forward

I know I’m been a little off my writing schedule for the last week or so , but I’m a bit stuck. Not blocked but stuck.  Over the past few months I’ve done a ton of reading about permaculture with a good bit about peak oil, the long descent and transition as well. but now I’m stopped.

Putting this all together is difficult

The first thing that is getting me stuck is trying to connect all of this knowledge swirling around in my head into one big picture though this seems to be least of my issues.

Incorporating this into an existing suburban dwelling is difficult

The second thing that is getting me stuck is trying to incorporate all f this into my existing house.  Maybe I’m a perfectionist but it is awfully difficult to come up with permaculture solutions in an existing suburban house in an existing suburban neighborhood designed for unlimited fossil fuel use. Ideal solutions would be  low priced, reasonably priced or higher priced but with a high energy payback.  I can make some decent improvements but it’s difficult to see the path to a breakthrough.

I feel like I need to move to another place but neighborhoods that are  “locally” self-sufficient are scarce. There really doesn’t seem to be a lot of “better” out there from a neighborhood context. I feel like I need to move to another smaller house but it’s awfully hard to sell a house in  the current real estate market.  I feel like I need to build a house but how is using more energy to build a new structure consistent with permaculture when there are so many existing buildings already out there?

Getting beyond the garden is difficult

Lastly I’m getting stuck around permaculture beyond the garden. It seems that ( and trust me this is not backed up by any scientific research) that permaculture information focuses 90% of their efforts on the garden. The 10% that is not garden seems to be individual projects, without a core philosophy backing them.

(Generalizing here) When you are living on a large plot of land if  you can meet your needs for energy and cooling, you can pretty much stay on the land most of the time, minimizing your needs for travel and use of fuel. You can have a well on your own land and become self-sufficient in water, recycling gray water. Your solid organic wastes can be composted. If you reduce your other purchases and stay pretty close to home, you can achieve  a very balanced lifestyle.

These strategies are less workable in the urban/suburban context. We have so little land to work with, the garden becomes less important.  Transportation and travel become much more important. Also neighborhood sharing and community building become much more important.   This seems difficult when you don’t have like-minded neighbors.

Unable to See the Way Forward

Last week I read Dave Pollard post entitled The Second Denial on How to Save the World.  I remember distinctly the first time I lost someone very dear to me, how I couldn’t see  a future for a long time. This person was so much a  part of my future that all of my visions of the future included them; I just couldn’t imagine a future without them in it. I remember looking at the 5 stages of grief model and wondering, was this depression? I was stuck then. I sort of feel like that now.  I wonder if others are not in denial; if rather they are stuck , not able to see their way to a post oil or sustainable or whatever you want to call it, future.

We Learn by Studying Nature

Indian cucumber

On Wednesday, I along with several other members of the Sustainable Gwinnett Meetup group traveled to  North Georgia to learn about edible and medicinal plants of the Southern Appalachian region  from Susan Howell.  I could do a long post on the trip but suffice to say, you can learn a lot  by observing the undisturbed ecological reference (zone 5)  of your own bioregion with a knowledgeable herbalist as your guide. I have a small patch of zone 5 in my backyard; I’m definitely going to keep it intact.

Patricia is the program Director of  Botano Logos School for Herbal Studies in Rabun County, Georgia.  Their website can be accessed here.

Tear Out Your Front Yard!

I just checked out a copy of Ivette Soler’s book Edible Front Yard from the library Friday.  The book is not specific to permaculture though the idea of tearing up your front yard and turning it into a garden definitely is consistent with permaculture principles.

edible front yard

Photo courtesy: the edible office

(I read somewhere today that permaculture is not so much at set of technologies as it is a way of thinking about how these technologies go together. If I read this in your blog, comment to me and I’ll revise this sentence to credit you appropriately.)

I got a chance to skim through the book at lunch. Here’s a few of the big ideas I picked up:

  • Beauty. In a suburban context, your neighbors may not be too happy if you tear out your front yard and it lessens the property values of all of the surrounding houses.  Try to keep your front yard garden neat and design it to be beautiful.
  • Edible Annuals and Perennials. This book really does provide great suggestions of  very attractive edible annuals and perennials for the front yard; what they are, how to grow them and how to use them. She looks at both plants we are used to eating and invites us to “expand our edible palette” by planting some non-traditional edible plants. The pictures are great.
  • Edibles for shade.  I really liked this list (though short) because my yard has lots of shade.  She also talked about tree removal and pruning. This is an issue that not too many people talk about in the permaculture community. For me it also is a dilemma for a suburban garden. Do you cut the trees in your yard to provide more sunlight for your garden?  What do you do with the wood? Mulch it?  That really seems like a waste of a valuable resource.I’d really be interested if others have other ideas for reusing tree trimmings in an urban/suburban context, other than as fuel or lumber.
  • Edibles for winter.  Here in the southern US we should be able to stretch our growing season  well into the winter months.
  • Removing and reusing lawn plants.  This was a concern I had as I consider converting my yard to a permaculture garden.  How do you reuse the plants?
  • How-To’s. Starting about a quarter of the way through the book Ivette provides some great how-to’s.  I was most excited by this section of the book.  Here’s some of her suggested projects:
  • A lettuce lawn. I might try this in my back yard where I have a lot of shade.
  • A tri-fold trellis screen.  This is a multi-function screen that provides privacy while staking tomatoes, peas or beans.
  • A corrugated metal raised bed.  I love this.  I have seen so many of these corrugated metal beds in permaculture videos but had absolutely no idea where people were getting them.  Ivette tells you how to make them. Her suggestion is to place them in the strip between the street and the sidewalk.
  •  A simple compost cage.  Again I love this. I have been

    old and newly started compost piles, july. left pile is enclosed with chicken wire, right pile is not contained at all.

    making compost in a chicken wire cage that I just prop up any old way.  Ivette’s design is easy.  I went a picked up some horse manure from the local horse farm earlier this week to amp up my second compost pile of this growing season. I may try to upgrade my compost cage this weekend.

All and all the book is a great addition to the permaculture library.

P.S.  The compost cage upgrade didn’t happen over the weekend.

Coping with the Complexity of Permaculture Design

photo courtesy: versionz

I was cleaning out my inbox and in doing so, I ran into this post from Dave Pollard at How to Save the World .  In his March 9, 2010 post, Dave writes about a seven step process for coping with complexity. These steps could apply to how one would begin to tackle such issues as climate change, peak oil or any other complex societal problem. They could also apply to how one would begin to create a permaculture design.

The steps he identifies are: sense, self-control, understand, question, imagine, offer and collaborate.

Dave summarizes them this way:

Sense: Observe, listen, pay attention, open up your senses, perceive everything that has a bearing on the issue at hand. Connect.
Self-control: Don’t prejudge or jump to conclusions. Don’t lose your cool. Focus. Breathe.
Understand: Make sure you have the facts and appreciate the context. Things are the way they are for a reason. Know what that reason is. Sympathize.
Question: Ask, don’t tell. Challenge. Think critically.
Imagine: Picture, hear, feel what could be. Be visionary. Every problem is an opportunity. Anything is possible.
Offer: Consider. Give something away. Create options, new avenues to explore. Suggest possibilities. Lend a hand. Help.
Collaborate: Create something together. Evolve  collective approaches that are better than any set of individual approaches. Learn to yield, to build on, to bridge, to adapt your thinking.

Read more here.

I’m not sure whether Dave has a background in permaculture. I know he is familiar with Transition Towns which use permaculture principles as core guidelines.

Dave’s first four steps seem to be a further refinement of Permaculture Principle no. 1,  Observe.  It helps me to break this one step down into these four parts.

The remaining steps relate to the planning and design process.

This blog is definitely keeping an open mind, resting at the observe, question and understand stage for now. As we begin to build up a baseline of observations, together we’ll move on to imagine, offer and collaborate.

Food Supplies at Risk from Declining Oil Supplies?

What do you mean that food supplies are at risk as oil supplies decline and oil prices rise?  That over time soil used for agriculture becomes “dead”, able to produce only because  natural gas based fertilizers add the necessary nutrients? That there are fewer than 150,000 farmers in Britain and their average age is 60?  (I checked a similar statistic for the United States. According to the USDA Data Sheet, in 2007 there were just over 992,000 persons (less than 1/2% of the total US population) who listed farming as their primary occupation in the United States and their average age was 57.)

The BBC documentary, A Farm for the Future explores the state of small-scale  agriculture in Britain from the vantage point of the filmmaker’s family farm.   In this film, a UK Farmer and wildlife filmmaker, Rebecca Hosking discovers and  explores permaculture as a way to design food-producing systems without fossil fuel inputs.

This film showed me, a city dweller,  how dependent our current food-producing systems are on oil and natural gas and so how vulnerable these systems are. In these times, it makes a lot of sense to build some resilience into my own personal food supply by raising some of my food at home, seeking out more local food sources and possibly even working in partnership with those practicing permaculture in a more rural context.

See this documentary (and other free documentaries) here or here.

Earthship Brighton, What is that?

Solar Panels Earthship Brighton

photo: Dominic Alves

Low Carbon Trust  says:

Earthship Brighton was the Low Carbon Trust’s first project and was the first Earthship to be built in England. The project was built as a community centre for use by Stanmer Organics, built on a Soil Association accredited site in Brighton.

This pioneering demonstration project has evolved over the last ten years and enables people to come and experience a cutting edge eco-build and be inspired to respond to climate change in their own ways back at home and work.

There were several drivers: delivering a sustainable community centre in response to a genuine local need, changing values in the construction industry and inspiring positive action in individuals to generate environmental change through modifying people’s behaviour to less carbon intensive lifestyles.

Throughout the project the focus has been spreading a positive message of climate change education and helping people to modify their behaviour to live with a lighter carbon footprint.

click here for an online tour of Earthship Brighton: