Holistic Management – A review

I’m about 3/4 of the way through a new book, Holistic Management and I’ve gained so many insights that have been beneficial to my permaculture practice, I wanted to write a preview article about them.

The primary author is Allan Savory, a former wildlife biologist, game department ranger, farmer, and ranching consultant.  Mr. Savory was born in Zimbabwe, and it seems the majority of his life experience is in creating and maintaining sustainable animal/plant systems in arid, brittle environments.  About half of the book focuses on defining brittle environments and how successful management  in these brittle environments differs from those for non-brittle (humid) environments (such as those in GA where I live.)

These insights would be particularly of interest to those living in brittle (seasonally humid) environments where most above ground vegetation dies at a certain point and year and simultaneously insects and microorganisms that would aid in recycling or decomposing this dead vegetation also become dormant.

Photo by: Offwell Woodland & Wildlife Trust

Though I found this very interesting,  the fascinating part of the book  is his goal setting and decision-making process.  The first edition of the book titled Holistic Land Management focused solely on management of land. The second edition expands the decision-making process to cover personal goal setting and decision-making for any type of home or business goal or decision. This process is particularly applicable to setting the goals and evaluating the planned actions of a permaculture design.

The goal setting process is more rigorous than the permaculture goal setting method I learned. It is totally applicable to permaculture goal setting and by nature incorporates the 3 ethics of earth care, people care and resource share. Goal setting  consists of :

  • identifying the key decision makers, resource base,and available funds
  • developing a joint quality of life statement with the other decision makers
  • identifying the proposed forms of production for the enterprise  and
  • articulating a future resource base.

See an earlier post Permaculture Goal Setting for more information about more about permaculture goal articulation. For a better understanding of the difference between these two approaches see:

The second major contribution I found beneficial to permaculture is the decision-making framework the author proposes. He suggests that one use 7 testing questions and your holistic goal to evaluate each decision. The names of the seven questions appear below, you need to read the book to get a full understanding of them.  He devotes a chapter to each question.

  1. Cause and effect.
  2. Weak link (social, biological and financial)
  3. Marginal reaction
  4. Gross profit analysis.
  5. Energy/money source and use.
  6. Sustainability.
  7. Society and culture.

In developing my permaculture design, I identified a list of proposed actions all which I incorporated into the design. Running my list of actions through the Holistic management testing questions:

  • I eliminated 2 of my rain barrel installation actions as low priorities (they were less than critical problems),
  • I decided to make simple mycorrhizal improvements of my soil and not install mushroom spawning beds.  (it achieves my goals at a lower cost; lack of mushrooms to eat really wasn’t a problem for me
  • I added one action, to plant polycultures into the lawn to reduce the need for chemical spraying (question 5)
  • I changed the priorities of my activities based on questions 3 and 4 to focus first on activities requiring less time and less money and contributing more to my “profit”.

I found the testing methods proposed were a very systematic and comprehensive way of testing how well an activity will meet my overall goals. I can see over time how consistently applying this approach will lead to goal achievement.

Also see blog post from Holistic Management website, Taking the Mystery out of Holistic Management

I’ll talk more about the insights from the book in a second post (after I finish it off) but so far, I find this information is a beneficial addition to my permaculture library.


Riot for Austerity – The Calculator is Back!

A very quick post (which turned into a much longer one than expected).

Riot for Austerity Year 2 Outcomes from MamaStories

The riot for austerity calculator that I talked about in this earlier post is back on line.  See link to the calculator here.  Brooklinemama’s current success (through February 2012)  in her quest to cut her family’s energy usage to 10% that of the average American family is chronicled  here.

Sharon Astyk (and friends) are the originators of the calculator. More information about the background on the calculator and references for source data about  current energy, water and resource use by American families appears in Sharon’s post Time to Riot here.

I’m planning to try this for March. It should be pretty easy to track.

  • Transportation mileage: I already pay for gas by debit card and keep receipts. Per Sharon, the average American uses 500 gallons of gas per person, per year.
  • Public transportation mileage: I keep receipts of when I travel by public transportation.  For MARTA, I’ll need to estimate the mileage of my average trip.
  • At home electricity: easily available from monthly bill. The average American uses 2,000 kwh per person (“at home” as opposed to “at work and other places you go”) per year.
  • Heating and Cooking Fuel: easily available from monthly bill.
  • Garbage: I’ll need to weigh my trash. I don’t have much  I do a lot of recycling and composting. Per Sharon, the average American household produces 40 lbs of garbage per week.
  • Water: easily available from monthly bill. I found Sharon’s figures confusing so I found some statistics from the American Water Works Association. They cited indoor per person use at 69.3 gallon per day and total household use at 350 gallons per day (at 2.6 person/household, this is equivalent to 135 gallons per person per day)
  • Consumer Goods. Easily available. I keep monthly receipts. Per Sharon, the average American spend $11,000 per year on items that don’t include food, insurance, energy, housing and other necessities.
  • Food: percent locally grown, dry and bulk goods, wet and conventional goods. The trickiest of the lot.  Initially I’ll estimate.  Probably I should weigh these for accurate figures.

Also, see here for link to “when to start what” planting date calculator from Johnny’s selected seeds.

I’m already way behind.  Trying to catch up with garden planning and garden work this week.

PDC Learnings – Patterns

I think of both patterns and techniques as the ways that elements interact with each other.  The patterns are the strategies that produce an overall outcome while the techniques are the specific tactics that refine this outcome. The intrinsic characteristics of the specific elements selected offer a custom “solution to the design problem”. In this way, the design moves from patterns to details. This post will focus on patterns; the next on techniques.

A pattern is essentially a ordered arrangement of objects or events in time or in space.As we create a new system or modify an existing one, we create or change the rules that order the arrangement. Some of the physical patterns typically discussed in permaculture are:

  • waves
  • scattered distribution
  • branches
  • lobes or keyholes
  • spirals
  • nets
  • tiles

Photo of Cornucopia Community Garden Calgary Canada courtesy of ItzaFineDay

We like to marvel and reflect on these patterns, but many of them are not really implemented meaningfully into design. One sees many scatter, branch, flow and lobe patterns in design but very few waves, spirals, nets or tiles. 99% of the time when I’ve seen spiral, it been an herb spiral.  i think we have a way to go to fully understand the benefits and methods of incorporating these patterns into our designs.

Another type of “pattern” is the practice of taking action first at the highest levels of permanence discussed in two earlier posts. In my PDC these levels of permanence were presented as:

  • climate
  • landform
  • water and erosion
  • zoning and legal systems
  • buildings and infrastructure
  • access and circulation
  • zones of use
  • wildlife and vegetation
  • soil
  • microclimates
  • aesthetics

Changing features at the “top” of the list produces greater impacts than those at the bottom, so a thoughtful design will find and address landform issues for example before  tacking vegetation issues. Changing features at the “top” of the list also takes more effort or resources, so one may choose to leave them as they are and select elements better suited for the environment as is.

Another type of “pattern” is the method of completing the design process.  This is circular pattern that moves through time (or maybe a better description is a coil or a spiral).  Reciprocity between elements typified in guild design is another circular pattern where the circulation occurs between elements in physical space.  Yet another is the repeatable pattern that an ecosystem exhibits as it changes over time from a immature to a mature one.

Branching river, South Eastern Australia. Photo: Peter Markowich

Here some of the more typical sources of information on patterns:

  • A Pattern Language is a 1977 book by Christopher Alexander and others on architecture, urban design and community.  Permacultursts are trying to expand the concept of patterns as described in this work to define ecological design patterns:
  • The book Edible Forest Garden volume 2 presents 57 patterns for use in developing the forest garden.
  • Also see link to Forest Gardening: Vision and Patterns that provides a map of these pattern as a pdf to download.  Thanks Appleseed Permaculture LLC.
  • Decoding Pattern Part 1 is a great article from Big Sky Permaculture. Unfortunately, there is no part two.

I think of these as the primary permaculture principles that deal with patterns, system behavior and reciprocity.

  • Apply self-regulation and accept feedback – We need to discourage inappropriate activity to make sure that systems can continue to function well.
  • Produce no waste – By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  • Design from patterns to details – By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  • Integrate rather than segregate – By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.

PDC Learnings – Elements

Well, I’ve finally finished the PDC. I think I  have the big picture.

Based on what I finally learned, I’m going to revise my most recent post.  I still have 4 main areas of study but I intend to break them up differently:

  1. The process of design using a permaculture approach.  This consists of the steps of:
    1. setting the goals for the design (which has already been discussed in this blog),permaculture design process
    2. completing the site assessment (which I discussed last week),
    3. the actual process of completing the design and
    4. implementing the design
    5. and finally, evaluating the design
  2. The elements of a design. These are both the elements that are present on the site and elements (the animals, plants, insects, buildings, equipment etc.) that you as designer add as part of the design.
  3. The patterns, both those inherent in an ecosystem and the physical patterns inherent in nature. In nature, elements interact in specific patterns.
  4. The techniques that you as designer use to mimic or duplicate the natural patterns.

In this post I wanted to cover elements. Elements have needs (inputs) and yields (outputs). One of the key patterns inherent in the ecosystem is that the outputs of one element supply the inputs of another.  Elements are connected in reciprocity.  Elements are living things or equipment that convert the nutrients or water from one form to another either 1) using them to either create a yield or 2) breaking them down to more basic components.

I don’t need to reinvent the wheel and repeat things that others have said about elements. Here some of the more typical things that permaculture says about elements:

  • First, the classic permaculture diagram showing inputs, outputs and intrinsic characteristics of …a chicken from Permaculture Free Library.

A couple extra points that I found important as I did my design.

  • I found it helpful to actually write out the inputs and outputs of the existing elements on my site and see what I was missing. For a typical suburban home,  resources come in and out of the site from far away . Water, for example is conveyed from offsite and used to water plants onsite. Water is an input to plants, while stormwater is taken offsite. There is very little reciprocity on the site.  My design captured and reused more of the resources onsite, locally.
  • Look at elements in the big picture categories of plants, animals/insects, structures and events.  Be aware that your site will need animals (sources of beneficial insects, manure and insect predators) and decomposing organisms (compost, mushrooms) to connect inputs and outputs into a complete cycle.
  • Finally elements play into these basic permaculture principles:
    • Obtain a yield – Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing
    • Produce no waste – By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
    • Integrate rather than segregate – By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.

PDC Learnings – site assessment

Well, I’m just about done with my PDC.  There’s one more session to go.  We will complete our designs and  present them when we next meet in March.

What if you haven’t been able to attend a PDC? I’ve tried to present several online resources I’ve found for folks who can’t afford to go or can’t find a class that they can attend nearby.  The posts from this series hopefully will give you some useful information for continued home study.

Looking at the mass of information provided during class in retrospect we have covered four major areas of study. We looked at:

  1. the permaculture design goals and principles (which have already been discussed in this blog),
  2. the design process,
  3. aspects of site assessment and,
  4. some of the elements that incorporate the strategies described by the principles that can be introduced into a site.

I wanted to talk about item 3, site assessment in this post, item 4 elements and element selection, next week and leave item 2 until I finish my design.

We learned to assess the site one level at a time using the levels of permanence. Here are a a good link on site assessments from another blog:

A fairly simple reflection that I had during the January session was that each area of permanence could be considered as a separate area of study.  The levels of permanence presented in our session were:

  • climate
  • landform
  • water and erosion
  • zoning and legal systems
  • buildings and infrastructure
  • access and circulation
  • zones of use
  • wildlife and Vegetation
  • quality of soil
  • microclimates
  • aesthetics

(Compare this to my earlier posts on leveraging solutions based on systems design criteria and you’ll see I was not too far off. )

During the PDC we spent about 2 hours on each of these topics (except for aesthetics, zoning and legal requirements). In college I had studied what we covered during the topic “water” for at least 2 semesters.  Here’s some other ideas for more learning in these areas:

  • create  your own self-study course in any of areas using resource text books, permaculture websites or other online materials.
  • Audit or take online free college courses in any of these areas.
  • If you are in college, you could create a permaculture program of study using these topic areas as prerequisite courses.

Can you come up with other ideas?  The PDC material is just a taste.  You can easily spend whatever amount of time you chose to devote to learning about each of these areas.

P.S. A picture of my site assessment is forthcoming as an addition to this post. I’m working through some camera difficulties.

WordCamp and Permaculture

WordCamp ATL 2012 - photo by Judi Knight

Next month I’ll wrap up my PDC and am thinking, how can I act as a facilitator for permaculture development here in the metro-Atlanta area?  How do we build our permaculture assets across the metro-Atlanta region?

I just came back from the Atlanta WordCamp.  What a great experience! This is the second one I have attended.  At one of the sessions I attended, the speaker, John Saddington who led a session entitled “Blog Posts that Build Audiences”, challenged us to blog that night based on what we had learned during his session.  One take away I got from his session was about being aware.  He said there are 100 blog posts available to you to write on at any one time. That increased my awareness of WordCamp as a community and how insights on building a WordPress community can relate to building a stronger permaculture community.

For those who don’t know, WordPress is a free and open space blogging tool and website content management system. Since the website development is an open space (developed and maintained on a voluntary by many, free to copy), the conferences that it sponsors are also modified open spaces. WordPress central provides guidelines and a template for the conference (called a WordCamp). Volunteers in an any geographic region organize it using volunteer speakers and donated materials.  Many materials are recycled from conference to conference through WordPress central. Often the volunteers organizers come from a local meetup. The local meetups offer a forum for several hundred new and existing users. In metro-Atlanta’s case there are probably a few hundred people on the meetup rolls and probably 50 active volunteers for the WordCamp,

While the sessions are great, what’s even better is the open space experiences, meeting with other attendees between sessions, finding “experts” (often attendees with just a little more knowledge than you) who can answer your specific questions or even deciding to ditch the planned sessions entirely and create your own special topic mini-session.

What does this have to do with permaculture? Open space technology is one of the examples of what I would consider part of Community Governance asset category of the permaculture flower.  The WordCamp models community development based on permaculture principles in that:

  • the conference is a locus of network development and integration.
  • the WordCamp plan is a seed for conference development. Its genetic material has spread across the world.
  • Materials are recycled from conference to conference.
  • The open space edge is the area where the most growth occurs.
  • The yield of conference materials is shared beyond the limited reach of attendees through Wordcamp.tv and posted slideshows.

I see it as a pattern that can be used individuals interested in developing permaculture communities or by local Transition Initiatives. It is community wealth creation in action. Could you see a few people interested in permaculture coalescing into a meetup then growing into an open space permaculture conference?

I can.

New School Indoor and Old School Outdoor Hydroponics

New School Indoor Hydroponics

I got a invite to support a “new venture” from Kickstarter the other day, Windowfarms, Vertical Food Gardens. They are a little high tech from a permaculture point of view but I think the idea of indoor hydroponics is worth additional consideration, especially as a way to grow food indoors for urban dwellers.

  • It provides food supply redundancy for the city dweller.
  • It uses heat and light already available indoors.
  • It obtains a food yield.
  • It makes use of the window “microclimate”.

If only the pump were solar powered and the nutrient pack was some combination of compost and worm tea……

Windowfarms DIY

While looking for a picture to add this post, I stumbled on this post at the Cheap Vegetable Gardener  from which I learned that the Windowfarms concept  started as a DIY and is an open source community continually improving the system design  and focusing on using recycled materials.   Now this looks more like where I want to go (though I’m still looking for a solar powered pump).

Chinampas, Old School Hydroponics

On another note, looking at my PDC course notes this morning (before heading out for Thanksgiving activities)  I also read about the Chinampas, the floating gardens of Mexico.  Although these do not exist as once did, here’s a more permaculture approach to hydroponics from back in the day.

“Abbe Francesco Clavigero describes the true floating gardens as follows: “They plait and twist Willows and roots of many plants, or other materials, together, which are light, but capable of supporting the earth of the garden firmly united. Upon this foundation they lay the light bushes which float on the lake, and over all the mud and dirt which they draw from the bottom of the same lake.”
The common form was a quadrangle, and the average size about fifteen by forty feet, although some of the largest were a hundred feet in extent. Many of the latter contained a small hut, in which the cultivator sometimes lmed; one or more trees were also growing in the centre of these largest plots. The earth used was extremely rich, and this being kept in a moist state by its proximity to the water (the elevation above it being not over a foot), the gardens were productive of the choicest vegetables and flowers, including also Maize.
The gardens of the present day are very different affairs. They do not float, but, on the contrary, are composed of strips of solid ground, usually about fifteen by thirty feet in extent, although some are larger. These plots are intersected by small canals, through which visitors are propelled in canoes. They are constructed by heaping up the earth about two feet above the water…..”

Charles H. Coe, Garden and Forest 8, [1895] :432-433