More Thoughts on Prioritizing the Project List

As  I thought about it a little more, I created another inventory to assess where I stood on 12 permaculture principles in five overall areas:

  • Food
  • Energy
  • Water Use/Reuse
  • Material Use/Reuse
  • Community

Here is my August 10th, 2011 assessment in the area of food.

 Area of Implementation S C O R E  Comments
 Buy from a local
 I rarely make the conscious choice to buy from a local source.
 Obtain a Yield (zone 1 sources)
 Use foods with low embedded energy
 Create a diversity of sources
 Catch and store (at home)
 No waste  All foods recycled to compost or worm bin. All packaging is recycled as well.
Leverage Feedback  There is no tracking of yield or diversity of elements.
 Use Edges and Marginal Areas
 Integrate and stack functions

Here is a  link to my entire chart,  Inventory of Principle Implementation.

As you can see my scores are pretty low.  I’d like to get a minimal score in each area of the chart.  In other words I’d like a score of one for 1)buy from a local source, 2)catch and store at home, 3)leverage feedback, 4)use edges and marginal area and 5)integrate and stack functions. I need to choose projects that will give me these minimal scores. This will give me integration across the area being assessed.

To help me look at this aspect, I added an extra column to my original projects list to capture my thoughts on the functions associated with each of the projects. For example:

  • For the  Transplant Setup Project  I noted that creating capability to grow plants from seed and create my own transplants would be an alternative to buying transplants from the garden store.  Also I would be creating more a of yield in my zone 1. These are two functions.
  • For the Plant Rye Grass for a Mulch Project , I noted that doing this would provide erosion control, improve the soil and create mulch material. These are three functions.
  • For the Canning Local Produce Project, I noted this would allow me to use more local produce.  This project would create an alternative to store-bought products (diversity). I would be increasing the yield in my zone 1. I also would be increasing my stored yield. These are four functions.

So here is how I will rank my projects:

  1. I’m going to work on the projects on my list that are immediately and obviously useful (A Importance level) and easy to do or requiring a little effort (1 and 2 Difficulty level) first.  I’m going to make easy  (small) changes to my life.
  2. I’m going to choose to work on the projects that offer many functions and integrate with my existing systems first.
  3. Finally as discussed above, I’m going to choose to work on projects that fill in my gaps first.  This would mean that canning local produce (which would fill two gap areas: buy from a local source and catch and store at home) would be a better choice for me now than planting the blueberries (which would fulfill two function which I already have covered:  increase plant diversity and increase yield and storage). I won’t be looking at projects that cut food waste since my score there is already very high. Once I have a project or two that addresses each area, (which gives me a score of 1 across the board) then I’ll choose a new set of projects (to try to give me a score of 2 across the board).

So enough with the tables and on to the projects!

Also see: My First Project List and Last Thoughts on Prioritizing the Project List


Moving from Pattern to Details

Well I’ve been on this permaculture home study journey for about 2 months and am about to start my overall design.  I’ve got tons of ideas from my various readings which so far have included:

  • Earth Users Guide to Permaculture, Rosemary Morrow
  • Edible Front Yard, Ivette Solier (from local library) – reviewed in earlier post
  • Perennial Vegetables, Eric Toensmeir (from local library)
  • The Resilient Garden, Carol Deppe
  • about half of Little House on a Small Planet, Shay Salomon & Nigel Valdez
  • and the echo follows – reviewed in earlier post
  • Polyculture Handouts – reviewed in earlier post
  • Gaia’s Garden, Toby Hemenway (from local library)
  • A Forest Garden Pattern Language – excellent resource available from Regenerative Designs.
  • Re localizing Your Urban Lifestyle – excellent resource available here from Joanne Poyourow. I hope to talk more about zones in a later post.
  • How not to play the game – another interesting online article from John Micheal Greer, the author of The Long Descent
  • Online PDC Course – Right now I’m up to the lesson on Soil Ecology

I’ve got a pretty good idea of the various parts of my site analysis, I just haven’t drawn it up yet.

© Copyright Oast House Archive and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.

Before moving forward though, I needed to synthesize all of these learning to better find my process of design. To do this, I looked permaculture design using a systems approach. A simple way of looking at a single natural population would be as a renewable stock (the population of say ducks–since I’m reading the Resilient Gardener) constrained by a renewable stock (food, i.e. corn).  On a given amount of land with the goals of raising ducks and growing corn,the main system components I notice are :

  • the amounts of ducks on the land,
  • the number of  corn plants you have,
  • the rate that the duck population increases and decreases over time,
  • the rate that food supply grows  and is harvested over time,
  • the way that the amount of corn available for harvest constrains the duck population,
  • the way that the carrying capacity of the land constrains the amount of corn available,
  • the way that the corn travels to the population i.e. the place where the transfer between ducks and food takes place.

In permaculture terms we call the amount of food harvested (per amount of land),  the yield.  while we call the place where the transfer of nutrients between the ducks and food occurs, the edge.

I can restate the permaculture principles this way:

  • Produce a yield – Be able to generate a harvest of food for the ducks.
  • Store energy – Since energy is stored in biomass, create a stock or storage of both ducks and available corn.
  • Leverage feedback – A person managing this system would not increase the duck reproduction rate, or number of ducks too sharply, they would eat more corn than could be grown over time  and slowly (or quickly)  both populations would collapse. They would need to watch this carefully.
  • Use renewable resources – If  I fed the ducks from a 50 gallon drum (or whatever volume drum) of store-bought dried corn, the duck population would crash when I ran out of food.  If I grow the food, I can support some level of a  sustainable duck population  based on the amount of corn harvested basically forever.
  • No waste – If you consider the duck poop as an ingredient of the compost pile, the poop would make the land more fertile and increase the corn yield.  The system that  consisted of 2 stocks before, would grow to three stocks: ducks, corn plants and compost.
  • Patterns – for this analysis I’m analyzing this duck/food system  using the pattern of a renewable stock constrained by a separate renewable stock.
  • Reciprocity /integration – As this simple 2  function/2 stock system becomes more complex  and integrated (by adding the composting function), it becomes more productive.
  • Diversity – If  I add different types of ducks (or even chickens) or  different types of duck foods,( corn, duck chow, and squash)  to the system, it becomes more stable. If insects destroy one type of food , the others would still remain and be able to feed the ducks.
  • Small and slow – Sharp changes to the growth rate of the ducks or decreases to the harvest rate  for the corn will cause the system to crash. Small and slow changes are preferable. Systems especially living systems can produce some unintended consequences particularly when time delays hide consequences.
  • Embrace change – Over time, natural systems change, growing more and more complex. As more integration occurs, more populations can be added to the overall system increasing the overall yield.

Knowing all of this, how do you grow  a more stable population over time? Well, it follows you can (not in any particular order):

  1. Make changes to the system to increase the production rate (of the food).
  2. Make changes to the system to reduce decreases in yield due to losses (like the loss of corn due to spoilage).
  3. Increase the number of functions provided (from raising food and raising ducks to doing these two things plus creating compost)
  4. Increase the number of elements you have in the system producing a yield (from just corn to corn, slugs and rainwater from the roof– all of these would support  the food/duck system)
  5. Substitute local producers for non local ones (to conserve energy)
  6. Substitute renewable producers for non-renewable ones
  7. Increase the  diversity of elements included and products (stocks) created
  8. Introduce small and slow changes to reduce oscillations
  9. Increase stocks over time through succession
  10. Re-consider wastes as “foods” for  other  system elements (View problems as unfilled niches.)
  11. Monitor and reconfigure  edges so that transfers can happen more easily and efficiently
  12. Create and check new feedback loops.

I can use all of these methods to change my suburban property to one based on permaculture principles.  On a given amount of land (my property) with the primary functions of heating, cooling, creating electricity, raising food, recycling and capturing water, for my property I’ll look at:

  • my desired stocks of money, energy, skills, biodiversity and recyclable materials and the yields of these stocks
  • the  elements I’ll use to generate these yields , (like the number of ducks and corn plants)
  • the rates that these stocks are created and degraded
  • the factors that constrain my use  of these stocks (like  the amount of corn available for harvest constrains the duck population).
  • the key locations of the transfers

More about this in Moving from Patterns to Details part 2.

New Uses for Urban Roofs

rooftop beekeeing

Arvin Pierce places honeybees into one of the rooftop hives

Following the permaculture precept that each element should have many functions, see this article from Building Sustainable Lifestyles, Your Home’s Most Underused Resource, the Roof  showing new uses for the urban roof. I particularly like the bee keeping idea and the gardens made in re-used kiddie pools.  Come to think of it, you could probably start a lasagna garden and create a compost pile in a kiddie pool too.