Two Quick Links and a Plug (or two)

The first plug is for the Linked In Permaculture Group. If you are already part of Linked In, you might enjoy participating in this group.

In their group digest, I ran across links to two organizations that I want to share, Tree Yo Permaculture and Earthmetrics

First Tree Yo Permaculture  (from their home page):

Tree Yo - Swale building in Singapore

Tree Yo – Swale building in Singapore

Tree Yo is a co-creative collective of people engaged and connected in the Permaculture Community. They  design for resiliency, they teach environmental literacy, they build with the earth beneath or feet, they use technology that is appropriate, and they travel the world to spread the word!

I’m not sure where the authors are based, but they sure do travel the world.  Their upcoming permaculture design classes  will take place in Portugal, the Dominican Republic and Cincinnati, Ohio. That’s some real diversity!   Take a look at these shared resources. These are links to several PowerPoint presentations they’ve compiled as part of the PDC they offer.  These are accessible through Slideshare and include such topics as patterns, aquaculture, tropical permaculture and mapping. Also bookmark their EDU webpage that is an open source communal education resource.

Speaking of mapping, the second link I wanted to share was to Ecometrics, specifically to their online course in Digital Mapping and GIS for Small Landowners and Permaculture Design. (From the Course Summary): marina view drive parcels

This self-paced course introduces digital mapping tools and techniques (Geographic Information Systems or GIS), and how small landowners and permaculture designers can use these tools with freely available data for site planning.

This seems like a valuable course, particularly if one intends to be engaged in permaculture design.  I first used public GIS maps available to residents of my county in my first permaculture design project. I fumbled through the GIS software but was able to manage the basics of locating the parcel, printing out the map and obtaining basic dimensions and areas. Having a resource that can walk you through the basics seems useful.

The second plug is for WordPress.  Both of these websites are driven by WordPress.WCBadge2013-Attending

And finally, if you live in the Atlanta area, be sure to get your ticket for the WordCamp Atlanta that is coming up on March 15th and 16th.  The event sold out last year and organizers expect the event to do so again this year. Come expecting to be inspired by all that you can do with WordPress from blogging to  developing websites in general.  See you there!


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.

Permaculture Goal Setting


Wow, Its been almost a month since I last posted.

I mentioned that a new PDC would be starting in the Atlanta area. I signed up and went to my first session last weekend. Both the information provided and information format exceeded my expectations. I find it really to be part of a group discussion as I move thru the permaculture concepts.

One thing that struck me was our discussion of the process of setting the goals for your permaculture design.

The leaders presented a framework where there was:

  • a natural landscape goal
  • a social landscape goal
  • an economic landscape goal and
  • an internal landscape goal

All of these combined to form the overarching summary goal for the project.

The natural landscape goal reflected the commitment to the earth share permaculture ethic.  The social , economic and internal landscape goals reflected the commitment to the people care permaculture ethic.  Although the resource share ethic was not specifically reflected by a goal, the thinking was that resource share would be reflected through the process of actually completing the permaculture design.

What struck me was how relevant this same process is to other enterprises not typically viewed as a gardens, such as businesses, marriages, community groups or creative projects. The premise of Machelle Small Wright’s book Co-Creative Science is that anything that has order, organization and life vitality is nature. And that a garden is a working partnership between nature and human beings.

“From nature’s perspective , a garden is any environment that is initiated by humans, given its purpose, definition and direction by humans and maintained with the help of humans….

Nature does not consider the cultivation of a plot of land as the criteria for a garden.  nature considers a garden to exist where ever humans define, initiate and interact with form to create a specialized environment….

The laws and principles that nature applies in the co-creative vegetable garden are equally applicable to any kind of garden whether it is growing in soil or otherwise…. ”  

Co-Creative Science pages 21 and 22

I hope to use these goal setting methods in more than just my permaculture projects.

Maybe I need to change the tagline of this blog to something other than “Permaculture concepts beyond the garden”

Upcoming Permaculture Design Courses

A number of Permaculture Design Courses are starting up in the fall in Georgia. I’m signed up for the one in Atlanta!! I’ll move this post into the sidebar next week so its always visible.

Shades of Green PDC:  The PDC will be held in the Atlanta area on the first weekend of each month (Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday morning), October 2011 through March 2012. For more information see Shades of Green website.

Koinonia Farm PDC: Oct. 15-22, 2011 in Americus GA with Wayne Weisman of the Permaculture Project LLC .  See Koinonia Event Schedule for details.

For ongoing classes related to permaculture check out:

Athen’s Permaculture Meetup happens regularly at Ben’s Bikes (670 W. Broad St, Athens, GA). Contact athenspermaculture(at) for more information!

Oakhurst Community Gardens always has a class ongoing  that will help with you permaculture efforts (bee keeping, soil amending, fall planting etc.) See their website for their class list.

My First Projects List

Without doing any detailed analysis of functions and elements, all the reading I’ve done has given me a preliminary list of projects to undertake. Here is my first project list:

Explorations Into Permaculture Projects List
Project Leverage Point Priorities Importance Difficulty Timing
Begin growing transplants myself E A 1 spring
Canning of locally grown produce E A 1
Solar Panels E A 3
Monitor energy use using fuel bills and existing meters C A 1
Plant rye grass for mulch C A 2 fall
Cherry Tree Guild C A 2 fall
Blueberries C A 2 fall
Purchase Rocket Stove C B 1
Drying of locally grown produce C B 1
Elderberries C B 2 fall
Ducks C C 2
Chickens C C 2
Bees C C 2 must order by February
Thermal window Shades – west window A A 2
Thermal window Shades – north window A A 2
Thermal window Shades
– east window
A A 2
Purchase 2 months extra provisions A B 1
Wood Storage A B 2

Here is a link to the table as a PDF: project list 081111 for blog.  How did I create this?

After listing the projects that are floating around in my head, I assessed the importance and difficulty as discussed in the Evaluation Matrix from Powering Down.  They suggest that one asses difficulty using a four point scale (1-4) in this way:

1.  A project that we can easily do, resources readily available.

2. A project we can do, but it will take some effort to get the resources.

3. A project we could do, but it would be a serious challenge.

4. A project that for one reason or another is out of reach for the moment.

They suggest the following scale for assessing importance:

A. The project is  immediately and obviously useful for us now.

B. The project could be useful given certain changes we expect in the near term.

C. The project might be useful if circumstances were to change significantly.

D. The project is useless or irrelevant to us at this moment.

Finally, I used the A-F rating system to assess the degree of leverage as I detailed in my earlier post, Moving From Pattern to Details part 2. For example:

  • Developing a way to grow my own transplants in my zone 1 rather than buying store-bought transplants (grown who knows where) is a way of evolving the system structure, substituting local producers for long distance ones (F).
  • Monitoring my energy use and the actions I take to impact my energy use is a way to increase my access to feedback by creating a new feedback loop (C).
  • Enhancing my ability to create good compost by adding and harvesting rye grass, strengthens a balancing feedback loop. (C).
  • While both storing dried produce and canning increase my available food storage and cut losses of yield (C), canning substitutes a local producer (me)  for long distance ones  (E, since I already buy quite a bit of canned food).

I created a table in  an excel spreadsheet and then sorted the projects based on leverage point priority first, then importance then difficulty to come up with a preliminary sequence to follow.  This sequencing strategy is preliminary.

Looking at this  I can see how it is easy to come up with projects that have an A and B leverage point rating.  Its harder to identify projects with  C, D, E and  F ratings.  They are far less obvious.

P.S. I’m no longer stuck.

Also see: More Thoughts on Prioritizing the Project List and Last Thoughts on Prioritizing the Project List




Moving from Patterns to Details – part 2

Photo courtesy Victoria Pickering

In an earlier post, Changing our Thinking, I talked about Donella Meadows’ article, Leverage Points, Places to Intervene in a System. The article which is an excerpt from her book, Thinking in Systems,  lists ways to intervene in  from easiest to most difficult; from producing the least impact to producing the greatest impact.

I found these line up quite well with Stewart Brand’s Six S’s of Building from the book, How Buildings Learn.  He lists six elements within a  building and classifies them from the most permanent to easiest to change:

  • site (location and building orientation)
  • structure
  • skin
  • services (functions like heating cooling)
  • space plan
  • stuff

For outdoor design, I make the following correspondences:

  • site (location and orientation )
  • slopes, swales, large trees
  • fences, boundaries and edges
  • functions
  • planting layouts and zones
  • specific plantings, animals or other elements

Lining these up with Donella’s system leverage points gives me a nice way to look at modifying my system from items that are easiest to do (but produce the least impact) to those most difficult to do (and produce the greatest impact).

 Ease of Modification  Natural Environment Indoor Designed Environment Outdoor Designed Environment  Meadow’s Leverage Points
 Easy  Bare ground to grasses  stuff Specific plantings, animals or other elements 12.Change rates of flows, 11.Increase size of stocks
 Herbs and grasses  space plan planting layouts 10.Modify physical arrangement of flows and stocks, 9.Adjust length of delays
 Scrubs, herbs and grasses  services  functions  8.Strengthen balancing feedback loops. 7.Balance (reduce the strength of) reinforcing feedback loops, 6.Increase access to feedback
 Low canopy trees, shrubs and herbs  skin  fences, boundaries zones and edges  5.Change the rules (eliminate constraints to expand or better use the zone or edge)
 Mixed Canopy forest  structure slopes, swales large trees  5.Change the rules (by adding incentives and punishments), 4.Evolve the system structure, 3. Change the  system goals
 Most Difficult  Climax Forest  site  site 2.Change paradigms, 1.Transcend Paradigms

This sets the priorities of the list  I provided previously.

 Priority Ease of Modification Meadow’s Leverage Points Potential Changes
A Easiest 12.Change the rates of flows, Make changes to the system to increase the production rate (of food).Make changes to the system to increase the efficiency of food production.
 A  11.Increase the size of stocks Make changes to the system to reduce decreases in yield due to losses (like the loss of corn due to spoilage).Increase available storage.
B  10.Modify physical layouts of flows and stocks,  Change layouts of planting areas, animal storage areas etc. within each zone.
 B 9.Adjust length of delays
 C 8.Strengthen balancing feedback loops. Increase the number of elements you have in the system producing a yield (from just corn to corn, slugs and rainwater from the roof– these would support  the food/duck system).Increase the  diversity of elements included and products (stocks) created.
 C  7.Balance (reduce
the strength of) reinforcing feedback loops,
 Increase the number of functions provided (from raising food and raising ducks to doing these two things plus creating compost)
 C  6.Increase access to
 Create and check new feedback loops.
 D 5.Change the rules (eliminate constraints to expand or better use zones or the edge) Identifying and configuring the zones.Monitor and reconfigure edges so that transfers can happen more easily and efficiently.
 E 5.Change the rules (by adding incentives and punishments)
 E  4.Evolve the system structure Substitute local producers for non local ones (to conserve energy).Substitute renewable producers for non-renewable ones.Increase stocks over time through successionIntroduce small and slow changes to reduce oscillations.
 E  3. Change the system goals  Change goals for example from producing an ornamental front yard to an edible front yard.  Choose to create a food forest.
 F  2. Change paradigms  Re-consider wastes as “foods” for  other  system elements. (View problems as unfilled niches.)
 F Most difficult 1.Transcend paradigms Choose an entirely new site, one that is more suitable in terms of site location and orientation.

I’m ready to begin to list out my projects. I think as I develop my design I’ll work from F (greatest design impact) to A (least impact).  This way I’ll design from concepts to details.

I’ll then develop a list of projects. There I’ll prioritize the projects probably from A-F (from the easiest to carry out to the most difficult).  I’ll use the evaluation matrix I found here: Evaluating Adaption Projects.

What do you think?   This post will probably get tweaked as I reflect on it a little more. I’m probably also going to create a new projects page to make it easier to find the projects as I move forward.

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.