Permaculture and the Garden

I want to take a moment to address the idea that permaculture is only a kind of “gardening”. Nothing can be further from the truth! We create our world from the things around us, permaculture helps us arrange and optimize them. Sometimes, for any number of reasons, a garden is just not possible. Permaculture still has much to offer in how we arrange those things that are not a garden. Urban Garden 4x8 on concrete

That being said there is a great amount of leverage to be gained by interacting more closely with food. We all eat and it’s going come from somewhere. So, I’ll just throw out some guidelines that you can start with. Of course they are loosely drawn from permaculture’s principles.

  • Give yourself some time to find the right place for your garden. Limit your work and perhaps be ready to move it until you’ve had a couple of seasons under your belt. 
  • Generally work in the smallest complete chunk you can. That way you get to keep whatever you pull off. 
  • Bigger is not necessarily better. A small garden is a fine place to start!
  • Be on the lookout for natural patterns that you can take advantage of or need to guard against. 
  • Allow your garden to evolve. It will be what effort you are able to put into it and that’s OK. 
  • How much effort will it actually take? Multiply the time it takes by three.
  • Always be ready to roll with what happens. Sometimes your ability to work in the garden just stops or an explosion of growth can seemingly happen overnight. 
  • Consider a few perennials. I’ve got two kinds of strawberries, gooseberries, lovage, chinese lanterns, hops, mint, lemon balm, bee balm, lavender, mushrooms,  and rhubarb growing in the few square feet I have around my home, in addition to the ornamental plants that were already there. And some potatoes, all with less than an hours work this year. 
  • Alternatives? Support farmers and farmer’s markets first, local coops and stores next, before shopping at any supermarket.
  • It’s also it’s good to keep something growing even if it’s just one plant.

It’s pretty certain that someday people are going to have to be much more in tune with their food and where it comes from. But that someday is somewhere in the future. For now we just have to be ahead of any change that’s coming. In the meantime there are many other things that also need our attention. If gardening is not something you can really do, find a placeholder and then work on the aspects of your life you can change.

Learn how with a Permaculture Design Course!

Permaculture Prime Directive

Whether you’re for or against him, the election of Donald Trump to the POTUS is a clear signal that levels of disorder are increasing around us. If this trend continues the next shock of disorder will be even bigger. I think the direct results of this will be that which sustains us eventually will be consumed by this ever growing disruption. 

There is an alternative which permaculture addresses directly. In Permaculture – A Designers Manual by Bill Mollison the Permaculture Prime Directive is discussed on the first page.

Permaculture Prime Directive

That is, the system currently sustaining us is also destroying us. Nearly everyone is invested totally in that system. When that system fails, and I think that is happening ever faster, any alternatives will be built by us, not for us. 

If it is up to us to build the alternatives, then let’s get started. If we don’t know how, let’s learn. Permaculture directly addresses how to do this. One way to learn more in a Permaculture Design Course. Or, find your local permaculturists and get to know them.

It’s up to us to take responsibility!

Symmathesy = Learning Together

A new word: Symmathesy, from this long article.

I think this is an interesting idea, to coin a new word. Or, even a bit presumptuous? It’s a move in the right direction. Perhaps the word itself will one day become quite functional. At the very least the author has captured the motion of life as it moves through space and time. We’ll see how things turn out.

Whatever the end result will be,  I’ve pulled out a few of the choice quotes of the article to simplify and sharpen the message a bit and added my own comments to the mix.

I would like to propose a new word for “System” that refers specifically to living systems – that is, to systems which emerge from the communications and interactions of living vitae…

Vitae essentially are tessellations, any whole that can be reasonably observed within a pattern. 

I want to put the Greek prefix Syn/ Sym (together) + Mathesi, (to learn):

Symmathesy = Learning together.

Say it 20 times. It starts to mean something, doesn’t it? Essentially a living system where the components change through time in response to each other, a sort of learning.

Our conceptual understanding of the living world can be elevated with a new terminology that better describes the processes we are referring to within it. The viability of this new term is a step toward a clearer understanding of the way we describe the difference between what we can “control”, i.e. in material terms, and that which requires another approach, i.e. interacting with the complexity of evolving living systems.

What is the difference between learning and life? None.

 When is something living NOT learning? Never.

I think this is the core of permaculture and something that lots of people miss. Living systems surround us but we interact with them as if they are mechanical, dead ones that serve only to fulfill our needs and wants. 

…It is difficult if not impossible to find a subject to study in the living world that is definable within a single context. Transcontextual research offers multiple descriptions of the way in which a ‘subject’ is nested in many contexts.This information provides descriptions of interactions that seem to erase the boundaries of what we might have previously considered to be parts and wholes. Medicine is entwined in culture, food, environmental conditions, education, economic stability, and more. Economy is formed through culture, transportation, resources, communication and media, education etc. To study the biological evolution of a pond it is imperative that other contexts in which the pond exists be included in the study. These might include the geological history of the region, human interaction (including food culture, sport culture, economics of tourism etc), chemical balance, weather patterns, concentrations of various species. Research without the study of multiple contexts renders the information about a given subject as though it were isolated from the many systems it is within, and therefore a great deal of data is not visible.

And this is why permaculture dabbles in so many different realms. How can we hope to interact with the world if we have no understanding of all the different realms of cause and effect?

Education: an education in the world as a mutual learning process would look at the interconnections between what we now call “disciplines” or subjects. Forests are interactions, food is culture, and so on. The ability to study both the details (existing disciplines) and the relationships of learning between them will increase our students’ ability to see and interact with a level of complexity that is necessary for future generations’ survival. As it stands our “knowledge” often prevents us from seeing the interdependencies in our complex world, which we therefore disrupt — to the detriment of our wellbeing and that of the biosphere we live within.

Indeed, for future generations survival. Education is where we need to start. 

What if we look at the interlocking, interdependency of our institutions as an ecology in and of itself? Ecology can be loosely defined as a totality of patterns of interrelationship that form interdependencies. In this sense our institutions function very much like a forest or an ocean. The infrastructures of our institutions reinforce and balance each other, and our socio-economic system develops in patterns that fit the characteristics of any ecology. Are we not, in that case, contributing perfectly to an ecology that we live within? Perhaps humanity is not so un-ecological after all. The difficulty we face is in the fact that the larger ecology of biosphere is at odds with the ecology of our institutions, and right now we believe we need both to survive.

And so on to our so called “invisible” structures. If we only interact with the world mechanically we miss out on the multitude of interconnections that weave themselves throughout. There is no simple fix. All we can do 

Core Model Man

My work with the GLPDC has had a number of effects. One of the things that has happened is that we advanced how we each understand and explain Mollison’s idea of the core model. I’d like to take this opportunity to capture my interpretation of it and share it with the world.

It starts as a seed – at origin. In the body it’s navel, 2nd chakra, or dantien. From that point expands the trunk, to arms then fingers reaching out; lobular. As above, so below – the same expands out to the toes. Our power can spiral upward from the ground, through our feet and be channeled into any direction out our hands. The negative space becomes a torus of Von Karman vortices and Ekman spirals appear under our arms and as we move.

I’ve put some of these ideas together in an animated gif. 

So what is this thing? It’s simply a model for the fundamental pattern of nature. Of course, all models have their imperfections and this is no exception. What it does do is connects together many of the patterns we use in permaculture as tools, giving us a sense of the interconnected nature of existence. The better we can sense that, the more accurate our designs can be.  

Rocket Stove 2017

A new project for the new year, a rocket stove!

I’d like to build a rocket stove in a greenhouse with a batch box. So, the testing begins. The basic design is drawn from Peterburg Batch Box Dimensions and my working knowledge.

It’s only got a 4” riser and with the box being 9” x 11.5” x 5.75” super small. That’s not much difference than just a standard J tube size. The P channel taller than it should be and there is no funnel for ash.

Let’s fire it up and see what happens! The original design for the chimney was just not going to work so I improvised some with some 8″ stove exhaust. Of course it smoked like crazy until things heated up. 

This thing is on fire, where’s the smoke? Oh yeah, it’s a rocket stove.  


Yup, I’ts burning. Cooking even.

It works! I am impressed to see that the torus down the tube in the base of the chimney. The small box burned up the fuel pretty quickly. The next build will be a bigger design, built for a 6″ chimney. Since the limiting factor on box size is width of a brick that will as big as I can build with what I’ve got. Eventually I’ll need to get some alternative materials to build bigger boxes. Then perhaps a larger one and clay slip to seal things up?

This will be great to show off at the GLPDC 2017 design course near Ann Arbor, MI!

Permaculturists as Time Scouts

When we design, we are always building for future floods, future fires, future droughts, and planting a tree a few inches tall that will be future forest giants, throw future shadows. Future populations will need future soils and forest resources, shelter, security. So somebody needs to range ahead in time, scout out the next century. We are not daydreaming. We are time scouts. – Bill Mollison

Time scouts eh? I like that. We are looking to the future. Note that this implies that others are not, even worse they’re pretty good at it. 

It seems our culture needs a change. We need many time scouts to create a future worth living as opposed to where we’re heading now.   Will you be a time scout?

We need many people to plant trees, the shade of which they will never see…