Category Archives: Permaculture

Deep Observation

Observations lead to interaction. We need a deep sense of observation to perform healthy interactions; and more observation to  fuel reflection and further action.

The Buddha talks about penetrating the objects of observation; diving into them and observing the body in the body, the perception in the perception; only so we can know the object. From observation comes insight; from insight comes knowledge. In the end it is deep observation that leads us to an interaction based on understanding. The interaction closes the loop; an interaction based on insight or true understanding creates meaning.

“When you practice deep looking and master yourself, you dwell in peace freedom and safety.”~Thich Nhat Hanh

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Observation – the Core Element of Permaculture Design

The permaculture design is the designer’s chance to enter into cooperation with the Earth. He/She steps into a natural space and becomes an integral part of a complex system of interconnections and living relations. The permaculture designer wants to work in accord with the laws of nature in order to make best use of available resources. Wanting to design a garden, organise a group of people or plan an activity, he/she might become part of an intact or a defective environment. In any case, the designer, being an element of the respective system, must be aware of his/her influence and potential to enhance or harm his/her surroundings. Therefore, it is his/her first duty to be a careful observer.

The designer has to be well aware of different influencing factors that are part of the environment he/she is operating in. These factors may be located inside but also outside of the actual planning area. Firstly and of major importance are social factors: the local culture and society, the economic and political situation as well as governmental and legal support. Secondly, the designer records site-related factors such as history, geography, water supply, soil properties, topography, climate and plant and animal availability. Thirdly, energy-related factors are cleared: the designer has to understand the available site-structures, resources, local skills, technologies and infrastructure to base the design on. Fourthly, abstract factors, such as time management, deadlines and project related facts, the client’s wishes or requirements and general ethics are considered. The observation and analysis of the site and the collection of data constitute the initial steps of any design and enable the designer to create a useful connection between the different factors.

Through these observations the designer determines boundaries, limiting factors and available resources. The area boundaries for a design should exceed the actual planning area and integrate the effects of outside influencing factors. In a garden, this might be the neighbours tree casting shade on the planning area – in the case of planning an event, the designer has to regard public transport or parking possibilities around the site. The social context, natural conditions, the legal framework, the clients wishes or financial or timely resources can all present limiting factors that restrain the designer’s freedom of self-expression. The actual usable and available local resources and skills are identified and sustainably integrated into the design. From the evaluation of the collected data, the designer will formulate ideas, realistic aims and compare his/her interests with those of the client and the expected users or participants. He/She will identify key functions to be fulfilled and possible elements, systems and patterns to apply to reach the desired results.

Three of the main permaculture planning tools are sector, zone and elevation planning. They all follow the principle of energy efficient planning. Sector planning is used for the detection and integration of outside energies such as winter and summer sun sectors, wind sectors, flow of cold air, flood or fire danger, pollution, people currents, views, etc. The visualisation of these energies will help the designer to create interconnections and to select design elements that enable their moderation: capitalise on shortages and ameliorate or use excesses. The method of zoning is based on the idea of optimising the internal management of resources and minimizing human energy expenditure. Starting with the core zone around the house, elements and systems are placed in zones from 1 to 5 according to the amount of visits, inputs and maintenance they need. Elevation planning makes sure the designer uses slopes and elevations to facilitate efficient energy flows. The most obvious example here is the downward flow of water, but also nutrients in the soil and cold air move downwards while warm air is rising. A good designer understands and integrates these forces of nature into his/her design.

Natural systems and processes are characterised by a high complexity that is hard to understand for the conventional human mind. Therefore the permaculture designer makes use of a high variety of tools and methods that he/she compares in overlays and analyses. They help him/her to better understand the interrelations of different elements. These tools are all instruments designed to enable us to work with natural processes and stand in cooperation with them.

For an article on Permaculture click here.

The Skin of the Earth pt. one

Soil is the skin of our planet Earth. It is the skin where vegetation roots in, the skin that stores nutrients as well as water. Food production for ourselves but also for millions of other animal species is depending on the health of this small layer (average depth of 15 cm). If the soil and soil management is good, food production and farming will also be good. The health of the earth and life on earth as well as the human society are all depending on the soil. If we manage to keep the soil fertile, production increases and the local economy will also in the future be strong and safe. Many problems in the world come from modern farming practices that are not taking care of the soil.

The main five soil forming factors are the parent material (which is rock, deposits from sea, rivers and wind or volcanic ash), climate, topography (relief), organisms and time. Nowadays, human activity is often named as a sixth one.

To protect and improve the soil we need to understand its needs. The main ingredients that are present in all soils to greater or lesser amount are the following four. The right mixture (given in %) of these equals natural fertility.

  • mineral particles (sand, silt clay) 45%
  • air 25%
  • moisture or water 25%
  • organic matter 5% (visible and microscopic organisms 10%; roots and living plants 10%; humus, which is dead animals and plants that are broken down, 80%)

All these ingredients are necessary for healthy soil; of major importance are however the invisible organisms, bacteria and fungi, who break down the organic matter and produce detritus and other break down products that can be taken up by other organisms like earthworms. We can find 2 billion organisms in one tablespoon of fertile forest soil. The natural conditions are usually best for them, human activity mostly disturbs them.

We can however also provide them their needs and they will work for us for free: the right food, biomass, and the right working place, temperature, moisture, aeration and a lack of disturbance. For information on how to make compost and let micro-organisms work for you, click here.

Another post on understanding the needs of our soil is coming soon … .

The neighbours’ hand

Peoplecare is one of the ethical principles of Permaculture. The way we interact with each other and work with our neighbours and surrounding communities is of major importance. In todays world community goes lost very often, and is not a priority anymore as we’ve got everything, from substantial to superficial, from supermarkets, television and the rest of our consumer culture. Only when we see that if we want to live sustainably again or maybe need to live from the land again we realise that our television and the supermarket won’t be of as much help as our neighbours.

Check out kaiconfusion.wordpress.com for other great posts about the Panya Project, Permaculture and alternative ways of being …

Life With Nature

Table of contentsIMG_3581

  • VOLUNTEERS
  • DAY TO DAY LIFE
  • MEETINGS AND DECISION-MAKING
  • MANAGEMENT AND TASKS
  • COURSES AND PROFIT SHARE
  • THE CHALLENGE
  • ACTIVITIES
  • LINKS/ RESOURCES

Written by the author of
www.beetroot. wordpress.com
currently (2012)  working at the Panya Project. Photos and editing by kaiconfusion.

In the last four posts I have tried to introduce into important practical aspects of alternative and sustainably living. In this 5th post Mich
and I, are trying to introduce in how we can live together and how such life can be organized which is just as well a very important aspect of sustainably living, again at the example of the Panya Project and this time the community.

In Permaculture there are three core values:

  • Earthcare – recognising that the Earth is the source of all life (and is possibly itself a living entity- see Gaia theory) and respecting her accordingly.

View original post 1,486 more words

Organic Gardens for Thai Freedom House

Please help us in creating beautiful organic gardens for the wonderful Freedom House in Chiang Mai, Thailand. To give funding click here.

Who are we?

We are the Panya community, a sustainable living/education centre north of Chiang Mai city. We’re designing and implementing two gardens for the Thai Freedom House; a non-government, not-for-profit, community language and arts learning center in Chiang Mai dedicated to assisting families and individuals who are refugees from Burma and Indigenous peoples of Thailand.

What are we doing?

Garden one is located in the Free Bird Cafe, where the NGO raises income for their project. The idea is to make the space more beautiful attracting many customers to the cafe, and to organically home grow a selection of the ingredients used in cooking.

Garden Two will be located at the Freedom house school, where displaced people from Myanmar and Thailand come to learn Thai, English and enjoy a supportive, creative community. Our aim is to green the concrete surrondings of the school, reconnecting the students back to nature as many of them are from rural, farming backgrounds and now living in crowded poor conditions in the city. They will  have their own space to plant, watch the plants grow and finally harvest and eat the fruits of their work!

By donating to this project you will be giving marginalised members of society in Thailand a chance to re connect to their growing heritage. You will also help us create beautiful living green community spaces that will act as a refuge to people without real homes of their own.

What do we need?

What we can do depends on the funds we get. If we don’t reach our goal we are still comitted to buying and planting as much as we can with the amount we do have.

We would like to build living trellis’ and pergolas, with climbing spinach and jasmine.. plant high yeilding and easily maintatined chillis, eggplants, lime trees and papayas. Create beautiful herbs gardens to use in cooking, both in the cafe and for the students to take home for their familes… hang baskets of overflowing flowers to bring bright colours of inspiration and to all who come and visit.

When do we need it?

We will be working over the 1st 2nd and 3rd of July… Any funding that we have by then will be used to impelent these gardens at Freedom House.

Please please give what you can to our project, we promise to use your money wisely and keep you updated with our progress!

         Thank You for your Support!

Towards Permanent Cultures – An Introduction to Ecovillage Design 4th – 11th August, Chiang Mai

This 6-day Introduction to Ecovillage and Permaculture Design is based on the Global Ecovillage Network’s Ecovillage Design Education, an internationally taught training for sustainability and social change. In an interesting mix of head, heart and hands on experiences we will teach 40+ hours of interactive workshops around the five dimensions of Ecovillage Design.

Social dimension: We will explore the non physical processes necessary for community to thrive; positive communication, decision making, conflict resolution and meeting facilitation will all be covered. We will look at organisational structures of different scales, from intentional community  to wider society. By discovering what we believe to be true community we can develop new ways of working and living together.

Ecological dimension: Actively building natural capital throughout the duration of the course we will learn how to live with the earth, restoring and regenerating ecosystems. Workshops will include learning how to save seed, build healthy soil, catch, clean and store water, manage forest sustainably and use appropriate technology.

Economic dimension: We will take a look at the current global economic system. Analysing its strengths and weaknesses, we can explore alternatives and the possibility of a Common Welfare Economy that is truly beneficial to society. We will learn about developing local currencies, gift economy and LETs schemes amongst other ways of being community reliant.

Worldview and Cultural dimension: A diverse mix of community building games and exercises will guide us through the week. An Open Space to share and a World Cafe event will give us the opportunity to explore our collective power as a group.

Design dimension: Discovering concepts of systems theory and pattern language we will learn to observe and recognise patterns in nature, society and ourselves. Once we become aware of these patterns and systems, we are able to incorporate them into intelligent design from garden landscaping to community development. We will focus on Permaculture Design and Dragon Dreaming as integral approaches to project/land design.

This brief overview of the topics that we will cover is by no means comprehensive.

The Panya Project Permaculture and Sustainability Centre offers an optimal and inspiring environment to truly experience living in intentional community, exploring an alternative way of life and reconnecting to a natural state of being. This 6-day workshop will equip participants with the right inspiration and tools to become a force for positive change in this world.

Find more information at the Panya Project’s webpage here.

Permaculture in Practice Internship, July 17 – July 30, Chiang Mai, Thailand

This is a perfect opportunity to get a hands-on experience of Permaculture – whether you’ve done a Permaculture Design Course before or are new to the idea. Permaculture in Practice Internships are regularly run by the Panya Community and have always been very successful and inspiring courses during which we explore the practicalities of building sustainable relationships with our environment.

Learn the art of natural building: Learn and put into action natural building techniques including wattle and cob, adobe, clay plasters and pigment renders and use these tools in building projects.

Plan and plant organic vegetable garden beds.

Learn to plant and tend a food forest: This will be one of our focal points during this year’s PIP as we’re in the middle of rainy season, ready for planting a great variety of fruit trees, shrubs and soil improving plants. 

Make 18 day compost: see how we turn organic matter into usable living soil in less than three weeks.

Discover the importance of seed saving.

Empower yourself to live self sustainably through sessions where you can learn to make bread, wine, cheese, yoghurt, kimchi, kombucha, tofu and EM.

Experience day to day life in a Permaculture community. We will hold daily yoga and meditation sessions in the mornings and there is a nearby reservoir to have cooling swims in the afternoon.

Put your new-found permaculture practice to good use!

This course is organised and run by the Panya community, with each community member contributing to the content and skills shares to bring in a high diversity of experience.

For more information check out the Panya web page.

There are 7 Fs in Food Forest

A food forest, also called a forest garden, is defined as ‘a perennial polyculture of multipurpose plants‘.

Perennial means that the plants have a longer lifespan than 2 years, as for example fruit trees that might live for 20 or ever 50 years. This longer lifespan gives more stability to the ecosystem as root systems establish, pull up nutrients from deeper levels, allow water filtration into the soil and prevent erosion on a soil which doesn’t need to be worked on as between annual plantings. Work load goes down as the plants are planted once in many years.

Polyculture, as opposed to a monoculture is a plantation that consists of many (poly) different species instead of one (mono) singular one. The food forester tries to mimic a natural forest system in bringing in the different levels that all forests are made of and so the diversity that makes a natural system resilient. A natural forest and the well designed food forest consist of seven layers:

The first one is the canopy layer which consists of high growing trees, mostly teek trees. The second layer is the intermediate layer consisting of smaller trees, in a food forest mostly fruit trees that grow in between the higher ones. Their crowns are at different levels of hight so that they do not take each other’s space. The third layer is the shrub layer, mostly consisting of fruit giving shrubs and perennial vegetable varieties. The fourth layer is the herb layer, consisting of non-woody, small plants, mostly herbs. The fifth layer is the ground layer covering the whole ground and not letting unwanted plants come up. Often this plant is a legume which fix nitrogen and therefore improve the soil in being a source of fertiliser for other plants. The sixth layer is the climbing layer, often ivory or other vines which are part of every natural forest ecosystem. In the food forest many different edible plants will replace the usual forest species. The seventh layer is the root layer consisting of usable and edible roots  like cassava.

Multipurpose means that the yields that the food forest gives, so the purposes of the plants in these different layers, are many, often summarised as the 7 Fs of the food forest:

Food

Fuel

Fiber

Fodder

Fertiliser

Farmerceutics (Pharmaceutics)

Fun

In this way, the food forest is mimicking a natural resilient climax ecosystem with the focus of providing for human needs and the perfect example of Permaculture Design.

The two most important elements in the designing of the food forest are space and time. Space as we’ve seen in the combination of layers, using the vertical space as well as the horizontal and time in working with and speeding up succession through design and planned planting to bring the forest to its climax state.

More on Food Forest following soon …

Building capital that lasts

Do you believe in the value of money? Do you believe that you pay for what you get when you buy cheap gadgets on the market; or when you pay for your food, apples fromEnglandsent toSouth Africato be waxed and send back to theUKto be sold at1.5 poundthe kg? Who is paying for it?

ImageDo you believe in money, profit and economic growth to solve our problems? Do you believe that the World Health Organisation for instance is about healthy citizens when its main aim is to make profit; that we will care for the people and the earth when every progress is measured solely by the profit we make? A tsunami that hits the country means economic growth; a river is polluted, more bottled water sold – economic growth; a country goes to war or sends weapons for wars – more economic growth. Looking after the elderly, the children, the disadvantaged, all of that is institutionalised today. We found ways to make environmental conservation and social service profitable, very rarely however it is for the sake of the environment or society itself that these essentials are considered.

Some people in the world work with the soil, knowing how to improve it, they live with the earth. Look at those people planting trees, catching and storing, bringing water back into the landscape, regenerating the ecosystem, growing food in a natural way in tune with the environment. Every year they store more wealth, more capital in biomass, water, in saving seeds for the next planting season and for coming generations to be able to provide for what is most important: a healthy way of life, healthy food produced through healthy soil and a healthy environment. It’s not complicated; it’s the essence of life, connecting to the earth. People have been doing it for thousands of years.

Look at the people who have relationships, whole communities working together on their lands, many of them producing food for their neighbours, sharing, caring. Look at these wealthy cultures that we in our western civilisation often call poor. Profit, obtaining a yield has a different meaning for them. Look at their wealth, diversity, yet so much simplicity and time, relationships, family, smiles on their faces, health and dignity.

This doesn’t mean that I think we should all live in communities surrounded by forests. I feel a bit overwhelmed and even annoyed when people come to me and preach about what it takes to change the world, “it would be so easy if all of you could do this and do that”. For myself I need however some clarity for what is important in my own life, what makes me healthy as a person, and what I can do that makes the people around me as well as the environment and through that my children and the coming generations healthy and happy. I do recognise that all of that is interlinked and society influences my well-being and vice versa. I am interested to startle thinking, make people observe themselves and their society around them and then draw their own conclusions. Doing this over and over again will inevitably lead us to action, because there’ll be things that we want to change, there’ll be reconsideration and reorganisation of values in our lives. Do we want money to guide us around, or do we want our values to do that for us. What is sustainable? Can we build a society where values like mutual understanding, empathy, self-responsibility and cooperation are part of everyone’s life? Is common welfare a possibility? Can we build capital that lasts?