Tag Archives: Permaculture

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 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.

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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.

Building Soil and Catching Energy

“Increasing the humus content of agricultural soil has always been a principle objective of organic agriculture. Changing the management of farmland to use organic or permaculture strategies and techniques can rebuild this storage of carbon, fertility and water to close to those of natural grasslands and forests. It is arguably the greatest single contribution we could make to ensure the future survival of humanity.” – David Holmgren, Permaculture – Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability

The composting method that we use at the Panya Project and that is often used in Permaculture Projects is the 18-day quick composting method afterBerkley. We need a mixture of carbon and nitrogen elements in a ratio of 30 to 1. This is however in concentration, not in biomass, where it’s probably more around 3 to 1, fully depending on your chosen and available ingredients. Water is added to the mixture with a moisture content of 60 percent being optimal. It is an aerobic fermentation process generated through heat. The pile is stacked in lasagne-style, meaning layer for layer altering between carbons – low nitrogen – carbons – high nitrogen – carbons – low nitrogen – and so on.

Carbon is the building block of life and is mostly found in trees. For the compost you can chose most brown organic material like branches and old leaves. For the quick compost it is important that most material is quite small; huge pieces of wood won’t compost in a month or 18 days. The highest nitrogen source is probably pee, then different kinds of manure. Another source of high nitrogen is freshly cut legumes as they are plants that catch nitrogen from the air. A middle and low nitrogen source is all other freshly cut leaves and greens from the garden and the trees. Kitchen waste is, depending on what it contains, mostly on the more or less right carbon-nitrogen ratio of 30 to 1 and can be added in between the layers.

The layers shouldn’t be higher than10 centimetreseach, keeping layers of cow manure thinner. The pile is optimally between 1.5 and2 metrecube, should never be smaller than1 metrecube, as it won’t get hot enough. After 2 to 4 days the pile mostly reaches a temperature of about 60 degrees Celsius. If the pile is after four days still below 45 degrees, you might not have the right moisture or there isn’t enough nitrogen in the lasagne. If the pile gets too hot, meaning more than 65 degrees and often predominantly covered in some white bacteria, it’s defiantly time to turn it. If it keeps heating up like that you might have to put some more carbon material. The pile should be covered to keep it from drying out in hot climates and keep it from getting too wet in wet climates.

After the first four days, the compost should be turned every other day. This keeps it aerated and gives you the possibility to add some materials, mostly water if necessary. You can check the moisture content in pressing the material in between your hands. If the hands become slightly wet, with not more than one drop of water on your palm, it is perfect moisture. The temperature you can feel with your hands, if digging into the pile and it’s too hot to keep your hands in it must be about 60 degrees. You have to dig in because the outside 10 to20 centimetresdon’t heat up and don’t really compost. Therefore, if you want the composting process to finish in optimal time it is important to turn it right; that means that you bring the outside of pile to the inside and the inside to the outside with every turning.

In the Panya Project, we usually have a pile done in about a month. Through this composting method we can keep planting all year through in the same beds always adding fresh healthy soil to the plants.

In permaculture we look for the multiplication of our functions. Doing this with the compost, we see that one output of the compost that we could use is the heat; probably we could cook eggs on top of it. When we had 20 school kids from Bangkok visiting the Panya Project for a week we thought we need more hot water options than our solar collector who holds water for about 4 to 8 showers. So we built them a bucket shower with passiv heating in letting the pipe run through the 60 degree hot compost. See pictures below. For two weeks we managed to have hot water from that pipe, so hot you needed to mix it with cold water.

The Panya Projection

The Panya Project in northernThailand,60 km from Chiang Mai, is a permaculture community consisting of a few long-term members and a changing group of volunteers. It is a field for experimentation for permaculture apprentices and a best practice example for travellers who want are interested in alternative eco-friendly ways of living.

Most of the work here happens in the fields of natural building with cob and adobe bricks, in the vegetable garden rich on diversity and in the huge food forest which is still in the beginning stages of development. Besides that there are courses on permaculture and community aspects as well as visits from international schools.

The long-term members mostly don t live here permanently. They come from all over the world, often with one foot in the project and the other in their country of origin. This makes policy decisions, which theoretically happen on consensus, difficult; the same is true for new designs half implemented by one group, left to another.

Despite these complications, it seems as if the Panya Project has developed a system that manages day-to-day operational decisions and tasks effectively and coordinates volunteers to quickly integrate into the system. A turning wheel where everyone’s name is on is turning every day to distribute the main daily tasks like cooking, dish washing or sweeping and tidying. Other tasks, like checking the waterpump, feeding the chicken or watering the garden are executed by the long-termers; however quickly explained to a short-termer when nessecary. Short-termers are supposed to not stay less than a week, often stay longer though and are thus able to give a tour to new short-termers which takes work load of the long-termers.

The Panya Project stays in one way a little island of strangers in a foreign country (one long-termer is Thai), slowly however developing a connection to the Thai community around and participating in village activities.

Defragment a fragmented reality

I ve learned a lot during my five years of university; however the vertical thinking approach that is used predominantly in the academic world has slowly built up a wall around my creativity. I can do research, analyse literature, write scientific papers; I mean I can add one to one and get two… no one however teaches us to think out of the box, generate alternatives or even question given concepts. That is something that has been neglected and is probably not wanted by our society; to understand the system, to be a “good citizen”, we shall think like the system.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” –Albert Einstein

In my environmental studies, we had people choosing landscape architecture as their focal point, others specialised in plant ecology, or soil or water ecology, others preferred to learn about environmental law or something called sustainable development; rarely however was the architect interested in ecological matters, the new development activist in architecture and the environmental lawyer in plants or soil; mostly it even seemed as if the one saw the cooperation with the other as a burden, each on constraining the others ideas and actions.

It took me five years of studying ecology related topics to discover permaculture, attend a permaculture design course and become part of a movement that is pulling all of these elements together to represent a wholistic, positivistic science. Permaculture is a post-modern approach to gardening, building, communicating, governing and living which builds on the ideas of systems or design thinking. It puts emphasis on the fact that every thing depends on every other thing and provides us with a tool that suggests to observe the existing systems and the relationships, to dive into them and discover our place in them. Permaculture initiates us to interact and create strings of connection using available elements and patterns to create environments that are serving to the human society without disregarding the complex ecological systems they are built and rely upon.

System thinking has shown us that the interconnection and diversity of elements in a system create resilience; however they can enable small events to cause large unpredictable changes as well while a change in one area most probably affects other areas. A good example for this is the human body. In this regard, system thinking and permaculture propose that a sustainable change can be achieved by changing the system rather than a single unit of the system.

The illusion of permanence

Traditionally, people that lived in the tropics and in the intact rainforest were nomads and used a shifting cultivation to till their land and grow their food: after using a piece of land for one, two or three years they left it, moved on, burned down another part of the forest and let the earlier one regenerate.

They were nomads in the real sense, took the stuff they needed with themselves and gave everything else back to the forest. They didn’t do that because of any superstitious believes but rather for the simple reason that that’s the best and most sustainable way of using the land and the soil in a tropical ecosystem. Here in this environment plant and animal species find optimal conditions to develop quickly and the number of species competing for a niche and a living space is higher than anywhere else in the world.

Indigenous people are well aware of that, they know the forest and their land. Only privatisation has made this kind of agriculture or even lifestyle impossible. Everybody is playing a game against nature and his/her own natural resources on his/her own territory.

The Lupa Masa Rainforest Camp is probably a little older than a year; the wooden structures start to rod because of moist; insecticides are supposed to keep termites away from building their houses in the huts; here and there reparations are necessary… the search for permanence becomes a battle against impermanence… against the inherit nature of the jungle… the inherit nature of all things in this world.

Lucie and I will try to set up a farming system around this camp… in a permaculture way. We’re basically trying to establish a permanent culture/agriculture in an impermanent environment. Seems like an illusion… However, the fact that we have permaculture principles that incorporate the impermanent nature of this world gives a lot of hope in that regard. The best idea we think is to use, like permaculture suggests, local plants, mostly perennials, to build up a food forest, imitating the natural forest with fruit-giving plants; a system that will feed back to the forest as it takes and hopefully, in due time, reach a state of climax. In accepting the illusion of permanence we might be able to find its true meaning and a way to it through the reality of impermanence.

Wwoofing at Lupa Masa

They want to accommodate more and more guests here at the Lupa Masa Rainforest Camp – up to 25 at a time. To get food from the market it is half an hour walk and a 20 minutes drive, mostly by taxi to a village called Renau. From there the same distance back to the camp – with the shopping bags. This makes the provision of food an energy and time consuming undertaking. The solution is growing food, and that’s Lucie’s and my job here.

When we applied, we didn’t know that there was no garden in place. There are some banana shrubs, oil palms and a few other fruit trees that grow here naturally. There are also a few signs of an earlier attempt to start a garden. Apparently two girls, wwoofing here before have tried to grow some veg of which most was eaten by the hundreds and thousands of ants that live here with us. So basically we’re starting from scratch, which is a challenge but also a great chance for us to do our first land-based permaculture design.
We’ve been here like 10 days, checked out the place and think there is a lot of potential. We’ve started off with planting some corn, pumpking, beans, lettuce, chillies, sunflowers in pots as we were arriving during the first week and started the Survey phase and the observation for the permaculture design. We’ve introduced compost and we’re about to start a test plot for growing out vegetables whilst doing the design.

Charlie has taken us for some treks at night looking for the details and observing the beautiful wildlife while the day treks show the pattern of the forest, the broader picture of ungle, rivers and waterfalls.

Besides building up the garden we’re supposed to take in guests, now that Charlie’s gone for two to three weeks, will do a lot of cooking (which is good), cleaning and we’ll basically look after the place (which is also good and, t think, has already made it more welcoming).

There are quite a few things we would change here but I guess this Rainforest Camp is not the dream that we live. It is called an eco-camp in the Lonely Planet, and yes the have hydroelectric (which is broken at the moment) and most huts and structures are built of bamboo and wood only, however, they use non-biodegradable soap in the river and spray insecticide on the termites and ants coming into the huts. We thought we might be able to have a word and inspire them in some of those things. Do we ask too much from people if we want them to recognise that everything in an ecosystem is interrelated – seeing the world not just as a shared habitat, but rather as our larger body!?