Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Peak Oil Garden

An abundance of pots has got me thinkin about how to use space as wisely as possilbe - the idea of raised beds appeals - and there is an abundance of scrap wood down the side of the house - perhaps its time to get the Angle Saw out again?

Mel Bartholomew - Introducing Square Foot Gardening

Perfect concept for my 4 new plots

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ashwood Permaculture Project

A visit on the weekend to the Ashwood Permaculture Project Garden highlighted once again the many variations of what a Permaculture garden is.

With an emphasis on education and community - this property has evolved from an empty block to a food bowl and outdoor class room for the high school and local volunteers.

Because it is a vision for a community - the design is fluid. A series of mandalas have been established and the choock are rotated around this living mandala. A series of swales has been established, as it is quite a sloped block, in the form of dug in bath tubs.

I found the hot house the most impressive aspect. With a very well organised array of seedlings - herbs and edibles - which we chose from to plant out one of the circles on the block.

It was completely different to the two rural permaculture properties I have seen and showed me again how the principles can be taken on and interpreted by an individual to suit their vision.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Nature of 'Native'

The use of non-native, alongside native plants for a Permaculture design for working with the elements of water and fire: The Blogger's Opinion

The use of fire (other than that started by lightening) developed not naturally, but was recognized by Indigenous Australians to assist in both hunting and promoting species that were essential to their diets (for example tubars)(1). This had significant ecological consequences that we are living with today and that have made back burning an integral element to responsible environmental management.

For the sake of this discussion I am examining an urban fringe property for modern day human inhabitants.

Permaculture is a system for human inhabited regions, urban, semi-urban and rural. The connection between Human/Nature is key to understanding why ‘exoitcs’ are selected and integrated into the design.

Permaculture was established in Tasmania in the shadow of the 1970’s bushfires and provided, a then radical, means to plant for both your needs (of food, fodder, timber, shelter) and for your protection (against fire, wind, flood). On a personal note – I know that the apple orchid which divided the national forest from a friend’s property in the Tarra Bulga National Forrest saved not only his life but the home that he had built and was determined to protect on Black Saturday. The radiation thrown off by the Blue Gums, which both line the street and ridge directly opposite his property, fried the Apple Orchid (which stoically has re-sprouted in places) and gave just that moments grace to continue spot fire management.

Exotics – is an interesting word. As a ‘white fella’ I am an ‘exotic’ to this land. Widen the scope… as only recent inhabitant of the planet ‘indigenous’ Australians could be considered exotic to the Australian Landscape. Their introduction of fire to the environment altered which species were suppressed and which were promoted for them to thrive and survive.

Within the context of the Victorian Forrest, the Blue Gum is a relatively young addition to the system – which has flourished in bush fire conditions, out numbering the more historic native Pines and Myrtles. Where do we draw the line between what belongs (regardless of its intrinsic value) and what is ‘exotic’, foreign and therefore displaced?

Nomenclature terms (native/non-native, exotic/natural) used for the naming of things and categorization are useful in creating clarity and understanding, and offer a chance to define a subject for the sake of argument. (I more than anyone love to stroll the Bot Gardens and see how creatively and beautifully they have divided and categorized the plant collection). However this classification of belonging vs displaced is entirely redundant, and in fact detrimental to forming deeper connection, understanding and discovering (now) critical advantages for everyday use of plant species.

Now more than ever – with population off the scale and our primary energy source (cheap oil) rapidly diminishing – we have to be savy if we want future generations to have half a chance at survival. This means avoiding “throwing the baby out with bath water”. Imagine a world where the plastics manufactured from cheap oil were valued as a precious resource. Compared with the gluttony we now are faced with. If we had acted with the foresight of treasuring oil rather than exploiting it, we would not be now facing the Peak Oil crisis which comes just 2 generation after the discovery of this incredible resource.

Back to the context of this discussion; along waterways and creeks Holmgren advocates for the acceleration, rather than reversal of the natural succession already in motion ‘towards a close canopy of deciduous trees that will reduce long term hazard, improve access and amenity and improve water quality … ”:

Past practice of promoting indigenous revegetation on private and public land in urban and urban fringe areas should be modified to prioritise low fire hazard and actively fire retardant species both native and non-native.(2)

This approach takes into account the events of history (colonization) and works to include the consequent changes to the environment within a managed system.

At long last the mainstream is catching on: “Aid is only temporary; lasting solutions are more likely to be found in community based projects that tap into existing economic models and to produce improvement” (Seeds of Hope: A Journey with Hugh Jackman, The Age Green Guide 16/09/10).

Much too late (in my opinion) - we are realising that we have to work with what we've got – and what we've got right now is a long-held inhabited and altered environment that was later colonized and dramatically changed once again. The linear time frame alone does not rationalize what plants are most appropriate for current day planning within an inhabited setting. The argument that this was here first therefore it must be the ‘natural’ state of things works against, rather than with what is right now in this very reality.

While at Bunnings today I read the label “I’m Aussie, be proud to plant me” – I thought yeah I am proud – but what does being “aussie” mean these days – it means much much more than “native”. And I think any Australian, Indigenous or Non-indigenous would agree we can learn and achieve more by working together and integrating the wisdom available - regardless of its category, label or status, much the same way that planting native next to non-native can offer a safer, healthier and smarter (not to mention more bio-diverse) eco-system. So long as it is done with discernment.

1 Saleh, A., (http://www.abc.net.au/science/news/stories/s1398157.htm)
2 Holmgren, D., ‘Flywire House; A case study in design against bushfire’.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why the Willow?

A recent discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of planting Willows within a Permaculture Design has got me contemplating the wider scope of integrative debate and land management in Australia.

Natural Sequence Farming, as established by Peter Andrews, while common sense and clearly successful was met with suspicion and pursection in much the same way that the Willow was declared a noxious weed in Australia.

It is easy to accept an argument of "good/bad", "native/non-native". It makes it clear what you are "supposed" to do. But it also removes an entire scope of possibilities, potentials and restorative values. Unfortunately our entire social structure and way of being is based around these constructs. "Tell me what to do - and I will do it". We have discouraged group-consciousness to be a diverse system of creative action, because for many this notion looks simply like 'chaos'. What happens when you can step beyond the fear and into the realm of 'organised chaos', or what I like to call the 'messy business of an interesting life'. Permaculture is what happens.

Permaculture, much like yoga advocates for an integrative approach to the system of healing and wholeness. There is no right or wrong, but there is responsible discernment - which much to the dismay of our modern society takes time and effort. Just as the term "yoga" has become appropriated and is now associated with lean mean stretching machines, the phrases "green" and "sustainable" and "ecological" have become catch phrases which fail to acknowledge the deeper wisdoms which once resonated with the ecological movement.

It seems that the true healing and deep action continues to occurs around the periphery of main-stream thought. And it is within this space that ideas are generated which have the potential for creating tangible improvement.

Revegetating and Reducing Fire Risk in Spring Creek Gully

Monday, September 13, 2010


Just before the serious week of rain I took these shots of the blossoms. The garden was entirely a BUZZ with bees. What a sound to weed to!!!

David Holmgren in Daylesford

Melliodora Tour - September

The tour lead by David Holmgren of his property in Daylesford demonstrated to me that Permaculture is a system of care, attention and connection to the place and the people that inhabit it. Unlike other approaches that I have witnessed where the 'low maintenance' and 'minimum care' approach to a self-sustaining system has been made, David Holmgren demonstrated that the relationship with the property is one born out of a passion and immaculate attention to detail - while at the same time down to earth and practical in every sense.

Emphasis was placed on the importance of soil condition, and David offered various approaches for re-balancing soil structure for optimal mineral balance. At the end of the day - if the soil contains the correct balance of elements for the plant - produce such as pumpkin should keep through to mid Summer. I find this particularly interesting given the finding that are being made into the cause of Alzheimer's being that of mineral inbalance, whereby the brain is becoming "rusty" from toxins.

David spoke about allowing a design to develop organically. I have experience this myself where - the garden will slowly reveal to me what will work and what will not work. It is not a matter of logic or careful planning (although these or course are recommended) so much as observation over time, trial and error. Again it returns to creating a relationship - spending time with the space and its "quirks".

Having cultivated some artichokes recently I was thrilled to see that David has used this plant as the under-story for fruit trees. As the artichoke is active in Winter - and is busy working away while the fruit tree above is dormant and free of leaves to allow plenty of sunlight through.

The importance of tree selection for fodder (mostly for the goats who put on a real show) and also to support sun catchment was discussed. No pines or gum trees were planted on the property - but were restricted to the very outer border and are likely to be cut for fire wood. With the exception of the Bunya Bunya pine which is harvested (well it drops huge pine cones) for the pine nuts. Deciduous trees, while not native were selected as "settlement friendly". Trees recommended included oak, willow, blackwood and black walnut. Perriwinkles along the boundaries were chosen as they are shade tolerant, soil improvers and most important fire retardants. These were planted along the river bank along with the cricket bat willow which had been cut and sent off to make ... cricket bats!

The willow, which has been persecuted as a non-native, is used to create a sound rootmat along the river edge and similar to the Mellaluka in the Northern Territory is used for re-building hydrology (catching sediment and improving soil structure).
Closer to home (Zone 2-3) always the preference is towards food and fodder trees. Walnut and Hazelnuts were inter-planted with oak and tall, well-pruned Casuarina. David discussed that you shouldn't over do bio-mass and it was clear that between the goats and his constant pruning that every tree on the property was contributing, rather than detracting from the system. Also once they reached maturity and if they were taking too much sunlight, space or water they would be cut for their wood. Walnut trees for example pull a lot of nutrients from the system and can grow as fast as gum trees if the mineral balance of the soil is right. The dam at the bottom of the property acted as a sun catcher for the main orchid, reflecting the late afternoon rays up the slope all towards the home. Even the slope was considered in the design - as to where the choockies would dig in order to bring, for example, the oak leafs down of the slope and pile up for creating humus.

It was a lovely design - not overwhelming, but intrincsic with its detail. Most importantly it worked.

Highlight of the property would have to the Pear Tree. I would never have identified it as a Pear - it was huge. Planted some time during the gold rush and nearby the remains of an old homestead. The ley lines of the property meet at a conjuction just infront of the tree and is said to be a wonderful place for healing! Well the entire property resonated with a healing vibration. But this point was certainly a lovely place to stand and take it all in!