Welcome All! I'm a dreamer, I hope you are too! A Posse ad Esse, or From possibility to reality, is a general state of mind. I hope you'll share your possibilities with me as I will with you. Namaste~

November 6, 2012

Permaculture Course - Video 3

Well, it's been a little over a week since the last post and I've been hard at this course I'm trying to work through. As I get into it, I am beginning to think that this whole course, if it continues as it has been, will likely take me nearly a year! There is so much information to absorb and I've been making the additional effort to complete assignments that were given to the class as best I can as well. I am thoroughly enjoying every bit of it though and it has me thinking non stop about the future of our new home-scale farm. And speaking of the new farm, I've been trying to think of a name for it; all farms need a title right? I was trying to think of something I liked just out of thin air, but just didn't seem inspired by anything. I thought it would be best to just wait until the land whispered in my ear a little and hinted at her name. I'm not sure I'm hearing correctly, but I'm getting something about the two foxes that call her home. Maybe Two-foxes Farm? Foxwood Farm? I don't know... any thoughts?

OK, enough small talk... let's get to Permaculture!!
This Video installment was the third video, and the first half of the Second lecture and it was also full of information. Homework assignments for this were to watch _In Danger of Falling Food_ with Bill Mollison on YouTube and to read the first two chapters in _Gaias Garden_ by Toby Hemenway. The Former was very interesting, if not a bit dated and a little cheesy, and the latter is shaping up to be a real favorite. First off, this lecture talked about Permaculture as a way of thinking. Dr Hooker says that while many people take the principles of Permaculture as pure "gospel", that we shouldn't. There are pieces in it for everyone. Take what you can incorporate and keep it's principles in mind as a way of looking at the world as you design your gardens and farms. Originally conceived in Australia, Permaculture traditionally looks at things through the lens of "forest gardens" or "food forests", but as the principles have spread throughout the world, it has found that within each biome, or climatic region, there are plant/animal/human relationships that meet the permaculture principles.

Garden Ecology: Ecos - from the Greek for "house" and ology from the Greek for "to study". Ecology is the study of the relationships that the living organisms within an environment have with each other. These relationships and these organisms, best estimates put that at around 30 million species, only exists withing the earths biosphere. That's a term I've heard and I pretty much understand, but the professor makes a really good point when he talks about how large it may seem to us, but in relation to the whole earth it is but a mere sliver of life that we have to live on. It makes you think.

One of the homework assignments, as I mentioned, was reading through chapter 2 in Gaia's Garden. I've really, really enjoyed it so far and intend to, as I have time available, finish the whole book. The author, Toby Hemenway, uses wonderful analogies to make points about typical gardening techniques and how, although they are rooted in well meaning and came from legitimate problems that were trying to be solved, go so completely against what nature has in mind for the earth. We are, in effect, fighting nature at every turn. A couple of good examples of this are weeds and natural succession. Weeds it seems, and I think we can all see this, are natures pioneer species. When the earth is disturbed, and particularly when it is laid bare, weeds are sent in like they were the front line troops in a fight against the elements. They cover ground quickly, prevent over drying of the soil, hold soil fast against erosion and creating a bio-rich area for future plants to move into. The more we weed, clear and till our land, we are asking for weeds to show up. I thought about what my Master Gardener instructor had told us about pruning fruit trees. We think of pruning as saying "don't grow here, don't grow here and don't grow here..." The tree hears "Grow here, grow here and grow here..." We need to get our language on the same page. As for natural succession, nature first covers ground in weeds and grasses or, as she sees them... pioneers. Their deep roots bring minerals and nutrients to the surface, hold moisture and when they die they build fertility in the soil for larger more permanent plants to move in. In our typical suburban yards, we have essentially created young landscapes of grasses lined with "forrest areas" of larger more decorative plants or trees. Then, as the soil fertility builds and tries to allow the tree roots to take hold or new larger plants to move in... "weeds"... we use chemicals or machines to artificially return it to a youthful state, i.e. grass. It's a never ending cycle because we are feeding the grasses and making them do what they do, and then when they try to pass on to the next succession, we beat them back again. Madness!!

The lecture took great divergences into the trophic levels and an actually pretty interesting bit of theory on the relationship of faith (theology) and our place in a position outside the trophic levels that I thought made a good point in basically saying that if we see ourselves as masters of the word and outside of the cycles of the natural world it is much easier for us to manipulate it because it becomes in essence just "materials".  We need to re-integrate ourselves into that natural cycle.

Finally the lecture wrapped up talking about energy flows; the way that embodied energy flows from our only true power source... the sun... into everything on earth. I had never heard the term embodied energy before, but it makes sense to me. In everything we touch, eat, consume, or in how we travel around there is a certain level of energy embodied in that object or action. Permaculture teaches that as designers we should base designs on maximizing this energy by using it from the highest point down the ladder so that all energy is used productively and not wasted. Just as light moves through the forest canopy; much is taken up front by the canopy trees, what remains moves down to the lower shrub and small tree layer - the plants that can only tolerate partial sunlight - and finally what little ambient light remains goes into those shade loving plants that live in the understory and thrive in that shadiness. At each level a different piece of the energy is used. This maximizes the productivity and efficiency of the forest and it's a way of thinking about energy use that can help us to become more efficient and lower consumers as well.

The last piece from this lecture that I will pass on is his "Tricks for Creating Ecological Gardens":
  • Soil Building
  • Perennials - vs- Annuals
  • Multiple Stories
  • Plant Communities "Guilds"
  • Stacking Functions
It was a great lecture and I look forward to sharing the next one too. I also look forward to more comments from you on your experiences and thoughts.

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