Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Learning about permaculture

Version française à suivre bientôt

What is permaculture? Search in books for definitions of permaculture and you will find many variations; permaculture means different things to different people. I think that worries some, who would rather add rules and regulations, checks and balances, to make sure that permaculture is the same wherever you happen to be, like a Holiday Inn hotel.

But permaculture is site specific, so why not person specific? In order to find out what permaculture means to you you have first to learn a bit about it and for that, there's no better starting place that a well-run Permaculture Design Course, run by someone with loads of experience. You will learn about its ethics and principles.

Patrick demonstrates how to use an A-frame
You'll also learn about the practical tools you'll need to employ, such as how to measure your land topographically for level and contour, and then map that information. You'll learn how to design using permaculture principles and will probably leave the course inspired, impatient to get designing and eager to tell everyone else what a wonderful thing permaculture is.

Permaculture courses and books will provide you with an ambitious wish-list of things you'd like to include on your land. However, there's another part to all this learning, made more difficult if, like us, you haven't come from a background of horticulture and agriculture and that's learning about all the individual plants that you want to include in your permaculture design and all the animals that will be involved (both the planned domestic ones and the ones that just turn up, on wings, feet or just wriggling on their belly).

An idealised layout (© Mollison's Intro to Permaculture, p.102)
Books can give you neat, mandala-like suggestions of how to arrange your site but real life doesn't really work like that. If you want to avoid making some of the mistakes we've madehaving plants die and having to relocate others a year after planting—it's best to learn about their needs, what conditions they require to thrive. In this way, once you've surveyed your land and its soil, discovered the microclimates and how they change through the year, you can plant something where it'll be happy. In the windbreak at the bottom of the field at the exposed end of your property, you'll choose something that is hardy to cold temperatures and harsh winds and doesn't mind its feet wet in winter and plant blueberries only in soil that's acid enough for its taste. Make no mistake, this is a long journey, requiring you to delve deep into plant encyclopaedias, nursery catalogues and conventional garden design books.

screenshot from Patrick's online course
Returning to Permaculture Design Courses (PDCs): we both did our PDCs with Patrick Whitefield, I did my course residential at Ragmans Lane Farm in Gloucestershire and Gabrielle studied online for hers.
In an article in the new edition of Permaculture Magazine  Gabrielle and I compare and contrast online Permaculture Design Courses to the conventional face to face models and explore available online options and what they actually offer students. You can buy the magazine as a hard copy or a downloadable PDF