Sunday, 28 December 2014

Building a Tiny House

During my time in the United States I started to ponder how I wanted my life to be once I returned home. I had a few things in mind, but the one thing I truly wanted to live more of a Permaculture lifestyle.
Anyone who has lived in a sharehouse knows its ups and downs, and trying to push sustainability or Permacultue onto people is not really my thing. I wanted to live in a house where people understood minimal waste, wanted to garden, saved water, ate from co-ops and tried to conserve energy.
I also wanted the house to have an element of freedom, where people did not feel forced to do these things, or would not be reprimanded if one day they came home with a plastic bag from the shops.
I wanted to live with like-minded people, who were aware and tried their best.

One day I stumbled upon this ad: Free Rent in an EcoVillage for a Year? (Documentary Project)
and after reading immediately sent a message to Samuel Alexander.

I am the kind of person that tries to apply for everything that excites me, and then I see what comes back.... whatever comes back I take as the thing I should be doing.
After an interview from a cafe in California via Skype, I received an email from Sam stating that they would love to have me on board, and the project would be starting in January 2015.

Well... that was that then! Upon my return to Melbourne, Australia, I attended a workshop to build a Tiny House, which would be the house I would be living in for the year.
I have always wanted to live in a cottage, and this was a dream come true.
So, as of January 2015 I will be living as part of a Community Farm development project, alongside 8 lovely strangers, with my wonderful dog Zero as part of a documentary being filmed.
I will still be continuing my business as The Perma Pixie, and will be taking regular trips to Melbourne to Facilitate workshops and see my partner (who I am going to miss dearly!).

Following are some photos of the Tiny House Build.... Next is the painting and furniture!

Home Sweet Home. This will be where I complete Permaculture Design work, finish my Advanced Diploma of Herbal Medicine, create my Medicinals and Medicine making kits and get cozy by the fire after a long day building and gardening!

Thanks to Elizabeth Wade for the photos. 

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

'Unlock the Secrets of Soil' with Dr.Elaine Ingham

November 1st - 5th 2014

This was one of the ultimate highlights and reasons for my journey to North America.

'Unlock the Secrets of Soil', discovering the science of the Soil Food Web and learning techniques for soil improvement and remediation with Dr.Elaine Ingham.

I am deeply passionate about the soil, as our topsoil is precious, nourishing and feeding all life on Earth.

This was a 5 day workshop, with a schedule as follows:
Day 1: The Soil Food Web; Appearance and Function of Organisms, Aerobic vs Anaerobic, Nutrients in Soil, Soil Chemistry and Biology, Testing Soils.
Day 2: The Soil Food Web continued; Soil Profiles, pH and Mineral Availability, Soil Structure, Nutrient Cycling, Succession.
Day 3: Making Compost; Thermal, Vermi and Static Compost, Carbon and Nitrogen ratios, Moisture content, Management and Testing. 
Day 4: Making Compost Tea; Equipment, Materials, Food Sources, Extracts and Teas, Fungal and Bacterial Teas, Application.
Day 5: Microscopy; Equipment, Assembly of Microscope, Features of Microscope, Identification of Organisms, Soil Testing and Recording.

The first 2 days were an amazing overload of information, which I am hoping to capture and summarize in later posts and for the use of student notes.

Compost: Day 3
The third day was a little more practical, and we were taken to a small park where the correct method for making a thermal compost was demonstrated. Now I say correct only to mean this is one of the best ways to capture the right kinds of beneficial organisms that will benefit soil life. There are many ways to make compost, but Elaine explained this was amongst one of the simplest and most effective ways to gain excellent results.

Three types or material was lined up in buckets so we could see the ratios with our eye.
2 Buckets of High Nitrogen Material (Legumes, but only if functioning nodules are present, Fresh Manure or Seeds), 4 Buckets of Green Plant Material (Grass clippings, Weeds, Green leaves, Hay), 4 Buckets of Woody Material (Straw, Woodchips, Brown leaves).
A thermal compost should be 10% high Nitrogen, 40% Green Material and 60% Woody Material depending on whether a fungal or bacterial dominance is wanted.

 Here are the buckets lined up with the piles of compost material with Loita demonstrating.
One of the easiest methods to use is to create a cylinder of wire mesh for the materials to be placed in
Now this is an important part: Humic Acid! I will in later posts describe what this is exactly, but for now lets just say it is a complex molecule that allows soil to retain moisture, nutrients and contributes to soil structure. It forms in some lush topsoils and well-made compost.
To extract humic acid, compost from a reliable source is used. You can get a lab to test the compost for lots of good little critters, test it yourself or trust in the smell, colour and odor. Compost should, according to Dr.Elaine Ingham, be the colour of a 70% cocoa chocolate bar! The smell should be earthy, rich and quite pleasant- no odors of ammonium or rot.

The compost is placed in a mesh bag and a colander, with a bowl underneath. Water is then poured over the contents and the remaining liquid should be a dark chocolate colour. 

 The humic acid extract is then added to the compost pile using a spray bottle, whilst the material is being turned. This will ensure the growth of beneficial microorganisms.
The group teamed up to mix the materials using the right ratios, adding the humic acid and wetting the pile accordingly.

 Our finished 'lasagna'! There was mixed opinions surrounding whether or not it was more beneficial to layer the materials or not. Dr.Elaine Ingham states that during her investigations and studies, it has made no difference.
We were then told that when creating good compost one must invest in a long stainless steel themometre, and the temperature should be taken from the top and the sides.

The pile should be turned the least amount of times as to not disturb the organisms too much, although turning is usually essential if you want to get compost quickly. It all depends on temperature!
The pile needs to be turned so the contents from the outside layer gets turned into the center, and the center gets turned to the outside top layer. This will ensure the adequate distribution of heat and therefore decomposition amongst the pile.
Temperatures need to reach above 55 degrees Celsius for 3 days, 65.5 degrees Celsius for 2 days or 74 degrees Celsius for 1 day if pathogens are going to be killed and beneficial microorganisms to breed.

Carbon and Nitrogen mixed to create lush Compost!

Compost Tea: Day 4
On the fourth day we also got to see some action, and watched as Loita demonstrated her methods of making high quality compost tea.
Now the trick to making good Compost Tea is that it must always be aerated in order to breed aerobic organisms, which contribute to a healthy 'digestive system' of the soil.
We evaluated different equipment, and ideally you want compost tea brewers with the least amounts of pipes, that are easy to clean and have no crevices. This is so the anaerobic organisms (pathogens) cannot stick to these areas and breed, if they do they will turn your whole compost tea anaerobic, despite whether it is being aerated or not.
 Foods, such as kelp emulsion, fish hydrolysate and humic acid are added to the mixture to feed bacteria and fungi. Most soils are deficient in fungi, so adding the fish hydrolysate is a great way to make sure fungi will grow after application of the tea. It is important to note the difference of fish hydrolisate to fish emulsion, which is a bacteria food. The emulsion has the oils removed, which is what fungi predominately feed on. If you want a more bacterially dominated soil (used mostly for vegetable crops), using fish emulsion rather than hydrolysate could be beneficial.

 Using a mesh bag, good quality compost is immersed into the water (making sure the water is clean rainwater free of chemicals). It is also a good idea to include some mycelium in the bag, as this will provide fungi, which will feed on the fungal foods and spread once in the soil.
It is important to brew the tea at the temperature you will be applying, and it does not matter if temperatures fluctuate, as this is what happens in nature.

 The 'bubbler' is then turned on, and the tea is left to infuse!
It is important when applying compost tea to not only apply to the roots, but to the leaves of the crop also. There are many kinds of bacteria and fungi that adhere to and protect the surfaces of plants.

Microscopy: Day 5
After considering at length if I should invest in a microscope, I decided to invest in one as a birthday present (as if I needed any justification!).  I will now be able to start doing my own soil testing for gardens, be able to test compost teas and use the microscope for soil classes and also botany in Herbal Medicine classes! (oooooOoooo!)

 Here it is! My very own microscope! Another tool to add to The Perma Pixie kit!

 During this class I have to admit, I felt quite overwhelmed! Very excited, but I also had the feeling of what it felt to step out of my first Permaculture Design Course in 2008. There was a whole new world I had to investigate and familiarize myself with!
 Under our feet a myriad of organisms live, all feeding one another, providing nutrients and nourishment for the whole. This world is as complex, if not more, than the one we see with our naked eye, with organisms so diverse and so unappreciated.
As far as I am concerned, we exist as hosts for microorganisms. Bacteria were the first living inhabitants of the Earth, and they have done a remarkable job of colonizing every surface.
There is still a lot to be learned about this world we have yet to understand, and until we start to appreciate bacteria as we appreciate polar bears, I feel we are at a loss.
We are loosing our topsoil at a phenomenal rate, unsure if we will be able to feed future populations, not to mention the species which are relying on the soil; plant, animal, microbe and fungi alike. 
One of my dedications to this Earth is to learn more about this web of life, and how to re mediate it.

The world of Biology, Chemistry and Physics are interlinked. They are wholistically connected, and we must join the dots and start to understand how they all impact each other, rather than basing agricultural practice on chemistry alone.

More posts on Soil Science to come!

 A fungal Hyphae.
Bacteria known as Cocci, as well as aggregates and soil particles.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Making a Solar Dehydrator

On the Road...

I made a solar dehydrator whilst traveling around in the van. During the hot Californian summer, I decided to make use of the suns energy. This meant I could make delicious crackers, cakes and dried fruits while we were stationary by just popping the dehydrator on the roof while we were hiking or out for the day. Upon return we had our next meal...

 I started by collecting random bits and pieces from a 'thrift' store. All the pieces fit together perfectly. I took the principles of a solar dehydrator and applied them to a smaller, more random project.
A solar dehydrator needs to be painted black, to draw in the heat of the sun, have a glass panel, directed towards the sun to harness and capture the suns energy, and have ventilation holes, usually at the bottom and top, to ensure adequate airflow.

 I found an old tray with removable panels, a glass photo frame, a baking tin and a wire cooling rack at the thrift store. I then brought some non-toxic black paint and hinges.

 Removing the photo from the frame, I glued the glass panel in place and applied black tape to the outer edges.
 As we were sitting in the midst of a beautiful pine forest in California, I took some time to 'drill' holes into the tray with my knife. This was a very 'zen' process, and it was lovely to have no hand tools and really feel the DIY of the project!

 5 holes on the bottom of one side, and 5 holes on the top of the other. I did this to hopefully create an airflow current which would flow in through the bottom (sucking in cool air) and flowing through the food in the dehydrator before flowing out the holes at the top (sucking out the hot air). This would allow the food to dry properly and no condensation, moisture or mold to form during the process.

The next step was to paint!
 I applied a few coats of black paint every time we stopped the van.
 Another stop and, with the help of my partner, attached the hinges to the tray and photo frame with my new multi-tool! The two fit together perfectly!
 And there you have it! The photo frame lifts so I can place food inside, face the dehydrator towards the sun, and let the renewable source of energy do its thing!

 It happened to work well that there were panels that I could slot into the inside of the tray and place the wire rack on top, meaning the air would flow underneath the foodstuffs.

 Mixing buckwheat, black sesame seed, flaxseed, pipetas, pumpkin seeds, onion, cumin seed, salt, cayenne pepper and water in a bowl I then rolled the mixture out onto some baking paper and placed it in the dehydrator.
After half the day I removed the baking paper from underneath and let the crackers air out in the dehydrator, ensuring they were adequately dried.

And there you have it! Crackers on the road, a fun project, problem solving with thrift store bits, and using renewable energies!
This is not a traditional solar dehydrator, although you can look plenty of plans and photos up online.
I like to recycle bits and see if I can apply the same principles for similar results.
Very happy with this little project, although I don't think I will be able to take it home with me on a plane! Perhaps some other traveling soul will like to make some crackers though...

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Leaves of Summer Speak - BC, Canada

I remember saying to one of my Permaculture teachers during my first Permaculture Design Course, “How do you see and understand all these things?” to which he replied “Once you switch on the Permaculture part of your brain, you can’t switch it off again. Your constantly looking at things in a different way, asking why and deciphering answers”.
I will never forget this, because it was so true for me. I cannot switch that part of my brain off (I was always the kid that asked “But Why?”) and the same goes for the Wildcrafting Wild Woman part of me.
Which is exactly why part of me was more excited to delve deep into the forest during Shambahla Festival, than to actually take part in the event itself.

I took a foraging basket, a knife, paper bags and string and went to see what the land offers here which is so hard to find back home in Australia.

Behold! I found many, many things!

First of all I found Coltsfoot (
Tussilago farfara) which is actually prohibited in Australia, It is an Appendix C classed species, due to the herb containing pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which have been shown to cause liver damage in rats. There are other studies, however, which state that there has been no proper evaluation of scheduled species such as Coltsfoot ( The alkaloids  occur in minute quantities, and Swedish research suggests that they are destroyed by boiling. It is also thought that the mucilage present in the plant makes the alkaloid safe. In the UK it is recommended that this herb should be used internally only under professional guidance.
The flowers and leaves of this plant are used, and it contains mucilages, tannin, zinc, inulin, flavanoids and a glycosidal bitter principle. 
This is a plant which grows very low to the ground, in semi-shaded areas.
It is renowned for its properties in assisting bronchitis, lung infections and coughs, and is said to give relief by actually smoking the leaves.

Other indications include laryngitis and asthma, and the herb combines well with Mullien (Verbascum thapsus) and white horehound (Marrubium vulgare) which, strangely enough, grow near one another quite often.

 Wild Violet is another (Violoa odorata) that I stumbled upon in the forest.

This plant I am very familiar with as it grows in what has been my home for 5 years in the Dandenong Ranges.
I apologies for the quality of the photo, but it does go to show where this plant likes to grow. It needs to be extremely shady and damp for Viola to spread her green wings outward.
The season in British Columbia in which I harvested these plants was high Summer, but the tree cover from the pines is that dense in some areas that there are many places Violets will grow.
I pondered whether many of these plants may like acidic soil, as I know pine needles are acidic… Another ‘Why?’ that I will hopefully know the answer too soon.
Violet has wonderful heart shaped deep green leaves which are thick and fleshy, and slightly fuzzy. Do not let this put you off! The fuzziness disappears when you chew and she can be made into many dishes and medicines.
In the winter months Violet produces purple ‘flowers’, which are in fact not true flowers as they do not produce any seeds, they do produce nectar however, and I have witnessed bees feasting on them in the colder months.
Violet flowers can be made into a syrup which is used for coughs, or can be infused into an oil as a rub for cysts. The plant is renowned for dissolving cysts, and is a very gentle healer indeed. Perscribed also for people undergoing stressfull or traumatic situations, heartache and post surgery, this plant is associated with the slow and comforting Mother energy.
Violet strengthens the reproductive system and soothes mucus membranes both internally and externally.

Wild Raspberry, or Thimleberry (Rubus parviflorus).

Apart from the berries being a delicious snack, the leaves are astringent and antiemetic. The plant tones the arteries and blood, and also tones the stomach, being called a stomachic. The leaves can be made into an infusion to treat stomach complaints, dystentry and diarrhea.
Due to its high iron content, the species can be used internally to treat anemia.
This is also a 'womans herb', aiding if menstruation is unusually long.
The large, soft, palmate leaves can be made into a poultice for dressing wounds and burns, or the powdered leaf can also be used.
The leaf ash has been known to treat swelling if mixed with oil.
The roots are also astringent and toning to the blood, capillaries, stomach and arteries.
A tincture of the root can be made to have on hand if stomach upsets occur, and I have used the herb as a pleasant and sweet tea when bleeding to tone and strengthen the uterus. 

Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)

This herb is extremely hard to photograph, as its needles are so small and sparse, as well as the fact that my camera has deteriorated. 

Here is a much better photograph, taken from ( so as to get a better idea of what the plant really looks like.

This plant is phenomenal! It does grow in Australia, but no where near as prolifically. This was one of the first species of plants to evolve, as, being a vascular plant, it reproduces by spores rather than seeds. The Equisetum is the only living genus within its family Equisetaceae.
Equisetum is considered a living fossil, it is the only living genus of the entire class. Over a hundred million years ago, horsetail dominated the understory of the late Paleozoic forests, being much more diverse a genus, with species as large as trees.

This plant contains large amounts of silica, meaning it strengthens bone, hair, skin and nails. 
Used to treat osteoporosis, the plant also contains Calcium, Magnesium and Zinc.
Horsetail has been used as a diuretic, which helps rid the body of toxins through increasing urine output. For this reason it is also used as a kidney ally, strengthening and toning kidneys and removing kidney stones.

Making an infusion of the leaves, or even a tincture to preserve the medicine, will aid joint ailments and give a healthy dose of anti-oxidants to the system.

Another thing I love about this plant is you can use it to scour dishes when camping instead of using sponges or detergent (the silica dissolves grime)!

After my forest adventure I found a stick, bound my findings to it and carried them back to the van to dry and use for teas along the way.
(From Left: Thimblebery, Coltsfoot, Wild Violet, Horsetail and Mullien)

The forest always finds me...

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Wildcrafting in British Columbia

Yesterday was my first full day in Vancouver, BC, and in the evening I ended up using the house bicycle to ride a few blocks to the nearest Community Garden. This garden is the Cypress Community Gardens along the Arbutus Corridor, and upon walking into the wonderland, a wonderful lady named Annah explained that the gardens were under threat. Canadian Pacific state that due to maintenance and re vegetation works along the railway all structures, gardens and sheds will have to be removed by July 31st.

More and more peoples gardens are being snatched from under their feet. Most people I know are unable to own a home of their own and plant food to feed themselves, and governments encroach more and more on community gardens and rented plots.
As I walked around the garden again tonight, I had a thought as I picked all things wild, edible, medicinal and beautiful... These people are the real warriors.
Not only for the fierce act that is growing food in this Western world, not only due to food security, but for providing sanctuary for people!

I walked the corridors and my mood was instantly bright, people were reading and taking photos of bees gathering pollen and picking apples and smiling and sniffing the air. One woman stated that everyday she takes the longer route to her sons house just to see the beauty that is this work of passionate community.
There were so many plants, so many bees! So much abundance... these are the people we need to thank, for our mental clarity and wellbeing...
As I walked passed a small Gingko tree I was reminded that Chinese monks single handedly saved the species from extinction- and looking around, I was filled with a deep love for the people that are trying to do the same for many species of plants as we stand in the mist of the 6th greatest extinction on Earth, not only for Fauna species, but for Flora.

As I walked I picked the food for our dinner.... I picked food I knew my partner could eat (who struggles with digestive issues), and food for the people I am staying with whom I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude... and of course, my way of showing my thanks is to feed people!

I made a salad of water lettuce, dandelion, violet, chive flowers, fennel pollen, mint, nasturtium leaves and flowers and cos lettuce, sage and califlower mash with garlic flowers, stuffed hollyhock flowers, with the stuffing made of blended zuchinni, capsicum, mixed nuts, chia and hemp seeds, and battered comfrey leaves.

The smiles on the faces of those I made this meal for was well worth it, and the experience of foraging for my food is one I would love to have more time for in my day to day life. It was magickal to put the time into walking the community corridors and selecting my dinner fresh and full of vitality.
The meal was light, nutritious and extremely colourful!

Please sign the petition at this website for the arbutus community garden corridor:

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

ReGrarians PDC - Day 2 - Concepts and Themes

Day 2 - Concepts and Themes

On this day were introduced to the land of 'Emergy' - Embodied Energy. I love this term as I beleive if people living in the Western and Developing worlds became more aware of this concept and its effects on ecological systems, there would be more of a chance of changing the way we utilize our energy.
Basically what you want to ask yourself when considering a product is "How long will it last?"
When I was completing my Diploma in Permaculture we had a class on energy, and I distinctly remember learning that 80% of Australia's fossil fuel usage was attributed to our 'Goods and Services', that is purely the SHIT WE BUY.
I was so shocked by this, and it is for this reason that stepping into a shopping center is enough to give a Permie an anxiety attack!

One thing that was stated during this class was that agriculture has lead to culture, and now that I am reading a book called 'Pandora's Seed' I am seeing that this is true. What this book has also taught me is that not only did agriculture lead to culture, but alongside its birth 10,000 yrs ago also came government. 

 When designing we want a diversity of species to build an ecological system which is resilient, and we also want to select species which use the least amount of Emergy. Some species of flora which require little Emergy include Almonds, Olives, Carob and Oaks.
An interesting fact that I learned when discussing Oaks was that 2000-4000 yrs ago Africa was Oak Savanna.
Animals with cleft hooves (like cattle) are designed for grazing savannas, where as Horses are plains animals.

When thinking of embodied energy, shopping centers and supermarkets are something that make me cringe. Australian mega supermarkets like Coles and Woolworths control 65% of supermarket sales. This is a lot of power for a handful of companies to have over a nation. Following is an image of which mega corporations own smaller companies, meaning our consumer dollars are being controlled by such a small fraction of the world. This is where a lot of our imbalances between the wealthy and poorer populations.

 Many of these companies have been responsible for mass environmental and social destruction. When most people become aware of the power of consumer choice, like many people that delve into the world of Permaculture do, it is no surprise that self sufficiency is aspired to. The problem with self-sufficiency is that it is in fact, unsustainable. People in the Western world take the individualistic lifestyle that we are conditioned to have, and then apply it to self reliance. In our society it is seen as successful to be independent, work hard, work for what you own, own a lot of stuff and basically be able to 'survive off your own back'. Only thing is, you are not surviving off your own back, you are surviving off the planets. The only reason we can lead such independent lifestyles is due to our dependence on oil. Every light that is switched on, car that is driven, item that is brought... is a product of oil (with exceptions of course, but here I am talking about the general mainstream picture of the Western household, where going shopping on a Saturday for no particular reason or product in mind is normal).
If you take our conditioning and apply it to wishing to live without a dependency on oil, it puts tremendous stress on a person, couple or family. We have lost our connection with community, and without community we cannot sustain our needs within a Western framework.

When considering a more sustainable or regenerative lifestyle, we are looking at producing enough of a yield to feed the household, family or community.
Below is a list of what the class brainstormed when asked what defines and determines a yield:
- Production
- Effort
- Gain
- Output
- Income
- Work
- Consistency
- Longevity
- Profit
- Energy/Emergy
- Need

The last point is very interesting. Production is based on what is needed within a system.
As P.A Yeomans says "If a dam is filled with water at the start of the rainy season its a waste of capital".
We need to Manage our Abundance or we will waste our time, energy and money.

In order to manage efficiently, it helps to have a decision making framework. This is where we come to the topic of Holistic Management.
Holistic Management was developed by Allan Savory as a decision making framework for landscapes, although it can be applied to many areas of life (just like Permaculture).
Its crux is upon developing a Holistic Context and a Statement of Purpose.
After this has been obtained then the Quality of Life is you wish to achieve and the forms of production to reached that quality of life are defined. A resource base in then outlined as a platform to draw from throughout the decision making process.
This is my basic understanding and something I am working on at the moment, but in order to further understand this concept please take a look at Dan Palmer from Very Edible Garden's informative pages on how to apply this framework to your life:

Darren aspires to find a synergy between Permaculture, Agriculture and Holistic Management, and use this as a foundation for his work and facilitation.
Permaculture is great for research, planning and design, but does lack a way of testing and making decisions (although both observation and applying self-regulation and accepting feedback are both principles that will contribute to more responsible and thoughtful decision making).
Humans are a reactionary species which rely on effect as a basis for decision making, rather than foresight. This is the reason Allan Savory developed Holistic Management, as he saw this lack of foresight as the downfall of our species due to the destruction of our landscapes.

The topic of the day being 'Concepts and Themes' brought us to two of the main design aspects of Permaculture: Zones and Sectors.
I will not go into detail on these as I feel that should be reserved for another (quite lengthy) post.
I will however state that Zones are organized relative to distance and energy. For example, the home or place of residence (could be an office, studio or shed depending on where most time is spent) is Zone 0, places which are visited everyday (such as driveways, backdoor, chicken coop, clothesline etc.) are within Zone 1, and this radiates out to Zone 5 (within larger rural and farm landscapes) which is rarely visited and composed of wilderness.
If a design is not zoned badly it does not encourage interaction between aspects and elements structurally, socially, economically or environmentally.

The sectors are described as the analysis of wild energies, the unchanging factors within a design.
These are:
- Climate
- Water
- Geography
- Topography
- Access
- Boundaries
- Utilities
- View
- Pollution
- Fire
- Wind
- Sun
- Wildlife
- Noise

These are to be researched and considered at the beginning of the design process, although many designers can suffer from what Darren called "Paralysis by Analysis"!
I have suffered from this myself, and encourage people to take breaks and find a balance between careful research without becoming obsessive, anal and overwhelmed.

Becoming aware and familiar of the concepts and themes within Permaculture will not only enable one to become a good designer, it will aid in the development of life skills, help to reconnect to nature and to find our place as part of ecology.
Through awareness and understanding of how to make choices based on an Emergy efficiency, foresight and research and planning, we will be a step closer to a more regenerative and habitable ecosystem.

'Fundamentals of Ecology' Howard Odum
'Restoration Agriculture' Mark Shepard
'Co-Operative Farming' Joel Salitan
'The Diffusion of Innovation' Everette Rogers
'Ecological Pioneers' Martin Mulligan
'The integrated Urban House' Sim Vanderin

Kathy Voth
Future Farmers
Bruce Maynard

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

First Regrarians Permaculture Design Course - Part One

March 2014 - Bendigo

These blog posts will be summarizing the first Regrarians Permaculture Design Course with Darren Doherty, starting the 16th of March 2014.
Broken up into parts, stay tuned for the next blog post up until day 14 as I take you on a journey of the intense two weeks being with nearly 40 people in a paddock with one thing driving us: Permaculture.

These posts will be my condensed notes from the course and include topics such as; Climate, Water, Holistic Management, Soils, Pattern and Methods of Design with a Regrarian Spin! 

Firstly, Darren's idea is that 'sustainable', rather than just being used as a 'green' brainwashing term now, is not good enough practice. Darren believes as people that feel a responsibility for their existence upon the earth, we should be now Regenerating as much as we can, considering the damage that has been done by our species. Remediation is now necessary, and rather than Permaculturists merely sustaining what they do, we can be designing for and building soil, social structures, forests, ecosystems, economies and garden systems that regenerate in order to provide the next generations with resources that modern Western societies are using at incredible rates.

This is one of many reasons I have been drawn to Darren's work and his straight to the point approach and wealth of experience and commitment to the cause was demonstrated throughout the duration of my learning with him.
Permaculturist is one of the titles you could give Darren, although I see it as a model of responsible living whilst providing a standard of education which is both grounded and inspirational.

"Our primary client is the planet" - Darren Doherty

Day One

After an introduction of 30+ people, all stating where we were from, our history and what had brought us to the PDC, we jumped into a practical lesson building a Jean Pain compost (you can watch his video here: to heat the water for our showers.
We used a Carbon to Nitrogen ratio for our compost of about 1:40, using hay, cow manure and water, piling the material in wet layers around our polypipe which was plumbed to our showers.
This compost heated up within a day, and in the morning we were all sticking our hands in the pile to check how hard the microbes were working to produce heat. When we made a hole in the pile with our hands steam could be seen rising from the organic matter being munched and crunched by all the wonderful microbes! Our showers got so hot that cold water needed to be added, and although sometimes people would have to wait between showers and the pressure wasnt what us city folk are used to, the fact that compost was heating our shower and the energy was free and renewable (to an extent) with many functions was amazing!

Our next activity was walking the property, which had a dam at point of purchase, and in the time since had been excavated for a house site, a road (which acts as a drainage point) and a second dam.
A stainless steel tank(these tanks last years and are less time consuming than ferro cement tanks) acts as a header tank at a high vantage point of the property, allowing gravity feed to house site, trees, plants and pastures. One really interesting thing I learned here was when laying down pipe for water distribution around a property, it is best to lay it upon the ground for the first year or so before burying. This ensures that when it is buried, it is done in the right place, rather than sticking it in the ground to begin with and then realizing there has been an error, or that the design has changed.
Using each element for multiple functions is one of my favourite Permaculture principles, and when using irrigation pipe, instead of using regular joiners, Darren uses T-section joiners, which means more pipes can be attached at various points around the property. This is also a lesson in always having many back-ups!
It was also explained that buying a property on a corner meant there was more runoff from both roads, meaning more water storage.

The group then had a seat under the dappled shade of a Eucalypt to discuss the Permaculture Principles.
For a list of principles and 'mollisonisms' check out:

Both Joel Salatin and Sim Vanderin's Principles were discussed during this session as well.
Joel Salatin's principles focus on landscape but also his business approach, which is really interesting as he does not advertize and has some different ideas about profit;
more can be found on this here:

Sim Van der Ryn, a leading ecological architect from the Netherlands has a list of Principles which include:
- Solutions grow from place
- Ecological accounting informs design
- Transcend market culture
- Context is everything!

A repeated theme throughout the PDC was that of Context- Financial, Social and Ecological. All designs must have a context for productive planning and functional implementation.

Darren explained a few key facts that would make the reoccurring Regrarian approach to Permaculture more digestible for those new to the theme; 
- It is best for water to come into a property and be stored in the ground: in the soil,
- 200mm of annual rain in this climate is considered a drought year,
- Overgrazing is caused when a grass is consumed before it has had time to fully recover,
- A pulse is what is needed when considering pasture crop land, meaning there are periods of eating then resting, eating, resting, eating... resting...
- It is best not to crop/mow/graze before a grass has had time to flower
- A larger amount of land does not ensure an increase in water harvesting and storage (you do not need a lot of land to catch and store water effectively!)
- A lot of Australian soils have a high Magnesium to Calcium ratio
- Swales are not always best practice in this kind of climate, as the temperate fluctuations can cause soil to dry out (Specific swales can be used or applied as a tree planting strategy)
- Old prairrie soils were the most productive soils in the world
- We have some of the youngest and most fertile volcanic soils in Victoria
- Grow Grass- It builds soil and is easy to grow as its natures default position

One topic that really hit home for me was 'Design Redundancy'; that is we need to design for systems that will improve over time, not just for situations, landscapes and systems as they are now. This is a great example of the principle: creatively responding to change.

"Don't think your on the right track just because its a well beaten path" - An inspiration for many designers!

The 8 Forms of Capital were mentioned, which can be found at AppleSeed Permaculture. (A book called 'Regenerative Enterprize' can also be brought which discusses the forms of capital and is a great insight to aspects of the 'Invisible Structures' side of Permaculture).

A favourite process of mine was discussed- Entropy. The entropic process is where energy becomes less and less usable when flowing through systems and states. It is the opposite of what we want, as we want to use energy as efficiently as we can and slow the entropic process so energy is cycles through a system more times, or in many ways, before being transformed to a form which is lost to our surrounding environment.

An interesting fact that Darren mentioned was that a toxin in one kingdom of life becomes the nutrient for a species in two other kindgoms of life. I found this mind-blowing and very interesting, and the book 'The Five Kingdoms of Nature' was recommended to explore the principles of ecology further. Speaking of ecological systems, it has been stated that we humans are now the largest geological force on the earth- a process called Anthropocene.

Now, this is just a summery of the first day, from 9:00am-6:00pm. I have summerized this and tried to give links were appropriate. The amount of information about everything Permaculture related is intense and sometimes overwhelming as there is always more to learn- which is precisely the reason I love it!

"The more diverse and local the system, the more efficient and resilient" -Got to love those words!

Resources, People and Places Mentioned:
Sim Vanderin
John Fodd
Lyn Margoulous - 'The Five Kingdoms of Nature' 
Cradle to Cradle