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 


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