Monday, 4 March 2013

Laying it all out

Just back from my second weekend of my Permaculture Design Course, I'm once again reeling from the barrage of innovative and profoundly intelligent design theory.  On our first weekend, the homework was to begin identifying the elements we wished to include in our property design and list those elements' needs and yields.  In response to that, I have three 11x17" sheets of paper listing elements, needs and yields taped to my kitchen cupboards.    I am continually adding to this list and the level of detail seems daunting...

A little bit of careful assessment sees some patterns emerge, however...  elements that yield certain things (such as heat, or nitrogen fixation as an example) benefit other elements that require those very things... and so the obvious connections form the "corner and edge pieces" of the intricate puzzle that we are beginning to put together.  The desire is to arrange those elements in such a way as to create mutually beneficial, harmonious relationships that give and take naturally with minimal (if any) intervention from me. It's all about PLACEMENT to allow those elements to naturally work FOR US, not the other way around.

 As an example, our cold climate chickens need clean bedding very regularly in the winter, so placing a shed for carbon storage (straw, wood shavings, shredded paper, etc) next to the coop makes sense.  Why haul such things day after day?  Why have a free standing shed, when if one is simply placed on the north side of the coop, we can net some wind break from it, keeping our chickens warmer in winter?  Taking that further, harvesting rain water from that shed (as well as the coop), provides water for the chickens so that I don't need to haul it.  One step further than that, we can plant a climbing vine to grow up the shed and the coop that will bear fruit and shade these structures in the hot summer months.  The fertilizer (manure) and water is close at hand...  this little stacking game can get so very detailed and complex from a design perspective, but all that careful placement really pays off by dramatically reducing the labour and energy inputs required to produce a high yield.    My instructor keeps repeating the mantra "100 hours of thinking and observing for 1 hour of planning".  I thought he was exaggerating at first, but now I GET IT.  Maybe you can't see how many eraser marks are on my design page... trust me, I've nearly worn through the paper in some spots!

I've decided to jettison the design work for a week and just read, observe and take notes. I'm too hung up on placing elements just now when I need to be focussing on learning more about needs and yields and natural connections.  The placement will sort itself out later when I have a better handle on the connections that beg to be made.

Here's what's on the side table to be read alongside my course material:

Have a great week!


  1. Wow, what a brilliant example you shared. It makes so much sense that it seems it should be intuitive, but I never would've thought about all those elements. How your head must be reeling! Do you get to visit any already-established permaculture spaces as part of your course? I think that would be really useful to see the entire system laid out...

  2. It seems you "waste" a lot of time just watching nature happen but when you know the routines and the consequences you can make it your purpose to work with it and make it work for you. Wish I could have my DH understand this. I've had the Rosemary Morrow book for years and hope you find it as helpful as I did.

  3. On a much much smaller scale im currently designing my coop for my suburban backyard with similar elements. Placing it in a corner against fence for wind protection with two yards running off each side of the main coop so that i can have one yard clean and growing green feed & "resting" while they use the other. Putting gutters on the roof to get rain water into small waist height tank so i can ladle water into hoppers and for use in garden nearby. I'll have a similar one next to it for pellet feed so there is no having to carry things. Growing desiduous creeper on north side for summer shade and yet open for winter sun. Placement of lemon tree for nitrogen run off. Putting a roof vent to release heat and odor as our summers are only going to get hotter. Oh dont forget the bench seat so i can sit for hours and watch my 2 peking (punk rocker) bantams and 2 Isa Browns (that's the plan anyway). Seems like a lot of trouble for only 4 chooks but im an accountant and the planning stage for me is not only important but enjoyable. I did similar thing for my veggie patch much to the amusement of my gardening club. Apparently unless you hire a designer, graphed garden designs are still uncommon. It just seemed like the natural thing to do. Am I nuts?

    1. Your plans sounds FANTASTIC! I'd love to see your drawing!