What is Permaculture?

About 15 years ago I was participating in after-hours management studies at Deakin Uni.  During a coffee break I found myself talking about veggie gardening as a hobby with one of the other students.  He mentioned that I may be interested in ‘Permaculture’.  While the word was vaguely familiar I had no idea what it meant and was actually a bit put off by the word ‘cult’ in it!

So what’s it all about?  Permaculture was originally the marrying of two words: permanent and agriculture.  The concept evolved out of an intense working relationship between a young Perth student called David Holmgren and his teacher and mentor Bill Mollison, from Tasmania.  They were brought together during a radical environmental design course – radical because it was nearly 40 years ago – in Tasmania.  At the time there was plenty going on to suggest things couldn’t continue at the exponentially frantic pace; an international oil crisis and the hugely controversial Club of Rome report called Limits to Growth.

This course provided fertile ground for the then twenty-something Holmgren who penned the Permaculture concept, which along with Bill’s encouragement and experience became Permaculture One.  Agricultural in the true sense of the word, the first book provided ideas and blueprints that would ensure a culture could sustain itself without fossil fuels and chemical inputs.

Essentially, the pair came up with an idea that we would now call ‘design for sustainability’ – almost 20 years before that term took on its current meaning.

After the first book, David moved to Hepburn Springs (where he still resides) and set about creating a real-life example of Permaculture in action while continuing the intellectual development of Permaculture.  Bill with his big personality and unmatched life experience took Permaculture to the world, publishing several more books and becoming the ‘face of Permaculture’ until recent years.

Far better known overseas than in Australia, Permaculture ideas and concepts continue to filter into the mainstream; think worm farming, no-dig gardens, water tanks, chicken tractors/domes, food forests, passive solar house design, eco villages, no till cropping, herb spirals, bikes and of course organic veggie growing.  Check out these ‘chook domes’ from Africa!

Of course Permaculture didn’t invent these things, it simply provides a framework to link them all together and to help make the most efficient and ethical decisions in the first place.

During the time I’ve been involved in Permaculture education I’ve often had people tell me that “it’s all just common sense!”.  It’s truer than they think.  The origins of Permaculture thinking were largely influenced by pre-industrial long survived cultures.  You see, common sense used to be more common!

But perhaps the most appealing thing I find about Permaculture is that it encourages us to look at positive solutions for what may otherwise be depressing situations.  A very hands-on example, I have a minor leak with a garden tap.  No biggie but given the age of the tap I can see any backyard plumbing is going to cascade (pun intended) into bigger problems.  The alternative of a three figure plumbing bill also doesn’t appeal.   Approaching it with my Permaculture hat on turns the problem into the solution.  Hence I’ve planted mint under the tap which is growing wonderfully thanks to the occasional drip irrigation.  Sure I’ll have the tap fixed when there’s enough work justify getting a plumber to visit but in the meantime I’ve averted problems of unused water pooling, turned waste water into food and beautified a soggy looking part of my yard.

So whether it’s building a classic herb spiral or choosing a bike instead of car, I invite you to explore the evolving world of Permaculture, safe in the knowledge that it’s nothing to do with a cult! Oh, and apologies to anyone called Moonshadow out there…

Chicken basics!

Seriously though if you have health concerns about eggs and cholesterol it’s probably worth looking at the work of Chris Masterjohn who is currently pursuing a PhD in Nutritional Sciences with a focus on Biochemical and Molecular nutrition.  He has an interesting story of his own which rattles some of our mainstream understandings about saturated fats, cholesterol and their link with heart disease.  He’s published several peer reviewed articles, is widely read and a great researcher, which is great because cholesterol is such a complex area – just look at its molecular structure!

Cholesterol Structure

Another positive is the manure by-product which chickens leave behind.  When composted with straw or wood shavings this becomes a highly fertile addition to your soil.

Chickens are also a great garbage disposal units.  While they can’t thrive on kitchen leftovers alone, it does help to keep their diet varied and things we don’t eat such as outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage will highly valued by your new feathered friends.

Pets! Yes chickens can be great companions in the garden.  It’s not always recognised but animals that have evolved to provide for humans (chickens are descendants of guinea fowl) have a need for human interaction.  My chooks have a whining cluck when they’re being ignored but spend a little more time with them and they set about scratching and dust bathing very happily.  I’m not sure whether it’s the security of having humans around but chooks love busy backyards and will get into less mischief when involved with their two legged companions.  Here’s an example of hens that decided that life outside their enclosure was more interesting…

chooks escape web

 

Negatives?  Well you’ll have a food bill.  Of course this can be offset by getting your own eggs, and manure.

Chooks need to be looked after, so if you regularly go away for more than a few days at a time then you’ll need a chook-sitter.  Fortunately they’re pretty low maintenance so often the appeal of free eggs and friendly feathered faces is enough to get them looked after.

Housing chickens will also cost more than say a dog kennel and if you live in an area where foxes frequent you’ll need to make sure it’s fully enclosed with an additional barrier buried around the base of your yard as foxes are capable excavators.

What to feed them

You can buy a complete ‘layer’ type pellet but I tend to go for mixed grains and dilute it with some wheat from a local farm.  The mix grains I buy come with ‘shell grit’ which ensures your eggs will have solid shells.  Unfortunately having all that premium grain available in an open feeder attracts all the local birds so think about using a foot operated feeder.  You will also notice your birds craving green feed such as grass or leafy vegetables – this is important as it helps to develop those desirable fatty acids I mentioned earlier.  Below you’ll see I’ve grown some green feed, even chooks like takeaway!

chooks-green-feed-web

Avoid giving them eggshells and raw chicken.

Chooks also need fresh, cool water available all the time – especially in hot weather where it may need to be refreshed a few times a day.

Breeds

Too big a subject for this post, but I’d encourage you to get in contact with local breeders rather than buying cheap ex-free range layers such as Isa Browns.  While Isa Browns are good layers they tend to live shorter lives and are prone to complications as they really are egg producing machines, the poor girls. Poultry breeders operate for the love of chooks and will help you to pick a breed suitable for your tastes (poor choice of words) and needs.  This girl is a Hy-Line Brown, but she thinks she’s the Lone (free) Ranger.

the-lone-free-ranger-web

Council Regulations

When talking to people around the traps they’re often surprised to hear that the City of Greater Geelong allows you to have up to 12 hens and 1 rooster in a backyard.  Surf Coast Shire allow for 10 birds in total while the Borough of Queenscliffe is a little more involved – best you call the council direct.  The main issue councils worry about is annoyed neighbours, so maybe give the rooster a miss until you’ve won next door over with a few dozen eggs.  Your local municipality may also have specific requirements around types of houses and flooring – I’m a big fan of ‘deep litter’ systems where around 30cm of wood shavings or straw is used and replaced when necessary.

Point of lay birds are usually available around Spring, so now is the time for planning and constructing your very own chicken run!

content-chooks

Pimp my pavement!

Guerilla Gardening is not as sinister as it sounds, with ‘guerillas’ generally focusing on gardening in public spaces in need of some tender loving care.  Who knows where it actually started, although I have sketchy memories of Permaculture co-founder Bill Mollison planting tree seeds randomly in public spaces in one of his early videos in the 1980s.

No matter how it started it has certainly gained some serious momentum.  How serious?  Take for example the world famous Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show which now includes ‘Chelsea Fringe’ an open access version of the exclusive show, complete with guerilla gardening map of London!  The Brits even have an International Sunflower Guerilla Gardening day on May 1st!  Of course by ‘International’ they really mean northern hemisphere as we’re a few seasons off planting sunflowers down here!

sunflower guerilla day

The idea has even been picked up by companies such as Adidas to promote their more eco friendly range of footwear

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECG4YfgY9jI

This no doubt influenced the local production of the television series Guerilla Gardeners which despite being on a big commercial network, managed to step on lots of local council toes and promptly disappeared. I’ve noticed episodes are back up though now if you’re interested.

http://ten.com.au/guerrilla-gardeners.htm

Closer to home I’ve observed early evidence of guerilla gardening down the Bellarine Peninsula where forward thinking folks of European decent planted olive trees in nature strips over 30 years ago.  While being a radical act at the time, the trees have provided useful feedback for the City of Greater Geelong, in showing themselves as a nature strip species which holds its fruit (therefore preventing slippery fruit littering footpaths and creating public liability woes) and can be under-pruned for driver vision etc.

Here is a couple of examples of the Council trialing some nature strip olives in Bell Park.

olive trees bell park

Recently Backyard Harvest pimped some pavement near the Urban Bean Cafe in Labuan Square, Norlane.  We think our vintage potato boxes from a local farmer certainly help to improve a sad looking car park!

Before:

guerilla norlane before

 

After:

guerilla norlane after