Saturday, December 21, 2019

Fire and permaculture design

The friggin humongous bush-fires continue in NSW right now.
Some things I see in some permaculture forums are pretty ikky. Some are great.
and permaculture does have a lot to say about fire and landscape design.

The project we did in 2011 at Djungbung was about improving fire resistance of a small town.
Holmgren has written many papers on fire resistance.

But I saw someone say 'if you are worried about fire you don't understand permaculture'
if you aren't worried about fire you aren't living in Australia.

V1.0 of my garden was pretty well designed for fire.

Fire kicked its ass. Ash from corner to corner.

V1.0 was far from fully implemented. Permy design takes time. You don't get multi story tall windblocking, ember resistant trees sheltering your living areas in a few years of growth.

Actually the center of my main living area was untouched. Remember the cardboard box? Still I'm sure I would have died if I stood next to the box.

Yet my design did recover fairly well. Steel, stone often can do exactly the same job. Many plants reshoot from the roots.

I think any design in Australia, especially in a rural area, pretty much has to assume it will be affected by fire sooner or later. possibly multiple times. Not as if I feel the power poles are any safer.
So you can't design on in 20 years these trees will make me resistant. but perhaps these trees will regrow to act as a windblock within 2 years. So my minimum fire cycle time is about 3 years.

Much as permaculture is about perennials. I'm thinking a lot more about annuals and their role.
And grasses. I've been a bit of a permy snob about grass, its just a thing you get rid of.
Still far from settled my thinking on grass and how to use, but the ideas are certainly evolving.
Grass stores carbon in the soil better than Dicotes. It usually expects to be eaten, or burnt.

So V2 of the garden just having gone through a burst of hots days has handled it really well. Ground is well covered. mostly by leaves, but mulch too. grasses and animals working well. wind blocks ok. water ok, but definitely can be better. Thinking more about pumps and control systems. Better leaky weirs and things I'll increasingly implement but at my scale the artificial systems, pipes and pumps and drippers and timers are probably more efficient and reliable.

I mean, fire would still kill all that. but design for increasing dryness and more fire is related if not the same.

V2 when fully implemented will be way fire tougher than V1.
Much wider shelter belts. better understanding of windflows. More water. Much, much thicker walls.
But it still takes time. In maybe 2 years I'd consider stay and defend. but right now its certainly still a scary summer.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Cow poop makes grass. Grass stores carbon.

With the Cobden Spring festival, I've been thinking about dairy farming and sustainablity.
Farmers are nearly all very true conservationists and care about the land. But they get yelled at by green types too much.
Yet as a Green-type I thinking dairy farming in Australia is, or at the least can easily be, a good thing for the environment. From carbon capture to bio-diversity and wildlife corridors.

Cow poop makes grass.
Grass stores carbon.
Standard practice, grass fed rotational grazing means more grass is created.
Holistic grazing is grazing practice specifically around improving soil quality. Maximising grass growth of perennial grasses. Often it ends up increasing the lands animal carrying capacity and acts as a carbon sink, storing more carbon in the increased grass growth fed from cow poop, easily more than offsetting that caused by cow farts.

Feedlots are an environmental abomination. They create pollution, disease and waste.
This is what most cows are terrible for the environment stats come from.
They are the sorts of places I would cheer vegans and XR protesting at. Luckily they are quite rare in Victoria.

And nearly all farms nowdays are big into native windbreaks on paddock borders. Which make fantastic wildlife corridors.

Overall I say to Australias farmers.
Keep up the good work and keep improving. Worth going to modern regenerative practices for PR, running costs, premium value, long term farm land value and the planet.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Permaculture is not zero effort gardening

I've been thinking about the different ways people garden.
To break it up broadly.
Vegetable gardening. In plots of usually a single annual crop per
plot. multiple plots for food variety.

Ornamental gardening. Mixed perennials for visual effect.

Farming. Mass monoculture for ease of harvest and production.

Now permaculture leaps in...
and it has aspects of all of those.

Permaculture gardening:
Mixed plantings of perennials and annuals. Mixed for food variety and companion planting effects. Optimised for small scale continual subsistence labour with minimal inputs.

If closest to anything it is classic ornamental gardening.
But most people come to it from an annual vegetable gardening background.

This can have consequences in initial planting and preparation and especially in continual maintenance.
At the start of a cycle in spring. An annual gardener tends to clear the bed completely, weeds or previous planting. Maybe mulch it to suppress weeds and improve the soil. Then planting into a clear area with seeds or mass seedling.

A mixed garden will have plants already existing to maintain. They may be younger perennial plants that need mulching around, pruning, clearing competition away.
They may be established plants that need maintenance, especially pruning. Which often means getting a resource. Such as cutting back perennial basil so it doesn't overrun the garden, also means you are harvesting a bulk amount of basil that can now be processed by drying or making pesto etc
Some pruning may be needed for the health of the plant or to direct competition but the output use for it is just bio mass. Mulch or hugelkultur structure.

As people are newly introduced to perennial plants, they can have trouble with their 'weed' aspects. Mint has a terrible reputation as weed. It spreads, lives in conditions other plants can't cope with. Which really just means it's hardy. A good aspect for our plants. But we do need to control it. But that is observing and interacting a little bit as required. Most mints and family, perennial basil, lemonbalm etc can usually be kept in control by harvesting. Harvest the plant as hard as is needed to keep the plant in control. Maybe not a thing for a Zone 3 or 4 where it may escape and become a weed but perfect for Zone 1.

With planning these competitive plants  suppress the weeds you don't want. Your weeds that fill gaps are now edible. So you need to weed as a task less and less.

Annual planting almost becomes as simple as, is this different to last few years? and is there room and a reasonable environment for this year.
As the garden is established a seed bank of mixed, successful self seeded plants will populate the garden.

The effort for a permaculture garden is different to a classic vege garden. It is more continual and observation based and less in set seasonal cycles of weed, plant, weed, harvest, clear.