Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Introducing the Permaculture Designers Manual, Chapter 2: Concepts and Themes in Design

This is the second in a series of fourteen introductory articles about permaculture — one for each chapter of Bill Mollison’s “Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual.” The series was originally initiated back in March of 2010.  I only managed to finish and post the first before the Canadian PDC teaching season swept me away.  With the fall slow down I am at the computer again and will get through as many of the remaining chapters as I can between now November 21st when I start teaching a two week Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) I will be teaching at Zaytuna Farm this coming November.  Through this series I will connect theory with practice, and share practical examples of permaculture in action.

As we understand from Chapter 1, permaculture is an ethical system of design that produces a stable and secure place for humans and all other living things. Chapter two is about what inspires us and how the functions of natural systems inform the design process.

 likes apples too!!

What are the principles of natural systems? What are our design directives for sustainable systems?  What is a working definition of SUSTAINABLE?

Sustainable: Is Any system which produces and stores enough energy and resources to provide for its ongoing maintenance and reproduction.

Sustainability is about energy and how it is captured, stored, and cycled within a system.  Energy is in constant flow and flux moving from one place to another.  Energy is always on the move.  Energy is all things, continually changing from one form into another: heat, light, water, people, soil, trees, animals, wind, electricity, fuel, sound, cash…et cetera.

In the development of sustainable systems, we almost always need to make a significant investment of energy upfront.  Particularly when working in degraded places such as our cities, agricultural lands and clear-cut forests.  Permaculture is the design and implementation of systems thatIndustrial system produce more resources and energy over their lifetime than was originally expended in their implementation.

This diagram illustrates the basic pattern of the industrial system. It is in constant need of resources and energy input, necessitated by the constant flow of energy and resources out.  The waste stream, the net loss, is the most critical component of this system.  Without this constant loss there would be no need for a continued consumption and nobody would be making any money.

In the words of Albert Einstein, “we cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”  While there are many great and beneficial things that have come out of the industrial pattern, it is not and never will be a pattern for sustainable society.  The concept of the consumer is not part of a sustainable future.  We need a different model.

There are no evil doers in this system, it’s just the way it has been designed.  By our participation we continue to support this self destructive pattern.  The challenge we face is the wholesale re-design of systems with out the necessity of wholesale revolution.  We have experimented with bloody revolution in the past and it is not a viable option for the present.

How do we make the shift with elegance and grace?


This diagram outlining the basic pattern of an ecosystem.  Ecosystems use the basic energy inputs of the sun, climate and soil.The Ecosystem So long as the sun shines this system will continue to function.

The connections between the elements of the system are both direct and indirect exchange of service.  There is no free lunch–everything returns.  Everything gardens, all species, ourselves included, have an impact.  All species play a role in the evolution of the system. We all have a function.

Permaculture focuses on function.  It is not diversity alone that generates stability and resilience.  There must be functional diversity, a diversity of connections.  In truth, the long term survival of a species has nothing to do with competition and brutality.  Long term survival is for species that place themselves in most service to the whole.  As a species of choice and innovation, we have the unique opportunity to design ourselves into a position of service to all of the natural world.  In return we can expect clean air, clean food, clean water, clean communities and long term survival.  We may restate the problem as follows:

How do we best become of service to each other and all other things in the biosphere?

Permaculture draws on the themes and principles of ecosystems to assemble endlessly productive and absolutely abundant human habitat.  Following the ecosystem model, we have all the information required to design and implement sustainable human habitat.

Permaculture Best Practices:

Design patterns to details.

All we need is to understand the basic patterns of natural systems.

Principles of Natural systems:

•    everything is connected to everything else
•    every function is supported by many elements
•    every element serves many functions

Simple yet profound.  Are these principles useful? No.  Principles are not very useful.  Principles are little more than passive observation.  Being people of action, we need directives. We must translate principles into directives.

Permaculture directives for real world design:

•    The needs of one element must be met by the yields of another.
•    Every critical function must be supported by multiple elements.
•    Every element must serve multiple needs.

Our definition of sustainable made use of the term ‘resources.’  Design requires a sound understanding of what a ‘resource’ is and how it functions.

Resources fall into 5 broad categories:

1. Those which increase with modest use (pastures, wood coppice systems)
2. Those unaffected by use (the wind, a view, water used to turn a water wheel)
3. Those that degrade if not used (an annual vegetable crop, information)
4. Those that are reduced by use (fossil fuels, deep aquifers)
5. Those that degrade other resources if used (nuclear power, herbicide, insecticides, artificial fertilizers, weapons)

Design Directives for ethical and sustainable real world design:

•    The majority of resources used must come from categories 1, 2 and 3.
•    Use category 4 resources modestly to develop resources in categories 1, 2 and 3.
•    Avoid category 5 resources at all costs.

Our design implementation options are limited by our current resource set.  We cannot spend money we don’t have and we cannot eat food we have not grown.  When making decisions about how to invest our resources we must have a very clear path forward. Below is a set of directives that have never let me down.  Of course in the world of debt based currency and centralized global distribution networks, we can spend money we do not have and eat food we have not grown.  That is why permaculture starts with the ethic.  A conscious choice to divest ourselves from a destructive system, while simultaneously investing in the design of productive systems.

Directives for order of Investment :

•    First, invest in elements that produce energy and resources
•    Second, invest in elements that save on energy and resources
•    Third, invest in elements that consume energy and resources

Water is the foundational energy system for all life on the planet. Knowing that fact, as permaculture designers we can follow a very simple set of design priorities.

Directive of Real World Design Priority:
•    water
•    access
•    structures

At the very least follow this progression and you will not go wrong. It does not matter what scale, location, or climate. Always think “water, access, structures”. Water and where it is coming from and where it is going are the most important energy consideration of any design. As much as 40% of all the energy consumed by cities is used to move around water.

To sum it all up, permaculture is really about our first step. If our first move is towards the benefit of living systems, which we are all a part of, all subsequent steps will follow along the same path.  With clients it is often the case that they need help knowing where to start.  “Here’s our 10 acres… what do we do with it?”

My duty as a permaculture designer is to give the project sustainable direction–a starting point for sustainable and emergent design as the user’s needs, experience and skill set change and develop through time.  What it boils down to is energy and how it flows through the design. By examining and understanding the basic patterns of how energy and resources move through an ecosystem we gain the insight and knowledge needed to design sustainable human systems that harmonize with the natural world.

Be sure to check back for the Chapter 3 ‘Methods of Design.’

Monday, May 3, 2010

Re syndicated Aricle from The Time Colonist, Victoria BC

How green does your garden grow?

Re syndicate Article of an Interview with Jesse.
By Steve Carey, Times Colonist


Applying permaculture principles in your yard and home is a great way of creating self-sufficient ecosystems. Permaculture is a design system based around three concepts: people care, earth care and the return of surplus to the land.

"One of the big misconceptions about permaculture is that it's just a way of gardening. That's not entirely true," says Jesse Lemieux of Pacific Permaculture, a consulting and education business. "Permaculture is not the roof, the gutter and the garden. It's the connection that we make so that every time it rains, water flows down the gutter into the garden, passively watering the garden without us ever having to turn on a valve."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Potato Patch Redux

Where do our carbohydrates come from? What is the ethical implications of grain culture?
The picture above says it all.

I have reduced my fossil fuel consumption as practically possible at this time, I minimize my use of paper products, and avoid heavily packaged products and I have an overly productive greens gardens in a region of Canada that has surplus apples and shell fish. By most accounts I live a relatively sustainable lifestyle. Or do I?

I still rely on the tillage agriculture, organic or otherwise, for my supply of bulk carbohydrates. And when it really comes down to it deforestation and industry are a bad second and third place in environmental damage when stacked up beside tillage grain and grain legume production.

By all accounts the soil loss and desertification created by tillage grain culture are the most destructive activities on the planet.

My next personal ethical frontier is extricating myself from the need for tillage grain culture.

So after the sad little failure in an attempt to attain carbohydrate sovereignty. We went back to the drawing board and to our closest permaculture colleagues for advice on a not so labour intensive method of getting a great yield of potatoes. A lot of the old timers suggest digging down to plant and hilling soil up twice through the growing season. This would be great if we had some space already prepared.
All we have is lawn and after last years painful experience we did not want to dig for potatoes this year. What we want to demonstrate is that our bulk supply of carbohydrates can be gotten with a minor amount of physical input, while simultaneously building a healthy soil system. It is an easy thing to grow enough salad greens and tomatoes. It is a whole other project to provision ourselves with enough raw carbohydrate energy.

We have also heard great things about potatoes in mulch beds and mixed reviews on the potato mulch tower. So we with that we have chosen to go with a potato sheet mulch over some old sod on some rough soil and see what happens.
We are working with the strip of sod located between the two garden beds in the photo. Not only are we trying to grow potatoes, we are using this planting approach to pioneering the system out of grass and into fertile loose garden beds with health soil structure. A Much better approach than digging, if it works.

We recently cut down a few fir trees that where to close to the house. Not wanting to burn the branches and slash from the trees, we processed it up with a machete and used it as our bottom layer in the sheet mulch along with kitchen scraps, last year 'scompost pile and a heap of well composted horse manure.

The next layer to go down was, of course, cardboard we did our best to soak this down. It is really important to soak the cardboard well, as it will suck moisture our of the soil if it dries out. I find that it works best to be able to dunk it and let it sit in water. A near by ditch pond or small kiddie pool will work well. In this case we where without those features, fortunately it was still March on the west coast of Canada so rain is great supply. The night we did this it rained about 3omm so the cardboard got a good soaking. It is also critical to keep the cardboard under at least 15cm of mulch to avoid having it dry out.

Next came the potatoes. Nothing fancy here just place them at recommended spacing right on top of the cardboard. the roots know what to do. As long as the bed stays, moist the plants will find what they need, easily penetrating the cardboard down to the soil.

A thick layer of moldy hay and a finishing layer of fir branchlets and we have a finished sheet mulch potato bed. All told it was about 6 hours of people power and not a sing scoop of soil was turned over. My back didn't even know it had done any work. As the potatoes grow we will add more mulch, it is the same as hilling your potatoes in a bare soil bed. The idea being that in the extra mulch depth the potatoes will grow more tubers. Even if we get poor yields, comparable to last years crop, this sure beats the 4 days of back breaking hand tilling we did for last years meager crop. We will keep you posted as it turns out.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Trouble in the Potato Patch

To me there is no better opportunity for learning than a big fat mistake. And a big fat mistake is the only way to describe my experiment with potatoes last growing season. I also think that learning increases exponentially with pain association. As my potato experiment resulted in a very sore and tired lower back, producing a less than satisfactory yield of potatoes I learned a lesson I will not soon forget.

Here's how it all went down.

What you are looking at here is the 7 year old sod that is to be turned into a potato bed. I do mean turned. All told it was about 20 hours of back breaking mattock and spade work to dig these large on contour potato beds. Below you see the sequence of how things took shape.

Digging finished, beds shaped and pathways to a precise level end to end; leveling of the pathway function to distribute water and nutrient evenly along the bed; also acting as water harvesting during big rain events.
We seed with a legume cover crop and planted our potatoes. Then spread a thin mulch of grass and comfrey over top, just thick enough to help with germination.
Several weeks later the beds where nice and green with cover crop.
At this stage things where looking good and potatoes where growing well in with the cover crop. As the season progressed we chopped down the cover crop and mulched the potatoes with it. We had beautiful top growth on the potatoes. Unfortunately when it came time to harvest actual potatoes they where few and far between. We got less that 100 pounds for all of the space you see planted above. A very poor return for a large effort up front. I think that it was the nitrogen of the legume cover crop that encourage lots of top growth but little tuber production. Needless to say this approach is not being used for potatoes this season. We already have a patch planted that is at least as big and we did it all in about three hours and didn't turn soil once. I will fill you in on my next posting "The Potato Patch Redux" sometime next week. Until then...

Permaculture In The Kootenays

If you are looking for a great learning opportunity in a beautiful setting here it is....

This May 23rd-June 4th, Rob Avis, my good friend and respected college, is teaching a full length "Permaculture Design Certficiate." Hosted by "Mountain Waters" retreat in the heart of the Kootenays, this course will be the experience of a life time. I wish that I was going to be there, but commitments I have in Idaho make that impossible.

I have always admired Rob's enthusiasm attention to detail and passion he has for the discipline of permaculture. The student will be in good hands with Rob as there instructor and will come out of this course with a fully functional knowledge base and workable skill set in permaculture design.

Right now Rob is in Australia learning from the best of the best, Geoff Lawton, at the "Permaculture Research Institute of Australia", and recently made a blog posting about what he is learning there. Rob will be back on home soil just in time for the Nelson course and fully charged up to share what has been gained during his time down under.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Resyndcated Article on Pacific Permaculture in The Prairies

Permaculture on the Prairies
by Jenn Hardy

Jesse Lemieux, who started Pacific Permaculture with his wife Tanya in 2008, taught the two-day introductory class at the University of Saskatchewan. As part of a prairie workshop series, he also taught two-day courses in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer throughout January. The course was a warm-up to a 72-hour intensive course that will run over a two-week period in August in Saskatoon...

To read the full article click HERE

Monday, March 22, 2010

Introduction To Permaculture

Chapter 1: Introduction to Permaculture
by Jesse Lemieux
This is the first in a series of fourteen introductory articles about permaculture — one for each chapter of Bill Mollison's “Permaculture: A Designers' Manual.” Through this series I will connect theory with practice, and share practical examples of permaculture in action.
Chapter One: “Introduction to Permaculture”
Permaculture design is a system of assembling conceptual, material and strategic components in a pattern which functions to benefit life in all its forms. It provides a sustainable and secure place for living things on earth. While each components is important, permaculture is less about the things themselves and more about how the things fit together.
Permaculture does not dwell on the negative. While we maintain a healthy awareness of present day problems, we are more focused on the positive, continually asking the question "what do we want?".
Few people would argue that our global and local environments are on the down-hill slide, but it is important that we cut clearly through the mass of misinformation and half-truths that exist. Only by getting to the heart of the matter can we reasonably design a plan to change things.
Just the other day I was reading an article in The Province, which took the position that we need to start investing in natural systems if we are going to maintain our precious existence on this planet. The article stated that 60 countries have lost nearly all their forests, and that 1/3 of all fish stocks, food for two billion people, were on the brink of collapse. Furthermore, due to soil erosion,we can no longer farm 30% of all agricultural land on the planet.
How did we get here? We rely on a system of economic and social organization that has seen us become less and less responsible for our own basic needs. By supporting and expanding this system, we have come to rely more and more on distant lands and resources.
Agriculture is particularly grim and is responsible for more deforestation, CO2 production, chemical pollution and soil erosion than any other activity on the planet. The sad part is we have been convinced that the only way to feed ourselves is through the destructive and highly centralized system of plow-based agriculture. This is just plain false.
Consider the following statistics.
One billion people on the planet, 80% of whom are involved in agriculture, are malnourished and hungry.[1]
US agricultural production produces $300/acre [2]
Home gardeners produce over $42,000/acre, with an average of 5 hours work per week [3]
Just take a quick look around your neighborhood and you can see that home gardening gets far better production per acre than any other agricultural system.
The largest and most energy intensive agriculture on the planet is the lawn. It uses more fossil fuel, human energy and chemical fertilizer than most other forms of agriculture. What does it produce? Polluted watersheds, polluted oceans, health problems and lawn trimmings for the garbage dump.
By turning our lawns into food systems, we can immediately remove ourselves from two of the most destructive systems on the face of the planet: the lawn and plow-based agriculture.
This brings us to the “Prime Directive of Permaculture”: to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children. In other words, we need to get our house and garden in order, so that they feed and shelter us.
Very few of us living in urban areas produce enough food to meet our own basic needs. We can all use permaculture to overcome this fundamental disconnect in contemporary urban life.
When making decisions within the permaculture framework, we rely on the permaculture ethic as a tool for conflict resolution and benchmarks to measure success in our design. This ethic is simple:
Earth Care: living, growing and promoting the function of living systems. Building biomass (capturing CO2 in living systems) is good.
People Care: providing clean water, food and shelter, and strong communities that do not enslave people.
Return of Surplus: all surplus generated by these systems is returned back into earth care and people care, not into the generation of more surplus for the sake of surplus. Growth is not endless, since we live on a single planet with finite resources.
Permaculture is an ethical system stressing positivism and cooperation. We use this ethic in all aspects of the design process. It is a value set that guides us. It is the ethic that makes some design strategies available to us and others not, as any design we produce must fit within the ethical criteria.
Implicit in this ethic is the Life Ethic: all living organisms are not only means but ends in themselves. In addition to having value to the human species and other living organisms, they have an intrinsic worth. All life is good.
Even though the ethic is well-reasoned, it is still somewhat subjective. It's important to be aware of my personal biases. We are all on a continuum of understanding, and it's not my duty to pass judgement or convince anybody of how wrong they are and how right I am. My only responsibility is to take care of my needs and be sure that my activities fall within the permaculture ethic. As I move further along the road to a sustainable lifestyle I generate a surplus of resources and information that I willingly share with others who are working towards a right-livelihood themselves. Information is often the first resource in surplus.
So, how do we design lives to become ones of net production as opposed to ones of net consumption?
A practical application:
Earth Care: a well mulched home garden builds soil faster than any other system. This reduces our need for plow agriculture and takes kitchen waste, paper waste and all other compostable materials out of our land fills.
People Care: the garden provides local, clean and healthy food to the gardener, as well as a source of relaxation and contemplation.
Return of Surplus: home gardens are usually over-productive and surplus is shared with neighbors and friends, or left to compost back into the soil.
In the words of my friend and mentor, Geoff Lawton: “All the problems of the world can be solved in a garden.” It does not stop at the garden. Permaculture is such a good-sense approach to design and problem solving that it can be applied to many other facets of human life. This is not a move backwards to feudalism and peasantry, it is an evolution towards a society and planet of absolute abundance.
Over the next thirteen months I will cover each chapter in the Permaculture Design Certificate and explore many ways to use this revolutionary system of design. I believe you will be inspired by the simplicity and the commonplace nature of the solutions to our incredibly complex set of political and environmental problems.
Check in again next month when I will cover chapter two “Concepts and Themes in Design.” This chapter looks into the nature of sustainable system, their principles and our directives as designers for positive change.
[1] Panel on food security, World Economic Forum, 2009
[2] US Agricultural census, 2007
[3] National Gardening Association, 2009

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Permaculture Design Certificate

The Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC)
by Jesse Lemieux

What is needed to design a sustainable human society full of abundance and security for all living systems? Information, empowerment and ethics.

The Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) teaches students how to use information, resources and ethics to meet local needs on a limited land base.

There are no "bad guys" and nothing is inherently evil. It is the designs of the systems we use that are the problem. A large machine can be use to bring down a forest, or it can be used to repair damage and degraded landscapes. In the same way, I can either use a hammer as weapon, or to build a house for a friend. The difference in outcome is one of intention and design.

The fact is that we are working with a system that was never designed to provide a sustainable or secure place for life on this planet. The system we are working with was designed to concentrate wealth, resources and power into the hands of a few. This system produces elite classes, sickness and environmental degradation.

The justification for such destructive ways was one of service to the larger whole. In other words, we tell ourselves that while the present way of doing things does not provide all people in all places with a secure livelihood, it can maximize happiness for a maximum number of people.

A great many good things have come out of this system, like this computer I
type with. But it is obvious that the time for change has come. The planet is raising alarm bells. Fancy technological adaptations may give us some extra time, but if we are concerned with the long term survival of the human species, then we had better start evolving and designing our systems using more sustainable models.

At the very core of our problems are the assumptions we make regarding human nature. We design and build our systems with the underlying belief that human nature is dominated by greed. As a result, we see human interaction with other humans and the environment as brutal struggle, domination and conquest.

Nothing could be further from the truth. What makes us human is not how savagely we can treat each other. What makes us human is our large brain, and our capacity for abstract thinking and creative problem solving. Human nature is one of choice. We as a species and as individuals are capable of just as much positive action as we are negative. In my experience, 99 out of 100 people have good intentions and want to do the right thing.

So what is the issue?
The issue is design. The Permaculture Design Certificate teaches how we can utilize today's tools and technology to shape a more sustainable and equitable world for all species. Permaculture is more than just planting a garden. It is a sustainable design approach that is applicable to all human activities. An organic garden is one element in a total design. Permaculture is about where we place the garden in relation to the house, site topography, climate, water run off, capabilities of the users, where money comes from to finance it ...ect. Using a designed approach place the organic garden in space, time and form so as to gain the highest output for lowest input.

The PDC is an intensive 72-hour study in all things sustainable. It uses the 14-chapter text book "Permaculture, A Designers Manual" as its reference and works through the following topics:Introduction to Permaculture
Concepts and Themes in Design
Methods of Design
Pattern Unders
Climatic Factors
Trees and their Energy Transactions
Earthworks and Earth Resources
The Humid Tropics
Dryland Strategies
Humid Cool to Cold Climates

The Strategies of an Alternative Global Nation

As you can see from the above list, permaculture covers all aspects of human life. It is grounded in practical real world design and extends into the complex realm of sustainable social design. It extends further into the invisible design of organizing energy exchange between people and communities.
The PDC empowers, informs and trains people to be effective designers and agents of active change in their homes and communities. The PDC endeavors to teach teachers, in order to spread and localize this important information. Following this strategy, permaculture has spread rapidly to all corners of the globe without any form of centralized administration or governing body. As a result, there are many collectives and collaborations between different permaculture teachers and institutes, but all operate as independent entities. The permaculture community is unified by the common ethic of earth care, people care and return of surplus.

Permaculture does not ignore the massive challenges we face today. We maintain a healthy of the challenges and difficulties of the modern world. We choose to focus our time and energy on a positive and active approach. Rather than spending a Saturday at a rally protesting something I don't want, I would rather spend the day with a group of friends and strangers installing a food garden in the community. In this way we actively change the world one garden at a time.

Many of my students quickly move on to be involved in all levels of change from local to global some as private business others for NGOs.

Adrian Buckley of Calgary took his PDC in August 2009. This course was taught by Pacific Permaculture on behalf of Ravis Sustainable. Since that time, Adrian has started a small permaculture business called Big Sky Permaculture, which recently hosted its first Introduction to Permaculture Workshop this past January. He is a great example of how quickly a PDC can change the direction of one's life.

Angela Gentili of Toronto attended the Pacific Permaculture part time PDC in Vancouver in the spring of 2009. She has recently co-founded a non-profit community organization in Toronto known as Reseed.ca. They are involved in all kinds of great community agriculture initiatives using permaculture in their work.

Aaron Elton of Vancouver is yet another student of ours, from the PDC course that Pacific Permaculture hosted last summer on Denman Island. Aaron has initiated a permaculture aid project known as Our Mother Earth Villages, which will be operating in Uganda and teaching its first PDC to local and international students in late 2010.

There is no doubt in my mind that a full education in permaculture design is a positive experience. It's an investment that anybody can make regardless of profession, background or age.

Pacific Permaculture is offering a second annual installment of a Vancouver part time course starting April 3. If you are interested in the 2-week intensive format, we are hosting a course on Denman Island July 4-17, and teaching another in Saskatoon in the middle of August.

Please visit our website www.pacificpermaculture.ca for more info.

We are not the only group that is offering the PDC in western Canada. Below is a list of other groups and organizations that regularly teach the 72-hour PDC.

Ravis Sustainable (Calgary) http://bit.ly/coY5tM

Urban Farmer (Edmonton) http://bit.ly/bviP9U

OUR Ecovillage (Shanigan Lake) http://bit.ly/9sITrx

Blue Raven Permaculture (Salt Spring Island)
Kootaneey Permaculture (Winlaw BC) http://bit.ly/abXHUS

The term "permaculture" was coined by Bill Mollison and gifted to the college of graduates of the Permaculture Design Certificate. As teachers, we all agree to adhere to the design curriculum as laid out in the 14 chapters of the permaculture designer's manual. Only graduates of this curriculum may refer to themselves as permaculture designers and permaculture teachers. However, anyone engaging in activities which relate the ethics and principles of permaculture may refer to their work as permaculture.

Before attending a PDC be sure that the whole 14 chapter curriculum from "Permaculture A Designers Manual" is being presented. The course must cover all the material over 72 hours. and should not have extra material included. Good luck and we will see you out there.