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Permaculture Observation Exercises

 
steward
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I like how this permaculture observation exercise from the Permaculture Design Companion by Jasmine Dale is pretty meditative!

Jasmine Dale wrote:
Extend your minds eye down through the ground as if you have roots, imagining the rocks beneath the soil wherever you are. Imagine if you can beneath the earth’s crust right to the molten rock and liquid core of the planet.

Bringing your attention back through your feet to your whole body, notice the surface of your skin. Feel the weight of your clothes and the sensory quality of their texture. Feel the air on your face and skin, its temperature, its movement and origin or direction.

What can you taste? Are there smells you can detect? Of yourself, others, the place around you?

Finally, what can you hear. Take a minute with your eyes closed to really hone into the soundscape around you. Start with the sound of your own breath, the crinkle of your clothes and gradually move your attention outward. Take in the subtlest of sounds around you, extending your hearing to the far distance.



What are some other good exercises to improve awareness and observation in the permaculture design process?
 
pollinator
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I like to go out DURING a heavy rain and see where water is moving, puddled, or eroding.

It is amazing how fast water can go down after a rainstorm, so it is almost critical that people get out in it and see just how bad the situation is. By getting an idea of what is happening at its worst, people can plan ways to control, capture or mitigate what is happening.
 
Travis Johnson
pollinator
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Another observation technique is to go out when the leaves are not on the trees. It is really nice to get out in fall because the air is nice and crisp, and there are few insects to bother you, but it is also hunting season here in Maine. That is okay, I just prefer to be alone out in the woods. But early Spring is another great time.

Without leaves upon the trees, you can see so much. Like just last spring I noticed this old sheep watering station. I have lived here all my life and never noticed it before. It is hard to see in the photo, but it consists of a dug canal from off a small stream, a pond, and then a spillway. I have lived here all my life and never noticed this before. So it proves, going at the right time, (no leaves on the trees) can really help you observe.








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1800's Sheep Watering Station
 
pollinator
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Travis Johnson wrote:I like to go out DURING a heavy rain and see where water is moving, puddled, or eroding.

It is amazing how fast water can go down after a rainstorm, so it is almost critical that people get out in it and see just how bad the situation is. By getting an idea of what is happening at its worst, people can plan ways to control, capture or mitigate what is happening.



I'm glad I just saw this as the first real rain we're having after months of high heat and drought is moving in today! My phone is supposed to be really strongly water resistant, so I may make some videos while I'm at it, standing under the gazebo on our patio....

 
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Hi all. I'm a complete permaculture noob - just joined, first post.

I was drawn to this thread immediately, because it combines some of the topics I'm currently digging into (literally and figuratively). With two little kids, I don't have a lot of time at the moment, but I'm hoping to develop my mindfulness practice, spend more time outdoors, and slowly mold our lawn and other parts of our property into something more useful. Going outside at least once a day, rain or shine, to feel my way into the landscape and engage with it mindfully sounds like a perfect practice for my needs.

As for being out in the rain: I was recently redigging some simple drainage trenches in our yard when it started raining heavily. Only when the water started running all over the place, did it become apparent which trench I needed to be working on and where.
 
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One thing that has helped me, is to keep a log of my observations. Having an interest in promoting native bees on my property, a few years ago I started taking note of what was in flower every week. That expanded to noting what timeframe certain plants put on new growth, when certain pests started to become active, when birds and insects and frogs where around, how late or earlier plants went dormant in the fall.

A big unexpected benefit is that it trained me to become even more interested and happy with observing, and doing so more automatically.  Now when I go on road trips I notice micro-climates and changes in the macro climate as I go north or south. I notice wild plums or cherries that flower just a few days outside of those near me which I may want to graft. I notice how the years that had more fireflies seem to correspond with years that that I left more field undisturbed.

The year over year data also helps me to anticipate what will happen and act proactively.  I think ultimately we all have the ability to assimilate and process this data subconsciously (as our ancestors no doubt did); the active act of writing down my observations has just helped me practice and develop that.
 
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Mapping is helpful, but just draw a simple map.  Does not need to be to scale.  Use N-S orientation on basic gridline paper.  Draw in major land features, trees, buildings and use to note things like wind direction, water collections or flows, etc,  Each time you are out to observe make a new map and show what is significant or of interest.  Over time you will have a collection of dynamic maps for various seasons and hours to help in design.
 
gardener
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Observing your local architecture can be a clue about the extremes of your area.

When we first moved here, I noticed a lot of roofs were strapped to concrete foundations with heavy cable. Almost every house had an area for hanging laundry under a roof. Roof gutters fed into pipes below ground leading directly to a storm water canal.

These are building techniques to combat high winds from typhoons and the frequent and heavy rain our village receives.

It's easy to forget about the extremes that occur sometimes only once a year, but if you don't plan for the extremes, you're gonna have a bad time.


Another habit of mine is to find the high water line whenever I am at the beach, lake or river.
 
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We've had a lot of water lately but our property has high grasses and reeds and such so it's always hard to get a good feel for where the water actually is. But this last time we went out, the water was all frozen and shiny and the rest of the ground did not have snow on it yet. So we got a really good feel for where the water pools.
 
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These ideas remind me of Coyote's Guide to Connecting with Nature, a book co-authored by Jon Young. It has all kinds of connective activities, primarily related to observation, and helping children develop habits and insights that help them connect with nature over their lifetimes.

One that stands out is the Sit Spot practice. Basically it consists of choosing a spot on the land, and going there regularly - preferably every day - to just sit. Sit, observe, notice, absorb. It's amazing how many things we miss on the first visit to a place. After sitting for a while, you might notice that the birds start to come back out, animals become more active. They are always aware of you, and often hide when people first come through, but by sitting still and quiet, you can begin to gain their trust, and they'll come back out in curiosity and allow you to observe them. It's especially powerful to do this practice at all times of year, all times of day, all kinds of weather. Each combination brings its own insights.
 
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Which way does the wind blow?  I am now taking note of which direction the winds blows things. Rain. Do I need to plan multiple doors in livestock sheds so the wind blown rain can be blocked from different directions in different seasons? Seeds. Where can I expect to find seedlings from wind blown seeds?  Are the seeds going some place I don’t need to worry about, like milkweed into a forest? Or will those blow onto my livestock forage pasture? Fallen branches. Are there places I usually find them? Is the tree healthy? Are there branches that need to be trimmed?

What is my water carrying after it rains? Is it clear? Cloudy? There is likely an issue that needs addressing. I need to harvest that cloudy water by redirecting it or capturing in place. Seedy? If I leave those dock seed heads on top of my hill, will that be too much dock being planted by run off, all the way down the hill?

When do weeds set seed? If I catch mares tail before it blooms, I can pull and drop. If it has seeds, it becomes a disposal problem because I can’t rely on my compost killing the seeds.

Which plants do pests prefer? Japanese beetles love my volunteer evening primrose, so they pretty much leave my roses alone. I collect the beetles by tapping them into a container with an inch of water in the bottom, then feed them to my chickens by pouring them into one of their water pans.

Bird houses. Which birds are using them? How many times were they used last season? Did the birds fledge or did a predator get them?
It helps to have bird houses with hinged fronts that can be lifted to observe without disturbing.

 
master steward
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Shane said, "One that stands out is the Sit Spot practice. Basically it consists of choosing a spot on the land, and going there regularly - preferably every day - to just sit. Sit, observe, notice, absorb. It's amazing



I love this idea!  And this is a great way to use observation in permaculture design!

Since we have had our bird feeder, I have noticed that the rabbits and squirrels are no longer afraid of me and will let me walk around without hiding.

Unfortunately, they don't seem to be afraid of the dog either.  She goes crazy because she likes to chase them and they are faster than she is. I keep her on a leash so I have to take her out by picking her up and taking her where she cannot see them.
 
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