I'm finding again that I need to research a lot more plants to understand what Bill is saying.
Also, I'm wishing again that each chapter had more specific observation techniques: here are the X signs that this situation may apply to you. About 20 or 30% of the suggestions are phrased with conditionals, like "in humid areas only." I would like 50% to 75% of the suggestions to come with similar conditionals.
My big puzzle is not what can
I do, but what is most useful to do?
For example, all these great layouts for paddock-shift systems probably won't apply up here at 3200 feet, as 12 acres (or the 4 or 5 that we may be allocated by the in-laws) of semi-arid lands won't support herds.
Just two horses, with help from deer
and possibly elk and moose, have compacted the meadow pretty thoroughly. When I look at ways to divide things up, while still allowing the deer through-access, it just looks impractical. Not that we ever wanted to herd livestock up here - but that suggestion, at least, has some hard numbers in acres or hectares (yay! now i know that a hectare is about 2.5 acres! been wondering about that...), so it's easy to see that we are not likely to scale up to that type of operation. Separating the chicken run
in half, and re-seeding some of it while they enjoy the rest - now, that might happen.
I caught two possible typos:
- p. 426 - Timber Crop in Pasture - there's a reference to animals being let in as trees
harden (years 36). I imagine that's years 3-6, based on other numbers in this chapter, and on what I've seen in terms of orchard trees establishing and reaching above-cattle heights in most climates.
Ours up here take longer, they have been in place 5 years and are now almost safe from chickens
, but I would not let a goat or sheep in there as half the fruit
is borne below 4' off the ground.
So I could also be convinced that you only let cattle
or sheep into 20+ year orchards. Anybody with orchard / grazing experience
care to comment on which is the more useful interpretation?
- p. 450, PERMAFROST, paragraph 1, there's a reference to scour by ice particles at 40 degrees C. 40 C is the kind of heat wave where they send you home from the orchards at 11 am, or else people
get heat stroke.
I have to imagine he means -40 C, which occurs in sub-arctic climates quite regularly - it's in the general range of temperatures where sea ice freezes and people stop being territorial because if you are going to refuse someone shelter
for the night, it's kinder to shoot them.
And finally, in the first paragraph after his "OUTLINE FOR A PROPERTY DESIGN REPORT," he states:
"However poorly you think
of yourself as a designer, you cannot do a worse job
of settlement and agricultural planning than those you see about you!"
On the contrary yes, yes you can. Especially if you live near established villages that have been around since pre-industrial times, or amid low-impact farms run by the descendants of such villagers.
We in the US and Australia admittedly have a LOT of examples of poor design and poor management. Land
has been cheap enough
here that anyone can get it, especially if they are willing to buy and struggle with marginal lands, far from the convivial climates where they were raised. This is part of a deliberate government policy to get 'settlers' onto the land, and impose controls like fences and eyes-on-the-street that make it harder for the enemies of the state to prosper. The enemies of the state includes most of the native
folks who had a clue what the land could support, as well as ungovernable bushwhackers and the faithless (i.e. more loyal to the land than to governments) but observant trappers and explorers of many nations.
But even the poor benighted souls who have gone back-to-the-land in this ongoing settlement initiative do make some useful observations. Especially over three or four generations. Even if they are living the SUV lifestyle, most country folks are on a limited budget and will be somewhat attuned to least-work approaches, and minimize expensive infrastructure.
Most designers will do VERY well to pay attention to what the neighbors are doing. You may be able to predict a failure of apparently-successful practices. But in my experience, the old timers will be able to predict a lot more failures that you will incur if you impose "designs" on the landscape that were developed somewhere different.
observation is key. And if you are trying to 'design' in a new place that is unfamiliar, that means observing the locals as well as the locale.
Ernie and I did a tour today of the burn scar downhill of our place. Saw a beautiful ruined glass greenhouse
, located in the clearing of that draw, with an elaborate tire-burning furnace hooked up to it. The wild fire took out roughly 90% of the glass on it, even though it wasn't very intense at that point - burn scar is only about people-height on most of the trees, and some adjacent to that same field still have thumb-sized branches intact at knee height. It looks like the people whose greenhouse
it was, just gave up on it entirely. No salvage, a few panes of intact glass still in the frames, long grass growing inside the same as the rest of the meadow.
He also told me one big difference between western US climates and similar ones in NZ and Australia: we have forests, they have 'bush'. Their rainforests, for example, have a lot more herbaceous, low-canopy plants like tree ferns. They don't have the tall stands of woody timber (anymore, anyway), and don't have observations of the specialized ecosystems that occur far up in the canopy
. In redwood, or ancient cedar, or old-growth Doug fir, a 1000-year-old tree may have endemic species on it, and there may also be upper canopy species that extend for miles as long as the forest canopy remains above 100 feet.
You will know we have arrived at 'perma' when we have accurate folk observations like "plant the corn when the maple leaves are the size of a squirrel's ear" that work better, year after year, than the hypothetical "average Last Frost date." A designer coming into a new territory will still need a lot of experience to spot the right indicators, and know the right questions to ask.
I'm gonna start a new thread
for my local environment, in the Rockies forum, asking for tips about what indicator plants can be observed to show different conditions, and what other plants can grow in the same areas. It will get messy, but it feels like a start. Montane Indicators thread
I would like to imagine that this 'designer's manual' is mainly to encourage people to start paying attention to all these little subtle effects that Nature produces.
But the effect as written is to encourage people to mess with Nature in similar non-observant ways - to apply mandala gardens, herb spirals, and chicken
tractors regardless of what's already there, in much the way that conventional agriculture strips and ploughs every flat-ish acre
they can find.
Just the discussion about how to arrange landforms - whether a hugel on contour,
or earthwork swales, or a deep pocket, has any effects on frost protection is pretty subtle.
It's possible we can do better.
It's also possible we can do a lot worse, and waste a lot of money and effort proving so.
I'm sure an educated permaculturalist has an advantage moving into a new territory in a vacuum - but if you are moving into new territory in a vacuum, you are in the wrong place. (space, or wilderness).
I think a gardener who is observant and able to ask the right questions of locals will have an advantage over that permaculturalist, whether or not they call what they do "permaculture."
And somebody who has been in the same place for a few years or decades or generations, or who works for a local gardener who has been there longer without making any suggestions for 6 months or more
, will have an advantage over either of the above.
I would love to see less emphasis on the 'design' aspect of permaculture
, and more on the 'observation' and 'facilitation' aspects.
If a permaculture
presenter can get some local farmers and gardeners to agree on a set of goals (long-term productivity without toxicity), and then take observations about what the local limiting factors are for growth, and what methods have been tried that might be most compatible with the above goals, they may go a lot further than someone designing a system from scratch and trying to sell
it to the locals before the trees have borne fruit.
Of course, the well-demonstrated systems like Holzer and Salatin do a lot better yet, creating a model that agriculturalists can respect.
But I think if we use not just local observation, but enlist local 'advisors' to help our system be a success, then they will happily take credit for 'inventing' it, and are more likely to adopt it once it's shown to work.
There is nothing wrong with acting like other people are smarter than us . . . or admitting they know more.
Mollison comes at this from the designer's perspective:
"What all good designers come down to is the willingness of the people on the ground to make it work, and they will only try to do this if a great many of their ideas are also incorporated."
So the "permie" from a different climate who wants everything the same here is a nightmare client, whereas a local with a lot of on-the-ground experience who wants three more wells
and a firebreak is going to be a good partner.
"work that nobody wants done is rightly deprecated."
Amen to that one.
Amazing how the longer one observes, the less work is actually needed.