Here’s a funky little guide for getting started with DIY urban rainwater harvesting projects…
A zuni bowl is a riparian restoration technique involving rocks, water, biology and time. It’s a great way of dealing with a small headcut (or erosion which is about to become a headcut) in order to prevent that headcut continuing … Continued
Deep in the heart of Marrickville, in a little street of workers cottages, right under the flight path to Sydney International Airport, there is a food forest. A splendid wrangle of Australian rainforest food trees, sugar cane, herbs from all … Continued
Grain cropping is something that, for the vast majority of us, is someone else’s problem. We just eat the results; certainly every day, and nearly with every meal. Bread, rice, corn, soy, beans and so on. Produced somewhere out there, … Continued
A worm tower is a simple and effective way to take any garden bed from average yield to gloriously abundant. Simple to build, with materials you probably already have, a worm tower is the perfect addition to any garden bed, … Continued
We’ve brewed up our very first batch of BioFertilizer at Milkwood! Our carefully collected, simple ingredients are all in a big vat next to the woolshed, fermenting merrily. In two months time, we should have 200 liters of concentrated fertility, ready to dilute and spread across Milkwood’s creekflat and ridge. Fingers crossed.
We’ve always been all about aquaponics in theory: a closed-loop system that provides abundant vegetables and fresh fish – what’s not to like? But it wasn’t until Nick took some PDC students on a tour of this amazing bathtub aquaponics … Continued
When I lived in the city, I always loved the idea of a microfarm. In my head, a microfarm was a plot of land with a footprint the size of a city terrace which was simultaneously blooming with flowers and vegetables, honking with geese, clucking with chickens and covered in trailing greenery and mulch. Someone drove a wheelbarrow through the plot, delivering hay to some minature cows while a small but sturdy windmill creaked overhead.
While this version of a microfarm might be only realisable in my head (or in duplo) and might seem a little idiotic, the real-life version of farming seems just as crazy these days, though its up the other end of the scale. The median size of an Australian farm which functions as a ‘primary producer’ is something like 700 acres. As opposed to my imagined 0.03 acres. Which means (leaving aside the delightful conversation we could have here about big agribusiness and the demise of the productive small farm) that any farm less than 700 acres is therefore a small(er) farm, and anything less than, say, 100 acres, would by today’s definition be getting into the micro.
Drylands greywater kitchen garden at Ampersand Sustainable Learning Center, Arizona
In the course of researching for our upcoming Permaculture Design Course in Alice Springs this April, I've come across quite a few great new resources for food security and regeneration for desert environments.
And it would seem to me, as is usually the case, the main blockage between most modern drylands habitats becoming abundant places to inhabit is the time-worn problem of access to appropriate knowledge.
Fortunately, and somewhat mysteriously, our species has a very long history of living in seemingly inhospitable environments the world over. Traditional techniques that served previous generations with food and housing are not always possible in todays world, and so much knowledge has been lost in the last century with the arrival of industrialised (and colonial) everything.
In Australia, our own red centre is a case in point. Despite being the homeland of the oldest continuing civilisation on the planet (yup, really), many of Australia's indigenous nations have been disenfranchised by industrialised food systems which have brought almost complete dependance on the multi-national supermarket for nutrition. I'll leave the cataclysm of other aspects of indigenous disenfranchisement for you to ponder – I'm sure you have some idea of what has, and continues, to be affecting our indigenous nations. If not, start here.
Digging a greywater system at Bustan Qaraaqa, Palestine.
Food security is something we should all be deeply passionate and active about. Really truly. By the way, what will you be eating for your very next meal after you read this article? Have a look on your plate. Know where any of it actually came from, in more than a vague i-hope-it's-from-somewhere-nearby sense? Know for a fact that any of it was produced within a truly sustainable framework?
Hmm. See what i mean? This is bigtime.
Designing resilience and security into our communities, in terms of food, livability and durability, is something we all need to attend to, starting today. But that need is perhaps more starkly apparent in environments where water is exquisitely valuable, any topsoil is not to be sniffed at and perceptions of what 'should grow' may be not very accurate.
Dry and brittle environments hold possibilities for both deep disappointment and joy for Permaculture designers. If you design + implement your system right, you get an amazing, resilient oasis. Get it wrong, and everything dies.
Which is why good design principles are so important. Design from pattern to details. Catch and store energy. Value the edge. Slow, small solutions. Observe and interact. Take these principles any way you want, on a micro or macrocosmic scale. Interpret them in terms of species selection, water harvesting, people care, family dynamics, urban planning, you name it. And if you do get it wrong, go back to the principles and re-design with the benefit of hindsight, observing and interacting as you go.
I think our PDC in Alice is going to be very energising and challenging for everyone involved. Challenging for us in terms of teaching (and learning from) students who deal with a desert biosphere and its associated parameters (environmental and social) every day, and energising for those who attend in terms of what possibilities are out there for designing communities for endurance and abundance.
Greywater oasis at Whoville Gardens, New Mexico
Fortunately, we'll be standing on the shoulders of giants in terms of sharing knowledge and skills for better living in drylands – here's a couple of the stellar resources we'll be working with:
- Introduction to induced meandering: Bill Zeedyk is a legend of drylands regeneration. This introductory article merges good design with first-peoples understanding of hydrology to produce super simple and ardently effective solutions for managing and preventing waterway erosion in drylands and beyond.
- Quivira Coalition: This group is fast emerging in the Americas as a locus for innovative restoration and sustainable agriculture working with larger scale projects. The website seems a bit stuffy, but there's many jewels pointing to further research.
- Water Harvesting For Drylands: a book series by Brad Landcaster that I've mentioned before, but I'm mentioning it again because it kicks butt. Any community or council presented with a decent slideshow of the images in these books would then be ready for a full-blown discussion on how to move forward on this stuff.
- Oasis Design: Art Luwdig's extensive work throughout Latin America on building safe greywater gardens and waste systems can't be overstated in terms of relevance and importance given what's going on around the world right now. Tried and tested techniques. Don't let their simplicity fool you – this is design elegance at its most basic and immediately effective level.
- Jordan family house: A little overview of techniques suggested for better living + gardening in Jordan, one of the lowest and driest places on earth, by the infatigable Lawton family.
- Sink and Wall garden: simple yet effective. A small blog post from the Fantons on the road in India.
From a certain world view, the drylands of this planet represent possibilities for the ultimate in economical living, and the exquisite duality which comes with the idea of the oasis (so deeply embedded in all our cultural memories).
Add to that the extensive and far-reaching indigenous knowledge of country, some of which we will have access to during our time in the Alice, and i think the possibilities are endless for future drylands living which fuses many forms of knowledge together to make truly abundant communities possible – both in Australia, and beyond.
Fissured foodstuffs – image by Tom Fox
One of the few things that makes me sometimes long for the city is to be part of the kerbside revolution that’s happening here, there and everywhere. Every time i walk past an inner-city grass verge that’s sprouting tomatoes or a roundabout which has seen a bit of guerrilla gardening action I breathe a little sigh of relief, because I feel like I can smell the beginnings of that sweetest of ferments in the air: it’s the beginnings of food security in the hands of people, not supermarkets.
In the last several years, community gardening has taken on new significance throughout the western world. It seems nearly every city now has some sort of kerbside vegetable gardening initiative, victory garden schemes, community gardens, you name it. And hooray to that – we need any and all of these initiatives. We need them because we all need to get more deeply involved in our own food security. We also all need them to get more deeply involved in our community if we’re going to build true resilience in our world over the next number of decades, and gardening is a great way to start. Bring on the edible landscapes…
Water woz ere. A clearly hydrated landscape thanks to good hydrological design at Strathcona Community Garden, Vancouver Canada
We’re all becoming acutely aware of the value of water. And so we should, as water’s role in our lives and in the planets’ cycles cannot really be understated. When designing and planning a Permaculture system, it’s top of the list – the order goes: Water, Access, Structure. Design and sort out your water catchments and systems before you design anything else. Give them priority. Water is not an optional extra. Without water, you’re stuffed.
Maybe you’re already familiar with that classic Permaculture tool known as the Chicken Tractor / Chook Dome system. No? Awright – in a nutshell: In this context, a Chicken Tractor is any structure that can be moved from place to place in a garden with a bunch of chickens housed in it. The chickens living in the tractor do what chickens are so good at: scratching up the soil and turning it over, making short work of any greenstuff to be found, and spreading their manure the length and breadth of the space available to them (not to mention producing eggs and more chickens).