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.
Local 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.
Just to be helpful, I finally looked up some of those plants he keeps mentioning:
- TAGASASTE (tree lucerne) - native to Canary Islands, used as fodder crop in Australia and NZ.
Wikipedia: Cytisus proliferus (Tagasaste) Note: the NZ tree growers say this is a misnomer, and the true designation is Chamaecytisus proliferus var palmensis. http://www.treecrops.org.nz/crops/shelter/tagasaste/ Note: Most of NZ is roaring-forties coastal, either mountains and hills (most areas), or plains (Canterbury). If you are in an inland, dry-scrub kinda climate, try searching on 'Central Otago'.
Fascinating plant, apparently it can 'pump' water up with its taproot and excrete it through feeder roots to keep nutrients available. Forage for bees, stock.
Listed as 'tropical forage,' which does not make me hopeful to grow it here.
Also, it is similar to broom plants, spreads seeds explosively, and after a fire can regenerate into a carpet that excludes other plants.
Any leguminous trees frost-hardy to -20 or -30 F (-35 C)? And native to Western north america, not likely to start a turf war in our landscapes?
Here is a chart from the Nitrogen Fixing Tree Association (tropical and subtropical).
To find similar plants that grow in the US, I compared the US Forest Service database with the genus names in the Nitrogen Fixing Tree Association chart.
Among the trees/shrubs that share a genus name with other plants on the list:
Two acacias, Acacia constricta (whitethorn acacia, Texas and NM-type-places)
and a. gregii (catclaw), also a SW plant though distributed somewhat up into parts of NV and southern UT.
I did not search for smaller plants - of course we do have N-fixing lupines, and Scotch broom is invasive enough to omit it from consideration in my book.
- We do have alder, Alnus spp., which are N fixers, common in lower elevation bogs and as a pioneer species in logged-out conifer forests. Any varieties alpine?
(maybe mountain alder, eh?) This showed up on the US FS shrubs list; along with a lot more alder shrubs like it.
Grows back after fire from underground parts; candidate for coppiced firewood, good for plank-baking and smoking. Occasionally browsed by deer but rarely by moose or mountain goats.
Juncus is round-rush, competes with grassy browse. Includes J. Balticus (baltic rush, mountain rush, valley rush) and J. roemerianus (black rush, needle rush, south Atlantic and Gulf Coast states, saline to brackish marshes)
Note: The above fed.us database says that young juncus balticus is a moderate to low palatability browse, and in mixed pastures may represent up to about 15% of steers' diet.
It's tougher but still nutritious in summer, but loses crude protein values in winter (hence it might not be as useful when you are browse-limited).
Survives well in wide range of climates and terrain, tolerates compaction, doesn't like shade.
Birch (Betula nana): Nana is the dwarf birch (shrub) .
We also have betula occidentalis (water birch) and betula papyrifira (paper birch).
Short-lived (to 70 years), shade intolerant, often browsed by moose and deer in winter months due to copious sapling regeneration, though a somewhat poor-quality browse.
Often colonizes clearings created by fire.
OOOh,, this is fun:
When you find a plant, you can look at its species associates.
When you find a set of species associates that grows near you, it has a standard number and phrase that's used throughout many entries in this federal database.
Entering that phrase, in quotes, in a Google search will bring up other pages containing that specific phrase.
I used it with "K008 Lodgepole pine-subalpine forest" and the whole first page of results is other plants in the same database - things like Arnica and, later, Saskatoon Serviceberry.
And then if I want to know if, say, that tree I saw in the creek might have been a cherry, I can include "prunus" + "K008 Lodgepole pine-subalpine forest"
And I get "bitter cherry" on the first page, along with some other pages that mention other species that grow with both. I can also include "riparian" or "wetland" if I want.
Doing the same thing with "ribes" gives me three different kinds of currants / gooseberries that might grow up here.
At least to me.
Hope it's also helpful to others, who are trying to infer from Bill's Aussie and NZ suggestions, something useful for their locale.
Another thing that came up in discussions with Ernie is that not all locales have the same limiting factors. Nitrogen is sometimes present to excess in deserts, and of course where fertilization has been overdone. So if your area doesn't have a lot of native N-fixing plants, there's a distinct possibility that it doesn't need them. A lot of N-fixers are also prolific seeders; they thrive in disturbed and depleted sites, so where habitat favors them they show up.
I like the idea of looking at what's there. I study my weeds for the clues they offer to dominant / limiting growth factors. If all my weeds in a particular patch are N-fixers (clover, medic, lupine), that's one thing. If I've got a healthy mix of weeds, or they're all weeds suitable for compacted soils (clover, plantain, pineapple weed, thistles), I might go another direction.
Of course, this approach all sounds great except my working indicator vocabulary is very small. Right now, almost any plant I recognize in this (sub-alpine, semi-arid) climate is an indicator of moist conditions, because my vocabulary is mostly from the humid coastal regions.
I would love to study with a local mentor on this stuff.
Biggest surprise: the "Outline for a Property Design Report" tucked in after the Designer's Checklist in section 12.17. We talk about the prime directive and the three ethics all the time, but I have never seen any attention paid to the three guidelines for ethical professional designers:
"Never to knock on closed doors; to go only where we are invited.
"Always stay on the ground. Do not instigate grand projects that nobody really wants, and then expect people to accept the project. Rather, try to define needs as satte or requested and work towards supplying these.
"Always pay your way. Save people more than you cost them."
These to me are the ethics of sound business practice (I'm thinking of Jack Spirko's recent podcast on using permaculture principles in all sorts of businesses). Provide a product or service that is so valuable you don't have to evangelize. No more software solutions that fit the programmers' belief of what I should need rather than listening to what I really need. And understand that mathematics, especially of profit and loss, are friend, not foe in spreading permaculture. I'm not ever going to get a local rancher to plant a tree to save the earth, but he might do it if I can show that my feed bills dropped when I planted windbreaks.
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Pleased to see (note sarcasm) that Mollison has decided how big my house can be (p 415): no more than two rooms deep (10m) and up to 15 m wide. 150 sq meters or about 1600 sq ft. Since my house is actually smaller than that by 40%, do I get a permie badge? Sometimes his dictatorial phrasing is annoying.
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I'm going to need a lot more chickens at a rate of 120/240 hectare (about 50-100 per acre) in the orchard for clean-up duties. (p 425) I need to think about this - it is possible to time them to mature through the clean-up phase, but how busy will I be with my main crop when they reach slaughter size. What we really need is a service-for-hire slaughter facility willing to process poultry. Anyone want to start that business in southern Utah? I'll be your first customer.
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The bee range layout (Fig 12.11) is a thing of beauty, and a good reminder apropos this thread, that even low hedges are valuable for livestock.
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I love the idea of planting your retirement trust as a young person (or for your children) in fine timber trees to harvest in 40-50-100 years. (p 426). It reminds me of the sort-of-true tale of the Oxford foresters planting trees to replace the beams of a building, timber that would be needed 400 years later. "Well sirs, we was wonderin' when you’d be askin'."
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The other main takeaway for me is that despite the lore that has built up around permaculture, Mollison doesn't seem to be anti-annuals for the house garden. Hallelujah to his diatribe against lawns, but I see plenty of discussion of staple root crops like potatoes, squash and roots as valuable for human sustenance. "Planning the garden thus means small beds for the spring planting, with main crops of potato, tomato, and sweet corn, then a reversion to larger mass beds in the autumn planting for winter storage crop (Potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, cab base, lava beans, peas, Brassicas.)" (p 417) I think some folks who haven't read the foundational texts have a tendency to make the rules of permaculture too hard. We don't have to subsist on acorns and ground crickets if we don't want to. If we think about how to grow more with less space, and then integrate trees and shrubs and animals we can create the modern permaculture inspired Victory gardens that aren't so different than what we are used to. It's the zone 3-5 strategies that will look very different from the Iowa corn fields. There's a lot of room under this tent.
And another surprise: a brief yet complete instruction set for emergency preparedness that goes far beyond the topic of fire:
"we survive better if we have planned ahead..." (p456)
I am especially struck by the section survivor guilt in the aftermath of a disaster:
"It greatly helps if we have assisted others before, during, and after the fire, as we know we did our best." And yet one cannot effectively assist others when we are not prepared ourselves-there's a reason why we are reminded to put on our oxygen masks before assisting others. The resiliency of permaculture creates the ability care for others in needful or even dire circumstances because we have designed that into our lives.
Just got to this thread and Erica I noticed your comment that you didn't think tagasaste would grow there. I'm not sure how it would grow at your severe winter temperatures but it definitely doesn't require a tropical climate. We, in Taranaki, New Zealand, are cool temperate, have winter frosts and snow occasionally but not every year. Tagasaste does really well and is THE MOST wind tolerant thing around. It's providing useful shelter by the time it is two years old... maybe 3 metres, (9 ft), tall by then. It's just short lived, about 10 years but is good chop and drop, stockfeed and by then has allowed other things to establish and is really good firewood. Also bees like it, chickens eat the seeds and a native bird of ours loves the flowers.