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Skills/Knowledge for permaculture

 
Glenn Lees
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Hi All!

I'm starting to grow ever more tired of modern life: companies that take your money - provide you with crap and don't give a toss, employers that bleed you dry and don't give a toss, ever improving technology that doesn't actually make your life any easier (just makes it easier to hear fatuous details about 'celebrities' and look at pictures of kittens), and so on.

I'm becoming more interested in going off grid and living a simple, self-sufficient life (though I'm turned off by all of the hippy, healing-energy/therapy-heavy, pagan-type religiosity that seems to go hand in hand with this)

I can envisage, in the future, living a permaculture lifestyle with a group if likemindeds and am compiling a list of skills/knowledge areas that need to be acquired within the group. I've come up with the list below and would be grateful to be made aware of any ommisions from the list (it's quite high-level currently, as I've been researching this for less than a week).

Thanks

Permaculture Design

Zoning
Sectoring
Layering
Plant Guilds

Gardening

Annual Plants
Perennial Plants
Shrubs
Fruit Trees
Nut Trees
Water Plants
Germination
Propagation
Grafting
Tree Management
Fungi

Building Resources

Coppicing
Pollarding

Energy Resources

Wind
PV
Batteries/Electrics
Solar Heating

Water Resources

Water Collection/Storage
Irrigation
Grey Water Processing

Building

Walling
Fencing
Dams/Ponds
Swales/Berms
Raised Beds
Wattle/Daub/Cob
Thatching/Roofing

Waste Management

Composting Toilets
Composting
Worm Farms
 
Bart Glumineau
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permaculture skills on facebook
 
Peter Ellis
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Location: Central New Jersey
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Keeping with your current "high level" list -
Soil - testing, building
Decision Making - you're going to be living and working in concert with other people, there need to be mechanisms for making that work
Water - add testing to that list. You want to be able to determine whether your water supply is safe, and safe for what.
Energy resources - add Water (electric and mechanical - nothing more efficient than mechanical power from running water), wood, biodiesel, rocket mass heater
Wood Working - this runs the gamut from making tool handles to building timber frames and a world of useful stuff between here and there.
Building - add masonry, rammed earth, timber framing
Building Resources - I am reading this as resources for building, yes? Add skills for recognizing soils suited for cob, rammed earth, adobe; stone (in some locations this will be a readily available resource, in others not at all)
Risk assessment - Everything from fire through mudslides, flooding, snow load. You want to be able to recognize the likely hazards of the location and then prepare appropriately.

 
Glenn Lees
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Thank you Peter, v helpful and exactly the sort of reply I'm looking for.

Yes, building resources is about getting/obtaining/creating the things needed to build with, which will then feed into the actual building.

Do you think that complete self-sufficiency is possible? As things like clothes, new steel/iron tools and even straw would be difficult/impossible to create on a smallholding. Certainly some form of trade would be needed, and whilst barter (and even 'scrounging') would be preferable that will be heavily dependant on the locale. Cash-based trade seems to be the only way to go, and I'm not over-keen on this.

Perhaps a collective of smallholdings (each focussed on meeting its own food needs and generating something else - milk, wool, straw, fodder etc - to be traded locally with other smallholders. But, hey, I'm drifting off topic there!
 
Jessica Gorton
Posts: 274
Location: Central Maine - Zone 4b/5a
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You seem in your list to have a focus on the infrastructure building and food procurement aspects of homesteading. Those are all important tools, but I think there are few more to consider:

Health care - you need folks who both can make medicines from locally grown plants, and who know basic medic craft like suturing and setting broken bones, as well as basic dentistry. Also someone with some midwifery skills, if you're in this for the long haul.

Speaking of the next generation, how do you pass these skills on? Someone with talent for teaching would be really handy.

I didn't see a general machinist/mechanic on your list - that person is worth their weight in gold (or ginseng, as the case may be).

I see so many people on this site asking the question, "Is complete self-sufficiency possible?" I feel like you are already looking at living in community, so maybe you're talking about sufficiency within that group, but I really think that trying to live a life separate from the larger community around you is impossible, and not something that mimics nature, if we are looking at it from a permaculture perspective. I think it is way more valuable to acknowledge that we are all dependent on one another to some degree, if only in agreeing in good neighborlyness not to kill one another. I also think that you will have a more resilient community overall if you make good trading connections with the larger community (and I think barter is a very doable act, even in our consumer society - you just need to make the relationships with your neighbors that will facilitate that).
 
John Elliott
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Glenn, when I saw your first post late yesterday, I meant to give it an apple, but I was too burnt out to write a cogent response.

the answer, in a nutshell, is that you need to revert to the skill set that people had before the Industrial Revolution. Back then, people were generalists and not specialists. Oh sure, a man could practice a building trade and be mostly involved with house building skills (all of them, not just as a drywaller moving from one house to the next), but he also had his own homestead to take care of and that might require working in the garden, harvesting and putting up food, cutting firewood for the winter, etc. He didn't work a 40-hour week for a building contractor and then go out and pay for all of his other needs with the money he earned.

Besides writing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson was a planter, and architect, a writer, an ambassador -- the man had many talents, a varied skill set that could be the template for the self-sufficient life. Indeed, to be successful in the pre-Revolutionary Colonies, you had to have a varied skill set and know-how to turn virgin forest into a homestead that would sustainably support people.

The Industrial Revolution, and its progeny of globalization, free trade, and growth based on extraction of fossil fuels has spawned millions of "jobs" that are interdependent and have no sustainability. A truck driver hauling gasoline to filling stations may get a steady paycheck from the company that employs him, but he may let other talents he has atrophy. Were his job to suddenly go away and he had to survive by growing his own potatoes and turnips and cutting his own firewood, he would be in a sad predicament. The same with a warehouse worker who spends his whole day taking boxes out of racks and moving them to conveyors.

The problem with being a generalist is that for most of the things you are doing, someone else that you know does that task better. There may be only one or two things where you are the expert and people actually seek you out to show them how. There are a couple of ways you can deal with that: (1) learn to accept that your work is going to have defects or (2) arrange a barter with someone who can knock it out better than you can.

Welcome to Permies. I hope this thread can be more than just a skills list. After all, sometimes you don't know what is needed until the occasion arises. The skills you need are those that keep you fed, clothed and housed in a moderate amount of comfort with a minimal amount of resources.
 
Kris schulenburg
Posts: 115
Location: Henry County Ky Zone 6
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You have a big list there, overwhelming (along with aw-inspiring, hopeful, brilliant, etc.) if you dig into it. Been thinking what would have been helpful to know when I started, not knowing your situation.
Observe
Start from where you are
Don't quit your day job just yet (darn)
Be brutally honest with what you can and can't do without
What are your resources (time, money, energy, skills, community)
Do what is "do-able", what is the reality (might not be able to start on that 100 acre food forest but i can plant a fall garden or a 5 gallon bucket of spinach)
Pick your battles
Learn learn learn

Thomas Jefferson was a brilliant guy but he had slaves and underpaid laborers to carry all this out. I would bet his brilliance was highly informed by the wisdom of his "boots on the ground".
I can't begin to tell you how much hope, empowerment and humility Permaculture has brought to my life
Best of Luck
 
Glenn Lees
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Lots of food for thought - thank you all.

I'm fully aware that this is a long term aim and there's lots to do, lots to learn and lots of time between now and then.

I'm definitely going to start small - we have a good sized garden that is mostly grass so I was thinking of putting in a raised bed and see how that goes, then maybe a dwarf orchard and a few berry bushes and gradually build from there. I anticipate having to keep the daytime job for another 5-10 years and then re-evaluate.

As for this skills list, I created it as a high-level list just to spec out the whole 'grand plan' and then break it up into smaller, more detailed sections. Being a generalist is what I enjoy (variety is the spice of life after all), and I would envisage that my 'co-permies' would have a some knowledge of all areas, and more expert knowledge of a couple of areas.

I'm a trainer by profession, so am used to assimilating a large amount of info and enabling others to learn from it, and also teaching others how to be a trainer.
 
Mike Haych
Posts: 227
Location: Eastern Canada, Zone 5a
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Glenn Lees wrote:
Do you think that complete self-sufficiency is possible? As things like clothes, new steel/iron tools and even straw would be difficult/impossible to create on a smallholding. Certainly some form of trade would be needed, and whilst barter (and even 'scrounging') would be preferable that will be heavily dependant on the locale. Cash-based trade seems to be the only way to go, and I'm not over-keen on this.


Complete self-sufficiency? Think about what's involved in making a simple hoe. Knowledge. Skill acquired by doing. Raw materials. On top of that, the day only has 24 hours. Finally, why would you want complete self-sufficiency? Most of us need the social contact that comes with interdependency.

As you go along, try to figure out where your weak links are. For example, as you design your food system, your weak links are those aspects that depend on external inputs. Probably the biggest one is gas. It's not just a matter of using hand tools to avoid that input. It's also the gardening techniques that you use. If you want annual vegetables for whatever reason, think about how you maximize calorie yield while minimizing calories spent. Look at the techniques used by Emila Hazelip, John Jeavons, and Mel Bartholomew. Cultivate Nature where you can and let her do the work. For example, you may decide that you want salad greens. You can plant lettuce or you can dedicate a raised bed to Chenopodium album and another dedicated to Portulaca oleracea. Sure they grow all over the place but a dedicated bed means that you don't have to walk all over the place to harvest. Harvest seed so that you're not dependent on the randomness of Nature seeding. Growing in a raised bed allows you to create a rich environment which should increase yields.
 
Frank Brentwood
Posts: 81
Location: Long Island, NY (Zone 7)
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Excellent topic!

"Complete" self-sufficiency is not a possibility, in my opinion. There will always be a need for some outside inputs unless you are willing to go back to a seriously rustic standard of living. You can have all of the skills integrated into your community, but you simply cannot reach a point where you can generate all of the necessities that you get from the outside world. For example: You can have a dentist in your community, but unless you are willing to give up on modern tools like dental drills, you'll have to import some things because they are simply impossible to make without a prohibitive infrastructure.

Some skills I noticed were missing from the list:

Veterinarian & Animal Husbandry Practitioner - Most of this could be covered by a good certified Veterinary Technician.
Butcher - Not a difficult set of skills to learn the basics of, but a good butcher is worth his weight in steak every year.
Meat & Crop Preservation - Canning, Fermentation, Charcuterie, and Salumi are just some of the methods of preservation to get familiar with. If you are going off-grid, reducing your dependence on refrigeration to keep the stuff you grow/raise from going bad is a big step.

An aside to a point others have made: Depending on your climate, you might need to think about getting familiar with cold-climate gardening techniques. Cloches, cold-frames, hot-frames, greenhouses, etc. They all have their tricks and secrets. Eliot Coleman is my go-to author for books on the topic, but there are others that cover much of the same ground.

For that matter, Aquaponics/Aquaculture are things that could/should be integrated into a permaculture homestead. They help with stacking functions like grey water use & waste disposal.
 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
http://richsoil.com/pdc
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