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Collective Research Project

 
Michael Bajema
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Background:

I read about various wonderful methods for starting/running a garden, e.g, the "Square Foot" soil & method, "Double-Digging", 'Wood Chips" and more. I wonder which I should use, and struggle to find that information. I fantasize about running a comparison test and publishing the results...but it seems daunting, and it would just reflect a single experience.

I have also read a few articles by 'scientists' which say that Permaculture has no scientific support, that evidence is all anecdotal. But Elaine Ingham implies that the funding companies (Monsanto!) discourage such research.

Proposal:
Let's design an experiment where numerous gardeners around the world run a simple experiment for at least a year, we collect the data, and we can report a larger finding or set of findings.

For example, one person does a section of 'double digging' and a section of 'sheet mulch', and documents the amount of work & money put into each, and measures the productivity of, say, corn, beans, and potatoes per square foot of garden. Another person does 'sheet mulch' and 'hugelculture', and so on. If we had hundreds or thousands of gardeners, each doing one or two comparisons, it wouldn't be that much work for any gardener, but could compile a massive comparison, in diverse soils, climates, etc. If they also did a soil test before & after, and counted the worm content, or something like that, we would gain more information. If we get enough people, and gather data for a few years...we might have some significant findings.

If you know of examples of this ongoing, please tell me.

I can think of numerous challenges -- but also ways in which those are good (slugs --> ducks!).

We would need:
1. To sign up a lot of people
2. To carefully choose the things to test (I have several ideas)
3. To design an experimental structure which is simple for the gardeners, but meaningful for the researcher
4. To design a web page where people could track their data
5. To arrange for a scientist to analyze the data.

I could help with most of these, but not all. But I would like to know the level of interest in trying to set something up for, say the 2017 gardening season. But I think this could be a great way for the folks in this forum to all contribute to the impact of permaculture. If we tested things fairly, and either identified the 'best' permaculture practices, or proved some of value basic concepts in a large study, it may lead to more acceptance.

Thank you,
Michael
 
Tyler Ludens
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One issue I have with this particular research project is that, in my opinion, it isn't a "permaculture" research project, it is a "gardening techniques" research project. Permaculture is not a set of gardening techniques, it is a system of design. Though I feel research on specific techniques might be helpful, it can't "prove" anything about permaculture as a system of design. It can only provide data about specific techniques, which may or may not be relevant to permaculture as a whole.

For data relating to the Biointensive gardening method, which uses double-digging, you might contact Ecology Action: http://www.growbiointensive.org/contact.html

For research on other organic growing techniques, a place to try might be the Rodale Institute: http://rodaleinstitute.org/
 
Michael Bajema
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Tyler:

I agree -- Permaculture is a philosophy & system of design, and as such cannot really be proven or disproven. What I was referring to is the suite of techniques & ideas which are encouraged by advocates and derided by others. Apparently geoff lawton has referred to it as the "Permaculture Wardrobe", though he may not have been the first: http://tcpermaculture.com/site/2014/09/06/the-permaculture-wardrobe/

Permaculture advocates would argue that things like chop-&-drop, polyculture, swales, compost teas, etc., can lead to as much or more productivity & quality, for less work and money than the 'modern' approach of annual rototilling + fertilizer, and many people would say 'poppycock!'. Could we develop the evidence for which either supports or undermines these approaches? Dynamic Accumulators have fallen out of fashion in permaculture because supporting evidence couldn't be found. Could we supply that evidence or truly disprove it? I will check to see if the websites you provided provide any of the answers. If they do, that would just move me towards the next questions.

mlb

 
Michael Bajema
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One obvious portion of the question is to determine exactly what a community of gardeners could provide useful data on.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think there has probably been a lot of research done on various techniques, but it may not be immediately available by the simplest web search or glancing at websites. You may have to find scholarly articles and books about organic agricultural research, or get help from organizations such as the above who do research. Apparently more research is being done in the field of Agroecology, so that might be a direction to head in for research data.

I guess what I'm saying is, the data you want may already be out there, but it may not be lying on the surface, so to speak. I do research as a hobby, and in my experience much of the material lying on the surface of the internet is either not very useful or is erroneous. So one needs to dig - for hours, days, even weeks. In spite of this, finding existing data may be easier than generating new data (although there's nothing wrong with generating new data!)
 
wayne fajkus
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Best thing to do is up post up one idea(challenge) and see what kind of commitment you get from the members. If it sticks, post up another.

The project itself would determine my commitment. You're basically creating a permie version of mythbusters. Could be fun.
 
Rene Nijstad
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OK, I think that science and experiments are a good thing. When you want to connect it to how valid permaculture is, I think you stumble on the problem of eco systemic functions. Because it seems to me that helping or promoting eco systems to function is closer to the core of a permaculture approach. You can double dig, and mulch, but how does that relate to your ecosystem?

Let me try to give an example. We had pigs dig up and root out part of our land that was a really poor regrowth forest. Then we dug swales and terraces. That means twice that piece of land got utterly disrupted. I think it's safe to assume that all ecosystemic function was severely out of whack.

Now say we just mulch and try to grow a garden. Big chance that it fails. Because how will just mulching restore an ecosystem?

What we try to do at our place is invite species back in. First we seeded alfalfa and beans as a nitrogen fixer. Then we planted hardy stuff like bananas and papayas. We leave strips for weeds. We added refuge for predators by throwing up woodwalls and rockpiles. We'll add some little ponds soon, maybe that helps too?

We seeded lots of different veggies to see what would survive and what would not. And now we wait. Leaf veggies all get eaten. Carrots grow (they are easy). But it slowly seems to get better now. The mustard that constantly had lots of caterpillars seems cleaner now with some beetle that recently appeared on the leaves. Or maybe that extra bit of compost did the trick? Last week it even started flowering.

I'm my view the strong point of permaculture is that we do not isolate things but rather look to complicate it. Not by complicating it ourselves but by creating conditions that invite other species to do that for us.

Maybe if we want to do experiments that prove something about permaculture we could look at it this way?
 
Mike Haych
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Michael Bajema wrote:Background:

I read about various wonderful methods for starting/running a garden, e.g, the "Square Foot" soil & method, "Double-Digging", 'Wood Chips" and more. I wonder which I should use, and struggle to find that information. I fantasize about running a comparison test and publishing the results...but it seems daunting, and it would just reflect a single experience.


What kind of garden are you talking about? From your first two examples, I assume annual vegetables but with wood chips it could also be woody and herbaceous perennials.
 
Sebastian Köln
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I think there has probably been a lot of research done on various techniques, but it may not be immediately available by the simplest web search or glancing at websites. You may have to find scholarly articles and books about organic agricultural research, or get help from organizations such as the above who do research. Apparently more research is being done in the field of Agroecology, so that might be a direction to head in for research data.

I guess what I'm saying is, the data you want may already be out there, but it may not be lying on the surface, so to speak. I do research as a hobby, and in my experience much of the material lying on the surface of the internet is either not very useful or is erroneous. So one needs to dig - for hours, days, even weeks. In spite of this, finding existing data may be easier than generating new data (although there's nothing wrong with generating new data!)


Good point!

So… could need a way of referencing the existing research and connecting it to the different parts of aquaculture?
Yet another Permaculture Journal is probably not the answer.
 
Tyler Ludens
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You might set up a website on which to cross-reference research pertinent to permaculture. This might also be the place to administer new permaculture research projects. In any case, it looks like a massive project!

 
chip sanft
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I wonder if this might not have a space under something like a Permaculture Wiki, with somebody acting as focal point: experiments with different methods and techniques, applying them in different areas and under different conditions, but providing a space to do what Michael suggests and make the results available.
 
Tyler Ludens
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With a wiki, care would need to be taken to make sure it doesn't degenerate into just another place for anecdotal information.

 
Michael Bajema
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I still like the idea, and I think there is room and value to the approach...but obviously I need to clarify my goals and be more specific.  The discussion has made me think usefully about the place, value, and definition of Permaculture.  I'll be back when I can define what I have in mind usefully.  Thank you for your responses.
mlb
 
Andrew Wallace
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Location: Southwest lower Michigan
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I get what you're trying to do, and I really like the idea. It seems that a lot of techniques are touted as panaceas on the one hand, and then "disproved" by skeptics who refer to poorly done research on the other.

One of the reasons I enjoy the Walden Effect blog so much is that Anna approaches many of these techniques objectively and tries them out, and she is willing to report on the failures she's experienced with some of permaculture' darlings.

I've been wanting to do a pretty rigorous experiment with biochar in pots, which goes something like this:
- create a list of various garden/orchard plants, such as grape, tomato, carrot, some type of grain, and maybe soybean
- fill 12 pots for each plant with a mix of charged biochar; the first pot would have 100% char, the next would have 1/2 the amount of char to the same amount of soil as in the first, the next would have 1/2 the char as the second, and so on. There's a name for this method, though I can't remember it at the moment.
- transplant seedlings of each plant into their 12 pots (so, one tomato gets 100% char, one gets 50% char, and so on).
- observe and record results for the season.

This could lead to other experiments on biochar. For example, we could leave the harvested (thus, devoid of living plants) pots out over winter, and rerun the experiment as before. I've seen reports of biochar working exceptionally well after having been exposed to snow and spring rains. We could also perform the same experiment, but charge the char first.

I like the idea of citizen-science on these techniques that are part of the toolbox of permaculture, especially if they are conducted well and the results interpreted objectively. It's all well and good to say, "yeah, there's no research on this or that 'cause Monsanto;" I'd rather just go out and do the research myself.
 
Michael Bajema
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Andrew -- thank you for your encouragement.  I do think this model could be an interesting way for small gardeners to contribute to Permaculture.  I like your biochar experiment, and I would like to know the results.  For myself, I want to dig up and think through the critiques and praises for Permaculture...and identify what is testable...and come up with some specific proposals.  Considering that my life is currently swamped, this may take a bit, but I think it's useful. 

A mentor liked to say "It's easier to put red ink on black ink than black ink on white paper" -- by which he meant that it is hard to write up a useful plan, but once you do, the community/meeting can edit it, and make it better fast...but the community/meeting is terrible at creating a proposal.   I needed to be reminded of that...and now I need to get some black ink down.

mlb
 
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