Discovering Permaculture

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So this month in my spare time, (HA!) I decided to take an Introduction to Permaculture course through Oregon State University.  I managed to get it done in 21 days and received this nifty little badge because I completed all the course requirements.

The final assignment was entitled 10/10/100.  In the next 10 days, devote 10 hours and $100 of my local currency and do something with what I learned.  Then post it here.  So here’s my first section of the assignment, to share with you what I have learned in this course.

What did I learn?

Each week focused on a specific aspect of permaculture.  Week 1 defined the process.  Week 2 concentrated on observing the current landscape.  Week 3 highlighted design methods and the principles behind them.  Week 4 listed specific strategies for applying permaculture.  

What is permaculture?

Permaculture is the ethical creation of sustainable human settlements and food production systems that take into consideration the interrelationship of humans, plants, animals and the natural environment.  You don’t see much of this happening these days, especially with the current movement to abolish the EPA.  Mexico is even worse at this sort of environmentally conscious thinking, in part because of NAFTA.  However, I did learn that there are pockets of resistance even here.  Monsanto GMO crops are still officially banned in Mexico.  Las Cañadas co-op in Veracruz is an organization dedicated to the education about and practice of sustainability.  Mexico City has also been making efforts at urban gardens.  Additionally, Mexico City still uses a limited number of chinampas (floating gardens) first developed by the Aztecs when they settled the region. Is it enough to counteract the damage unsustainable practices have caused?  It hardly seems so.

Captura de pantalla (74)

See that red rectangle? Yep, that’s us.

Where am I in the process of permaculture design?

Not far enough.  I learned an important terminology distinction.  I should not strive to be self-sufficient, but rather self-reliant.  No single aspect of the ecosystem is self-sufficient but rather is part of the interdependent web of life. With that, my homesteading life goals have changed a bit.

As you know, La Yacata has a dry climate, except for the torrential tropical rains from June until September.  As a result, the natural landscape consists of drought resistant plants, cactus, mesquite, and acebuche.  The area had been cleared for cultivation of las tres hermanas (squash, beans, and corn) about 100 years ago.  Most of the area has lain fallow for 20 years or more.  There is no natural water supply despite claims to the contrary.  Sounds pretty bleak doesn’t it?

It gets worse.  It seems like the colonos (community members) are determined to exploit what there is to the point of complete environmental. Before the chicken feather guys constructed his pig/chicken compound, the upper part of La Yacata had wild orchids during the rainy season.  Before the pig guy backed up the sewer system, the rain flowed freely from the hillside into the arroyo bordered by dense vegetation.  (Have I mentioned that these two are in-laws?) We have others who come and cut down the mesquite to make charcoal to sell in town, removing an essential component of the ecosystem.  There is no recognition of interdependence here.

Breaking it down even further, our green area is not as green as I would like.  Currently, we have a lovely cherimoya tree that provides a good section of shade, as well as a blackberry bush gone wild, 2 guayaba trees, a pomegranate tree that finally is producing fruit now that the goats and chickens are contained on the other side and a lemon tree that is a bit stunted after last year’s blight.  

We have a few smaller trees started, nispero, aguacate, papaya, durazno, capulin, and mango but it’s too soon to tell if they will flourish or die. Our new puppy likes to munch the lower branches and every now and then that rogue white hen escapes and eats the leaves.

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The rain water floods the area beside our house in the rainy season. We’ve had to add a run-off path.

Miss Piggy’s former compound is undergoing a transformation from wasted space to raised garden, although it didn’t work out so well last year.  We catch and store our rainwater in the aljibe and tinacos. The rain runoff builds up on the right side of our wall and so we have a drainage path through the back yard.

klip dagga

Klip dagga grows wild in La Yacata and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

I have big plans for our backyard this year, although it seems all my efforts are sabotaged.  In addition to the animal issues, there are human issues.  One year I transplanted a handful of klip dagga plants from under the mesquite down the road to our yard.  They were doing well, sprouting up all over the place, and my son got annoyed and chopped them all down one afternoon.  Sigh.  I’m determined to make another attempt this year.

What are the permaculture design principles?

There are 12 principles of permaculture as defined in the book “Permaculture Principles and Pathways beyond sustainability” by David Holmgren.

I’ll list them here.  You can do your own research if you wish.

  1. Observe and Interact
  2. Catch and Store Energy
  3. Obtain a Yield
  4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback.
  5. Use and Value Renewable Resources
  6. Produce No Waste
  7. Design From Patterns to Details.
  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate.
  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions.
  10. Use and Value Diversity.
  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal.
  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change.
Captura de pantalla (75)

Red is our home zone. Yellow is our home orchard. Green is our farming zone. Light blue is the semi-managed zone. We managed with grazing the goats there. Dark blue is the wild where we forage.

How can I apply the techniques to my own situation?

Our goal for solar is right in line with these principles. We catch and store rainwater. We obtain a yield from both cultivated areas and wild foraged areas. We try to keep down our waste generation and apply self-regulation.  We can improve on using the edges and marginal and the integrate rather than segregate principles.

How important is permaculture?  

A number of the podcasters talked about the imminent crash of the ecosystem.  Imminent as in the next 20 years. How did we get to this precipice?  Daniel Quinn’s novel Ishmael chronicles our historic demise from the birth of agriculture to modern-day unsustainable farming practices.  And yet there have been places where the utter desolation has been transformed into viable habitat in as little as 5 years.  

After seeing these incredible examples of regeneration, it’s easy to agree with Bill Mollison, author of Permaculture Designer’s Manual,  when he says “Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”  The solution is simply that more people need to identify themselves as “leavers,” those that live in harmony with nature, rather than “takers,” those that seek to dominate nature, if we are to survive this ecosystem crash as a species.

As for that 10 hours / $100 assignment I mentioned at the beginning–looks like I’m heading to the local tianguis (flea market) this weekend to pick up some more of those home grown, native plants the women in rebozos (shawls) sell.  At $10-15 pesos per coffee can packed vegetation, I’m sure I’ll have the back yard on its way to permaculture in no time.  It’s good for me, it’s good for the environment, and it’s good for the little old ladies.

Interested in learning more about permaculture?  Check out these podcasts!

Earth Repair Radio with Andrew Millison

The Permaculture Podcast with Scott Mann

Diego Footer’s Creative Destruction

Sustainable Living Podcast

Sustainable World Radio  

discovery

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Outdoor cooking

We use a gas stove and gas hot water heater since we do not have electricity in La Yacata.  However, with the price of a tank of gas skyrocketing to $477 pesos in January, it was time to take some preventative actions.  

We had an extra bag of cement left over from the last project and my husband came across a grill top in one of his treasure hunts, so he determined that now that our porch was covered, it was time to make that outside cooking area he’d been promising for 10 years.

So that’s what he did.  He went back and forth as to whether he’d make it all out of cement or frame it with bricks, but as we were out of bricks, he went with the cement model.

It took 2 days to complete.  We were having carne asada (grilled steak) before you know it.

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Of course, it was time to get some new cast iron pans.  Cooking over the open flame makes tasty food, but sure does smoke the pans up.  So I ordered some at Amazon Mexico.  They arrived a week later.  My husband is incredibly happy with the pots. He’s even requested a large soup pot for other dishes he has in mind.  

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Maybe it’s time to search out a cast iron tea kettle for the morning coffee!

With the price of gas increasing yet again in February, pretty soon we’ll be heating our bath water over the open flames too!

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Lighting up the night with solar

Our longed for solar power system has not become manifest yet.  We continue to use our non-electric or rechargeable devices. (See Dirty and Ragged and There is still no electricity in La Yacata) For evening illumination, we have the moon and the stars and candles.

Since Chokis untimely murder (See Chokis) nighttime thefts in La Yacata have increased.  We aren’t ready to risk another dog, so we needed something in the way of a deterrent that could not be poisoned. I took a chance on ordering motion activated solar lights, and we have instantly become the talk of the settlement.

front-light

I ordered one from Amazon Mexico and had my husband install it over the front door.  It certainly makes it easier to unlock the door after dark.  No more fumbling for keys or scraping around the lock.  And it turns on whenever anything moves within 20 feet of the sensor.  It’s nearly as good an alarm as Chokis was.  You should see people scramble away from its light as if they might get burned.

side-light

We liked it so much that I ordered some more.  The second light is outside the front door porch upstairs.  It’s strategically located so that more area is encompassed in light should anyone pass and illuminates the porch if we (or the cats) head out onto the porch.  

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The third light is out back.  It’s particularly useful when we have to make a late-night bucket run to the aljibe (dry well).  No more stumbling around in the dark.

Several of the neighbors have requested sensor lights for their own homes.  I’m making another order soon, so we’ll see how well this little resell business goes.  Meanwhile, I’m still looking into a full solar system.  It’s gonna happen soon, I just know it!

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Book Review–Vacation to Graceland by Phillip Cornell

vacation to graceland

Even the best-laid travel plans go astray.  Often the most anticipated aspect of the trip has some drawbacks. (See Playing Tourist–Guanajuato and Getting Legal–Trip 4) Remember the torture chamber tour and the time the truck axle fell off on the overpass? Man, those were some vacation memories! Wouldn’t you agree? Vacation to Graceland by Phillip Cornell is no exception to Murphy’s Law.

Scooter joy riding Granny, grouchy mom, financially strapped sister Crissy, her two kids, and the narrator head to Memphis for a family reunion barbecue. Hitting the road early to make the family fish fry is complicated by a quick stop at Kmart, another stop for lottery tickets, heading across town to pay a bill, faulty GPS knowledge, hunger, crankiness, hotel reservation issues, parking problems, exorbitant prices and a wrong turn or two. It’s a good thing that all’s well that ends well.

The misadventures that occur in Vacation to Graceland by Phillip Cornell are typical of any family trip and as a result were quite humorous.  I felt like I was stuffed in the backseat along with them on the trip, and none too comfortable either, I must admit.  It was a quick, entertaining read.

However, there were some grammatical issues that I was not sure whether to chalk up to local vernacular, intentional errors representing the narrator’s natural speech patterns, or author mistakes.  There were errors in noun and verb use (sale/sell), homophone confusion (isle/aisle), misspelling mistakes (intensions/intentions), inconsistent spelling (gripping/griping), missing apostrophes (trips expenses/trip’s expenses), verb and adjective mix-ups (drunken/drunk), and words I just couldn’t figure out what they were meant to convey (My mom hackled me?).  Far be it for me to criticize overmuch.  I’ve been known to have language issues myself.   After all, there was that official police visit that had me imagining house stealers and that “go and see if the sow laid eggs” Mexican Spanish expression that caused me some grief. (See Who’s on first in Spanglish and Learning and Teaching–Language)

As most people have had their fair share of road trip disasters, the majority of readers will find something to relate to and laugh about in this book.  I mean, who hasn’t been squashed next to bickering children in the back seat?  If you prefer not to relive such traumatic experiences ever, perhaps this isn’t the book for you.  My overall rating was influenced by the above mentioned grammatical problems. Therefore, I rate this book an entertaining 3 out of 4 stars.

Vacation to Graceland by Phillip Cornell was an OnlineBookClub.org Book of the Day.  Get your copy here.

three stars

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