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.
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.
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 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.
- Observe and Interact
- Catch and Store Energy
- Obtain a Yield
- Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback.
- Use and Value Renewable Resources
- Produce No Waste
- Design From Patterns to Details.
- Integrate Rather Than Segregate.
- Use Small and Slow Solutions.
- Use and Value Diversity.
- Use Edges and Value the Marginal.
- Creatively Use and Respond to Change.
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
The course I took is now available to download! Check out Introduction to Permaculture by Andrew Millison.