Posted on May 28, 2015 @ 04:26:00 PM by Paul Meagher
For the last 2 days I've been busy planting trees. Two days ago I installed my first nut grove consisting of
21 hazel nut trees. Installed it into a v-shape piece of land. Today we planted 35 apples trees and 6
pear trees. These were two year old trees that came from Oregon and were quite a bit bigger 2 year olds than
I was used to getting.
Farming is a tough business to make a profit at especially when you are planting tree and vine crops that take a longer
time to mature and become productive. I convince myself that the yield is not just money but physical
health and working outside. Tomorrow is a day of whipper snippering around some 2 yr old
grape vines so I can bring a post hole digger in on Saturday to install the trellis system. More physical work tomorrow.
Small mosquitoes are eating us alive. I wasn't properly dressed for the onlslaught today (only emerged in the last few days) but tomrrow I'll have some deet and long sleeve shirts and pants. My legs look like I was hit with a shot gun (specks of blood from all the bites). I've been bitten lots before so I don't notice them much.
I still check my email throughout the day to monitor the network but I'm not available by phone much if you are trying to reach me that way. This situation won't change for the next few days.
We are in the period of the "spring flush" where the landscape explodes with growth. It is hard to keep up but with the help of my brother I think we'll get through it.
The only general lesson that might be relevant is that when you are starting up a business it is nice when you and your workers only put in 8hr days. If you work longer it doesn't give you much time to do setup work for the next day which can lead to lots of inefficiencies. Whenever your are in high work mode you need at least 2 hrs to deal with stuff that breaks (order new parts), get gas, figure out a plan, and deal with a bunch of other stuff that doesn't get done during the workday. In a startup that means you work 10 or more hour days. I'd like to
keep it as low as possible so I can have a life outside of farming or to enjoy aspects of the farm that you can't when you are always working.
I'll be starting to direct seed some gardens in the next few days. With the situation in California, it will become more important to garden this year. El Nino might not help either. I'll be doing some container gardening for herbs. I had big containers for my apple trees that will make nice containers to grow herbs in. Haven't grown many herbs in the past - only enough to know they can be invasive if not contained so container gardening makes more sense for me when growing herbs.
Posted on May 25, 2015 @ 03:29:00 AM by Paul Meagher
This was one of the more interesting YouTube videos that I watch over the weekend. This guy is creating an alternative method of farming, one that would allow him to remotely manage a significant urban farm with as little physical work as possible. I'm not sure it would be a good thing if we all tried to follow his lead, but I do think it is worth exploring these alternatives and learning what there is to learn. Perhaps there are parts of it that we might want to keep.
One Permaculture principle I have not discussed yet is the 11th one which is to "Use Edges and Value the Marginal". Part of valuing the marginal is to see the potential in fringe activities like what this fellow is doing. This guy is also working with alot of edges in his design and his mastery of edges speaks to his skills as a designer. He is trying to grow more in a small space by creating edges that are vertical growing tubes, he is dealing with the edge between aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals, he is working on the edge between physical attributes of his gardens and the electronic representation and manipulation of them. Finally, he is trying to build everything under extremely limited size constraints of his home so has to plan everything for maximum efficiency in the use of space. This is done through the deliberate placement of edges in a design. A large part of what a designer does is edge design.
Posted on May 22, 2015 @ 02:02:00 PM by Paul Meagher
The Paper Pot Transplanter is a new system for transpanting that makes the job of transplanting alot easier. The use of this transplanter is demonstrated by Quebec microfarming guru Jean Martin Fortier:
This machine saves a microfarmer a huge amount of bending over work.
It is interesting how we keep innovating even at tasks that we've collectively done trillions of times in the past. Innovation doesn't stop happening even for basic tasks. The other aspect of this technology that interests me is that it is a good example of Appropriate Technology which I have blogged about in the past. What makes it appropriate is that it is human powered, it is human scale rather than industrial scale, it makes a hard physical job easier, and the technology is potentially accessible to a microfarming entrepreneur without a large outlay (although this machine and associated paper pot tech is not cheap - around 4-5k).
3-D printers might also be considered an Appropriate Technology for a similiar set of reasons. It will allow a new group of entrepreneurs to emerge because it doesn't involve a big capital outlay and it is accessible way to get into manufacturing.
I learned about the Paper Pot Transplanter while listening to Curtis Stones week 6 podcast on Permaculture Voices.
To integrate is to create relationships between things. To segregate is to remove relationships. We often segregate things to make them simpler to manage or think about. This is often our default strategy so this principle is required in order to encourage us focus on forming connections in our designs.
Each Important Function is Supported by Many Elements
The principle of relative location underlines the importance of positioning elements of the system so the output or effect of one
element is beneficially related to other elements in the system. For example, we can position a deciduous tree in front of the south
facing wall of a building so that in summer it shades the building (and thereby cools it) but in winter when the leaves fall, it allows
sun through (and thereby warms it). When we are designing we can ignore where an element (tree) is placed with respect to other
elements (house) in a system (our property). If we do so we will miss opportunities to exploit beneficial relationships between
elements and our design will be poorer as a result. So the principle of relative location encourages us not to think of elements
in isolation, or segregated from each other, but rather to look for ways we can position the elements in a system so that a beneficial
relationship results. Anything you plant in a garden should, for example, be judged by this principle.
The idea that each element should perform many functions is another way to be more integrative in our thinking. This principle is
the foundation for functional design where we ask of each element what functions it performs and how we might derive a benefit from the various functions the element performs. This is in contrast to only looking at an element as performing one function. For example, we might view a chicken as having the function of providing eggs and design a system around this function only. If we examine a chicken a bit more we will note that a chicken also produces manure and scratches the ground alot as it forages for food. By taking into account these additional outputs and behaviors we can start to see a role for chickens in our gardens to prepare our beds prior to planting. When we add chickens into our system it can play a more useful role when we integrate all of its outputs and behaviors into our farm design rather than designing for only one of the useful functions it offers. So another way to be more integrative in our thinking is to look for more functions that an element might provide and then to "stack" those functions in our design. The
quality of a design is indicated by how many functions each element in our design performs. Functional design is a skill worth cultivating and Permaculture is fairly unique in its preoccupation with, and techniques for, good functional design.
Finally, for each important function we should make sure that it is supported by many elements. When an important function is supported
by many elements, the resilience of the system is increased because if one of the elements fails, another one can kick in and take over. An example is water supply to the home. If the power cuts out, do you still have a way to get water? If your water supply depends on a pump and/or pressure tank and that is your only way to get water, then you will probably have to leave your property to get water. If, however, your water is gravity fed, and you are harvesting rainwater, and you have a pond, then you will be ok in the event of a power outage or drought conditions. So another way to foster integrative thinking is to examine important functions that you need satisfied and then look for multiple ways you can support that function within your system rather than just accepting one solution.
Bill Mollison advised that "The core of permaculture is design. Design is a connection between things. It’s not the human, or the
chicken or the garden. It is how the human, the chicken and the garden are connected.". Permaculture works well in the garden but
it is meant to inspire, and to be applied to, designs outside of the garden.
When you first read "Integrate rather than Segregate" you probably had some immediate commonsense ideas about how to interpret this directive. These commonsense meanings are intended in this directive as well. You can think of the three sub-principles as giving you some less-obvious ways to think about how this integration principle can be applied.
Posted on May 14, 2015 @ 08:09:00 AM by Paul Meagher
The 7th Permaculture principle is to "Design from Patterns to Details" (blogs on the the first 6 principles can be found here).
In order to design from patterns to details presupposes that we have some awareness of what patterns are useful to follow.
Where can we find patterns to follow? Nature comes to the rescue again.
To find patterns in nature requires us to think about the scale of space and time we are observing. Are we using a microscope
and looking at soil microbiology, binoculars looking at landscape formations, or telescopes looking at the stars. Some patterns have the unusual property that they re-occur at multiple scales - simple geometric shapes, spirals, branching patterns, crennelated and lobular surfaces, cracked surfaces, and fractal surfaces are some examples.
The recurring patterns tell us something interesting about how nature handles the flow of matter and energy.
A spiral is the shape of our galaxy, it is the shape of a Rams horn and a Nautalis sea shell, and it is the shape of our DNA strands. Because it occurs at multiple scales we can consider this an interesting pattern worth investigating and understanding in more detail and perhaps incorporating into a design.
One matter and energy problem that a spiral form solves is packing alot of surface into a small area. This can be illustrated with a spiral herb garden that gives you alot of planting surface in a small area.
If you unroll the spiral it might be 40 feet long. A spiral herb garden allows you to travel to all planting surfaces much more easily than if the surface was a 40 foot long linear row of herb plantings. You can pack 40 feet of herb plantings by your front door so you have easy access to your cooking herbs. Because the spiral has a shadier and sunnier side, hotter sides and cooler sides, and moister areas at the bottom and dryer areas at the top, it also provides a variety of different microclimates for growing different types of herbs.
So one way to interpret the "Design from Patterns to Details" is as advice to study some of natures recurring patterns and find ways to incorporate them into your designs.
At a more mundane level, this principle is about looking for the big picture and letting that bigger-picture guide your actions. It is the first principle that starts to direct us towards a more wholistic view of the situation rather than a reductionist view. One way to achieve a more "wholistic" view is to look for and design based on patterns. The next 5 principles will give us other directives that orient us towards a wholistic understanding. The development of pattern understanding can help us to design from patterns to details.
In Permaculture: A Designers Manual, Bill dedicates chapter 4 to the topic Pattern Understanding. One of the ideas he discusses in this chapter is the "General Core Model". This is a difficult concept for most people to grasp and I include myself in that assessment. The general core model looks alot like a tree shape and by tweaking different parameters of the general model (e.g., number of branches, order of branching, branch angle, branch curvature, etc...) you can generate a variety of commonly occurring patterns found in nature (by taking various types of slices through the tree and observing the surface patterns under the slice). The diagram below is the main explanation given of what the General Core Model for pattern understanding is:
The tree form above (branches,trunk and roots) is the general model and by tweaking various parameters and slicing through the model, we can expose a variety of patterns commonly found in nature. That, I think is what the general model is about. You can see expressions of the tree model in a blade of grass, a shrub, a tree, a mushroom and most of the plant world. Many of these patterns are also found in water flows, air flows, desert sand accumulations, and elsewhere.
Some fractals are tree-like in appearance. Some of the recent developments in fractal animation software makes me think fractals might be a better candidate for the general model or else might provide the implementation details of Mollison's general tree model.
Here is a concluding quote from Bill's chapter on Pattern Understanding:
Learning to master a pattern is very like learning a principle; it may be applicable over a wide range of phenomena, some complex and some simple.
This principle can be justified by observing how nature deals with leaf litter, dead animals, and other "waste" that accumulates on the
surface. Eventually decomposers break down these items and incorporate them into the soil where they add fertility and nutrients to
the soil. Nature produces no waste. The output of one process or event is consumed by another process or event.
David Holmgren, who defined and discussed these principles in his book, Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability, talks
about the 5 main ways we can produce less waste, namely, by observing the 5 R's: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, & Recycle. For example,
refusing to purchase or consume an item is one way to produce less waste. David has adopted a lifestyle of voluntary frugality so refusal
may be his main line of defense in producing no waste. When David discusses the principle of reuse he lists off the many uses we might
have for our waste stream, e.g., for bottles, bags, plastic vegetable trays, milk containers and so on. Because David
purchases so little from stores (supplying most of his own food) he has to ask other people for these items because he has uses for them
on his property (e.g., bottles for home made beer, bags for storing things, vegetable trays for organizing nuts and stuff, milk containers
for transplants and to protect plants).
Each waste reduction strategy is discussed in some detail in his book. David points out that while the "recycling" strategy gets most of
the attention, it is actually one of the least useful strategies because it often requires significant inputs of energy to recycle an
item whereas the other strategies don't incur this cost as much.
David also mentions the concept of "hierarchies of best next use" as a way to think about stuff for the purposes of reusing it. Here
is an example that David uses to illustrate the idea:
Fresh water can be used to bath the family, wash the clothes, and then rinse the nappies before irrigating the fruit trees.
These simple hierarchies of next best use were self-evident to my parents' generation, but they often need to be explained to
younger environmentalists who do not have an intuitive understanding of the energy quality hierarchy.
In addition to discussing the 5 R's as strategies to reduce waste, David also discusses the importance of durability and maintenance in
reducing the waste we generate.
The co-founder of Permaculture, Bill Mollison, defines waste as "an output of any system component that is not being
used productively by any other component of the system". For Bill, the problem of waste is the problem of not being able to
imagine a productive use for a system component output. The "produce no waste" imperative requires us to regard waste as a
problem of the imagination and that we look for solutions that consist of using any waste stream as an input that can be
used to increase the productivity of another system component. See the wikipedia entry on
Life-cycle Assessement for some current
ideas on how the "produce no waste" principle is being used in manufacturing. An important book in green manufacturing is the 2002 book by McDonough & Braungart called "Cradle to Cradle".
Overall David's chapter on the "Produce No Waste" principle is useful because it discusses some of the main strategies that can be used to eliminate and reduce waste as well as the Mollisonian mindset we could adopt when tasked with the problem of dealing with waste in its many forms (e.g., plastics, organics, weeds, stormwater, sewage, etc...).
Posted on May 11, 2015 @ 06:03:00 AM by Paul Meagher
I picked up a cool tool this morning. I got this 8 foot long wood trailer for $60.
The guy I talked to used this to haul firewood logs with his All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) but wasn't using it anymore as he had several other trailers and a tractors to haul wood out with. In my startup vineyard, I have a need for lots of trellis posts and can use this trailer to load and transport the posts (often 9 feet long and made of tamarack). For me, this is a cool tool not only because it satisfies a set of use cases on the farm but because I can drag it behind a truck, a tractor, an ATV, or a lawn tractor, it is light and easy to move around, the fat tires will reduce compaction of the soil from the weight of a load, it has been reinforced for hauling wood and is strong, and unlike my other trailer it doesn't have any electrical wiring which is good if you are taking it into the woods and you intend to use and abuse it. The fact that this is a used item rather than a new item might make this a little bit more of an eco-friendly purchase.
Another cool tool I purchased for mother's day for my wife was this PADERNO Spiral Vegetable Slicer.
My wife is a vegetarian and likes to cook so I was looking for something that she might like given these parameters. After searching some best seller lists on Amazon I found this reasonably priced (less than $60) present for her. My wife started using it immediately to see what it could do with a potato. We made 3 different types of oven fries with it (it has 3 different slicers which are shown in the 2 trays at the bottom and the one tray in use) and they all tasted nice but with different textures. Can make potato chips and curly fries with this device and slices a cucumber up nice for a salad. So far, quite pleased with it. Seems like sturdy plastic construction, compact, and easy to clean. My wife is trying to convince us all to become more vegetarian so this gives her another tool to make great looking vegetable dishes to lure is in.
Here is Kevin's summary of what the book is about:
Cool Tools is a highly curated selection of the best tools available for individuals and small groups. Tools include hand tools, maps, how-to books, vehicles, software, specialized devices, gizmos, websites -- and anything useful. Tools are selected and presented in the book if they are the best of kind, the cheapest, or the only thing available that will do the job. This is an oversized book which reviews over 1,200 different tools, explaining why each one is great, and what its benefits are. Indirectly the book illuminates the possibilities contained in such tools and the whole catalog serves an education outside the classroom. The content in this book was derived from ten years of user reviews published at the Cool Tools website, cool-tools.org.
The book is self-consciously carrying on the tradition of the pioneering Whole Earth Catalog. Anyone who is an inventor probably would be interested in browsing this book to see the wide selection of cool tools and his criteria for deciding which ones deserve that title. Anyone interested in material culture will also be interested at the scope of material culture displayed in this book. There is a tool for everything. While the book may seem like an encouragement to consume more material culture, it can also be taken as an invitation to consume in a more discriminating way so that you buy less junk. In the end, a cool tool is what you require in your own life to better satisfy some important wants and needs. In my case, I want/need a farm trailer to lug heavy stuff around the fields and in the woods. I also wanted to buy something my wife would actually find an enjoyable use for and was lucky this year to be able to accomplish that with the spiral vegetable slicer. The Cool Tools book might be useful as a guide for xmas presents. It might also be useful as an encyclopedia of tools to review/consider prior to tackling some job. Maybe some tool will give you an idea for how to make the job easier or more efficient.
Sun, wind, hydro, and geothermal energy are renewable resources that easily come to mind, however, there are many more. All forms of
life are capable of reproduction and thus are capable of renewal. A fish stock can be harvested indefinitely if it is harvested in an
appropriate manner. Part of valuing a resource is recognizing the limits of that resource and harvesting it in a sustainable manner.
This principle should cause us to regularly ask "am I harvesting this resource in a manner that is sustainable so that it can continue
to be a renewable resource". Another renewable resource is soil. We can continue to perform karate on our soils through plowing and
chemical fertizing and cultivation but what happens to the soil when we do so? Can the soil continue to provide ecosystem services as a result of this treatment (e.g., carbon sequestration, pollinator habitat, etc...).
Anyone who uses a clothes line to dry their clothes (i.e., solar clothes dryer) is using and valuing a renewable resource. Anyone who
gardens is using and valuing a renewable resource. Anyone in a temperate climate who designs their house to have south-facing windows is using and valuing a renewable resource. Anyone who raises a chicken is using and valuing a renewable resource.
Before we became dependent on fossil fuels to power and build our society we were much more attuned to this principle because our energy, fuel, transport, and food all came from renewable resources. We relied
upon "renewables" to a much greater extent in our past and in a more sustainable future it is likely that we will need to use and value
them more. The principle points towards the future and the need, in our designs, to use and value renewable resources and services.
To do so results in better designs.
Valuing a renewable resource properly is a complex matter. Getting a pig to till a garden replaces motor power, adds manure, and
might not cost as much in time or non-renewable resources as an engine-powered approach would. Getting the pig to do the work reflects
a fairly sophisticated appreciation of how to value a renewable resource. The rooting behavior of pigs can be put to productive use
instead of being a problem.
David is not a cheerleader for renewable energies at all costs and encourages us to properly evaluate each renewable energy source
with respect to energy return on investment: how much energy goes into fabricating, installing, and maintaining and how much of
that energy debt is paid off during its expected lifetime. We have replaced much of our renewable infrastructure with high technology
powered by non-renewable energies like oil & gas. The solution isn't necessarily to keep the high technology but swap out the
oil and gas component for renewable sources of energy. It may be to ditch the high technology part as well and revert to using
animals and nature to do the work as they have in more sustainable traditional societies. The Permaculture symbol for this principle is the horse which played a central role in our pioneer economy.
The horse can still do farm work, provide fertility, mow grass, and provide
companionship if it is not completely replaced with high technology in our farming operations. This is not an issue of returning to the good old days, it is an issue of which renewable resources you want to value and how you want to value them. Whether you want to use them and what uses you want from them.
This principle is about thinking more deeply upon the issue of what is renewable and what isn't, a central issue to figure out
if you want to live sustainably. It isn't simply about hammering down on the oil and gas industry because it is not renewable as David reminds us:
We can aspire to redeveloping this respectful valuing of nature's gifts. As long as we live from the oil well and the coalfield, we would do well to pay homage to them rather than take them for granted like spoiled children who have everything but value nothing.
Elsewhere, David suggests that we could better value our reserves of oil & gas by putting them to "less banal" uses and "more productive" uses in establishing a society that is better able to sustain itself in the long run off renewable resources and their services. That may mean putting up windmills, urban train systems, and so on but it also includes major earthworks using fossil fuels to get our settlements in order for a more sustainable future. We can also put less strain on our non-renewable resources by using appropriate technologies and lower-energy methods of farming so we can do it more sustainably. Here is a nice rant by David on the over-dependence of farming on non-renewables:
Today, modern agriculture is the most pervasive and important example of increases in productivity from renewable resources by the use of
additional non-renewable energies, materials and technology to assist in the management, harvesting and processing of natural resources.
Although these processes have increased total yields, they have transformed agriculture from our prime means of harvesting renewable
resources to one of our largest consumers of non-renewable resources.
The days may be coming to an end where industrial agriculture can keep ignoring some of these objections regarding its dependence on non-renewable resources. Urban agriculture has been a fringe movement but it has the potential to be the thin wedge of a movement that might disrupt our entire food system (back to a time when urban farming was common). The techniques and technologies for intensive urban farming are getting better each year. Is urban farming a way to better use and value our renewable resources and services than industrial farming? I don't know but it is an excuse to listen to this week's podcast on urban farming by Curtis Stone where he discusses irrigation and poly low tunnels and other issues in urban farming (example of appropriate tech & low energy?). I'll be out in the back yard garden this weekend hopefully using and valuing nature's gifts, the renewable resources and services that surround us all.
Posted on May 6, 2015 @ 05:31:00 AM by Paul Meagher
The fourth principle of Permaculture is to "Apply Self-Regulation & Accept Feedback" (see previous blogs for discussion of first three principles). Here, David Holmgren, author of the 12 Permaculture principles, is invoking central ideas from cybernetics and systems thinking which encourages us to map, create, and monitor feedback loops so that we can appropriately regulate some action or set of actions.
The "self" in "self-regulation" is also worth noting. Self-regulation can be contrasted with regulation by law or government.
Self-regulation can also be contrasted with top-down regulation by others. Self-regulation means you accept personal responsability
for your actions and believe in limiting your actions through voluntary choice rather than top-down regulation. David Holmgren
argues that self-regulation should be the preferred way to regulate behavior because he does not believe meaningful change happens
when it is regulated from above. David sees meaningful change happening when individuals take it into their own hands to be the
change they want to see in the world, instead of expecting government to regulate behavior into the change we want to see in
We can relate this principle to ideas in Lean Startup Theory, a popular framework for guiding startups. One way to view
Lean Startup Theory is that it spells out the details of how to map, create and monitor customer feedback loops that can be used to regulate
startup behavior more reliably towards successful outcomes. Lean Startup Theory is a combination of applied scientific method and
cybernetic principles, with "apply self-regulation" and "accept feedback" being two such principles.
Self-regulation involves a set of positive and negative feedbacks. These terms hold no value-judgement. Positive here means that the
effect of the feedback is to increase the trend the system is already following; it is therefore an accelerator for the system. Negative
here means that the effect of the feedback is to decrease the trend the system is following; it is therefore a brake for the system.
So accepting feedback involves accepting both positive and negative feedback signals to guide behavior.
The "Apply Self-Regulation & Accept Feedback" principle is a design principle. A principle that is supposed to help us design better landscapes, products,
and services. Perhaps we do this by designing the principle into the landscape, product or service. Perhaps we do this by designing
the business so that it operates on this design principle. Perhaps we apply it to how we design our diets by creating feedback loops with local
food growers and regulating our behavior according to what is seasonal or locally available. There are many ways to interpret and apply this
Many people view this principle as having to do with limits and how to navigate them properly. As entrepreneurs and investors our job is to overcome limits to growth but there are some environmental limits that we should respect as we do so. Chris McGee has an excellent Permaculture song dedicated to the forth principle and specifically this issue of environmental limits.
Posted on May 1, 2015 @ 09:32:00 PM by Paul Meagher
In my last blog, Obtain A Yield, I discussed this Permaculture principle.
I found a good video on YouTube that gives further insight into this Permaculture principle, and two other principles I haven't discussed yet, and also explains the basis of these principles and the scope of their application.
In my opinion, one of the current shortcomings of Permaculture is that it needs more women in leading roles. Anneke offers valued diversity to the movement.