Wednesday 26 August 2015

The Green Gathering

By Phil Moore of Permaculture People

A festival is a funny thing. A celebration, an escape, an alternative, a way of life. Many things rolled up into a musically charged programme of fun, frolics and serious chats. Often in a field. 

What struck me about the Green Gathering was its commitment. Appropriately billed as a 'gathering', and free from the dictates of advertising, the Green Gathering felt like a genuine attempt at saying, "Oi! Another world is possible and look-y right here!". A world where we think about where our shit goes (check their Indiegogo compost loo crowdfunder), where we can say no to things as well create spaces where differences in opinion can be heard respectfully; where consumerism isn't the barometer of modern living, and where the exchange of ideas, foods, crafts and skills are celebrated and shared.
Windmills and blue skies
Occupying a temporary space next to Chepstow raceourse with the shell of the 18th century Piercefield House lurching from one side and views toward Severn Bridge and into the folds of the green Wye Valley at the other, the Green Gathering is set at a striking location. 

Composed of different 'Zones' we were crewing at the Permaculture Zone which was to be our home for the next five days. We managed the info stall tent letting people know what was going on. The vivacious Mike Feingold held introductions to Permaculture, author and permaculture teacher Caroline Aitken shared her knowledge & passion for food preservation; Biochar Ed spoke of the wonders of pyrolysis, beekeeping introduction, chickens, composting, a solar power workshop and so much more took place. It was also a great chance to meet many faces - new and old.

A mini-festival within a festival the energy and diversity of the workshops was testament to the giddying array of what the Green Gathering had to offer.

Seed bomb making workshop
Recycling solar power windmill
Mike Feingold and paint
Caroline Aitken workshops
In the wider reaches of the fields music bounced and echoed around the hillside depressions that formed natural amphitheatres. The greats Seize the Day and Martha Tilston played alongside newcomers and regulars.

Walking from the Tipi Circle to the Healing Field through to the Faerie Glade and on to the campaign area, the ease with which different ideas sat side by side made for a refreshingly relaxed yet stimulating festival that was also child friendly.

All the energy and drama poured into a specific place for a set amount of time resulted in a beautiful world of music, muck & magic, politics, fancy dress and blowing bubbles where all hues of humans and tastes gathered and jiggled their wants and wares. 

Powered by the Sun yet motivated by people the Green Gathering isn't just an event. It's an idea. A long standing festival in the peculiarly British tradition of celebrating stuff in a field, the Green Gathering has a rich, and tumultuous, history. Such gatherings are fantastic opportunities to delve deeper in the ideas and practical workings of how to lead a low-impact lifestyle with having fun at the same time. I would heartily recommend it as a place to feed your soul and colour your imagination.

For more about the Green Gathering:

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Reflections of a new permaculture diploma tutor

by Jo Holleran


I grew up in the country and have fond memories of childhood days running free with my Gran on her smallholding and on the small farm where we lived. My nuclear family was displaced from the rural life by a compulsory purchase order in the 1970s and we found ourselves plunged into city living. Looking back, I seem to have spent much of my adult life trying to work a way back to where I started out!

I think I first heard about permaculture in the late 1980s and from this point my interest in the subject and generally getting closer to nature began to develop.

In 2003, redundancy provided the opportunity for a major lifestyle change and I relocated to North Yorkshire, embarking on an exciting new career in horticulture and subsequently specialising in organic techniques and edible gardens.
I attended a Permaculture Design Course at Hollybush in Leeds. This inspired and better equipped me to re-design my life, with a first livelihood project, ‘Envy Home & Garden’ providing eco-cleaning, organic garden maintenance and permaculture design services in the Nidderdale area.
In 2008, my husband and I headed for Central Portugal in search of a more self-reliant life in the hills. There, we spent a year renovating a mountain vineyard and olive grove, developing a gravity-fed irrigation system, some low-impact shelter and creating designs for the land.
Since 2009, I have continued designing and practicing with garden scale sites in the UK, with an aim of taking permaculture to the mainstream, expanding the ‘edge.’ I have also worked as a Lecturer at a land based college, produced land designs for a 2 hectare site in Tuscany and provided business development input to an emerging green business.
The Diploma was a hugely moving and life-changing experience for me and even after ten design cycles, I felt that I was just becoming fluent and gaining momentum. I wanted to remain connected with all the amazing people sharing this journey, to grow and develop as a designer and to share the skills and experience that I have gained so far.

It’s really important to me that that I continue to improve the standard of my own design work. I felt that I would learn massively from other tutors and also that becoming a tutor myself would continue to hold me to account.

I have been working as a diploma tutor since my accreditation in 2013 and am currently available to provide tutorials at my place in France, at permaculture gatherings in the UK, or in Milton Keynes or North Yorkshire, where they tie in with my trips back.

Here are some of my reflections on this new journey so far:

Q: What’s going well?

A:     I feel well supported. In depth training is available at Registration and Assessment levels. I really enjoyed the registration level training and am booked on the assessment level training in April. The training courses have been developed by senior tutors and are further supported by videos and a tutor manual.  This means there is always something to refer to if I’m unsure of anything and additionally, CPD (Continuous Professional Development) events are held regularly.

As a new tutor I have had ‘assessment of practice’ and feedback from more experienced tutors for the tutorial events I have supported so far. This has been a real help in ensuring that I am on the right track.

In many ways, the tutor pathway mirrors that of the diploma and so I am part of a tutor guild. We currently meet every six weeks over Skype and provide each other with peer support and feedback.

I also have access to the wider tutor network and can raise questions and share experiences via email when I need to.

Q: What challenges have you faced so far?

A:     Becoming a tutor does require a financial investment, to cover the costs of the training programme. This is something that I needed to think quite seriously about. However, I have been able to spread the costs over time as I have progressed through my pathway. To an extent, they have also been offset as I have started to earn an income from my tutor activities.

    There are a number of ways that I can influence the number of apprentices that I support, and so my income. These include: developing a website; writing articles; teaching on permaculture courses; publishing designs; attending permaculture events. I have built many of these things into my tutor pathway.

Q: What are your long term visions and goals as a tutor?

A:    I have a vision of tutoring being an integral part of my life and being one of a number of ‘right-livelihood’ income streams that enable me to sustain a more self-reliant and ecologically balanced lifestyle as long as I live.

    I’m really looking forward to supporting and learning from my apprentices and especially I’m looking forward to witnessing their accreditation events.

Q: What are your next achievable steps?

A:     The assessment level training and tutor CPD event in Leeds is a significant milestone in April. I’m also intending to take opportunities to shadow other more experienced tutors to learn from how they work with apprentices.

My tutor pathway is inter-linked with my permaculture designs and I shall be continuing with my site development and self-integration projects in France.

I have been working on my website over the winter and am looking forward to launching it in the near future.
Jo Holleran
Permaculture Practitioner, Designer and Diploma Tutor

Thursday 9 July 2015

Harvesting Fertility with the Scythe

Here at Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust, as in any garden or small holding, some areas need to have higher fertility then others e.g. to enable growing of hungrier crops. One way we achieve this is to move fertility from areas were it is not needed (paths, tracks) or even actively not wanted (wild flower hay meadows) to those were it is more useful (annual veg beds, forest gardens).

The scythe allows us to collect mulch material from many areas and use it to improve soil and fertility in the gardens. There are many types of mulch that we collect, each useful in different ways. Lawn clippings and clippings from frequently cut paths are fine and generally weed free as the grasses do not get to seed before cutting. They make a good mulch around small, newly established plants such as these parsnips.

Parsnip with grass mulch

Longer grass and weeds are mown from less frequently used paths, tracks and garden edges. They are more useful around more established plants, such as brassica and squash family.

Sometimes the mowings don't even have to be moved – by mowing anticlockwise around a fruit tree the mowings will naturally fall in a ready made mulch “doughnut”. Comfrey can be grown around fruit bushes and fruit trees, then mown down and left in place. Paths can be mown into the edges of beds to mulch and create a neat finish.

Sometimes mulch collection can double as weed control. We scythe areas of bracken in late summer / early autumn, removing the cut material to winter mulch garden beds. If left on the field, bracken is self mulching. Removing the material allows competitive grasses to establish and exposes the bracken to penetrating frost which can weaken the plants.

The scythe is also involved in hay making on the Trust's wild flower hay meadows. To maintain the fields in a low fertility state that benefits the wild flowers over the grasses, the fields need to be cut annually in mid summer and the arisings removed. Some of this is made into hay for winter animal feed. Hay also makes excellent mulch material for no-dig potatoes. We have successfully used mowings from the hay fields in thick (several feet) layers to establish and maintain developing forest garden areas, either fresh or as hay, something worth noting if you are establishing or managing an area of wild flower meadow but have no need to make hay.

Now we have more livestock more of our hay will be processed through them before the fertility arrives where it is wanted. The ducks forage around the farm, the goats eat grass, browse and hay then both are housed overnight on comfy beds of old hay. In the winter, fertility from the cow will be similarly collected. Once composted, soiled bedding is a valuable addition to the system.

For more information on how we manage a permaculture small holding by hand, see

Thursday 2 July 2015

Permaculture at the Derbyshire Ecocentre Summer Fair

By Permaculture Ambassador and member Mike Hutchinson
Mike Hutchinson and Matt Rawlson sharing permaculture with attendees at Derbyshire Eco Centre Summer Fair!

"There is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather." So said John Ruskin. Although I've always suspected that Ruskin made this observation from the comfort of a warm, dry drawing room, the idea does square nicely with permaculture ideas. And on the day of the Derbyshire Ecocentre’s Summer Fair, the weather was, well ... different.

We had been allocated a plot, between a stall letting people experience dry stone walling and a young man who was a tree surgeon but who also made some really lovely products from green wood.

Once our gazebo was up and leaflets secured inside A4 plastic sleeves, we were all set up. The rain crept in around the edges but we soon forgot about it. My colleague for the day, Matt Rawlston, had made the short journey from Mansfield with a selection of tools he’d made, using old and discarded items. These included his magnificent ‘cargo’ bike; a long-wheelbase version with a flat wooden platform at the rear and a range of 'safety' axes.

Use and value renewable resources and services: new tools from old

Matt's collection of items, many finished in a bright yellow, drew people to the stand. The safety axes in particular, intrigued people and following quick demonstrations all agreed that they were a very good idea. (The axes are made by reducing the length of old bolsters, then sharpening the blade. The handle fits into a ready-made hole in a log. Chopping is essentially reversed, with wood placed onto the blade then tapped down with a hammer, thus keeping fingers nicely out of the way.)

Matt talks to attendees about his safety axes.
Describing how these once discarded tools had been given a new lease of life then led easily into a discussion of permaculture in a broader sense. Some visitors had heard of permaculture; others hadn't. Whatever the level of knowledge, we had some interesting conversations ranging from the ethical principles via no-till gardening, composting and soil structure to forest gardens.

Display with cargo bike, safety axes, three sisters pot and broadfork.
Although still in their early stages of growth, the trio of plants I'd taken along in a pot - corn, beans and squash - let us illustrate how applying permaculture design means we can get so much more out of the individual elements. Perhaps the 'three sisters' combination doesn't always work out as well in Britain as in the Americas, but it makes an interesting talking point. People really do get the idea of how permaculture design gives you increased resilience.

Example of the very fuel efficient jet stove.
The other aspect of my 'three sisters' was that they were in a 'wicking' pot. Okay, this wasn’t the best of days to show a pot that has a built in reservoir but the idea was easy to get across - and given the rainfall, I could demonstrate the drainage holes easily.

Matt had also brought two jet stoves with him that he'd made from recycled steel fence posts. Given the weather it would have been great to have had one lit, but for safety reasons this obviously wasn't possible. People were genuinely interested in the stoves and we were able to discuss their benefits, including how the spread of efficient rocket stoves in the Global South can improve people's health.

After the samba band stopped and the last visitors had left we took the gazebo down and packed everything away. Overall, it had been a good day, which seemed to pass quite quickly - always a good sign, I think. And despite the rain, which was now falling harder again, and despite its obvious effect on visitor numbers, we agreed that it had been successful.

A decent number of people had stopped to look at the stand and we'd been able to talk about permaculture. And had John Ruskin visited the Ecocentre on Saturday, I think he would have definitely stopped at the permaculture stand - whatever the weather.

Share the benefits of permaculture

If you, like Matt and Mike, would like to share the benefits of permaculture with your local community, find out how you can get involved here.

There are many ways of helping to spread the word about permaculture, whether it be by giving a gift membership to a friend, signing up to hear about opportunities via 'Ambassador Alerts', starting a local permaculture group, or writing a blog post about how you apply permaculture to your everyday life. We'd love to hear from you, so get in touch!

Permaculture people at Green Gathering

 By Permaculture Association member Phil Moore of Permaculture People

Meet Phil Moore and Lauren Simpson at Green Gathering this year.

Permaculture means many things to many people. This is part of the genius of a systems approach to life rooted in an ethical framework that encompasses many ideas and skills not unique to it. As a design system what Permaculture brings, in Patrick Whitefields words, [is] the element of design, a way of putting components together for their maximum benefit.

Lauren, my partner and I, wanted to explore these ideas so in 2012 we decided to go to the Americas to escape London, break out of routines and begin to imagine new possibilities in our lives.

We spent a total of two years on the road: one year in Central America and one year in South America. Travelling overland we sought out permaculture projects and land based, ecological practices to learn, see, and participate in permaculture. You can read about our time here.

Nearing the end of our travels in the Americas we decided to continue our explorations to see what the scene was like back home.

Returning home in the spring of 2014 we hitchhiked across the UK visiting over 40 sites.

We were welcomed with warmth and open arms as we emailed people introducing ourselves as students of permaculture seeking to learn more.

Observation is a form of interventionsaid Chris Dixon, writer and permaculture practitioner, as we sat in the warm June breeze in Wales listening to him discuss regeneration, planning permission, and permaculture whilst sipping on our handpicked herbal tea.

We were given a five hour tour of Deano Martins site in Lincolnshire. Deanos passion, understanding, and breadth of reading was apparent as we asked him question after question. His work ethic clearly apparent too. As he told us, “You learn by doing and when its done.

In August we stayed a few nights with Graham and Nancy of the Red Shed in Coldstream, just over the border in Scotland. Marvelling at their abundant, productive forest garden we interviewed Graham for a short film about the UKs oldest established forest garden which you can see here.

We met the unassuming and kind hearted Rod Everett at Backsbottom Farm, that was passed on to Rod by his father. Set in a beautiful valley in North Lancashire, the river Roeburn runs through 250 acres of wild flower meadows, ancient semi-natural woodland, pasture fields and fell land with swales. We travelled to Ed Tylers smallholding on the south-west coast of Scotland and discussed bioregioning; learnt about forest garden design at Martin Crawfords 2.1 acre demonstration site on the beautiful Dartington Estate in Devon; we spent a week volunteering with Pat of Ourganics in Dorset, inspired by her humility and fearlessness; and learnt of the properties of Biochar at Ed Revills permaculture/agro-ecology based market garden in Swansea.

We have been inspired, humbled and amazed at the diversity and range of permaculture projects across the UK, many of which are PermacultureAssociation LAND projects.

We documented our travels in our blog and soon realised that more and more people wanted to hear about our travels.

This is one of the main reasons why well be at this years Green Gathering - the off-grid family renewable community sustainable festival in Chepstow from August 13th-16th.

Well be in the Permaculture Zone helping set up and tat down but also to regale wanderers and wonderers with tales of our UK permaculture peregrinations. Story and travelling go hand in hand and we want to share with others the ideas, places and projects we had the good fortune of visiting.


Permaculture people are Phil Moore and Lauren Simpson. They tweet at @permapeople. Any questions email

They are currently producing a series of short online films called Living with the Land. Collaborating with Permaculture Magazine and working in association with the Permaculture Association the films are a celebration of UK based practices showcasing some of the best examples of permaculture in the lead up to the 12th International Permaculture Convergence taking place in London, this September.

Tuesday 16 June 2015

The history of the Permaculture Zone at Green Gathering - and what's in store this year!

By Permaculture Association member and Permaculture Zone Coordinator Tammi Dallaston

Green Gathering's Permaculture Zone - a place to learn, get involved, and meet new friends!

From its roots at Lower Pertwood Farm in the late 1990s, the permaculture area at the Green Gathering (formerly Big Green Gathering) has always sought out and linked permaculture practitioners in the UK and beyond.

Our original gardens were designed by Patrick Whitefield, Ken Fern (Plants for a Future), Helen and Jim Morris-Ridout (Copper Beech designs), and Tammi Dallaston (Made in Mach), and tended by many many volunteers over the years. Since the festival moved to Somerset, and latterly Chepstow, the permaculture area has relied on temporary displays, engaging speakers and a diversity of practical workshops.

At our new home in Chepstow, the permaculture area is billed as a temporary intentional community. We eat together, organise our days together, freely ask for and offer help, and showcase an inclusive way of life that can be possible with the three permaculture tenets: earth care, people care and fair shares.

This year the Permaculture Area will incorporate a Green Parenting space, Forest School, Willing Workers On Organic Farms (WWOOF) stall, Permaculture Association and International Permaculture Convergence info, Patrick Whitefield Memorial, Organic Tannery, free Seed Swap, wood-powered thermo-electric and solar phone charging, and a fireside space for conversation, singing and plotting…

PLUS workshops, to include:
Introduction to Permaculture: by Mike Feingold; meet him on youtube

Ecovillage Living: a daily workshop discussing ecovillage living, Welsh planning law, designing your dream home/community, and life in the Lammas ecovillage, by Tao and Hoppi Wimbush

Growing for Preserving: see

Dynamic Woodland Management: using Permaculture Principles, with Stephen Watts

Not yet a member? Join today!

Thursday 11 June 2015

Teaching holistically and making the most of your experiences

by Wenderlynn Bagnall

My journey as a Permaculture designer and educator has taken many directions. There have been times however when I have questioned the direction I was taking, leaving me wondering not just if I was capable of becoming a designer but more importantly whether being a Permaculture teacher was for me. 

Over the last couple of years I have seen and felt myself evolve into an imaginal cell, becoming part of the wings of change. I had hoped that attending the Permaculture Educators Course (PEC) in Friland, Denmark would give me the answers I needed.

Being a member of the Permaculture Association offers numerous opportunities. For me, one of these was applying for funding to attend the Permaculture Educators Course. I'd completely forgotten about it when I received an email in March to say I'd got the funding. I was very excited: it was a great opportunity to develop my skills as a permaculture practitioner. 

Once I had settled down from the excitement, I started to panic. The gremlins were here! Some of these gremlins have been with me since school. I was anxious about stepping out of my comfort zone and leaving behind what was familiar to me but... I wanted to experience what was on the other side of this fear. So I began to ignore the voices in my head. Every day I did something towards my trip to Denmark, always imagining myself doing the things I was afraid of. It began to get easier. I booked my flight and made a list of things I needed. 

With the support of my husband Iain and his understanding of my fears, I was ready to step off the edge and journey into the unknown.

For me the PEC was more than a course about how to teach holistically, it was a discovery of where I've been, who am I and what comes next. It was also a good exercise in helping me deal with my severe anxiety.

I hoped that by using the 5 ways to wellbeing I could make the most of this experience and put some of my gremlins to rest. 

1 . Connect: "Connect with the people around you... Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them." 

I feel this is quite appropriate within Permaculture and... for me it was especially relevant to the PEC. I found bonds that were like family and created friendships that now reach all corners of the earth. The internal community within the group was paralleled with the intentional community of Friland. I took valuable lessons away with me on what's important in building community. This was helpful as a facilitator to the North Devon Permaculture Network which I initiated as one of my diploma projects. There is now a Facebook group dedicated to PEC 2015, (Permaculture Educators 2015). We can now stay connected, building and maintaining the new relationships made. 

2 . Be Active: "Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance....." 

Games, activities and being outside were an important part of how we learned and had down time. From a limbo dancing to a morning walk on the beach, the course was filled with opportunities to be active and spend some time with nature. On the final night, we were celebrating our achievements not only on the course but of the work we are all doing to spread Permaculture around the world. 

As children we learn to use play as a way of communicating and developing who we become in later life. As adults play is just as important. It helps us to relax, learn and connect with others as well as reconnect to the child within ourselves. 

3. Take Notice: ".....Remark on the unusual..... savour the moment....reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you." 

Friland was indeed an unusual place. The community was filled with 'artists', people who had used their creativity to construct their own homes. Some had used Christopher Alexander's pattern language for the basis of their designs. 

I was amazed at how completely 'free' it felt to see people being able to express themselves in the architecture of their homes. I enjoyed every moment walking round Friland, from gates made with bikes, to houses built inside a green house. 

My walks in the mornings and evenings with 'my house mate', Norah, gave the opportunity to take in the surroundings of where we were staying. We were lucky enough to be able to view Friland from afar. We saw it in its glory at sunrise and sunset and one on special occasion we shared seeing a deer together. I did indeed take notice.
A gate made from a bicycle. "Remark on the unusual"
4. Keep Learning: "Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course...... learning new things will make you more confident........." 

The diversity of cultures of the participants added an edge to my experience. Learning how to facilitate with someone, regardless of the language they spoke, wasn't a barrier. From learning the Theory of Learning to sharing different teaching styles and techniques, the course showed us how to use Permaculture to deliver an holistic approach to teaching. Cat and Andy, (whom I've collectively now named Candy), facilitated a structured, yet fun, creative approach to their delivery. From planning a course to untangling human knots, we were guided each session towards becoming Permaculture Educators. 

A couple of phrases stuck out for me during the course:
"If a student participates from the beginning then they will participate all the way through," 


"Just do it!" 

I knew I wanted this course to mean something so I reminded myself of the former whenever I felt a little 'shy'. I wanted to 'learn' as much as I possibly could, not only about being a Permaculture teacher but about myself. I did indeed rediscover that I was more than capable of being a teacher, it being something I have wanted to do since my children were small. I found my confidence again. Both phrases are not only good for the course but great mantras for getting you through life and towards your goals. 

5. Give: "Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time......" 

A morning on the beach
A great ending to my time in Denmark and the PEC was the opportunity to share my knowledge with Danish people outside of the course. Emilia, a course participant, shared her couchsurfing hosts with Flo and myself. Before the course we had decided to extend our stay in Denmark to experience the culture of Aarhus. 

The hosts were keen to have us share our Permaculture knowledge with them. So in exchange for their songs and accommodation, (and as if by commission), we not only gave them some garden design advice and Permaculture resource information but we showed them our PEC presentations. They seemed to absorb our skills and knowledge with glee. Our time with them ended with an exchange of gratitude and seeds. 

For me there were many aspects of learning during my time in Denmark. I learned that by truly facing my fears I can overcome them and discover what I'm capable of. I learned to trust Flo and Emilia with their nomadic travelling experience; thanks guys for guiding me through Aarhus. 

I learned that we CAN change our life story any time. Our negative experiences don't have to hold us prisoner. Most of all I've learned that I can be the best Permaculture teacher I want to be. 

Being a member of the Permaculture Association gave me the opportunity to attend this course. I'm sure at some stage, I would have found the answers to my questions, but I'm glad that it was through the PEC 2015 that I received them. My advice to anyone who wants to have the same opportunity is.... "just do it!", join the Permaculture Association