Tuesday, 31 March 2015

International Permaculture Day - Portaferry Permaculture Project Grand Launch Event

with Permaculture Association member Heiko Vermeulen

Portaferry Permaculture Project in Northern Ireland are celebrating their Grand launch Event in conjunction with this year's International Permaculture Day! In this post Heiko Vermeulen explains a bit about the project, and why it is being launched during this time of global celebration.
Yurt building at Portaferry

"There is not much happening on the Permaculture front so far in Northern Ireland, and our little one acre plot is an oasis of biodiversity in a desert of monoculture cattle grazing land. We are close to Strangford Lough, which is one of the most important maritime habitats on the British Isles. There are signs of change, with tidal power being utilised, and the Queen's University Marine Biology Institute experimenting with the production of biofuels from sustainably grown seaweeds.

I came into permaculture when I was trying to cultivate an impossibly steep site in Italy and found it the only sensible way of producing food as well as preserving the slopes and minimising landslides and floods. We still now have a thriving food forest in Italy which requires minimal maintenance and landslides have become much less of a problem, even though rainfalls can fall in  just one day equal to those that fell during the whole of the winter 2014 in England, which was the wettest on record. Since seeing what permaculture methods can achieve in the most extreme situations, it has become almost a religion to me. I did my PDC with Aranya and Pietro Zuchetti in Italy in 2012.

The yurt
We started the project in Portaferry last October. The previous owners had some good ideas and some structures were already in place for us, however they were disorganised and left the place in a mess with rubble all over the place. So we basically spent the winter making the place at least half presentable. A date in early May for an official launch gave us something to aim for and the first good chance of decent weather, so having it on International Permaculture Day was ideal. We've already had a bunch of volunteers giving a hand, without whom we'd be well behind by now.

Volunteers working on site

Boat planter

The launch event this year features Mark Boyle giving a talk on moneyless living, myself giving an introductory talk on permaculture with a wild food walk, Tools for Solidarity, a Belfast based charity giving a talk on recycling old tools and development in Africa, True Harvest Seeds, a local seed saving charity, and live music acts. The event is almost full, so do get in touch in advance to confirm that there is space available. If you're able to volunteer your time to help with preparations, we would really appreciate your help!"

Heiko is also part of the team organising the All Ireland Permaculture Gathering this year, 7th - 9th August. This is the first time it has taken place in Northern Ireland.
If you haven't yet got your events up on the International Permaculture Day website and here, there's still a month to go; help make this year's global celebration reach more people than ever before!

Monday, 30 March 2015

Nurturing your local permaculture network

by Nicola Bell, Membership Coordinator, The Permaculture Association

Eastern Region Network designing a mandala garden

Welcome to the first of a series of posts of tips and advice for setting up and growing a local permaculture group. We want to make sure that you are able to connect with permaculture happening where you are, and that your community can benefit from the practical solutions it offers.

We aim to develop and FAQ to support emerging groups based on advice given by existing local networks, so if you have an established group, please contribute your experiences and knowledge here!

Why form a local permaculture group?

Permaculture is all about learning how to design homes, communities, businesses and food-systems that promote fairness, well-being, ecosystem health and that have little impact on our planet and it's resources.

Creating a permaculture network helps to disseminate knowledge and skills relevant to your region, and also provides a way to pool resources together and implement positive changes within your community.

Being a part of the permaculture network has helped me to understand the tools that are available a lot more - individuals cannot usually change the world on their own, but communities can, by sharing knowledge, skills, time, understanding and support. I would not have contemplated doing the diploma without the support of my fellow permies. - Ann Laken, Permaculture Association member and Diploma Holder

Permaculture networks and groups come in many different sizes and shapes, and their activities and profile vary widely. Some meet up chiefly to share knowledge and support each with their projects and progress on the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design, others coordinate local permablitz days, and some won't meet face to face, but use social media to support each other and communicate their regional permaculture news. All are important and strengthen permaculture work in the UK.

First Steps

As a first step, it's helpful to know if there is an existing local network near you, or if not, who is in the area that might like to start one. Permaculture Association members can contact the office to connect with other members in their locality, so if you'd like to know who's close by, just drop me an email. We also list Group Members within our members newsletter, which is another great way to find out what's happening in your region. Click here if you'd like to join and receive 'Permaculture Works'.

You may also find that there is a permaculture demonstration site, or LAND Centre, nearby. Take a look at the LAND map to see which is closest to you. It is worth getting in contact to see if you can visit your nearest sites; it's a really inspiring way to engage with local permaculture.

Children in the orchard - The Apricot Centre, Essex
“The Apricot centre is listed as a LAND centre in Essex and will be also listed in Devon once the new farm project starts at Huxhams cross Farm near Totnes. This network of farms and holdings, buildings and people builds communities, People often tell me how they feel isolated from other like minded people, especially in areas such as Essex where we are spread thinly on the ground! The LAND network gives people the opportunity to see what is going on in any area, give you a call and visit, they often then give me news from other sites and places they have visited. Sometimes they come back and volunteer or sign up for a course. " - Marina O'Connell of The Apricot Centre, Essex
Apple harvest school project - The Apricot Centre, Essex

If you find that a distinct hub of permaculture activity doesn't seem to have developed near you yet, don't be disheartened - this is a great opportunity to start something special! We want to help you make it happen.

We can help you circulate your ideas about starting a permaculture group to local members. Once you've reached a consensus about forming a group, try and come up with a name which represents your region, or bio-region. Let us know, so that we can signpost others to you.

Mailing groups, twitter, forums and facebook are all useful/free ways to stay in contact with your group members, engage more and keeping momentum going. Think about setting one or two of these up to keep everyone in the loop while you think about the exciting ways you can work together to enhance your community with permaculture!

Next time – What sort of group are you? More ways to promoting your group, finding a venue, and some activities to get started!

Did you like this post? Please share :)

Monday, 23 March 2015

Permaculture everyday: washing the dishes and saving water

by Michael Hutchinson

I don’t remember why I was having a blood sample taken but can still recall the moment when the nurse dropped the tiny glass phial. There was only a very small amount in it, but suddenly blood seemed to be spattered everywhere. I thought I’d found myself in an out-take from a slasher movie.

What’s this to do with washing dishes or permaculture? Well, nothing at all, really. Except that small things are not to be under-estimated. Small things like washing dishes.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Thinking about this - and it’s not something I’ve dwelt at length on, to be honest - the recycling mantra springs to mind: ‘Reduce, reuse, recycle.’ This chimes well with the three ethical principles of permaculture, in particular Earth Care. 

And as I was to find out, dish washing can, depending on how you approach it, touch on five of the design principles as well (catch and store energy, obtain a yield, use and value renewable resources and services, produce no waste, use small and slow solutions).

It makes sense to start by considering whether we need to wash the dishes at all. At my home we typically do wash dishes three times a day: after breakfast; after lunch (if at home); then again in the evening. We could do this less often but it's to do with the lack of space in a very small kitchen where a few dishes can look like a whole pile.

While I haven’t always saved water all year round, I collect what I think of as run-off through spring, summer and into the autumn: this is what comes out of the tap before it's hot enough to use. Adding some rainwater collection to this has meant that I’ve never had to resort to watering the garden by deliberately using tap water.

My system for saving water is pretty basic but works well; water is transferred from the kitchen basin to a bucket outside the back door, and from there to water butts in the garden. It takes a little effort, but isn't a big deal; I prefer low-tech solutions anyway.

But often it's not really necessary to wash some dishes at all. Or at least not that often. Could that plate be reused if the crumbs are brushed off? Ditto the bread knife?

Some years ago I shared an office at the university I worked at, with the writer Marina Lewcyka ; this was before Marina became a best-selling author with her 'Tractors' novel. Now I’d never done this myself, but perhaps it was her experience of being a refugee as a child, or just that Ukrainians are less wasteful, but Marina would reuse the same tea bag, leaving it in her mug several times, until it expired through sheer exhaustion. We no longer share an office since her writing career took off, but I adopted Marina's approach to tea bags, although using the same one three times is my record so far.

"If we had to carry water, we'd be a lot more careful about how we used it."

When I was born in a small terrace of four cottages, my family had only just had mains water supplied. Before that water was pumped from the well at an end cottage and carried round to the house. So, in a sense, it's more difficult now, because all we have to do is turn the tap and out it comes. If we had to carry water, even across a relatively short distance, we'd be a lot more careful about how we used it.

While I’m only concerned with dish washing here, you can - as you already know - reduce the water flowing from your property into the municipal mains quite seriously by adopting a few other methods. It’s relatively easy to divert rain water from down pipes directly into water butts. And soft permeable surfaces in our gardens and around our homes help water soak into the ground rather than running off into the drains.

This run-off is a significant amount and not helped by the loss of gardens and lawns to form hard standing for cars. It's quite possible to do this with permeable materials but despite local authority guidelines, too many are still being made from concrete and other impermeable materials. A survey by the Wildlife Trust in 2011 found that gardens in London were being converted to hard surfaces at the rate of 3,000 ha (7,410 acres) a year. That's the equivalent of two and a half Hyde Parks.

Of course, in permaculture we know about keeping energy - and water is one form - on our sites for as long as possible. But what I didn’t know, until I went to a talk on water gardening last summer given by Dr Nigel Dunnett of Sheffield University’s Landscape Department, was that if you do this seriously, it’s possible to get a reduction in your water charge bill.

I've somewhat blurred reducing and reusing with my talk of tea bags; reusing something - a tea bag, a plate - should lead to a reduction in the amount of water we use to wash with anyway.

But when we have washed dishes, what then?

Grey Water

Water left from washing dishes is termed 'grey' water, and can be used to water garden plants. This does hold traces of food, grease, etc., and the detergent used could contain a wide range of ingredients, some of which can make plants more likely to take up heavy metals, for example. Ecological products, like Ecover, are better, but why not gather some soapwort and make your own: this is not something I have done yet, but plan to try later this year.

Grey water is probably best filtered (sieved?) to remove any larger traces of food and then left for a day, or so to allow micro-organisms to break down some of the ingredients and to let any scraps that passed the filtering process to settle to the bottom. A rough rule of thumb is to only leave this water for one day in summer, perhaps two in spring and autumn. The water can poured onto the soil around garden plants: organisms in the soil continue to breakdown any ingredients further still.

Given the right site, you can always create a reed bed that filters the grey water before it reaches the garden. These are typically made of coarse gravel, with smaller 'pea' gravel above, and then a layer of sand on top of that. It's then planted with reeds, and will take at least a year before it works properly; the actual work is done by bacteria living on the roots of the reeds. Water comes in at the top, via a sieve or filter, to remove unwanted material, and then out and into the garden.

Reed beds can be fairly small - old baths have been used to hold them - and a surface area of one square metre per person is a rough guide. Connecting the outflow from your kitchen sink to one of these recycles the water and takes the effort out of the whole process: unfortunately, our neighbours have access between our house and garden, and so a pipe into the garden isn't feasible.

"Missing out one of these daily washings would save 6.8 litres"

In a spirit of scientific enquiry, I decided to measure my dish washing water use. Our boiler is an older type and it takes a few minutes before the water coming through the tap is hot enough for washing dishes. This amounted to six pints, or 3.4 litres. Using my dish washing average of three times a day gives a daily run-off of 10.2 litres; over the course of a year that’s a significant 3,723 litres.

Being reasonably careful with water use, I only use about six pints (3.4 litres) of hot water for actual washing; this is based on dishes for two from supper and breakfast (two bowls, four mugs, two cups and saucers, two plates, plus odds and ends). Missing out one of these daily washings would save 6.8 litres (the cold run-off and hot water) per day, adding up to a not insignificant 2,482 litres per year.

So whether you want to think about it as reusing or recycling, there are practical, beneficial outcomes to dish washing in addition to sparkling plates and cutlery. The water saved from even a simple, everyday activity such as this, can make a difference. And you don't have to spill blood to do it.

Monday, 16 March 2015

The ugly fruit, the beautiful beast

by Shelly Sharon, Canova Creative

I moved to Italy 5 months ago, where I live with my partner up in the mountains in a very small village, where nature is still wild and there are still a few of the old generation who live a simple life and appreciate natural living. 

I chose to come and live here as my husband and I had a vision to establish a practice centre, for people to share, learn, and create connections. As we all know, uprooting one's existence is no easy process for a human being. 

As a 'foreigner' there's always the fear of being left out, of not finding the fertile ground to reroot again. You become sensitive to the environment, the external and internal conditions, in a way which doesn't necessarily happen in your home town.

One afternoon we travelled to the closest city to get some shopping and noticed a market in the centre of town, so we approached to have a look. 

The first stand sold white radishes and a few other vegetables, and they all had a bit of an unusual shape. I immediately realised that this market was run by local people selling their natural products. I was struck by the suddenness of the realisation of what I was seeing, because never before had I seen a market selling natural vegetables and fruit.

I was overwhelmed by a wave of joy, I was so excited and intrigued and interested. I felt like something inside me had suddenly switched itself on and was reacting to a much deeper sense inside me. As if my inner soil had finally been watered to its fullest satisfaction.

I realised also how normal it made me feel as a human being to see and buy vegetables and fruit which had not gone through the whole cosmetic rigmarole, that process of 'normalisation' which leaves us all stripped of our truest characteristics as human beings, copy cuts of the latest fashion. Being able to buy something which maintains its natural shape and vitality made me feel that I belonged. A simple sense of belonging which we are all looking for. Unfortunately nowadays most are looking for it in the wrong places.

The mainstream of what is considered beautiful has robbed us humans of the sensitivity to react and interact with natural beauty. Funnily enough, we need celebrities to raise public awareness to the need to embrace healthy styles of living, to cultivate mindfulness practices in order to bring us some peace of mind, and learn to dig into ancient wisdom to find a recipe for genuine happiness. The irony is that as much as it may be useful for marketing, it is still not carrying the essential message of diversity - you are still just following another fashion.

Because diversity lies in all things natural. In the fact that we have over 80,000 different kinds of species on the planet, in the ability to see, feel and taste things just as they are without being filtered through layers and layers of marketing filters like in the supermarkets.

All things conceived and born give rise to a miracle, that upsurge of creation you cannot control which brings along with it the unknown and the beauty of living. This miracle is what gives rise to diversity. Even though we cannot control the next step, since it pertains to the unknown, nonetheless it is full of the juice of life, sparkling with nutrients and vitality. It is only as we are judged upon our beauty, how fast or slow we regain our "normal" shape after giving birth, how fit we look with the latest fashions, that we ourselves become that ugly fruit.

When we reject the ugly fruit we reject everything which we havent accepted within ourselves. It is a powerful mirror.

As a teacher of consciousness and a long-term practitioner of yogic and energy practices, I have met a lot of people over the years, and a lot of the personal baggage of "the ugly fruit" they carry with them. One of the most simple exercises I give people is to wake up in the morning look in the mirror and say to yourself 'I am beautiful'. Do you know how hard it is for people to do that? Yes, indeed.

We don't exercise our freedom of choice, our will power and ability for unique self-expression if we go blindly to the shop, filling our baskets with machine-like movements, automatic gestures coming out of our ego-building inner state.

The rough division between ugly and beautiful is relevant for the one who has not experienced and embraced the natural diversity. The diversity of people, of opinions, of flowers and tress, the diversity of life. This is a source of suffering. 

Well, I choose to indulge in the "ugly" fruits, and to celebrate my feeling of belonging to this planet, to enjoy the sense of true and simple joy.

Monday, 9 March 2015

One Local Ingredient a Day

by Graham Wood
Back in Feb 2014 I was considering making a veg garden and thought I'd set a goal of including at least one locally produced ingredient in each of our dinners.

at the end of February 2014 I put out the challenge on our Kingsley Village Facebook page...


"As the local farmers market season kicks off again and our gardens begin to wake up after the cold and wet of winter, it offers up some opportunities for us to think of getting outside in our gardens and planning the planting out of our own vegetables.
What ways can we use to make your family think about where their food comes from? This led me to think - How about setting a goal of including at least one locally produced ingredient in each of our dinners? 
I invite you to think about doing something similar. The challenge I propose is by the beginning of May 2014 to use through the summer season one locally produced ingredient at least once a day – breakfast, lunch, or dinner. 
Do you have anything growing in your gardens right now that you can incorporate into your meals?
Besides locally grown fruits and vegetables, your ingredients could include local raised meats, eggs, local dairy products, honey, herbs, home brewed wine, cider or beer, and baked goods – preserved foods from your garden also count! 
If you’re lucky enough to already include at least one local or home grown ingredient in your diet each day, push yourself further – aim for something local at every meal."

This idea was inspired by the Transition Network movement which I was aware of even before I became involved with the permaculture movement.

As well as for my own dinners and resilience, my hope was to raise some interest
amongst the residents in our village in the challenge of promoting both personal and communal sustainability and resilience, especially to include the younger ones.

"The first of my "local produced ingredients", but it still has some growing to do :-) "

To get started we discussed what veg we would normally buy, and from that got seeds that we thought it would be possible for us to grow, and also attempted to work out how many plants of each would be needed to provide us with veg over the year.

From that it became obvious that we would need some indoor space for starting seedlings as well as quite a lot of space for veg beds outside.

After much negotiation my wife agreed our conservatory could be used for starting seedlings, but the garden lawns and flower beds were out of bounds, so the veg beds would have to go in the very over grown neglected corner of the orchard in our field.

"For my challenge to use one locally produced ingredient at least once a day ... well so far it's not been every day, but we had home made cider from our own apples, home brew beer, some of our dried apple rings in a casserole, and in soups a few bits of herbs and carrot tops sprouted in a dish on the windowsill." 
As well as using the usual types of produce in the challenge I wanted to consider more varied alternatives taking up limited space and low cost options that almost anyone could try.

I wanted to include aquaponics for both the fish and veg, but had no where to install the IBC tanks as my wife had ruled out putting them on our patio, so unfortunately aquaponics had to be shelved until next year.

"Just thought I'd update on how I've done on my challenge to date (May & June) .... Overall not as well as I'd hoped - achieved about 5 days out of 7 ... but still trying...

From my own produce - Did well on cucumbers, some new potatoes, mint, basil and dill, but not so well on Swiss chard, raspberries, strawberries, and red currants (I think the birds and slugs got more than me). 

But have enjoyed my own 2013 batch of cider, and Tom's ginger beer.
We have also made an effort to buy more local produce where possible.
So fingers crossed for better results in July & August - with the addition of pea, tomato, pepper, potato, and more soft fruits.

The challenge I originally proposed was to use through the summer season one locally produced ingredient at least once a day in breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Anyone else looked at doing something similar?" 


To document the progress of all the various types of produce I decided to photograph the activity and show the produce we were able to use for the challenge.

Watercress did well on the kitchen windowsill

"Well I think we managed it (just) we have used local ingredients almost every day now from April to October.
Looking at our apple crop I think we will now be able to go on much longer.
So I'm now planning how we can widen the range of produce for next year."
I was quite surprised how well some plants did (especially the citrus).
I was very pleased with the veg beds I'd managed to clear and create, also my experiment with biochar had positive results so that will definitely be continued.

I've now designed and made my own biochar maker so the supply should be easy and I'm using the "worm tea" from the worm farm to inoculate it.

I've also tried to do some food ingredients that anyone could try even if living in a town or city with no access to a garden. The simplest was probably keeping the tops off carrots and stubs of celery in a dish,and then using the sprouted greens as addition to soups.
It's now Jan 2015 and I still have a few apples left along with a couple of demijohns of cider we use to supplement our diet.

Overall I think the personal challenge was a success, but I'm not sure how many others it actually influenced.

Graham joined the Permaculture Association in 2014 and is an apprentice on the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design.
This post originally appeared on Graham's new blog.