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.