Today we started to get into some more of the technical aspects of permaculture design talking about guilds, planning, patterns and we even spent some time with Geoff where he gave us a history of Zaytuna Farm and highlighted some of the key changes over the years. I felt more at peace with the apparent teaching style/learning style dissonance that had arisen the day before. The nature of permaculture in practice is decidedly non-linear and seemingly chaotic, so it only makes sense that the education of such a topic would follow this form. There will be tangents and times when I feel like we’re straying off track, but that’s okay because I know it’s all valuable information that serves a purpose and the dots will connect. Trusting this process enabled me to feel much more engaged in class today and it also taught me an important lesson in managing expectations.

I learned that soil is one of the best places to hold water. The ability of soil to hold water is directly related to its humus and organic matter content. All the different chemicals, sprays and techniques for modern agriculture that industrial farmers have become enslaved to destroy soil. It’s murdering the beneficial microbes, bacteria and fungi that are the definition of good soil. There’s a vicious cycle at play creating increased dependency on these different chemicals and sprays because they continue to degrade the soil further and further, so farmers need more and more, and the cycle goes on in a downward spiral. What this really means though is that there’s a massive opportunity to restore the organic matter in soils and our earth and there’s so many ways we can do it using permaculture. Good soil can retain its weight in water negating the need for constant watering, in turn reducing our consumption of water. Soil is the building block of everything. All food starts with soil and it’s meant to cycle back into the soil. It’s the foundation. If you were building a house, would you settle for a leaky foundation?

We learned about designing guilds which is all about grouping different species together in order to create symbiosis. Designing guilds can seem quite daunting given the plethora of options, but there’s been a lot of research done with things like companion planting which greatly aides in the process. However, there are still so many more symbiotic relationships that are waiting to be discovered by citizen scientists, it’s a huge opportunity to try things out and see what happens. According to the permaculture handbook, it is believed that 80% of plant species can co-mingle with no ill effect, 10-15% of species have positive symbiosis and a mere 5% show antagonistic behavior. Designing a guild involves understanding the nature of the land, the needs of the user, the relationships between the desired plants and figuring out how best to assemble them together in order to create a productive yield. It’s not really about the technique of planting things in the ground, that’s the easy part. Permaculture is all about the design and the thinking that happens before the shovel hits the soil. This is where 90% of the work is done so it’s essential to have a strong grasp over the relationships and connections you are striving to create before putting them into the earth.

Geoff came in and shared some stories and photos of the development of Zaytuna Farm and the extent of the planning and design that went into developing this property. It used to be an overgrazed cattle farm and now it’s a lush with swales, ponds, food forests and vegetable gardens spread throughout. My favorite part of his talk was when he admitted that it’s not the most efficiently designed property because it’s meant to be a demonstration site, not a production site. He said they’ve dug swales and planted food forests at the worst possible times of the year, but it’s okay because nature takes care of it. He emphasized the importance of starting and told us ‘just do something’ – this really resonated with me.

Then we moved into patterning, this is regarded as the most important aspect of design. In permaculture, we look to nature to observe naturally occurring patterns and use them as a template for our designs for human systems. Patterning is the method in which we frame the designs and it’s what dictates the edge. We wish to maximize edge because it’s on the edges where two ecosystems collide and a third is born that the most interesting action happens. Some visible pattern forms in nature include: waves, streamlines, cloud forms, spirals, lobes, branches, scatters and nets. Some practical design considerations as they relate to patterns follow-

  • -The creation of complex boundary conditions is a basic design strategy for creating spatial and temporal niches
  • -Place intervening mutually compatible components between two incompatible components
  • -Select components to maximize interdependence and positive symbiosis
  • -Golden Rule: Keep it small, keep it varied
  • -No new events, just discovery of existing events
  • -Every event we can detect is a result of a preceding event and it gives rise to subsequent events

Even with patterns, I kept thinking about creating a solid foundation. If I can focus on a small area and create a pattern of species that works extremely well, then I can go and apply this pattern in other places as well. It’s kind of like the idea of starting a business, focusing on your core customers to prove the business model and then going out and scaling it for the world to enjoy. Through the whole day, the lesson I kept taking away is that being super grounded in one’s foundation is the key to creating a successful design.

We watched a video of Matt Kilby who plants trees in extreme environments with a very high success rate. His secret is a rock solid foundation.

When did establishing a strong foundation in your life pay off?