California’s epic drought began in July 2011 and continues to make life increasingly difficult for its residents as the flow of the water diminishes to a trickle. California has a climate that is classified as Mediterranean partially because the majority of the precipitation accumulates from October to March, when greater than 80% of the state’s rainfall occurs. After an insignificant amount of rainfall in the wet season we are now entering the state’s dry season with little hope for much needed rain. According to Brad Rippey, a meteorologist who works for the United States Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), “it’s very difficult to get significant changes in the drought picture during the warm season.” Then Rippey ominously stated that “even when it rains during the summer, evaporation due to high temperatures largely offsets any accumulation.”
This spells trouble for Californians as they head into the driest months of the year as the drought now enters its fourth year of arid constriction. Over the course of the drought Californians have been asked to make increasingly deeper sacrifices in order to save water. In early April Governor Jerry Brown was forced to announce a severe decree: Californians must cut back consumption by 25%. Although he has received an outpouring of support for his decision there is still much head-scratching about how he will implement this lofty goal and efficiently enforce these restrictions. With many Californians feeling the pinch there are many measures that are being employed to curb consumption. People are replacing their lawns with Astroturf or other plants that are more suited to arid climates. Brian Milne of Paso Robles boasts of having “the brownest lawn on the block,” something that was once a form of shame is now worn by conscientious Californians with honor, when asked about his lawn Milne says, “I’m proud of it.” Other Californians are refitting their houses with new water-saving appliances such as low flow toilets and water pumps to conserve as much as possible. For example, Catherine Trainor, a Startup Entrepreneur in Oakland, says that she bought a pump so, “that each time we take a bath we can pump that water into a hose to water the plants with.” It is clear that many in the state are struggling to make the necessary sacrifices to conserve water, but is anyone benefitting from the drought?
My wife Emma and I have recently been offered roles in two separately exciting projects that are striving to bring permaculture to two very different audiences. One is working with an indigenous community near (as in a two-and-a-half hour bus ride, crossing rivers that have no bridges, into the thick of the jungle) Rio Dulce, Guatemala, one of the most bio-diverse stretches of land on the planet. The other is developing a curriculum for summer camp, “Green Camp”, for a private school in Guatemala’s tourism (and expat) capital, Antigua.
We are immensely pleased to be part of both of them, to hopefully share the upcoming experiences with readers at Permaculture News and to most definitely share ideas of permaculture with new students and friends. To get the ball rolling, I wanted to write a bit about what I know is happening with permaculture in other parts of Guatemala, as well as explain our projects, both of which have recently begun. There will be useful links, witty turns of phrase, and all those great things.
After writing The Permaculture Student (www.thepermaculturestudent.com), I soon realized that just having a permaculture class in traditional schools wasn’t enough, we needed schools that were entirely dedicated to teaching permaculture to children the full academic year and not in summer. In my research and education, I also have come to realize that we cannot force anyone to learn anything, that all is choice-based if we are seeking true intent, and if we do not recognize and design choice into our learning systems, we will never develop the earnest and ethical life-long learners, problem-solvers, critical thinkers & innovators we sorely need.
We’re heading back to Christmas Hills. Site of our amazing 5 week workshop back in March. This time we’ll be completing a Mudbrick, Cob, Timber, Glass and Recycled bottle wall studio with huge round sliding windows and an amazing arched door, with a stilted deck.
Join us for hands on building and theory about everything you need to know to build your own natural home on a small budget. We’ll be completing the structure, rendering the walls, and teaching you about earthen floors, waterproofing, creative carpentry, foundations, doors, windows and making decorative walls using cob and recycled materials.
All situated at this amazing community full of inspiring natural building projects (earthbag vault, geodesic dome, pizza oven, rocket mass heater, yurt, tipi, train carriage house, shipping container house and other carpentry wonders).
I live in Washington State, USA, and you may already know that we’re experiencing a state-wide drought. This is shocking: everyone jokes about how it’s always raining, so you’re lucky if you get a tan, but it hasn’t rained as much lately. Supposedly we were going to have the same amount of rain but the snowpack would be depleted, which in turn affects the rivers and creeks, but I’ve noticed we’ve had less rain, and a hotter sun.
Some people I’ve talked to are getting to the point where they consider it par for the course, and are shrugging it off as if to say, what are we supposed to do about it? Others are searching for solutions, and are finding them in permaculture systems.
I’ve been worried about what drought, wildfires, and climate change in general will mean for food security and rising grocery store prices. Even the lushest areas of Washington have a high risk of wildfire this year, and other states in the US struggle with drought, raised risk of wildfire, and are voicing concerns about what this means for resource management. Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and South Dakota are all being asked to respond.
As far as food goes, I’ve already noticed produce getting more expensive and it’s only encouraged me to take the matter into my own hands. Look, the point of this article isn’t to scare you, and anyways, you and I both know there’s a solution.
In my previous article, we explored how the basic principle of water is that of flow, and so in order to work well with water it is important to be aware of what the flow is and where it is going. On a practical level, this involves some basic observation and a wealth of techniques which can be used to help utilise water to the advantage of your garden or farm.
One technique that is quite well discussed in the world of permaculture, though in my experience relatively unknown anywhere else, is the use of swales. Here I will share some practical tips for creating swales and optimising the flow of water.
The five-fold path to water wisdom
One of the most useful references I find is Toby Hemenway’s book Gaia’s Garden (2), in which he recommends five practical steps to conserving water: high organic-matter content, deep mulching, locating plants according to water needs, and soil contouring (2). This article will concentrate on soil contouring; however, it is prudent to bear the other four in mind during your design process, as part of the ‘multiple elements for each function’ principle.
‘Abundance’ is a hallowed concept in Permaculture. Abundance is what we permaculturalists aim for: abundant, multifarious yields of fruits, nuts, herbs, medicines, fibres… all things useful and edible.
The way I see it abundance is nature’s reward for careful, insightful design work. I like abundance. As a form of feedback it tells us we’re doing something right. In my mind the word ‘abundance’ conjures up the world of Sofia Coppola’s gorgeously realised period-extravaganza: Marie Antoinette. The costumes, designs and settings in this film reek of opulence. They’re sumptuous. Abundant!
It’s as natural as natural can be: Plants, from trees to chives, start small and get bigger. We can’t really escape that fact. The trick for those of us looking to cultivate, to instigate food forests and healthy polycultural gardens, is somehow getting from our seedlings to something that will provide us with food, or timber, or chop-and-drop mulch, or windbreaks, or all of these things. Whatever it is that we’ve envisioned happening as an end result of burying that seed or rooting that clipping, it general involves a plant reaching some semblance of maturity.
But, how do we get there? In most cases, going from seed to seedling is fairly straightforward, but when is the right time to take that dainty little sprig of life and put it out into the big bad world? How can we help it survive those first troublesome days, weeks, or years? Hey, it’s something every parent has to deal with at some point. At least with plants, we are able to keep a close eye on what’s going on, there’s no peer pressure or tuition, just a plant that wants to do everything it can to live a fruitful life. How can we not do our best for it?
When it comes to our energy needs, there are three main problems. We have confused needs and desires, cheap energy and not educated ourselves enough on understanding energy. Let me explain. Need is a word that gets used out of context all the time, it falls into the category of words like have to, should, got to and must. When we hear those words, we feel as if our choice is taken away and we are presented with something we HAVE TO DO or else. The reason I bring this up is, what is it we need in our homes that require energy? People say all the time to me, but I need a Dryer; I need Air-con… I need, need, need. When in reality they are just desires. Things we would like to have to make our days easier so we can get more done in a day. So that we can go to work to pay for our electricity bills! In reality, more people on earth live without electricity than with, so we don’t need it at all to survive. Have a think about how much excess electrical load you have in your home just because it saves you time or helps you do something faster.
The next part of the problem is cheap energy. Cheap energy is what has made us go out and buy a lot of electrical devices that save us time. That way we can go to work and make more money as it’s cheaper to have the electricity work for us at home while we go work. This has helped a lot of desires become needs. Cheap energy has helped bad building designs to get built because we don’t need to insulate or think about solar aspect anymore. We just put the air-con on, and that will heat and cool the house at the touch of a button! Cheap fossil fuels have had an enormous part in making renewable energy seem expensive. Fossil fuels receive a huge chunk of currency from governments to keep the energy coming so that we don’t get upset when there is no energy at the power points. If they charged us the true cost of what it takes to get energy to our power points, I guarantee that would instantly help reduce the need for energy in our homes. The math is simple, multiply your energy bill by x10, and that’s how much of a discount the government is paying for you every month right now to subsidise fossil fuels. And that is worldwide.
About a year ago I began volunteering at a small school and permaculture education center just south of Austin, Texas. At the time, I was working at a nursery in the city. I had an interest in plant care but no real awareness of permaculture. Since then, I have been on the fast-track to full permaculture immersion, learning by working.
Right around the time I was introduced to permaculture, I received the opportunity to be part of a start-up company doing this work in central Texas. I have spent the last year working with a team dedicated to ecologically viable methods of land management. So far, I’ve been learning the basics of ‘whole-systems’ design and installation. I’m discovering the unique qualities of the climate in this area and how permaculture design works here.
This work is teaching me to look at the environment in a different way than I have before. Where I once felt disconnected from my surroundings, I now feel motivated to interact and find sustainable living solutions. I am beginning to see how complex the ecosystem is. And at times, I am brought to a state of wonderment as I think about how each piece fits together. Working with the Earth certainly has its rewards.
What’s most rewarding for me is the promise of local abundance that I see possible through permaculture methods. The ability of these designed systems to provide for our needs is remarkable. And on our projects, we always look for ways to use local resources that the land is already providing. We use natural materials such as Juniper wood, and we utilize the city’s waste streams by gathering cardboard for sheet mulch.
The UK Permaculture Association will be hosting the 12th International Permaculture Conference and Convergence (IPCUK) in the heart of London this September. The theme this year is Designing the world we want and I’m going to be there as a keynote speaker. It is my pleasure to be one of the sponsors for this event and if you watch the video above you will find a unique discount code where you can save up to $85 on tickets (offer ends 31st of July 2015). IPCUK is an established and prestigious conference that brings leaders together, it forms new alliances, creates new strategies and showcases a range of sustainability innovations. So join me at the International Permaculture Convergence and Conference in London this September.