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Ask Geoff Lawton a Question - Round 2

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  • Ask Geoff Lawton a Question - Round 2

    Round 2 of the 'Ask an Expert' series is underway herewith! (Go here to see the video response to questions in Round 1).

    If you've ever wanted to put a question directly to Geoff Lawton for answering, now's your chance! Reply to this post with your question(s), and after I've collected enough worthy questions, I'll record a Skype conversation with Geoff, where he'll answer them for us. I'll then post the video response at bottom of this thread.

    Then we'll start a new thread, with new questions, and so on.

    And, we'll also (in other threads I'll start in this sub-forum) ask other permie experts questions - so we can get responses from different angles and different specialties (different climates, areas of expertise, etc.).

    So, please send in your thoughtful questions, and please keep them succinct and to the point.

    Note: In this particular sub-forum ('Put your questions to the Experts!'), please do not attempt to start new threads, as they will be deleted. Only site admin, who will be putting the questions to the expert, will start the threads in this sub-forum. Each thread will begin with questions, and end with the resulting video with answers. Thanks all.)

  • #2
    Take two! Let me know if this is too broad as well

    Geoff: In your recent podcast with the Duke of Permaculture, the two of you began to have a conversation revolving around the application and use of swales, keyline, and hugelkulture in cold climates. Cold climates being those with temperatures below -20 C in winter. Paul Wheaton mentioned that he would usually recommend terracing and hugelkulture (along with keyline) over the use of swales in cold climates. This is due to the movement of cold air and Paul's desire to get rid of it quickly.

    You countered that you have seen swales acting quite differently in cold climates. I've also heard you talk about miniature glacial events with the use of a Yeoman's plow in cold climates. I've been under the impression that we should protect the soil from soil heaving during the winter, as this adversely affects soil organisms.

    So, I would like to hear you expand on your experience with different water harvesting techniques in cold climates- specifically on how they affect thermal microclimates above and below ground. Edit- We are interested in raising temperatures and I am very interested in hearing some more about how terracing, swales, and keyline affect temperatures at cold climate sites you have worked at. Permaculture is fairly new in Finland and these are questions many of us are pondering before implementing. While I'm usually a proponent of experimentation, more first hand accounts would be very helpful in our design process.
    Last edited by Finchj; 28-11-2012, 07:23 PM.
    Pre-June 2012 A Victory Garden documents our typical American suburban lawn to a food forest based upon the permaculture principles.
    Post-June 2012 60° N Permaculture follows my permaculture explorations and integration story in Finland.


    • #3
      I realize my question might demand more research from you guys before being able to answer, but I would like a permaculturist view on this, so perhaps someone reading this who knows more than I do can answer, if Geoff Lawton is too busy now? I am from Norway, where Bellona (the environmental organization) is stationed, so I tend to hear more about them than others perhaps. They now have a project that has just started in Jordan, near Aqaba. It's called Sahara forest Project and combines many different technologies with the aim to regreen the desert. Very simply put, the main technologies are: Concentrated solar power, cooled by sea water. Sea water cooled and moised greenhouses (through evaporation) to controll and improve growing conditions. Fish and algae ponds, both fresh and sea water grown to produce food and bioenergy. Condensations of the sea water provides the fresh water for the plants inside the greenhouse but also the plants grown outside, protected from the wind and dust with artificial hedges (that has seawater going through them = more condensation and moisture to the plants). The fresh water is also used to clean the mirrors in the concentrated solar power plant. The moisture that escapes the greenhouse is transported with the wind and in other test-facilities the experience is that the vegetation downwind gain from that moisture. What is left of the sea water is left in evaporation ponds and salt is produced to be sold. There are other technologies and other plants used as well.

      Though permaculture is more about helping the earth do it's own healing, it seems to me that this is a good jump start, which besides giving the existing growth some extra water (allowing for more growth), also produces more food, solar electricity and jobs. The only thing I can put my finger on, is the disturbance of putting down the pipelines that bring in the sea water and the danger of leaks of that sea water inland.

      What are the experts thoughts?


      • #4
        Hi Craig, Thanks for this. It's a great initiative!

        My question is about permaculture education.

        I've read a few exchanges online over the last few months where people have begun to question the quality of teachers of permaculture. Specifically there is a general concern that teacher quality has been decreasing of late and there has also been some concern/suggestion that 'you' can teach as soon as you complete your own pdc. [I understand this has been raised for several years at various convergences].

        I've read the specific requirements that the permaculture global site attaches to being confirmed as a pdc teacher but my feeling is the criteria aren't well understood. I believe it would be encouraging for others to hear directly what that criteria is, ie preferred level of in-situ/design experience and teaching exposure/experience before a pdc graduate should conduct their own pdc classes.

        I'd appreciate hearing Geoff expand on what he thinks makes an effective teacher (perhaps intro vs pdc) and how those who wish to teach should prepare themselves to be the best possible guides for the next permie generation.
        Last edited by Lesley W; 28-11-2012, 07:50 PM.

        Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.
        ~ Albert Einstein


        • #5
          Great question Lesley. Some advice on how someone can pick a good teacher if they are new to permaculture would be good too.


          • #6
            I did my pdc with Geoff just a little more than a month ago, and while we engaged in a conversation about high deserts/high plains, it was brief and I'm curious if he's got any experience or ideas concerning these regions. I'm from the High Plains of the Texas Panhandle, considered a cold steppe climate, where it's Semi-arid to Arid (480 mm average rainfall, but we only got 127 mm last year), with cold (-18C) winters and hot (44C) summers. It's pretty dry, and I feel like there are probably a lot of similarities between the high desert climates and the high plains. It's very flat with very high winds in early summer. The area was short and mixed grass prairie before with what I'm told was very fertile soil if you go back a hundred years. Now it's in high chemical and high water demanding cotton. Our top soil is effectively long gone due to heavy plowing, most soils are red clay sub soils. The Ogallala is plummeting (went down 6 ft last year alone) What kind of strategies would you consider in a small to mid sized property in an area like this? Would you aim to put them back into native prairie? Would it be hubris as a designer to suggest planting trees in such a climate? The tree crops that are typically suggested in permaculture literature that can take our droughts often can't take our winters, and the tree crops that can take our winters often can't take our droughts.


            • #7
              Hi, this is awesome, thanks for putting these Q & A's up. My questions are as follows:

              Q: From your perspective, what do you see when you envision a completely Sustainable world/society?

              Would it be something like: Every farm in the world like Sepp Holzer's farm, Tagari farm and Zaytuna Farm? Food forests in place of every nature strip, all deserts reforested, Tsunami Belts across every sea line, gardens in every backyard, etc. etc?

              And given the world being at its present state, how would you suggest we reach/implement this Sustainable world/society?

              Q: All of us Permies want Permaculture education rates to be as high as possible, but compared to the rate of graduating classes of traditional universities, Permaculture PDC classes is very low. Will we ever see Permaculture being a subject regularly offered in traditional universities as a PDC course or undergrad program, a masters program or a PHD program? Would it be possible to partner with universities and offer programs where you have full control and can make sure the integrity of permaculture will not be compromised?

              If not what can we do to catch up to traditional university rates or what do you suggest we can do to advance Permaculture education so we have hundreds of thousands of Permaculture graduates every year? Will a Permaculture University with campuses around the world ever be created; is that essentially the vision of the PRI's around the world?

              Q: Us permies understand it is possible to regreen the middle east and essentially regreen any degraded landscape, but what actually needs to happen for the regreening of the entire middle east and all degraded landscapes to become a reality? How would you suggest we get to this reality? What would you suggest people do?

              Q: I heard you were offered the opportunity to regreen all of Rwanda. Did you take this offer? If yes, how is the progress going? If no, why?

              Thank You!


              • #8

                I have a couple questions that are related to desert greening.

                1. How do you feel about the groasis waterboxx technology for areas where swales aren't constructed?

                2. I know this question might require some research and experimentation that has not been done. In the "INtroduction to Permaculture" book by Bill Mollison he goes over multi storey farming in arid climates and deserts. Basically date palms shading smaller trees, which shade ground cover crops. I noticed for the "greening the desert" project the trees were planted a little differently than the pictures shown in the book. They were planted in rows rather than distributed between the larger trees. Which is more efficient and better suited to the arid climates?

                3. Also, with the shaded areas underneath the tree canopy will ground cover crops adapt to less sunlight? For example, if no till wheat is grown with no added irrigation, will it eventually adapt to the lower sunlight being passed through the canopy to the ground?

                4. Do you recommend in deforested arid climates that NFT's be planted to build the soil and then fruit bearing trees after the NFT's are established? Or can fruit bearing trees be planted along the NFT's simultaneously?
                I know for the "greening the desert" project the trees were established simultaneously, my concern is more for areas being reforested in the desert without swale construction.

                Thank you,


                • #9
                  Good Day Geoff,

                  My name is Lake, and I live in Minnesota.

                  Here is my question:

                  I have seen few examples of the initial monetary cost of implementing a project to the return (not monetarily but through products such as food, medicine, materials, or energy) over time. I understand that the initial cost could range from very inexpensive to very expensive depending on what the designer’s final goals are.

                  It seems to me that putting in swales or dams could cost a lot of money for me. Or purchasing a large sum of livestock for chicken trackers, or even purchasing enough plants. Would you please give a variety of examples or scenarios speaking to the different experiences you’ve had with getting the biggest bang for your buck or if I must spend money what is most relevant way for me to start spending money on a project?

                  Thank you Geoff, and what a pleasure it is to work with you on this immensely important movement.



                  • #10
                    Just a quick add on, my qeustion has to do with a deep desire to have all people no matter what there monitary status to be able to participate in permaculture.


                    • #11
                      I first came across permaculture 10 months ago when I was reading 'Good Health in the 21st Century' by Dr Carole Hungerford. A brief paragraph on permaculture was included in a chapter about the poor nutritional value of our food due to food production methods. This sent me researching for days on end. Ever since, I have been a regular reader of the articles on the PRI website and keen to begin my own permaculture project.

                      The thing is, I am only 17 so to do so, my parents must approve. I decided to start small with the humble vege plot and a fruit tree or two. After much discussion, it was concluded that the only permissible spot was a bare patch in an existing garden in the far back corner of our yard, even though we live on 1 1/3 acres and 85% of that is lawn! I was devastated by this after reading that the most frequently maintained areas/plants should be close by. My father's reason for that was you don't have vege gardens close to the house for aesthetic reasons; the fruit tree was not allowed because it makes it difficult to mow the area. There is also the issue with money, so they are reluctant for fork out to build, for example, a chook pen.

                      Taking what I could get, the vege plot is now taking shape in that distant garden and I have revived our black plastic compost bin. I was wondering, however, do you have any ideas on ways to expand on this (preferably unobtrusive and inexpensive to get my parents approval) and how to warm my parents to the idea of permaculture and some sort of self-sustainability?

                      This is a great initiative and please keep it up. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions and inspiring the next generation of permaculturalists


                      • #12
                        I am a student of Geoff's from Maui, Hawai'i, and my question is about swale systems in the wet subtropics of Hawai'i. How and when should swale systems be applied where the location already receives more than enough rain for adapted trees? I am concerned about drowning certain trees with the excess of water, such as Avocado.
                        Mahalo, thanks,


                        • #13
                          Hi Geoff,

                          I have a suburban garden and I work full time. I would love to teach permaculture but I have not yet undertaken a PDC teaching course (as yet) just the foundational PDC. I am still gaining experience in my suburban back garden but due to my commitments I don't know if I will have the opportunity to gain experience in other climates such as dryland and cold climate (I live in the sub tropics). My question is, if anyone with a PDC can teach permaculture, how can we become competent and confident teachers in all 14 areas of the PDM when our practical knowledge is centralised and limited by where we live and what we have access to? I feel I can only discuss the theories of many of the aspects of the PDC and will not be able to address the questions any of those I would try to teach may have.


                          • #14
                            Sorry but I forgot to add this on to my previous questions.

                            On arid or desert landscapes where the soil has not been built up, is there a proper ratio to nft trees to non nft trees per acre. I have read that too many nitrogen fixing trees can lead to high nitrogen buildup. I was assuming this could be alleviated by planting nitrogen hungry crops in between the trees eventually. I just wanted your recommendation on how many you used per acre for the "greening the desert" project.


                            • #15

                              Hi Geoff and Craig,

                              I respect the ethics of the Permaculture movement and produce much of my own produce on the farm here with a lot of the surplus currently going to the native wildlife. The top soils are getting deeper every year as I return all organic matter into the soil via various systems. In addition to this I am constantly expanding the diversity of output (bees tomorrow!).

                              My neighbours currently can obtain from the supermarket 1 dozen eggs + 1 loaf of bread + 2 litres of milk for AU$5. For that price I have difficulty producing a dozen eggs! This is a short term situation at best, but it is hard to convince people of this.

                              They don't seem to understand that what they are purchasing are shallow imitations of the produce at the farm here. In addition to this, I'm observing that the quality of produce that they are purchasing is decreasing as time goes on - As an interesting aside I'm unsure that my chickens would actually recognise their bread scraps as a food product!

                              I've joined the local seed savers group and am slowly working on my neighbours (for several years now), but am unsure how else I can help? On a balance of probabilities it is my opinion that time is getting short as we seem to be heading for some critical societal problems on a few fronts.

                              Can you please advise me?