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Ask Geoff a question - Round 3

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  • Ask Geoff a question - Round 3

    Round 3 of the 'Ask an Expert' series is underway herewith!

    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, eliminating any superfluous writings.

    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 everyone.)

  • #2
    I have been searching for a piece of land in Brazil for almost 2 and half years now. Not having the entire money to pay for the land and not willing to make partnerships (as it involves more costs and risks), what ways would you suggest for us to buy the land? What ways that you have seen that have worked in the past and what ways that could work in the future? Thanks.


    • #3
      My question is about getting started in a well-watered, temperate climate. I have 10 acres in S.E. Michigan USA that has a creek flowing through it. Most of this land has been fallow for 25+ years and I am building a house on it right now. I want to develop this with permaculture in mind starting with the 5 acres on one side of the creek. This area has black walnut trees as an over-story with brushy undergrowth in a sandy soil. I have a bit of a dip before getting to the creek so even without putting in any swales I get some water harvesting and much of the soil stays moist almost all the time.

      My question is how do I get started? While I'm in awe with what is being done on degraded land, such as Greening The Desert, it doesn't really apply to my site. I'm not sure I really need major earth works done. I already have some nut trees (walnut) that I don't want to disturb, but want to plant nut and fruit trees. I also want to have some livestock such as chickens and goats as well as a vegetable garden.

      Any guidance on first steps would be great.


      • #4
        Originally posted by thiagogallas View Post
        I have been searching for a piece of land in Brazil for almost 2 and half years now. Not having the entire money to pay for the land and not willing to make partnerships (as it involves more costs and risks), what ways would you suggest for us to buy the land? What ways that you have seen that have worked in the past and what ways that could work in the future? Thanks.
        I'd like to +1 this. Different methods of attaining land might be a worthwhile topic, especially with little to no money.


        • #5
          Hi Geoff - Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.

          I am working on a project to convert a closed school into a Sustainability Resource (food, neighborhood, and teaching) Center. We plan to convert part of the former playground (about 4 acres) to a vegetable farm, and other parts into an edible urban forest, community garden, and aquaponics center.

          One of the major challenges we face is to eliminate the acres of Bermuda Grass and build healthy soil in its place. I am looking for any suggestions you have for how to do this, without using herbicides.

          For background, Bermuda Grass is a transplant from Africa and will survive on 9” of rain a year (we get about 11”). It has deep rhizomes that can (and our case do) go down more than a foot. Each node of this underground stem can become a new plant.

          My current strategy is to try to starve the plant to death by encouraging vigorous growth in complete darkness. I plan to create multi-layer system about 2’ thick that consists of hot manure, straw bale, more manure and amendments, drip irrigation, and several inches of straw. After at least 6 months of this composting, we would “unleash the chickens” (;-) and let them scratch to death anything that has survived, as well as eat all the grubs. After that, the plan is to turn the compost into the soil with a disk harrow or subsurface tiller.

          Any suggestions on alternatives would be appreciated.


          • #6
            What are the dimensions of your mobile chicken coop shown in your awesome new video, Surviving the Coming Crises? Looks small for 25 chickens but they don't need much room for sleeping/laying, eh?
            My site


            • #7
              I have read and heard it said that we should have 15 % of our land as water features, dams, ponds and swales, but can you please give me a rough idea of what percentage of land I could have as pasture for grazing and what percentage should be trees. I intend to leave small pasture cells for rotational grazing amongst areas I am developing as food forest, timber, shelter belts and habitat. I am in cool temperate southern Australia. How much would these areas vary in other climate zones.


              • #8
                Periodic Permaculture

                What advice do you have for those who only periodically have access to land to work with?

                In my case my parents have allowed me to redo their backyard into a permaculture garden but I only get to their place maybe a few times a year. Our family also has land in another country and we only visit it during the summer. I'd ideally like to set it up and "just harvest" when I visit it but with my experience so far there is always much work to be done each time I visit.

                I should say though that I never had enough time at the beginning to really set everything up. Only a few days, so each time I visit them I just do a little maintenance and set another bit up. How much time would you say is necessary at the beginning for say a half acre to really get things going?



                • #9
                  The context is rural South Africa, adjacent to Botswana; 1 out of 29 people has a job and the local economy depends on social grants. 1 out of every 5 children finish school, and of those who do finish school, 1 out 10 secures a tertiary education. These villages offer no employment opportunties and very few people have livelihood options. This part I could deal with; that' what I do. However, my challenge is that I am working out of my comfort zone with a school that is in an extremely dry area with increasingly low rainfall (last summer down from 250 to 86 mm); the desert is encroaching. Underground water sources are drying up. The municipal water supply is tenuous, at best - often just not there for weeks on end. I do not know where some villagers get their drinking water when municipal trucks do not deliver it. When there is no rain, and no water, growing food is a challenge. The soil is very sandy and easily leached - it's like desert sand. Many of the food production methods that I know and trust just don't work. I am feeling a sense of panic because people are going hungry more and more, in this area, and fewer are growing food at home. In January we start a two-year support project with this and other nearby schools. I want to be able to bring something that can work, that can make a difference. I have read about 'soaks' - sounds like a flow trap - where water run-off collects and sinks into the ground. It sounds a bit like a miniature oasis. There was one article in an old journal - but I haven't found anything else. You are familiar with desert environments and I am hoping you can give me better technical information. My logic tells me that I should fill the soak area partially with organic material, create a vegetative barrier with good roots as a boundary, and possibly even a sheet of something less permeable below the soil, to create a basin that will hold water. What little rainwater there is to harvest (from a roof or paved surface) can be channeled into the soak, overflow and then go to the next one. Sort of like a series of connected mulch bits, except larger and these are for planting in - the picture I saw looked like triangle-shaped terraces following the flow of water. Does this make sense? Is it likely to work? I am reluctant to go in with something new to try and have it fail dismally; I would feel more comfortable going in with something that has worked in a similar area before.
                  I haven't seen all your videos or other material; they're expensive (for our currency exchange). However, if there is one that will help with these technical issues, I'll gladly buy it. I would appreciate being told which one. Many thanks. Susie


                  • #10

                    First thanks for your time.

                    I have 1 acre of terraced land divided into 5 pieces of flat plots. Between each plot there's a steep slope. Those slopes are 5 to 10 meters wide. My question is what could I plant on it which won't grow too big in order to avoid shading the fruit trees growing underneath, which can protect the soil from erosion and can withstand some shading from the trees growing above?

                    My location is eastern Taiwan, climate is humid subtropical. No freeze/froze occurence.



                    • #11
                      Hi Geoff and Craig.

                      I have a question regarding the retrofitting of swales. What do you recommend for water retention in an existing food forest on land of a decent slope, where large scale digging and reshaping isn't really an option? Tree root systems are going to make significant earthworks incredibly difficult and frustrating. I have seen people use straw bale rows along contour, adding more and more over time to build a swale up. Similarly, small horse-shoe style catchments around individual trees or groups near the drip line to slow water movement. Are there any other methods you have seen?

                      Or, should I just cut my losses and go back to square one? The trees are alive, but not thriving. The soil here is rather poor / sandy, in a subtropical climate.



                      • #12
                        hi Geoff,

                        I live on the Balearic islands , in Spain.
                        we have hot summers ,about 40 C and heavy clay soil.
                        on the hottest month´s we protect the vegetable garden to lower the temperature and evaporation with a half shadow sunshine net , like you have done on the children's school project in Jordan.
                        I also have seen cover it with grapes plants.
                        now I´m looking for deciduous trees with low density crown´s to do this function.
                        and also it occurs to me that it can be beneficial that they also fix nitrogen or are dynamic accumulators and don´t have invasive roots.


                        Deciduous trees with low density crown and in best case that can Fix nitrogen or are dynamic accumulator with no invasive roots.

                        do you have some suggestion?


                        • #13
                          Agave and Opuntia

                          Hello Geoff. I wanted to thank you first for answering my previous questions and all the other great information you provided in the videos.

                          My question pertains too intercropping of Opuntia (spineless prickly pear) and Agave in between newly planted trees in arid climates. Is this a good way of providing some early income too farmers who are trying to reforest this land. I have read that both are extremely efficient and provide large quantities of biomass. Also, Agave produces nectar that can be sold and biomass can be used as animal fodder.

                          I know many times in villages and rural areas there has to be some kind of economic incentive to the person working that land for an operation too be successful. I was assuming this was a good way for a farmer to earn some early income or even raise his own herd without having the animals destroy the newly planted trees.


                          • #14
                            Our town in SE Alaska with 40 winter residents is very self-reliant by choice, but only my wife and I and one or two others are dedicated gardeners. One of our problems in SE Alaska is too MUCH water. I'm curious though if that can be solved in the much the same way as in dry country. Our property is 2.5 south-facing ocean fronted sloped acres off the road system. It was originally homesteaded so a lot of work was done to clear it and make it somewhat smooth, although work remains. It has several greenhouses. The site was used for millenia by Native Americans as evidenced by the huge 6 meter deep shell midden.

                            Do you suppose that putting in a swale system with high banks to provide areas with well drained soil, and putting the chickens, ducks and goats at the top of the property, and using the swales as a nutrient delivery system might be a solution? The issue is the high rainfall leaches minerals and other nutrients. Would a 1/2 meter of mulch on the swale banks arranged to drain rain into the swales be effective?

                            There are high populations of deer, bears, ravens, eagles and some wolves and mink. Comfrey (already growing great), dandelion, sea buckthorn, autumn olive, goumi and Siberian pea will be our perennial nitrogen fixers. Alder is a native nitrogen fixer. Peas and clover grow like crazy and will be used as well.

                            Plenty of seaweeds, shellfish shells, herring and salmon carcasses for all kinds of composts, nutrient additives and teas. Main issue is the rainfall and consequent nutrient leaching. Given that climate disruption is happening, in general we might have a generally cloudy and cool summer, or weeks of sun and 20 C perhaps occuring from May through August. Lows in the winter are -10 at the lowest. Some years no snow at sea level all winter, other winters maybe 1/2 meter of snow.

                            Any thoughts or pointers of where to find information would be very much appreciated.

                            FWIW, we have seen food forests in action in Oman, both on flat plains and in wadis, which were amazing enough even before I was terribly aware of the concept. Simply experiencing the difference in temperature underneath the date palms and amongst the flowing water as compared to the desert all around was fantastic.

                            All the best,



                            • #15

                              I am a novice permaculture designer, surrounded by a relational world that doesn't quite view permaculture has a viable or legitimate lifestyle/life solution. I am doing everything I can to keep myself encouraged and engaged in learning more about ecosystems and permaculture. I am really interested in taking your 10 week PRI internship class in Australia some time next year. I know that you mentioned in the last round of questions, that you know of some people who save up to do a trip around the world and go from site to site. I was wondering if there is a big enough demand or interest right now, in Australia or around the Jordan River, for "graduate" interns to come and take part in permaculture design? Do you have any encouragement or advice for a novice to get engaged beyond a 10 week program?



                              California, US.