Permaculture Blog

How to Survey a Site

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Originally published in Permaculture Magazine issue 73 (Summer 2012)

Observation PASTE mind mapHaving looked at the value of a clear design process in the last issue, we’ll move on to the process of effectively surveying a site. Of course, there are many things we might design using permaculture and that site might be a physical one like an area of land or it could be organisational like a business. In either case we’d essentially be studying relationships and their current level of effectiveness, in order to figure out some improvements. The greatest challenge I think for most of us is to give this survey stage sufficient time. We live in a society where we’re encouraged to have everything as soon as possible, so it can be difficult for us to find the patience to simply observe and record without immediately having lots of ideas to make things better. Some of these ideas might be good ones, but we often completely overlook possibilities that we haven’t encountered before. So one of the most important things I think I do now is to help people to slow down…

By taking the time to observe, we begin to notice things that weren’t immediately apparent. These things are often the key to plugging energy and resource leaks that others had overlooked. And those observations will get you invited back to give design advice next time.

Why Permaculture Needs Design

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Originally published in Permaculture Magazine issue 72 (Spring 2012)

Using the light through a window to expand a mapDiscovering permaculture was an epiphany for me. It gave me hope in a world seemingly gone mad. I finally had a framework for positive action. Sure, I knew we needed to plant trees and to ‘feed the world’, but now I had a way to figure out the where, when and how to go with the what. I’d discovered something that could really make a difference.

Permaculture excited me, and as a long term activist, I was eager to make up for lost time. I made a number of gardens in almost as many years and plenty of mistakes along the way. But that was ok; I was learning, and trial and error is how we master the most important things in life, like walking and talking. Naturally. This is called Action learning and one of the things I’ve learned is to celebrate those mistakes for the great lessons they are, rather than feel the shame that society encourages us to feel.

Another important thing I’ve learned is that slow and small solutions are very often the best way forward. Yes, the tortoise really can be quicker than the hare. Or at least end up working less to get there. But following that advice really can be hard for those of us seeing the urgency of the global situation. We want to act quickly, to do something before it’s too late. “Don’t just stand there, do something!

Yet through permaculture, I’ve discovered the value of patience and protracted observation. I’ve learned this the hard way of course, by for instance my impatience to make gardens. I once laid out a few pallets around a mobile home where some decking was planned, so I knew where to start making my mulch beds. Only later did I start thinking about all the different uses I could make of such a deck and that two pallets deep would be a much more sensible size. I spent a lot of time rescuing plants from the shade under that structure while I was building it.

Nature by Numbers

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I just came across this video and felt compelled to share it. Three and three quarter minutes of amazing animation showing how numbers create all the beautiful things we see around us. Enjoy!

If you ever get to feel like you’re on your own…

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Just give five minutes to this inspiring talk by bioneer Paul Hawken:

Did you feel vulnerable?

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Britain snowed in...

The recent snow affected most of us in one way or another. Interestingly, I was running a Permaculture Diploma tutor training event on the outskirts of London when much of it fell. I thought the possibility of being snowed in inside the M25 rather ironic, given how much I avoid going there. Mind you, who better to be stranded with than a lovely bunch of permaculture designers? As it happened we all managed to get home that day, though for some of us it was a long journey.

Such episodes highlight once more the vulnerability of our current system’s dependency upon moving so much food around on a ‘just in time’ basis. It’s encouraging then, that an exciting new project showing one way to improve food security in cities just celebrated its first birthday.

‘Food from the Sky’ is a pioneering food growing and educational project in Crouch End, North London. Food is grown organically on the rooftop of Budgens supermarket there & sold in the store just 8 metres below. Now that’s local food ~ grown within walking distance!

Of course, unused roof space is one thing that urban areas have an abundance of. And as well as providing valuable growing space, up above the worst of the pollution, roof gardens also provide vital food & habitats for wildlife too. Additionally, such projects provide a focus for people to meet up, as community gardens like Tatnam Organic Patch in Poole have been proving for a long time now.

Leadership lessons from dancing guy

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This short but interesting video is at first just funny, but then makes an important point about how quickly movements can gather pace. Important when we are feeling like we are still that lone voice in the wilderness! I’ve been reading about systems theory this week (how systems behave, sometimes in unexpected ways) and this is a fine example of a reinforcing feedback loop. The more that joins the movement, quicker the change occurs. Stay with it, you’ll be amazed at how quickly it all happens at the end. Just substitute the dancing for ‘global environmental sanity’…

We are surrounded by genius…

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Janine Benyus introduces the science of Biomimicry; using nature as our inspiration for creating new technologies. This gives me so much hope for our collective future and fits so beautifully into the permaculture vision.

Spend the next 18 minutes regaining some hope…

The Impossible hamster

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A strange but interesting short video for all economists (and the rest of us participating) to ponder…

Greening the desert 2

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The much awaited follow up to Geoff Lawton’s inspirational five minute flash video posted on You Tube a few years ago…

Cycle-pathic behaviour

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The 'Coventry velodrome'

A friend reminded me this morning of the one humourous book in my otherwise serious permaculture library. It’s the one book I refer course students to when they feel at a point of information overload, to give their minds a bit of a break. It is of course, ‘Crap Cycle Lanes’.

If you believe that our local authorities are spending our money wisely, then a quick flick through this book will convince you otherwise.

The ‘Coventry velodrome’ (shown here) is just one of a whole series of magnificent examples of pointless activity. It left me wondering whether there was some kind of legislation forcing councils to create a certain number of cycle lanes, but of unspecified length. Why else would so many pointless short stretches like this be popping up all over the place? Did someone actually think that examples such as this would make it safer for both cyclists and pedestrians?

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