ANYONE FOR PERMACULTURE – Italy too?

At last the sleeping boot awakes; Permaculture in Italy at last is moving – some people have actually heard of it! I was tired of the lack of people interested in Permaculture courses and workshops, in the ignorant criticisms by people who had little idea of it, and no experience of having tried to put Permaculture principles into practise. Tired of hearing that it wouldn’t work in Italy, as if by some miracle Italy is another planet that just happens to occupy a space on Earth. As if Permaculture is some sort of exotic cultural virus seeking to invade from somewhere else. From Australia? Well of course it couldn’t work here, since Australia is on the other side of this planet. The upside down side, to make matters worse.

But wait a minute.

Even if Australia is far removed from Italy, the zones where Permaculture has most successfully been applied: to regenerate desert; to turn marginal farmland into highly productive land; to be the judged the most productive agricultural land in South Australia in fact, are precisely the areas specifically of ‘Meditarranean climate’, with remarkably similar qualities and problems as so much of Italy’s devastated agricultural land.

Do I hear protests of indignation at the suggestion that Italy is devastating its agricultural land? I would repeat the claim if I thought it necessary. Algal blooms in the water from chemical runoff; canyons of erosion on much of the hill-land; topsoil being lost in thousands of tons with every heavy rainfall; farmers struggling to maintain economic viability in spite of subsidies and working hours often double that of urban dwellers; and the beloved Mediterranean virtually void of significant fishing grounds, not only because of over-fishing, but also destruction by land-based sources including agriculture fouling the river estuaries where many species spawn.

The fact that Permaculture started in Australia is probably a reflection of the amount of ecological devastation that has been inflicted on that land in such a short time. This should not be read as a justification for ignoring the damage that has been done here in a much longer time. The reality is that we can not afford to ignore the continuing degradation of our environment, wherever and at what rate it is occurring. The environment is the physical basis of our existence, the ecosystems the foundation of our food sources as well as the myriad other functions. The economy too, since that would seem to be the totem most people pay the most respect to. It would seem wise to take good care of it

SOME PRINCIPLES COMMON TO DESIGNING SUSTAINABLE SYSTEMS

– PERMACULTURE

  1. ETHICS

Care of earth – can’t hurt nature without hurting ourselves; there is still a need for attitudes to change, so that people identify with land and nature rather than viewing it only in exploitive terms.

Care for people – promote self-reliance, community responsiblity

Dispersal of anything surplus to our needs.

  1. RELATIVE LOCATION:

No element exists in isolation. Functional relationships exist between plants, animals and structures. These relationships can reduce or eliminate pollution and work by filling NEEDS of each element with YIELDS of others placed nearby. Finding right output to match right input from others.

unfilled needs = work, unused yields = pollution

eg; poultry and gardens

Scratching can destroy garden, or aerate it, and manure can fertilize it.

So, look at the needs and yields of each element, and place elements accordingly to achieve the most productive and harmonious relationships.

  1. MULTIPLE FUNCTIONS FOR SINGLE ELEMENTS:

Each element is selected to perform at least 3 functions

eg; windbreak; wind protection, bee nectar, fodder, fuel, pest predator habitat, microclimate moderation

  1. MULTIPLE ELEMENTS SUPPORTING SINGLE FUNCTIONS

All functions should be met in several ways, as an ‘insurance’ against single element failure.

eg; food production: – main plants grow predictably well, but grow other species for diversity, to spread resource and earning potential

  1. ZONES AND SECTORS AND ELEVATION PLANNING

Zones – arranged according to energy requirements

eg; vegetable plants and stall-fed animals – close to house, but tree crops can be further away

Sectors – determined by energy source OFF site – channel positive, scatter negative energies

eg; sun, wind.

Elevation Planning – use gravity to reduce energy requirements.

eg; gravity feed water, poultry above garden

  1. BIOLOGICAL RESOURCES

Looking at energy flows is important to achieve sustainablity

“If I need it, I plant it”.- fuel, food, fodder, fertilizer, tillage, pest control, weed control, fire control, nutrient recycling, energy conservation

  1. ENERGY RECYCLING

Set up cycles; what can’t be recycled becomes a pollutant.

eg; fire as fertilizer – energy waste; same nutrient exists in unburnt organic material composted

energy recycled IN system, not lost OUT

AIMS FOR ENERGY

Energy input should decrease over time.

Energy input should decrease over distance

Energy given back for any method of producing food should be greater than energy used to produce it

– any system is designed as a series of complete connecting energy cycles.

eg; water is kept in soil through mulching and green manures instead of needing to be supplied from another source

Urine in sawdust for fertilizer – C and N balance;use of a renewable resource, and an appropriate fertilizer

  1. APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY

Appropriate technology = that which can be appropriated

ie; take idea and adapt to local conditions

Same principles apply to energy for cooking, lighting, transport, heating

ideas universal, but implementation specific

Air Conditioning may be fine for high income apartment dweller, BUT not for farmer, who can grow it , using same principles. Hot air flows through cool medium, over a water pond; this is a good example of microclimate manipulation, for house comfort, to support a greater diversity of plants and animals, to reduce stress on people, plants and animals.

  1. NATURAL SUCCESSION

The natural process of land regeneration is: Herbs -> Pioneers -> Climax

Conventional agriculture often maintains systems at weed/herb stage by human/mechanical energy (tilling, weeding, spraying), fighting natural succession.

Substitute successive species, so there is immediate continuous food production: shrubs and trees are planted into annuals, then species adapted to low light are added replacing first herbs and pioneer species

Stack all available space/light levels, and time

Eg; intercropping green manure crops with cash crops, sowing at appropriate times to avoid competition.

Eg 2; timber as high short-mid-long term cash crop

  1. MAXIMIZE EDGE

edge is the most diverse area in any system (accumulates more light/nutrients -> greater diversity)

Design to fit with patterns in nature

eg; crenellated (rather than round or square) pond, increases potential stacking rate without extra volume; birds and fish feed at edge

  1. DIVERSITY

maturing system increases diversity in space and time. It is NOT the number of different species that is important, but the complexity of functional relationships between elements: more complex and diverse -> more stable, more resistant against rampancy.

In nature, groups of plants and animals (guilds) occur consistently together because of beneficial rel’ps, SO in human systems (agricultural, urban, rural, social, etc), we try to form guilds by appropriate placement. Traditional systems did it, but modern has often ignored it.

  1. SCALE

energy input must be appropriate to conditions specific to the time, resources available, market accessibility.

    • too big, or too small can both be problems

Show me a natural or human system which is sustainable in the long-term, and these principles will exist invariably.

If anyone can tell me why any of these principles are not totally practical (ie; not simply theoretical), or not applicable to Italy, please contact me that I may be enlightened by such argument.

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COMPOST TOILET DESIGN

Why pollute the ground and water systems; why waste such a wonderful resource when it can so easily be ‘treated’ to produce a wonderful rich fertiliser?

If you have any doubts about using it on your vegetable gardens – the Chinese have used if for thousands of years (see Farmers of Forty Centuries by FH King, a classic) directly on their gardens without making a great impact on reducing their population through it – then just use if for the fruit trees. For the vegetable garden anyway, you just make a great worm compost system and then you have the best of both worlds. I’ve done another entry here titled WORM COMPOSTING

Again, if you’ve doubts, and in any case to be safe with it, try to site your shit composting and the garden  separately, or at least with the shit below the garden rather than the other way round. Gravity’s good and predictable in that way.  Principle: Relative Location.

Here’s a design that works a treat: a friend on the north coast of New South Wales in Australia (sub-tropical) worked for years to get the specifications just right. All you ever shovel out is sweet dark compost. Worms of course can be added too, and a urine separator is always worthwhile. No waiting at all as with the double-bin system, so it takes less space too.

compost toilet – MinimusCTandSpecs[1]

With thanks to Lee Davidson of The Channon, northern NSW, Australia