It's been a while since my last blog... sorry. I do have at least have a good reason for part of that time! I went to live at the farm for a week as a test run for this summer. This time I didn't have a bike or anything to go to the local coffee shop where there is internet so I had no internet for a whole week. That was actually really nice! I get distracted with silly things in the internet way too easily, so having a complete break from it was quite welcome. The rest of that time was just me being stressed about school and moving, and generally just being really sucky about doing what I told myself I would do.
Today I want to talk about those permaculture lectures I have been watching. It's the last week of the quarter so I want to wrap it up with something that they keep coming back to almost every week. There are so many different topics covered but there seemed to be one overarching theme that was touched on all the time. That was observation. Permaculture follows how nature does things on it's own, so all of your questions can be answered by observing nature.You can obviously learn a lot from reading about it (most of what I know about nature is from all my class work over the past four years) but that can't tell you everything. Every piece of land is different and needs to be examined before work should really begin.
They said that one of the most important things to do when you begin a permaculture farm is to watch the land for a whole year before doing anything. See what it does in all four seasons, when it rains and snows, where water pools and flows, where the wind comes from, how strong it is, if there are wind barrier hills or trees, what kind of plants are growing, where the land is in a recovery succession. There are so many different aspects that need be looked at to know what is needed to help that land become healthier and productive. Sitting still and watching the land for a year is something that people usually don't do. It takes a lot of time, time we may not have. I know I have a lot of ideas for my farm and the last thing I will want to do is wait even longer before I can get started on them. But the benefits from observing the land really are great.
The lectures are broken into a few different categories: Fundamentals, Design and Patterns, Climate and Soils, Water and Aquaculture. For each of these, observation plays a huge role. Many of these observations will take a lot of time, but some can be done quickly. Patterns are often simply observable if you know where to look. Patterns usually refer to the physical shape of something like the dome of a hill or cave, the shapes of tree branches, or the stacking hexagons of a bee hive. You can observe these by simply walking around in nature and looking. Then by taking note of their different functions you can use those patterns purposefully. Domes function as strong structures and can be put to use in buildings and cellars. Branching patterns are used for collection and distribution, this concept can be used for irrigation or pathways. Bee hives are great at packing things together and this pattern can be used for storage or anything where a lot of stuff needs to fit in a small space.
Climate and Soils takes a little more time observing. You need to take note of what the weather does in every season, when it rains and when it is dry, when the temperatures change and when the storms come. It helps to do a little research on the climate in your area, but climates all over are changing and it is important to know exactly how they are changing if you are going to design your farm in the most efficient way. Soils can be observed in a few ways. Simply picking up a handful to see what the composition is, whether it is mostly clay, sand, or loam can be helpful but also taking a close look at what is growing there right now. Are they water loving plants, or plants that need drainage? Are they early succession weeds or late succession forest trees? I also think sending your soil in to be tested for specific nutrients that are available is a good idea.
All of these things play in to the design of a farm. All of these things must be observed first to know where everything should be planted and built. The trees should be placed where they can block the wind best, the water catchment system should be built where the water can best be collected and then distributed, dams should be made in the gullies and every plant should be put in spots that are best for them. If we really observe, we can design a farm where nature does most of the work for us.