[permaculture] Len's PERMACULTURE ESSAY - http://members.optusnet.com.au/~gardenlen1/

Lawrence F. London, Jr. lfl at intrex.net
Sat Aug 13 20:03:08 EDT 2005

Down to earth Gardening Advice from Down Under

Permaculture essay:

Perma-culture - Permanent Culture or Permanent Agriculture, unless we 
work within the limits of the environment we live in then nothing will 
be permanent.

Permaculture is a "mind set", it is not about man made design, design 
courses, diplomas, degrees or even school curriculum. Permaculture IS 
NOT a career path, permaculture is a path to improving how we look after 
the only planet we have to live on.

Len's thoughts, Permaculture is not a religion, it is not a philosophy 
as such, it is nothing that can be limited or limiting. Permaculture 
occurs when someone anyone is of the opinion that we can no longer keep 
pillaging and wrecking this planets resources. It is when that thought 
pattern occurs that people then look for something to highlite what it 
is they can do to change their habits.

You do not need acreage you don't even need a suburban yard you can do 
the things that Permaculture promotes in your confines, you simply do 
what you can and what fits that all works towards conserving the 
environment and the habitat. I f we wait for those who want to change 
their earth unfriendly ways to buy acreage then change will never occur.

Someone asked the question on a perma-c forum 'they wanted to know where 
they could do a good perma-c course, because the resulting 
diploma/degree/certificate(!!!???) would fit nicely with their "master 
gardener certificate" whatever that is or means?'. Someone else 
responded by saying "there was a course at someplace in the US, and that 
the conveners allowed for heaps of reading time!!!" Sounds like the 
learning might have come from the books hey? And they further said "if 
nothing else the $1000+USD they paid provided at the least a cheap 
holiday"!!!!! My response was that all they need to know is already in 
print. The whole PDC thing sounds awfully ego driven to me!

Other things I've seen written, someone did a course and then said it 
was like being a WWOOFer (or WWOPCFer - Willing Workers On Permaculture 
Farms) that paid to help the conveners to finish or start permaculture 
projects, some holiday hey? (For those who may not be familiar with the 
term WWOOFer, it means Willing Workers On Organic Farms, and usually 
backpackers or working travellers stay on properties where they help 
with chores and in return get somewhere to bunk down or camp, and 
whatever food comes from the garden etc.,. they pay nothing and get no 
money reward other than what I mentioned earlier).

It is a grass roots level "mind set", so in other words an individual or 
family have it in mind that we humans are misusing this planet earth we 
call home. All the climate, air quality & environment ill's and woes are 
mainly due in course to this abuse of natural resources and the 
mismanagement of the resource. All for the sake of quick un-sustainable 
profits (don't like that word 'sustainable' it is too broad in it's 
meaning but until something better happens along there it is).

Permaculture is using the natural design your system comes with, 
permaculture is maintaining habitat, building habitat, improving 
habitat, and then producing within the natural bounds of that habitat.

Permaculture is a tool full of ideas to help you achieve the changes you 
want to or can make in your system, don't look at the big picture too 
much yes by all means be aware of it but work within your picture. As in 
the end if change comes from permaculture then it will be a lot of 
little snowballs rolling into one big snowball that will succeed.

The change will come from the grass roots level of our society from the 
little man. It won't come from the corporate end of town they are driven 
solely by money and profit, and it won't come from diplomas or degrees, 
it will come from those who roll up their sleeves and get down and dirty 
so to speak. It won't come from the yuppies that want to sit back talk 
big and sell permaculture. And it will happen when we who are trying to 
change start talking about what we are doing, start swapping ideas, just 
have a look around the internet there isn't much of that going on.

If you take on permaculture to impress friends and associates or as a 
fad or fancy or fashion it won't last you will get very board with it 
and go to some other fad of the day.

Permaculture starts in your home, you do an audit on the following items:

1. How much can you minimise what you send to the trash can each week, 
how much of what you put in there could be recycled into your garden?

2. To cut down on the waste you need to process eg.,. send to the trash 
can or recycle you need to look at the things you buy and bring home, 
how are these things packaged, is the packaging able to be recycled 
either on site or sent to a recycle station?

3. How can you better use the fresh drinking quality water that comes 
piped to you through your reticulated water system, a resource that most 
have to pay for and all will pay for in years to come, so do an audit 
how you use this resource:

· How much do you waste pushing that little button of convenience in 
your toilet, how many use drinking water to flush away urine?

· Do you use showers all the time? Use the bath more and share the bath 
water i.e., wife baths first then hubby goes next or bathe together, 
don't fill the bath only use it ½ full.

· Do you use a fully automatic washing machine? They use heaps of water. 
We use a twin tub ok you can't set and forget you need to follow through 
with the wash, but we fill the machine and wash all the lighter cleaner 
stuff first working through to the extra dirty stuff so one fill of 
water does as does one tub for rinsing.

· What do you do with your grey water, and it doesn't matter where it 
comes from i.e., bathroom, laundry, kitchen. Do you recycle any of this 
to your lawns/gardens? We use an earth friendly detergent in the 
kitchen, we make our washing detergent for the clothes and this gets 
used as a general purpose cleaner as well e.g., cleaning the bath tub, 
wiping bench tops & washing hands.

· Lawns are the most resource wasteful folly gardeners have, they 
account for huge amounts of pollutant run off all in the cause of that 
perfect looking green carpet. The amount of drinking water that goes to 
watering this folly is indescribable, and the mowing and trimming. Then 
people collect the grass clip and dump it into their waste bins. Leave 
the clip on the ground to become nutrient for the lawn if it doesn't 
rain don't water the lawn, watch how fast it'll turn green when rain 
comes, everyone ends up with the same green looking lawn after rain even 
those who won't waste water keeping it green.

· Mulch - use mulch on all gardens around all trees, not those fancy 
looking mulches or mulches that don't decompose and don't add to your 
soils nutrients, use mulches like hay or straw.

Do you live in an efficient house? No I don't mean what the modern 
building industry want you to believe in, I mean is your house designed 
to keep itself cool in summer and warm in winter. Or is your house 
designed to use far less heating and cooling, as do other houses in your 
climate? Bet it's not. You see modern architecture still has homeowners 
believing in and building those European style homes, they don't 
incorporate any thermal qualities. Everyone lives the dream that has 
been conditioned into him or her by the accepted standard, no matter how 
inefficient it is.

Get around the permaculture groups and forums no one talks about Eco' 
housing, surely this is as much part of the mind set as planting trees? 
We built an Eco' house along the 'warm-house/cool-house' theme, lots of 
people resist it because it doesn't comply with the accepted norm' in 
design thinking. How many do you know who bought land for the aspect 
i.e., southern aspect/northern aspect etc., etc., The answer will be 
almost none, real estate won't sell on aspect their slogan is position, 
position, position, and I agree the right position is the right aspect. 
So if we go along with that that there is 4 basic aspects e.g.. North, 
south, east & west and only one of those aspects is the one that will 
work for your Eco' home then on an average we could say that ¾'s of all 
land sold is the wrong aspect. You see unless you orientated your Eco' 
style house with the right aspect on the right aspect on your land. How 
well it will work will be very doubtful.

There is only one important zone and it starts where you think and live 
in your mind & in your home.

Permaculture is living sustainably within our systems, providing safe 
good quality food that is produced with the safety of the habitat and 
environment taken into account, so that means no chemicals. We don't 
need regulators we need communities involved, as communities. Look what 
regulation has done to the organic name the standard has been lowered. 
Regulators can only work to the lowest common denominator.

When you purchase a rural block of ground what do you think about the 
trees & habitat on that block?

Do you reason you own the trees & habitat to do with what you desire?

Or are you a custodian of those trees & habitat that are needed for a 
stable environment & climate by the community at large?

Permaculture is making use of a natural system - The way I see it 
Permaculture in total may not suit your political, religious or dietary 
biases. If you have particular needs in this area take from or use what 
suits you or fits for you, but that then is your personal requirement.

Permaculture is about animals, work or useful animals i.e.,.

Animals and poultry to help with recycling and to create organic matter 
for the gardens, the list includes cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys, 
geese, sheep & goats. Whether you use these animals as a source of food 
or not is your decision.

Horses only as work animals e.g., for transportation or to work the fields.

Dogs only as work dogs to help with herding animals etc., or to act as 
protection for you.

Cats, I see absolutely no use for them as they are the greatest 
destroyers of fauna that was ever bred. In a case where the individual 
has cats and keeps them inside the house or confined in some way, but 
then they only serve as pets, and serve no real purpose in how well 
permaculture works for you.


Bill Mollison's description as per 'Introduction to Permaculture' - 
"Swales are long level excavations, which can vary greatly in width and 
treatment from small ridges in gardens, rock-piles thrown across slopes, 
or deliberately-excavated hollows in flat lands and low-slopes landscapes".

Don't try and find an understandable definition in a dictionary or 

Ok just remember nothing is set in concrete ok, and all is open to 
interpretation ok?

My idea of a swale: It is a method used to manipulate sudden storm or 
rainwater either into the sub-soil or across ground to another point! 
Commonly follows the contours across sloping ground.

So the method of constructing a swale is broad in description.

The permaculture designist ideal is a trench cut with some machinery 
i.e.. A disc plow and creating or causing the soil from that ditch to be 
piled on the lower side creating a berm, commonly if you remove 500mm of 
soil and pile it on the bottom side of that swale/trench you have a 
swale 1 meter deep or 1000mm deep. This type of design manipulated swale 
needs to be exactly level across the contour, or damming will occur 
which will then cause flood over and erosion. The length of this type of 
swale needs to be regulated, as you need to create spillways in case of 
over burden of water. Also these swales are very permanent (unless you 
go back and fill them in) inclusion in your landscape, and may mean you 
have to go around them instead of over them whenmoving around your property.

Commonly it is suggested that you grow food or habitat trees along the 
berm as well. And below the berm and above the swale proper, in high 
rainfall areas where trees need extra drainage the berm is ideal, but 
then if you are in a high rainfall area swales may not be that 
important. In lower or marginal rainfall areas planting trees on raised 
soil is going to keep them drier than what is needed.

So lets decide that a swale is something that does with the water what 
you want it to do:

· Then if you used a ripper. (A ripper is a single plow like device for 
cutting a single rut into the soil. - commonly seen on the back ends of 
bulldozers and under the middle of road graders). Pulled behind a 
tractor like a plow this then is a swale, it impedes the flow of water 
down a slope and puts it underground. Let's investigate this method 
further I have very sandy loam type soils through to heavy volcanic 
clays, I used the rip method as I needed to get water into my soils this 
is another method of storing water.

1. This opens up the soil and helps compacted areas.

2. It allows organic matter and oxygen into the sub-surface.

3. It is semi-permanent and once grass is growing is not seen but can 
still be working it causes no inconvenience when moving around your 

4. If you plant trees along this rip line they grow better and faster as 
the soil is aerated which allows for bacteria and micazoria growth.

· So then if I lay a row of mulch grass or a row of bales of hey/straw 
etc., along the contour this too is a swale. As once it settles in and 
the grass starts growing along the edges and the mulch contacting the 
ground starts to decompose and worms etc, begin to work then water is 
impeded from flowing down that slope and it has a key to be able to soak 
into the sub-soil.

1. So if that row of mulch (mulch berm) material were laid over a rip it 
would be more effective.

2. Now if you planted your food or other trees along the contour mulched 
around the trees then mulched (berm) along the rows between the trees 
that is a swale, believe me it works for me, why not for you?

The swales we use are as permanent as you want/need or as are temporary 
as is required.

If you live in heavy clay soil areas you need to be aware that once clay 
saturates water no longer penetrates it. Just ask the blokes who build 
dams they need a clay (be it reactive volcanic clay or non-reactive 
sandstone clay) for the bottom of the dam so that the dam will hold 
water. Yes I know the designists say to mulch along the swale trench and 
in time this will make the clay more permeable to soaking in water, how 
much time well that is the big question. If you are so locked into the 
comfort zone of constructing this type of swale, and you are in clay 
soil. Then might I suggest a good dose of gypsum (no limit to how much 
can be used really, buy the good quality stuff, that is determined this 
way, the more like talcum powder it looks the better the quality). Along 
the bare swale surface and over the berm before laying the much this can 
have the effect of spreading up the amending process. To go one step 
further maybes consider cutting a rip along the bottom of the swale, 
after all you are trying to get water down into the sub-soil.

Our idea is to plant enough trees along the contours so that in time 
they put the water underground as a full working forest does. As I see 
it you need to be getting water into the ground up on the slopes long 
before that water gets down to the flat lands or flood plains.

When we purchased this block it had a grazing rate of around 1 to 5 or 6 
and in the very dry seasons may have to be taken out to as low as 1 to 
10. After 3 years of what we call simple management skills the land will 
easily graze 1 to 3 or maybe down to 4. Right now as we are getting good 
rains it could cope with some time as low as 1 to 2 or even 1 to 1, 
these are cattle rates I am talking. Horses are a different kettle of 
fish needing more grazing ground per animal, unless improved pasture 
methods are used then you need to be where irrigation water is available.

The other bonuses of our system:

1. We have less tree loss at planting due to the extra moisture in the soil.

2. We don't water our citrus or stone fruit orchid (all heavily mulched 
as well so we don't feed the trees artificially).

3. The pasture grasses are growing faster and stronger, this then 
protects the surface soil from the sun and wind, and our growth rate at 
present is 18 to 24 "s over a 7-week period.

4. We now have wet/soak areas down the flat and this lasts for weeks 
after rain stops as the water slowly works it's way down though the 
sub-soil, on its way to the creek.

TREES the all important link to a sustainable life & climate:<>

With all the political hype and hoopla that goes on via the media the 
folk in our cities most likely have no idea that the degradation of 
forest, habitat and bio-diversity is still running at full steam.

Any vegetation protection legislation or any other rules and regulations 
bandied around are only there in an attempt to curb the little person in 
the big picture, when it comes to the sacred cows they do as they wish 
when they wish.


Quote from this site: Farm Forestry for Green and Gold

"Trees support valuable pasture Trees don't necessarily suppress pasture 
growth. It depends on the number of trees. A study near Gunnedah, NSW 
found that the pasture output was at its highest level when the 
proportion of tree cover across a farm was 34%. This moderate level of 
tree cover enhanced pasture production because trees cut down on wind 
driven evaporation and some highly productive and palatable grasses grow 
better in the cooler and more fertile soil under an open canopy of 

Further reading: Walpole (1999)."

On our property our lushest grasses grow under the canopy of eucalypt 
trees, there they are protected from winds. sun and get the benefit of 
moisture that drips from the tree leafs from rain, heavy dew and fogs. 
The grasses also get the benefits of the mulching from fallen leafs and 
all the organisms that are attracted to break that material down.

So we guess the challenge to city folk who may read this, is next time 
you take your family on holidays do something different! take them on a 
campervan holiday, drive around the hinterland of your city, see the 
missing habitat and trees, see the greying remains of piled up trees 
where the best part has been used for fence posts, and the rest lays 
waiting to be burnt and cause pollutants into the atmosphere.

Note the piles of trees that could have been used for fence posts that 
have been burnt to create grazing ground or housing developments. There 
are wood chip mills logging forest for timber to chip yet all this 
resource is wasted left lying in paddocks. Reckon us humans might just 
have to think a little bit more about using resources less wastefully.

The latest from Australian Scientists is; 'There is a definite 
relationship between the loss of trees and droughts and lack of rain' 
WOW wonder how many degrees you need to work that one out just try 
living in rural it's right there in front for all to see.

As I write this essay I will try to encourage others to think "outside 
the square", this broadens your acceptance of different ideas and can 
help to break down cultural or other barriers. I will also be 
encouraging you to extend your 'comfort zone/envelope'. It can be quiet 
exiting when you broaden your thinking to take a good hard look at our 
culture and see some of the ruts we are in, some of the old habits and 
ideas that never were and still aren't efficient.

Our homes for one the accepted European influenced design gabled 
macmansion with multiple bathrooms, toilets, lots of lighting, huge 
heating requirements and cooling requirements, just aren't going to be 
acceptable if we want to conserve resources and money yes the hip pocket 
feeling. So exploring the idea of having the right aspected land and 
then designing a home that will work toward keeping you comfortable 
without the use of the resources or with minimised.

The home we planned and live in is very comfortable for our climate, the 
aspect of the home is orientated correctly and it is built on the right 
aspected land. So in winter we get maximum sun from sunrise into the 
home, and in summer the sun is kept out of the house so it then keeps us 
cool. We do not use heaters or air-conditioners, yet we can have -3c 
outside in winter and +40c outside in the summer.


Cement rendered Straw Bale is a current fashion, the one I have seen 
don't seem to allow for the sun to access inside the home in the winter, 
but then that's only my observation, no doubt straw bale supporters will 
see it different.

So basically it has to be built on a slab, they use galvanised wire mesh 
as reinforcing to lock the bales together and also for the cement 
rendering. Now as we know cement can crack especially cement render now 
what happens then the termites find their way in, so I guess a straw 
bale house needs some pretty good termite control mechanisms in place 
this usually means chemicals. And there needs to be a frame work built 
to hold the roof and the windows and doors etc.,. Most of the termites 
in rural are the kind that seek out and eat grass straws. Oh don't 
forget to create the bales grass has to be slashed, dried and baled then 

Compacted Earth is the other fashion for those who dare to be different. 
Not sure how sustainable this sort of material is? As you need to source 
suitable soil for the purpose, might mean a lot of destruction of 
habitat and the creation of a large hole to do that, think about it? As 
I see it there is most likely a lot of resources used to complete the 
compacted walls. I really can't imagine anyone taking this task on with 
a pick, shovel & wheelbarrow.

And yes they can crack, and yes I reckon termites would probably like to 
move in so again termite protection is needed.

Timber well timber is out it just doesn't have the thermal qualities 
needed unless it's burning in a polluting fireplace. Remember plantation 
timbers are grown where once native habitat existed, I've seen the 
forestry people ripping out melaleuca scrub etc., just to plant pine 
trees doesn't come under the sustainable label now does it. And likewise 
the new agri-forest fad of growing non indemic eucalypts for the timber 
industry is not doing anything for habitat renewal or maintenance is it?

And of course not very fire resistant or termite resistant along with 
dry rot etc.,. and high in ongoing surface coating maintenance.

Steel on a cement slab is what we chose we get the heat of the winter 
sun through all the glass we have facing north. And by using a scillion 
roof (the only style roof to have uses less material in construction and 
there is no roof cavity area created to deal with), ok we lose a bit on 
surface are that affect the water catchment of the roof, but hey there's 
always a price to pay.

So we have steel framed, steel clad on 3 walls (what we could afford), 
insulated with pink batts and sizalation, it works well. We could only 
get a magnetic north aspect (should be true north which correct me if 
I'm wrong is app' 11 degrees west of magnetic north) with the house the 
chap who did our site just didn't know enough or understand enough. 
Problems are few nothing that some tree growth and maybe the inclusion 
of an awning along the southern wall won't fix.

Other material could have been instead of the clad walls; Besser block; 
Bricks; Rock or cement prefab walls, these materials might need to be 
high on the list for this style of home to work well in colder climes. 
But at all times a scillion roof, and the house to be aspected with the 
front facing true north.

We use no heating or cooling. We are using the open plan that suits us, 
and our kitchen is on the north/eastern end just about ideal by our 
reckoning. No windows on the western wall, a couple in the eastern end 
where the sink is, and some hoppers along the southern wall for 
cross-ventilation (the design does not need those hoppers and the use of 
eastern windows is to be with caution).

Probably need some whiz kid here but how much more environmentally 
friendly is using steel that can be recycled, is fire resistant and 
termite resistant (we have no need for termite protection), as against 
using timber that destroys forest creates atmosphere problems along with 
loss of rainfall and habitat. How many ore mines would we need to 
service Australia's needs and how many smelters? Compared to the 
resources needed in other materials used.

Something to think about and you extrapolate it out I'll just give you 
what I know:

A family in the south of Australia uses 4 ton (imperial not tonne) of 
firewood each winter??

Another in the north of Great Britain uses 20 imp' ton of firewood over 
a 9 month winter using 3 fireplaces and generally runs one wood burner 
all through summer as it can still get cold!!!???

Not to mention the pollution all this keeping warm is causing and the 
damage to habitat, I guess if you are busily copicing trees for winter 
wood you don't have much time to repair habitat hey?

Can you imagine the resources needed to create, transport and store 
those requirements?

Some use coke/coal, oil, gas or electricity, with diminishing fossil 
fuel resources and forest how can this be sustainable?

I mean one home runs 3 burners for 9 months non-stop is this the needs 
of a properly designed home?

Mind you there is no account in the above for the electricity or gas 
that these homes may use as well.

Maybe the Planet is letting us know HEY we can't keep going along in 
this vane??

It needs to be said and said again and again and again so we get it clear;

''We this generation and generations before us are merely custodians of 
this planet and all that exists within it, We are responsible to leave a 
habitable planet/home for not only our children's children, but their 
children and their children thereafter''

"So then the question again begs to be asked when you buy a property is 
the habitat and fauna and flora contained within that property yours to 
do with what you may or are you the custodians of that resource for the 
betterment of the total community for generations to follow?"

think about it!!


The more trees and habitat we destroy the less rainfall and the dirtier 
the air we breathe:

The Sub-Aquifer surprising how many people are using this very fragile 
system, and most likely non realize that it is truly a NON-RENEWABLE 
RESOURCE. That is if we diminish the system we cannot replace the water 
that was there, if we corrupt the system by causing it to become 
contaminated with salt water we cannot repair that.

The Sub-Aquifer is vulnerable to many contaminates from Agriculture, 
Industry and domestic applications like septic toilet systems. It is 
vulnerable to over use this is where it then falls down, in our search 
for our property we saw lots of bores just capped off due to the system 
being over pumped and drawing salt water into the system.

I do not believe that in Permaculture that we should use this resource, 
because it is non-renewable. My original plans were not to use it but 
then circumstances made me change that decision. We only needed to draw 
a small amount each day, our bore was rated at 300 imp' gallons per 
hour, that was more than what we needed so we imagined that we could not 
over use the system and that would still have stood true. But we didn't 
count on how many other bores went in at the same time most rated at 
1,000 gph or under.

First with all the other holes being drilled the pressure dropped just 
noticeable, as did the delivery quantity. But to top all this off 
someone set up an agricultural venture growing squash type vegetables, 
and they did this on poor quality already agriculturally degraded land 
eg.,. the top soil around here has long been eroded away from continued 
clear felling etc.,.

This farmer needed to create irrigation water he put in a large dam that 
will take quiet some time to fill enough for his uses, the thought is it 
may never do that. So he opted for bore water he apparently drilled a 
number of holes (each hole dropped the pressure of the system) looking 
for the one with the greatest capacity. He eventually sprung one at a 
delivery rate of around 3,000 gph, this bore is in the vicinity of 10" 
or more diameter, compared to our 6" bore. Needless to say that the 
money we expended on our bore is all but wasted it now only delivers 
around 50 gallons per day in 2 hits, the pressure is so low as to be 
almost as bad as water pressures in some older homes in the city. So I 
guess when he causes the system to corrupt he will sell up to some other 
hopeful. To top things off the farmer also clear felled the top of a 
ridge an area app' 1 kilometer long and 600 meters wide, it was most 
likely this re-growth that was feeding the aquifer (can't say for sure 
don't know who can but might be that this system begins in his area?). 
And that when we got some heavy rains so plenty of erosion visible, will 
they never learn.

Then I read in another forum that I participate in someone over in the 
south west of the country has a bore for his suburban garden and he has 
it fitted with a computerized automatic watering system, just so his 
lawn will get watered every second night. I believe that this resource 
should not be used for agricultural irrigation or domestic use in the 
way mentioned above, I don't believe bringing the regulator in will 
solve the problem the rich agriculturists will still prevail.

How long can the system be taken for granted? The sub-aquifer belongs to 
the community, where most irrigators have licenses to draw water from 
river catchments this water here is being used with non-of those 


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