Permaculture / doing things sustainably is more work, at first. We're coming up on our one year anniversary at our new property, and wow its been really rewarding, but a ton of work. On top of getting settled, and completing a first year of being a homeschool dad, I started designing our own land from a complete blank slate (no trees), and getting the beginnings of our new plant nursery started (in red clay), without much money. While it was a good bit of work, having the permaculture framework of design, removed the largest barrier- not knowing what the do next. I haven't had time to finish by little book (The Abundant Homestead Designer's Workbook) I was working on before we moved, so to get some momentum (public and personal), I want to share a little passage out of the book to help give readers a better picture of how the permaculture lens of seeing the world, helped me not get stuck (or make major blunders), and how a better understanding might help you in your journey to abundance! Hope you enjoy!
...Once you have all the data about your homestead conveniently in one place, it makes it easier to take a step back from the emotion of your property. This follows the principle of designing from the major patterns of the land first, and then progressively working down to details. One of the most common problems in homestead design is to simply start adding things you want and placing them wherever “seems like a good spot”. This leads to major inefficiencies and all sorts of other missed opportunities. Design starting from the broad pattern of your area, climate, topography, etc., and working its way down into the details is where this book will quickly and seamlessly lead you.
Quick story. When I first started learning about permaculture we had already been practicing “backyard farming” type stuff. We already had chickens, rainwater tanks, a big garden, a bunch of fruit trees/berry plants, a little pond with edible plants, and a big playground area for our two girls. This was on a half-acre suburban lot. Some people might think I was already “doing permaculture”, but this is a misunderstanding of what permaculture is. At its core, permaculture is a design science. Even though I had all these things, and had a degree in science, there was very little design, or science to all the “stuff” in our yard. That's not to say it wasn’t productive, it just wasn’t efficient. I did the best I could with what I learned on that property, but a lot of the elements were either difficult or impossible to move without destroying. As it turned out, we ended up moving 400 miles west for my wife’s job. Let me tell you, even though I still miss our old backyard, (mostly all the dozens of plants I left behind), coming to a new property with what I have learned is quite refreshing. I’ll try hard not to bore you with the details about our current property, but let me tell you, having a permaculture analysis in hand is making a huge difference with our new “blank slate” of a property.
Before we ever moved onto our new property (only 1 acre), the former owners showed us where their garden was located, and told us the soil was really good there. This was valuable information, but it also had the potential for mistakes. Their garden spot will make a good planting area, but it’s not the best location for a “kitchen garden”. This may seem like a minor detail, but while you’re cooking and need some herbs, the “100 yard dash” isn’t what you want to do. For us, this garden spot will be great for a “main crop” garden. These are things like potatoes, corn, winter squash, and other things that don’t require as much attention, and don’t get harvested on a daily basis.
Even when you know a lot about permaculture, or in my case, have taken the design course (PDC), it is still crucially important to do an analysis of your property. While I might get some interesting ideas about what is possible at a property, simply by walking around it, it takes a larger investment of time, thinking, and measurement, before good design really starts to become apparent for the property. This is one of my main reasons for writing this workbook. While I can offer a property analysis for customers without actually stepping on their property, I believe there is even more value (benefit/cost) in teaching you how to analyze your own property through this design framework.
Energy in vs. Energy Out.
Handling money wisely has many similarities to handling your land wisely. Being sustainable is all about the wise use of energy. Energy comes in many forms. Some of those forms can be stored more easily than others, and capturing an excess of usable energy, for everything that needs it, is really what we are interested in. Excess, because living “paycheck to paycheck” isn’t fun.
We live in a throw-away culture, but if you’re reading this, you probably want something better. Energy is defined as something that has the ability to do work. Energy is valuable. Valuable, as in, someone would pay for it, unfortunately, most of the time, that someone is us. We don’t want to waste our resources. It’s easy to get into a routine of wasting energy. Just the daily walk to feed the chickens might be a waste. If you normally enjoy the walk, that’s fine, but what about when it’s cold, windy, and raining, or their water is frozen? You’re welcome to walk to your chicken coop whenever you want, but what if you didn’t have to? In this book we are going to put numbers to our actions. Distance numbers, sun angles, feed calories, elevation changes, soil fertility numbers, just to name a few. Don’t worry if you’re not a “number’s person”, all you will have to do is follow the directions and fill in the blanks.
A major purpose of this workbook is to help you get answers. Where is all your energy coming from and where is all your energy going? Is there more being used up than stored? Is one part of the landscape being depleted in exchange for another output? Where are the leaks/wastes exiting our system? How can more energy be captured and held onto longer? What needs feed on your property? What should it eat and how much? If you had to buy all of it, how much would it cost? How much energy does it take to get the feed to where it’s going? These are all energy questions, but I don’t want you to look at them as problems, but as a 4D puzzle, that when solved, will have your homestead running like a well-oiled machine. It’s my job to show you how the pieces fit together, and our goal is a surplus of energy at every level of your homestead.
Only one energy source.
We will assume you don’t have a nuclear reactor. With that assumption, all the rest of the energy of the world originates from the sun, with some help from gravity. Fossil fuels, wind, hydro, and animals are all different forms of solar energy. Fossil fuels are plants and animals squished under layers of sedimentary rock, concentrated carbon. Wind is formed by differences in temperature creating areas of more or less dense air, and gravity is constantly trying to level out those differences. Solar energy also does the extremely heavy lifting of evaporating water…think of all the potential energy of the water lifted up into the sky (ever carry a 5 gallon (41.7 lbs) bucket of water up a hill?). Last but not least, the current collection of solar energy by plants that feeds all of the life on earth, large and small...
Thanks for reading! If you found the concept of the book helpful, leave a comment below, it will help me stay motivated on finishing it up!