M and I took a an online permaculture design course (PDC) with Geoff Lawton that started last May and ran through August. It was a great experience and the timing worked out pretty well with everything going on at the farm. We had to submit an actual permaculture design to complete the course and so we designed our “dream farm”. It was a tremendous effort, but now we have a blueprint for setting the farm up in a way that helps us to achieve our goal of being truly sustainable.
A typical PDC is a two-week, full-time commitment – not something either of us could afford given everything going on in our lives right now, so the online opportunity was perfect for us. The fact that Geoff Lawton was teaching it made it a no brainer as he is one of the most knowledgeable and experienced permaculture instructors in the world. There were lots of bonuses that came with the course – a full set of DVD’s of the course, extra Geoff Lawton permaculture dvd’s, indefinite access to the on-line course site including all of the Q&A videos produced throughout the course – which were quite extensive and full of great information in and of themselves – and an earthworks course.
As I mentioned, timing was great since we were literally on the verge of bringing in heavy equipment to start clearing for the barn and house, digging in more swales, adding several ponds and building large hugelkultur beds, so the bonus earthworks course was exceptionally helpful. We couldn’t be more pleased with the entire experience, the quality of the information presented and Geoff’s presentation style. He made you feel as if you were right there with him the whole time. A great investment indeed.
Now that we have a well-thought-out and detailed design for our farm (as has been confirmed since we just received our Permaculture Design Certificate!), we are feeling much more confident about this journey we have embarked on. Here are a few snippets from our design. The complete document has a lot more detail and is 62 pages long. M is completely responsible for making all of the pretty pictures.
Permaculture design breaks your land down into efficiently manageable areas referred to as zones. Zone 1 on a property our size is the half to one acre area around the home. This is where animals, plantings, etc… that require multiple visits per day should be located. Our barn, greenhouse, nursery beds, worm bins, chickens, kitchen garden and any plantings that are delicate or temperamental (i.e. baby lettuces we may grow for market or dwarf fruit trees we will need to create micro-climates for) will be placed in zone 1.
The main living spaces in the house and the greenhouse attached to the barn are positioned due south to take advantage of as much passive solar energy as possible. We will also add solar panels to both buildings. Keyhole style planting beds allow us to maximize our growing space in this area and the paths will be set up in a way that we can use them to “flood irrigate” the beds. The chickens will have access to a covered straw yard and a fenced area divided into paddocks so we can rotate them through. Each paddock will have a variety of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants to provide them with year-round shelter and forage.
The layout of the barn shows how the laying flock and the greenhouse will be integrated. A section of the wall between the barn and the greenhouse will be screened with hardware cloth to allow the exchange of CO2 and body heat from the chickens which benefit both plants and chickens. Even heat from the walk-in cooler will be vented into the greenhouse in the winter. The nest boxes will open inside the greenhouse so I can easily collect eggs without having to go all the way into the coop.
The temporary living space will become our market garden processing area once our house is built. We also hope to someday add a commercial kitchen for processing value-add products and hosting classes and workshops on cheese making, charcuterie, baking, etc….
As you move out from zone to zone, the attention required and number of visits per day lessen. For example, our broad acre market garden crops (potatoes, squash, beans, etc), berries, bee hives, sheep or goat barn (we are still deciding which animal will work best for our plan) and cutting gardens are located in zone 2, although there will be certain times of the year when multiple visits will be required.
Zone 3 is where we will have our food forests, trees that coppice well for firewood, grow grains for feed as well as wild-crafted foods like mushroom logs, nettles and fiddlehead ferns.
Zone 4 is our managed woodlot. Beyond that is zone 5 – reserved for wildlife with little or no human intervention.
If you’ve read earlier posts in our blog, we mention water management a lot. It’s because we are on a sloped property and there is A LOT of water coming down the hillside except, of course, during the main growing season! So we have observed, experienced and studied how we might best address the issues of too much water and not enough water. We will be putting in a few swales, several ponds and a couple of dams, livestock irrigation line and more cisterns. We will also harness the power of some of the water using micro-hydro to provide our power during the months where we have abundant water but no sunshine. Solar will provide our summer power needs.
And that my friends, is the Grand Plan in a nutshell. Wish us luck – we will need it!