Thursday, March 1, 2012

Perma-thoughts, 2

Here's an example of how my Permaculture course has changed my perspective on elements of the Patch:

On the northern boundary we're establishing a windbreak against hot, drying winds. At the moment, this consists of 15 Flinders Ranges wattle saplings. All but one are doing well, and should start to be effective in the next 24-36 months. I was quite pleased with this idea when I first thought of it: 'Good idea to create a microclimate, Steve!' I thought.
Will eventually be a windbreak: 15 tiny wattle seedlings , Aug 2011

Now, applying some Permaculture principles, I can see ways to make it a whole lot better:

Principle: Build diverse, stable ecosystems.

OK, a 15 x 2 metre windbreak (eventual mature size) isn't exactly an ecosystem. But what if I planted sheokes on the leeward side of the wattles, and grew a small-leafed (because not rampant) hardenbergia up the sheokes when established, and dug a swale to catch water runoff, and sowed the bank of the swale with dichondra and native violets, and planted blueberries in the lee of the windbreak? And put logs in the swale to provide habitat for lizards and amphibians?

Would this be an ecosystem, or just a collection of plants and landscape features? Let's have a look:

The wattles and the sheokes together will make a more effective windbreak; both are nitrogen fixing. When they are cut back (mulch for the veg beds), some of their root mass will also die off, making nitrogen available to the soil. Hardenbergia is also nitrogen fixing, so we have three plant species improving the soil. Blueberries on the leeward fringe of the windbreak will benefit from the added nitrogen, and also the acidic environment provided by the mulch of sheoke needles.

All of these are flowering plants and will provide forage for bees and nectar-eating birds. In addition the swale should become an ephemeral wetland, attracting the numerous frogs from the surrounding area - we're lucky to have two established wetlands to the northeast and northwest of the site.

So this begins to look like a functioning ecosystem, with beneficial interactions between the various species. In time further species would be introduced (or colonise by themselves) and it would become more diverse.

Principle: Every element of a design should function in many ways.

This is also referred to as 'stacking' functions. How does our windbreak fit in with this?

As envisaged above, it now serves the following functions:

• reduces the impact of hot, drying winds
• provides mulch for veg beds
• provides forage for bees (pollinators, suppliers of honey)
• provides habitat for insectivorous birds, reptiles and amphibians (pest control)
• provides fruit
• improves soil nitrogen
• improves water infiltration
• removes the need for mowing (saves labour)

Now, not all aspects of the plan will turn out as envisaged. For example, it may be that blueberries just won't flourish where I want them, so I would have to use other berries. That would tie in with other Permaculture principles:

Apply self-regulation and accept feedback.
Use small and slow solutions. (Otherwise referred to as incremental design.)
Creatively use and respond to change.

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