Autumn Reflections

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Autumn is coming to a close here in Melbourne and I’ve been sharing the signs of the season with Miss Z, my now 4 year old.

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We have the typical signs like in other temperate zones of the world, such as the harvest, cooler weather, trees losing their leaves, shorter days and the equinox.  It’s fascinating to dig deeper to find our own cultural signs of the season reflecting nature in Australia.

The Bureau of Meteorology website has a section for indigenous weather knowledge.  The closest calendar for Melbourne is the Gariwerd calendar from the Halls Gap region, and the Herring Island website has a useful visual wheel of the calendar.

We learn from these (if not our own local observations over the years) that Melbourne is better represented by 6 seasons, not 4.  We start the year with:

  1. Late Summer, then move to
  2. Autumn or Early Winter, then
  3. Winter or Deep Winter,
  4. Pre-Spring,
  5. Spring, and finish with
  6. Early Summer

I like that the calendar tells us what our flora and fauna are doing during the different seasons, such as the eels are fat and ready for harvest in Late Summer, wombats are active in Autumn, birds are nesting in Pre-Spring, and tadpoles are growing in Spring.  It makes me want to find spots to show Miss Z where to see these signs, and that led me to investigating eels in Victoria.  What I found was an ancient history of eel farming going back 8,000 years in Lake Condah in south west Victoria.  This video tells an amazing story about a 10,000 strong community based on the eel industry:

Indigenous Eel Farming

Unfortunately the area was drained in the 1800s so we wouldn’t be looking at a day trip to see the eel farm there, but the Gunditjmara people aim to restore the natural abundance of the lake and its native plants and animals, and that would be a wonder for future generations.

Signs of wombats are easier to find, and in fact I was able to show Miss Z wombat holes when we went to Kinglake Raspberries in January 2015 and had to navigate wombat holes crossing the rows of raspberries.  We weren’t expecting that!

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What about you?  What signs do you look forward to with each season?  Have you found a First Nations connection with seasons and your landscape?

 

 

The Garden of Life

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Happy New Year!

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Growing potatoes for the first time

Here we are in 2016 and it feels like an opportunity for a fresh start.  I would like to start with a sense of gratitude for the garden, which always has something new to show me, and for the blog, which has been a creative outlet and a source of connection with permies creating their own examples, and for the patient readers taking an interest in my story and forgiving the blog pauses.

I would like to share with you a poem I wrote on 20 May 2015, and I’m sure the gardeners out there will recognise my feelings.

The Garden of Life

The seasons turn and I see the life around me

I see fresh green of adolescent growth

I see little heads as seeds find themselves in a new form

I see the love of another generation blooming its red happiness

I see the faded life too, the life that has served its purpose and left its green behind

It gives space for possibilities and potential, for dreams and journeys, for living co-operatively

Thank you for all your gifts

 

May 2016 bring you an abundant garden, health, and happiness 🙂

Design Project: Implementation Plan Catch Up

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If any of you remember the Implementation Plan that I posted back in December 2014, I’ll make this a catch up post which will pretty much be along the lines of feedback and tweaks.

I scheduled breaks in April and July, thinking that my family would have a holiday in April, and that winter illnesses would hit us in July/August and would need the rest. It was a good thing I scheduled the April break as I sliced my left index finger with sharp kitchen scissors doing a craft activity. Yeah, ouch. Luckily I didn’t need stitches, but I needed lots of healing time.

The schedule for May and June assume that the patio cover has been installed and therefore the surrounding land is ripe for scaping. That hasn’t happened yet so tasks 14-23 have been pushed back.

So what happened?

I had a plumber install 2 water saving toilets to replace the old single flush toilets (permaculture principle #6: produce no waste)

I joined the Diggers Club (from my husband as an early Mother’s Day gift)

A box of goodies from the Diggers Club

A box of goodies from the Diggers Club

I assembled a new rabbit hutch for Nibbles the guinea pig and Miffy the bunny

Assembled rabbit hutch with some flyscreen modifications

Assembled rabbit hutch with some flyscreen modifications

I had Miffy desexed, poor little munchkin

I planted poppy seeds and lettuce

Poppy seedlings - bonus seeds from the Diggers Club

Poppy seedlings – bonus seeds from the Diggers Club

Lettuce seedlings

Lettuce seedlings

I sheet mulched a section of the side of the house

Controlling the weeds and improving the look of the side of the house with sheet mulching

Controlling the weeds and improving the look of the side of the house with sheet mulching

I planted a couple of salvia plants in the front yard

Salvia to fill in gaps in the front garden

Salvia to fill in gaps in the front garden

AND got the wheels in motion for the patio cover! After lots of back and forth with the Operations Manager at For Life Patios to clarify details, I signed off on the Patio Building Plan in July. Very exciting! And then I worried about the state of our exposed aggregate concrete being rough, losing stones, and unsealed, and that in all likelihood, whatever we decided that we needed to do would need to be done before the patio could go in. Cutting a long story short, I found a company, Policrete, that does concrete grinding and sealing, and that looked like our best option for beautiful, comfortable, long-lasting flooring. The guys at Policrete were able to do the work in July and relieved my mind before For Life Patios needed the check measurements for the patio cover. Then patio materials started arriving near the end of August, and organising the construction has been my major activity since then.

What I learnt from that

I probably need to space out tasks involving trades in terms of the time it takes to find suitable contacts, organise quotes, finalise the scope, and schedule the work. Often the work is also weather-dependent, which means anything could happen in Melbourne.

Reflecting on the schedule and my point above, this implementation plan will probably be a 2 year plan.

I’m really glad I have resisted the temptation to start sheet mulching or edging new garden beds near the patio. Anything I did would have been trampled, covered in concrete dust, and otherwise ruined. Hardscaping is messy work.

I’ve enjoyed watching Nibbles and Miffy in the playpen outside on suitable weather days.

Miffy the dwarf lop bunny and Nibbles the guinea pig enjoying some time outdoors

Miffy the dwarf lop bunny and Nibbles the guinea pig enjoying some time outdoors

Sadly, Nibbles passed away earlier this month after being part of our family for nearly 6 years. She was very comfortable in her outdoor visits and went straight to grazing the grass and depositing her fertiliser. She’s buried next to her sister Boo in our backyard. I’m holding off using the new hutch until Miffy has a buddy bunny she’s happy to live with.

Seed raising soil is helpful for sprouting, but doesn’t contain enough nutrients for continued growth. This means another potting stage to nurture the growth until it’s hardy enough to plant.

What about the plan?

You can see why I’ve said this is feedback and tweaks to the plan. It’s happening slowly, but surely, as they say.

What about you?  What have you found impacts on your project timelines?  Do you find re-potting seeds is a task that goes on the back-burner or do you have a process to save you time?

The Sugar Snap Peas Story

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As a follow up to my post about planting sugar snap peas with Miss Z, have a look at their wonderful growth!

April

Sugar snap peas with the pots for flowers in the background

Sugar snap peas with the pots for flowers in the background

Sugar snap peas with chillis growing in the background

Sugar snap peas with chillis growing in the background

May

Sugar snap peas climbing to the top

Sugar snap peas climbing to the top

June

The sugar snap peas have taken over the trellis

The sugar snap peas have taken over the trellis

Lots of flowers mean lots of sugar snap peas to come

Lots of flowers mean lots of sugar snap peas to come

In July and August, I was periodically adjusting the trellis as the weight of the sugar snap peas was tipping it over in the wind (permaculture principle #1 observe and interact).

In August, I managed a harvest that went straight into a stir fry dinner 🙂

Yesterday, Miss Z and I were picking more and this is how it looked.

September

The sugar snap peas after being munched on by lots of hungry snails

The sugar snap peas after being munched on by lots of hungry snails

But we still had lots to pick, thankfully!

Miss Z and I picked ample sugar snap peas

Miss Z and I picked ample sugar snap peas

There are a handful of peas still growing on the plants and we’ll see if we might manage to yield a bit more for the season.

Following permaculture principle #3 obtain a yield, I would definitely recommend growing sugar snap peas if they suit your climate.  They have grown very easily without much intervention, although I’d suggest not placing them next to a wall where the snails can climb up and feast 😉  They have lovely greenery and white flowers, and the peas and the pods are edible and taste crisp and fresh.  Nutritionally, they offer fibre, iron, potassium, folate, and vitamin C.

I’ll have sugar snap peas on our menu at home this week!

Permaculture Design Certificate: yes, course news!

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A whole winter has passed here while I have kept you in suspense, and I thank those of you who are still with me on my journey. I started this blog because it was a way to deliver the design project to the Regenerative Leadership Institute, and a way to connect with the permaculture community and I think it’s only fair to share with you my study progress.

About the exam

In my last update, I submitted my hand drawn design and it had been conditionally accepted. From there, it was time for the exam. You know what exams mean… Revision, reading, and wondering whether you know and understand enough to pass. The exam is based on the key text for the course: Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual by Bill Mollison. If you’ve seen this book in person, you know that it’s a heavy book, and it’s 559 pages long. It’s incredibly dense material, and I came away from it feeling amazed by Bill Mollison’s depth and breadth of wisdom. *Mentally tips hat to Bill Mollison*

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The exam itself is multiple-choice and you access it online. The good thing is you can sit the exam more than once (though they change the questions), and because of that, I decided to take the risk and test my knowledge. It took me close to 2 hours to finish, and then was watching my email to find out the results! And the email came and I passed! I scored 85.7% and the email told me the questions I missed and gave the correct answers too, which is handy. How good is online study now that you find out results so quickly instead of waiting weeks?

While that was exciting, I was left wondering what that meant in terms of the course. Had I finished? Was I going to be asked to resubmit anything? My gut was telling me to expect a resubmission.

Wouldn’t you know, my supervisor emailed me the next day and asked for the zones map to be updated, showing more than 2 zones. Clearly, I needed to rethink what I’d done.

Zones map rethink

I reviewed examples of Zones maps, see some on my Pinterest board.

You’ll note that these are largely based on concentric circles growing larger from the house. I checked Rosemary Morrow’s Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture, and her zones are more fluid in size and location. I revisited Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual and noted that those zones maps are farm-based rather than urban, and logically the perimeters align with fence/tree/road lines and are therefore more rectangular or triangular. Using this last approach, I reviewed my map again.

Here’s the before

My hand-drawn design with zones and sectors

My hand-drawn design with zones and sectors

And after

My revised zones map

My revised zones map

I used markers to clearly define the boundaries and wrote over the pencilled-in text. I defined 3 zones instead of 2 to indicate the frequency of visits.

I resubmitted the zones map, hoping that I had sufficiently addressed the feedback. If I hadn’t, I was going to have to start my drawing from scratch again, and I would have ruined my design drawing.

The results

After an oops email telling me my next step was to take the exam, I heard the magic words! I had completed the Online Permaculture Design Course, and my certificate was attached 🙂

I finished the course and here's my certificate in a frame and everything

I finished the course and here’s my certificate in a frame and everything

The tree patterns look lovely, don’t they?

Now what, you ask? In the short term, I will continue to implement my long-considered design. In the longer term, I would love to be able to apply the knowledge and skills in the work force in engineering or renewable energy. Permaculture offers solutions for climate change, and we will have to use it on small (eg. our own backyard) and large scales (eg. infrastructure) to pull back the damage done to Earth and start the healing. If you’re interested in permaculture and are thinking about learning more, I say do it!

As Maya Angelou said, “I did then what I knew how to do.  Now that I know better, I do better.”

Permaculture shows you how to do better, and the more people that know how to do better, the better off we’ll all be.

Design Project: February and March Implementation

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I’m going to combine the update for February and March since February was a short month. For those months, the implementation plan scheduled:

  1. Patio cover installation
  2. Buy mat for kid’s play area under patio
  3. Choose pavers for under the clothesline
  4. Install pavers for the clothesline area
  5. Buy and install new clothesline
  6. Water tank quotes

So what happened?

These activities were based on having the patio cover installed and otherwise prioritised, so they have all slipped from their schedule.  Instead, this is what I did.

The soil around the avocado tree received some attention with sheet mulching, all the while hoping that it wasn’t too late for the tree and it would show signs of life again.

Avocado tree with rubbish

Avocado tree with rubbish

Avocado tree with cleared area

Avocado tree with cleared area

Avocado tree and ground condition

Avocado tree and ground condition

Home made compost

Home made compost

Alive compost

Alive compost

Avocado tree with some compost

Avocado tree with some compost

Avocado tree with cardboard

Avocado tree with cardboard

Sheet mulching helpers

Sheet mulching helpers

Avocado tree with soil building layers

Avocado tree with soil building layers

The herbs grew in the kitchen window

Marigold seedling

Marigold seedling

Thyme is growing

Thyme is growing

Slow growing chives

Slow growing chives

The pumpkin plants flourished

The pumpkin reaches up

The pumpkin reaches up

Pumpkin leaves angled to the sun

Pumpkin leaves angled to the sun

The pumpkin spreads

The pumpkin spreads

Green fuzzy pumpkin leaves

Green fuzzy pumpkin leaves

I drew an avocado tree guild to begin our first food forest.  I have noted the layers of the avocado guild (tree, shrub, herbacious, ground covers, rhizosphere) on the right, and available resources, and needs on the bottom right.

Avocado tree guild drawing

Avocado tree guild drawing

I set up some pots for Miss Z to grow sugar snap peas and flowers for a butterfly garden to educate her on growing plants, give her some responsibility, and allow her to forage her own food when the time comes.  This follows permaculture principle #1 observe and interact.

Pots with seed raising soil and compost

Pots with seed raising soil and compost

Sugar snap peas for the big pot

Sugar snap peas for the big pot

Butterfly garden mix for 2 pots

Butterfly garden mix for 2 pots

Pea straw mulch on top

Pea straw mulch on top

I set up a new area for growing sweet peas along the pergola, which will add beauty, attract insects, reduce weeds, and improve the soil for when we’re ready to start growing a passionfruit vine.

New trellis and soil for sweet pea seeds

New trellis and soil for sweet pea seeds

Sweet pea trellis section

Sweet pea trellis section

I had a quote to replace our 2 full flush toilets with water-saving dual flush toilets.  This was bumped up the priority list as we were toilet training our little one, and it was complicating matters to turn on the water at the wall to be able to flush the toilet (long story).  This helped us to use permaculture principle #6 produce no waste (or less waste, in this case).

I had 3 quotes for a patio cover – at last!  My husband used the http://www.homeimprovementpages.com.au/ to outline our job, and then we shortlisted our top 3 for quotes.  I wasn’t impressed with one company, was imagining the sky with another company, and grounded with a vision with the last company.

What I learnt from that

I love growing seeds! It’s fascinating to watch for changes every day and see how they evolve. Having seeds on the kitchen window sill is great as not only do they grow well there, but it’s very easy to check on them and give them water if they need it. The pumpkins have been an unexpected joy. I’ve never grown pumpkins before and I was amazed at how quickly they grew and I loved to admire their fuzzy leaves and beautiful yellow flowers. I noticed that they attracted bees and ladybirds, which was a bonus.

Having a drawn plan of a guild makes the implementation much more straightforward and quicker. The implementation highlighted to me that we don’t produce enough compost to meet our needs, and bags of compost from Bunnings are almost siphoned into our clay soil. It strikes me that it would be more efficient to have a truck deliver a few cubic metres of compost and then shovel it into a wheelbarrow and tip it where we need it, but that would probably require a working bee.  The other point is that our home made compost springs up gifts from the seeds that are in it, and I’d be inclined to only use that in our food growing areas because of that.

I took advice from Sarhn from Greener Me to teach Miss Z to grow her own plants and have found sugar snap peas are very easy to grow.  Miss Z enjoyed sprinkling seeds in the pots.

What about the plan?

The hardscaping has been delayed but is still on the agenda.  Lots more to come!

I’ll give course news in my next post – are you excited?

Design Project: January Implementation

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As I was saying in my last post, after working on my design project for some time, I’ve been eager to make these plans happen and test my solutions.

For January, the implementation plan scheduled:

  1. Set up herb planters
  2. Establish guild for avocado tree
  3. Install fairy lights on garden arch
  4. Patio cover quotes

So what happened?

I put together a Herb Planter Guide to plan herb functions and care, and do a rough positioning guide to eventually have my version of a herb spiral in a Stack-a-pot near the kitchen. I planted marigold, thyme and chives seeds in little pots for the herb planter and watched them grow in the kitchen window.

Chives seeds planted

Chives seeds planted

Marigold and thyme seeds

Marigold and thyme seeds

I spent a lot of time watering tomato plants.

Big red tomato plants

Big red tomato plants

I took Miss Z on a trip to Kinglake Raspberries to pick berries from the source.

Raspberry picking

Raspberry picking

We had a family trip to Rain, Hayne and Shine farm

Happy as a pig in the mud

Happy as a pig in the mud

I had a gift from putting down compost around the garden arch – pumpkin plants grew!

Pumpkin plants grew from the compost

Pumpkin plants grew from the compost

Pumpkin plants grew on both sides of the garden arch

Pumpkin plants grew on both sides of the garden arch

Patio cover builders are busy/unavailable in January.

What I learnt from that

Plant more seeds than you want as plants as they don’t all germinate. Also, seeds can take a while to germinate, and then to grow to a transplantable size. Plant seeds regularly and maybe figure out where to put them later if you grow more of them than expected.  I’m such a planner, I almost can’t believe I just said that.

Tomato plants seemed to do better with a watering every other day, but with some shade from the afternoon sun. Ours had no shade from the afternoon sun, so I kept watering them as they looked like they suffered on a few occasions.

Yeah, the tomato plants copped a bit too much sun

Yeah, the tomato plants copped a bit too much sun

Holidays are awesome and take them when you can.

Don’t plan work with tradespeople in January unless you already know they are working then.

What about the plan?

Overall, work was in progress but I wasn’t able to update the status to done, unfortunately.  Still according to the Permaculture Principles, I shouldn’t be too hard on myself.  Principle #12 is creatively use and respond to change, and my family benefitted from holidays and trips instead of having patio cover quotes.

Design Project: A Hand-Drawn Design

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I left my last post after having submitted my design project at the end of December…  And it’s now March…  You can probably guess that I needed to make some changes.

New Submission Method

After frantically putting together the documentation and blogging it to share the links with my supervisor, I had to complete an additional new online form for their efforts to ensure consistency across the students.

Feedback on my Submission

Once I had completed this form, I had feedback within a day that my design needed an overhaul and that it was too rough. I was asked for more detail, and to make it look clean and pretty. My supervisor recommended that I hand-draw the design instead. I was concerned about how much detail I would be expected to include for a few reasons.

  1. How much would fit in the actual drawing at that scale.
  2. If I’m including more detail (eg. more plants), then shouldn’t these be reflected in the budget and implementation plan? IE. Doesn’t that mean those documents would need to be updated too?
  3. Surely students who were designing bigger properties such as farms would not need to design to tree guild level or cover plants in nurseries, so it didn’t make sense to me that I would need to draw those in for my design.

So, to try to address this feedback, I used my mostly computer-based design as a guide for the hand-drawn version to attempt accuracy, and decided on making it A3 sized to be able to get some detail into the drawing. I chose not to worry about updating the budget and implementation plan if need be and just focus on the feedback at hand. For those new to the blog, here is my design before:

Ta da!

Ta da!

I used SketchUp to create the base map and then drew in my design over the top.

My Hand-drawn Design

And here is my hand-drawn design after:

My hand-drawn design

My hand-drawn design

Here I have attempted to make trees and shrubs look more like plants and paid more attention to colours.

More Feedback

No comments about the budget and implementation plan, but I had feedback in another direction. The next email I had from my supervisor said,

“Please draw around and label each zone clearly. Also please provide sectors on top of the map as well.”

I interpreted this to mean that my design was now acceptable and that I needed to use my design to re-do the zones and sectors map, rather than using a base map. I really didn’t want to ruin my hand-drawn design by drawing over it so my solution was to attach more paper to the edges of the design to be able to fit the sectors around the edges, and just marked the zones more heavily.

My New Zones and Sectors Map

My hand-drawn design with zones and sectors

My hand-drawn design with zones and sectors

Sorry that the image is darker for this one. Essentially you can see the arcs for summer sun, winter sun, warm wind, noise/pollution, and cold wind. The zones were hard to delineate as really the property only has zone 0 and zone 1.

Are We There Yet?

Sort of. They really keep you on tenterhooks with the assessment.

“Congratulations, we have conditionally accepted your design project, as it appears to satisfy all the requirements laid out.”

Apparently they do a final review of the design project after you pass the exam, meaning that they can still ask for changes. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions on that. Personally, after going to so much effort with the design project, it was very hard for me not to get excited about moving to the implementation stage rather than moving to the exam preparation stage for the course. I’ve been enjoying greater confidence with my efforts in the garden after soaking up the permaculture wisdom from the course and my reading, and I see that change as the point of the course. To have a sense of hope for the future and a toolkit to bring that to life (and maybe listen to Bring Me To Life by Evanescence with permaculture in mind).

Design Project: Implementation Plan, Budget and Maintenance

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So now I have a design, the next stage of the project is P for Plan a Schedule of Implementation, Maintenance and Feedback from the CEAP process. How does the design become reality?

Sweet peas holding on to each other to support their growth.  Everything is a work in progress :)

Sweet peas holding on to each other to support their growth. Everything is a work in progress 🙂

Implementation Plan and Calendar

Implementation Plan and Calendar

I have used Excel to mock up a Gantt chart for the end of 2014 and the months continuing to October 2015. I have shown the tasks, who is doing the work, the status, and the month the work is scheduled for. I have also included a list of recommendations in terms of the order of work and reasoning behind the timing. Following the Care of People ethic, I have scheduled in a break in April and in July. I have noted that feedback and tweaks will be ongoing during these tasks. Most tasks are able to be handled by us, the owners. A few tasks will need to be handled by tradespeople as they are bigger or require more expertise. Potentially, the paving work could be handled by a tradesperson as well if that’s easier and cost effective.

Budget

Design Project Budget

I have listed the budget items to be read in alignment with the implementation plan. I have listed the projects, the items required for the project, the cost per unit, the quantity, the cost, source of the estimate, and some comments.

I have noted some general items to support soil improvement, and added a contingency of 10% as this is a concept budget, not detailed design. There are some works for the patio that my husband and I have been discussing that are also not in the scope of this design or budget, and I have noted that at the bottom.

Maintenance Notes

Maintenance Notes

I have taken a higher view of the key maintenance tasks and included some ideas on how to save time on them, because we all want to save time on these things and then we’ll have more time to spend enjoying the sights, sounds, smells, feel, and tastes of it all.

A Few Final Headings to Close Out The Project…

1. Feedback loop

I don’t need a formalised process for this as I’m the designer and client, and my husband and I regularly share our thoughts about the state of our property and ideas about what we’d like.

2. Surprises

The big surprise came when I was working on the PASTE analysis and discovered that the daphne is poisonous.

I have also been surprised that this has been a lot more work than I expected and I hope this means that I’ve done more than I needed to in order to complete the project.

I can’t recall being particularly surprised by anything else given that I am very familiar with the property and have ample opportunities to make observations.

3. Project Lessons Learnt

Project start up took a lot longer than I wanted between the winter viruses taking a toll particularly for my daughter, and familiarising myself with processes for permaculture.  It took me some time to determine what was required and how I wanted to complete the work, and I had a frustrated husband who thought the project would be ready in time for spring implementation.  Oops!  I have learnt to share any progress with the client (or husband) as it comes rather than waiting until an item is finished.  That way, I’m sharing the learning journey and can receive more feedback about whether things fit into expectations or vision for the design, and can adjust accordingly with little time wasted.

I have also learnt that there are gaps in documented processes for permaculture, and that processes don’t necessarily fit into a project framework.  If in doubt, I suggest asking the client what level of detail they are looking for.

What’s Next?

My next step is to provide all these design project blog links to my supervisor at the Regenerative Leadership Institute for review and (hopefully) approval. If they need anything else, I’ll blog that and send them the link. Wish me luck!

The Design Project series

Making a Start

Creating an Example

Design Project Site Observations and Maps

Design Project Developing my Process and a Promise to VEG

Design Project Client Interview

Design Project Tools for Analysis

Design Project Key Functions and a Design (nearly!)

Design Project Applying Permaculture Principles and a Design