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.

Creating an Example

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Ooh I’ve been gone for a little while, haven’t I? I have progress to share! I’ve been working on my first permaculture design project, oh where will it take me? This is assessment #1 of the Permaculture Design Certificate, but it is also an opportunity to amp up our backyard productivity, bring habitat to assorted creatures, improve the soil, connect with nature, and as Larry Korn says in the lectures, create an example of what permaculture is about.

Permaculture ethics and design principles provide guidance for creating examples. This poster is available for sharing from http://permacultureprinciples.com/resources/free-downloads/

In this project, I am acting as both client and designer as my scope is essentially my backyard in Melbourne. My husband and I want a space for fruit trees and shrubs, no-dig vegetable patches, herb garden, and a fruit vine for the side of the house.  We will need to consider water conservation to cope with our climate and the extreme heat and sometimes extended drought periods, and we are thinking about a water tank for the future.  We also want an outdoor play area and children’s garden for our 2 year old.

The project covers the design, and I will need to produce a report on the project and design process, an implementation plan, budget, and maps as part of the documentation to the Regenerative Leadership Institute. Ultimately, this will enable my husband and I to proceed with a new vision of our backyard, and go on to create a new permaculture example.

Aquaponics in the Neighbourhood

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I’ve just watched 2 lectures on aquaponics as part of the Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) and lecturer Max Meyers made strong points about sustainable fishing, polluting the water, and less land use for aquaponics rather than agriculture.

Photo: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/closed-loop-aquaponics-webinar-with-max-meyers-may-2013-tickets-6746636371

Max Meyers is one of the lecturers in the Permaculture Design course

He also raised some remarkable benefits including 70% less water needed for production when you would think it would need more, given that it is water-based, and the 75% reduction in labour needed than traditional farming. These two benefits alone are huge and could have an incredible impact on the lives of food growers. It also means it puts it more in reach of every day householders as it isn’t such a drain on resources.

So this made me wonder, are there any aquaponics farms near Melbourne? Is it possible to buy fish from that source rather than supporting the continued overfishing of our oceans or from the impacts of farmed fishing? I hear farmed fishing also has its downsides, see 9 Things Everyone Should Know About Farmed Fish or for a short video:

From what I can see from our trusty friend Google, CERES, always a world leader in sustainability practices, has an aquaponics installation.

A drawing of the CERES aquaponics system

No vendors popped out to sell me their fish though.  Really, the focus seems to be on education and training to be able to set up your own aquaponics system at home.  Here is a small example of aquaponics that might appeal to people who want to keep fish as pets.

Aquaponics with a goldfish bowl

And other sites are all about supporting you to do it yourself.

http://www.aquaponic.com.au/

http://www.growfresh-aquaponics.com.au/

Or a bigger example of backyard aquaponics from Western Australia: http://www.suburbanfarmer.com.au/fish-farms/

Alfcon’s Aquaponics has a round up of resources in Australia and the US.

The Ballarat Fish Hatchery provides advice on Stocking Your Aquaponics System.

Poor fish, I have to feel a bit sorry for them when their size is discussed in relation to the dinner plate.

In conclusion, it seems that in Victoria there are no current aquaponics systems with a commercial yield at present (or at least with an online presence or with any buzz on forums). This looks like an opportunity for some enterprising souls. According to this article on Farming Fish,

“Australians consume about 40 per cent less seafood than recommended for a healthy diet”,

and “local wild-caught and farmed fish accounts for just a quarter of national consumption”,

with the majority of the remainder imported from New Zealand and South-East Asia so that suggests quite high growth potential. On the other hand, there are a number of resources available to assist in setting up your own aquaponics system. Ballarat Fish Hatchery would recommend a 1,000 litre fish tank to hold 50 fish.  For a rough idea of size, here is a photo of an outdoor tank:

An installation at Albany State High shown on Murray Hallam's Aquaponics website

An installation at Albany State High shown on Murray Hallam’s Aquaponics website

Or source a kit from a supplier such as Practical Aquaponics.  The typical drawback is cost in Australia as most kits seem to run into the thousands of dollars but are tested models, versus building up your own aquaponics knowledge and designing and creating your own system.  As a fairly new industry, innovations are evolving, such as Grow Packed, which is now available in Australia for vertical plant production towers, called ZipGrow.  Or check out Pinterest for many aesthetically pleasing ideas.

It’s an exciting field to watch as it develops.

Perhaps I shall reflect on this while watching our clown loaches swim in our fish tank…

A clown loach swimming in our fish tank

A clown loach swimming in our fish tank

Have you set up your own aquaponics system? What was your experience like? Have you heard of any aquaponically-grown fish available for sale?

 

Learning from the Leaders

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As you can see, I have some reading ahead of me.  Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual is the bible for the Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) and part of the course assessment is a multiple choice exam based on this book.  If you are not aware, Bill Mollison coined the term “permaculture” and developed the concept with his student, David Holmgren, in the late 1970s in Tasmania.  It gives me a sense of pride that Australia can have such an influence on the world stage in such an overwhelmingly positive manner.

Another Australian, Rosemary Morrow is a leading authority in permaculture and has implemented permaculture in diverse and challenging environments internationally for nearly 40 years.  She is still teaching permaculture and contributing to the community, as you can see from her profiles on Retrofitting Your Home and Milkwood Permaculture, and her book Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture is frequently mentioned in the lectures as a highly-respected resource. 

From across the pond, American Toby Hemenway studied and worked across the US in biotechnology and then was inspired to change his career by permaculture, developing a permaculture site with his wife in southern Oregon.  His book Gaia’s Garden is the best-selling permaculture book in the world for the last 7 years, and his permaculture work is ongoing.

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Photo credit: http://www.patternliteracy.com/biography-for-toby-hemenway

I also have the following on my wishlist:

  • Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels,
  • Permaculture by David Holmgren,
  • The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka,
  • Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier,
  • Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke,
  • The Empowerment Manual by Starhawk,
  • Permaculture in a Nutshell by Patrick Whitefield, and
  • Permaculture Design by Aranya

What about you?  Have you read any of these?  What did you think?  Are there any others that you would add as a must-read?

 

Making a Start

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Welcome to my Permaculture journey! I have taken a leap of setting up my own blog to capture my design project as part of the Permaculture Design Certificate I’m studying through the Regenerative Leadership Institute. I’m nearly halfway through the lectures and for the most part feel inspired and enlightened by this pathway to a better Earth.

For the design project, I’m improving my own backyard, which I share with beloved husband, Mr F, and adventurous daughter, Miss Z (just shy of 2 years old), and have been living in this patch of Earth for coming up to 5 years in August 2014. Miss Z is a strong motivator for the backyard works, as her exploring nature uncovers all sorts of hazards both known (rotting wood, spiders) and previously not considered (weed killer, small objects that fit in her mouth), and I really want to focus on enjoying the outdoors with her and making it a delightful place. Mr F wants an area to play basketball, and I want to fulfil some plant dreams and build our own oasis from the blazing summer heat.

As part of that, we have already made big changes to the green life and hardscaping. We had 3 trees removed to prevent potential property damage and injury,

2 paperbark trees were right up against the fence and dropped branches and spiky leaves

2 paperbark trees were right up against the fence and dropped branches and spiky leaves


This gum tree was very resilient and was an epicormic growth

This gum tree was very resilient and was an epicormic growth


A closer view of the gum tree that had produced extra branches

A closer view of the gum tree that had produced extra branches


planted some native shrubs in the garden beds,
A woolly bush, grevillea, and tick bush planted.  Newspaper and mulch was put down a little later.

A woolly bush, grevillea, and tick bush planted. Newspaper and mulch was put down a little later.

A banksia in the pot, a common mint in the middle, and a correa on the right.

A banksia in the pot, a common mint in the middle, and a correa on the right.

demolished the existing rotting verandah, and have had exposed aggregate concrete laid for a new patio area, side pathway and step, and shed area. We have 2 raised garden beds waiting to be set up as new veggie patches, and I have started growing sweet peas from seed in the kitchen window.
Galaxy mixed sweet peas are growing well 2 weeks after planting

Galaxy mixed sweet peas are growing well 2 weeks after planting

As you see, we have made a start on the backyard, and I’ll be showing you my ideas and progress with the Permaculture project to come! What do you think? Have you made any major backyard changes?