Connecting on Facebook

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Hi all!

I now have a Facebook group called This Earth Horse to connect with any lovely people, like yourself, who are interested in my garden photos, articles, ideas, events, and chatting about permaculture.

Check it out!

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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?

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

Design Project: Key Functions and a Design (nearly!)

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The E for Evaluate Information phase from CEAP is nice and short after the extensive data gathering of the C for Collect Site Information phase. At this stage, we ask which functions are most important to the client for the design? What are the critical energy leaks for the property?

The beauty of a rainbow after rain in September 2014.  It's the closest thing I had to a symbol of scales to represent the Evaluation Information stage.

The beauty of a rainbow after rain in September 2014. It’s the closest thing I had to a symbol of scales to represent the Evaluation Information stage.

Aranya recommends in Permaculture Design to choose 3 or 4 functions for the newbie permaculture designer and then with experience, choose more. Priorities are:

  • Client desires
  • Addressing potential threats such as flooding or fire, and
  • Supporting the ecosystem by plugging energy leaks

I have a presentation on the Key Functions to show this process leading to a draft design (oooh!), and a spreadsheet to identify the key functions and brainstorm systems and elements of those functions.

The idea is to have multiple functions for each element to make an interconnected a design as possible, and also multiple elements for each important function to build in security.

Key Functions Analysis

You’ll see in the Key Functions Analysis that the client desires are:

  • Food production
  • Play
  • Privacy, and
  • Socialising

And the energy leaks that will have the biggest impact are:

  • Water supply
  • Soil improvement, and
  • Wildlife habitat

Design Project Key Functions

These are reflected in the Design Project Key Functions presentation, and the elements are then positioned to support each other, and then to show journeys to ensure efficiency. This is followed by a draft design and I hope you can see what I have drawn there in pen, and some comments about the design. In this design, I was trying to go above and beyond with the food production desires and that wasn’t well received so it was back to the drawing board.

I’ll share the design in my next post and show how I’ve applied permaculture principles.

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: Developing my Process and a Promise to VEG

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In my post, Creating An Example, I outlined what I want to achieve from the design project, and shared the 12 permaculture principles that provide guidance for this.

In this post, I would like to share my journey of developing the process for the project.

The branches reach out like signs in all directions

The branches reach out like signs in all directions

The way I see it, there are two parts to this:

  1. What is the overall process?
  2. In what format shall I capture the information, analysis, and reporting?

What processes are out there?

I have found a lot of the reading about the process to be quite high level and intangible. Bill Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual, which is the required reading for the course, offers a number of approaches for design methods such as:

  • design by listing characteristics of components,
  • design by expanding on direct observations of a site,
  • design by adopting lessons learnt from nature, and
  • design as a selection of options or pathways based on decisions, amongst others.

However, this doesn’t give an overall process.

So I turned to Permaculture Design by Aranya for more step-by-step assistance while this is new to me. When reading it, my first impression was that this was more what I was looking for, and it does place design in context of a project, which is helpful.

Aranya discusses a few different frameworks and their associated acronyms.

Some design frameworks

SADIMET represents Survey, Analysis, Design, Implementation, Maintenance, Evaluation, and Tweaking

OBREDIMET represents Observation, Boundaries, Resources, Evaluation, Design, Implementation, Maintenance, Evaluation, and Tweaking

Quite a mouthful, eh?

And this is where Ziga from Permablogger has put together a useful post on this.

Personally, I’m happy with a recipe-style guide, with number steps. I think the above can easily bundle similar activities together.

Choosing my process

Aranya also includes a shorter acronym in his book: CEAP.

C – Collect site information

E – Evaluate the information

A – Apply permaculture principles

P – Plan a schedule of implementation, maintenance, evaluation, and tweaking

That brings it down to 4 steps, which is far easier to remember, and not lose track of where you are in the process. Essentially, I want any process I use to be meaningful. It doesn’t really matter what you call the step; it’s what you do that’s important. I will need to reflect on whether these steps align with my process after this project is finished.

Which brings me to part 2, in what format shall I capture my work?

Capturing my work

In my working life, I was a System Manager a few short years ago, and our mantra with supporting projects was always to use the system that is fit for purpose. There are lots of systems out there, but you want to use the one that is:

  • accessible when and where you need it,
  • has training and support available to get you through the learning curve and to resolve any snags,
  • has acceptable costs,
  • scalable to your project size,
  • and importantly, fits into your processes so you can produce what you need.

My intention is to be able to take my permaculture lessons into a professional capacity in Melbourne, and since the requirements for the course assessment are so generic, it leaves presentation open to personal preference.

I had to wonder if there are industry standards for this documentation or is permaculture still finding its feet in that respect?

I found this article by Darren J. Doherty “A Case Study in Permaculture Design Business Development” published in 2007, who comments “The application of digital planning and mapping software and tools in Permaculture Design has to date not been prominent.”

This stands to reason that quick and easy documentation is the name of the game.

My formats and the promise

I’ve put together a Design Project Deliverables List in Excel to keep track of my documentation.  Letting clients know what to expect is a standard part of project delivery and enables a discussion about the level of detail they desire vs the agreed cost.

Design Project Deliverables List

You will see that I’ve organised it in terms of the design stages and noted the status.

I’m using the Microsoft Office suite, WordPress to publish and submit my work, plus a mind map from Mind Meister, all easy and free (aside from the initial cost of Microsoft Office).

The hard part for me has been the mapping, since the property is irregularly shaped.  I have used SketchUp for the base map. I had some timely local guidance for this from the director at Very Edible Gardens, Dan Palmer, who generously responded to my query about what they use and in gratitude I promised to mention it on my blog 😀  There you go, Dan!

You might be interested in seeing the responses from a question I raised in the Permaculture group on LinkedIn what they like to use for mapping, if you are a member of that group.

I liked the idea of using SketchUp as it can be used for both 2D and 3D rendering, and it can conveniently grab sections of Google Earth from within the program to sketch over.  It also has handy videos on YouTube to show different features of the program and that made the learning curve more approachable for me.  And I was able to use a free trial.  So that all makes it fit for purpose.  Hooray for making life easier!

So there you are, my process is CEAP, and I’m using computer-based tools for the documentation.  I have more C for Collect Site Information to share with you soon, including the all important client interview, base map, and PASTE analysis.

What about you?  Have you found any other useful processes in your permie work?