Tag Archives: sustainable living
Yesterday I joined 20 others from Glastonbury and surrounding areas to visit LAND centre Monkton Wyld Court in Dorset. Organised by our Transition Glastonbury Food Group, the visit was funded by the Permaculture Association’s Learning and Network Demonstration Project.
After weeks of organisational faff, emails left, right and centre, it was finally the day of our group visit. And of course, as is expected on Brigit’s Isles, it was raining. We all put the call out for dry weather in Dorset, and luckily we had no more showers.
We arrived and convened in the dining room of this massive former rectory. There were 21 of us – some with acres of land, others with container plants, some permaculture enthusiasts, others bewildered by what the P word meant at all. Laurie, a resident in the community, introduced us to Monkton Wyld Court and gave us a quick rundown of their history and their work in promoting alternative and sustainable ways of living.
As a centre they host events, courses, local community groups, run a steiner kindergarten and provide a space for people to stay from all over the world. They have 11 acres including a massive walled garden where they grow as much of their food as they can, as well as two pollytunnels, a young forest garden, coppiced woodland, reed bed system and managed grassland.
We had a brief look around their walled gardens, which have been used for centuries in large houses and estates as a way of protecting plants from the elements and making the most of the sun by growing fruit up south facing walls. They have an organic growing system and had a massive series of raised beds. The growing guide on the wall showed that they are planting by the moon too.
Surrounding the beds were herbs and flowers, as to help with pest control, yield multiple functions, such as medicinal properties, and simply to look beautiful. My favourite were these gorgeous violas. What was loveliest about this part of the day was when local market gardener, Colum from Torganics at Paddington Farm’s two year old daughter Elsie, was carried in to the garden and then pointed and said ‘Pollytunnel’. Now there is a kid who is going to be brought up knowing how to grow her own!
We then had a talk from resident Simon Fairlie, who is well known for editing The Land Magazine, his role in The Land Is Ours campaigns, and most recently, for his book on meat. I respected Simon for introducing his talk by saying his arguments hadn’t included any ethics, they were simply an analysis of the ecological/resource use arguments. As a vegan for ethical reasons I was intrigued how ethics could be left out of anything, as they are so fundamental to systems like permaculture, but that’s another story, he clearly has a disclaimer prepared by no doubt lots of vegans laying into him!!
Most were really interested in what he was saying, basically how meat eaters in the west would have to reduce their levels of consumption by nearly two thirds to get to any sustainable level, and then only really from animals that are eating waste products. He had some valid criticisms of modern veganism, such as the reliance of imported soya products, but I’m sure meat eaters eat as much processed food! Anyhow, it was a lot of food for thought and certainly got everyone discussing and debating the facts.
We then had a delicious organic lunch and were treated to some yummy fruit lather made by Ingrid from the apples and quinces from Brook End. After lunch, when we finally managed to get everyone to leave the shop we had a more detailed tour of the site. We were shown the court’s woodland and wood store, walked around the fields and had a sneaky peak at some of the low impact dwellings on site. We also had a look at the centres reed bed system, which for me was great having done the CAT course recently and loving all things sewage! The we saw the young foundations of a forest garden, with planted fruit trees and a few understory fruit bushes.
After the tour, one of the new gardeners, Mike, kindly gave us a brief overview of permaculture and a question and answer session. In a place with a fairly transitional community, of people moving in and then moving on a few years later, it was interesting to see how this affects the land itself – which areas get attention, which areas change, which management methods are used. With permaculture design being used for the long term, how this translates in practice was what I took from the visit.
I hope everyone came away inspired. Simon’s talk especially reminded me why retaining horticultural and agricultural knowledge from years past is so important – it is literally being lost and needs to be kept alive! It also made me see the amount of work that will be needed to re-skill ourselves so that we are able to feed ourselves without supermarkets, without chemicals or fossil fuels. It may have been a nice day out, but the importance of permaculture can never be underestimated!
Thanks again to everyone who came to make it a great day, and thanks again to Monkton Wyld Court for hosting us.
Please see here for more photos from the day.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of hosting a Permaculture Diploma Support Intensive at Brook End tutored by Aranya. The weekend was an opportunity to have six lovely permaculture designers stay at my smallholding and give me lots of useful feedback and ideas of how to design around Brook End. It was also a chance to see how I would find being hostess, how much work it takes to keep everyone fed for the weekend while staying on top of the garden.
For those attending the Diploma Support Event it had been promoted that the weekend would help enable us to:
- Demystify the Diploma process
- Take a fresh and detailed look at the permaculture design process.
- Add another design to our portfolios.
- Share ideas and give valuable feedback on each other’s design work.
- Create a mutual support network to help keep us on track.
- Provide clarity on the criteria and the process leading to accreditation.
I would like to feel that all of us who were there felt these were achieved and indeed we learnt more. The Friday session began with all of us presenting our ‘rivers of permaculture’, these are basically records to show where we first heard the ‘P’ word and how we’ve ended up working towards our Diploma’s in Applied Permaculture Design. I was a bit nervous as I have to introduce my own ‘P’ word – prison, but everyone was non-judgemental and thought it was great that I had done a PDC to make use of my time in jail. With introductions out of the way. Aranya took us through what we were going to explore over the weekend.
We were also given a preview copy of Aranya’s book about the design process , already in the days since the event in working on my designs its proved invaluable. No longer do I have to continuously cross between different authors, now I’ve got a summary in my hands of how we go about designing systems! Watch this space for a full review when its released.
Following a tour of Brook End, we collectively chose a part of the land here to design around over the weekend, either so we can add it to our portfolios, or as a learning experience to get to grips with the design process (or both). We chose the orchard, which certainly gave us a lot of challenges in creating a base map. Soon enough we were outside measuring angles and distances and all sorts until we could draw a reasonable plan of what we’ve got growing.
Aside from saving me masses of work, it was great because I’ve never designed
around a site I know so well or that I am a client for! With our base map and site survey completed we moved on to the client interview, which was my chance to sit in the chair and put a spanner in the works of everyone’s ideas! Gary, a course participant, emphasised that if the design doesn’t meet the needs of the people living there then its not permaculture. So we could design the most complex, detailed, fantastically productive forest garden style orchard but if my Mum, Ian or I don’t have time to do it amongst everything else then its simply not going to work. So that was a really good learning point for me – to make Brook End manageable and feasible, it doesn’t have to be rammed to the rafters. Aranya emphasised getting the specifics out of your clients so you can develop SMART goals e.g. when they say they want to grow their own food.. how much? What varieties?
We then got set on processing all of this information with the design tools available. This analysis stage is invaluable. Part of this is looking at the difference between systems, functions and elements/components. Functions for the orchard included food production, social facilitation and access. We then explored all of the elements related to these functions. We did a whole web of connections between the orchards different elements e.g. me, chickens, trees and how often they’ d be connected – for example I visit the rescued chickens every day to let them roam free. Despite at times appearing like a brain drain, the web of connections is a really useful tool.
On the Sunday, with a completed plan in toe (and me being a happy kid for sure) we then spent the remainder of the time going over the diploma process. As Aranya has all the inside information on this malarky it was great to ask loads of questions and compare pathways with everyone else there. I realised that my moon in capricorn may be coming across as I pulled out all my charts and mind maps of what I wanted to achieve pus the insanely long list of goals (6 pages?) for my diploma. I realised when learning from everyone else that I need to break it down and keep it more focused – small and slow that’s for sure. I also realised that maybe I was too hard on myself and that actually I’m not doing too bad with my site and my first commission. I need to enjoy this time!
Part of the evening sessions was peer reviewing – that is looking at each others designs and diploma related work. I really enjoyed this and it was great to see some impressive and creative design work from those who came to stay. The second part of evening sessions was a glass of wine or quick trip to the pub, its not all hard work eh?
Another key learning point about the diploma is that it doesn’t have to be 10 perfect designs at all. Its a record of your learning journey of using the design processes, as soon as this clicked everyone was like ‘ahh’. I’d had visions of having to produce perfect amazing productive designs but its not what its about at all. Other key points I took from Aranya and other diploma apprentices who are further on their journey than I:
- record everything
- reflect on your reflections
- focus on the process not the content
- It’s ok to get things ‘wrong’
- keep going
- be open to new learning experiences e.g. Gary hadn’t planned to do any teaching at all, but found his way there and now runs introductory courses and loves it.
Some other totally random things I learned:
- you can use cow parsley to make tubes for insects
- Its all about optimising edge (versus maximising edge)
- that the diploma process is a minimum of two years from graduation with a PDC, not from when you enrol in the diploma!
So now I look forward to really designing Brook End, this autumn following my full cycle analysis. I’m going to set aside loads of time with my family to really scrutinise what we want and design for it. I’m still on the look out for clients to add to my portfolio however, so if you are interested please get in touch.
The second day of the eco sewage and sanitation course was on sewage treatment. My advice for anyone taking this course next year is, don’t get drunk the night before!! The friday night party feeling took over me and I spent the entire Saturday with a hangover, you guessed it, looking at shit (all self-inflicted of course).
Nevertheless I still managed to concentrate (I think) and gain an understanding that actually sewage treatment really can be life and death and is something that needs to be taken seriously. There’s all sorts of nasties – pathogens, viruses and so forth as wells as eutrophication causing nutrient overloads. Other environmental impacts of sewage include storm sewage overflows (which if you ever go surfing in Cornwall you will know about – the day after the storm its like tampon city in the atlantic ocean).
There’s all sorts of ways of measuring the quality of effluent so you know how clean it really needs to be, such as turbidity (suspended solids – lovely phrase), odour measuring ammonia and biotic classifications, which measure the biology of the water (as certain organisms live in dirty water etc.)
I never knew how much food waste contributes to excess nutrients in the water ways, as a vegan I get quite used to blaming animal farmers on things like that but now I know to scrape my plate before washing up that’s for sure!
Things to think about if you want to set up an independent sewage treatment system:
- physical aspects e.g. land area, soils, water table, levels, discharge point
- client acceptability – how proactive do they have to be?
- regulations – there’s all sorts to consider such as pipework requirements and gradients, do your research!
This removes suspended soils from water (which can be prevented with the compost loo of course) otherwise main systems include septic tanks and aquatron separators (which are the business!). These things separate out the urine and let the solids fall down to be composted, and they’re pretty exciting to look at if you’re a sanitation junkie like Judith. There’s all sorts of other elements to consider however like floating crusts, sinking solids, sludge management… can you see how this was difficult with a hangover?
The aim of secondary treatment is to treat liquids to a discharge standard. Similar factors influence this also, such as soil porosity, the height of the water table, cost and effluent quality requirements and so forth.
Options include systems that filter, such as leachfields and soakaways, drainage bounds, wetlands and so forth, otherwise there are package treatment plans, trench arches, anaerobic digestion and pond systems.
Filters are vital to mechanically remove solids but also to create a cosy place to live for microorganisms (biofilms – sounds like a german organic soya yoghurt or something!). We explored each of the above in turn which have their own advantages and disadvantages.
We also explored the degree of centralisation within systems, for example do we really need to design off-grid sewage systems for single households or should design them on a community level? Judith recommends mains sewage if you have the option, however with new developments regularly, especially low impact developments, it is useful to have an understanding of the alternatives to the mains.
Where are we flushing away a large amount of drinking quality water? Down the loo of course! Hence the beauty of compost toilets. Get one of those bad boys and you can really start to become more water efficient. However they are not always a possibility for many and they do have their own requirements such as space and social acceptance.
I always though compost loos were pretty straight forward but there are a whole host of products on the market that aim to make compost loos adaptable for the ‘modern home’. The basic premise is the same though – that human excrement falls into a composting chamber beneath the loo and all the organisms below have a feast. Bacteria, worms, fungi and others use this organic matter as a food source and break it down into humus or compost.
A ‘soak’, such as sawdust or other carbon rich material is scooped on after one has done their business, to help achieve optimum composting conditions. Urine is ideally separated out to control moisture levels and most compost loos have some kind of ventilation system, whether that’s a proper fan or panels missing for air circulation.
The composting process kills the pathogens in the excreta and the finished compost should be safe and free from odour. This ‘humanure’ can be removed every year and used to help nourish plants.
Important things to consider are:
- location – things like height and so forth
- removal – how do you get the damn stuff out?
- urine separation
- soak materials availability
- aesthetics – the most pretty compost loo I’ve ever seen was at Karuna, with a gorgeous driftwood cover, shells, poetry you name it.. I didn’t want to leave!
There’s a whole bunch of resources out there that detail the different compost toilets on the market and how to build your own. Some good books that explore all of these points can be found here.
The first day of the Eco sewage and sanitation course focused on water efficiency and composting toilets. I touched on this in my last post but the main point is that without getting to the nitty gritty of reducing your water use, efforts to recycle water are in vein.
The first talk of the day was from Dr Judith Thornton on Water efficiency, legislation and alternative approaches and why water efficiency is even needed – mainly because much of England is under water stress but also due to the greenhouse gas emissions involved in increasing supply. Having to resort to things like desalination plants are a bit of an energy nightmare and other options such as direct ground water abstraction also come with their own environmental impacts.
We went over the basic legislation involved in water supply such as the Water Supply Regs 1999, Building Regs Part G and the new Code for Sustainable Homes. We were also introduced to the somewhat bizarre water calculator spreadsheet with its intriguing logic of how to calculate water use including its very own fudge factor.
Judith recommended the AECB Water Standards as generally being a more common sense approach, meaning calculations do not contribute to trade offs or sacrificial fittings, as well as taking things like regional water scarcity into account.
Practical ways to reduce water demand we talked about include:
*Plumbing pipe work - by minimising ‘dead legs’, that is design to have the minimum distance between the hot water cylinder and the point of use, to not waste energy heating it up and moving it around. Insulate pipes, again to save energy.
* Flow regulation- by fitting control valves, limiting water to a maximum flow rate (really easy to install – minimum effort for maximum effect and all that permaculture logic).
*Install water efficient toilets – such as compost loos or in situations where this isn’t possible you can get all sorts of jazzy things like waterless urinals and low flush toilets. A delayed inlet valve in your cistern can also save 1-3litres of water per flush.
*Taps – aerator fittings can reduce flow and taps with ‘water brakes’ discourage wastage too.
*Showers and baths - aside from not washing (that includes you crusty punks out there), showers will reduce water use, and you can fit heads that reduce flow even more. Or if possible if you are loved up you could always share a bath!
Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales to learn about rainwater harvesting and ecological sewage treatment. The courses were both fun and fascinating and I am still trying to process all the information I have gained (while trying not to spend too much of my spare time thinking about sewage!).
Eco Rainwater and Water Supplies, Thursday 7th April
The focus of the day was covering the ins and outs, advantages and disadvantages of collecting rainwater for re-use in the home and the garden. I was of the expectation that surely all rainwater harvesting was a good thing, keeping water in the ‘loop’ of the system, reducing demand on the mains, with a near urgency due to climate change and over-extraction. However this was turned on its head as the course leaders explored the energy required to actually make a lot of the indoor rainwater harvesting infrastructure, as well as the energy costs involved in pumping it around your house.
What was a total realisation for me was actually how good the mains services are in terms of efficiency and that if you can use the mains, that it is a good idea to do so and to really challenge whether your situation is appropriate for rainwater harvesting in the home. That said we did explore the components of a rainwater harvesting system, the regulations that need to be complied with and the basic principles behind collecting rainwater.
Looking at water supply, we did explore some of the situations where rainwater harvesting may be appropriate, for example at a real off-grid location like CAT. Grace Crabb, the biologist leading the course, took us on a tour of the site and we walked up to the reservoir to witness where the whole of the site source their water. CAT are lucky to be in such a great location in terms of collecting water from springs, natural run off from the hills as well as having a high amount of rainfall, in a natural reservoir that can gravity feed the rest of the site!
Back in the classroom a key session of the day was on water efficiency, the first port of call in any water system. This is where an individual, family or community are likely to have the greatest impact and we talked through all the gizmos and gadgets on the market, from the simple to the bizarre, that may or may not help your family reduce their water use. In reducing the water you use, its useful to have an understanding of where most of your water is used and what for, toilets is a main one (hence why we all just love compost loos) as well as washing.
Where rainwater harvesting can be of real use however is in the garden. This was my key learning aim from the day as we have so many greenhouses at Brook End and with so much propagation if we can find a way to harvest rainwater or re-use greywater successfully then we are on to a winner. Most people associate greywater harvesting as having a rainwater butt connected to a downpipe, which is a simple but effective system, especially if the butt itself can be made from a waste product or used container. CAT use massive old orange juice tanks and apparently Oxfam sell something similar.
However another back-to-reality moment that was communicated by the tutors was that in areas where rainwater harvesting may actually be needed, for example places where there is unsustainable pressure on the mains (such as the South East of the UK), this is where you are actually unlikely to be able to harvest enough rainwater to support your needs! We did some basic calculations, measuring the surface areas of our roofs and our annual rainfall amounts. The participants from Wales seemed pretty smug as they could easily meet their needs while me in poor old somerset was left with something like 48 litres a day as a tangible amount, when average water use (at the high end) is 180 litres per day per person!
Another interesting point about rainwater is its classification. It is in ‘Fluid category 5′, meaning its treated as a polluted source. We did explore the potentials of what rainwater may have in it, for example all the gases dissolved through traffic and industry, however it is unlikely to be an issue for plants but to get to drinking water quality may be likely to need need treatment.
As with most permaculture systems we need to ‘use what is there’ before making any energy-intensive changes, which to me applies to using the mains if needed and not feeling bad for that or if you’re selling out on a super-closed loop off grid system! Course tutor, Dr Judith Thornton, emphasises that if you’re looking to reduce your carbon or ecological footprint, then go for another area of your life that has more impact, such as food or transport. That said we are always having to respond to environmental changes and how the picture of the UK may look in another 50 years is a different story, rainwater harvesting is also vital in other climates and countries so either way the day provided much useful information and awareness about how to set up a rainwater harvesting system and what the other potential considerations are when deciding water supply routes.
There was a lot more to the day but these were the key points that I took from the course, that is before being bombarded with three days of non-stop conversations about ‘waste management’ of the human bodily function variety!
If you are a Glastonbury local reading this site, please take a moment to complete the Transition Glastonbury Food Group Survey. It will help us to know which areas of work we need to be focusing on to develop a resilient local food system.
This article has recently been published in Positive News, Issue 67, Spring 2011. To subscribe please see here or pick up a copy at your local whole food store, community centre or environmental project.
As part of the LAND project, launched by the Permaculture Association a little over two years ago, more than 7,000 visitors and 4,000 volunteers have now been supported in learning from and taking part in established permaculture projects.
A network of publicly accessible LAND learning centres around England continues to grow, and now at its halfway point, the success of the 4-year scheme is being celebrated.
There are currently 27 learning centres, with another 15 to be formalised this spring, as well as 13 in an earlier stage of establishment. The LAND centres are becoming the beating hearts of the permaculture network, offering a chance for people to taste the produce, see the landscape and start to understand the principles and design logic behind the projects.
Across England, from southern Cornwall to Northern Yorkshire, each centre is unique and as such, offers different skills and knowledge to visitors, be it woodland management, mushroom cultivation, wild food harvesting or salad growing. Projects vary from permaculture home gardens and inner-city forest gardens to community and public spaces, allotments, smallholdings and broad-scale organic farms.
Funded by a grant from the Big Lottery Fund’s Local Food scheme, the LAND project offers financial and practical support to schools and food growing or community groups in carrying out visits. Senior citizens, high school students and village gardening clubs are all seizing the opportunity, say the Permaculture Association.
The projects are also supported as hosts for events and benefit from an increased web presence and promotion, as well as advice from experienced practitioners. Becoming a recognised centre can also help groups with challenges such as planning permission and fundraising.
By increasing the visibility of permaculture, the LAND Project is also helping the Permaculture Association to bring in the support of more members and donations as the work becomes more widely recognised as viable and desirable. Long term, the project co-ordinators hope to extend funding to cover both Wales and Scotland.
“The LAND network is going from strength to strength,” says Louise Cartright, project co-ordinator, “People are really starting to see it in action themselves.”
The Permaculture Association,
London, WC1N 3XX
Tel: 0845 458 1805