Welcome to my permaculture "explorer's notebook," so to speak. Some of these entries may be quite raw, as they may literally be my notes from watching a YouTube video or a thought captured as it was dancing through my head. Other posts might be more elaborate as I take an idea and explore it in more detail or transcribe or polish a lengthy observation from my field book. Either way, I hope to capture some permaculture ideas and methods here as a recollection for myself and a resource for others. Thank you for stopping by. - Karla

Friday, March 28, 2014

On Observing

So I was thinking about yesterday's post, and while I won't retract it, I realized that while useful, recounting other people's observations did not actually help one make their own observations.  So, the theme for today will be to explore how to improve one's powers of observation.  Some ideas to think about during this exploration:
  • More than your eyes
  • Practice
  • Recording one's observations
  • Asking why
In one of the videos on Ben Falk's Whole Systems Design site, he mentions that he can tell what type of tree that his wood was from just by smelling it.  This got me to thinking that observation is more than just seeing. It is using all of our senses to really connect to the world around us.  So this morning, I did not just watch the birds at my feeder - I closed my eyes and listened.  And then I opened my eyes and listened some more while I looked for the owner of the particular calls.  I was pretty overwhelmed with number of different bird sounds with their sunrise symphony, so instead, I decided to concentrate on one particularly clear chirp.  And there it was, the sound of a male cardinal and his lady.  I tried to listen to just that pair for a while.  I am pretty sure I will be able to recognize that sound from now on.  On a more tactile note, I was thinking how, if I observe with my fingertips, I can tell if a tomato is ripe, regardless of its color. And my nose would help me with that one, too!

It is easy to just go about one's day and not really observe with all of one's senses.  Meals to cook, email to answer, laundry to wash - but with slowing down just a bit, I think we can create the habit of observing on a daily bases.  An then one can begin to apply those powers of observation to one's home, one's land, one's whole way of living.  I am thinking even 10 minutes twice a day would improve our awareness.  Add to that being purposefully aware while engaging in or observing something unique, and I think we could significantly improve our ability to observe.

Memory is a fickle thing.  Especially if one is trying for year over year observations, or if one is observing something that may be a rare or even once in a lifetime event.  So, even though not the same as the original observation, I think there is a lot of value to recording ones observations.  For me, the camera and a journal have been my two tools of choice.  Nothing like having a series of photos over time to tell me what birds visit my feeder, and what type of turnips I harvested in a given year.  After watching the lovely videos on Ben Falk's site, I am beginning to think that video might also be a good tool - especially in that it captures sound and movement, in addition to "just pictures."  As for the journal, there is nothing to compete with having a year over year record of not just what was done, but what was observed.  For example, I always think the geese are returning extra early - but then my journal will say, no, they are always in this 3 week window.  I find a year over year journal indispensable for all kinds of things; however, I won't go into that here. (I am working on putting all of my garden journals online here.  As I learn more about permaculture, my journal is increasingly becoming more than "just a garden journal.")

So now we have sharpened our observation skills, and perhaps recorded some of the more interesting or unusual ones.  Now what?  What use are they? Everything in permaculture should serve more than one purpose, right?  Well the journal could provide important information on how well different parts of the system are working, and what it might need during different times of the year.  The photos and videos might be beautiful in their own right, and a trigger for fond memories.  Knowing that a pair of cardinals might hang out near a bird feeder might help you with determining the types and locations for where to place a bird house.  But what is the real value of observation and recording those observations?  In my mind, is it so that one can reflect on the observation and ask why? for what purpose? how can I improve?  Nature is one giant source of feedback, and she will tell you what is going on if you listen.  

I used to wonder why there were no snails or slugs in our yard,
until I observed the morning Breakfast Club in their bright red vests.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Other People's Observations

Observations from Ben Falk. (Ben Falk lives in a cold climate in N. America)
  • A food gap occurs for him in late winter, early spring
    • Lucky that can still get food at the store - means he has time to close this gap
    • Planting carrots and arugula in the fall so they get a head start in the early spring
  • If you let things go to seed, you will be able to just harvest food "everywhere"
    • His example is turnips that reseed themselves and grow by his wood pile
  • Soil Building
    • Lets grass get tall and then composts it
    • Plant turnips and daikon to break up soil and become a fast carbon path
    • (I'm not a turnip fan - would carrots work as well?)
  • Store wood for optimal burn
    • Dry one year
    • Keep rain off of it
    • Let air circulate
    • 2 years of wood stored and available at any given time
    • Wood doesn't go bad if stored well
    • Wood that wants to split well, make kindling out of it
    • He observes the smell of the wood
  • Food storage
    • Keep 2 years of food at any given time

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


It makes sense that at the beginning of my Permaculture Journey that we begin with the Permaculture Principles. These principles are beautifully articulated at Permaculture Principles and are listed here as a reference. In the coming weeks, I'll be expanding on them and how I am using them.
  1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  8. Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
  9. Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
  10. Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
  11. Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Geoff Lawton's PDC Starts This Weekend

I have saved my pennies and my dollars and my many dollars, and I hope to be one of the lucky ones to get a seat at his online Permaculture Design Certificate course.  Assuming I do, at least for the next several months, a large part of this blog will be to chronicle my thoughts during the PDC course, and to also post the results of any "homework" that I might undertake as a result of the course.  And, of course, I will post my final design for my certificate, here, too.  So if you don't know who Geoff Lawton is, check out his videos at http://www.GeoffLawton.com - the videos themselves will tell you a lot about Geoff.  And they will give you a good grounding in the things that permaculture can accomplish.