Lawton’s Guide To Permaculture Design and Strategy

Here’s another 5 part series which demonstrates the diversity of considerations which lead to diversity of crops and foods in permaculture forest-gardens. At least watch the last two parts for a system overview and tour of an actual eco-system which demonstrates the concepts described in the first three parts.

 

Sepp Holzer – Terraces & Raised Beds

If you start inquiring about permaculture you are bound to run into Sepp Holzer – an Austrian farmer that has been evolutionazing farming for over 40 years. Also, if you start inquiring about permaculture you may, like I still am, feel lost and detached. On the one hand permaculture is a common-sense approach that works with nature, on the other hand it is a vast and intricate web of knowledge and best practices which I have a feeling can best be taken on through years and years of practice.

To me the challenge in making sense of permaculture was where to start. The first step is (by now) obvious to us – observing our land and seeing it’s natural potential and qualities. The next step has been gradually appearing. Though we want to quickly reach personal sustainability (growing our own food) it has become clear to us that we first need to rejuvenate and revive the land (which has been plowed and harvested for many years). But how to do that? Today I found, in a seriese of videos with Sepp Holzer, what looks like the most promising and actionable step in achieving that – terraces and raised beds.

This last video is less about terraces and raised beds and more about logistic, financial and social aspects of Holzer’s work:

A Farm for the Future

A series of 5 videos shedding blinding bright light on the relationship between food production and oil. Every unit of energy consumed in inustrialized food takes 10 units of mostly fossil fuel energy to create. The implications of fossil fuel depletion are reaching. Bottom line:

  1. Stop plowing fields.
  2. Less meat consumption
  3. Permaculture Рagriculture  by design
  4. Extremely low maintenance forest gardens (that have the potential to feed 10 people per acre)
  5. Moving away from cereals towards nuts
  6. Reruralization – more people growing food & less people living in the city.

The Humanure Handbook

As the reality of a village life nears us we need to make a choice on what to do with toilets. At first we will need a solution that we can easily add to an old existing house where we will live temporarily. Then we are going to need a long term solution for our house. Then we will probably need to replicate that solution as we prepare to recieve guests, students and friends.

There is no doubt in our mind that we are going to implement some form of composting solution. There really is no justification for actually creating and dealing with waste when it can be transformed into compost.

The question we are dealing with is how to evacuate our waste from the house. One option is using flushing water which is familiar, comfortable, demanding ince for composting the liquids and solids need to be separated. A cheap, simple, direct and ecological solution is a simple composting toilet – a bucket in a box – the shit needs to be carried out by hand!

We’ve been reading around a lot and looking for alternatives and we still have not made up our mind. Today’s discussions and searches brought is to The Humanure Handbook – which seems to be a classic text, often cited on the internet on the subject.

 

Self Grown Hemp for Construction

Wouldn’t it be ideal if you could grown your own hemp and then use it to build your home? 1 or 2 hectares of hemp stalk is potentially all you need to harvest enough building materials to build a house. Imagine that – growing your own house!¬† … but it isn’t a simple thing to do.

The hemp plant has four elements: seeds, leaves, fibers and a wooden core. The part you need for construction is the wooden core – also called the hurd or shiv. Separating it from the other elements of the plant requires effort. You need to grow the hemp, deffoliate it (remove the leaves) before harvesting, harvest or remove the seeds, harvest the stalk, let it ret (start decomposing so that the fibers can be separated from the hurd) and then decorticate it.

This finally step of decortication seems like the greatest obstacle – this is the process of separating the fiber and the wooden core. It can be done either through massive manual labor (of which I don’t yet have all the details – but it involves collecting the harvested stalks into small bales and then beating them to separate the fibers and wooden core) or in an industrial process. The indutrial process is usually designed to extract the fibers, the actual wooden shiv is simply a left over of that process.

It would be so much easier to grow your own construction hemp if decortication could be avoided – and this may be possible but my understanding is that it depends on the climate you live in. This research paper on Hemp-Concretes claims that it is possible to create hempcrete using both shives and fibers – BUT it is important to note that the research focuses on the structural aspects of the resulting hempcrete. It does not address the effect of fibers on insulation and breathability of the hempcrete.

Introduction of fiber to the hempcrete mix can cause humidity problems. When fibers are clumped together they tend to draw moisture and that is not something you want to happen in your wall. According to Steve Allin it is possible to add 5%-15% of fiber to the mix but not much more. This may be less of an issue in a hot and dry climate – but otherwise the risk seems unwarranted.

Maybe when the hemp industry matures it will be possible to cultivate stalks with very little fiber and a massive wooden core – which could then be used in whole? For now though it seems that self-grown hemp is not a feasibly reliable option for construction unless you have the means to decorticate it.

Building with Hemp

There is only one book (worthy of being called a book) I know of (in English) – Building with Hemp by Steve Allin. It isn’t the one and only book you will need to actually build with hemp – but it provides the best overview, explanations and images I’ve encountered so far on doing so. It touches on many hemp-effected aspects of construction. You will still have to do a lot more inquiring and apply your own common-sense but this book will be an excellent road-map for you on your journey.

Building Green

“… it’s not the materials but the builder that makes a building green”

Clark Snell,Building Green

I first saw a preview of Building Green (I think it was on Google Books) and wasn’t impressed by it. Then Ina & Sabin introduced us to it and loaned us their copy and I was really surprised by it. I have been immersed in the book and gained a lot from it. It doesn’t mention hemp-construction in any way. It does cover many other green building techniques and materials. But most importantly it is written with an appeal to common sense and with plenty of educational images which demonstrate that common sense really does work. Though I will probably not be using any of the building techniques mentioned in this book directly, I will be using a lot of my own judgement to make design & engineering choices and relate to solutions offered by professionals.

To me, the spirit of the book is best embodied in this quote which I have frequently brought up in conversations since it came to me:

“One the biggest sources of our environmental woes is the constant and polluting movement of humans about the planet. To create a sustainable lifestyle, we need to stay put more of the time and derive more of our social, physical and spiritual sustenance from our own backyards. For example, it takes a longtimeto build healthy soil to grow food; to build a network of friends and compatriots that will be the basis for community; to nurture the trees and other plants that will be part of a house’s cooling strategy. These things simply won’t happen if you aren’t sufficiently seduced by your home to stay there for the many years it will take to turn it into a real place that nurtures both its inhabitants and the environment. A “green” house, then, needs to be beautiful, a place that is as hard to leave as a lover and as unthinkable to neglect as your own child.”

As someone who has lived in rented apartments and houses all of my adult life and am now heading towards creating what may be our first and only house in this lifetime I can completely relate. I have been a tourist in most of the places I’ve lived – never quite made it to become a resident of the place.