Permaculture

Here you'll get a glimpse of all the different things that pass through my mind. I aim to write once a month, but as you'll see from the full archive (going back to 2008) sometimes there are gaps. Big gaps. That's OK, if something is worth writing about I will. Sooner or later. Some end up in my books (a second is currently being penned, or should I say, typed), others only make it this far. It's an eclectic collection, but one I hope you'll enjoy.

What Robin Dunbar taught us

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LichenIt emerged this week that the symbiotic relationship we've long understood lichens to be is a little more complex than was previously thought. In addition to the fungi and the algae or cyanobacteria (simply put, the former contributes a structured moist environment and the latter photosynthesises sugars from sunlight), yeasts have now been discovered living close to the surface. It's believed their function is to help fend off predators and repel microbes. This news adds another layer to an already fine example of cooperation that I've been sharing on my permaculture courses for a long time now. It is of course just one of a multitude of examples found throughout nature. All multicellular organisms, including our own human body, are clear evidence that working together is a better long-term strategy than going it alone. Our social tendencies express this too on a scale beyond the individual, but our modern society has put us in contact with more strangers than perhaps any time before in our history, bringing with it much mistrust and fear.

Our ancestors of course understood the security value of living in groups, but there's a point where size does matter. This is what Robin Dunbar taught us - that when groups get beyond 150 or so there are more people than we have enough time to have regular contact with and it's that interaction time that builds trust. So if you have more than 150 friends on facebook, well, if you're like me, many of them are still strangers aren't they? They may share interests with us, but those occasional virtual interactions don't bond us in the same way as those we enjoy face to face.

Diversity and permaculture courses

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Aranya teachingTeaching currently takes up about half of my year and involves a significant amount of travelling, albeit mostly in Britain. The average number of participants on my courses is twelve. Some might study this behaviour and suggest I could be more efficient. Economic logic recommends that I book a large seater venue, forget about providing food or accommodation and market that one course intensively. That would give me plenty of time to spend at home and involve the least amount of my time in sharing what I have learned, Such a strategy would keep the costs down for participants too. So why don't I choose to do that? Why teach so many courses to smaller groups of people in so many places? Well I can answer that question with just one word - Diversity.

Those of you already familiar with the principles of permaculture will know the word well. Life succeeds for a number of reasons, one of them being its ability to adapt to a wide range of niches. No opportunity goes untaken for long. By applying the secrets of life's success to the things we do, we can create better, more resilient systems. Let's start there. A monoculture might seem like an efficient way of growing a lot of one thing, but it's actually a very fragile approach. We have to input a lot of energy and resources to grow crops in such a way. Permaculture systems are much more diverse, if one thing doesn't do so well in any given year there are others that will. Running one course a year only sounds like a good idea until something goes wrong, then it becomes a disaster. An 'all your eggs in one dropped basket' situation.

Grow your own pea shoots

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Having been introduced to this idea by two different people in the same week earlier this month, I thought I’d give it a go. Not much to say really, other than it’s easy to do and the pea shoots taste great. A no-brainer for winter flavour and nutrition. These few pictures tell the story:

Pea shoots close up

Nature by Numbers

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I just came across this video and felt compelled to share it. Three and three quarter minutes of amazing animation showing how numbers create all the beautiful things we see around us. Enjoy!

Did you feel vulnerable?

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Britain snowed in...

The recent snow affected most of us in one way or another. Interestingly, I was running a Permaculture Diploma tutor training event on the outskirts of London when much of it fell. I thought the possibility of being snowed in inside the M25 rather ironic, given how much I avoid going there. Mind you, who better to be stranded with than a lovely bunch of permaculture designers? As it happened we all managed to get home that day, though for some of us it was a long journey.

Such episodes highlight once more the vulnerability of our current system’s dependency upon moving so much food around on a ‘just in time’ basis. It’s encouraging then, that an exciting new project showing one way to improve food security in cities just celebrated its first birthday.

‘Food from the Sky’ is a pioneering food growing and educational project in Crouch End, North London. Food is grown organically on the rooftop of Budgens supermarket there & sold in the store just 8 metres below. Now that’s local food ~ grown within walking distance!

Of course, unused roof space is one thing that urban areas have an abundance of. And as well as providing valuable growing space, up above the worst of the pollution, roof gardens also provide vital food & habitats for wildlife too. Additionally, such projects provide a focus for people to meet up, as community gardens like Tatnam Organic Patch in Poole have been proving for a long time now.

Leadership lessons from dancing guy

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This short but interesting video is at first just funny, but then makes an important point about how quickly movements can gather pace. Important when we are feeling like we are still that lone voice in the wilderness! I’ve been reading about systems theory this week (how systems behave, sometimes in unexpected ways) and this is a fine example of a reinforcing feedback loop. The more that joins the movement, quicker the change occurs. Stay with it, you’ll be amazed at how quickly it all happens at the end. Just substitute the dancing for ‘global environmental sanity’…

We are surrounded by genius…

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Janine Benyus introduces the science of Biomimicry; using nature as our inspiration for creating new technologies. This gives me so much hope for our collective future and fits so beautifully into the permaculture vision.

Spend the next 18 minutes regaining some hope…