Permaculture Quickstart

Permaculture? Is it swales? What on earth is a swale?

Swales are a dry-climate, tree-growing system. Permaculture may use swales, but that is a small, small part of permaculture.

Permaculture is often described as “Permanent Agriculture.” However, Permaculture is better described as “Permanent Culture.” That includes:

  1. Earth care
  2. People care
  3. Returning surplus

Permaculture transcends politics, religion, and country. You can throw a prepper, a tree hugger, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a capitalist, and a communist into the same permaculture class and have them all walk away determined to use the knowledge they gained in their individual pursuits. In fact, I’ve seen that happen.

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Water Rights Course

I want to put a well on Dove Ranch at some point. I’ve tried figuring out Utah’s water laws and have failed for the most part. Then I found out that there is a Water Rights course offered by the Utah Division of Water Rights and the Rural Water Association of Utah. I decided, this would complement my permaculture training nicely, so I’m going to sign up for it.

water rights brochure 2017

If anyone else is interested, you can sign up online at www.rwau.net

Before Permaculture at Dove Ranch

Geoff Lawton emphasized in the Permaculture Design Certificate course that I’m taking, that you really want to have as many before shots as possible when applying permaculture to land, so that you can see the progress made over time. So, in keeping with that strong suggestion, I’ve taken a few pictures that are typical of the ranch, now.

Driveway Before Permaculture
This is our modest driveway in 2017 with my Subaru Forester parked in it.
2017 Eroded Flood Plain
This is the majorly eroded flood plain down in the wash. This is pre-permaculture in 2017, looking south along the west property boundary.
2017 Flood Plain
This captures a view of the 2017 snowmelt running off on the north side of the floodplain looking south before I’ve applied any permaculture design to the eroded muddy mess.
2017 Looking East at Fork in the Wash
Using permaculture I intend to introduce dryland trees and erosion control methods to the wash. This is known to create water plumes and often creates natural springs where there were none in the past.

Permaculture and the Homestead

I intend to use permaculture to create my homestead. I want a small homestead where I grow my own food and enjoy working the land. I also want to improve the land I am not using in a natural, water-wise way that doesn’t encourage more desertification and erosion.

Cottonwood
My wash does not currently have the native biodiversity that permaculture can design into it using typical permaculture techniques. Cottonwoods are native to Utah washes, so I’m introducing a stand of them to grow in my wash.

My dream property would have under five-acres of land. After years of looking at land, I finally bought 72-acres in early 2014, not because I want that much land, but because I could afford it and not the smaller parcels I was interested in.

The land I ended up purchasing was described in the real estate listing as “good for nothing but sagebrush.” However, after seeing what permaculture design has done to far worse chunks of dirt, I’m willing to give it a go, even though I have limited time and money.

Finding the Farm
The piece of dirt and sage we could afford. It’s not much, but it’s ours.

This piece of dirt and sage will make a great permaculture demonstration site.

Update on the Permaculture Design Certificate Course

I’m almost half way through the Permaculture Design Certificate course. I’m on week 9 and it is a 20 week course. I love the course, but two months in, I’m starting to look forward to finishing it. I can tell from my changes in perspective that this is likely to change my life forever.

In addition to the normal course material, I’m reading the 550 page manual by Bill Mollison, and listening to Bill’s 70 hour 1983 course on MP3. It’s interesting to see the major differences in personality and teaching style from Bill Mollison to his most-well-known student, Geoff Lawton. They are very different personality-wise and teaching-style-wise.

Between the book and two classes (current online one and the 1983 MP3 one) I’ve already learned tons relating to management zones, patterns, plant-animal guilds, tree placement, earthworks, and permaculture related legal, economic and social networks. I had no idea what I didn’t know about permaculture.

On a funny/interesting note, I was listening to the the 1983 course this week and Bill M. mentions Yeoman’s so-far unproven keyline design theory. Of course, Geoff Lawton and other Permaculture Design Certificate holders have proven Yeoman correct over and over again since 1983–most famously Geoff Lawton turned several acres a few miles from the Dead Sea into a forest garden on almost no well-water and then left it alone for a decade and came back to show it was still there even when mismanaged.

Permaculture Guilds

My takeaway from the Online Permaculture Design Course this week is the use of guilds. Guilds are groups of plants and/or animals that work together. Often, a guild contains a central element such as a specific tree and then other elements are gathered around it to assist the central plant or animal. The goal is to assemble components that help each other in some way. The more ways components help each other, the more likely the guild will work out. Look for large numbers of connections between elements.

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Page Ranch Lessons

As promised, here is a little more information on Joseph Timothy Page, famous for his restoration work at Page Ranch between 1923 and 1941. With the help of a shovel and a spading fork, he managed to restore dryland grasses to his ranch that was surrounded by ecologically devastated rangeland. He did all this all at an older age, after retiring and purchasing 160 acres of devastated rangeland to do some farming.

Initially, JT Page intended to dig wells and use well water, but despite digging multiple wells up to 30 feet deep, he never found any water he could use. He and his wife had to bring all their own drinking water in from the local town.

JT and Sarah Page, 1923
JT and Sarah Page at about the time they purchased the now famous Page Ranch.

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JT Page Method

I’ve finished the second week of the Permaculture Design Course, and came across mention of Page Ranch in Arizona. Back in 1923, Mr Page and his wife bought a piece of overgrazed ranch land in hopes of doing some dryland farming. Nothing grew, and he couldn’t find any water on his land despite digging many wells as deep as 30 feet.

Finally, he got sick of it and tried something else. What he did sounds an awful lot like permaculture, to be honest. The result was staggering, as you can see in this photo. His ranch is on the right, and the neighbor’s ranch is on the left. He did this with 17 years of back breaking work, and a shovel–literally only a shovel!

Page Ranch
The ranch that JT Page fixed is on the right.

I’ll post some of my insights into how I can apply JT Page’s pioneering restoration efforts at Dove Ranch.

Week One of the PDC

I’ve been through the first week of course work for the Online Permaculture Design Course taught by Geoff Lawton. I found it was a good thing that I’ve been studying permaculture on my own for so long. My previous permaculture studies helped me understand a lot of the more abstract theory that the course starts out with.

Since this is a pretty big investment for myself and my family, financially speaking, I decided to make the most of it and study Bill Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual along with the course. Also, I decided to take it up a notch and also listen to Bill Mollison’s original 1983 permaculture design course on MP3 while driving to and from the day job.

Bill Mollison
Bill Mollison, the father of permaculture.
(Photo by Nicolas Boullosa – http://www.flickr.com/photos/faircompanies/2196171642/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18933888)

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Online Permaculture Design Course

I’ve decided to take the leap and enroll in the PDC 2.0. That’s Geoff Lawton’s current online Permaculture Design Course. The permaculture course starts today, and is exactly what I want to help me plan fixes for the two acres of flood plain that have completely lost all topsoil and vegetation at Dove Ranch.

Geoff Lawton Online
Geoff Lawton is absolutely my hero of the permaculture world. I’m excited to be enrolled in one of his classes.

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