Posts filed under 'Permaculture'

Video: How To Grow Figs From Cuttings (Milkwood)

I’ve just discovered the Milkwood site – “Two city kids quit their jobs, pull up stumps and journey to a remote, empty, block of land to start an ultra low impact lifestyle from scratch”. Now these are people I’d love to meet!

Kirsten Bradley and Nick Ritar are documenting their trials and tribulations via both traditional blogging and short videos. The videos are great, and they really have a flair for making an interesting short film.

This first video is about how to grow figs from cuttings.


  • spring time – growing time, making cuttings time
  • able to obtain cuttings from an abandoned orchard near their property – lucky!
  • besides being free, taking cuttings from local trees ensures that you are growing a variety that will do well in your area
  • these appear to be hardwood cuttings?
  • “follow the wrinkle” when taking cuttings
  • instead of using commercial growth hormones for striking cuttings, use “willow water” – finely-chopped willow leaves dumped in a bowl of water
  • fill pots with dirt/compost/potting mix/whatever
  • fill the pots first, put them in a tray to make moving them around easier
  • cut the hardwood cutting just below a node, then scrape the bark to stimulate root growth
  • use a stick to make a hole in your pot
  • dip the cutting into the willow water, getting lots of green bits on it
  • insert into the hole in the pot
  • repeat for all the other cuttings
  • water them in
  • done!

It’ll be interesting to visit the site again in a few months and see how the little figgies are doing.

February 24th, 2008

Video: Permaculture Trio

This video is really three different views of permaculture gardens rolled into one. Notes below the video.

Forest Gardening with Robert Hart

Robert Hart was born on 1 April 1913, and died on 7 March 2000. He was a vegan (eating around 90% raw food) who took up farming at Wenlock Edge, in Shropshire.

  • garden is on the site of an ancient Celtic monastery
  • inspired by the urge to create a practical solution to world hunger
  • also cared for his handicapped brother, Lacon, born with severe learning difficulties
  • “vision was to plant a miniature edible forest to fulfil the needs of a healthy diet in beautiful surroundings”
  • garden was established in the early 1960s
  • success depends upon planting in layers to mimic nature
  • 7 storeys
    • canopy layer: tall, light-demanding trees e.g. mature fruit trees
    • low-tree layer: short, shade-tolerant trees e.g. smaller nuts and fruit trees, and dwarf fruit varieties
    • shrub layer: bushes e.g. currants and berries
    • herbaceous layer: perennial vegetables and herbs
    • ground cover layer: horizontal spreading plants e.g. strawberries
    • rhizosphere: underground area, plants grown for roots/tubers
    • vertical layer: climbers, creepers, vines
  • Mahatma Gandhi was the inspiration, with his vision of a world order of democratic, self-sustaining small communities
  • some of the trees have been planted in memory of inspirational figures
  • garden is kept mulched all year
  • mulch suppresses weeds, maintains desirable soil temperature, retains moisture, feeds microorganisms
  • good compost contains a wide variety of organic materials
  • shredded woody material is excellent for the compost
  • no chemicals used, but foliar sprays of liquid comfrey, nettles etc
  • attention paid to the relationships between different plants (companion planting)
  • sells produce to local greengrocer and whole-food restaurant
  • advice on how to start a forest garden from scratch:
    • start an orchard of standard fruit trees, planted at the recommended spacing (20 ft apart)
    • plant dwarf trees in between the standard trees
    • plant bushes (e.g. currants, gooseberries) in between the trees
    • plant herbs and perennials at the ground level
    • once established, the main work is cutting back plants so they don’t encroach on each other too much, and keeping the soil well-mulched
  • forest gardens give maximum output for minimum labour

Plants For A Future (PFAF) with Ken Fern

  • (15:50) profile of Ken Fern, building a farm in Cornwall using many of Robert’s ideas
  • Ken has a massive variety of plants growing on his farm, and goes through some of the more interesting ones
  • Ken maintains the Plants For A Future (PFAF) web site and database, listing over 7000 plants that can be grown in the UK

Mike and Julia Guerra

  • (32:10) tiny backyard forest garden in Hartfordshire
  • the garden is 75 square metres, and gives 250 kg of food per year (15 tons/acre!), for 2 hours of garden work per week
  • was inspired by a Bill Mollison documentary to start growing his own food
  • turned their barren backyard into a very productive food garden
  • mostly zone 1, intensive herb and vegetable garden
  • (39.25) cool strawberry tower
  • companion planting
  • use warmth of the compost heap to dry shallots or grow seedlings
  • growing potatoes in old tyres
  • worm farm – “wormery”; use castings, liquid (“worm wee”) for heavy feeders like tomatoes
  • greens during winter fight depression

2 comments February 21st, 2008

Video: The Permaculture Concept – Bill Mollison

This is the first post in my new category, Permaculture. I’m going to link to and provide notes for videos, books and other resources as I read and learn more. And maybe I’ll document some of my own projects when I get some time.

If you’re not sure what it is, Wikipedia has a good background article on permaculture. In a nutshell, though, it’s a philosophy of land use that seeks to mimic natural ecologies so that land can be productively used indefinitely, without degradation or the need for external inputs.

The word permaculture was coined in the 1970s by two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. It is a portmanteau (blend/contraction) of the term “permanent agriculture”, as well as “permanent culture”.

This first video is a great introduction to the concept. Bill Mollison explains the history, development and ideas behind permaculture.

In case it disappears from Google Video, a lower-quality version is also available at YouTube (broken into six parts):


  • we haven’t earned the right to go to the stars yet
  • “You wouldn’t welcome anybody who’d laid waste to their house and wanted to live in yours.”
  • some background/bio on Bill Mollison – was once a tree cutter!
  • at one stage, Bill walked away from society “disgusted with the human race”, but he returned after a few weeks after having decided to fight to improve things in a positive way
  • forest as a model of a working system
  • diversity makes the system highly adaptable and at the same time highly productive
  • “If we lose the universities we lose nothing. If we lose the forest we lose everything.”
  • all political systems (and most kings) through history have moved their countries towards desert
  • the ideas behind permaculture arose out of questions that had been asked by people in the 1890s, 1930s, 1960s about why society, with all its tools and resources, keeps falling into holes of its own making
  • permanent agriculture = permanent culture
  • we should build with living resources, not steel and glass
  • (10:00) shows how to set up a productive permaculture garden on a small apartment balcony to provide 1/5th of the food required by two adults
  • grapes grow well under the balcony above – no rain means no mould!
  • “most cannibals only eat strangers”
  • the rise of monoculture
  • today, over half the world’s agricultural production consists of just four crops: wheat, rice, maize and potatoes
  • over-simplification of nature (monoculture) gave rise to huge outbreaks of single pests, diseases
  • (15:00) agriculture as a continuation of World War II
  • since 1940, 70% of our soils have been destroyed
  • 40% of the world’s water has been poisoned by agriculture
  • permaculture design integrates plants, animals and humans into a living system
  • every element of the design has many functions
  • 1978 published “Permaculture One”
  • began designing farm systems for other landowners for free for 2 or 3 years (hundreds of properties!)
  • moved from designing to teaching others how to design – Permaculture Design Courses (PDCs)
  • permaculture lies between disciplines, connecting them together
  • permaculture groups started working to spread the word to the mainstream e.g. participation in agricultural shows in towns all over Australia
  • “modern agriculture is not a system for producing food, but for producing money”
  • “no-one yet pays for the damage at the end of the chain”
  • (22:10) demonstrates the creation of a simple potato patch “the best use for a newspaper”
  • “digging causes weeds, weeds cause work”
  • planting is a lot easier than weeding, and if you have enough plants in there is no room for weeds
  • untidiness in the garden is good, natural order
  • (25:40) description of swales for water retention to avoid droughts
  • 88% of Australia’s water runs off the landscape and is wasted
  • an animal is a mobile part of the forest, not separate from the forest
  • (28:00) guilds
  • get chickens out of battery cages and factories, and back into the garden where they can work for you
  • up to half of the system can be used to feed your animals, which gives much better results than buying external feed
  • in terms of energy cost, food would be about 95% cheaper if it were grown in the city (transportation, processing, packaging, retailing, etc costs)
  • we’re 3 days away from starvation at any time
  • (32:00) shows a suburban home design along permaculture principles
  • food and flowers all year long
  • beehives in the yard
  • lawns are a “green cancer”, completely unproductive, expensive to maintain, a waste of resources
  • (35:20) mangrove swamps are the most productive environment on the planet
  • rising sea levels are going to wipe out large areas of coastal cities (but maybe make them more productive!)
  • TVs watching nature films, 4WDs taking people to the wilderness – we could have it all in our own yards
  • Bill keeps planting seeds around the place like a “guerilla gardener”
  • (38:20) discusses genetic engineering and its unknown effects
  • scientists are basically sociopaths
  • only 3% of the planet’s water is fresh, and most of that is trapped in ice
  • 3 inches of leaf litter in a forest can absorb 1 inch of rainfall
  • rainforest can be looked at as a lake
  • forest evaporation forms clouds, forest bacteria become nucleus of ice crystals in clouds, so forest actually create rain
  • (42:45) farm in Queensland, turned from infertile ex-farmland into a productive environment
  • creating bush corridors to bring back birds and animals
  • (45:00) work in the third world to help restore food production
  • third world populations weren’t able to transition from hunter-gatherers to gardeners, leading to famine and desertification
  • the people have all the resources they need, just lack the information and skills to do it themselves
  • these third-world projects will become models that will need to be applied in the first world
  • (47:00) housing developments designed along permaculture principles
  • it’s time to stop calling permaculture an “alternative” movement, it needs to become part of the mainstream
  • gardening and food production should not be regarded as a side pursuit
  • (50:00) visits a garden that has been abandoned for about 3 years, yet is still productively growing plenty of food
  • “Will permaculture work?” “Will plants grow?”

2 comments February 13th, 2008

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