I am having to make changes to my vegetable growing areas in order to reduce the time that it takes to manage. I currently have two areas in which I grow vegetables and grains, covering over a quarter of an acre. This has been difficult to maintain whilst at college, and will be much more difficult when I start at university. One of the principles of Permaculture is to “Creatively use and respond to change”, so that’s what I’m doing.
I first came across the term ‘Chop and Drop’ in Geoff Lawton’s Establishing a Food Forest DVD. I reviewed the DVD here. Chop and Drop describes the actions of cutting branch wood from fast growing trees ‘nurse’ trees, and then using that wood to feed soil fungi, in order to help the production trees, planted amongst them. Chop and Drop is linked to the use of a more dense tree planting, often fast growing and nitrogen fixing, with many of these trees not destined to remain until maturity. Continue reading
I have wanted a Broadfork since I read Eliot Coleman’s book ‘The New Organic Grower‘. References to the use of a broadfork in ‘How to Grow More Vegetables‘, by John Jeavons, and
other books, only reinforced that desire. As usual I did a bit of research into broadforks beforehand. I discovered that the broadfork used to be called a Grelinette, named after the inventor. If you do a search for Grelinette you can see a whole series of French images for a broadfork. The broadfork is also known as a U bar in the USA. I came across this broadfork as part of my research. It looked ideal, but when I chatted to them about shipping to the UK an already expensive tool became unaffordable. My next attempt was to chat to an agricultural engineer who lives in my village. If you’ve looked at the last link the tool looks like the tines may be from an agricultural machine. That would have made construction pretty easy, but we couldn’t identify anything that might work. My final attempt was to ask amongst a group of permaculturalists if they knew of anybody who might be able to make one for me, and Matt offerred to try. The picture above shows the first of two models that he made. What is brilliant about both of the tools is that they are both made from recycled materials. When I went to collect it his workshop was amazing. I’m not much of a ‘metal’ person, but even I was excited by the place. Sometimes you can see somebody’s passion in a place, and this was a good example.
Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design
As Matt might be using this design as part of his Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design, I am going to provide some feedback for him, so that he can refine the design. So this post is performing more than one function. Telling you about my broadfork, providing feedback for Matt, and able to act as a link for him so that he can refer to it in his own design. Every Element should perform more than One Function, a Permaculture Principle. By making this tool for me, Matt gets another design to use for his diploma portfolio. He is able to demonstrate symetry, both giving and receiving support from the wider permaculture network. If he publishes his designs online that will be further enhanced. If he incorporates my feedback into his design he is also demonstrating the use of the permaculture principle Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback.
The Permaculture Principle Observe and Interact gives me a great excuse to bring out the ‘mad proffessor that seems to direct much of what I do. I love to read about a new technique, or in the case of this post an old technique, and then ‘play with it’. Yesterday I did just that with an experiment in Soil Fertility and burning.
Biochar, Burning Wood and Terra Preta
I have done a lot of reading on Traditional Agricultural practises. One technique that is or has been used all over the world is the burning of wood prior to planting crops. This is normally associated with swidden (slash and burn) agriculture. We have an image of indigenous people destroying forest to grow crops, depleting the soil of nutrients, then moving on. The reality is that this is a sophisticated way of farming that uses a period of building soil fertility under trees, and then using that fertiltiy to grow crops. In many ways it resembles the old English Two field rotation. One year crop, one year fallow. In fact it isn’t that long since the burning of stubble in grain fields was made illegal here. What I’ve also read is that in India the wood was slow burned, or charred, rather than burnt fiercely. This throws up some interesting possibilities to observe and interact .
Observe and Interact is one of the Permaculture Principles promoted by David Holmgrem. One interpretation of this principle is that we observe what we see around us, and then use that information to help us to create or modify systems in our designs. However this only touches the surface of what Observe and Interact can help us to do. I try and use this principle with everything that I do Including my reading and research. This post is about the conventional use of the Observe and Interact principle, and will be followed by Observe and Interact -Part Two, which will focus on reading and research.