PDC: Zone 1

How often have you seen a garden being choked out by weeds, teeming with overripe produce because it sits 100 yards away from the house? How about the chore of hiking down to this far away garden to catch up on the weeding, harvesting, and watering of the forgotten seedlings? I stress chore because it can sure feel like one when you are lacking the proper design. Gardening should never be a chore, it should be one of life’s pleasant activities that we look forward to. In permaculture we use zones to make our lives easier, and the smaller intensively cultivated food gardens belong in zone 1. …Keep Reading!


Creating abundance

The key to abundance is diversity. By creating diversity in plants and their functions we can create abundance. It isn’t just about how many species we have, it is about how many different interactions we can create.

There is abundance all around us. You just need to use your imagination.

Through proper design and very little time we can live in absolute abundance.

Design day!

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the days I am at Verde Gardens working on the farm. Thursdays I will be found at the central location in South Miami, FL doing my PDC. Today was a Tuesday, so, you guessed it, I was at the farm!

If you have ever worked on a farm, then you understand that everyday can be something completely different than the day before, or the exact same. This simple factor is what I enjoy most about doing farm work. If you want to do something different you can or if you want to stick to the same project you have been doing, then have at it! It’s freedom. Sometimes, like today, you have a project’s time line coming to an end so you have to focus strongly on it. The food forest design needs to be complete because we the wet season is coming to an end. The benefit to planting during the wet season means that excess irrigation is not needed for the plants as they are becoming established.

Taking advantage of the wet season by building a banana circle next to an established coconut palm on a "free" day at home.

In permaculture, the design phase is extremely important. This process can not be rushed or else we run into “type one” errors (specifically type one error # 7 as Bill Mollison speaks about in his 15 PDC pamphlets. These pamphlets are loaded with TONS of epic information, including type 1 errors on page 64/155). Every observation counts!

orange black true bug

Spartocera fusca

As designers, we need to avoid falling into these serious errors. Farmer apprentice David did a great job at reminding the rest of us today of a very important factor, “When designing this food forest we need to remember that this area will function for hundreds, if not thousands, of years after we (apprentices) have passed by. We must design with care”

After being reminded to slow down and proceed with care, we decide to compile the lists we made last week into a new graph format. In the graph, the plants names were listed in rows and the produces/needs of the plants were listed as columns. If a plant fell into a certain category of produces/needs we simply checked the columns. Since our focus was on the graph, we were not able to map out any plants, but now we able to come up with more accurate plant guilds.Once the graph is turned into a spreadsheet I will upload it onto this blog post so our work can benefit a lot more people,

In this video below, Bill Mollison shows some really great examples of proper design in a tropical climate.

PDC # 5 – Designing the food forest

As I mentioned in the previous post, during the second half of the PDC class we worked on designing the food forest. Having the ability to discuss, create, and design a functioning ecosystem is really empowering. Knowing that you are creating something that will function long past the time you turn back into the earth is breathtaking.

Farmer apprentices designing

In order to create a functioning ecosystem you must understand what each plant produces and what its needs are. Taking the time to research what the selected plants need in order to thrive, can help you find its specific niche. The more you know about the plant, the better you can design a plant community — better known as a guild in permaculture. When I first got into permaculture three years ago, I wanted to find a resource for every single guild out there. However, there isn’t one, and even if there was such a resource, the guilds would not be designed specifically for your site. Remember, every single site is different, so we must not treat them all the same.

Getting Professional

Designing our 2.75 acre food forest

My fellow farmer apprentices decided it would be best if we took some time to research the 24 different plants that we chose to work with. Mind you, these 24 plants are either in the canopy or understory range. We will be planting a plethora of varieties, but these are the first ones we have chosen to start with.

Since there were four farmer apprentices (I say were because now we have five), we each got six plants. If you are designing your own food forest, what you want to look at is each plant’s needs, inputs, and outputs. This information will help you design an effectively functioning guild.

Here are the plants I researched:
Allspice-Pimenta diocia:
Needs: Mid-canopy; small plants are not frost tolerant; most need male and females to propagate (polygamo dioecious); best germinates after passing through an avian gut; requires full sun; slow growing.
Produces: Edible leaves and unripe fruits; very aromatic flowers which appear mid-summer; wood is perfect for tool making;  its essential oils can be used as deodorant; grows well with guava; can be used for trellising.

Araza- Eugenia stipitata:
Needs: Susceptible to anthracnose; needs potassium and enjoys nitrogen; tolerates limited flooding, but can adopt to flooding over time; occupies shrub layer of the food forest; enjoys dense, humid areas; can withstand 2 month drought.
Produces: Multiple harvests; branches from base (great for critters); edible tart fruit.

Atemoya- Anona x Atemoya:
Needs: Mature trees killed at 24F and young trees killed 29F; needs windbreak; enjoys humidity and well drained soil; not flood tolerant; propagation best at the end of winter; appreciates full sun; does not favor high nitrogen when mature; optimum temperatures 72F-90F.
Produces: Delicious fruit with lots of seed; definitely has more outputs than what I was able to find.

Avocado-Persea americana:
Needs: Strong pest issues in Florida (Redbay Ambrosia Beetle); needs windbreak; some varieties are not frost tolerant, yet others can moderately tolerate frost; not flood tolerant; prefers some shade.
Produces: Thick canopy provides strong shade; drops its leaves in winter (biomass); produces edible fruit; limbs can fall with lots of fruit which provides shelter for animals.

Banana- Musa sp.:
Needs: Irreversible freeze damage — 28F or below may kill plants to ground; heavy feeders; not flood tolerant; needs windbreak for winds from 25-45mph; full/near full sun recommended; needs mulch; heavy drinker.
Produces: Edible fruits; potassium; great for mulch; can be used as trellis; produces partial shade; suckers.

Cacao- Theobroma cacao:
Needs: Pollinated via crawling and flying insects; 65F-90F optimum growing temperature — 50F or below can kill the plant; enjoys water (do not over water); understory crop; needs windbreak; enjoys mulch; low pests.
Produces: Edible juicy fruits; seeds used for chocolate; large taproot; great for nutrient recycling within soil; cacao shells are great mulch; timber.

Now that we’ve found the plants’ needs and what they can provide for other plants and animals, we must figure out where they work best.

Carolina is focused

Carolina imagining the design

Permaculture Design Course Class # 5 – Zone 0

Thursday’s PDC class we focused on zone 0, which you know all about because of the last post. The second half of the class, we did some designing of the food forest.

Zone 0:
In modern western lifestyles we typically find excessive consumerism existing in our central location which is zone 0. Most homes are consumer junkies, devouring huge amounts of finite resources and the releasing toxic or polluted air. People in this culture are spending most of their time in sick houses (or buildings for work) that are covered in chemicals, using processed materials, off gassing, and are surrounded by massive amounts of electromagnetic radiation. Our central locations are vulnerable as they are completely dependent of external resources such as electricity, gas, and even needing water being brought in from sometimes thousands of miles away.

This is why, as designers, we need to build properly designed new homes or retrofit old homes if a house already exists on the site. When we are siting a new house we should pay thoughtful observation to climate, topography, water, soil, surrounding land use, site access, vegetation, and house orientation. We want to consider where our water supply will come from, how much water do we need, how can we store the water in case of drought, what is our energy usage, how will the energy be stored, the materials we will need to use, and even what will be our main transportation. We want to be able to use as much materials from either on site or as local as we can find them. It is really important that we do use this thoughtful observation instead of relying on thoughtless action which we can see has failed by looking closely at our modern western society.

Remember, this zone will be designed to reduce the amount of energy used here, including water needs, and creating a harmonious environment in which to live and work in, as this is where we will spend the majority of our time.

During this class I challenged everyone to do a water audit these next two weeks. I will be doing a post specifically on a water audit and an energy audit, so pay attention if you want to learn how to prepare yourself for drought and learn how to become more independent.

Permaculture Design Course

What is Permaculture Design Certificate Course (PDC)

Permaculture founder Bill Mollison developed the Permaculture Design Course to teach the foundations and principles of sustainable design. To guarantee that the integrity of the the certification process is upheld, every PDC taught through out the world must follow the same format and be a total of 72 hours. This format is always based upon the syllabus from Bill Mollison’s Introduction to Permaculture.

Bill Mollison is an amazing teacher and is someone that I would consider to be a genius. While his Introduction to Permaculture is a must have, it can sometimes be tough for certain people to “digest” in one sitting. Which is why Earth Learning’s PDC is centered around Rosemary Morrow’s Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture, as they found it easier to teach from.

If you are in the Miami area and are interested in taking a PDC or just interested in permaculture, you should check out Permaculture Miami’s facebook page and  Permaculture Miami’s website. The creator of Permaculture Miami, Marcus Thomson, is a great permaculture instructor who studied at the Permaculture Research Institute in Australia.

Designing our permaculture zones

I wish I had footage of the work all of us did today. I was having so much fun, and was so busy, that I forgot to get any film or photos of my day at the farm. There were two main jobs that had to get done today; one was organizing the nursery and the other was mapping the market garden.

Antonio, the full-time farmer, lead a group of apprentices in the nursery. Their tasks were labeling plants, such as jackfruit, setting up more nursery tables, and doing a inventory of the plants that were recently moved from a different site to “The farm at Verde Gardens”.

Since I have had experience with mapping out sites before, including the Food Forest at “Verde” and my recent un-named farm, I lead the other group of 3 fellow apprentices. I taught the others about why the market garden is going where it is, the importance of proper design, and permaculture zones. It took us the whole day, but by the end we were able to finish the mapping out the market garden, and parts of the alley crops. Now that we finished the mapping, we can get down to the design. Since fall is right around the corner, time is running out fast. The five farmer apprentices need to finish the design so we can start the soil building and planting before it is too late.

On another note, I imagine most of you are wondering what is a permaculture zone. Below is a quick write up and a short video of what permaculture zones are:

Zone 0 – The house or central location. This zone is the center of your site, it is where you spend most of your time. This location will be designed to reduce the amount of energy used here, including water needs, and creating a harmonious environment in which to live and work in.

Zone 1 – The zone nearest to the central location. This is where you place the elements that need most attention and visiting. Here you will place your salad crops, herb plants, soft fruits, propagation/nursery beds, worm bins, and whatever else you feel you need to pay close attention to.

Zone 2 – Use this area for perennial plants that need less attention and maintenance, such as main carbohydrate crops. You may need to do some light spot mulching or even pruning in this area. You can place your large scale compost bins or even keep bees in zone 2.

Zone 3 – This site can be used for larger animals, grazing, large ponds and swales, and your larger main crops. You may decide to place your food forest here, or you can place it back in zone 2.

Zone 4 – Your semi wild area, and also used for farmed forestry. This is a great spot to set up a timber production and to forage for wild foods. You may also choose to place a forestry system for poles, craft, or bee fodder.

Zone 5 – This area is kept completely wild. You use zone 5 to observe, gather information, meditate, and to remain in tranquility.

The great piece to zones is that they can overlap each other. You design your zones accordingly to the way you function, the places you walk through most, and the areas that are most convenient (or not) to get to. These initial steps to planning and design are crucial as this is where you decide the most effective way for you to live and function from day to day.

Take a moment to watch this amazing documentary from Geoff Lawton describing permaculture zones:

If you enjoyed that short video, I suggest for you to check out the full Introduction to Permaculture by Geoff Lawton posted by permacultureideas.blogspot.com. Permaculture Ideas is loaded with really clever ideas of recycling old “junk” into useful items around your homestead.

Keep posted for future blogs to see the final design and how you can build the best soil.

Irrigation installation

Today couldn’t have come at a better time for me. We installed the irrigation system at the edibles nursery so we could stop hand watering all of the plants. The reason why this couldn’t have come at better time for me is because I will be installing drip irrigation at our (My partner, housemates, and I) soon to be named farm. In my world, it is always much better to practice on another person’s project before I get knee-deep in my own and don’t know where to literally stop the flood.

There were 9 out of 11 apprentices, plus the director Mario, working hard as we installed four out of eight zones. A zone is an area of irrigation which is controlled by its own valve. This little fact may be boring, but the day was exciting! Here is a terrible picture taken from my phone of David installing a four-way splitter:

David connecting the four-way splitter

David connecting the four-way splitter

Overall, today was a blast. Working as a team makes light work and could never be more fun. I really enjoyed using basic permaculture principles, such as design effectively and work with what you have. Here is an image of us working with what we have; measuring in “Bambi”:

Bambi stick

Eli takes a moment to measure Bambi in order to get the perfect height for the risers

Time is running out fast and we need to get the market garden designed. I will be leading the surveying of the market garden tomorrow so we can design the garden beds and paths. Stay tuned!