Sustainable Design around your Home: Observation, Energy and Patterns

Part 1

Creating sustainable households and communities starts with creating a master plan that is both empowering and achievable. People lacking a plan and/or the tools hit a wall every time they try to embrace sustainability. Food, water, energy, biodiversity, and waste are all aspects that need to be looped into each other to truly create a system that will sustain and even regenerate the landscapes that we currently exist within. Permaculture Design is one of those tools that is slowly getting the attention of individuals and communities as they search for a better way in our times of great change.

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture, coined in the 70’s by Tasmanian Bill Mollison and his student David Holmgren, was initially created from permanent and agriculture and was a way of creating sustainable designs patterned around natural systems like forest and meadows. Permaculture is now accepted to encompass a much bigger picture of ‘permanent cultures’ evolving and living in balance with nature.

From a design perspective nature creates everything it needs, from all of its food to it tallest trees, to all of its strongest fibers like spider silk and bamboo and all of its hardest materials like enamels and shells, from natural non-toxic materials and within a tiny range of temperatures (0-35C), all fueled by the sun and then recycles all of it to leave no waste. It’s an amazing achievement evolved over millions of years and completely different from current human toxic, hazardous, polluting and noisy industrial systems that rule our lives.

Observing these natural systems, taking indigenous pattern knowledge from communities that live sustainably within these systems and applying current design strategies to maximize the efficiency of these patterns can revolutionize the way we can co-exist with our surroundings. Mollison once stated: “Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.

How do I start?

Most people would say plant something! This is furthest from the truth.  Start with a design! The critical component is observing where to plant something to maximize its success and its benefits to everything else in your system! Designing and making mistakes on paper can save thousands of dollars on implementation. Observing where the soil may be a little wetter or drier, where the sun’s intensity may be less or more or even where a tree’s shade may fall at different times of the day or different seasons of the year are factors to start noticing.

The best way to start on your permaculture journey is to observe energies and patterns. Spend time on observation. A good designer will observe their site for a year through all its seasons before even the first implementation. All life on your site is energy. All plants (weeds as well!) convert sunlight into trapped energy that you can make use of, be it compost, mulch, animal feed or fuel. All trapped energy is useful unless it is left to slowly degrade into something useless. The sunlight, rain, wind, people, pets, wildlife, smells and sounds are all forms of energy that can influence where any component in your system will likely succeed or fail. Your dog running across your property can be a destructive energy while a bird nesting in your tree could be providing your garden needed nutrients.

Be aware of the flows of these energies across your site, they are never constant and they will pulse. Rain never pours continuously, the wind never blows with the same intensity. Learn to read the pulses and learn to notice the patterns. We teach our students to spend a half hour sitting quietly on their site as many times as possible while they are designing, to notice the subtle energies flowing across it. Recognizing these energies and acknowledging them can mean success or failure in locating plant beds, chairs, and swings or even infrastructure like gazebos and meditation areas. Learning to read these energies can influence the orientation of your house and the placement of your bedroom, if it’s a particular sound you are trying to eliminate are a breeze you are trying to catch.

Look for patterns.  Are there certain birds that come to your garden at certain times. In Barbados, if there are monkeys around, what route do they follow? If you have dogs, what route do they follow if they chase the monkeys? Does water flow across your site in a certain way every time it rains? Where is the shadow of your house falling during the summer months (March to September) and is it the same during the winter months (October to February). When do the trees in your garden drop leaves, when do they have fruit? Following this process of observing and recording patterns on your site is critical to the process of designing a successful permaculture site.

Most clients I have dealt with do not realize their own patterns. One of the most critical patterns to begin observing are your own and those of the other humans on your site, be it family members or staff and gardeners. The following exercise can be useful to be observing your own pattern across your site.

  1. Draw an overhead outline of your property
  2. Draw in your house with all its rooms
  3. Place a pencil on your drawing representing your bedroom and without lifting it off the paper trace your movements through your house and garden for a regular 24 hour period.
    1. You will notice a thicker line forming where you pass often and a thin line where you may only go once.
    2. Some people may never go into their garden for the whole day, leaving their house in the morning and then coming back in the evening!
  4. Using a different colour, draw in your pattern on the weekend? Is it different from during the week?
  5. Using another colour draw in any other pattern you may notice that you have that is different from your daily and weekend pattern.
  6. Draw in the patterns of your other family members or staff, or better still, ask them to do this exercise themselves.

The critical element of this exercise is to begin realizing that patterns are critical to our movement on a daily basis and that by aligning our desired goals in our landscape with our patterns we will have a better chance of success.

 

(photo via http://permaculture.com.au/djanbung-gardens-overview/)

Part 2 of this exercise is to begin acknowledging the energies that are coming onto your site from off-site.  Use large arrows on your drawing to represent the following….

  1. Locate North, South, East, and West on your site
  2. Locate where the sun rises and sets on your drawing, observe that the sun will rise and set at different points on your horizon at different times of the year.
  3. Locate which direction the wind and rain normally come from, does it change at different times of the year?
  4. Locate the flows of water across your site when it is raining heavily
  5. Identify any energies that may be affecting your site not included above (wildlife, trespassers, smells, noise, roads and traffic, bad or good views, etc)

Welcome to the start of creating a Permaculture design for your site. This is called a ‘Sector Analysis’ Next issue we will go through the process of a Zone Analysis to begin learning how to place different elements of your landscape efficiently within it to maximize connection…

Below are some pictures of what’s ahead in this series of articles.

Erle Rahaman-Noronha is a farmer and Permaculture designer. He has been practicing Permaculture on his farm, Wa Samaki Ecosystems, in Trinidad for over 2 decades and has been teaching and designing, throughout the Caribbean, for the last 10 years through his consulting company Caribbean Permaculture Consultants Ltd. His TEDxPortofSpain talk Bringing Nature Home shows how we can use Permaculture to design Caribbean sites to encourage and maintain biodiversity and wildlife. He is currently the lead implementation consultant at Walkers Reserve Barbados, one of the only quarry rehabilitation projects in the Caribbean. His next Permaculture Design Course will be held in Trinidad on July 31st  2017.

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Erle Rahaman-Noronha

Erle Rahaman-Noronha is a farmer and Permaculture designer. He has been practicing Permaculture on his farm, Wa Samaki Ecosystems, in Trinidad for over 2 decades (www.wasamakipermaculture.org) and has been teaching and designing, throughout the Caribbean, for the last 10 years through his consulting company Caribbean Permaculture Consultants Ltd. His TEDxPortofSpain talk Bringing Nature Home (http://tedxportofspain.com/portfolio/erle-rahaman-noronha/) shows how we can use Permaculture to design Caribbean sites to encourage and maintain biodiversity and wildlife. He is currently the lead implementation consultant at Walkers Reserve Barbados (www.walkersreserve.com), one of the only quarry rehabilitation projects in the Caribbean.

erle has 3 posts and counting.See all posts by erle

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