Permaculture 101

Posted by Bryden / on 02/27/2011 / 1 Comment

Matt Whittley and his partner Julia donated their time and passion last Tuesday to share some of their knowledge about permaculture. They left a family business in Wasaga Beach to explore permaculture with the founder, Bill Mollison, in Tasmania, as well as Geoff Lawton. They are traveliong to Panama on Monday to pack up their things where they have been living and learning, and will travel up the coast of North America and eventually return here by July. They are seriously considering moving to Tasmania.

The following is a summary of the topics discussed and list some useful references.

I called this post Permaculture 101 because Matt and Julia tried to give a broad survey of the philosophical and practical aspects of permaculture in just 2 or 3 hours, which is a very tall order.

Matt started by talking about the type of plants that occur on different soil conditions and moving into the concept of the layering that occurs in natural forest ecosystems.

He then outlined some of the aspects of engineering food forests by planting what would become layers (root → ground cover → herbaceous shrubs → understorey → climbing storey → overstorey) all at the same time.

At the beginning, 90% of plants are support species (mostly legume) and 10% are production species, but those ratios are eventually reversed.

There was a lengthy discussion of water storage techniques, including the use of swales, following contours, and providing spillways for overflow. These techniques have been used successfully and inrensively in arid places including India and Jordan, as well as Bill Mollison's own home farm.

Some general planning principles were discussed whenb considering property features such as: all features should have multiple supportive functions (i.e. a driveway providesd access but is also useful to collect water and feed it into a top swale); 100 hours of thinking will yield 1 hour of meaningful work.

The most time was spent discussing soil and composting, in particular the Berkley Method which produces finished compost in 18 days. Beginning with  a minimum 1 square metre of organic material (maintaining a carbon:nitrogen ratio of 25:1 and adequate moisture determined by a hand squeeze test which should yield a few drops of water), tarp and turn after 4 days, then every 2 days with a long-handled pitchfork while adding material.

The size of the pile should remain the same, a decreasing volume indicates a lack of N. The pile needs to be turned if it gets above 65-70 C. Matt Code suggested a temperature test of inserting a pitchfork into the centre of the pile and holding one of the tines. If you can barely hang on, the temperature is ideal, if you can't hang on it's time to turn. Avoid garlic, onion, and citrus because of their antimicrobial properties.

A method for maintaining a worm farm was discussed. An old bathtub with a drain or something similar is ideal. Fill with cow manure, introduce composting worms (red wigglers), cover with old carpet and/or corrugated tin, add veggie scraps. Collect worm juice from drain, dilute 20:1 in a watering can for the garden. Finished product is very fertile worm castings. To maintain the worm population, peel back the covering(s) and pile veggie scraps toward one end of tub, shovel out castings before reintroducing cow manure.

Google the Soil Food Web Institute for a description of an actively composted tea brewer that uses a compost tea bag supplemented with molasses, fish oil, etc., and a bubbler to blow (diffuse) microorganisms into water.

We also had a brief discussion about natural building including passive solar design, Earthships, and strawbale construction.

Resources: The Design Manual by Bill Mollison (

                 Geoff Lawton videos ( include water harvesting, intro to                permaculture, soils, and food forests)

                 Matt mentioned a nascent site of theirs (

                 Ecofilms has a video on aquaponics

                 Matt's email is and their website is


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  • Kimberly says:

    Awesome summary Bryden! Check out the FSG Blog Post with some pics and a traveller's twist!

    February 27, 2011 at 4:59 PM | Permalink


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