Gary’s Blog: A ramble about permaculture society

Making terraces

Making terraces

January 22, 2016

From: Gary

I have an ongoing 18 year permaculture project in Costa Rica.  I am thinking to write about things that I learned, and how a permaculture society might function.
First, it takes time and work, but it’s fun work that is rewarding, and it’s time better spent than working a job or watching most TV.
I realized years ago that it’s a process of transformation and often reclamation. I would suggest doing permaculture first on areas that have been devastated by humans.
The moral dilemma is the obvious criticism  that it’s not natural. Two thoughts on this: one, that it could be if one was a purist and only reintroduced native species; second, that introducing species now considered domestic would in fact be re-wilding such plants and animals, and could also produce new hybrid environments capable of supporting more animal life.
My personal perspective on it, is it’s a garden of Eden project. This was my own starting point on my permaculture, and I made the mistake of migrating towards commercialism, i.e. planting a fairly large area in a cash crop, citrus. Then I ran into all the usual problems related to commercial enterprises; labor, marketing, and middlemen. I regretted not staying with mixed areas and a focus on personal use food and resources. By personal use I include friends etc. 
We also did a lot of dirt work, carving paths and terraces. Some might criticize this as being unnatural, but if the Incas had thought like this, people would have been working, harvesting and traveling on steep slopes for hundreds of years since. And I suggest each person do their own project area exactly as they wish, instead of criticizing others.
This will create a secondary result of varied creativity and increased learning for all via the “what works well” test.
Another issue that will certainly pop up is using modern technologies and materials. If you want to clean around your plants with a hip blade of a cow, go right ahead. I prefer steel tools, and in some cases even mechanization. Remember, it’s a result you are after, not practice grafting with a flint knife. 
I tend to be a mixer, using modern tools and materials to produce neo-indigenous crafts etc. which might not be correct on the movie set for Dances with Wolves, but does create its own very beautiful effects.
On limits:
Basically there’s only so much that be accomplished by each person, and I suggest starting at a center point, and working outwards. My preferred central point would be my own living area and shelter, and using clean-up and cutting fire wood and construction materials and mix the new genetics with whatever natives you choose to leave…
In our project in Costa Rica, we built a system of rocked paths. Where first we used pick hoes to shape the dirt, and cut a drainage ditch on the back side. Then we applied base rock that we mined by hand. Most of this was fairly large, two handed rocks placed carefully together, then we topped this with finer gravel also mined by hand. At first we carried it in farm buckets on our shoulders, and later when I could afford a wheel barrow, used that and it was easier and faster.
Basically, about all two people are going to be able to do, is a hectare of land. If you have more people, multiply accordingly.
I have 27 hectares, and a very serious 15 year project covered less than a quarter of it due to increasing maintenance due to rapid brush growth in the tropical environment. We used Manicillo (perennial peanut) for topsoil building ground cover, and also Yucca (Cassava) to cover some areas and rebuild soil by leaving the tubers, we couldn’t eat all of, to rot in the soil.
All projects will be limited by climate realities as to what plants you can use.
One tends to build more paths closer to your living area, and then an increasing web of access to farther areas and to civilization. But I many times wished I could close off the accesses to the roads… Problems are directly proportional to numbers of humans. Eventually we did let some accesses grow up to prevent entry of unwanted types. Thieves, Government Thieves, hound hunters, and other such vermin.
And only friends were told which accesses were open…
The most used path was from the living area to the spring.
I also planted my favorite food trees closest to the shelter. Literally had bread fruit fall into the outdoor kitchen area, and several coconuts. 
A rule of gardens; your garden area should be able to be seen from your shelter, and if in hilly terrain, make it up hill if possible, as it’s easier to carry produce down hill to the shelter. And above the garden your staple food trees. Humans often put animal pastures also uphill and let the livestock climb up as they forage…
Walking the countryside

Walking the countryside

The perfect shelter site has three main aspects; drainage, water supply, and view… Native Americans in Central America often like humps or small hills sticking out from the mountains for drainage and view that has a spring higher up right behind for gravity water. I copied them and it worked very well. Never any flooding, sunny and drier, and a stunning view.
All sites will vary, but always build on a well drained hump.
The most common and hardest mistake to not do, is planting trees too close. They are so small when you plant them, then they get soooo big!
I think permaculture projects are probably as good as it gets for couples. You can start with nothing and create beauty and security together using a division of labor effect.
It will take a mix of working together and also dividing up chores so that you aren’t trying to cook beat-tired and late…
The best time for a cold water bath is after sweaty work. So one’s lifestyle adapts to your reality. It’s not a sitcom where you have to do everything as you were programmed to do since childhood. Three meals a day generally turns into two. Harder work is done when it’s earlier and cooler, and craft work is done in the shady afternoons after your main meal which is around mid day. 
One thing you quickly learn, is that food from the leafy green super market on the mountain side takes a lot of work to gather and process before cooking. Usually about an hour gathering, followed by an hour cleaning and processing. Then at least an hour cooking. Meaning one person’s ability to expand the project and eat is limited by food-making time. and why a couple can each attack different jobs to get the food ready before you are starving. I spent years cooking alone, and it was a great diet plan. I could go to the US, fatten up, and come back and lose 40 lbs in 6 months working and trying to cook etc.
But I had lived several years on much less, and hunger had become a friend of sorts. So I was able to resist what most domesticated people would have needed a shrink to deal with…
I think the perfect community is everyone living with distance between them. In the 70’s in Oregon, the communes often consisted of cabins in the woods with natural forest left between them and systems of trails. This worked very well, and I think any planned community should follow this plan. That at least half the area should be wild, and that people have their own place and space. Anything else is asking for social issues. 
I also think that couples should be aware that each person having their own space is critical to the relationship.
The beauty of permaculture is that it can totally eliminate any need for the technocult on a personal level, if you also learn crafts that turn resources into utility items, clothing, and shelter.
I suggest that everybody plant more than they can use, for barter, for the animals, and for the people and friends that will eventually flee the cities. 
In World War II, refugees stripped a swath 40 miles wide along main roads of all food.
And even in Sun Tsu’s Art of War he mentions that a good General knows where all the orchards are.
Personally I think permaculture should be done everywhere possible. I have gotten fruit genetics from homesteads abandoned during the great depression. Once established food trees continue to produce until drowned out by climax species forest or other natives.
Permaculture also produces the most for the least amount of work. and the best food security as trees are drought resistant compared to shallow rooted annuals. 
Permaculture is perhaps the ultimate social revolution, as it allows food and resource security that is decentralized and controlled by the masses. With zero dependency on fossil fuels or advanced technologies, and creates a situation whereby people can avoid control and manipulation. It eliminates the need for money, but would continue long distance trade due to climate differences and growing resources in climate specific areas. In a Just culture, public lands would be open to permaculture.
Permaculture also goes beyond food. One can, and most definitely should, plant trees and other plants for any useful resource traits they have, from medicinal to lumber or fibers, dyes, and for wildlife encouragement.
Now the controversial part:
Many organic types become purists, and purism is limiting by nature. We are also traumatized by corporate and government atrocities. And so there’s a reaction to negate anything not natural. What I am talking about specifically is GMO technologies.
Some consider GMO’s as Techno-Satanic, and many of them are. But there also exist many possible Sane and Wholesome GMO’s….
An example would be doing a cross between perennial peanut and normal  commercial peanuts to get a perennial peanut that produces food.  The plant called perennial peanut produces no peanut but is a perennial,
and the commercial peanut is an annual.
Which leads to a discussion on who are the high priests and guardians of truth? There are factions in the organic movement tweaking it to make it illegal to use animal manures as fertilizer. This is the logical and moral equivalent of saying wildlife must all be potty-trained and not shit anywhere natural. The logic is a direct violation of natural systems, and the result of academic idiocy…
We have too many impractical professors and not enough practical gardeners… Such concepts and control attempts are absurd on their face, and doing serious damage to the organic movement in the third world where local farmers who want to go organic only have government agronomy engineers for information resources, and are so misled into thinking that compost can only be made correctly from certain resources. An example is in Panama, in the mountains of Chiriqui, government agronomy experts taught making compost with ingredients like charcoal, molasses, bacterial cultures and rice hulls, also chicken manure. The local farmers have none of these resources in enough quantity to be meaningful at this point. But like everywhere, there’s an unlimited quantity of brush and it’s usually let go to waste. So I am teaching how to make compost out of just brush. Once this catches on, it will change the dynamic of local agriculture and allow transition to organic to continue and accelerate.
Luckily the locals understood that a beard and pony tail meant more in real terms than an agricultural degree. Farmers are not stupid, they just tend to know other things besides academics…
Another example was terrace designs. Government agronomy experts taught walled terraces, which are fine for flood irrigated rice, and working on the flats, but tropical rains do an amazing amount of soil compaction, and rice in the area is dry-land types. 
And other than the dry-land rice which actually does require compacted soil to grow well, most other crops do better on slopes that maintain natural tilth. So the correct terrace for Central America actually uses the slopes for planting areas, and the flats can be narrow, as they are for access.
If you are educated dogmatically, your thinking processes have been effectively blocked.
On Education:
In all fields, people should have to work first in maintenance and then go to formal education. One example might be the separation of car mechanics and design. If design engineers were to have to work as mechanics for a couple years first, car design would be entirely different, and cost to their owners for repairs and maintenance would drop.
Another example is space exploration. We have engineers designing Mars rovers with skate board wheels on them. They can cost millions to get to Mars, only to get stuck in the sand, as any illiterate farmer could have easily predicted. 
Basically our educational systems have created an Elite that are intellectually bankrupt. Too much focus on academics, too little focus on practical skills and application, which in fact need to come first and create a pre-feedback loop. Let’s call it a feed forward loop.
We have an educational system where academics create more academics, like a breeder reactor where errors are multiplied by dogmatic thinking patterns. All real education must start with doers and experimenters instead.


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