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‘Knowing’ v. ‘knowing about’

Editorial: December 2011

The following insight comes from the latest CMC newsletter – pearls of wisdom that emanate periodically from the Centre for Management Creativity team at High Trenhouse in Yorkshire.

“There is a difference between knowing about the way some aspect of the world works and really knowing its workings. Nobody can fully communicate the taste of bacon or the colour of maple leaves in autumn. You need the experience to know what their words mean. And yet we often find ourselves working on the basis, not of what we really know, but only what we have learned 'about'.

We often fail to distinguish and, like skaters on thin ice, push forward into action without fully appreciating the dangers of confusing the kind of knowledge that supports us. Especially this is so when there is pressure to act - to deliver results fast. This can often result in unforeseen consequences, especially when those consequences might be in another place or at another time. This is writ large in the current financial crisis and much of the thinking that got us here.”


In Permaculture terms, we might take this understanding on board only after we have rushed into action on the basis of something we recently learned ‘about’ on a Permaculture Design Course. Enthusiasm and a feeling of pressure to make changes or design systems without really ‘knowing’ our plot (seasonal variations, climate, sectors, microclimates, soil and local ecology/geography) can drive us to make errors which can be hard to admit or correct later – especially after investment of time and effort, not to mention money.

Sometimes the spur to study Permaculture is triggered by taking on a new piece of land or moving to a new house and garden. We may be in an unfamiliar and very different area that we have not lived with through the full round of seasons. The wise live with the plot through at least a year before designing anything much, and regard what they do as an ‘opening gambit’ - preparation for something more complex later. But if you just acquired an allotment, you are bound to feel you want to get a move on.  Or if the garden you’ve inherited is a disaster area, there may be an imperative to get things sorted out.  So what can you do that will not sabotage later efforts, or turn out to be a huge waste of resources?

Now is the time to sheet mulch and prepare for next year. Potatoes are always a good first salvo: they prepare the ground, turn mulch into compost, can be grown without digging, and give a good storage crop.  In our garden we have progressively conditioned new growing areas with potato crops as we bring more of the space under cultivation.

You can add more permanent raised bed retaining sides later if you decide that is where you want a permanent bed. In the meantime you can improvise with rocks or lengths of timber to keep everything where you want it, and build up the straw layer which is what you will plant potatoes into next spring. Next autumn when you lift your potatoes most of the work on preparing a new growing bed will have been done. In successive years you can fine -une what crops you grow there according to the advantages or constraints of that part of the plot. The failures or successes are part of your ‘knowing’ the land you grow on, and your skill as a gardener will be built upon very localized ‘sensitive energy’ – a real connection between you and your garden that can’t be learned in the classroom.

For lots more information on sheet mulching, see:

Sheet Mulching for Beginners

Roz Brown

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