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Guest Writers

The Proximity Principle and changing the way we live

Changing Course for Life - Local solutions to global problems

Julian Rose

New European Publications, London. 2009

Reviewed by Chris Dixon

This unassuming paperback of just over 150 pages sets out a view of where the world currently is that few people involved in Permaculture design or Transition would disagree with.  It also gives some interesting background on the author, whom many will know from his 2007 monthly "Letters from Poland", on BBC Radio 4's 'Farming Today', passionately highlighting the crisis provoked by forcing corporate globalisation onto traditional family farming communities.

Born in 1947, Julian Rose found himself heir to Hardwick, a one thousand acre estate and baronetcy, after the sudden death of an older brother and soon after, that of his father.  From 1983 he became a full-time farmer, completing the conversion of the estate to organic farming methods, a process started in 1975. The Hardwick Estate blossomed into one of Britain's leading organic mixed farms, picking up a number of national awards and conducting numerous educational farm walks for a wide variety of people including socially deprived and urban young people and many international visitors.

Prior to this second career, he worked in television presentation, in Australia and America, and then in creative arts in Antwerp, where he led workshops in holistic thinking.

As an organic farmer he became a defender and promoter of holistic approaches to the rejuvenation of struggling rural economies. His unremitting insistence on the need to support local and regional, as opposed to 'global', food economies became known as 'The Proximity Principle'.  That principle is at the core of this book, which offers much insight into the author's personal, if at times, controversial, beliefs.

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Growing it in squares

Square metre block polyveg gardening

 

Developed from Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening* concept, Square Metre Block Polyveg Gardening is the use of small raised beds for intensive planting of a mixture of vegetable varieties.

 

*The phrase "square foot gardening" was popularized by Mel Bartholomew in his 1981 book of the same name in which he combines concepts from other organic approaches, including a strong focus on compost, raised beds and intensive attention to a small, defined plot. The method is well suited to gardens with poor soil,  and is easy for beginning gardeners and those with access difficulties. It fits easily into small urban spaces.

 

The raised bed should be accessible from all sides with a path wide enough to work from, and it can be sited on the ground, or be made with a base that includes drainage holes, and placed on a stand at table top height for easy working. The bed is divided into approximately one square foot units by slats or string to keep the units visible as plants grow.

 

The individual squares

Seeds or plug plants are planted in each square to give a range of produce: overplanting and wastage of seed is reduced, and there is no need to thin out seedlings. Large plants may need a square each, while medium plants can be grown 9 to a square. Small plants like carrots can be grown 16 to a square. Squash or cucumbers are grown vertically, like peas and beans, on a frame with netting for support. The frame can be fixed on the north side of the raised bed where it will not shade out other crops. If using a six inch deep raised bed, crops that need more depth can be grown in an integral 12 inch deep section with higher sides giving a higher planting surface or room for earthing up. This inner box can be placed in any suitable square.

 

Why a raised bed?

Raised beds avoid soil compaction and are easy to work. Additional garden compost can be added to each section when crops are harvested. The empty square can then be planted with something else appropriate to the upcoming season, giving extended cropping from just one small plot.  A blended mixture of quality soil ingredients used to fill the bed so that there are no weed seeds in it to germinate, thereby reducing maintenance. Soil fertility is optimum and remains so over time, and the state of the actual garden soil is irrelevant.  Watering is easily done by hand, and can utilize grey domestic water (washing up water is good for plants because it contains phosphates) or rain water.This is especially helpful in areas with hosepipe bans and for those on water meters.

 

The plot is compact and can easily be sited near the house (Zone 1 in Permaculture terms), so it will receive close attention because the gardener passes it every day and can see at a glance what tending or cropping is needed. The close proximity of plants in the squares generates a ‘living mulch’ which inhibits weed seed germination in the top layer of the compost, moderates conditions by providing shady microclimates, and helps conserve moisture so reducing water requirements.

 

This approach to a polyveg system is especially helpful for beginners. In Permaculture the use of micro ‘forest garden’ growing systems in polyveg beds mixes up all the various plants to resemble miniature woodland – with root rops, low growing green plants, herbs, tall plans, shade creating spreading plants and climbers – all making use of the different vertical possibilities to give intensive crops in a small space.  However, beginners may find this daunting as the method requires the gardener to identify weeds as opposed to living mulch cover crops at an early stage, to be able to judge how much of any cover crop to oversow (usually mustard or rocket), and to thin it out once it has served its purpose and before it takes over and becomes a pest.

 

This square metre approach, with its blocks of planting, can similarly utilise the different vertical layers available, and the intensive planting will shade and protect the surface of the soil to prevent weed growth and soil dryness. Companion plants can be placed for beneficial effect, and the beginner knows how many of everything should be in each square so can easily identify and remove interlopers early on. It is also much easier to replant squares as they fall vacant during the growing season, so maximizing productivity.

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Going Permaculture

How Permaculture breathed life back into a forgotten 16th entury garden in the foothills of the Cambrian mountains

Roz Brown looks back on a 3 year adventure in extreme growing

We came to live at Nannerth Ganol 5 years ago. Before that we lived on the south Devon coast and grew vegetables and soft fruit without too much trouble in a walled garden with a microclimate, next to the sea where frost was almost unheard of. We had free-draining fertile soil and a big old Victorian greenhouse, outside grapevines, and never saw more than a few snowflakes in 10 years.

So it was a bit of a shock to the system to be living at 250m/800ft, on a 30 degree+ slope, with almost no topsoil, prone to high winds without much shelter, and the sort of extended winters that have become the norm in the last few years in mid Wales.

Nannerth Ganol is a 500 year old Welsh longhouse that was surrounded in its heyday by its own grazing land reaching from the Wye at the bottom, to the top of the ‘mountain’ behind us: winter grazing and cereal and fodder crops were at the bottom on the more fertile lower slopes, and summer grazing at the top, where the old summer dairy – or hafod – can still be seen.  The land that belongs to the house is now just under an acre, and the grazing that surrounds us is used for sheep by the adjacent farm half a mile away. Until restoration in the 1980s of what had become a ruin, Nannerth Ganol had been unoccupied for almost 100 years. The ruined buildings were used as byres and for storage, and nothing was done with the land around the buildings. When we came, about a third of the plot had been made into an easily maintained holiday cottage garden with mown grass and shrubs and a few perennial flower beds. The rest was in a ‘natural’ state with rough tussocky grass, a belt of sycamore trees with a mass of bramble beneath, and a large area of scrub, mostly blackthorn and bramble, which was completely impenetrable and a great place for the local rabbits to hang out. Apparently this used to be THE place to go rabbiting!

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Dealing with Denial

How to Speak to a Climate Change Denier’

George Marshall offers some advice

A 20 minute video at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qp-nJKBwQR4

In this 20 minute video I suggest six strategies for talking to people who do not accept climate science.  I argue strongly that one should avoid a fractious debate about the data and content of the science, and concentrate instead on addressing the values and emotions from which people  construct their beliefs.  The strategies are: finding common ground; expressing respect; clearly holding your views; explaining the personal journey that led to your own understanding; speaking to people’s worldview and values, and finally offering rewards that speak to those values.

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Real food for the people by the people

Good Food for Everyone for Ever: A people's takeover of the world's food supply.

By Colin Tudge and written on behalf of the Campaign for Real Farming. Pari Publishing, 2011.

A review by Andy Goldring, Coordinator at the Permaculture Association

I've had the good fortune to meet Colin on a number of occasions, so I can say for sure, that reading his book is much like listening to him talk. He's passionate, articulate and provocative in a very good humoured way.

The book is an updated version of his previous 'Feeding People is Easy', so many of the arguments were familiar, but the strategy is new. Colin is wide ranging and covers an incredible number of topics and perspectives, from politics and history to nutrition, economics and even metaphysics. He's a clever chap and weaves many strands into a coherent tale of how we got to where we are now, namely, an industrial food system dominated by heavily capitalised corporations, supported by global political and scientific elites, poised ready to take over the rest of the world's food system. Fortunately, while covering the many different aspects of the 'bad news', he also sets out his view on what we need to do:

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