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PDC Blog: Day 6

Jump to: Permaculture in action: Hazel's heaven, Square foot gardening, Introduction to mushrooms

The morning lecture began with a revision of the Permaculture Design Principles.

The day of the animal, we then divided into two groups, one to plan the feedlot and environment for cattle, and the second (which I was part of) which entailed planning a henhouse.

Designing a henhouse

First off, we discussed what a chicken needs, namely medicine, water, shade, activities/entertainment, and food. Using the chicken tractor (or mobile chicken coop) method is undoubtedly the easiest, though in an urban smallholding, a static henhouse is more appropriate.

The henhouse is divided into four fodder banks, with the henhouse going in the centre. How it will work is that the chickens lay their eggs in the henhouse in the centre, coming out to the fodder banks to feed.

These are planted with dandelion, marjoram, chickweed, comfrey and yarrow, while we plant wild asparagus on the perimeter, which has thorny leaves offering protection from small predators. Having a border collie as a watchdog ensures additional protection.

We decide to create a system where water replenishes automatically, like the toilet system. Positioning our henhouse in the shade keeps it cool and we gutter the roofs to direct water flow.

Under the shade of the tree, we’ll create a niche, placing a fence in front of it so the chickens won’t eat all our plants! Lemongrass makes a natural windbreaker along our fence.

Lemongrass as windbreak

Because Hazel already has the henhouse, we worked on ways to make it even better. We also learnt that Hazel rehabilitates battery chickens here. She tells us how wonderful it is for them to feel the sun and dust on their skin for the first time and it saddens me to think of all those other animals who are forcibly raised in equally horrendous conditions.

Chickens in henhouse

But how best to provide for our chickens? We decide that we’d plant trees to ensure animals get shade all year round. Entertainment for the chickens comes from human interaction, and the constant hubbub of farm life. All in all, we conclude, there are going to be some very happy chickens.

Permaculture in action: Hazel's heaven

We then took a walk to visit Hazel’s home. She’s created a thriving forest, with masses of lilies (a clear sign of the moisture content of the soil) and resplendent with bird life such as flycatchers, woodpeckers, robins, ground thrush, sparrows and pigeons, to name a few.

Permaculture garden

A permaculture garden haven

I ask her how much effort it took and Hazel tells us, virtually none! She planted once and let nature do what it wanted.

Square foot gardening

Square foot gardening works particularly well in urban areas, where you don’t have space for a big garden but wish to grow a diversity of plants and vegetables.

In square foot gardening the garden is divided into small plots of one square foot (1’x1’). Gardeners can reach their bed no matter where they are, while space is maximised.

Larger crops such as peppers will only have one plant per square foot while many more smaller plants such as carrots or herbs would fit into another square.

Techniques such as trellising of tomatoes, peas and beans ensure a greater variety of crops can be contained within your square foot garden. Hazel grows basil, rocket, spinach, tomatoes, spring onion and lettuce, to name a few, which ensures she always has a salad handy!

Square foot garden

After a lunch of salad, trammezinis, butternut and potato curry, we had our art session, where we painted beautiful rainbow-coloured figures of 8, which flowed into infinity, mixing the colours in the centre.

Figure of 8's

An introduction to mushrooms

According to Paul Stamets, author of Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms, using mushrooms can cause a farm’s productivity to increase dramatically.

Mushrooms provide protein-rich food for humans, while their byproducts unlock nutrients for the benefit of the eco-system, boosting the lifecycles of plants, animals and insects, as well as stimulating soil microflora.

Leon, our resident mushroom expert, finally got another chance to shine, holding forth on a lecture about all things fungi-related. An integral part of any forest, fungi clearly needs to play a significant role in permaculture. However, Leon’s the mycologist, so do visit his site. Or learn further information from Paul Stamets on using mushrooms in permaculture.

Then it was time for a small rest before we met up again for dinner. At each and every dinner, and at most meals, we gave thanks for the food, something I’m really keen on implementing in my daily life.

Either we’d simply hold hands and say: “Blessings on the meal, may it nourish and heal”, or we’d sing and harmonise, “For health and strength and daily food, we praise thy name, oh Lord”. Such lovely words, at the end of each wonderful day.

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