PDC Blog: Day 2
Jump to: A world in crisis, Permaculture Ethics, Elements of life, Analysing a microsystem, Miming the elements of life or Expedition to the dams
The early morning is brisk and fresh as we walk towards Karen and John’s house, where we’ll be having our meals every day.
There’s a lot of activity around and we learn that Daisy, the farm’s only cow, has given birth to a young calf that very morning!
Somehow we’d managed to sleep through the commotion, much to my dismay.
Breakfast consists of tea and freshly-brewed coffee, fruit and warm oats porridge. The house has a large porch overlooking the river, and as the day slowly warms up, you can see the mist slowly dissipate to reveal a sparklingly clear day.
We then head to our daily game in the garden outside the lecture hall, with chickens, goats and rabbits as our audience. We stand in a circle and Avice issues our instructions.
We’re to throw mini beanbags to each other, aiming to throw so that the recipient can catch easily. Mimicking communication, the game quickly establishes rapport amongst the group.
We alternate between the wheel, choosing who to throw to and being chosen, and chaos, when you just throw to anyone you want, with no order whatsoever. Chaos is particularly amusing, if you let your attention slip for a second, the whole group seems to zone in on your vulnerability and suddenly you’re hit by a volley of beanbags!
Before the morning’s lecture we do 5 – 10 minutes of light exercise, usually Thai Chi, Yoga or Pilates-based. The theory side of the course is shared between Avice and Hazel, giving us the benefit of their years of combined experience.
An animated group discussion begins when we’re asked whether the world is in crisis. The damning conclusion is an emphatic yes, as the group lists the following issues:
• Low consciousness
• Food scarcity
• Poor seed
• Lack of ethics
• Super germs
• Media Brainwashing
To address these issues,
Permaculture Ethics are guidelines which define how we should behave towards the earth and each other, in order to have a sustainable future. To learn more about this, please visit my article about
The four elements of life
We can look at a landscape through these elements, fire (temperature), air (wind), water (rain, water sources) and earth (fertility of soil).
Taking the farm as an example, its temperature gets to -3 degrees, with substantial wind and consistent water throughout the year (305 mls rain per year). With these conditions in mind, we’re asked what can be done to raise fertility when the soil is barren from overgrazing?
The solution is to plant trees, reducing temperature and water requirements. Trees break wind, causing less evaporation, and thus you need less water and fertility gradually increases.
The climate becomes better for trees to bear seed and their leaves fall down. This mulch causes decomposition. What's more, this cycle all happens naturally through the planting of trees.
We separate into groups for our first practical – to analyse a microsystem in terms of the four elements. I’m grouped up with a knowledgeable trio, Andrew, Leon and Sebastian. We walk up to our section and Andrew burrows under a tree to test the soil’s moisture. Ever the dutiful scribe, I take notes and we return to present our findings to the group.
Fire: The temperature is warm
Air: Medium wind, some shelter
Earth: We find out that the soil contains a variety of life including ants, songololo’s, a toktokkie beetle, a snail shell and we even see a locust hopping past. Leon, our mushroom expert, immediately finds a truffle which demonstrates that we have good bacteria. We also see a small rock spider and mole piles. There’s also an abundance of species/succulents such as rooikrans and milkwoods.
Water: Recent rains ensure some moisture, under the shade of the tree it’s cool and moist.
We discuss how trees could be planted both East and West to block prevailing winds. As we’re on a contour, a swale could be dug to catch water flow and reduce erosion. We note that natural mulch under the tree is 3.5 - 4cm deep, retaining water.
We also discovered blackjacks stuck to our clothes, which leads to a useful tip. When weeds germinate, it’s time to plant. Don’t destroy weeds as they have useful bacteria, and can instead be used for mulch.
Suddenly it’s time for lunch and we are served a choice of delicious garden salads, sweet potato bread and hummus. We all sit at a big wooden table for our meals, and the conversation buzzes around topics as diverse as spirituality and a new consciousness, ethical farming and sustainability, quantum physics and healing modalities.
A hot topic of debate (understandably) is my eating habits. As a vegan who only eats fruit and vegetables, everyone is fascinated to hear about my lifestyle. I’ll be discussing more about that and why it’s the greenest diet on the planet at a later stage but do check out
for more information about living the raw life.
After resting and doing my twice daily Vipassana meditation, we meet again after lunch for another talk. The lectures are open to discussion and encourage group participation so everyone freely contributes (the only negative here is that we sometimes get sidetracked and can go over time).
Ervert leaves to attend to Daisy, who’s fallen sick after having given birth that very morning. We find out later that he’d administered an injection which most likely saved Daisy’s life.
Ervert really proves himself to be a jack-of-all-trades, throughout the course he also milks Daisy, helps identify the issue with my mom’s car (which was making some very strange noises) and somehow manages to go back to his farm and plant watermelons!
We begin discussing the four elements of life further, relating it to plants.
Earth(root): male. FACTS (form)
Fire (fruit): male. IDENTITY, value, purpose(passion)
Water (leaf): female. PROCESS (flow)
Air (flower): female. FUNCTION, opinion, use.
Passing around Hazel’s handmade Wild Olive healing cream as the subject of the discussion, we gave our opinions on each category and discerned Earth (fact) from Fire (identity), Water (process) and Air (function).
We then split into groups and were told to mime one of these categories. My group did Water (process) and chose to mime baking bread to show flow through a well-orchestrated sequence of actions.
Laughs ensued as the next group mimed opinion and Ervert (reluctantly) took off his shirt. The following group did Facts and mimed differences in heights, demonstrating by their actions that facts are somehow always more serious. The last group did a literal mime of fire, which was more animated and celebratory, mimicking flames rising to the skies.
After tea, we went up to the dams to see where the farm gets its water from. The Wild Olive Farm shares two dams with a neighbouring farmer, and the water is distributed to the farm through underground piping.
A slightly adventurous trek to the dam reveals an algae-covered body of water, which the dogs waste no time in exploring. We also discover a beehive, and old markings of San bushmen who’d perhaps once lived here.
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