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Margaret's Sustainability Articles

PORTABLE PERMACULTURE


(Permacultural Possibilities for Peripatetic People -:)

If you are committed to a Permaculture lifestyle, but have to move house frequently, designing for yourself is something of a challenge.
Maybe, especially if the reason for your unsettled existence is that you are renting as cheaply as possible while saving for your own land, youíve found it all too much, & given up.
Please donít despair. This is an opportunity for the most interesting learning experience in your life.

I have designed, re-designed, established, & left more than 20 gardens since 1955. The longest I stayed in one place until coming to the RainbowWeb in 1989, was 4 years - the shortest 7 months!
I have gardened in suburban London & on the wind-swept Wiltshire Downs near Silbury Hill; in Port Hedland, the Darling Ranges, & the South-West of Western Australia; in the Mid-North of South Australia & in Adelaide. Somewhere along the line 2 men called David Holmgren & Bill Mollison coined a word for the gardening style I had developed & found most successful - Permaculture!

I learnt a lot about establishing systems quickly, cheaply, & effectively, & about shifting plants & livestock from place to place. The most important thing Iíve learned is that, however much you leave behind, nothing is ever really lost.

I first began working to establish gardens that would fend for themselves & still be productive, in spite of neglect and even downright abuse, so that we could survive.
Over the years I have realised that this activity is not only relaxing & satisying, but that it has done wonders for my self-confidence, health, budget, & quality of life.

The biggest obstacle is emotional.
It consists of attachment, & the fear of loss & pain. The sense of loss we feel when giving up a home & garden which we have come to love & perhaps to depend on, & in which we have invested a great deal of material resources, care, & work, can be devastating.
This grief needs to be acknowledged & worked through, actively, & with awareness. Denial, anger, fear, & depression are all very natural reactions, and need to be dealt with compassionately and worked through, before a state of acceptance is reached, and healing accomplished.
Fortunately, the design & establishment of a new Permaculture system is among the best of all possible therapies.

So, how do you go about planning a system that you may have to leave in a few years, or even months?

The first steps are taken well before a move is imminent. They are:

Cartoon by my 'baby' daughter, Cerridwen Rowan

We did once move a vine-covered trellis ( the vine was in a huge pot) just as it was, but it was a pretty hairy exercise, & we were lucky not to be arrested! This was an experiment which worked, but only just.

The willingness to gather information by observation & experimentation, rather than just from books & TV is the secret of discovering real solutions to problems. So is the determination, when things seem to be going wrong, to ask ĎWhy?í, and to go on asking it until you find out - however long it takes. If you do this, & go on to develop a mind which makes connections in a web-like & organic manner instead of working in a totally linear fashion, you have the capacity, not only to overcome difficulties, but to actually make them work for you.

Furniture & household equipment should also be easily transportable. Moving house is hard work, & feeling physically as well as emotionally drained can lead to losing valuable time in the re-establishment of your system. Travelling light is also good for the planet, & your pocket.

When you move into your new temporary place, start planning just as you would for any urban PC design, but add the following questions to your list:

Incorporating the answers to questions like these into your initial design will enable you to come up with a basic plan quite rapidly.
Once you have a Ďshapeí, you can plant out trees, shrubs & hardy perennials if you are in a warm temperate, sub-tropical, or tropical zone, & nurse them according to their individual requirements. Only in cold climate winters do you need to keep plants in their containers in a sheltered place until early spring. Harden them by gradually reducing the shelter, then plant out as soon as the soil is warm enough. Protect well from frost until all danger is over. To get quick results, really study & cater to your plants after setting them out. Prune heavily when & where appropriate, provide shade & wind protection, really good drainage, & weekly applications of seaweed solutiuon, or very WEAK organic liquid manure, until they are established. Mulching is essential all over the garden. A few centimetres in winter, (except in cold climates, when exposing the topsoil to frost kills off unhealthy organisms, & makes the soil more friable) & thick as you can by high summer. Corms, bulbs, crowns, tubers, & seeds should be planted as soon as the appropriate season arrives. In warm areas you can often plant successfully in autumn as well as spring, while your winter crop seeds go in in high summer.

DO NOT OVER-WATER OR OVER-FERTILIZE. Even when plants are well-established, resist the temptation to hurry things along by the over-use of water & manure. What you will get is lush growth at the expense of good crops, & increased vulnerability to pests, disease, & sudden extreme weather conditions.
Mulching is the key to successful growth. It protects the soil surface from UV light, which can destroy essential micro-organisms. It keeps in moisture, maintains a constant supply of nutrients at the interface between the mulch & the soil surface, & improves soil condition & texture.
Small quantities of slow-acting organic fertilizers can be well-mixed with mulching materials, but donít overdo it. Lime should not be used if there is the slightest tendency to alkalinity or salinity of the soil. Gypsum can be sprinkled liberally onto heavy clay soils before applying the mulch, but donít dig it in. Compost should be well-rotted down before use. I donít compost any more, just shred all organic wastes & add them to the mulch, except in very cold or wet weather, when I store the shredded material in a sheltered place until the rain stops & the sun can dry them out. Diseased material is burnt or thoroughly 'cooked' before being used. Invasive weeds & roots like couch or kikuyu are 'drowned' to make liquid fertiliser.

You will need a lot of mulch, so be creative. Scour the area for suitable materials - leaves, grass clippings, paper, cardboard, discarded pillows, cushions, mattresses, clothing - anything organic can be shredded & used. If you have access to seaweed & it is not illegal to collect it in your area, use as much as you can gather - it does not need to be washed, just spread it on the soil. It not only acts as a mulch, but is the finest of all soil conditioners.

Initial plantings done, you can then look at other design areas:

Now - Sit down again, & think.
The most useful question to ask yourself when it comes to getting things done creatively & inexpensively is actually a Bible text:

ĎWhat hast thou in the house?í
What you donít already have can often be scavenged or scrounged - these days itís known as re-cycling. When I was a girl it was known as salvage, & my parents & grandparents called it thrift.
Re-use & adapt what you have. Collect what you havenít from anywhere you can - bins, skips, hard rubbish collections, or get it second- hand.
See Free Stuff. Try FREECYCLE. As a last resort, buy new - but make sure itís something you can use again & again, and take good care of it until you either sell it or it wears out. Then shred it into mulch, or make it into something else.

Cartoon by Cerriwden Rowan - she is now a six-foot redhead in her mid-thirties!

Useful items are:
Youíre sure to think of more.........See also'Radical Recycling'

If you can afford to buy some items new, make them an investment. We once bought a rainwater tank when we took on a 2-year lease in Adelaide. First we priced decent drinking water. We found the tank would pay for itself in a year. When we left, it was sold to the landlord for half the cost price.

You may notice I have not specified play-areas for children.
Apart from putting up a swing, when the right tree is available, for the use of children & adults alike, I have never felt it was a good idea to deliberately segregate children. They need to be involved in real activity throughout their lives from an early age. The plant recognition skills of a two-year old are phenomenal if she is given a chance to acquire them by assisting an adult with weeding & planting out seedlings. And an intelligent child can easily do many jobs which require an adult to spend long periods bent double.

Maintaining a large area of lawn can be a pain. Donít waste the water. In late Spring, make small holes in the lawn on the side furthest from the mid-day sun, fill them with compost, and put in several varieties of pumpkin seeds. The pumpkins will grow over the lawn towards the sun without damaging the grass, putting down subsidiary roots wherever the stems touch the ground. After harvesting your pumpkins, pull up the plants & mow the lawn. Fill the holes with a few grass seeds or root cuttings pulled from the edge of the lawn.

This article has concentrated on moving around in urban areas, because this is where I have gained most of my experience. It would be really good if we could have an ongoing exchange of ideas on other aspects, such as moving from large property to large property.

Two important cautions:


Note: In researching & answering questions about earthwise living, Margaret offers information, opinion, & personal experience, but no quick fixes! Readers should evaluate these offerings in the context of their own situations; they are suggestions, *not* recommendations. Any responsibility for their implementation rests *solely* with the reader.

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