This is the third article in an ongoing series that I’ve written in our town’s alternative paper, the Madison County Crier. The series is intended to be an introduction to permaculture, often illustrated by examples taken from our homestead. When possible I’ve also made it a point to link in to the potential for a permacultural approach to town and community life as well as the prospects for easing our town’s transition into this new future we have before us.

In my last article I discussed how permaculture systems are designed to be self-contained ecosystems that use a variety of organisms such as bees and chickens that add value and produce to our gardens. I also related this making our town more self-reliant and efficient by producing more goods with local resources and consuming them here as well. This time around I’d like to talk a bit about the importance of connections and cooperation between the structures of our system as well as the organisms within it make life easier as they increase production. This not only applies to our permaculture gardens but also to our town.

A key principle in creating a permaculture system is the complete capture of all energy that flows through a system. Every single day energy and resources such as sunlight, wind, and moitture animate the earth around us and much of it is used in the natural processes going on around our garden. But a great deal of it is never used at all. Rainwater is a fantastic example of a resource that is often wasted and can even become a problem. Everyone is familiar with the erosion that can lead to gullies and flooding around homes and roads after heavy rains but the problem is not the water. Rather, it is how we have altered the landscape with buildings, pavement, and hardened soil surfaces that lack natural organic matter.

Why not use this rain to our advantage thus turning it into a valuable resource rather than a force that causes property damage that requires money and energy to repair. One of the easiest projects is the collection and storage of rooftop water into rain barrels, cisterns and slow draining garden ponds or swales. In a week- end and for less than $200 a series of 5-10 55 gallon rain barrels can be easily plumbed together with pvc pipe and elevated on a stand to allow for a gravity feed of water to a hose for watering a garden.

Other structures beside the home can also be used to collect rainwater. The design of our combined greenhouse/chicken coop results in several rain barrels that will collect drinking water for the chickens. Even better, rain barrels, placed along the back, interior side of the greenhouse and painted black collect and hold heat in the early spring and late fall to keep the greenhouse warmer. Once the sun goes down the hot water will slowly release heat and keep the plants and chickens warmer late into the night. So not only can we collect and hold water for later productive use, we can collect and store energy from the sun that would have otherwise left our system. We spend less time keeping our chickens sup- plied with fresh water and in the winter we have more produce to eat. Over the course of a single summer such a system will result in several thousands of gallons of water being diverted to constructive use.

We can use these same principles in town to organize projects that will save us energy, time, and money in a similar way. From the perspective of permaculture there is no such thing as waste, there are only resources that we fail to properly utilize. The key is to observe energy and resource flow to identify what is not being used or not being used efficiently. The next step is to connect those resources in such a way that they are efficiently used on site or in the com- munity.

As an example, think about the trash gener- ated by businesses which then have to pay to haul it away to a dump or recycling center. Any retail business that has goods shipped in for sale likely has lots of cardboard some of which my get recy- cled, some of it thrown away. Why not divert that cardboard to anyone in town that has a vegetable garden? It makes a fantastic mulch when covered with leaves, grass clippings or straw thus saving garden- ers time and water as heavily mulched gardens need practically no weeding and much less watering even as they increase the fertility of the soil.

Another such project might be a composting co-op to take advantage of res- taurant food wastes which could be collected and composted for a community garden or for use by gardeners in their home gardens. Most restaurants have coffee grounds, egg shells, and a variety of vegetable wastes that could be col- lected fairly easily. A rotating stock of plastic buckets, a small bit of land, some hand tools, and a few volunteers or one part time employee would be the main ingredients for such a project.

Our town, like many towns, is full of resources and energy not being used. The above are just two examples that were easy to think of, both of them fairly easy to implement given a bit of communication and cooperation. In fact, it is communication and cooperation which are the key components of any project or larger plan to help make our community function more efficiently for the better- ment of us all.

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