November 22

Permaculture Plan part 2

Last week I wrote about all the maps needed for my Permaculture Design Certificate but they were only about 2/3 of the maps needed, so this week it is the final maps with the actual plan on it.

Having decided where the water, access and structures are you are left with some space to fit in the things that you want.

The next map is a Zone map. Permaculture works in zones with zone 0 being the house and centre of activities working outwards towards zone 5. The zones are about how often you visit the area so zone 0 multiple times a day but zone 4 you might only visit once or twice a year where the area is virtually self-managing. For example, there is a large walnut tree in the garden which does not need any maintenance other than harvesting the nuts making it a zone 4 area in this location.

As you can see from my map the zones do not have to go out in concentric circles as shown in the diagram probably because real life is not that neat!

I have to admit to drawing this map after I had completed my final plan for the garden. I am not quite sure how you can do it before hand.

And finally, we get to the plan itself. At this point you can definitely say that you know this plot of land well and so placing of the elements that you want is quite easy.

There is a small food forest planted around the swale with fruit trees, bushes and shrubs, some permanent vegetables and spreading herbs. In front of this, in pink, are the annual vegetable beds in straight lines so that they can be easily covered over winter. There is a windbreak hedge in front of the veg beds and then willows in front of that to soak up as much water as possible before it leaves the property.

In front of the house are 4 apricot trees placed to soak up the sunshine.


Not all of the plants can be identified on this plan, they are just too small to show so there are some planting plans to go alongside it.

The first set of planting plans shows the herb bed around the pergola and the pergolas around the house.  Plants have been identified on the plan so that everything can be seen at a quick glance.






The second planting plan shows the pond, the windbreak hedge and the tree guilds, again with plants identified on them. Each diagram has its own compass and also has its own scale identified because they vary.

What I did feel at this point was that it was important to be quite specific about the plants, I didn’t want to come back to it again later, and it was a requirement that we provide the latin name. If you just list a walnut tree, a black walnut will have a very different impact on your planting plans to an English walnut. (Black walnuts have a substance juglone which they release in the soil and which kills some other fruit trees off such as apple, pear and plum.)

I also created a connections map because there are several concepts in permaculture such as each element having more than one function, using niches, stacking functions, use of edges and many others. I probably should have included this in my submission because the feedback was that I was a bit light on connections in my description of my plan. Below, I list an example of some of the concepts:

Elements having more than one function: Grass paths through the forest garden

  • somewhere to walk with out damaging the planting
  • can be mown and the grass be used as a mulch or incorporated into the compost which will then be used as a mulch
  • act as barriers if a lot of water flows down out of the swale and would be able to hold a couple of inches back as they are set higher than the soil
  • define the growing area
  • prevent the spreading plants such as mint from taking over

Stacking functions: Outdoor sink

  • the water used in the sink is rain water collected from the back half of the house roof
  • runs down the plughole into a bucket underneath
  • used to water vegetables
  • veg picked and need to be washed and so we go round again

Use of edges:

Edges are some of the most valuable parts because they are the meeting space between two places and therefore benefit from both but also create a third space of their own

  • the edge of the pond and the land for growing plants for food, habitat, keeping the water clean and aesthetic reasons
  • the edge of a forest where there is more sunshine and so is suitable for fruit bushes and shrubs
  • the edge of a hard surface such as paving where water runoff can be used by the plants

I have to say that this whole process took hours and of course, if you make a mistake with hand drawn maps you have to draw them again. I did use Tipex on several occasions. So, I have started to learn how to use Inkscape as it seems that many people use it to create their plans. I have managed the first three maps so far!

Have you ever drawn plans or do you create as you go along?


November 21

The Top 5 Myths about Permaculture

Photo from Olds College, Flickr

Someone in a Facebook group I belong to posted a picture of their allotment and said they were doing permaculture, showing a picture of their herb spiral and asking what did other permaculturist’s plots look like?

I replied that my plot looked like everyone else’s because it does. You wouldn’t look at it and say ‘Oh, she does Permaculture!’ It is a myth that you can look at a plot and know that the person follows permaculture principles.

So, here are some more myths about Permaculture.

Just because you have a permaculture feature, e.g. herb spiral, swale, banana circles, chicken composting system or  food forest, it does not mean that you ‘do’ permaculture. Permaculture is based around living by the three core ethics: Earth care, People care and Fair share and the 12 principles. You can’t see these by looking at the plot but you can see them if you know the person who has the plot because their behaviours will embody these ethics. I do have swales on my plot, they look like wood chip paths, but I also think carefully about the three ethics. Having the wildlife plot has increased the amount of People care and Fair share I can do.

You can’t use chemicals in Permaculture. Permaculture is a broad church and as they say, you can’t be thrown out of the permaculture family. It is true that under the Earth care and People care ethic you wouldn’t be spraying chemicals every week and replicating large scale agricultural systems but it is possible to spray with Round Up, for instance, once to clear the land of very pervasive plants and then move on and grow without chemicals.  There is no one way of growing in permaculture. You could be organic, regenerative, no-dig, biodynamic or even syntropic (I know! I had never heard of it before). They all fit with Permaculture because it is the 12 principles that drive what and how you do it and they all care for the earth.

Permaculture is about growing food and you can’t have flowers or a lawn. Not true at all. You can have whatever you want in a permaculture design but you want to establish as many links between systems as you can and if you want a lawn for whatever reason, then you can have it. The final design for my Permaculture Design Certificate included a lawn for playing games on and pitching tents. The feedback stated:

You illustrate a good balance between open space and design space. Often either the lawn/social space dominates the site, or appears to be an afterthought shoehorned in and does not “fit”.  Yours not only fits well into the rest of your design but strikes that good balance between it and the rest of your design.

Permaculture looks messy. This one is very subjective. My tidy might be your messy and what does looking messy mean. Do we mean lots of things lying around? If so, then whatever system you use to grow will look messy because that is a personal characteristic. Do we mean weeds are allowed to flourish? Well, the weeds might be a key component of the system. Nettles are a key component of my growing system. I keep them for wildlife as so many caterpillars live on them and I harvest them to create a tea for the plants and use them as an accelerator in my compost. They grow at the edges of my plot and can look a little ‘messy’ I suppose if your plot has none.

Is it that bare earth over winter looks tidy and that my plot doesn’t look like that? Permaculturists don’t like bare earth. Succession of the land means that something will always grow on bare earth so we keep crops growing throughout the winter, cover it with compost, mulch, green manures or woven plastic. These things also reduce erosion and provide protection to the hard work going on in the soil that means that our plants will grow. Is it that we have plants underneath and around trees? Yes, we do plant around and underneath trees and this is called a guild. Each plant has a function with the overall goal being to increase production of the tree.

Is it that there is a lot of long grass growing all over the place? Well that depends on the size of the land. If it is acres, then so what. If it is allotment size then that is nothing to do with permaculture. That is just how the grower allows it to be.

Permaculture is only about growing food. Nope. Permaculture is also about people and about how we apply the Fair Share ethic in a world that can prioritise accumulation of ‘things’ above connections between people and the earth. Social permaculture takes the principles and applies them to how we work with others. For example edge effect is where two ecosystems come together to create a third space which has greater productivity, fertility and diversity than the separate spaces. On land this might be the edge of the forest where different plants grow and animals live in comparison with inside the forest and out in the open. In social permaculture this might mean two separate groups coming together to work on a shared goal with the outcome of more creative ideas, greater diversity in the ways of thinking and solutions to problems, collaboration and friendships. The people and their systems are as important as the plants and their systems.

Do you follow permaculture principles?

November 15

Permaculture Plan part 1

I thought I would share the plan I  submitted for my final design exercise plus some of the writing that goes alongside it to explain.

Before you start anything you need to gather information about the plot, weather, climate, land and what is already there and this involves A LOT of maps and if you can’t do them electronically, you have to hand draw them.  I did draw them by hand because it would have taken me so long to learn a new piece of software that I thought it would detract from the space in my brain to think permaculture thoughts!

The first plan is a boundary map showing only the outlines of the land with no detail so that there is nothing to detract from clearly seeing the shape and area.  It states the space you have to work and ensures there is no confusion.

It needs to include a compass so that directions can be easily seen plus scale and I have included the road and buildings.  This map became my base map and is one that I traced or photocopied to use for all other maps minus the boundary lengths. To get this map I used google maps and a data projector and traced the land on a piece of paper stuck on the wall.


Next was the contour map showing the slope of the land. Although this garden felt fairly flat, there was one contour line running through it at 108m. Feedback suggested that one contour line is not enough on a map because it does not show in which direction the land slopes and therefore how water would flow. There are two things I could do here. I could show 107m and 109m both of which are off the property or I could have looked to see if there were any contours at 0.5m intervals on the land and I will go back and consider both of these and which would be more useful.



Then there is the sector map.  On this we map the sun’s pathway in mid winter and summer (red sectors), prevailing winds and other winds that affect the place plus things like views to be kept. We also map negative things such as noise, views we don’t want or anything else we want to block out in the design. This will have an impact on what we place and where. Different colours for each sector are used and most focus around the house because that is the centre of action. The sector at the top affects the barn which is why it is placed up there rather than around the house.

The small diagram at the bottom of the map shows the angle of the sun, important if you want to block out the sun in mid summer  and allow it in in the winter. This map enabled me to see clearly where a windbreak hedge needs to be placed for the prevailing winds (dark blue) and the cold north easterly winds (light blue) in winter.

Without water there is no life so the water map in Permaculture is extremely important. What we are aiming for here is to hold water on the land for as long as possible, preferably where we need it. The saying is ‘slow it, spread it and sink it’ and some add store it to that list. This property is not storing potable water, just water for the gardens but many properties where water is scarce or expensive will have systems planned into the design to do so. This map links up with the contour map because swales, tree growing systems that slow water down, are built on contour. The feedback on this map was that the water flow was not clear although I did show it on another map. I just needed an arrow from the pond at the top of the garden to the next pond and one from the pond to the swale to enable everyone to see the flow of water through the land.

This is the first map that shows design elements, elements that are not already present on the land. There is a second mini swale at the front of the house to water some trees that will be planted there but this is not on a contour line and will be fed from the front half of the house roof.

For this map we also calculate run off and overflow of water for a ‘once in a hundred years’ rainfall imagining that the land is 100% saturated so that we have no disasters with large bodies of water flowing across the land. For each element of water, pond, swale, rain garden and ditch the amount of water that will fall must be calculated and a spillway built into the system to allow it to overflow across the land. So, as you go down the land the spillways get bigger and bigger as the catchment area grows. I have over sized all of the spillways because these once in a hundred year events are happening more frequently now.

Next is the access map and again this features access to the land, paths, tracks, drives, roads etc that are existing and staying and new additions. This gives us a chance to consider whether the driveway is on the boggiest piece of land or how we will access all parts of the land.

Once again, I have removed all extraneous pieces of information so that the access is really clear. To create this map, I used tracing paper over the boundary map to get paths, driveway and paving in the right place and to show how they are all connected. The paths are 1.2m wide to allow space for a person and a wheelbarrow.


Following this is the structure map which shows fences, buildings, outbuildings, pergolas or anything which is a structure that you want to include in the design. My addition to the structures are two pergolas; one on  the southwest and west sides of the house to provide shade in the summer and one at the back of the house to provide a place to sit out and eat. The pergola around the house is designed to allow the sun in during the winter months but prevent it from hitting the house during the summer. This will have an effect on the temperature inside the house.

Some designs will include building a house or siting a shed, greenhouse or polytunnel. Mine is quite minimal in this area.

The last of the maps in this section (hooray!) is the W.A.S map or water, access and structure map where all three are combined but with the emphasis on where they intersect. This means that you don’t have to show everything but it is important to show things such as where the paths and water meet and cross because this will need to be designed for using things such as crossing pipes to take the water in that area.

The red blobs are crossing areas for swale and paths and the dark blue blob is where possible overflow and path meet.

You can also see on this map the two blue arrows showing the flow of water from pond to pond which I should have included on the water map.

Once you have this map it becomes much easier to place your other elements. Trees must go along the swale, the annual vegetable garden needs to go in a sunny, easily accessible place, a place to play and pitch tents becomes more obvious and so the final design can be created.

I’ll show you the maps for that in another post. You may well be mapped out by now!

November 14

Certificates galore!

What a month it has been. You can go for years without a certificate and then several come your way!

The first one is for passing my Permaculture Design course which I started in February and finished this month (November).  I have taken part in quite a few online courses, including writing one, and this one, Geoff Lawton Permaculture Design Course online,  was excellent.  The course has Teaching Assistants who patiently answer every single question asked and obviously have extensive permaculture experience themselves.

At the end you have to submit a permaculture design for a plot of land bigger than half an acre, although you don’t need to own the land, and explain your permaculture thinking. I am now qualified to undertake permaculture designs.


My second certificate was from the Vegetable Growing Course that we run on the allotments. John leads it but there are three of us that help, you could call us teaching assistants (!) and one of the course members has a daughter who is incredibly creative and made us certificates for a graduation ceremony. They are lino prints and absolutely fantastic. We started  the course the second week of February and finished at the end of October, sowing, growing and harvesting together working in a no-dig way. The best thing about the course was getting to know the group and now that they all have their own allotments we are still a community but part of a much wider one.  Our next activity is in December where John is hosting two sessions for us to make Christmas wreaths.

The third certificate is one for the allotments as a whole as part of the RHS Exmouth in Bloom It’s Your Neighbourhood Award where we received ‘Outstanding’ for the Vegetable Course and the Wildlife Garden. That was a real surprise as the Wildlife Garden was a last minute entrant and I didn’t really know what I was doing in terms of the In Bloom bit but we are delighted with the outcome. I haven’t seen the certificate yet but hope to soon.

After all these celebrations I am off to do the real work. Clean out my greenhouse and sow some broad beans. What are you up to this week?