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New Developments in Permaculture

A talk by Maddy Harland editor of the 'Permaculture' magazine

Maddy Harland's talk gave us a fascinating and inspiring insight into the work being carried out at the Sustainability Centre, East Meon, Hampshire.

Some of COGS members are already committed to the use of permaculture concepts in their own gardens and plots, but during the course of the evening I realised that there were other members who were not quite sure of the subject matter and were eager to learn. Maddy certainly enlightened us.

She gave us an overview of what permaculture involved and the principles behind it. Permaculture techniques try to mirror nature and are based on observing what makes natural systems endure. Their 3 ethical principles are 'Earth Care, People Care and Fair Shares.

Then she described the 'waste ecological treatment system' that had been installed at the Centre where, to quote Maddy, 'nature and intelligent design transmutes sewage into valuable biomass within what is effectively a zero carbon nature reserve'.

The same principles had been used to help the environment and people of the Sahel region in Africa. This region is at the sharp end of climate change and 186 million inhabitants faced starvation as there were no stable agricultural techniques in place until the reforestation programme helped local people to solve their own problems without the aid of expensive imported technology, and with no budget. The hard crust of the soil was broken up using hand tools, terraces constructed to capture the rain water run off, and rocks moved to make low terrace walls. As the water now had to criss cross along the hills it was able to seep into the soil. Walls and planted trees gave shade and prevented erosion, leading to the creation of new top soil. When the trees were planted in holes with animal manure, termites arrived and further broke up the soil. The trees eventually fix nitrogen, produce fruit, firewood and medicines. Fifty thousand square kilometres were greened in this way in Niger alone.

She also told of the work of Ben Law, a well known builder and alternative architect, who has designed houses to be built with the woods growing around the Centre. Wood that had been written off as worthless, fit only for paper making by professional foresters. For more information on the work of Maddy Harland, Ben Law and others at the Sustainability Centre log on to www.sustainability-centre.org or www.permaculture.co.uk. There is even a Permaculture Association you could join.

MADDY'S TIPS

  • Plant a Turkish medlar. Can be bought from the Agroforestry Research Trust.
  • Dry Wormwood and Thyme and burn indoors for their aroma.
  • In a garden plants should be either edible or scented.
  • A diverse ecology keeps pests away.
  • Use nectar producing plants. Spring bulbs give early nectar.
  • Report by Susan Sinnett-Jones