Dream Seed Farms

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Permaculture, Here We Come!!!

Michie and I leave for Nagano Prefecture tomorrow to take part in the first session of the Permaculture Design Course we signed up for. We will attend a weekend-long seminar every month for about a year or so, with an advanced level class taking place next year that will lead us to becoming certified Permaculture Designers.

What exactly is Permaculture, you might ask...Permaculture is a neologism combining 'permanent' and 'agriculture' as well as 'permanent' and 'culture' to describe the interconnected relationships we all share with one another, nature and the whole universe. It was "coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the mid 1970's to describe an 'integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species useful to man.' Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs. People, their buildings and the ways in which they organize themselves are central to Permaculture. Thus the Permaculture vision of permanent or sustainable agriculture has evolved to one of permanent or sustainable culture." Nice!

So, basically we will learn how to mimic nature and natural systems, like how a forest grows and perpetuates itself without human input, and how to apply those design concepts to the eventual farm and Bed & Breakfast we will build on Ajishima Island.

Here is a video about Permaculture (PC) for your viewing pleasure:

The group putting on our PC design course is called Azumino Permaculture Center in Nagano Prefecture. They have been farming for many years and have been hosting PC courses and workshops for about nine years. The hub of all their activities is the 'Shalom Huette' with guest rooms, a cafe, seminar rooms, etc. Check out his picture of the house:

Image Source

One of the most exciting aspects of this year's course is the fact that we will be building an 'earth bag' house. Earth bag building, also called superadobe, was developed by the Iranian-born architect, Nader Kahlili of Cal-Earth in Hesperia, California. Essentially, any kind of semi-durable bag, burlap or old/misprinted rice bags, etc, are filled with locally sourced materials like sand, stone or clay and laid into place. Once the structure is up, the walls are covered, ideally, with an earthen plaster consisting mostly of clay, natural fiber, sand and mineral pigments if desired. 

Aside from the dozens and dozens of books I have read on the subject, I have some practical experience with several other natural building techniques, and while they all have their pros and cons, the thing I love the most about earth bag building is that you do not need timber for a roof, because the earth bags can be cantilevered in concentric rings that converge to form a dome. Here is a great example:

Image Source
As well, here is a video about earth bag building: 

We will definitely have more to share once we get back from the first class this weekend. We are so excited about finally getting to Ajishima and about starting to apply some of the PC concepts we already have studied to the little garden we were lent by some friends on the island. 

We received our shipment of belonging from the US two weeks ago, and all the card board boxes and packing paper from the 67 parcels we shipped will come in handy once we start to sheet mulch the weedy patches in the garden. PC has this concept called lasagne mulching, which is basically a bunch of layers of green (food scraps, fresh leaves and trimmings) and brown (straw, dry leaves, twigs) goodies over a layer of card board, paper, old cloth (and my most recent inspiration: tatami mats) that smothers out the weeds below. This means no weeding, no digging, no cutting, just pile it all up, and you can plant seeds right on top. It starts out as a raised bed, and eventually helps remediate damaged soils by adding nutrients and biologic activity from the scores of organisms it attracts.

Sounds fun, huh!? If you are looking for a place to stay in Japan and want to try your hand at farming, natural building, yoga, home brewing, food preservation, CSA, market gardening, seaweed gathering, etcetera, etcetera, then please let us know...We will welcome all the hard workers we can scrounge up at our nascent "Dream Seed Farms!"