The Permaculture Design Course – To Do or Not To Do? On the 2nd Day of the PDC….

PDC Cover Page Autumn 2015 SMALLERLike every big question in life (let alone the more important ones about soil!), everyone wants the same answer…..  THE RIGHT ANSWER.

But everyone who has been involved with Permaculture (or asked the Guru a question) will know that we’ll all get the same answer…. IT DEPENDS.

I am now well and truly qualified to say “They’re right”.  It definitely does depend and in this BLOG SERIES I’m trying to explain what is talked about and why, so hopefully, my posts will give you enough information to determine what a course like this can or can’t offer to meet your current needs.

Click here to head to Day 1.

This is the second in the series.

So here we go with ….. Day 2

Some of Day 2 we have also covered in past blogs, so please again forgive the references.  Hopefully this enables you to delve to the depth you’re happy with rather than to clutter up this post with too much repetition.

Day 2 Session 1 – Recap and Qns – You’ll see this repeated often as the amount of information delivered per day leaves folks either (a) dazed and dreaming about Principles, sectors and a million queries  or (b) looking out the side window at passing properties while they drive home, seeing sun angles, opportunities and a million queries….. Each day holds a lot to digest and its important, especially with larger groups, not to leave any comrades behind.

So we run briefly through the previous day’s topic and re-iterate the key items.  The big point to get across is that Day 1 has covered universally applicable concepts which are termed ‘world wide problem solving’ – Ethics, Principles, Elements, Zones, Sectors and Slopes.  This may be in contrast to some other areas of the course when we cover the theory generally, but draw examples from Perth/South West specific experience.

This session is also used to start introducing the books from our library which are offered for borrowing.  There are heaps of fantastic books, not all of which suit everyone – we encourage trying before you buy to make sure the structure, technicality of content and applications are right for your circumstances.  We also endeavour to fit in a recapping group activity to give those who learn better by doing, an engaging memory to lock in some of the previous day’s concepts.


Session 2 – Soil Basics – Delivered by yours truly and remarkably similar in content to my blogs!  Rather than re-write it here, please head to the following locations for more information:

(1) High level recap of soil components and ways to prepare your soil for success.

(2) Detailed topics of soil components for those wanting more technical – mineral particles and pore spaces, organic matter, resultant properties.

(3) The cheat sheet for those wanting less technical.

But please note that we save the proposed solutions until later in the day, focusing now only on what makes up good soil so we know where the goal posts are.


Session 3 – Matter / Nutrient Cycles, Soil Food Web – In this session we dig down into the organic matter in more depth (ha ha!) to learn more about the components (fungi, bacteria, etc), why we need them (their amazing relationships with the plant root system) and what options we have to feed it.  Options ranging from the most simple deciduous leaf litter or chop and drop mulching to the more labour intensive hot compost.  The benefits of each option are discussed stemming back to that old chestnut…. which one should I use?  IT DEPENDS.

When compost must be turned smallLooking at your:

– stage in the garden (are you getting lots of woody prunings or are your plants very young),

– your current versus future plan (you may have only veges now which get frazzled in the sun, but you might plant an evergreen tree adjacent so the veges – shade in summer, thin or sun can get under in winter…. veggie scraps now, tree prunings later – chestnut number two  THINGS ALWAYS CHANGE – YOU CAN WORK HARD TO KEEP THE STATUS QUO, OR WORK WITH THE CHANGE NATURE IS INTENDING AND GET MORE FOR LESS – we’ll come back to this as it gets pretty important in our thinking down the track),

– or your kitchen/cooking habits and hence household scraps characteristics (perhaps chooks are an option)….

These all provide different waste products which could either leave your property in the bin or green waste collection and take those soil nutrients (see section 1) with them, or be processed in an appropriate nutrient cycling system and returned to the soil.  We did a talk on this particular topic on the weekend, so have a quick squizz at those notes (linked) if you want to know more.

(Adapted from Picture Source; Elements of the Nature and Properties of Soils, Brady, N.C. and Weil, R.R., 2004; and the Soil Hugger herself!).Soil Food Web Expanded copy

Depending on the season there are practical examples of these nutrient cycling techniques – the last course was nicely timed with Autumn where those trees which are classically evergreen are ‘deciduised’ to allow light to the understory for winter.

Other topics touched on are plants to produce ‘green manure’ (bring nutrients up to surface or fix nutrients (e.g. nitrogen) in root system); how to process your various sized ‘compostables’ (chopping, drying, chipping); the water saving versus soil feeding properties of fine (straw) versus coarse (woodchip) mulches; what sheet mulching is; compost carbon to nitrogen recipes  and basic info on what products contain what ratio; and what the dominant  factors are for compost progression – air, moisture, temperature and volume.

By now we’re so intrigued, the conversations/questions are flowing thick and fast, plus we’ve been out in the garden looking at examples and applying techniques….. we find ourselves running behind time – quick let’s get onto the next session!


Session 4 – Soil Formation and Remineralisation –

Now this is one is my favourite topics and one I want to learn so much more about one day.  How are soils made? What makes them what they are today? What have we got? and What do we do to reach our goal posts suggested in Session 2?

We talk about parent rock formation (magma to rocks to sediment), climate influence on this (temperature and moisture), topography (or slopes and land formations), time/age of materials, and organisms acting on the material (from those microscopic life forms we’ve talked about on the left of the soil food web, to the presence of certain plants in a system and to human land management practices).

We look at Perth’s history when it comes to soil, what we now find ourselves with (excellent resource: (Source of schematic) and (Description of sands) and what other areas of Australia have and why.

We think about how native species survive in our soils and why we need to remineralise to grow non-natives.  In this light we compare the mobility of minerals as part of the long term pedogenic process (where soil comes from) and the mobility of minerals as part of the short term in garden “apply fertiliser then water it straight through our sand and into the water table” process.  So what do we do?

First step is to know your starting point – some soil direct tests and indirect indicators (simple vs complicated vs laboratory dependent) to define what you have to work with and hence which direction you need to head to reach our goal posts.

Second step is to know your tools – what can you add and at what cost/benefit ratio to permanently set up your system not only to approach your goal posts, but also to remain there and do so with limited effort on the part of the gardener.  There’s recapping here about the texture triangle and the goal of loam for water and hence mineral conservation in your soil.  But once you have your water holding capacity, rock minerals and kelp are the long term (5yr, slow release) and short term (1-2 yr, quick health, quick yield – see Permaculture Principles from Day 1!) are the next cab of the healthy soil rank.  With these mineral sources you can also add biofertilisers, animal systems, and hence recap our nutrient cycling information for additional nutrient inflow into our soil.

Thirdly there is the ‘everything else’ – pH can be useful to understand (and I find it amazing!) but not get too worked up about because if you do everything else, the pH will sort itself our through the buffering effect of the organic material (both in neutralising the pH, but also even before this is achieved, reducing the impact of extreme pH on plant growth and mineral uptake).  It’s pretty amazing how the soil system works together to make a healthy environment for growth….. guess all that evolution time has been put to good use – the forest floor is a great example.  Permaculture aims to work with this system and replicate is as much as possible to let nature find its balance in the long-term making the system more resilient for less work on our part.  There’s a lot more to the ‘everything else’ but if I keep down this path, we wont get Day 2 completed before the next PDC.  If it were up to me, we’d be almost 4 hours over time by this stage!


Session 5 – Soil Hands-On Testing – pHsmall 

Once again in the post lunch session….. sleepy and dazed students are expected so we’re up on our feet getting the blood pumping!  Out on the back deck we’re playing with examples of different soil types collected Jar shake testfrom multiple locations around our back yard and south Western Australia to illustrate the large variety of low cost testing we can do to identify where we are.

These tests include soil tests from sausage making to jar shake to pH to colour/smell/taste (always gets a shudder and laugh! “It’s not a mouthful, folks” and “only do it with your own soil as you never know what other people’s soil has been exposed to”) … we look at the different amendments and have fun playing with repellancy, permeability and leaching. We have some fun and again get those that remember/understand by doing stuff (as well as those who zoned out at any point during the morning) aware of how the components we discussed can influence these test results…..making practical the mornings classroom discussion.


Session 6 – Close the loop –

As the title suggests, before we leave soil as the foundation topic – we don’t grow veggies, we grow soil! – our aim is to revisit the interconnections between the different components and functions within the soil, how we can influence them so we all win and then watch a quick video to get the take home message clear and concise.  A key link drawn here is the importance of animals within the system and the importance of preparing the soil for holding minerals to promote more production with less work in the future.


Session 7 – Seed Saving –

Cotton parts copy smallThe key learnings to be gained in the kick off of Seed Saving is – What seeds to save, how to seed save and can we use nature to do the work for us?

The different types of seeds are explained – open pollinated (heirloom, heritage, home saved), hybrid, GMO.

Methods of seed saving – including nature saving the seeds in the ground directly under the plant or the use of wind, animals and insects for transport and ‘processing’. We take a look at a variety of seed types and the treatments for them both in the preparation for storage for the next growing season and for readying them for planting.  We also look through the seeds in our personal seed bank and how you should store them (its a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’, but at least we know with our seeds it is survival of the fittest!).Encourage others _ Kids 8 small

We talk about annuals, biannuals, perennials and vegetative cuttings when it comes to options for propagation.

There’s ongoing discussions throughout the course about different propagation methods for different plants as well as opportunities to swap or take seeds/cuttings for students to start their own garden….. the most important and best spot to store seeds is in other people’s gardens – it is less work, better seed viability as they are used sooner and the following year there are more people at the seed swaps with more variety to offer!


Session 8 – Pruning and Grafting –

This session kicks off with Plant Anatomy 101 so everyone is on the same page and then goes onto the tools of pruning and grafting.

Each graft (whip, cleft, side, bud and to a lesser extent bridge grafts) is reviewed and then we get back to the practical.  Firstly lesson of the practical grafting is host selection, then graft type selection and, amongst many other rules, when you’re a beginner there’s nothing like experiencing failure to teach you how.  The emphasis is on doing several grafts and seeing  what takes – start grafting on simple easy ‘disposable’ grafting options before moving into the more technical aspect.  Grafting is an art, if you enjoy a challenge then go for it, but it is not an essential skill.  It represents the first of the topics where you need to understand why you’d want to graft and when it is appropriate, but not necessarily how to perform the skill in order to be a successful designer.

Bud grafting a citrus is a great place to start, grow your own rootstock from seeds one year, practice bud grafting from desired top wood (scion) in the third year at no cost, or practice bud grafting on full sized trees. The later can be hard to get the graft to shoot due to all the competing (unsullied) buds – but don’t be disheartened.

Pruning on the other hand is a skill that will be more applicable in your work as a designer where understanding pruning for shape and light form a critical aspect of resource sharing.  There are often practical demonstrations related to this topic of conversation, but as pruning is depended on tree, location, function…. (the list goes on) pruning is only lightly covered and is addressed later in the design discussions where we select certain tree characteristics for certain locations and can adapt the pruning accordingly.  Pruning is also covered when we do our site visits as there are invariably examples of good pruning or where pruning is required to feed discussions.  The May course saw pruning examples from secateurs to chainsaws so there’s something for everyone’s level of subtlety.


Session 9 – Nursery set up and role – Poly tunnel nursery

Another activity to keep us inspired at the end of the day, noting that sometimes we don’t get to all the activities (as we got too excited about topics earlier in the day!) or we select the ones that people are most interested in and cover them first. This nursery setup carries on from plant propagation and seed saving.  We discuss the much lower cost of experimentation (risk/reward) in practicing growing seeds to seedlings.  Allowing the chance to learn without costing the earth is a key point that is highlighted throughout the PDC, covering the Principles of Simple slow small solutions, seek and accept feedback, and observe and interact. Growing from seed is initially harder than heading out and buying a punnet of seedlings, but in time this skill will set you free.

The Permaculture garden is a survival of the fittest place so, to grow things from seed or strike cuttings, we often need a safe and well maintained space (the nursery) to care for our young plants and keep them away from overly vigorous chooks, nasturtiums and sweet potato.

Simple nursery construction and recycled materials are covered, from a small cold frame box, to a cheap plant rack wrapped in clear plastic sheet, to a large poly tunnel made from agricultural reticulation pipe star pickets and greenhouse plastic. The size of the space you have to plant will decide which size nursery you should set up.



Well, we survived Terra Perma’s PDC Day Two and are well on our way to a Permaculture Design Certificate.  Day Three sees us head off on a field trip for a change of scenery as well as seeing first hand examples of ecological building design; discuss the importance of understanding sun, seasons and breeze ways not only in the garden, but in house design/modification; what options are available for indoor climate control to reduce our energy consumption; and to see a huge range of trees species, not often seen together in an urban environment.

Until next time, enjoy


2 thoughts on “The Permaculture Design Course – To Do or Not To Do? On the 2nd Day of the PDC….

  1. Pingback: The Permaculture Design Course – To Do or Not To Do? On the 3rd Day of the PDC…. | The Soil Hugger's Journey

  2. Pingback: The Permaculture Design Course – To Do or Not To Do? On the 4th Day of the PDC…. | The Soil Hugger's Journey

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