Permaculture is a long word for common sense, and the ethical treatment of people and the planet. It’s a little disappointing that the word itself may put some people off – because it is unfamiliar to them – but any unique worldview requires an individualized name. The term was coined in the 1970s by a pair of Australians as a contraction between permanent and agriculture, indicating their advocacy for a shift toward low-input perennial crops and away from energy and chemical intensive annual crops.
In this way, permaculture is similar to eco-thrifty renovation in that is seeks low input/high performance design strategies and techniques. In both cases, the sun is the most important element of the system: sun grows food; sun can power a home. First, the home.
Now that we are tipping into winter, and the sun is falling on the northern horizon, the passive solar redesign of our villa is coming back from its ‘summer holidays.’ In other words, our home has been redesigned to let the sun in during the winter months and exclude it during the summer months. By considering the seasonal pattern of the sun, we are able to harness free heating when we most need it: May, June, July and August.
I have written in this column about the key components of passive solar design – solar gain, thermal mass, and insulation – and I’ll revisit them in the months to come. But how, you may ask, does passive solar design work? Although we have a wood burner in our home, we only used it about 2 days per week last winter. The rest of the time our villa was heated for free by sunlight.
Sunlight also grows much of our food for free. That’s hardly news, but on a small section, we’re able to grow a large amount of food by maximizing sunlight exposure by utilizing vertical surfaces. For example, we let pumpkins climb up our fences, which they naturally do. Why fight it?
By growing five or six vines out of one mature compost pile, and letting them run, we are able to enjoy huge yields with hardly any work. Watering and weeding is virtually eliminated growing pumpkins this way. Low input/high productivity.
We also use the sun to cure our pumpkins before storage. This simply entails letting them sunbath for three weeks somewhere their bums can remain dry. We use the north-facing steps of our deck.
Once cured, the thick-skinned pumpkins are transferred to a cool, unused bedroom on the south side of our home. There they can remain ‘fresh’ for 12 months or more with no processing or refrigeration. It’s just natural cool storage.
In late February this year, we ate the last of our last-years’ pumpkins after the first of this-year’s pumpkins were ready to harvest. That means we have 12 months of homegrown, healthy, inexpensive, organic pumpkins at our beck and call. Oh, the recipes.
Interested in learning more about permaculture and permaculture ways of thinking? See the side bar for upcoming workshops.
ECO School Workshops – Autumn, 2013
20th April, 9-5 Thinking Like a Swale: Advanced Permaculture Workshop
27th-28th April. Suburban Permaculture Weekend
5th May, 3-5. International Permaculture Day. Introduction to Permaculture
11th May. Home Energy Savings DIY Workshop
Registration essential: firstname.lastname@example.org; 06 344 5013; 022 635 0868