Yay! With all of your help, and lots of long days, effort and teamwork, I did it - I am now a Certified Permaculture Designer!! Whoo, hoo!
This post will be more picture and less content, as I want to give you a bit of the flavor of the course. I will start working my way through the twelve principles of permaculture next week, so stick with me!
This photo was taken on one of the park trails, early in the morning of the first of twelve days of classes... and shows how verdant and green the oak woodland of the Sierra Nevada foothills is in early spring. Those attending from out of state simply couldn't believe us locals when we tried to explain that the greens would be turning to brown before May ended and that summer-to-fall fire danger ranges from high to extreme.
It was lovely to be on the land of Ananda Dhiira at its spring best, though we got the entire range of Sierra spring weather, from hot afternoons in the 80s all the way through two full days of rain and a terrific hailstorm, lasting over a half hour one afternoon, and covering the ground in white (also damaging my lilacs at home, but that's another story, a sad one).
The community there is very small, with only two full-time residents, tiny yogic nuns who manage the place and open up their facility several times a year for retreats and events. There is a planning committee and one part-time resident, who was also one of the cooperative teachers for the class.
Over the twelve days of the class, we had lectures each morning and hands-on work almost each afternoon, trying to combine what we needed to learn and know with projects that would help out the community at the same time.
The first weekend, which was also attended as a free-standing "intro" class by two participants, we learned a very fast way to make compost for the garden, callled the Berkeley method. This method relies on having ALL of the needed brown (carbon) and green (nitrogen) materials ready at once, stacking them like a big layer cake, assuring that the pile is very large and damp (though not soaking), then turning almost daily for 18 days. The pile in this picture is being contained by pallets, which make a great framework for compost bins. They are still often available for free to cheap, can be wired together with anything from hay string (the nylon rope that has replaced the old-fashioned baling wire) to zip ties, and then dissassembled to move, get to your compost, etc. We started in one bin (the pile is about half-built here, then moved to the other, and back and forth it went. Unfortunately, and most likely because of the cold weather and heavy storms, the pile wasn't keeping warm enough. My donkeys even contributed extra manure.... however, this pile won't be ready in the usual time; I have provided a link for those wanting to try this method and get a big load of compost to use THIS gardening season. Let me know if you do, and how it goes!
We were also able to sheet mulch about five of the 28 fruit trees and dig a swale to divert water that was creating an erosion problem. I will be showing you how to sheet mulch, and will also be discussing swales in much greater detail later in this series of posts... they help to dramatically slow down the flow of water over the land, and sink it so that it goes into recharging the groundwater rather than causing erosion or heading downstream. They are very important for our Mediterranean climate and also useful elsewhere.
We probably had the most fun making a cob bench to enhance the property, taking two afternoons to first lay the foundation and mix the cob (a combo of clay, sand and straw in proportions determined by the clay available to you), and then a second afternoon to apply the cob and sculpt the bench. Cob building has grown in popularity and is very accessible. Children can lend a hand, as can those with no building experience or limited strength. I am not going to try to teach you the process in written posts, as I truly believe this is one area where hands-on is essential to learning.... however, if you are interested in learning more, there is a two-day workshop in my area in late June. You can probably search up something close to you as well.
This first picture shows how to stomp together the cob.
The third picture shows some of my fellow students shaping the cob surface of the bench.
However, probably the biggest contribution we made to Ananda Dhiira's evolution as a self-sustaining community was that of dividing into two design teams who cooperatively worked on ideas for small guest cottages and a bath house for guests, allowing them to expand to the camp status they hope to attain this decade. Each team learned how to work as a team and employ the large array of resources available from our lessons, our instructors, the permaculture library jointly assembled for the course, and the Internet. Our final project was to present an hour-long oral report of our findings and designs to the instructors, our fellow students and the owners of the land.
We were all on edge the last morning, excited about what we had accomplished, nervous about giving oral presentations and anxious that we had run out of time and not assembled enough materials. We all passed, and the two reports were awesome, detailed and insightful. We ended our twelve days together with a certificate ceremony (our graduation!) and a Cinco de Mayo vegetarian fiesta!
Now, to being saving the planet....