When I traveled to the ecovillage Tamera in Portugal from Faro with the train I came along those devastated landscape where nothing was growing. When I then arrived in Tamera everything was different. I saw lakes and ponds everywhere in the valley - an abundance of water. And a lot of olive trees planted on contour. Bernd Walter Müller and Jay Abrahams then explained how the system developed by Sepp Holzer works. An interesting presentation.
When Lumia and I moved to Finland in 2016 we started observation right away. I discovered micro climates, areas where edible fungi grew, natural trees nurseries, etc. I also notices one particular area that was used to grow food. An area that somehow seemed out of context to me. This is were this design starts.
Earth care – create abundance. A lot of apples for eating raw, apple juice and cooking. Sequester carbon.
People care – a place I and my wife can walk through and be happy but also for family, friends and visitors to enjoy.
Fair share – Sharing apple and berry harvests with family & friends. Sharing this design with the public.
I’m using SADIMET as a design process
- The whole area is on a slope
- During the summer time the soil becomes concrete
- Digging up potatoes out of concrete soil is a very hard job
- Water has to be brought over the “hill” toward the garden – which is very work intensive
- There are a lot of birches on the edge of the garden towards the forest
- At the lower end of the slope a pond starts to create itself
- Around the “pond” are a lot of willows
- The sea buckthorns do very well, they are up to 6m high
- The apple trees do well
- The sea buckthorns produce suckers
- One sea buckthorns is dead
- Plums do well, one tree is dead
- A lot of thistles everywhere
- Chicory, yarrow, clover are around, lot of dandelions
- On the south-west edge to the forest the snow stays longest
- In winter the first 2 meters on the edge to the road is used as a “storage” space for the snow from clearing the driveway
- The whole area is roughly half a meter above the neighbor’s driveway. A meter below the driveway is a field.
Climate data was collected from Hatulla station. Their data is for free available online. I pulled the data and created diagrams. Interesting is the continuously raising mean temperature and the droughts occurring in March and May.
The to design area is roughly about 35m x 35m, which is a total of 1225m². The north-eastern and south-eastern border are roads. On north-west top is our driveway.
For the whole Beyond Buckthorns site design we surveyed the site for zones and then put them on our base map. The area in question is in a zone 3.
The area is about 130 meters from the house but was used to grow potatoes, pumpkins and beans. We abandoned it as vegetable growing area in 2017 since it is too far away and the water situation can be difficult.
A sector analysis was done by Lumia and me some time ago for the whole estate. The wildlife is basically all over the place. Deer or rabbits come from any direction and travel through it. Drone photos taken during winter, when you can see their paths in the snow, confirmed our initial sector analysis. See the findings below:
The image below shows contour lines coming from digital image processing using several different pieces of software. The entire high difference between the top and the bottom is about 2,5 - 3 meters. Each contour line is therefore about 15 cm apart. Unfortunately this image was taken while there was still partially snow. Therefore the upper side down to the middle is less accurate. It still gives an idea about the slope and the basin that leads toward the lowest point.
It is unclear yet on how much money is needed to get things done. Since I don’t have a lot of money 400,- € is the maximum.
Zones and sectors
A zone and sector analysis was already done in another design and shown here in the survey stage. Looking at the images one thing is clear: there will be wildlife all over the place. There is no protection from the harsh northern winds in winter. The summer sun reaches the spot while the winter sun doesn’t. That’s why at the edge between the woodland, which is higher in the landscape, and the design area, which is lower, the snow stays longest. The winter sun can’t reach the basin. Since the whole area is on a slope and the summer sun is pretty high at 61°N the sun can’t be blocked by large trees in the south-west.
Limits & Helps
|availability of tools||knowledge|
Every other day during the week Lumia or I walk to the street to get our mail. So we walk the path from the house to the road about 3, sometimes 4 times a week. The path comes across the area I want to design. During summer time I also walk around the forest and the existing row of trees and berry bushes about once or even twice a week.
The soil showed a high portion in silt and sand and only a small portion of clay. Different than what I expected.
6 Thinking hats
For every hat I have one minute, expect for the red hat, which has only 30 second. The red one should be a gut reaction and therefore be limited.
White (Facts & Information): I gathered all the facts so far. Am I missing something?
Blue (The Big Picture & Managing): Looking at the bigger picture means looking at the whole site design, which has yet not been published (04.2021) I don’t need more zone 5, nor do I need more food forests. I need something for a slope that can generate some produce without too much hassle.
Red (Feelings and Emotions): Looking at the area in question makes me feel very good. I feel confident.
Black (Negative): It is pretty far away from the main house. Kind of out of sight. I have everything I need – what more should I do?
Yellow (Positive): It is a on a slope, it has a nice orientation, it has long sun hours, is partially shaded. There are a lot of options available.
Green (New Ideas): I thought about ponds, a self picking area, space between rows for egg mobiles. Natural slow succession into a forest.
Function, System, Elements
|More food||Multi layer orchard||Tree Wildlife protection|
|Ground cover plants|
|Egg mobile||Egg mobile|
|More water stored||Water retention landscapes||Swales|
|Recreation for mother in law||Garden area||Not designed space|
|Pond||Pond for swimming|
Walking from the driveway down to the lowest point is always nice. The view is beautiful, especially in summer. It is a little louder since it is closer to the motorway but still quiet enough to just lay there in the summer grass and listen to the insects and birds.
- Observe & Interact → done in the observation phase. Now its time to do something about it.
- Catch & Store Energy→ store water in the water table, produce produce for consumption, apples, sea-berries, raspberries, etc.
- Obtain a yield → gaining experience with grafting, gain knowledge on Finnish fruit tree varieties and root stocks. Experiment with different bushes and trees. Let my mother in law plant all kinds of flowers.
- Apply Self regulation & accept feedback → the wildlife is causing damage and precautions need to be taken
- Use & Value Renewable Resources & Services → scions from apple trees for grafting, cuttings, layers and suckers from different berry bushes
- Produce no waste → it well take some time until the apple trees will produce. I’ll have to use the time to get the apple juice making going. Cuttings from the apple trees as natural fences for the rabbits → need to be of certain size before cuttings become substantial.
- Design from patterns to details → reminds me always to start from the big picture when designing.
- Integrate rather than segregate→ Apple trees and berry bushes on contour. It feels like they belong there.
- Use slow & small solutions → grafting apple trees instead of buying 3 to 5 year old. Using cuttings from own existing berry bushes instead of buying. Let other trees grow if they want to grow and then find a way how to tweak the design.
- Use & Value Diversity → different varieties of trees, bushes - local, from different suppliers. Let the natural just grow and take over the place. Let it become what it want to become and just help here and there.
- Use edges & value the marginal → The edge to the woodland is full of willows and some birches. Tips and tricks from others who have swales up above 61°N is rare.
- Creatively Use & respond to change → Action learning is also about failing and learning from that.
The edge between the woodland and the area to design forms a basin following down the slope towards the deepest point. Its the place a small pond starts to form and a lot of willows grow.
It is pretty clear that I’d like to have more fruit trees and berries. So why not put them on swales on contour, diverting water towards the pond. One side effect is that in the ditch the snow will stay longer and therefor water will be available when it is already melted away at other places.
On the berm will be a variety of trees and bushes. Some are bought, some are grafted, some are propagated, etc. I use & value diversity. Between the swales is space for multiple functions per element. It could be a space for my mother in law’s garden. It could be a space for an egg mobile, or let just nature take its way and go for a small and slow solution, while working with nature. In any way it is everything gardens. And the not used space is also something that can be developed later, something I’m yet not aware of.
While walking through the forest listening to Lumias talk about our coppicing areas I had another idea. Planting willows between the berms. Since there are 4 areas I can have a 4 years rotation. In the year I clear the patch I can plant some annuals. It’s a boreal syntropic system combining the orchard with agroforestry. Its a small scale intensive system.
The point is: get the carbon into the ground.
One important aspect is: I’d like to be able to get with the tractor in and out. And I need to think of a space where all the snow from clearing the drive goes.
Placement of elements
Compiling all the ideas looks little like this:
I included a cherry tree row besides the street. Should look fantastic when they are blooming. At the lowest point I included a small pond. If I want to have fish in the pond I need to dig at least 2,5 meters deep. Otherwise there will be no space for the fish in winter.
I had to imagine how it will look like once the trees are 10 or 20 years old and I think that picture looks amazing. It’s something people driving by might stop for a picture.
The distance between two trees is between 2 – 3 meters. There are sea buckthorns and willows as nitrogen fixers. The current apple trees are different types of apples – autumn and winter apples. The idea is to have apples early but also later in the year. I put the plums up on top since that is the line that might get damaged the most from the snow cleaning.
|Build an a-frame|
|Mark 2 lines with the a-frame|
|drive the tractor with plow along the marked lines|
|observe if the swales are working|
|if working mark 2 more lines with the a-frame|
|drive the tractor with plow along the marked lines|
|calculate the number of trees possible|
|buy the calculated number of trees / roots|
|cut existing apple and pear trees|
|graft apple and pear trees|
|transplant plum trees|
|layer gooseberry and currants|
|plant cuttings of currants into pots|
|buy sea buckthorns|
|plant trees, bushes|
|transplant cutting and layered plants|
|put wire mesh around the fruit trees|
|Cut existing willow branches|
|Research excavator rental|
|Rent excavator and dig pond|
|Research water plants, get them and plant|
|Get fish and release into pond|
|Maintenance plan orchard|
|check for animal damage||x||x|
Input / Output results
Most of the initial grafting didn’t work. My success rate is 1/3. I’m still learning. But probably should have practiced with willows or other in abundance available trees. Besides my grafting mistakes the apple, pear, plum and cherry trees are doing well. They are growing steadily.
My mother in law is using the space between the berms to garden. I don’t tell her what to do – she just has to keep an eye on the newly planted willows.
Since the apple trees where mainly root-stocks I came out far below the set aside budget.
I probably could have saved money creating the wooden posts by myself. But it would have taken me hours to get it done. Also the metal mash might not been the best solution to protect the apple trees from the rabbits. If I would have rented the excavator I would still be under budget. But that’s another story.
What I couldn’t do and why
I couldn’t get the pond done. As I explained I wanted fish and this means certain depth of the pond. I couldn’t dig that with a shovel. Since I have several areas on the site for which I need a mini excavator I postponed the implementation of the pond until the other designs are in its implementation stage. A mini excavator would cost me 150 € / day. I thought it might be far better money wise to get everything done in one day instead of renting it every time I need it for one design.
This one is difficult yet to evaluate for effectiveness. Problem is that it is much too early to do so. The berms are much richer in vegetation than the rest of the area. I can see the color difference. It is a far darker green. In the area between the swales trees have started to grow. To come back to what I wrote in the scope. I will have a lot of apple trees that in some years produce a lot of apples. Together with the willows the system will sequester a lot of carbon. If there is more than I need I can share with family and friends.
As I wrote before: picturing the space in 10 to 20 years time makes me happy. It will look amazing and work for me, family and friends.
My mother in law is happy because she can plant flowers, get some exercise digging in the soil, get out of her flat, visiting family, etc.
PMI of tools used
|Design Process SADIMET||Worked very well||Missing the helps and limits from Looby’s web||kind of the streamlined version of OBREDIM|
|PMI||Worked very well for the different topics||doesn’t really work as stand-alone tool|
|Functions, System, Elements||Helpful for clarity|
|Good tool for “multiple elements per important function.”|
|Contour profile||Helpful to visualize the area||Lots of work|
|Limits and helps||proven useful again|
|6 thinking hats||Interesting idea of switching perspective|
|Soil samples||Good visualization||didn't expected the outcome|
PMI of the Syntropia borealis
|I can find where I planted things without marking them – the swales do a good job on that||A food forest would gain more public interest, therefore be more social||Swales became a topic at the Finnish Permaculture Facebook group after Anton Nordqvist told about them in a PermaPuheet lecture|
|The trees and bushes will sequester a lot of carbon over the years to come||Without the pond something is missing||There is still space on the berm to create a multi layer garden on contour|
|The willows and sea buckthorns will sequester nitrogen – which will allow nutrient-demanding plants to grow. Cabbages||Could be more diverse, perhaps more pear trees or even something else|
|My mother in law is happy that she can garden – especially in Corona times|
|Birch needs water – but sap can be harvested|
|the experimentation area can be used very diverse|
Since the grafting didn’t work I decided to let the base just grow until I’m more experienced with grafting and then graft them again with scions from major trees. I think I will transplant more cherry tries in the front line.
Demonstrating design skills
- Climate data
- Base map
- Function, System, Elements
- Contour profile
- Limits and Helps
- Flow map
- Soil samples
- 6 thinking hats
- Design Map
- Implementation plan
- Maintenance plan
- Input / Output
Applying permaculture in my own life
Designing has over the past years, while working on the diploma, become an integral part of my live. Most of the time, not all the time, I design instead of jumping into things. I follow a design process, most of the time SADIMET, Looby’s web, or my own. It’s kind of interesting to see how the diploma changed my way of working – and thinking.
Learning from and developing your permaculture practice
This design was until a certain point an obvious one. The place was too far away for a green house or a garden. Close to the road to attract interest from passing by people. The slope was extremely useful and the itself forming pond also.
I got used to the drone. Learned to drive the tractor. Nearly had an accident. I extended my software skills further into 3d modeling.
What I really liked was getting the contour profile done. I had to use different soft- and hardware and learn how to get it done.
The idea for the willows came pretty late. As always: patience is key.
I used the 6 thinking hats for the first time. It is an interesting tool which I might use more often in the future.
Applying permaculture to my work and projects
Within Holmgren’s domain this is in “Land and nature stewardship”. I’m not sure if I like that term of that domain because humans are incapable of nature stewardship. Nature takes pretty good care of herself – without humans. In my humble opinion the whole domains make no sens. Permaculture is everywhere not just in some specific domains. The domains basically limit permaculture design.
Why didn’t I plant a food forest there? Because I have three other better suited places for it.
Why the swales? Because I wanted to see if my theory of retaining snow from winter works. If you don’t try you will never know. Permaculture is action learning. And Anton Nordqvist from Koroinen showed that a food forest on swales works in Finland. If it really works will time tell.