Tag Archives | permaculture

Facing Fire

This coming Sunday November 22 at 9am (AEDT) , David Holmgren is giving a presentation followed by a Q & A on ‘Fire Resilient Design and Land and Climate Care’.

Here is the Zoom link to attend.

Please join 5 minutes early to ensure it starts on time.

Please RSVP by 5pm Saturday 21 November.

For further reading, here is David’s recent paper: Bushfire Resilient Land and Climate care.

Facing Fire connects fire-ecology regions in the USA and Australia, across the Pacific, and around the world.

In 2019 David was interviewed for the 21 minute film Facing Fire, which you can watch in its entirety here:

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Facing Fire

This coming Sunday November 22 at 9am (AEDT) , David Holmgren is giving a presentation followed by a Q & A on ‘Fire Resilient Design and Land and Climate Care’.

Here is the Zoom link to attend.

Please join 5 minutes early to ensure it starts on time.

Please RSVP by 5pm Saturday 21 November.

For further reading, here is David’s recent paper: Bushfire Resilient Land and Climate care.

EDIT: Here is David’s presentation from the day.

Facing Fire connects fire-ecology regions in the USA and Australia, across the Pacific, and around the world.

In 2019 David was interviewed for the 21 minute film Facing Fire, which you can watch in its entirety here:

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Just enough: Let’s never stop thinking about the future

Let’s never stop thinking about the future: The connections between permaculture, Japanese design and homesteading in a frugal future.

The world has changed immeasurably over the last thirty years, with ‘more, bigger, better’ being the common mantra. But in the midst of this constantly evolving world, there is a growing community of people who are looking at our history, searching for answers to issues that are faced everywhere, such as energy, water, materials, food and population crisis.

In “Just Enough, ” author Azby Brown turned to the history of Japan, where he finds several lessons on living in a sustainable society that translate beyond place and time. This book presents a compelling argument around how to forge a society that is conservation-minded, waste-free, well-housed, well-fed and economically robust, including what Edo Period life has to offer us in the global battle to reverse environmental degradation.

In contrast, RetroSuburbia, by David Holmgren shows how the Australian suburbs can be transformed to become productive and resilience in an energy descent future. It focuses on what can be done by an individual at the household level with examples from ‘Aussie Street’ story and real life case studies to support and enhance the main content.

Su Dennett and Virginia Solomon have been living and promoting a sustainable households at their respective Melliodora and Eco resilience households and wider community activities including the Hepburn Relocalisation NetworkPermaculture Australia, Holmgren Design & permaculture education to name a few. Virginia has also travelled multiple times to Japan, including meeting Azby and connecting all of the interview members here today on behalf of Permaculture Australia.

Without further ado, here is the interview:

You can read more here.

A huge thank you to Permaculture Australia for enabling this rich conversation to happen.

If you’re interested in more crossovers between Japanese culture and permaculture, you might be interested to read David’s journal from 2004, when he and Su spent 4 weeks travelling around Japan:

Permaculture in Japan: foreign idea or indigenous design.

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That Mulberry Tree

Amongst all the beautiful images of the 2021 Permaculture Principles calendar, is Talia Davis’ stunning aerial shot of a mudbrick house and lush green tree amongst the devastation of bushfires on the south coast of NSW.

As with all the calendar images, there is a brief story that provides context: “Despite drought conditions this 40 year old mulberry tree had been deeply watered in the months before the fire went through in December 2019, and was on the fire side of the house. This tree in combination with cleared space, well-sealed and strong construction, appear to be what saved the house. Brett and Wendy are now installing water harvesting structures, aiming to increase soil water absorption and reduce the flammability of the forest around the house

The image and story are used to illustrate the permaculture design principle Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback. It does so in a variety of ways:

  • Firstly, the timely allocation of limited water to mature trees instead of annual gardens in drought shows prioritising what is important for the long term, as well as being conscious of the elevated risk of catastrophic bushfire.
  • Secondly, careful design and placement passively contributes to many functions (including in this case, bushfire protection). The mulberry tree is a passive (but growing) and largely self-regulating fire defense element. This can be contrasted with an active element such as a large firefighting pump, which depends on fuel, maintenance and an operator to be useful, and instead of growing, it depreciates over time, accelerated by lack of timely maintenance and testing.
  • Thirdly, the experience of the drought and bushfire has led to further action to more effective harvest water in the landscape through passive water harvesting structures to increase soil moisture, and through active management to reduce the flammability of the forest around the house.

Behind this dramatic illustration, is the complex subject of bushfire resilient house and landscape design. A story by ABC journalist Kate Aubrey provides more detail on the observations of the owners and comments by forest tree expert from ANU that touch on some of the complexities of bushfire resilient design, including the role of vegetation as an asset and/or a hazard.

The idea that plants and especially trees might be an asset rather than just a hazard in bushfires was highlighted by our research during the mid-1970s for Permaculture One (at the house and property that Bill Mollison defended from the 1967 bushfires that devastated the mountain fringing suburbs of Hobart).

Over the decades since, I have looked closely at the role of species selection and vegetation management in contributing to bushfire protection. I agree with the owners about the likely role of the Mulberry in helping to protect the house. The ABC report of the quoted tree expert gave the impression that the species of tree was less important than the form and condition. Rather than disagreeing with the valid points conveyed by this reporting, I thought it might be useful to those inspired by this story to add some of my own observations.

It is true that any tree upwind of a house can act as an ember trap that can significantly reduce the likelihood of ember infiltration, which is the primary way houses are destroyed in bushfires, especially when they get into the roof space.

Secondly, a tree can catch large flying debris from a firestorm that might otherwise break windows and allow entering embers to destroy the building.

Thirdly, a tree can absorb radiant heat, so reducing the overheating of the house (and protect active house defenders from potentially lethal radiation levels).

In addition, an actively transpiring tree with abundant moisture can transpire so much water when heated by the radiation from the fire front that it steams water vapour which further attenuates radiate heat.

On the other hand, if the tree catches alight or breaks in the windstorm then these potential benefits turn into greater threats.

What determines whether sheltering trees or shrubs are a benefit or a hazard is affected by many factors including a fair dose of chance. Fine foliage, retained dry leaves and dead twigs, flaky, ribbon and fibrous bark are all downsides while large leaves that primarily shed in winter and smooth bark, such as a mulberry are an asset. Retention of low branches such as by most conifers is a disadvantage compared with the “self-pruning” nature of most eucalypts, although this is something that can be easily changed (by pruning!).

Volatile oils, resins and waxes in species such as eucalypts, many other Australian natives, and conifers are widely recognised as a downside but few understand the linkage between these flammable compounds and soil infertility that these species are adapted to. I have yet to find a comprehensive published explanation, but this is my understanding based on decades of observation, reading between the lines of lots different sources and some resultant hypothesising.

In geologically young regions with minerally rich and deep, free-draining soils underlaid by permanent sweet groundwater (much of the temperate and continental northern hemisphere), predominantly winter deciduous trees have access to essential minerals, especially calcium, boron, copper, manganese and possibly silica that contribute to strong cell walls allowing plants to retain water.

In geologically old regions where leached and compacted poorly drained soils with saline or absent water tables predominate (much of Australia), the vegetation has evolved to create organic compounds that to some degree are metabolic substitutes for minerals in the critical function of water retention.

Unfortunately these substitutes are as flammable as petrochemicals, so when vegetation does dry out due to drought and fire, they contribute to the intensity of combustion.

On the other hand, if plants evolved to mineral rich soils, and have access to balanced nutrition, they will have higher level of minerals that act as fire retardants within foliage. The ash remaining from burning any biomass is the total mineral content. Low ash content is one of the characteristics that make for good firewood, but the high ash content in our garden vegetation is a crude sign of fertility, the ability to hold moisture and low flammability. Consequently, fertile and balanced garden soils that retain water and are growing well-managed and productive food plants and trees are an asset rather than a liability in bushfire.

Beyond the transformation possible at the garden farming scale to create a fire safe zone around our homes, we have to be more circumspect about ways to make our broadacre farmlands and forests firesafe. In Bushfire Resilient Land and Climate Care I canvased diverse strategies including thinning, grazing, accelerated decomposition with or without the benefit of earthwork to rehydrating soils as well as appropriate patterns of ecological/cultural burning.

This focus on just a few of the factors in bushfire resilient landscape design inspired by this photo would be incomplete without at least mentioning the tricky issue of staying and defending vs early and safe evacuation. Research over many decades has shown that the presence of one “able-bodied” person is between two and four times more important than any other design factor or site feature in determining whether a house burns down (see Joan Webster 2000, pp 77-78).

In the absence of a stay and defend plan against the worst of fires, it is important to ensure as many the other factors are working in our favour. Passive and self-regulating elements of our property designs are critical in this situation.

While researching The Flywire House case study in 1983, one of our conclusions was that bushfire resilient house and landscape design works at two levels:

  • Property design and management covering all bases collectively increasing the chance that passive design will lead to survival of houses and other critical assets.
  • Having these bases covered increases the confidence that the house and property is a haven that can be actively defended to survive the worst of firestorms. Whether we are psychologically and physically prepared for such an experience is one of those tough questions that no one else can answer for us. However, thoughtful design, fine tuning, careful maintenance, good kit, and fire plan testing in the worst of weather, all contribute to empowering that most potential element in bushfire resilient design: the human element.

Finally, for many of us facing the relief of a La Nina benign summer in some of the world’s most bushfire prone regions, this is the opportunity to seriously consider our choices and move to less challenging locales or double down with long term resilience strategies to make our place the best safe haven we can for challenging futures, from whatever quarter.

Here’s to a safe and prosperous way down in 2021.

David Holmgren
Melliodora
November 2020

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PermaQueer TEDx Countdown

TedxDavid Holmgren is proud to be speaking at PermaQueer’s 3-day online event this Thursday 15th October at 11 am as part of the global TedX Countdown.

He’ll be speaking about the role of permaculture in designing a sustainable future, alongside many other great speakers like Morag Gamble, Brenna Quinlan, Charlie Mgee, Rosemary Morrow, Artist as Family and many more.

Find out more and get your free or donation based ticket here:
www.facebook.com/events/1006883859830500

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PermaQueer TEDx Countdown event

David Holmgren is proud to be speaking at PermaQueer’s 3-day online event this Thursday 15th October at 11am as part of global TedX Countdown. He’ll be speaking about the role of permaculture in designing a sustainable future, alongside many other great speakers such as Morag Gamble, Brenna Quinlan, Charlie Mgee, Rosemary Morrow, Artist as Family and many more.

Get your free or donation based tickets here:
https://www.facebook.com/events/1006883859830500

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Permaculture Tour at Melliodora – October 4 2020

There is no better way to learn how the household economy works than to take part in the whole day guided tour at Melliodora. Situated in the Victorian central highlands, Melliodora is one of the best examples of working cool-temperate climate permaculture in the country. At Melliodora you can see how permaculture can produce an abundance of food and other yields from a beautiful living environment.

The one hectare property has been transformed from the blackberry covered wasteland in 1985 into a model of small scale intensive permaculture. David Holmgren and his partner Su Dennett will show you how their passive solar house, mixed food gardens, orchards, dams and livestock, as well as creek revegetation, have been developed and maintained. The Melliodora garden farming model is most relevant to large town blocks and small rural allotments, but you don’t have to have a large block to gain a huge amount from the tour. All people will discover ways that they can apply the underlying principles and strategies to their own situation.

The Whole Day Tour includes morning + afternoon teas, while the Garden Only Tour includes afternoon tea. Participants are encouraged to BYO lunch to enjoy under the 100 year-old pear tree or to visit one of the local cafés in Hepburn or Daylesford during the lunch break from 1pm.

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Melliodora Live Online Tour

There is no better way to learn how the household economy works than to take part in the whole day guided tour at Melliodora – now online!

About this Event

For the first time ever, David Holmgren and Su Dennett are opening the doors of Melliodora to an online audience. Situated in the Victorian central highlands, Melliodora is one of the best examples of working cool-temperate climate permaculture in the country.

The day begins at 10am (AEST)* with a tour of the main homestead house. We will break for lunch between 12.30pm and 2pm. In the afternoon the tour will take you around the extensive garden farm.

There will be a Q&A for the house tour at 12pm and a Q&A for the property tour at 4pm. Your questions will be asked directly to David, time permitting.

Throughout the tour David will mention books that he has written, published or those that have influenced his thinking. These books can be found at the Holmgren Design Store, and at Melliodora Wholesale (for purchases over $150).

Don’t miss the opportunity to experience how permaculture design can help restore and improve land, and provide for you and your household’s needs within the context of an ethical and regenerative framework.

*PLEASE NOTE: Daylight Savings in Australia commences at 12 midnight the night before the tour.

If you would like to do further exploration, you might like the Melliodora eBook (available in CD or PDF version): a detailed record of how Melliodora was designed and established, explaining the logic behind design decisions, detailed plans, plant species selection and how it all works together as a comprehensive system.

It is a refresher of the tour, a valuable reference for your own project, and an ideal way to introduce family and friends to permaculture.


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AFSA Solidarity Economy Session #5 – Permaculture Solidarities

AFSA Solidarity Economy Session #5 – Permaculture Solidarities with David Holmgren

About this Event

Join David Holmgren, co-originator of the permaculture concept and co-creator of Australia’s best-known permaculture demonstration site, Melliodora, to explore how we can build home and community economies based in permacultural ethics as a foundation for a better and more just future.

Get your tickets here

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