October’s PermaBlitz #4 is underway with the Host site assessment and base map complete and the concept overlays in the works. We’d thought we’d share how the PermaBlitz magic happens by detailing some of things that occur to make each PermaBlitz such a great day. But first, who are the people who put on a PermaBlitz?
The Earthshed Solution’s PermaBlitz committee are the folks who do all the leg work for a PermaBlitz. This group of volunteers is comprised of the design team & interns, board members and others committed to helping bring free permaculture education to our community. They organize the ‘Blitz, strategize the flow of the day, detail out the projects and activities based on the Host’s design and work hard to ensure a fun day is had by all. They’re super awesome, huh?!
Specifically, it’s the design team and interns who draw up the permaculture design for the Host. They follow a structured approach to begin but, when making design decisions later on, they utilize a very non-linear methodology. Does that sound confusing? It probably does but it really isn’t. Let’s tackle this one step at a time.
Step Zero: Permaculture Principles
Throughout the process of developing a PermaBlitz design the permaculture principles are closely followed and at the forefront two usually standout prominently:
Observe and Interact: Observation is a key activity in permaculture. Every property, no matter the size or location, has individual needs and by keen observation and study we can develop connections that are site specific and customized to the Host’s wishes. The Host’s observations of the property: seasons, frost patterns, direction of cold winds, hot, dry areas on the property, etc. are invaluable to thoughtful and protracted observation. David Holmgren notes, “Good design depends on a free and harmonious relationship between nature and people, in which careful observation and thoughtful interaction provide the design inspiration.”
Designing from Pattern to Detail:
The property is studied, in detail, for its overarching patterns: sun, wind, rain, etc. We try to use these patterns to benefit and fulfill the Host’s wishes. Looking at the “big picture” first, allows us to consider details later. Patterns are also found everywhere in nature, like a spiral (think of a nautilus shell or a cyclone) and can be a source of inspiration for a designer. An herb spiral is a quintessential permaculture technique that uses both pattern and edge. However, if a Host asks for an herb spiral, we determine where it would be appropriate, or if it is appropriate at all. If it isn’t appropriate, we come up with a different idea that best suits the site and needs of the Host. David Holmgren describes this principle as, “by stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.”
These permaculture principles are just two of the 12 principles that we ensure remain the backbone of all of Earthshed PermaBlitz designs.
Step One: The Host Questionnaire
Each PermaBlitz starts with the Host filling out, as best they can, a comprehensive questionnaire about their property, themselves and their goals -both for the long term and for the ‘Blitz itself. Before stepping foot on the Host’s property, the questionnaire and other information is studied by the PB committee and the design team draws up a simple map (using Google Earth) which is used for notes and measuring the ‘Blitz target area.
Step Two: Host Visit & Site Assessment
The Host Visit and Site Assessment is the second step in a PermaBlitz. The entire PB Committee meets at the Host’s home, usually in the morning over tea and coffee, and spend upwards of 3-4 hours talking, walking and discussing the Host’s goals laid out in the questionnaire. This is a great opportunity to get to know the Host, enjoy some quality time outdoors and to ensure everyone is on the same page moving forward.
The visit often goes something like this:
- Review the Host questionnaire and fill in any additional information
- Use a simple map to note existing and goal oriented elements
- Mark and measure the ‘Blitz target area for the scaled base map (structures, permanent objects, utilities etc.)
- Walk the property, ask questions, listen closely, take pictures, take notes, and most of all observe!
Step Three: Research
The next step is done off-site with the design team and interns and is the most linear part of the design process. During this phase they use P.A. Yeomans’ modified Scale of Permanence as a baseline.
- Social & Economic Factors
- Access & Circulation
- Vegetation & Wildlife
- Buildings & Infrastructure
- Zones of Use
- Aesthetics & Experience
Drilling down into more detail for each category is crucial because this research is heavily used in the design process.
For example, under Climate, the design team finds the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone, the Koeppen Geiger climate classification, rainfall information, hot/cold extremes, etc. It’s especially important to make note of rainfall information and historical patterns; like annual high/lows, 24 & 72 hour maximum rainfall etc.
The highest recorded 24-hour rainfall event is used when determining rainwater catchment areas, for the number and placement of swales and more; as are topography maps. The contour lines on a topo map are utilized for noting patterns in the landscape and determining the severity of slope. This information provides insight on the feasibility of using swales, building ponds, the need for terraced gardens etc.
Keep in mind though, reality is often very different than what is seen on a map. Try and remember this old adage, “the map is not the territory” and always, always use site ground truths (direct observation) in design.
Aerial view (left) VS. On the ground reality (right)
Step Four: Design Methods
After the research is performed and observations recorded, the design team starts working with the design methods. This is where the fun really begins because of all the out-of-the-box thinking that inevitably happens.
The PermaBlitz design team utilizes six different and interactive methods for designs. There are many, many permaculture design methods to draw from and based on past experiences the team found these 6 to be consistently solid methods as well as fun to work with; which is really important when teaching both interns and the community.
The Design Methods our team utilizes are:
- WAS (Water, Access, Structures)
- Functional Analysis
- Random Assembly
- Relative Location
- Microclimate Analysis
- Energy Efficient Planning (EEP which includes Zones of Use, Sector Analysis and Slope)
While not strictly a “method” let’s not forget the Ethics and Principles of permaculture -which are the foundation for all decision making.
As shown by the arrows in the diagram, this process moves back and forth, in and out, across and sideways. In other words it is not linear! All the methods are interwoven with one another and often several drawings and overlays are produced as a result of the teams’ various design ideas.
For the sake of time and space (because detailing the design methods could be its own article) let’s describe a situation utilizing the Design Methods. Because it’s such a precious resource here in our Mediterranean climate, let’s keep with the rainwater element mentioned in Step Three: Research.
We have a rooftop from which rainwater can be harvested so let’s start by asking questions:
- How much rainwater can we harvest?
- Where should it go?
- What can we do with the water?
- What kind of plants to use?
Gaining an understanding of how much rainwater can be harvested and its most beneficial use utilizes a lot of the research done previously -as well as the Design Methods in parentheses below.
Always allow for Observation and Feedback as you go along as a Check & Balance for feasibility (the center circle in the Design Methods diagram). There’s no point in spending a lot of time on something that will not work in reality. Moving on…
How much rainwater can we harvest? Calculate the square footage of the rooftop (WAS -Structure) then find the total volume of water within a 24-hour maximum rainfall event that could be harvested (Observe/Research).
Where should it go? Determine where the rainwater could go while ensuring some open space for walking and wheelbarrows (EEP -Zones of Use & WAS -Access).
What can we do with the water? Figure out the best spot to sink the rainwater in the landscape (WAS -Water) so that it can be used by plants and/or infiltrate the soil recharging aquifers and reducing erosion (Observe/Research, EEP -Slope).
What kind of plants to use? If the rainwater is sunk into the ground using earthworks use perennial plants like fruit trees, edible shrubs and wildlife hedgerows. If stored in a tank with a hose attachment, then annual plants will do great. Also, always consider where overflow from the tank will go. (Functional Analysis, Microclimate Analysis)
Can the water be used more than once? (Relative Location) Maybe for an outdoor sink placed next to the annual beds or for chickens or … (Random Assembly).
Step Five: Concept Designs
Meeting the Host’s goals and wish list items are a top priority, but the context in which the property is found determines the overall design. After filtering the goals and wish list elements the base map is transformed into several drawings and overlays using the design methods and finally into a (often singular) concept design that is presented to the PermaBlitz Host.
From this concept design the Host will often make some minor changes and a working master plan will be drawn up. From the working master plan Projects and Activities are chosen by the Host and PB Committee to take place at the PermaBlitz. And it’s these Projects and Activities that are best part of a PermaBlitz!
If you’re interested in gaining firsthand knowledge and experience in permaculture design, join us! There are many ways to get involved in our hands-on PermaBlitz education program.
- Attend the Pre-Blitz Chico Permaculture Guild Gatherings. These are held the two months prior to the ‘Blitz and are introductions to permaculture in general as well as a first-hand insight into the upcoming PermaBlitz. We’ll use all the information gleaned from the assessment and analysis in an informative slide show presentation and interactive forum. You can check out the schedule here.
- Attend a PermaBlitz as a participant. Nothing beats a full day working with others, learning useful skills and eating a free lunch! Currently we host two PermaBlitzes each year in April and October. You can find more information about how to attend on our PermaBlitz page.
- Host a PermaBlitz. Hosting a PermaBlitz is a great way to improve your landscape, get free labor for implementation as well as a permaculture design that you can utilize for years to come. Hosting is based on reciprocity where every Host must attend Earthshed events to enjoy the benefits of having so many hands helping install permaculture projects at their property. You can learn more on our page dedicated to Host information.
- Join the PermaBlitz Committee! As mentioned we currently host tow PermaBlitzes each year. We would love to do more but we need more people to get involved. If you want to help bring permaculture to more people in our community -more often- join our PermaBlitz Committee! You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.