Thursday, October 14, 2010

APC10 - and the Atherton Tablelands Permaculture Bus Tour

Where do you usually have lunch? I pondered my regular lunchspot, an alternately frosty or dusty stoop off my front porch, while sipping on tropical fruit smoothies and snacking on flowers at the Botanical Ark. Three weeks ago in the wee hours of the morning, I flew into Cairns for the Tenth Australasian Permaculture Convergence. What followed was four jam-packed days of presentations, design processes and meeting the elders and newbies of the permacultural movement in Australia and overseas, set to the backdrop of tropical rainforest in Far North Queensland. Alternately inspired, exhausted and enthusiastically manic, I spent four days refining my introduction to strangers from "I run a permaculture consultancy business in Central Victoria", to leaping from from a haybale stating "I'm committed to excellence in integrating permaculture, literacy and numeracy, running workshops from my place and interactive theatre", during Robin Clayfield's Leaps of Faith session. I made good on the interactive theatre soon after, see below...

It's not easy to coherently write about all the mind flutterings that overtook me during the Convergence. I was regularly scribbling good ideas in my notebook as they came to mind. One idea, however, kept coming back to me, in the form of a permaculture principle, "Use edges and value the marginal". The people that I was most drawn to were working on the edges of permaculture, following their passions and integrating permaculture into the things that got them bouncing out of bed in the morning. From Cecilia Macaulay's balcony gardening and share house permaculture, to April Sampson-Kelly's online Permaculture Design Courses to the Garden at the End of the World, I got most inspiration from those people working through different media, in far-off places, or finding their own niche within the movement.

One of the major issues leading up to and during APC10 was the call for a national representative permaculture body for Australia. Robina McCurdy, Robin Clayfield and Rowe Morrow, some of the best facilitators I know of, ran a participatory workshop to develop a needs analysis for the nation. The results are posted here. I came away from the Convergence, disappointed that there wasn't more of this. At APC9 in Sydney in 2008, there was ample opportunity to participate in workshops. Rowe Morrow's Water Workshop had hundreds of people brainstorming solutions for water issues for a number of types of human settlements, including small towns, cities, country/urban fringe, drylands, etc. In all, at APC10, I spent too much time sitting on my backside watching powerpoints, a common problem with conferences, but from a permaculture convergence I expected more. The first opportunity I had to participate in a presentation saw me bouncing off the walls. I made a personal commitment that next convergence I will only attend if I also present a workshop.

APC9 Water workshop: Source unknown
I made good on an earlier personal commitment involving what I called, for want of a better term, 'interactive theatre'. I had decided before the convergence to take advantage of any future opportunities to facilitate dance events. The final night party of the Convergence was scheduled, with Costa, TV's gardening guru, as MC I put my hand up to run the Interpretive Permaculture Bush Dance. Loosely based around a traditional bush dance, with some permaculture principles thrown in for good measure, it culminated in a spiral of dancers being dragged into a vortex screaming, "This is so much fun!". Suffice to say, it went off, and I am now addicted to the power of telling people what to do on the dance floor.

Lastly, one of the most exciting features of a Permaculture convergence is the tour that inevitably follows. The APC10 post-convergence tour took us through dry savannah of Mareeba and back to the tropical paradise of the Atherton Tablelands. So many things I haven't seen before, eggplant trees, green ant highways and creative approaches to cracking coconuts (see below right).

My deepest gratitude goes to permaculture elders Rowe Morrow and Phil Gall for their graciousness and effusive generosity. It's always humbling to meet those for whom you have so much respect and for them to be willing and happy to give so much of their time. Further opportunities to rub elbows with heroes, Robina McCurdy and Robin Clayfield on the bus tour, sounds captured below.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

From the archives: make a chicken coop from farm junk

A couple of years ago I made my first foray into raising chicks. With a borrowed incubator we started incubating our first batch of eggs just before our chickens got broody themselves. After three weeks, we had eight chicks being raised by their mother hens (the country chicks) and seven chicks raised by us in a brooder (the city chicks). We set up a skype account and camera to keep an eye on the city chicks while we were working away from home.

They grew up quickly and it soon came time to relocate the city chicks to the chicken run outside, but we didn't expect the country chicks and their mothers to be too happy about sharing their coop. It was decided, then to let them get to know each other slowly across the chicken wire and construct a new coop in the 'forage zone', where I'd planted amaranth, oats, and some sunflowers and sorghum that had come up from a handful of chicken grain I'd scattered around. Having just come across the work of Patrick Dougherty, I decided to put my fibre craft skills to work and weave them a new coop out of whatever materials I could find on the farm. Finding some fencing mesh attached to galvanised posts on the scrap metal pile, I wired it into a semi-circular shape, weaving wisteria prunings in and out of the grids. The plan was to make a wattle and daub structure, an earth building technique in which a mixture of clay and straw is daubed onto a woven wooden lattice, called the wattle.

We mixed straw with mud dug out of the dam until it felt about the right consistency, roughly a 50/50 mix of mud and straw. Then a team made it into patties to be daubed onto the wall by builders.

Stick perches were put in place before the daubing began, and the clay and straw layer was slowly built up onto the wattle.

The big people help the small people work in tight corners

As some of the branches were thick, it was difficult to get a tight weave in the wattle, which resulted in troubles getting the daub to stick in places. As it dried, we kept an eye on any clay that dropped off and fixed up small gaps with more daub.

 After the clay had dried the coop was roofed with the lid of an old water tank, which sat on the top of the posts, allowing some cross ventilation at the top of the wall. This proved to be a much better coop than the corrugated iron coop the country chicks grew up in, staying cooler in the heat and providing a lot of choice in sticks for the chooks to perch upon. Two roosters lived in comparative harmony in their separate coops, sharing the same forage zone by day and retiring to their different coops by night. Contained in a fenced in enclosure, this open structure worked well. However, I'd love to build a fox-proof elevated chicken coop for our orchard like this one from the Planet Repair Institute.