This weekend we invited permaculture teacher Alessandro Ardovini (twitter: @O_Romano_) to spend the weekend working on the long term design for the site.
Firstly what we really need is a proper map of the site, with tracing paper layers for planned structures, water, paths, food production. I can imagine this map.. but really must get off the computer, pick up some coloured pens and actually draw it. As Alessandro rightly says.. the point of a map is that it is much easier to change something on the map than it is to change it in real life.
We started our site tour on the roof of the house and the importance of design became apparent when I realised that my vague ideas about the “greenness” of the roof don’t make sense. On any piece of ground you can either have plants growing in healthy soil OR have singing dancing workshops. You can’t have both. After a lengthy discussion between Alessandro, Esti, Bernat and myself, we agreed that the design (for now) will be plants in the corners and edges where the dancers don’t get to and a gravel (or woodchip?) area in the middle for shady morning yoga/singing/tea drinking sessions.
Dealing with water overflow from the storms is important, the torrent from an overflowing tank could be really damaging
Next we talked about water, ranging from general ideas to very specific plans for areas where Alessandro noticed heavy erosion. Water is always moving – it is trying to get to the sea. And when it gets there it carries on moving. So when thinking about digging swales and controlling the flow of water you need to think about where it can and can’t move, as well as the pressure build up in places you are trying to hold it.
Again we started on the roof, and as always for any step on the long long path to a permaculture paradise, all i could see was work. Some of the earth that we have shifted to re-bury the house after the build (the house is partly IN the hillside) will need to be moved again, to allow for quick drainage into the system we have constructed between the hillside and the wall. More earth needs to be moved to fill in the area around the sides of the house, and this will need to be shaped to bring water into the drain. The next experiment involves waiting for a storm to see how much water actually comes out of that drainage system. In theory it is all the runoff from the side of the hill, and the roof. It must be, because that water has to go somewhere…. but I can’t quite believe it yet!
“Slow, sink and spread” thats what we have to do with the water
The specific plans include planting Santolina, or simple the native Rosemary and Thyme in sections where the bare earth is being eroded. The roots of these plants are the key element to holding the soil together, and when there is a storm more water is absorbed if there is more ground covering of plants. And a permaculture project will always need swales! These are a key element of Permaculture Design and we designed one above the steps to the upper toilet, and two that can be built around the new bathroom. (we don’t want that falling off the side of the rock. or maybe we do.. sadly the toilet is out of use because of… yes, a design fault!)