003: Permaculture as part of a personal evolution

A leucaena tree, I decided to chop down, nature decided to regrow!

A leucaena tree, I decided to chop down, nature decided to regrow!

It’s a leap to shift from thinking that there must be one right thing to do, one correct way to see a landscape, or best practice for developing a sustainable food system, to the discovery that there are many mutually beneficial things to do, many useful ways to see a landscape, and many developmental paths which can be taken toward sustainability.

For a long time I sat in the backyard and tried to reason what the next step should be, what the right thing to do must be. If ever something stood out as a foolproof action to take, I took such action with trepidation, as there always seemed more variables involved than I could possibly consider, and the thought that I might regret the steps I take now haunted me, as I’ve never enjoyed back-tracking or undoing what’s been done. It’s no surprise that in the two years since my last post, change in the backyard has been rather slow!

It’s dawned on me though that there need not be a single right action to take, if one can recognise the cloud of possibilities that all point toward improvement. Nature seems geared toward development, balance and maximum efficiency anyway, and it’s likely that it would do just fine without me. And so my efforts have settled to a gentle encouragement of what’s already working, what nature and I agree on, and less of the forceful experimentation I’ve been used to.

It seems there’s a spectrum between two extremes; at one end – nature left to her own devices (Masanobu Fukuoka’s ‘do-nothing’ farming), and at the other – commercial agriculture, where nature is exploited as much as possible, for maximum gain. Permaculture fits anywhere that a practice is sustainable, which I imagine would be closer to Fukuoka’s end of the spectrum. But any development of a landscape toward a regenerative food system, while in keeping with natural processes, is still a forceful process with human gain as the ultimate goal, and whether you’re growing salad greens in containers on a balcony, or casting seeds willy-nilly into a backyard jungle, you are always applying some force to a scenario that would play out quite differently if you weren’t there to influence it. In this compromise there will always be at least two perspectives to take into account – that which nature would do without you, and that which you would have nature do for you. Herein there can never be one ‘right’ thing to do, one ‘correct’ approach, but only guesswork – an intuition as to what might benefit both parties mutually.

So what I wait for now is not an intellectual lightbulb moment – a right thing to do – but an intuition that resonates; an idea that I love and which I feel invited to implement. Usually they are small motions, like scattering some legume seeds here and there, pruning a branch here and there, always with a view to increasing life and diversity, minimising effort and damage, so that the natural processes already occurring can continue uninhibited, and I can save my energy too. The result is a backyard that only half reflects my intention, and the rest is a magic show.

I still have a plan for how I’d like the backyard to be, with a tropical zone here, a citrus zone there, and a canopy to boot, but it’s all in pencil.

Developing the backyard has been as much an evolution of my own thinking, as it has an evolution of the soil and life emerging therein. I wonder what the next development will be…

2 comments on “003: Permaculture as part of a personal evolution

  1. Very nicely said Shaun! I thought it was time I caught up with you, it seems our intentions are very similar. The three surviving Leucaenas of those I got from you are showing very different growth rates:
    1: Little/no watering, hiding amoungst oregano/thyme: 6 inches of “I’m not dead yet!”
    2: Some drip retic, SE shade by a close wormwood, a healthy looking 8 inches;
    3: Same retic, no plants at all within a couple of feet, SE shade from a large Acacia Saligna, two feet of “Yippee!”
    I’m wondering if it is coincidence (very small sample!) or is it really happier without any neighbours. Can you add to the sample size with your experience?

    • Hi Alun, cheers for the update. I’ve also seen a range of growth rates for leucaena.

      Of the first I planted, in an in-ground wicking bed shaded initially by corn but otherwise exposed, all have survived, some less than 30cm apart, and have arched over a good portion of the backyard forming a canopy. I got quite excited about this and have decided to plant more and arch them in different directions until the whole backyard has a leucaena canopy.

      At the other end of the spectrum, I planted some at least a year ago in the almost complete shade of a camphor tree, with no watering, and they are still alive but little more than 5cm tall.

      There’s one I planted 6 months ago in a totally exposed position, which, despite daily watering, is also only 5cm tall. I have more hope for this one though.

      Another two i planted in a hot spot, protected from wind, each with its own trickler delivering a drizzle each day. These have been the most successful. These are planted amongst sweet potato.

      Also, under the leucaena in the backyard, lots of seedlings emerge from fallen seeds, mostly around the perimeter, but none seem to be really taking off.

      So it seems full sun, shelter from wind, and SOME watering is all that’s needed for successful growth. But even in such conditions, growth is slow for the first few months, after which they suddenly shoot up. Can’t say for sure whether being planted amongst other plants has an effect. I think yours are better placed to reveal that. Also don’t know how soil conditions affect growth. Mine are all in sand with minimal amendment, and lots of street tree mulch.

      Would love to hear how your perspective has evolved over the years., and what your latest plans are for your land!

      Good things

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