Permaculture Earthworks Workshop, July 13, 14, 2013 Instructor: Douglas Barnes firstname.lastname@example.org 613-478-2949 Cost: $200 Tickets at Eventbrite, or contact Douglas. This class aims to give students a practical understanding of the water-harvesting earthworks techniques used in permaculture. A theoretical section will be taught in which a variety of approaches will be introduced, including dams, swales, ripping, and more. This section will also cover site assessment and design. Students will have practical hands-on time for site measurement, design, layout and implementation. The topics covered in this course will allow students to assess and design their own sites. Course books for the theoretical section will be provided to ensure all students have a copy of the material for future reference. The theoretical section will be taught using lectures some topics with student-directed deductive reasoning used wherever possible. July 13 Day one will cover design theory. Students will also learn how to measure the site and map it for design purposes in a hands-on environment. Time will be devoted to design work with student design teams creating their own plans for the workshop's site. July 14 Day two will focus on site layout and implementation. Swales will be cut into the site with a dozer. A subsoiler will also be used for patterned ripping of the soil. As part of the hands-on component, the swales will be groomed and level-sill spillways cut into the swales. The use of various levels will also be demonstrated, with students having an opportunity to use them in practice. Equipment needed Students should bring a notebook, pens, pencils, a shovel (if possible), work gloves, boots, and rain gear. Sunscreen is also recommended as we will spend prolonged periods outdoors. Meals and accommodations will not be provided during the course. Contact Douglas for a list of area accommodations. Please note that to provide the best learning environment, we are limiting ticket sales to 20 tickets.
The following is a write-up of my February 1 presentation at the Guelph Organic Conference. Many thanks to the event organizers and staff, my fellow panellists, and most importantly to the wonderful, engaging audience.
by Douglas Barnes
We are fortunate to live
in a climate that is relatively abundant in water. The disastrous drought of
2012, however, shows us that we can no longer afford to take water for granted.
Globally, nearly half of all land is arid, with a further 25% threatened with
desertification. That's the bad news.
I'm here to tell you the good news. I’m here to tell you about how, with a
fraction of the time and energy we have spent degrading our environment, we can
foster life and increase biodiversity. And we can do it profitably.
Let me jump right into the "how." The "how" is based on a
few design strategies. One of those strategies is to hold onto the resources we
have on site as long possible. In the case of water, we hold onto it in two
ways. One is to put it through as many duties as possible before it is lost to
us. The approach we are focusing on today, however, is to capture the water
arriving on site, and take it over the longest, and slowest path practical.
Putting this approach into practice means starting at the highest elevation on
a site and working downhill with the techniques I am about to highlight.
To hold water at the top of a site, we typically forest hilltops and ridges,
along with steep slopes. Forests are very effective at capturing water with
minimal runoff. They also have the added benefits of preventing erosion, and
adding fertility to the top of a site where it can naturally flow downward.
This is a strategy hit on by the Japanese in a traditional mountain region
farming system they call Satoyama. Admittedly, this is not a form of
earthworks, but it is so integral to water harvesting design that I would be
remiss not to mention it.
Water harvesting earthworks have the goal of intercepting runoff water, and
storing it. The simplest of the interception techniques involves patterned ripping of the soil with a subsoil plow, given the right soil conditions. With
the plow, we cut narrow furrows into the ground just slightly off contour to
capture runoff and gently direct it from wetter areas to drier ones.
Originating in Australia, this technique has proven very effective there.
Another common interception technique is the swale, which is a water harvesting
ditch dug level on contour. It stops water flowing downhill, allowing it to
sink into the ground.
This is a good point to address an argument that too often comes up around
water harvesting. Sometimes you will hear a claim from downhill people that you
are "stealing their water." Nothing could be further from the truth.
They might see a temporary reduction in runoff onto their land as you hold onto
more of your water, but, as you recharge the water table, the medium and long
term effect will be to increase the local ground water. In many cases,
ephemeral streams will start to have a more regular or even constant flow.
Both of these interception and infiltration techniques are inexpensive and cost
effective to install.
Swales are also used in conjunction with earthen dams and ponds. The dams we
are talking about are small reservoirs sealed with clay, not concrete
structures. Both ponds and dams provide water for irrigation. They can also be
put to productive use through aquaculture. While our climate does not support a
very large variety of productive aquatic crops, warmer climates can produce
prodigious quantities of edible and palatable plants. And even in our climate,
water has a better feed conversion rate than terrestrial livestock. For
instance, it generally takes 870 grams of feed to produce 100 grams of beef, or
190 g of feed to produce 100 g of chicken. The feed conversion rate for fish,
however, is typically 120 g of feed to 100 g of fish.
Aquatic systems are also excellent producers of soil. Their periodic need for
dredging yields a very valuable product that adds to site fertility.
In semi-arid and arid conditions, we sometimes employ a land imprinter -
essentially a large, patterned drum which can break through desert hard pan and
leave divots in the earth. Here debris, including seeds, will collect and
moisture will concentrate during rains. This simple approach has proven effective
in re-establishing grasslands.
Dug pits can work similarly to establish drought-hardy trees in semi arid
This has been a very rapid summary to give you a taste of some of the
techniques we use. I'd like to leave you with a brief case study of the most
dramatic work I have been involved in.
In 2009, I received an invitation to carry out a joint project with a local NGOin Andhra Pradesh, India. This region had traditionally had a dry tropical
climate. In recent decades, however, it has grown increasingly arid at an
When I finally arrived, I found the situation on the ground to be quite bleak.
The vegetation is starting to give way to cacti and other desert xerophytes.
The local village I worked in now has to draw water from a well over 1000 feet
deep, the water from which is tainted with excessive amounts of naturally
Before leaving, I'd had it in mind to employ a number of techniques, including
ripping the ground with a subsoiler, and building a dam. The soil conditions
only lent themselves to swales, however.
I was given carte blanche over 7acres of arid hillside that a local mango
farmer considered a write-off for everything except a seasonal crop of pigeon
After crunching some formulas, we laid out contour lines on three levels, then
excavated over 400 metres of swales, capable of holding over 1 million litres
of water. Our host farmer was initially
dismayed to see us chewing his land up, but started to get the gist of what we
were doing. The night before we were to complete the project, a pre-monsoon
storm hit, so when the rains hit, he took off on his motorbike, and headed to
the site. He was delighted to see that all the water that would have washed
down the hillside, and eventually out to sea, was now stored in the ground.
Before I left, I made what I thought was a bold prediction. I said that within
3 years time, there would be springs appearing at the bottom of the hill during
the monsoon season. It turns out that my predictions were very conservative.
Six months after I left, I received a photo update of the site. In it, I saw
that they had established mango seedlings, and they had managed to do it
without drip irrigation - something very unusual even on flat sites in the
Tamarind trees on the opposite side of the valley had a very anemic crop,
whereas a tamarind tree adjacent to the swales produced an unusually bountiful
I'd made my bold predictions of springs appearing within 3 years. At the bottom
of the site there had been a well with water 3 metres down while I was there. Now
six months later, the well was full. Water is no longer an issue on the site.
And what had been a meager pigeon pea field is now a lucrative mango
The results were beyond my most optimistic expectations, and the cost of the
immediate project was just $650 Canadian. This is really a prime example of how
the cost, effort and time it takes to repair a site is far less than that
required to destroy it in the first place. As soon as we pattern our actions in
harmony with nature, the payoff is immediate.
These techniques have proven effective everywhere from arid desert to tropical
rainforest. They help to rejuvenate drylands, and buffer against drought. We
can expect increasingly erratic weather in our future, including severe
drought. These water harvesting approaches can help us through the rough times
to come, and they can replenish our water tables during the good years.
Thanks to a student of mine, Tom Marcantonio, I gained an appreciation of this common temperate North American tree. Tom had learned of the use of its inner bark for cordage, and was using stakes, and cordage made from the tree to support his plants.
Tilia americana, also known as Basswood, and American Linden, is hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8, making it a common feature on the landscape. It does well on deep, well-drained soils, but it can handle dry or heavy soils. Left alone, it could grow to 21 meters (70 feet).
Its a useful winter browse for deer, and its buds are food for birds. The summer fruits are eaten by birds, squirrels, and mice. Older trees tend to rot out in the center, leaving habitat for animals. Its nectar makes it a good bee fodder. However, it does have the tendency to attract pests; among these are borers, aphids, leafminers, scale, and Japanese beetles. As we say, however, the problem is the solution. This tendency might make it a useful tool in a push-pull integrated pest management regime. If anyone has tried this, please let us know how it went.
The soft wood does not splinter easily, making it a good wood for carving. Its ability to coppice makes it all the more appealing. To make cord, soak branches, then peel off the bark. The inner bark is the part then made into cord.
The sap has traditionally been boiled to make syrup, or taken as a drink. Young leaves can be cooked and eaten as well. The nuts and flowers can be ground into a paste that is said to have a chocolate taste. I’d love to test the truth of this claim. The flowers can be put in salads, or brewed into a tea. I have seen one recommendation cautioning moderation in drinking the flower tea as it could cause heart damage. I think this warning stems from the β-Sitosterol it contains. For this reason, it is probably best for pregnant women to avoid altogether. The flowers do have a whole host of interesting chemicals in them, including but not limited to bioquercitrin, which helps regulates cell growth. Recent research suggests that T. americana can be used as an anti-anxiety treatment.
There are a few places I could use this tree on my site as part of a shelter belt. Though I have seen no mention of its use as a fodder tree, I would imagine it could be used as such. I suspect it would work well in a silvopasture setup. Its many fine properties make it an appealing candidate that I am sure to utilize.
Date: Saturday, November 3, from 1-3:30pm Rain date: Sunday, Nov. 4th, from 1-3:30pm Location: meet at Just Food Ottawa’s office, 2389 Pepin Court, Ottawa, ON, (in Blackburn Hamlet) Suggested donation: $10-30 (no-one turned away for lack of funds). Any extra money raised will go towards Permaculture Ottawa’s Community Urban Food Forest project. Transportation: OC Transpo bus#94 Millenium, some ride-sharing will be available.
Join us for a hands-on workshop that will introduce you to the basic site mapping skills used in permaculture design. Participants will learn how to measure and map a site’s features, including elevation. The workshop will be led by Douglas Barnes, an experienced permaculturist who is the president of EcoEdge Design Ltd. Douglas studied with permaculture founder Bill Mollison, and has worked on projects in Canada, Japan, India, and Australia.
This workshop will take place outdoors, so participants should take the weather into account and dress appropriately. Participants please bring your own paper, pens or pencils- and if you have one, a 100′ tape measure will come in handy! The workshop organizers will provide a set of workshop notes for the students, a surveyor’s level, A-frame level, bunyip level, farmer’s level, GPS, twine, stakes, a measuring wheel, and two 100′ tape measures.
* Limited space available- to reserve a spot email