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Permaculture Design Course

Back in early February I took two weeks off and spent that time at the Koanga Institute on a Permaculture Design Course.
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Back in early February I took two weeks off and spent that time at the Koanga Institute on a Permaculture Design Course. I was asked to share my experiences here on the Kings Seeds blog, so here goes....

Kotare Village
I'm a little at a loss of how to explain the experience, but will give it a try.  This was a big investment for our family, with both my husband and I are attending together.  We left the children, house, dog, cat, chickens and garden in Nana's care and headed away to the Koanga Institute.  Leaving the still-green Bay of Plenty made us realise how much the drought was affecting the North Island, with brown paddocks everywhere and all the rivers running extremely low. 
first day

The Koanga Institute is inland from Wairoa.  There were 24 of us attending the course - as well as other Kiwis, there were people who had come from Israel, Sweden, Canada, New York City, Germany, Switzerland and Australia.  We set up a little village of tents and began...

For those of you who haven't heard of permaculture, I would definitely encourage you to find out more about it. 
Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people — providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way. Permaculture design is a system of assembling conceptual, material, and strategic components in a pattern which functions to benefit life in all its forms. The philosophy behind permaculture is one of working with, rather than against, nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems in all their functions, rather than asking only one yield of them; and allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions. - See more at:
It's a big topic and I don't think I can do it justice in this blog post.  If you would like to know more, there are lots of resources online.  I'll try to give just a very quick overview.  

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is a broad design system which draws inspiration from the patterns observed in natural systems, to build sustainable human habitats.  The central concept of permaculture is make the most of the useful connections between components in a design, to maximise the final design's overall synergy.  The focus is not on each separate element, but on the relationships created when elements are placed together - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Permaculture design seeks to minimise waste, human labour and energy input.  Permaculture designs evolve over time by taking into account these relationships and elements and can become extremely complex systems that produce a high density of food and materials with minimal input.
Permaculture Principles

There are three core ethics underlying Permaculture:
  • Take care of the earth: Make provision for all life systems to continue and multiply.   A key point here is that earth care also means care for the soil - leave it in a better state than you found it. 
  • Take care of the people: Make provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence.
  • Share the surplus: Healthy natural systems use outputs from each element to nourish others. We humans can do the same. By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles.
"The philosophy behind permaculture is one of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems in all their functions, rather than asking only one yield of them; and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolution."
PDC Montage 2
Over the two weeks of the course, we covered a huge range of topics....just some of the things we looked at were soils, animal systems, trees, water, food forests, climate, economics and growing nutrient dense food.  At Koanga we were also lucky enough to get the chance to work in the Institute's gardens and just some of the pre-breakfast workshops covered composting, using a U-Bar, double digging, preparing fermented foods, pruning fruit trees, and an edible weeds walk. 

Though out the course, we had the chance to apply each teaching season to "real life" because we each had a design project, with a real site and real clients, to be completed by the end of the course.  We worked in groups and on the last day of the course we presented the completed designs to the others. 
Our Design Team

There is a wonderful article about one of the design projects here.    Not being a designer, I found the process challenging, but fascinating, and went home all fired up and ready to re-design the back garden so that it is as productive as the front garden!

We had one precious day off in the midst of all this learning, and after a strong recommendation from Kay Baxter, most of the team headed off the Morere Hot Pools for a soak in the (extremely hot!) salt water pools. 
Morere Hot Pools Montage

What a lovely place!  The pools are in the most beautiful bush, full of stands of huge Nikau palms.  Just gorgeous.
Mahia Cliffs

After soaking in the pools, the two of us decided on a drive out to the Mahia Peninsula.  The cliffs were incredible and there were lots of wild goats happily making themselves at home on the near-shear cliff faces. 

When we arrived in Mahia, we couldn't resist climbing to the top of the hill and admiring the view out across the ocean.  It was windy and glorious.  It was a great break from the course and an absolutely beautiful place to visit.
Permaculture Plan

Some of the designs produced on the course were amazing - designs were done for a large variety of sites/clients.  We had designs for a large hill block, quarter acre sections, community spaces, and a compact "urban conservatory growing space.  It was an inspiring course to attend and I loved every second of it. 
Sunset Cosmos Montage

Even though it was a bit like bringing coals to Newcastle, I brought home a small packet of seeds as a reminder .... Sunset Cosmos.  You can see them here growing in the Koanga seed gardens.  When I got home I sowed the seed straight away and the little plants have just been transplanted out into my garden. 
Thanks to Kay Baxter and Bob Corker, all the lovely people at Koanga, our tutor Dan Palmer and to all the other course participants (you know who you are!).  Thanks also to Gal, Dan and Kim who took some of these photos. 

If you ever get the chance to learn a bit more about permaculture, then go for it!  It's exciting and rewarding and the people are just lovely.....
our team
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Shirlene says ...
Wonderful has certainly given me inspiration to research this further and perhaps apply it to our backyard (I will hardly feed the nation but perhaps a few neighbours) Thankyou soooooooooooo much for sharing your experience and knowledge. Kind regards Shirlene
Carolyn, Kings Seeds says ...
Thank you so much, Shirlene! I hope you have a wonderful time learning more about permaculture.....thanks for taking the time to make a comment.
Tricia says ...
Enjoyed reading about your permaculture learning experience. I discovered Kays books in the local library and we have been transforming our 5 acres over the last 3 years based on the permaculture theory. If you are in or near Sth Auckland, the garden Earthtalk is a place of inspiration and beauty. Everything about permaculture makes sense for us now and our future families.

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