Tag Archives: No Dig

News from Busso…

Today brings welcome news from Italy. The very nature of our journey means that we are connecting with, working with and then inevitably parting way with friends, couch surf hosts and wwoof hosts along the way. We wonder often how the projects are going that we leave behind. We can of course receive the odd update via email but its just not the same as seeing with our own eyes. Some of our permaculture blitz ideas were met with caution by our hosts, seen as “crazy” gardening or “cocktail” gardens. “Let’s see” was a common used phrase when a new experiment had been planted out.

Luckily Giovanni was very open to the idea of a new synergistic garden, less work, less water, less disease, no chemicals, no digging, more food were all promised once the initial set up was complete. You can read the original blog post here.

The pictures above show the set up process followed by the photographs below, just received from Giovanni, taken only last night, with the comments that it hasn’t even rained since we left – looks like that thick layer of moisture holding mulch is doing the trick…

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Mapping in Molise

Whilst in Rome, and aside from our memorable time exploring the city, a few other significant things happened.  I finished writing up the design for my fourth diploma project, I received a copy of Aranya’s new book – Permaculture Design and Nina and I got an invite from our host Angiola to spend some time at her place in the country.  She has a 12 hectare property that has until recently been managed by a caretaker.  It’s been owned by the family for over 100 years but sadly they are now selling it off, piece by piece, as the running costs and upkeep outweigh any income generated by it.

The idea of inviting us to stay is to provide some suggestions as to how Angiola and her siblings might use the land in the future with the focus being on how it might self sustain itself.  So whilst on the lookout for my next diploma project and equipped with my new book we left Rome on the bus for some time in the country.

One of the skills outlined in my learning pathway as needing improvement is mapping.  Aranya’s book is more of a technical guide to design than a permaculture overview so I decided I would systematically try the techniques suggested starting with surveying and assessing.  It’s helpful to try new theories and explanations and the more I try the closer I come to finding my own preferred combination.

As with any new permaculture design the first task is to observe.  Just to observe. To gather as much information together using all of our available senses.  Nina and I spent our first days walking the property and making notes of any observations.  We used two new tools taken straight from the book to make sure most areas are covered.  PASTE – Plants, Animals, Structures, Tools and Events. We Made note of these in relation to how often they appeared using another model, this time DAFOR – Dominant, Abundant, Frequent, Occasional and Rare. It was a great way to record a lot of information in a very visual and easy to understand way.

I’m enjoying drawing and colouring at the moment – it must be too long in my life since I really got involved in some arty hands on work.  The maps were the next task and one that I loved.  Using the rough field map created, some photocopies and a window I complied a base map of the whole site plus an enlargement of the built up area, a sector analysis for both areas to show energies that flow through the property and a zone map to show the current zones as they are used.  These maps provide me with an excellent visual representation of the property but there is more to every design than meets the eye.

Through more observation, some investigation and by interviewing Angiola herself I completed the next stage of the design cycle – understanding the boundaries.  These can be seen as physical constraints but also invisible limitations.  Some very interesting points were discovered including a no dig limit due to archeological findings and the fact that there was no budget.  None.

This brings us on to the final part of surveying a new project – the resources. Here we looked at every kind of available resource.  If there is no money available then what do we have by means of natural resources or knowledge for example?  These are often resources that a client will overlook but things that could prove invaluable to the overall design.

Before we continue with the design process we met with Angiola to discuss our findings so far and to make sure that our thoughts along with her ideas were on the same track.  At this stage we assess all of our information before we start with any actual design work.  It became clear that one of the focuses of this project was that of the financial aspect more than what they should grow.  Without full transparency of the income and outgoings it is very difficult to create a full design and so at this stage we have agreed to produce a video with some ideas of land use for Angiola to present to a meeting in September rather than a full permaculture design.

We have had a great two weeks here and learnt a great deal from observing the land and how Angiola and her family regard this asset.  Who knows, perhaps the opportunity for a full design project will come but for now it’s just at the ideas stage.

We did spend spent days at the local village, Montagano, to get supplies and have the odd coffee or glass or beer, we spent days in the garden helping Michael Angelo and Maria Pia plant the famous local tomatoes, we did an 18km walk to Limosano village which had a spooky abandoned feel, we made elderflower cordial to share and feel very grateful for the opportunity to stay for free in the Italian countryside and practice some permaculture surveying techniques.

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Synergistic Gardens at La Fattoria dell’Autosufficienza

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I have just finished a week volunteering with Elena in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.  Our main focus was in the vegetable gardens.  Elena follows Emilia Hazelip’s methods adapted to a temperate climate from Masanobu Fukuoka’s natural farming techniques.  A term referred to as Synergistic Gardening which is a fancy way of saying self fertilising garden.  The main focus is building soil fertility.  Here are the main principles;

  • Permanent raised beds with the ability to reach the whole bed without stepping on it.  Keyholes are best use of space but if you have room strips are easy to work with
  • No bare soil – permanent soil cover using organic mulch like straw or sheep’s wool.  I believe a living mulch could work really well too.  Adding even more life to the beds.
  • No monoculture – massive diversity in plants for all the obvious reasons; Resilience, beneficial insects etc.  There is no particular planting patterns it seems.
  • No chemicals! (pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones)
  • No tilling – yes that means no digging (apart from the original prep)!
  • No added compost (with the possible exception of demanding transplants)
  • No treating plants (i.e. for insects, illness, etc).
  • No pulling out plants (except for root vegetables)

It actually seems like a lot of rules but it’s pretty simple once the beds are set up – keep it covered, mix things up when sowing and interfere with the garden as little as possible.  If you want to remove the odd weed then cut it at the base letting the roots stay.

Helping Elena made me realise that keeping annuals can actually be very easy.  I helped her do her yearly irrigation system check, her yearly weed (by chopping at the base of the stem), yes once a year, and the rest of the time we were scattering seeds.  She likes to observe what does well in what situation rather then referring to a companion planting book.

There are a few logical sowing methods that I observed like salad plants taking up most of the edges for ease of regular picking and some larger rooted plants in the higher positions with more soil below.

Whilst walking around the gardens I thought to myself that one packet of seeds is roughly equivalent in cost to one vegetable, like a fennel or a pumpkin or something similar.  So compared with the effort that we put into annual gardening we may as well just scatter seeds and hope for the best.  If two come good then we have saved ourselves the cost of one vegetable and for the very very least effort spent.  Even less if we are saving our own seed!

Thank you for having me for a week and good luck with the continuing success of your experiments at La Fattoria dell’Autosufficienza