planting the seed for a permanent solution through permaculture

Submitted by MichaelE on Tue, 2010-06-08 10:36

learning the permaculture way with SEEDlearning the permaculture way with SEEDSeed embodies what permaculture is all about. The Seed permaculture courses teach you how to design and grow your garden in a way that mimics the diverse biological systems in nature. The garden works as a whole system, providing ecological sustainability, whilst at the same time meeting human needs. Looking at a permaculture garden you may be forgiven for thinking that this is organised chaos! Yet as in nature, there is method in madness.

Plants are planted in a manner that conserves space and allows them to benefit each other. Seeds Saturday courses teach you the principles behind permaculture and how to go about adding permaculture to your own garden. The courses take place at their headquarter's garden at the Rockland's Education Centre, in Mitchell's Plain. Now while the outcome of a permaculture garden may seem like a charming cottage garden, you cannot just bung any old veg and flowers together. You can think of plants as having personalities and some get on better with some plants than others.

Seed was given a new season by Leigh Brown in 2000, and the organisation mostly works with schools and children. Leigh believes that children need to be made environmentally aware at a very young age, before the age of six. These children are literally the seeds of the next generation.

Seed now works with 24 schools across the Cape Flats, in KwaZulu Natal at Nottingham Road, as well as in the Limpopo province. These food gardens based at schools also provide opportunities for members of the local community who have become unemployed to be doing something that will feed themselves and their families. This project has had a lot of research behind it, as to what exactly the communities need from such projects. There is a strong focus on long term support for the schools, and the projects are constantly evolving in communication with the communities.

The Saturday Courses are for individuals who want to learn about permaculture principles, so that they can implement them in their own gardens. Permaculture works on making the best use of all available space in a manner that applies ecological systems and principles. Permaculture is a holistic system that focuses on energy and building up the soil so that you garden in a way that is energy efficient. After being told some of the basics about what permaculture is our group of ten went out into the garden and the lesson continued out of doors, so that we could see the manner in which the garden was planted.

The garden is wild and chaotic and all the more interesting for it. Vegetables, herbs and indigenous plants cosy up to one another and flourish. The garden is laid out in different zones which contain different plant guilds. These are groups of plants that work together in symbiotic relationships. We explored the gardens and the uses of the different plants was explained by Wendy Crawford who facilitated the course. In an easy manner the uses of different plants and how they benefit each other was explained.

Questions are always welcomed and by listening to the conversations unfolding, I gleaned a lot of useful information. We mostly focused on companion plants and plants that help you improve your soil. Legumes are good for converting nitrogen into nitrates that your plants can use. Other planting advice was given for planting in the correct way – for instance peas and the allium family do not flourish when planted together. On the other hand many plants do grow well together - for instance marigolds improve tomatoes' performance as they repel the pests that wish to feed on your tomatoes.

This talk was so interesting that we wiled away the morning till lunch time. Lunch, which is provided, was a wonderful vegetable stew, with great bread and dips. Then it was time to get our hands dirty. We did some planting, to see some of the principles of permaculture planting in action.

After removing some spent spinach and broccoli, it was decided that we should plant some peas to help convert some nitrogen in that bed. On the other side of the bed we put in some celery and transplanted some spring onions, as peas and onions do not make good bedfellows. And so we moved on through the afternoon, planting and asking questions as they occurred to us. Wendy was a mine of useful information, and there was much more information to be gleaned, however it was time to head for home, and the end of a beautiful Saturday.

Permaculture is a vast self sustaining system which I cannot do justice in one article, so more to follow in later articles. However it is far better to experience permaculture first hand so why not sign up for one of seed's courses by contacting admin@seed.org.za. The courses cost R 450 for the day including lunch and course notes.