PDC Day 5

“If you go to the vegetable garden and your slippers get wet is that your vegetable garden is too far” – Alessandro Ardovini quoting someone

Today has been a hands-on experience day and the group enjoyed it!

The first part was about the world climatic biozones. We had a little introduction about the physical aspects of the differences between the biozones of the planet.

This introduction allowed us to understand that all of the plants, animals, soils and techniques were evolving and living together. It lead us to realize that before acting on a land we have to be conscious of all of these elements and research and use old or local technologies, materials and species in order to make sure we are minimizing the possible damages on the population or the environment. The interrelationship will be greater than expected.

We then had a introduction to different techniques on how to manage arid landscapes and wet tropics.

After this talks Rosemary and Alfred began to explain the zone method design. This method is a way to manage the energy, the nutrients and the permanence of the land  you are working on.


Zone 0 – home

The ethic in this zone is that the all structures should be environmental living zones, build to preserve nonrenewable resources, create zero waste, use few external inputs, las long, be beautiful and comfortable.


  • Admit and store suns energy when needed and remove and exclude it when not needed
  • Generate designs wich reflect simplicity, economy and resource recycling.
  • Design to related space and function
  • Design or retrofit your house yourself
  • Design and build houses which meet their own needs for renewable energy, food, waste, processing and that use only natural light during the day

Siting the house:

  • Climate: seek cooling in hot climates…
  • Topography: more than 18 degree should be forested (no house), hill can block winds and create thermal zone…
  • Water: springs, tanks, dams, rainwater…
  • Soil: drainage, suitability for building…
  • Access: erosion potential, water harverst potential, escape…
  • Vegetation: leave native vegetation, don’t cut without plan…


  • Sick houses: build tight, ventilate right
  • Vulnerable house: each function dependent on 1 source
  • Consumer junkies

Zone 1 – Kitchen Garden 

Its the place where you have to grow as much food as possible, it must be very intensive and productive, is where we recycle the wastes of Zone O. It has to be non polluting and reduce the foot miles and our foot print. The aims are for it to be permanent, annual, productive and recycling.

Is where we plant veggies, herbs, small fruit trees because is a place we visit often.

Criteria of garden:

  • provides 80% of our food
  • less than 50 m from house
  • SE or NE (east is the mild aspect)

After this very theoretical morning we split in groups of 5 and began to design propositions for Valldaura’s landscape. After realizing we were only beginners it was time to get our hands dirty. Rosemary lead us for the creation of a Permaculture Blitz design on one of the terraces that we hadn’t been using yet.


We did use the technique of Sheet Gardening which consists in creating a garden from scratch by covering completely its bare ground.
The steps were:

  • Edging: rocks, tiles
  • Wet the soil
  • Add dolomite on ground if contaminated
  • Add fresh organic matter
  • Lay wet cardboard (cut light out) on top of the organic matter
  • Design paths with sawdust (thick).
  • And then for the beds put  hay then compost and finally straw




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PDC Day 4

” The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness an benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products  of its life and activity; it offers protection to all beings”

- Buddhist Sutra

We started the day speaking about THE SUBJECT of Permaculture: PATTERNS. These are repeated shapes or forms that configure landscape. Our tasks as Permaculturalists to implant restorative patterns on degraded landscapes. The pattern IS the design, and design is the subject of permaculture.

In nature we can find different types of patterns:

  • Branching/dendritic: trees, rivers. Function is distribution up/down.
  • Circle: amongst the different shapes, for a same area the circle has the smallest edge, conserves energy, get more sun
  • Spirals: water, seeds, trees, ferns, storms.
  • Luneate: dunes (4 orders). In the wind-protected side, accumulation of nutrients.
  • Tessellation. Allows structures to move while are growing

After that we began to speak about our beloved friends: Plants. We split in groups and took a walk around the site and searched for five different plantspecies and then we tried to identify the patterns in them and also their function in the ecosystem.


Then we moved on to discuss the limiting factors on plant growth, the ethics of Permaculture concerning local varieties and different ways of propagation and reproduction.

After lunch we talked about trees and forest and the many factors that a forest can perform. Forests are complex systems that can buffer climate and have huge effects in the area around them. Forest area has been declining all over the world during the last years, and this loss is exacerbating the effects of climate change and supposes a severe threat for future generations. After this discussion we  all just wanted to go out in to the world and start to plant trees all over the place. If you want to feel inspired too, watch “The Man who planted trees

Then we discuss how to use trees to affect microclimates. One of the most common uses is to plant trees as windbreaks. Windbreaks can serve as suntraps, increase of decrease wind velocity, decrease evaporation up to 70%, control erosion and act as dust filters and nutrient traps.

To change the subject and activate our bodies and minds we went outside into a heap of sand to discuss the exercise that we did some days ago about key lines and key points using the sand as a 3-D model of the contours plan for us to experiment. While we where there, Rosemary also shared some advice on dam building.



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PDC Day 3

” Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads” 

Today we began the day talking about climate and microclimates. Climate is the patterns of the weather in a particular area across time, with our designs we want to minimize the climate extremes to reduce or avoid climatic disasters, especially in an age of climate change.

Climate change is generating changes in the precipitation patterns and distribution and also affecting plants’ photoperiod.

Climate affects our designs in three major elements:

- Wind: it shapes & prunes trees, is a source of energy, transports things…

- Precipitation: cleans, hydrates, shapes the landscape, retains energy, erodes, gives life…

- Radiation: controls the cycles in nature, sterilizes, causes evapotranspiration, heat…

In our lands we work with microclimates because it is not difficult to change and manage them. Microclimates have 5 elements that we can manage directly: vegetation, structures, water, soils and topography:

- Topography: aspect and slope. We can generate thermal zones, cold sink,  sun traps…

- Vegetation: forest moderate temperature and increases moisture…

- Structures: passive thermal design, bioclimatic houses…

- Soil types: warm dry, cold moist…

- Water: light reflection


After this two sessions we had lunch and a little time to relax. After that, Rosemary and Alfred taught us in a very dynamical way how to recognize a good and fertile soil.

We split into different groups to perform a soil test. We had to analyze the structure, texture, tilth (how the top soil is, good or bad), percolation (how quickly water soaks in), pH (are nutrients available to plants), humus (decomposed organic matter that becomes humic acid, which in turn can hold water and nutrients, and give them back to plants when they need it), peds (soil should have light ped structure), OM, porosity, salination.

Other way to analyze it is making use of the traditional soil classification:

  • colour: white to black
  • vegetation: what is growing
  • parent material: bedrock
  • smell: sour (sulfure dioxide), sweet or soapy (acid), calcium (hard)
  • soil life
  • how it manages water: does it drain within 24h
  • history: how was it, how did it change

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To work with soils there are three key points: use appropriate soil restoration strategies, have it covered always, and add more organic matter than what we remove.

If we understand the soil as a living organism we need to avoid certain practices that are common place in industrial agriculture. Like removal of surface vegetation (plowing), the application of chemical fertilizer, the accumulation of biocides, the salinization (white death) due to vegetation clearing and irrigation and inappropriate farming methods (monoculture, heavy machinery, draining wetlands)

To repair a degradet soil we need first of all bring water in to allow the life, there are different techniques to get it for example, landshapping (terraces, swales),  cover the soil, bringing back vegetation and improving soil qualities putting organic matter.




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PDC Day 2

“To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up on it”  Thomas Berry


Today we began talking about Design Methods and what to look for on a plot of land.

First we look for things that affect the property from the out side, for example the water, the sun, climate, wildlife, bureaucracy, pollution… and we draw the fluxes in to a map to understand the land. We also look at the land form and the aspects to see how the sun will shine on the slope.


Then we talk about the most important element in Permaculture: Observation. It is the most important because if you make a wrong observation you will do a wrong design.

After that we talked about zoning. In Permaculture we recognize 6 zones for the design, from 0 to 5. The zones are determined by how often you visit it.

You live in Zone 0, its your home.

You visit Zone 1 every day, this is where you will have your vegetable garden.

Zone 2 is an intensive cultivated orchard with small animals like chickens.

In Zone 3 you will have your commercial crops and large foraging animals like cows.

In Zone 4 you have a harvest forest for timber and other things.

Zone 5 will be dedicated to wild life, this zone is not cultivated.

To understand all of this and put it in the map we talked about topographical maps and we did some exercises how to read contour maps.


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After lunch we began a new topic that interested everybody, is so central in Permaculture designs and is vital to ValldauraLabs, WATER.

At the beginning of the afternoon we talked about strategies and how to maximize water retention in a landscape. This is important in drylands because the 70% of the fresh water that we use is dedicated to irrigation.

The average person in the city is 300l/day and the FAO estimates that 45l/day is adequate to satisfy our needs. So in cities we need to think how to reduce, reuse and clean the water to use the water in the best way possible.

We did calculations to find how many water we can use in relation to the rainfall, it was surprising that most of us used more water than our roofs collect.

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Later we talked about the eternal mantra of Permaculture: Slow, Spread, Sink and Store. All of these four are strategies to keep the water in your property. We can store the water in soil, in dams, rivers and aquifers and biomass, soil being the most important one.

Trying to store water in the soil without planting trees and plants is futile. We begin by planting the hill tops with the help of swales which are designed to slow the water flow. The second think that we need to do is replanting the rivers sides to prevent soil erosion and to store more water and biomass.

In hawaii they say ” If you cut the trees of the top of the mountain the goods will be angry” 


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First Day With Rosemary (PDC)

 ”What Permaculturalists are doing is the most important activity that any group is doing on the planet”

~Dr. David Suzuki ~


Today after two and a half month living and working in Valldaura the PDC with Rosemary Morrow and Alfred Decker has began.

We begin with a get to know each other game to create a good atmosphere and to get energized and motivated. Then we moved to the classroom where everything started.

First we reflected upon the environmental problems in the world and their causes and consequences. The exercise we were given was to thoroughly analyze the problems and the consequences of 6 issues, such as climate change, land degradation, globalization, population and consumption and separation from nature, genetic diversity.

Next up was tea break time where students got to know each other better and exchange some nice life stories.

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Back to class we got started by trying to define ecology and ecosystems and that’s what we found out: Ecology (from Greek: οἶκος, “house”; -λογία, “study of”) studies interrelations and interdependence between living and non living elements.

Ecosystems = Community of living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (things like air, water and mineral soil), interacting as an open system.  As permaculturists we learned that systems never work isolated and our job in the designing process is to take into account the interactions between them.

After doing an exercise to find 3 different ecosystems and define the structure and functions we realized that is just a matter of scale, and that pretty much everything can be an ecosystem. To our surprise humans are also an ecosystem and when we were trying to find out its functions Rosemary answered:  Humans are adolescents trying to learn what their proposes are. A duck knows its function when it’s born, so does a bee… her opinion is that humans are here to restore and take care of the ecosystems. 

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We got explained the way plants succeed to each other on a bare ground, and the fact that permaculture is interested into accelerating this process by skipping some steps by planting nitrogen fixing plants, and as we all come from different countries, we´ll all have to find out for each of our settings which plants suits best as nitrogen fixers where we live. Related to this topic we also talked about the relevance of increasing biodiversity and how the guild (combination of species that feed each other in the same crop) and stacking in time and space can help us.

After a the break we got introduced to the main ethics & principles through interactive activities which lead us to consider that Permaculture is more than just ecological agriculture, its also about taking care of the people.

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It has been a really interesting and exiting first day!



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