HeenanDoherty Charter

“...HeenanDoherty's Charter is to provide the potential for people to be informed about the regenerative economy, whether it involves their work in agriculture, land management, corporate life, domestic services, manufacturing or other activities that are within the domain of humans…”

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Off the Contour #12 - 'Challenge of capability, community & caring: Aphorisms & a grandson's journey towards a permanent culture'

This is a speech Darren J. Doherty given to the ‘2º Encuentro Internacional Amigos de los Árboles - 'Más Árboles ante el Cambio Climático' - Institución Cultural El Brocense, Cáceres, Extremadura, España (www.masaboles.org)’ 4, 5 & 6 June, 2010

I wanted to introduce to you to the guiding principles of my life and how this allowed me, as a fatherless boy and 'failed’ student to become a highly capable, caring and community-minded citizen of the world. These principles were provided to me by my maternal grandfather, who became an emboldening father figure following my father's death as a conscripted soldier in the Viet Nam, or rather American War when I was 4 months old. From that point when my mother's milk stopped, Grandad stepped into the breach with his first grandchild (and his 'ninth' child) on our small family farm that was his father’s, and his father's before that….I was the end of the line on that land.

Interspersed within this will be a range of slides and examples of how we have applied these principals to our work on over 1300 projects in 36 countries between 1ha to 1 000 000 ha.

Our farmhouse faced the forest across the road and it was a farm out of Cato's blueprint some 2 millennia before: capable, small enough for a community, large enough to care for a family and those that followed, until that is, when modernity caught up. As per Cato in his “De Agricultura”, there was enough selectively harvested forested land to build anything of wood and warm us, enough orchard trees to give us fruit thoughout the year, enough rainwater for our crops, livestock & ourselves, enough storage amenities to 'put sunshine in a bottle', it was small enough to have plenty of neighbours & suitors, and close enough to a town such that we could get there by bicycle in less that 30 minutes.

From the farmhouse verandah we used to sit in the afternoon, after working in the morning and I would listen to the saged wisdom of the generations before and his own life up to that point. We would sit and Grandad would share things with me he didn't share with his own son's as if to make up for the opportunities lost, opportunities not taken that in the end cost our farm.

I would have been maybe 7 or 8 when Trotsky first came up: 'I am to the left of Trotsky'! he declared repeatedly, without actually explaining what that actually meant right there and then. What it did mean for us was that there are societal inequalities and poor distribution of resources. For me now it translates to our need to have a primary client in Gaia and in work that means building topsoil at every opportunity, for it is this stuff of humus that is the antithesis of hubris, and where you have humus we have equality….of course it is now somewhat fashionable, or a badge of honour to have a socialist or communist heritage, but back then its was extraordinarily polarising and often dangerous. Back in the day however, it was not uncommon for farmers to be socialists, and in an eternal frontier of little population and plenty of land such as in Australia communism wasn't necessary, at least in the rural and regional areas: it was for the industrial workers and the intellectual elites. But now 'to be green you have to be in the black'!

Of course the free-marketeers view the best means of 'correcting' climate change as being via market mechanisms that commodify ecosystem services such that the transfer of financial capital as the only means of creating the change, with of course a return on investment that is wholly financial, notwithstanding the indenturing of those at the action end of the equation. Would be great if we just paid farmers more directly so that they could afford to build soil and regenerate their landscapes with nutrient dense food, clean water, clean air, increasing bio-diversity and vibrant family-based communities being the externalities of such an endeavour.

Then came 'To Profit is to Steal'….I was too young to know profit and my family was about having enough and sharing what we had. Every few weeks, in the twilight, my uncles and aunts & cousins would come 'Home' and we'd kill a pig, sheep or steer and we'd all have a job to do, be it skin a leg, 'punch out the hide', wheel away the guts, or swipe away the flies with some brush till the sun went down. We all knew our job and no one needed to ask, the succession from fly swatting to knife wielding was seamless and went with a nod, your next apprenticeship having to begin as you mastered the last. The animals all had a quiet enjoyable life, stayed with their young, living off of the sun, air and water that hit our land and had a day by themselves that was right to that moment a quiet surplus not stolen but returned. The family never bought nor over consumed meat: it was valued and chewed properly.

Funny, there is a Basque saying that 'the best times in life are 1st year of marriage and the week you kill the pig'; we killed the 'pig' every couple of weeks and so our lives were rich with the sharing of our 'home'.

Next came 'Humans are just like yeast: they eat all of the sugar and die in their own shit!'. We always made beer from our barley and mead from our honey, plus a 'quiet' still in the shed to keep us invigorated via the more advanced chemistry and the promise of the result. Now we have reached so many peaks: water, phosphorus, oil, life quality, people, that we need to find a new sugar: just like we find in well managed perennial grasslands that are driven by the sun and furnished by the fungi and soil life and minerals, nurtured by the migratory timeliness of management of dense herds ad infinitum: no such thing as peak topsoil! Or so titled by our esteemed President Patron (Vandana Shiva), 'Soil not Oil'!

'You need rural skills to survive when the shit hits the fan' seemed more about hard labour at the time but labour spent in the company of cousins: the first best choice of friends as a child. We were put to task on an array of jobs that when I look around now so few have the skills to do and we need to take classes to learn from ever fewer who possess them. That's ok as we have to 'know what we don't know' but the divisions of labour are the greatest outcome of agriculture, where the unequal toil and risk of others nourishes the rest with now around 0.8 of a hectare of agricultural land for each of us: Peak Land! We need to bring back the land lost and we need to re-skill to do it, 'starting at the back door', even if its just a lettuce: if that's too hard try Arugula: its tastier and a weed! This reminds me of a saying that, '…stop growing things that want to die, and killing things that want to live!

'Listen carefully': I still have a problem with this though my wife in particular has been extremely helpful there with changing one thing I did learn from Grandad that wasn't so good: chauvinism…'Am I your mother?' she would say as I blindly would lurch around the house walking over clothes or not seeing dishes that needed to be washed etc etc…We need to breach the perpetuation of this inequality such that we negotiate our lives as adults and not continue our childhood as such. True quality leadership comes as much from listening as it does action. Our late great teacher Masanobu Fukuoka mentioned '…that we need to apply thoughtful and protracted observation, not thoughtless and hasty action…'

Family first: the quality of life statement is one that we need to invest highly in. We have negotiated a whole range of outcomes such that we have a family holistic goal that entrenches our quality of life, forms of production and future resource base:..It is: '…to maintain creative & intergenerational family lives built around regenerative & profitable production, management & educational systems...’ We are heavily influenced by the loss of our land such that we are taking steps so that our forebears will not suffer the same fate. Not all have the capacity to own land though in so many ways it is a powerful step, whether collectively or within a family. Certainly a family community or community of families with a strong intergenerational and localised focus present one of the greatest opportunities to us regaining the ground lost, literally…Personally, we will place our family resources in trust such that debt is a burden no more and limits to growth are always in place. Every family relies on its elders and in our case we need to set this up once and for all. Tough, fair and regenerative love!

As for our family what that meant for the 'greater human family' there was always a bed, a feed, a lift up, a shirt and a wash, and a kick if you ever languished on your laurels and pull your weight for the original team sport.

I wish I could have manifested that difficult principle of Grandad's: 'To pay off then have'. He made me do this when we bought his old truck, and I still have it. Wish I could have done this when I bought our land and our house. Though now that loan until death, the 'mort' gage in our case will not be that: though we are still vulnerable to the whims of modelled economies, the artificial economies propped up by concentrated fossil sunlight, far from the economy of the forest, of the prairie, regenerative economies where deposits are always greater than credits.

Our farmhouse bore 22 children from my great grandmother and 8 from my grandmother and there was only one bathroom and it was outside so you had short washes, especially in winter. The waste water ran through a mint field that sauced our roast lamb. We live in a world of limits and the home is one place where the limits are running wild, especially in Australia and the US where the frontier of wide geography provide a bathroom and room for every child and the family table is a chair in front of a TV. Our fee from this endeavour is building some 10m2 cottages: cottages of no debt, but rather the donations of you good people and that of our sponsors. We are building a small dam, fed via runoff draining off the new accesses we will also build: this you are also paying for as are our students who are coming to be part of the 'great reskilling' to enable the 'great retrofit'.

'Why buy what you can make yourself' is an expression of 'Necessity is the mother of invention'…I use to, and still do love the culture of the various farm sheds: the way they were hewn from recycled materials, framed using coppiced saplings and places where innovation ran riot out of the daily need to be so. This is part of the great problem with agriculture now, especially in the 'brain drain', where agriculture is dummed down and so simplified that it holds no invigoration and therefore encouragement for young people to resist the cafe, playstation and plasma culture. Bill Mollison said that '…the purpose of cities is to keep people out of the country' and this is now very true with more people in the world now living in urban systems than in rural. Less having to produce more on less, less and less.

'The Rules of Labour' are many and range from those of solidarity amongst comrades to facing the cart in the direction of next movement. The efficiency of our system designs on our farms and of our students are entrenched with these principles. The physical rules of labour are there to often use physics, chemistry and biology to animate solid state scenarios of regenerative on-going management, driven by knowledge and observation, not by a succession of vulnerability and 'type one errors'. I learnt early that 'gravity is free' via the rainwater harvesting system on our farm that caught the rains when they fell and then used gravity to irrigate both us and our land. We only took what we needed to grow our European & Meso American crops and stock, and left the rest to run to the next, never damming past the valley to the creek.

When we were told 'to do the hardest job first' that meant digging the deepest hole first, or starting at the furthest point first and working our way back. For us now that means working on ourselves, within our families and communities such that we are like the soil: the more there is the more production there is above it. The power of choosing what we put in our mouths, where we defecate and how we deal with that, and how we distribute our harvests and surpluses are the most powerful choices the everyday human can make. To borrow from Kwan Tzu 'when planning for a year sow corn, when planning for a decade plant trees, when planning for a lifetime train and educate people'….code for do the hard yards, create you knowledge base of demonstrated capability and capacity and then share this with those around you…as opposed to 'those that can't do teach!' Become strategic, methodically question decisions to fix weak links, consider society, get the biggest bang for your buck, work on the causes not the effects. If we want to reverse climate change then we all have to build topsoil at every opportunity. Rapidly building and growing topsoil is the answer to almost every problem that we have: to do this is actually very easy: the hardest thing to change is us and we need to grow up fast and become adult about this as opposed to being like children in the candy store.

My Nana cooked over the same slow combustion stove for nearly 60 years and had a soup on that stove that was of a similar vintage. It never varied, though with the seasons came the nuances of flavours of whatever that season bore. It started every meal and was topped up by whatever didn't go to the chickens, the compost or the pigs. I loved pleasing my nana with a porch of well split wood with my only reward being a neat job, knowledge of the axe and a kiss on the forehead. How old is your soup? Where did it come from? Are you in one place long enough to have a soup that goes on for more than a day, let alone a week, a month or a year: how about 60 years. The fact is that this soup, just like the flames that kept it warm, was my great grandmother's and her mother's before that….a 153 year old soup until the flames went out and the farm was lost to the poor principles of a few for whom such matters are the stuff of nostalgia, rather than the height of regenerative culture. That is perhaps the stuff of no principled pedagogy and a world order that rolls over so many of us. To relocalise our economies has to start at home and within each and every one of us and again the choices we make of what we consume and where that then goes.

Our other time for the passage of principles was when we made soap. We made soap from the saved fat of our livestock and caustic soda. We made so much soap over the years that some 20 years later we still have enough for another 10 years: so I guess you could say we have now reached 'peak soap'! Its a process of patient work and timing: though one morning's work is enough for a whole year and remember we killed an animal every few weeks! It funny the memory of smell: you all must remember a smell - such a gift that we can do that! My favourite smell memory is of as a child sitting in front of the open fire in my nana's arms smelling that soap on her and her clothes. The warmth of her loving embrace whilst viewing the original TV: the fire. I'm there right now.

We are here as friend's of the trees and yet how is it that our economies are not like that of the forest, where all of these principles are found and more that we don't even no about! We are creatures of our stories and now our stories are passed not by us but by the avalanche of unbridled and overwhelming multimedia. Out of this can only come an idiocracy of incapacity, incapability and uncaring apathy. Perhaps this is part of the conspiracy that so many speak of? For me that's humans not taking the choices that lie before them and allowing the disconnection to continue. Not growing up!

What our family ultimately lacked was a rounded pedagogy, in the time and place in a child's eye it all worked great, but then I didn't understand the greater world picture and how the choices of adults are so powerful on their effects on those still yet to come.

Now however we have put this out there, so there is no secret: with our knowledge of Permaculture & Holistic Management in particular, 'Home' would still be ours….a new 'Home' is there for us to have where the threat for our own is no longer open. Our earth is our home and this too is under threat: my challenge to you all to increase and express at every opportunity your regenerative capacity, capability and caring so you too can pass on the principles of success to those around who listen, are listened to and most of all look up to you because of the integrity of your words and residues of your actions.

Please celebrate, understand and encourage photosynthesis: its our greatest hope of all! Now we have a new story and I would like us all to take part.

Off the Contour #11 - Permaculture & Ecological Design Principles


By definition Permaculture is an inclusive design system that involves the integration of a whole host of disciplines in the pursuit of its follower's objectives. The current sets of Permaculture design principles have been composed as a result of retrospectivity (Holmgren's) or by incremental discussion, original thought and extra-disciplinary harvesting (Mollison's). Beyond the work of these two Permaculture co-originators there has been few contributions to the development of more Permaculture principles however outside of the field of Permaculture itself others have provided a number of lists that I believe will prove informative and expand the realm of thinking outside of the Permaculture movement per se. As systems mature, and Permaculture is getting that way, they sometimes stop being quite as expansive in their capture/integration of concepts (or information, genetics etc.) as they could be and so this is an attempt to keep the doors open.

Bill Mollison, Permaculture: A Designers' Manual (1988) & Introduction to Permaculture (1991)

• Relative location
• Each element performs multiple functions
• Each function is supported by many elements
• Energy efficient planning
• Using biological resources
• Energy cycling
• Small-scale intensive systems
• Natural plant succession and stacking
• Polyculture and diversity of species
• Increasing "edge" within a system
• Observe and replicate natural patterns
• Pay attention to scale
• Attitude

David Holmgren, Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability (2002)

• Observe and Interact
• Catch and Store Energy
• Obtain a Yield
• Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback
• Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
• Produce No Waste
• Design from Patterns to Details
• Integrate Rather than Segregate
• Use Small and Slow Solutions
• Use and Value Diversity
• Use Edges and Value the Marginal
• Creatively Use and Respond to Change

Sim Van Der Ryn & Stuart Cowan, Ecological Design (1996)

1. Solutions grow from place

"Ecological design begins with the intimate knowledge of a particular place."

2. Ecological accounting informs design

"No conventional design is executed without a careful accounting of all economic costs. Likewise no ecological design is executed without a careful accounting of all ecological costs, from resource depletion to pollution to habitat destruction. Tracing the full set of ecological impacts of a design is obviously a prerequisite for ameliorating those impacts."

3. Design with nature

"Ecological design...is a kind of covenant between human communities and other living communities: Nothing in the design should violate the wider integrities of nature....By working with the patterns and processes favored by the living world, we can dramtically reduce the ecological impacts of our designs."

4. Everyone is a designer

"No one is participant only or designer only. Everyone is participant-designer. Honor the special knowledge that each person brings....The best design expeirences occur when noone can claim credit for the solution--when the solution grows and evolves organically out of a particular situation, process and pattern of communication."

5. Make nature visible

"Making natural cycles and processes visible brings the designed environment back to life. Effective design helps inform us of our place within nature."

Art Ludwig from Principles of Ecological Design (2003)

1. Transcend market culture

The main obstacles to living with nature are cultural, not technical or economic.
We do things not because they make social or economic sense, but simply because our society has been led to believe in them. The culture—the gut level idea of the right way to live—is a force which shapes desires and constrains the mainstream of society. In the West it determines, for example, what is thought to be “economically viable” at least as much as economics does.

What then determines the culture? Much of the American way of life has been designed by market forces. Free market enthusiasts claim that no system is more effective for filling human needs. This is probably true. But a way of life designed with the goal of living best would be very different than one designed to maximize profit...

This book explains nothing less than how to redesign our way of life from the ground up, optimized for long term quality, not short term profitability. Alternatives to the conventional score board for success “How much do you make?” is a widely accepted standard measure of success. However, the degree to which you “want what you have” is arguably a more real measure of success, security, and happiness. Additionally, as a goal, wanting what you have encourages more soul-nourishing behaviour.

A wealthy American woman who does volunteer aid work in a village in Guatemala said she can only stand to be there for two weeks at a time because the Indians are “too damn happy.” That people living a dozen per dirt floored shack can find the happiness which eludes her “just becomes too confronting.”

The holes in our hearts cannot be filled with stuff. They can only be filled with the love of ourselves and others.

2. Follow nature’s example

Natural systems are always in dynamic balance with the whole. They serve to keep us connected, reminding us what is natural. Regular visits to more pristine wilderness deepens and broadens this connection, and anchors our souls against currents of cultural madness.

3. Context is everything

The context must be known in order to determine if a design is “good” or not. There are no universal solutions. There are approaches and patterns that can be applied to generate the optimum solution in a variety of contexts. Context is king in ecological design. In all cases the greatest efficiency—and performance as well—is achieved when the power of the tool is well-matched to the task at hand. Overkill is one of the saddest sources of waste in our society. Elimination of overkill does not mean sacrifice. The resources saved by using simple tools for easy tasks can be applied toward more difficult tasks. Using transportation as an example, walking would be used when adequate, bicycles for distances too long to walk, buses, trains, and carpooling for distances too long to bike or in bad weather, planes for speed or great distances.
By using a mix of transport modes instead of driving as much as average, my wife and I have saved about $180,000 in our 20 year driving lives—about what it cost to pay off our house. Cleverly matching the power of the tool to the task at hand is cheaper, healthier, lower impact, and more enjoyable—yet ultimately more powerful than any single solution.

4. Moderate and efficient resource use

Fossil fuels and electricity have severed the connection between energy source and consumer. One thin pair of wires can invisibly, silently channel an unbelievable amount of energy without creating a ripple of awareness. This has enabled our relationship with energy to skew way out of scale.

To put our energy use in a human, comprehensible perspective, try measuring it in units of energy slaves (Es). If you shackled a very fit slave to an exercycle, they could generate about 75 watts of power, twelve hours a day. This is about what a bike rider expends cruising on flat land. To make the math easier, we’ll round it up generously to 100 watts = 1 Es This is a level of energy expenditure which an average American might be able to keep up for thirty minutes before collapsing. Now look around for energy slaves at work.

A Ford Expedition SUV—1700 energy slaves. Arranged on bikes four abreast (a bit wider than a standard ten foot road lane) and squeezed so there was just a few feet between the front wheel of one and the rear wheel of the next, the Ford Expedition would require a column of energy slaves nearly a mile long...

A great deal of energy and ingenuity has gone into hiding the supply and waste systems we use. Effective action follows awareness. Hiding certain things has caused an “unknowing,” and our morals have developed without critical knowledge. Those who gain from increased consumption have gained tremendously. All others, especially future generations, have lost.
Natural designs strive for moderation and awareness in the employment of energy slaves as well in the use of other resources. When we weren’t living in a cabin, our family has lived happily in tents or shacks for three of the last ten years.

5. Not too little, not too much: just enough

Voluntary poverty creates a safety net which precludes the worst excesses of modern life—by simply not having the money to fund wasteful ways of doing things, even if you are temporarily blinded into wanting them. Having money, on the other hand, means foregoing excess is only a matter of will.

Deficiency is stunting, excess is toxic and unbalancing. In most cases the optimal growth arises from just enough resources. This is true across a wide spectrum, from nutrition, to emotional needs, to national economies.

While green consumption is surely a slower path to ecological annihilation...Consuming less would be a far more effective step. In ecological design, you’re best off to:

Choose the most inherently simple solution, then implement it as well as possible.
Market economies favor the exact opposite: marketers seek out and push the fundamentally most expensive solutions, with the option of shoddy execution or financing if you want to save money up front. This yields the maximum profit and use of resources.

6. Empower and require individual thought and action

Because natural solutions are context sensitive, it is up to the people facing a situation to figure out what to do about it and how. Natural solutions are generally less idiot-proof than current common practice. They both demand and reward user interaction.

Ecological design places ultimate responsibility for implementing sensible solutions with local people who have knowledge of local conditions. Also, many of the systems themselves require independent thought from users on an ongoing basis.

More than any other feature, it is the interaction of the user with the design that enables ecological design to be so much more efficient. For example, recycling requires more thought and action from people than if they put any solid they don’t want in the trash, and any liquid they’re done with down the drain. At least some user separation is key to tap the substantial economic and ecological advantages of recycling materials.

Many of the cycles in natural living environments are of such small scale that they can be maintained by a single individual. The short feedback loops in natural living environments both suggest and reward ecological living. The reward is usually in the form of better performance, lower cost, and ever-increasing awareness. Compounded over the years, the savings and awareness facilitate a significantly better quality of life. In contrast, the promotion of high consumption depends on perpetuating dissatisfaction. Buying into consumerism is certainly costly, generally dulls awareness, and yields little long-term fulfillment.

A ubiquitous but unspoken assumption in mainstream design is that the capacity of the system must almost never limit the user. This maximizes profits from sale and use of the system, and ensures that users will learn no conservative habits from the system.

Systems of moderate capacity tend to be cheaper and simpler to build, and to use less resources. What’s more, bumping into the limits of system capacity system provides useful feedback, which raises awareness and promotes good habits.

7. True progress

True progress actually solves problems. Most of what is commonly called “progress” is the relocation of problems out of sight in space or time.
It is wiser to add new ways alongside the old, rather than completely and immediately supplant them. By the time the problems of a new technology are recognized, reinstating old methods where they were superior is often not feasible: traditional knowledge has been lost, and/or the resources which the traditional approach requires have been appropriated for other uses.

8. True comfort

The whole body changes in response to its environment. Head out into the wilderness and your skin browns and thickens, reaction to bug bites and poison oak lessens, your stomach shrinks, your feet toughen, your thyroid cranks the thermostat up or down to maintain comfort. At high elevation your lung capillarity and red blood cell count increase. Nerves in your cerebellum connect more intricately to perform all the calculations needed to keep your balance on rough terrain, your heart becomes slower and stronger.

Ecological design strikes a balance between short term comfort and long term comfort from a strong, adaptable, and adapted body. Shelter doesn't have to be so elaborate—and even the armchair feels better.

9. Natural Harmony

One aspect of the web of life is creatures eating each other. Another, making music together: finding and refining our part in this incredible, ever-unfolding, multimedia symphony.

John Todd & Nancy Jack Todd, From Eco-cities to Living Machines (1994)

• The living world is a matrix for all design
• Design should follow, not oppose, the laws of life
• Biological equity should determine design
• Design should reflect bioregionality
• Design should not be dependent on non-renewable energy sources
• Design should be sustainable through the integration of living systems
• Design should be coevolutionary with the natural world
• Building and design should help in healing the planet
• Design should follow sacred ecology

ZERI Design Principles, Lynn Margulis & Karlene V. Schwartz , Five Kingdoms: An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth (1997)

1. No one species eats its own waste; whatever is waste for one, is food for another species belonging to another kingdom

If one species starts to eat its own waste it will deteriorate. When cattle farmers started to feed cows with waste from other cows they violated this principle - and it led to the outbreak of mad cow disease. Shrimp farmers made the same mistake when shrimps were fed their own waste - leading to white shrimp virus. A lion will eat an antelope, but would a lion consider the manure of the antelope. There are exceptions which confirm the rule; occasionally a dog may be spotted eating its own waste, though this is a matter of strengthening, challenging its immune system. If an animal were only ingesting its own waste, and behave as a cannibal, it would never survive. If industry were to re-use all its own waste, then it decreases its flexibility and increases the risk of failure.

The waste of one industry should be used as a value-added input for another industry.

If one species is fed its own waste, it will degenerate.

2. Whatever is a toxin for a species belonging to one kingdom will be neutral, or a nutrient, for another species in at least one other kingdom.

As humans we tend to classify things that are toxic only from a human point of view. We assume that anything that is toxic for us must also be toxic for all other species in every kingdom. In addition, we view viruses as universally dangerous. Cyanide and Arsenic are well known toxin for animals, but several plant species produce it and use it effectively as a defense against predators. Apples are rich in cyanide, and so are peaches, though none of these have to be labeled “dangerous – cyanide inside”. If you have a problem with an old gold mine, and cyanide leaching, simply plant an apple orchard and over the years the toxins will be eliminated. Probably, the cyanide will be gone well before the lawyers will come to a final agreement settling on responsibilities and costs. We simply can not define toxins solely from the point of view of humans (animals), we need to assess the importance of toxins from all species belonging to the 5 Kingdoms.

If one species eliminates toxins within its own system, it will degenerate.

3. Whenever highly complex ecosystems operate, viruses to remain inactive and even disappear without causing harm passing through at least 2 other kingdom.

The reality, though, is that viruses are kingdom-specific and can be eliminated if we apply the first design principle. The reason why the slaughter-house practice of boiling waste meat prior to feeding it to other cattle won’t necessarily work is precisely because of the first design principle. The prion causing madcow disease could survive high temperatures. To eliminate the prion or a virus, the left-over waste meat must go through the other 4 kingdoms. The consumption of antibiotics is therefore detrimental over time. Indeed, this medicine could kill the virus but it causes a lot of collateral damage as well. One dosis of antibiotics reduces the intestinal flora’s efficiency for a couple years, and chemotherapy can all but destroy the digestive system.

If we attempt to kill viruses within the same system, over time it will degenerate.

4. The more diverse and local the systems, the more efficient and resilient their operations. When systems are more efficient and more resilient, the more diverse and the more local they are operating.

A group of plants and trees in a temperate climate do not feel the need to bring some fungi from the tropics. The plants and trees in coexistence and in co-evolution with species belonging to the other four kingdoms will create the best, most effective system from within the boundaries of its own micro system. Relating this to our global economy we see that we want everything from everywhere at any place and time. We have increased the fragility of our own system because if one or two links break, the whole system could fall apart. The more local the activities, the stronger they are – and there will be much more flexibility as diversity increases. A system that is local will be more efficient and resilient. Companies are in search of local supply and better integration into the local economy. Whereas global (out)sourcing, supply chain management and customer relations are considered key components of a successful business, the capacity to be local globally requires a new wave of creative and innovative strategies.

If non-native species are forced to become part of the ecosystem, it will degenerate.

5. All kingdoms combined, integrate and separate matter at ambient temperature and pressure.

A spider makes its nylon-like fiber at ambient temperature and pressure, from diverse raw materials. The moment the tension drops, it starts disintegrating. The spider operates at ambient temperature and pressure with fungi in its guts, and bacteria to control the process, with plant components as food. The mollusk in the cold water produces a ceramic that is stronger than bullet-proof ceramic. In nature, no one knows how to make fire or change pressure at will, yet products from nature outperform human made artifacts. Industry has set up a supply chain management which delivers components within very precise and uniform parameters. All assembly and disassembly requires high temperature and pressure, causing pollution and entropy. It is considered that the use of chemistry, temperature and pressure speed up production and facilitates standardization. Creativity and innovation on the other hand is the only way to find the best of both worlds. If industry emulates the “all-inclusive approach” of nature, it will be able to produce more efficiently, at lower, cost-slashing energy needs. Whereas this seems impossible today, it is this type of creative approach that requires a passion for thinking out of the box. This requires taking risks. This is the unique role corporations must assume.

When matter is integrated and separated beyond the energy provided by the sun, without taking into consideration the specific involvement of each of the five kingdoms, the process will cause entropy.

When business understands the five kingdoms and the four design principles, as well as the principle of sustainability as defined before, then it will realize that there is a tremendous potential for creativity, innovation and leadership redefining the competitive framework of business for decades to come.

William McDonough & Michael Braungart, with Paul Anastas and Julie Zimmerman, Cradle to Cradle Design & the Principles of Green Design (2003)

1. Waste Equals Food.

Waste does not exist in nature because the processes of each organism contribute to the health of the whole ecosystem. A fruit tree's blossoms fall to the ground and decompose into food for other living things. Bacteria and fungi feed on the organic waste of both the trees and the animals that eat its fruit, depositing nutrients in the soil in a form ready for the tree to use for growth. One organism's waste is food for another and nutrients flow indefinitely in cradle-to-cradle cycles of birth, decay and rebirth. In other words, waste equals food.

Understanding these regenerative systems allows engineers and designers to recognize that all materials can be designed as nutrients that flow through natural or designed metabolisms. While nature's nutrient cycles comprise the biological metabolism, the technical metabolism is designed to mirror them; it's a closed-loop system in which valuable, high-tech synthetics and mineral resources circulate in cycles of production, use, recovery and remanufacture.

Within this cradle-to-cradle framework, designers and engineers can use scientific assessments to select safe materials and optimize products and services, creating closed-loop material flows that are inherently benign and sustaining. Materials designed as biological nutrients, such as textiles and packaging made from natural fibers, can biodegrade safely and restore soil after use. Materials designed as technical nutrients, such as carpet yarns made from synthetics that can be repeatedly depolymerized and repolymerized , are providing high quality, high-tech ingredients for generation after generation of synthetic products.

2. Use Current Solar Income.

Living things thrive on the energy of the sun. Trees and plants manufacture food from sunlight, an elegant, effective system that uses the earth's unrivalled and continuous source of energy income. Despite recent precedent, human energy systems can be nearly as effective. Cradle-to-cradle systems-from buildings to manufacturing processes-tap into current solar income using direct solar energy collection or passive solar processes, such as daylighting, which makes effective use of natural light. Wind power-thermal flows fueled by sunlight-can also be tapped.

This is already beginning to change the energy marketplace. The City of Chicago, for example, has committed to buying 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2006, which is spurring the local development of renewable energy technology. Indeed, the City recently opened the Chicago Center for Green Technology, an ecologically intelligent facility on a restored industrial site that houses companies involved in developing the local capacity to tap wind and solar power. Germany, meanwhile, has already harnessed wind power equivalent to 20 coal-fired power plants and the European Union plans to generate 22 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010.

3. Celebrate Diversity.

From a holistic perspective, natural systems thrive on diversity. Healthy ecosystems are complex communities of living things, each of which has developed a unique response to its surroundings that works in concert with other organisms to sustain the system. Each organism fits in its place and in each system the fittingest thrive. Needless to say, long term perspective is needed since even the introduction of an invasive species can enhance diversity for the immediate term while virtually destroying that diversity over time.

Nature's diversity provides many models for human designs. When designers celebrate diversity, they tailor designs to maximize their positive effects on the particular niche in which they will be implemented. Engineers might profit from this principle by considering the cradle-to-cradle maxim, "all sustainability is local." In other words, optimal sustainable design solutions draw information from and ultimately "fit" within local natural systems. They express an understanding of ecological relationships and enhance the local landscape where possible. They draw on local energy and material flows. They take into account both the distant effects of local actions and the local effects of distant actions. The point is this: Rather than offering the one-size-fits-all solutions of conventional engineering, designs that celebrate and support diversity and locality grow ever more effective and sustaining as they engage natural systems.

Kirk Gadzia, 10 Principles of Holistic Management

1. Nature functions in wholes.

The whole is equal to – not greater than – the sum of its parts and their interrelationships. To manage holistically, the emphasis is that the interconnections between the land, people, livestock, wildlife, water, etc. must be acknowledged. Likewise, rather than just looking at the economic or financial side of something the ecological and social implications should also be considered.

2. Understand the environment you manage.

Most farmers and ranchers fight nature. Nature always wins, so to find sustainability and success, comes when farmers and ranchers aim to mimic natural systems.

3. Livestock can improve land health.

With management and control of timing, livestock are a beneficial tool for land health.

4. Time is more important than numbers.

Control of time on the land is the critical factor. The amount of time is more important than the number of animals that are on the land. “You control overgrazing by controlling time, and the recovery period is more important than utilization.”

5. Define what you are managing.

This means having a plan; taking stock of what the operation entails.

6. State what you want.

“Holistic management does not function without establishing goals and values that fit with the quality of life you are trying to achieve.”

7. Bare ground is public enemy number 1.

Bare ground is an indicator of whether or not your land management practices are improving the health of the land.

8. Play with a full deck.

Landowners use all the tools available to solve problems and enhance their operations. This may include technology, rest, fire, and most importantly, human creativity.

9. Test your decisions.

Include all involved in the ranch or farm in decision making, so they have buy-in to the idea, and so that the decision has been objectively tested. “We routinely see money spent without testing.”

10. Monitor for results.

Did what you do work or do more changes need to be made? That’s what monitoring is all about – evaluating and improving for the future.


Bill Mollison, Permaculture: A Designers' Manual (1988) & Introduction to Permaculture (1991)

• Relative location
• Each element performs multiple functions
• Each function is supported by many elements
• Energy efficient planning
• Using biological resources
• Energy cycling
• Small-scale intensive systems
• Natural plant succession and stacking
• Polyculture and diversity of species
• Increasing "edge" within a system
• Observe and replicate natural patterns
• Pay attention to scale
• Attitude

David Holmgren, Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability (2002)

• Observe and Interact
• Catch and Store Energy
• Obtain a Yield
• Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback
• Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
• Produce No Waste
• Design from Patterns to Details
• Integrate Rather than Segregate
• Use Small and Slow Solutions
• Use and Value Diversity
• Use Edges and Value the Marginal
• Creatively Use and Respond to Change

Sim Van Der Ryn & Stuart Cowan, Ecological Design (1996)

• Solutions grow from place
• Ecological accounting informs design
• Design with nature
• Everyone is a designer
• Make nature visible

Art Ludwig from Principles of Ecological Design (2003)

• Transcend market culture
• Alternatives to the conventional score board for success
• Follow nature’s example
• Context is everything
• Moderate and efficient resource use
• Not too little, not too much: just enough
• Empower and require individual thought and action
• True progress
• True comfort
• Natural Harmony

John Todd & Nancy Jack Todd, From Eco-cities to Living Machines (1994)

• The living world is a matrix for all design
• Design should follow, not oppose, the laws of life
• Biological equity should determine design
• Design should reflect bioregionality
• Design should not be dependent on non-renewable energy sources
• Design should be sustainable through the integration of living systems
• Design should be coevolutionary with the natural world
• Building and design should help in healing the planet
• Design should follow sacred ecology

ZERI Design Principles, Lynn Margulis & Karlene V. Schwartz , Five Kingdoms: An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth (1997)

• No one species eats its own waste; whatever is waste for one, is food for another species belonging to another kingdom
• Whatever is a toxin for a species belonging to one kingdom will be neutral, or a nutrient, for another species in at least one other kingdom.
• Whenever highly complex ecosystems operate, viruses to remain inactive and even disappear without causing harm passing through at least 2 other kingdom.
• The more diverse and local the systems, the more efficient and resilient their operations. When systems are more efficient and more resilient, the more diverse and the more local they are operating.
• All kingdoms combined, integrate and separate matter at ambient temperature and pressure.

William McDonough & Michael Braungart, with Paul Anastas and Julie Zimmerman, Cradle to Cradle Design & the Principles of Green Design (2003)

• Waste Equals Food
• Use Current Solar Income
• Celebrate Diversity

Kirk Gadzia, 10 Principles of Holistic Management

1. Nature functions in wholes
2. Understand the environment you manage
3. Livestock can improve land health
4. Time is more important than numbers
5. Define what you are managing
6. State what you want
7. Bare ground is public enemy number 1
8. Play with a full deck
9. Test your decisions
10. Monitor for results

Bill Hill, Sheep Grazier & Wisdom Broker

“Stop growing things that want to die & killing things that want to live”

Frank B. Dole (1915-2001), Darren J. Doherty's maternal Grandfather
'Life's Aphorisms' (see Off the Contour #12 for elaboration)
  • 'I'm to the left of Trotsky'
  • 'To Profit is to Steal'
  • 'Humans are just like Yeast: They eat all of the Sugar and Die in their own Shit!'
  • 'You need Rural Skills to Survive when the Shit Hits the Fan'
  • 'Listen Carefully'
  • 'Family First'
  • 'Pay off then Have'
  • 'Why Buy what you can Make Yourself'
  • 'The Rules of Labour'
  • 'Do the Hardest Job First'
  • 'Make Your Own Soap'

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Off the Contour #10 - A Modern Approach to Keyline Design for your Property Part I

A Modern Approach to Keyline Design for your property Part I
(First Published in Town & Country Farmer Magazine in 1996)

by Darren J. Doherty

In the Autumn edition of Town and Country Farmer we gave you an introduction to the history and basics behind Keyline Design. In this Winter issue we will help you start to develop a Keyline design of your land that will go a long way to drought-proofing your property by utilising landscape patterns in ways you may not have thought possible. We have a lot to go through and so in the Spring edition we will show you how to bring all of the information together into a useful and useable plan.

“There’s nothing more convincing than the accomplished fact!i”

This is a resounding truth that the late P.A. Yeomans wrote way back in 1958 in “The Challenge of Landscape”. Equally as resounding is that Keyline Design has not been used to its full potential in the Australian landscape. A diversion drain here and there, maybe a bit of contour plowing as well, but too often only as a last measure when the land is slipping away.

How quickly a good season or two(as now seems evident!) would appear to lull many into not using the better seasons that we have to create the conditions where we protect ourselves against the vagaries that the Australian climate throws us.

It's now over 40 years since P.A. Yeomans released his epic The Keyline Plan. Since then the precepts of Keyline Design have lived on and developed into the most viable, practical and cost-effective method of whole farm design available to Australian agriculture.

P.A. Yeomans put forward the Keyline Design plan with the intention that it be easily understood by the average land-holder. With this, I hope that the following article will help you to be able to get a rudimentary plan done of your property.
Some of What I’ve Seen

How many people over the years have seen, heard or have been to Keyline Design properties, with most, including myself, coming away amazed at the sheer simplicity involved in the design.

In February 1994 I attended a 3-day Keyline Design course held in the Albury-Wodonga district run by Chiltern Permaculture and Agricultural Consultant Vries Gravestein and Albury sustainable agriculture machinery manufacturer and earthmover Alan Lehmann. We visited about 5 properties in various landscapes(both flat and undulating), with one in particular sticking in my mind.

It was owned by the McGaffin family, at Castle Creek, to the south east of Wodonga. Their story in the early 1980’s was fairly typical of the time. Their 640 acre undulating granitic grazing property was at the crossroads. Conventionally it was getting that way that it was too small and they had done all the improving they could. But the size was just not there. Having an interest in Keyline, the family decided upon a path of development that would require no more land, just the ability to bring more of it into sustainable production.

Seven dams and 180 acre feet of storage capacity later, the McGaffin family are now able to irrigate 60 acres of summer pasture and 80 acres of autumn pasture year in year out - drought or no drought. In dollars and cents their Keyline development meant an extra 50 cows and calves due to the irrigated pasture. At 1994 prices(certainly not 1996!!) that translated to an extra $15 000 to $20 000 per annum. To buy the amount of land needed to carry that extra stock, John McGaffin reckoned he would have to have had spent $250 000. The total cost of his project: $87 000(and tax deductable!!!). And the investment would have paid for itself in around 6 years!

John also employs Keyline pattern cultivation to great effect with a single tyne ripper - very encouraging for those who have only a small tractor and that kind of implement.

The McGaffins still farm a profitable and easily managed property, one which at the time of our visit John remarked, was often irrigated by his 11 year old daughter without any difficulty and on a fairly large scale. It is pertinent to view this property as a simple and achievable model for many others on both larger and smaller holdings. And could follow, as I do on many of my consultancies.

My personal belief and observation is that what most Keyline properties are missing by and large is the total use of all of the Keyline Design principles to their full extent and benefit. Taking things further where we integrate Contour Strip Forests and Tree Crops into this system could only create even greater advances in production.

Another related point that a farmer friend of mine from Minyip(in the Victorian Wimmera) told me recently, is that ever since farms became larger the farmer could no longer manage them as he once could.

” Once a bloke could control all the weeds on and around his block, now you’re that flat out trying to manage the place that you can’t do that anymore, and so now we’re experiencing more and more problems…”

Simply using one or part of the different applications involved in Keyline Design does not give the design system it fullest productive potential. Not looking at the myriad methods available to us(in addition to Keyline) really does not give our farms(or ourselves!!) the scope for Keyline to show its full potential.

As I mentioned in my last article, we have as a nation not picked up the ball when it comes to a wholesale policy of embracing any particular farm design concept. Keyline Design has for a long time represented Australia with a land design system that is viable, permanent and sustainable. Of course include some Permaculture Design Ethics and Principles and the latter day Whole Farm Planning precepts and you have something very productive indeed!!

I read with interest in the April edition of the Murray Basin Landcarer, that on a flatter landscape “Keyline contoured alleys in association with drainage and water storage systems” have been employed. This is quite notable as the potential integration of these two systems is one of the ways we can attain higher levels of sustainability.

The emphasis on the use and integration of trees has always been a feature of the Keyline Design System. Shelterbelts growing between diversion and irrigation drains/channels, (in the better Keyline properties) have been renown for their successful growth in country conventionally considered not suited to the species selected.

Prior to any Keyline Design development being undertaken you should consult any of the Keyline books and literature available to you(see the resources and referenced list at the end of this article). This will give a more technical and historical appraisal of this much written about agricultural method.
The Keypoint and Keyline

For the benefit of those who don’t have a copy of the Autumn 1996 issue of Town and Country Farmer (see the back issues section to get your copy), I will again explain how to find these on your property. If we were to look at a contour map then the Keypoint would be where the contours in a gully suddenly became closer, thus indicating a sleeper slope (see Figures 1 and 1a for a graphic illustration of where a Keypoint lies).

The Keypoint is essentially a point in a primary gully where the landshape changes from being concave to convex. It has also been described, in more undulating conditions as where, above which cultivation becomes difficult because of the slope’s steepening angle.

In supposedly flat conditions it has often been suggested to me that Keyline is not an appropriate method of whole farm design. I would suggest that this is not the case (of course!!). There is no such thing as a totally flat landscape. Water always runs somewhere in its endeavour to return to the oceans.

In the flatter landscape one has to look at the situation as being broader in scale, with often the sort of land-use being different altogether to that of more undulating areas, eg. with cropping sometimes more appropriate than grazing (although not in all cases), with perhaps less irrigation taking place.

In flatter country we have to be much more precise especially where we are intent on irrigation, hence the conventional use of lasering to effect an optimal spread of the water used. Using Keyline Design in these circumstances we still need to survey precise levels. There is however, a greater emphasis on using the existing landscape pattern as opposed to creating very straight and lineal landscapes. These are often created using methods that are at the expense of soil structure and of the soil itself(ever noticed how much dust laser grading raises??).
Getting Started

Now if you read the first article I wrote in the Autumn edition of Town and Country Farmer, I had a list of items required for designing your property using Keyline principles. For those who did not read it you will require a few tools for the job.

* an aerial photo
* some clear plastic overlay
* some overhead projector markers(both permanent and non-permanent)
* a Rotring T20F eraser
* a contour map of your property
* a scale ruler(s)
* an A4 graph paper page
* a calculator
* a copy of Water for Every Farm - The Yeomans Keyline Plan by P.A. Yeomans edited by Ken B. Yeomans(see resources/references)

How I put the Map together

A lot of people may have had difficulty getting the resources necessary to help them get a whole farm layout plan put together. To help you, the process I use whenever I start a design goes as follows:

Get a Parish plan(or Cadastral plans) of your property. These can be arranged through Local or State Conservation/Lands departments.

An aerial photo of your property can be attained through government bodies such as VicImage in Victoria and through Conservation/Lands departments in other states. Even if you do not follow this process through, these aerial photos are essential cost-effective tools, I think, for any land-holder. There is also some Whole Farm Planning courses where you can get substantial subsidies on the purchase of these plans, that make your costs very small.

It is worthwhile having the aerial photo laminated so that it is protected from the rigours of the planning process eg. Feature marking out in the field, coffee spills, etc.

Clear plastic overlay is quite expensive and is available from bigger stationery suppliers. An alternative is to(as I do!) get off-cuts from poster laminating shops. They can sometimes be a bit crinkly, but do not cost anything!! If either aren’t available then you can get away with using clearer tracing paper. Have enough so that you can have several layers of information available on separate sheets, without cluttering or cramming all of it onto one sheet.

For contour or topographical maps I use quite a few different sources. I am an avid map collector and have most of the maps I need stored here, but if I do need them I go to Information Victoria, for 1:25 000 series topographical maps. These high quality maps cover a great part of Australia and usually have 10metre elevation contour intervals.

In some cases 1:10 000 maps are also available with contour intervals of between 2 and 5 metres(which is obviously better). Other sources for topographical maps are local government offices, water authorities, and sometimes orienteering clubs.

Orthophoto maps or aerial photos with contours on them, which although expensive are excellent mediums for this kind of work. These are available again through the appropriate government departments.

Now you have these tools you need to create a map for your property at scale similar to your aerial photo. The easiest way to do this is to use an enlarging/reducing photocopier. First of all though, you will need to familiarise yourself with both the topographical map and aerial photo and find reference points that are marked on both. This should be fairly easy as most topographical maps are referenced from the very aerial photos that are available to the public.

Information such as fences, dams and buildings are the best reference points. Start by taking both of your maps to the photocopy shop. I would suggest that a least your boundary fence and/or house and dams will be marked on the contour map. Blow up your property on the photocopier until the features you have chosen(the house, fences etc.) until they are in the same relative position as those on the aerial photo. You do this by overlaying the photocopy onto the aerial photo until the feature match up. With your official boundary and title information you follow a similar process, only you use the fences and roads as features.

Now you have done this you will need to transfer your enlargements onto your plastic overlay. This is accomplished by firstly positioning and fixing(I use Blutac) the photocopies onto the aerial photo, so that everything matches up. Then you trace the contours, boundaries/fences, roads, etc. onto the overlay. Now take the photocopies away and you have the map you need to do a Keyline Design!!!

Another thing you should take into the photocopier’s is a piece of graph paper. Get them to do a direct copy onto a clear transparency. You will need this to calculate catchment areas etc.

As Ken Yeomans points out in Water for Every Farm - The Yeomans Keyline Plan,

“The design process often reveals unsuspected potential and dispels illusions. It is a satisfying experience.” This truth is on the way to being divulged.

Understanding and Using your Maps

Keyline Design is based around the use and recognition of the existing landscape to make productive and effective use of the soil and water resources available. It is essential that an understanding be reached as to how the landscape functions, so that we may design a system that makes the most of these rather fixed, yet improvable resources. One also has to understand both the maps we have prepared and others we need for the process of design.

I often think of the landscape as being something akin to the roof of a house. It is designed(created) by nature to have water removed in the quickest possible way back to the oceans. A house roof operates in a similar way. The main difference being that the efficiency with which water runs off is much less on the land. This factor is one we can use to our advantage. We can keep rain where it falls.

There are some base terms used in Keyline Design that describe simple landscape characteristics, or as Yeoman’s put it, Primary Landforms. (See Figure 2)

Main Ridge

Describes the elevated land that divides creek systems. It is the dominant land shape in the “Keyline classification to topography…”ii

Primary Valley

Are the valleys formed on a main ridge. These are the valleys that contain keypoints. Keylines run out towards the adjacent ridges BUT STAY WITHIN THE VALLEY

Primary Ridges

Are the areas in between each of the primary valleys, which again are part of the dominant main ridge. As on the main ridge, the primary ridges have a water divide line, a line where water will fall either one side or the other, rather like the ridge-capping on a roof.

Also you will need to understand how the contours of a map relate to the land’s shape they describe. Looking at Figure 3 you can see the different landforms, contours and descriptions arranged graphically.

The Next Step

To relate the Keyline landform classifications to your own land you will need to have both the map you’ve made and the larger, original topographical map that goes beyond your boundary.

You will first of all need to mark where the Main Ridges, Primary Ridges and Primary Valleys are on your land. Do this on the first overlay. Now you can start to see in a graphical way the pattern of water flows, and gather which are the areas that form the various catchments of each water-shed.

Sometimes you will find, particularly on flatter and smaller properties, that the catchment area of a water-shed begins on someone else’s land. This is the reason why you need to have your larger topographical map and the graph paper transparency at the ready.

On this same layer also mark what you believe are the Keypoints of each of the Primary Valleys and the water divide lines of the Primary Ridges. At this stage you will realise that a walk over the property will be needed to get particularly the Keypoints in the right spots.

It is also worth noting some advice that David Holmgren(of Permaculture fame) gives and that is, “the map is not the territory,” and so you will need to reference and view your map with this in mind.

You will also need to ascertain the scale at which your map is at. This is simply done by using two points on the map that between which you know the distance. Sometimes aerial photos can have some distortion for a variety of reasons, and so it is worthwhile determining the distances between these two points physically. Make sure that these two points are clearly visible on the photo

Given that you have measured this distance, you can now establish the maps’ scale (I will use metric being a child of the late 1960’s!!). Say the length of a fence on the ground is 200metres. On the aerial photo it is 150millimetres. The formula to follow is then:


200m x 1000


= 1333.333

= 1:1333

1cm = 13m

Now that you have done that you can have a go at marking out your catchments so that you can calculate their areas. Once done you will be able to determine the amount of water available to you. This is done as follows: Look at Figure 5 to see the catchment boundaries denoted using the contours.

Overlay the graph paper overlay(remembering first to work out the scale of it in relation to the plan you are working with. If the squares at the scale we worked out equal 13m every cm then each box is 169 square metres. On larger catchments you may need to aggregate the cm boxes into larger squares so that there maybe 10 x10 cm squares - which would equal 16900 square metres: 1.69 hectares. Count the squares within each of the catchments and total them. Say there are 15 larger squares; this will mean 25 3500 square metres or 25.35ha. of catchment. The following tablesiii will allow you to now estimate the amounts of run-off sourced within these catchments.

Table 1.1
Once you’ve worked out a figure then use the following tables (Tables 1 & 2) to generate the total average run-off figures for a whole or given catchment. An engineer would also ascertain this as part of their investigation.


Runoff as a % of average annual rainfall (Y)

Average annual rainfall (R)



annual evaporation



(years out of 10)

Shallow sand or

loam soils


Sandy clays


Elastic clays


Clay pans, inelastic

clays or



> 1100


10 to 15

10 to 15

15 to 20

15 to 25


6.5 to 10

6.5 to 10

10 to 13

10 to 16.5

901 to 1100


10 to 12.5

10 to 15

12.5 to 20

15 to 20


6.5 to 8

6.5 to 10

8 to 13

10 to 13

501 to 900

less than



7.5 to 10

7.5 to 15

7.5 to 15

10 to 15


5 to 6.5

5 to 10

5 to 10

6.5 to 10

1300 to 1800


5 to 7.5

5 to 12.5

5 to 10

10 to 15


3 to 5

3 to 8

3 to 6.5

6.5 to 10

401 to 500

1300 to 1800


2.5 to 5

5 to 10

2.5 to 5 7

7.5 to 12.5


1.5 to 3

3 to 6.5

1.5 to 3

5 to 8

250 to 400



0 to 2.5

0 to 5

0 to 2.5

2.5 to 7.5


0 to 1.5

0 to 3

0 to 1.5

1.5 to 5




0 to 2.5


2.5 to 5



0 to 1.5


1.5 to 3

Elastic clays when dry develop pronounced surface cracking, which reduces runoff.

Inelastic clays are identified, when dry, by a fine dust cover; this dust prevents seepage into the ground and so increases runoff.

For irrigation schemes a reliability of 8 years out of 10 is acceptable, for domestic and stock schemes the aim is 9 years.


Catchment runoff = 100 x A x R x Y litres

where: A is the catchment area in hectares (ha)

R is the average annual rainfall in millimetres (mm)

Y is the runoff as a percentage of annual rainfall


A small catchment of 100 hectares is forested and the soil is sandy clay. It receives an average annual rainfall of 750 mm and has an annual evaporation of 1000 mm. What would the estimated yield be for an irrigation scheme?

A = 100 ha1

R = 750 mm

Y = 7.5 % (reliability of 8 in Table 2)

Therefore runoff = 100 x 100 x 750 x 7.5

= 56 250 000 litres

= 56.25 megalitres (Ml)

Table 1.2
Some Typical Yields From Catchments

Treatment Yield as a % of annual rainfall

Roaded catchments

400 mm - 5%

800 mm - 30%

1100 mm - 60%

Bitumen - 80%


Gravel - 60%

bitumen or

concrete - 90%

Most Solid Roofs - 80%

Spread-bank tanks - 50% for rainfall in excess of 400mm


(a) 1 ha of roaded catchment in a 400 mm annual rainfall area

(b) 2 ha of gravel road in a 750 mm annual rainfall region

(c) A house and shed of 200 sq.m with a rainfall of 1000 mm


(a) Roaded catchment

5/100 x 400/1000 x 10 000 = 200 cubic metres = 200 000 litres

(b) Gravel road:

60/100 x 750/1000 x 2 x 10 000 = 9000 cubic metres = 9 000 000 litres or 9 Ml

(c) House and Shed:

80/100 x 1000/1000 x 200 = 160 cubic metres = 160 000 litres


i Yeomans, P.A., 1958 The Challenge of Landscape, The Development and Practice of Keyline, Keyline Publishing Pty. Ltd., Sydney.

ii Yeomans P.A., K.B. Yeomans ed. 1993, Water For Every Farm - Yeomans Keyline Plan, Keyline Designs, Southport, Queensland.

iii Nelson, K.D., 1985, 1991reprinted, Design and Construction of Small Earth Dams, Inkata Press, Melbourne.

Yeomans P.A., 1971, The City Forest - The Keyline Plan for the Human Environment Revolution, Keyline Publishing Pty. Ltd., Sydney.

Yeomans P.A.,1968, Water for Every Farm - A practical irrigation plan for every Australian property, K.G. Murray Publishing Co. Pty. Ltd., Sydney.

Campbell, A., 1991, Planning for Sustainable Farming - The Potter Farmland Plan Story, Lothian Publishing Co. Pty. Ltd., Port Melbourne.

Mollison, B, 1985, Permaculture: A Designers Manual, Tagari Publications, Tyalgum, N.S.W.

Off the Contour #9 - Eco Friendly Farm Forestry

Eco Friendly Farm Forestry
(this article was first published in Earth Garden Magazine in 2000)

Eco Friendly Plantations…. Is that an oxymoron? To many that have observed the recent rise in investor driven “farm forestry” plantations one can only agree that this would certainly be the case. Mention the words “Pine Plantation” or “Blue Gums” and often people quiver with horror. Do they know though that there are other ways of doing things, using principles and techniques that mimic natural systems and are not mere examples of an industrialized, arboreal monoculture. Potentially Eco Friendly Forest Plantations can produce a much more dynamic and diverse result than their industrialized cousins, and have an inherent ecological and economic stability and longevity that simply can’t be matched.

An Eco Friendly Plantation could be defined as:

“A multiple use forest plantation that is an analogue of a native forest, where ecological principles of biological and genetic diversity are utilized throughout and where the end result is a permanent stand of trees and understorey that continues through successive and variable harvest cycles.”

Unfortunately the biggest problem facing those contemplating establishing their own personal forestry plots is time. Time that is takes to develop a planting, to manage it, and most importantly to harvest it. To the economist in us time is interest and the longer it takes to harvest and the more expensive it costs to establish the less “attractive” the investment is. The cultural myopia that many suffer from is in stark contrast to the attitudes that prevail particularly in Northern Europe where ancestral private forests have an intergenerational integer that removes the time element. Not many people in my book beyond their immediate life terms and this is a big issue facing those with the desire but not the time. In most cases though the wait need not necessarily be too long. The first principle to give to Eco friendly plantation forestry would be patience. Although this is with a condition, as sometimes accelerated surprises occur as we patient ones so often encounter. Indeed today there are many ways of accelerating the returns from forestry.

Understanding and identifying the potential number of products that come from a multi-species forest is a good starting point in developing your own Eco Friendly Plantation. Apart from the traditional timber products that come from a forest, a variety of other products can be yielded sustainably as part of a well structured private (and public!) planting. The progressive inclusion of useful and supportive analogue understorey species in the forest over time will contribute largely to the potential amount of over overall production. Native seed production for example – particularly of species endemic to your area is a very positive way of accelerating cash flows from your forest. If however you had only planted your forest to timber species then you will be spending money/time over a long period before any returns come. It is worth remembering that in a good healthy well managed Eco Forest – be it native or plantation that trees as growth forms form only a part, usually only a small part overall of the diversity of species contained with the forest. Its amazing there are so many forests that are being choked by too many trees!!The genesis of the permaculture concept was realized out of this very simple fact, hardly surprising given all that a forest can yield – to humans even more so where the species involved are useful to us.

Eco Friendly Plantation layouts can vary enormously in their forms and complexity. Aesthetically the Eco Friendly Forest has a beauty that only diversity can yield. The more common layout types are the Block Planting and Alley Farming/Timberbelts. Block Plantings are the more popular layout as they overcome vagaries of edge effects and allow a greater critical mass of production from a given area. Also where one has planned the property according to land class, an entire area may be devoted to a block planting e.g. wet drainage depressions. Alley Farming is very popular in Western Australia particularly using fodder shrubs as opposed to timber species. In China the use of intensive Alley Farming comes into its own with the incorporation of high value horticultural crops and aquaculture with belts of highly management timber species. With Alley Farming and Timberbelts the effect of the planting is to obtain shelter effects in conjunction with timber yields and other forest products. Shelter protection yields of around 15 times tree height can be achieved (i.e. trees 10m high will reduce wind velocities over 150m), which in valuable cropping or pasture areas allows for the increases in production together with timber yields. In the Eco Friendly context it is appropriate to again incorporate multiple species into the tree alleys and plant fodder species on the edges to provide some feed to stock as well.

The issue of the method of harvest also strongly features in the ongoing aesthetics. Where we use mixed species/mixed provenance’s harvest dates will vary considerably, as target log sizes will be reached at different times. In a conventional clearfelled forest the emphasis is on removing all stems from a coupe where the target log size has been achieved as a proportional average over the whole coupe. In a industrialized, highly mechanized monocultural plantation this method is likely to be the most efficient method of harvest – the aesthetics of the result though aren’t too flash, nor are the impacts from erosion particularly unless appropriate engineering has been undertaken. In the Eco Friendly Plantation the emphasis is on using selective harvesting – which is where we assess individual stems (sorry trees!!) for potential felling according to their respective size and form characteristics. Following intensive management by judicious pruning and thinning you should have a high proportion of high value trees, which, when harvested and processed on site will give much higher returns per cubic metre than the conventional alternative of clearfell harvesting and post harvest processing off site.

The critical point though with using selective harvesting versus clearfelling is again time and money. It is simpler in an industrialised system to simply remove all stems and send unprocessed logs off to be processed in a factory somewhere – with a bulldozer to cleanup and replacement planting for the same cyclical result. More importantly the return the landholder gets per cubic metre is at the lower end of the bargain – no onsite value adding and a commensurately low return. Radial Milling is the best industrial-scale milling option for gaining viable high value, high recovery timber products out of smaller diameter logs of lower quality. The more favorable alternative for the Eco Friendly Plantation’s owner is to use a local contractor with the appropriate licenses to fell any trees and mill them on site with a portable mill. The milled boards can then be stacked (“sticked out”) in a shed to air dry and then be sold on as a higher value seasoned product for further processing if necessary. Any residues can be used or sold for firewood, posts, sawdust etc. either on the farm or offsite.

Another result of using selective harvesting is that returns are over a longer period and the forest will start to take on a more dynamic and dare I say more interesting state. Coppice management (regrowth from the stump post harvest in some stems) particularly with some Eucalyptus species and the creation of different age classes begins as an issue when thinning the plantation commences. This practice of thinning is a result of establishing the trees in a plantation at a high rate to provide early height and form improvement and also to increase the amount of selection, that is to increase the choice between good form trees and firewood! Competition effects from coppice regrowth is an issue that often results in thinned trees having stem injection to kill and therefore quell any resultant coppice growth. An alternative is to space coppicing species so that their ultimate mature size is provided for, and make allowance for another species that will grow quicker and not coppice. In other words the quicker to harvest species will make way once its harvested for the slower growing coppicing species.

One of the biggest issues we face and get asked is whether or not to use a herbicide and if not what alternatives are there. In some circles this is not a question although some then ask should I use a residual chemical (e.g. Simazine) or knockdown (e.g. Glyphosate) due to a standard of personal and cultural preferences. When we get that far in the conversation the answer is always the same – no residual. Only two of the plantations we have been involved with establishing have been developed with the use of any herbicides. This is not altogether our desire as we have often tried on many occasions to get a spray contractor (s) but have failed for a variety of reasons – leaving us with organic conditions by default. What it has taught us though is the effect that not using chemicals in establishing forests can have and what to sometimes expect and how to get away this more attractive option.

Where possible it is preferable to not use herbicides in the Eco Friendly Plantation’s establishment, although it makes it much easier where you do and their use can get the planting of to a flying start. However you can use cultivation or old fashioned fallow to overcome herbicide use. The practice of fallow is all about the cultivation of weeds as they emerge, to create tilth and to preserve soil moisture by the maintenance of a “cultivated mulch layer” of soil on the surface. Farmers over time have used fallow to effectively cultivate crops and its only relatively recently that they have started to use herbicides in place of it. In summer rainfall areas or on areas where it is too wet to use cultivation to maintain a weed free planting strip or site then other methods such as mulching will need to be used. We have found that the timing of final cultivation and subsequent planting date will influence the initial growth rates and the trees resiliance to the weed growth that follows. Other weed control methods such as the use the hot water spray (e.g. Waipuna System) and Flame weeders could also be used by are untried in a forestry situation to my knowledge.

How do go you about designing, developing and managing a Eco Friendly forest plantation on your property?

One of the first steps I would recommend is becoming part of a farm forestry network (see references for contacts) so that you can go out and see what is happening in your area and develop an idea of how you’ll establish your own plantation. People like yourself have been doing this for a few years now and you’ll be surprised what you can glean from other

+’s self confessions – good and bad. In Victoria there is also the “Growing Trees in Rural Landscapes” course run through DNRE, which is a more structured way of learning more about trees and forestry. Beyond that there is the renowned “Master Tree Growers” course run through the University of Melbourne which is recommended for anyone really serious about learning most of what you need to know to effectively manage a farm forest.

Following this any farm planting, be it of an annual crop or a permanent forest should be the result of a holistic planning process. This ensures that you have considered the overall needs of you and your property and determined what different areas of your property are capable of producing (i.e. Land Capability) – also using permaculture design principles maximize and enhance success prospects, durability and multiple use outcomes.