Category: Permaculture (page 1 of 8)

DIY compost toilet – urine diversion using watering can as separator

This is an upgrade of our compost toilet:


A nice big urine catchment area, and the usual size bucket for the humanure:


I cut a watering can to serve as the urine diversion part of the system:


The shortened spout of the watering can rests just within a funnel, which is connected to pipe exiting the toilet box:


A close up of the first attempt at the funnel; note that the tape lost its stickyness after several very hot days, and thereafter I wired the funnel to the pipe connections:

Thermal mass rocket stove steam room suana

After several years of the manual labour involved in building two rustic abodes and doing all that was involved in the rustic lifestyle I have occasionally tracked at this blog, my body took strain – especially my hands, which often feel swollen and arthritic from serious over-use, as well as my right shoulder, which inevitably takes a lot of train when I do just about any of the manual labour I do.

Yoga and Pilates/body-conditioning have been my saving grace in keeping me supple and able to keep up with the labour demand placed on my body. However, sometimes a steam room is just what I need to sooth and soften me, especially after ruthless bouts of digging and building.

In order to have access to a steam room, the first option was to join a gym. I would never use anything but the steam room at the gym though – I do way too much manual labour, and I already frequently do yoga and Pilates/body-conditioning. So I would have had to pay the high monthly gym fee, which was not possible considering various factors relating to my finances, and then drive a considerable distance to the gym and back again just to use the steam room.

So instead I built a steam room. The wood is yellow gum from a local saw mill. Yellow gum is extremely hard and, untreated, will last for years, unlike pine and other more-readily available woods. The wood must remain untreated because the heat of the steam room would cause the release of the chemicals contained in paint into the air.

Here is a picture of the inside of the steam room before the hole for the thermal-mass-heater was cut:


The markings indicating where the rocket stove mass heater will enter the structure:


Structure and initial row of fire bricks (cement is ‘fire cement’ or ‘furnace cement’, not ordinary cement; first three courses of furnace are fire bricks; rest of chimney ‘common’ bricks; see THIS POST for a better idea of the construction of the rocket-stove-mass-heater, keeping in mind that the one used for the steam room is considerably bigger):


My friend Gareth and one of his kids overseeing me doing the fire-cementing of the inside chimney. Note the metal flu at the back left – the flu is the main initial steam generator as it gets hot quickest. I pour water onto the flu and the water explodes into steam. Later, as the bricks warm up, the chimney provides a more constant source of steam as water is gradually poured onto the bricks:


Here the crucial insulating foil barrier is most notable. A few reclaimed corrugated sheets have been applied.


And here I am, holding the 18 volt cordless drill that I used to build so many things now. This drill comes highly recommended:


That’s where my pictures end. Since the final picture was taken, I finished the reclaimed corrugated sheet cladding and painted it green. The structure blends into the surrounds perfectly. I have used it approximately eleven times and wow! The room takes 30 minutes to get warm; an hour to get hot. By 1hr30mins a person can go in and start pouring water over the flu and brick chimney, and 30 minutes thereafter the person will usually have to exit. Thereafter, the steam room is absolutely pumping! If I let the fire die after this point, room will still be warm (and completely dry) 12 hours later.




The Gorge Plot’s off-grid shed/cabin

I made frequent references to the Gorge plot in the previous post. Emma and I acquired it late in 2014, but I didn’t mention it on this site for years because of so many things happening at once – things that required physical labour or academic attention, things that detracted from activities such as blog-post writing. One of the things requiring physical attention was the building of a shed/cabin at the Gorge plot. I built is at the initial plot I lived on first, and dismantled it later to reassemble it at the Gorge plot. See HERE for the initial construction phase. Here it is at the Gorge plot – note that the first picture is 6 months older than the rest:

Its base-frame is supported by 12 poles dug 80cm into the ground. The walls and floor are made from shutter-ply sheets, the roof corrugated alu-zinc sheets. The ceiling is knotty-pine, under which is hidden a substantial amount of insulation. The room is 3.6 by 3.6 metres, totalling 12.96 square metres. Emma and I, as well as our two cats, lived in this small space happily for a month before we headed up to Hogsback.

Two exterior walls of corrugated alu-zinc were added after the mid-year fires, which almost destroyed the shed/cabin. The logic is that metal does not catch alight as easily as wood. Initially I wanted to clad the entire structure in wood from local saw-mills, but the fire scared me off considerably, especially because the structure will be left unattended for long-ish periods of time.

The shed/cabin has one solar panel (128 watts) on the roof, which charges two deep-cycle batteries (102 amp hours each) in the cabin, which power several low-watt lights, a car stereo system I rigged up, and occasionally a laptop computer. I have added a 600W inverter so that I can charge the batteries of two extremely important cordless tools and things like headlamps and camera, as well to run a few odd 220 volt devices like hair clippers.

The small solar setup is the only power source on the plot. Alongside there being no ‘mains’ or grid electricity at the plot, there is no mains water connection. Water is caught off of the shed/cabin’s roof, as well as off the roof of a second structure I built at the top of the plot. The water situation, however, is the topic of a different post.


Humanure how-to: helpful links

Long version:
Short version:
From the handbook:
humanure handbook girdlok

Pictures: basic shed/cabin construction

Thermal Mass Rocket Heater

This was built in preparation for last Winter, and it’s been working a treat this Winter as well. Would definitely work in a much bigger room. This one cost about R1200 to make. That’s including the base-layer of fire bricks; the fire cement, and the steel flue and brackets.

Takes about 20 minutes to feel a nice amount of heat emanating from the chimney. 90 minutes to get all the bricks real hot. When the fire dies, the bricks keep their heat for 4 to 5 hours, hence the thermal mass part of the appellation. Uses minimal wood. Wood burns horizontally at the bottom of the burn chamber because of the air suction created by the chimney and flue. And no, no smoke comes up from the burn chamber… unless, it seems, when gusts of gale-force wind push smoke back into the chimney, but this has been rare.

Here it is unlit, kinda being used as a bedside table. The glass bottle is on the 3mm steel plate that seals the brick chimney; the little essential-oil burner (sitting on a rock/shell display) is here moved onto the part of the mass heater into which the wood is fed:


Here it is in use; the stone/shell display at the top also heats up, no problems (but don’t forget your cell phone etc. on the plate when the fire’s going!!!):


Here it is being christened; note the side access point for lighting and cleaning; this side access point is also used as a throttle:


Here it is under construction:

No more need for the small gas burner noticeable in the above picture!

The permaculture chapter: conclusion

solar cooker

See HERE for the provisional contents page of the study,

which gives you a proper chronology of sections.

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed (especially by way of more academic support, generally). I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.


The information provided in the chapter leaves no doubt that permaculture is explicitly and thoroughly Orphic in character; that it is opposed to Promethean endeavours and ideologies characteristic of ACID; that it is highly practical in nature while simultaneously founded upon firm ethical principles; and most importantly in the context of the ecological crisis, that permaculture strategies mitigate various issues that were explored in Chapters 1 and 2. As Mollison (1988: 9) points out,

the result of the adoption of permaculture strategies in any country or region will be to dramatically reduce the area of the agricultural environment needed by the households and settlements of people, and to release much of the landscape for the sole use of wildlife and for re-occupation by endemic flora. Respect for all life forms is a basic, and in fact essential, ethic for all people.

It is the remarkable ‘down-to-earth’ quality of permaculture that makes it so appealing in the context of the ecological crisis: permaculture “as a design system contains nothing new. It arranges what was always there in a different way, so that it works to conserve energy or to generate more energy than it consumes” (Mollison 1988: 9). This simplicity can empower individuals to implement small changes in their own lives that add up gradually over time and that decrease reliance on the systems of ACID that largely cause the ecological crisis. No ‘political will’ is therefore needed to incite positive change towards ecological sustainability, nor enterprising initiatives from the corporate world, nor any of the other ‘external’ factors that people might be tempted to believe is necessary in mitigating against the ecological crisis.

One can think of people who implement permaculture principles as ‘philosopher gardeners’ or ‘farmer-poets’ – these are appellations offered by Mollison (1988: 9), ones that point towards the mix of theory and practice that constitutes permaculture. Employing these suggestive appellations, Mollison (Ibid) offers positive and thought-provoking sentiments that will conclude this chapter:

Philosopher-gardeners, or farmer-poets, are distinguished by their sense of wonder and real feeling for the environment. When religions cease to obliterate trees in order to build temples or human artefacts, and instead generalise love and respect to all living systems as a witness to the potential of creation, they too will join the many of us now deeply appreciating the complexity and self-sustaining properties of natural systems, from whole universes to simple molecules. Gardener, scientist, philosopher, poet, and adherent of religions all can aspire in admiration of, and reverence for, this earth. We create our own life conditions, now and for the future.

The permaculture chapter: immediate priorities

See HERE for the provisional contents page of the study,

which gives you a proper chronology of sections.

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed (especially by way of more academic support, generally). I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

Immediate Priorities

In planning for alternatives to Promethean endeavours characteristic of ACID (‘advanced’ competitive consumer capitalist industrial democratic dominion), one may observe the following “practical design considerations” provided by Mollison (1988: 15):

* The systems we construct should last as long as possible, and take least maintenance. * These systems, fuelled by the sun, should produce not only [for] their own needs, but the needs of the people creating or controlling them. Thus, they are sustainable, as they sustain both themselves and those who construct them. * We can use energy to construct these systems, providing that in their lifetime, they store or conserve more energy than we use to construct them or to maintain them.

These design considerations work alongside “a set of ethics on natural systems” (Mollison 1988: 7), a set of ethics that is very clear on what human action entails in the context of the ecological crisis:

In a world where we are losing forests, species, and whole ecosystems, there are three concurrent and parallel responses to the environment: 1. Care for surviving natural assembles, to leave the wilderness to heal itself. 2. Rehabilitate degraded or eroded land using complex pioneer species and long-term plant assemblies (trees, shrubs, ground covers). 3. Create our own complex living environment with as many species we can save, or have need for, from wherever on earth they may come.

This involves the following (Ibid):

* Implacable and uncompromising opposition to further disturbance of any remaining natural forests, where most species are still in balance; * Vigorous rehabilitation of degraded and damaged natural systems to stable states; * Establishment of plant systems for our own use on the least amount of land we can use for our existence; and  * Establishment of plant and animal refuges for rare or threatened species.

Mollison (Ibid) points out that permaculture is mainly centred around the third of the above points, but adds that “all people who act responsibly in fact subscribe to the first and second statements.” He encourages people to “use all the species we need or can find to use in our own settlement designs, provided they are not locally rampant and invasive.” Furthermore, people are urged to become “truly responsible conservationists” (1988: 7), which involves some very practical actions:

…truly responsible conservationists have gardens which support their food needs, and are working to reduce their own energy needs to a modest consumption, or to that which can be supplied by local wind, water, forest, or solar power resources. We can work on providing biomass for our essential energy needs on a household and regional scale.

Creating gardens indeed becomes a central activity, as again evident in the following (Ibid):

Even the smallest garden can reserve off a few square meters of insect, lizard, frog, or butterfly habitat, while larger gardens and farms can fence off forest and wetland areas of critical value to local species. Such areas should be only for the conservation of local species.

And amusingly in the following too (Mollison 1988: 6):

People think I am slightly crazy when I tell them to go home and garden, or not to involve themselves in broadscale mechanised agriculture; but a little thought and reading will convince them that this is, in fact, the solution to many world problems.

Mollison identifies in the aforementioned quote something that people should not do, namely “involve themselves in broadscale mechanised agriculture”; he again (1988: 9) points towards some examples of actions that should not occur in a context where sustainability is valued:

It is hypocrisy to pretend to save forests, yet to buy daily newspapers and packaged food; to preserve native plants, yet rely on agrochemical production for food; and to adopt a diet which calls for broadscale food production.

The permaculture chapter: principle 12 – creatively use and respond to change

See HERE for the provisional contents page of the study,

which gives you a proper chronology of sections.

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed (especially by way of more academic support, generally). I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

  1. Creatively use and respond to change

Mollison (1988: 11) aptly points out that in “life and in design, we must accept that immutable rules will not apply, and instead be prepared to be guided on our continuing exploration by flexible principles and directives” (his emphasis). The previous eleven permaculture principles are notably flexible: each one will be applied differently in a different context depending on the details of the given context. For example, a permaculture design for food gardens on a flat piece of land will be considerably different to a design for food gardens on a sloped piece of land; observation (principle one) will obviously produce different results; the catching and storing of energy (principle two) will not be the exactly the same; the yields (principle three) will also be different; and so on.

Every season also brings about changes that affect all permaculture food systems. Summer yields are obviously different to winter yields, and the permaculturalist plants different seeds at different times of year, involves herself in different activities at different times of year (for example, working outside at the heat of the day during the summer in hot climates is not recommended), and tends to adapt her diet to one that can incorporate seasonal produce as far as is possible. The Permaculture Association[1] uses the example of changing seasons as an opportunity to point out that such predictable changes can be planned for: “seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter are predictable and can be planned for, and incorporated into our designs, management and action plans”. The Association elaborates on this broad notion of changing systems as follows:

How eco-systems change over time – in ecology this is called ‘succession’ [–] is also predictable, at least overall. By understanding how ecosystems change over time, we can accelerate the process and create productive ecosystems faster than is usual in nature. Forest gardens are an example of this, where all the layers of the forest are put in all in one go, rather than over many years.

The permaculture approach is therefore one that proactively anticipates change and plans for it via the design process. This proactive approach of planning for change is of importance considering broader socio-political, economic and ecological changes, some of which the Permaculture Association draws attention to: “Climate change, peak oil, resource depletion, population growth, technology changes, economic booms and busts, all contribute to a less than certain age.” The Association adds the following optimistic reassurance, which surely stems from experience with permaculture systems in general: “Many of these challenges seem beyond our control. However, the way we think about them, and how we react as individuals, groups, organisations and networks, is under our control”.

In ACID, the ‘business-as-usual’ Promethean mindset prevails in the context of change: food production is ‘changed’ via the application of ever-increasing amounts of industrial chemicals to monocrops of ever-increasing size that require ever-increasing amounts of water to grow, process, and distribute; throughput of raw materials under the consumer-capitalist model is ‘changed’ by increasing the throughput of raw materials and the ever-increasing rate of available consumer goods; the fractional reserve money industry ‘changes’ by the ever-increasing creation of ‘currency’ (which counterintuitively means increasing debt throughout society; political ‘change’ entails the (potential) change of one political party for another but all political parties ‘inherit the check-book’ (so to speak) and perpetuate the agenda of consumer-capitalism; and so on (see Chapters 2 and 3 for details on the listed examples, and for various other examples). In other words, ‘change’ is synonymous with growth in ACID, the kind of growth that propels the ecological crisis (see Chapters 1 and 2 for the exposition of this cause-and-effect relationship). Change is the context of permaculture involves not only being aware and respectful of changing cycles, e.g. the seasons, but also being aware of the changes that human beings cause in a given environment in all its facets – social, political, economic, and ecological. Permaculture therefore acts as a mitigating force against the Promethean business-as-usual mindset characteristic of ACID.

The researcher will add, in light of what has been written so far about this principle, that he was partly inspired to begin a permaculture homestead by the ‘business-as-usual’ mindset that he saw as instrumental in the ecological crisis. It was clear to him that real change of systems is necessary in order to start dealing with the ecological crisis, and for him this meant drastically changing the way he lives – the rustic permaculture homestead that is his home (and which has been described in some detail in this chapter already) is testament to his embrace of change. In applying all of the permaculture principles already discussed, he changed his life, and his changed life has incomparably fewer negative ecological impacts that the average ‘Promethean man’; indeed, the researcher makes frequent positive ecological contributions by putting into practice the previously discussed permaculture principles. The way of life that he has undertaken involves constant planning for change – specifically change of the seasons and the accompanying changes in temperature, rainfall, vegetables that must be planted, chores that need to be adapted, etc. This way of life is ecologically sensitive: putting on more clothes when cold in winter, as opposed to buying electric heaters to warm various rooms in a building; eating seasonal vegetables rather than eating vegetables flown in from various countries for the purpose of year-round availability of all types of vegetables; changing routine frequently to make compost when all the humanure buckets are full rather than flushing fertility down the toilet; etc. No big societal/political/economic change needed to occur for the researcher to make such personal changes; instead, he took heed of unambiguous information about the ecological crisis (Chapter 1), about the causes of the ecological crisis (Chapter 2), and he made the choice to change to change his life.

All of the Orphic offerings explored in Chapter 5 can be said to be very open to change: older cultures constantly adapted themselves to being more connected to seasons and natural cycles; the unnamed movement of Blessed Unrest is constituted by between one and two million groups that all work for changes towards socio-political, economic and ecological justice; Sheldrake’s morphic resonance theory focuses partly on habits and changes that occur in a species via the morphic field ‘mechanism’; Hancock’s work on the legacy of a potential lost civilisation of vast antiquity implies a crucial change to the way that human beings understand their origins; Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics, the Occupy Movement, and the Zeitgeist movement all propose massive changes to the Promethean status quo of ACID.

[1] accessed 1 March 2016

The permaculture chapter: principle 11 – use edges and value the marginal

See HERE for the provisional contents page of the study,

which gives you a proper chronology of sections.

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed (especially by way of more academic support, generally). I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

  1. Use edges and value the marginal

In permaculture, edges are generally the places where two ecosystems meet; this is the definition provided by the Permaculture Association[1], which elaborates on this principle as follows:

The place where two eco-systems or habitats meet (e.g. woodland and meadow) is generally more productive and richer in the variety of species[2] present than either habitat on its own. In ecology this is called ‘ecotone’. This is central to the idea of using edges as a design method. The logic is simple. If the most productive bit of woodland is the edge, then design it to have a bigger edge.

This logic is indeed simple, because the edge between two ecosystems is where species from one ecosystem encounter species from the other. The permaculture designer, in planning for ‘more edge’ in a given system, works to increase ‘overlap’ between ecosystems, thereby creating more biodiversity simply because more than one ecosystem is required for such overlap to occur – the more ecosystems that meet (i.e. more edges), the better. As has been detailed in Chapter 1 and frequently commented on thereafter in this study, industrial agriculture does exactly the opposite, i.e. it transforms biodiverse areas into what Mollison has in the chapter referred to as ‘agricultural wastelands’ of monocrops. This permaculture principle is therefore another method of righting the wrongs of Promethean agriculture.

In permaculture, prioritising edges may also mean a focus on less obvious cooperative relationships between species, and the corollary is that cooperative relationships make for healthy communities. These ideas are evidenced in the following from Mollison (1988: 3); he begins his observations with the now familiar Orphic quality in permaculture of having a strong ‘earthcare ethic’:

Having developed an earthcare ethic by assessing our best course for survival, we then turn to our relationship with others. Here, we observe a general rule of nature: that cooperative and associations of self-supporting species (like mycorrhiza on tree roots) make healthy communities. Such lessons lead us to a sensible resolve to cooperate and take support roles in society, to foster an interdependence which values the individual’s contributions rather than forms of opposition or competition.”

The relevance of the above observations to the principle of edges is this: one can consider the space between tree roots and soils as edges, spaces ‘occupied’ by mycorrhiza that carry out important functions for the well-being of the plant, e.g. in assisting in nutrient exchange[3]. The awareness of edges in this instance will directly impact upon the kind of actions that human beings undertake, for example, they will likely not dig into soils unless they absolutely have to because they know that disturbing soils damages mycorrhiza and other important microbacteria that work to create beneficial conditions for plants. Accordingly, permaculture is well known for its favouring of the ‘no-dig’ approach: as the name implies, soils are not dug into as a matter of priority; instead, areas are ‘lasagne mulched’, which involves piling layers of alternating types of organic matter onto a given area that will later be planted in. It will take several months before these kinds of raised garden/agricultural beds are ready to plant crops in, but the added benefits of the method justify the wait: increased microbiological activity, long term fertility, increased moisture retention, raised and beds that can withstand seasonal flooding.

Regarding the aspect of this principle that focuses on ‘valuing the marginal’, the Permaculture Association (Ibid) points out that marginal “could be ideas, views, unusual plants, wild animals or people at the ‘edge’ of society. Permaculture itself has been seen as marginal for many years”. Just as mycorrhiza and microbacteria can be considered and respected for cooperative advantages in a system, so too can ideas, views, unusual plants, wild animals and people at the edge of society be incorporated into a given system for cooperative advantages. This of course requires a very different kind of system to the one that in this study has been identified as characteristically Promethean and which has been called ACID. Permaculture can be used to help construct such an alternative system.

The author of this study has put this permaculture principle into practice by piling organic matter (tree branches, leaves, occasional layers of horse manure) on the perimeter of the homestead area. This process was discussed in an earlier permaculture principle. These ‘woodpile walls’ that are the edges, the margins, of the homestead serve the important function of keeping dogs out of the area, of providing much-needed windbreaks for the gardens, of storing fertility for long term break-down and slow seepage of nutrients into surrounding areas, and of providing a habitat for all forms of life. And throughout the homestead one finds various non-linear rows of trees and garden beds and wood-stumps, the presence of which creates more useful margins where microclimates meet.

Regarding the relevance of this permaculture principle to the ‘Orphic offerings’ explored in Chapter 5: all of them can be said to currently exist on the periphery of mainstream discourse. None of the topics discussed in Chapter 5 fit as ‘components’ of ACID because their powerful Orphic character opposes them to the dominant Promethean character of ACID. Yet just as the use of edges and valuing of the marginal add important features to a physical system, each area of focus in Chapter 5 can add an important dynamic into a consideration or analysis of a relevant topic given a theoretical approach to the topic. Theory often underlies practice, so it follows that incorporation of ‘marginalised’ Orphic ideas into a line of thought can transform action that may have previously been dominantly Promethean. Good examples of this are two of the movements encountered in Chapter 5, the first being the ‘unnamed movement’ of Blessed Unrest consisting of between one and two million organisations, and the Occupy Movement: both of these movements are/were constituted by ‘margins’ of people who act as buffers – edges – between the entities that cause socio-political, economic and ecological injustice, and the entities that are the victims of such injustice.

[1] accessed 29 February 2016

[2] This is a reiteration of Mollison’s following comment (1988: ???): “Animals are found in greater numbers on edges, for example, and a fire mosaic landscape is rich in species”.

[3] Mycorrhiza “networks can affect the physiology and ecology of plants by facilitating interplant nutrient exchange, acting as inoculum reservoirs for seedlings and altering plant competitive abilities.” accessed 1 March 2016

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