Thursday, October 25, 2018

Sector analysis: identifying risks and designing solutions. Permaculture is about designing the world we want while acknowledging the realities of the world we live in.

A picture of a fire plan design.
The risks you face will change from location to location, but permaculture provides great tools to design a safe and abundant project at landscape and social levels.
I love so many aspects of permaculture: the delicious food produced by permaculture gardeners, the sense of global and local community it fosters, the sustainable changes it has supported me to make in my life and the beauty in the nature it helps me see. At a more pragmatic level I also know that permaculture gives individuals, households and communities the tools, attitudes and skills we need to design abundant, inclusive and resilient futures.

This mix of sustainability and resilience is one of the delightfully simple, yet complex aspects of permaculture. A well-designed and managed permaculture system will be resource efficient, productive and may well sequester greenhouse gases, but it will also be a resilient system better able to deal with the inevitable effects of climate change such as natural disasters like floods or wildfire.

The potential for disasters happen when systems can not handle extremes or cumulative stress. One week of limited spending may be a challenge for some of us, but a medical bill on top of long-term debt and structural poverty may force many families into homelessness. Water is essential for life, but the extremes of either drought or flood-causing torrential rain can cause havoc in both natural and human systems.

Designing land, the built environment, lifestyles, livelihoods and organisations to deal with extremes as well as everyday conditions is essential for resilience. Resilience is the ability of a system to handle change. There are many ways in which permaculture design and practice supports resilience. In order for designers to design for resilience, they first need to understand what extremes are most likely to have an impact on a site. This is why careful observation and sector analysis is so important for a successful project.

In this video from the Permaculture Women’s Guild Permaculture Design Course I get really excited about sector analysis and visualised data like wind roses. Then again, I am really excited about permaculture and regenerative design in general.
Sector analysis is a critical tool for visually representing observations about identifying how a site may be affected by the “sectors” or the external forces and elements that move through or otherwise influence a project. The sectors recorded can be related to effects on the site caused by climate, ecology, geology, topography and society. For example sun paths, wind and rain patterns, invasive plants, wildlife, pollution, neighbours, areas of high fire threat, views and noise could all be recorded on a sector analysis map.

Sectors are often represented as labelled wedges, arcs or arrows representing the origin and direction of the element. However, rocky areas, contaminated soil, boggy land, or areas of flood risk are better represented as location specific patches over a base map. Some uncontrollable issues such as geological instability or limiting factors such as legal restrictions are harder to represent visually and are best recorded in writing.
Sector analysis maps are visual representations of the external factors that can influence a site being designed with permaculture.
Sector analysis maps are visual representations of the external factors that can influence a site being designed with permaculture. Sectors such as summer and winter sun, wildlife and prevailing winds are often illustrated as arcs or arrows representing where they come from.
In the Permaculture Women’s Guild Permaculture Design Course (PWGPDC) my colleague Jennifer English Morgan introduces the idea of Designer’s Mind. One aspect of developing Designer’s Mind is about making observations free of bias. We use Designer’s Mind when making a sector analysis as the forces we record can be both beneficial or harmful. For example knowing that dry summer winds come from the east of a site helps identify the best place to locate a laundry line or to hang produce for drying. At the same time that drying wind will quickly evaporate water from soil as well as dams or ponds. This information guides the placement of windbreak plantings or hedges on the eastern side to moderate the impact of the wind and reduce evaporation.

Used together with permaculture design tools such as zone analysis, sector analysis helps guide the placement of components so that they make best use of, or mitigate the risks of that sector. Sector analysis influences which zones are placed where, but at the same time, zones influence the strategies used to respond to external forces. In outer zones such as 3 or 4, lower cost, less energy demanding solutions such as windbreak plantings are used to slow the wind. Closer to the home more intensive solutions such as walls or use of gray water might be used to protect water-demanding plants, animals and people from a drying wind.
A woman uses the wind to dry her clothes on a laundry line.
A drying wind may put your garden at extra risk during low rainfall months, but it can also be used as a resource to dry clothes and allow for the optimum placement of laundry lines.
 Permaculture designers make a sector analysis for every design project whether it is a farm, balcony garden or community project. Within larger designs, major subsystems such as high intensity vegetable beds may also benefit from their own sector analysis that includes smaller scale micro-climate influences like the impact of trees casting shade.
Working on sector analysis is a great way to review and incorporate the ideas from Permaculture Design Course modules on climate, ecology, water, earthworks, soil and passive solar building design. Knowing how and why to make a sector analysis is a first step in designing mitigation approaches for the major extremes whether they be fire, flood, drought or legal challenges.

In the PWGPDC I present an in-depth module on Designing for Resilience: Chaos and Catastrophe. I consider the social and structural conditions that make people more vulnerable to disaster as well as the design approaches we can use to make our sites safer. My final Masters project explored how natural hazards are dealt with by permaculture designers and teachers and my results showed that “designing for catastrophe” is currently focused on the physical aspects of disasters rather than the people care aspects that increase coping capacity.

Originally published at on May 9, 2018.
Pippa Buchanan (MSc SA) is an Australian born resilience and sustainability educator, facilitator and urban permaculturist based in Austria. Her focus is on supporting and facilitating social learning processes which assist individuals, communities and organisations to develop ecologically sound futures and adapt to climate change impacts. She draws on permaculture design, systems thinking, informal education theories, future scenario development and facilitation approaches such as Art of Hosting in her work.

Pippa has completed two PDCs and participated in Rosemary Morrow’s Permaculture Teaching Matters course which cemented her interest in permaculture’s potential within disaster risk reduction and recovery. In 2017 Pippa completed an MSc in Sustainability and Adaptation with the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Machynlleth, Wales. Her research project explored how permaculture teachers and practitioners consider hazards such as floods and bushfires in their design work. Following her studies, she established the Permaculture and Disaster Risk Reduction working group to support permaculture approaches to household and community disaster preparedness. To get involved with this LUSH Spring Prize shortlisted group please join the mailing list.

Pippa’s background is in informal and academic adult education, language teaching, web and games development and she holds academic qualifications in adult education as well as computer and information science. She has collaborated on several artistic projects around water management, resilience and the commons, and participated in projects led by organisations such as FoAM, Brussels and Time’s Up, Linz. Pippa is fascinated by transformational processes, whether they be the evolution of new social forms, fermented foods or the transformation of yarn into knitted items. She shares her projects and ideas regularly at
In 2019–2020 she and her partner will relocate to Western Australia. Pippa is impatiently reading bushfire building standards for fun and drawing conceptual designs that incorporate a biogas digester, sauna, quail tractor, her longed-for avocado trees and community milk goats.

#designforresilience #designforcatastrophe #disasters #permaculturedesign #permaculturewomen #sectoranalysis
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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Permaculture’s Invisible Structures: in the Economic Dimension, the Problem is the Solution.

Picture of a homeless person sleeping in a doorway

Global Economic Crisis

You could say that I probably got into Permaculture through the economical doorway. I was working in real estate when the 2007–2009 global economic crisis hit and although it didn’t (immediately) pose a financial problem to me (I had earned well in the rise up to the crisis), it sure did leave a foul taste in my mouth on the social side of things. I had to fire people on the sales team, work the very few leads out there still double as hard, withstand lies told to customers by colleagues of other real estate agencies down the road as we were all after the same few “fish” in the sea,… it sure felt like it was a war zone out there, where everyone was competing for their share of the sinking cheesecake. This is the moment when

I stepped out of the branch and went looking for a Change.

​Right now, house Sales have gone up again here on the Balearic Islands and tourism never stopped growing due to other areas in the Mediterranean Sea Basin like Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and even Greece still being somewhat uncertain holiday destinations due to terrorist acts and refugees from Syria. Unemployment is down, spending is up once more and the papers talk about yet another record hitting season this 2018. We are out of the dark hole they say…

The global economic crisis of some ten years ago might seem over when you read through this little list, but it surely still is fresh on my mind, and I am actually even weary about a next one being right around the corner.

House sales are up to foreign buyers only.

Tourism is putting an extreme strain on the island’s resources, starting with water and on a par: long term residential rental properties are almost impossible to pay now.

​Jobs are aplenty yes but wages haven’t gone up, so spending power is lower for locals and the doctors have had a ball writing sick notes last summer 2017 due to burnout.

Picture of a protest sign- carbon plus money equals a burning earth
​Growth is something very natural. In nature, things don’t keep on growing forever though. Plants grow, people grow… and then… they die. It’s the cycle of life. An old growth forest is a system that is made up of many elements, some are in their growth phase, others are in their decline phase. Between them all, they keep the system going.

This stage of collaboration and accepting that there necessarily are phases of decline or cycles (the plants in decline become the soil and nutrition for the new plants) is something we humans have not yet understood as a species. If we want to avoid the decline of the entire system (our planet) we better hurry up to get to that stage of understanding.

Just as with the Social or Political Invisible Structures, we need to know exactly what it is we are working with when talking about the Economic Systems so that we can make a hypothesis as to why things are out of whack, to then start working on our design to get back on track (Permaculture Principle “Observe & Interact” at work).

​As I got more familiar with the principle “The Problem is the Solution”, I got more and more interested in the Economy and how our current capitalist model is pushing us beyond the limits of our ecosystem. I wanted to be able to design our way out of the mess and therefore had to start with … observation and analyzing. I personally learnt an enormous amount about the economy of today through taking the Integral Permaculture Academy’s mini-course on “Eco-Economy”.

I have recently finished a 6 month stretch of working on a module for a spectacular Online Permaculture Design Course that I co-facilitate together with 40 other female Permaculture Women’s Guild Designers from all over the world. It sure was spectacular on the Invisible Structures side of things, which is what my module focuses on, together with the Design for our Inner Landscape. In the course I talk about all of those Invisible Structures, but as a colleague goes into much more detail about the Economic Systems in her module, I brought my thoughts on those systems into this Medium post.

Let’s look at some of the most important concepts we need to understand before we can start any design involving the Economic Invisible Structures.

Picture of multiple stacks of coins

When we think about the economy, often we think about money. What is money? Money as such is definitely not a bad thing. It is one form of energy that circulates through our system. It is a store of value that we collectively assigned to it, and it is based on confidence.

It was designed to make connections possible between humans over larger distances.
What history tells us is that when our horizons expanded and direct bartering on the road got too hard (it isn’t always easy to find the person who has exactly what you want and you have exactly what she wants when you are traveling), some items got introduced that were recognized to have value elsewhere too. So “money” came into being.

Today’s money however has little to do with that original trust in a seashell or a block of salt that goes back 5000 years. These days we might do good in not placing too much of our confidence in money, as any Argentinian person can probably tell you (the peso suffered massive inflation in 1990 and has been unstable for a while).

Why not? Money these days is made up out of thin air and it is not the government printing our notes as some people believe. It is the bank that types in some numbers on a screen and as by magic you have money in your account.

​For the privilege of them giving you something they actually don’t have themselves, they also charge you interest, and you are saddled with a debt. In the latest crisis many people lost their homes to the banks. So the banks end up winning always: they either get money in return for the thin air they created your loan from, or they get a property! To top it off, when they then fly too high and burn their wings, our (tax payers’) money (borrowed from them with interest and/or worked very hard for) is then used to bail them out of trouble.
Picture of a protest sign that reads
​Whenever I tell this story or write it down, I feel that this currently is the biggest story we need to share, and make people aware of. Debt is not natural, therefore it is not sustainable.

Why is this not front page news everywhere?

Apart from many invested interests (pun intended) I believe it is because we lack new, positive stories. We need success stories, examples of good practices, a practical design to do it better. Something achievable to work towards.

We maybe feel that getting out of this mess is too big a task for us, and that we are firmly held in the grips of our debt. But there are many examples out there of complementary and local currencies in operation.

Picture of a city
Small steps may take us a long way (small and slow solutions are the way to go!). Going back to our basic needs (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), we must be able to make the distinction between them and our wants, as Max-Neef points out, and particularly realize the impact elsewhere in the system of our ways of satisfying our “needs”. The comparison between Maslow’s and Max-Neef’s needs becomes necessary in today’s economic system, and you can read about it in this other Medium Article by Neha Khandelwal.

​I mostly graphically represent this by drawing two apples on the board. One of them is the Apple-logo. The younger students I work with tend to immediately recognize that one. The other apple, the one that you can eat, is always second… and no I don’t think that has to do with my drawing skills. Which of those apples is a basic need and which represents a “want”?
Picture of a hand holding an apple in an orchard
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that “wants” are all bad. Of course I want to stay in touch with people, work from home, record my photographs and speak to my family in Belgium. I can do all that on any brand of computer though, or if I really do value the apple logo enough to pay the higher price for it, then I maybe don’t have to change the model for a new one every time one comes out…

Apples aside, it’s known that the capitalist system we live in purchases growth. Therefore “they” must sell more. Marketing helps them to achieve that. The system plays on our “wants”, and we are led to believe that we can satisfy our needs with items such as an iPhone or food packaged in colorful boxes.

The more “wants” we have, and we will — because our needs are often not satisfied, the more we have to recur to interest based loans, or in other words, we are spending money we don’t have whilst at the same time sending money up the chain (of those bankers and the already wealthy corporate world that sells us such items).

Maybe we should re-educate ourselves, and understand that capitalism is a polarizing system. Ever more money is flowing up that chain to the top, it surely isn’t trickling down as what they want us to believe. The divide is getting bigger. More and more people end up underneath the poverty line. Being in debt becomes a social epidemic with a lot of consequences (think Big Pharma, junk food chains causing loss of our soil as well as loss of our health, crime…)

But enough of the doomsday information overload. Permaculture is about solutions. Here I’d like to present you some very simple steps to boost your confidence in taking control over the Economic Invisible Structures in your design.

Solutions: Sustainable Economy
Picture of a stencil on the side of a building that reads
When looking at your personal economy, it’s good to have a base understanding of the following concepts.

Invest in & like Ecosystems

Invest in Ecosystems: buy livestock, trees, plants, seeds, buy land and steward it, buy local produce from your farmer, study local flora and get really good at foraging (there is so much free food all around!)…

The point being: you won’t be able to eat those classic motorbikes or those tons of designer handbags when the going gets tough and nobody around you has any cash to buy them off you.

Invest like Ecosystems: Diversify! Use the principle of redundancy and diversity, which create stability and resilience, have different income streams, your skill base might be a good start or you might want to check out the 8 forms of Capital by Ethan Roland. Sign up for your local LET group or Time Bank*. Up the faith and jump out of your comfort zone.

Also look at where your passion lies, and see if you could make it into an income stream. Design your Right Livelihood. It’s good to be using several economic systems and currencies at the same time, so you will not depend on any one system alone. Capitalism is not going to go away any time soon, but on its own, it’s too fragile a society we’d be living in, not resilient at all.

Live within your limits

Know what you have (your resource base — and don’t forget foraging, free food!) and don’t cross your limits. It’s exactly what we have to do on the planetary level, so we might as well start with ourselves. Another solution lies in how you act as a consumer. How about giving yourself enough time to think it through before you make a purchase.

There is a set of questions you could run through before actually buying anything, which could go something like this: Do I need this (basic needs!)? Do I maybe already own something like it (know your resource base!)? Can I borrow this from someone I know? Can I source this from a second hand store? Can I actually afford it? Etc.

If you have already crossed your limits, look at designing your way back up to the black numbers rather than stay in the red. It might be daunting but there is professional help out there too. As before, don’t hesitate to ask for help. It is not worth suffering over it for any longer than need be.

As we have crossed our limits as a society a while back (currently we are using 3.6 planets’ worth of resources as a species), the only option for those of us in the developed world is Degrowth. It is not going to be a choice anymore any time soon, so we best get used to it now already.


Would you be involved in arms or drugs trafficking? Would you invest in deforestation or petroleum companies that chop big chunks of the amazon down? Would you support big pharmaceutical companies that are under the suspicion of actually wanting to keep us sick as a society, and now even are one and the same as the big agro companies that destroy the livelihoods of our local farmers? I am guessing your answer to there questions is no.

You then need to know that your bank might be involved in them and that this is probably where your money is being used, because those are the investments that give most returns.

So if you don’t want to invest in those activities, di-vest your money out of your bank. It’s a job and a half yes, but it is doable and it is very much worth it. Being honest here, I have not yet been able to move my own mortgage to another bank.

​Check out your area for ethical banks through this link if you are in Europe.
Picture of leggo figures. Two police on each side of a man at a desk.
​Also vote with your money. Try to buy local products as much as you can. Steer away from big corporations that are known to play a huge part in destroying our environment, our social networks or our public health and don’t invest anymore in the likes of Coca Cola, Monsanto, Nestlé and many other brands that are often one and the same as can be seen on some chart images that float around the web.

Share your surplus

Don’t charge interest on any personal loan you may give a friend or family member, your abundance now is reinvested in a cycle that will cultivate social capital and it wíll return to you!

Don’t have a massive savings account: Debt is unnatural, so is hoarding. Even a hamster self-regulates and stops eating so much (and therefore hiding food) when the warmth of spring returns. You can have a saving accounts or a piggy bank by all means, it is a sign of a good Design for Catastrophe/Resilience, but anything more than that is based on fear and is not helping the local economy. Money is a flow of energy, and like anything stagnant, it stops working. One note of 10€ in your bank account is just that… 10€. If you spend 10€ in your local economy, it jumps up in value to 100€ just by passing through the hands of 10 people. Remember the principle of cycling energy.

Don’t charge for any spaces you might have available to share, or charge only a fair price to share in the costs: On this note, I can tell you about how our association PermaMed’s demo sites are on property that has been donated to us, or assigned to us to steward if you will, and there is even a “Land-bank” here on the island of Mallorca, where property that cannot be tended to by the owners is offered to people who are looking for a piece of “dirt” to grow food on, mostly just charging the cost of the water or agreeing on a part of the harvest to go to the owner.

Share your crop: you have loads of almonds, apricots, tomatoes, leeks, corn cobs… at the same time? Are you seriously going to can them all? Why not share what you can’t eat, and get some diversity in return. And as the saying goes: where 2 eat, 3 can eat too. Never hesitate to invite someone to your table and share a meal.

On the other hand, don’t stretch yourself to share what you actually really can’t (again, I am a good example of doing just that), because as one Permaculture Design Course teacher of mine likes to say: “You can’t be green, if you are in the red”, so it would be a priority to not be in the red. Guard your limits. Just as with your physical and emotional boundaries for your Inner Landscape Design, these limits are important for the longevity of your projects.

More detailed information on the Economic Systems in the mark of the Permaculture Invisible Structures can be found in Lucie Bardos’ latest Medium article. She is one of my 40 international & expert co-facilitators in the Permaculture Women’s Guild Online Permaculture Design Course which has just opened for early bird enrollment.

​I myself take you on a journey through the Inner Landscape and we look at the Invisible Structures in general, explore what they area within the social, economic and political dimensions, and how we can design for them in our projects. Wanna join us on this tremendous learning experience? Click on this link for the complete information.
Picture of the Permaculture Women's Guild logo
Extra Resources:

Dana Meadows was hugely important to the birth of Permaculture, by co-authoring the “Limits to Growth” Report of the Club of Rome in 1972. Together with the looming oil crisis of 1973, this stimulated Bill Mollison and David Holmgren to get designing for a permanent agriculture. This is her take on Sustainable Economies.

Helena Norbert-Hodge is a very inspirational lady as is the film she made in Ladakh: The Economics of Happiness.

Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economy
 works with boundaries and basic human needs. Fantastic! She also offers loads of economic history and poses some neat questions.

Ellen McArthur’s Circular Economy 
was presented to me at the R.I.E. gathering in 2015 (Iberian Ecovillage Reunion) in Navarra, Spain. Based on the principles of cycling energy and producing no waste.

​Hazel Henderson states that our economy is based on a big invisible layer that she calls the “Love Economy”. Riane Eisler builds on this in her Tedx talk on The Caring Economy. They both refer back to the backbone of our society being… the women… Caring & Loving… invisible in the GDP.
  • The link on the Time Bank concept goes to an article by Stephanie Rearick. She is the one who taught me most about time banking during a weekend on Economy, Energy and Ecology I helped host here on Mallorca in 2015. I assisted Christer Söderberg and Stephen Hinton with logistics for setting up The Sacred Valley Dialogues’ weekend on E-E-E (Economy, Energy and Ecology), , with some of the guest speakers being Elisabeth SahtourisPolly HigginsStephanie Rearick & Sybille Saint Giron
  • The two people who have up till now influenced me most on this topic are my first PDC teacher Richard Perkins and my Diploma mentor Stefania Stregafrom the Integral Permaculture Academy. 
#invisiblestructures #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #socialjustice #socialpermaculture
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Thursday, October 11, 2018

Finding Home: microclimate and a sense of place

I feel very lucky and grateful to have been invited to write a module on microclimates for a new online Permaculture design course. What I wasn’t expecting was the richness and enjoyment this extra awareness of microclimates has given me.

​Imagine yourself on a scorchingly hot summer’s day, in an urban environment.
How are you moving through this landscape?
Which side of the road do you walk on?
Do you walk near trees or avoid them.

Scenario 2: a wet, cold, stormy winter’s day.
​Now how do you move through the landscape?
Picture of a park with cooling trees and a fountain
Cooling trees and fountains
Quite naturally most of us will unconsciously seek shade both from the sun, wind and the rain, to avoid their extremes. But in permaculture we make this a conscious process, refine this observation skill by fine-tuning our awareness for spotting differences in light, temperature, moisture and wind in the landscape: the microclimate.

​This awareness allows us to make deliberate observations about a site so that we can use the microclimates and niches that become available to optimum effect. We can then make choices about adapting our environment through making modifications, like planting trees to help cool hot spots or temper the wind.

I’ve noticed that through conscious awareness of these factors, I naturally and consciously make choices about how to optimise my use of microclimates. I relate to new places more quickly, get to know them through their local climate, and make other observations such as what grows naturally, what other things could be positioned where, like where would be a good spot for a particular fruit tree to thrive.

​As hunter gatherers we relied on sharp senses to provide extensive data about our environment as we moved through it. For example using sight, hearing and touch to make observations and mental notes of wind speed and directions. This information informs how the wind affects the shape of animal tracks and therefore the decision on when the track was made and thus how far away the animal might be. Our lives would depend on our ability to interpret this information, both for obtaining food and protection from predators.
Picture of bird feet imprints on sand with some rocks
When we consciously practice noticing these different microclimate factors through our senses, we reawaken our bodies’ original design, fine-tuning our awareness of our environment and what it tells us. This allows us to relate directly to it and feel much more connected wherever we are. It directly links us to the landscape through our senses. In this way it becomes easy to feel at home more quickly wherever we are.

​Similarly, when we know where the sun is and the time of day, it helps us to orientate ourselves in the landscape. As well as showing us the microclimate, it allows us to feel even more connected and related to place, more comfortable and therefore more at home.
Picture of an ad for the permaculture design course offered by permaculture women
#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #microclimates
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Friday, October 5, 2018

So you want to plant a pollinator garden…here’s how!

Pollinators — the special group of animals that assist plants in reproduction by moving pollen from the male part of the plant to the female part of the plant, are in decline around the world. Non-insect pollinators, such as some birds and fruit-eating bats, are declining alarmingly. Many species of insect pollinators, including bees, butterflies, beetles, wasps, and flies, are also in decline (or in the case of managed bees, declining health) although the data is incomplete. Recent studies on insects as a group, point to serious declines.
Picture A pollinator on a flower
However the news is not completely grim. There is a growing body of evidence that engaging in pollinator gardening can help to increase the diversity and abundance of insect pollinators in localized areas. You can help to boost the population of insects pollinators in your neighbourhood and region. I like to think of it as bee-centred gardening, since wild and managed bees are some of the best pollinators in the animal kingdom.

The basics of bee-centred gardening

Plant a wide diversity of plants. Bees need a polyculture not the monoculture of endless fields of corn or lawns of grass. I am in favour of reverting as much lawn to gardens as possible. I use the sheet-mulch method to create a new garden bed and recommend seeding white clover into the lawn you can’t convert to garden. Try to mimic how plants grow in the wild. Often species grow in a patches together.
Picture A lawn that has been turned into a garden.
Plant flowers that bloom in all seasons (well, not winter in the Northern hemisphere).
Spring and fall are the times in which bees are especially in need of good sources of nectar and pollen. Surprisingly there can also be nectar dearths in the summer. Try to make sure you have blooming flowers in spring, early summer, late summer, and fall.
Picture A garden with flowers blooming
Plant native plants. 
​Native plants have co-evolved with wild bees, many (but not all) who are specialists,, preferring the nectar and pollen of specific groups of plants. Many native plants are perennials and, once established, can flourish almost on their own. Native plants have also been used for thousands of years by people and many are edible or medicinal. Buy the plants species not the cultivar. For example, you can buy Echinacea purpurea or you can buy a variety of cultivars of E. Purpurea that have been bred for specific characteristics (double blooms, different colours, etc). When you have a choice buy the species.

Protect trees. 
The first food for many species of bees in the spring is the pollen of trees. Many trees are crucial larval hosts for butterflies. Be very reluctant to ever cut down a tree and raise a stink when trees are cut down in your neighbourhood.

Create habitat for wild bees. 
Wild bees nest in pithy or hollow stems and the ground. Leave patches of bare ground and don’t cut the dead stems of perennials until mid-spring. You should do a lazy fall garden clean-up, leaving dead standing stems and lightly mulching garden beds with dried leaves. Bee hotels and nesting boxes are great but it’s even better to give them a habitat in which they can make their own nest.

​Leave a source of water. 
​All animals need water to live, insects included. Leave saucers with rocks throughout your garden and fill it daily with water. It will not attract mosquitoes because it is too shallow and the water evaporates quickly.
Picture Bees feeding
Do not use pesticides. 
​‘Pesticide’ is a catchall term that includes insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Completely stop using them and be careful before using organic insecticides. My best defense against “pests” is biodiversity, particularly wasps and toads. My best defense against weeds are my own two hands. Buy organic seeds and plants whenever possible.
Picture A pollinator on a flower
Make peace with wasps and ‘weeds’. 
​Many weeds are medicinal and edible. My favourite way to get rid of them is to eat them. Wasps are an extremely important group of insects that do a little pollinating but work to keep the populations of other insects in check. Social wasps like yellow jackets can be aggressive when you go near their nest and at certain times of the year (late August) as they prepare for winter. Be respectful of them. Solitary wasps, on the other hand, are very gentle and beautiful.
Picture A bee pollinates a flower
My favourite native plants for bees

This is specific to North-Eastern North America, especially Southern Ontario, Michigan, etc.

​Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis
Picture Flowers in a garden
​Wild Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana
Prairie Smoke, Geum triflorum

​Joe Pye Weed, Eutrochium maculatum (and others)
Picture A bee on pink flowers
​ Goldenrod, Solidago spp (this means multiple species within the genus)Please note: goldenrod is NOT responsible for hay fever. Wind-pollinated plants cause seasonal allergies, goldenrod is animal pollinated. A couple of species of goldenrod are opportunistic but many others are well-behaved.

Please note: I still plant opportunist native plants, it is not a moral judgement on the plant, merely a description of their behaviour.

Milkweed, Asclepias spp. Common milkweed is opportunistic but other species such as butterfly milkweed are well-behaved.
Picture A butterfly on flowers
Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis. Delicious for bees and people and the stems make great nesting spots for solitary bees.

Raspberry, Rubus idaeus, see elderberry

​Asters, Symphyotrichum spp.
Picture A bee pollinates a flower
​Rose, Rosa spp. There are multiple native rose species. I like smooth rose (Rosa blanda).

​Hyssops, Agastache spp. Anise hyssop makes a lovely tea.
Picture A bee flies by flowers
Coneflowers, Echinacea spp. Remember, with this group of flowers, buy the species not the cultivar. There are many different species of coneflower but don’t be fooled by the hybrids/cultivars in nurseries.
Picture A bee on a flower
Sunflowers, and sunflower-like plants such as Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum), False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoide), etc. Sunflowers have been heavily bred by people as a culinary food so it may be hard to find the native species (Helianthus Annuus).

​Planting a cultivar is just fine, in my opinion, but you may want to seek out similar native flowers that have the added bonus of being perennials. Jerusalem Artichoke is also edible as it is a delicious root vegetable. Many species of bees absolutely love these types of flower.
Picture A bee ona flower
My favourite non-native plants for bees

These plants are ideal for planting in your vegetable garden to increase pollination and most have multiple functions.

​Catnip and/or cat mint. I am very confused about whether these are the same plant. I think they are different species of plants within the same genus. Regardless, bees love them, cats love them, and they make a calming tea for people. I regularly see native bees on my catnip.
Picture A bee on a flower
Borage. Borage is loved by bumble bees and the flowers are edible (they taste like cucumbers).
Picture A bee on a flower
Mullein or Lambs’ Ear. Bees like the flowers but one species of bee, Anthidium manicatum, or the Wool Carder Bee likes to use the soft leaves for their nest. This bee, interestingly, is not native to North America but it has naturalized. Mullein has been used for centuries (maybe millennia) to treat bronchial infections.

Lovage. Lovage tastes like very strong celery and is loved by pollinators.

Valerian. Loved by bees, butterflies, and other insects. Has been used medicinally as a calming herb.

Picture A bee on a flower
Sweet Cicely, Spring flower, loved by pollinators with a sweet anise taste in the leaves, flowers, and seeds.

So go forth and be an enemy of lawns and spread organic flowers where ever you go (I am only slightly joking). Leave out water for insects of all kinds and engage in lazy fall gardening so native bees and butterflies can find spots to overwinter. Support small-scale, organic farmers especially those that also treat their human workers with respect. The most important aspect of being a bee-centred gardener is to consider yourself in relationship with bees.

I don’t mean this in some sort of deep spiritual sense (although that is good as well). We are embedded in an entangled relationship with bees. One of the biggest tricks of capitalism is that it hides the relationships that we are in with each other in every single aspect of our lives. These relationships include non-human animals. Bees work hard to pollinate our food and they co-habitat and co-create ‘our’ landscapes. If you are spraying pesticides and only have grass in your backyard, you are in a harmful relationship with bees. However, you can move towards a mutually beneficial relationship with bees and the amazing thing is that it is as easy as planting a patch of flowers and leaving out a saucer of water.

​Happy gardening!

Picture The author's garden, ready to bloom soon
​My garden, which is about to erupt in a riot of colour!

Originally published at on June 30, 2018.


I am a permaculture educator and anti-racist, feminist activist in London, ON, Canada. I am currently a PhD candidate in Geography at Western University, where I study the relationship between people and bees in cities. My M.A. in Anthropology, also at Western University, focused on gentrification and belonging in a community garden in Toronto. I live in a suburban permaculture sanctuary with my family, two dogs, three cats, two bunnies, and thousands of gorgeous, busy bees. I maintain the blog Permaculture for the People.

​Want to know more?

I am so excited to be teaching urban permaculture as part of the first online Permaculture Design Certificate taught exclusively by women. If you would like to know more or would like to have me as your permaculture design reviewer, please check out my blog and get in touch with me at
#permaculture #freepermaculture #foodnotlawns #bee garden
Via Permaculture Women's Guild - free permaculture

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Design the regenerative city: using zones and sectors in an urban permaculture design

Picture of a garden in an urban setting
When people discuss permaculture design, one of the first aspects mentioned are zones, followed by sectors (or vice versa). In some books, articles and PDCs, zones and sectors are written about in ways that are most relevant to rural settings. When we think about applying permaculture to the city, we need to adjust the concept of zones and sectors to fit the scale, and realities of vibrant urban living. When I first discovered permaculture and for several years after I attended my Permaculture Design Course with Earth Activist Training, I continued to live in rented spaces in cities, with little or no access to my own space. I found it challenging to figure out how to design a permaculture life without owning a large tract of land. This article is about how to think differently, on a city scale, about zones and sectors so that you can plan for a season of amazing urban permaculture design and practice whether it be in a small-space, no space, or community space!

The use of zones in permaculture is a useful way to organize our space and our lives so we can begin to design it regeneratively. It seeks to describe the intensity and frequency of use of varying spaces and is typically outlines as:
  • zone 0 — the home (sometimes described as oneself, with the other zones changed for scale)
  • zone 1 — home garden
  • zone 2 — Orchards (also where small animals might live)
  • zone 3 — pastures, larger livestock
  • zone 4 — managed forests and wetlands
  • zone 5 — the wild

People play with the zones to make useful for different scales but you can see this classic template, modified from David Holmgren in Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, is not so useful for those of us in cities.

Permaculture Activist magazine (now Permaculture Design) suggested urban zones be based on the use of fossil fuels in transportation. I find this useful as movement around cities, particularly large cities, affects the frequency and intensity of use of spaces.

Here is an outline of their vision (from the very useful article Zones and Sectors in the city):
  • Zone 0: Home.
  • Zone 1: Walking distance (“pedosphere”).
  • Zone 2: Bicycling distance (“cyclosphere”).
  • Zone 3: Reachable by public transportation or by a short drive.
  • Zone 4: Driving distance.
  • Zone 5: Reachable only by plane or other long-distance transport

I like this conception of urban zones and think it is useful, although it does not speak to everyone’s experience of city living or the methods of transportation to which they may have access. Living in a small city vs. large city can drastically change this use of zones, as can living in a city centre vs a suburb.

Also, what if someone cannot walk or bike? Or doesn’t own a car? I do aim to only drive in zone 4 (3, if it is outside the city) so I think it is a very useful and important way to think about regenerative design in this way.

Having said that, I conceive of zones slightly differently but still along the lines of frequency and intensity of use. I think it is very important to leave zone 5 as the wild and to also incorporate places in the world you will never visit but that impact you and, especially if you are North American, YOU impact. I also think it is interesting to ponder how the use of the internet and social media affect zones, especially the “community” and “people” zones.

Here is my proposal for zones in the city:
  • Zone 0 — you and your home, chosen family (this includes kids, partners, close friends, lovers, etc)
  • Zone 1 — Spaces used everyday (your yard, garden, possibly a park, maybe you go to a cafe or library everyday)
  • Zone 2 — Spaces used 3–5 times a week (a community garden or community food forest, a coffeeshop, your workplace, perhaps your local library); often easily walkable, within reasonable cycling distance or on a direct transit route
  • Zone 3 — Spaces visited about once a week (a farmer’s market, your CSA, a art studio where you take classes, maybe a park where you spend your weekend, a place where you volunteer, etc)
  • Zone 4 — Spaces that you visit about once a month and/or that are important to your life but not a frequent part of it (a local permaculture or organic farm, out of town friends or family, a managed park or conservation area, community organization mtgs). Also if you happen to regularly visit another city or country (even annually), I would include it here not in zone 5
  • Zone 5 — The wild as well as parts of the world you may never visit but impact or are impacted by. I think it is crucially important to think about zone 5 to consider how our actions affect wild areas AND affect people throughout the world that who we may never meet in places we may never visit.

This can be played with to make it work for you. Once you have a sense of your zones, write them out using five concentric circles with zone 0 in the middle. I recommend making a diagram about your present life and a diagram about how you hope to redesign your life/spaces. You can divide the diagram into different sections such as food, outdoor spaces, community, and people.
  • Generally in permaculture the most intensively and frequently used spaces as the ones that you develop first with your design plans. However, this doesn’t mean that you can or should only focus on yourself and your home. Many urban dwellers interact with our neighbourhood gathering spots every single day, so we need to give those areas our attention, time, and energy.
A hand drawn chart of the permaculture zones
Sectors are a design tool that helps you think about the different energies, sometimes thought of as ‘wild’ or uncontrollable energies, that make their way through your spaces. I recommend doing a sector analysis on zones 0, 1, and 2, if possible (you may have little control over some of the zones).

Energies typically mentioned in permaculture guides:
  • sun
  • wind
  • rain/water
  • wild animals
  • fire in some places

I also add human-created sectors:
  • family members (including children)
  • neighbours (including children)
  • friends
  • domesticated animals (yours or ones in the neighbourhood)
  • city bylaws and staff
  • community/activist organizations
  • community ‘helpers’ (teachers, librarians, bus drivers, etc)
  • businesses
  • corporations
  • ‘the public’ (the people in your city)
  • OPPRESSION (how does racism, sexism, colonialism, class bigotry affect the energy of our spaces)

It is important to think of how these different energies, not directly controlled by you (even your children, let’s be honest), affect and use your spaces. They need to be considered when designing space. You need to know where the sun shines and at what time of day before planting gardens but you also need to know where your children like to play. These categories are not bound and they all interact with one another. In a city two crucially important and entangled sectors are city bylaws and neighbours.

It’s important to think about the flows of these energies not only the natural ones (wind, water, etc) but the human-created ones (children, domesticated animals). What energies flow in and out of your spaces and how can you design for and with them? Personally, I try to mostly think about how to work with these energies not to stop them. We might think we can block a meddling neighbour with a fence, but that is partly an illusion and might also block the flow of other energies (wild animals, for example).

Flexible, dynamic design
People can be rigid with how they use permaculture tools and practices. Thinking through zones and sectors is an important design tool, helping you to uncover patterns and assisting in the visioning process that is so crucial to any good design. Use it in ways that help you and make sense for your life. Redo your zones and sectors regularly and think about what has changed and what has stayed the same (and WHY).

In my heart I am still a high school dropout who dislikes authority and rules so I need to state that these are guidelines not rules. Use zones and sectors in flexible ways to help create vibrant, regenerative urban spaces!

If you want to share, I would love to see your zone diagrams and I’m sure others will find it valuable. Post them in the comments or email me.

Originally published at on January 14, 2018.

I am a permaculture educator and social activist in London, ON, Canada. I am currently a PhD candidate in Geography at Western University, where I study the relationship between people and bees in cities. My M.A. in Anthropology, also at Western University, focused on gentrification and belonging in a community garden in Toronto. I live in a suburban permaculture sanctuary with my family, two dogs, three cats, two bunnies, and thousands of gorgeous, busy bees. I maintain the blog Permaculture for the People.

Want to know more?
I am so excited to be teaching urban permaculture as part of the first online Permaculture Design Certificate taught exclusively by women. If you would like to know more or would like to have me as your permaculture design reviewer, please check out my blog and get in touch with me at
#permaculturezonesandsectors #urbanpermaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen
Via Permaculture Women's Guild - free permaculture

Permaculture in the ‘Burbs

How I learned to bloom where I was planted (or, rather, where I planted myself).
Picture of a backyard garden
My backyard in the summer
I am not the type of person who lives in the suburbs. I love big cities: the vibrancy, the art, the festivals, the diversity, even the chaos of city centres. I love walking and cycling wherever I need to go and I especially love frequenting public spaces like parks, libraries, community centres, and public pools. I love practicing urban permaculture in the collective spaces of dynamic cities (I am the urban permaculture teacher in the Permaculture Women’s PDC).

​But something happened in 2011: I feel in love with someone who owned a house in a suburban area of my city. At the time, I rented a house in a central neighbourhood that was nice, but expensive (for me) with a teeny tiny backyard. In order to pay rent I had to work two jobs. In May of 2013 my two kids, dog, two cats, and I moved to the ‘burbs.
Picture of a suburban backyard with a pool and garden.
Suburban stereotype. Pools, loved by children, death traps for critters!
Things changed immediately. I started driving a lot, something that made me unhappy. I felt isolated and lonely, even in a big blended family of six. My city is relatively small (350 000 people) but I couldn’t stroll or easily bike to the places in which I liked to spend time. I didn’t see my friends as often and felt disconnected. Worse, I felt out of place, unable to truly be myself.

Eventually, I convinced my partner that I had to move back to the centre of the city to be happy. But two things disrupted my plan. One, my daughter had made some great friends at her neighbourhood school and moving would mean pulling her out of that school. I had already majorly disrupted my kids lives a couple times and didn’t relish the idea of doing it again. Two, my backyard had become a permaculture ecosystem — full of wildlife, perennial plants of all kinds, and a growing medicinal food forest, still in its baby stage. I knew that next person who moved into our house would likely destroy most of it.

Permaculture is about creating relationships in which everyone flourishes. I started to think critically about the lopsided power parents yield over kids’ lives — we can turn their whole live upside down with one decision. I also started to think about the responsibility I have to the trees and perennials I planted and to the animals for whom I created habitat. Don’t get me wrong, mamas need to flourish as well — I don’t think women should sacrifice our own happiness for our partners or children. But I realized that there are special ways that I also flourish in this space.
Picture of a backyard garden.
Yes, some of my neighbours — I’m sure — worry that my forest garden and hippy ways are going to bring down their property values. But, other neighbours use my Little Free Library with enthusiasm, attended the art & eco festival my partner and I put on for four years, and, most recently, voted for my idea for an experiential pollinator garden during my city’s Neighbourhood Decision-making Process.
Picture of tents set up outside for an arts festival.
Long live Mantis Arts & Eco Festival (we had to take a break when I started my PhD)
The bike ride to the university is almost an hour long, but this hour is spent almost entirely along the river. During the long bike ride to and from the university I pass five playgrounds, two community gardens, a dog park, one quirky amusement park, two murals, and get to witness dozens of people enjoying public green space. I spend close to an hour smiling at people as they connect with each other and non-human nature. During my bike ride, I get to admire old willow trees and bad-ass geese who stand their ground, and sometimes catch a glimpse of a bald eagle, skunk, deer, or possum. Plus I have really muscular calves.
Picture of art on a building with grass in front of it.
I have also discovered that hidden in my neighbourhood are many kindred spirits, also yearning for a better, shared world for all. And so, we’re staying and I am learning that you can create a permaculture sanctuary in the suburbs, and more than that, you can create a sense of community — and can flourish — in unlikely places.
Picture of a sign in a neighborhood in French, English and Arabic that reads
I am a permaculture educator and anti-racist, feminist activist in London, ON, Canada. I am currently a PhD candidate in Geography at Western University, where I study the relationship between people and bees in cities. My M.A. in Anthropology, also at Western University, focused on gentrification and belonging in a community garden in Toronto. I live in a suburban permaculture sanctuary with my family, two dogs, three cats, two bunnies, and thousands of gorgeous, busy bees. I maintain the blog Permaculture for the People.

Want to know more?
I am so excited to be teaching urban permaculture as part of the first online Permaculture Design Certificate taught exclusively by women. If you would like to know more or would like to have me as your permaculture design reviewer, please check out my blog and get in touch with me at

​#suburbs #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #foodnotlawns #suburbanpermaculture

Via Permaculture Women's Guild - free permaculture

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