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2014-07-03

Garden club learns about permaculture

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

"It's not just for hippies," said permaculture proponent Travis Krause, speaking to members and guests of the Madrona Garden Club recently. Krause had the perfect setting, addressing the happy crowd in the garden of Debbie and Sid Gibson of Bandera.
Permaculture is more than a gardening technique, Krause made clear. It is a creative design process based on ethics and design principles. It can include gardening and farming, but it brings in all aspects of human habitation, from agriculture to ecological building, from appropriate technology to education and even economics.
This very old practice aims to copy patterns and relationships found in nature.
For gardeners and farmers, this means thoughtful planning to keep agricultural land sustainable.
Krause and his wife Mandy apply permaculture principles to their farm, Parker Creek Ranch, in D'Hanis. They hope that by doing so they can build skills that will help them prepare for a future with less available energy. The permaculture farmer aims to move "from being dependent consumers to becoming responsible producers."
The Gibson's garden includes rainwater catchment tanks, fountains, flowers and grasses for beauty, and organic vegetables. The garden extends the living area of the house. Nearby, an orchard provides fruit and chickens offer entertainment and bug control as well as eggs. The garden is a spiritual place as well as a source of food.
Krause got hooked on permaculture working as a biologist for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. "I got to observe a lot of cultures around the world," he said. "In some of the rural areas, the same piece of ground has been cultivated for 8,000 years.
"Here in the US, we see land getting depleted and abandoned," he added. "Some places would take 100 years to recover."
Krause wanted to make his ranch, in the family since 1846, an example of permaculture ideals. "I started by asking, how do I build an ecologically sound home? Then I ask, how far does my 'home' extend? To the yard, to the edge of my property? To my community?"
The permaculture garden will incorporate a variety of animals in the plan. He noted the chickens, goats and ducks in the Gibson's yard. "You also have to provide for wildlife as well as beneficial insects."
Krause bemoaned the fact that "agriculture in the US has been downgraded. Farms have been lost, the average age of farmers is mid-60s, and we now import much of our food."
Permaculture focuses on the interconnection of things, and there are five zones a permaculturist will use in the design process. Zone 1 is the dwelling, and Zone 2 is the area that needs frequent observation and attention, like the home garden. Zone 3 moves a short distance away from the house to include things like orchards and chicken houses. Zone 4 includes occasionally visited areas like a woodlot and a food forest for wild food gathering. Zone 5 are areas of the property that are left totally natural; livestock may even be fenced out of this area.
Planning land use with these five zones in mind allows gardeners "to stack functions," said Krause. "Chickens and ducks eat the bugs, manure feeds the plants."
The current long-term drought really brings the permaculture philosophy home, Krause said. "When you consciously design the system, it means less labor, less water, less input of poisons, chemicals and manures."
Krause encouraged his audience to remember that in Texas, "Plants requiring full sun really mean partial shade," so use shade cloth, vines and small fruit trees to provide shade for vegetable plants during the heat of a Texas summer.
More can be learned about permaculture online. Check out www.meetup.com/San-Antonio-Permaculture for information about a San Antonio group that includes hikers, photographers, native plant enthusiasts, people aiming to live off the grid and more. There is also http://www.permaculturenews.org/ , the website of the Permaculture Research Institute. Books Krause recommended include One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka; Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shepard; Permaculture - A Designer's Manual by Bill Mollison; and The Good Life by Sherry Lynne Ackerman.
The Krause's Parker Creek Ranch raises GMO and soy-free meat and egg products including pasture raised chickens and turkeys, grass fed beef, fresh herbs and potted vegetables and herbs. Their products can be found at Quarry Farmer's & Rancher's Market, Pearl Farmer's Market, Koch Ranches Gourmet Country Store, Bakery Lorraine and The Clean Plate.