by John Shiel
Photo © Craig Mackintosh
There are 2 ways to run a PermaBlitz (building a Permaculture community garden or backyard food garden in one day): coordinated by your local Permaculture club (you receive help with garden design, getting people to your house, and you are covered by their liability insurance), or where a group of friends just have a working bee and look after themselves. Not all Permaculture clubs run Permablitzes.
I am the Vice-Chair of Permaculture Hunter which promotes sustainable and healthy lifestyles in the Australian Hunter region (warm temperate/sub-tropical) and promotes the social and economic aspects of Permaculture. We hold monthly PermaBlitzes to build food gardens in 1 day (takes a few weeks to design, plan and get materials onsite), and members who help with 6 days of Blitzes etc. can get their own Blitz designed and coordinated.
We think it is imperative to encourage more food gardens with the looming oil/fossil fuel shortage which is leading to escalating food prices (mechanisation on the farm, pesticides, fertilisers, transport, refrigeration), and we can provide the templates, some design help, and some coordination for groups to start up.
Running a Permaculture Blitz
The host of a Permaculture Blitz provides the materials for garden bed borders, plants or seeds/seedlings and lunch for the helpers. The Blitz is usually carried out over 3 events — a design meeting, a materials and job meeting and the actual Blitz day.
Meeting 1 — Plan the garden
This is to choose a date, find out the requirements, evaluate the site, & quickly get a concept design of the garden (refined over the next week) and is great as an educational exercise to learn Permaculture design — ask the keen people who want to learn Permaculture to come along. Find out North direction, soil type, shading, other plants, what food do the hosts like:
- You can sketch up your backyard with North, or use whereis.com, nearmap.com or GoogleEarth to zoom in to your house address, and stick the diagram into a Powerpoint slide. Then use at least one of these on A4 to create the garden design (or have 3 or 4 copies to hand out if you wish input from others)
- Find the food varieties that the hosts like, and that can grow in that soil and microclimate — helps to have input from horticulturalists, permaculturalists, or local gardeners. The sketch allows the calculation of quantities
- You now have some time to find/buy/salvage materials for the site
- Add some Permaculture elements to lower the labour intensity of looking after the garden (eg. keeping the most labour intense items close to the house — eg. herb spiral; worm farm for brilliant juice and castings fertiliser; compost heap for humus to enrich soil; plant some legumes to contribute/fix nitrogen back into the soil; sow plants for mulching; to control pests naturally have a pond, strong smelling flowers or insect-predator-attracting plants; channel the water to the food from rainwater tanks or by building small berms (called swales) along contours; design some animal enclosures so they can help prepare planting areas etc.)
• Lastly set the date for the next labour organising meeting, and ask if anyone would like to volunteer to manage a task or two. They will need to 1) explain on the day in the first 10 mins, the permaculture benefits of the task, and how to build it.
- Choose the date to suit the majority — send out the invite
Meeting 2 — Plan the Day’s activities
Organise the materials, tools, plan each task by hour, find Team Leader volunteers to build each task. This is the organising meeting to get volunteers to run the day smoothly with lots of people who don’t know what needs to be done. The output of this meeting is a schedule of tasks and when they start and finish; a list of Team Leaders for each task, the final list of materials that need to be onsite, and a list of who is bringing unusual tools (wheelbarrows, toolbox, sledge and lump hammers, pruning equip, saws).
- Ask for 5-6 people to volunteer to be a Team Leader to manage each of the 3-4 main tasks, eg. registration, catering, veggie garden, orchard. For example for a pond task – the Team Leader will need to give a 10 min description of the benefits of this design element and how it will be done (eg. it will attract bug-eating insects and animals such as frogs, birds, lizards; dig a pond hole this size in this marked location, insert the liner, add bush rocks and grill to stop children falling in – council requirement that this is locked). Allow say 2 hours for a team of 3-4 plus one Team Leader. If there are 3 veggie gardens, there could be 2 or 3 Team Leaders for these tasks, and get them done in parallel.
- Work out who will bring along what tools – you may wish to prefabricate the above garden beds.
- Draw up an A3 schedule to pin up on the day of what items should go first, who the Team Leader will be, and how long each will take – communication is vital;
- Draw up an A3 sketch of the final garden design to pin up on the day – again, communicate;
- Ensure all materials will be on-site (garden borders from 2nd hand suppliers, or you might get a discount from the local nursery in return for publicity in your group’s newsletter); ask people to bring/swap some seedlings or plants etc.
‘Meeting’ 3 — Hold the PermaBlitz day
- Signs are placed for all to register (ensures insurance policy is in place), and for toilets if necessary.
- We allocate people when they arrive to Team Leaders, giving them a badge with their name and their Team Leader’s name, and the registrar needs to be aware of how many people each task needs, which ones are starting first, and then point the Team Leader out. The badges allow instant introductions.
- The registration sheet asks attendees for Occupational Health & Safety issues to prevent them being allocated to the wrong team; allows photographs for marketing; tracks PermaBuck times for members; and provides the house rules and toilet information.
- Needless to say it is all advertised locally.
- Benefits to Blitzers: free lunch, lots of fun learning new tricks, meeting new people, working with committee people in a social setting to forge friendships, and getting their own garden eventually.
- Benefits to Host: instant easy-to-manage garden.
- Benefits to club: more Permaculture food gardens (promotes & educates in Permaculture).
- Benefits to community: more resilience when food becomes less affordable with oil getting scarce.