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Two rants: the joys of a sickle and my troubles with Permaculture


I got myself a sickle because I couldn't afford a scythe and my grass patches are small. I had been electric whipper snippering but my machine burnt out.I've had it with mowers and powered brushcutters.

So I thought $25 for a sickle? Why not?

I needs to keep the neighbours off my long-grass-indifferent back.

Cutting with a sickle means you have to bend and you can't maintain a fixed height as you can with a scythe. But I'm not fixing to play golf or bowls.

We had a sickle way back in the 50s. Rusty old thing. Combined with hammer you can be a bolshevik.

But I tell ya, I can cut my patch quicker with my acoustic hand tool than I can with electrics or petrol.

(So long as you don't cut yourself: always cut with the right hand (if not a southpaw )and hold a short walking stick in your left.The more efficient scythe displaced the sickle for reasons such as these...)

And a scythe is the Tai Chi of mowing...and I look and think: what a hobby! what a exercise regime! What grace! It's groovin....add an ipod and you're there.

But hey the blade is gotta be sharp.Handy for later suicide attempts or decapitating the neighbourhood bully...

Maybe one day I'll graduate to a scythe but for now I'm sickling it.

My troubles with Permaculture

For many years I've done my homework and I've put in the gardening hard yards. And I've created a few gardens in different places. While I respect and endorse all those who take the sustainable growing path, the heavy doses of evangelical hype that accompanies omnipresent Permies annoys me no end. 

The pieces below by Peter Harper captures some of my hesitancies in regard to Permaculture. I'd also add that the way the system is so often packaged, dependent as it is on perennial plants, sponsors a menu mainly of fruits and the occasional nut...

I don't eat that much fruit....So what's the charm in growing it?

So growing perennials, sensible as it may be, has a limitation in that we aren't hunter gatherers of the olden day ilk and would like a more frequent turnover of comestibles. So I don't believe the hype, because I don't think much of the Permaculture Cook Book. 

But that's not the be all and end all of sustainability. Design surely matters and is no doubt useful, but it ain't the be all and end all of gardening....

So I'm saying partake with a grain of salt. Be pragmatic. In a 'food forest' you can't always see the wood for the trees.

My attitude isn't alone. With a little homework you can find some very useful and well argued critiques of Permaculture that do mark it down where it matters, while respecting it for its utility :

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Comment by Elaine coolowl on February 10, 2014 at 17:13

It's tricky to relate broad-acre Permaculture to the home garden. Could never see how the designs in the book equated to my own tiny suburban block. Like lots of things, there's useful stuff and useless stuff. Make use of the useful (like for us it's the Circle and mulching/composting in-situ) and do your own thing for the rest. It's what works for you, it's your garden and your journey.

Comment by Dave Riley on February 11, 2014 at 9:39

So right, Elaine...but when you set out there's a certain PC ness in Permaculture primarily because you supposedly template you garden from the getgo. 

I have the exact opposite view and see any layout as provisional. In part that's the joy of deploying annuals and short lived plants while being hesitant with trees. Everything is moveable.

But Permaculture offers a community convergence which is chock full of useful ideas.

I've been thinking about this and consider that I'm probably closer to the cottager tradition and the  veg and fruit gardens  of Greek and Italian migrants I know of in inner city Melbourne.

..and I appreciate the interaction and labour required. I'm not interested in sloth gardening. While I want the thing to work, all I ask is that my inputs are efficient and required. No principles are at stake. I'm making soil and nurturing it. So like the surgeon the rule is: do no harm. 

However, a key element in Permaculture -- taken from Yeomans is Keyline Design which certainly matters on a large scale holding and in our often dry conditions. But in more concentrated milieus you won't be tractoring up your backyard, will you, and building swales and such? 

So for me Lancaster was a revelation. His background in as a Permie but his take is very much in the context of the situation and he draws on the dry lands agriculture movement in the US which has based a lot of its inspiration on traditional Indian farming perspectives. In contrast Permaculture seems to go hunting for novel principles to rule the a principle.

Comment by Dave Riley on February 11, 2014 at 9:41
Comment by Elaine coolowl on February 11, 2014 at 15:01

Being on a slope, swales would have been a brilliant move had I but known about them at the time (2002). All these movements - isms - call them what you will … have something to offer. I love experimenting too but the reality is that until quite recently when I switched to wicking beds on a big scale - my crops were meagre in the extreme. Sometimes a glut of something (15kgs of green Tomatoes for example) but mostly a handful for all the effort I put in.

I know there's a lot of Food Forests around in schools, community gardens and private gardens. What I don't know is whether the owners actually harvest anything worthwhile from them.

I read Linda Woodrow's blog (front page of BLF site, right side down a bit is a link to it). She's a Permie and author. Yet reading her blog sounds as though she's got strategies which work for her situation and needs. And that's what we all have to do I believe. No use painting your house pink when you'd prefer it green ;-) Read as you're doing, try this, try that. Keep what works and put aside what doesn't.

That's one of the beauties of the BLF forum, such a wide range of people who post, so many different experiments, ideas, results wants and needs. The melting pot of the food gardening world ;-)

Comment by Elaine coolowl on February 11, 2014 at 15:05

The Rainwater Harvesting book has 2 parts according to the Moreton Regional Library. For whatever reason, part 2 is available and I've reserved it yet part 1 is still 'coming'. So it's in the Library system here so might be for others in different parts of Queensland.

Comment by Dave Riley on February 11, 2014 at 17:43
Comment by Elaine coolowl on February 11, 2014 at 20:42

Both look very interesting. Thank you for the links, Dave.

Comment by Andrew Cumberland on February 11, 2014 at 21:18

Mate - your coordination is SO much better than mine.  I would have lost a leg or two in the first 5 seconds.  

Comment by Elaine coolowl on February 11, 2014 at 21:42

Heh heh Andy … how many legs do you normally have? ;-)

Comment by Dave Riley on February 13, 2014 at 7:50

Coordination? The day I got the sickle after the trimming all about I decided to sharpen the blade and almost took my finger off. Therein lies the danger: always take care with the stone. And while getting used to the sickling job  use that stick between you and the sweep of the blade.

The scyther is not a vid of me...but I could project myself into the scene. Imagine a movement of scythers. in fact one exists in Britain: Scythe Association. When I first heard about scything I thought the mowers were nuts -- but when you watch the effort, it makes sense.And these light Austrian scythes are the catalyst.

One man went to mow, 
Went to mow a meadow, 
One man and his dog, 
Went to mow a meadow

Two man went to mow, 
Went to mow a meadow, 
Two man, one man and his dog, 
Went to mow a meadow

Three man went to mow, 
Went to mow a meadow, 
Three man, two man, one man and his dog, 
Went to mow a meadow

Four man went to mow, 
Went to mow a meadow, 
Four man, three man, two man, one man and his dog, 
Went to mow a meadow

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