Tag Archives: scale of permanence

Spiral Ridge PDC day 3

This is the account of my adventure at the Permaculture Design Course at Spiral Ridge in October of 2013 http://www.spiralridgepermaculture.com


PDC day 3 took us deep into the Design part of the process. I met my design Team- Mike and Chris who live in Nashville and Benford who is working on a CSA in North Alabama. We were put together because we have Suburban backgrounds and interests. Chris and I have homes to work with, Mike would like to move to the country and get off the grid, but currently lives in a suburban house. Benford is still 23 and who knows…

Our assignment was to pick a base map to work with, interview our clients and come up with a design for a permaculture landscape design. Our practice clients were our instructors Cliff and Jen, which we already knew a lot about. We chose to design the space around their future house, which in permaculture jargon is Zone 1…easily accessible every day.

But before we could pick a base map, we had to learn about base mapping. Base mapping is how to map the topography of the Land. We were assigned to map an area below the future house sit that contained a pond and several groves of native trees that they were interested in keeping.

We first extended from a previous base map and the area mapped was the length of a tape measure- 300ft and the width of another about 100 feet. So base mapping is like making a Cartesian graph with x and y points. Extension (x) and Offset (y). The corner of the map 0,0 was measured from the previous map. We then plotted relevant points along the 300 ft extension, being careful to keep the second tape measure at a 90 degree angle from the first, A triangle with a raised edge was helpful to keep it straight. The points we measured were the spillway to the point (each side), the rim of the point (at about 8 different points, and then edge of the dam that formed the pond etc. We used engineer scale with inches (which is divided into 10ths of an inch. One student asked why we didn’t use metric, our teacher said because this is what is easily available in the United States. After we completed the pond, we went on down the hill and measured the relevant groves of trees. I think they were Chestnuts and service berries. Then we had a piece of gridded paper we placed under our base map and plotted the points on the map to complete the base map. It was hot and tedious work. It is pretty important to get accurate descriptions of each point to make sure you have it right. The map looked pretty good when we got it done.

The next step are the Goals… sometimes challenging, because of the chicken and egg thing- can you decide what to do before you access- accessing may change what you can do… but I guess start with preliminary goals…

Then we had a lecture in great detail about site assessment. The first step is the Scale of Permanence- a way of observing our landscape– starting with the hardest to change to the easiest to change.
1. Climate
2. Landform
3. Water (where it is and how it flows)
4. Legal Structures
5. Access and Circulation
6. Vegetation and wildlife
7. Microclimates
8 Buildings and Infrastructure
9. Zones of use
10. Soil fertility and Management
11. Aesthetics and Experience of place

We were given a scale of permanence check list to evaluate each area on an overlay of our base map

The next tool we were given was a Team building tool called the 8 shields model. It was modeled after how native cultures operated and each of the 8 compass directions is a list of characteristics and we were to choose which best fit our personality… East- Beginning, South- Hard Work, North- Oversight, West- community. There were many more criteria, and it worked well for the other 2 groups, but our group was quite dysfunctional. I guess the best part was that we managed to muddle through with getting hostile, but I think it suppressed some of the creativity that we might have had had we allowed ourselves to be more spontaneous.

The last thing on Day 3 actually happened on Day 4, by then we were used to being hopelessly behind the schedule- that was the Client Interviews…
We came up with a list of questions to ask our clients and then asked them in front of the entire group. Cliff reminded us that his experience is that it is best to have both husband and wife to be in on both the interview and design approval meetings so that everyone is on the same page. He sends a list of preliminary questions so they have an idea what they want when he interviews them. They, of course, gave excellent answers to our questions.

“Even the curriculum is an Ecosystem”