tomas's blog

Sacred forests, living arks

Submitted by tomas on Sat, 04/04/2020 - 18:43
In these days of lockdown gloom and confusion it is good to remember that our world is not ONE continuous story where everything inexorably gets worse – or better - but that our world is full of many stories that are unfolding in parallel. This weekend I was uplifted by the moving account of the holy forests of Ethiopia, their hermits, and the people working to preserve and restore the highland forests to their original glory. It tells me that the spiritual and the scientific need not be in contradiction, but can be different facets of the quest for integrity if grounded in an appreciation of and care for the living world around us. Referring to the tradition of Ethiopian christianity, forest ecologist Alemayehu Wassie describes these church forests as living arks of plants, people and other animals, with trees as the foundations and hermits as spiritual protectors, both crucial parts of the forest ecology. This story, told in Emergence Magazine by Jeremy Seiffert and Fred Bahson gives a powerful example of how the human spiritual instinct can combine with scientific understanding in order to create strong protection for the forest and an incentive for its regeneration. Bahson points out that “indigenous cultures like the Orthodox Christian people of Ethiopia have long known is true, that trees are not a green backdrop against which all our vaunted human dramas play out, but actors in their own right, performing what [the Italian novelist] Primo Levi called 'the solemn poetry of chlorophyll

Adventures in Czech permaculture

Submitted by tomas on Tue, 11/26/2019 - 12:01
Ziju Permakulturu: That’s “I live permaculture” in Czech – one of the few phrases I learned on my recent trip to Prague. For a weekend in early November I was part of the Czech Permaculture conference, where I gave a presentation about – you guessed it – forest gardens. Most of the conference was held in Czech, of which I speak very little. The enthusiasm, creativity and determination of Czech permaculturists clearly came across to me regardless, and I had many breaktime conversations with people fired up about improving their land and their communities. The conference was held at Tolcuv Dvor environment centre at the edge of the Czech capital, perched in a river valley between two high-rise housing estates. This was also the perfect setting for the advanced permaculture course “Changing urban landscapes with forest gardening”. This translated nto 4 days of learning, planning, sharing challenges and successes. We heard about a new market garden at the edge of Prague, a flood mitigation scheme in Northern Czechia and urban community garden in the suburbs of Bratislava. In case you are wondering, the Czech term for forest garden is jedli les, liiterally "edible forest". In between the conference and the course I managed to fit in a visit to a community garden working with ex-offenders, and a lecture at the agricultural university where a small team of volunteers is also installing areas edible landscaping. I also took a bike ride down the local watercourse, was a great way to get

Why and how I teach

Submitted by tomas on Tue, 03/26/2019 - 18:20
Seeing as I advertise all these courses on my website I thought it would be good to share share how I came into teaching and how I approach it these days. I started teaching in 1996, just a year after my permacultrue design course (PDC), with all the zeal of a fresh convert. Luckily I began small (if not slow) with short workshops at gatherings and events. Through this I quickly realised that enthusiasm alone is not enough, and that I needed to think about how I teach as well as what I am trying to get across. I was fortunate to hear about a teacher training offer during a PDC at Keveral Farm that summer, and I joined the course run by Chris Evans, Mike Feingold and Bryn Thomas. All three of them were deeply inspiring, and I learned a lot from their different approaches. The main lesson I took away from the sessions I taught myself was that less is more when it comes to “talking at” people. Some people are naturally good at lecturing, but I realised that’s not me. Over the years this has led me to seeing learning as a shared adventure, where my role became to create spaces where people can explore a theme or subject together. This way, learning becomes a conversation rather than a trasnsmission of knowledge. In the words of Paolo Freire, the great Brazilian educator, “the teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is him/herself taught in dialogue

Hazel guild - forest garden underplanting

Submitted by tomas on Thu, 02/21/2019 - 16:47
One reason I started researching for Forest Gardening in Practice was to work out how to retrofit an existing patch of land with trees and shrubs and turn it into an edible polyculture. Seven years later I think I am beginning to get somewhere. So here is an account of my first experiment, literally on my back doorstep. Two years ago this part of our kitchen garden was overrun with nettles and other volunteers. I am optimistic that this summer we will have turned it into a productive and pretty patch near the garden gate. The hazel is well established and produces a wealth of nuts most years on the spreading branches. The side effect is a lot of shade underneath, which was mostly colonised by nettles, yellow archangel and a form of chicory. The chicory is rampant in this garden if left to itself and I found it completely inedible when I tried. I decided to rein it in and create a shade guild underneath the hazel, as part of my retrofitting experiment. Last pring, in preparation I forked out the nettles and a profusion of chicory roots. I decided to leave the yellow archangel in the corner it had made for itself, as I quite like its yellow flowers and variegated leaves. It's not particularly tasty, but it has its uses in keeping the nettles out of this area. Next I moved four rhubarb plants from a different part of the land, where comfrey and nettle always seemed
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