‘Permablitz the Gong’ began as a conversation between three Wollongong women – Jacqui Besgrove, Sheryl Wiffen and Kristy Newton – in 2011 after Jacqui and Kristy completed their Permaculture Design Course (PDC). The women wanted to do something about food and sustainability at a community level, and got together with Rebecca Mayhew soon after; hosting their first permablitz on International Permaculture Day in May 2012.
Ten permablitzes, five frog ponds, six chicken houses, two native zones, five verge gardens, three DIY water tanks, kilos of sheet mulch, a garden tour, a seed bombing workshop and many swales and no dig gardens later, they think they have something worth holding on to. That’s what can happen when permaculture designers get together with willing workers and properties in need of love.
Permablitz originated in Melbourne, was founded by Dan Palmer (who had worked with a South American community group called CODEMO), and evolved into a network of designers and groups that coordinate permablitzes locally. Permablitz Melbourne has been generous in sharing information. Wollongong has several diverse communities, and we tweaked the information to fit our culture and the core collective’s capacity to design, organise and facilitate permablitzes. We practised on three of our own backyards.
How Do Permablitzes Work?
Permablitzes are based on volunteers: designers offer their work and the design at no charge; participants offer to sweat it out for a day. Hosts organise materials.
After volunteering at three permablitzes, participants become eligible for their own. Willing hosts fill in a questionnaire to determine: the time they are able to spend in the garden; what they eat; if they have children or animals that will use the space; and their budget. The design team then meets to do a site and functional analysis, noting features of the land (e.g. aspect, slope, water, wind), as well as access and existing structures. This informs an initial concept design which is discussed with the hosts. Once the design is final, we agree a date and call for volunteers.
A Typical Permablitz Day:
- begins early – tasks such as weeding, marking swales and preparing work areas
- starts officially with an opening circle at 11 am – blitzers introduce themselves and say why they are interested, general talk through of design, split into work teams
- hosts provide a lunch at 1 pm
- short workshop on skills such as building DIY water tanks or chicken care
- back to work for the rest of the afternoon
- closing circle at 4 pm.
Many permablitzes carry on sociably for whoever wants to stay to celebrate the new garden.
The permaculture ethic ‘care for people’ inspired ‘permabees’, half-day working bees. These are used to implement an aspect of the design (e.g. greywater system or chicken house), or to focus on regular maintenance, and are also an opportunity for in-depth workshops.
Permablitz the Gong shares knowledge with local PDC students, which has provided valuable experience and connected us to the growing community of local permaculture designers and practitioners.
The community has engaged with us exactly as we hoped: permablitzes have become vibrant quarterly events, full of enthusiasm and smiling faces. Blitzers often bring seedlings to share. Our Facebook page has become a hub for local permies – to seek tips about gathering materials, or offer resources they have in abundance.
We blitz rain, hail, or shine and at least three have really tested this, with participants getting soaked to the skin. Far from being a deterrent, these rainy days make people even more determined to transform the space – they are already wet and muddy, so they just go for it. In the fast paced and often disconnected society we live in, getting together like this seems one of the most radical things a community can do.
Starting Your Own Permablitz
If you want to have a permablitz in your community, here are some ideas.
- Connect with Permablitz Melbourne (www.permablitz.net/)
- Make sure the designers have a Permaculture Design Certificate – the difference between a permablitz and a working bee is that the former has a design based on permaculture principles
- Consider starting with your own property or that of someone you know
- Support the host(s):
- make sure they understand the process and expectations, and liability
- welcome their ideas/input, but analyse the site first – you need an objective viewpoint in the initial design
- Remember OH&S: talk through any issues at the beginning of the day; ensure that participants are careful with tools; keep a first-aid kit handy and know how to use it. facilitation on the day will ensure things run smoothly, and create a positive experience for everyone
- Smart design and good facilitation on the day will ensure things run smoothly, and create a positive experience for everyone.