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Permablitz: Working Together

Clockwise from top left: A fine group of blitzers gather to celebrate 3/4s of a day’s work—we’re so nearly there!; An irrigation workshop in progress—helpers getting the drip liners ready to provide water to the new raised garden beds; The end of a successful day in Belgrave Heights, with drip irrigation from a 5000 L water tank feeding the new raised beds. Putting together raised garden beds. Photos by Helen Cameron

As its name suggests, a permablitz is a permaculture version of a backyard blitz. It’s a great way for like-minded people to get together, share knowledge, food and friendship, and build better edible gardens.

A permablitz sees a group of people come together to implement a permaculture design on one member of the group’s property. The lucky host (the owner or renter of the property) gets a permaculture design done for them and what would be months of work, completed in a single day. In return, the host must provide the materials as well as a healthy and filling lunch, drinks, and morning and afternoon tea.

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

In April 2006, permaculture designer Dan Palmer held the first permablitz with his mate Adam Grubb and a group of South American immigrants in Melbourne. After transforming the garden of an elderly El Salvador woman, they soon began organising permablitzes all over Melbourne.

BUILDING EDIBLE GARDENS

A typical permablitz will involve the installation of an edible system (usually a mix of vegie patches, wicking beds, fruit trees, chook systems, mini-orchards, etc) in someone’s garden. Entire front yards and backyards have been converted from grass to irrigated food forests in less than eight hours (including lunch!), complete with a chook run, raised wicking beds and a pond. It’s amazing what can get done with the power of many hands on deck.

Most permablitzes hold workshops to ensure that volunteers leave with more skills than they arrived with. All blitzes however are unique—one may involve mosaics, another aquaponics. Some are held at rental homes, others at owned properties. Some designs are elaborate, others are pretty simple. But they all are focused around building better edible gardens using permaculture design.

PERMABLITZ PRINCIPLES

The basic principles behind a permablitz are:

  • it must be a free event aimed at creating (or adding to) an edible garden
  • it must be based on a permaculture design
  • skills and knowledge related to permaculture principles and sustainable concepts need to be shared with the attendees
  • it should aim to build community networks
  • most importantly, it should be fun!

THE PLANNING PROCESS

The usual procedure behind a permablitz is that a volunteer group of permaculture designers called The Design Guild (made up of people who have completed a Permaculture Design Course) go to the property that is to be blitzed and find out what the owners want from their garden.

The designers work together to come up with a design and a plan to implement. They work with the owners to let them know what is needed on the day, and the owners gather all the materials (such as garden tools, timber, soil, etc).

One of the best features of a blitz is the spirit of community that comes from working alongside other volunteers. The hosts always show their appreciation by putting on a lunch— sharing a meal proves to be a great bonding experience.

People usually leave a blitz on a high, not just because of the garden transformation they’ve been an active part of, but because of the camaraderie formed with newly-made friends.

SHARING IT WITH THE WORLD

The permablitz movement has since spread all across Australia and beyond. Dan has run a permablitz in Uganda, and there are multiple groups in New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Turkey, Barbados, Hawaii, Thailand and most recently Norway.

The organisation and co-ordination of permablitzes is usually run by a de-centralised group of passionate volunteers. In Melbourne’s case this is the Permablitz Collective. Collective members meet once a month to arrange past and future events, and discuss ways to ensure the longevity of the movement.

MANY HANDS MAKE LIGHT WORK

The permablitz system operates outside of the standard concept of a monetary economy.

Permablitz designers donate their time to work with the hosts on the permaculture design for their gardens. These designers are often graduates from the PDC looking to sharpen their new-found design skills. The volunteers on the day also contribute their time, and in return receive a pretty awesome lunch and learn skills they can apply in their own homes.

HOW DO I GET ‘BLITZED’?

In order to have a permablitz of your own, you first need to volunteer at two or three permablitzes. This demonstrates reciprocity and ensures that you know what a blitz is all about when you get to have your own.

You can then request your own permablitz and once accepted, you’ll be allocated volunteers from The Design Guild. From the moment your team is formed, it may then take four or five months until the actual blitz takes place. This gives the team the chance to meet with you, inspect the site, work out what can be achieved, consolidate their design and present you with the concept. There is often a bit of refinement before the implementation takes place.

HOW DO I VOLUNTEER AT A PERMABLITZ?

When a permablitz is first announced, it is usually posted on the group’s website and Facebook page and an email is sent out to the group. At Permablitz Melbourne we find blitzes usually book out very quickly, often in less than an hour, so get in quick!

HOW DO I GET INVOLVED?

With permablitz groups across Australia, there might be one in your neighbourhood. Google or ask around to find out. If there isn’t one, start one up. Tap into an already existing group of like-minded people or just put the word out there in your networks. You’ll be building on a framework that is used throughout the world and be encouraging people to get together to green the suburbs.

KATE AND TINA’S PERMABLITZ (BELGRAVE HEIGHTS, VIC)

Words by Helen Cameron

The goal for this permablitz was to assemble four raised beds, fill them with soil and straw in a lasagne bed style, connect them to the water tank for some drip irrigation, clean up some weedy areas of the yard and dig some swales to plant a food forest. For owners Kate and Tina to do this on their own would have taken months but with the help of 30 volunteers it was completed in one day.

Kate had previously done a PDC and had already made a good start, installing a water tank and a shed for tools, as well as establishing a small vegie patch in front of the house. Being able to discuss their plans and dreams with their permablitz designers Natalie and Sarah helped Kate and Tina avoid some of the pitfalls they might have found by going it alone.

Teams got to work building the four raised garden beds and levelling out the area where they would be placed. Adrian showed the groups how to set up an irrigation system on a timer to ensure watering would happen regularly. The piping was connected to a 5000 L water tank located next to the house. Because the tank is higher than the garden beds, there was no need for a pump as the water could be gravity fed. No unhappy, wilted lettuce in the future!

Natalie led a second team down the back slope to dig swales to help retain water in the orchard. The swales were measured out and dug by hand. This was a great learning process for those involved and Kate and Tina now have the area prepared for the fruit trees they are planning to plant out soon. Win-win.

For lunch, the hard workers were greeted by a delicious spread of healthy homemade food. Kate had pre-prepared much of the food for the day herself and Tina’s sister helped run the kitchen.

One of the main objectives of a permablitz is to share new skills that participants can take home and apply to their own gardens. Natalie demonstrated how each garden bed would benefit from individual worm towers that Natalie taught them all to build and the participants had a chance to get hands-on experience building them.

Tina and Kate were overwhelmingly happy with the achievements of the day. Kate said that she had forgotten how much fun a permablitz was, and it was clear that the volunteers on the day all enjoyed their day working in the sun.

Adrian O’Hagan is a longstanding member of Permablitz Melbourne. Visit www.permablitz.net for more information on permablitzing near you and to find out how to get involved.

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