An example of all 12 Permaculture Principles in action

2020 Grape Trellis Harvest

Richard standing in front of the grape trellis covering the northern deck. Back of rocket oven on left. Photo: Sen Yoshimoto.

 NB. This post was mostly written in Feb 2020.

The 2019/2020 summer was the most unusual that I can remember. Starting off with snow in the mountains, followed by heatwaves and an unprecedented fire season that incinerated 1.2 million hectares in eastern Victoria in a week. Then we got huge hailstorms in SE Australia that destroyed the CSIRO research centre greenhouses in Canberra. Next we got the flooding rains on the east coast.

We've been fortunate in Seymour, avoiding the fires, hail and flooding rains. We've measured 110mm so far for the first 43 days of 2020. As a comparison we got 21mm over the same period in 2019, with 344.5mm for the year. But, this unseasonal weather of welcomed rain comes with it's downsides, with grapes splitting and mouldy.

As an home education exercise for Sen (main photographer, aged 9), we decided to look at how our grape harvest illustrates all 12 design principles.

Principle 1 - Observe and interact

We bagged our grapes as they came to full size to avoid bird damage. While waiting for our Ruby Seedless grape to ripen up we discovered that many were splitting, which hasn't been a problem before. Then we noticed bags dripping and a fermenting smell. On closer inspection many of the grapes were going mouldy. We decided that we needed to act quickly.

Principle 2 - Catch and store energy

Normally, we eat these seedless grapes fresh, drying the remainder to make our own sultanas. The ripening of the grapes usually happens over a couple weeks, during the hottest time of the year, which is perfect for picking and drying several batches. We use seedling trays, with an underlay of flywire, which is left on racks high in the greenhouse to solar dry. This year we only prepared one batch of 8 trays.

Principle 3 - Obtain a yield

As soon as the grapes go mouldy, salvaging any becomes a time consuming exercise. Many of the bunches on the vine were too far gone to bother with (a third to half). Richard gave them a vigorous wash in rainwater first, which dissolved most of the worst grapes and picked out the remaining bad ones. Only the salvaged ones were weighed - we recovered 41.8kg of the Ruby seedless variety, our best harvest!

Principle 4 - Apply self-regulation and accept feedback

In an effort to minimise bird damage we tied mesh bags around the best bunches of grapes. We do this after the grapes have been pollinated, but before they ripen. With the unseasonal rain (that split the grapes) and humid environment (made worse from the bag), we created a perfect home for mould to thrive. The thicker the mesh bag, the more often we found mould.

Principle 5 - Use and value renewable resources and services

One of the things that I love most about the grape vines is that they provide shade just when we need it. They start to produce leave at the beginning of summer, and loose them in Autumn. Autumn can still be quite hot in Seymour, so I refrain from pruning until we want to let more direct sunlight into the house, later in the season.

Principle 6 - Produce no waste

The grapes that weren't good enough for human consumption get feed to the chickens in the strawyard.  Anything they don't eat will decompose and become compost for the garden. We also collect the chook manure from below their perch which we use as fertiliser for plants and we collect eggs from their nests.

Principle 7 - Design from patterns to details

The house is orientated to be solar passive, allowing light from the north facing windows in the living room to heat the concrete slab in the winter when the sun is lower on the horizon. As the sun moves higher in the horizon, reaching it's highest point at the summer solstice, the eave shades the concrete slab completely. The trellis extends from the eave and adds additional shading to the deck during the summer, which helps to keep the inside cool.

Principle 8 - Integrate rather than segregate

The design of the trellis for the grapes is very simple. 3 holes were drilled for each of the 3 section. The mesh then slotted right in to the laminated beam at the top and into the earth below with a fixing to the deck. Making use of the existing structure reduced the amount of building materials required and allow for the vines to provide shade right up to the house.

Principle 9 - Use small and slow solutions

We've got a small hand cranked juicer that we used to crush the grapes. It's slow, which reduces oxidation, and you can easily put the pulp through a 2nd time to extract every last drop  - but we don't bother. It's also easy to clean and easy to repair. I think I've had it for 20 years and it's still going strong. It can be used for all fruit and veg as well as making nut butter.

Principle 10 - Use and value diversity

We planted two different varieties of grapes ruby seedless and lady finger (with seeds). The lady finger grapes have not split or gone mouldy. They are also ready later in the season so we don't have to harvest them all at once. We left some unbagged as an experiment to see what the birds will do.

Principle 11 - Use edges and value the marginal

We use greywater to irrigate the grape vines. This system allow us to divert kitchen sink water away from the sewage outlet to 2 plastic drums that are set into the ground. These collect the surges in water and allow the water to slowly seep into the ground.

Principle 12 - Creatively use and respond to change

This year we decided to harvest them over a couple of days, to try and recover what we could. The remainder were crushed for juice and pasteurized in bottles using the hot bath method.
Crushing them to make iceypoles


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