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Nothing is too good for Karuna's ducks!

Nothing is too good for Karuna’s ducks!

I haven’t posted for a few days because, once again, I’ve been teaching an introduction to permaculture course at the Karuna Permaculture Project in Shropshire… three days focusing on how to design robust, resilient and sustainable systems based on the principles and processes that we find in natural ecosystems. The sun shone on us (most of the time), Merav cooked lovely food for us, much of which was grown on site, and we were able to see examples of the things we were discussing all around us, with the opportunity to spend lots of time chatting to people who had created the place and who live there.

Sculptures nestle amongst the trees

Sculptures nestle amongst the trees

In general, I like teaching, but I particularly enjoy it when I am in an inspiring place – and Karuna is one such venue. The project is an amazing series of forest garden areas with surrounding meadows, developed by a single family, with the help of WWOOFers in the summer and occasional other volunteers. It’s hard to describe the diversity of the site, with its fruit trees, herbs, vegetables, specimen trees and  glades, plus a mass of butterflies and birds. In addition, there are some beautiful sculptures to be found as you explore.

The trees around this sculpture were only planted seven years ago

The trees around this sculpture were only planted seven years ago

It’s a young site (only seven years old), but that is hard to believe when you look at it and consider that, apart from some large trees on the edge of the original fields, it was just grazing land when the planting started in 2006. The incredible growth of the trees can be attributed, at least in part, to increasing the fertility of the site and suppressing competitive grasses by mulching around the trees with straw soaked with urine… you see, I told you it was a good source of nitrogen! It’s even more impressive when you discover that the site is at an altitude of about 300m… so it’s not exactly in a sheltered lowland area.

We run a permaculture course there once a year at around this time, but Karuna is a demonstration site as part of the LAND network, and there is a variety of interesting courses run during the summer and early autumn… how about Earth Bag Building (in early September)?

So, here are just a few pictures to tempt you to visit Karuna… perhaps to do a course, to volunteer there, or to book it to use as a venue for an event you are organising…

Camping next to a forest garden area

Camping next to a forest garden area

Vegetables and herbs in abundance

Vegetables, flowers and herbs in abundance

A guided tour

A guided tour

Cucumbers in the polytunnel

Cucumbers in the polytunnel

Exploring the forest garden

Exploring the forest garden

Oh, there’s also a Karuna blog on WordPress here, and a Facebook group here

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4 Comments

  1. Ann Owen

     /  July 31, 2013

    The soil at Karuna is just incredibly deep and fertile. When you come from thin, poor soils like we have here in Wales, you can truly appreciate the value of a good soil. Not just the trees, but also the grass was three times the size of anything we grow here. So if the trees grew well, it will be mostly down to the soil, the straw will have kept the weeds down, but will have had a negligible effect on the fertility, as nitrogen in the form of urine is very quickly lost to the elements and will have mainly served to help the straw decompose.
    How did they gather all the urine to soak such a huge amount of straw and how did they soak it?
    Love,
    Ann

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    Reply
    • It is true that Karuna is in a location with soils that I would love to work with, but I think that when the trees were young, providing a combined mulch and readily available nutrient source gave them an immense boost. Many of the trees there are now so big that I doubt very much whether they need any help, so it seems likely that it was early treatment that has created the current situation. Wade, from Station Road, has lots of experience of tree growing in the area and he tells me that he is astonished by the speed of the establishment of the trees at Karuna, so even for that location it appears that the growth that has been achieved is unusual.
      All urine produced on site is collected separately from faeces (also used once composted to fertilise the trees) and tipped onto straw bales which are allowed to soak for some months. I’m guessing that this creates a very active micro-flora that has a positive impact on the soil, perhaps mimicking the situation in natural forest soils, with high carbon inputs from leaves and a diverse and active microbial community. Considering that the site was developed from improved grassland, the soil structure and biota would not have been adapted to supporting a woodland – an issue that ecologists working on land restoration often battle with. Perhaps all the addition of organic matter and suppression of grass growth has combined to create the conditions we see now.
      It would have been lovely to monitor the site over the years, but sadly there is no soil data. It will be interesting to see how the forest garden areas develop as they are thinned and managed in coming years.

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      Reply
  1. Merav’s falafel | The Snail of Happiness
  2. … and that other source of fertilizer… | The Snail of Happiness

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