Permaculture Tips – Catch & Store Energy
In the previous aricle on Observation I mentioned observing things like sun, wind, water flows, & human traffic. These are all forms of enrgy on the move. This means that they can be destructive and also productive. If we design carefully we can use them to be productive.
Used thoughtfully, these forms of energy can also replace, & minimise our dependance on other energy sources. Coal, Turf, Gas, are all huge storages of energy which we are currently massively dependant on. The way we use these forms of energy is in most cases a one way street. Obtaining them entails massive industrial destruction of landscapes & ecosystems, & environmental pollution. We use this enrgy very quickly, in forms such as of heat, transport, & food. Then we need more.
Catch & Store energy is a guiding principle which helps us to move away from that linear mindset & start to think about energy cycles, energy investment, & storage of energy for use when there is a lack.
Here in Ireland we have a short growing season, therefore to feed ourselves through the dormant season (ie: late winter & early spring) we aim to grow more than we need over the summer months and store & preserve that surplus for winter use. In other words we catch as much availble sun energy as we can in the form of food plants (& animals who eat this food) and store that sun energy for use in less sunny times.
Sustainable & sensitive tree & woodland management does the same thing. Trees catch & store huge amounts of sun energy, & use it to grow & produce seed (fruit!). Coppicing is one method of woodland management which can provide us with with fuel for cooking & keeping us warm in winter when the available sunlight is not enough to do that.
Adding a small glasshouse to the sunny side of a house would catch the suns energy & heat the house. The glass intensifies the suns heat, & if this sunlight is directed onto a stone, cob, or other heat retaining surface it is stored there & released overnight when there is no sun available. We could even use this area as a growing space for cold-sensitive food plants, thereby storing even more energy in the form of food.
Heat is created in many ways; friction, bactrial action, sun. We once built a simple yet effective manure heated shower by extracting the heat energy from a manure heap & using it to heat water. Similarly we could extract heat from silage pits around the country, & use it to heat water which could be used in houses, or to heat food growing spaces. The possiblities are endless!
Water & Nutrients
Water is one of our most abundant forms of energy in Ireland, we could be storing this energy in ponds & using it to grow fish and aquatic edibles. Even in a town we can collect rainwater & use it for washing, flushing toilets, (or better still use a dry composting toilet!) and watering plants.
Accros the lowest point on our farm we have a willow plantation. Willows thrive on nutrient rich & wet soils. As a final frontier before the nutrients & water leave our farm the willows can use it, together with sunlight, to grow. We can then coppice these willow & use them for firewood, & craft materials. In the meantime they are a shelterbelt & a haven for all sorts of wildlife.
Nutrients are often washed away from our places of human activity and end up causing pollution probelms elsewhere. We can catch & store this nutrient energy by composting food waste & using it to enrich our soil, by building simple filtration systems to catch the bits & pieces that we wash down the sink, & by planting trees & managing grasslands in a way that builds & holds valuable nutrient rich topsoil.
Money, no matter how we feel about it also represents energy & if we use it then it is something to be considered! At the annual Roscommon Lamb Festival we use the R.A.M -Roscommon Alternative Money. It’s an exclusively local currency which can only be circulated through participating local businesses. These businesses give special offers to RAM customers. Therefore people are encouraged to use RAM & support local business & local producers. The economic energy is caught in the form of the RAM & the wealth is cycled throughout the community rather than leaving it via a large supermarket chain which has no roots in the local community. Even if we are using our normal euro currency it still represents energy & that energy supports whatever we decide to spend it on.
We humans are energetic beings! We need to observe & work with our available energy & perhaps store some for use at times when we have less. Our energy could be in the form of knowledge & inspiration, physical energy, health, rest & sleep, food & nutrition, friends, music… We can learn to balance our actions with our personal energy patterns throughout the day & month. Working with the available energy & accepting that we need to spend time relaxing & recharging in the times when we feel less energetic.
I’m sure you can think of lots of other ways to catch & store energy in you’re own life which would help care for the earth & the people & support fairshares for all.
Hannah Mole is an Organic farmer, Gardener and Permaculture teacher and designer, living in County Roscommon. For more info, events and courses see www.hannahmole.com