Nick's crit on permaculture

Discussion in 'The big picture' started by Fern O., Jul 10, 2007.

  1. Fern O.

    Fern O. Junior Member

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    Below is Nick Romanowski’s critique on theoretical and applied polyculture in permaculture. From pages 129 to 130 of “Sustainable Freshwater Aquaculture”, his 9th and latest book released earlier this year.

    “Although commercial growers have experimented with polyculture in recent years, it has more usually been the province of small-scale growers and backyarders hoping to harvest a greater diversity of foods from a pond or two. Most aquatic polyculture ideas have been strongly influenced by permaculture, a home-grown synthesis of proven and traditional agricultural practices with a theorectical overlay of broader design issues and biological concepts.

    There has been some problems with the way these ideas have been joined, particularly in the field of aquaculture. I won’t repeat more detailed criticisms from my earlier book Farming in ponds and dams here, but it is important to emphasise that most of these plans and ideas have not been tested even some 30 years later, and that they give a false idea of the productivity of pond systems.

    For example, author W Mollison in Permaculture: a designer’s manual states that ‘an intensively managed fish pond of 100 square metres comes close to providing a full protein and vegetable source’ for the whole family, from which ‘modest yields of 300-2000 kilograms of protein … can be reasonably be expected’(my italics). Scaling this up, anyone with a practical background in aquaculture will immediately recognise that such a ‘modest’ figure of 200 tonnes of protein per hectare is vastly greater than even the best managed Chinese carp polyculture could achieve – yet Mollison claims that even higher yields could be achieved just by adding aeration!

    Not surprisingly, most permaculture people who have experimented with aquaculture have started out with totally unrealistic expectations, with little notion of water quality issues. Reports of such failed experiments as throwing rotting fruit into a silver perch pond to drown fruit fly were not uncommon a decade ago (the fish died). Other recommended but undesirable and sometimes bizarre practices, such as building compost bins in shallow water, breeding fruit flies on floating rafts, and housing pigs, ducks or chickens over the pond so their manure will fertilise the system, are also to be avoided.

    Beyond these fundamental issues, many permaculture ideas are founded on biological principles applied sometimes inappropriately. For example, the same manual suggests that productivity of a pond could be increased by including multi-rayed bays around a central pond. What is not considered is that the living space for the larger, edible species is reduced in such a design for any given surface area, while the convoluted shoreline encourages weedy plant growth and provides more protected habitat for undesirable predators such as mudeyes. It is not for nothing that nearly all aquaculture systems in the world, including traditional ones, lay ponds out in simple circles and rectangles.

    On the positive side, this manual remains a valuable and often stimulating source of ideas for placing aquaculture in the broader perspective, whether on a small-scale homestead or a large commercial farm. Among other virtues, it promotes an integrated approach to the use of water not only for aquaculture, but also in the context of fire protection, frost control and microclimate modification for plants which are marginal in a colder climate, as well as human habitat.”

    [Quoted with permission from Nick Romanowski]

    Nick Romanowski will be conducting two Aquaculture workshops in the Otways.

    The first one will be on Tuesday 14th of August as part of the Otways PDC in Apollo Bay, and the second one will be on Thursday November 22nd at Barwon Downs (Otways, Southwest Victoria, Australia).

    Please contact Fern Rainbow (ph:0425 710 380) for more details.
     
  2. richard in manoa

    richard in manoa Junior Member

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    Thanks Fern!
    Somewhere a while ago on this forum I actually quoted (or rather, loosely paraphrased) Nick's objections to Bill's wild ideas regarding pond cultures. In general I would definitely defer to Nick's greater experience, and certainly his expertise in this field no doubt eclipses W. Mollison's also! I think that the high yields Bill claims are possible may be typical of fishing stories in general, eh? As in, the more the story is told the bigger the fish gets...
    Still, I wonder if Nick's objections don't partly miss the point about the kind of productivity that Permaculture systems are really about. Their ultimate worth isn't measured simply in pounds of saleable products, afterall.
    I guess Nick's point about greater edge for weeds cuts both ways doesn't it? If you can fill that (greatly expanded) niche with useful species then even if you lose a few of your fish to predators, well, who cares? Moreover, in Permaculture we are actually trying to create habitat for wild things, as well as feed ourselves aren't we?
    Of course, if you are going to the trouble of trying to do aquaculture you probably want to at least be able to get a good feed every now and then.
    I wish I was close enough to come to your courses!
     
  3. Fern O.

    Fern O. Junior Member

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    Hi Richard

    In the chapter before this one, Nick is describing Chinese carp polyculture, how productive this is, and the situation in Australia, our environment and our diversity of species and how the Chinese carp system can't be used as a model for any kind of polyculture in Australia, and how we need a realistic framework.

    Manoa, I imagine would be different in it's diversity of aquatic life.

    I see integrated permaculture systems as helping to create diversity... if we design in a way that encourages the invasive species to run wild, then we lose/ or never obtain that diversity.

    (As of Nick's crit & no-nonsense view), Bill (in his manual) states about the immense productivity of aquatic polyculture, but then suggests a design that would deplete productivity and diversity, by creating more habitat for invasive species and young fish predator species (such as mudeyes), and diminishing the habitat for mature/ larger fish. In this design, we'd end up breeding mudeyes and invasive sedges, and not obtain the diversity required for either just for the wild or for feeding ourselves (although, perhaps we could feed ourselves on mudeyes and invasive sedges :) )

    The workshop that Nick is running on November 22nd, actually visits his property "Dragonfly Aquatics". This is very special, as it's not normally open to the public... if you are able to take a journey to Australia... this workshop would be well worth factoring in.

    I would love to come and visit your permaculture work in Hawaii one day...

    cheers
    Fern
     
  4. christopher

    christopher Junior Member

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    Hi Fern, and Hi Richard,

    Good points on the reality of pond culture, Fern, and good points on the value of diverse systems, Richard, where the kilograms-per-hectare model is less important than the over all health of the system.

    I am getting fired up about ponds, a long story, and will follow this with interest. Pity I can't pop over for this course. It sounds brilliant. I actually have a copy of Farming in ponds and dams, and will be reading it again...

    I'll be following this thread with interest.

    Best,

    C
     
  5. ho-hum

    ho-hum New Member

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    Hello all, good thread.

    Years ago [and I am struggling to remember] I read an article on a NSW farmer who farmed eel-tailed catfish in a big farm dam. They were caged and if memory is correct the cage size was about 2m3 with a lid.

    They were caged to protect from aerial predation and pelicans etc. Also they were fed twice daily. Production estimates from this were supposedly about 500kg per annum. The fish were eaten and sold locally and apparently it was an on-going system.

    Dunno how big the dam was, I dont know what they were fed. The cage was floated and tethered to a small wooden pontoon so that it drifted with the breeze.

    Out of interest I found this.

    https://www.fao.org/docrep/003/x7156e/x7156e03.htm


    I had an aquaculture system as a kid in one of the family's tanks.. :D I tossed worms over fairly regularly and the occasional river caught fish. No idea of timelines but we did eat fish out of there.

    floot
     
  6. Jim Bob

    Jim Bob Junior Member

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    "Specialist turns out to have more knowledge about specialty than generalist, and offers course for money in specialty using put-downs of generalist as selling-point. News at 6!"

    :lol:
     
  7. Fern O.

    Fern O. Junior Member

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    Hi chris

    Nick's latest book, just released this year is called "Sustainable Freshwater Aquaculture". It's available from UNSW press.

    Cheers
    Fern
     
  8. Fern O.

    Fern O. Junior Member

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    hello Jim Bob

    I'm promoting the course in this way, as I feel if permies are designing aquaculture systems they need to have more precise knowledge than what's in Bill's manual. Yes, Nick is a specialist in this area, and he's a fantastic teacher. And yes, the workshops do have a fee. Nick deserves to be paid a heap for his valuable knowledge and experience. And then there's all the associated costs with running and organising a workshop & field trip (that's my load).

    Cheers
    Fern
     
  9. christopher

    christopher Junior Member

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    Fern and Jim Bob,

    I do think specialists are going to have more info on the specialty than a generalist, and I do value generalists knowledge as being more "wholistic". I think that a possibly unrealistic cornucopian vision of pond culture could be improved by specialist knowledge.

    These types of "insults" to permaculture are common, often "correct", and also frequently besides the point. The two value systems, kilograms per hectare versus dynamic integrated systems are not mutually exclusive, but an uneasy middle ground is hard to arrive at. (And, BTW, I favour the dynamic!)

    Also, as come up here in this forum many, many times, teaching skills in exchange for money is a reasonable thing to do. It is, time to time, unpopular to say so, though, of course, I have seen people reverse their thinking on that, but spending years accumulating knowledge, and passing that knowledge on is a valuable thing. Money being the medium of exchange most common in the world, its not unreasonable to be paid for that information in cash.

    Very well said, Fern, and you could substitute Nicks name with many other names, people with knowledge (even advanced "generalists") should be paid. And, having hosted many courses here, I know that conducting courses costs a lot more money than people realize.

    If I lived in Australia, and was interested in pond culture, I would happily shell out the cash for a class like this. This class looks like a great event.

    Good luck!

    Christopher
     

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