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Richard Perkins
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Karlstad, Sweden
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Cold Temperate
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Update from Sweden, Permaculture's kicking off!

Posted by Richard Perkins over 10 years ago

It feels like Permaculture has been a little slow in establishing this far north, but things are set to change in a big way around here...

A little update from my busy schedule!


A lot has happened in the short time I have been in Sweden, lingering here after an awesome PDC this summer to build a base for myself for the events and opportunities lined up for next year.  Permaculture in this beautiful country is set to take off! 45 people co- operating harmoniously to live simply together on the beautiful farm at Gravsta for 2 weeks in July for an amazing PDC course.  We have lined up another course for next May, a few spots left for anyone wishing to participate in a highly regarded PDC with the option for bolt on advanced design practicums running throughout the spring/ summer for those with a desire for a long and engaged learning adventure in a supportive community settings.

Holistic Management Grazing enterprise for the spring

During the PDC in July we invited HM grazier Oloph Fritzen to speak about  his work grazing beef and chicken on 60ha close by.  Next year he will upscale to 90ha at the Eur 60M development Dromsgarden.  Talking with a local farmer who is retiring, I set up a business meeting with the help of Oloph and have been granted provisional permission to begin a 40 ha HM grazing enterprise on his land rent free, with the possibility to expand is successful and mutually agreeable.  The farm is beautiful and already divided up into stock proofed paddocks which I will integrate into my grazing plan.

Because of my busy international teaching and consultancy program I have leaned towards buying in male dairy calves in April at around 180- 200kg and raising them to slaughter between Oct- Dec.  Oloph and I plan to work together to raise several hundred old variety egg and meat chickens to follow the cows in their rotational grazing pattern, beginning October to have the birds out on pasture by March/ April.  Leaving the layers in care, the meat birds already sold, I envisage continueing my work around the globe teaching and designing, with the bonus of opting out of Swedish winters if I choose too!

Another exciting element of the development here is the opening of a shop in the town of Gnesta by a group of friends.  Gnesta is an alternative hub which is going to be a platform for local producers alongside the shared produce of the communities seeding in this area which I am engaged with.

I can sell my beef, eggs and meat birds straight to the consumers, and laws here allow for innovative marketing and processing to add value to the produce.  We plan to market as post organic (uncertified) sharing resources with Oloph between our separate farms wherever possible.  With Stockholm 50 miles away we aim to set that as our maximum radius for consumption to take advantage of the large consumer base and limit our transport footprint.

A summer of design and implementation workshops with Integralpermanence

Permaculture is spreading in Sweden, but perhaps a little slower than where I am from!  Still, with the success of the recent PDC and the fact our next course is already half booked up it’s a good sign that there is a desire for more integrative and holistically managed production and livelihoods.  We begin a back- to- back series of workshops in April next year initiated with an integrated cold climate glasshouse set up.  Designed to be heated by Jean Pain compost this will be the first self- supporting year round organic production system of its kind in these parts.  Utilizing the recent developments in LED lighting this glasshouse will supply very high quality fresh produce straight to consumers via the shop and vegetable delivery scheme.  This model will be scalable and replicable all over the heavily forested Nordic countries, as well as many other countries, a truly regenerative system producing farm scale compost as well as higher calorific heating capacity than combusting the wood conventionally.  I met Etienne ( JP’s Nephew and technical collaborator who runs Jean Pain company) down in the South of France earlier in the year and am excited to receive a PTO powered chipper up here to facilitate other’s getting realistic about future proof heated growing systems.

Early May sees the 2nd PDC followed by a 2 week earthworks practicum constructing a lake and integrated heat trap growing system with surrounding orchard and berry fruits sheltered by fast growing legume/ support species in a South facing arc maximizing reflection from the water and deflecting and buffering cold northerlies.  Cold climate design is all about leveraging micro- climates, and this will produce a very beneficial and extensive space for the community at Gravsta as they start becoming resilient from the land.  Details of the whole site design will be posted on the Integralpermanence.org site over the winter when I have time to get a back log of digital designs uploaded!

With a couple of days of rest we head to a neighbouring community to build a small low cost/ low impact “hobbit” style house and a separate ferro- cement sauna and shower room for the community at Karlberg.

So it’s a whole summer of action packed Permaculture design to take the wider community a step closer to land based resilience with mutually beneficial and co-supportive supply- demand chains, with the opportunity for avid participants to gain some great advanced design/ implement project experience.

Low impact highly mobile property development

Visiting a few of the communities establishing themselves on the land an hour from Stockholm and seeing the potential for municipality wide beneficial change, I decided to purchase an old German circus wagon to create a tiny home for myself.  I have spent the last few weeks gathering the internal fittings from the UK and avidly fitting out this magnificent structure to meet my needs throughout the long, dark and cold winters at 59’ latitude!  Progress has been swift, you can see some of the initial 2 weeks progress on a photo- log here

The first job involved angle grinding 2-3mm off the exterior spruce tongue and groove that has endure years of harsh winters and was feeling a little worse for wear, 2 coats on linseed (some of the best in the world here!) and 8 coats of teak oil on top and its starting to look restored.  I have had the benefit of fitting out 3 narrow boats in the UK, where design and maintenance are highly critical.  My approach for building this off grid, self contained living space is built on this valuable experience, and due to the high prices of nearly everything in Sweden, my first port of call was a road trip to the UK to pick up essential gear for the fit out.  Whilst this used fuel and cost a fair sum, it saved me an estimated Eur 10, 000, some of the materials not even available here.

A primary design challenge has been insulation to withstand the harsh winters.  Concerned for internal space and desiring a material that was quick and easy to work with I chose very high quality Tri- Foil insulation, only a few mm thick yet with the same properties as 20cm of glass wool.  Not the most low impact choice, but clearly the most practical in the confined space and climatic conditions.  With high condensation potential an important consideration for me was to create a watertight inner lining, easily achieved with this material.  Weighing up different options, costs and availability of materials I am very glad to have made this choice.

Lining the wagon with locally milled tongue and groove was swift, along with wiring and plumbing in an interesting heating system.  Running 2 flexible 136W panels (which no- one could even tell are on the roof) and a 500W wind turbine to 3x 135ah Elecsol solar batteries will give me ample power despite the long dark winter.  I am powering very high quality warm LED lights retrofitted into conventional 240V sockets, car sterio, water pump and charge laptops/ phones, etc, too.  This set up allows me to never let the batteries sink below 12.5 V, which is optimal in achieving the expected 15yr life of these amazing batteries.

For those into building small off grid dwellings, I am excited to share about the heating system I have installed.  I have 2 burners, one my friend Ed made in an hour to fuel the sauna which takes up the front portion of the wagon (good also for drying wet clothes/ boots, herbs, fruit, etc, too)  It is an essential part of living here and takes up a surprisingly small space.  The main stove is fitted with an internal back boiler supplying a 50l calorifier and two radiators.  An interesting aspect of plumbing in these systems regards circulation; in a bigger system you would tend to use a circulation pump.  Desiring simplicity I have designed a gravity based system.  There are large holds of 6m3 below the floor in which I will install a water tank, brew beer and ferment summer’s harvest along with storing fire wood.  It is important to keep this area from freezing, so with one of the radiators on a 1 meter drop and a steadily rising 28mm feed pipe I am confident I can run the back boiler successfully without the additional pump.  The photos will illustrate this more clearly!  It’s important to run higher BTU capacity radiators than the back boilers maximum output to prevent the system boiling over.  A header tank at the highest point in the system is the old way of ensuring nothing can get out of control, and circumvents the potential Chenobyl like conditions of closed loop systems.

The wagon will have a natural fridge, an air draft cupboard with a chimney exit and a slightly sloped pipe drawing cool air from beneath the wagon helping condense any moisture in the air.  This is ideal for storing dairy and vegetables.  I will also build a haybox cooker into the kitchen units to reduce fuel needs, doubling up with slow cooking on the wood stove in the winter.

Having lived low impact for the later half of my life I am keen to share the investment potential and creative fulfillment of building spaces like these.  In all, including the road trip to the UK, this home will cost me Eur 12,000 with an estimated value of 50K looking at the current market for lined but unfitted wagons.  Not bad for a few weeks work restoring a beautifully made trailer!  This particular one carried a ghost train in the 1970’s and so is built to take the excessive weight of metal rails.  Fully road legal this is in my mind luxury mobile living!

Off to a farm consultancy tomorrow then a hop to Portugal for an advanced design course focused on water in a brittle landscape preparing for earthworks later in the year.  I hope to have the wagon finished and ready for the winter in late September before heading around Europe for a few more bustling PDC’s, including the first ever Luxembourg PDC, and repeats of our Mallorca, Thailand and Dominican courses.  With a few more farm and project consultations around Europe this year I feel reassured that the demand for integrative systems design to restore ecosystems and regenerate healthy profits and lifestyles from land based enterprises is growing steadily. 



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Teacher: Darren J. Doherty
Location: Cowdray Hall, UK
Date: Nov 2011
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Climate Zones
Richard Perkins has permaculture experience in:
Cold Temperate
Cool Temperate
Warm Temperate
Sub tropical
Wet/Dry Tropical
Wet Tropical
Semi Arid

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