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Permaculture design at Tir Penrhos Isaf

Aerial photos and the initial design.

This page provides links to further information and details of the design for the site.


Tir Penrhos Isaf aerial photo 1986

Above is an aerial photo of Tir Penrhos Isaf taken on 4th October 1986. We bought the land in February of that year. At that time you can see that the 7.2 acres of grazing were completely surrounded by the coniferous plantation of Coed Y Brenin. The mature trees on the site show up quite clearly, the largest, just above centre, is an oak that partially covers the barn. Other trees are ash, hazel, birch and more oak. The rougher looking patch on the lower right is the wilderness regeneration project, Argel, in its first season without grazing animals for many decades, perhaps even centuries. The darker green splodges are gorse, the orange is bracken.


Tir Penrhos Isaf Permaculture Design.

Above is the design we produced for the 1991 planning application. The coloured boxes to the lower left relate to the permaculture zones as follows:

I: home garden. Here, closest to the (proposed) dwelling, our design is strongest.

II: orchards of hard and soft fruits and berry crops.

III: main crop. In our case, mainly livestock systems. Some of these areas were left blank at first and became taken up in later years with our horse training enterprise (the two small paddocks to the right of the dwelling area).

IV: fuel and fodder systems. Specifically, the green represents largely tree based resources, the purple shows what I called perennial graze/browse systems made up of scrub and in particular gorse.

V: wilderness or the university. This is where nature's design is strongest. This is where we learn.


Tir Penrhos Isaf aerial photo 2000

forest gardenroundpen for horse trainingwildflower bankfodder stripstable blockbigbed gardenwilderness regenerationdwelling

This aerial photo gives an idea of the progress we have made. We practice incremental design, or rolling permaculture, depending on your precise definition, in that with our very limited resources we moved out gradually from our dwelling, a caravan with attached timber annex, (according to the national Park's description) sited to the north of the barn so as not to take up the space where we hope to build a permanent low energy dwelling.

This aerial photo is an image map that links to text sections that you can also find below. Click on different parts of the photo to find out more details.

(I'll be adding information here, including pictures of the different elements).


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Dwelling: zone 0

In the 1991 planning application we asked for and received temporary permission for a caravan for an agricultural worker and family in order to demonstrate viability. We've been in the 22 foot by 7 foot caravan ever since; a tight squeeze for a family of three. The caravan grew a 12 foot square "timber annex" and later, when Sam got too big for the cupboard at the back of the caravan, an annex on the annex. The additions are all made from local Douglas Fir felled within easy walking distance of the site. The dwelling has also grown roof overhangs and verandahs and eventually a tin roof that covers the leaky (ancient) caravan. Its well insulated, heated by a woodburner. There's no mains services; water is from a spring source and electricity comes from a small windmill and solar panel that feed into a battery bank. More latterly we have acquired a back up generator to charge batteries when there's no wind. This is petrol at present though we're checking out gas conversions.

The temporary nature of the permission and uncertainties regarding our continued occupancy of the site have been major obstacles to longer term planning and investing in general. If I'd known at the start that we were going to be here in temporary accommodation for so long I would have done things quite differently and in particular, would have got small scale water power going first.

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Forest Garden: zone 1 - 2

The forest garden was started in 1990 although really some elements were present before then (a German hybrid, grafted walnut for example) and were included within the first boundary fence. Its a rough oval, about 12 metres by 7 metres. By 1991 it was clear that even with our permanent presence on the land, deer were still the main limiting factor to yield (they ate anything interesting) so we increased the height of the forest garden boundary fence to about 2 metres. This effectively excluded them; it also provided us with lots of trellis to grow things up. It also revealed the next primary limit to yield- slugs. Slugs were dealt with very effectively by Khaki Cambell ducks who were able to patrol around the forest garden but were not allowed in. I then collected slugs from inside the garden (fed them to the ducks in a bucket of water) and radically reduced their numbers as the ducks tended to stop re-infestation from outside. This was helped by the fact that three sides of the garden were hard surfaces (tracks); a sort of no-slugs land that they attempted to cross at their peril. Design plays a crucial role in integrated pest management (we used similar ideas in the design of the large annual beds, arranging for ditches with running water on three sides and a track on the fourth).

I had heard about the idea of forest gardens back in about 1983 from Eurig Ap Gwilym, a local (Dolgellau) natural forester who did chainsaw work for Robert Hart. Eurig brought back lots of ideas from his visits to Robert and passed them on to me. Sadly, both Robert and Eurig are now dead.

My forest garden began as a classic stacked system with hard fruits, soft fruits, climbers, herb layers and the like. The edges around the boundary fence were heavily planted leaving more of a clearing in the centre. This provided a really sheltered sun trap, similar to those I had observed on the wilderness regeneration patch, Argel. Things did very well for several years and yield increased rapidly. However, as it got denser and after a succession of wet summers, it all slowed down and competition between plants became very high.

After David Holmgren's visit I followed his suggestions and turned the central beds over to annuals. The next few years brought the greatest yields and it seems to me now that combinations of low input forest garden and higher input annual beds, say French intensive or bio-dynamic, provide the greatest opportunities for productive systems in temperate climates. The forest garden provides all the reserve of predators and such like that can feed in the annual bits.

Later still, about 1996, after putting up the poly tunnel and developing associated, larger annual beds, I once again began to change the forest garden back into a more pure example of this type of system.

It remains one of my favourite places to potter, observing the interaction of many species.

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Poly tunnel and Big Bed: zone 1 - 2 - 3

The poly tunnel went up in 1996 and has been an excellent addition, greatly increasing the food production of the system. In temperate, wet climates they extend both the range of food plants that can be grown and the length of the growing season. They also provide a nice, warm, dry space to be on those wet days. We included a small pond for pest predators and I regularly come across frogs and toads. There's also been a slow worm throughout most of the summer (2002) who lies up under a bit of cardboard box.

At present it is annuals with a few perennials (notably anise hyssop). I'm still learning, in particular, trying to keep it full through the growing season and as usual am boggled by how different things can be from year to year. 2002 was definitely the year of the cucumber with two plants producing over 30 of the devils!

The Bigbed adjoins the poly and was made from topsoil moved when we set up the round pen foundations. This is a large raised bed about 15 metres by 10. Initially it was all annuals, beginning with potatoes of course but gradually more perennials or longer lasting plants are being included (such as chives, Welsh onion, "perennial cabbage"- courtesy Mike Feingould, Pentland Brigg kale- thanks to Phil Corbett) and self seeding annuals (like ragged Jack Kale, lambs lettuce, mustard) plus a lot more flowers and some herbs (poppies, ladies mantle). The northern side of the bed borders on the main access track and is planted up with various soft fruits (black currant, wineberry). There's also more soft fruit and fruit trees on the other side of the access track to the round pen.

The Bigbed has flowing water on three sides (the overflow from our main water tank) and a track on the fourth side, as part of slug control. We also use chicken mesh to keep the ducks off the bed when seedlings are getting going. For 2002 I still tended to give away surpluses (like cucumber) but with the bigbed and polytunnel I am working towards establishing a small scale vegetable box scheme that will provide about a quarter of an income.

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Round Pen and stables: zone 3 maincrop

The round pen and stables are used for the training and stabling of clients' horses and form one of the site's poly-incomes. The pen is a 50 foot diameter moveable fence made up of weld mesh panels, approximately two metres in height. This is sited on locally sourced wood chip on a stone foundation. It is an excellent, safe area for working with horses. As well as having thirty five years of experience with horses, Lyn is trained according to Monty Roberts' principles and those of the Intelligent Horsemanship Association. Details of our work with horses at Tir Penrhos Isaf can be found in the horse section.

The stables, providing two loose boxes, each approximately 12 feet square, are constructed of local timber, Douglas Fir and cedar from literally just down the road. This is a really solid construction and has to be as Lyn often deals with horses who have major traumas, including aggressive behaviour towards people or other horses, so the stables regularly get a good kicking. The loose boxes were built by Dai Thompson and Daz, who at the time were the partners running the Rhiwgoch Sawmill which is about four miles away from us. The stables are a very good example of keeping money circulating within the area.

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Fodder strip: zone 4

This is rather a poor name as this area has multiple functions. One certainly is fodder and it contains tree species such as hazel, willow, ash, and lime. The management of these plants, coppice, high pruning for timber etc. yields branches which can be thrown over the fences into the fields on either side where they form a nutritious supplement to the grazer/browsers we keep (sheep, horses, goats).

Other trees planted here, such as, Spanish chestnut, oak, wild pear and crabapple, produce fruit or nuts which can be harvested via pigs. We have an especial liking for wild boar crosses such as the Iron Age pig, so called (wild boar x Tamworth). Pigs will have a time slot on here, perhaps every two or three years, where they can do useful work manuring the ground as they root for forage.

It also functions as a nature strip which connects with the northern shelter belt. This allows for wildlife to move through the holding, down the sides of the track and into the wilderness regeneration area, Argel. We included species like guelder rose, bird cherry, bramble and raspberry to provide lots of feed for birds and hence speed up the cycling of phosphates.

I also put in some soil conditioner species such as alder and alder buckthorn which both fix nitrogen. Needless to say, gorse also put in an appearance.

Ffos Dyfri

I made a watering ditch (ffos dyfri) prior to first planting this multifunction fodder strip, which lies towards the bottom of a sloping field. The ffos dyfri runs along the upper edge of the patch and was first marked out using a simple "A" frame to give a fall of 1:400. I then made two passes with a Gem rotavator at a depth of four inches and raked the soil to the lower edge of the rotavated strips. I then made a final pass with the rotavator in the centre of the two first passes and again raked the soil downslope. This left a shallow ditch about eight inches deep with a loose earth bank on the downslope side that I planted with alder and willow. While I'd got the Gem going, I rotavated a further strip below the ditch just to make planting some of the other trees easier.

The ffos dyfri fulfills a number of functions. As the fall is so slight (1:400) it operates very like a swale during the summer, trapping any run off from the hillside above and allowing it to percolate into the soil. In the wetter months, as the ditch fills up during heavy rainfall, it begins to flow towards the dwelling area and joins up with the main water overflow system. The intention was to trap water during the summer, where even in this wet area of Wales, summer growth of grass and trees can be limited due to dry conditions, and yet allow winter rains to be diverted when the soils had become saturated. It also meant that we could also use the ffos for irrigation if it became extremely dry.

This operated very well during the establishment of the trees, needing only an occasional scrape to keep it clear. After about five years it was no longer needed as the dense vegetation of the fodder strip effectively trapped any runoff and sent it down into the deepening soils.

This planting did take a while to get going and was the cause of some despair. I put in about 250 trees originally and mulched every one of them individually. The feral deer saw this as a fantastic treat and proceeded to munch or thrash every single one. After two years all you could see was long grass and I gave up on the idea of making any more major (for me) tree plantings. However, after the deer culls began in the mid nineties, all the trees rapidly reappeared above the grass, plus a lot of volunteers as well. They'd just been hiding. Now its a lush, dense, stacked system with raspberry and bramble clambering into trees that are reaching up to twenty-five feet or so. Don't you just love it?

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Wild flower bank: zone 4

This is a steep bank that in 1986 had suffered some damage from livestock and consequent erosion. We fenced it to create a small paddock and by controlling when livestock graze it, Lyn has been able to regenerate a rich wild flower meadow. Animals have access in late summer to autumn, after the flowers have set seed. The timing is variable and will depend on (among other things) the weather and the state of the meadow. If the species are getting too woody (lots of napweed perhaps) the livestock will get a longer timeslot to eat it back. It requires careful observation and a good knowledge of species in order to avoid going back to scrub which would shade out the sun loving flowers. Lyn is intending to plant a few oak in here to provide niches for some of the woodland flowers.

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Argel - Wilderness regeneration: zone 4 - 5

This shows the location of the regeneration site and you should be able to see a marked difference between the two aerial photos. Argel has separate pages describing its growing abundance and ongoing evolution. This is where I learned some of my greatest lessons regarding design, gardening and regeneration (of landscapes, communities and myself).


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