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New Workshop: Journey into the Realm of Plants (Brighton Sept 2016)

plant workshop

When: Saturday, September 24th 2016 10:30am – 4:30pm

Where: Leahurst Court, Leahurst Court Road, Brighton BN1 6UN 

Exact location provided after registration (note – unfortunately, venue is on the 2nd floor and not wheelchair accessible)

What: This is a day to connect with plants more deeply, and is a mix of intuitive herbalism (getting to know a plant’s uses through direct experience), and connecting with the metaphysical, or spiritual, aspect of plants. (You don’t need to have experience in herbalism, horticulture, botany etc – any such expertise that people bring will be put aside for the day anyway! )

Some skills we work on are:

-Slowing down to plant speed

-Heart-centered communication with plants

-Listening to the body via various senses

The session is experiential. There will be a mixture of indoor and outdoor activities, and some individual activities as well as paired or group activities.

This is for anyone who:

– loves plants

– wants to deepen their connection with the non-human world

– wants to recover some of the enchantment with nature that they felt as a child

The specific outcomes of this kind of session are different for each person (and sometimes ripples occur in the days and weeks that follow), but all will hopefully leave having had a deeper experience with plants than they routinely have. My sense is that individuals get what is needed for them at the time, and my hope is that people leave with the confidence to continue exploring on their own.

At the end of this kind of session, past participants have reported:

  • finding some relief from anxiety
  • feeling energized
  • finding respite from day-to-day life
  • opening up a rich world of relationship and being

Cost: £15/£10 concessions (includes an organic, vegan, gluten-free lunch)

Facilitator: Shumaisa Khan

Booking:  There are only 10 spots, so if you would like to book*, please do so here as soon as possible!

*If you cancel your place more than 14 days before the event, you will get a full refund. If you cancel within 14 days of the event, you generally would not get a refund. In the unlikely event that the session is cancelled, you will receive a full refund.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact Shumaisa at 01273 660 765

Why No Digging?: Nature as a Teacher

Why no digging?“… This important question was recently asked following a post I wrote titled, ‘9 Months No-Dig Permaculture in Small Growing Space‘.

I felt the answer to this question deserved a blog post of its own, and which can then be referred to in future posts around no-dig approaches to food growing.

How nature replenishes itself

How I understanding permaculture is that it draws on nature as a teacher. Nature can be an example of how to nourish and regenerate the earth.

Nature demonstrates deep and coherent principles of sustainability, and if through witnessing and reflecting on nature, we can be humble enough to allow nature to be our teacher, there are principles we might discover that nature embodies and that we can apply in creating our own systems, whether this be around food growing, economic systems, or social ones. Of course these can all interact, and that is one of the beauties of this interconnected dynamic world we are part of!

So, back to digging. If we look at nature, we can see that it rarely digs in the sense that it rarely dramatically inverts the soil. Instead, nature tends to work gently. In a forest, for instance, leaves fall, they slowly breakdown on the surface, and are gradually taken to deeper layers, in particular through earthworm activity. This process of organic matter being left on the soil surface and taken down (without digging) is a part of the process that naturally builds the fertility of the soil and feeds life, a foundation for the creative effortless development and sustenance of a forest and the abundance that comes from it for an incredibly diverse range of life forms.

Drawing on Nature’s principles

Permaculture would be not about copying this exactly, but about drawing on these principles to design systems (permaculture is a design approach) that provide for our needs in a sustainable way – which means also caring for our wider family: the earth and our fellow human beings.

Choosing to minimise digging

Breaking it down a bit more, here are some specific tangible reasons for not digging (or at least minimising it):

  • By inverting the soil, many microorganisms accustomed to living and functioning at a particular soil depth will die, and this impacts negatively on soil fertility (and increases the need for adding fertilisers/external inputs).
  • Digging can bring weed seeds to the surface, increasing the need for further digging and leading to an upward spiral of digging! Instead what we have been doing on our plot is, in part, seeing weeds as a form of life that store valuable nutrients. By just hoeing weeds along the surface of the soil, we leave them on the surface (as mulch) where they suppress further weed growth and break down naturally, gradually releasing nourishment for other life, like leaves do when falling on the soil surface in a forest.
  • Soil is a carbon sink. Digging releases the carbon stored in the ground into the atmosphere, so is counter to what we ideally want to be doing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A bit of an experiment!

When we began our plot with a no-dig approach, it was a bit of an experiment! We were not sure how things would turn out. Although it’s been only nine months and it’s raised eyebrows, we’ve certainly found that weed growth on our plot seems to be much less now than on many others in the area, meaning less work in the long run, and the soil looks much richer as well.

‘It depends!’

While digging is something I would try to avoid where possible, there is an unofficial permaculture principle that underlies all of them, and prevents permaculture from becoming dogmatic. This principle is ‘It depends‘! After all, there are instances where some kind of digging would be appropriate and helpful (e.g. in heavily compacted soil). The aim, instead of no digging [full stop], is rather to create the conditions that minimise the need to dig, particularly over the longer term, and that means digging as little as possible in the first place. In our case, we have been fortunate whereby we have got away essentially without digging the soil at all.

All the best to everyone who is working (or working less!) to do this, and thank you to all my teachers who have helped me to explore the wonderful approach of permaculture which continues to support me in drawing on principles in nature to inspire my work in all its forms.

I have found these two books to be really helpful (and both of which have pages about tilling/not tilling the soil):

The Permaculture Garden: by Graham Bell (simpler)
The Earth Care Manual: By Patrick Whitefield (more comprehensive)

Muzammal Hussain

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

9 Months No-Dig Permaculture in Small Growing Space

It’s been just over 9 months since we got our very own plot on an allotment site in Reigate, and we’ve used that time to apply permaculture to food growing.

On this post, I’d like to share a couple of photos to help convey some kind of pictorial overview as to changes that took place on our permaculture plot during that time.

Below is the plot as we got it about 9 months ago, in December 2012. The photo is taken from the south-east corner of the plot>>



You can see lots of grass and weeds. The plot had not been worked on for many months as the previous plot-holder was suffering from poor health.

After taking stock of the plot and reflecting on how to move forward, we thought that realistically it made sense that we work primarily on about half of it for the first year, and also use that time to gain more familiarity with the site.

We were committed to using permaculture principles, no insecticides/herbicides (i.e. organic) and to working with the plot without digging.

So, How did we do?! Let’s move to the ‘nine months later’ mark. Just below is a photo taken from about the same position in September 2013…



Early on, we built a compost structure from reclaimed wooden pallets (top part of photo). The area we’ve been growing on is about 16 square meters. We divided it into four beds, two are horse shoe shaped and two are rectangular.

Crops that we’ve been growing on these four beds include:

perpetual spinach,
swiss beet,
french beans (Blauhilde and Golden Gate varieties),
and squash…

and yes, we did manage to work on the weedy site to grow all this food without digging!  (A couple of open workdays helped, so thank you to everyone who came down for them).

Hopefully I’ll get a chance to share more about how we did this on a future post.

Muzammal Hussain

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.