The beauty of a Swiss permaculture system

By Nina Baumgartner

This summer I spent two months at the permaculture community of Balmeggberg, in the Emmental region of Switzerland. It’s a glorious spot, 1000m up a mountain where six adults and their four children live permanently and hundreds of other people orbit around them.

During this time I had an insight into the implementation of the permaculture principles within this specific habitat and community, helping them out with anything that needed to be done. I was personally very eager to learn even the smallest of the details, and I was lucky to find a group of people happy to share their knowledge and love for the place.

The summer jobs in Balmeggberg. included gardening the three hectares of cultivated land, harvesting vegetables, leaves, flowers and berries, composting, pruning, feeding rabbits, ducks, chickens and sheep, building, repairing, cooking and everything else country life brings. Of course music and fun were also important factors of this happy equation.


In Balmeggberg the main goal is not to obtain total self-sufficiency but rather to find and keep a dynamic balance between what lies within the community and the outside world.

In this way the community can experiment with food production and efficiency, without relying 100% on the success of plant growth or harvesting for living, and in most cases people have part-time jobs in the world below.

Visitors of Balmeggberg can be inspired both through physical and spiritual work (i.e. woofing, courses of yoga and poi, sweat lodges etc.). For those in search for more intellectual stimulation they run a two-week Permaculture Design course. Anyone seeking help with a personal permaculture project can also ask for a consultancy with the experienced group of permaculturalists Toni, Marco, Sherpa and Elena at “Plano Futuro – Systeme zum Glück” (=system with happiness)


I reached Balmeggberg looking forward to learning more about permaculture and about my personal adequacy to this system. Now that my experience in Balmeggberg is finished I can say that, more than learning about the permaculture approach, I was happier to have found a deep connection within myself, with the place and with the others around me – I found the spirit of permaculture.

For more info (in German)

Nina has a marine biology background but she is now exploring terrestrial ecosystems and the permaculture principles. She is a Director of Project MAYA.

Soil in September

Last Tuesday was a ‘Soil’ themed evening at the London permaculture picturehouse, and as a result of a fabulous night, I felt inspired to blog about soil.

As a gardener I have September down in my (hypothetical) diary as a time to start focussing on soil. If nothing else, the alliteration of it makes me remember… ‘Soil in September’.  It has a nice ring to it. And, it’s lovely to spend some time reflecting on one of our most important (and most overlooked resources). I mean how often do you even look at the ground, never mind wonder what’s going on there, or care for it?! Yep, I bet not to often.

When you think about it, and learn about it, Soil is really remarkable stuff. I mean, we walk on it, build on it, and it provides much in return, such as food, clothing, and it even acts as a carbon sink.

What’s more, healthy soil is alive! Soil contains billions of micro and macro-organisms that work with each other and the plants in symbiotic relationships to provide the resources that we rely upon. They are essentially a massive army of recyclers! Breaking down matter into smaller, and smaller pieces and feeding it back to the plants.

Under our feet is a rather fragile ecosystem that like us, needs water, nutrients and air to survive. Digging and turning over soil results in a temporary increase in fertility due to the death of many of these microorganisms, most of which are uniquely adapted to their specific strata in the soil.  If dug infrequently the soil life can survive.  However, since the use of the plough, then the tractor and then finally the introduction of chemical fertilisers by military chemical companies since WWII it has been unsurprising that soil and plant health has been in serious decline.

So, as permaculturalists, September is a time to care for your soil, build raised beds (or build your garden so you don’t compact the soil). Mulch! And maybe take time to learn more about soil, and to fight for it! … I’m not joking, our soil really could do with some help – take a look at these figures (from physorg):

  • During the past 40 years nearly one-third of the world’s cropland (1.5 billion hectares) has been abandoned because of soil erosion and degradation.
  • About 2 million hectares of rain-fed and irrigated agricultural lands are lost to production every year due to severe land degradation, among other factors.
  • It takes approximately 500 years to replace 25 millimeters (1 inch) of topsoil lost to erosion. The minimal soil depth for agricultural production is 150 millimeters. From this perspective, productive fertile soil is a non-renewable, endangered ecosystem. – The Global Education Project
  • A Cornell University scientist says soil around the world is being swept and washed away 10 to 40 times faster than it’s being replenished.
  • Professor of Ecology David Pimentel says cropland the size of Indiana is lost each year, yet the Earth’s need for food and other grown products continues to soar.
  • “Soil erosion is second only to population growth as the biggest environmental problem the world faces,” said Pimentel. “Yet, the problem, which is growing ever more critical, is being ignored because who gets excited about dirt?”
  • Pimentel said 99.7 percent of human food comes from cropland, which is shrinking by nearly 37,000 square miles each year due to soil erosion, while more than 3.7 billion people are malnourished.
  • The study, which pulls together statistics on soil erosion from more than 125 sources, notes the United States is losing soil 10 times faster — and China and India are losing soil 30 to 40 times faster — than the natural replenishment rate.
  • Damage from soil erosion worldwide is estimated to be $400 billion per year.

Get’s you thinking doesn’t it?

Well, as a last bit of brain food I’ll leave you with a short video from soil guru Dr. Elaine Ingham….

Anna, MAYA Team :)

Update from Maya Italia

It’s been an exciting year so far for MAYA Italia! Our Roma-based MAYA team have been involved in a number of super collaborations with Landemed – a project looking at the planning and management of urban green spaces and urban eco-systems in Italy.

E’ stato un anno eccitante fin’ora per MAYA Italia! Roma-Il nostro team di MAYA è stato coinvolto in una serie di collaborazioni eccellenti con Landemed – un progetto che si occupa della pianificazione e della gestione sostenibile degli spazi verdi e degli ecosistemi urbani in Italia.

Last month, MAYA Director Nina, and Associate Annachiara (also of Landemed) created the PermaCult mobile – an urban growing system for balconies that incorporates both irrigation and temperature systems:

Il mese scorso, le due socie del progetto MAYA, Nina e Annachiara, hanno creato il mobile PermaCult, un piccolo sistema urbano per la coltivazione di spezie e ortaggi sui balconi che segue i principi della permacultura:

Synergy with waterthe water poured in the funnel flows from the top drawer (here we chose plants well-adapted to arid ecosystems – caper, thyme, and oregano) to the middle one (basil, chives and spring onions) and finally to the bottom and wettest drawer (where we put different kinds of sprouts).

Synergy with animals: the cat (could also have been a dog house or a rabbit hole or a chicken cage..) releases CO2 and methane needed by the plants; in exchange, the plants keep the animal house at a constant temperature.

Other cool stuff: the wheels make the PermaCult mobile easy to move around chasing the sun/shade, while on the top of the mobile there is a glove compartment to keep the garden tools and the ‘introduction to permaculture’ book ;o)

Sinergia con l’acqua: l’acqua versata nell’imbuto fluisce dal cassetto superiore (in questo caso abbiamo scelto piante ben adattate agli ecosistemi aridi, come capperi, timo e origano) a quella di mezzo (basilico, erba cipollina e cipollotti) e infine al cassetto inferiore e più umido, dove sono stati messi diversi tipi di germogli.

Sinergia con gli animali: il gatto (potrebbe anche essere stata una cuccia di cane o di coniglio o una gabbia per polli ..) rilascia CO2 e metano necessari dalle piante, in cambio, le piante mantengono lla casa degli animali a temperatura costante.

Altro elemento utile: le ruote rendono il mobile PermaCult facile da spostare, all’inseguimento del sole o dell’ombra a seconda delle necessità; mentre sulla parte superiore del mobile c’è un vano portaoggetti per mantenere gli attrezzi da giardino e il libro ’Introduzione alla Permacultura’ per farsi ispirare su nuove idee ;o)

The pictures above show the PermaCult mobile being presented at the Festival del Verde e del Paesaggio (literally festival of the Green and of the Landscape) at the Audiotorium Parco della Musica in Rome. A brilliant opportunity to meet landscape planners, horticulturists, gardeners, green lovers and many many others…

Le immagini qui sopra mostrano il mobile PermaCult presentato al Festival del Verde e del Paesaggio all’ Audiotorium Parco della Musica di Roma. Una splendida opportunità per incontrare progettisti del paesaggio, orticoltori, giardinieri, amanti verdi e molti altri ancora…

In other MAYA Italia news, Nina and Antwerp-based Associate Eva-Maria launched the MAYA Eco-Photo Gallery Project – a collection of images taken by MAYA associates covering all aspects of people, place and planet. Check it out – It’s pretty cool! – plus the photo’s are freely available for non-profit/educational purposes. For more info email

Inoltre Nina e la nostra socia di Anversa, EvaMaria, hanno creato il MAYA Eco-Photo Gallery Project, una collezione di immagini raccolte tra tutti i soci MAYA che coprono i vari aspetti delle nostre ricerche, la gente, gli habitat, il pianeta. Buttateci un occhio, ne vale la pena! Per di più le foto sono utilizzabili gratuitamente per scopi educativi. Per maggiori

Ciao for now,

MAYA Italia