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A Cal-Earth Permaculture Course Picture Summary

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Post Update (Oct. 2017)
Our 7th Annual Combined
Super-Adobe and Permaculture-Design Certificate Courses

Oct. 16-28, 2017

Oct. 16-20 Super Adobe Core Curriculum Workshop
Oct.21-28 Permaculture Design Certificate Course

Sorry – This Course is Now Full
Please Check Back for Next Year’s Dates

— About the world renowned Permaculture Design Certificate Course here.
— How Midwest Permaculture delivers this comprehensive training (regardless of the location) here.
— Download a .PDF of the PDC course curriculum outline here.

Below is a picture summary from a previous joint training to give you an idea of how full and rich this combined training is. 
Please Note: Geoff and Nadia’s visit was a one-time event. They are not expected to join us this year (2017).

Cal-Earth Interior
Interior View of ‘Triple-Vault’– A Super-Adobe Structure at Cal-Earth   –   Students will learn the basics of how to build structures like this and how to design the total environment surrounding it at this combined training.


Blog Post of Previous Combined Course
Pictures and Text by Bill Wilson of Midwest Permaculture

For a second year we co-delivered with the Cal-Earth teaching staff a combined Superadobe Earth Building and Permaculture Design Certificate Course.  At the close of our training we were pleased to host Geoff and Nadia Lawton of PRI-Australia who shared their work in desert environments with us while they were in the USA for a brief visit.  This workshop was also opened to the general public seen here at the end of a really great day of learning.

Our 2012 Cal-Earth PDC on Guest Day with Geoff and Nadia Lawton – Picture taken on one of the Cal-Earth buildings.

Cal-Earth Site Director Ian Lodge (L) with Geoff, Latifa and Nadia Lawton, and Becky, Hayden and me (Bill Wilson)


Let’s continue this picture summary from the Beginning of the Training….
Or… go directly to the pictures of the Geoff & Nadia Lawton day

These combined Superadobe and PDC Courses take place in Hesperia, CA, at the Cal-Earth campus. Class might be held anyplace on site including here outside of Earth One, Cal-Earth’s flagship building.
Another Outdoor Classroom Space made with Superadobe
Much of the instruction happens in this circular classroom. Here Becky teaches a segment of the training on financial permaculture.
The Circular Classroom made from Strawbales and Superadobe
Another key building at Cal-Earth is the Eco-dome. Becky and I stayed in the home for a few nights and loved it.
Being a dome, it is circular on the inside, beautiful, and very solid.
We slept in one of the attached mini-domes.
Also on the campus is a small area called ‘international village’ where a variety of shaped superadobe structures can be closely studied. These are the spaces that some of our students stayed in at no additional charge while taking the training over the 2-week period.
Having learned about thermal mass rocket stoves during last year’s permaculture training, the Cal-Earth teaching team has since built two such stoves to test them out in superadobe structures. A hand-in-glove fit. They work incredibly well and look great too.
Cal-Earth Instructor Marco Cervantes
Cal-Earth Instructor Dave Walker making his point.
Students blocking the wind by holding up a tarp allow for an accurate reading on the A-frame.   Xavier, from France, is working with the frame.
There were 7 students from other countries joining us at this training giving it an international feeling. Just in this picture there are students from 4 different parts of the world.
Ghassan (from France) learning to use a hand-held site level used for locating swales, terraces and keylines which all must be on contour.
Lilly and Rayan build a self-standing arch with no mortar…! Only bricks and pebbles. Everyone learns how to build something like this.
This batch of superadobe begins in a wheelbarrow consisting of the earth (this earth has a lot of sand), water and a touch of Portland cement.
The mixture is poured into the bags… worked into position… and then tamped down to push out the air and create a good bond.
For arches, a form is made, superadobe applied by hand, and then screeded-off for uniformity….all done by students at this training so that they have the practical hands-on experience.
During a plant walk we begin to understand the types of plants that can survive and even thrive in this desert environment.
As part of the permaculture training, students are divided up into design teams for different exercises.
Students working on their final design project.
Some of the sessions were hosted inside of Earth-One.  Wesley Roe and Margie Bushman of the Santa Barbara Permaculture Network came over and did a great segment of the training on what is called ‘invisible structures.’  These have to do with all of those things that we rarely think about in our culture but rely on heavily… like money, community services, and relationships with others.
Here Margie and Wes relax a bit  on our newly constructed earth-bag raised garden beds with Becky and Candace Vanderhoff.  Candace is our grey-water designer for the training and a fellow permaculture teacher who lives in San Diego.
Here, Candace Vanderhoff is ready to throw the valve on the newly installed ‘laundry to landscape’ greywater system that all of our students assisted in constructing.
This is a simple sketch that Candace drew to explain the elements in the system to our students.  Since the intern house at Cal-Earth almost always has people living in it, and occasionally doing their laundry, the garden beds will now have all of the water they will need even in this desert environment.


Below is a great 4 min. video on how this simple ‘Laundry to Landscape’ system works produced by Art Ludwig of Oasis Designs.


While some students started on the greywater system, others worked on the superadobe earth bags that would build the raised garden beds.  We know that gaining the hands-on experience is vital for really understanding how to build by this method.
Tamping down the bags to remove air and enhance the bond in the superadobe.
Students collecting the earth that will be used in the superadobe mixture.
The first ring of bag is filled, laid and tamped. The small cement mixer was used for this larger project.
Everyone helped in this project including Ian Lodge who is the Cal-Earth Site Director.  He is one of those teachers who leads by doing.
To direct rain water from the roof gutter to the french drain (which flows to the garden beds) a rain-chain was handmade by Rizia.
Mattress springs used as lattice by the climbing plants in the greywater bed.
Students Jade, Sarafina, Shirin, Saji and Caitlin stop for a moment to take this quick picture. Good friendships are made at most all PDC courses as it is deeply inspiring to be with others who care about the planet, people and the future.
We worked late into the afternoon on some evenings. Hayden and Hooman are putting on some finishing touches to the second layer.  It was warm, especially for October.
One of the raised beds with the greywater system neatly in place is just about ready to be back-filled with soil.
Candace and Morganne with the filled bed and plants already added.
The beds were done and ready for showing on the last day when a large group of people from the public came to visit Cal-Earth and meet Geoff and Nadia Lawton.
All of the complete beds on the final day. They still need to be plastered for a finished look. Check back and I will post a finished picture following our next permaculture training at Cal-Earth.  The gravel trench in the foreground is a french drain that carries the rainwater from the rain chain to the garden bed.
A second line is pulled off of the washing machine toward the other side of the house where students constructed a hugelkultur bed and swale.
Once the line was properly installed, the trench was back-filled.
The hugelkultur bed was dug fairly deep and then back-filled with woody material, clay, compost and soil.


This short video of ours will explain how a hugelkultured bed with a swale works.


The greywater line was run up to the top of the finished hugelkultur bed where it was dumped into a perforated drain tile.  (Note the swale or ditch to the left of the bed which is designed to capture and hold rainwater during the few times per year when there are torrential rains.  Captured rainwater slowly soaks into the bed and the wood within it.)
Now, everytime someone does the laundry and turns the handle toward the hugelkultur bed, it will get a good drink of water, and the wood underneath will soak much of that water up and hold it for longer periods of time than the sandy soil can. This bed will be an oasis of water and nutrients for every plant placed on or near this bed.
Here are most of our design course students following the completion of the hugelkultur bed.  Proud Workers.


 Geoff Lawton Workshop Day – Oct.20, 2012

On the last day of our PDC training we invited Geoff and Nadia Lawton to join us. This was not Geoff’s first visit to Cal-Earth.
Here is Geoff (R) in the summer of 2006 with Cal-Earth’s founder Nader Khalili, two years before Nader’s passing when Wesley Roe of the Santa Barbara Permaculture Network (mentioned above) brought Geoff over so that these two world-class humanitarians could meet face to face.
So it was heartening that Nader’s daughter, Sheefteh Khalili, was able to open the day by telling us all a bit about her father’s work and his dreams for Cal-Earth while also introducing Geoff and Nadia to a room of over 70 people.
While in the domed classroom, Geoff spoke throughout the day of how he and others have been able to turn desert environments into bountiful gardens using creative yet fundamental permaculture design strategies which are all taught in every Permaculture Design Certificate Course.


 About Greening the Desert

Many of us were introduced to Geoff through the very popular 6-minute film Greening the Desert.  It is the story of a reclamation project in one of the hottest and driest environments in the world — the Desert Jordan, just above the Dead Sea in the Middle East.

Geoff and Nadia have worked on many projects around the world including this garden at a girls school, also in Jordan.



You can follow Geoff and Nadia’s work by visiting the website of the Permaculture Research Institute-Australia.


Newcomers to Cal-Earth were also toured around the site by Ian Lodge to learn more about Nader’s work.  Both Ian and Hooman Fazly hand worked closely with Nader Khalili.
While the students were touring the grounds, Hooman Fazly, myself, and Geoff were able to converse on the work of Cal-Earth, Midwest Permaculture, and PRI-Australia.  Though the specifics differ, and our locations are thousands of miles apart, the work is the same:  Care of People – Care of Planet – Fair Share
Becky and Nadia were able to get acquainted and learn from each other’s work as well.
Knowing how busy Geoff always is, it was a pleasure to see him enjoying some ‘daddy’ time with his young daughter Latifa inside of one of the small earth domes.
Besides the day of instruction, on the following morning our students were treated to some down-time with Geoff and Nadia so that they could get to know them personally.
We end where we began with the group shot on the Geoff and Nadia Lawton day. The combined trainings that we are doing with Cal-Earth are quite life-changing for most students. We invite you to consider joining us at a future training.


 Our Next Scheduled Cal-Earth Combined Training is Oct. 3-15, 2016
Information and Registration

See our Full Schedule of PDC Courses

Note:  As graduates of a Midwest Permaculture PDC courses, these students are now linked into our network of other PDC Grads; will receive all updates to our Foundations of Permaculture Webinar Series in the coming years; and may audit another of our PDC courses at half-price should they like to repeat the training.

Congratulations to all of our graduates… and Welcome Aboard…!!!

Bill Wilson –


5 thoughts on “A Cal-Earth Permaculture Course Picture Summary”

  1. Would it be possible to get a sponsorship for this course. I have build 3 years ago Africa Amini Earth as a project of Africa Amini Alama. I have done all work by myself and without support. I have worked as volunteer and spend my funds to go so far. At the moment i help to develop a small Town of 1000 Houses for Zanzibariens called Fumba Town. I will hold my second PDC at the 27.04. and at the same time we build the first Superadobe for a ECO Lodge on Zanzibar. Rami Siam, a student of Cal Earth is the main Builder. I would just love to get more training in that field. I also organized to build a school of Permaculture for Tanzanian on Arusha National Park in Oktober. All of this is quite costly and i cant effort this year another expense on my list. I contacted you to take a Earth-bag building course in the beginning of the year but there was non worldwide available. At least from Jan till March. So i used the funds to bring a teacher(Rami). a Spanish organization wanted to charge me $36.000 to teach us but that was to much. I also develop at the moment Gardens for a Hospitality school in Moshi called “More Then A Drop”. It would be great if you can help. Franko

    1. We don’t have any sponsorship or scholarship available at this time. Cal-Earth might have sponsorship opportunities you should check. You might also try a crowdfunding campaign at We The Trees.

      If none of that works, don’t give up. Keep looking for opportunities. If it is meant to happen it will, we just often don’t get to choose the timetable that things happen in.

  2. Aloha Ian, Becky & Bill
    Thank you so much for your combined efforts! I especially appreciated the laundry to landscape video and the video that I was led to about greening the desert.
    Mahalo, Mark

  3. Hi Bill, Becky and the Midwest team!
    Great photos there! This years workshop was rich and hands-on as the photos clearly show. I miss everyone and value the relationshps and associations gained as much as any knowledge. Pairing our superadobe work, which uses common sense, organic forms and shapes and sustainablility as it’s back bone does truly pair well with permaculture – which speaks the same language. I love it! And I’m excited about next years course already! Lets’ do another greywater effort on Harmony House this time and maybe a roof catchment system too. What about a solar hot water system on the south side of Harmony house and a hydro radiant floor system powered by the super-high efficiency masonry heaters? Oh shucks! The class is only two weeks long isn’t it!?
    What a shame!
    From the mid 20ºF temperatures of deep winter in the Mojave, I look forward to the blossoms of life unfolding in 2013!
    Warm Wishes to you and your tribe for a good new year in 2013
    –Ian Lodge
    Cal Earth Site Director

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