Primed for Permaculture

Due to giving a series of farm tours over the past serveral weeks I’ve been thinking about Permaculture more than usual lately.  The farm where we have our market gardens is a 20 acre passive permaculture plot – nothing as intense as Robert Hart’s Food Forest, but certainly an intensely designed working farm focused primarily on perennial agriculture: orchards (peach, apple, pear, asian pear, cherries, plums, mulberry…), nut tree groves (pine, hazel, hickory and others), asparagus (.5 acres!), huge patches of chives, comfrey and horseradish, rhubarb, sunchokes; hundreds of feet of grape vines and brambles… you get the picture.  In all there are hundreds of fruit/nut producing trees interplanted within several thousand native forest trees providing seemingly infinite niches in an attempt to maximize ecological output for both wildlife and humans.  I’ve been an active participant in the property for 3 years now and I still learn a staggering amount about the property every time I take a tour led by the owner.

For a variety of reasons, I am becoming convinced that the Developed World is waking up to the possibilities of permaculture.  We held a tour this past weekend specifically on permaculture (for the record I have not taken a permaculture certification course) and we had over 25 people from 4 counties in attendance.  There are articles featuring permaculture techniques in the BBC and even being recommended for major carbon sequestration schemes (finally!).  People are listening to smart Ethanol more than ever, and I was asked to come return to the MREA Energy Fair to give my workshop (3pm Sunday 6/21) on our Earth Victory Garden system – which is essentially a “trojan horse” to get people to listen to a 45 minute talk about permacultural systems thinking.

Perhaps most telling, these days when I talk about linked systems and turning wastes into resources (composting, the 3 sisters, biodiesel) at work people are now calling it Common Sense rather than refferring to me as Leftist Pink-o Commie.  Between the economic crash and $4+ gas people are waking up to the fact that the status quo is Not OK.  And I am convinced that Permaculture will provide the answers.

When Bill Mollison and David Holmgren first coined the theories back in the late 70’s, PErmaculture was primarily a homestead based gardening system for tropical areas with firm roots in the Back to Earth movements of the 60’s and 70’s with some very good ecology science mixed in.  It was modeling agricultural systems on nature to ultimately reduce inputs and increase yeilds permanently.   But as the decades have rolled on, Permaculture Thinking has shown its true depths and thanks to the updating in Holmgren’s incredible work Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.  Thanks to Holmgren’s work, Permaculture has evolved out of the garden and into a true philosophy that can shed massively important insights on everything from civic planning, to energy production, to livestock management.

We are an incredibly wasteful society that is awash in enough problems to collapse our society. But the very tenants of Permaculture: turning wastes into resources and treating problems as the sources for solutions seem perfectly designed to provide us the answers to this mess.  

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Tomorrow can be better than today as long as we are Plan-ful and work towards a more Permanent Culture – a Perma-Culture.  Society is waking up, but needs teachers, examples, and more than anything: Do-ers.  

We know what to do, and time isn’t waiting around for us any longer… grab a shovel or a hammer; find a podium or keyboard and get to work.  Its time to get busy living or stay busy dying.

Be the Change.

-Rob

8 Responses

  1. You found a back door to my brain? Or perhaps I found one to yours… Not long ago at all I lucked on to a few videos online showing what incredible things Geoff Lawton has done in Australia and Jordan. I’ve got three titles on permaculture/forest gardening now, Gaia’s Garden having arrived just yesterday. This is revolutionary stuff! I’m especially happy because the idea seems to have inspired my husband too, who is not normally a gardening type at all. We’re going to spend this year thinking about how to apply permaculture principles on our small lot, and bulking up the soil with clover and other nitrogen fixers. It’s really a lot to absorb.

  2. Permaculture is great – so glad you’ve found it!

    Once you get through Gaia’s garden and Mollison’s Intro to Permaculture, I highly recommend tracking down a copy of at least vol. 1 of Edible Forest Gardening. Its pretty textbook-ey, but DAMN is it informative.

    The video on Geoff in Jordan is amazing.

  3. Yes, that’s the second Geoff Lawton video I watched. Pretty astounding, but then so was his Establishing a Food Forest dvd, which no longer seems to be available online.

    I actually bought both volumes of Forest Gardening as my first books on this subject. I agree that they are quite textbooky. But invaluable just the same, and though they’re sort of hard to read, the indices and charts in the second volume are especially useful. I’m especially glad to see that the one obvious omission of the Forest Gardening books has been remedied in Gaia’s Garden: the identification of plants that are useful as poultry fodder. In my opinion, a plant’s usefulness as a fodder species should always be included in permaculture databases or texts.

    • Siberian Pea Shrub seems to be the fodder plant of choice, along with any of the locust trees. I’ve heard that Russian Comfrey is very good for that as well.

      The appendixes in EFG are amazing I can’t wait for a plot big enough to really dig in to that level of planning. The frustrating issue after reading it and making your plans is actually FINDING the plants – it took me two years just to get Russian Comfrey!

  4. A friend of mine who went in with me on some seed and plant orders this spring ordered a peashrub from Fedco. I’m going to see how it does for her. Her husband is a little disapproving because of its non-native status, but me….I don’t care about that issue as much as I probably should.

    So where’d you finally find the Russian comfrey. I order my herbs from Richters, and though they have several varieties of comfrey, they don’t have the Russian. I’ve got three sorts growing on our property. Comfrey rocks!

  5. A friend of mine who went in with me on some seed and plant orders this spring ordered a peashrub from Fedco. I’m going to see how it does for her. Her husband is a little disapproving because of its non-native status, but me….I don’t care about that issue as much as I probably should.

    So where’d you finally find the Russian comfrey? I order my herbs from Richters, and though they have several varieties of comfrey, they don’t have the Russian. I’ve got three sorts growing on our property. Comfrey rocks!

  6. I found my comfrey at the farmers market – my only regret is that this one has viable seed – if I don’t cut it at flowering I run the risk of it taking over!

    In regards to non-natives, [rant warning!] I side with Toby Hemenway in which I place much more value on *usefullness* than nativeness. If I can find a native that fills several functions in a guild, I will go that route – my New Jersey Tea shrubs are a prime example. But choosing a native plant that takes up valuable space in our guilds where a non-native plant could reduce imported resources rings false to me. Subdivisons are no longer pristine wildernesses – they are resource vacuums forcing the depletion of truly pristine wildernesses elsewhere to supply their needs. Whatever we can do to plug that vacuum by reducing inputs will do more good than putting a few native species in a sea of concrete and fescues.

    Of course I do not encourage planting Kudzu or Garlic Mustard or other known super invasives, but many non-natives work just fine. Pheasants, apples, and countless other imports have settled in very nicely into our landscape.

  7. One of the authors of Edible Forest Gardens also wrote a great book called Perennial Vegetables, which is shorter and more accessible than EFG. It’s also more narrowly focused, of course, but on that particular topic it’s a well-informed and detailed reference. I use both the EFG set and Perennial Vegetables often.

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