loligo: (anemone)
[personal profile] loligo
The first book I ever read about permaculture was Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway (which is coming out in a 2nd edition this spring). It explained the basics of the theory and presented some inspiring examples, but it was kind of short on nitty-gritty details, particularly regarding plants suitable for eastern North America. (Most English-language resources on permaculture focus on Australia or the U.K., because that's where a lot of the hands-on work has been done.)

When we bought our house a couple years ago, I knew I wanted to use permaculture ideas in revitalizing the long-neglected garden, but I just didn't know where to begin. I was actually thinking of hiring a permaculture consultant to get us started, much as that goes against my DIY ethos, because I was just *that* confused. But then I found Edible Forest Gardens, and suddenly I had all the information I could wish for.

It's a two-volume book. The authors say that vol. 1 focuses on Vision & Theory and vol. 2 focuses on Design & Practice, but there's enough overlap to make either volume useful on its own, should you happen to run into just one in a used book store. For example, a very practical aspect of vol. 1 is the lengthy appendix describing forest gardening's "Top 100" most useful plants. I actually found vol. 2 to be a bit tl;dr in places, when it comes to the design process, but people with a larger lot (or more site flexibility) might need a lot of the info that I skimmed over.

The highlight of vol. 2 is the Plant Species Matrix, detailing the properties and uses of over 600 species suitable for forest gardening in eastern North America. This is the kind of solid, specific information that I was longing for!

I was going to type out the inspiring introduction to vol. 1, which encapsulates a lot of the basic ideas of forest gardening in a nutshell, but then I found that a lot of that information was available at the authors' website here, so I encourage you to go celebrate Earth Day by reading it! It might change how you think about your garden forever!
loligo: Scully with blue glasses (Default)
[personal profile] loligo
Maybe before I dive into book reviews, I should provide some sort of intro post! The wikipedia entry covers the basics, albeit in an abstract way. The central idea of permaculture is to use our knowledge about the ecology of various natural systems to create agricultural systems that are as diverse, productive, and self-sustaining as possible.

I can't tell you what a kick it was when I first encountered this idea. You mean, I can take all those ecology courses I took as an undergrad, apply them to gardening, and end up with delicious food for little effort? Sign me up! There are other reasons why it was especially appealing to me, too: I live in an area with heavy clay soil, and I live in a shady clearing in the woods. Not an optimal setting for growing your typical tomatoes and zucchini. Permaculture landscapes don't *need* to be modeled on forests, but many of them are, so there was this whole body of research out there that could help me find edible plants that would thrive in my setting.

Permaculture is very much in development: there's still debate about how productive permaculture systems (particularly forest-based systems) can be (per acre, or per energy expended) in temperate climates. So if you had an empty plot of sunny land with rich loamy soil and you were trying to decide how to squeeze as much food out of it as possible, you'd definitely have to do some homework before making your decision. But in many other situations (including typical suburban yards), the permaculture approach has a lot to offer!

So, I'm curious: how much background do others folks here on the comm already have when it comes to permaculture? Maybe you've heard of it a couple times and just subscribed out of curiosity? Maybe you already have a thriving edible landscape, and can tell me what the hell I'm supposed to do with goumi berries? (Yes, I planted goumis, because everyone kept saying that they were one of the best fruiting shrubs for shade... but now what? *g*)

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Permaculture: Food From Sustainable Landscapes

November 2012

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