Seeking my kind of permaculture…

By June 21, 2010 Uncategorized 9 Comments

So I’ve been reading this book called Gaia’s Garden about permaculture, which has about ten different definitions, as you would expect from any process where people with liberal arts degrees get involved.*

For our purposes, we’ll go with this–permaculture is the art and process of extremely small-scale sustainable agriculture. Basically it’s gardening that’s good for you and hopefully good for the planet, and doesn’t waste lots of resources and makes life better for the gardener and the critters without making it significantly worse for somebody somewhere else. There’s a big focus on conserving resources and trying to generate resources on-site (or as close to on-site as possible.) So instead of buying fertilizer, you compost, instead of watering from municipal sources, you put up a rain barrel, etc, etc. There’s also an emphasis on positive interconnections–ideally you’re creating a working garden ecosystem where Plant A feeds the bugs, and then is mulch for Plant B who feeds the birds and the humans and is interplanted with Plant C which attracts the bugs that prey on the pests that attack Plant B which in turn provides the shade that Plant C needs and so on and so forth.

Gaia’s Garden is a pretty good book, I’ll recommend it, with the following caveat–the writer’s waaaay too fond of Russian/autumn olive and bamboo. Probably this is because he lives somewhere that they are not a psychotic invasive.  While I agree with his assessment that if we would just stop creating disturbed sunny edges with new development, we’d stop having problems with a lot of these plants, autumn olive is one of those nasty plants that will invade a pristine ecosystem quite happily and form a massive stand through which nothing else can grow, and thus should not be planted in any climate where they show even the faintest sign of invasive tendencies, by which I mean “most of North America.”  Yes, the berries are probably quite delicious and undoubtedly antioxidant-laden, but it’s a bad plant out here. My nerve endings will simply have to oxidize on their own. Check your invasive plant lists before you stick one in the ground–there are some fine native alternatives and even non-native alternatives that don’t want to eat the world.

That aside, it was fascinating stuff, and largely practical, with scalable plans for even wee urban lots and rooftops. As long as you take those aforementioned bits with a grain of salt, it’s a great read.

Fine and good. I mentioned this to my mother in passing. “Say, Mom–have you heard of this “permaculture” thing?”

“Oh!” said my mother. “Yes! I was on the Keeweenaw Permaculture something-or-other. I was the resident artist. I was teaching people how to draw up maps of their property to work from. Mostly I just listened to the other people talk, though–it was fascinating!”

My mother is possibly cooler than I am.

A week later I was talking to my father about his fruit trees. He was describing the orchard on his suburban lot. “Lemons as big as your head! And the branches are breaking under the weight of the peaches! I can’t eat them fast enough! I bring bags to work!”

“Do you spray?” I asked.

“Spray? Why? The chickens eat all the bugs. The only thing that’s a problem is the grapes, because the chickens can’t reach them…”

Apparently Dad is living the permaculture dream. Dad is an Arizona Republican who actively campaigned for Perot. He also made his own bio-diesel for years and heats his pool with solar panels. He is also possibly cooler than I am. (He also restores Jaguars, which pushes the coolness factor way over where I can hope to reach.)

Right, I said. Clearly it is in the family tradition.  I should go permaculture something.

So I went to the internet, and that’s when I ran into trouble.

I can’t seem to find a permaculture blog for people like me.

I am not doing this because I am anticipating the collapse of civilization. Civilization has proved pretty resilient, and if it collapses, I am screwed on many medical fronts, so I’m working on the assumption that it will be continuing. Also, I have few useful skills, and they all require civilization. I cannot imagine that in the new Road-Warrior-esque world order, there will be much call for digital artists. My mad Wacom skills will probably be less than useful.  So we can rule out the survivalist type blogs.

Similarly, I don’t want to live off the grid. I LIKE the grid. I wouldn’t mind putting up solar panels one of these days, when the budget allows, but the grid and I are old buddies.

And I’d rather not read endless politics. I want to fix my garden and make it work better, not get mad about stuff. I am all for getting mad in a good cause, but I have a limited supply of mad and it gets burned out quickly these days. Something that’s politics 24-7 rapidly gives me eco-fatigue and makes me want to curl up with some potato chips, which were undoubtedly grown unsustainably and fertilized with the blood of endangered kittens.  I don’t mind occasional politics, but so many of the green blogs are just unending things I should be outraged about, without even occasional “And now that you’re mad, go build a swale to collect rainwater runoff on that slope in the backyard!”

In my attempts at googling, I found one blog that “provides solution oriented information to help catalyze and support the creation of localized regenerative initiatives.” Okay. Good luck with that.

I just want a blog or a site or something for somebody who wants to do good with limited time and limited money and boundless enthusiasm. Also I am not good with tools. I am awed at your greywater collection bog–that’s a fantastic idea, I wish I could build one, but bugger if I’m gonna go muckin’ about with the plumbing any time soon.  Kevin will not thank me if I try. So limited engineering skills are in there too.

And a sense of humor would be nice.

Any suggestions? Anybody?



*Although I have not personally witnessed it, I’ll put a dollar on the table that somewhere on the internet, some of these same people are having savage fights about the definition and whether something is good enough permaculture, because human nature is the same the world over.


  • Teaspoon says:

    If you learn of some good blogs on the topic, please post about them?

    You’ve pretty much written my wish-list here.

    I totally want to build a greywater reclamation bog, but I’m not sure how one of those would fly in Wyoming, where things tend to freeze awfully solidly for long periods of time.

  • Debbie says:

    You have described a course taught by Larry Santoyo of Earthflow Designs–Los Angeles and now in Orange County too.

  • sean says:

    check out or their site

    Though it doesn’t sound like you are ready for permaculture.

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