Garden & Agriculture Archive


New Books from our Publishing Partners

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Changing the world is no light undertaking. It takes a village to spread the word about sustainable living, and at Chelsea Green Publishing we partner with like-minded publishers and writers around the world to bring their books to a wider readership in the United States.

One of our strongest partnerships is with Permanent Publications, a forward thinking publisher in the UK that produces the best of permaculture media and publishes the influential Permaculture magazine.

Here’s an update on our latest selection of books available from Permanent Publications:

 

Permaculture Kitchen- This is a cookbook for gardeners who love to eat their own produce, and for people who enjoy a weekly veggies box, or supporting their local farmers’ market. It’s the ultimate introduction to economical, seasonal, and delicious cooking.

Edible Perennial Gardening- If you long for a forest garden but simply don’t have the space for tree crops, or want to grow a low-maintenance edible polyculture, this book will explain everything you need to know to get started on a new gardening adventure that will provide you with beauty and food for your household and save you money.

Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture- This completely revised and updated edition is a straight-forward manual of practical permaculture. This book will be most beneficial if you apply it to the space where you live and work. Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture is suitable for beginners as well as experienced permaculture practitioners looking for new ideas in moving towards greater self-reliance and sustainable living.

Earth Users Guide to Teaching Permaculture- This fully revised and updated edition contains a wealth of technical information for teaching permaculture design and includes new findings in emerging disciplines such as regenerative agriculture. The Earth’s Guide to Teaching Permaculture is of key relevance to teachers and students of architecture, landscape design, ecology, and other disciplines like geography, regenerative agriculture, agro-ecology, and agroforestry, as well as permaculture design. With advice on teaching aids, topics for class discussion, extensive reading lists, and tips on teaching adults, this book is bound to be an invaluable friend to the experienced and novice teacher alike.

And from one of our other long-time partners, Slow Food Editore, check out Slow Wine 2014.

For the third year running, Slow Food International offers an English-language edition of their guide to Italian wines whose qualities extend well beyond the palate. Slow Wine 2014 doesn’t simply select and review Italy’s finest bottles. It describes what’s in the glass, but it also tells you what’s behind it: namely the work, the aims, and the passion of producers; their bond with the land; and their choice of cultivation and cellar techniques—favoring the ones who implement ecologically sustainable winegrowing and winemaking practices.

 

Low Maintenance Perennials for Your Garden

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

It’s Perennial Gardening Month, so what better time to be introduced to low maintenance perennials suited for gardeners of all interests and abilities. Perennials are remarkable plants that, once established, can be harvested for years, some even decades, with little effort on your part.

In his book, Perennial Vegetables, permaculture and plants expert Eric Toensmeier profiles more than 100 of the best veggies you can plant to help turn your landscape into an edible Eden. In the excerpt below, Toensmeier provides an overview of a couple key plants to consider growing in your backyard.

Meet the tender perennial goldenberry and the self-seeding annual ground cherry. Their unique flavor is sweet, slightly nutty, reminiscent of a tomato, and a bit musky—the perfect addition to any gardener’s table.

Happy perennial planting!

Ground Cherry and Goldenberry by Chelsea Green Publishing

Permaculture Q&A: Month in Review

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Throughout May, in honor of Permaculture Month, our authors were on call to answer permaculture related questions submitted by our readers. Thanks to everyone who participated!

Here’s a recap of all of our author responses. We hope this information and advice inspires you to get your hands dirty and use the principles of permaculture design in your own backyard.

Permaculture Q&A Series

 


Ben Falk, author of The Resilient Farm and Homestead, talks about the importance of harvesting and cycling nutrients. Read more …


Toby Hemenway, author of Gaia’s Garden, talks about soil structure and explains how permaculture is based on the replication of patterns found in nature. Read more …


Eric Toensmeier, author of Paradise LotPerennial Vegetables and co-author of Edible Forest Gardens, discusses how to handle invasive grasses and the best plants for shady spots. Read more …


Toby Hemenway(Gaia’s Garden) and Eric Toensmeier (Paradise LotPerennial Vegetables) discuss the business side of permaculture. Read more …


Michael Judd,author of Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist, reveals his special recipe for blueberry soil mix that imitates the plant’s natural forest edge habitat. Read more …


Wayne Weiseman, co-author of Integrated Forest Gardening, explains what swales are and what questions to ask to determine if they are right for your landscape. Read more …


Daniel Halsey and Bryce Ruddock, co-authors of Integrated Forest Gardening, discuss the research they and others have done on plant guilds and how to implement these guilds based on differing water requirements. Read more …

 

Get Hip to Hemp: It’s Hemp History Week

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

It’s that time of year again — Hemp History Week. A time when we hemp enthusiasts celebrate this versatile crop that has been kept from being planted in U.S. farm fields due to an outdated and misguided Federal policy – created in the 1930s.

Ah, but change is in the air this 5th annual Hemp History Week. The federal Farm Bill signed into law earlier this year will allow hemp crops to be planted for the first time in more than a half century. Well, sort of. The crops must be for research only, not commercial, and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency has to allow seeds to be imported.

One step forward …

Here at Chelsea Green Publishing – now in our 30th year as a book publisher – we are proud to be a supporter of this year’s Hemp History Week. We published our first book about hemp in 1997 (Nutiva founder John Roulac’s book, Hemp Horizons).

We returned to the promise of hemp — environmentally, agriculturally, and economically — with investigative journalist and goat farmer Doug Fine and the publication of Hemp Bound: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution. In this book, Fine introduces readers to a variety of innovative hemp applications from riding in a hemp-powered limo to testing hemp-based building insulation.

Join Hemp History Week

To learn more about Doug’s book and just how hemp could be the next billion-dollar plant that’s going to change our diet, restore our soil and wean us from petroleum, check out this post. And, test your hemp history knowledge with this Hemp Quiz. To find a Hemp History Week event near you, check out Hemp History Week’s event page.

Fine kicked off Hemp History Week with a Q&A as part of the Firedoglake Book Salon, and we’re hosting a Hemp History Week Book Club on Wednesday. RSVP here and get a discounted copy of Fine’s book and join the hemp revolution.

Hemp History Week (June 2-8, 2014) is an industry-wide education initiative of the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) and Vote Hemp designed to amplify support for hemp farming in the U.S.

Check out this video – “It’s Time to Grow” — from our friends at Hemp History Week.

 

Permaculture Q&A: Plant Guild Research and Development

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

As Permaculture Month comes to an end, we wanted to share some final questions posed to our permaculture authors from our readers. Today, Daniel Halsey and Bryce Ruddock, authors of Integrated Forest Gardening, discuss the research they and others have done on plant guilds and how to implement these guilds based on differing water requirements.

For answers to questions about soil preparation, design patterns, swales and more, browse these previous posts from the “Permaculture Q&A” series:
Are Swales Right For You?
Michael Judd’s Blueberry Soil Mix
Permaculture: An Economic Perspective
Eric Toensmeier on Aggressive Grass and Partial Shade
Toby Hemenway on Soil and Natural Patterns
Ben Falk Talks Nutrient Cycling

Michelle from IL asks:
How much formal research, if any, has been done on guilds to understand how they work and why they work?

DANIEL HALSEY: Formal research about plant guilds requires a literature review of many studies that in aggregate contribute to the knowledge of how plants interact with each other and support or deter each other’s growth. We must also define what a plant guild is. That and the assembly of guilds has been the focus of our book, Integrated Forest Gardening.

A plant, like insects, animals, and fish has a number of guilds. An insect for example has a predator guild including all the other insects that eat it. The plant will have a herbivore guild consisting of the group of insects or animals that eat it.

When we talk about an apple tree guild, we are referring to all the plants we use in the guild to support the apple tree. When we assemble these apple tree guilds, we can choose from many plants, but the needs of the apple tree ecology is what we are trying to fulfill. Thus we surround the apple tree with nitrogen fixtures, nutrient accumulators, aromatic pest confusers, soil builders, and hopefully beneficial insects and organisms. Each group of ecological functions and services provided by plants are also guilds, because they supply the same service. So you choose from a nitrogen fixing guild, a beneficial habitat guild, and soil cultivator guild. The word in front of “guild” describes what kind of guild it is.

As far as the efficacy of plant guilds, the research has been done by numerous and well-known individuals focusing on a specific ecological function or service. Much of the strategy has come from years of observation, study, and written in books by Robert Hart, Bill Mollison, Patrick Whitefield, and Dave Jacke. You can also read books by Dr. Elaine Ingham to find out about soil life and the interactions and importance of soil organisms to plants, among many other researchers.

On the other hand, some of the research articles can also be quite specific, but applicable, such as with Dr. Nicholas Jordan (University of Minnesota) who has researched canadian wild rye and its facilitation in restoring soil organism populations in agricultural fields and entomologist Dr. George Heimpel.

Many times when you are looking to find a definitive answer to a question, the pieces to the puzzle come from many different boxes. We tried to assemble those pieces in our book Integrated Forest Gardening: The Complete Guide to Polycultures and Plant Guilds in Permaculture Systems.

Anna from New Mexico asks:
Dry climate in high altitude. There are some areas where I can collect more run off in my yard than others. For my food forest, would it be a good idea to plant low water together and those [plants] that need more [water] in the places I can collect more gentle rain run off? Or would it be better to mix them so something grows and then add the more needy plantings into an already existing planting? … I am having difficulty figuring out the guild things. Does it matter what I put together just as long as they complement in space/time and need?

BRYCE RUDDOCK: Setting up plant guilds based upon differing water requirements can allow you to use the micro niches on your property, the places where slight differences in soil type and drainage present the most challenges. These are of course the edges between areas where you have been collecting and infiltrating water, building a humus layer in the soil, and those places with stony and drier soils nearby.

Mixing the species together may work so long as more drought resilient plants are kept from getting soggy feet, which is probably not too likely in the high desert. Each guild should fade into the next so that rather than separate pockets of plant species, an uninterrupted progression of plants of different needs and yields will result. Of course, if the sites are widely separated, then the edge areas of interaction between the guilds are larger.

As a canopy species fills in with a crown of leaves and gains mature height it will result in more shade naturally, and some modifications to the design will occur either naturally, or by design. Many of the understory plants can thrive in varying regimes of light levels, from full sun to partial shade. Many of them will benefit from some shade during the hottest times of the year, during the afternoon hours when the heat is intense. A few species such as strawberries have cultivars and subspecies specific to different sunlight levels.

A major consideration in selecting plant guild species is how appropriate they are for the site. For dry land guilds, there are many species adapted over millenia by indigenous peoples that can fill the list of plants that will survive and are useful for human and animal needs. Too often a guild can be set up with species that are marginal for a site.  By working on building organic matter in the soil and enabling the growth of beneficial fungal, you can expand the choices of species that will work well in a guild. In the end, only you can decide which guild components are best for you. Follow the guidelines from permaculture and be ready to improvise according to your needs.

Integrated Forest Gardening and all of our permaculture titles are on sale for 35% off. Act now! Sale ends June 1.

Permaculture Special: Last Chance!

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

This is it. Your last chance to reap the savings on all of our permaculture books. But hurry – sale ends June 1st.

By adding a permaculture twist to your garden design you can spend less effort, improve the health of your soil, and enjoy a bountiful harvest.

Chelsea Green has been the go-to publisher for key home-scale permaculture books for thirty years. Learn more about this simple but revolutionary system with these groundbreaking books—on sale for a limited time.

Happy reading from your friends at Chelsea Green Publishing.

P.S. In case you missed it for the month of May we put our pioneering permaculture authors at your disposal. Take a peek at the last Q&A posts here: Are Swales Right for You; Michael Judd’s Blueberry Soil Mix; and Eric Toensmeier on Aggressive Grass and Partial Shade.


Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books
already on sale for example. Free shipping for orders $100 or
more is applied after the discount is applied. (U.S. Orders Only)
Permaculture Sale: until June 1st

 

The Resilient Farm and Homestead
Retail: $40.00
Sale: $26.00
Edible Perennial Gardening
Retail: $22.95
Sale: $14.92
Integrated Forest Gardening
Retail: $45.00
Sale: $29.25
Edible Forest Gardens (2 volume set)
Retail: $150.00
Sale: $97.50
Gaia's Garden, 2nd Edition
Retail: $29.95
Sale: $19.47
Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist
Retail: $24.95
Sale: $16.22
Paradise Lot
Retail: $19.95
Sale: $12.97
The Permaculture Kitchen
Retail: $22.95
Sale: $14.92
Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land
Retail: $29.95
Sale: $19.47
Sepp Holzer's Permaculture
Retail: $29.95
Sale: $19.47
Grass, Soil, Hope
Retail: $19.95
Sale: $12.97
Perennial Vegetables Set
Retail: $35.00
Sale: $22.75
Edible Cities
Retail: $22.95
Sale: $14.92
Food Not Lawns
Retail: $25.00
Sale: $16.25
The Small-Scale Poultry Flock
Retail: $39.95
Sale: $25.97
The Holistic Orchard
Retail: $39.95
Sale: $25.97
Top-Bar Beekeeping
Retail: $24.95
Sale: $16.22
Natural Beekeeping, Revised and Expanded
Retail: $34.95
Sale: $22.72
Permaculture in Pots
Retail: $14.95
Sale: $9.72
Letting in the Wild Edges
Retail: $24.95
Sale: $16.22
Earth User's Guide to Teaching Permaculture
Retail: $29.95
Sale: $19.47
Sowing Seeds in the Desert
Retail: $15.95
Sale: $10.37
Outdoor Classrooms
Retail: $24.95
Sale: $16.22
The Earth User's Guide to Permaculture
Retail: $37.95
Sale: $24.67
People & Permaculture
Retail: $34.95
Sale: $22.72
The Basics of Permaculture Design
Retail: $25.00
Sale: $16.25
Desert or Paradise
Retail: $29.95
Sale: $19.47
The Woodland Way
Retail: $29.95
Sale: $19.47
Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond Vol. 1
Retail: $29.95
Sale: $19.47
Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond Vol. 2
Retail: $39.95
Sale: $25.97
Permaculture
Retail: $30.00
Sale: $19.50
Permaculture Pioneers
Retail: $24.95
Sale: $16.22
The Permaculture Way
Retail: $29.95
Sale: $19.47
The Earth Care Manual
Retail: $75.00
Sale: $48.75
The Permaculture Garden
Retail: $25.00
Sale: $16.25
The Uses of Wild Plants
Retail: $24.95
Sale: $16.22
How to Make a Forest Garden
Retail: $30.00
Sale: $19.50
Permaculture Plants
Retail: $29.95
Sale: $19.47
Permaculture Design
Retail: $24.95
Sale: $16.22
Permaculture in a Nutshell
Retail: $12.95
Sale: $8.42
Getting Started in Permaculture
Retail: $14.95
Sale: $9.72
Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally
Retail: $49.95
Sale: $32.47
Holistic Orchard with Michael Phillips
Retail: $49.95
Sale: $32.47
Perennial Vegetable Gardening with Eric Toensmeier
Retail: $29.95
Sale: $19.47
Natural Beekeeping with Ross Conrad
Retail: $24.95
Sale: $16.22
Top-Bar Beekeeping with Les Crowder and Heather Harrell
Retail: $14.95
Sale: $9.72

Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books
already on sale for example. Free shipping for orders $100 or
more is applied after the discount is applied. (U.S. Orders Only)

Permaculture Q&A: Are Swales Right For You?

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Next up in the Permaculture Q&A series, where we pose questions from our readers to our authors, Wayne Weiseman, co-author of Integrated Forest Gardening, talks about swales. Wondering what a swale is?

Read on to learn more about these water harvesting ditches and what questions to ask to determine if they are right for your landscape.

For more detailed information about permaculture plant guilds, including techniques for designing swales, check out Weiseman’s recently released book which he co-wrote with authors Daniel Halsey and Bryce RuddockIntegrated Forest Gardening: The Complete Guide to Polycultures and Plant Guilds in Permaculture Systems.

And, browse these previous posts from the “Permaculture Q&A” series for answers to questions about soil preparation, design patterns, invasive grasses, and more:
Michael Judd’s Blueberry Soil Mix
Permaculture: An Economic Perspective
Eric Toensmeier on Aggressive Grass and Partial Shade
Toby Hemenway on Soil and Natural Patterns
Ben Falk Talks Nutrient Cycling

Kelly from AZ asks:
If you are not going to alley crop an area, how close would you build your swales from one another?

WAYNE WEISEMAN: A swale is a dead level ditch on contour. Contour lines are depicted on topographical maps at specific intervals and they delineate not only these dead level lines but also give us indication of where ridges and valleys have formed over geological time. Swales lie perpendicular (at right angles) to the slope and pick up all water moving downslope (by force of gravity), hold it, and percolate it into the soil profile slowly. Typically we begin our planting regimes downslope from the swale so that our young plants have the advantage of this slow percolation of water and the mechanism of capillary action through the soil pores. The small feeder roots on our plants now have the utmost opportunity to drink and take in minerals from the soil in solution.

There are many variables when it comes to designing a swale into a property. The first questions to ask are whether swales are applicable based on soil type, climate, rainfall averages and slope. But even before this, it is important to observe these aspects of place over a long period and begin to understand the patterns that present themselves from as many perspectives as possible, and especially during large rain events. We need to understand from which direction the water enters the property, how it flows through the property, and where it leaves it.

Additional key questions include: What will be planted on the berm and in the swale and up and down slope from them? In what part of the country is this land? What is the macroclimate of the region? What are the goals and vision of the owners? Is this simply a homestead where production will be meant only for the family or is this a market farm? How much planning has already been done and what has already been implemented on the property? Has there been insight as to how the entire infrastructure will be laid out? Why swales when there are many techniques in order to create redundancy in our water collection strategies: keyline, cisterns, ponds and other surface catchments, etc.

Swales are simply one of many tools utilized in order to slow water down and hold it in place so that plants have the needed time and resource to grow and thrive. As we hold water on a property we also hold topsoil. These two, water and soil, are our major concerns, and without cognizance of these two most important elements we cannot take the proper steps in order to find sustenance through our gardening or farming practice.

Remember, swales are one part of a comprehensive plan and permaculture is all about comprehensive planning. We start from the whole and move to the parts. Based on our ethics and basic principles and methodologies we work backward from the whole and configure what is needed to meet our vision and goals. If swales are applicable, then by all means we have to make sure that we do our due diligence and factor in all the variables for success. The question about distance of swales is a bit premature. Good design is predicated on rigorous observation and thoughtful design.

 

Permaculture Q&A: Michael Judd’s Blueberry Soil Mix

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

As Permaculture Month continues throughout May, some of our expert authors are answering questions submitted by our readers. Here, Michael Judd reveals his special recipe for blueberry soil mix that imitates the plant’s natural forest edge habitat.

For more do-it-yourself projects to turn your landscape into a luscious and productive edible Eden, check out Judd’s book, Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist.

And, browse these previous posts from the “Permaculture Q&A” series for answers to questions about design patterns, nutrients, invasive grasses, and more:
Permaculture: An Economic Perspective
Eric Toensmeier on Aggressive Grass and Partial Shade
Toby Hemenway on Soil and Natural Patterns
Ben Falk Talks Nutrient Cycling

Danielle from WA asks:
I planted four blueberries bushes last year. They got a lot rain, so I did not water them for a few weeks, but now I see a few of them are brown. These bushes get lots of sun. Any thoughts on how to stop the browning?

MICHAEL JUDD: Hi Danielle, challenges with blueberries generally stem from the soil prep and pH. Blueberries are naturally a forest edge species which means that they like a very rich and loose soil that comes from a leafy compost-like medium. This is usually imitated with peat or sphagnum moss mixed with compost and soil, but I try to avoid pulling material from distant ecosystems, especially sensitive bog areas where peat comes from, and instead create my own blueberry soil mix. My recipe is 50% fine pine bark, 25% compost, and 25% top soil with sulfur pellets mixed in to lower the pH to 4.5-5.5. Mix them well into a generous sized hole before planting the blueberry. Mulch well with a pine bark mulch for the added long term acidity and moisture retention. Blueberries are shallow rooted so keep the mulch on and other plants/weeds away from their base and be mindful to not water with a strong stream that knocks the mulch and soil away exposing the roots.

Though blueberries are generally disease resistant they benefit from good air flow, full sun and spacing. If you make the soil balanced your plants should be healthy.

Hope that helps. Happy fruiting!

Designing a Forest Garden: The Seven-Layer Garden

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

As we continue celebrating Permaculture Month here’s an excerpt from Gaia’s Garden to get you started on your very own forest garden.  

Permaculture is most frequently applied in gardening and homestead-planning, and one of the essential designs is a forest garden. Food forests, or edible forest gardens, are life-filled places that not only provide food for people, but habitat for wildlife, carbon sequestering, biodiversity, natural soil building, beauty and tranquility, and a host of other benefits — you just need to take a page from Mother Nature’s book. Toby Hemenway’s bestselling permaculture book Gaia’s Garden is here to help.

The following is an excerpt from Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, Second Edition by Toby Hemenway. It has been adapted for the Web.

It’s time to look at forest garden design. A simple forest garden contains three layers: trees, shrubs, and ground plants. But for those who like to take advantage of every planting opportunity, a deluxe forest garden can contain as many as seven tiers of vegetation. As the illustration below shows, a seven-layered forest garden contains tall trees, low trees, shrubs, herbs, ground covers, vines, and root crops.

Here are these layers in more detail.

  1. The Tall-Tree Layer. This is an overstory of full-sized fruit, nut, or other useful trees, with spaces between to let plenty of light reach the lower layers. Dense, spreading species—the classic shade trees such as maple, sycamore, and beech—don’t work well in the forest garden because they cast deep shadows over a large area. Better choices are multifunctional fruit and nut trees. These include standard and semistandard apple and pear trees, European plums on standard rootstocks such as Myrobalan, and full-sized cherries. Chestnut trees, though quite large, work well, especially if pruned to an open, light-allowing shape. Chinese chestnuts, generally not as large as American types, are good candidates. Walnut trees, especially the naturally open, spreading varieties such as heartnut and buartnut, are excellent. Don’t overlook the nut-bearing stone piñon and Korean nut pines. Nitrogen-fixing trees will help build soil, and most bear blossoms that attract insects. These include black locust, mesquite, alder, and, in low-frost climates, acacia, algoroba, tagasaste, and carob.Since much of the forest garden lies in landscape zones 1 and 2, timber trees aren’t appropriate—tree felling in close quarters would be too destructive. But pruning and storm damage will generate firewood and small wood for crafts.The canopy trees will define the major patterns of the forest garden, so they must be chosen carefully. Plant them with careful regard to their mature size so enough light will fall between them to support other plants.
  2. The Low-Tree Layer. Here are many of the same fruits and nuts as in the canopy, but on dwarf and semidwarf rootstocks to keep them low growing. Plus, we can plant naturally small trees such as apricot, peach, nectarine, almond, medlar, and mulberry. Here also are shade-tolerant fruit trees such as persimmon and pawpaw. In a smaller forest garden, these small trees may serve as the canopy. They can easily be pruned into an open form, which will allow light to reach the other species beneath them.Other low-growing trees include flowering species, such as dogwood and mountain ash, and some nitrogen fixers, including golden-chain tree, silk tree, and mountain mahogany. Both large and small nitrogen-fixing trees grow quickly and can be pruned heavily to generate plenty of mulch and compost.
  3. The Shrub Layer. This tier includes flowering, fruiting, wildlife-attracting, and other useful shrubs. A small sampling: blueberry, rose, hazelnut, butterfly bush, bamboo, serviceberry, the nitrogen-fixing Elaeagnus species and Siberian pea shrub, and dozens of others. The broad palette of available shrubs allows the gardener’s inclinations to surface, as shrubs can be chosen to emphasize food, crafts, ornamentals, birds, insects, native plants, exotics, or just raw biodiversity.Shrubs come in all sizes, from dwarf blueberries to nearly tree-sized hazelnuts, and thus can be plugged into edges, openings, and niches of many forms. Shade-tolerant varieties can lurk beneath the trees, sun-loving types in the sunny spaces between.
  4. The Herb Layer. Here herb is used in the broad botanical sense to mean nonwoody vegetation: vegetables, flowers, culinary herbs, and cover crops, as well as mulch producers and other soil-building plants. Emphasis is on perennials, but we won’t rule out choice annuals and self-seeding species. Again, shade-lovers can peek out from beneath taller plants, while sun-worshiping species need the open spaces. At the edges, a forest garden can also hold more traditional garden beds of plants dependent on full sun.
  5. The Ground-Cover Layer. These are low, ground-hugging plants—preferably varieties that offer food or habitat—that snuggle into edges and the spaces between shrubs and herbs. Sample species include strawberries, nasturtium, clover, creeping thyme, ajuga, and the many prostrate varieties of flowers such as phlox and verbena. They play a critical role in weed prevention, occupying ground that would otherwise succumb to invaders.
  6. The Vine Layer. This layer is for climbing plants that will twine up trunks and branches, filling the unused regions of the all-important third dimension with food and habitat. Here are food plants, such as kiwifruit, grapes, hops, passionflower, and vining berries; and those for wildlife, such as honeysuckle and trumpet-flower. These can include climbing annuals such as squash, cucumbers, and melons. Some of the perennial vines can be invasive or strangling; hence, they should be used sparingly and cautiously.
  7. The Root Layer. The soil gives us yet another layer for the forest garden; the third dimension goes both up and down. Most of the plants for the root layer should be shallow rooted, such as garlic and onions, or easy-to-dig types such as potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes. Deep-rooted varieties such as carrots don’t work well because the digging they require will disturb other plants. I do sprinkle a few seeds of daikon (Asian radish) in open spots because the long roots can often be pulled with one mighty tug rather than dug; and, if I don’t harvest them, the blossoms attract beneficial bugs and the fat roots add humus as they rot.

Permaculture Q&A: An Economic Perspective

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

Want to become a better permaculturalist? Have a burning question about permaculture design? All month long Chelsea Green is taking reader questions and putting them to some of our top permaculture authors. If you want some advice from our expert authors, you can submit your questions using this form.

Today, authors Toby Hemenway (Gaia’s Garden) and Eric Toensmerier (Paradise Lot, Perennial Vegetables) discuss the business side of permaculture.

For previous posts from the “Permaculture Q&A” series check out these links:
Ben Falk Talks Nutrient Cycling
Toby Hemenway on Soil and Natural Patterns
Eric Toensmeier on Aggressive Grass and Partial Shade

Shaun from Vermont asks:
What is the single most important business strategy for the success of permaculture while earning a livable wage?

Eric Toensmeier: Hi Sean, there are a lot of “single most important things” in making a permaculture business work. If I had to pick one, it would probably be to take it seriously as a business. This applies whether your permaculture business is farming, landscaping, design and consulting, teaching, or whatever it might be.

Nobody starts a permaculture business because they are excited about record-keeping, obtaining permits, market research, or tax preparation. But businesses that take the time to plan all of these things out carefully are much more likely to succeed.

I highly recommend taking a business planning course, whether it is permaculture related or not. Clarifying your goals, understanding your markets, understanding the legal landscape, and budgeting are essential tools as much as shovels, tractors, mapping equipment, or whatever you may use. I also highly recommend Elizabeth Ü’s book, Raising Dough, which is an excellent guide to creative ways to finance your business idea once you have these other pieces in place.

Sandy from New York asks:
Can you speak to what appears to be a lack of sociopolitical analysis within permaculture education and business practices. In terms of thinking about accessibility to the classes or affordability of a design consultation firm or individual willing to share knowledge without emptying the bank. Is permaculture just another niche market in green capitalism or is it actually about building relationships and community with a shared vision for ecological preservation?

Toby Hemenway: There is no set price for a permaculture consult or plan. They cost whatever the client can afford. I know over a hundred permaculture designers, and all have sliding scales. All do at least one quarter of their work for free; in many cases it is half their work. Every permaculture teacher I know offers free classes, generous scholarships paid out of their own pocket, and does far more free mentoring than paid (I have never been paid for a mentorship, except for having my office painted in trade after a year of mentoring). Many designers—I can name dozens—travel to Haiti, other disaster areas, and inner cities at their own expense to do aid work, for free. The way they can afford this—and most of them really can’t afford it—is to have a posted fee rate comparable to other landscape designers.

Permaculture courses have always been at prices far below that of other workshops (a 2-week course with room and board costs the same as the tuition alone for a 2-day facilitation or management workshop). I have never known a teacher to turn anyone away for lack of money. You do have to ask, though, because we have found that if we advertise discounts, everyone, including the affluent, and the well educated who practice voluntary simplicity, ask for them, which denies access to the truly needy.

Unfortunately, there is a strong sense in the alternative community that everything should be free or discounted, but that turns out not to be sustainable. In a recent survey, out of 80 professional permaculture teachers and designers, only 2 were supporting themselves solely from permaculture work. The rest needed jobs in the mainstream economy to make ends meet. The real question for me is, if permaculture is valuable, why is it not valued among the sociopolitically aware community?

 


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