Permaculture by Sepp Holzer

The Big Idea: Learn how nature works. Then work with nature, instead of against it, to practice sustainable agriculture.

Ch 1: Landscape Design

  • Permaculture landscape design is about restoring a partially destroyed natural landscape.
  • Keep water on your land as long as possible.
  • Terraces are an important part of my permaculture system.
  • With the exception of raised beds, there should be no straight lines, corners, or steep slopes.
  • Create microclimates where possible, to increase diversity and maximize use of land.
  • Livestock plays an important role in my permaculture system.
  • When making larger changes, seek professional help to avoid landslides and gully erosion.
  • Mechanical diggers might be used when first creating the system.
  • Burning biomass is a mistake.
  • Loosening subsoil with the excavator helps make the soil productive again.
  • Flat land, at low altitude, with lots of sun is the easiest, but permaculture systems can be developed in many unfavorable lands.
  • Understand soil conditions, water sources, aspect (directionality), and climate.
  • Raised beds are great over heavy soils that are difficult for plants to establish roots in.
  • Good healthy soil is critical for earthworms and micro-organisms that benefit plants.
  • Indicator plants will tell you what the soil conditions are like.
  • Dig deep test trenches in many places to see what the soil layers are.
  • Always experiment with new plants to see what might grow.
  • Pioneer trees can be planted to quickly protect land from erosion.
  • Lay thorny branches to protect germinating seeds from animals and to create a microclimate for growth.
  • In dry areas, you must retain as much water as possible.
  • Terraces prevent erosion, hold moisture, and increase the amount of usable land.
  • Dispersing water for roads by making the middle of the road higher.
  • Use pipes or culverts to divert streams and springs underneath roads.
  • Ditches are good for collecting water and collecting organic material.
  • Develop terraces slowly, over multiple years.
  • After excavating terraces, plant immediately and mulch to encourage fast growth.
  • Green manure or wildflowers can be planted immediately to improve suboptimal soil on a terrace.
  • Cutting grasses in summer and autumn is not necessary.
  • Plant fruit bushes and trees on embankments of terraces.
  • Humus storage ditches can be built the bottom of a slope and a terrace.
  • Raised beds are a staple of Holzer permaculture.
  • Holzer permaculture raised beds are 3-4 feet deep into the ground, 4-6 feet wide, filled with hugelkultur material, then soil to 3 feet high, with steep (45+ degree) sides.
  • Cover raised beds with mulch to prevent drying out.
  • Consider planting bushes on top of raised beds. Vegetables can still be planted under the bush. Bushes can protect vegetables from the sun drying out the soil.
  • Inside the hugelkultur, use wood chips for vegetables that require lots of nutrients. Use bulky material for vegetables that don’t require as many nutrients.
  • Try to retain as much water as possible on your land.
  • Wetlands house snakes and amphibians that help control pests.
  • Large areas of water help to stabilize temperature fluctuations.
  • A pond for fish will be different than an aquatic garden for plants, or for a pond for swimming.
  • Play close attention to topography when building a pond.
  • Rain-filled ponds are for plants. Animals require a constant flow of water.
  • An excavator is used to dig the pond and tamp the base to seal it.
  • Holzer ponds never use a pond liner.

Ch. 2: Alternative Agriculture

  • Fossil fuels have enabled large, unsustainable monoculture farms to replace sustainable, diverse farms.
  • Healthy plants require healthy soil and healthy micro-organisms.
  • Green manure crops help restore soil health.
  • Using flail mowers to cut down green manure is a common mistake.
  • Gardening problems are usually caused by an imbalance which we should fix, instead of treating the symptoms.
  • Many corrections (weeding, chemical fertilizer) that are are possible on a small scale, but not feasible or desirable on a larger scale.
  • It’s better to understand and correct the imbalance instead. Eg. mulch with cardboard, plant Jerusalem artichokes.
  • Old plant varieties generally make the best crops. Avoid hybrid seeds.
  • Store or propagate the seeds of your strongest plants growing in the worst conditions.
  • Try to grow plants in polycultures. Eg. cereals with catch crops. Eg. corn with beans or peas.
  • Breed only old, domestic breeds of livestock.
  • Keep livestock humanely, and in family groups.
  • Pigs loosen the soil and till the terraces.
  • Direct pigs to loosen desired soil by scattering feed.
  • Pigs can clean up fruit orchards, preventing rotting fruit from spreading fungus and mold, without damaging the fruit trees.
  • Pigs can also control snails.
  • Use a rotating paddock system when keeping pigs.
  • Keep wild and domestic cattle in paddocks and let them forage to stay healthy.
  • Birds are great for controlling insect population and helping to propagate plants. Provide them with good forage and habitat.
  • Free range poultry needs good habitat, protection from predators, and good forage plants.
  • Ponds with an island in the middle provide good protection against predators for ducks and geese.
  • Earth shelters can be used to house pigs and as storage cellars.
  • Cellars can also be built out of stone to last forever.

Ch. 3: Fruit Trees

  • Fruit trees provide food for animals and insects.
  • Fruit trees provide wood for homes, fuel, and furniture.
  • Fruit trees provide shade against the sun and also stabilize soil.
  • Plant fruit trees wherever possible.
  • Wild fruit trees can pollinate cultivated fruit trees.
  • You don’t need to prune, fertilize, or use chemical pesticides. Doing this trains them to depend on human care forever.
  • Leave all the branches below the graft intact.
  • Do not use a tree guard, hammer in a stake, or use chemical fertilizer.
  • Cover the base with mulch and stones.
  • Plant green manure around the base.
  • Create microclimates around the tree to give it protection.
  • Branches sink down under the weight of fruit, allowing sunlight to reach in. Do not prune.
  • Pruning also creates wounds and can introduce disease.
  • Side shoots and branches also protect the tree from deer from damaging the trunk.
  • Plant distraction plants such as fruit bushes and willow trees to protect fruit trees.

Ch. 4: Mushrooms

  • Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of mycelium.
  • Mushrooms can be cultivated on wood, compost, or straw.
  • It’s easiest to grow mushrooms on wood.
  • Softwoods gives faster yields, if that’s what you want.
  • Use only fresh, healthy wood.
  • Inoculation is easier than growing from spores.
  • The key to mushroom growing is the right combination of sun, moisture, and substrate.
  • Snails will try to eat your mushrooms.
  • You can also cultivate wild mushrooms by inoculating in the wild forest areas.

Ch. 5: Gardens

  • Try to keep gardens closer to the home.
  • Plant vegetables, medicinal, and culinary plants in your garden.
  • Natural medicine is being replaced by more effective modern medicine. However, natural medicine is safer and still effective.
  • A cold frame can extend the growing season.
  • When you weed the garden, place weeds on the ground as cover and mulch.
  • In the spring, you can lightly loosen the soil.
  • There is no need to dig soil over. It is harmful because it disturbs micro-organisms and worms.
  • Watering in the garden should be limited to dry weather. Use lots of mulch to help protect plants from drying out.
  • Adding compost is not required, though it is helpful.
  • Mulching is important. Mulching is basically surface composting and happens in nature. Spread mulch loosely because mulch needs oxygen for decomposition.
  • Natural liquid fertilizer is useful for nutrients and repelling pests.
  • Pest problems are an indication of an imbalance.
  • Monocultures are an imbalance, so there will be pests.
  • Lack of natural predators is an imbalance, so there will be pests.
  • Restore natural balance and pests should not be a problem.
  • Non-indigenous pests are an exception and should be controlled more aggressively.
  • Create good habitat for garden helpers like lizards, birds, worms, and predatory insects.
  • Create enough good forage to distract garden critters from your vegetable garden and fruit trees.
  • Encourage lots of earthworms by giving them lots of mulch and stones for good living conditions. Consider breeding earthworms in your garden by burying food compost in your garden.

Ch. 6: Projects

  • Example project in Scotland.
  • Example project in Thailand.