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Permaculture a Designer's Manual by Bill Mollison  RSS feed

 
Adrien Lapointe
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Summary

This is the permaculture bible, also referred to as the "Big Black Book". It covers the basis of permaculture, the philosophy, the ethics, and the design concepts. It also touches on the climatic factors, trees, water, soil, earth works, and aquaculture.

Where to get it?

Amazon.com
Amazon.ca
Amazon.co.uk
Powell's

Related Videos

Related Threads

The Wheaton Eco Scale Thread at Permies

http://www.permies.com/forums/f-142/pdm

Related Websites
Tagari Publications Website
Permaculture Research Institute of Australia Website



 
Josef Theisen
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A bump for Bill.

After reading this book, I will never look at tree the same way again. This book is known as the permaculture bible for many good reasons. Read it.
 
Alder Burns
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Read this book, one time, cover to cover, and you will have achieved something that some of the people out there teaching....PDC's now.....and issuing certificates for the same.....have never done!!!
 
Simon Johnson
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I give this book 9.7 out of 10 acorns!

This is the permaculture text book. If you read no other book on permaculture, read this one. Having said that, it takes some serious commitment to go through this book. It is jam packed full of excellent information on so many permaculture subject. The chapter on patterns is particularly well done compared to other books about permaculture. Bill really goes into some nice detail about patterns in nature, how to recognize them and mimic them in the designs of your systems.

The book starts at the beginning of permaculture and talks about the ethics, philosophies, and principles before moving on to describe the general concepts and themes in design. Talking on cycling through time, food webs, using diversity to create stability, creating connections between elements, etc. Bill moves on to describe methods of design using the concepts and themes from earlier. There are many methods in this book accompanied by lots of nice drawings and other visual aides. All this good stuff you would learn going to a PDC, but in a text book.

Bill moves on to his wonderful chapter on patterns, again filled with excellent drawings and well written text. He continues down permaculture road through climate factors, trees, water, soils, and earthworks. I know of no other book which goes into as much excellent detail on all these subjects. Reading through here (maybe more than once) will give you a good theoretical understanding of all of these aspects of permaculture. You will also have a good idea of how to start creating working relationships between the different subject matter.

Not only does Bill cover all those wonderful topics, but he then goes on to describe climate specifics in his chapters on humid tropics, dry lands, and humid cool/cold climates. Each of these chapters is packed full of specific strategies to get your system running nicely in your climate. Complete with more nice drawings and well written text.

Bill then goes and talks on aquaculture, where he divulges his vast knowledge and understanding of water based systems. He describes a variety of methods for feeding and harvesting fish with nice pictures again. He goes into the importance of the relationship between the edge of aquaculture system and the land around it. Just so much good stuff.

Just when you thought there was nothing else you could learn about permaculture from one book, Bill goes into the subject of using permaculture ethics, design, and philosophy for strategies for an alternative global nation. I really enjoyed this section of the book. Here are things, which again don't get thought about too much when talking permaculture. Bill has some really excellent stuff to say here with so much to think on. The section on bioregional organization is so good.

I can't say enough about how much excellent information is in this book. The only trouble with it is how daunting the task of reading it is. Bill's language is superb in his writing, which may also make it more difficult to read for the average reader, but once you get going, you'll love it. I said above if there was only one book to read about permaculture, it should be this one. I don't however suggest that this be the first book you read about permaculture, there are many less daunting reads to undertake before delving into this one, but please do yourself a favour and read this book. You will learn some excellent stuff. Bill Mollison is the man.
 
D. Logan
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So I am sitting here trying to decide what to say about this book. Bill Mollison is the man who, rather literally, wrote the book on Permaculture. This book is a massive tome of information crafted by the man who spent years of his life learning and developing out the ideas that are the foundation for so many things that came after. Simon Johnson above does a good job of detailing what you can expect to find inside, so I won't rehash it.

The book is must own if you are going to be doing a PDC. It is a foundation that covers so much and is so information dense that you can probably go back to it indefinitely and still find something you missed before. It feels almost like sacrilege to give it anything less than a 9.5.

And here I am unsure that I can give it that. Don't get me wrong, I love this book and everything in it. That said, it is a mighty steep hill to be looking up for a beginner. When I first learned about Permaculture, this book was not high on my priority list. There was so much information to learn and taking on such a massive text would probably have burned me out too quickly. I think the density of information and the high price tag hurt this book to a degree.

Because of this, I am going to say it is a 9 out of 10 acorns. Other books are probably better for the beginner who isn't ready to commit so much money yet and there are books that are easier to dig into without a huge investment of time and concentration. After you've taken the time to read those other books, by all means do buy this book. You won't regret it.

With that said, I believe that if this book was all there was for people wanting to explore permaculture, there would be far less people getting involved. There are a few books like that in my library. Books full of insanely useful information and knowledge-expanding text, but which are certainly not a good choice for the uninitiated. So here are my 9 acorns.



Blame the darned squirrel for eating the last acorn!
 
Andrew Schreiber
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for those first getting into Permaculture 3/10 acorns

This book is rather esoteric and deep. It seems to be too daunting, innaccessible, too long, etc...for many people I work with just getting into Permaculture. Often times people say to me, "well, maybe in a few years I will be able to read that book." Fair enough. I think people should dive into it anyway! but most people people who are new to permaculture have a hard time.

It provides a rather definitive overall picture of permaculture, but it assumes quite a lot of understanding already be had by the reader.

If you want to know where the roots of permaculture lay, this book is a must read. The patterns and principles it outlines are just as relevant today as they were in the 80's when this book was written.

for those interested in serious, broad acre design 8/10 acorns

The PDM is really for broad acre designers. People who are wanting to delve into the design of farming systems. many core concepts of ecological and energy efficient design are well are all laid out, along with:
  • a lot of practical advice from Bill
  • a synthesis of a wide breadth of scientific papers related to Ecology
  • a number of theoretical, but not yet implemented imaginings about what is likely possible


  • I can scarcely think of a resource that is more inclusive than this.

    The only reason I do not rank it higher, it that I have found that there is still a great deal of understanding that need be fleshed out in order for a designer to be successful. The book has a great deal of information, but lacks a subtlety that is incredibly important to good design. Perhaps, something which a book cannot really provide....

    The subtropics and tropics are well represented in the PDM. However, there is still a lot to add to the book to make it well rounded climatically. Particularly for those living in high, dry, cold-temperate climates (like myself.) I have found very little of the book directly applicable to our situation.
     
    Jake Parkhurst
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    9/10 acorns!

    First comment: it seems that every good diagram about permaculture is from this book! I love picture books, but I don't read them because they are usually for 4 year-olds. However, this book is the best of both worlds: jam packed with great info graphics and full of easy-to-read, information-packed text. Yes, there are some parts that are dense such as the list of atomic elements commonly found in soil, but such is to be expected from a book with "manual" in the title. This is a everything you want to do "how to..."

    This book is full of everything you need to know to create an amazing permaculture system. It goes over the general design process and theory as well as specifics about topics ranging from mineral deficiencies to suitable plants species to all of the other nit picky details that you need. It is really well organized so that you can skip over the details until you have enough information for those details to become relevant/useful. This lets you read with out getting bogged down. But in all fairness, I have just plowed through the details, so it isn't that bad; but I will have to reference those sections down the road because I don't remember everything.

    I like that it is full of all kinds of specific designs for efficiency (ie planting coconut palms is spread out clumps makes use of the husks for mulching much more efficient which saves water compared to row plants which leaves husks around one tree because it doesn't make sense to spend the time to redistribute the husks.) Some books are more general in their explanations of how permaculture saves resources. I also enjoy that community scale focus, this book is written with sustainable communities in mind, not just how to sustainably manage a farm.

    Also, as with most good permaculture books, the first chapter is full of inspiring quotes about ethics and do great things :p

    Great book!
     
    Jason Elliott
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    10/10 acorns!

    This book is so full of informatin that it will take a while to process it all. It is borderline information overload if you try to read it as a you would a novel. It is best read in small chunks. I would definitely reference back to this book whenever you have a permaculture question.
     
    Richard Gorny
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    I give this book 10 out of 10 acorns.

    It is the one that rules them all. First time I have just read it, while doing my first PDC. Now I use it as a manual - when in doubt, or need advice, or looking for solution to a particular problem, I steer to appropriate section of this book and usually I find what I was looking for.
     
    Amber Fauson
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    i give this book 9 out of 10 acorns.

    Permaculture: A Designers' manual is truly a masterpiece. It's absolutely loaded with useful information; and is probably the only book on permaculture you would ever need. It might, however, be a bit daunting for some people. In addition, the price tag is a bit hefty.
     
    Lorenzo Costa
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    This book gets 9.8 out of 10 acorns

    I've finished my PDC and of course this was the text book. Enormous, deep, and difficult to read through, but awesome nonetheless. I must say I think of my self as quite a reader but, I must admit that this book is best read through after taking a PDC that gives the reader some keys to reading.
    The book is the bible, if we may say, of permaculture, it has put together the work of a lifetime and in a more deep way than was already outlined in Permaculture one and two. I must say I've turned back to the origin of permaculture after reading the designers manual, so I brought permauclture one and two and will read them when I have some time. I want to understand how we got here and where we will go.
    The manual is very, very precise and full of different information. One thing, when you read this manual, that is clear, is that the big shift Bill Mollison did with Holmgren, and all the other first comers of the movement was to put together a system that was interdisciplinary, it grew from the first intuition expressed in Permaculture one, and was put in ultimate form with the designers manual. But the big intuition was that to really make the difference in a sick world was to think differently, broadly, and get out of the stiffness of Accademy, and it's specialization. Here we're not architects, climatologists, botanists and farmers, in permaculture one ends up knowing we're part of a complex system that requires complex, articulate thinking.
    Getting back to the actual text, we have to be clear that this is the base for the official curriculum for a PDC and every chapter is one the sections of what we study in a PDC. This said I have to admit that the text is not easy to get through, but if you have ever heard Bill Mollison speak, and the videos are all over the web, you understand why it's difficult to read through the text. The mind of Bill Mollison is vulcanic, his concpets in my view are evolving, building up, growing. And so does the text, there is so much information in it that you have to process it slowly, very slowly. The pages will be turned for years, and every time the reader will grasp on to something new.
    There's one thing I have to say about viewing books as bibles. The designer's manual is not a metaphysical text but a practical, scientific, encyclopedic book. If we're ok with this idea then we should even accept that maybe time has come to see if the information in it is outdated. I'm not speaking about the concepts, but the field data. A big goal for the movement could be to revise the text, keeping it's format but knowing that we have to keep it updated.
    Bill Mollison in every occasion used to tell people to take the PDC and then go out in the world and work, take action. I hope one of the things we will be able to do as a movement is to go out in the world and make the movement evolve. That will be the shifting point when Bill's message will be stronger. The desinger's manual will always be the base on which we have to build on.
    I saw one day my daughter, she was four years old, take the designers manual from the table and put it on the floor, with some effort it's heavy but very delicately she likes books and cares for them, she put the book on the floor, then she took another book, I don't recall the title, and put it on top the designers manual, and stepped on both so to be just a little bit higher, to get her hands over the table's edge and grasp her water bottle. She didn't ask for help, she knew what she wanted, and observed, and found a solution.
    This is what I keep as an image of what the designers manual does for people: it gets you a little bit higher, it helps us direct our action, but what changes everything is when you step on the book and use it's knowledge to use your hands. Take action after reading the book, and you'll make it not a totem that has to be venerated but a starting point.
     
    Miles Flansburg
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    I give this book a 10 out of 10 acorns.

    This was my first ,in depth , permaculture read. The textbook for permaculture. I had been exposed to the teachings of Mollison through videos and websites but this book tied it all together for me. One of those books that will always be on my bookshelf, to be refered back to time and again.
     
    Michael Newby
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    I give this book 10 out of 10 acorns.

    I will agree with the others that the amount of information presented can be a little daunting, especially for a beginner. I do think, however, that once the reader gets over their initial hesitation and dives in they'll find that the information is put forward in such a manner that it isn't too overwhelming.

    A big thing I had to keep in mind while reading was the fact that the Manual is just that, a manual covering a broad range of techniques, some of which would not be appropriate for my specific situation.
     
    Dave Dahlsrud
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    I give this one 10 out of 10 acorns....how could you not, it's the freaking PDM, the Big Black Book!!!

    It's a college level text book, so it's a little rough to read like a novel, but as a source of information and inspiration it is invaluable. Anyone who is serious about permaculture can't go wrong with having this in their reference library. The PDM along with sepp holzer's Permaculture were my first purchases in this realm. The ideas and concepts presented provide a solid basis of understanding for all of the techniques the other authors in the permaculture arena teach us.
     
    Dave Green
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    I give this book 10 out of 10 acorns

    It's essential for anyone who's into Permaculture, but like others have said I would build up to it after reading more concise books rather than starting with this.

    It seems to cover every biome/habitat on the planet so if you are starting out in Permaculture and only ever care about doing Permaculture in one specific location, you would do better to get something like sepp holzer's Permaculture. The Designer's manual is hefty; If you dropped this on your foot you would probably break a toe AND a floorboard. Having said that, it's very interesting to read about things I have no knowledge of such growing as volcanic islands.

    It's an awesome reference manual and the climatic stuff really helps you understand the impact of the weather and local conditions. Certainly more than my geography teachers could manage.

    The diagrams are top notch, specifically the ones demonstrating inputs/outputs.

    In terms of actually planing a property; it is essential for any Permaculture designers out there.

    I was also regularly amazed at how many references he uses. All the further reading you could need is listed.

    This was about £100 including delivery but it was worth every penny.
     
    Neil Layton
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    I give this book 7.5 out of 10 acorns.

    It's probably heresy to say so around here, but I'm not Bill Mollison's greatest fan. Much of what follows isn't his fault entirely, but he has left opportunities open for serious issues to arise. In short, if you say you subscribe to Mollison's definition of what Permaculture is, however far divorced it might be from what Mollison had in mind or how genuinely sustainable your practices might be, whether that's the scientific near-bankruptcy of Allan Savory-style cattle ranching (http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ijbd/2014/163431/) or, in another extreme case I found on a popular video hosting site, a few raised beds with companion planting neatly put together on a carefully manicured lawn by the hired help of some artificially tanned rich bloke, you can call it Permaculture.

    It's become a buzz word, and some practices called “Permaculture” have given the whole field a bad name.

    Whether or not what I want to do is “Permaculture” is an open question. It's a form of agroforestry, a parallel approach, that is not incompatible with Permaculture, even meeting Mollison's definition, and it borrows some good ideas from Mollisonian Permaculture, which is why I'm here, but my own discomfort with groups means I will always struggle in one of his idealised communities.

    Having been through Jacke and Toensmeier's book on Edible Forest Gardens in detail, I thought it was time to revisit Mollison to see to what extent my frustrations are fair criticisms of his work, and to see what important ideas I might have missed.

    Bill Mollison's ethical standards are implicitly compatible with mine. He's clearly aware of our environmental crisis but, where I reach the conclusion of an ecocentric viewpoint, not incompatible with Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic (http://www.aldoleopold.org/AldoLeopold/landethic.shtml) Mollison reaches a much more anthropocentric one: “The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children.” This could be taken, implicitly, to mean a greater ecological consciousness, on the grounds that we can't look after our children without addressing our relationships with the rest of the planet, but it can also be taken to be a “me and mine first and always” attitude. While our patch might be sustainable, the rest of the world can go to hell. I agree completely that we need to be withholding support for destructive systems, but to move towards a refusal to cooperate with all authority, rather than merely the destructive authority of our current systems, reflects a dangerous solipsism incompatible with principles of cooperation (although this is ameliorated heavily in the final chapter – if you get that far). Some central authority is going to be necessary in order to protect the land from irresponsible or misguided misuse and self-centred control without regard for others.

    Mollison's view will work if and when, and only if and when, everyone learns to cooperate. It's a “wise use” movement based on enlightened self-interest, one I am deeply uncomfortable with, because most humans are pretty lousy at the enlightened part of that. He does talk about a nature-centred ethic: where I differ from Mollison is whether or not we need a human-centred ethic for “our” farms: I think we need one ecocentric ethic, not two (arguably three) separate and largely incompatible ones: he seems to have this jumbled set of anthropocentric, biocentric and ecocentric views that just don't mesh. I concur with a lot of his conclusions in terms of sustainability: it's the anthropocentric attitude I have a problem with. I see humans as part of a broader community, and Mollison does not quite seem to get this, and this is where many of his problems emerge. He calls for “a clear concept of life ethics”, but I don't think he has one, at least in this book.

    Part of his problem is his reliance on Lovelockian Gaianism, the notion that earth's biological systems are self-regulating. As is becoming increasingly and tragically clear, if one pushes Earth's systems far enough they enter a new state, through a period of potential chaos that we are now seeing the beginnings of. Lovelock's ideas are appealing, and I went through a period of subscribing to them at around the time that this book was written, but abandoned them as it became clear that they did not, in fact, reflect the way Nature actually works. This is a weak point of Mollison's that is overcome by Jacke and Toensmeier: they emphasise management, not maintenance.

    This is one example of one of Mollison's biggest problems: a reliance on science that might have been cutting edge to the point of being controversial thirty years ago but has been proven wrong since.

    Meanwhile he advocates a healthy emphasis on cooperation while emphasising, in the next paragraph, a dangerous individualist libertarianism. This is key to his other main problem: it's difficult to tell whether he was trying to be all things to all people or whether his thinking is simply confused and contradictory (and sometimes it feels as if he's trying to get ideas down on paper without the benefit of a good editor).

    That editor should also have prevented him from getting bogged down in unnecessary detail. For example, there is some good stuff here on patterns, but a torus is utterly irrelevant as a usable pattern on the surface of a piece of land. The problem is, you have to read the waffle to ensure you don't miss something useful.

    This book is full of very good ideas, and good advice, but he's constantly at risk of tripping over his own loose intellectual laces. Ultimately, I think the problem is that the book has dated badly, as better understandings of ecology, and more sophisticated intellectual tools for relating to it, have become available. This means he makes some serious errors: the yield of a system, for example, is most assuredly NOT unlimited. It is limited by predictable limiting factors, of which water and sunlight are perhaps the most obvious. If you get this wrong you start mining the soil for scarce nutrients.

    As soon as you introduce nonhuman animals to the system you decrease yields: this is basic ecology – each trophic level is only about 10% as efficient as the one below it. The only exception is the introduction of predators in order to limit losses to herbivores, and that in itself is an anthropocentric viewpoint, treating humans as the only “worthwhile” herbivore. Mollison argues that vegetarian diets are very efficient only under certain circumstances, but these are precisely the conditions found in home gardens! Meanwhile, industrial meat production is grossly inefficient, as anyone who is paying the slightest attention will have realised. He is also dead wrong about rangeland meat production, although he probably had no reason to know this at the time of writing, because it took more recent research to demonstrate the ecological destruction involved in these practices, which are not as horrific as intensive meat rearing, but are light years from being the friendly, sustainable activities its adherents would have you believe. This is, in part, what has allowed some downright unsustainable practices to be lumped under the Permaculture banner.

    Meanwhile, he wants to eliminate “middlemen and students”, objecting to the way the world seems to think it owes them a living, ignoring the fact that, without massive declines in human population and a complete rethink of our social structures, that these people would be “unemployed”: it's not made clear whether he thinks we “owe” these people a living in a society with 7-8% structural unemployment. It is also unclear how he expects people to be educated. A complete redefinition of our social structures is necessary, but I don't think Mollison has it right. We might be able to take out middlemen, but we then need to find something for them to be doing (because I suspect Mollison would disapprove of guaranteed income schemes), and there is no way we should be getting rid of students.

    The thing is, all this dangerous individualism is contained within ideas that actually work. There is a lot of very good material here. The trouble is that it's interspersed with confused philosophy and outdated or oversimplified views on ecology, some of which are plain wrong.

    I also found it difficult to find a single chapter where a separate book would not provide more up-to-date, often better advice. There are now better texts on design, updated material on guilds, and he failed to fully anticipate the growing threat of climate change. I don't want to summarise all of them because there has been a chapter-by-chapter read through on this site already. Most of it is worth a read, but none of it should be treated as the last word on the subject.

    It's actually the final chapter that almost rescues it, in an attempt to put permaculture on a global footing. There is much I agree with here, and a few details I'd happily discuss with him over coffee. It's not clear whether he failed to extend principles of co-operation to nonhuman animals (which he still treats as “resources”) as oversight or as an attempt to avoid losing those of his readers keen to retain speciesist hierarchies, but it's not something I'm comfortable with. I do like his discussion on Bioregionalism (which is not the same as the ecological concept outlined by Wallace): this is the first step towards an ecocentric view, but it's only the first step and there is no hint of him taking another one. In contrast, he is strong on the subject of intraspecies co-operation, and this should be recognised. It's difficult to tell how practical it might be, but it could provide one model should existing socio-political structures collapse. Again, there are points to be discussed, such as the abolition of consensus (his cure seems as bad as the disease), but he provides a starting point for thought on the subject.

    This book was well ahead of its time. The trouble is, thirty years on its time has now passed. It's still worth reading, but not uncritically. It often feels like the author was trying to get ideas down on paper without attempting to make his ideas are consistent, or even checking and crediting his sources. In my view, it's time for a rewrite, especially given its status as the standard reference for Permaculture Design Courses. It needs to be put on a more sound, or at least consistent, philosophical foundation (I would argue for a more ecocentric one, given the nature and severity of our growing environmental crisis). It could be argued that, with the massive growth in publishing in the field, that teachers should be working to a longer reading list rather than relying on the classic set text. It's not quite as bad as late medieval universities relying on the Bible and Aristotle, but I don't think the comparison is entirely unfair (and to be fair, many teachers do work to a longer reading list).

    It also needs to be rewritten for a more modern understanding of science in general and ecology in particular. With the demise of Gaianism, many of the basic assumptions need a serious review (again, Jacke and Toensmeier do a better job).

    This raises the question of what Permaculture actually is. To practice Permaculture, one needs to subscribe to a set of principles. Those principles can be retained under that ecocentric viewpoint, but that ecocentric viewpoint will preclude some forms of agriculture currently under the Permaculture banner. Forest gardening will probably remain, as will the concept of the home garden, almost certainly with the growth of annual crops. Allan Savory's less-than-holistic management pseudoscience may have to go.

    All in all then, this is not a bad book, but it's not the great one it's often presented as.
     
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