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Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway

 
Cassie Langstraat
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Source: Chelsea Green Publishing

Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing

Summary

In this iconic permaculture book, Toby Hemenway describes how to implement all things permaculture into a backyard scale and introduces permaculture's central message - Work with nature, not against her. He discusses all of the classic topics such as building and maintaining soil, catching and conserving water, and growing food forests. There are two editions and the revised, updated second edition contains a section on urban permaculture so that no one can have an excuse not to try permaculture!
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Where to get it?

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

Related Videos



Related Podcast

Podcast 043 - Review of Gaia's Garden Chapters Forward to 3
Podcast 044 - Review of Gaia's Garden, Chapter 4
Podcast 047 - Review of Gaia's Garden, Chapter 5
Podcast 055 - Review of Gaia's Garden, Chapter 6
Podcast 075 - Review of Gaia's Garden, Chapter 7
Podcast 078 - Review of Gaia's Garden, Chapter 8, Part 1
Podcast 079 - Review of Gaia's Garden, Chapter 8, Part 2
Podcast 278 - Review of Gaia's Garden, Chapter 10

Related Threads

Gaia's Garden
Toby Hemenway vs. Brad Landcaster
Help Turning Backyard into Permaculture

Related Websites

Toby Hemenway's Website
Toby Hemenway's Bio

Photos From the Book

captions from the book
At the Bullock brothers’ farm on Orcas Island in Washington State, an apple tree is surrounded by food- and habitat-creating plants that work together to benefit both nature and people.


At the Permaculture Institute of Northern California, ducks bob happily in clean, treated graywater that has been purified by a backyard wetland. Penny Livingston’s cob office is in the background.


Terraces made from broken concrete (“urbanite”) hold perennial food and habitat plants in the Los Alamos, New Mexico garden of Mary Zemach, designed by Ben haggard of ReGenesis Group, Santa Fe.



A grassy path through the 30-year-old forest garden of the Bullock brothers, Orcas Island, Washington.

 
B.E. Ward
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I vaguely remember hearing Toby say recently that he's working on another revision. Is that right? Or was I just listening to something between the first and second editions?
 
Julia Winter
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I think Toby is working on a book about urban permaculture. He has posted here at permies.com recently looking for pictures of duck houses and top bar bee hives.
 
Jake Parkhurst
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I gave this book 9 out of 10 Acorns.

It was really inspiring, especially the story of the restored march ecosystem that brought back otters. I went over the permaculture design process in an easy to follow way.

As far a first introduction into permaculture, I would give it a 10/10, but I like the depth that the Designers Manual by Bill Mollison goes into.

Definitely recommend it.
 
Cris Fellows
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I would give this book 9 out of 10 acorns. This is definitely my go to book for learning Permaculture principles and design and putting them into practice in my little abandoned lots garden. Well set up, easy to read with handy charts. I love it! Every now and then it brings questions to mind that are not answered...thus the 9, but if it did answer them all it would not be a manageable size or easy read!
 
Dave Burton
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I give this book a nine out of ten acorns.

I love how well organized the book is, and I find the tables of plants and resources listed at the end of the book to be extremely useful for after the read. I liked how he started the novel with an end in mind- showing what an ecological garden or food forest was with the goal of having the reader fairly well-versed in the mechanics and design process by the end. This goal is accomplished by the end; it is almost comparable to what one would learn from a taking a pdc. Just about the only thing missing is a note on seed-saving techniques.

However, the thing that draws gaia's garden a lot of praise is that it is written to be palatable for people who are new to permaculture. No background knowledge is expected from the start of the book, and by the end, one will have a clear understanding of where to start in doing permaculture.

I cannot stress any more how useful the tables, diagrams, and pictures in Gaia's Garden are; they aid with understanding and inspire the reader with what they could make themselves and have where they live- an ecological garden or food forest. There are also many diagrams of some students' designs which gives the reader a good idea of what a nice design looks like.

Also, I like how near the end of the novel, he demonstrates and explains to the urban readers that permaculture can work in urban areas. In this section, I like how he showed the flexibility in permaculture thinking through his urban adaptation of zone and sector analysis. For example, instead of wind and sun sectors, he had friend and family sectors divided into walking and cycling zones.
 
john giroux
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is book is the best. It has led me down the permie path of seeing that a garden is much more than a collection of plants. This book gave me the ability to see the patterns already there and those parts of nature I'd Like To Expand On and make them all part of my back yard. Making me and my family healthier in the process. And to grasp just hour accessible permiculture really is.
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brad roon
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This was my intro to Permaculture. My nephew got certified out of California for various reasons and gave my wife and i this book. The principles seemed pretty clear, the stories were very relevant as some of them were from places i've been and known. The lady in New Mexico blew me away since i lived a bit north in Colorado and you need to water hanging pots about 6 times/day there. For her, in a drier place, to have such lushness was ......inspiring.

To then have it pointed out that in this "civilization" the mass of production heads to the cities gave me hope for those who (like i had been) are urban bound.

It was great reading to me and my better half, and we still look at it. This is NOT a common practice in my reading - and i tend to read almost a dozen books per week.
 
Eric bigge
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I give this book 10 out of 10 acorns!

Hi my review of Gaia's garden is that this book is amazing. This book would be suitable for beginner 'premies' and seasoned ones alike. I stumbled upon Permies months ago and have watched so many videos and read so much online and have listened to most the podcasts on iTunes, that I was in search for a good book on permaculture to read to gain insight, cultivate ideas and expand the possibilities for my family. Paul Wheaton's suggestion of this book encouraged me to buy it. I thought I understood a good amount already, but my mind was constantly being blown away page by page. I found that my perspective kept changing allowing me opportunity to critically analyze the world/garden around me. In addition, the concept of ecological gardening was especially insightful and helpful to place a framework on what balancing the garden actually means. Not to mention the realization of all the constant connections in nature. I never realized, bugs, birds, habitat and everything truly working together. It really hit home the story of the chiletepin being next to the hackberry bush and the chile tolerant birds spreading the seeds next to other hackberry bushes showing nature is in such harmony. I've told other coworkers of mine that story. This book is really about taking a step back, observing in nature and applying principles of balance, common sense and practicality to anyones garden. There are useful tips, tools, techniques and like the 'chiletepen' story a place for discussion. I was talking with my wife about this book and she stated that this book has principles that cross over into her field of social work. Every living being (plant, bug, bird or human) working together as nature intended to create an ecosystem that compliments one another. Not working against one another as commercial farming/gardening will have you believe. It is a book that would be a good field manual, a casual read or a textbook really. There are many tables, diagrams and pictures that help illustrate the concepts. This is especially helpful for quick reference when designing and searching for the rich information it provides. More of these illustrations could be helpful to help identify some of the plants that Toby is talking about. Finally, it would be nice to have a few blank pages at the end of each chapter for notes, ideas and conceptualizations. This would make this book into even more of a field manual. Overall this is a great book to begin your journey into permaculture, or to bring conventional gardeners closer to a permacultural world.
 
Sheri Menelli
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Review of Gaia's Garden

I spent about a year reading every book I could get my hands on about organic gardening yet I still felt a bit frustrated. I started seeing a pattern with the organic gardening. If you have a pest, kill it using this organic method. I'm not sure how I knew this but as I was reading the books, I felt like there was something missing but yet I couldn't put my finger on it. What was I looking for.

One day a little over 2 years ago, I stumbled upon Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway at the library. I felt like I found the Holy Grail. All of a sudden, gardening, ecology, the earth, everything made sense!

I found out why I was getting the pests and how to avoid them by growing stronger plants and planting companion plants, guilds, etc to attract predators to help me. I started understanding soil and soil biology. It made so much sense.

The amazing thing is how Toby Hemenway can take so many aspects of ecology, entomology, soil biology, composting and make it so easy to understand. Not only was he able to simplify it but he tells fantastic stories of people who were actually using these methods with great success.

This is my all time favorite gardening book. It changed my outlook on the earth, my garden and gave me hope.

If you are going to read a gardening book or if you are into permaculture, this is a must read.

How much do I like this book? I bought TWO copies. One for kindle - it is easier for me to read it that way. And a physical copy because the reference material, charts and tables are so great that I need in paper format too!

Sheri Menelli
 
Michael Longfield
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As a permie nerd and polyculture connoisseur, Gaia's Garden is my go-to book recommendation for the up and coming artisan of seed and soil. It really helps connect the dots to give a well rounded understanding of permaculture, with the science to back it up. I love the in depth explanation of the soil food web, and how to harmonize with it. Instead of being dry, Toby's delightful personality shines, and inspires the reader to go out and get their hands dirty. Complete with the science, the techniques, and the real world examples to help usher in your permaculture reality. It contains a great reference guide of useful plants and their characteristics, including a separate guide for cover crops. An instant classic, Gaia's Garaden is a toolkit of practical permaculture skills, that you will want to keep in arms reach.
 
Kirsten Simmons
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As a beginner permie, I give this book 10 out of 10 acorns. There are more detailed books out there, but I love how this one breaks the concepts of permaculture into easily digestible chunks, and also includes examples of how things succeed and fail. There's a story in the book about how the author had issues with deer on a rural property, and successfully grew a wild food hedge to funnel the deer around his food garden and on their way. But then when his neighbor started feeding the deer, they were approaching his garden from another direction and the hedge no longer worked. The environment and energies had shifted, and thus his approach needed to shift.

I also like how the book offers options for both annual and perennial guilds. I don't have land myself (yet!), but I'm working with a woman in the neighborhood who has food beds in her front yard. We're mostly growing annuals, and I've been using the ideas from the book to reduce our pest loads and increase harvest. Our okra grew over 10 feet tall when I planted pole beans to climb up the okra "trees", and sweet potatoes did an amazing job of keeping the soil moist for corn after our squash fell to borers and bean beetles. I'm interested in ultimately starting a business using permaculture principles, and while I do want to pull in lots of perennials, I also recognize that the market currently demands annuals and it will take time to train customers to new foods. Having examples of annual "permaculture" and, more importantly, understanding how plants can support each other in both annual and perennial systems has already increased our yields in one small yard and will be invaluable when I get into my business.

As I've gotten further into permaculture (halfway through a PDC now) I'm seeing places where Gaia's Garden glosses over certain landscape elements, especially relating to water and the changes that can be made to a landscape to optimize water retention and production. But I also recognize that the audience isn't ready for that level of detail - it's an introductory permaculture book, and if it started by telling folks to go find contours and rent a backhoe, most would go find something else to read!

Others have mentioned the awesome tables and appendices in this book, and I'll second/third/fourth/etc that praise. I've used the cover crop tables multiple times to find the best options for various seasons, soils and sunlight. There's lists of plants, resources for tools and seeds, further reading - lots of things that I'll be referring to regularly over the next several years in my adventures as a permaculture goofball.
 
Rick Howd
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8 out of 10 acorns here.
The digital / pdf version has issues with the spreadsheets/forms, otherwise the book is exceptional and led me on my path through Geoff's online pdc.
 
Lorenzo Costa
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I give this book 8 out of 10 acorns

Gaia's Garden was my first book on permaculture. I devoured it in three nights reading! Toby has the capacity to make it feel easy, straight forward, if one is looking for a book that takes you in the journey of home scale permaculture design, Gaia's garden is the right choice. After that, I read many other books but the first one is always the first. The drawings of the book sit in my mind and accompany my thoughts about the book.
it's not a book you just read once, it's to be kept on your table, or hand-reach shelf, where you can search a reference quickly, or it is the book you read on the cold winter evenings when you're trying to sum up your thoguhts about a solution you are looking for and that you may solve the next spring. It's a book for thinkers and diggers.
Of course Mollison's book is the deep enciclopedia of design, but Toby's is the handbook.
True Gaia's garden is not alone in the realm of great permaculture books, classic and new ones intended, but it keeps well in the spotlight, and will always, sitting already in the classic section of the permaculture library.
I don't know if authors like Toby really understand how much they have set a milestone on the path of growth and fertility of soils and minds.
Highly recomended as a starting, medium, or ending point of our journey in restoring our world.
 
Andrew Schreiber
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For beginners 10/10 acorns. - along with Mollison's Intro to Permaculture, Gaia's Garden can't be beat as a introductory text

for those who teach Permaculture to new people 8/10 acorns - as a reference of basic frameworks for teaching about ecology and Permaculture.

for those with working knowledge and experience 5/10 acorns - relevant mostly to those in smaller spaces and focusing on smaller scale systems. or for the thoughtful design of zone-1 systems.


Gaia's garden is the most often cited book that I hear people mention when talking about how they got into Permaculture. Gaia's garden has become the measure by which other Permaculture books written for general audiences judge themselves. This speaks volumes to the relevance many people find within it, particularly those living in urban and suburban settings.

As an introductory book, it provides text which is easy and enjoyable to read, well crafted and informative diagrams, and rich section of resources for those not already versed in Permaculture or the basic functional properties of ecological systems. The plant list and guilds, while not exhaustive, are easy for most people to follow and provide a "sweet spot" as it relates to the level of complexity offered up to the reader.

It is a "gateway" book to Permaculture which I often recommend to those newly emerging Permies living in in urban and suburban contexts, particularly in temperate regions.


 
Chance Lunceford
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I give this book 8/10 acorns

Review by Chance Lunceford

I read this book because it was a textbook in a free permaculture lecture series done in a classroom setting at University of North Carolina under the tutelage of Will Hooker (who's garden is shown on the cover of the book.) I appreciated the ways in which Toby Hemenway brings to life through pictures and examples of applied principles. The book builds upon itself as it progresses, with the beginning of the book as a sort of showcase for the beginning gardener, and the end of the book providing ideas and practical advise to move towards food forest production. The book is also very helpful in that it contains many lists and tables of plants and partners, so those unfamiliar with the diversity and application of diverse species can begin to understand the relationship between different plants from canopy to root. While this book is not going to be exceedingly helpful to those already quite familiar with the principles and practices of permaculture, there is a broad and balanced introduction within the pages for those who are less familiar with the ideas of permaculture, and serves as a perfect port for those wishing to set sail into the oceans of patterns and harmony while never being to preachy or absurd. I have leant this book to folks who are desirous of beginning their first garden, and those who are tired of all the work and money that goes into traditional suburban landscape management, and all to hearty welcome. Add it to your library, it is well worth the dough, and even the veteran will find the occasional gem that they had not pondered before.
 
Cassie Langstraat
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The Winners of this book review Contest are:

Kirsten Simmons
Lorenzo Costa
Andrew Schreiber
Eric Bigge
Chance Lunceford

Make sure you are signed up for the dailyish email and send me an email at cassie AT richsoil.com with your preferred DVD set and your snail mail address.
 
Erica Wisner
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I was introduced to permaculture through several classes (college science-and-sustainable-systems class, community "no work gardening" class) before I started getting my own books about it.
Toby's Gaia's Garden was part of one of my foundational experiences in permaculture, due to the excellent tables and charts in the back. I'd go with 8 or 9 out of 10 acorns.

Gaia's Garden is a good general introduction, and it's especially useful if you are in a temperate / relatively humid climate like most of North America, as the example projects include a lot of species mixes that will thrive in such climates. (The original Permaculture Designer's Manual by Mollison has some cold and humid-climate designs, but the authors are Australian and there's relatively a lot more detail on tropical palm circles that I will almost certainly never use.)

One note from Toby's experiences with readers, and my own reading of the illustrated example plans: It's easy to take an example as gospel, and apply it to the wrong site.
The example designs are examples of site-specific solutions to site-specific design problems, such as limited space, or deer incursions. The herb spiral, for example, was a way to make use of a very small patch of ground, between buildings and sidewalks, that was otherwise quite flat. It is not necessary or even appropriate for every permaculture site to include an herb spiral, nor will they thrive in deep-north shade. If you can use the examples in the book as ideas for how to think about your own place, instead of as cookie-cutter patterns to follow regardless of the site, you will see greater benefits. Unfortunately, most of the existing permaculture books are heavy on the "design" or "solution," and rarely give complete information about the site's "before" situation/problem. This can make it difficult to figure out when a design is appropriate for copying in a new setting, and more importantly, when it's not appropriate.

I had been getting deeper into permaculture through books, videos, urban foraging groups, and the city repair Project community sites. One thing I'd noticed was a lot of permaculture examples showing apple trees less than 5 years old as the "canopy" of polycrop guilds. These projects just seemed so unproven, and baby apple trees don't need much help anyway. I wondered if there was anybody doing permaculture remediation on old fruit orchards, or even just with older backyard fruit trees.

Around this time I started caregiving for my grandmother, who had a 1/2 acre backyard in Portland, OR. It had been outside the city when she and Grandpa purchased the place in the 1940s or '50s, but the city grew in around it. She and Grandpa had planted a mixed row of fruit trees along one side, and he'd gardened extensively when they first lived there. Now that he had passed away it was mostly an un-treated lawn with mixed shrubs including those fruit trees (now about 30 to 50 years old), some more recent blueberries planted by my uncle, and the ever-present invasive Himalayan blackberry. The family had established a truce with the blackberry, rooting it out mercilessly in the main part of the backyard, but allowing some canes to ramble in the back 1/3 behind the holly and fruit trees. There was also a little grotto back there opposite the blackberry bramble: a thicket of scrubby trees that included cherries, hawthorn, and apple, and a mossy bare space in the center where you could sit and enjoy the spring flowers, seasonal songbirds, or just quiet shade.

I asked Grandma if it was OK if I messed around with some gardening back around the fruit trees, and she said it was fine with her. Just don't mess up her grotto.

The first thing I figured I needed to do was take a survey: baseline observations. There were a lot of plants back there, so it seemed like it was mostly a matter of finding the "holes" - the functions that weren't being met as completely.
So I looked through my options for permaculture books, and Gaia's Garden was not only recommended by my local teacher, it also had those tables of plants and their functions. I flipped directly to the back, and took it out in the yard with me to look for what plants and functions were already there.

Every plant I could identify had multiple functions.
The most important functions for our purposes were food, soil-building through both nitrogen and taproots, and wildlife plants as Grandma enjoys birds.
Every function I could identify had multiple plants already serving that function.
The lawn had 2 or 3 tap-root type weeds for various minerals, and several families of nitrogen-fixers including self-heal, clover, and a small vetch. There were medicinal and edible herbs in the lawn including sheep-sorrel, plantain, dandelion, and others. There were patches of edible mushrooms, violets and other edible flowers. The lawn itself was a rich guild of plants, all growing happily in miniature under the disguise of lawn. I don't know if there was more grass than anything else, but there certainly was a lot more than grass there.
Among the trees and shrubs already in place, any plant that wasn't edible by people seemed to have a wildlife or soil-building function. There were a few ornamental exceptions - I'm not sure anything benefits directly from sword fern - but it's not a bad spaceholder and evergreen with good visual appeal and some mulch benefits.

So basically, I couldn't find a single thing "missing" in terms of functional plant and soil relationships.
When a couple of aging Wisconsin farmer kids want to enjoy a little bit of home-grown produce without having to work so hard as their parents did, the result is a lot like permaculture.

I scratched out a couple of tomato-and-herb-and-flower plots closer to the house, sheet-mulched a path between them and the lawn, and called it good.

I also learned a little bit about visible and invisible structures: I never got the "garden border" thing, the little picket fences or concrete paver things always seemed like a silly, fussy waste of resources, until I tried gardening in a place that already had a lawn-mower guy. He was not that observant to begin with, and had been mowing the yard for years without a garden to steer around. But Grandma had experience working with male garden help from way back. When she wanted to save a tree, seedling, or plant, she put a tomato cage around it. After the first couple of near-misses and trimmed tips of my tomato plants, I quickly learned to appreciate those little picket fences she had lying around under the porch, and they were re-deployed around all the new plots.

There are a lot of permaculture design examples and books out there, but without those charts of plants and their functions, it would have been very hard for a new practitioner like me to do a real evaluation of what was already there on the site. I think this sort of observation is critical to good design, especially if you don't want to spend a lot of time, money, and trouble breaking things that already work and then fixing those mistakes. So thumbs up for Gaia's Garden, it had exactly the tone and toolset I needed to get started in a single season.

-Erica W
 
Amber Fauson
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I give this book 9 out of 10 acorns.

Gaia's Garden is loaded with information on permaculture, and is an excellent primer for the newbie. The Tables and Diagrams alone are worth the cost of the book. It's inspirational and informative, just all around a great book.
 
Danielle Diver
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I give this book 10 out of 10 acorns, for what it is, a manual for permaculture in a home garden.

I wish i had this book when i was doing landacaping work with emphasis on edible landscaping. This is THE manual for a home garden. I do not have a home garden at the moment, but because I have a background in landscaping, i was able to read this book like it was incredible film about all the amazing possibilities. Coincidentally, I read Mark Shepard's book Restoration Agriculture at the same time, and feel they compliment each other very well in terms of possibilities in small-scale home permaculture versus large-scale farm/acrage permaculture. My personal interest is more rooted in Restoration Agriculture, but we all have a home, and can surround our daily living space with the principals outlined in Toby Hemenway's book.

A great read either for a someone looking to totally transform their lives, or even just someone looking to dabble in a couple of weekend projects. a must have on the bookshelf.
 
John Smithington
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"Work with nature, not against her"

I like that
 
Richard Gorny
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I give this book 9 out of 10 acorns.

Excellent book for home gardeners, it was guiding me through first attempts on my own small piece of land.

I like to return to this book, especially I love to read chapter devoted to soils.

I find numerous tables in this book very helpful, especially when looking for a plant that performs a specific function.

I strongly recommend this book to those who start their adventure with home garden, but I'm sure even experienced gardeners will find it both useful and pleasure to read.
 
Thomas Partridge
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I give this book 10 out of 10 acorns!

I was hesitant to give this book the full 10 out of 10, but struggle as I might I could not think of ONE SINGLE CON. That is how good this book is. It takes much of what I remember from the Permaculture Design Manual and puts it in terms that even a layman like me can understand WHILE providing the visual examples and tables that I crave.

Here are some particularly great things about this book.

Tables on which nutrients certain plants accumulate. Btw can someone PM me and tell me how important Cobalt is? That is the only mineral I didn't see covered by comfrey and mustard. Back on topic though. If you are missing nutrients in your current set up this table is a huge boon in choosing what to add or replace.

Diagrams showing certain design ideas (such as keyhole gardens and herb spirals) that are sometimes difficult to express as accurately as people would like. The ones on swales ALMOST let me understand how they work, and that is saying something because other sources left me thinking they were speaking greek or something.

Examples of excellent permaculture friendly plants and a discussion of their usage. We all know about Comfrey, but I had never heard of Maximilian Sunflowers until I had read that book. For newbies like us sometimes it is nice to get examples of great multipurpose plants like that.

As I did this review one thing DID come to me where it was lacking (although not enough to dock it an acorn) - the inclusion of animals into the system. Oh there was a little here and there but I would have loved to have sections on things like chickens and rabbits as detailed as other sections were. Probably beyond the scope of this book though. It was just such a great book that I would like to see the same style on other things .
 
Tara Swenson
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This is my favorite permaculture book so far! I recently checked out the updated version from the library, centered more on urban gardening, and was sad to have to return it after my time limit was up... I'll definitely be purchasing it in the near future!
 
Rebecca Norman
gardener
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Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
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food preservation greening the desert solar trees
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I give this book 5 out of 10 acorns.

I think it's a very good book for those new to permaculture, but I'm not such a newbie, so I prefer books with more practical details. I felt this book tends to generalise, and to offer generic advice such as "You can build a herb spiral" without any mention of people having actually done it, and what they found to be useful or less useful.

I bought the Kindle edition and read it on Kindle for Mac, and the diagrams are too small to read the text in them.
 
Mike Feddersen
Posts: 351
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Win a copy. http://www.motherearthnews.com/chelsea-green16.aspx
 
Jordan Rempel
Posts: 2
Location: Chilliwack, BC Canada
books urban woodworking
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I am a bit over half way through this book and am quite enjoying it, I do find he spends a fair amount of time on what feels a little poetic or philosophical rather than the practical principles, but as the book progresses the more substantial the information gets. I find the tables the most helpful, and likely the things I'll reference the most in the future. Good stuff!
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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