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Joseph Lofthouse
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I've been participating in this forum for about a year. I don't yet have a good grasp of what permaculture is, or how I would modify my life to be more permaculturalish... So how about helping out a nube with a discussion about the definition(s) and practice(s) of permaculture... I'm most interested in learning about how permaculture might help me to better feed my community and care for my ecosystem. I'm a traditional farmer, meaning I do things the way they have been done for the past 10,000 years -- excluding the modern chemical farming that has only been practiced in recent decades. I'm deviating from the traditional farming model because I don't keep animals because I commute to the farm due to taking care of sick family. But I grow feed for the animals that my neighbors keep which I eventually eat.

First of all, feel free to add to this list... I may not even know enough about permaculture to be asking the proper questions...

What is permaculture?
Why would permaculture be of use to me?
Who practices permaculture?
How can I modify my life to be more permacultural?
Where is permaculture of most benefit? (I live in the deep desert, so totally different environment than that which provides the profuse generation of organics in damp climates).
What are the essential components of a permacultural farm? And community?
My people have always taken care of the Earth and shared the surplus. What would the "ethics of permaculture" suggest we could be doing differently?
How is permaculture similar to or different from other schools of thought such as prepping, environmentalism, homesteading, back-to-earth, tree-hugging, druidry, etc...
Is there a religious/spiritual component to permaculture?
How militant are permaculturalists about the "right way" to do things? Is this forum the norm for peaceful co-existence among permaculturalists with different theories?
If permaculture is a design method, what designs are arising, and how are they different than the designs of traditional farming families?
Do some design elements show up repeatedly?

What's up with hugelculture and mulch?
Tell me about no-till and whether it's essential to permaculture...
How do I grow root crops without disturbing the soil?
If I convert my farm to permaculture do I have to stop growing annual crops?
How much more labor is permaculture going to require?
Is the ideal permaculture farm a food forest? Or a savannah? Or does that depend on climate and soils?
How are permaculture and biodynamic similar or different?
Does permaculture advocate not using agricultural chemicals? Or other poisons? How about naturally derived poisons like pyrethrins, garlic, tobacco, or hot peppers.
Does a traditional garden kitchen have a place in a permaculture farm?
There are sure a lot of forums at permies.com devoted to building houses... Is that part of permaculture?
Same observation applies to energy... How does energy use patterns fit into permaculture?
How are sustainability, self-reliance, and permaculture related? How are they different?

I suppose that there is plenty of room for divergent viewpoints on these topics, but this seems like a good list to get a discussion started...

One of my fields:


A different field:


In the food forest:


In the badlands:
 
Alder Burns
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My take on it is that permaculture is primarily a design science, though it differs from most sciences in two regards....1. it is guided by ethics, and 2. it takes as a starting point the observation and then mimicry of natural ecosystems. "Lists of principles" can be found which differ widely in number.....some of these are basic to planet earth, and others will be more site-specific.
Given what you say about yourself and your farm, I would say a big starting point for you would be tillage. Large scale tillage and monocrop farming almost always leads to soil erosion, which has been the downfall of most agricultural societies. We can hide this fact by applying chemicals, or by importing nutrients from elsewhere, but I think a good initial design challenge for you, and everyone else here who sees your post, is how to reduce tillage, and therefore erosion.
Depending on how "traditional" you mean, I would agree that permaculture has a lot in common, and a lot to learn from "traditional farming", but I mean traditional as in before the era of mechanization and chemicals, when most farms provided a subsistence for the farm family first, and marketing was a secondary focus. When large numbers of people began to migrate to cities and land ended up owned and worked by fewer and fewer people, this trend reversed. Permaculture is easiest to practice on a homestead scale, but it can and has been done on large landholdings as well.....
One of my teachers called permaculture "remedial common sense". As you begin to explore it, be aware that many people come to permaculture directly from urban and suburban lifestyles without much basic awareness of how nature, or farming, or food production of any sort, really work. A lot may seem elementary to someone like you. I would pass by teachers and books that focus on backyard gardening and things like that and go straight to the backbone literature, such as the Designer's Manual, and the Permaculture Design courses based on it. And look for material that mentions farming in particular.....
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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I care for fields scattered across a number of different ecosystems and soil types...

The fields which I till are located on Pleistocene river deltas, and are as close to flat and level as anyone could hope for. I grow annual crops on these fields. Erosion is not a problem on these fields, if anything, they are accumulating soil over the years, from dust blown in from the badlands, and from irrigation, and from wildfire soot, and from bird droppings. Any flash flooding that occurs tends to wash debris into my fields where it settles out. Roads, paved areas, and fences tend to sink into the accumulating soil. In a river delta, the natural pattern is to scrub away the existing vegetation every spring, and start over with bare dirt. Tilling seems like an adequate way of mimicking that ecosystem.

I care for a couple of badlands areas that have slopes from 7% to 50%. I do not till them, because they are too steep and rocky to use equipment, and because erosion would be tremendous. Any significant rain (a once in 5 year event), fills every depression with soil and rocks. Scouring down to bedrock is common. I started by building swales there, but terraces seem more appropriate these days because once the swales fill up with soil it becomes a terrace anyway. I always daydream about improving the ecosystem in these areas... But I also gotta wonder if I am being counter-productive by trying to reduce erosion in the highlands... Isn't the natural order in these areas to wash the soil down to the alluvial fan or to the river delta? How do I best mimic that behavior? Do the terraces sufficiently mimic alluvial fans?

My food forest is on a moderate slope (averages 7%) and is sprinkle irrigated, so any tilling there leads to significant downhill movement of sediments. The organic matter is moving downhill, even if the soil stays in place. This is the best area for a kitchen garden of annuals, because it is close to home: But I've mostly filled it with perennials, shrubs, and trees. I've build swales zig-zagging across the place to slow the flow of water and sediments downhill. This field most closely mimics a riparian ecosystem.

When I hear the word science, I think of peer-reviewed publications, and rigorous experiments repeated anywhere at anytime. The laws of physics are the same in Denver as they are in Guatemala. Does permaculture do those kinds of controlled experiments, or is it more of an art-form or a craft? I have had some interactions over the years with professional plant breeders, who are doing "scientific" plant breeding, with detailed pedigrees and DNA analysis, and quantitative trait locus studies... But I approach plant breeding as an art-form. Plant some (random) seeds into a field, let them get mixed together, plant their descendents, and observe to see if anything useful emerges. Do some permaculturalists practice it as a science while others approach it as a form of art?

I certainly find myself surrounded by the rural/urban disconnect. Perhaps that leads to my inability to discern much of a difference between permaculture and traditional (non-chemical) farming.

I've been reading the thread entitled "Is Anyone Really doing permaculture?". I really like that thread, and I've wanted to comment on it, but haven't had a good enough grasp of what permaculture is to be able to discern if anyone is really doing it. The comments about the poor/rich divide in regards to permaculture really resonates with me... Is permaculture just a pretty name for subsistence farming?

I suppose that I come to permaculture backwards from most... I grew up on the farm of my ggg-grandmother. I have been operating a food pantry for two decades, and volunteering at them my whole life... So farming and people care were my first avocations. To that was added teaching people how to feed themselves, and providing seeds and information about how to do so in this area. While I'm on the topic, is the idea of a "Gifting Economy" common in permaculture thinking? I have always given away far more vegetables than I sell. Does permaculture have much to say about economics?

What does permaculture have to say about fossil fuel usage? Do I have to give up my truck to be a proper permaculturist?
 
Dave Burton
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At my current point in my life, I am a student and do not have the money or means to currently practice permaculture. I have been spending a lot of my free time studying permaculture so that I know what to do when I have the time and means to practice permaculture. For me, the most relevant thing that I have been working on now is setting up a personal plan for tiny living and early retire extreme for myself. This segment of permaculture, tiny living and ecovillages and communities, is also important to me because i'm going to be going to college soon and once I graduate in four years, I'm going to be completely on my own. So, I want to get on my feet running!

I am of the mindset that if you learn the basics of something that is all you really need, because the parts create the whole- like autonomous self-assembly. Using the basics to make the more complicated stuff allows people more freedom of thought, in my opinion. The more complex it gets, the more room there is for people to interject their own opinions and values.

**********

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:What is permaculture?


Permaculture, by the definition Bill Mollison gave in Permaculture: A Designer's Manual is permanent agriculture. He expands upon this to later restate that permanent agriculture implies a permanent culture. Stable and accessible agriculture is necessary for a stable and permanent society/culture is the essence of his discussion in Chapter 1 as to why permaculture s necessary for global stability, repair, and continuity.

Perhaps a better question, is what is the purpose of permaculture? Here's the answer:

Bill Mollison wrote:
The Prime Directive of Permaculture:
The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children.
Make it now.


This setups the ethical basis for the permaculture design process.

Joseph Lofthouse wrote: Why would permaculture be of use to me?


Permaculture is site and client specific, so unless I can read your mind or you filled out a permaculture client questionnaire and submitted it publicly to read, I wouldn't know of what use permaculture is to you. However, one of the best reasons would be because by creating and implementing a permaculture design, you could establish a system that is self-regulating and self-sustaining which allows you to be a lazy bastard and still get food.

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Who practices permaculture?


This depends on how you define permaculture. Another way of understanding permaculture is of a horticultural society. This older version of permaculture has been practiced by the ancient Oaxaca, the Nuaulu, Ceram, Indonesia, Owens Valley Paiute, and the Kumeyaay of Southern California (reference: 58 minutes 57 seconds of Toby hemenway)

Joseph Lofthouse wrote: How can I modify my life to be more permaculture?


Permaculture is not a doctrine or belief system. Permaculture is a design process.The best I can suggest to you on this is to learn more and do what you feel will make a positive impact in your own life.

Joseph Lofthouse wrote: Where is permaculture of most benefit?


Everywhere! There is room for change and improvement everywhere. Deserts are not always deserts, and nor are forests forever forests. Things always change and are always in flux, but we can act to influence how things change. Check out what geoff lawton has been able to do in deserts. Here are some other great videos by Geoff Lawton showing great permaculture works done by his friends, students, and other permaculture artisans in Urban areas, Cold CLimates, High Cold Dry and Windy Places, Urban & Desert, Up North in Canada, or on An Entire Mountain. Permaculture is of use everywhere!

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:What are the essential components of a permacultural farm? And community?


Once again, this is site specific. Take what you know and apply it how you see fit. If you need to learn more, seek out the information and learn it. A good place to start is the Ultimate Guide to a Profitable Permaculture Farm by the Permaculture Apprentice.

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:My people have always taken care of the Earth and shared the surplus. What would the "ethics of permaculture" suggest we could be doing differently?
How is permaculture similar to or different from other schools of thought such as prepping, environmentalism, homesteading, back-to-earth, tree-hugging, druidry, etc...


Once again, permaculture is a site specific and client specific design process. Integration is what we want, and protecting local values is part of that. Conquering the world, its peoples, and all forms of life is part of what got humanity into the current ecosocial mess we have right now. If what you are doing works fine right now, don't fix what isn't broken.

Permaculture is different in that it is a design process. There are different branches of permaculture, each related to one another. Each one is unique unto itself. By being adaptable and flexible, permaculture makes itself useful to more people.

For more discussion on the types of permaculture out there, I suggest visiting the purple vs brown permaculture thread.

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Is there a religious/spiritual component to permaculture?


That is solely up to you and the people you live with. Please refer to the purple vs brown permaculture thread for more on this issue.

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:How militant are permaculturalists about the "right way" to do things? Is this forum the norm for peaceful co-existence among permaculturalists with different theories?


Some people are assholes, and some people are not. Militant-ness just depends on your community. There is no normal. In my opinion, I think Paul Wheaton's setup is awesome! Other people like Reddit. Whatever floats your boat!

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:If permaculture is a design method, what designs are arising, and how are they different than the designs of traditional farming families?


This depends on what you define as "traditional". Also, I am not sure what you mean by "what designs are arising"?

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Do some design elements show up repeatedly?


Yes, I am currently working my way through Chapter 4: Pattern Recognition of Permaculture: A Designer's Manual. Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 also talked about things related to your question. Polycultures and guilds are reappearing elements. Timing and schedules of events are repeating. There are tons of things that show up again and again!

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:What's up with hugelculture and mulch?


Paul Wheaton's got an entire article on hugelcultures!

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Tell me about no-till and whether it's essential to permaculture...


No tell is just that- no tilling or minimal tilling. An alternative might be subsoil tillage. Essential-ness depends on you and your needs.

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:How do I grow root crops without disturbing the soil?


You don't. Soil will be disturbed, but that is not inherently a bad thing.

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:If I convert my farm to permaculture do I have to stop growing annual crops?


No, you don't have to stop growing annuals. You do what fits you and your sites' needs.

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:How much more labor is permaculture going to require?


The main protion of the labour, in theory, will come during the design and implementation phase of a project. Maintenance will decrease as you progress from zone 0 outwards to zone 5. This is all up to you and how you wish to design your site. If you want to be a lazy bastard, you can. You can make your design to require as little or as much effort as you want it to. It is up to you, the designer.

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Is the ideal permaculture farm a food forest? Or a savannah? Or does that depend on climate and soils?


That is all site specific, but permaculture can be done anywhere.

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:How are permaculture and biodynamic similar or different?


check out this thread

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Does permaculture advocate not using agricultural chemicals? Or other poisons? How about naturally derived poisons like pyrethrins, garlic, tobacco, or hot peppers.


In general, yes, permaculture advocates not using artificial chemicals and poisons. Naturally occurring ones are awesome and cool to use! The main thing, I see, going for naturally occurring poisons is that they might degrade easier and require less energy input to obtain and use. However, the usage of such things, artificial or not, is always up to the individual and their good judgement.

If you are having to use poisons to fight pests, it might be useful to consider planting a polyculture, creating a guild, or adding other elements into your system to handle the "pest" problem more effectively. By creating predator habitat and confusing the "pests" with tons of bright and strongly scented plants, predators will be able to handle your "pest" problem for you. Instead of you having to work that you don't really have to do.

Joseph Lofthouse wrote: Does a traditional garden kitchen have a place in a permaculture farm?


YES!!!

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:There are sure a lot of forums at permies.com devoted to building houses... Is that part of permaculture?


Yes, it is. House design and usage optimization is part of zone 0 planning.

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Same observation applies to energy... How does energy use patterns fit into permaculture?


Try visiting the sustainable electricity thread. Energy use patterns depend on you and your needs. IF we know your needs, we can help figure out what would work best for you.

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:How are sustainability, self-reliance, and permaculture related? How are they different?


Self-reliance is caring for yourself. Sustainability is about caring for the being able to maintain itself. Permaculture is about regenerative design. Regenerative design goes beyond sustainability by making it so that the system is not just able to sustain itself but provide a surplus which can be reinvested back into the system and used to expand the system's potential or build up reserves. Self-reliance is a branch of permaculture because it falls under the part of taking responsibility for oneself; however, complete self-reliance neglects community. Since humans are social creatures, this may or may not be right for you. That depends on the person.

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Do I have to give up my truck to be a proper permaculturalist?


I'm with Alder Burns on the "remedial commonsense" thing! Do what you think works for you. Proper-schmoper!

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Do some permaculturalists practice it as a science while others approach it as a form of art?


That depends on who you talk. Refer back to brown vs. purple permaculture thread.

Joseph Lofthouse wrote: While I'm on the topic, is the idea of a "Gifting Economy" common in permaculture thinking? I have always given away far more vegetables than I sell. Does permaculture have much to say about economics?


Yes, a "gifting economy" is a common idea to many people because of different ways that people interpret the third ethic. One of the main things I have read in permaculture is about nurturing local economies first and then caring for the larger economies later. Another worthwhile discussion on economics is greed.

***********

I am sorry if most of my answers were, it depends, but it truly does. You are smart and knowledgeable! I have listed many resources in the Guide to Getting Help Thread for the benefit of the permies community to teach themselves or help others assist them. At school, when people asked me to help them on their homework, I would guide them to an answer. I did not give answers outright because that does not teach them anything. I believe self-education is the best way of learning, but I can and will teach when requested of. I want people to think for themselves, so I try not to tell people how to think when I can.

I hope at least some of this was helpful to you Joseph!
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I've been participating in this forum for about a year. I don't yet have a good grasp of what permaculture is, or how I would modify my life to be more permaculturalish... So how about helping out a nube with a discussion about the definition(s) and practice(s) of permaculture... I'm most interested in learning about how permaculture might help me to better feed my community and care for my ecosystem. I'm a traditional farmer, meaning I do things the way they have been done for the past 10,000 years -- excluding the modern chemical farming that has only been practiced in recent decades. I'm deviating from the traditional farming model because I don't keep animals because I commute to the farm due to taking care of sick family. But I grow feed for the animals that my neighbors keep which I eventually eat.

First of all, feel free to add to this list... I may not even know enough about permaculture to be asking the proper questions...

I will give my personal thoughts on your questions.


What is permaculture?
Permaculture is a method of using the same methods nature uses except it is created by humans for growing foods. This may or may not take the form of "food forest", I see it as more of a symbiotic growing method or companion plantings.
Why would permaculture be of use to me?
Permaculture is useful for retaining water in the ground, helping to buffer the effects of drought, it is useful for growing more than one crop at a time in the same space, it helps to keep the soil in balance so crops will grow well year after year.
Who practices permaculture?
Any one who is trying to incorporate the methods of nature in their own growing environment is practicing permaculture. It is not something that everyone would do, but it is something that gives great rewards to those that do. Example; if you are taking care of gardens such as the French or English pre Victorian gardens, you probably can not use much of permaculture ideology. If on the other hand you are taking care of a Victorian garden, you will have to practice permaculture since those gardens were the actual start of the thinking which we now term permaculture.
How can I modify my life to be more permacultural?
It is more a state of mind, so if you concentrate on first walking through the forest and observing how things grow together then apply those observations to your life, you have changed to a permaculture life style. It requires active thinking about what is the best way to do things. Nature does not exert more energy than necessary to accomplish any task. Nature always uses just the energy required to get to the end goal, which is life.
Where is permaculture of most benefit? (I live in the deep desert, so totally different environment than that which provides the profuse generation of organics in damp climates).
Even in the desert there are ways to improve the soil. Nature does this with the desert plants, we humans want to add food plants usually, so our approach would be to mimic nature's methods in that particular environment.
What are the essential components of a permacultural farm? And community?
A permaculture farm will have large areas of multi layered plantings, no uncovered soil, you would see vegetables growing between fruit or nut trees with each layer providing some benefit to the plants around it. the left overs from harvest would be returned to the soil from whence they came just like the leaves of the trees in a forest or the grasses of a savanna. Permaculture is the Circle of Life.
My people have always taken care of the Earth and shared the surplus. What would the "ethics of permaculture" suggest we could be doing differently?
How is permaculture similar to or different from other schools of thought such as prepping, environmentalism, homesteading, back-to-earth, tree-hugging, druidry, etc...
I do not think of permaculture in this way, it is a methodology and I know "preppers" and homesteaders that use permaculture techniques. The Druidh is a spiritually based religion, not a methodology.
Is there a religious/spiritual component to permaculture?
I do not see practicing permaculture methodology as being religious, Spiritual indeed, one can not work in the way nature does without feeling the spirits, this comes to all who truly practice the methodologies of permaculture. It is like sailing, you learn to become aware of subtleties that others miss completely.
How militant are permaculturalists about the "right way" to do things? Is this forum the norm for peaceful co-existence among permaculturalists with different theories?
I am sure there are some that think they know "the right way" to do most anything and will argue or even physically fight for what they believe to be true. It is my observation that nature works in many ways, at the same time, making it impossible to state one part of the methods of nature as the "right way".
If permaculture is a design method, what designs are arising, and how are they different than the designs of traditional farming families? Some one else will have better answers to these next two questions than I could possibly offer.
Do some design elements show up repeatedly?

What's up with hugelculture and mulch?
hugelculture is a german? method of increasing water retention for the purpose of growing food in smaller areas than flat fields require, it also allows for companion plantings and symbiotic plantings. Mulch is a material that covers soil to prevent water loss and or unwanted plant germination.
Tell me about no-till and whether it's essential to permaculture...
No till, allows soil to remain undisturbed which preserves the microbiology that lives in multiple layers, each stratum houses a different set of beneficial microbes, disturbing the layers can kill these necessary beneficial microbes, effectively killing the soil. No till strives to preserve these layers so the new seeds, planted by the farmer can do well without any additions of chemical inputs, no fertilizer (which kills beneficial microbes) needed. Seed drills plant the seed at the correct depth, with out having to use fuel to till the soil. Root crops can be grown no till once the soil has returned to the "natural" state which is layers of microbes which help the plant roots take up the nutrients needed for healthy growth.
How do I grow root crops without disturbing the soil?
Roots function to loosen soils, if you use seed drills, leave the surface undisturbed except for the drill functioning, you have allowed the soil to remain a living multi-organism, which will be beneficial to the crop planted by the seed drill.
If I convert my farm to permaculture do I have to stop growing annual crops?
Not at all, annual crops will work well in the permaculture methodology, perhaps even better than in the monoculture used today by the "modern farmer".
How much more labor is permaculture going to require?
It actually uses less labor over a given period of time.
Is the ideal permaculture farm a food forest? Or a savannah? YES Or does that depend on climate and soils? Permaculture is not about changing environment it is about working within the environment. Thus, each site will be different.
How are permaculture and biodynamic similar or different?
Permaculture is not about creating "additives as formulas" the way biodynamics promotes. Permaculture takes the things that nature rots and simply puts them where we want them to rot so we gather the most benefit from that rotting.
Does permaculture advocate not using agricultural chemicals? Or other poisons? How about naturally derived poisons like pyrethrins, garlic, tobacco, or hot peppers.
Does a traditional garden kitchen have a place in a permaculture farm?
Yes, there would not be any real difference.
There are sure a lot of forums at permies.com devoted to building houses... Is that part of permaculture?
From the view point of "you have to live somewhere" yes.
Same observation applies to energy... How does energy use patterns fit into permaculture?
the idea is: proper use of energy results in greatest gain for least expenditure. It could be seen as "the biggest bang for your buck" ideology.
How are sustainability, self-reliance, and permaculture related? How are they different?
This is an inter-relationship, if you practice permaculture you will be practicing sustainability and some self-reliance by the fact that you are practicing permaculture.



I suppose that there is plenty of room for divergent viewpoints on these topics, but this seems like a good list to get a discussion started...

In my culture (Native American) it is considered right and proper to live within nature, to be a steward of all living things. We see rocks, water, air, fire, plants, animals, spirits, all are living things and as such should be used with care and thoughtfulness. It is folly to believe that all things are here for your benefit, even if it should turn out that way, it should be looked at not as a right but as a privilege. If you kill a tree, you should thank that tree for giving its life so you can live more comfortably. Ideally you would have already asked it forgiveness for having to take its life. It seems to me that permaculture is also trying to get people to think the way we do about all life.
 
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