I've been learning about permaculture primarily through reading for about 5 years or so and would like to somehow pursue a career/livelihood doing permaculture design. As a kid, the first thing I wanted to be was a biologist or scientist of some kind, however, I was also artistically inclined and as I became disillusioned with the education system I didn't have the confidence to pursue a scientific career and took the easy way out (for me) and studied graphic design. I had kids young at about 21 and dropped out of college to raise them. Since then I've just been trying to make a living. At this time I run a fairly successful design agency in NY and work from home in NJ. I have 4 kids and with kids come lots of expenses and responsibility, making a career change daunting. If I were starting all over I might go to school for some kind of ecology-based science degree, but at this point there's no way that I can start at the bottom of the ladder in a new field. However, permaculture brings together so much of what interests me and what I love.
I have very little practical experience with permaculture and few resources of time and money to do training courses. I am, however, a self-learner and I've read quite a few permaculture books including Edible Forest Gardens (Vol 2), among others. I recently bought a home on about 2.5 acres and would like to transform it into a permaculture garden and food forest. As a designer, I intuitively connect with and understand much of the permaculture principles and feel that I could rapidly develop with them when putting them into practice. Where I feel I fall short is in an understanding of the multitude of different plant choices and interactions. I have very little knowledge of the different kinds of plants that are at the permaculture designer's disposal, having grown up both in urban Brooklyn and suburban New Jersey. It is overwhelming for me when I look at my site plan and draw blank after blank as to what species with which to fill niches as well as looking at the many plant tables in Edible Forest Gardens and trying to figure out what would be best suited for my application. As such I've been gripped by analysis paralysis for months.
My gut tells me that I need to somehow gain a more intimate experience with a foundation of suitable permaculture plants as well as a system of understanding plants and their uses in general. I don't know if this would be through a horticultural education, plant biology or otherwise. I know I have plenty to learn and should not underestimate permaculture design principles themselves, however, I feel like I'm missing a more basic foundation to put them into practice.
My plan (I know, "if you want to make God laugh...") is to continue my permaculture education, primarily in terms of learning about useful plants, and use my property as an experimentation site to put my learning into practice, while also doing some traveling to visit other permaculturalists and take some courses over the next couple years. I may sell my business in that timeframe and use the money to hold me over 'til I can establish a very small permaculture consulting firm or gain a position with one, in addition to doing freelance graphic design work. Ideally, I could help permaculture designers to lay out their plans using the graphic design software I already know.
My question is, what do you feel would be the best next steps for me to take? Should I study horticulture, plant identification (how?) or something else? How should I begin putting this into practice?
For a bit more context about my progress on my site plan you can see this post. https://permies.com/t/63611/happy
Please be frank about your advice and don't feel like you need to answer just these specific questions I've posed. I really appreciate it, thanks!
John Natoli wrote:My gut tells me that I need to somehow gain a more intimate experience with a foundation of suitable permaculture plants as well as a system of understanding plants and their uses in general.
Right now, if you can use your graphic design skills as a door to connect up with new and experienced Permaculturists around your area, I think this would give you a wealth of knowledge - even more importantly would be confidence: "They have ___ and ____ together just like that book said". Another benefit is they will likely give you several plants to add to your acreage for helping them.
And because of what you said in your other topic:
In my previous home I had a vegetable garden and raised some backyard chickens. That's the extend of my experience. However I've done quite a bit of reading on permaculture, intensive agriculture, soil biology, botany, etc. I'm also committed to building a lifestyle that is not at odds with the environment.
I'm inclined to say you are putting the cart before the horse. I can't imagine the 80 year old woman who owned the land before you did permaculture-type things, so the soil is likely not anywhere near ideal which means your idea about planting long-term trees might not be a wise move. You say you have read about soil biology, so building up your soil should be the first step before you start to consider "guilds'.
John Natoli wrote: It is overwhelming for me when I look at my site plan and draw blank after blank as to what species with which to fill niches as well as looking at the many plant tables in Edible Forest Gardens and trying to figure out what would be best suited for my application. As such I've been gripped by analysis paralysis for months.
I hear you, as over-analysis has been a factor which only made my procrastination in my earlier years out of school worse. I've shaken a lot of that bad habit off by adding time-limits to all my decisions. It's far better to start a sub-optimal project than none at all and Nature is very flexible. I think you need your hands in the dirt more so than a head in the books at this point - you have more knowledge than experience, so start putting it to use!
Here is a graph that I reference once in awhile when I'm really struggling with a project. I was going to use the word "hesitation" for your scenario, but anxiety seems to be close enough. So I'll stick with my first reply and say that you need to start to use all the knowledge you've gained in order to build some permaculture skills on your own.
If this helps any, I've literally lost 1000's of plants since I started gardening, which means 100's of hours aswell, from either sloppy mistakes or trying something beyond the scope of a beginner. Ex. trying to growing Quinoa from 2012-2015. There is just no way around not making mistakes though no matter how much time you take to plan things out. There's that saying that's something like "What's the difference between a novice and an expert? An expert has made far more mistakes than a novice."
So as a summary: more soil building, more referencing and less in-depth reading, and more getting out in your yard. I would forget any major tree guilding for now, but if you want to do some kind of guilds, build up some flowers+garden vegetables guilds. You also mentioned that not very much of your yearly produce is from your own garden, so I'd personally make that more of a priority. Managing a 0.5 acre garden to it's fullest potential will give you good experience of what it will be like to manage perennials+trees on a large scale later on.
Best of luck!
p.s Not to contradict my reply, but have you read Permaculture: A Designers Manual?
Edit: I was at the end of my lunch-break when I wrote this, so I hope it's coherent. My mind was trying to piece together both of your topics, if that helps make the message clearer. It was essentially that you have enough knowledge at this point that the most practical way to gain experience is by applying what you've learned on to your own land.