• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education skip experiences global resources cider press projects digital market permies.com private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Anne Miller
  • Nicole Alderman
  • r ranson
  • Pearl Sutton
  • Mike Haasl
  • paul wheaton
  • Joylynn Hardesty
  • Dave Burton
  • Joseph Lofthouse
master gardeners:
  • jordan barton
  • Greg Martin
  • Carla Burke
  • Ash Jackson
  • Kate Downham
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Listen Online

Get all of the podcasts in convenient, giant zip files
Subscribe on iTunes


Credit: Summary prepared by Julia Winter

In this podcast, Paul discusses the Geoff Lawton DVD "Introduction to Permaculture Design." He starts with the impressions of Bella, an 8 yr old who watched with interest and really liked the demonstration of how water moves through a landscape. Geoff made a model swale and showed what happened when water was added. He also hears from Erica Strauss, who has a blog nwedible.com that is mostly about growing edibles in Seattle but also about other sustainable activities like air drying clothes, cooking and healthy living in general. She offers the perspective of someone who is not highly schooled in permaculture. Paul says this DVD doesn't do much for him, since he's already pretty knowledgeable on the topic of permaculture. Erica thought that the target audience for this DVD must be people who already have some knowledge about permaculture. Geoff was hard to follow when he waxed theoretical/philosophical and some of the terms used (edge, guilds, patterns of design, design theory, stacking functions, ethics, polyculture), were unfamiliar to her. Jocelyn points out that the water demo was the most concrete and thus the most clear part of the video (although there were a lot of great visuals).

Erica notes that the idea of a landscape that doesn't require as much time and effort from the gardener is really appealing--this is a large part of the appeal of permaculture for her. However, the video disappointed in a lack of much concrete detail about how to accomplish this. Paul noted that this is an 80 minute introductory DVD that was originally followed by a 72 hour "stack of DVDs" for a complete at-home permaculture design course. Erica agrees that after watching this, she wants to hear more, but she's not sure if watching this would make her want to "sign up" for another 72 hours.

Jocelyn notes that Geoff defines "sustainable" as "producing more than it consumes" and states that this can only occur at edges. He's trying to get people to think about getting away from lots of inputs to the land. Later, sustainable is defined as a situation where the soil is increasing in fertility over time.

Paul says that some of Geoff Lawton's videos are "the best I've ever seen," but this one, well, it's not in that category. Paul thinks Geoff's Food Forest DVD is the best one he's seen. Erica points out that beginners are really looking for techniques that will yield some results: "they really want to taste success." They're probably not interested in hearing about how you should have a hundred hours of observation for every hour of action. You hook the beginner by allowing them to achieve success.

Paul notes that what appeals to masses of people often doesn't appeal to him and references a talk at a permaculture convergence that did nothing for him, but everybody else seemed to love. Thus, other people may very well love this DVD. Paul is nonplussed by all the discussions of "ethics" in permaculture. He says he's never seen anything that he considers to be permaculture that is also unethical. Erica points out that permaculture sometimes comes across as a worldview/life philosophy/cult/religion rather than a way to grow more food. Paul notes that Sepp Holzer has never taken a PDC, he doesn't discuss ethics and he doesn't talk about zone 1, zone 2, etc. Erica remembers that the zone discussion was her favorite part of the video. Paul noted that the zone discussion seemed pretty "rural" in focus.

Erica could see that Geoff was able to strategize the interactions of plants years in advance and despaired of ever becoming that savvy. Paul pointed out that all you really need to do is get a good seed mix and let nature figure that part out for you. He compares permaculture to cooking and bemoans the lack of "cookbooks" or "recipes" for permaculture. He notes that such a thing would need to be highly localized in order to work well.

Everybody liked the story of amaranth/pigweed: Geoff noticed that pigweed was volunteering in a spot, and subsequently planted a domesticated version (giant, purple) of amaranth and it thrived. Paul heard Sepp say that where ferns grow is a good spot for potatoes and sunchokes.

Paul expressed concern about galvanized metal used for a raised bed, and Jocelyn pointed out that Paul doesn't like multiple things that other permaculture "bigs" use, like cardboard, newspaper and treated lumber. Erica noted that an "organic matter swale" in the video was pretty darn close to a trash heap (mostly palm fronds, but also furniture, carboard boxes and old clothes) and probably more messy than most beginners would be interested in having near their home. This digresses into a discussion of trash management and recycling electronics, and then into a discussion of living with less impact, sharing functions/skills with others, and other topics.

Paul likes aquaculture, and Geoff talks about how much food aquaculture can produce in this video. Geoff talks about "biogeography" which was new for everybody as a term, and quite interesting to Paul. Paul liked when he called zone 4 "farm forestry."


Information on how to get the DVD can be found here

Relevant Links

Podcast 234 – Review of Introduction to Permaculture Design DVD

Permaculture Research Institute of Australia Website
Northwest Edible Life
Introduction to Permaculture Design DVD

Support the Empire

Help support the empire and get all of the podcasts in bundles here

To support production of these podcasts, make a donation here at Paul's Patreon page.

Posts: 2
Location: Montreal
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I truly enjoy your sites and videos and this was an interesting review to listen to. I think there is a difference between and introduction to permaculture, where most subjects are touched upon but not necessarily deepened, and a "Permaculture for dummies" type of video, like the books, where all the words are defined and explained with lots of details on everything and tips. I think it's more about the target audience like one of your guest reviewer mentioned.

I also did a similar listening activity for this video with people of different knowledge levels and many of them did not understand the edge principle or some other bit of the video. That's perfect for me because it creates an opportunity to talk about it, all together. I explained how I understood it, others did the same and we gave examples. They then were able to find example in their own lifes and understand the concepts within their own reality. It's a wonderful process to not know and then understand how this knowledge fit in our life and try to apply it. A video, just like a book, has only a part of the information. We need to integrate it with our own sources and experiences.

I do think that patterns are interesting to understand natural systems since nature works in patterns. They exist because it's the most efficient way to do things, found trough nearly 4 billion years of research and development: evolution is awesome. If we want to go with the flow of nature, patterns are a good way to get down to it. It's not as much about putting patterns in your design as in understand the patterns you are dealing with on a specific site and patterning you elements in the most efficient and productive way. An herb spiral is a good idea, not because it's a spiral but because your are able to grow more in a small space and create specific habitats for precise plants in this same small space. It also facilitates harvest and is beautiful.

For me, if I listen to a video or a teacher and that everything is evident, I have no fun. They need to challenge my understanding of things and make me feel like I need to go deeper in the stuff they are talking about. I love to listen to it again and again to get every drops of the knowledge shared. I'm primarily french speaking and some words I did not understand in this DVD, I simply paused the video and looked it up, like with Biogeography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biogeography These were opportunities to me, not a problem.

There is also a difference between Holzer's Permaculture and Mollison's Permaculture. Sepp Holzer is a great and intelligent guy who has done a lot of observation and experimentation, and came up with much valuable knowledge on his site. I really enjoyed his books and videos and got a lot out of them. I tried many of his techniques but noticed a lot of things he did not work where I tried it... Building huglkultur beds in sandy soil versus clay soil did not give the same results. Clay stops the water from even getting to the wood and cracks when it's really dry. I'd love your knowledge on that specific situation.

Bill and Geoff are ruff ass mainframe designers as they say. They are about patterning knowledge. Once you understand it, you can apply it anywhere, in any climate and in any situation. A good example is swales. They work anywhere as long as you understand the design imperatives about the type of soil, the slope, the contour, ... That's what design is about to me and that's also why so many people are getting it and teaching Mollison's Permaculture. It's not about recipes, tough he has plenty of those to offer if you ask him, but about observing, understanding, connecting, analyzing and about conscious design adapted to the specification of the site. That's what the 50 hours of thinking for 1 hour of efficient work is about: design. And good design leads to 1 hour of thinking for 1 hour of work.

Like Toby Hemenway says, if you say your couples relationship is sustainable, you are in bad shape. What I aim for is regenerative design. Still working on all the ways to get there but the path is the goal and I enjoy it tremendously! The first thing I teach about permaculture is that it's not a gardening method, it's a design science. You can definitely do mulched raised bed without it being permaculture and this is fine. It's a good technique in certain situations, but not all. But to me, there is no permaculture without conscious system design.

A well designed site is like a comfortable overall, it fits the sites specifics with space to grow and evolve. Keep up the great work, I really loved your huglkulture video!

Posts: 53
Location: N. Sac. Valley
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Island "biogeography" (if I recall a college lesson correctly) is the fairly straightforward theory that the closest and largest island will have more species from the mainland than the smaller islands farther from the mainland. I haven't seen this DVD but I can imagine "biogeography" being a useful framework for predicting how plants and animals might naturally arrange themselves on a farm or in a food forest. Lots of texture on the land will create various "islands" of micro-habitats that favor certain plants and critters. The craft, then, is to figure out how to align your efforts with the natural progression to get good yields while preserving the land's ability to give good future yields.
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I am so glad that I found this podcast. I was looking for DVD's on permaculture design I almost shelled out the 300 something dollars for geoff lawtons DVD course. I have heard you several times on the survival podcast but I did not know you had a podcast of your own. I google permaculture podcast and found you today.I am brand new to all of this!!! what DVD is the most user friendly for people that know nothing about gardening I grew some sunflower seeds for a class project in like second grade.but that is the extent of my gardening in my life. I just bought 3 and a half acres in Oklahoma that is very wooded and very sandy. I would like to turn this whole 3 and a half acres into a food forest with chickens and small livestock what DVD's would you recommend? by the way I am about to send 100 dollars for your rocket stove DVD.
Posts: 3666
Location: Kingston, Canada (USDA zone 5a)
purity dog forest garden fungi trees tiny house chicken food preservation woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Chance, I own the DVD Establishing a Food Forest by Geoff Lawton and I think it is awesome. However, it is not really a basic gardening DVD and the plants described in it are tropical and subtropical.

You might have better luck with books. I own Gaias Garden by Toby Hemenway and I think it is a really good intro to Permaculture. However, for basic gardening, I know Paul recommends Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.
Chance Wooldridge
Posts: 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'm not much of a book person. I am the visual learner. if the permaculture Institute website would not have had an error yesterday when I tried to run my card I would be the proud owner of the 12 or 14 DVD set. I started looking around more today and came across this podcast what other DVD's are out thereto help an individual design a permaculture and food for system that does not want to be an instructor because I want to do it for personal use I don't want to learn to be an instructor like 1 guy said permaculture in food for us for dummies lol...
Posts: 433
Location: Clemson, SC ("new" Zone 8a)
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Just want to throw out there that I loved this podcast! One of the best yet, and I have listened to every one since #1. Just the right combination of interaction, dialogue, lecture, agreement, polite disagreement (or perhaps I should say varying viewpoints thrown together constructively), a few specific knowledge "bricks," discussion of background context, and more. And not too long nor too brief. Erica is well-spoken; please find an opportunity to interview her again! She has some good ideas, a slightly different perspective (that of a non-permie or a newbie permie), and the ability to articulate them cohesively and succinctly.

I've watched this video, and I like it, but I agree with the group consensus in this podcast that it is a bit deficient if one expects a "permaculture for dummies" how-to experience. BTW, excellent description there, Wen! Your post was very thoughtful and well-written, so be sure to contribute here on Permies.com more often : ) Personally, I would have loved to see a more how-to approach, and I think it is reasonable from the title "Introduction to Permaculture Design" to have expected something along those lines, but that is clearly not what this video was designed for. Jocelyn read it right off of the DVD boxtop: this is an 80-minute commercial for the full PDC series. Oh well, still worth 80 minutes I think.

One last thing to point out: I thought this podcast was unusually full of what I will call "real world context" coming from different people at different points in the conversation. And I loved it! Most refreshing! To explain what I mean... even as much as I love Permies.com and I treasure it as the single most concentrated source of useful "bricks" I've yet discovered anywhere, I sometimes feel that the discussions in the forums and on the podcasts can get a little bit academic. Perhaps that's not the right word, but I am trying to avoid using the term "lofty."

To use Paul's Ecoscale to illustrate my point, I find a lot of the information being talked about concerns how to aim for ecolevel 9 or 10. By definition, that is 99th percentile information, whereas the overwhelming majority of us need to concern ourselves with more rough-hewn solutions for lower-ecolevel problems. For example, I am probably living at ecolevel 2 or 3, and am struggling to get my mini-homestead up and running so that I can land my lifestyle squarely in ecolevel 6, let's say. This will still make me 20 times more sustainable/lower impact than my neighbors' wildest fantasies. Once I'm there, then maybe I will worry about climbing up to ecolevel 7, etc. So I find these 99th percentile discussions less-than-applicable. What's more, I worry that readers and listeners even less knowledgeable than myself will misconstrue the information if its not presented with proper context.

Not to say that I don't find the 99th percentile discussions, as I am calling them, totally interesting and educational; I do. And not to even suggest that they are inappropriate or should be discouraged; far from it!

But I absolutely loved it at several points during this podcast when various people, including Paul, made comments along the lines of "okay, so we've laid out how things might look in an ideal future scenario, but let's now step back and look at the situation from the perspective of what the average permaculture newbie can get done today using the resources they are likely to have on hand. Mulching with cardboard, for instance, is not ideal because it might add 1 part-per-billion extra toxicity to the soil. We've laid that out. Now the real world context: it is still an easy and effective technique for suburbanites to actually get some permaculture started and, by doing so, improve their environment and their lifestyles 1000% over the status quo."

I liked that! To me, that adds context to the information that allows every listener to develop a perspective by which to view it relative to their situation, their values, and what ecolevel their aiming for.

I know I didn't explain myself very articulately here. I will try to post more when I have more time.

Great job Paul, Jocelyn, Erica, and especially Bella!
Posts: 5976
Location: United States
transportation forest garden tiny house books urban greening the desert
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
On the reverse of what Erica Strauss mentioned about being confused on whether permaculture is a set of ethics and philosophies or something piratically useful, from an insider looking out perspective, I do have a little trouble understanding where the "cult" view on permaculture comes from.
Why am I so drawn to cherry pie? I can't seem to stop. Save me tiny ad!
    Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic