Sepp Holzer's Permaculture is an innovating book that unravels the author's effective systems of farming. In this book, Holzer shows the styles of farming that he uses for his successful 100 acres farm in the Austrian Alps. The book covers the permaculture methods he uses for farming at high altitudes, how to grow varieties of food for a whole year cropping system, creating ponds, terraces and waterways, developing microclimates and much more.
To start off, I would like to point out the importance Sepp places on observation. He calls it 'reading from the book of nature'. I think this book needs to be read and the strategies there in implemented with the understanding that you will diligently observe your own local system. Like any good permaculture book, this book doesn't want you to just copy exactly what is being done and apply it to your particular situation. Read and understand the ideas in terms of your locale.
Sepp begins the book by talking about his early childhood experiences of gardening in a small rocky, good-for-nothing corner his mom let him do what ever he wanted in. Through observation and trying all sorts of things he had great successes. He then goes on to talk of his past mistakes. His most grievous mistake was going to agriculture school and changing his way of observational farming to the way the 'experts' said it should be done. Doing things the way he was told turned out to really suck and he eventually went back to doing things the way he had started as a child, which turned out to be amazing.
When reading this book I found I had to pay attention to each sentence. This book is jam packed full of excellent information and Sepp doesn't beat around the bush with his writing style. Each sentence has something of value. I find some books use a lot of words to make points and you get lazy reading all those words to get the eventual point. Not with this book. Pay attention to what is written, the next sentence might be a golden bit of info that will change the way you think.
The first chapter is all about landscape design. He talks about soil types and plant indicator species to identify what is happening in the soil. He goes on to talk about his use of terraces, ponds and raised beds. His raised beds are hugelkulturs, but the translation came out as raised bed I guess. I would have liked some more pictures of his hugelkulturs in this section. He has one picture and it's from a distance showing the beds under snow... The other images pertaining to his raised beds are artistic representations. He talks about his method of pond sealing without a liner and his use of stones in the shallows to warm the water.
For the next chapter Sepp talks about alternative agriculture. He begins with explaining his use of green manure plants to build up soil fertility. He broadcasts a seed mixture, lets the plants grow as they will and doesn't cut them in the fall, allowing the snow to take them down. He talks about growing cereal crops, the importance of old varieties of plants and plant diversity. Lots of good info in this section. All about low maintenance, high diversity planting.
Next is a bit on livestock integration. He talks a lot about his pigs, different hardy breeds and how they are his primary workers on his farm. He raises them in a paddock shift system where they self harvest all of their own food from his diverse mixture of plants, while at the same time tilling up the soil, spreading seed and adding their manure where it is needed. He then goes on to talk about raising cattle and chickens as well. Animals are an essential element to a Holzer permaculture system. Not just for what they produce, but also for the work they do. I fully agree here. I really enjoyed this section, but would have liked a little more detail on the paddock shift system, but I think this detail is left out for the purpose of 'reading the local book of nature'.
The next part deals with fruittrees and mushroom cultivation. So much good stuff in this chapter. He talks on his pruning and not pruning techniques, grafting, and starting trees from seed. He emphasizes old hardy varieties as well as diversity again. Keys to a system with less maintenance and less problems. He has a nice list of mushroom growing techniques that require very little work and maintenance. Lots of nice pictures to help understand.
All in all this book is excellent. The small scale part of the title is somewhat misleading in that he is working on 100+ acres and some of what he talks about wouldn't work on a scale below 5 - 10 acres. I really enjoy the rich information that is presented in this book. I think this book begs to be read over more than once to better understand all that Sepp has to say. Like I said, it seems like each sentence has something really important in it and it wouldn't take much to miss out on some very good information. I really enjoy the Holzer approach to permaculture, but it could be that this approach isn't for everyone. If you are going to be reading some permaculture books, I do highly recommend checking this one out. A lot of the stuff in this book is not found presented in this way in other books. Sepp Holzer truly works with nature and knows his stuff.
Sepp Holzer, the eruptive Sepp! this book changes the perception one has of permaculture taking it all to a new level. It's not so much for what Sepp shares, and there is really great stuff, but it's about the fact Sepp is an innovator in permaculture and he actually didn't even know it.
Let say that Sepp is an outsider in the movement. He started designing with observation as a selftaught permaculturer. He actually didn't know he was doing permaculture until he was told so some years ago, thats why toady some people describe his work as Holzer permaculture.
Some in the movement are a bit warm towards Sepp because he is viewed maybe as being to much heretical towards the classic standards. But permaculture has to be shaken by innovators like him. He's on the scenes from some years now, but for every new permaculturer the encounter with his work is strong. As many of the new authors one has the possibility to see even many videos of Sepp Holzer and he is an exceptional talker.
This is his first book and it starts as a recollection of notes, family memoires, childhood experiences on his parents farm which then became his: the Krameterhof. In the first part of the book he describes how he has worked on his farm, and the way he has had the best results observing natures rules, and following its path. Then it gets always more interesting when he pases on to explain his views in design.
His starting points in design are: soil characteristics, indicator plants, etc., then water harvesting, and the landscape observation.
Sepp is a big advocate of landscape reshaping even with big machinery if necessary. But as he puts it, it's better to use once even a big excavator, once and for good, then have to resolve every now and then some problems due to bad landscaping, or abolutely no landscaping. One has to have a clear view of what needs to be done and do it.
Sepp Holzer in the book then passes on to alternative agriculture, intergrating it with animals, and into specific sections of the book he writes about orchards, fungiculture and vegetable gardens. Of course then there is a very interesting section, well known here on permies thats on hugelbeds.
the author is very passionate about the need for farmers to be independent from public subsidy, and be owners of their future and living, and the only way for him is to rethink the way we produce food. The book is interesting even for those that have farms for a living, Sepp is very clear on the fact that farmers have to earn a living, and he gives insight on this.
The book is inspirational, gives a lot of practical information, even on plant species, its a must for any reader that wants to read a book that makes your hands fidgety from the will to get to it!
A great look into the way that Sepp managed to transform the Kramaterhof from a 'desert of pine trees' into a beautiful productive oasis.
This is the world according to Sepp, however, so there's a little bit of an opinionated feel to the book for me. I do feel like some of the ideas/techniques could have been talked about a little more in depth and had other options mentioned more.
That being said I would still recommend this book to anyone interested in Permaculture or living more naturally.
"Instead of Pay It Forward I prefer Plant It Forward" ~Howard Story / "God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools." ~John Muir
Along with the PDM, this was my first permaculture reference material purchased. I enjoyed Sepp's stories of his childhood and how he tied them together into introductions of his farming techniques. Like Newby mentioned some more specifics would have been nice in certain areas, but I understand why he wouldn't want to lay all of his cards on the table. My big take away from Sepp is... WATER! Water is life, water is power, water, water, water!
This is an awesome introduction into what one man can accomplish through careful observation along with the willingness to learn from his mistakes. A great read!!!
This book makes me so happy- what a perfect way to introduce ‘garden enthusiasts’ directly to permaculture. What he explains, so directly and simply- makes so much sense. Although the book is mainly about the Krameterhof in Austria, he provides examples of his methods working in different climates and situations. Sepp has an infectious way of thinking reasonably that can be applied to any plot of land. I am impressed by the rational explanations, and by the good humor and sincere, friendly way he teaches. It is informative and inspiring and... heart warming.
You can never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. -R Buckminster Fuller
It's my favourite Permaculture book; concise yet full of information.
The best thing about this is the way Sepp writes; he doesn't mince his words or suffer fools gladly but also doesnt veer into ranting territory.
From the very beginning when talking about his childhood he explains the importance of observation and experimentation and he seems to back up every assertion and bit of advice with reasoning based on his own experience and lessons learnt. For me this is very important in a Permaculture book; you need to show how conclusions are made.
The illustrations and diagrams are superb; they explain his concepts well and you get a feel for the entire design of the krameterhof farm - recycling of nutrients, inputs/outputs, the mainframe design etc.
The bits on animals have some great ideas and recomendations for breeds.
My understanding is that Holzer Permaculture developed seperately to Mollison Permaculture and he doesnt (if I recall correctly) use the same phrases that other authors do such as "stacking" but you will see plenty of stacking in his designs.
My favourite bit of knowledge that I gleamed was how he uses glades and ponds on south facing terraces to moderate the temperature and create micro climates, as well as sticking big rocks in pools to raise the temperature. Mulch ditches also seem like something I will try on my plot that has drainage issues.
First to keep things positive I will discuss the pros of this book.
The first is that you can clearly see Sepp is a man who knows what he is talking about and has spent a lifetime refining his methods. Some of these methods might not transfer over to your project, but chances are some of them will and those methods may only be detailed in this book. That alone would make this book worth picking up, but of course there is the second reason to consider.
The second pro to this book is when coupled with One Straw Revolution and the Permaculture Design Manual you get three texts all from people who at around the same time all started independently working on sustainable agriculture as opposed to the toxic big ag' that was being pushed on people. All three of these people's systems instead of being "pie in the sky" are still talked about today and they are universally considered successful even though their three individual climates and areas are quite different. Sepp discusses his transition from sustainable, to unsustainable and then back to sustainable, discussing what in his experience works from one group and what works from the other group.
The "con" to this book and what disappointed me greatly was the discussion centered almost entirely around incredibly large scale systems that generally can only be done with heavy machinery. Terracing hundreds and hundreds of feet is a great idea if you have hundreds of acres and access to a tractor, but a lot of us don't so the instructions inside might be more harm than good. I understand it is a book on how Sepp does things at his place, but a little more on more small scale options would have been very much appreciated.
All in all it was a great book and worth the purchase, but I would not say it would be worth it for everyone to purchase. I recommend borrowing a friend's copy or finding it at a library first and giving it a once over before committing to purchasing it.
I give this book 9 out of 10 acorns. A great read, although I will never try out most of his methods as my environment and scale are entirely different from his. But I learned a lot of practical suggestions, and was inspired by the overall approach.
Works at a residential alternative high school in the Himalayas SECMOL.org . "Back home" is Cape Cod, E Coast USA.