The Farmers' Handbook is a freepermaculture eBook created by Chris Evans (UK) and Jakob Jespersen (Denmark), who have spent considerable time in Nepal, helping to develop locally appropriate methods and technologies that can help the people of Nepal live better lives, and sustainably so.
Although the information is specifically tailored for Himalayan conditions, almost everyone will find some useful ideas and information in this comprehensive work. The whole handbook is 50 chapters in 5 volumes – a total of 792 pages, including 170 pages of colour photos and illustrations.
Volume One of The Farmers' Handbook concentrates on permaculture 'Zone 0' - the closest zone to human habitation, inside our homes. It covers key permaculture aspects of diet and nutrition, food hygiene (crucial to the tropical environments for which the eBook was first written), how to make a more efficient stove and how to build a haybox cooker in order to cook food in a more energy-efficient way.
Volume Two of The Farmers' Handbook covers the crucial permaculture zones 1 and 2 - those closest to the house, where permaculture cycles really come into play. This free eBook volume covers how to reuse waste water, dealing with sweeping, building a pit latrine, making compost, mulching and double digging in the garden, seed saving, Integrated Pest Management, using liquid manure safely, as well as keeping bees and livestock. It also includes a fascinating description of how to build a non-cement-based water system.
Volume Three of The Farmers' Handbook continues to focus on permaculture zones 1 and 2 - those closest to the house - but concentrates more on plant growing and seed raising, with chapters on the Kitchen Garden, productive polycultures, information on how to grow onions out of season, raising herbs, building hot beds, and the essentials of growing fruit, including grafting and budding.
Volume Four of The Farmers' Handbook looks at permaculture zones 3 and 4 - sometimes known as the field zones. The eBook looks at sowing and growing green manures (crucial for ongoing fertility), no-till agriculture, agroforesty, integrating orchards into your fields, how to plant fruit tress, as well as layering and fencing techniques. It finishes with a crucial chapter on the much-discussed System of Rice Intensification.
Volume Five of The Farmers' Handbook covers issues across all the permaculture zones, including forestry, soil management, A-frame construction, managing community funds, permaculture design techniques and more.
These books are fantastic. These books really are handbooks. They supply the reader with an amazing amount of practical ideas on how to grow food more efficiently, healthfully, sustainably, and easily.
These books were written for farmers in the Himalayans. As such, not all the planting ideas will pertain to your given area, but there are still very many useful ideas. And by useful, I mean useful. These are ideas for people who need to grow food to survive, not just to augment their lives. They’re ideas for people who don’t have much/any money to buy fertilizers, amendments, tools, etc…. The ideas are also explained very well, with pictures, descriptions and explanations. These are books that are excellent for someone who wants a practical foundation in permaculture, and will likely have some great ideas for those more experienced.
Each volume correlates with permaculture zones. I will give a short summary of the handbook, and mention some of the ideas I found interesting and useful in the handbooks, by volume:
Volume One: Inside the House (Zone Zero). It covers basic nutrition, sanitation, building and using an improved stove, and creating a haybox. The instructions for the improved stove and haybox are very straight-forward and easy to understand—and able to be created on site with just clay, straw, stones and a bowl used to make a mold.
Volume Two: Near the House, Part One (Zones One and Two). Covers everything from digging a pit latrine (to later plant a fruit tree in) to double digging, liquid manure, beekeeping and waste water usage. One very interesting idea they had was to put all sweepings (from inside and the patio) into something akin to a compost pile, called a sweeping pit, which one can use to create compost or grow potatoes in. I’ve always just dumped my dirt and dust from the floor into the garbage, but it makes perfect sense to put that amount of debris that adds up over time into a specific place. This volume also gives great instructions for using mulch—what to use, how deep to apply it, how to plant seeds in it, etc. Very useful for someone like me that always hears about how great mulch is…only to wonder how, exactly, I’m supposed to do it!
Volume Three: Near the Home, Part Two (Zones One and Two). This book covers a ton of very useful practices, from air nurseries to hot beds, to leaf pots, to grafting and budding. It also covers some more climate specific growing ideas, such as off-season onion growing. I found the manure section fascinating—especially their utilization of ash mixed with cow manure, as well as how to make and use green manures. One interesting thing that stood out to me is how you can apply these manures with a simple broom—dipping it in and shaking it over the plants. Free and effective, and it had never occurred to me. The chapters on air nurseries and leaf pots are also great, with excellent descriptions and explainations.
Volume Four: The Fields (Zones Three and Four). This book covers no-till farming, green manures, agroforestry, living fences, growing bamboo from cuttings and top grafting. I loved the chapter on Air Layering. As someone who is scared of messing up a grafting, air layering is described as an easy and quick way to grow a new tree—just shave off an inch of bark all the way around a branch, wrap it in moss and cover securely in plastic. In 2-3 months, you have a rooted tree…for the cost of some plastic! I’ll be trying this on my mom’s fruit trees come late winter!
Volume 5: Forest, Soil, & Other Topics (All Zones). This covers a lot of community organization techniques, as well as the importance of soil preservation and the use of mulch and terracing, as well as how to build an A-frame and the basics of permaculture.
Volumes two-four are definitely my favorites. I have learned a lot from them, and they contain a lot of information I can use. Volumes one and five are also very useful, but far more site specific. So, even while not all of these books’ content was useful to me, I find the handbooks to be very well organized, easy to understand, and full of useful information for their intended audience—and for those of us who are NOT their intended audience!
If there was one thing I would improve in these books, it would be instructions on how to make all those nifty bamboo fences, cages and structures. This is probably common knowledge for the handbooks’ intended audience, but I would really love to learn how to build these things from my own resources!
I would love to see a review/critique from someone with more permaculture knowledge and experience, but as a relative newbee who might not know any better, these books are gold… as in 10 golden acorns!