Permaculture Online

Frequently Asked Questions

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Alt.permaculture FAQ Version 1.0 Beta

0. Nettiquette for the group and what is on and off topic for the group

Anything remotely to do with permaculture is on topic. Keep in mind the definition below in section 2 if you want to post to the group. New posters can post a short biography, or landography of what their permaculture activity consists of.
Flame wars are not on topic for the group which is meant for healthy discussion. You are likely to be fingered for net abuse if you persist with flaming in the group or posting off topic material such as commercial advertisements.
Binaries are not accepted in the group. The group's homepage has a facility for uploading binary files. You can either use this, or use your own website. The URL is:
Finally concerning nettiquette, sometimes a thread will start and people will get side-tracked. Whilst some threads "degenerate" into irrelevant banter, other times, you may want to reply to a post in a way that you know is going to change the subject under discussion. In this instance, you are encouraged to alter the subject line of the thread so that people do not skip your post having lost interest in the thread you posted to.

1. What are the origins of permaculture?

The word "permaculture" was coined in 1978 by Bill Mollison, an Australian ecologist, and one of his students, David Holmgren. It is a contraction of "permanent agriculture" or "permanent culture."

2. What is permaculture?

(shamelessly lifted from Permaculture FAQ , contributed to by many over a period of five years or so and edited and published on the ATTRA website by Steve Diver, ATTRA information specialist.

From a Bay Area Permaculture Group brochure, published in West Coast Permaculture News & Gossip and Sustainable Living Newsletter (Fall 1995):
Permaculture is a practical concept which can be applied in the city, on the farm, and in the wilderness. Its principles empower people to establish highly productive environments providing for food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs, including economic. Carefully observing natural patterns characteristic of a particular site, the permaculture designer gradually discerns optimal methods for integrating water catchment, human shelter, and energy systems with tree crops, edible and useful perennial plants, domestic and wild animals and aquaculture.

3. Can I do it, in my city garden/balcony/small space etc?

Yes, here is an example of small space permaculture. The watchword is efficient use of your energy and that of the environment around you.
From: Mongolian Horde
Subject: Foot Long Worms & Noxious Avocados
I note some cynicism regarding my comments about the avocado weeds and foot long worms in my old Edinburgh garden, so here is a little explanation. The ground floor flat used to be a part of a snooker table factory, and the two ground floor flats inherited the use of the yard to themselves- this is unusual in Edinburgh where shared back greens are the norm.
We moved in with the intention of converting this gravel filled space of 40 meters square into something more resembling a jungle. A note about the location: The garden was surrounded by two three story buildings to the east and the west, and a single story building to the south. To the north was brick wall painted white. There was also a wooden fence separating our garden from next door - this was painted white after plants started growing in front of it. Anyhow, in the beginning, we swept all the gravel up in a pile, and to our horror, found that under the gravel was mostly concrete with some brick. So, we started to break through the concrete and loosen the bricks and hardpan underneath.
The next problem was soil. Because of the sheltered nature of the garden, wind wasn't an issue, so beds got made with raw food scraps mulched with leaf mould. Due to the availability of wholesale vegetable vendors nearby, our avocado consumption was significant, and many avocado seeds were 'composted'. We planted a rowan tree up the back in the gravel pile, mixed in with liberal quantities of cat shit, which the tree didn't seem to mind. Next to the tree, we placed a bin scavenged from a nearby pub, and diverted the run off from the roof to the south into this bin. When the bin overflowed, the water ran downhill under the raspberry patch made of sawn off palettes (scavenged) and leaf mould which got a water, and from there into the shade garden in front of the flat where it drained to the ground. This was a very elegant self watering system. On the other side, of this on the South facing wall, we put sun loving plants. At the end of the winter, when the groundcover was not so total, birds would raid this for worms. The whole garden except for the self watering patch required a fair amount of watering in its first year, but in the second year, no watering was required. Temperatures in the sun exceeded 35 Celsius, but the garden receives no direct sun from late October to March due to the nearby buildings. The fact that the garden is surrounded by buildings means that there is a great deal of passive heat source, and so the temperature in the garden never drops below zero degrees, and can be considered frost free. Hence the high germination of avocados. The avocados lost leaves through the winter, but survived. A couple got transplanted into house plants. The other weed we had to deal with was potatoes from before I started blasting potato clippings in the microwave prior to composting them. I reckon that the frost free nature of the garden also encouraged the worms to grow fast and hard in what would be pretty much optimum growing conditions in those far northern latitudes.

4. Can I make a living from permaculture?

The answer to this question is not if you want to be as wealthy as Rupert Murdoch. Here is a sample response to a thread of the same title as above.
Subject: Can I make a living from permaculture?
Author: mud
Mongolian Horde wrote in message
>Can I make a living from permaculture?
>How much land would I need to do so?
The big Permaculture Design Manual has a good section with suggestions for pc-related enterprises. If you're thinking of earning from food-growing, I think you'd need a lot of people nearby who'd be happy to buy what happens to be in season, and would put up with less than the sparkling visual quality of supermarket food. imho you'd be better off finding one aspect of a pc set-up which can be developed into the main cash crop, and, better still, make your living from something well-paying which allows you to work from home. In our case, we started with a wet piece of land and a background in building work (me) and farming & growing (Heather), so we took a long look at many possibilities before settling on reed bed design and building. This allows us to be our own boss, work from home when and if we feel like it, use our land to grow what it wants to grow (wetland plants). We were growing veg for a country market, but you'd need to be very intense to make much money from it - we're far more relaxed now that our garden feeds only ourselves.
It strikes me that one of the best cash-producing products for a pc project is honey - your bees will farm other people's land, you have a high value and wonderful product which is easily stored and transported.
I also think you have to look at 'earning-potential' from the other end. Start by minimising what money you need - I'd rather have 1 acre of land that was my own than 100 acres with a mortgage hanging over it.
Borrowed money is the whip that keeps everyone in line. If you can learn to live with less, your enterprise is much more likely to succeed. We've tried it both ways - in England we had a good dual income, 2 cars and the microwave, and we've also experienced being on the dole. With no rent/mortgage, our own electricity and heating fuel, 90% of our food and no car, we were seriously richer on the dole :-)

5. How to grow food using natural agricultural techniques

It depends on the yield you require how much work you're going to put into your produce. As a rule, the more attention you pay to the way you cultivate, the better the payoff, but remember: sometimes less is more.

5a. What's the difference between permaculture and organic farming?

This section is under construction. The main difference is that an organic farmer will likely be interested in maximum yield. A permaculturist will not necessarily see this as the number one priority.

6. Why is soil important?

Because soil should be considered a non-renewable resource. It's what plants grow in, and the quality of the soil will have great bearing on the ultimate yield that your piece of land generates. Soil does not have to be dug to be cultivated - many people garden with some success using no dig systems which although they take longer to establish than dug gardens require much less physical labour than digging. Here is a list of advantages and disadvantages between dug and non-dug gardens. Of course, it is possible to start a garden bed by digging and then convert to a non-dug system. From: John Wheeler
Topic: Re: Double Digging
What are the advantages and disadvantages of double digging?
- Rapid improvement of heavy [or otherwise difficult] soil
- No off-site material required [off site material may not be required in a non-dug system also]
- Limits area disturbed
- Provides exercise to the gardener
- Very labor intensive
- Easily compacted if walked on
- May disturb roots of trees nearby
- Difficult over large areas
- Destroys existing soil structure, mycelia, etc.
- Extra oxygen speeds loss of organic matter

6a. Who are my friends that live in the soil?

Pretty much all of them. There are soil based pests, but good management should mean that they have limited impact. Not treating them with pesticides or herbicides should in most cases promote the establishment of predators which will deal with the problem should it flare up at any time.
In the case of highly invasive weeds such as couch grass or some species of buttercup, extreme vigilance and removal will cure the problem with time, or the planting of barrier plants with thick root mats like bamboo should limit their spread into areas that you have already cleared. Some plants like thistle, whilst difficult to remove, are very deep rooted and will bring up important nutrients like phosphate from the subsoil which will improve your soil and promote more microbial activity.
As far as pests go, they're only pests if you haven't found a use for them yet.

7. What is this biodiversity thing and how does it relate to permaculture?

See the above. The more species of plants, animals and microorganisms that you have around, the more likely something in the ecology will pop up and deal with any problems that may arise.

12. What are some good books about permaculture?


13. Are there any permaculture organisations and publications?


14. Home energy generation

This is a big topic. The best thing to say is that passive systems are the way to go.

15. Waste management

a. Waste water
b. Solid effluent
c. Junk
There are many, many things that can be done with apparent junk. Use your imagination, and look up deja's archive of alt.permaculture for past posts on this matter.

16. Other web resources

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