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The Ultimate Guide to Natural Farming and Sustainable Living: Permaculture for Beginners

The Ultimate Guide to Natural Farming and Sustainable Living: Permaculture for Beginners

by Nicole Faires


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A beautiful, comprehensive guide to going green and living sustainably.

Permaculture is an important but often misunderstood method of growing food and building homes in a manner that works with nature, rather than against it, to create beautiful, healthy, and useful gardens. Blending ecology, organic agriculture, green home design, appropriate technology, and biology can be confusing and overwhelming, but The Ultimate Guide to Natural Farming and Sustainable Living simplifies this vast field for practical application. This is a hands-on guide, taking the beginner through each step of the design process, so that anyone can apply permaculture principles to his or her life. While the principles are simple, the in-depth topics cover every aspect of permaculture, including:

• building green homes and passive solar design
• growing edible plant communities and forest gardens
• using no-till and natural farming methods
• creating microclimates for extended growing seasons
• raising livestock with ecological foraging techniques

This is a common-sense approach to sustainable living that creates a self-sufficient and low-effort home for the people that live there, whether in the city or the country. The Ultimate Guide to Natural Farming and Sustainable Living isn’t a philosophy book or a dissertation on theory. It is a step-by-step, complete guide to every aspect of permaculture.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781634502818
Publisher: Skyhorse
Publication date: 01/19/2016
Series: Ultimate Guides
Pages: 344
Sales rank: 305,118
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Nicole Faires is an adventurer, self-proclaimed eccentric, wife, and mother of three girls. She grew up in a semi-nomadic homeschooling family and spent her early years in rural Montana on a hobby farm where she raised chickens, grew her own food, learned to crochet, read out-of-print books by Masanobu Fukuoka, and dreamed of the Amish. She now lives in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia.

Read an Excerpt


What is Permaculture?

Though the problems that face the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.

~ Bill Mollison


People should think things out fresh and not just accept conventional terms and the conventional way of doing things.

~ Buckminster Fuller

In 1974, young people around the world were asking questions about the way we lived. Hippies, back-to-the-land movements, and communes cropped up all over the world. In Australia, a young David Holmgren was in his final year at the University of Tasmania, and he happened to meet Bill Mollison, a lecturer with a similar interest in ecology and human systems. Inspired by discussions with Bill and experiences in the garden and field sites around Tasmania, David wrote a treatise on how he thought the world should work. It contained the seeds of a groundbreaking design system that managed to combine ecology, human communities, and agriculture into one cohesive whole. The manuscript became part of his graduate thesis, but even more importantly, Bill encouraged David to publish his ideas. The thesis became the book Permaculture One, which was released in 1978. The book Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture by Russell Smith (1924) inspired the word Mollison and Holmgren coined, permaculture, but it came to mean much more than just permanent agriculture.

Bill Mollison became highly involved in permaculture when the book grew very popular. He eloquently described their philosophy: "[Permaculture] is the harmonious integration of the landscape, people and appropriate technologies, providing food, shelter, energy and other material and nonmaterial needs in a sustainable way."

Today definitions of permaculture differ. It has been described as a way of life. A culture. A philosophy. At its very core, permaculture is a way of designing all human systems so that they integrate harmoniously with ecology. It grew to include community systems, cultural ideologies, business, art, ... every facet of human life. What had originally started out as permanent agriculture ended up meaning permanent culture because the idea encompassed much more than just agriculture.

David Holmgren defined permaculture as "consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationship found in nature, while yielding the abundance of food, fiber and energy for provision of local needs."

One great permaculture teacher, Toby Hemenway, described it even more simply: "Turn every liability into an asset."

After Permaculture One was published, Mollison was asked to speak at various educational institutions about he and Holmgren's revolutionary ideas, and he jumped on the opportunity. To his great disappointment, he quickly realized he was only invited to these bastions of learning in order to debate and tear apart permaculture, and he became disillusioned by the university system. In response, he founded the Permaculture Research Institute and an experimental farm in Australia to practice and teach the principles of permaculture. As the movement grew, he designed a course that offered certification. This course has been so popular and mimicked in so many ways that Mollison at one time tried to trademark the word permaculture without success, although he did finally succeed in copyrighting the word for educational use. If people want to earn a Permaculture Design Certificate, then they must take the PDC course from someone else who has one.

There was a time when the organization maintained a teacher registry, but that is no longer the case. Mollison and Holmgren disagreed on the best way for permaculture education to continue. Mollison wanted to retain complete control of the curriculum and keep it scientific, while Holmgren wanted to allow free reign and the inclusion of religion. In the end, both scenarios played out. Curriculum is controlled, but the delivery of the courses is completely up to the individual, and the community has done what it wants. This makes it sometimes difficult to find an experienced and knowledgeable permaculture teacher, but as Mollison wrote in his book Travels in Dreams (1996): "Finally, with hundreds of itinerant teachers turning up anywhere, the system is beyond restraint. Safe at last, and in geometric growth rate — we have won! Permaculture is permanently ungovernable."


The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

~ Albert Einstein

Sustainability Has Been Lost

Most of the continents of the world now support many more people than they did a thousand years ago. There was a time in man's history not so very long ago when there were only enough people for the land to support. People ate what grew in their own region and no more than that. For example, the North American continent only supported about one million native people, while today there are more than 300 million people living in the same area. When fossil fuels were finally tapped at the beginning of the industrial revolution, an intense population explosion occurred, followed by an even more extreme advancement in technology. Food could come from warm places thousands of miles away and supply fruits and vegetables to hungry people during the winter. Mechanical devices used in farming increased production dramatically. Children survived longer and grew up to have more time to research medical technology, which extended people's lives even further.

Many people will argue about the ethics of having more children, but that is not the issue here. The population is high, but it is still not intolerable or impossible to sustain. The real problem is the manner in which industrialized nations live. All of these people take resources from the land, through farming, mining, forestry, oilfields, and dams, and they change these elements into something usable, by consuming massive amounts of energy. Then, after people use them, the waste is released into the air, thrown in the water, or buried in the land. A bottle of shampoo is made of plastics and chemicals which were mined and grown (using energy and making waste), refined in factories (using even more energy and creating even more waste), then used to wash our hair (where the chemicals are released into our water supply), and the bottle is most often thrown into a landfill (to which it is transported by a big truck using more fuel and making more smog). Even the so-called "botanical" shampoos didn't come from the renewable fruits of the land but are made using an exhaustible supply of fossil fuels.

There is only so much energy potential available on the earth. It is a static number that will never increase or decrease, unless some amazing principle is discovered which magically changes that law. For now, we are stuck with the amount of energy we have. Much of that energy is locked up underground in the form of oil or other materials, and much of it has already been used. It is particularly troubling that most of the people in the world don't use any energy to speak of. The rest of us use it as if it will last forever: inefficiently and wastefully. On top of this we have little care for the environment. This has become a dirty word in many circles, but the environment is simply a place where humans live. All other animals care for their own habitat, because polluting it carelessly can make them sick or even kill them. Humans have shortsightedly already done this, and have thus created a variety of problems, including:

• Climate change. Dramatic changes in temperature and weather, resulting in human deaths, damage to human homes, and destruction of crops. • Soil degradation. Loss of soil fertility and of precious topsoil due to development and erosion.

• Resource depletion. Running out of resources on which humans depend, like oil or fish.

• Breakdown of human groups. Families and communities losing cohesion and support.

• Increase in addictive behaviors. Cell phones, television, food, shopping, and games replacing relationships and meaningful endeavors.

• Economic and political upheaval. Recession, depression, wars, and oppression.

• National and household debt. Governments and people buying more and more on credit until nothing is worth anything.

In an effort to fix these problems, society has turned to technology, rather than going to the root cause of the issues. We try to fix symptoms rather than considering the events taking place when the resources were gathered and changed in the first place. We use technology to reduce smog, or we build better power plants, not even thinking that this building process itself uses even more energy — energy that simply doesn't exist in sufficient amounts. We're buying energy on credit by using nonrenewable fuels.

People also want to believe that being more conscientious about their environment will change everything.

"If I just ride my bike to work more ..."
"If I install a water saving shower head ..."
"But I use fluorescent lights ..."

The idea that technology or being "good" will save humanity from our problems is a fantasy.

The solution ...

People in most developed countries are stuck in their high-energy systems, but most of us can agree on some level that this approach is just not working. Whether it is the energy used in our food production, our power sources, or even our political system or economy, the energy we put into it is not sustainable. There are only two outcomes to this scenario. Either everything will continue in its own mediocre way on a gradual downhill slope until it eventually fails, or it will cause a sudden and complete collapse of society. Based on what has been happening in the last decade, mediocrity sounds just as frightening as social collapse.

There is only one clear course of action. When something doesn't work, it's time to try something new. The real solution is a low-energy system. Permaculture makes it possible for humans to switch gracefully to a low-energy system without discomfort. Humans in so-called "civilized" countries could actually make do with 40% less energy without having to sacrifice much. Currently, all of our needs are met by energy that came from somewhere else. Our food comes from faraway farms that get their fuel and nutrients from even farther away places, the things we use, the cars we drive — everything comes from far away. A sustainable society is localized. All of the energy used must come from under our own feet.


Ethics is nothing other than reverence for life.

~ Albert Schweitzer

Permaculture Ethics

An ethic is like a code of honor, but more specific. Ethics guide our behaviors and are the vehicles by which our destiny manifests itself. There are three ethics of permaculture, and they are fairly simple: Care for the Earth: All things, living or non-living, have intrinsic worth.

Care for people: Humanity is cared for through self-reliance and community responsibility.

Give away the surplus: The surplus must be shared to fulfill the other two ethics.

In the current system, everything is used once or twice and then thrown away into the water and air, never to be seen again. This is sometimes called a linear system because everything makes a straight line from the source to the landfill. Sustainable systems, by contrast, are circular. The used items go back to their source, where they can go through the natural recycling process of the earth and be used again, using very little energy. The same is true of permaculture ethics. When each resource or living creature is valued rather than exploited or destroyed, and people care for themselves as well as their community, an excess of resources is the natural result — and the surplus can then be used to care for the earth and people again.

Principles of Permaculture

Every design system has principles guiding it. For example, in typography, there are a variety of rules that guide the typographer towards good design. A typographer must make the letters appealing to look at, and yet also easy to read. Not only that, but the style of the letters must fit with the overall feel of the document presented and be appropriate to the audience. Permaculture may be a very creative and imaginative method of design and work with some highly variable pieces, but it still follows some basic principles. Different permaculture groups may phrase these principles differently, but the meaning is the same. Most will include twelve principles or more, but I have combined some of these together for simplicity.

1. Every thing is connected to and supported by everything else.

2. Every thing, or element, should serve many functions. Students of design usually learn to make things look nice and be functional at the same time, but permaculture focuses on function alone.

3. Functional design is sustainable and provides a useful product or surplus. If it doesn't, it creates pollution and work. Pollution is an overabundance of a resource, or something that is simply not used. Work results when one element doesn't help another element.

4. Permaculture maximizes the useful energy in any system (or, put another way, decreases the waste of energy).

5. Successful design serves the needs of people and provides many useful connections between elements, or diversity.

6. If there is pollution, then the system goes into chaos.

7. Societies, systems, and human lives are wasted in disorder and opposition. To stop this vicious cycle, we only use what we can return to the soil and build harmony (cooperation) into the functional organization of a system.

To fulfill these basic principles, permaculture draws from many old and new ways of doing things, many of them considered "fringe." Organic agriculture, alternative building methods, passive solar design, renewable energy, people-powered vehicles, home education, alternative medicine, homebirth, WWOOFing, ethical and socially conscious business, consensus and nonviolent communication, forest gardens, and seed sharing are only a few of the activities that already exist to provide solutions for each of these principles. While many aren't considered "normal" now, most of them were the only way to do things not too long ago, and could be again.


To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.

~ Theodore Roosevelt, 1907

Sustainable Land Goals

When you set out to design a system for a plot of land, the task may seem a bit overwhelming. Sustainability can be a daunting goal, but we can approach it from a logical step-by-step process. The first step is setting achievable goals:

1. The system should become self-sustaining and productive in the long term. This means that every creature that lives on the land also gets all of its food and personal demands from that land.

2. About a third of the land should be used for growing food for humans, and the rest should be for animal living space and animal fodder (food).

3. The land should produce more than one needs. The extra can be sold or given away.

4. A single person can reasonably manage less than 25 acres (10 ha). More than that is too much work, and in fact, the smaller the piece of land area that is needed and used, the better.

5. The area should be able to provide a full income to the workers that live there. This does not necessarily mean food production — it just means there should be no commute to work.

6. Any processing of farm products (like cheese or bread), should be done on site.

7. The beauty of the design should come as a benefit of its functionality.

8. Some areas of the land should remain wild and preserved in their natural beauty.

9. Use low-energy, simple technology.

10. Soil fertility and water quality are your number one concern through every activity that takes place on the land. Those are what keeps you alive.

11. Native species should be used whenever possible. The second option is exotic (foreign) species that have been proven to have little impact on your local ecosystem.

12. Use local materials for building projects.

13. Systems should require low maintenance and very little work, and they should take into consideration the culture, society, economy, and legal rights of the people.

How can success be measured?

For the land to be considered sustainable, it needs to produce at least as much or more than it consumes. Rather than measuring success in terms of the pounds of food the land can put out, it is much better to measure the energy that is available in the system and the intangible benefits that are reaped.

1. Water storage should take up 10–20% of the land and should result in greater animal and plant production. Adequate water also creates habitats for ducks (which have their own benefits) and microclimatic changes which ripple out to benefit other elements.

2. Production increases when irrigation is steady and the soil is healthy. Roots can then penetrate deeper and get essential nutrients.

3. Using gravity fed water saves energy, and the setup can be used to recycle water. Electricity usage is a measurable energy (and money) expense, and the less you use it to pump water, the better.


Excerpted from "Ultimate Guide to Natural Farming and Sustainable Living"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Nicole Faires.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Part 1 What is Permaculture? 1

A Brief History of Permaculture 3

Permaculture Ethics and Principles 5

Values of Permaculture 8

Sustainability 9

Getting Started 11

The Zones 19

Climate and Microclimates 27

Putting It All Together 34

Natural Cycles 38

Part 2 Energy 41

PassiveEnergy 43

Photovoltaics 47

Hydro 49

Wind 51

Part 3 Water 55

Water Sources 57

Swales 58

Diversion 59

Tanks 61

Dam 63

Ponds 65

Irrigation 71

Water Purification 73

Part 4 Homes and Shelter 75

House Design 77

Building Materials 84

Building with Dirt 88

Other Dirt Building Methods 91

Sustainable Living Habits 93

Compost 94

Graywater 99

Low-Energy Refrigeration 101

Part 5 Gardens 103

Soil 105

Mimicking Forests 111

Parting the Plants Together 115

Design 135

Growing 137

Part 6 Cooking and Preserving 143

Low-Energy Cooking 145

Preserving Wholes Foods 148

Freezing 151

Drying 151

No-Energy Storage 156

Fermentation 158

Sugar 163

Part 7 The Zones 167

Zone 1 Design 169

Rabbits 174

Pigeons and Quarl 177

Bees 178

Zone 2 Orchard 184

Ducks 190

Chickens 192

Geese 198

Pigs 200

Goats 203

Sheep 210

Cattle 212

Zone 3 Barn 217

Grain 219

Cash Crops 227

Zone 4 Pasture Management 231

Woodlot 234

Zone 5 The Wilds 236

Part 8 Community 237

Like-Minded People 239

Village Design 243

Business 243

Community Resources 247

Part 9 Plants 251

Alphabetical Plant Guide 253

Soil-Improving Plants 301

Other Uses 305

Bibliography 309

Index 315

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