Reviewed By Vicki Lipski in the Transition Voice, July 26,
Lipski lives, writes, and attempts to garden permaculturally
in Loveland, Ohio. She writes about climate change, and
the transitions it will require, at www.writeaboutwarming.blogspot.com
of her writing can be found at
Bane’s handbook, while not quite encyclopedic, is
nothing if not authoritative. I can honestly say, without
fear of exaggeration, that I hold my head a little higher
as I stride about my miniscule fiefdom, now that I’ve
read The Permaculture Handbook: Garden Farming for Town
The stones Bane leaves unturned are few and far between.
Once you’ve digested the author’s ruminations
on mapping, patterns, and garden elements, perennials, water,
soil, plants, crops, seeds, and animal husbandry, not to
mention his lists of plants and the jobs to which they are
best suited, there’s little chance you’ll walk
Bane’s treatment of these various aspects of garden
farming (his preferred term) is methodical and complete.
It was a relief and a delight to find that he allows both
his sense of humor and political sensibilities to creep
in from time to time.
He never forgets, however, that his purpose in writing is
to distill over thirty years’ experience in the science
and the art of permaculture. There is much to be learned.
The complete novice may, in fact, find the author’s
thoroughness a bit blinding. In this case, a piecemeal approach
could well be the best one.
Bane himself advises the reader to start small, and good
advice it is. As you proceed to branch out beyond the basics,
the book’s tidbits of information and advice will
take on more and more relevance.
Pass the salt
For instance, did you know that if your fruit isn’t
sweet, or your vegetables are the object of an insect infestation,
it’s probably because your soil suffers from a mineral
deficiency? Your soil is in need of amending (most everybody’s
is, to one degree or another).
It has been my contention, almost from the day we moved
to the Cincinnati area, that the foods here are extremely
bland. Now I understand why! The soil here is just awful
– a tan, clumpy clay that is utterly devoid of worms
and organic matter, and therefore completely unable to hold
onto water. If it’s possible to be deficient in everything,
then this soil is. For folks in these parts, permaculture
could literally spice up their lives. Good soil is the beginning
of good eating.
Here’s some more great advice that, by itself, is
worth the purchase price of the book. On page 88, we learn
… keep all soil growing some crop at all times …Seed
or transplant the next crop as soon as or, better, before
the maturing one is harvested.
This book is packed with wisdom gleaned from decades of
working the soil. Assuming I get my sonic mole repeller
in time (they’re tunneling me out of house and home),
the winter squash will go in and around my thriving tomato
plants. If I can lay my hands on some more cabbage seeds,
they’ll go in at the same time (the first planting
was a washout).
With a cluck, cluck here…
The animal husbandry
section offers a cornucopia of down-to-earth knowledge and
I’ve long harbored the desire to raise chickens, but
here – as elsewhere – we belong to a homeowners’
association, so I’ve been frustrated yet again.
For those among you lucky enough to be able to own livestock,
take a close look at chapter 14, “Animals for the
Garden Farm.” Interestingly, there are three animals
which Bane believes the garden farmer should steer clear
of: horses (not worth the upkeep), sheep (prone to parasites,
need lots of land), and donkeys (need land).
He also takes on the ethical conundrum of raising animals
for meat, as well as the importance of their breeding.
There is a lovely, lengthy section on beekeeping. Yet I
believe this section includes a rare, important oversight;
that is the failure to discuss Colony Collapse Disorder.
This is just too important a problem to ignore. I hope it
will be covered in the inevitable second edition.
The Permaculture Handbook is liberally adorned with black
and white drawings and photographs. As can sometimes be
the case with garden and farming pictures, the subjects
of photos are occasionally difficult to determine. This
problem is further exacerbated by the fact that permaculturists
(I include myself) do not necessarily pride themselves on
a tidy garden farm. Everything tends to be a “work
in progress,” and it shows. Such concerns notwithstanding,
the color photos are particularly well done; the numbered
captions are easily understood. The photos appear to have
been carefully selected, and truly do add a needed dimension
that bolsters the book’s authoritativeness.
If they can, you can!
case studies include an up-to-the minute analysis of his
own Renaissance Farm, in Bloomington, Indiana (also home
to the magazine The Permaulture Activist). His year-by-year
history of the progress he and partner Keith Johnson have
made in turning their .7 acre into a working farm makes
for genuinely interesting reading. As Bane describes the
endlessly cyclical nature of what they do, "Self-reliance
and food storage are both increasing. Soils are improving.
The growing season is now year-round."
Would that we could all say the same.
are described, as well: Jerome’s Organics, of Basalt,
Colorado; Old 99 Farm, in Dundas, Ontario; and Radical Roots
Farm, of Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Jerome’s is far and away the oldest of the four farms
described, established in 1982. It’s also different
in that its primary mission is educational, both insofar
as garden design is concerned, and with regard to producing
successful yields. Jerome Osentowski welcomes students and
visitors to his demonstration garden and educational programs
The other two garden farms were much more recently established.
In the case of Old 99 Farm, operator Ian Graham sells winter
vegetables, eggs, dairy and cow-shares. Radical Roots operators
Dave O’Neill and wife Lee Sturgis offer annual vegetables,
nursery plants, and eggs. Dave teaches permaculture design,
and consults. Lee and Dave hire paid interns, affording
a valuable opportunity to up-and-coming garden farmers.
I’ll leave you with a parting thought of my own –
this book deserves to be a part of your gardening library
– and one of Peter Bane’s:
"The essential work of Permaculture activism
is to understand and see abundance in the world around us,
often before others do, and then to help others to see it
also, to bring it into being."
Sounds exactly right.
–Vicki Lipski, Transition Voice Magazine