In the Bookshed: Two on Permaculture


Permaculture is the harmonious integration of the landscape, people and appropriate technologies, providing food, shelter, energy and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.”  Bill Mollison

I first heard the term permaculture about thirteen years ago, out of the mouth of my friend Emily on Vancouver Island. Being an urban dweller (then and now), permaculture seemed to be an unrealistic concept, based on everyone having a 25 acre piece of land on which to sustain themselves in perfect balance with nature. But since then I’ve learned a lot more about it, and that permaculture techniques need not be limited to raw land or raising rabbits even if the ultimate goal is a self-sustaining off-the-grid existence.

Two books have recently made their way onto my shelf which are at different ends of the permaculture spectrum: The Ultimate Guide to Permaculture (The Ultimate Guides) and  The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture: Creating an Edible Ecosystem.

The Ultimate Guide to Permaculture (The Ultimate Guides) by Nicole Faires (Skyhorse Publishing, 2012) is exactly what it promises to be – an ultimate guide. Starting with a chapter on what permaculture is and hot to define it, the book moves quickly through sections detailing energy, water, homes/shelter, gardens, cooking, and community through the permaculture philosophy. Faires is not wordy as she works through the various topics, making for an excellent overview of the considerations one would have if setting up a total permaculture lifestyle. The photographs in the book help to inspire the text, providing quick snapshot illustrations of the principles covered in the packed chapters. Most useful to me as an urban-dweller with a garden are the sections on gardening (which includes an excellent companion-planting table) and the building of community across diversity.

If you have an interest in the over-arching philosophy and practices that underpin permaculture, this is a great introduction – with a lot of practical and no-nonsense “how too”. Faires really does do a great job of cutting away her prose to deliver just the information that you want in an “ultimate guide” type of book – so it takes up little room on the shelf while delivering a lot of info.

The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture: Creating an Edible Ecosystem by Christopher Shen w/ Julie Thompson (Timber Press, 2013) is a much more focused guide to applying permaculture techniques to your vegetable garden – no matter where that garden happens to be. This is not a book about the shangri-la of permaculture paradise, but one that hones into the concepts and techniques one might employ in the pursuit of a little more sustainability in their backyard, community garden or urban plot. Sections in the book include discussions about food forests and poly culture, how to design  a permaculture garden (whether on a balcony or large urban lot – Shen includes plans for five different layouts), understanding input and outputs, building the soil, choosing crops and teaching abundance. Photographs and illustrations throughout the book illustrate techniques being employed in diverse environments, mostly backyards and urban spaces – which I really appreciate (being on a small urban lot). This type of book goes a long way to helping me incorporate certain permaculture practices bit-by-bit without feeling like it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. As the new gardening season starts taking shape in my imagination — this is a book I will definitely be turning to as I think about what new techniques I want to try and whether there’s an approach in one part of the backyard that will work alongside some of what I’m already doing. As always, I’m game for anything that helps the garden to be more water-friendly, higher-yielding, and more manageable – in an environmentally-friendly way.

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