Permaculture is a way of farming or gardening, where diversity is the driver to improve the soils and create sustainable symbioses, where pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are unnecessary. In many ways it is a step back to the pre-industrialized agriculture that dominated worldwide until the introduction of the tractor.
Sepp Holtzer is a remarkable farmer in Landau, Austria, who has created a lush fruit & vegetable farm in a most untypical environment, at 1000m altitude. In this book he describes his way of working, observing and experimenting with every element of the habitat – ponds, stones, mushrooms, plants and various livestock species. He describes using raised beds for creating suitable micro-climates for vegetable production and how to utilize pigs and earthworms to aeriate and enrich the soil.
In many ways he has simplifed the work in the vegetable garden, by utilizing natural processes. No digging to prepare the land, but a layer of mulch or hay. Many of the plants he uses are perennial, which means that the plant will grow on next year without any human intervention.
Holzer shares his experiences with such a positive energy, that I get all inspired to plant sunflowers and beans, and to get non-hybrid seeds. He also shares his experiences with failed experiments, which is a consolation already for the inevitable failures and misses.
Holtzer describes it as if it is easy.
I think that the most important difference with his neighbour’s monoculture of spruce is that Holtzer is farming with knowledge. It requires much more knowledge and observation to work with a hundred different plants, compared with working only with one tree type.
Knowledge and understanding of Nature is the way of the future.
Another excellent book by food-loving health-garden-journalist Michael Pollan.
“What shall we have for dinner tonight?” is the key question that is asked in this book, and partially answered. At least we know more where the dinner alternatives come from, and can make better informed choices about what we put on the plate.
Pollan writes in a very personal style about his explorations of the American food industry and how the produce is produced; grain-fed beef, organic lettuce, permaculture and corn, corn, corn… It seems like whole US is a giant standing in a quicksand of corn grains.
One of the most intriguing parts of the book describe a “permaculture” farm, where grass is the main species – on which cows, chicken and sheep graze to produce manure for the grass and plenty of meat for us. By rotating crops and cattle in a dance over the lands, the soil gets richer from the use, not poorer. It is a very compelling idea, quite different from the vast monocultures of highly specialized mechanization, like wheat fields stretching to the horizon. The goal of permaculture is to enrich the soil, not extract the nutrients as if the field is a flat surface mine.
I recognize that the Chinese family farm was very similar to what now is called a “permaculture design”, with fruit trees prividing shadow and water retention and a host of species growing and roaming below. And it has proved sustainable, at least for five thousand years.
I got very inspired to grow some more vegetables and fruit myself, even considering an animal extension of the family, albeit an edible one. We will see how much of the inspiration lasts after reading more about the permaculture alternatives and compressing the dreams into the limited timeslots of a challenging work-home-life-balance equilibrium.