Book Notes: The Permaculture Handbook :: Case Study B

Here are my highly personal notes on the second of four case studies, Case Study B: Jerome’s Organics, Basalt, Colorado, in Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012). Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter linked here.


“Like some alpine flowers, Jerome has developed and refined a tiny but persistent niche in this mountain community.” — Peter Bane 

Case Study B is of an 8-acre property — only 1/2 acre of which is actively gardened and productive — at 7,200 feet elevation on a western slope of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, down the valley from Aspen. USDA zone 4a trending to 5b, with 17 inches precipitation annually (mostly snowfall) and 300 days of sunshine per year. Ecosystem: “A full suite of wildlife: mountain lion, bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, turkey, black bear and smaller creatures range through an extremely vertical landscape dissected by steep ravines.”

It’s an organic farm established in 1982, selling salad greens, edible flowers, herbs, figs (the figs have borne fruit — from August through October — for 20 years in a greenhouse), and nursery stock. “Virtually, everything productive about the site has come from Jerome’s persistence and ingenuity.” Cloches, greenhouses, fences, and waste products from the town (leaves, food) were used to get things growing in poor soil, in a difficult climate (frequent frosts, a long winter), and among hungry wild critters.

rabbits (raised for food), greenhouses with plants, worms, a hammock, a sauna, papayas …

Bane goes into some detail about Jerome’s greenhouses — if you’re thinking of using them to extend your season, even to grow year-round, you’ll want to read this section, which begins, “Greenhouses gave Jerome an early economic advantage, enabling him to raise crops that couldn’t otherwise be grown for a thousand miles around.” He can grow banana, chayote vines, pomegranates, papayas, citrus, agaves, and aloes. He’s got subtropical, desert, and Mediterranean fruit guilds in the greenhouses, which he also uses as a subtropical living room during the cold winters. If you’re really inspired or motivated, check out The Forest Garden Greenhouse: How to Design and Manage an Indoor Permaculture Oasis by Jerome Osentowski (Chelsea Green, Oct. 2015).

Nitrogen-fixing trees and shrubs, which Jerome coppices regularly for mulch, are plentiful on the property, as well as mature fruit trees (apples, apricots, cherries, grapes, pears, and plums) and walnut trees.


He also established the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute (CRMPI), which runs a CSA-farm school to train young people as farmers. Local high schools and middle schools have forest gardens, and Basalt High School has a climate-battery grow-dome. The CRMPI produced a DVD, Natural Controls for Noxious Weeds.

a pond on the property – water is an issue in this climate, and Jerome has four sources


Book Notes: The Permaculture Handbook :: Chapter Ten

Here are my highly personal notes on Chapter Ten: Water From Another Time in Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012). Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter linked here.


“Aquaculture is of growing importance worldwide to supplement static or declining supplies of wild-caught fish. This trend will only accelerate. The small farm would do well to develop some aquatic systems for yield. Some easy crops to grow on a small scale include water chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis) and watercress (Nasturtium officinale). A small kiddy pool of four-foot diameter is sufficient for a small crop, which can be fertilized periodically with a little urine. Yields of water chestnut can reach 0.4 lb per square foot. It can
also be grown in combination with channel catfish, the health and yield of which it seems to improve” 
— Peter Bane 

An eighth of an acre of garden (5,500 square feet) needs 3,000 gallons of water per week in the growing season.

friend’s irrigation system in evening sun, Aug. 2013


We need to have two or more good sources of water and the ability to conserve and reuse it: “Water we fail to collect and water we use and release all returns to soil and streams. To drought-proof our landscapes we must develop the soil as a water storage by building up its carbon content.” But water in soil isn’t available for things like drinking, washing, fire control, etc; for that, we need fluid water in tanks and ponds.

Well water that needs to be pumped is the least resilient of all water sources, because it depends on electricity; it’s “only our access to cheap fossil fuels [that] enables us to pump huge volumes of water today (roughly half of U.S. cities are supplied from wells), but agriculture dependent on deep wells is a doomed proposition.” Water tables are falling, ground water is polluted (Bane mentions fracking here).

friend’s rain barrel with overflow hose (July 2012)

Rainwater catchment should be the primary source of water except maybe for large properties in the arid West. Catch, concentrate, filter, store securely, release. Don’t drink the water from galvanised roofs, or roofs with galvanized nails, though (they have zinc, which can be toxic when concentrated). Best roofs for drinking water are metal, clay or concrete tile, wooden shakes, or sod. Grit from asphalt roofs can be filtered. Need 20 feet or more between roof and large tree canopies if you’re collecting roofwater (to keep waste materials from insects, small mammals, and birds from landing in it). Divert the first few gallons of rain away, because it’s debris-laden (it’s just cleaned the roof); you can buy a first-flush diverter or make one. Bane discusses at some length the materials and designs of water tanks from rain barrels to large storage tanks.

one of our rain barrels (April 2014)

Store it high. Release it clean. Match quality to purpose. Slow the flow (with swales, dams, etc) and follow the wave.

Water’s function in a landscape: Hydrate soil; generate energy; pond for microclimate buffer; recreational pool/pond; livestock water; human water; irrigate crops; aquaculture; wildlife habitat.

waterfall in friends’ large pond, Aug. 2016

Calculating runoff (p. 163): 5/8 roof area (in square feet) x depth of rain (in inches) = gallons of runoff.

The water cascade [Several of these seem like they’re saying the same thing in different words?]:
Discarded tap water: Water lost when getting a shower hot can be used to all washing purposes. If it has soap in it, it can be used for handwashing, bathroom cleaning, laundry, toilet flushing.
Bathwater: Warm and a little sudsy, can be used for hand cleaning clothes or prewashing clothes (“just throw them in the bathtub before you get out, stomp around a little, and rinse later”).
Laundry water: There’s lots of it, with some soap, soil, and trace amounts of body wastes. Use it to water trees, fruit crops, lawns, ornamentals.
Dishwater: Use for spot watering of gardens, flushing toilets.
Shower Water: Put a bucket under the tap while the shower is warming up. Use it for flushing the toilet or cleaning the shower.
Greywater: Water from sinks, showers, dishwashers, laundry. Most of it can be used on the landscape. “Greywater should not be exposed to human contact more than 12 hours after initial use.”

inside a composting toilet (Steve Whitman’s, Plymouth, NH, Sept. 2014)

There’s a section on wastewater treatment and filtering, another on using water economically.

Aquaculture: Rice-fish-duck polyculture. Water chestnuts, water cress. p. 173. Suggestions for improving pond yield. p. 174-75. Plus a list of about 25 aquatic species (fish) for ponds.

I skimmed a lot of this chapter. There are more photos and sketches in this chapter than in most of the others.


Featured image (top image) is a crawdad in an aquarium in the Montshire Museum in Norwich, VT, March 2017. You could grow them for food.

Book Notes: The Permaculture Handbook :: Chapter Nine

Here are my highly personal notes on Chapter Nine: Running on Sunshine in Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012). Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter linked here.


“The main thing to remember is that the sun is the source of energy, so you need to know where it will be in the sky and arrange your buildings and landscape to receive its rays at the right time and season.” — Peter Bane 

Climate is the interaction of latitude, altitude, local topography, and proximity to ocean coasts — these influence winds, solar gain, air layering.

Microclimate is climate near the ground, influenced by degree of slope, the direction the land faces  (aspect), local water bodies, presence of vegetation, the nature of the ground surface (soil, pavement), and human structures. Our goal is to remove or mitigate limits to the growth and health of our crops, which in much of the U.S. and Canada means cold weather, especially freezing temperatures, and too much or too little moisture.

Late afternoon in March or November is a good time to observe microclimate, to notice pockets of cold air (our bodies can detect changes in air temperature of 2F or more). Also, a late winter or early spring snowfall will reveal ground temperatures by speed of melting. A cool night in August or Sept. can reveal frost pockets. Nightshade plants (tomatoes, tobacco, ground cherries, etc) also indicators, as they can’t germinate in cold soil and frost will reliably kill them.

frost-damaged tomato plants, 21 Oct. 2014

Inventory your land for slope, aspect, vegetation, buildings, prevailing winds, elevation differences, water bodies, pavement and soil surfaces.

Finding the Sun: Sun angles are determined by tilt of Earth, latitude, and season. In the U.S. the sun is always in the southern sky at midday, higher between 21 March and 21 Sept. and lower in fall and winter.

sun at 9 a.m. in my backyard on the 29th Jan. 2015

Formula for sun’s angular elevation at midday at different times of the year:
90 degrees – (your latitude) = equinox elevation
Equinox elevation + 23.5 degrees = Summer Solstice elevation
Summer Solstice elevation – 47 degrees = Winter Solstice elevation

[When my group was reading this book in 2014, I noted that our sunrise on 11 Feb. was 6:52 and sunset was 5:13 … At Jekyll Island, GA, a favourite vacation spot, sunrise the same day was about 20 mins later, at 7:09 a.m., but sunset was almost an hour later, at 6:11 p.m., and in total Jekyll Island had 41 more minutes of daylight than we did in NH then.]

[You can also go to for sun angle info for your location]

Bringing the Sun Indoors: Lots of applications to the sun’s angle, most importantly comfort inside the home. People in industrialised countries spend 90% of their lives indoors. All buildings where winter skies aren’t completely overcast should be oriented for solar gain, i.e., the long axis oriented east-west. [There is a publication error from pp. 139-140, with a missing phrase, sentence, or more.]

A house “needs to be as close to the street as can be tolerated, but somewhat central to the land around it, so that all parts of the farm can be reached easily. … The house should be located at least a few feet above the lowest part of the landscape, and preferably at the midpoint of any slope of substantial length, to take advantage of the thermal belt created there. Of course buildings for occupancy should be placed on south-facing ground, though a little southeastly or southwesterly can be serviceable.”

How to capture heat from the sun, in a house, greenhouse, etc.: glazing to admit light; thermal mass with surfaces exposed to light; and a tight, insulated envelope to hold heat.

cats like warm spots – our patio, Aug. 2017

Sun trap: “An arc of trees facing the south will reflect light and heat toward its focal point. We call this a sun-trap, and if it’s a true parabola, there will actually be a hot spot at the center.”

Surfaces intercept and convert light better if they lay perpendicular to the direction of the sun’s rays. Each 5% of slope tilt toward the sun changes the climate there to be like the climate one zone (300 miles) to the south.

sunlight on Fort McHenry, Baltimore, MD, later afternoon, 15 Dec. 2014

Bane says (p. 144) that “afternoon light through west windows is almost never helpful” — not true at our house, where it’s very helpful. Our sunroom has its long wall and most of its windows facing west and because of this it warms up to 65F or more on afternoons in March/April and October/November, when the outside temps are in the 40sF.

comfortable in the sunroom, with snow covering the yard, 20 March 2010

Espalier: Training trees to grow against a south- or west-facing stone wall, where it’s warmer than the area nearby. Can also grow vines and trees on wires (cordon). Pergolas and trellises, porches, awnings can also shape outdoor spaces to create microclimates of sun or shade.

espalier trees and vines outside Longwood Gardens, Kenneth Square, PA, June 2015

Any body of water exerts a microclimate influence on the air around it to 1/4 of its width from the edge.

Winds: Weather fronts move from West to East across the U.S. on a 7-10-day cycle, especially in winter. Prevailing winds are westerly, aside from local topographical variations.

Hills and valleys — daily updrafts and nightly downdrafts. Anywhere cold air falls from a high ridge can create a frost pocket, especially in narrow valleys.

frost on lawn, viewed from slope, mid-Nov. 2009

After sunshine, wind energies are one of the most important sectors affecting any property. Cooling breezes are one of the few low-cost ways to keep comfortable in hot weather, while cold winter winds stress livestock, increase heating bills, and can harm crops and tender plants.”

[There is a very cool wind website, Windythat shows the direction and strength of wind for your lat/long coordinates. Thanks, Mary Anne, for this.]

Windbreaks: Banes has a page of suggested trees (50′ and taller, 8-35′) and shrubs (3-8′) to use for windbreaks and hedgerows. You can also use small structures like tires, straw bales, row covers, temporary fencing to protect plants and animals from sun, wind, rain.

tomatoes under row covers, Spring Ledge Farm, NH, mid-May 2016


Featured image (top image) is the Conservatory Garden in Central Park, NYC, early April 2016, with vine-covered pergola, rows of hedges, brick walkways to trap and hold heat.

Wednesday Vignette: Found Japanese Garden


This rocks and moss at the Winant Park Trails in Concord, NH (photo taken last weekend) looked to me like an unconstructed Japanese garden, with hills and valleys, or rock mountains and moss islands: “In Japan, each element of [the] gardens is symbolic; stones represent mountains, sand represents water, and moss represents islands. The moss and stone are usually organized into groups and positioned in sand; often times they actually correspond to real surroundings. Using a highly stylized method, Japanese garden design seeks to duplicate the tranquility of nature, and, through meditation, take the viewer of the garden to a peaceful, serene place.”

No need for duplication here in New Hampshire — nature, serene and peaceful, is already assembled.

Wednesday Vignette is brought to us by Flutter & Hum
Quoted source: Moss Acres.

Book Notes: The Permaculture Handbook :: Chapter Eight

Here are my highly personal notes on Chapter Eight: Labor — Can You Lend A Helping Hand? in Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012). Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter linked here.


“Most people can live with chaos for a while if they are reassured that it’s being contained and managed.” — Peter Bane 

Traditionally, farming households got labour from having kids and by building extensive networks for social relations (extended family, friends, neighbours). Because of planet overpopulation (and demographic trends), large families can’t be the source of farm labour in the future, so building social alliances is a good strategy; “[c]all it barn raising for the 21st century.”

spouse building a screenhouse, July 1999

In 1900, average U.S. household was 4.6 people; in 2000, it was 2.6 people. (Discussion of demographics trends during that time period.) But since the 1980s, “hard times … have meant that more people share housing” — adult children linger at home or return, the elderly live with others, couples who might have divorced stay together longer.

“The household of one person is a modern phenomenon. Beyond a few recognizable social roles — the witch, the woodsman, the shepherd, the hermit — solitary living made no sense in any traditional society running on the limits of solar energy. It presented no economies of scale, no benefit from division of labor, and it imposed harsh limits on the capabilities of the individual. Redistribution of wealth from the fossil fuel economy … has made single living possible and indeed attractive for hundreds of millions.”

farmer made of Legos, weeding, Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, VA, July 2016

But households that want to farm face big challenges that multiperson households don’t; “there are adaptive strategies, but generally they involve getting help. … Multi-adult households (three or more persons) have a significant labor advantage even though they are now a small minority.” Banes says a household of three adults is nearly ideal to garden-farm a small plot of 3/4 to 2-1/2 acres, except that “jealousy and asymmetry among the various dyadic relations tends to be corrosive.” Four adults can do anything he’s written in the book, and two couples with similar interests and goals living next door to each other would be advantageous.  Two people can manage up to 2 acres and make a living as farmers in a working season of 8 months, if they have access to urban markets. Children from ages 8-16 can contribute substantially.

kids interested in Urban Pavilion “backyard chickens” exhibit at Boston Flower Show, March 2016
adults and kids in a permaculture garden in NH, July 2012

“Garden farming is work, but also it involves managing complexity.” Physical exertion: tilling, planting, hauling, mulching, moving animals, maintaining infrastructure, weeding, pruning, coppicing, harvesting, processing. For major work — digging 600 feet of trenches, post-hole digging, chipping the top of a fallen tree — rent a mechanical tool for a day or week. “The permaculture approach in regard to all types of repetitive labor is to keep it to a minimum by design.”

me hauling crocosmia and cosmos stems to compost, August 2017

The essence of permaculture is to “concentrate beneficial energies on the site, scatter hostile forces, and conserve your own energies by using gravity, proximity, and connection to avoid unnecessary steps, transport, and work.”

spouse carrying some materials to make vegetable garden fence, May 2017

Two conflicting demands on garden farmer: to grow and harvest crops, and to build the farm (all the while perhaps holding down a job, raising kids, preparing meals, living an ordinary daily life), and “each task makes the other harder before they become mutually supportive.” You could farm in warm weather and build in cold, you could work a full-time job while building the farm and then slowly move to cropping.

Get Rid of Your Lawn: “Lawns represent a massive expenditure of energy and money that produces no crop; more fertilizer is used on North American lawns than by the entire agriculture of India. … Why do we perpetuate these cultural palimpsests? The psychology is largely one of keeping the deep dark woods at bay, being able to see predators coming at us from a distance, and emulating the rich. Some of these reasons have instinctive roots that we must respect, but this manifestation of our feelings of fear and envy needs a good shaking out. The genuine psychological need for open vistas can be met with very little grass and strategically placed long views. … Looking out over your garden can be just as liberating psychologically. … Apart from small areas for amenity … there’s no reason to grow grass except to feed livestock.” Grass is a poor garden-bed edge because it’s always encroaching [too true].

High Line (New York City) lawn with crocuses, March 2014

Stop Churning the Soil: Tilling is dangerous because it “exposes soil life to destructive forces and increases erosion dramatically.” Keep soil covered with cover crops or mulch, cultivate perennials, develop mulch systems. [He doesn’t discuss sheet-mulching in the text in this chapter but he has a photo of it.]

Plant Once, Harvest Many Times: “Perennials are the heart of any ecosystem. Nature uses annuals (what ecologists call weeds) to cover bare soil. Period. Annuals are opportunists that lurk on the fringes of more stable systems, waiting for a disturbance. In nature they blow in, drift in or germinate in the new sunlight, exploiting the suddenly available resources of solar energy, water and nutrient. Seen in another light, weeds are nature’s paramedics, first on the scene to repair damaged soil. They accumulate minerals dynamically in their tissues. As they die, these become available to other plants through the action of soil organisms. Once the soil begins to recover fertility, the annuals give way to longer-lived plants, a process called succession. Conventional agriculture has adapted its practices to create disturbance and prevent succession so that our field crops, which are mostly annual weeds, can continue to grow. … Perennials are better able to handle fluctuations in weather; their roots are deeper, and they will grow in almost any warm season regardless of when rains or frost come. Most importantly, perennials don’t have to be replanted.”

perennial sea kale at Paradise Lot, Holyoke, MA, June 2016

The remainder of the chapter discusses further how to partner with others through vertical ties (adult-child, older landowner-younger farmer, mentor-trainee, etc.) and horizontal ties (peers, neighbors, nearby siblings, former classmates, coworkers, etc.); how to create an equitable distribution of risks and rewards; building trust among partners; holding volunteer days on your land; and so on.

There’s a small chart of the garden farming year, with month, tasks, and labor demand (low to high).



Featured image (top image) is friends on a garden tour at another friend’s permaculture property, looking at problem areas, giving suggestions, learning from her experiences, etc., in Sept. 2015.

Book Notes: The Permaculture Handbook :: Chapter Seven

Here are my highly personal notes on Chapter Seven: Land — Scales and Strategies in Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012). Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter linked here.


“Everyone needs access to land — for walking, for playing, for contemplating the beauty of nature — especially in cities. But nature is not a pet, and providing land as a support for health and spirit is a remnant of a far deeper and more complex relationships of humans to land. The most important bond between us and the earth is that we eat what it provides. We developed the habit of walking and running in order to pursue game, to roam in search of roots and berries. We contemplated the infinite complexity of land and sky around us in the process of stalking animals, netting fish, and searching for ripe seeds.” — Peter Bane 

The most important bond between us and the Earth is that we eat what it provides.

Everyone should grow a little food, even if it’s sprouts on a windowsill, mushrooms in a basement, and tomatoes in a pot on the patio or balcony.

growing sprouts (April 2015)

Standard U.S Diet: Americans eat 2,000 lbs/year each, which is 3,800 calories per day, 40% above recommended daily allowance of 2,700 calories. 

Current U.S. diet consists (by weight, not by calories) of 30% milk and dairy, 20% vegetables, 14% fruits, 13% meat, 10% cereals, 7% sugar, 4.5% fat, 2% nuts, legumes, and other foods (not = to 100% because of rounding). Fats have 20x the calories per pound as vegetables. The same diet measured by calories is 25% calories from fats, 22% from cereals, 15% from meat, 14% from sugar, 10.5% from dairy, 6% from veggies, 5% from fruit, and 2.5% from nuts and legumes. [I’m a bit confused by the inclusion of fats in the list — aren’t fats in all these other items, like dairy, meat, grains, nuts, almost everything? Does he mean that dairy is just milk and cheese, and fats are just what we take in from butter, oils, margarine, etc?]

“The nutritional content of food has declined since the advent of industrial agriculture due to the destruction of soil fertility wrought by tillage and chemicals. … [P]ound for pound, fruits and vegetables deliver much higher levels of these essential nutrients than any other food group, though nuts, organ meat, whole grains and legumes — and to some extent dairy products — contain significant amounts of particular and needed nutrients.” Most fats and sugars, which make up 40% of Americans’ calories, don’t have much nutrition. (Honey, maple syrup, butter, coconut oil, hemp oil, and olive oil do have some minerals or essential fatty acids in them.)

honey tasting at Savannah Bee, St. Simons Island, GA, Dec. 2015

Another way to examine food intake is to “measure the amount of land required to grow the food. This gets to the heart of the issue, because land is becoming a limiting factor for the survival and health of humanity. The 2,000 pounds of food eaten per person per year in the US come from three acres of crop and pasture land. In the aggregate, it takes some 900 million productive acres of farm and ranch land to feed the population of the United States.” The U.S. has cropland under cultivation of more than 300 million acres, and pasture and rangeland of 600 million acres, “but the US is still a net food importer. Most of the crop acreage in the US is planted to four commodities: corn, soybeans, wheat and hay. These are converted by the industrial system into sugar, animal feed, ethanol, paints and inks, food supplements and hundreds of feedstocks for industry. Very little human food — mainly bread and cereals — comes directly from these four crops.” Only about 3% of crop  acreage in the U.S. grows fruits, vegetables, nuts and other legumes.

“The broad picture is one of very few farmers raising large quantities of commodity crops, mostly in monocultures, with the labor intensive and nutrient-dense components of the food system offshore or managed with immigrant labor. Food-miles are high, energy costs are unsupportable and there is very little resilience in the system.”

Biointensive gardening – Alan Chadwick and John Jeavons. Well-studied garden-scale agriculture. They can grow a balanced plant-based diet for one person for a year on .09 acres (4,000 square feet), of which only 1,200 square feet are actually used for food crops, the rest devoted to growing compost crops to improve soil fertility.

Somewhere between these two poles of inefficiency and hyper-efficiency is a system of regenerative permanent agriculture for most of us.

A New National Diet: See image below for a diet Banes feels “would be acceptable to most North Americans for its variety, level of fats, protein, and bulk, and that could be grown and foraged by smallholder methods in suburban front and back yards and ’empty lot’ pastures.”


Bane mentions the non-tillage methods of Masanobu Fukuoka for grains and legumes.

The meat allotment is envisioned to include rabbit, poultry, and some lamb, pork, and goat, supplemented by wild game; a little beef might be possible in some farming situations. Fish would replace some meat needs.

© Mike Schiell

Fats would come from animals, in lard or goose fat. [No, not happening here!]

If all the methods he suggests (I’ve listed only a few) were adopted across the U.S., we could feed ourselves on 1/3 the acreage now being used, or on about 5% of the land area of the lower 48 states.

Scales of Production: Garden farms will emerge at five different scales:

Tiny City Lot (6,000 – 11,000 square feet): Emphasis has to be on foods with the most nutrition per square foot. Would include bees, chickens and ducks, pigeons, quail, rabbits, guinea pigs.

asparagus, hoop house, et al. at Paradise Lot (which is 1/10 acre or 4,300 square feet) in Holyoke, MA, June 2016

Multi-Lot or Suburban Plots (Microfarms; 1/4 to 3/4 acre): [Our property is 3/4 acre] Could “achieve a significant fraction of self-provision with some surplus for local trade.” Grow high-value crops for income. Keep medium-sized animals such as sheep, goats, geese, pigs. Aquaculture. Extensive tree and shrub crops. This size system needs a full-time summer farmer. Three-quarters of an acres is enough to support a 40-share subscription plan with 20 weeks of surplus, though it does depend a bit on your climate.

my dedicated veggie garden in June 2016, with transplants and seeds: peas, arugula, tomatoes, lettuces, cucumbers, squash, chard, and green beans

McMansion Redux or Green Island Plots (3/4 acre to 2.5 acres): Could be one big lot or some contiguous lots. Could support commercial intensive vegetable operation yielding a full income ($40K+), much of it from an acre of berries, OR mixed-farm provisioning for a household of 4-8 people. Could have several goats or a small milk cow. To farm for a living, you need 2 acres or more, though you can earn some living on less; “the challenge is to find a property that you can pay for from a modest living.” Helps to have some savings before you start.

Mini-Farm (2.5 to 8 acres, from land in the era before subdivisions). Nursery crops, fruit crops (vineyard, cider orchard), rotational grazing of various livestock, egg and meat sales, some agroforestry or aquaculture, plus elements of the smaller scale lots. Could provision household of 8-12 people.

Green Acres (8-25 acres): Extensive aquaculture. Rotational grazing of large animals is possible. Specialty woodland crops. Artisanal farming (cheese- or wine-making). Could be developed as co-housing with ready labor and captive market on site.

Strategies for Access to Land: “Don’t buy very much house — just what you need. Look for modest houses on larger lots — these will generally be older. A garage or shed is a welcome feature; a basement is less useful unless it has a direct entry door from the outside. If you live in a dicey or changing neighborhood but have an OK house, it may be possible to find a vacant lot across the street or down the block, or a house with more space to cultivate. Look for blocks with neighbors who will stay put, who have kids or who garden. This is very place specific, but clues may be flower beds, unusual paint schemes, statuary, well-occupied front porches.” Talks about urban homesteading. Probably should not pay more than $100,000 for a property — maybe land with a camper-trailer, then build as you can. Can also rent land, or rent out land, or buy land with others (Bane goes into some depth about this).

painted Baltimore rowhouse with crocuses in bloom, March 2014

Reclaiming the Commons: [See my page on Bane’s book dedication for discussion of the commons.] Another “method of sharing land is to use common land and resources.” Neglected land — roadside and median strips, parking verges, road edges, and in economically depressed places, houses, lots, and large tracts may have become derelict: “The public interest is served when local people take stewardship of these abused landscapes.”

chicory alongside road near a CVS pharmacy in Roanoke, VA, July 2016.

Qualities of Land: Best to have land with some elevational change but mostly flat and only gently sloping [this describes my land!]. The house shouldn’t be at the bottom of the landscape but in the middle of a gently sloping bit. Land on broad ridges can be good, land on narrow ridges isn’t. Some of the land should face south, southeast, or southwest. Condition of soil is a minor factor so long as it’s not boggy or pure sand, because you can improve soil tilth. Usually not a good idea to settle a forested tract. Consider access to the land, easements, traffic. Consider subsurface rights, like mining or drilling. Can you farm your front yard? Is there public transit, or can you bike safely to services? And lots more things to think about!

when our neighbours had alpacas in the front yard for a 1-year 4H project, May 2011 … I miss those cuties.


Featured image (top image) is of cherry tomatoes in a window box, in Rockland, Maine, Aug. 2013.

Book Notes: The Permaculture Handbook :: Case Study A

Here are my highly personal notes on the first of four case studies, Case Study A: Renaissance Farm, Bloomington, Indiana, in Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012). Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter linked here.


“Year four (2009) was also the year of the fence, when garden yields had grown  to the point of attracting significant predation by deer, a herd of which loitered in the neighborhood, smoking cigarettes and comparing notes about their favorite organic vegetable snacks (Renaissance Farm being the best salad bar for several miles around).” — Peter Bane 

photos from Case Study A (Bloomington, IN)

The property for this case study (2006) was a .7 acres property on flat land, in an established suburban neighbourhood two miles from a city, at elevation 820 feet, USDA zone 6b-7a, with 44 inches of precipitation, in Indiana. The two small houses (and “decrepit shed”) and land were located in a 1-mile neighbourhood of 54 houses, none of whose owners gardened (one had a couple of small fruit trees) and most didn’t even grow ornamental plants. It was transformed into a garden farm selling bedding and nursery plants, seeds, salad greens and herbs, some veggies; other services were also offered, including consulting, teaching/apprenticeships, and publishing.

The purpose with this property — owned by the book’s author, Peter Bane, and his partner, Keith Johnson — was to “establish a permaculture demonstration and achieve a good measure of household self-reliance emphasizing perennials.”

They started with a yard that was lawn and pasture grasses, with some mature trees on the property. The two houses need a lot of repair and renovation, which took about three years. (Bane details their financial situation and loans.) Because the houses took a lot of time and money, the garden farm was slow in developing.

First year (2006): The front yard was “recontoured … into raised beds [with] … drainage ditches to divert runoff from the building foundations.” Salvaged fruiting shrubs and small trees they brought with them from North Carolina were transplanted. They planted out salad greens and flowers and some perennials. A small pond was built and eventually stocked with goldfish. Neighbours began to notice.

Second year (2007): Removal and major thinning of existent trees ( = four cord firewood in new woodshed). Cleared a weedy neglected area and installed a 10,000 gallon cistern (plus underground plumbing and hydrants) for water collection and irrigation. Built a 20′ x 48′ high-tunnel greenhouse for salad crops and herbs and hardy greens for winter. Continued to bring in mulch, wood chips, compost, and straw to build the soil.

Year three (2008): They had enough garden surplus to sell some at the local farmer’s market and to neighbors who stopped by. Installed new metal roofs and gutters for a water catchment system; using water from rain for the yard, the laundry, and one toilet, they reduced their water use from 8,000 gallons/month in Year One to below 1,000 gallons/month. Planted 23 fruit trees (apples, crabapples, pears, Asian pears, plums, peaches, cherries) and fruiting shrubs (thornless blackberries, black raspberries, currants, gooseberries, plus a large mulberry, and some fig trees were already present on the property).  They began to be able to harvest and store a variety of vegetables, though the soil was still developing.

more photos from Case Study A (Bloomington, IN)

Year four (2009): A wetter and cooler spring and summer than previously meant some yields decreased (e.g., tomatoes) and some increased (e.g., berries). First yield from some of the fruit trees. An intern spurred the keeping of bees, with some colonies making it through winters (to 2012, when the book was published) and others dying and being replaced. Garden yields were now attracting deer, so fences were installed, and 200 saplings of small-medium trees were planted 18″ apart on three sides of the lot (eventually to become a dense hedge). They built another woodshed, which they filled by foraging in their neighborhood. They extended an above-ground root cellar near the cistern.

active beehives in Windsor, Vermont, Oct. 2016

Year five (2010): Building a large covered front porch with a solar array on it. Added four small ponds in front of the greenhouse.

Year six (2011): Plans included major expansion of outbuildings — barn, potting shed, workshop, quest quarters, another cistern, sauna, animal housing, composting toilet. (Bane notes that they did erect the barn that year and started on the cistern.)


“How does all this add up? And what lessons can we learn from this relatively young system?” Part of his response is that “[w]e are debt-free, firewood-rich, and approaching carbon-neutral. We have both excluded our main garden pests (deer) and increased connectivity with our neighbors.” Small mammals, however, “remain troublesome.” Weed pressure is still high and there’s not enough ground cover yet. They hope to add rabbits (meat) and poultry (meat and eggs).

small mammal (groundhog), Longwood Gardens, PA, April 2016

Bane notes that other people think they’ve done a lot in a short time, but it doesn’t feel that way to them. Their challenges included having jobs already (one full-time home-based, one part-time), and “[b]eing middle-aged when we started here (and coming with a certain reaction to primitive living from too long in the woods), we chose to buy low-cost existing housing.” That meant “we got the liability of compromised design [e.g., the houses are situated the wrong way for solar gain] and worn-out infrastructure.”

But their example has changed things in their suburban neighborhood: Their neighbors started a vegetable garden in 2009 and got 30 chickens; the woman with fruit trees also planted vegetables, got bees, and built a chicken coop; and the neighborhood now includes a grass-based livestock farm with 9 or 10 cattle from time to time.

lean-to shed and chicken tractor at Foundwell Farm, Pembroke, NH, May 2015.


%d bloggers like this: