Bullock Brothers Homestead – A 25-Year Permaculture Project

By lambert strether of Corrente.

Here, the Bullock brothers discuss their patch of land on Orcas Island, WA, and show what they did with it.

Those of you who have land, or are thinking of buying land, for permaculture may find their process of thought illuminating (though every patch is different). I thought this quote was interesting:

“A kind of a common premise in ecology certainly, and in permaculture as well, is that the edge, where two different distinct environments meet, is the richest interface, whether it’s between forest and field, whether it’s between land and sea, an estuary, and most major cities of the United States exist in such places. Port towns. Humans basically lived in wetland edges.”

Also too:

We’re never bored, and there’s plenty to eat.

Not a bad life!

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. psychohistorian

    Thanks for the posting.

    I am trying to get organized to develop my property and this was quite helpful. I only have the front and back yard of my house but have excellent soil and expect to continue to eliminate the lawn, replace it with lots of ??? and look forward to filling the in the question marks.

    And I enjoy sharing the fruits of my labors with others in the local community which is the biggest incentive for me….building and expanding community is going to be more and more important in the coming years, IMO.

    1. mikkel

      I’ve just started reading “Gaia’s Garden” by Toby Hemenway (who mentions the homestead in the video) because it was recommended as a reference for suburban area plots. So far it’s great and I’d check it out.

    2. greenthumbs

      Seed and plant swaps are a great way to get closer to the agriculture loving community in your area. As a bonus, you can score inexpensive (or even free!) seeds and stock of regionally successful varieties of herbs, fruits, and vegetables.

      Also, if you teach yourself as much as possible about how to create more plants (grafting, seed saving, root splitting, etc), pass along those plants and the knowledge as well, it comes back in awesome and unexpected ways.

      I hire myself out to the wealthy all summer, tending to the gardens in their second homes. In the meantime, I’m slowly collecting a gigantic variety of plants, seeds, and information in the process. One person’s compost is another community’s botanical garden.

  2. different clue

    Is the proof of ownership of the land they think they own just because they paid for it physically registered with a physical deed in a physical office in a physical courthouse? Or is it all MERSd up? If agents of the goverbankerplex decide to take the land away from them, do they have any legal proof that the goverbankerplex has no legal basis to try taking the land?

    1. different clue

      And if the goverbankerplex is able to take the land, does this family have gallons and gallons of atrazine and glyphosate ready to drench every square foot of this land with . . . and a fast and thorough delivery system for it . . . so that the atrazine and glyphosate soak several feet down . . . so that the goverbankerplex agents end up sorry they ever took the land?

  3. direction

    You don’t have to own land to farm it. I had a couple young friends who went door to door in suburbia and simply began talking up the possibility with homeowners. There were several elderly people in the neighborhood who were happy to provide some sunny backyard space and pay the water bill in exchange for all you can eat veggies.

    But please don’t try this unless you’re an experienced gardener. you can really mess up someone’s yard if you don’t know what you’re doing. Growing food takes a lot of time and work.

  4. Dave of Maryland

    Food I can get in a grocery store. Permaculture happens all by itself with fallow land.

    What we need are medicinal herbs and the knowledge how to use them, but what sounded like an excellent example of a medicinal herbal garden was chopped to pieces by Oklahoma City officials last summer, for being a public eyesore.

  5. pws

    I’ll buy some land for permaculture right after I buy those polo ponies I’ve been eyeing, Lambert.

    Oh, wait…

  6. diptherio

    Good stuff. Thanks for the post.

    It does always kind of make me sad when the people with all this great knowledge end up hiring themselves out to the wealthy, though. It would be great if some of Bullock’s students went to Detroit to work some eco-magic there for the benefit of those our ecocidal culture has left behind. Unfortunately, the odds (and the economics) seem to be against that sort of thing. Them that’s got shall get, I guess…

    1. different clue

      Well . . . people do need money for the things which only money will pay for. If a group of people could raise the money to pay Greenthumbs-type people completely as much after all expenses as what Greenthumbs-type people can make “hiring themselves out to the local rich”, then perhaps
      Greenthumbs-type people could go green-up Detroit as long as somebody’s paying. But they can’t reasonably be expected to go do it for free. Or even for less money than they could otherwise make doing what they already do.

  7. Ron

    I have had front/back yard veggie gardens for 40 years but do not see them as a solution to feeding millions of people. Home gardens provide a good source of food for a small family but only for limited periods and usually not in enough bulk for storage. America along with most of the world’s human population exists on the back of commercial corporate farming while many individuals do practice sustainable individual farming they are operating year to year and are open to weather misery,insect attacks and old age,making there long term survival dependent on having a food source outside there current garden.

    1. William

      Tired old Big Ag talking points. Tsk. Propoganda myths perpetrated by those without imagination or interested in maintaining the status quo.

      There is much written about how permaculture, horticulture, and organic farming can (and must, as soon we’ll have no choice) feed the world. But if we keep losing fresh water to fracking, topsoil to chem-based farming practices, and other threats, no matter of agriculture will save us.

    2. different clue

      Millions of front yard- back yard gardens would feed millions of people right there. And farms of all kinds could feed the people that front yard-back yard gardens could not feed.
      Personal gardening scales up hugely if millions of personal persons grow millions of personal gardens.

  8. Ron

    A further thought on individual home veggie gardens is that these ideas are presented by the media as individual plots rather then part of a community based attempt to feed a group of people. The Amish come to mind as a community farming cooperative providing assistance and backup. Americans have been taught to think in terms of individual rights that exist outside the local community with each person having unique sets of skills or beliefs that are more important then the community at large. Sustainable long term food source based around individual plots not linked into community thinking has little chance of survival without corporate machine based farming as a backup food source

  9. joe

    Eden. Trying to do this myself on a micro scale. One day a larger scale. It’s the way forward for civilization and earth.

  10. American Slave

    As far as feeding the masses with organic food goes Vietnam used to be a good model until the big Chinese companies came in and now there starting to use artificial fertilizers and chemicals but considering ammonia fertilizer is made from hydrogen and nitrogen you literally can make it from air so that’s not a real big deal to me but anyway now to my point, even if you live in the desert southwest a very fundamental part of any farm is to have a pond for growing aquatic plants such as water hyacinth and duckweed (sounds funny I know) plus maybe a little algae as nothing on earth will grow faster than aquatic species. than what you do is slowly put fertilizer into the pond and let the plants build up to an excessive level than stop feeding them and let them die and the pond will turn into a mini swamp and smell like it for a week or two but than it will balance itself out and be very productive in producing fertilizer directly for the crops or better to be fed to a biogas pit which is usually a tank in the ground or can be as easy as a old plastic barrel sealed up to prevent oxygen from getting in it to where it decomposes the organic matter and makes natural gas for cooking or in a generator to make power with the sludge from the process being an excellent fertilizer and I guarantee you will make as much food as any corporate farm.

  11. tiebie66

    Watching permaculture stuff always makes me feel that “there’s a sense of hope”. Thanks for nourishing it, Lambert.

  12. aletheia33

    we need to look back to the great depression for lessons. many more people farmed and/or knew how to raise their own food than now, cities were a lot smaller, and so on. in the first couple of years post-crash many cooperative ventures of different kinds were tried, to keep people from starving. by the third year or so post-crash, all of them had failed. why?

  13. different clue

    It has been said upthread that “the store” is sufficient for food. And in many cases it has to be because what else is there? But in cases where “the store” is not all there is, should we settle for “the store”? How much vitamins/minerals/proteins/etc. do different fruits and vegetables from “the store” contain? What mineral defficiencies exist on which soils growing what fruits-vegetables and passing those defficiencies into those fruits-vegetables and then into the people eating them? How many of the fruits-vegetables in “the store” nowadays are nutrient-free virtual fruits-vegetables?

    Why would I even bother raising such a question? Here is a classic (not obsolete) article by noted-at-the-time soil scientist Firman Bear about different levels of measured minerals in the same types of vegetables grown on different soils with different in-soil amounts AND RATIOS of various plant-relevant minerals. ( That article has been mis-understood and selectively cherry-quoted by organic advocates to imply that Bear was comparing “organic” versus “conventional”. Bear was doing no such thing.) Hear is the link. What is the mineral presence and balance of the soil from which your fruits-vegetables are derived?

    Here is a popularised boildown extract from a Journal of HortScience article about measured declines in fruits-vegetables of deliverable nutrient load over the last several decades. I imagine it would be possible to find the original article with enough digging.

    After reading those two articles does one still think “the store” is good enough if one has the ability to grow one’s own? But if one doesn’t “mineral-up” one’s own garden soil, does growing one’s own on mineral-defficient soil produce food any better or more deliverable-nutrient-loaded than the mineral-defficient soils which grow food to sell to “the store” to sell to you? If one suspects the answer to be no, then are their info-resources available to tell the amateur back-yard gardener how to learn about remineralizing defficient soil and balancing the mineral ratios in that remineralized soil for best human-relevant feeding of hi-nutridense plants? Here is one possible such source.

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