Permaculture Paradise at Alex’s Front Yard Garden!

By lambert strether of Corrente.

There seems to be quite the Permaculture Community down in Jacksonville, FL, and I’m so envious of them; the traditional and still valid planting day in the great state of Maine is Memorial Day! Anyhow, this is a really fun video; I think the best part is where Alex’s daughter Maya dyes her hair pink with beet juice [14:39 et seq.], explaining that “the real dyes in the store” “smell like Sharpie marker.” “This is more better because it washes off automatically.” So, enjoy!

A few things to notice about Alex’s garden: The plants are big, even for Florida. And Alex doesn’t use beds; he creates “systems” of plants in the patches that are most appropriate to them. (I always operate on the assumption that plants are just as smart as we are, and will tell us how to make them happy if only we will listen.) Anyhow, take the whole tour; I’m going to pull out a few of Alex’s tips that especially appeal to me, because I am a lazy gardener. I would far rather sit in my garden than weed or water for example, which is why I like sheet mulch so much.

[1:07] We can actually take any system on the planet, any I guess you’d call it a biosphere, be it a desert or just a suburbam neighborhood, and try to nurture that back into life, try to make the soil, which is the most important component to me, a living community of organisms that use the sun’s power as it comes down, and plants to nuture life. … [and] nuture it all back into a system that is working with nature’s program, it’s based on a natural ecosystem and to benefits everybody, not just us.

Three permaculure principles:

  • Care of the earth
  • Care of the people
  • Return of surplus

[2:13] The return of surplus is important because even on a small level, if I’m out in my garden, and I’m chopping something back, and I know I don’t need this thing, I don’t carry over to a compost pile necessarily… I would literally chop and drop it right at the base of another plant. And that plant goes back in the soil and helps the next plant grow even better.

See how lazy?

[4:43] I want to point out that nothing I do gets watered. I don’t water. It waters itself through the rain and/or through storage in the soil, which is why you’ve got to put that organic matter in the soil. There’s a statistic which I wish I coud remember … In an inch of topsoil, organic material, you could store X gallons of water per square yard. And then in two inches it was more than double. … They call the forests “land lakes,” it’s like an ocean of water out in the forest. And the forest saves all of its water.

No watering!

[6:34] What we’re trying to do is have zero waste streams. Zero waste streams means that if there is an output of a system, you made it up with the input of another system. Nature doesn’t have any waste.

If nature handles what isn’t waste to nature, I don’t have to!

[8:20] Start by maybe digging a little bit. The point of permaculture is not to dig or till or anything like that, you never do that, except maybe when you first walk into a very compacted piece property.

Digging is hard work! Must to avoid!

[9:07] I’ve heard a lot of people say, I walk out to my compost pile and everything I have is growing out of the compost pile, and then I move to my yard and it dies. And then I say, why don’t you just grow it in your compost pile, and leave it alone?

[10:04] Zones in permaculture are not USDA hardiness zones, they are sort of concentric circles leaving your home. Zone 0 is your home, it’s your built environment, Zone 1 would be right outside your front or back door as you go to your car or wherever; these are the places you see the most, and that you will interact with the most. Zones 2 – 5 are a little bit less interaction, and a little bit less needy, and so Zone 5 is actually the wild forest that you don’t touch.

It’s important to think about Zones when organizing your garden. For example, I have placed my compost bins in Zone 1, because I am so lazy I absolutely will not travel from Zone 0 through Zone 1 to get to Zone 2 if there’s no reason to be in Zone 1.

[20:05] The thing about permaculture is that you observe. For every thirty hours of observation you do one hour’s worth of work.

Now that’s a business ratio I can get behind!

I encourage you to listen to the whole thing, not just read the bits I pulled out. Alex is especially interesting on pollinators and rhizomes round the roots of plants. He packs a lot of teaching into a very short video.

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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. William

    Permaculture is a bona fide plan to literally “save the world.” It will also make our lives much richer, freer, and meaningful.

  2. sleepy

    Thanks. Can’t wait to get my hands dirty if this cold, wet, snowy spring would ever warm up.

  3. Aussie F

    What an inspiring garden. I’m becoming evangelical for Oriental Greens, like Okinawa spinach. Even in cold climates they just keep on yielding. Mizuna, Komatsuna, Mibuna, etc. Wonderful stuff!

  4. juliania

    The thing about mulch is it IS the lazy person’s way of doing things and it works! Don’t put those bags of good organic stuff out for the garbage man to cart away – I read once that earth is the skin of the planet – you don’t ever want that skin to be exposed to get cracked and wrinkled unless it’s a roadway – even if you don’t chop your plant leavings, spread them where you aren’t planting on that thirsty land. Then just a sprinkling from your hose now and then, no heavy watering needed, and things that the biosphere needs will happen.

    Over my wall right now is desert. Just some junipers and sandy spaces,( and the junipers don’t look too happy these days either. ) But right over my wall, I’ve spread brush, clippings of anything vegetative, and there the little lizards find their homes and green things are happening.

    Now is the time!

    1. optimader

      All non-animal derived organic waste and fireplace ash(formerly junk mail, cardboard packaging etc.)goes into a open Rubbermaid garbage can w/ a drainage hole in the bottom in the back yard. Add the occasional hand-spade of soil to maintain the culture and it volume reduces as you go. For perspective, I empty it twice a year, and it is typically ~3/4 full.

      On the appointed day, I just hand dolly it to the intended location and tip it over in a hole or two or a shallow trench in a garden or adjacent to some very lucky shrubs/trees and cover it back up. The plants demonstrate to me that they love it, it’s easy, transparent and low impact win-win-win.
      As a consequence I cancelled my municipal garbage service, which very much caused a TILT, they weren’t quite sure how to do it.. I just bring the occasional bag of miscellaneous plastic bits and very little non vegetable food waste to the office and chuck it in the dumpster.

      It goes without saying the mulching mower blows all the Fall leaves under the evergreens and lawn clipping stay where they are supposed to, in the lawn, chopped to little bits.
      It never ceases to amaze me, the neighbors that haven’t succumbed to paying the lawn service that laboriously PILE up huge numbers of yard waste bags at the curb every Sunday, paying a couple dollars a bag for the pleasure of having all their used fertilizer taken out of their “personal biospheres”!

  5. Kurt Sperry

    I’ve been doing gardening in a similar way for decades out of both a shared general aesthetic with what is now called permaculture and of course pure laziness. It makes perfect sense.

  6. Synopticist


    The trouble for people like me in the UK though, it’s just not sunny enough for a lot of this stuff, and land costs an absolute packet.

    Oh, and you can’t even dream of buying a few acres of land and building an eco-home, and using the rest to grow food. The building and land use regulators would laugh in your face.

  7. Synopticist

    Can we have a special permaculture linky thing on the site?

    Somewhere where you can access all the permaculture posts easily? Please.

    1. different clue

      And if creating a new topic link takes more time and energy than currently exist ( and since I have no computer skills I don’t know how much time and energy is involved) . . . could the permaculture posts be archived into the Environment topic in the meantime? As a predictable semi-easy place to go hunt for them?

  8. JGordon

    “I would literally chop and drop it right at the base of another plant.”

    I am currently designing a permaculture project for some high-income clients in the best neighborhood in St. Pete (Snell Isle) and I have to say that if I tried chop and drop there the neighbors would call the police.

    All this stuff is great and all, but don’t forget to take into consideration the “invisible structures” when working on a permaculture project. Those are the ones that will capsize you when you thought you had smooth sailing.

  9. American Slave

    Even tho I live in the desert southwest what had worked for me was my man made swamp. At first I grabbed some filamentous algae from a somewhat nearby wetlands and threw it into a pond I made with some aqueous plants like duckweed and azolla then threw in a lot of fertilizer and let it bloom than everything died which is what I wanted and it smelled like a rotting swamp for a few days (good thing there’s no neighbors around) and when it recovered it seems like I was able to take out unlimited amounts of algae and the plants to either make oil with an expeller press that runs in a diesel engine or put it in a anaerobic digester to make natural gas and fertilizer and I didn’t even have to put it back in the swamp I could spread it in the garden but I know I took out much more fertilizer than I put in so the azolla must really fix a lot more nitrogen than even the papers say because all I added was water after the first time.

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