Preparing to Collapse in Place with Permaculture

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Spring is here! Spring is here. Life is skittles, and life is beer!–Tom Lehrer

Readers, this will be a brief post because it’s a lovely moist day, ideal for scatterering wildflower seeds, and I want to get out into the garden, and I bet you do, too, if you have a garden, or it has you. Now, up where I am in Zone 5b, we’re two full weeks away from Memorial Day, the traditional day for planting, but mud season is over, the forsythia is out, the lilacs are budding, and my garden is blanketed with winter detritus — the occasional student’s beer can, flattened styrofoam coffee cups, faded receipts, cigarette butts, great masses of twigs, lots and lots of road sand from the plows, and the solids left behind when the snow melted into the spring air — because I’ve been lazy. No more of that! (And to be fair, I feel like my mental filters got clogged in the past few days from processing too much news, and olds. I need a quick break.)

When I did the research for this post, I found an excellent article on permaculture in Modern Farmer, which is very much not Farm Journal, for reasons I’ll get to. So I’ll look at that, first, and if any of you are asking “What is permaculture?” you will get an answer. (There are other NC posts at the permaculture tag.) Then I’ll plug a practical and simple permaculture technique: Sheet mulch. Finally, I’ll comment on permaculture as privilege. But first, a picture from last year, because my peonies aren’t nearly this far along:


So, Modern Farmer:

Permaculture: You’ve Heard of It, But What the Heck Is It?

Bill Mollison, the Tasmanian son of a fisherman who first coined the term 1978, defined “permaculture” as:

“The conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.”

In other words, permaculture is a holistic, living-in-harmony-with-nature worldview, as well as technical approach for how to do so. Here is link to 50-some other definitions that have been espoused over the years.)

Here are some of those approaches:

  1. Closed Loop Systems … Any permaculturist worth their salt would remind you that a successful closed loop system “turns waste into resources” and “problems into solutions.” “You don’t have a snail problem, you have a duck deficiency,” Mollison was fond of saying, which makes perfect sense if you’ve ever seen how gleefully ducks wolf down snails.
  2. Perennial Crops Permies aren’t the only ones to recognize that tilling the ground once or twice a year isn’t particularly good for the soil. Which is why they advocate using perennial crops that are planted just once, rather than annual crops which require constant tillage.
  3. Multiple Functions One of the more original ideas of permaculture is that every component of a structure or a landscape should fulfill more than one function. The idea is to create an integrated, self-sufficient system through the strategic design and placement of its components. For example, if you need a fence to contain animals, you might design it so that it also functions as a windbreak, a trellis, and a reflective surface to direct extra heat and light to nearby plants. …
  4. Eco-Earthworks Water conservation is a major focus on permaculture farms and gardens, where the earth is often carefully sculpted to direct every last drop of rain toward some useful purpose. …
  5. Let Nature Do the Work for You The permaculture creed is perhaps best captured in the Mollisonian mantras of “working with, rather than against, nature” and of engaging in “protracted and thoughtful observation, rather than protracted and thoughtless labor.” On a practical basis, these ideas are carried out with things like chicken tractors, where the natural scratching and bug-hunting behavior of hens is harnessed to clear an area of pests and weeds in preparation for planting—or simply planting mashua under your locust trees. Locust trees are known for adding nitrogen to the soil, while mashua, a vining, shade tolerant root crop from the Andes, needs a support structure to grow on. Thus, the natural attributes of the locust eliminate the need to bother with fertilizer or building a trellis, while providing shade, serving as a nectar source for bees and looking pretty. By letting nature do the work of farming and gardening for you, one achieves another of Mollison’s famous maxims: “maximizing hammock time.”

(I should emphasize these are design principles, as opposed to physical laws, or dogmas.) Now, I encountered permaculture in the depths of the 2007 depression, when it did indeed seem that I would need to prepare to grow my own food on the property available to me. The wolf is a bit farther from my door these days, and so that time’s push for yield has been replaced by the sense of beauty and fulfillment that comes from growing enough food to give away, the sheer pleasure of sitting (and typing) in the midst of a blooming, buzzing, and ever-changing profusion, and learning the art of photographing the parts of the system acting in concert. (A better photograph of that (perennial) peony would include ants seeking nectar. Perhaps this year!) However, one never knows when the wolf will come closer again, and so I’m grateful to permaculture for giving me the principles to keep improving the property continuously in small ways, in case I need to strive for yield once again. Especially the soil! Which brings me to sheet mulch.

Sheet mulch is the gateway drug for permaculture. When I sheet mulch, my approach is simple, cheap, and lazy (“hammock time”). Think lasagna with three layers:

At the bottom, compost or earth, then newspaper, and then on top, after soaking the newspaper, straw (and not hay; hay has seeds, and you don’t want them. You want your own seeds). Then I punch holes through the sheet mulch for the seedlings.) Sheet mulch is great for these reasons:

1. Very little weeding. The newspaper serves as a light block, so weeds don’t sprout. (I do have a problem with quack grass where the plants have been punched in, because the soil is exposed, but generally weeds are easy to pull out of a sheet mulched bed when they do grow, because the soil is so soft.)

2. Very little watering. I was away for the month of July, which was very dry, and the tomato beds weren’t watered at all. I came back, and they are as you see [very healthy]. The straw captures any rain that falls, the newspaper lets it soak through to the soil, and the newspaper also prevents evaporation.

3. Less disease. Molds and spores and TMV live in the soil, and the sheet mulch prevents them from infecting the plants through the leaves. When I didn’t sheet mulch, and watered, the plants would get infected from splashed bare soil, and by this time [August], two or three tiers of leaves would be yellow or even blackening (depending on which mold attacked them).

4. Lazier staking. Tomatoes that touch or rest on the soil are goners. Not so with tomatoes that rest on clean dry straw (though if it rains, raise them up or pick them!)

5. Better soil. A lot of the improvement is due to the compost, the leaves, and the soil amendment. However, worms also like sheet mulch because the soil is not compacted. Worms also like darkness and moisture, which the newspaper layer provides. Further, over a season, the new mulch will settle, and open up an air gap between the soil and the newspaper. Just as in your house, the air gap insulates, and so the soil temperature doesn’t fluctuate so much. So, the worms aerate the soil and also leave their lovely nutritious worm castings. (If I were more ambitious, I’d be doing vermiculture.)

So, less work, better soil, improved work — what’s not to like?

And sheet mulch is a great way to get rid of your lawn, too. Surely you don’t want to waste your time cutting the grass!

Underlining: My soil is greatly improved. I’ve been sheet-mulching for a long time, and the soil, originally very heavy and clay-y, is now much more light and fluffy, and full of organic matter. Makes my vegetables happy! And I don’t have to do any rototilling, or that nutty French technique that’s w-a-a-a-y too much work double-digging, both of which damage soil structure, IMNSHO. Of course, gardening isn’t all about soil, even if the happy plant is the insect-resistant plant, and this year I plan to me more systematic and clever about setting up a rotation system, and integrating more companion plants, especially flowers, into the beds proper, as opposed to round the edges (The companion plants will also have an additional stacked function, as objects of contemplation and photography.)

Finally on Modern Farmer not being Farm Journal: I found it disheartening, not to say unnerving, to discover that Modern Farmer is funded by mining squillionare and Clinton Foundation donor Frank Giustra (even if the Medici funded Michelangelo, da Vinci, Botticelli, Raphael…) Which brings me — you did notice the words “the property” throughout? — to the question of class privilege. Why, for example, for example, hasn’t permaculture spread through the third world?[1] One answer:

I’ve been finding that throughout Central America and much of the “under-developed” (or perhaps better stated as “differently developed”) world, this appreciation of permaculture as a movement of gringos is strongly felt and deeply rooted.

As I’ve talked with different farmers, researchers, academics and others interested in alternative agriculture and ecology, the main grievance that they have with permaculture is the steep costs associated with the courses offered and the literature sold. These prohibitive costs, they argue, turn permaculture into an exclusive club that can only be enjoyed by the affluent. They have very little argument with what permaculture actually teaches or advocates for, but they find that in a region where small farmers are usually severely economically marginalized, the exclusivity of the permaculture movement is a major impediment.

Most permaculture teachers offer a two week Permaculture Design Course (PDC). The running cost for most PDCs is around $2000 dollars, give or take $500. With prices like those, it´s hard to argue against the idea that permaculture is unaffordable to 90% of the world´s farmers who might be lucky to make that amount in a year of hard work.

Though there are a few permaculture institutes in Central America, the agroecology movement is far better established. This movement, in comparison with permaculture courses, tends to offer courses and classes for free to local farmers. True, participants may have to settle for eating beans and tortillas three times a day instead of organic hummus and other delicacies of the First World alternative health food movement, but nonetheless, it’s free!

Fair enough, although I’d point out that the validity (if any) of permaculture design principles is unaffected by the cost of courses. On the other hand, this argument reminds me very much of the feelling some have that the left should live on bread and water because hypocrisy (which is a recipe for burnout and dysfunction, not coincidentally). The work of propagation, absent a Frank Giustra, demands funding, those who want to keep living in the first world need to set first-world prices, and “teach permaculture and grow rich!” hasn’t been a plan anybody I know has been able to carry out. In fact, permaculture as a business strategy will probably be marginal as long as petroleum-based agriculture remains dominant (in part because of the subsidies Big Ag extracts). So one person’s class privilege is another person’s survival strategy, sadly.

Bringing me round to “collapsing in place,” a term coined by the Archdruid:

Collapse now, in other words, and avoid the rush.

There’s a fair amount of subtlety to the strategy defined by those words. As our society stumbles down the ragged curve of its decline, more and more people are going to lose the ability to maintain what counts as a normal lifestyle—or, rather, what counted as a normal lifestyle in the recent past, and is no longer quite so normal today as it once was. Each new round of crisis will push more people further down the slope; minor and localized crises will affect a relatively smaller number of people, while major crises affecting whole nations will affect a much larger number. As each crisis hits, though, there will be a rush of people toward whatever seems to offer a way out, and as each crisis recedes, there will be another rush of people toward whatever seems to offer a way back to what used to be normal. The vast majority of people who join either rush will fail. Remember the tens of thousands of people who applied for a handful of burger-flipping jobs during the recent housing crash, because that was the only job opening they could find? That’s the sort of thing I mean.

The way to avoid the rush is simple enough: figure out how you will be able to live after the next wave of crisis hits, and to the extent that you can, start living that way now.

That, to me, is what permaculture as a long-lived (forty-year) social movement is all about: “Start living that way now.” Nobody ever said class privilege is permanent, after all. It, too, can melt away and leave only detritus behind.


[1] The design principles are portable, even if the techniques are not. For example, it always struck me as odd that the Thai gardens I’ve seen have never been mulched. One answer is that water is plentiful, so there’s no need for mulch to capture it; but that’s not true in drought years. However, I now think the real reason is that snakes, scorpions, and other critters would find a home in the mulch! With bare earth, you can see there’s nothing lurking. The tropics really are not temperate.

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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. portia

    If you plant asparagus, you must double-dig once.

    I am puzzled about the gentrification of “Permaculture”–it seems to me that it has been practised by indigenous people the world over, it’s just now that Monsanto and their ilk have made it a boutique practice in order to get rid of it and force farmers to grow cash monocultures for them.

    you may enjoy a little music to get you in the outdoorsy mood

    Thank you, wonderful piece, Lambert.

  2. nippersdad

    Great article; one can never hear enough about the benefits of permaculture.

    One caveat, though: gardening is ALL about the soil. Poor agricultural practice over the past few centuries have eroded most of our topsoils, and in many cases they have rendered what is left virtually sterile. Sterile and/or non-existent topsoils overlying compacted subsoils (resistant to percolation) will be very difficult to remedy within a reasonable timeframe through the sole use of most permacultural methods in the absence of some form of soil disturbance.

    If the water cannot percolate through hardpan it will kill off all of the vital organisms in the soil regardless of how much fertility enhancing materials and subsequent tilth it may have incorporated ONTO it. Alternatively, plants cannot live on organic matter alone; they must also have the minerals that the underlying soil can provide. It is only with a mixture of the two that true fertility can be achieved.

    Oxygen introduced through percolation is as important to the life cycles of soil organisms as it is to plant growth itself. Sour soils that are alternately mucky and dry are not the objective for anyone who might want a productive garden. Soil churn is a natural process too, but few people can wait the one inch per century that it takes for nature to produce a balanced soil structure. Speeding the process up through the use of subsoiling/plowing/rototilling techniques as necessary should not be viewed as being counterproductive to the renovation of poor soil structures. Rather, they can speed up the process of soil reclamation to an almost startling degree.

  3. Mo's Bike Shop

    Your note on the tropics reminds me of an anecdote.

    A friend’s husband once did some yard work for another friend. He’s from Nicaragua, and left to his own sensibilities, he scalped all the foundation plantings. Much consternation ensued.

  4. Tom Stone

    I live in Sebastopol Ca and one of the attractions for many of my clients is that our town is a center for permaculture.
    The principles are simple and applying them well yields beautiful results.

  5. polecat

    Since about 2009 I’ve been developing our home landscape with food productivity, with some ‘permaculture’-like tecnniques being used, as well as for beauty and serenity as well. We live on a single city lot, and I’ve planted it up with the follow : Cherries(both sweet & sour), blueberries, raspberries, grapes(Mars & Early Muscat), hops, native huckleberries, strawberries, chives, saffron crocus, thymes, rosemary, lemon balm, and oregano. Also have 4 raised beds(approx. 380 sq.ft.)……that may seem small, but we get alot out of those beds……we compost most all organic matter with the poop the hens produce (4 americanas)…..We have lots of flowering perennials that attract mucho beneficial insect and pollinators!! We’re city bee keepers as well (we don’t use chemical pesticides). In recent years I’ve put in a small zen garden (in lu of vacationing elsewhere) with bamboo, japanese & native vine maples as foundation plantings…with a recirculating japanese fountain…an a small pond & bog feature to allow the honey bees to access their water consumption, without raiding the neighbor pools, pet dishes, etc. …all on a 50×140 lot!!

    p.s…….it takes some work to maintain…but I wouldn’t have it any other way……

    p.p.s. Fencing out the resident deer helps!! I have some forage planted OUTSIDE the fence for their enjoyment ;)

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      On deer: We have some. I did three things: Distracted then with clover round the borders, so they could eat that without going into the vegetables; hung some shiny metallic tape from stakes; and surrounded the garden with a single strand of black nylon fishing line. I didn’t set up a night camera, so all I have is negative proof that those measures worked.

      1. polecat

        The ‘forage’ they ‘attend to’ is red twig dogwood ( Cornus stolonifera )…along w/ some kinickkinick, lupinus, and aquilegias …the flowers of which they seem to find tasty! The dogwoods are much thicker than they otherwise would be…..I like hoofed rats…uh..i mean deer….just not in my garden space….

        Last summer I had raccoon issues…… attracted to the fishpond ( which I had to cage..cuz they would upend ALL the water lilies trying to grab the shibunkins….) and decided the grapes, that I was going to make wine with, were an even BETTER deal than the fish!! …..So here I am 1 or 2 am trying to shoo them away (with absolutely NO effect mind you!) as they just look at me…..munching on all those juicy, sweet, tender little orbs…….’sigh’

        Odin giveth, and Odin giveth away……could be worse…

        1. art guerrilla

          if life gives you raccoons, make raccoon stew ? ? ?
          (i hear they taste like koi…)

    2. optimader

      Nicely done Polecat..
      Basil, Garlic ..and Black Currant bushes my friend…

      You’ll need to wait til fall for planting garlic though. Fresh homegrown is spectacular, if you like garlic..

  6. gizzardboy

    Your question about why permaculture has not spread throughout the third world might have several answers. From an anthropological viewpoint, it could be assumed that people who have lived in a particular environment for several thousand years have worked out and refined what works the best for them. New crops or techniques that tweak things around the edges might help, but assuming that they are stupid and we have all the answers (and will share them for a few thousand dollars) is not productive. And though I am not really up on it, I understand that the milpa system of Mexico and Central America is more than “eating beans and tortillas three times a day”. There is a great diversity of species and varieties utilized which are finely tuned to the environment. In cases where the local system is failing, it may be that the indigenous population has been forced off the best land, or has been displaced by new-comers without a long history of working with the land.

    On another subject, have you considered planting hican trees (a cross between hickory and pecan) there in Maine? There is a nursery in Ontario that sells them.

    1. LC

      “From an anthropological viewpoint, it could be assumed that people who have lived in a particular environment for several thousand years have worked out and refined what works the best for them.” While fair enough in many contexts (where the locals often know far more than their Western “agricultural educators”), this should not be taken as a universal truth. You might Google for some of the videos done by Australian permaculture practitioner Geoff Lawson and his Lebanese wife on “greening the desert” at sites in Lebanon – local practice was to allow overgrazing and to collect and burn all post season crop waste instead of using to retain and build soil structure (for example via composting), resulting in a generally dry, desolate, unproductive landscape. He apparently took a lot of derision from the locals for his “stupid” permaculture ideas on swales, water retention, biomass accumulation, use of nitrogen fixing plantings, creation of synergistic “guild” plantings, etc. – until they saw the very impressive results.

        1. LC

          Thanks for the links! I might have seen them first here. And my bad for misspelling – Geoff’s last name is Lawton (not Lawson). Anyway Geoff’s videos are a good gateway intro to permaculture thinking – he has a ton on his own website, but you have to register on his site (registration is free) to view them.

  7. TheCatSaid

    I appreciate your posts and links about permaculture. To this I add the dynamic of working hand in hand with nature in a more direct way. Here’s a substantial excerpt from Machaelle Wright’s most recent Gardening Workbook. It explains what’s fundamentally different about this approach, and includes nature’s take on nature an on all gardens. (Hint: it’s different from what you’d find in a dictionary or other gardening book.) There’s also an explanation for why a person might want to consider this.

    Nature is willing and able to communicate with anyone who wants to know nature’s perspective for their specific situation. It’s qualitatively different. AND it can be used hand in hand with ANY gardening method a person chooses (e.g., permaculture, mulch gardening, raised beds, potted plants, aquaculture).

  8. Jerry Denim

    Great post Lambert. As a 40-year-old life long renter and city dweller I’ve been jealous of some of my foodie and back-to-the-land friends with abundant gardens based on permaculture principles. I’ve been eyeballing properties all over the place for some time now but I am torn between land in the tropics vs. someplace more temperate and familiar to a mid-Atlantic east coaster. I love kale and root vegetables but I also have a dream of growing Durian and white passion fruit like you can find in SE Asia. I also am deathly afraid of poisonous snakes so your questions concerning permaculture in the tropics is one I’ve pondered as well.

  9. Adam Eran

    Worth a look: Mark Shepard has many Youtube videos about applying Permaculture techniques to farming on a larger scale. His Restoration Agriculture is worth a read too. Both stress how these are financially viable techniques now.

  10. D. Battabong

    Nice to read this sort of article, but hey, (or rather, oh-là-là), we french haven’t been double-digging since the Revolution. And those of us who have been into permaculture for awhile, well, we don’t bother single-digging either :-). Tah-tah, presenting the grelinette, apparently invented by a frenchpersonne, Monsieur Grelin, in the 60’s, that breaks up and ‘stirs’ the earth without changing its vertical layers. Which is a good thing.

    Also, the physical effort involved in basic garden prep in spring, normally back-breaking, at least for my 69-yr-old body, becomes quite a breeze. Short video here for those interested.

  11. jgordon

    First, it’s not exactly permaculture, but also check out Masanobu Fukuoka’s work.

    Secondly, The most important thing to keep in mind is that permaculture is not a method for growing plants. It’s a collection of techniques, strategies and lore, only some of which are useful for growing plants. This is an important distinction that many people who have not undergone formal instruction in permaculture miss. In a permaculture design course growing plants takes up approximately 20% of the curriculum while the rest is devoted to things like finance, building construction, appropriate technologies, etc.

    Some general tips on survival:

    1) Expand your idea of what “edible” means. Find plants well adapted to your local area, and learn to live off of those. If you live in Florida for example don’t try to grow tomatoes and garlic–grow sweet potatoes, moringa oleifera, jungle peanuts. and chaya instead.

    2) Use fungi–as much as 2/3rds of the energy and material in any particular ecological system are devoted to decomposition at a particular time. That means that most people are failing to utilize at least 2/3 of the productive capacity of the system when they work that land. That translates into way more work for way less calories. It’s no wonder that people complain (out of ignorance) that growing food is hard and takes a lot of land.

    3) Don’t look down your nose at Insects, minnows, and weeds. Do some research, but a lot of these are edible. When starving, a nice meal of cooked dandelions and Spanish nettles with a side of roasted minnows will feed a family.

    Other stuff:

    4) Use appropriate technologies. Learning how to make a rocket stove, make biochar, and use solar energy to cook food are all important skills to have and are just as important to permaculture as, say, growing plants. Note: solar panels and electric vehicles are not examples of appropriate technologies.

    5) More than anything, permaculture is about arranging things intelligently and productively. That includes people. Have a good social network and encourage everyone to have something to contribute–whether it be skills, land, organizational ability–whatever. The lone survivalist in a bunker with plenty of ammo and gold probably has a pretty short life span when the SHTF whereas a community of people with good direction and organization is nearly immortal.

    Hope that helps! Go out there and do something awesome.

    P.S: I’m interested in doing this:

    Anyone else?

    1. tejanojim

      Ugh. I collected dandelion greens from the lawn and cooked them up just a few days ago. Almost inedibly bitter. Not quite a starvation food but close.

      1. different clue

        Perhaps the dandelion greens are less bitter when very young? But I really don’t know.

        I have read that dandelion flower buds when still very immature and firm little green things taste “like mushrooms” when fried/sauteed. I haven’t tried it though.

        Separately, I notice that young Canada geese in packs herded by 2 or 3 adults on big common parkland lawn spaces like to find and eat the dandelion greens from out of the lawn. Yes, I was watching what they were eating . . . and they were selecting strictly and only the dandelion greens, buds, etc. If they grow up to be huntable/edible in season, then the common-space park lawns were part of what fed them. A food-producing use for lawns as-is, if they are big enough for the geese to come. Separately, perhaps some people should think about trying to domestic the Canada Goose ( subspecies Giant here in Great Lakestan). They live right among people even though they are still wild and nasty if approached too close during breeding season.

      2. Bob Haugen

        Gotta pick the young ones. Once the heads have started to form, the leaves get more bitter.

  12. polecat

    I will say….that we give away some of what we grow and produce to friends and neighbors, as well as to the local food bank when there is an overage of fresh vegetables……..

    …last year, we had 2 lug boxes of beets that we food banked, as we had way more than we could can…and I canned a LOT of BEETS !!

  13. Russell

    I have read this into my camera and will post it on Transcendian along with some guitar building film I have on the desktop. Potatoes, Potatoes, in tires, always potatoes. Eyes not seeds. Great, that, planting eyes. Not seeds.
    We rent. I can hardly bend over. I sit well. The place was soaked in oil because originally it was a mechanics place during the Transitional phase from horses to automobiles.
    Moss grows. Pin Oaks go down with their roots far. I watered them once a month during the big drought. There was one little cloud I saw I didn’t stop to get a photograph of.
    We live in walking distance of the grocery store, but if the drug store closes I’ll have to kill myself. Or something.
    Already collapsed in place. Thanks. Potatoes.
    P.S. #seance, #threestars, just watched that. I was called a barometer long ago. I am reduced to full time artist. “My past is your future.” I tell the youths.

  14. knowbuddhau

    Great article, thanks. Turns out I’ve been “collapsing in place” for years and didn’t even know there’s a name for it. I’m not “impoverished,” I’m a trend-setter!

    The way things are going, I’m going to need to work until I can’t. Retirement looms like a catastrophe waiting to happen. Everything I read says another, even greater crisis is bound to happen. Now that a misbegotten effort to start an environmental consulting co-op (thanks to my partners entirely wrong conception of his qualifications) has gone down in flames, I’m back to my prior strategy: aiming for work within a short bicycle ride from home, and living where I can grow my own food.

    Thanks again for the food for thought.

  15. craazyman

    can you collapse in place in Queens New York with a vegetable stand down the street?

    It’s not exactly a garden but some of them are called things like “Green Garden” or “Sunnyside Produce” or “Hansin Market” or even “Crescent Street Farm”. There’s no farm within 40 miles, I guarantee you. But there are several restaurants within a few blocks, in case you want things that were on farms.

    To me, that’s permaculture. it’s always open, permanently, and it’s always got fresh vegetables.

    If things collapse, it won’t matter. During Hurricane Sandy these places were open and if an asteroid srikes and the earth splinters into moon sized chunks and forms an asteroid belt, if you somehow end up on the same chunk as one of these permaculture places you may not even notice a difference, except you’ll be lighter because gravity will be less.

    The permaculture described in this post sounds complicated and incredibly difficult. If the point is to survive, most of us won’t that way, even if no asteroid hits. If it does, then all the seasons and sunlight and temperatures will change and mess it up completely, but if your chunk of earth has a “Lucky Green Garden Fruit and Vegetable” on it, you’ll be fine. They’ll figure it out somehow. I don’t know how, but that’s because I’ve outsourced permaculture to experts.

    1. Deloss Brown

      Not to dis you, craazyman, or permaculture, but you may find yourself getting short of breath after a while on your asteroid.

      I’m against big meteors, nuclear holocausts and the Encouragement of Hurricanes, Male or Female, by Global Warming.

      That’s why–to derail the conversation–I froth at the mouth at people who say they could never vote for Hillary on principle. The Hare-Brained (or Hair-Brained) Jabberwocky is so dumb he could bring us all three. He probably thinks he can take a deep breath and walk through the solar system. Fine if he tries it solo. I don’t want to be dragged with him.

      1. jrs

        Yea orange haired guy is probably a bigger risk for the nukes, but Hillary takes fossil fuel money, so we’re screwed regardless on doing anything much at all about Global Warming even mitigation.

        Sorry but I tend to live in the reality based community. Bernie or bust.

        1. NYPaul

          Yeah, plus Hillary lies.

          Or, maybe I should have said, Hillary LIES!!!
          I know, I know, they all lie, but, there’s the lie, “oh sure, honey, those spandex pants look great on you,” and then there’s, ” hello, you must be new around here, let me show you around campus a little……………….think, Forensic Files”

          My theory is she correctly analyzed the Big Dog, probably on their first date. She didn’t like men all that much, and He liked the women too much…Perfect! And, both of them had the same, singular, laser beam obsession in life, grab & pile all the money and power the world has to offer, no, really, and snap! the pact was done, the Antichrist hasn’t stopped laughing since. Perfect, perfect, and…….perfect!!!

          With just what we know, could there be any other explanation?

    2. craazyboy

      I’m not worried about asteroids that much. I’m more worried that humans are permaculture for the Lizard People. Harvest Day is coming!

      1. portia

        If you believe Casteneda’s Don Juan, the so-called “foreign installation” has been feeding off us for untold years. You might find The Active Side of Infinity interesting…

  16. optimader

    During Hurricane Sandy these places were open and if an asteroid srikes and the earth splinters into moon sized chunks and forms an asteroid belt,
    you’d probably feel quite smug to be eating canned mandarin oranges and sardines.

    If your lucky, maybe you’ll have a couple hundred lbs stash of Quaker Oats…

  17. EndOfTheWorld

    I have many squirrels in my vicinity—I figure if things got really bad I could eat them. But I don’t know if I could—some people say they can’t eat squirrel. I guess it depends on how hungry you are.

    1. jgordon

      You can eat both squirrels and acorns. Please look up how to do it and start practicing ASAP. The time to start learning how to do this stuff is not when you need it. Also invest in a good solar oven.

  18. JG4

    I like the idea of recycling newsprint, and they’ve probably long ago stopped bleaching paper with chlorine, but it was an unfortunate source of dioxin back in the day. The paper recycling stream definitely is contaminated with bisphenol, which probably gets into newsprint. Just another day on the planet of unintended consequences.

    1. johnnygl

      Lambert, i sent raspberry pics last year. This year, they’re conquering the yard. I fully anticipate being overwhelmed by thorny deliciousness!

  19. Ray Phenicie

    Thanks for putting permaculture information out into the light of day.

    There are several issues involved here that probably need to be discussed in a much deeper fashion. The first issue really is the overall general issue of farming being so, how shall I say, industrialist. The ethanol biofuel directive is in some ways responsible for so much ecological destruction, environmental destruction that talking about this whole permaculture subject has to be framed inside all the strip mining of all soil motivated by market price for ethanol. Cutting trees along swamps, wetlands, streams and vernal (springtime only ponds) these Orc like activities have cause permanent damage to our biological culture. In addition destruction of so much habitat contributes greatly to global warming. By stripping out trees along the mentioned areas carbon sequestering that would normally be taking place is stopped permanently

    In general farmers don’t seem to know very much about good agricultural procedures. Of course blaming the farmers is not a good or correct political analysis; the real problem lies in the political hierarchy of industrial farming: Chemical manufacturers, Equipment makers, Seed companies-there are others- and Congress and the ADA are all bundled together. These groupings keep the American farmer locked in a kind of Feudal Arrangement; actual written pacts are in place that forbid the farmer, on threat of lawsuit, from leaving. Most people don’t know how deeply ingrained and deeply embedded this whole thing is. Oh, and I forget to throw in the big money interests.

    1. jgordon

      First, human society always evolves from crisis, and never from intelligent forethought and careful planning. Second, the backbone of modern industrial agriculture is abundant cheap energy–which is in the process of going away. Take that lynch pin out and suddenly modern agriculture comes to a complete stop. Within three days most people will be shooting each other over that last little bit of peanut butter in the bottom of the bottle.

      We don’t really need to spend an inordinate amount of effort trying to get people to adopt better and more humane agriculture. With luck we can reach a few more of them while time remains, but that’s not strictly necessary. I mean, it would be nice if everyone could just live happily ever after, but most times the best cure for an unsustainable situation is to just let it fall apart on its own without investing too much mental energy in worrying about it.

  20. KFritz

    What’s the backup material to replace newsprint as print media sunset, and, especially, a few decades down the line, when the technological-fossil-fuel-economy implosion is seriously underway?

      1. KFritz

        Sounds about right. Growing hay takes land and work, or buying it takes money. My implied point was/is that life will become more labor intensive as the global fossil-fuel-economy unravels. = less hammock time.

    1. different clue

      Small or smallish run print media will probably outlive digital media in the long run. It won’t be millions of copies of anything. It might go back to updated Gutenberg levels of primitivity. But it will exist. Any long decline deep enough to exterminate a Gutenberg-level of print media will exterminated digital media long before. ( Except perhaps for the Deep-Bunker-In-Place Overclass, who may well retain their own standalone pleasure-computer systems and their own digital retainers and maintainers.

    2. meeps

      KFritz @ 12:38

      Anything that will break down can be used. Human hair, wool, old jeans, cotton sheets. In other words, what’s in your waste stream?

  21. Raymond Robitaille

    Regarding the cost of permaculture design courses and other permaculture training in Central America, please keep in mind that when peasants do find field work, they earn under $200 a month, and as little as $100 a month. This is all they have to feed themselves and their family.
    There exists another larger alternative agriculture movement in Latin America and throughout the world, agroecology, that also integrates many permaculture practices (book on agroecology in Cuba Mass movements such as the MST (landless peasant movement) in Brazil , with several hundred thousand families, practice agroecology. There are many alternative or traditional agricultural practices such as zero budget agriculture in India ( that are promoted by peasant movements that are part of La Via Campesina (, a world coalition of peasant organizations that promotes agroecology.

  22. vegeholic

    This is not exactly permaculture, but last year the squirrels (I think) ran off with all of the fruit on my two peach trees. Any suggestions on how to prevent this?

  23. Bob

    Bill Mollison is the man, so is Geoff Lawton.

    Folks may also want to look up Sepp Holzer (hugulculture), terra preta,
    and mycofarming/mycoremediation.

  24. meeps

    Permaculture serendipitously found me at the library, as so many things do, about 16 years ago. It connected themes from my formal education [Geology, Architecture, Philosophy] to my daily life and has, therefore, been the more useful discipline.

    IMO, Permaculture has value far beyond its application to Agriculture. The basic laws of Physics govern everywhere and describe the way energy flows through a system. The degree to which one carefully observes these energy streams in situ is the degree to which one is positioned to work intelligently with those resources. Wherever we reside, we create small scale systems that range energetically from degenerative, to generative, to regenerative. One needn’t look far for degenerative examples and it’s easy to habituate to complaints about the lack these systems create. Permaculture provides tools and perspectives to see the solution spaces–those that tend toward regeneration and abundance.

    There are third world examples of Permaculture being adopted out of necessity [the Argentine oil crisis of the 1990s] where people had to work with whatever they had, wherever they squatted. They learned quickly to avoid squandering their resources. In other places, some with significant crises, people resist ‘new’ things (ironic, because Permaculture often uses old, proven strategies) due to risk aversion, including the risk of being an outsider. Perhaps only immediate existential threats are dire enough to motivate people to mind the details of daily life.

    Priviledge needn’t limit access to Permaculture principles, but barriers to land access are formidable for many who’d produce agriculturally within their communities. I can, and do, produce food for my family and several neighbors as a renter (as such, I’m resticted to growing mostly annual veggies). I could feed many more in my community, though, had I a ‘right’ to plant a perennial, food forest system. I do what I can here while investigating possible solution spaces for creative land use or tenure.

    Access to Permaculture credentials is skewed toward the privileged, but they aren’t necessary unless one wants to teach. People priviledged to take the PDC [Permaculture Design Certification] course have reported that it is life changing. There’s less in the way of self-education and, in my experience, knowing anything about Permaculture will have people calling you an ‘expert’ whether you are credentialed or not.

    In any case, Permaculture gets people actively engaged in the science of life. It’s extremely rewarding, even when the feedback is to try something else. That’s an education you can’t buy.

    Lovely peony, Lambert. Thanks to all for your insights.

  25. different clue

    As was pointed out upthread, the plants cannot take what the soil cannot give, and the soil cannot give what the soil does not have. If one is going to seriously collapse in place, one should be sure one’s soil is rich enough in all nutrient-precursor minerals that the plants you grow and eat are not like the mainstream corporate nutrient-free virtual vegetables of today. That would mean getting your soil tested. It would further mean the brute force labor needed of mixing in whatever ground up rock and mineral powder sources of must-have nutrients are needed to supply those nutrients. It might also mean buying and storing a lifetime supply of these soil-mineral-replacement inputs . . . just in case the post-collapse reality deletes them from any marketplace which might still exist.

    At least that’s the truth as I understand it and the understanding upon which I would/will proceed if I ever got/get a real house with a real yard around it. The strict BioIntensive dubble-digg may be crazy. I tried it one year and it is hard on the back. My simpler refinement is to move all the soil from one end of the bed to be super-deep diggy-mixed to the other end, leaving a working hole big enough to stand and move around in. Then I move soil and subsoil from the receding soil-front “in front” of me and move it to the far-end of the “filling hole” behind me. I mix the layers of soil all together along with my soil ammendments. That will leave it loose enough just long enough for plants to put roots down deep and begin restoring life and structure to the super-diggymixed soil.

  26. different clue

    Permaculture as a body of knowledge and techniques for stuff-growing and landscape management may keep improving and gaining interest. But Permaculture as a movement with a membership and a following may have certain drawbacks which will need to be understood and solved if possible. An article ( said to be first of promised three) in called The Decline May Not Be Permacultured, Part 1). It seemed to address some of the same concerns about Official Permaculture’s approach that the Agro-ecologists working with/for the poor peasant growers in Latin America have with Permaculture. Here is the link:

    Separately, farmer-thinker Gene Logsdon offered an article at the same site about how to make the lawns of America useful. It is called Lawn Farming: The Next Big Thing. Here is the link.

    If these articles are as interesting to others as they were to me, perhaps their hosting spot, might worth a visit or two.

    1. meeps

      Nice links, different clue. Observing and responding to feedback is how permaculture is done well. If only politicians would take a hint!

  27. different clue

    I think that is what the author of the article hopes will happen. Even if it doesn’t, intelligent layfolk can read the permaculture material, do their own learning-doing-observing/learning-doing-etc.

    And hopefully intelligent layfolk will also learn about biointensive gardening enough to try and find physically somewhat-easier ways to accomplish the same things. Dense-pack horticulture is what will allow householders to grow more food in small spaces then they otherwise can. HiHo Horticulture in the Zone One gardened areas and permaculture methods in the rest of the yard.

  28. different clue

    If the permaculture books and papers and websites are written well enough and are informative enough, it should be possible to learn amateur grade permaculture after a few years of reading/doing/watching/thinking. It shouldn’t be necessary to take the fancy-poo Permaculture Design Course if one wants to manage one’s own yard or micro-mini farmette.

    Let’s see how well I can do, my own layman self, at permaculture-type thinking. A co-worker sometimes tells me about some property he has up North, in mid upper-lower Michigan. It is a few-couple acres. It is just open land with plants growing on it. Lately, it has become infested with the fast-spreading weedy little sub-shrub called autumn olive ( Eleagnus whatever). It was introduced by DNR for the berries to feed pheasants. He tells me that turkeys just love the berries. Turkeys are gaining numbers in upper-lower Michigan. All kinds of birds eat the berries and poo out the seeds. Autumn olive comes up EVERYwhere in that part of Michigan. So he is going to fight it with periodic cutting and sawdown and painting all the stumps with Roundup.

    What would be the permaculture approach to all this autumn olive that grows so well? I’d designate at least some of the land where I would let it keep growing. It fixes Nitrogen from the air I’d let it keep doing that. It feeds turkeys and helps increase their numbers. The turkeys could be hunted within sustainable limits for food. The berries are humanly edible and could be harvested in huge numbers with wire-loop fronted berry box-pickers for jams/ dried berries for future cooking, etc. If they are cut down above the soil line after leaf-drop, they can grow back even more dense-packed little trunklets and branchlets next spring. So they could be harvested for wood chips for mulch every few years. They are immune to the leaf poison juglone washing off black walnut trees. So some black walnut trees could be planted between them for the long run while the autumn olives keep improving the soil for the walnut trees in the meantime. So, a self-planted-for-free orchard of autumn olive for fruit and turkeys and periodically harvesting woody stems for chipping into mulch or the high-carbon component of compost piles. Permaculturally thinking . . . how’m I doin’ ?

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