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The Permaculture Handbook: Garden Farming for Town and Country Paperback – June 26, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


Review - Transition Voice Vicki Lipski, July 26th

Peter Bane’s handbook, while not quite encyclopedic, is nothing if not authoritative. I can honestly say, without fear of exaggeration, that I hold my head a little higher as I stride about my miniscule fiefdom, now that I’ve read The Permaculture Handbook: Garden Farming for Town and Country.
The stones Bane leaves unturned are few and far between. Once you’ve digested the author’s ruminations on mapping, patterns, and garden elements, perennials, water, soil, plants, crops, seeds, and animal husbandry, not to mention his lists of plants and the jobs to which they are best suited, there’s little chance you’ll walk away dissatisfied.

Bane’s treatment of these various aspects of garden farming (his preferred term) is methodical and complete. It was a relief and a delight to find that he allows both his sense of humor and political sensibilities to creep in from time to time.

He never forgets, however, that his purpose in writing is to distill over thirty years’ experience in the science and the art of permaculture. There is much to be learned. The complete novice may, in fact, find the author’s thoroughness a bit blinding. In this case, a piecemeal approach could well be the best one.

Bane himself advises the reader to start small, and good advice it is. As you proceed to branch out beyond the basics, the book’s tidbits of information and advice will take on more and more relevance.

Pass the salt
For instance, did you know that if your fruit isn’t sweet, or your vegetables are the object of an insect infestation, it’s probably because your soil suffers from a mineral deficiency? Your soil is in need of amending (most everybody’s is, to one degree or another).

It has been my contention, almost from the day we moved to the Cincinnati area, that the foods here are extremely bland. Now I understand why! The soil here is just awful – a tan, clumpy clay that is utterly devoid of worms and organic matter, and therefore completely unable to hold onto water. If it’s possible to be deficient in everything, then this soil is. For folks in these parts, permaculture could literally spice up their lives. Good soil is the beginning of good eating.

Here’s some more great advice that, by itself, is worth the purchase price of the book On page 88, we learn to,
… keep all soil growing some crop at all times
…Seed or transplant the next crop as soon as or, better, before the maturing one is harvested.

This book is packed with wisdom gleaned from decades of working the soil. Assuming I get my sonic mole repeller in time (they’re tunneling me out of house and home), the winter squash will go in and around my thriving tomato plants. If I can lay my hands on some more cabbage seeds, they’ll go in at the same time (the first planting was a washout).

With a cluck, cluck here…
The animal husbandry section offers a cornucopia of down-to-earth knowledge and advice.

I’ve long harbored the desire to raise chickens, but here – as elsewhere – we belong to a homeowners’ association, so I’ve been frustrated yet again.
For those among you lucky enough to be able to own livestock, take a close look at chapter 14, “Animals for the Garden Farm.” Interestingly, there are three animals which Bane believes the garden farmer should steer clear of: horses (not worth the upkeep), sheep (prone to parasites, need lots of land), and donkeys (need land).

He also takes on the ethical conundrum of raising animals for meat, as well as the importance of their breeding.

There is a lovely, lengthy section on beekeeping. Yet I believe this section includes a rare, important oversight; that is the failure to discuss Colony Collapse Disorder. This is just too important a problem to ignore. I hope it will be covered in the inevitable second edition.

The Permaculture Handbook is liberally adorned with black and white drawings and photographs. As can sometimes be the case with garden and farming pictures, the subjects of photos are occasionally difficult to determine. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that permaculturists (I include myself) do not necessarily pride themselves on a tidy garden farm. Everything tends to be a “work in progress,” and it shows. Such concerns notwithstanding, the color photos are particularly well done; the numbered captions are easily understood. The photos appear to have been carefully selected, and truly do add a needed dimension that bolsters the book’s authoritativeness.

If they can, you can!
Finally, Bane’s case studies include an up-to-the minute analysis of his own Renaissance Farm, in Bloomington, Indiana (also home to the magazine The Permaulture Activist). His year-by-year history of the progress he and partner Keith Johnson have made in turning their .7 acre into a working farm makes for genuinely interesting reading. As Bane describes the endlessly cyclical nature of what they do:
Self-reliance and food storage are both increasing. Soils are improving. The growing season is now year-round.
Would that we could all say the same.

Working examples
Other operations are described, as well: Jerome’s Organics, of Basalt, Colorado; Old 99 Farm, in Dundas, Ontario; and Radical Roots Farm, of Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Jerome’s is far and away the oldest of the four farms described, established in 1982. It’s also different in that its primary mission is educational, both insofar as garden design is concerned, and with regard to producing successful yields. Jerome Osentowski welcomes students and visitors to his demonstration garden and educational programs year-round.

The other two garden farms were much more recently established. In the case of Old 99 Farm, operator Ian Graham sells winter vegetables, eggs, dairy and cow-shares. Radical Roots operators Dave O’Neill and wife Lee Sturgis offer annual vegetables, nursery plants, and eggs. Dave teaches permaculture design, and consults. Lee and Dave hire paid interns, affording a valuable opportunity to up-and-coming garden farmers.

I’ll leave you with a parting thought of my own – this book deserves to be a part of your gardening library – and one of Peter Bane’s:
The essential work of Permaculture activism is to understand and see abundance in the world around us, often before others do, and then to help others to see it also, to bring it into being.

About the Author

Peter Bane: has been the publisher and editor of Permaculture Activist magazine for over 20 years. As an experienced permaculture site designer Peter has taught permaculture extensively in North and South America for nearly two decades. A prolific writer in journals and collections on forestry, building, and all things sustainable, he consults with universities and municipal governments as well as for private landowners. Peter helped create Earthaven Ecovillage in North Carolina, and is now pioneering suburban farming in Bloomington, Indiana.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: New Society Publishers; Original edition (June 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865716668
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865716667
  • Product Dimensions: 10.9 x 8.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #250,044 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 50 people found the following review helpful By H.Hieronimi on July 15, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Although allready a permacultuture pracitioner and enthusiast for more than 20 years, this one had many features new to me. Peter Bane gives us really a in-depth look of permaculture principles and practices in this great book. The Graden-Farming outlook is definietly a new feature treated in depth here, very necesary-
The only flaw (for somebody like me, who is living in mexico) is that it is 100% written for the US...but I'm so used to have to translate this kind of info to other climates and circumstances, so Im NOT taking away one star, beacuse all the rest is so great.
Timely outlook to Permaculture, practical and theorectical info, Bane is also an excelent writer, and this book is in my opinion the third book that is a must in any serious PC libary, after Mollisons Designers Manual, and Holmgrens "Principles and Pathways..."
Not to be missed, excelent for beginners and advanced...
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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Iain C. Massey on December 22, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
You could do worse than treat this book as a comprehensive update of the "technique" material in Mollison's "Permaculture: A Designer's Manual". There's a lot of value, a lot of practical wisdom and a lot of updated science (soil science, agronomy, ecology, human and animal nutrition) in this big book. The comparatively recent technique of a pattern language as a further aid to design is also a welcome addition. Naturally, zones, sectors, stacking, succession and the rest of the thinking tools are still here as well. It's fascinating to see Permaculture insights elaborated and developed in a second generation literature. Helpful, too.

The reference point is the urban-fringe "garden farm", producing foods for its occupants, neighbours and local markets, rather than Mollison's upland valley-scale farmstead or hamlet. But it has always been clear that Permaculture aspirations and techniques apply at scales from apartment balconies to broad-acre farms.

I guess I can't complain about a North American perspective on climate, species, etc. Much of Mollison's work was very Australian-centric. But it would be an improvement in the Permaculture literature generally to get global. Mollison and Holmgren tended towards language like "pole-wards" instead of South for the shady side, and international climate type classifications instead of national ones. They weren't fully consistent, and sometimes the language gets awkward, but I think it's an effort worth making. This book would benefit.

Don't know what I'm talking about? Want to get an overview of what this Permaculture thing is? Don't start here. There are short, accessible books that introduce you to the body of thought and practice that this book covers in comprehensive detail.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Desert Reader on September 6, 2012
Format: Paperback
The Permaculture Handbook is the most accessible, most practically useful permaculture book out there. The place Bane especially gets it right, and where many others don't, is the manner in which he stacks, folds, and integrates the structure and content of the book. It mimics a whole system itself, with interrelated themes that return at various levels of resolution, in a fractal-like pattern. Bane is wise to utilize Christopher Alexander's "A Pattern Language" as a model for this type of integrated thought. The result is also a delightful and fun read, written with razor-sharp intelligence and some wit thrown in there, too. Ultimately, it is a powerfully visionary work, prescribing a set of design guidelines that can be extended far beyond land-based applications into many other forms of organized human endeavors. But Bane stays mostly in the world of the suburban garden farm here, a place that many people can realistically access. In this way, it retains a manageable scope that I think helps the reader to see permaculture as manifest in a concrete way. Individual chapters work spectacularly well as reference areas, too. The chapter on soil gives one of the most clear-headed and graspable explanations of soil building that this reviewer has read. This is no ordinary work. This one is special.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Vincent VPK on June 22, 2012
Format: Paperback
First, New Society Publishers did a fine production in the release of Mr. Bane's extensive work, which is well illustrated with photos and drawings. Being born at the start of the Space Age (1958), I appreciated the overview of the past and how we "took a wrong turn" in our journey. I easily identified with the background (i.e. "Living the Good Life" by Helen and Scott Nearing) and have an advantage of attending a permaculture course with him as a teacher years ago in Tennessee and even visited Earthaven Ecovillage in North Carolina. That being said, Mr. Bane was very generous in consolidating his over twenty years in this "bible" of topics, examples and real life situations that will propel the most novice or for that matter, experienced, with ideas to start or continue the "dance" of the permaculture gift.
The endnotes section is very useful in pointing out where to go for more detail or further inquiry. There is even an an appendix of useful plants, with other lists inserted throughout the book.
I would have made one small change or addition in the title though, adding the word "Design" to Garden Farming. That's what makes it interesting, creative, challenging, fun with your friends and neighbors.
This is easy to read and a joy to hold. I recommend it highly and plan to share copies as a gift.
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