The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

The Ultimate Guide to Permaculture

The Ultimate Guide to PermacultureI've been meaning to read a beginning permaculture book or two, just to make sure I haven't missed any of the fundamentals through my hit or miss learning approach.  But skimming through all of the information in a beginner book in search of a few gems annoys me, so I put the task off.

Last week, though, I learned that one of the perks of signing on with a print publisher is that they'll send you free copies of their books to review even before they're released.  Sign me up!  The Ultimate Guide to Permaculture by Nicole Faires sounded like it might fill that (potential) gap in my permaculture knowlege-base quite well, so I spent all weekend drifting through the text's pretty pictures.

The Ultimate Guide to Permaculture is geared toward beginners, and I think it would do a fine job of opening the eyes of someone who might have heard the word "permaculture" once or twice but who knows little else.  I can't really compare it to the big two in that category (Hemenway's Gaia's Garden and Mollison's Permaculture: A Designer's Manual) since I only skimmed the classics a few years ago, but I suspect Faires' book is written on a more basic level than both, is more enjoyable to read than Mollison's book, and has more of a textbook style than Gaia's Garden.  (What I'm trying to say here is that The Ultimate Guide to Permaculture is written on a sixth grade level, which drives me nuts, but is a style that clearly is preferred by the majority of magazine-reading Americans.)

I also have several bones to pick with the information presented in The Ultimate Guide to Permaculture, but upon further reflection, I decided that my nitpicks are more about permaculture as a movement than about this book in particular.  For example, while it sounds good to say that edges promote biodiversity and that you should make all of your garden beds wavy-edged for that reason, my experience has shown that straight lines are much easier to maintain.  I think that all of the disagreements I have with permaculture ideals like this stem from the lack of hands-on experience of many permaculture philosophers.

Which is all a long way of saying --- I recommend you give this book to your neighbor or mother if they look at you in confusion when you say the word "permaculture".  Nicole Faires goes out of her way to keep the book mainstream, her goal being to launch Permaculture zonespermaculture beyond the "hippies and hipsters" who she thinks often advocate permaculture in a manner that turns off the suburban housewife and traditional farmer.

I'd recommend that my regular readers check this book out of the library.  I got two or three good ideas from the book and thoroughly enjoyed the refresher course on permaculture zones.
Weekend Homesteader
But it's not staying on my bookshelf...which is your gain!  Leave a comment on this post today, and I'll select one lucky winner tomorrow to receive The Ultimate Guide to Permaculture in the mail next week.  Hopefully you'll find it just the right home!

Don't forget to pre-order my paperback, which focuses on easy permaculture projects in the heart of permaculture zone 1.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I'm interested in reading the book. We're still working on a fair bit of infrastructure for our small lot - the garden is going fairly well but we'd like to expand it, we'd like to work chickens into the plan (not just have a run alongside the garden), and we want to make it aging-friendly as my husband and I both have some physical limitations that will only continue to worsen over the years. Getting long-term ideas or finding out why we should probably avoid certain ideas before we redesign the yard would be a wonderful thing.
Comment by bladerunner5 Mon May 28 12:44:27 2012

I have really not looked beyond what I've come across on your blog for information on permaculture. An intro book would probably be a useful intro to the key themes. I agree with you that ease of maintenance must be a factor in high labor food production (focus on labor productivity and return on labor . . . ) Edges come up in forestry management as well, particularly if you are managing forest for wildlife habitat.

Thanks for the help in mystery tree identification in my recent 'name that tree' blog posts!

Comment by Charity Mon May 28 12:50:16 2012
I am interested in the book. I would love to turn my rural backyard into a permaculture garden/area, but not really sure where to start. Thanks for great blog.
Comment by jason Mon May 28 13:42:25 2012
My sixth grade teacher was my favorite teacher so I think I stayed stunted at that level. For that reason, I would like this book for myself :-)
Comment by J Mon May 28 15:39:50 2012
I am interested in the book! I have watched several videos on permaculture which was very helpful, but I don't really have anything to look back on.
Comment by houligan19 Mon May 28 17:57:48 2012

I've been reading your blog for well over a year now. I was wondering what books you recommend reading for preaculture. This is my first year gardening and I have 23 acres we are trying to get under control. It was timbered 10 yrs ago before we bought it and is completely over run by honeysuckle, wild grape blackberries and tons of small trees. ( you cannot walk into it at all. I refuse to use any herbicide at all so it's slow going with a small front loader and a brush cutter. Was hoping you could recommend some good books of how to layout/ prevent it from taking over again once we have it manageable. Thanks

Comment by Melissia Mon May 28 18:29:43 2012

I'm glad so many of you are interested! I won't get the random number generator to choose a winner until tomorrow morning, so folks should feel free to keep commenting.

Meanwhile, I just wanted to quickly answer Melissa's question by sending her toward this post I made about beginning homesteading/permaculture books. We're working with a property just like hers, and it's slowly starting to come around after 5.5 years of hand labor. :-)

Comment by anna Mon May 28 19:13:13 2012

Hi Anna, I enjoy your blog. So far, the books I have found most helpful when trying to form plans regarding our homestead / farm project have been Joel salatin's and gene logsdon's books. Right now I am reading Carol deppe's "the resilient gardener", and I really like it, her emphasis on staple crops that can be easily stored is something that makes a lot of sense to me. Keep up the good work!

Comment by James C Mon May 28 23:41:59 2012

Hello Anna!

I am very interested in the book. I am new to gardening and permaculture so I think it might be right up my alley.


Comment by Kat Tue May 29 00:21:27 2012
I think that too often a gardener/farmer ffinds a favorite something to grow, be it flowers or veggies, or animals, and self-specializes in that to his/her disadvantage in other gardening areas. I have meandered through phases, myself: flowers, especially roses, then scented things in general, then edibles in general with flowers and other things sprinkled in. Permaculture, though, is still new to me. My sister is a permaculture preacher, and yet I live in the dark about it! Would be happy to peruse the book and pass it on to the local library.
Comment by jen g Tue May 29 00:33:52 2012
...Jason! Drop me an email at with your US Postal Service mailing address and we'll put the book in the mail to you ASAP. Sorry I didn't have enough to share with everyone, but I have some other books to give away soon, so you'll all get another chance.
Comment by anna Tue May 29 07:11:08 2012
I would highly recommend Earth User's Guide to Permaculture by Rosemary Morrow. I've read Gaia's Garden and Introduction to Permaculture and found them both helpful, but thought that Rosemary Morrow had the clearest descriptions of permaculture techniques and principles.
Comment by Michael Tue May 29 21:13:02 2012
Michael --- Thank you so much for that sum up of the beginner books! I'd been meaning to read something by Morrow anyway, so it sounds like that's the book I should focus on (and start sending people toward.)
Comment by anna Wed May 30 06:12:38 2012
I would love to find a book to share with beginning students that doesn't get all preachy about how you need to live your life. Lets all remember to start with the basics and quit "freaking the mundanes" :)
Comment by Sean Wed May 30 10:18:54 2012
Sean --- Sounds like you may have found just the book you need!
Comment by anna Wed May 30 15:42:36 2012

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