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my "notes" from the Sepp Holzer workshops

paul wheaton

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 17440
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
First, I have to say that I have lots of ... notes?  Well, not really notes - I'm not much of a note taker.  I wrote down questions and when the question was answered, I drew a line through the question.  So I have these sheets of paper that have all of these questions with a line drawn through them.

I'm just getting started in conveying those. 

And, I suppose, there were lots of things he said that I simply remember, but I have no notes to remind me to share them here. 

If there is something you want to know what Sepp might have said about something, please post a new thread and I'll tell you what I remember.

In general, I can say that I get the impression that Sepp said a lot of stuff that the interpreters did not convey.  Apparently a lot of Sepp's stuff is, uh ....  a bit salty?   

And Sepp does not care for the government.  He has some good rants about the damn gub-mint!  Apparently he has paid more fines in the EU than any other farmer.  So while the pesticide farmers get subsidies, Sepp has to pay money. 

Sometimes my question would frustrate or piss him off.  And then he would come back to his generic answer of "you have to read the book of nature."  And I would just try to find a way to rephrase his question.  But since I could only ask 1 or 2 questions a day, I had to be very careful.

His style of communication is very ... direct.  A sort of "my way or the highway" kind of direct.  If there is any idea that is different from his own, he will either label it as a complete failure (without explanation as to why) or say "that will work" which I interpret to mean that he has done it that way too.    As an example, I shared some pictures of a pond I made and a device a built into the pond to keep the water above ground in the summer.  His response was "catastrophe" and there was no explanation as to why. 

I think that this form of communication featuring a lot of absolutes is not a shortcoming on his part, but, rather, the way that all of the people around him have trained him to speak.  He has probably struggled so much to make progress on what he has accomplished so far, that he has learned that this form of communication gets him what he wants much faster. 

There is no doubt in my mind that he is a genius.  I just wish I could communicate with him better.  With better communication, I may have learned twice as much. 

As is, I did learn a lot.  A big lot.  Gobs.  It will probably take me a couple of weeks to convey what I can to these forums.

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Jeremy Bunag

Joined: May 30, 2007
Posts: 231
Location: Central IL
Sounds like you learning a new language is in order!
Matt Ferrall

Joined: Dec 26, 2008
Posts: 555
Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
I must say that I really enjoy Sepps personality.I definitely see some of my own traits in him.Like Sepp,I was always a somewhat nerdy kid,obsessed with nature.In my 20s,I started to want to test the bounds of known information in the world of plants and their cultivation.I cant count the number of times people older and with more "experience" would tell me that my ideas were wrong.Since I have no formal education(hate classrooms),I dont have any legitimate credentials by the systems standards.I have found many of my ideas are working.That is because they are rooted in observation and my personal relationship with the landscape.Its funny when an expert tells me what kind of animals live in my forest without personal knowledge.Based on my experience with "experts" and authorities,I have had to disbelieve much "factual" information.I have had to trust only my own intuition and landscape relationship.Basically,I decided at one point that everything Ive been taught is a lie.But that means the possibilities beyond that are endless.I have a feeling that Sepp is the way he is because he was born with an independent disposition and that that has compounded with his need to ignore the "facts" in order to discover new knowledge and lifeways.I love his controversial style.I get very bored very fast and a strong unique personality can really liven up otherwise dry information.Paul,you will be thinking about him more because of his style and will probably remember more.People that tone down their stuff to reach the mainstream become boring to the cutting edge.I dont believe you can please both crowds.Sepp got famous partly because of his style and now he can use that fame to promote something cool.The tradition of the rebel farmer is by no means limited to Sepp.Fukkuoka(sp?)doesn't prune his fruit trees either.And look how the permaculture community treated Mollison at times.
What I really like about Sepp is his focus on having a personal relationship with nature.I can learn things from him,but dont have to necessarily follow his info like a template and I think ,at his core,he believes this as well.

There is nothing permanent in a culture dependent on such temporaries as civilization.
Matt Ferrall

Joined: Dec 26, 2008
Posts: 555
Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
As,the last post implies,I really dig sepp holzer.However,I do have a few critiques.
1-Even where I live,Hydro is only available to a few people that own a decent stream so Sepp was pretty set up with a nice piece of land.I'm not sure I count tons of free energy as low input.His book describes how much energy it takes to heat his house!Cascadian Farm is located near me.They are off the grid and have so much extra electricity that they do everything with electric and dont even worry about conservation but I dont know how sustainable that is.PS.Hydro creates constant noise pollution.
2-I can understand how if Europeans had set their minds to it they could have terraced those hills by hand so I'm not opposed to the use of the excavator for that.Those terraces will last for a long,long time.I really am uncomfortable about Hugelcultures though.Sepps use of an excavator for everthing gets on my nerves.Here,it costs 100$ an hour for an operator and machine.Sepps 40KM of terraces amounts to potentially millions of dollars.While the terraces are a one time thing,the hugelculture seem to be a technique(clearly in the red caloricaly)to use over and over.If you need an excavator to do it,it aint gonna be a sustainable model and might not even be possible in the future.Big hugelcultures are almost always done with an excavator.Yea,you can block the road noise but when it comes to civilization,you save more energy addressing the core problems not just the symptoms(car noise).Addressing the symptoms just wastes more energy and time.Half the energy consumption in this country is to mitigate for the other half.
3-Long term results will take more time ( 500yrs)to analyse.Its one thing to take down a forest,pile it into piles,and plant stuff on it.Over time(100yrs?) those trees will decay and then where will the organic material for the next 100yrs come from?
4-I personally would not have the ego to tell other people in other bioregions solutions.Sure,Sepp has had luck with ponds in other locations but when Paul asked him about pigs in the wetlands,he didnt take salmon into account and how could he?The salmon of Europe were decimated 1000 yrs ago so salmon is not a concern over there.Do ponds work on sloping land where I get 80+inches of rain a year?Take a look at the slopes around the PNW after the snow melt/rain storm this winter.Sure would hate to have an eco pond destroy the neighbors downstream!I have a hard time telling people what will work on a different soil type,let alone a different ecosystem.
5-and this one is more personal.I really hate airplane and car noise and pollution so I gotta count one strike just for flying over here.Sorry Sepp but if people stayed in their bioregons we could stop fossil fuel consumption overnight.Why are you not at home having this relationship with nature that you speak so fondly of?Permaculture is often used by people to rationalise travel like"I'm gonna take my course in Hawaii"even if its not applicable to where I'm gonna live ultimately.
  I love to critique and overall Sepp is the coolest permie Ive experienced in along time but after thinking about his weak points for the last month thats the best I could come up with so figured I'd take a shot.

Joined: May 01, 2009
Posts: 20
Location: Pittsburgh PA
I'm wondering if any of Sepp's talks were recorded somehow? Video, audio, photo, transcript? Did anyone take good notes they can put online? That would be invaluable!

As for some of the critiques above:

1) "I'm not sure I count tons of free energy as low input." The goal is not really to seek lower consumption, lighter footprints, or anything like that. It is to have an abundance that enriches rather than pollutes. Using current energy income from solar, wind, tidal, thermal, microhydro etc etc to produce a surplus... this goes beyond the minimum requirements of conservation and sustainability. Also, if you can't use current energy sources to power your life, like Holzer does on his land, then you probably should move to a place where you can. (Though really there's enough free energy anywhere -- just gotta learn to capture it.)

2) The dude can use excavators all he wants in my opinion -- he probably owns one and if not he obviously has the money to rent. The rest of us can get our diggers on the cheap (sub-$10k) through the work of Jakubowski et al and some personal creativity, or do it by hand... it's not that hard, I'm terracing my land with a shovel and mattock. And there's no reason you can't grow your own fuel or otherwise run one responsibly. The hugelcultures are not "clearly in the red caloricaly" [sic]. They operate for years and produce exceptional caloric and monetary yields! They are capital land improvements which foster procreative assets of great value -- machines of production!

3) "those trees will decay and then where will the organic material for the next 100yrs come from?" I think he's building up far more organic material than those pine trees ever contained to begin with. They were laid in mounds just to start the ball rolling. Organic material doesn't "decay" and become unavailable in the distant future. Holzer is constantly selling food off of his land and losing organic material in that way, but from what I see he creates so much more surplus than he extracts, that "depletion" is not a factor. Through terracing, windbrakes, mulching, water-capture, and harvesting only a small percentage of what grows, he's on his way to building up many feet of thick humus. He's turning rocks into soil via animals, plants, fungi, microbes -- that's where the organic material comes from.

4) "o ponds work on sloping land where I get 80+inches of rain a year?" -- Haha yeah of course! Terraced ponds are very common throughout regions with even more extreme rainfall -- Vietnam, Java, NE India, etc etc. The pond form can surely exist anywhere: the question is how to do it right. I'm sure if you paid Holzer to figure it out for your particular land, he'd spend some time and solve the problem for the next few generations. Convincing the municipal engineer, however...

5) "Why are you not at home having this relationship with nature that you speak so fondly of?" Dude, he's been at home for decades. He's bringing his show on the road at long last! I totally agree with your point about fossil fuel travel but you can't knock the guy like this -- him traveling to spread his knowledge is more valuable to the fate of the planet than the collective toil of thousands of tourists taking off at this very moment. This is a difference between useful and frivolous consumption of resources. 
It's in the permaculture playing cards. Here's the link:
subject: my "notes" from the Sepp Holzer workshops