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Paul Wheaton's versus other permaculture....confused

Wenderlynn Bagnall

Joined: Jan 08, 2012
Posts: 73
Location: United Kingdom
I'd be interested to hear from Paul on this:

I'm really struggling with something I heard in a course I'm on this weekend so much so that I am on this podcast at 5.30 in the morning (I'm in the UK). I'm on a weekend course learning what I can about Permacultute in the garden. I've been reading books, especially Sepp and listening to various videos such as the ones from Scooter and others filmed by Paul and I totally 'get it' but........the course has put me back by teaching things that I know don't agree with as everything else makes better sense.

I've been listening to some of Paul's podcasts which I'm a bit behind on. I've heard about keeping the soil covered and not tilling the earth and using certain crops to break up clay soil. yesterday. the teacher has been teaching Permaculture for 10 years so in now way to I want to disrespect her but maybe I've been converted by Paul .

I didn't agree (in my mind) when the teacher said she doesn't mulch her garden in Winter so the frost can kill off the slug and snail eggs and that mulching this time of year attracts them. i can see her point but surely this is not reflecting what should be taught within permaculture if we are to mimic nature and have the right systems in place? i'd

Also I told her what I was doing with the soil on my land which is clay and compacted by growing plants that have deep root systems, green manures and some mulching......she said some of those plants' roots won;t be able to get down anyway so to use a Chiver plough. Not sure what this is but I didn't agree with this either and thought what did man do before ploughs came along?

all of this really does bother me............crazy!!!

it's the second day of the course tomorrow in her garden so if anyone can help me with this before I'd appreciate it.

ps I'm not checking the grammar etc in this post as i'm going to try to get some shut eye. sorry those of you who are Englist teachers etc but I need my sleep especially now i have got this off my chest.

Burra Maluca
Mother Tree

Joined: Apr 03, 2010
Posts: 7379
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
You're in the UK, which makes all the difference when it comes to slug control!!

I'm in Portugal now, and mulch is just about the greatest thing I ever discovered. We have enough frost here to kill most slug eggs, and it's hot and dry enough in the summer that the slugs never really get a hold, even under nice thick layers of mulch. A few roaming bantams seem to take care of just about anything else, and we have ducks in case we happen to find a gang of them anywhere that the bantams can't cope with.

My experience of mulch in the UK, however, was that wherever I put it became a breeding ground for slugs to the extent that they would wipe out pretty well anything I tried to plant through it. Maybe experiment with living mulches which don't encourage the slugs so much, or find a way to fit in chickens or ducks to your system - maybe a chicken tractor you could rotate over the area so they can scratch through the mulch, remove slug eggs, and fertilise the area at the same time.

I don't have much experience of clay but I think I would treat it as a challenge if anyone told me I couldn't break clay up just using plant roots. I guess it depends a bit how compacted it's become, but if I were you I'd take a whole load of before and after photos, research appropriate plants, and set out to demonstate a way to do the job *without* a plough.

I never heard of a chiver plough, but maybe she meant a chisel plough? There is a grain of truth in what she's saying - before ploughs came along I think the soil was in better condition and maybe would never have needed such drastic treatment, so just maybe one go over with a plough would get the whole system up and running faster. But, like I said, if I was in your shoes I'd just treat it as a challenge to find a better way

How works

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Ken Peavey

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2523
Location: FL
What works in one part of the world may not be the best solution somewhere else. There is no such thing as "Do it this way or it's not Permaculture." Think of your teachings as Guidelines rather than Rules.
Slugs love mulch. It keeps them warm and moist. While mulching is usually great for the soil, there are situations when it can create a slug problem. Using nature to help out by freezing the slugs is a fine solution. It may not be the only solution: some would say a plethora of slugs is a sign of a shortage of ducks. If ducks are not permitted by local ordinance or the preference of the steward, alternative solutions would be needed.

Questioning a teacher shows critical thinking. It is that critical thinking that will help you solve problems and use nature to your benefit. You'll go far.

Seed the Mind, Harvest Ideas.
Fred Morgan

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 977
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
Paul lives in Montana, you live in UK. Look up on the Internet about the differences in climate. You will be sure Paul is nuts for living in Montana because of how cold it gets. For example, for seven months of the year, it is more likely that it will be below freezing on any given day, than not. When it is that cold, mulch isn't really going to matter that much regarding slugs over wintering.

Of course, I think anyone who lives where it ever is below freezing is nuts...

Take from the course the concepts, and it is useful to know what people are doing in your area who are into permaculture. But learn the concepts, the details change for location, and will keep changing for your location as your system matures.

An example, if I am starting with an open field and want to have a forest, I won't start with the trees that represent a climax forest, but with pioneer species. For me, that would be Acacia, cebo, teak, etc. Not going to help you much in England I am afraid since those are all tropical trees, but the idea of starting with pioneers will help you a lot.

Sustainable Plantations and Agroforestry in Costa Rica
Iain Bagnall

Joined: Nov 23, 2011
Posts: 16
Location: Hertfordshire & Devon, England
The regional differences are absolutely correct, re. how cold it gets in different regions, however, in the UK as with everywhere else, you don't get bare earth in nature, and of course you also don't get problem numbers of slugs or anything else, because nature's systems work.

Leaving the ground bare over winter seems contrary to the whole fundamental principle of mimicking nature's patterns, and could mean a lot of weeding and just seems like potentially a lot of unnecessary work.

I'd rather put my efforts into building a system of predators and prey, so put in ponds for the ducks, frogs and toads. Also put in plants that bear berries to encourage birds, which will also eat the slugs and snails. Ground beetles will eat slugs, so put in woodpiles to encourage them, and look into how to attract slow worms, or anything else that will eat slugs- hedgehogs etc.

If slugs are still a problem, grow green manures or winter crops over winter instead of mulching or leaving the earth bare, and try planting other things that the slugs will like to eat around the edges of the plot

Fred Morgan

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 977
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
Anytime you have a pest, your first thought should be "what wants to eat them" in my opinion. After all, protein is not to be despised, you just need to convert it into something you would like to eat, fish perhaps? Ducks adore slugs from what I have read as well.

Then again, snails are considered very tasty.

(can you tell I am getting hungry right now... )
tel jetson

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3328
Location: woodland, washington
avoiding winter mulch is sometimes taken as gospel in slug regions. I'm in one such slug region, and I mulch heavily all year. there are more slugs around because of it. but there are also more slug predators, so it sort of comes out in the wash. the chickens help out, too, and ducks would get rid of them almost entirely.

the chisel plowing is similar. old Bill Mollison recommends chisel plowing under some conditions in the Permaculture Designer's Manual. many of the benefits can be achieved with plants, but it takes longer. so what's your priority? if you're in a big hurry, maybe a chisel plow is a reasonable option. just make sure to do it in the right season, or you may end up with worse compaction than you started with. if you prefer the plants and mulch option, make sure you're not expecting instant results, because you won't get them.

after operating tractors and assorted implements on some good friends' farm for ten years, I tend to avoid machinery for my own projects. slowing things down a bit has many advantages.

and like Ken said, dogma won't do any of us any good, so use your best judgment rather than abide anyone's rules.

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Brenda Groth

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
permaculture books do recommend a chisel plow that doesn't turn the soil but only opens it up to a depth..which makes some sense esp in hardpacked soil..

also here in the US the real slug problems are more likely in the pacific northwest where the conditions are quite similar to UK..however..where paul lives he probably has very little slug problem as he is more inland..and not in the super rainy areas.

she probably has more experience with the surrounding areas so give her a break..each country will have much different is like comparing a hot desert to alaska !

gather as much material as you can and absorb it all.

I too have some differences with a lot of things taught my the main number of permies in this country, as they tend to be also in the northwest pacific areas..and I'm not..but I try to use common sense for the area I'm in and adjust.

Eventually us people that live elsewhere will have enough experience behind us to document what we have found and then there will be more various information out there.


Bloom where you are planted.
Shawn Harper

Joined: Mar 01, 2012
Posts: 234
Location: Portlandia, Oregon
Chiming in from the PNW, your climate brother. Over wintering garlic in your beds is your ideal tool if you don't want ducks. Plus as a bonus you get more garlic, and who doesn't like that

She changes everything She touches, and everything She touches changes.
Wenderlynn Bagnall

Joined: Jan 08, 2012
Posts: 73
Location: United Kingdom
Hi Guys

thanks for your responses, they have been really helpful. I did mean chisel plough, my mistake. On my way back home from the course I did think about the different climates in this country and considered the idea of no mulching in the Winter for this reason. It does make sense to me but I've got it stuck in my head that nature covers the earth and doesn't plough except with pigs!

Thanks Ken for your faith in me. I ask a lot of questions especially if something doesn't make sense. For me things have to fit like a jigsaw puzzle and if a piece is missing I want to know where to find it.

I totally respect the teacher and anyone that can teach any of these valuable ways. I was shocked though again today when the teacher pulled out a tub of slug pellets!!! (safe for birds and only used when necessary though they said) but it almost shattered anything I had learned about permaculture. I did mention copper though and got reassured on that one.

The weekend has been fab and only made me want to do a design course now. You guys have been my teachers too so thanks for this.
Wenderlynn Bagnall

Joined: Jan 08, 2012
Posts: 73
Location: United Kingdom
Oh I meant to say Ken, I'm keeping your quote on my wall as inspiration.
John Polk

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6898
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
One more thought on the Bare Earth vs Mulching argument. When we say "Mother Nature doesn't like bare earth", we are talking scale. She does not like to see large patches of it, but in nature, we do see many sections that have sparse growth, and little litter.

In the US, over half of our species of native bees lay their eggs buried in the soil, as do many other pollinators. If our plot is covered in 2-6 inches of mulch, these pollinators will go elsewhere to lay their eggs.

To encourage these volunteer pollinators, we need to provide them with a suitable habitat, which means an area of semi-open (sparse litter, NOT heavily mulched) areas to raise next season's pollinators. In my mind's eye, the best place to provide this space is at the edges, where the greatest variety of plants and insects occur.

(P.S. I live in the mild, but rainy Pacific North West...slug capitol of the continent...I use living mulch...crimson clover... in the winter, plant debris during the growing season, and have never had a slug problem here. I'm not wasting my beer on them.)

Wenderlynn Bagnall

Joined: Jan 08, 2012
Posts: 73
Location: United Kingdom
Thanks john. Bees are amazing aren't they......

We've some wild strawberries to put in as living mulch. When the threat of snow and sleet and frost are over we'll put them in. Crazy!!! This country has just has some amazing weather for this time of year but back to the good 'ol March climate. :
paul wheaton

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 17441
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)

It turns out that everybody is right. Weird huh. Everything is just so complex that given a variety of circumstances, almost any crazy thing can be right.

Slugs: have you seen all the threads and videos I have about slug control? I spent a few years in the Seattle area with climate similar to the UK. And lots of slugs and fungi and disease and pests. And now I'm in montana: more sun and fewer pests.

Mulch: If i wanna get mulchy, I like to do it in june - after the soil has warmed up. But I will do it in other times of the year, but I know that adding mulch will bring in slugs and other pests. If I plow and turn soil and futz with mulch every year, then I discourage pest predators and encourage pests. Better to find solutions that will allow me to leave the soil undisturbed.

Plowing: If you have dirt (soil has a decent humus level, dirt does not) then plowing it probably isn't gonna hurt much. Still a lot of work. And if you plow something in, that would be a little smarter. But the long term goal should be to get to a system where you don't have to break the soil anymore.

People with different thoughts on permaculture: there is gonna be a lot of that. And chances are that they are all right - when given the right set of circumstances. How you manage an urban lot is different than how you manage 100 acres. And both are different from strict container gardening.

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Joined: Jan 19, 2011
Posts: 8
This was a great discussion, thanks all!

I mulch more and more, and have had better and worse results.

The better is soil moisture, organic matter, protection from frosts and frost heaving.

When the slugs came in, I got ducks. Good deal.

Now rodents have been burrowing through the mulch. I need to figure out how to balance that. The cats are in at night because of the coyotes. Well, it takes some time to figure it all out.

Cory Arsenault

Joined: Mar 03, 2011
Posts: 55
Location: Ottawa, Canada
Would a rock mulch avoid the slug problem?
Lloyd George

Joined: Jan 25, 2012
Posts: 159
In Paul's articles about sepp holzer, it is mentioned the Sepp practices Holzer Permaculture. mostly to head off the "you can't do that, that is not permaculture," folks...and I see quite a bit of that..Nature is infinitely variable, and so must permaculture be, as well. Bill Mollison says that permaculture can be as big or as small as you like.

Not saying that that is the issue here, I just want to illustrate that Permaculture, while it is a design system, is ot a rigid set of rules, but an infinite set of variables, many of which fit together in a chaotic, but functional, and usually predictable manner.
I agree. Here's the link:
subject: Paul Wheaton's versus other permaculture....confused