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Advice please! Studying permaculture - how do YOU organise information/notes taken?

doug peddle

Joined: Apr 26, 2012
Posts: 11
Hi there all,

I have been studying permaculture for the last couple of years and have so far got a whole mess of various notes/printouts/audio and digital content collected.

I am continuing my studies and was hoping to tap into the collective permies brain for answers to the following question:

How do you collate and store all the information that you have written/collected relating to Permaculture? Any advice welcome!

In particular how have you complied written notes taken during courses (e.g. PDC, workshops, site visits, working experience...)

It seems that one problem is that Permaculture covers pretty much everything; "its a wardrobe within which all of human knowledge can be hung".

Any help would be appreciated!

Michael Jacobsen

Joined: Apr 12, 2012
Posts: 13
Location: West Virginia, USA
Don't know about anyone else but I have found "mind mapping" to be quite valuable for dealing with widely diverse information. There's a lot of information on the subject to be found out on the internet. Now if you are talking about a physical collection of notes, you could always just get a set of file folders and then sort them alphabetically by subject/topic. (That's how I manage my general reference file folders for physical paper stuff. 2011 tax stuff in one folder, ssn cards in another, birth certificates in another, etc. Filed alphabetically.)

Michael Jacobsen
Charles Kelm

Joined: Apr 30, 2010
Posts: 162
Location: Western Washington (Zone 7B - temperate maritime)
I'm hoping somebody has a better solution than me, but for now what I do is make a big MSWord document, in alphabetical order. I periorically add to it and then export it to a PDF which I have in my phone. At any time I can pull up the document, search for "comfrey", for example, and have some information which I thought might be useful to me in the future.

Western Washington (Zone 7B - temperate maritime)
Morgan Morrigan

Joined: Oct 16, 2011
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
Wiki software?

Get involved -Take away the standing of corporations
Andrew Kay

Joined: Apr 25, 2012
Posts: 31
wiki software. designed for exactly your need - storage and retreval of a diverse range of cross-referenced information.
Alex Ames

Joined: Feb 24, 2012
Posts: 385
Location: Georgia
What about an old school approach? A three ring notebook with tabs to organize by subject.
One of the tabs would be a log of useful websites.

Then a dated garden log which can be reviewed as needed to point out what is working or not
working through the years. Then do a garden layout map with no details and run several copies
so you can plan a rotation for two or 3 yrs. down the road.

The internet is going to be there but you need to circle the wagons around some core concepts
and plans that will work for you. Get 5 or 6 pencils and put the big erasers on them so you can
make running changes to your garden plans and show planting dates. This is important if you
don't see seedlings coming up you know whether to wait or move to plan B.

I try to notate in the garden log when I do something and write it down on the garden layout
which I keep on a clip board. So as I go through the gardening year erasing and adding on the layout
the info is not lost. The log is a historical document and the layout is a working document that
shows what is out there now.

Morgan Morrigan

Joined: Oct 16, 2011
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
If you are going to use paper, make a "season wheel", and print/copy it onto the back/front of every page.
that way you can keep track of plant date, emerge, flower, seed , dieback etc, on every plant by just drawing lines, or numbers.
good if you want to cross plants too.

works great.

Seed Search / Native seeds down in Tucson used to show how to do it, but think it is a standard tool you make for your specific climate.
Brenda Groth

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
I usually take advantage of the back to school sales and buy a bunch of the 10 c spiral bound notebooks (generally 70 sheets)..

I keep a spiral bound notebook for nearly every book that I read, if it was a small uninteresting book I may combine it with another book's notes in a notebook..I label them and store them together.

I also keep a very very large spiral notebook with an alphabetical list of every plant that I plant or hope to plant on our property with care instructions and photographs or labels and info from the catalog, etc..

I have notebooks with maps and to do lists for each area of the property as well, I have a lot of notebooks.

I also tend to write in my books, so i try to BUY them rather than use them from the library, but if I do use library books, if there is a lot of info say in charts or whatever that make it hard to take notes, I'll photocopy some of the charts, etc..and I put them in my spiral notebooks


Bloom where you are planted.
Morgan Morrigan

Joined: Oct 16, 2011
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
This looks like the best software so far, and free.
Now if we can insert the season wheel as a watermark or JPEG in bottom half of page....

Garden Journal from Abico, but doesn't allow you to put your own info, or templates in like the wiki does. may give you some ideas for a template tho.....

here are some commercial wheels, not as good as a homemade one.

[Thumbnail for garden-wheel.jpg]

Nick Garbarino

Joined: Apr 24, 2012
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
Doug - My interest in permaculture, at least for now, is limited to growing food. I have attached a spreadsheet that I have found useful for organizing plant information. As I design my guilds, I can refer to this spreadsheet when selecting the positions and spatial relationships of the plants. It helps me avoid competitive situations in the root zone, and things that wouldn't make sense, such as having a plant that likes it dry next to a plant that likes to be wet, or putting a tall plant on the south side of a shorter plant that needs direct sun, or having plants that like very different soil pH right next to each other, etc, etc. When I get to a point that I am ready to procure more plants, I can look at this list and decide which plants make the most sense to add at that time.

[Download Garbarino food forest.pdf] Download

Certifiable food forest gardener, free gardening advice offered and accepted. Permaculture is the intersection of environmentalsim and agriculture.
Morgan Morrigan

Joined: Oct 16, 2011
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
Maureen just emailed it up from Native Seed/Search in Tucson

[Download plant harvest calendar.pdf] Download

Banu Khalil

Joined: Mar 30, 2012
Posts: 3
Take a look at this program, I have found to work quite well for what you mentioned:

It allows you to organize information similar to other mind maps whether from your computer or the internet, lots of features.

Its not for everyone but the free version is quite good and lets you try the advanced features such as being able to add documents and more.
Ray Cover

Joined: Apr 11, 2012
Posts: 132
Location: Missouri
Thank you Doug for starting this and thanks to the rest of you for contributing.

I originally found this site looking for organic gardening info and alt energy info and have tried to piece together what you all are talking about when referring to permaculture. I just ordered three books in hopes of gaining a better understanding of exactly what Permaculture is.
"Introduction to Permaculture" Mollison
"Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability" Holmgren
"Sep Holzer's Permaculture: A Practical Guide" Holzer

Hopefully, these will hep me get a more well rounded concept.

As for keeping track of my planting, watering and such I have been using a calendar. I got one of the freebies my insurance agent gives out every year and just use that. I write right on the day or week things happen. That wheel looks like a very handy tool. I may incorporate that.

I have trouble using software. I personally find such things hard to navigate and follow my way through so I don't know about he wiki thing for me personally.

I'm going to keep watching and see what develops here.

Are these garden wheels something you can get at a local nursery for your local area?

Varina Lakewood

Joined: May 15, 2012
Posts: 116
Location: Colorado
This may not help you, but this is how I organize plans:

Scrap paper-I sketch ideas out roughly as a thought process. I also jot notes here.

Local-I try to choose plants that I know thrive in my local, this cuts down on choices grandly, as every local has its peculiarities. I also look for techniques that work well in my climate or even harsher climates. Techniques that are wonderful for northern coastal california fail grandly sometimes in the higher, drier, winder, much more alkaline climate of the foothills of the colorado rockies.

Love it-If its something that doesn't appeal to me for any reason, it doesn't get to be in my garden. The only exceptions would be if its something my mom or dad adores to the point of wanting "that plant!" I also will find a way to grow it (within reason, as an urban gardener, there are space constraints), even if it takes years to find a variety or method that works. You would possibly be appalled at how many tomato varieties we've tried in order to get, um, I think its 3 keepers as repeats. As a scale, we are trying 40 varieties of tomatoes this year, only about 5 of which have done well for us in previous years, and only 3 of which we know are permanent to our list of varieties.

Edible-If I have a choice between edible and inedible of 2 things that will work well, edible wins 50-99% of the time. For my front flower garden, where I don't spend much time and is seen by everyone, edible is less important. Out back in the garden areas, edible is VERY important.

Yield-If it grows beautiful plants, but is supposed to fruit, it needs to fruit decently. If it can't ripen in time for my short season, or produces poorly, or the taste or texture is bad, out it goes. Though this is mainly for annuals like tomatoes and other vegetables. Looking at thrives in local gardens is usually a good indicator for perennials. Sometimes what does well is quite surprising.

In my head-I'm one of those people who are fairly visual internally, can keep track of lots of details in a loose manner, and can also do simple maths in my head so this works for me. I look at jotted notes and sketched notes and a multitude of sources over a period of hours to months and sort through ideas and let them percolate. Like coffee, sometimes it take awhile to get the perfect brew.

Lists and diagrams:This works for my mom, who is very much not visual.

Sketchpads and drawing/printer paper-This is where I draw out comprehensive plans to see if they'll work, run them by my parents, and for implementation. Though I only do this for large areas. Small areas usually are fine with scrap paper sized sketches.

Good luck with your organizing and garden.
Chelle Lewis

Joined: Dec 10, 2009
Posts: 423
Location: Hartbeespoort, South Africa
Hi Doug,

I also struggled with the same challenge. Have resolved it this way now....

I use Evernote ... ... free software ..... to store web page info of interest. You can edit every clip in Evernote... highlight... embolden etc to make note more relevant. It stores the url in case need to go back there.

I also use AllMyNotes software .... for quicker note storage .... it stays open all day. There is a free version ... but I bought it after a while. I use this to work with study notes too.

Then for Permaculture [or any subject relevant to sustainability] I use these storage sources to compile articles for my blog on any subject that I really want to get a handle on and make mine. My blog post is mostly done to please me as a compilation of what really interested me and all I thought most relevant on a subject. I figure tons of notes must become more than notes ..... and others seem to appreciate the consolidation.

subject: Advice please! Studying permaculture - how do YOU organise information/notes taken?