Caught between climate change and a fossil fuel-driven economy that demands ever more growth, the world faces a great transition – by design or disaster – away from fossil fuels to a less energy intensive future.
But what proven tools are available to aid in making a successful, deliberate transition to a resilient, sustainable future?
How to Permaculture Your Life is a great resource book for everyone interested in Transition, permaculture and more self-reliant and satisfying lifestyles.
It is packed with information on permaculture design principles, soil building, nutrient-dense food growing, including top plant and tree selections for all climatic zones.
Coverage extends to rainwater harvesting and irrigation, human waste management, and strategies for rural properties plus a unique focus on applying permaculture to small urban spaces for decluttering and efficient food growing.
Also covered are hand tools, food preservation, energy production, and low-carbon housing and a plethora of nearly forgotten skills such as soap making, basket weaving, seed saving, and rope and candle making, and more.
On the desert island of a world in decline this is the one-stop guide to vibrant, resilient living you’ll want to take with you. (Source: Permanent Publications
This review is going to be published on Growing Green International, magazine of the vegan organic network in the summer/autumn issue. I thank them for the opportunity they gave me contributing to next issue.
The well-known permaculture teacher and author Ross Mars has, with How to Permaculture Your Life, pointed to a very specific goal. His book speaks to a wider audience, not necessarily already permaculture-centred, and I think this is its strength. It may be that the author had another idea when he set out to write this book, but what I perceive from the finished work is that its aim is to inspire a vast and growing sector of people who are conscious of the urgent need to change our current way of living, a way which hinders the earth's survival and ecological restoration.
Is it significant that Rob Hopkins, founder of the ‘transition movement’, has written the foreword to the book? Yes, I believe it is, and I have read through all of its pages with this perception. The transition movement is constantly growing, and permaculture is a design system which is central to building a change. This book aims to get more people to understand how transition, with the right set of tools, is easy (and necessary) if we know how to employ those suggested tools. We have to understand our needs and know our resources. The correct design connects the resources and leads us to resilience.
We have many texts that explain permaculture - did we need a new one? Yes, if How to Permaculture Your Life is the result. No revolutionary practices - to many readers this book will even seem too simple. But what I have learned from its pages is that we always have to be willing to share knowledge in a clear and straightforward way if we really want to achieve the goal of getting permaculture in every backyard garden and farm, and in every neighbourhood and rural community. Solid practices are what we need and this book shares them from cover to cover. Ross Mars has 40 years of experience in permaculture design. He set up a demonstration site, Candlelight Farm in Australia, and has worked intensely on water harvesting and alternative energy systems. This long experience has made him aware that permaculture has to speak clearly to more people, and has to inspire those who are like-minded and willing to change their way of living.
The book is divided into 16 chapters that build the reader's understanding of permaculture design. These chapters outline simple steps that we can all undertake to design our everyday life in accordance with permanence, resilience and fertility. The classic scheme of sharing the principles of permaculture design is not followed, instead this simple way of sharing knowledge gets into the reader's mind and inspires them to go further.
Current wrongs in society Starting with an analysis of the current wrongs within the majority of societies, and defining the climate change situation, peak oil and food sovereignty, the author makes us rethink our way of living and our ecological footprint. The use of acronyms and specific phrases paves the way to getting us more used to thinking systematically, and to understand the principles of permaculture design. As an example, ON SPECIAL helps us keep in mind what to consider before we start designing a site: Observation, Needs, Sectors, Placement, Elements, Collaboration, Irrigation, Assets-Aesthetics and Landscape. It is essential in design to use simple tools that focus us, and create connections. Throughout the book, small ‘Did you know?’ sections highlight specific information useful for analysing functions, elements and concepts.
One thing I have to highlight is the fact that every plant, tree or shrub is listed not only with its common English name but also its scientific one, so that readers from any country can look them up. So often authors forget that their books may be read by people from different countries or speaking different languages, and sharing correct and clear names is very helpful.
A big part of the book is dedicated to information on gardening, with much focus on fertility. The reader will find pages that list what Ross Mars believes to be the ten best vegetables, or the ten best fruits and nuts for different climatic regions. He explains that, in any case, the reader has to find her or his personal taste. Gardening is important to maintain soil fertility and to enhance our health and personal well-being (we could call that ‘mind and body fertility’). It extends through education to a wellbalanced diet, which is something that is missing in many families and communities. The concepts and information shared in the central chapters point to this goal, whilst handing down a clear explanation of what permaculture design in a backyard space is about.
The chapters on water and energy go into more depth, but are clearly laid out and share some easy steps to reduce our energy consumption and to use water in many positive ways. The title of the book is very appropriate when we reach the chapters on the hand tools we can all learn to use, or the way that we can eat well using what we harvest in our gardens. Practical knowledge is shared in the ‘Forgotten skills’ chapter, which goes from simple knots to making playdough or candles. This marks the end of our personal journey towards the goal of resilience and permanence, and ‘permacultures our life’.
Speaking mostly to urban readers The book speaks mostly to an urban reader (there is a chapter on ‘Strategies for small spaces’), or at most to a homesteader with its chapter on design in rural properties that goes through a brief list of ‘alternative’ farming practices. This chapter is interesting but shifts the focus of the whole book, which up to then has centred on backyard gardens more than actual farms or large properties.
However, the book adheres to a classic vision of maintaining soil fertility using fresh animal manures for composting. This makes any reader who favours a stockfree approach realise how stockfree practices are relatively unknown, even to many permaculture practitioners. Even if one does not adopt stockfree ethics, what is clear is that the possibility to build fertility without animal inputs still hasn’t gained a foundation in mainstream permaculture, which neglects the extent to which stockfree practices can move us towards resilience, perhaps more so than other practices. Green manures and cover crops are briefly discussed, but what is missing is how we can make use of the best set of practices given the resources that we have available. If we think of a small backyard garden, and how we can use permaculture to design and make the system function, it is strange to read that it is normal to try to find some animal manure for composting, instead of thinking how we could use the correct combination of plants, trees and shrubs to produce organic compostable matter. Looking at stockfree practices could help.
This book is a valuable read for an audience that has only heard a little about permaculture, but is curious. The overall concept is that to ‘permaculture our life’ is about undertaking a ‘research to transition’, and the author is faithful to this vision, spurring the reader to take responsibility for this transition. So its pages invite the reader to go deeper, widening our vision from ourselves to our communities, while applying the ethics and principles of permaculture. I believe that many people, after reading this book, will be attracted to make the jump and take a PDC (Permaculture Design Course). How to Permaculture Your Life is the perfect book to trigger a shift away from seeing permaculture as an ‘alternative’ system of design towards it being a mainstream way of designing our lives - for the spaces we live in and for our mindset. The necessity to act, knowing the speed with which we are depleting our planet's resources, propels us towards the urgent goal of getting permaculture in every home, and this book has certainly tried to supply answers.