Permaculture in a Nutshell
by Peter Whitefield
Permanent Publications, 1993
Book Review by Janine Banks
This is a tiny book and only takes a couple of hours to read the whole thing. (I was going to write the review in a nutshell, but I wanted to share so much of this excellent little book, you’ve got quite a bit of the nut.)
But it is an excellent introduction to permaculture, both theoretically and practically. Whitefield was British (he died in 2015 from health problems he had had since he contracted cattle-borne brucellosis while working in Africa) and felt there was a need for a permaculture book for temperate climates, as all the first permaculture books were coming from the Australian climate.
To begin he introduces with the need for permaculture, then goes on to a concise description of how it works and how it began and touches on the ethics. He then gets practical with his chapter “a tale of two chickens” comparing battery chickens with permaculture chickens. This introduces the idea of designing with permaculture principles.
These days, landscape design is usually a matter of making things look pretty rather than making them really useful. A permaculture design is primarily concerned with making the landscape productive, self-reliant and sustainable. But this does not mean it will not be beautiful. In fact, a landscape which is designed in this way will inevitably be beautiful, just as natural ecosystems are.Peter Whitefield
He has a concise and very informative chapter on permaculture in the city then moves on to cover a variety of detailed permaculture situations such as forest gardens, key-hole beds and mulch beds, general garden design, and farm design. He manages to include two small case-studies of British farms, one a sheep farmer in Scotland who uses earthworms to his advantage, and another farmer in Shropshire who uses the foggage technique where his cattle and sheep stay out in the paddocks where he has maintained a winter field to feed his stock rather than doing lots of growing and harvesting or buying feed in.
He also discusses permaculture in the community, in the broader human sense. As I write this I am reflecting how his descriptions of our need for real local communities is highlighted for us at the moment at this time with the coronavirus pandemic keeping us all locked in our homes, rather than being able to care and meet needs of those who need some help at this time. He talks about community supported agriculture, the LETS system (Local Exchange and Trading System), and mentions Maleny as “the most successful example in the world, where a full half of all commercial transactions are now in LETS.” I wonder if that is still true?
He also gives several examples from Britain of other similar community projects that have resulted from permaculturists working together to improve situations in their areas with community gardens and even the Exmouth Earth Bank, an environmental centre in the middle of town with services including
A LETS system, a standard ordering system for organic food, a monthly community newsletter, permaculture courses and a drop-in information service.
Permaculture is very much about designing landscapes as a whole, combining good housing, food production, wildlife, water supply, sewage treatment, energy supply and all other needs in an integrated way.
He then on goes to discuss Crystal Waters, an ecovillage near Maleny that is now over 20 years old. Crystal Waters has been developed on permaculture principles, “intentionally designed to work with nature rather than against.”
In his chapter, Some Questions Answered, he has a section discussing the difference between organic growing and permaculture. Just this part of the book would clarify a lot about permaculture for people as he points out organic growing is just that, while permaculture is the big picture that includes organic growing but also works with perennial crops and a diversity of plants organized in a natural way. And “most important of all is the fact that permaculture is applicable to far more than growing food. We have already seen how its principles can be applied in the social and economic fields. In fact they could be applied to any human activity with great advantage.”
So much information presented so succinctly … an excellent introductory read.