Sunday, March 16, 2008

Permaculture Books

Permaculture Books

I get asked frequently enough to recommend books that it warrants a look at some of my most favourite books. Originally, I had thought to just go through my entire library and write a brief synopsis of each book. The list, however, would likely be longer than any reader would care to parse through and certainly longer than I would care to write. Instead, I will just go through the top ten books that I use the most.

Without further ado:Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison. Simply put, this book is a must if you are a designer. And it is sort of like a martial artist’s black belt: the experienced designer’s book starts getting frayed over the years. Even weighing in at a hefty 1,520 grams, it always goes out with me whenever I am designing a site.

The book introduces the permaculture concept, covers how to go about designing and methods of design, patterns in nature, climate, trees and their impacts on environments, water in systems, soil and soil health, earthworks, designing in the humid tropics, designing in drylands, designing in cool and cold temperate regions, aquaculture, and strategies for designing on a society-wide scale.

Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison with Reny Mia Slay. Introduction to Permaculture is basically a condensed version of the Designer’s Manual. Most of the topics of the Manual are in Introduction, though with a few variations on some of the techniques illustrated.

Edible Forest Gardens Volume 2: Ecological Design and practice for Temperate Climate Permaculture by Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier. It is not a mistake putting Volume 2 first. The appendices of this book have excellent quick-reference information on plants that is invaluable. Most permaculturists have these tables of plants floating around in notebooks or on hard drives; but this book puts a huge collection of temperate plants together in one format. It is an expensive book, but the 149 pages of appendices alone make it worth every penny. The rest of the book has practical information on designing and establishing forest gardens.

Edible Forest Gardens Volume One: Ecological Vision and Theory for Temperate Climate Permaculture by Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier. A handy but hefty text on forest gardening for people who are intimate with sub-zero winters. Volume One introduces the theory behind the integrated approach to edible forest gardens and has a handy “Top 100” plant list in the appendix.

Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Save the World By Paul Stamets. I agree with the author that this is his most important book. In writing this book, he was terrified that he would have a heart attack or a car accident and never get it finished. Thankfully he did. Reader’s will want to look elsewhere for a basic understanding of mushrooms, but with a brief introductory background, this book will change the way you look at the world. There is no clearer illustration of the importance of the interconnection of organisms in ecosystems than this book. After reading it, it might even have you wincing with each step the next time you walk through a forest. But the book is not only theory. It has tested and proven techniques for rehabilitating devastated landscapes and strengthening currently existing systems. It also opens up a huge new avenue in energy cycling. Our standard waste-to-compost cycles can be expanded into waste-to-mushroom-production (and secondary and tertiary mushroom production) to compost to soil. Or better still, waste to mushroom production to animal feed production, the waste from which can then go to mushroom production or compost or biogas to compost. The combinations are exciting to say the least.

Cornucopia II: A Source Book of Edible Plants by Stephen Facciola. I call it the phone book of plants. It is the closest thing to an exhaustive list of the world’s edible plants. I have used it to suggest plants for overseas systems and used it to cross-reference many plants in many different situations. Here’s an example of a random listing:

Eleusine coracanaRagi, Finger millet {S}. Grains are boiled and eaten as a cereal or porridge, popped, malted, ground into flour for use in cakes, breads, and puddings, or made into a beer-like alcoholic beverage called marwa. Other fermented foods made from the grain include ambali, kaffir beer, busaa, merissa, chang, and munkoyo. In India, the flour is boiled in diluted buttermilk and kept overnight for use the next morning. Ragi malt is mixed with milk to form a refreshing beverage. The leaves are also edible. Tropical Asia, cultivated.

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein with Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fiksdahl-King, Shlomo Angel. The book just hints at the subject of passive solar design, so it cannot help much on that front. But when it comes to designing a livable home or a complex of buildings put together in a functional pattern, the book is invaluable. After reading this book, I can understand why so many people buy a home then want to move out after just a few years. Most buildings do not recognise the aspects of design that makes them places where people want to spend their time. If you are designing a home, keep the general design in tune with your climate, but use this book to show you how to make it a functional home.

Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms By Paul Stamets. This thick text covers growing dozens of mushrooms on different substrates indoors and out, and it even has recipes. If you get hooked after reading Mycelium Running, you are going to want to get this book. At 575 pages, it packs in a lot of really useful information.

The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control: A Complete Problem-Solving Guide to Keeping Your Garden and Yard Healthy without Chemicals, edited by Barbara W. Ellis and Fern Bradley. This Rodale book does not cover every single method of pest control you will need, but it is a handy reference for identifying friends and foes and suggests methods to balance your system and reduce foes.

The Permaculture Book of Ferment and Human Nutrition by Bill Mollison. This unique book covers preserving, storing and cooking, fungi, grains, legumes, roots and bulbs, fruits, nuts, flowers and oil, edible plant stems and leaves, aquatic food sources both fresh and salt water, meats, dairy, fermented beverages (hooray!), spices and sauces, composts, silages and liquid manures, and an excellent section on nutrition and environmental health. Sometimes cross-referencing brings me to this book. But most of the time, I just open it up because it is fascinating.

There are many, many other useful books I did not include in this list, but they often are very specific like seed saving, growing organic apples, constructed wetlands, etc. They are incredible books, but to keep a general list that would be useful to the largest group, I whittled down about 100 books to just these 10. It is not necessary for someone to have all ten books on their shelves and not all these books are suitable for all climates. These are the ones that I have used the most so far and are broad enough to interest a wide audience of readers.


vegetablej said...

Thanks so much! The books all sound fantastic and yes, I am really interested in the name of the apple-growing one and the seed saving one too.

You've done a wonderful job of giving an overview of each book that will be so useful when I start getting them. I wonder if they are readily available in Canada?

Thanks again for your prompt and excellent post! Can't wait to start reading. :)

Unknown said... carries most of the books or you can go through Keith and Peter at the Permaculture Activist.

The book on apple growing is creatively title "The Apple Grower" and is written by Michael Phillips. The seed saver's book has a similar title: "The Seed Saver's Handbook" by Michel and Jude Fanton. I picked it up in Australia. It's probably rather expensive here.

Dave Coulter said...

Thanks for the post. I may get myself an early birthday gift!

Unknown said...

Have a happy early birthday, Dave.

Car-free Dad said...

Hi Doug-
I read a book called "The Party's Over: (I forget the rest of the title)" about a year ago and it really opened my eyes to the changes that the world is going to be undergoing in the next few decades. Frankly, it scared me. I have vowed to try to live more sustainably. I have started a compost heap, walking lots (even when it would be much more convenient to drive) and trying to read up how to live a sustainable lifestyle.

I appreciate your booklist as it can help me get started in a lot of new directions. However, one type of book that I didn't see in your list was a good introduction to a sustainable food garden. I saw the Forest Garden books, but for those of us who don't live in the country, but rather in the city, this would be rather difficult to make use of. Could you recommend a book or several books on how to plan, create, and maintain a food garden in the city? If this could be at the level of a novice gardener (when to plant, how to take care of the garden, etc), I would appreciate it as I have never really gardened before in my life.

I saw somewhere (might have been here) that a good way of growing food would be to grow things on several levels. The idea is that you grow vegetables, fruits, and other plants that have differing heights to maximize the use of a plot of land. An additional benefit is that the plants can provide necessary elements for other plants, such as a nitrogen fixing plant below a nitrogen needing plant. However, I have been unable to find which plants provide such symbiotic relationships. Would you please suggest a book that does this?

Thank you very much for writing such a wonderful blog. Please be aware that your words are helping change people lives for the better, one little bit at a time.


Unknown said...

Hello Matthew,

I'm currently warwalking on a battery, so I must unfortunately be brief.

Could you recommend a book or several books on how to plan, create, and maintain a food garden in the city?

For the beginner, perhaps Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway might be the most useful to you.

You'll need to find out our USDA zone, which won't be easy if you live in the U.S. The DoA published a new USDA zone map in 2000, but it was quickly withdrawn when it was realized that it was clear evidence that global warming was happening and having a significant impact on the climate in the U.S. I'm sure there is a copy there.

Then you'll need to assess the site you are gardening. How significant is the thermal island effect there? How is the access to sunlight? Are there structures that might act as a thermal mass, boosting temperatures (and helping protect against frost). Are there hard surfaces that you can harvest rainwater from? Has the site been exposed to pollutants like lead? How is the soil on site?

Then you can start to match plants that suit your needs to climate. Dave Jacke's Edible Forest Gardens Volume 2: Ecological Design and practice for Temperate Climate Permaculture has a great appendix, listing many plants - assuming you are in a temperate climate. That you know about nitrogen-fixing plants tells me that you are really on the right track.

I have been unable to find which plants provide such symbiotic relationships. Would you please suggest a book that does this?

If there is a book on this subject, I have yet to hear about it. The most important thing is avoiding harmful combinations. Watch how you use and place allelopathic plants like walnut trees (they are particularly detrimental to apple trees but are ok with mulberry) and sunflowers.

I wish I had time to say more. Send me an email if you would like more information and I'll get back to you as soon as I can!