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This winter season I have been reading a lot of permaculture books to further my knowledge and understanding.  Most of the books I have read are excellent and I think anyone interested in permaculture would agree.  So I am going to continue my book review posts as I consume more information which I think is useful for others to read.

This time around we are going to have a look at Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture.

For anyone who doesn’t know about Sepp Holzer I suggest going and reading Paul Wheaton’s article about him.  Sepp inherited his farm in the Austrian Alps from his father when he was a young man and proceeded to work miracles in seed and soil.  Sepp never heard of permaculture until many years after he had been working his farm, but it turned out what he was doing fell right in line with what Bill Mollison termed permaculture.  Sepp’s alpine farm is an absolute work of art.  Sepp knows his stuff and just might be the top notch permaculture guy right now.  This book is his attempt to convey some of his knowledge and experience to us for our benefit.

To start off, I would like to point out the importance Sepp places on observation.  He calls it ‘reading from the book of nature’.  I think this book needs to be read and the strategies there in implemented with the understanding that you will diligently observe your own local system.  Like any good permaculture book, this book doesn’t want you to just copy exactly what is being done and apply it to your particular situation.  Read and understand the ideas in terms of your locale.

Sepp begins the book by talking about his early childhood experiences of gardening in a small rocky, good-for-nothing corner his mom let him do what ever he wanted in.  Through observation and trying all sorts of things he had great successes.  He then goes on to talk of his past mistakes.  His most grievous mistake was going to agriculture school and changing his way of observational farming to the way the ‘experts’ said it should be done.  Doing things the way he was told turned out to really suck and he eventually went back to doing things the way he had started as a child, which turned out to be amazing.

When reading this book I found I had to pay attention to each sentence.  This book is jam packed full of excellent information and Sepp doesn’t beat around the bush with his writing style.  Each sentence has something of value.  I find some books use a lot of words to make points and you get lazy reading all those words to get the eventual point.  Not with this book.  Pay attention to what is written, the next sentence might be a golden bit of info that will change the way you think.

The first chapter is all about landscape design.  He talks about soil types and plant indicator species to identify what is happening in the soil.  He goes on to talk about his use of terraces, ponds and raised beds.  His raised beds are hugelkulturs, but the translation came out as raised bed I guess.  I would have liked some more pictures of his hugelkulturs in this section.  He has one picture and it’s from a distance showing the beds under snow…  The other images pertaining to his raised beds are artistic representations.  He talks about his method of pond sealing without a liner and his use of stones in the shallows to warm the water.

For the next chapter Sepp talks about alternative agriculture.  He begins with explaining his use of green manure plants to build up soil fertility.  He broadcasts a seed mixture, lets the plants grow as they will and doesn’t cut them in the fall, allowing the snow to take them down.  He talks about growing cereal crops, the importance of old varieties of plants and plant diversity.  Lots of good info in this section.  All about low maintenance, high diversity planting.

Next is a bit on livestock integration.  He talks a lot about his pigs, different hardy breeds and how they are his primary workers on his farm.  He raises them in a paddock shift system where they self harvest all of their own food from his diverse mixture of plants, while at the same time tilling up the soil, spreading seed and adding their manure where it is needed.  He then goes on to talk about raising cattle and chickens as well.  Animals are an essential element to a Holzer permaculture system.  Not just for what they produce, but also for the work they do.  I fully agree here.  I really enjoyed this section, but would have liked a little more detail on the paddock shift system, but I think this detail is left out for the purpose of ‘reading the local book of nature’.

The next part deals with fruit trees and mushroom cultivation.  So much good stuff in this chapter.  He talks on his pruning and not pruning techniques, grafting, and starting trees from seed.  He emphasizes old hardy varieties as well as diversity again.  Keys to a system with less maintenance and less problems.  He has a nice list of mushroom growing techniques that require very little work and maintenance.  Lots of nice pictures to help understand.

All in all this book is excellent.  The small scale part of the title is somewhat misleading in that he is working on 100+ acres and some of what he talks about wouldn’t work on a scale below 5 – 10 acres.  I really enjoy the rich information that is presented in this book.  I think this book begs to be read over more than once to better understand all that Sepp has to say.  Like I said, it seems like each sentence has something really important in it and it wouldn’t take much to miss out on some very good information.  I really enjoy the Holzer approach to permaculture, but it could be that this approach isn’t for everyone.  If you are going to be reading some permaculture books, I do highly recommend checking this one out.  A lot of the stuff  in this book is not found presented in this way in other books.  Sepp Holzer truly works with nature and knows his stuff.

For a little more info and a good link to buy the book through, visit the permies.com page on this book.