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The Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture by Rosemary Morrow

30 March 2009

I’m behind on my readings updates! Here’s one that I read a few weeks ago:

So I meant to check out The Earth Care Manual, a permaculture guidebook for Britain and temperate climates. However, due to a mix up on my part, I ended up with The Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture, which is written for Australian climes. Ah well.

It was still a good read. It was designed very much for the person already set on creating a permaculture set up for their land, particularly in a rural or suburban setting. Ms Morrow stresses observation, giving the reader many assignments to get to know their land, using her farm and a friend’s suburban home as example cases. The graphics are simple and cartoonish, and there are many grids and datasheets providing examples of how the reader should go about organizing his observations and what they might mean.

Earth User’s Guide is not a deeply technical work, and indeed, one should probably go elsewhere for instruction of specific technique. However, as a permaculture design book, it is designed to make the reader aware of the space he owns, and of the interactions of the biotic and abiotic components of the ecosystems and how they will affect the growing pattern.

The stress on observation, initial and continuous, is crucial, I find. Permaculture requires a certain mindfulness, a certain intimate knowledge of the land. It is impossible to work in harmony with what you do not understand, and a generalized technical knowledge is not sufficient when each acre has it’s own microclimates. Modern monocultural industrial farming is a sort of brute force agriculture; the land is beaten into submission with long straight rows, pesticides, chemical fertilizer, and GM crops. Permaculture is more of a mental exercise; a continual sorting out of what works and what doesn’t, trying to create an environment that is both wholly natural and wholly edible.

More than sun and soil, Morrow stresses wind and water as prominent concerns regarding the layout of a garden. When possible, designs should incorporate animals as well as plants; not just domesticated animals, but the birds, insects, rabbits, and other wild creatures that are indigenous to your region.

While it is primarily an agricultural work, Morrow spends a significant amount of page space dedicated to home design. For this I am grateful; the concept of energy-efficient housing has long been discounted in the first-world because of the availability of indoor climate-control technologies, but is often a matter of simple design principles: extra insulation in cold climes, long eaves in sunny ones, courtyards in hot ones.

Overall, I found the book highly accessible, a good primer on the considerations necessary for permacultural living. And permaculture, despite being primarily of agricultural application, is indeed applicable to most parts of life -it’s living to stay. It’s quite a basic book, and anyone designing a permacultural space will need to find more in-depth and technical work, but if you don’t even know where to begin, The Earth User’s Guide is a good place for that.

Love,
Herbert.

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