Book Notes: The Permaculture Handbook :: Chapter Six

Here are my highly personal notes on Chapter Six: A Garden Farming Pattern Language in Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012). Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter linked here.


“In order to take advantage of the unplanned devolution of economic and social complexity and work successfully within the rhythms of nature, it is sometimes required to move quickly and often necessary to wait. Projects will stutter along as labor, weather, budget, materials, and insight permit. This is not a bad thing.” — Peter Bane 

This is the longest chapter in the book, 38 pp. Bane begins it with:

“I offer this language as an aid to designing permaculture systems on urban and suburban properties and for the creation of garden farms at whatever distance from city centers. Each pattern consists of a problem statement and a solution, with each problem being a common conflict or demand in the terrain of garden farming that needs to be resolved, and each solution being a directive about how to solve it by placing and shaping landscape, building, and social elements.”

Each of these ideas relates to one or more of the other ideas.

1- Landscape Catchment: We have an obligation to slow the descent of water through catchments. Keep riparian edges covered with trees. Terraces. Restore wetlands. Store water high and release it harmlessly. Hold water in ponds and dams.

2- City-Country Fingers: Metropolitan areas in North America average 2 acres per person overall, with cities proper averaging 5 people per acre — not dense compared with “Manhattan or older European and Asian cities, but in many ways more appropriate for a low-energy future.” Encourage public-transit-oriented development. Farmers markets on the edges. Edible landscape. Bicycle boulevards (safe thoroughfares for slow traffic).

farmers market at Union Square in New York City, June 2012

3- Agricultural Terrain: Allow 1/2 acre or more for cultivation per homestead. Place farm settlements to optimize productivity of the land, while minimizing energy costs of shelter and access to markets. Create and preserve woodlands and plant farm shelterbelts. Place houses in clusters of 6-12 homes, oriented to the sun.

4- Working Neighborhoods and Ecovillages: Self-reliant community is optimal at 500 people (250-1000 span), across cultures. (Other optimal group sizes: 3-7 for a work group; 40 for classes.) Should provide access to food, housing, education, clothing, jobs, sociability, healthcare, spiritual practice. Needs 300-3,000 acres of land.

5- Water: Source and Force of Life: Catch water on ridges, roofs, cisterns. Retain runoff. Store it. Conserve it.

rainwater gushing into (and over) one of our rain barrels, Aug. 2017

6- Forested Ridges: “Reforest and maintain permanent tree cover on steep uplands and all slopes of more than 20%.” The species should be weighted toward natives but also include economically valuable and edible plants.

7- House Cluster: “Most of us meet our social and common cultural needs amongst a circle of 30-40 people. Studies have shown that most people limit interactions with neighbors to the houses immediately adjacent and also directly across alleys or streets where traffic is light.” Six to twelve houses clustered provides mutual support for hard times. Facilitate chance meetings by the arrangement of driveways and mailboxes. Trees form privacy screen between neighbours. Ensure that every house in the cluster is approachable.

8- Living in the Garden: “Plant productive trees, shrubs, and other perennials along streets, in parks, and around public buildings. Encourage grazing and harvesting for home use. … Give away edible perennials to support the spread of small orchards and forest gardens.” Have outdoor common rooms.

9- Woodland Mosaic: Humans prefer the niche at the edge of savannahs and forests: “Thus we open clearings in wooded regions to plant crops and surround our homes with lawns. In grassland terrain we shelter our houses with trees. The most food-productive landscapes will take the form of a woodland mosaic with small sunny garden clearings , paddocks, working hedges, and modest patches of productive trees.” Aim for 40-70% tree cover in urban places.

clearing between woods, West End Farm Trail, Concord, NH, Nov. 2012

10- Wildland Foraging: We forage in dysfunctional ways: crime and shopping. “Hunting, fishing, and the gathering of herbs, berries, mushrooms, dye materials, and fiber plants provide a vital release for the deepest part of our beings.”  Let all public land be open to foraging; establish it as expected behaviour.

spouse picking blueberries along meadow trail, Aug. 2014

11- Garden Farms: Size of less than a half-acre to 20 or so acres. Remove legal barrier to suburban and urban farming, e.g., let smallholders raise livestock and sell produce directly to consumers.

12- Shelter in the Sun: In cold climates, orient homes with long side toward the sun.  Overhangs, awnings, thermal mass, insulation, greenhouses

13- A Home of One’s Own: Provides a “bulwark against the reemergence of feudalism.” ! Support home ownership and co-housing.

14- Household Provision: “Social insurance in the mid-21st century will consist of access to land, both private and common. Three-car garages will become home business and workshops … Revise the model of the household to center on gainful work at home: food production, processing, and storage.”

15- Alley Cropping:  Practice for urban areas. Make rows of productive trees the backbone of the garden farm, using all the space around and between them to frame lanes, planting beds, linear paddocks. Fit them along driveways and fences, in parking lots, in pastures.

apples espaliered at Bedrock Gardens, Lee, NH, Sept. 2016

16- Local Trade: Home farm stands, public produce markets. Benefits of local trade now are “freshness, characters and community solidarity” but in future, as energy costs rise, will also have price and reliability advantage.

local food for sale, Warner Fall Foliage Festival, NH, Oct. 2014

17- Family Table: “Energy descent means more hands will be needed at home, yet population imperatives argue for a falling birth rate.” New ways of living in one household: Children back home with parents (with or without grandkids), housing cooperatives, widows with student lodgers, etc. Group living with age diversity and varied strengths.

18- Country Kitchen: Garden farm kitchens need to accommodate 4-12 residents and guests, food prep (from scratch), food storage, socialising, and the activity of a working household. Should be 20×30′ in center of house (can include adjacent dining room in open plan), with multiple niches, seating areas, etc. Create pantry nearby.  Cooking area should be 12′ of counter space or more. Triangular pattern between double sink, stove, and fridge. Several tables.

my kitchen, Dec. 2011

19- Neighbors and Strangers: “New farms must knit themselves into the fabric of a neighborhood where their activities may be anomalous.” Have private areas in the house/yard where people can’t intrude. Make sure guest quarters don’t compromise your own privacy. Develop gate, signs and schedule to make it easy for visitors to come by but hard for them to intrude.

20- Communal Labor: Develop networks of mutual aid to transform large projects into fun and meaningful rituals; “let work be balanced with food, learning, and stories.” Make sure there is a role for everyone at every age.  Keep a good selection of tools on hand.

21- Woodshed: Growing and using wood. Optimal energy yield from wood air- and sun-dried for 18-24 months, necessitating covered storage.

22- Storage Barn: i.e., a shed within 100 feet of the main house. Cheap, spacious, used for animal housing, tool and materials storage, crop processing, guest/worker housing. Could be a rented semitrailer, but best would be a two-storey structure with ground level access — possibly conversion of an existing garage. Collect rainwater from the roof.

friend’s barn and garden (cistern under barn, not visible; rain barrel is visible), with guest room inside, July 2012

23- Workshop: Need capacity to build and repair furniture, implements, small structures, tools, basic machinery. “As soon as you can afford it, build or convert a space for sheltered work with tools.” Could be garage, utility room, porch, covered patio, large vestibule with cupboards and hooks. Minimum long dimension of 20′, level smooth floor, wide doors, good natural light, and (if fully enclosed) some form of heating.

24- Animal Housing: p. 71 (I didn’t take notes)

25- Roof Catchment: To collect runoff. Every roof is a water collection device, just need gutters, down spouts, and simple plumbing and storage. One inch of rain on a square foot of roof = 5/8 gallon water. Runoff on a 1,000-sq-foot roof in Boston is 27,000 gallons. Family of 4 can live on 40 gallons of water/day (14,600 gallons/yr) with efficient appliances and conservative habits.

26- Cisterns: “Having clean water stored in good quantity onsite and available to flow by gravity where needed is the cornerstone of home security.” Need pipes and channels for distribution.

27- Reticulated Water: Moving water through pipes (hydrants, taps). Some detail in this section.

28- Branching Cart Paths & Lanes: Need a network of paths on garden farm. Need vehicle access but should be permanent, no compacting needed soil. Loops. Main lanes of stone, brick, gravel; smaller paths of old carpet, scrap wood; tiny paths with woodchips, coarse mulch. Prostrate herbs in pathways and along edges, but suppress grasses.

29- Fencing: “To limit crop losses [due to deer and ‘pest wildlife’] and to contain and manage your livestock, you will need working dogs, fencing, or both. Dogs are regenerative and flexible if well-trained.” If you have 5+ barriers with  acres, dogs make sense (they can annoy neighbors barking at intruders in night); if less, consider fencing.  Deer can leap over 10′ barrier with running start and sight lines, but a 7-8′ fence should work. Metal, electric, or living (but living hedge takes 5-7 years). Compact 1/2 acre costs about $1,000 to fence with welded wire. Plant dense, useful trees and shrubs just inside fence.

fencing, Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA, June2013

30 – Contour Planting:  Needed on slopes.

31- Coppice and Hedges: Tall trees are difficult to harvest. Coppicing is the cutting of trees low, at multiyear intervals (they regrow). Pollarding is similar but with cuts at head height to prevent animals browsing the regrowth. Almost all angiosperms (in North America, angiosperms are mostly deciduous hardwoods) will regrow from stump sprouts if cut when fairly young. Use trees and shrubs as living fences, as mulch, for fruit, as tools, as windbreaks, as trellises, etc. Prune at intervals of 2 months to 7 years, depending on growth speed and what you need from them.

32- Small Earthworks: “Garden farming thrives on the productive edges created by small changes in elevation and surface shape. … Therefore, learn and practice the management of water with spades and mattocks, shovels and rakes to divert, spread, soak and hold back runoff for the greater growth of plants and animals.” Create ponds, and dams, swales and terraces, raised beds, trenches.

our pond when we lived in Maine, built by spouse, July 2002

33- Ponds and Dams: Waterbody enlivens ecosystem. Stored water valuable for household use, irrigation, aquaculture, microclimate, fire control. Identify all possible dam and pond sites. Ponds: 1/3 of area should be less than 3′ deep; include islands and peninsulas; seal with local clay if possible. Don’t dam a permanent stream.

34- Water Gardens & Fish Crop: Imitate swamps, estuaries, shallow lakes. Water no more than 5′ deep. Surround pond with fruit trees.

35- Swales & Terraces: “Sloping land requires small levelling structures to make it suitable for intensive cultivation.” Terraces: Use terraces to stabilize hill slopes (with stones, trees). Pitch them toward the hill slightly. Swales: Dig swales broad and shallow to store intermittent runoff in the soil. Space at vertical intervals of 6′, or horizontal intervals of 60′, whichever is less.  Stabilize with trees, shrubs, deep-rooted perennials, mulch.

36- South-Facing Outdoors: Orient buildings, pavements, courtyard, work areas, growing areas toward the sun; to provide shade in summer, use multipurpose deciduous plants.

37- Outdoor Rooms: “We can never afford to enclose all the space we need to use. Every house in a temperate or subtropical climate must be able to expand its functions outward in warm weather and contract inward in cold.” Porches, patios, deck, pavilions, courtyard, gazebos, balconies, and even wooded glades and groves. Some can be roofed with open sides. Connect house and all working buildings to outdoor room on at least one side. Used hedges, walls, fences, buildings to define the spaces.

screened deck between two parts of a house, Rehoboth Beach, DE, Aug. 2011

38- Greenhouse: To get year-round food, usually need special protection for plants in some seasons. Greenhouse essential, giving early start to spring crops and late harvest to summer/fall crops, plus fresh greens in winter. Try some perennials that are marginal in your climate (e.g., fig, peach, grapevine, lemon, loquat, et al.)  Greenhouse needs plenty of vents and in USDA zone 5 or colder “actively store heat in the soil of the beds.” Have permanent beds, maybe fish tanks.

inside the greenhouse at Paradise Lot, Holyoke, MA, June 2016

39- Summer Kitchen: Canning a harvest in late summer “puts an onerous burden on the home kitchen.” Keep heat and moisture out with a summer kitchen. Wood-fueled rocket stove. Solar oven. Could be screened. Locate in shaded level area within 50′ of kitchen; provide running water, 2+ burners, 12-20′ counter space.

40- Drying Yard: Solar food and plant drying on open level pavement (like a driveway or patio, graded to drain away from buildings). Grain threshing, fermenting coffee beans, drying fruits, herbs, and seeds, etc.

Not a drying yard, but an effective way to dry hops, raised on a screen in a greenhouse in Plymouth, NH, Sept. 2014.

41- Laundry Lines: “Homeowners association rules against this most basic solar technology are the least defensible of collective regulations, just waiting to be defied. Provide your household with upwards of 100 feet of lines. Run the lines east-west if you can, make the permanent, and put them over turf if you can.” Location should get all-day sun, breezes, and be no more than 30′ from laundry area (washing machine) in house. Location can be the woodyard, since the two uses are seasonally complementary.

42- Porches & Awnings: “The porch provides a primal function of reception and outlook for the house. It is an outdoor room of the highest order.” Main front and back entrances should have porches. Protect from rain, but mainly make entrance transitions more graceful. In a pinch, a linear awning or large porch can support clotheslines.

front porch of a rowhouse in Baltimore, MD, May 2016

43- Trellises for Shade: Use trellises “whenever summer shade is needed in the same place that winter sun is welcome.” Train deciduous vines (fruiting, flowering, fragrant plants) over them: tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, grapes, kiwis, clematis, morning glory, hops. [I’d add: scarlet runner beans, nasturtium, malabar spinach, passionflower, white climbing hydrangea.] Use annuals while perennials are getting established.

plants around trellis (hardy kiwi vine is one, I think) at a friend’s, July 2012

44- Food Storage: Have 6-12-month food supply: “wide variety of energy-, protein-, and nutrient-dense foods in quantities of 1,000-2,000 pounds per person.” Must be protected against vermin, oxidation, moisture, and heat for up to two-years. Drying preserves a high level of nutrients but may require supplemental heat; freezing preserve nutrients but is energy-intensive and subject to power outages; canning compromises vitamin C but can be successfully stored for years. Smoking and curing meat/fish. Pickling, salting, fermentation, and cellaring of roots, tubers, fruit, etc. also discussed. Begin now. Store food grown by others; buy in bulk at farmer’s markets.

45- Root Cellar: Should be about 55F year-round and against a north wall. Ventilation and access both important.

46- Pantry: Houses built before 1920 usually had pantry; should be recreated in all houses now. Key: proximity to kitchen, protection from excess heat, ample wall space.

part of my pantry, June 2017

47- Water Cascade: Water in the household can be used more than once for various purposes; reuse water at its highest potential. Drinking, cooking, rinsing of dishes needs high-quality water; dishes can be washed in lower quality water.  Use of basins to wash preserves greywater. “Upstairs bathwater might regularly be drained into the washing machine for a load of laundry. Used dishwater suffices to flush toilets.”

48- Greywater Trenches: Dispose of water from laundry and bathing in yard. Details on constructing a trench to carry it.

49- Wetland Water Cells: “Swamps and marshes are the kidneys of the landscape; they purify water.” Wetlands slow the flow of water, so there’s not so much run-off. Discussion of how to deal with black and grey water.

50- Patch Gardens: Patch gardens increase edge effect, enhance nutrient exchange, limit soil compaction. They can be tiny (but don’t have to be). [I’m not quite sure what this is about.]

51- Rotational Grazing: Movement of animals in the garden/farm: “Let animals forage to their benefit, herd them along promptly, and rest the land behind them. Animal polycultures (chickens after cattle, geese with pigs) offer synergies that reduce risks and disease. … Keep your livestock tight, and move them often.” Keep all but waterfowl (which have dedicated ponds) out of waterways; instead, bring water to them. Donkeys and llamas guard sheep.

52- Small Paddocks: Confined animal grazing. Won’t have many large animals (cattle, horses) on garden farms. Mostly goats, poultry, rabbits.

goats at Hildene Farm, Manchester, VT, Oct. 2010

53- Fruit Tree Guild: Trees always grow in communities. Woody plants thrive in fungally dominated soils, grasses in bacterially dominated soils (and young trees don’t do well among grasses, which produce allelopathic chemicals to suppress tree growth). Need nitrogen-fixers, dynamic accumulators, aromatic herbs, pest-repellent plants, nurse crops. Berries (esp. currants, gooseberries) fruit well in part shade. Allium, marigolds, and daffodils ward off pests.  Carrot and cabbage family plants with small flowers excellent for beneficial wasps.

fruit tree (peach) guild, July 2017

54- Poultry Tractor: Animals’ mobility is great advantage and disadvantage for farmers. Solution is to confine stock in cages, pens, paddocks that can be moved around. Description of a good poultry tractor.

55- Catch Crop: “[U]nused sunlight on soil is a wasted resource. Nature responds with weeds — the smart gardener with a short-term, fast-growing crop.”  Woodland ephemerals. Keep all soil growing come crop all the time. Use legumes. Even weeds can be a catch crop and return minerals to poor soil.

56- Zones of Accumulation: “With irrational cultural values rampant, cities discard food, organic matters, packaging, furniture, metal of all sorts, slightly or scarcely damaged consumer goods, surpluses for which there is no market, and even whole buildings , neighborhoods, and industries. … The adept farmer must develop an eye and a nose for where wastes collect and where they may be captured as resources, especially biomass, but also useful scrap lumber, furniture, metal, and ‘spare parts.'” Zones of accumulation are places on the homestead where waste resources can be stockpiled. Near main paths but not on them. Some things will stay there for a while but everything should move or transform. Keep a resource inventory.

57- Salvaged Materials: Variety of shapes and sizes more important than huge quantity of any one thing, “though do not hastily reject a bonanza.” Dimensional lumber, bricks, blocks, stones, intact sheets — of wood, metal, screen glass, containers. Compound materials not ideal unless they meet a specific need now. Only keep what you can store and what can be reused or repaired easily.

salvage at Bedrock Gardens, Lee, NH, July 2015 — they are artists and make sculptures from the metal parts

58- Resource Inventory: Purpose of collecting salvage is to avoid trips to supply stores. So you have to know what you have. If there’s no inventory, it’s a pile of scrap. Purge salvage areas of low-grade materials periodically. Purge, sort, organize all accumulation zones at least twice a year. 

59- Hodgepodge Growth: At times things will go slowly: “Projects will stutter along as labor, weather, budget, materials, and insight permit.” Be flexible. Become comfortable with uncertainty. Complete work in phases. Don’t dismay if things take longer than expected or if other projects intervene.

60- Working Pioneer Plants: Pioneer plants are “fertility pumps and are the main drivers of succession.” They are mid-sized, often shrubs with small fruits, attracting birds and small animals who bring in seeds and manures, increasing diversity, complexity, fertility. They often fix nitrogen or cover the ground. Grow them, coppice them, chop & drop, slash & mulch them.

61- Fertility Crops: “Any deep-rooted crop is a good candidate for soil building.” Legumes roots usually have bacteria that fixes nitrogen in the soil. Other plants have fungal associates that mobilize nutrients. Dynamic accumulators  draw up minerals and nutrients into their tissues and release it when leaves are chopped (& dropped), or when the plant dies and decomposes. “On a smallholding, at least 30% of the landscape should be growing woody perennials and other permanent fertility crops. These can include fruit and nut-bearing species.” Pasture forage might take up another 20%, with another 1/3 in staple/vegetable crops, and 10-15% in aquaculture. Each should have a fertility component — coppice, manure, legumes, fish waste.

62- Mulch and Compost: Soil is built best when undisturbed. Compost, though a good thing, is labor-intensive and wasteful of carbon, nitrogen, metabolic energy — cannot be primary source of fertility on a farm. Best for growing seedlings, nurturing transplants, top-dressing new perennials.  Build soil by using mulch: chop & drop in all zones. Rotate animals. Use hot compost for noxious, seedy, and coarse plant material.

comfrey leaves – living mulch, Oct. 2015

63- Shifting Enterprise: Re: selling produce, honey, meat, etc. Most reliable approach to steady income relies on information and diversity. Can grow 60-100 kinds of fruit/veg but don’t try to make money from more than 12.

64- Public-Private Gradient: Working at home challenges. Balancing work and family. Establish the limits of your accessibility to the public early on. “Don’t carry your cellphone around the farm.”

65 – Communal Bathing: Finnish saunas. Combine with food drying, greenhouse, or near a pond.

66- Rooms for Guests: Dual-purpose rooms and spaces: fold-out couch, guest bedroom that’s also a pantry, loft in barn, guest cottage that’s sometimes rented for income, etc.  Put guests to work.

67- Connection to Street: Entrance should be obvious. “Direct the flow of arriving traffic by landscape indicators more than signs.”

68- Fruit Stand: “You may decide never to sell directly from the farm, but it offers many built-in advantages — no transport costs and flexible scheduling chief among them.” On a quiet street, probably mostly neighbours, so self-service might work well. On a busy road, need a safe pull-off and signs that give motorists at least 20-seconds warning. Stand should be in sight of house or location outside where someone is working. Better to offer a good selection on a few days than dribs & drabs every day. Fruits, juices, honey, tomatoes always popular, and a few unusual items.

tomatoes for sale at farmer’s market in Cambridge, MA, Oct. 2015


Featured image (top image) is grapefruits, oranges, and hot boiled peanuts for sale along roadside, Fernandina Beach, FL, Dec. 2016.

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