Book Notes: The Permaculture Handbook :: Chapter Thirteen

Resuming my highly personal notes on Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012), here’s Chapter Thirteen: Setting Plant Priorities. Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter linked here.


“The approach to diversity is continuous and iterative: expand and filter. Add species to your diet, your garden and your seed collection as your knowledge grows. Try hundreds or thousands and winnow them down to the double handful that will really feed you. Grow the rest for interest, preservation, medicine, flavor, or the many, many non-food purposes of the farm: fodder, insect habitat, soil remediation, seed production, windbreak, and beauty among them.” — Peter Bane



Herbs First: When space and time are limited. Most herbs are weeds, so they are also repairing the soil.

field of dill, Spring Ledge Farm, NH (Sept 2015)

Salad Bowl: Leafy greens. Mache (corn salad, in the valerian family) resows itself each year.  Also lettuce, chicory, endives, radicchio, escarole, and young leaves of beets, kale, and chard.

Flowers: Edible flowers — pansies, violets, begonias, sunflowers, lilies, roses, calendula, nasturtium, et al. — and others: “They buoy the spirit, represent a good potential cash crop, and are important for sowing goodwill among your neighbors and passersby. They also attract butterflies, hummingbirds, bees and other pollinators, making your garden more productive. Flowers are available for every niche in the garden from full sun to constant shade, and can — if they are not for eating — be grown in contaminated

pansies (May 2015)
calendula with bumblebee (4 Oct. 2017)

Greens: Leafy greens transport poorly and are powerhouses of nutrients, so it’s a good strategy to grow them for yourself. Pound for pound, they are also a good source of protein, though we don’t usually eat pounds of them. Spinach, kale, chard, collards, arugula, et al. In the heat of summer: New Zealand spinach, Malabar spinach, collards, and sweet potato greens; and plant other greens in shadier spots.

chard and spinach leaves, and chives (July 2013)

Small Fruits: “Some fruits like currants and gooseberries [which have been banned here in NH due to white pine blister; now some can be grown with a permit] are seldom available in commerce. And who can ever get enough strawberries? … With a well-selected assortment, you can eat fresh fruit of the most delicate types from late May through first frost with scarcely a break. We start with mulberries (which admittedly grow on a tree) and strawberries in May, then get juneberries, red raspberries, black, white and red currants, gooseberries, black raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherry tomatoes, ground cherries, tomatillos and in the fall red raspberries again. Everbearing strawberries yield throughout the season.” Also, hardy kiwis and grapes.

gooseberries at Paradise Lot, Holyoke, MA, June 2016

Staple Crops: The crops that provide the most calories for most of the year; in cold and dry climates, they must store well for months when they can’t be grown.

  • Potatoes — not heavy feeders so good in a new bed where soil fertility is questionable. Plant cut pieces of tubers (2-5 per spud, each with several eyes) on soil surface and cover with straw or leaf mulch; add more mulches as tops grow. Frost tender.
  • Onions and garlic — walking onions (aka Egyptian onions) can fit anywhere and are good companion plants. Yellow onions keep the best, white the worst.
  • Beets
beet harvest, Aug 2015
  • Carrots — prefer sandy soil; if you have clay, plant shorter varieties. Slow to germinate; interplant radish seeds, which germinate fast, to keep track of where the carrots are; the radishes will be up and gone in three weeks, just about the the carrots are sprouting.
carrot harvest (from previous year), March 2016
  • Brassicas — Kohlrabi: “The edible part of the kohlrabi is a bulbous stem, which we find to be sweet. Kohlrabis produce very small leaves and put most of their energy into the bulb. We eat them raw, peeled and sliced thin, with a little mayonnaise, or just plain, though they make a fine addition to soups or can be steamed. They’ll keep well in a root cellar and deliver a lot of calories.” Also Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, collards, broccoli.
Brussels sprouts, Oct. 2015
  • Pumpkins and Squash — particularly important as winter keepers.
pumpkin in field, Batchelder Mills Trails, Concord, NH, Sept. 2017
  • Shell Beans (dried) are a “good source of protein that can be stored at room temperature for months or even years. Allow them to dry fully on the vine during the last weeks of summer into autumn when rainfall is low; bring them in before fall rains. Shell them out soon after harvest and allow to dry completely before storing.” Chickpeas or garbanzos, favas or broad beans, lentils of many types, peas, mung and adzuki beans, navy, pinto, black turtle and lima beans.
friend’s rattlesnake beans, Aug. 2014
  • Grains
  • Corn – good calorie production but low amino acid profile (but can be complemented by beans, especially black beans).
  • Apples
friend’s apple harvest, Oct. 2013
  • Tomatoes – good container plants

Choose plants that play as many roles as possible: Fuel, fiber, fodder, fertilizer, fencing, flowers, forage, fragrance, fungus, filtration, farmaceuticals, fun, etc.

Fiber plants: Cotton, hemp, flax, kenaf, agave/sisal, bamboo, willow, kudzu, grain straw, reed grass, nettles, yucca, hibiscus, cattail. Can use fig roots, honeysuckle, hibiscus, kudzu, grapevines for basketry.

yucca in flower, Jekyll Island, GA, Dec. 2016

Fertility: Comfrey can be cut (chopped and dropped) 3-5 times per growing season to provide N, K, and Ca. Also good for fertility are chamomile, yarrow, and horsetail.

floppy comfrey in bordedr, June 2016

Plants for fencing and barriers: Pleaching involves “cutting or scraping sections of the cambium layers of two or more stems, then binding these together temporarily until they grow into each other. Many woody plants can be pleached; this increases survival rates by providing each stem access to a wider root network.”


More on plant-made fencing and barriers:

“Hawthorns and some plums, with their prominent thorns, make good hedge plants, and can be partially cut, laid over and woven into living fences while still rooted. The most wicked fencing species is honey locust. Its 5- to 12-inch thorns can be deadly; they evolved to repel mastodons and mammoths which would otherwise have pushed the trees over to get at their large, sweet, protein-rich seedpods, still appreciated by sheep and cattle. … Among traditional ornamentals, I would choose lilac (Syringa vulgaris, of which there are numerous sizes and several color variants) and mock orange (Philadelphus spp), both of which have dense shrubby growth and fantastic fragrances. Forsythia is always inspiring for a week in the spring, but of little use at any other time. It makes a poor mulch as the cut stems and branches can root if covered while still green. For our own living fence in southern Indiana we selected hawthorns, roses, Japanese and other quinces (all thorny species), as well as hazels, plums, cotoneasters, aronia, serviceberries, sorbus, crab apples, willows, Italian alder, witchhazel and deciduous holly — about 40 nitrogen-fixing,fruiting or wildlife forage species in all.”



Featured image (top image) is a stand of bamboo at Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum, Bristol, RI, May 2017.

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