Grand Permaculture Plans but No Money? No problem!

So, you want to get started on your home-scale or broad-scale Permaculture plans, but you’ve got no capital! As in all things, the problem–no money–is the solution!

Garden made from mostly free materials.

Many of the most practical, beautiful and truly VALUABLE Permaculture gardens have been done on the cheap, such as Robert Hart’s forest garden, Bealtaine Cottage, and the Jardin des fraternites ouvrieres. 

In fact, I believe that return-on-investment is the best objective measure of a Permaculture garden, so this is one place where an empty wallet might be your greatest ally!

 A lack of money is a powerful tool in helping one follow the Permaculture principles. It forces you to work with nature instead of investing against it; use slow, small changes, instead of investing in big, quick changes; use protracted planning…and so on. Actually, there is not one of the Permaculture principles that can’t be ENHANCED by SUBTRACTING money from the plan! Truly, if you can afford to be wasteful and destructive, you will. But when you can’t afford to waste anything–as if by magic–you won’t.

Path from recycled materials and walkable ground covers, most plants started from seed.

Subtracting money from your plans can help you avoid some of the most common (and famous) mistakes in Permaculture. The internet is filled with reports of over-sized, expensive projects, especially swales and hugel-kultures, that were unnecessarily large for their climate and destroyed the landscape hydrology, and sun access, leaving a formerly messic landscape thirsty, or flooded, or strangely both. Next, over-planting of expensive cultivars at ultra-high, tropical densities, limits the productivity and yields a poor return on investment. Then there’s the expensive infrastructure, “eco” features and hardscaping, driven by consumer fads “no green home can do without!” Often, these expensive items have an environmental cost, too, such as mining, transportation, manufacture, installation, etc. And they usually require expensive ongoing maintenance.

And the biggest danger of all is implementing expensive, but poorly conceived plans that yield little up front and will have to be changed before they have a chance to even start paying off.

Some tips for starting on the cheap:

1. Don’t wait for money, change the whole question. Don’t ask “What would I do if I had the money?” Set a realistic budget, then ask, “what can I do if I cut this budget in half?”
2. Do nothing and do it often, wherever you can.  Here’s a beautiful garden that was created by literally doing nothing. To create this garden all Margie Ruddick did was stop mowing! In time, a beautiful and useful assembly of plants sprung up. Meanwhile, she has created healthy garden soil and wonderful wildlife habitat.

3. Learn to forage.
4. Guerrilla Garden. 
5. Maximize “zone zero.” Permaculture can be applied to the kitchen, the bedroom, the bathroom, and growing space inside your house. Maximizing efficiency in the home is important work!
6. MAXMIZE the space you have, even if it’s growing on your patio or a small outdoor garden. Learning the principles of converting sunlight to food with little waste is one of the most important aspects of Permaculture. With too much money and too much land, there’s a temptation to spread out wastefully, instead of valuing the space.
7. Practice plant propagation. This takes little space and will save you oodles of money. 

*And added by PJ in the comments:
8. Collect seed from wild plants, public parks, botanical gardens, cemeteries, other people’s yards, etc. This is a resource that is almost entirely ignored, but which has great potential to convert lawns and other under-utilized areas to more useful stuff.

9.  Making friends with other permaculture folks, who, if they’ve been at it for a few years, will almost certainly have plants that they are happy to divide, share, dig up seedlings or suckers from, cut scions from, or give seed from.


Food Sovereignty Ordinance for Kalamazoo?

Under the category of: Everything I Want to do is Illegal.

I was unfortunately unable to attend the Kalamazoo Food Sovereignty discussion at the People’s Food Coop Board Meeting. I hear it was well attended and hope to join in on future discussions.

 A town in Maine is blazing a trail for cities like Kalamazoo by adopting an extraordinary food sovereignty ordinance, allowing the private citizens of their city the ability to produce local foods and sell them to each other outside the confines of state and federal restrictions, within the boundaries of their city. This includes items like raw milk and meats.

Maybe something like this ordinance is the next step past amazing initiatives like the Can-Do Kitchen and local Farmers’ Markets.


Maine Town Declares Food Sovereignty

Sedgwick, Maine has done what no other town in the United States has done. The town unanimously passed an ordinance giving its citizens the right “to produce, process, sell, purchase, and consume local foods of their choosing.” This includes raw milk, locally slaughtered meats, and just about anything else you can imagine. It’s also a decided bucking of state and federal laws.

Read more. 

The Price of Nuclear Power

File:Codex Magliabechiano (141 cropped).jpg
Aztec Sacrifice (Via Wikimedia) The heart set free from its earthly prison.

Last night, Alfred Meyer, a board member of the group Physicians for Social Responsibility gave a great talk in Kalamazoo on “Nuclear Power: What You Need to Know about the Price, Pollution and Proliferation.”

One of Dr. Meyer’s many compelling points was that splitting the atom to boil water is a dangerous endeavor.

Nuclear engineers, and even members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which protects our safety, boil these risks down to numbers, for example, a .2% increased risk in childhood leukemia.

But we can’t deny that the risks are there.

When we choose to produce our energy with Nuclear (or coal, or oil, or gas…) we know that someone WILL pay the price for us. Children WILL die of leukemia. Regions of the earth (such as Chernobyl and Fukushima–or perhaps Southwest Michigan) WILL have to be abandoned. Terrorists WILL get weapons….

But as Dr. Meyer pointed out, we haven’t even bothered to do the honest science to find out how many people will actually pick up our Nuclear tab. And we never acknowledge who they are when they are chosen.

Perhaps we’re just too afraid to face the truth.

Pyramids once brought us closer to the sky, the sun–symbols of transcending our earthly limits.

In Aztec culture, the sun was both god and heaven, a place of pure joy untouched by earthly troubles.

The heart was the seat of the soul, an actual part of the sun, come to earth, that connected us to this transcendent place in the sky.

Ritual sacrifice was considered voluntary and consensual. To die such an honorable death sent your heart straight to the sun, to heaven. But first, you became a celebrated god, walking upon the earth. A god!

Well, at least until your chest was cut open and your heart ripped out…

This sacrifice was absolutely necessary for the society to connect with something bigger, something beyond the suffering and evanescence of human life. It gave meaning to suffering. It made us more than mere animals, more than our ancestors who lived in the dark, in caves.

It was a glorious “checkmate” in the conflict between man and nature.


You may not have heard, but there has been a revolution within the environmental movement.

According to the new “Bright Green” consensus of “Neo-Environmentalists” like Stewart Brandt, saving the planet need not interfere with our primary human purpose: transcending it.
Manicured lawns, gravity-defying architecture, nature conquered. From

The dead old environmentalism failed, they say, because of its fatalistic warnings about limits. Limits to population, consumption, growth…. and all this depressing talk about the realities of a “finite planet.” Nobody wants to be reminded of the confines of their earthly prison.

The Paleo-environmentalists, the Bright Greens say over and over again, seem to think we should all go back to living in caves! As if we were animals!
Transcendent “Bright Green” city of the future, as imagined by the Venus Projec

Bright greens focus on a positive future, renewable energy, green consumers, and green business, and solar and wind and exclamation points and never having to talk about limits again!

Our endless growth and energy consumption–and all the sacrifices they entail–are absolutely necessary. It is all we have to connect us with our noble human purpose, our bright future in the sky, without disease, without suffering, without toil…  without limits!
A computer-planned paradise


(Shhhh… Come here inside these parenthesis and I’ll whisper. We’re about to violate a few of our society’s [and modern environmentalism’s] greatest taboos, so we’ll have to do it very quietly, in the dark

The first taboo is “Jeavon’s Paradox;” as we add “renewable energy” to our portfolio, it makes us use MORE fossil fuels, not less. One recent example is Spain, which has the world’s largest solar array, as well as impressive wind development, yet has become 3 times more dependent on foreign fossil fuels since before it invested in “renewables.”

The second is that a growing number of thinkers like Naomi Klein, and David Holmgren, as well as scientists across a wide array of expertise increasingly think that the only way forward is to drastically reverse our economic growth and energy use. 

A third: Renewables are not good “investments.” Sorry. Now, there are wise investments we could be making that could justify their increased costs, but there is so much dishonesty about renewable plants right now precisely because dishonesty is the only way to get the market to build them! So long as we rely on the market to drive our energy investments, the main thing we get is plants that convert tax-payer money into private profit.

A fourth: Climate change is just one symptom of a much bigger disease. Regardless of climate change, our energy use and economic model are driving: the quickest mass extinction event the world has ever seen; the destruction of our soils; acidification of the ocean; increased cancer rates and other “diseases of civilization;” mass anxiety and stress; resource wars; and the greatest disparity in wealth that humanity has ever endured. 

And finally, [and most taboo of all… I suspect we might… just possibly… be more like the Aztecs in certain unspeakable ways than we’d ever dare to admit.])


Dirty ol’ earthy forest garden.

I don’t know how our human story will end. But I do know that we’ll never solve our problems if we refuse to even discuss them honestly.

Maybe humanity needs a new “purpose,” rooted in the soil, right here on Earth: to be happy, caring animals in an ecosystem.

Maybe the best thing a person can try to do for the planet right now is to simply cultivate contentment. If we were happy with our place here on earth, would we sacrifice so much to build those imaginary white utopias in the sky?

And maybe it’s time for us to start breaking taboos.

Keystone XL: Last Chance to Comment
Tar Sand Mordor

This is the last chance to submit public comments on the Keystone XL Pipeline before President Obama makes his decision. My comments:

Simply put, the Keystone XL pipeline provides no benefit to the Americans who will carry the burden of the environmental impacts. Meanwhile, a small number of well-connected individuals will receive a state-planned transfer of wealth, paid for by the American tax payers in the form of the subsidization of this dirty, low ROI energy. Furthermore, when one considers Jeavon’s Paradox, it’s clear that the gains from this energy will not help reduce American reliance on foreign energy. In fact, it will directly work against the ONLY things that could help bolster American security by creating energy independence: conservation, efficiency and reduction.

This is simply a predatory and opportunistic scam targeting the American people. Mr. Kerry, stand up for America: recommend against the pipeline. 

Comment here:

Permaculture in Kalamazoo!

Van-Kal Permaculture is now on the web:

The site has links to local Permaculture projects, a feed of the VKP email list, beautiful pictures, a calendar and other great local Permaculture resources.

Van-Kal Permaculture members organize potlucks, movies, discussions, foraging expeditions,  plant walks, workshops (like an upcoming native pollinator workshop!) and “permablitz” work days at member sites.

More importantly, it’s a friendly and informal group where everyone feels empowered to step in, participate and organize projects.

If you’re looking for Permaculture in Kalamazoo, check it out!

And big thanks to PJ for the great website!

"Forage Gardens" a Great Tool for Thriving.
An Immature Forage Garden Hedgerow

There’s a game we like to play on drives and road trips that involves
pointing and yelling “food!”

Which is one benefit of a foraging hobby, you start to see food wherever you go.


“Sure, you can eat that, but you don’t want to.”

My Grandpa used to know every plant you could ever run into in Michigan, and whether or not you could eat it. But most of the time, he believed that if it wasn’t available in the store, there was a reason. You could eat it. But either it would take too much work to eat it or you wouldn’t want to.

Like most people, we started foraging the stuff you could find at the store, berries, asparagus, and so on.

The first truly odd food we foraged was milkweed pods.

These do not look like food.

But boy do they taste great! Dredged in some flour with some cayenne pepper and salt, then fried in some garlic and butter… they’re a lot like jalapeno poppers: crispy on the outside, with a melty cheese-like filling.

We were instant converts.

As it turns out, there are a whole lot of amazing wild foods that aren’t in the grocery store. A lot of them reveal unique flavors and qualities if you find just the right way to make them shine. These aren’t foods for “surviving,” these are food for THRIVING.

And there are the two great reasons we planted our Forage Garden, a self-regulating collection of great wild plants from your area. First, yes, these are some great vegetables that we were missing out on.

But more importantly, I appreciate psychological security that comes with a Forage Garden: you begin to see an abundance of great food growing everywhere! A Forage Garden teaches you where to find these treasures, what they look like and when to look for them. When the Sweet Rocket is ready in your garden, you know it’s time to go foraging!

Best of all, for us, this is real Permaculuture. Our forage garden passively teaches us a skill we can take with us anywhere. When we planted our Forage Garden we started growing something that can’t be taken away by banks, oil spills, industrial disasters, or the Department of Making You Sad.

Forage Garden Tips

1. We put ours close to our house. Actually, it’s right along a frequent walk way. In a “Permaculture” system, this would be in “zone 1.” We wanted to live with these plants, see when they’re ready to harvest, learn to identify them in their “off season.” And we found we’re more likely to harvest them and take advantage of the increased nutritional diversity of many wild foods.

2. Garden in layers. Since we had enough room we included some small trees and bushes in our Forage Garden to provide a greater variety of habitats. Sun-loving plants like milkweed, ground cherries, and chicory can be grown on the south side of trees and shrubs, while woodland plants like wild garlic, solomons seal, claytonia, and ramps can be grown in the shade. This can fit a wide diversity of foods into a small space. 

3. Hedgerows are nice. Something I love about British rural life are the foraging hedgerows that divide the countryside. In the US, unplanned hedgerows of useful species were planted by squirrels and other wildlife, under fences, and in ditches–places where the mowers wouldn’t reach. They’re often one of the most promising habitats for foraging in the wild. If you have enough room to plant a hedgerow, they can provide beauty, food, and wildlife habitat. They also create an ecology that tends to grow in fertility over the years, helping it take care of itself. In fact, we use some of that excess biomass as mulch or compost to increase the fertility of the rest of our garden.

Some “shrubs” common in Michigan hedgerows are elderberry; cherry species;  hazel; viburnum species like chokeberry, nannyberry, and highbush cranberry; staghorn sumac; blueberry (if you have acidic soil); spicebush; and paw paw. I’ve often found these growing with some blackberries or black raspberries. Many trees can be kept cut or “coppiced” in a hedgerow, such as mulberry.

4. Some of my favorite fruits and vegetables to include: Milkweed, ground cherries, chicory, mustards, garlic mustard, cresses, peppergrass, shotgrass, chickweed, evening primrose, cleavers, strawberries, queen ann’s lace, pokeweed, lambsquarters, wild lettuce, thistles, groundnuts, burdock, jerusalem artichoke, solomon’s seal, claytonia species, ramps, wild garlic, wild onions, nettles, sorrels, asparagus, dame’s rocket… the list is really endless, but that would get you a good start.

5. You’ll notice, there are quite a few aggressive plants in that list. We placed our Forage Garden in a place where it can be contained by mowing. If you regularly interact with your Forage Garden by harvesting it, then you’ll be eating enough to keep it from becoming invasive. If you won’t have much time for a foraging hobby, then you might want to stick to the less aggressive species.

6. We included some nitrogen fixers for increased fertility. These include clovers, false indigo, goumi, or autumn olive (which makes a great “tomato sauce.) Ironically, this will also keep the more invasive species from getting out of control, since they are generally more competitive in less fertile soil.