PERMANENT AGRICULTURE –
REVIEW BY HELEN KRAYENHOFF
With the publication of The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture: Creating an Edible Ecosystem, the rest of the world will now have access to the gifts of one of our local gardening heroes, Christopher Shein. With the help of Julie Thompson, he has written an accessible textbook laying open for the home gardener the often-mystifying subject of permaculture. The book furthers the reach of the work Christopher does for the Merritt College permaculture design department and through his own Wildheart Gardens, a well-respected design company that has transformed many Bay gardens over the years.
Permaculture is based on natural ecosystems and many indigenous farming traditions. In the book, Christopher calls it “a way of thinking and adapting to a particular ecology. Each garden, each family, and each community is different, so permaculture relies on observation and local knowledge.”
The book offers many how-to hints, but the thrust is to encourage readers to enter a different paradigm. The basic elements of gardening—plants, soil, water, and sun—remain, but permaculture challenges us to reframe our starting point, first considering the gardener’s self-care and then moving outward in concentric ripples to ask how we will inhabit our garden, how we will interact with the other living beings that co-habit our space, and how we will interact with our community around the food we produce.
Christopher asserts that “making ecological gardens is about working less hard but smarter,” or as Bill Mollison, early founder of Permaculture (the word is capitalized by its staunch proponents), puts it, “thoughtful and protracted observation not thoughtless and protracted labor.” Christopher shows the way forward as he describes permaculture concepts—food forests, fruit tree guilds, and the polyculture garden—and mulches the descriptions with practical ideas. Discussions on soil, water, and compost are illustrated through permaculture examples and there are good lists of recommended vegetables, fruits, and mushrooms, some familiar, many not. An entire chapter is devoted to all aspects of saving, processing, and planting seeds.
“Fair share” is Christopher’s favorite aspect of permaculture: It is one of the three ethical principles—caring for the planet, caring for others, and sharing abundance. The last chapter gives real-world examples of how these principles are being applied in the U.S.
With beautiful photos and an open layout, this book is easy to access and a fine afternoon read. Whether you are starting a new edible garden or looking to take your veggie patch to the next level, this book is worth exploring. ♣