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The Trouble with Permaculture

I’m not surprised that Permaculture hasn’t caught on with mainstream food growers. When I first encountered it about twenty years ago, I found it off putting, to say the least. Maybe it was the way it was presented as the ultimate solution to all the world’s ills, or maybe it was the zealous, superior attitude of its devotees, telling me how to garden when most of them wouldn’t know one end of a spade from the other, but I concluded that Permaculture was something that urbanite dreamers did from their armchairs and was to be avoided like any other cult.

 Earth care, people care, fair sharesThose of you who have read my previous posts know that I have come a long way since then. Over the years, I’ve met some inspirational teachers and have come across an interesting garden or two that were both productive and designed using Permaculture ethics and principles. Rather than finding out about Permaculture (PC) by encountering ill informed enthusiasts, I read some of David Holmgren’s work and found the principles and the ethics behind the theories. Then of course there was Transition, which, as you can read in Kerry’s post, is a perfect partner to PC, or is maybe one of its most ambitious designs. Once I had a few more pieces of the puzzle, it all started to make a lot more sense. Permaculture is now an integral part of my life; it offers me a different way of seeing the world and of understanding how it all works. I find that when I’m not sure of something, checking it against the three PC ethics of Earth care, people care and fair shares, gives me an additional perspective.

 I still get irritated with wide eyed, blue sky thinking permies though, who despite knowing sod all about vegetable growing, come and tell us that we are not doing it “right” in our market garden, because if it’s hard work, it can’t be PC. Apparently, you can design hard work out of gardening; in PC Lala land, all you have to do is wander through your food forest with your mouth open and ripe, juicy fruit will just fall in! Isn’t it exactly because of this desire to grow more food with less effort we ended up with industrial agriculture? And is it maybe also because it became so effortless to grow masses of food, we ended up valuing it so little that we waste tons of it every year?

Limnanthes DouglasiiThe persistent myth of the uber-productivity of forest gardens, perennial plants and polycultures, amongst other sacred cows, are why I have a lot of sympathy for Peter Harper’s critique on the lack of controlled trials and measured experiments. It’s not that there aren’t any instances of these types of food production being successful (though those that are, are rarely in this country), but how do you know that polycultures provide a higher total yield than comparative mono cropping, if you don’t measure it? How many people who have planted a forest garden have actually been able to feed themselves from it? When I watched the Youtube clip of Mike Feingold’s PC allotment, I was appalled at how little food was being grown on such a lush looking bit of land. I’ve heard it too often now; this over emphasis on salad leaves, berries, “beneficial plants” and lack of calorie crops. It is an ongoing weakness of many PC gardens, especially seen against the bigger picture of a world where food will be a lot less abundant than it is right now. With increasing demand on food banks in the UK you could say that we are now getting there. Mike’s plot is in an urban area, where clean, fertile soil is even more precious. How do gardens like that, full of salad and beneficial plants in cities where people go hungry, check out against people care or even fair shares?

Hugel culture bedsGiven examples where food production seems a mere afterthought, you can’t blame people for thinking that PC gardens are just another “right-on” pursuit for the well off. For those who are interested in growing a substantial amount of their food over the year, it is not going to convince them of the benefits of PC, let be those folk who are trying to make a living out of growing and selling vegetables and fruit. This is a shame, because with a little bit of common sense and a lot of gardening experience, PC thinking can be a great help in difficult gardening conditions. In our market garden we’ve used hugel culture beds where the ground before was too sodden to grow anything, we use raised beds and mulches, practise companion planting, we’re using willow pollards to deal with excess water (ongoing experiment) and yes, I grow lots of beneficial plants to attract predator insects and pollinators, but not at the expense or instead of common garden vegetables. I wouldn’t say that our market garden is a model PC project, but I would say that without PC thinking, we wouldn’t be growing anything much on this challenging piece of land. Patrick Whitefield acknowledges this is often the case in a great interview with Simon Fairlie: 

“Very few growers of food would claim to be 100 percent permaculturists but many would admit to being influenced by permaculture and using some of its ideas.”

Young tomato plants mulched with straw The greatest benefits of PC thinking for me have been the permission to give time to “Observe and interact” and then to “Accept feedback and apply self-regulation”. Even failures are only another source of information and learning that way and thus part of “Obtaining a yield”. Using “Slow and small solutions” overcame the frustration that we could not afford to put more capital in and create a greater impact more quickly, as did “Use and value renewable resources and services”, which for us meant that we discovered how much we could do with what we had and made “Produce no waste” a logical choice. It’s a slow process, but it has a certain elegance to it, which I’ve come to appreciate. Unlike the over zealous permie, I don’t hold to many fixed ideas anymore, but garden with a perpetual willingness to be surprised. Sometimes the solutions that present themselves are very counter intuitive, but obvious once in place.

Early broadbeans with companion plants calendula, chamomille and poppySo why does my heart sink when I hear of another Transition Initiative that has acquired a good bit of land, announce with great enthusiasm, that they’re going to plant a food forest? For one, it will take many years for even the most perfectly designed, planted and maintained forest garden to literally bear fruit and how are you going to keep your volunteers on board during that time? Another is that more often than not, these trees are planted on very good agricultural land, which would be perfect for growing annual veg and calorie crops, which don’t do well on poorer soils where trees would be quite happy. I know from experience that people like “normal” vegetables. I see it as quite an achievement to have built up a customer base for a few unusual crops, such as achocha, tree spinach and New Zealand spinach, stripy tomatoes and purple beans. But I know they are still a long way off “tree salads” or chickweed pesto or weird berries. And lastly, in the face of a powerdown future, where conventional growing will become increasingly expensive and problematic, we need to scale up sustainable alternatives capable of providing us with affordable food, grown close to where it will be eaten, just like they did in Cuba.

 peas, radishes, carrots and parsleyTo finish, I have some advice for budding Permaculture Designers: consider this proverb when deciding upon your diploma designs: “Cobbler, stick to thy last.” We need PC design, but leave the land based ones to people with land based experience and work within your area of expertise, be it finance, economics, health, transport, planning, architecture or rocket science, as long as you know what you’re talking about. Wonder why? Well here’s an example of a post on the PC Design Facebook page, which I read over my husbands’ shoulder, as he is currently working on his PC diploma: : “For my design I’ve decided to create a raised bed with a polyculture and to broadcast (another popular lemon in inexperienced hands) the seeds.” A few weeks later a photograph of a bed full of seedlings is posted with the following request: “Could anybody please identify which the plants that I’ve sown are and which the weeds, because I can’t tell them apart?” It yielded substantial laughter...

Images: The three PC ethics: Earth care, people care and fair shares / Limnanthes Douglasii; how can you garden without it? It's a very early flower attacting both predator insects and pollinators, freely selfseeds and thus makes a great green manure or covercrop whilst providing plenty of cover for toads and frogs / Some of the hugel culture beds that saved half of our plot, here in early spring / Young tomato plants in the polytunnel with strawmulch to reduce watering and weeds and tiny companion French marigolds / very early broadbeans in polytunnel with companions calendula, chamomille and poppy to attract pollinators and hoverflies / a successful polyculture: early dwarf peas, radishes, carrots and parsley.

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Comments

Chris Bird's picture

Down to earth permaculture

Thanks for keeping us grounded Ann - and for a few good ideas.

I often encounter a lack of critical thinking in Transition circles so it's good to hear you suggesting actual trials to test claims that are repeated so often they acquire the status of "common sense" when they may be no such thing.

John Mason's picture

Had me chuckling too, Ann!

Had me chuckling too, Ann! And I agree - use the best land for the things that won't grow on the worst land.

Kerry Lane's picture

Brilliant post Ann

It is so easy to come up with ideas if you don't know the realities of a situation! As with everything it is how you use the tools that influences the results and Permaculture is no exception. You are in good company as Sepp Holzer makes pretty much the same critique in his book, saying that he was amazed at how many of the 'permaculturalists' he met had no growing expereince. 

I am not experienced in landbased permaculture (although I am making a start with my own experimental veg plot), which is why I have gravitated to People and Permaculture as the area which I know more about! 

Also there should be no holy cows in permaculture or Transition for that matter as their ethos is that of being unique to each situation they are in, therefore you cannot make hard and fast rules apart from following the principles.

Graham Strouts's picture

Cult of Perma

You are quite right- permaculture is a cult, but then so is Transition and the "Peak Oil" movement which both are based on. But it seems that once you take out the gardening myths and ludicrous ideas that if we "copied/learned from Nature" we would produce more food more easily, you are only left with platitudes- "Accept feedback and apply self-regulation" "Obtain a yield" (well duh) and "Use Small and Slow Solutions" which sound more like they come out of some kind of New Age self-help book. Is that really all permaculture is? then it is a mystery as to why you still find it useful. It has surely done more harm by spreading a completely unrealistic attitude towards food and farming than any good it may have done by giving a set of happy-clappy feel-good "principles" to form a cult around. That people are now giving up on gardening and moving into "People Care" just shows it is becoming more cultish by the minute!

Ann Owen's picture

Ow du-uh!

You're twisting my words; when I said I had concluded that PC was like any other cult, that was my view 20 years ago and entirely based upon encounters with rather over enthousiastic permies. Maybe you skipped the rest of my post where I then explain that since that time I learned a lot about PC, the ethics and principles and I now really value the insights that PC thinking gives me, both in my day to day life and in our market garden. I disagree with most of what you say, but then I would imagine that such is a familiar experience for you. From browsing your blog a little I can see that you find a lot to disagree with all round and do not shy away from letting the world know. Still, something seems to keep on bringing you back here, be it hope or depair is only for you to know. Thanks for commenting, but I had rather hoped for a more mature and honest discussion that would seperate the nonsense from the valuable, the latter of which there is a lot of in all three movements that you so casually discard.

Graham Strouts's picture

Careful- Cults really don’t like criticism!

In other words, "please go away, you are not welcome to criticisize the Cult." Of course not! That is how cults maintain themselves. Which is why I welcome your critique of permaculture!

I fully understood your post: as an experienced grower, you can see what is not obvious to the naive rank-and-file who are drawn into this "system"- that it is a hopeless way of producing food. Along with the other commentators here, I completely agree, and applaud your bravery in slaying such a Holy Cow so well. You will likely meet with abuse and attempts to censor you and shut you up for this, which will focus on personal attacks. So your post is very encouraging.

But my point was- perhaps I didnt explain it clearly enough- what is left if the original idea of permaculture as an "alternative" food producing system have failed? You seem to be saying- I dont want to mis-understand you- that the bits you still find valuable- are just platitudes and generalised advice that you might find anywhere, that could be interpreted so widely that they really dont mean very much. Then it is great that the other commentators here seem to agree with your basic premise- that permaculture food production is largely nonsense- and one of them says, they are leaving gardening and going into something called "People Care" ! As if permaculture is the only thing that cares about people?! What are we talking about here- Joanna Macey workshops some or some other kind of cultish group hugging session? Im asking your opinion- do you think this is all permaculture is left with once the mulching is done, and why do you NOT see that as cultish, and why do you see it as still valuable?

So it is hard to understand you saying that you "disagree with most of what I say"- no, you largely agree with what I have also written, also drawing heavily on Peter Harper. So I am trying to clarify the points of disagreement, but between the three of us there is broad agreement it seems!

If you have looked around my blog you will see that I have by no means "casually" discarded anything, but only after many years of intense involvement with permaculture, Transition (in its early stages) and the Peak oil movement. I also used to run Deep Ecology workshops myself! That makes it rather awkward for you though, if you want to "casually discard" my comments (which mainly agree with you!).

I can see that you find a lot to disagree with all round and do not shy away from letting the world know.

Should I shy away from "letting the world know" ? Would that suit Transition better do you think?

James Young's picture

So what's better?

Ok Graham, I get that you dislike Permaculture because it's too unscientific. My problem with your comments and your blog is that it's unclear what you stand for.

Are you advocating GMO's and industrial farming? Are you saying the lack of scientific rigor and the appearance of pseudoscience is proof, scientific proof, that all Permaculture is to be discarded? Is there no value to simple observation of what works and doesn't (for all the people out there who can't afford a scientific study to support everything they do).

Now that you've gleefully danced on the graves of Permaculture, Transition, and Peak Oil, what do you have to offer in their stead? Where's your scientific proof that your way, whatever that may be, is the better way?

Graham Strouts's picture

Hi James The short answer

Hi James

The short answer ofcourse is I stand for science and truth and accuracy; and these things often involve much more nuanced and complex answers than can be given in a comment thread like this; on the other hand, I think I have and do answer your questions on my own blog, fully referenced with the best scientific evidence as far as possible, on an ongoing basis, so feel free to join discussions there if you wish.

The problem with permaculture is it cannot be defined: it is not really a thing, just a vague collection of vague notions that seem to bond people together; but as we see here in Ann's post, it doesnt really seem to make any difference that it doesnt really work, "the-thing-that-is-called-permaculture" can easily morph away from gardening/alternative food production into some kind of New Age self-help group.

I hesitate to answer your questions beyond that because they seem to me to be leading questions focussed on me personally, as if the central question is, what does Graham stand for? and false dichotomies. The same should be asked of Ann and Peter Harper, who we have both drawn on for our critiques: and my question to both is, they havnt said what they stand for either. They both still claim there is "something" of value in what-is-called-permaculture but it is not at all clear to me what this is or why.

Here is an attempt to answer you a bit more fully without going on too long: Obviously, industrial farming is feeding nearly all the world's population (the bottom billion who are still hungry are "organic-by-default"- that is why they are hungry- they cannot afford to buy better technolgy and improve their yields). It has proved spectacularly successful. The Green Revolution doubled- and trippled yields of cereal crops in Asia, refuting Malthussian fears of population overshoot and mass starvation. Now we need a second Green Revolution. Can we do it? Well not if we think that the way forward is to return to subsistence peasantry. Not if we think that back-yard hobby gardening or Organics (main problem: there is not enough manure, it requires a great deal more land) is in some way a substitute for industrial farming. Not if we destroy trial plots of new technologies or impose trade embargoes against poor countries who really need them. GMOs are not a thing either- all our food crops are genetically modified. Genetic engineering is one way of improving yields while reducing inputs, facilitating no-till or low-till systems (one of the aims of permaculture?) while using biological rather than chemical approaches. Precision agriculture can greatly improve efficiency. In the future, new plant breeding methods could allow cereal crops to fix their own nitrogen and reduce the problem of run-off and eutrophication.

The only meaningful definition of "permaculture" re food and farming would be forest gardening- the problems with which Ann has adressed here very well- and by extension, agro-forestry and agroecology. These both have real potential and good science behind at least some aspects; but they are not a panacea. Like Organics, they are low-intensity systems with geenrally much lower yields (remember the permaculture principle that Ann also cites: Obtain a Yield!) Agroforestry, both silvopasture- and silvoarable systems are particulalry interesting. They have always existed, they could both benefit from new technology such as advanced breeding methods and judicious use of synthetic fertiliser for example.But they cannot replace the whole of industrial ag, it is absurd to think they can

This is the worst thing about permaculture- it fosters a belief that all the problems of industrial ag can be solved by a magic wand. This is a dangerous view to promote about something as important as food production.

Very briefly re energy: long before peak oil happens, we will develop new technology which is better and cleaner and cheaper. This is already happening with shale gas, and new nuclear technologies. This long-term energy transition to more energy-dense fuels is sometimes expressed a s"N2N"- Natural gas as a bridge to long-term future of nuclear and Hydrogen economies.

Bottom line: the modern industrial world is not the disaster that permaculture and other Dark Green movements take as an article of faith: rather, it has improved the lives of billions, and can continue to do so- but only if humans are permitted to continue what they are best at- innovating and adapting with new technologies. In general though we need more intensive energies and food production systems, not less intensive (which likely would end up having a greater environmental impact and feed/fuel far less people).

One reference for these ideas: Stewart Brand, "Whole Earth Discipline" see him on TED here.

James Young's picture

Still a no on industrial Ag

Graham, the link you provide under your claim that there is not enough manure isn't a scientific study, it is a blog from WSU's ag dept. And I believe you've misread it. What the blogger suggests is there is not enough organic manure. Most of the manure on organic farms are from animals fed conventional feed in caged industrial systems. This is of course just a developmental problem. If there were more organic ranches and protocals this wouldn't be an issue. It also ignores the potential use of humanure. It further lacks quantifiable measurements for this claim, it's just suppositions meant to open a discussion.

The link you provide claiming that organic will need more land is also a blog with early conjecture based on preliminary studies. The subject studies are too narrowly focused on net yields by weight and completely ignores the superior nutrient yield of organic crops. (My experience with industrial fruits and veggies is you get a lot of water weight and inferior taste.)

Also this study doesn't account for the external costs of industrial ag such as pollution, the need for higher petroleum inputs, and inefficiency of land use. Lack of yields is not the problem in the current system where a very large percentage of food never gets to the table. The blog does acknowledge these results are early and that greater study and development of organic can improve yields.

An effective local organic system can beat a far flung conventional farm with regard to delivering a quality yield at a lower carbon cost. If you read about Transition you will find much of the focus is going local.

Industrial ag has an Achilles heel. It relies entirely on a supply of intensive energy, namely fossil fuels, to gain its so-called land efficiency. You are right to say it is more energy-in resulting in more energy-out, but this is not an advantage if you don't have the high energy input available. The scarcity of high-energy will obsolesce high energy systems like industrial ag.

So when you ball together Peak Oil (as a cult no less) with Permaculture and (curiously Transition too) it is because you have to in order to support your argument. The argument that industrial ag is superior falls apart if there is not the high energy cheaply available. More on that later.

Side note: True GMO is a poor name for what should be called Genetically Engineered Organism, or GEO, but that's just a cranky semantics argument. I'm more worried by the fact that you mix vertical genetic modification in with horizontal genetic modification. They are not the same and it has a wiff of deception about it. It is exactly the same line that Monsanto uses, i.e; we've been modifying plants genes via planet breeding for millennia therefore GEO is the same as breeding but better. "Just another tool in the tool box". No. Decidely false.

Breeding is not the same as engineered genetics. Never in the history of humanity has a goat been bred with a spider or a cat with a firefly or corn with a virus. This is an outright lie to say humans have always done this. If you include this in your argument you only muddy your credibility. It sounds more like the PR stunts Monsanto is so expert at financing. It's also important to note that GEO (GMO) hasn't delivered on its promises in the mid or long term.

Back to high energy required for industrial ag; as mentioned, it is a necessity for you to debunk Peak Oil in order for your arguments to stand. However, you offer fracking, nuclear, and hydrogen as the future energy answer. This is where your argument truly falls apart.

Fracking has a very poor EROEI so despite the refined natural gas product being cleaner burning the whole process of obtaining it and cleaning it up is very dirty indeed. You definitely cannot claim it is cleaner as no one knows what's in the fracking chemicals being pumped into the earth (alongside our drinking and irrigation aquifers) except the oil companies. There are reportedly 700 different chemicals with at least 100 acknowledged as being endocrine disrupters. Other chemicals are simply proprietary secrets. So you cannot make a scientific claim that these are clean when you don't even know what they are.

I have a dreadful feeling that many people will find this out too late that fracked fuel is not nearly as important as clean water.

It is also questionable to claim fracked fuel has delivered a cheaper product. Price is determined by many factors. What we have seen is a glut in supply caused by many oil companies jumping on the fracking bandwagon only to get burned by the glut in supply and losing money on the deal. I believe Shell in particular had to pull out of its fracking division entirely as it got in 'late' and purchased a bunch of leftover, passed-over wells that did not yield a profit. As mentioned the EROEI is very low, from 3 to 5 from the best of the new wells vs about 10-20 from the last of our crude oil wells. As we use up the best of the frack wells the EROEI will drop further, just as it has done with oil wells which used to yield EROEI's of 100. 

The end game for fracking also appears nigh as most fracking wells deplete drastically in just a few short years. Shell got stuck with a bunch of poorly yielding wells already, not 20 years in the future. With current results like that, fracking doesn't run deep enough to get us to the utopian future of clean fusion energy dreamt about in Star Trek and many a sci-fi novel. This is not cult talk from permaculture or Transition. Look into the industry reports. Look into the IEA reports. Read the Wall Street Journal. It's there for all to see if they cared to look.

Peak Oil was almost perfectly predicted by M. King Hubbert based on his scientific statistical analysis. The fact we're relying on fracking and the IEA declaring it's the "Golden Age of Gas" should tell you all you need to know about the supply of crude oil. It's going, going.....

This really puts the urgency of Transition to the forefront. The consequences are dire: If you lay the curve of population growth alongside the curve of fossil fuel supply, you will see population follows the fossil fuel curve very closely. As the oil production/use curve has risen, so has the population curve.

The implication as the fuel curve drops is that so will the population curve. Hence the need to develop sustainable systems, whether organic, permaculture, holistic, biologic, whatever you want to call it, it must rely on sustainable supplies of energy, i.e solar in its many forms (wind, tidal, hydro, photovoltaic, etc).

As for hydrogen, it is not a fuel source, it is a storage method much like a battery. There are no natural stores of hydrogen fuel. To produce it gives it an EROEI of less than one.

Nuclear fission is also near a peak in fuel supply. If we got all our energy from fission today, the global nuclear fuel supply would only last about a decade.

Nuclear fusion is a pipe dream at this point and will undoubtedly have, like every other form of energy, its own costs to be dealt with. Since it doesn't exist except in Star Trek, we don't know its drawbacks. It is not scientific to say that this is a solution. It is irresponsible to suggest it as a solution.

We must not cling ever more desperately to this archaic fantasy of limitless cheap energy and constant growth. We must develop a new system that is sustainable. A population adjustment is implied because we've likely pushed beyond the carrying capacity of the earth at least at current efficiencies. The answer may not be permaculture but we must learn what it is and fast. That is what Transition is about. Sure permaculture needs to grow up, but that is not the singular life boat of Transition. We're seeking all sustainable methods that will increase our resilience and eliminate our dependencies.

PS, I hereby claim the record for longest (coherent) comment on the Transition website. Haha :)

Graham Strouts's picture

James, your suggestion that

James, your suggestion that more Organic farms would solve the Nitrogen/manure issue is a great example of "running faster to stand still" (highly ironic considering your later comments on EROEI). Those farms would also need (Organic) manure, and in fact under Organic standards Organic farms are not permitted to export their fertility. To close the loop you would have to have Organic cereal farms growing Organic feed for Organic animals so as to produce enough Organic manure...to feed the world. Not plausible, even remotely. Organics is entirely dependent on Haber-Bosch.

To feed the world with Organics would require something like 30% -50% more land than conventional farming, since it is highly land-inefficient: there is plenty of good evidence to support this but it is obvious why, to grow fertility crops and keep billions more animals for their manure. (Crucial to remember that this is true in particular for staples which provide about 50% of our calories- veggie/salad yields from you backyard will not feed you or relieve you from industrial ag no matter how much you grow.)

There is no evidence that Organic food has a higher nutritional content.

Moreover, Organics is almost entirely industrial, depending on monocultures and big tractors and fossil energy for all sorts of things just like conventional. (Dont forget the eneergy to make the tractors.... and drive the produce to market... and the kids to school, which might be further away in the country.) To claim that Organics overcomes the issues of fossil fuel depletion just because it doesnt use synthetic fertiliser directly is just plain silly.

Only about 1% of the world's energy is used to make N fertiliser- but it could actually be made from on-farm wind or solar. This is arguably the best way to use wind energy. It could also be manufactured from nuclear power, or anything that makes electricity through electrlysis and methanation.

Local food is just a marketing fad for artisan food producers (who are generally still very keen to export their products to the lucrative markets in NYC etc). It does not necessarily mean a lower embodied energy since transport often makes up a very small part of a foods' energy requirements (farming, storage, processing can be much higher) even if it has travelled around the world. Plus some studies suggest that more transport fuel is burned from a few hundred cars driving 10-15miles to the farmers market than if huge artics deliver to a walkable supermarket.

Creating local economies is the fast-track back towards poverty. It is a very curious idea and will make your communities far less resilient and vulnerable to famines once again.

GMOs: there are no food crops that have crossed the plant-animal boundary. Horizontal geen transfer occurs in nature/evolution (eg between you and you gut bacteria) and there are naturally occurring transgenes that have become commercial crops, eg Red Grapefruits. In addition, polyploidy and protoplast fusion are also able to deliver transgene varieties, eg Triticale- a cross between two unrelated species, wheat and rye. These techniques are apparently uncontroversial and fully accepted under Organic standards, as is mutagenic forcing, used to develop thousands of novel organicsm since the 1970s. You are just splitting hairs over what is "novel"- but everything humans do is novel for the first time!

Er, no, it is not questionable that in the US shale gas has significantly dropped the price. But, yes, you are correct that there are many factors that determine price, but these factors influence all energy sources, not just the ones you personally dont like. For example, steel is dependent on coke for its manufacture, so the price of the steel required for wind turbines effects the price of wind power. I predict energy prices will fluctuate :0

I think price may actually be a good proxy for EROEI. It wouldnt be surplying 40% of US gas production- with no apparent huge up-tick in consumption (which by your reasoning would have been caused by all this fracking, if EROEI is declining so rapidly). Wells deplete quickly, but from very high initial extraction rates; new technology is improving all the time.

It's just a Gasland lie to say the chemicals used in fracking are unknown. Same with your activist propoganda re risks of groundwater contamination. It has happened a handful of times in tens of thousands of wells. Fracking is not new, the combination with horizontal drilling has made it economic. But noone used to worry about contamination- its been used for decades.

No, Hubbert did not predict Peak Oil globally, and he only predicted US peak by accident. Even that is now set to be broken in just a few more years, which is like water flowing uphill to a peak-oiler, but there you have it.

Population will not drop due to energy depletion, but because of the demographic transition. This is a result of people having more energy, moving away from peasant agriculture, and often moving to the city.

Yes, Hydrogen is an energy store, but a clean and energy-dense one which could ultimately be used in conjunction with nuclear or wind/solar. I wouldnt write off fusion over a 50-100year timescale- there are after all some very serious projects under development like ITER- but I agree it is not on the cards any time soon. Which is why I didnt mention it. :0

Your last paragraph is just empty rhetoric. Neither you nor anyone else in Transition has any intention of giving up their energy slaves; as for the end of growth, tell that to the 680million Chinese who have come out of poverty the last 30 years. Im sure they are queuing up to join Transition and return once again to peasant agriculture as we speak :0

James Young's picture

very slippery indeed

Boy Graham you are one dodgy debater, I'll give you that. You haven't answered any of my points.

Read again: Manure can be supplied by humans as well as animals so there is almost a global untapped supply (some countries do use humanure currently). There is also currently a surplus of manure on many an industrial cattle ranch; so much so it is an envirnomental problem to dispose of. Manure supply is not a problem. If you're saying the organic protocals disallow one organic farm from supplying another, this is a simple problem of a rule with unintended consequences. Solution, change the rule.

And yes energy scarcity is a threat to organic farm machinery but it is more so to an industrial farm.

If you think local food's lower embodied energy is counteracted by people driving their cars to the farmer's market you are myopicly assuming people will only be driving cars in the future which is once again based on your assumption that there will always be limitless high energy, another point of mine which you have not addressed, only dodged.

Genus crossing is rare, is done through natrual processes, and is still not even close to the cut and paste process of GMO's. Further, it may only be a matter of imprecise taxonomy. We are only now learning about bacteria being able to exchange genes, still no case of plants exchanging genes in such a way. We do not know enough about genetic modification to use it responsibly. GMO's also embody other problems like their reliance on pesticides, their contamination of other crops, and the corporate ownership of the food supply. GMO's have not delivered on their promise of better nutrition or drought resistance.

Wow, you do acknowledge frack wells deplete alarmingly fast. But then follow with another cornucopian claim that non-existent tech will save the day. Very randian. 'When you wish upon a star' and all that.

You can't jump to the conclusion that aquifers have not been poisoned because its too early to tell. Your assumption that is must happen immediately is premature. This is what makes oil companies so despicable, its very hard to trace what's happening underground, happens over time spans of years, and then link cancer and other health problems to it, and then being able to litigate and prove it in court. Just ask the resident of Libby, MT.

The article you link regarding the ever more production of oil requires a login to read. However the headline reads oil and gas peak circa 2006. Nice dodge. If you include gas production along with oil you can stretch that peak out a bit more. Nope, Hubbert was right. Read the IEA reports which are much more reliable than a single finanacial article in a online newspaper geared for wall street types, the truth is not so rosy.

The more you dig into your answers, the less substance you find. Very well linked to not much of anything.

680 million Chinese coming out of a life of poverty because of an energy bubble will have a hard fall when they find their farms have been paved over with empty skyscrapers and iphone factories staffed with children. The great industrialization of China has been financed with US debt and that faucet will shut eventually. Industrialization has not run its course yet, its premature to declare it a success. Meanwhile, the air is very hard to breath. Too bad there isnt' enough clean oil and gas to supply China's ever growing appetite for an ever more limited energy supply.

Industrialization and all this tech has brought many good things, yes I will admit that openly. Unfortunately it is linked to an energy bubble. The decline in availabilty of cheap oil is indisputable and no smoke and mirror job will change that. No alternative energy has the ability to replace it. End of story.

Graham Strouts's picture

Breaching Hubbert's peak

From the FT article:

US oil production to test record high in 2016

US crude oil production will come close to its record highs in just three years time as the shale boom sends output soaring, according to the government’s Energy Information Administration.

The forecast marks a spectacular reversal from the assumptions of five years ago, when US crude production appeared to be in inexorable long-term decline.

The EIA said on Monday that it had revised sharply higher its estimates of future US crude output to about 9.5m barrels a day in 2016. That is very close to the previous peak in US production of 9.6m b/d in 1970 and almost double its low point of 5m b/d in 2008.
 
This is for crude oil, not oil combined with gas liquids. If that was the case the US has already passed its 1971 peak.
 
So you have no evidence at all of water contamination from fracking, yet you *know* it  happen sometime somewhere- what divination method are you using? Crystals? Tarot perhaps? any tips on the price of oil this time next year would be very handy ;)
Very devious of those evil gas and oil companies drilling deep below the earth where we can't see what's going on! It's not fracking giving everyone cancer by the way, it's chemtrailz. or fluoridation. Or something LOLZ
 
And yes energy scarcity is a threat to organic farm machinery but it is more so to an industrial farm.
 
Not per unit of food produced, that is the whle point- Organics is diffuse and inefficient, like wind wrt energy. I dont think you have quite understood the issue of nitrogen availability and Organics.  You can't get more just by swapping it from one farm to the next and back again. Never mind. :0
 
GE crops have delivered in many ways, and have proved better for the environment- less inputs of pesticides, less harmful herbicides. Better for the farmer. Otherwise the farmers wouldnt want to grow them. Amazing but true- farmers aren't stupid, who'd have thunk it?
 
Last month a team of scientists reported in the prestigious journal, Nature, that widespread planting of Bt cotton in China drastically reduced the spraying of synthetic chemicals, increased the abundance of beneficial organisms and decreased populations of insects that damage the crop. Planting of Bt cotton also reduced pesticide poisonings of farmers and their families. This month, German researchers reported that farmers in India growing Bt cotton increased their yield by 24%, their profit by 50% and raised their living standards by 18%.
 
 
 

James Young's picture

cherry pickin again

Graham, you've lost the track. Shale oil is an alternative fuel and does not qualify as light sweet crude oil and neither does frack gas, under the industries own terms. But again you quoted a financial article, not a scientific study. They don't know what they're saying they just want their investors to feel good about the 'inside' information they just received and keep buying their magazine.

I guess you're right, I have no no evidence for contamination from fracking.

Oh Wait, you're wrong. Again:

http://www.hydrorelief.org/frackdata/methane_contamination/Colorado_Stud...

and this:

http://www.esm.ucsb.edu/academics/documents/Urbina2011-08-03.pdf

Let me pull a quote for you as well:

But there is in fact a documented case, and the E.P.A. report that discussed it suggests there may be more. Researchers, however, were unable to investigate many suspected cases because their details were sealed from the public when energy companies settled lawsuits with landowners.

Current and former E.P.A. officials say this practice continues to prevent them from fully assessing the risks of certain types of gas drilling.

“I still don’t understand why industry should be allowed to hide problems when public safety is at stake,” said Carla Greathouse, the author of the E.P.A. report that documents a case of drinking water contamination from fracking.

“If it’s so safe, let the public review all the cases.”

What method did I use to find this? Oh, I used a 2 second Google search.

Nitrogen availability for Organic farms? For the 3rd frickin time, you can use human manure. What don't you understand about that. "Never mind" indeed, you've avoided the question again. You've never minded simple science. You can use human excrement. HUMAN EXCREMENT!!!! <------ Did you catch it this time? :O

You know that talk we had about Organic farms requiring more land because their nutrient values are the same.

Well, you're wrong again. Here's a study that show Organic does have more nutrients:

http://organic.insightd.net/reportfiles/Nutrient_Content_SSR_Executive_S...

The magnitude of the differences in nutrient levels
strongly favored the organic samples. Onequarter
of the matched pairs in which the organic
food contained higher levels of nutrients exceeded
the level in the conventional sample by 31% or
more.

I guess you don't need more land for Organic after all. You save the environment and get a better quality product with comparable NUTRIENT YIELD. In this light, an organic fruit may not be higher priced either because you get more value. Huh. I guess those opinion pieces you linked were wrong.

Your mistake was drawing on some really old studies that were poorly done. Hey, it happens, people make mistakes. It takes science a long time to catch up, it's one of it's drawbacks. That's why permies have to go on their observations which are a valid method to seek the truth.

That crashing sound you hear is yet another of the columns of industrial Ag falling to the ground, by the way.

GMO using less pesticides? Really? And your proof is a letter? It is well known that GMO's have failed to deliver on the promise of less pesticides, especially the longer you use them. The writers of that letter are in for a surprise down the road. Superweeds, aye me! Do I need to google that for you as well? Why do you think they want to approve 2-4-D for use again? You know 2-4-D right? It's a component of yet another one of Monsanto's half-baked, sloppy science projects: Agent Orange. Released to the public even though it was deeply flawed. It was only years later when the irrefutable science caught up with them and showed the world the poison that it is.

GMO's have failed and only the Monsanto PR department reports otherwise. And what a billion dollar PR department it is.

Which is really what you're about, right?. It makes sense now. Permaculture is a cult. Transition is a cult. Peak Oil is a cult. Right? That's what you said. But Monsanto is a shining star, you just can't say that part in public.

And we haven't even broached the subject of climate change yet. Are you ready to explain how all that frack fuel is going to affect that?

John Mason's picture

I've been growing my own veg

I've been growing my own veg now for five years on a long-term garden-swap. Through this experience, which has no snazzy buzz-word as a name, I've established a few basic principles which will stand anyone in good stead. In no particular order of importance, they are:

* Grow what works, by talking to the folk who have been growing in the soil of the area for decades.

* Every year, grow a couple of things that may or may not work in limited quantities out of curiosity. This way I have discovered that in season a couple of handfuls of mange-tout are possible daily - yum!

* Concentrate on highly resilient and nutritious plants, such as Swiss Chard. Namby-pamby things are generally only going to lead to disappointment.

* Let wild flowers of all types take up residence all around the growing areas - set aside some room for them. The pollinators will follow. My garden is alive with insects.

* Bring in stacks of organic material, via farms or in my case seaweed off local beaches (I always keep containers in my motor in case there's some there when I happen to be passing). Surface-mulch with it (slugs aren't keen on seaweed) and leave the worms to get on with the rest.

* Harvest and use rainwater. It's all I have in my case!

* Cabbage whites love nasturtiums, so wait until the caterpillars are all hatched out on that before planting purple-sprouting broccoli - a very successful deceit! Bees love the flowers too :)

Graham Strouts's picture

Skeptical about Savory

Ann, I think we should be very cautious about Allan Savory, who you link to. Just as expereienced growers like yourself can see through the false promise of permaculture, there are also good reasons why the vast majority of scientists and agronomists and climate scientists do not accept his rather extreme claims about "Holistic management". Here are a few useful critiques:

Cows Against Climate Change: the Dodgy Science behind the TED talk

All Sizzle and No Steak: Why Allan Savory's TED talk about how cattle can reverse global warming is dead wrong

Cows, Carbon and the Anthropocene

Anni Kelsey's picture

Hi Ann

This is a summary of response / comments – the full version can be found at: http://annisveggies.wordpress.com/2014/01/18/what-is-the-potential-contribution-of-permaculture-to-feeding-ourselves/.

I am all for collecting data and have made a start on this by measuring the inputs (time) and outputs (kgs of produce) of my perennial vegetable garden.  Along with the methods and the whys and wherefores these are included in my book ‘Edible Perennial Gardening’ due to be published in March 2014.

I wonder if someone can point me to published data about the productivity of traditional vegetable crops grown in back gardens, on allotments and market gardens?  A quick Google search has not produced any answers and it would be interesting to see any data that there is on the ‘tried and tested’ methods.  After all, if we are to compare the outcomes of established practices and crops with unusual crops and permacultural methods, then we need data for both.

One of my main thoughts is that if it more calories are expended in the work of growing a food than it will yield when eaten – then that is not a sustainable way of doing things.  There needs to be careful thought given to the potential components of our food that can be raised in the small scale of garden or allotment or market garden if we are to be able to find truly calorific crops with which to sustain ourselves.  Again, I am not aware of any data by which established practices can be measured.  I have made a start on calculating, as best I can, the calorific yield from my garden alongside the weight of produce and will continue to work on this aspect.

As well as looking at the output in weight from an area I think it is vital to consider the overall carbon footprint of a growing method.  Does it remove carbon from the wider environment or does have a hidden carbon cost?  Use of additional tools and supporting technologies (eg polytunnels, watering systems, compost / manure imported from external sources, purchased seeds) must to some extent escalate the carbon footprint in comparison to a system, which does not need these inputs; what might that additional carbon cost be?

I am convinced that we need as much work done as possible on as diverse an array of dietary ingredients as possible.  Yes we do need data, but we need it in respect of everything – the accepted, tried and tested methods and crops as well as the innovative, less accepted and less tested ones.   Let there be no sacred cows or even ‘sacred carrots’ in the endeavour of working out how to feed ourselves within the limits of reduced carbon consumption.

Comparing the manifold inputs and outputs of various ‘systems’ will undoubtedly be complex.  Perhaps too complex to do in a very systematic way, let alone something that will convince a hard headed scientist of its veracity.

My own results are, I believe, very encouraging and I would certainly not discount the ‘dream’ of a low input / high output system being possible.  For my own circumstances – not having lots of time or physical strength and energy, a garden that is damp, shady and unsuited to annual vegetables – perennial vegetables have proved a revelation, a delight, and a source of year round produce.  I have grown closer to nature through observing her cycles and interactions and cannot conceive of a better way of gardening / producing food – for me.

 

John Mason's picture

What say you about

What say you about industrial-scale farming and the wreckage it makes upon biodiversity, Graham?

Graham Strouts's picture

More intensive is better for biodiversity

I think Ive already answered that John- it has been spectacularly succesful at feeding a growing population. Maybe you would prefer to see billions starve? Coal saved the forests and oil saved the whales. What is your alternative to industrial agriculture? I have dealt with Organics (which is also largelt industrial) in reply to James above. Permaculture? see Ann's interesting post above. I already mentioned sustainable intensification and genetic engineering in my earlier comment. The fact is, a return to Nature would be a disaster- for Nature.

In food productinon as well as energy, the way forward is more intensification, not less. The return to the bucolic self-sufficient agrarian dream advocated by Transition and permaculture would be far less efficient and therefore have a far greater impact on biodiversity. It would also plunge people back into a desparate fight for survival- people who are living on the edge and under threat of famines do not form environmental groups to fight to save protected species or wild nature John. Only relatively well-off middel class people, who have enough surpless energy in their society to have education, travel, computers etc- the products of industrial society in other words- do things like that. Environmentalism is not a reaction against industrial society, but a product of it. See Maslow.

Ann Owen's picture

It's getting boring...

I'd like to thank all of you who have taken the time to counter the Ministry of Misinformation's minion's ramblings. You've patiently and quite thouroughly dismantled those arguments that have been proved wrong many times over some years ago.

It's been quite useful in generating interesting replies, but I've now become fed up with the flawed logic, the defense of GM and fracking and a writing style which has all the appeal of a three year old's projectile vomiting. I will therefore delete any further comments that I deem are only there to misinform, insult and provoke and that do not offer anything new to this comment thread. 

John Mason's picture

Graham, I would like to  sit

Graham, I would like to  sit with you over a beer or three and discuss this properly, because in the ways of the internet it is impossible mate - and that's down to you. Face-to-face might be better? Come and see my garden while I have it, and come and see Ann & John's -then we might get a better picture???

Graham Strouts's picture

Thanks!

HI John thankyou for your kind invitation- I would love to accept and see your garden! Drinking beer is also usually good :) Im not sure why you think discussing the scientific issues we are discussing would be better in your garden however- the internet is really the best for sharing links to studies etc; also you can see what has actually been written and this avoids misunderstandings (but not deliberate misrepsentations ofcourse). You are also very welcome over here if you are ever in West Cork. James can come too! Ill have the kettle on :) Unfortunately though you probably wont even see this as Ann has decided to enact her democratic right to delete my posts, whic unfortunatley shows once again how cultish and closed Transition has become :(

Ann Owen's picture

Just play nicely!

Graham, I wouldn't dream of deleting any constructive comments, nor kind replies. But if I decide that a comment is deliberately provocative or trollish, I do use my priviledge to get rid of it. I'm sure you do the same on your blog. 

Why it is better to discuss systems of food production in situe, like in a field or garden is because it keeps it real. Too much already gets decided by bureaucrats that have never had mud on their hands and so we get ridiculous regulations and funding systems that in the end cause damage and counter productive working practices. No book learning can compete with a farming family's generations of experience.

Graham Strouts's picture

Please reconsider

I must protest. There was nothing in the comment remotely "trollish" which just seems to mean anything you disagree with; anything could be considered "provocative"- including your own article (which I largely agree with) which challenges rather provocatively one of the sacred cows of permaculture, and probably Transition aswell. The comment was perfectly civil, responding to James' comment with several argued points supported by links to peer-reviewed science, and continuing the ongoing discussion. You have already told us that the real reason is because you see me as "defending GE and fracking", not because I am not "playing nicely". In addition, croberts has agreed with much of what I have been saying in disagreement with James, and also defends GE- yet his comment stands. Now you seem to be suggesting that you may have deleted it simply because it contained references to scientifc studies (?). This is simply censorship- it is really not acceptable behaviour on the internet in my opinion. James seems more than capable of speaking for himself- censoring a comment containing the kind of information I posted makes it look as if you dont trust your readers to make up their onw minds.

I urge you to reconsider- please withdraw your own clearly offensive comment and reinstate my own response to james, I think he should be allowed to see it. Such an act of generosity (rare on the internet regrettably) would be a great gesture worthy of what Transition pertains to be.

James Young's picture

Thanks Ann

Graham, I think Ann was right to 'call it a day' on this one. We've basically stated our positions and will only spin our wheels with circular arguments if we continue.

Btw, thanks Ann for the writing the article, it was obviously provacative. However, as parting shot, I'll say what I got from the article was more about the steep learning curve involved with Permaculture and not the ineffectiveness of Permaculture.

That's it. I quit. That's all I have to say about it here, I swear. :)

James Young's picture

Be careful Graham, the reason

Be careful Graham, the reason they're inviting you to their garden may be to club you over the head and feed you to the slugs. Which brings me to this joke:

How do farmers dispose of a dead body?

An industrial farmer throws the body in a disposal bin.

An organic farmer throws the body on their compost heap.

A permaculture farmer lets the body decompose in situ, letting natural forces do the work without intervention (except maybe to move the body into the nearest fruit tree guild).

Probably funnier after a couple beers. And sure, I wouldn't miss an alcohol fueled argument amongst fellow gardeners! It's a bit of a trip from Edmonds, WA but it's been years since I've been to Ireland. Just gotta figure out how to pay my airplane ticket. Between a 16 month baby and relatively new garden, there's little left over. Or maybe I should take a boat, less carbon released ;).

Graham Strouts's picture

White whiskey

LOL reminds me of the scene in Robert Newman's "History of Oil" where discusses Jeavons' intensive gardening with its post-mortem composting of the Pope- "mulches up lovely for an old bird" ;)

we will have to bring out some of the local white whiskey they make in these hills if you make it! but Im afraid you'll have to row, flying isnt really the Transition Way I dont think!

croberts's picture

The permaculture debate.

I have been folowing this debate and noticed it has become quite heated at times, and arguments ranging from a hippy type culture to conficting sientific facts.

My own experience is I come from a long line of farmers dating back several hundred years, my father being the last. The argument for large scale industrial scale farming is overwelming. Without it we would not have the relatively cheap and abundent fruit & veg we buy from our supermarkets and other shops / markets via the wholesalers. The problem is how do we sustain growing on such a large scale and keep prices affordable in the future when fertiliser the supply nitrogen from fossil fuels is outstipped by demand. Causing panic on the world market, and remembering that large countries like China will be demanding more as the diet of their younger poulation is moving away from simple rice based meals.Of couse nitrogen is only one eliment that plants need to grow, more alarming is the depleted stocks of posphate that is harder to replace than nitrogen.

 So what is the alternative ?

Putting some of the lower producitve methods of permaculture to one side, the idea we could grow a lot of food in woodland is ridiculous as the vast majority of our forrests are conifers that turn the soil acid so not even weeds will grow near them. So organic farming can help out, but it is limited and there are some arguments that make it inefficient at replacing fertilisers that are produced and used commercially. Organic, I call traditional farming was common years ago, being mixed with both animals and arable produced on the same farm. Sadly the low price the supermarket's pay the farmer for milk has meant hundreds of them going over to 100% arable and having to use thousands of tons of fertiliser. Even on mixed farms there is a mith that manure from cow's replaces attificial fertiliser. It does not, being fairly low in terms of plant nutrition. As for beef cattle and other animals we eat, it is a very inefficient way of producing food, we would produce far more if we used the land to grow plants for human consumption. I think it is fair to say that vegitarians cost the planet far less than meat eaters, then again I eat meat so cannot say a lot more on that subject. Also note cattle and other animals for food produce a lot of co2 in their lifetime

With the poulation in the UK of nearly 64 million and rising quite fast, it is clear we need big solutions to a big problem. Permaculture cannot answer that, although producing and selling food locally may help if we can organise ourselves properly, i.e. good ditribution network, connecting with local farmers etc. Sadly i feel geneticly modified crops may have to place some part in the future of food production at least in two area's, disease resistance and nitrogen producing plants. As for bigger yields this is an area I believe should be used in third world counties as it is already saving thousands of lives.We can get big enough yields from cross pollonation as we have done in the past.

i could go on about population contol through contarception and rewnwable energy to conserve fossil fuels etc but these are other parts of the solution which other have covered and I must be close to producing the longest reply on this site.

Good luck to those who like doing permaculture as it may have beinifits on a small local scale and as long as it is about growing things from a practicle point of view, and not all this cult stuff that belongs back in the 60's hippy communes.

Colin Roberts,

Transition Town Telford

Ben Brangwyn's picture

There's a political angle to

There's a political angle to this idea of producing what we need ourselves. In fact, Thomas Jefferson said he didn’t think we could have democracy unless at least 20% of the population was self-supporting on small farms so they were independent enough to be able to tell an oppressive government to stuff it.  He understood that it is very difficult to control people who can create products without purchasing inputs from the system, who can market their products directly thus avoiding the involvement of mercenary middlemen, who can butcher animals and preserve foods without reliance on industrial conglomerates, and who can’t be bullied because they can feed their own faces.

By that calculation, we're really a long way from what I feel a meaningful democracy might look like.

John Mason's picture

Another point worth making is

Another point worth making is that we are grossly wasteful with our food here in the Western world. That's 'we' in collective terms, as while some are careful with food waste, other individuals/businesses are not, resulting in several million tonnes of perfectly edible food going to waste every year in the UK alone. Not only that, but there is also excessive consumption, leading to the abundance of obesity problems. Both of these issues point to over-production....

amywh's picture

yields for other methods of growing food

For crop yield information, besides the information in John Jeavons' "How to grow more..." book, I've found that universities in the U.S. offer snippets of data in assorted minor publications. There is a University of Missouri Extension publication for market growers of tomatoes ( http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G6370 ) that contains some yield information for that crop ( 5-10 pounds per plant, which seems a little low to me) for chemical methods. Also, research results on yields for community gardens in NYC, in the paper "Using citizen science to quantify garden crop yields"                                           ( http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1095&context=cate ) includes a lot of data and a pretty thorough explanation of how it was obtained, and it might be a helpful source for you. If you need help in the hunt for data, you might try either a local librarian or (in the U.S.) an Extension office. Hope some of that is helpful! - Amy

misterjones's picture

Permaculture climbs the candy mountain

Steve Jones Yes I enjoyed your piece.. hmmm. agree only in parts. I think Peter Harper's critique is out of date now as a lot of research has been done. I started to write piece called permaculture climbs the candy mountain.. but have not found time to finish it. Permaculture of course attempts to integrate together a lot more than gardening and growing food.. it is on one level an understanding of energy relationships.. EROI which puts food, housing, work and much more in a wider context. I was really heartened when we went to Wakelyns agro forest research farm last year.. ok not permaculture but they are testing out ideas of polycultures and the do have the data.. combined yield of mixing tree crops and annuals is 1.4 times greater that the 2 grown separately. Perhaps a weakness is that there has been v little funded research and many practitioners have come up from teh grass roots, not via academia. 

My start in permaculture of course came in Zimbabwe.. and it was all about finding low input solutions to incrasing productivity and working with local and natural resources as no alternatives existed. SO it was never a playing at gardening thing for me.. it came directly from addressing food poverty. the greatest example I am awre of is Chikukwa, in Chimanimani district.. where the results are tangible and very visible, even if they didnt do the analysis,. the old ways had already desitryed their landscape the new ones (permaculture) had restored its fertility and replenished its well.

 

I don't think anyone has ever said that we should only work with perennials, but perennials establish soils, and maintain them, increase transpiration, shading and infiltration of rain water.. so the integrated, polyculture approach speaks volumes to me..

 

 I think you have to forgive the enthusiasm of the newly converted.. as permaculture opens up a whole new world of possibilities where few were apparent before.. we are all on a learnig ljourney and anything that propels people off their behinds and into action has to be lauded.

Peter Harper once critqued the Bull Mollison school of permaculture as carnival permaculture.. where the depth and intellect of holmgren appealed more to his learned sensibilities.. but as Holmgren himself has admitted without Bill permaculture would have just been another unread thesis sat collecting dust on a library shelf in some university.. Bill took that and turned it into a global movement.. I don tknow of anyone else who could have achieved that.. so its success adn rapid dpread maybe contained the seeds of its own short comings.. but permaculture is growing up fast.. its 40 years old now.. and gaining in experience and maturity. Solving the pressing problems of teh current is after al a lot mroe than growing food. it is about building a productive relationship with the ecology of the biosphere and permaculture gives us the tools and mindset to be able to do that... something that nothing else really encompasses.. that is wy to me it is so vital and so important and why I have dedicated the last 24 years of life to putting its ideas into practice and teaching it to anyone who will listen to me.

So yes lets all work together to add more flesh the bones that Bill and David have given us, and lets wll work together to build a productive and harmonious relationship with this beautiful planet of ours. With Love Steve

John Mason's picture

Graham - whenever you are

Graham - whenever you are over this way. You know how to find me. If not - bung in severe weather photography Wales and there I am. Far better to show you things I am doing in person, and under no brand-name apart from "getting on with stuff". And that's what a lot of people aren't bloody-well doing! A remarkable amount of stuff becomes possible even in a small garden if some common sense is applied. This is the bit that I think you leave out of your equations. No need for such disillusionment as you project.... get in touch before the summer!

Jo Homan's picture

Hi there, this is exactly

Hi there, this is exactly what I argue for here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lxy5ad4Dzck (Annoyingly can't publicise this too much because the guy who filmed it turned out to be a racist/homophobic/conspiracy theorist. And he made me wear that hat!) I think there is an argument for low maintenance perennials in community food growing projects because the often lack the ongoing commitment that a proper grower like Ann can give. I've seen a lot of raised beds be optimistically planted with annuals and then be left to fill with weeds. At least planting trees with edible crops leaves the possibility that there's long term food source. Any food growing is a good thing, even if it means that people find it harder than they expected - then they can value it more!