Monthly Archives: November 2013

Dr. Permaculture’s Guide to Healthy Eating (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of a multipart series.
Be sure to read Part 1 & Part 2 here.

Well, I read this article about nutrition and it said… blah, blah, blah
Mark Twain was fond of saying, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Meaning, a skilled statistician can make the data say almost anything. Few people, even the “medical experts”, are very good at reading a research article with discernment and understanding. It is unfortunately very easy for a researcher with an agenda or with a poor peer review to present information that is misleading at best and just plain wrong at worst. Most of these researchers are not trying to be manipulative, although some are. There is a common phrase in acadamia: “Publish or perish!” And it is repeated for a reason. Researchers need to have good projects to receive continued funding to keep their job. A good project has good results, or at least the appearance of good results. A study that finds nothing is often not a very good project in the minds of the researcher, the university, the corporation, or whoever it is that is funding the research.

I don’t claim to be an expert statistician or researcher, but I do know that I have seen a large number of “research articles” people send me that are garbage. I may agree or disagree with the basic premise or motivation of the research, but because the study was designed poorly or had errors or had low power or had unknown or acknowledged biases, or had many other types of problems, the results of the “research” is worthless. My advice is to be very careful about placing all your faith, actions, or beliefs in one study or one researcher, especially when it concerns your health.

Is organic food better?
There have recently been some studies published reporting that organic food is no more nutritious than conventionally raised food. Taking my point above into consideration, these were pretty good studies. However, what exactly were they looking for? The researchers were mainly looking at major nutrients. The results showed that fruits and vegetables produce the same amount of major nutrients whether they were grown via traditional or organic farming techniques. I actually agree with this. Plants are going to be pretty consistent when it comes to major elements that are produced within their fruits and vegetative parts. Mainstream Big-Agricultural companies loved this report. The media jumped all over it. The average person probably said, “Wow? Then why do I pay so much more for organic food?” This is the problem with research. The question you ask is vital. The researchers asked about major nutrients, and they got an answer that worked for them. While the researchers never said it, they allowed the media to run with the headlines saying, “Organic farm food is no healthier than conventional farm food.” This is a subtle, but very powerful message. And I believe it is wrong!

These studies did not investigate the effects that modern herbicides and pesticides and fungicides have on the human body. They did not address the fact that our conventionally raised food is sprayed and coated with toxins that are taken into the plant tissue itself – the same plant tissue we eat! And meat is even worse since they accumulate toxins. Animals are exposed to all the chemicals used to grow the plant foods they eat; plus the animals are given hormones and antibiotics as well. From this aspect alone, it is obvious to anyone with any degree of common sense that organic food, food not plastered and impregnated with chemicals, is going to be healthier for the human body.

Are there any downsides to organic food?
I think there is. There are some large organic farms that look almost identical to the commercial farms next door. They are using “organic” pesticides and fungicides and herbicides. While I believe this is a better option, they are still destroying the soil. They are degrading the environment. They are still using massive tractors and burning through petroleum just as fast as a conventional farm. They may not be destroying the landscape as fast. They may not be poisoning the groundwater (and that is important). But they are not rebuilding the soils. They are not rebuilding the environment. They are not restoring ecologies.

Some smaller organic-certified farms are doing great things for the soil, land, and environment, and I need to be clear about that. But just because food is labeled organic does not mean that farm is restoring the land. It doesn’t mean they are raising nutrient dense foods.

Wait a minute… what are nutrient dense foods?
As we discussed above, the major nutrients in plants and animals are identical in most organic and conventionally-raised foods. But what about all the minor nutrients? What about all the other elements that go into a plant or animal when they are raised in an ideal environment? We know about some of these nutrients and elements. Plants contain phytonutrients (FI-toe-NEW-tree-ents) that have a wealth of health benefits, most of which we barely understand, and each plant often produces their own unique phytonutrients (some examples are monophenols, flavonoids, lignans, curcuminoids, aromatic acids, esters, carotenoids, xanthophylls, other terpenes, betalains, organosulfides, indoles, and many other antioxidants).

Look, we still have farmers who think that NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) are all that is needed to raise healthy plants. I honestly think that our great-great-grandchildren are going to look back at this era of conventional farming, shake their heads, and laugh. We currently know so little about soil health and ecology. We know so little about plants let alone their interactions with the soil and the atmosphere and other plants around them and animals in their environment. We do know a lot of facts, but in comparison to what is unknown, we are just scratching the surface. We are like a child who is barely passing kindergarten pretending to be effectively working on an advanced theoretical physics project.

Food that is raised in soil that is alive, soil that is similar to that found in a natural ecosystem, is going to produce plants and animals that are healthy. I mean really healthy… vibrant, full of life. The food collected from this environment is going to be packed full of nutrients, not just the major nutrients we fully understand today, but the nutrients we are just beginning to understand, the components we know exist but do not understand at all, and the components that we do not even know exist yet.

Where do I find food like this?
This is where Permaculture comes into this discussion. There are ways to design agricultural systems modeled on nature itself that integrate human communities and produce nutrient dense foods. I call this Permaculture (and this is what the bulk of this site is all about!), but there are people who have done this without using the title. Masanobu Fukuoka in Japan, Allan Savory in Zimbabwe, Sepp Holzer in Austria, and Joel Salatin in the United States are just a few people who have all healed the land while producing nutrient dense foods, but they did not (at least initially) use the term Permaculture. They bring the soil back to life, restore ecologies, and produce food that significantly more healthy than that produced by conventional agriculture. And these farmers and ranchers are all over the world raising this kind of food. If we seek out these producers and support them, we will ensure that this food continues to be available to us. We will help shift the market so that this food becomes even more widely available.

It does take some searching to find these producers, but you can find them. Although occasionally this can be difficult. This is a big reason I am creating AgriTrue (along with a few other key people!). AgriTrue is a website that will help connect the average person with people who produce food in a way that is important to that person. We are finally making really good progress with this project, and we hope to have the site up and running by the first of the year. Stay tuned!

With that said, in my opinion, the best way to get high quality food is to raise it yourself! You will know exactly how it was raised. You will know what that plant or animal was fed and what it was exposed to. Food that was growing in a garden only minutes before it is on your plate has a flavor that is hard to explain, and it has health benefits we are just starting to really comprehend. Again, understanding and learning how to do this is what this site is all about.

I gained weight when I started to eat this food!
I wish I had thousands of patients who have followed the advice I give to eat fruits and veggies that were raised in a high quality environment and to eat pasture-raised meat and fats. Then I could give amazing reports on how a wide variety of people respond. Unfortunately, I do not… yet! I have my own patients’ experiences to draw from. I have read as much as possible of the limited data that has been reported in medical journals. I also take other physicians’ and health providers’ experiences to get a general picture of what is common. This is not the same as a high quality, well-designed medical study, and I know that, but that is all I have right now.

With that said, I know that it is possible, although not common, for people to actually gain some weight initially when they change their diet to this type of truly healthy food. How can this be? Well, I think it is because of the nutrient density I spoke about earlier. When a person has been eating such poor quality “food” for so long, they become deficient and depleted. They may be obese, but they are starving for nutrition. When they finally get to eat food that is packed full of nutrients, their body instinctively guides them to eat more and more of it. That person takes in more calories in this process, and they gain some weight. But when the body becomes healthy again, becomes full of nutrients again, the weight starts to drop fast. The body easily sheds the extra stored fat.

Will eating this way allow me live longer?
I will be very honest and say that we have very little “proven” data to show that people will live longer if they switch to this type of diet. But, there are currently very few people studying this right now. We have scattered groups of people eating this way and not large groups which are easy to study. I will say that there is a lot of evidence to support that eating in the manner I promote will be very beneficial to your day to day health and will increase your life expectancy. I have many of my patients who have improved their health and the quality of their lives by eating this way. This is enough evidence for me to continue to recommend this. I am confident that future research will validate this.

For the individual, I cannot say eating this way will prolong your life. There are too many other factors in play… genetics, other lifestyle choices (tobacco, alcohol overconsumption, etc.), accidents, environment, and more. These all play a role and may easily cause you to die tomorrow. However, I will plan on living for a long time and make decisions based upon that premise.

I will add that we know of one other factor that has been proven to extend live (in large population studies), and that is eating less. Those who consume fewer calories live, on average, longer than those who eat a lot. What is encouraging to me is this: a person who eats food that is nutrient dense, including regular consumption of pasture-raised fats and proteins, will end up eating less food. The body doesn’t crave more food, because all its needs are met with less quantity of high-quality food. This is yet more support of this dietary lifestyle.

What about seafood?
Wild-caught seafood is fantastic for our health. If the seafood is farmed in a manner that creates nutrient dense food, that that is also fantastic. I place this kind of seafood on the same level as pasture-raised meats and fats. Not everyone has access to this food though. There is a lot of large-scale farmed seafood that is as unhealthy as conventionally raised pork, beef, or chicken.

I do think that the mercury issue has been blown a bit out of proportion as our bodies are amazingly adept at filtering out and dealing with toxins. But we do need to consider this when making food choices.

I also think that the over-harvesting/unsustainable harvesting of seafood is a very big issue. We do need to consider this when making seafood a part of our diets.

What about raw milk?
In short, I am all for it… as long as a person is not lactose-intolerant. Most of the world is actually lactose-intolerant in full or part. I don’t think raw milk is going to save the Earth, but I think it is a great food for those that can tolerate it. I plan to write an article about raw milk soon.

Are there any other types of food we should consume?
Yes! Naturally fermented foods should be a regular part of our diet. Our bodies are literally loaded with beneficial microbes. Our modern diet contains animals routinely fed antibiotics. As a physician, I understand that there is a time and place for humans to take antibiotics, but I know that modern medicine regularly overprescribes antibiotics. It is no surprise we have such unhealthy bodies when we are consuming things that destroy the beneficial microorganisms within us.

Fermentation provides us with at least two significant health benefits. First, they are loaded with good microorganisms that help re-populate and sustain the beneficial microbes in our bodies. Second, the fermentation process can increase the nutrients and nutrient availability in that food. Even grains, which I do not recommend regularly eating, can be fermented and transformed into a highly nutritious food. My favorite fermented grain comes in the form of home-brewed beer!

There is a lot more on this topic that I intend to write, but I do have a brief article on Lactic Acid Fermentation here. I would also highly recommend The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz if you have an interest in making your own fermented foods. I have a relatively new batch of homemade sauerkraut sitting in my fridge right now… delicious!

Is this really how you eat?
Mostly. I would say that I follow my own recommendations about 80-90% of the time. But honestly, I do allow myself to eat against by advise on occasion. I typically choose foods that fall within the hunter-gatherer style of eating when I am at home and during most lunches at work. I also try to make good food choices when I am eating out at a restaurant if possible. But sometimes I am not able to do this easily, like when eating at a friends house. I don’t impose my lifestyle on them, so I eat what is served. I also allow myself to “cheat” when it comes to certain meals. It just so happens that tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a national holiday in the United States. Many of the foods traditionally served on this holiday do not fall in line with this dietary plan, other than roast turkey. I will focus my eating on the protein and vegetables, but I will certainly have some pie!

I also know that I physically feel it when I stray too far from my own recommendations. I get lethargic. I feel bloated. I get irritable. And I gain weight… easily. Then I realize I have been being too lax, and I get more strict. I feel better. I sleep better. I have more energy. And my weight starts to drop again… easily. Over the years, we have had many people live with us for extended periods of time. Almost all of them have dropped weight when they live with us. They are usually a bit surprised. It almost feels impossible to eat food that tastes so good, not worry about “dieting”, and still lose weight… while feeling good at the same time!

The truth is that I love food. I love to eat. I love to cook. I love to read about cooking and food. I even took the day off of work today to prepare food for Thanksgiving tomorrow – yes, I skipped work to spend the day in the kitchen. My kids came and went and helped or watched. They sampled some food. My father and I talked while I worked. It was fabulous.

We were designed to eat. We were designed to enjoy food. We were designed to be healthy. We have just gotten off track. I hope that these series of articles helps you realize that it is possible to enjoy eating and have good health at the same time. I have seen in work in my patients’ lives. I have seen in work in my own life – I am about 50 lbs (23 kg) lighter than I used to be. I know that this will work for you as well. I will be writing more about how Permaculture fits into our diet and health on a larger scale, but that is an article for another day.

John Kitsteiner, MD

a.k.a. “Dr. Permaculture”


Subscribe to and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

Photo References:



Permaculture Plants: Udo

Common Name: Udo, Japanese Spikenard, Mountain Asparagus
Scientific Name: Aralia cordata
Family: Ariliaceae (the Aralia or Ivy family)

Udo shoots are an eastern Asian asparagus-like vegetable.

Udo shoots are an eastern Asian asparagus-like vegetable.

Description: Udo is a large, tropical looking herbaceous plant that is very cold hardy, attracts beneficial insects, and has edible shoots (used like asparagus) and leaves (used for salad and cooked greens). On top of all this, it can also grow in deep shade, a niche we often struggle to fill in the Forest Garden. I never tried eating this plant, because I missed my opportunity. I am almost certain there were some shoots available at the Asian market I frequented when I lived in Minnesota, but I was not sure what it was. My timidity cost me my chance; it won’t happen again!

Aralia cordata

Aralia cordata

History: Native to Japan, Korea, and eastern China, it is currently cultivated in Japan in underground tunnels. Udo was popular in the U.S. a few generations ago. Many popular seed catalogs offered Udo, but for some reason, the popularity kept waning over the last few decades. However, a few new varieties with lighter leaves are now gaining popularity as an ornamental plant, and these are more widely available. I cannot speak to the flavor of these ornamentals; they may be just as good, but they may not be.

Yamaudo (Udo that has been

Yamaudo (Udo that has been harvested from the wild)


  • The plant is called Japanese Spikenard for a reason… it has spikes – well, they are actually more like bristles on the stems.
  • The original spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi) is a very different plant, almost unrelated. It is from the Himalayas and produces a highly aromatic and prized essential oil. Udo does not.
  • There is a Japanese proverb: “Udo no taiboku”, which means “great wood of Udo”… this is a rather sarcastic statement as Udo is herbaceous and has a soft, not woody, stem. It is used to say something is useless.
  • Udo that is gathered from the wild is called yamaudo. Udo that is cultivated is called shiroudo.
  • Udowormy Tea is a highly prized medicinal tea made from leaves that have been infested with the pupae of the Japanese Beetle… interesting! The tea is said to treat stress and anxiety.
  • Udo is related to ginseng, and its roots are often used as a substitute.
  • There are some varieties that are bright green and seem to glow in the dark shade at dusk. This has given rise to Udo being called a “glow in the dark” plant.
Udo shoots ready for prep.

Udo shoots ready for prep.

Udo shoots being cooked kinpira style.

Udo shoots being cooked kinpira style. Then seasoned with soy sauce, mirin, and sake!

Young Udo leaves... in this case they were going to be used for tempura

Young Udo leaves… in this case they were going to be used for tempura


Primary Uses:

  • Edible Shoots – Cooked (like asparagus). They are tender, but crisp with a lemony flavor, and some say with a hint of fennel. Blanching is common. It can sometimes have an unpleasant taste, but this is easily removed by boiling in salted water or slicing and soaking in salted water. Some reports state that the shoots can be peeled and eaten raw. In Japan, it is used in miso soup, other soups, vegetable salads, and vinegared.
  • Edible Leaves – only very young leaves are used, cooked. A great addition to salads.
  • Edible Root – Cooked (very little information available about this).

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant.
  • Wildlife Food Source – birds eat the fruit (which are reported to be toxic to humans)
  • Ornamental Plant – a great plant for shade
  • Biomass Plant – this large, fast growing plant is herbaceous – meaning it has no woody stems. The entire plant can be used as mulch come Winter. This is a lot of mulch from one herbaceous plant growing in deep shade!
  • Medicinal – used in Japanese and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Yield: No good information available.
Harvesting: Shoots are harvested in Spring. Young leaves in Spring and Summer.
Storage: No good information available, but I would recommend treating like Asparagus shoots. Store for as short a time as possible. Same with the leaves.

Udo's small flowers are perfect nectar sources for beneficial insects

Udo’s small flowers are perfect nectar sources for beneficial insects

Udo shoots come up each Spring!

Udo shoots come up each Spring!


USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 4-9. However, there are a number of reports that this plant is only hardy to Zone 7 or 8. It is possible that there are some varieties that are more cold hardy. It is also possible that there is a lot of bad information being propagated on the internet and in books. There is not a whole lot of authoritative information available for this plant.
AHS Heat Zone: Zone 9-1
Chill Requirement: Not likely, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Very Large Herbaceous Plant
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available.

Pollination: Self-fertile (likely, but no reliable information available). Pollinated by bees.
Flowering: Summer (July-August)

Life Span:

  • Years of Useful Life: No good information available. Considering that the plant can be propagated via suckers, and also that it completely dies back in the Winter and reemerges each Spring, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.
Udo flowers will produce dark berries that are toxic to humans, but the birds love them!

Udo flowers are beautiful…

...and produce dark berries that are toxic to humans, but the birds love them! (note the ladybug/ladybird beetle on the stem)

…and produce dark berries that are toxic to humans, but the birds love them!
(note the ladybug/ladybird beetle on the stem)


Size: 6-9 feet (1.8-2.7 meters) tall and wide
Roots: Suckering roots – new shoots from spreading roots can grow into new plants
Growth Rate: Fast

A light green variety... these are said to glow at dusk!

A light green variety… these are said to glow at dusk!


Light: Prefers light shade, but can grow in full sun if moisture is maintained and if the sun is not too hot
Shade: Can grow in partial to full shade
Moisture: Prefers moist soils.
pH: 5.0-7.5

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • This is a great plant for the deep shade areas of your gardens or behind structures.
  • Many growers recommend wind protection for this plant as the large leaves are susceptible to wind damage.

Propagated by seed. Needs 3-5 months of cold stratification and can take 1-4 months to germinate. Can propagate via root cuttings. Division of suckers when dormant.

Minimal. May need to keep new plants in check if you live in an area where the seeds readily germinate.


  • Poisonous – raw berries are reportedly toxic
  • Dispersive – there are reports that this plant reproduces easily from seed in certain locations, and birds like to eat the seeds and spread it around
Lidako (baby octopus) and wasabi cucumber salad with seaweed, udo, and sansho leaf... sounds amazing!

Lidako (baby octopus) and wasabi cucumber salad with seaweed, udo, and sansho leaf… sounds amazing!


Subscribe to and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

Photo References:



Dr. Permaculture’s Guide to Healthy Eating (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a multipart series.
Be sure to read Part 1 here.


You said we should eat the “right kind” of meat and fat…what is the “right kind” of meat and fat?
Meat is meat, and fat is fat, right? Wrong! There is a vast difference between the meats and animal fats humans ate 10,000 years ago and the meat and animal fats most humans eat today.

Before I dive into this topic, let me first clear up a misconception. Wild animals may or may not be “lean” even if they have lean meat. Anyone who hunts and butchers their own animals, which I think is a great experience, knows that the the meat from deer, elk, rabbit, etc. is lean… meaning the meat has no marbling of fat in it like a steak from a modern grocery store. Depending on the time of year, that animal may have a lot or a little fat. If you have hunted in the Autumn, you will know that a deer will have thick layers of fat stored under the skin and around the kidneys, but the meat will still be lean. If you’ve hunted an animal in the Winter or early Spring, you will know that an animal will have very little fat left in them, but the meat will also still be lean. It is only our modern animals, which have been bred to have fat evenly distributed within the muscle tissue, that we find the fatty cuts of meat. Waterfowl, swine, and many types of seafood are some exceptions to this.

Modern meat animals are typically raised, or at least finished (spend the last season or so of their life) in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO). These have, rightly so, been compared to concentration camps for animals. Animals are given very little space and almost no access to the natural world. They are fed grains and beans and other “food” products that are nothing like that animal would eat in the wild. The animals eat and gain weight and get sick a lot, which is why they are pumped full of antibiotics and hormones. The animals get fat, which is what modern people have developed a taste for, but this fat is very unhealthy. This fat likely increases our risks of heart attacks and strokes. Also, while it is tough to prove, the hormones and antibiotics are likely very unhealthy for us as well. We may never fully understand all the consequences of eating these stressed animals. My advice is to avoid this meat if you can. If you cannot (i.e. if you choose not to), then trim the fat away or eat only lean cuts.

Let us now compare these CAFO animals to an animal which lives its entire life on pasture… like it was designed to do. These animals develop fat that is actually healthy. This fat is high in Omega 3 fatty acids and in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid)… these are good for our heart and decrease our risk of heart attacks and stroke. When we think of our great-grandmother eating spoonfuls of lard, we are often disgusted. And if we render lard from a modern-raised pig, that fat would be very unhealthy for us. However, our great-grandmother was eating lard from pigs raised in a savannah-like environment with little to no supplementary feed, and that fat was good for her! In addition, pasture-raised meat just tastes better. It has a richer and deeper flavor. My advice is to make this your primary type of meat. Do not trim the fat, but enjoy it! If you are fortunate to get fatty cuts of meat or able to get pure fat from these animals, then keep it. Render it down and save it. Use it when cooking. Lard (from swine), tallow (from cattle and sheep), and duck or goose fats are all delicious and add a tremendous amount of flavor to vegetables and lean meats.

Fortunately, the grass-fed/pasture-finished meat industry is booming right now. If there is not a local producer nearby, there are a large number of suppliers who will ship to you. I live on a tiny island in the North Atlantic, and even I can drive down to a butcher and purchase pasture-raised beef. This is not a fad. This is the future.

I will add a quick comment about wild game. If you have access to hunt animals in a truly wild setting, then that meat will be very good for you. That fat will be fantastic. However, most people who hunt are hunting deer that fatten up for the Winter on corn and soybeans from a modern farmer’s field. While the meat is going to be healthier than the antibiotic and hormone pumped beef alternative, it is not going to be the same as meat or fat from a truly wild animal eating a truly wild diet.

So we should eat a lot of meat?
Hold on there! I am not saying we should only eat meat. I am not saying we should make meat the bulk of our diet. These are the extremes that people go to when they embrace a hunter-gather diet – they focus on the hunt and not the gather side of things. In reality, there was a lot more gather than hunt. This means the bulk of our diet should not be meat. I recommend making pasture-raised animal protein and fat a regular part of your diet. The bulk of our diet, like those people’s diet from 10,000+ years ago, should mainly be composed of vegetables and fruits. Meats and fats and nuts and fungi comprise the remainder.

I thought we are supposed to avoid fat?
I am really hoping that this myth will die soon, but it is putting up a good fight. I know a number of people (family members included!) who still think margarine is healthier than butter! The low-fat/no-fat mantra given to us by doctors and researchers has done so much harm to the modern world’s health, it may be impossible to quantify. Fats are a vital part of the human body and need to be a key component of our diet. We have been warned about the dreaded animal fats for decades. As I explained above, it is not the animal’s fat, but the animal’s diet, that makes all the difference. We should avoid fat from animals that are not raised and finished on pasture. We should avoid vegetable fats. In contrast, we should consume fat from animals raised and finished on pasture. We should consume fats from fruits and tree nuts – avacado, coconuts, olive oil, walnut oil, etc. Fish oils, by and large, are also very good for us.

Aren’t there other diets that work?
What do you mean by “do they work”? Can you lose weight by following almost any “diet” book out there? Probably. Is it the healthiest way to eat? Probably not. I routinely read diet books. I like to know what my patients are doing. I want to see if what they are eating is healthy or harmful. Often I am disappointed. Many diet books are aimed at quick fixes… “lose 20 lbs in 2 weeks!” That is not healthy. Again, many of these books do help a person lose weight, but after the event (a wedding, class reunion, etc.), or after a person gets tired of trying to follow the strict rules outlined in the latest book, the weight comes right back. The vast majority of these diets are not sustainable.

The other common theme I see in diet books and programs is the promotion of illogical diets. For example, I read one book that recommended juices in the morning, vegetables in the afternoon, and proteins in the evening. They had all these reasons for this special way of eating – it was the hidden key to proper health! Really? What people group from 10,000+ years ago ate this way? It makes no sense. Yet I see diet after diet that recommends odd rules about food combinations or specific times to eat certain types of foods. It is silly, and these diets should be dismissed.

Well, what about vegetarianism or being a vegan?
It is impossible to have a conversation about healthy eating without this question arising. There are three groups of vegetarians that I can define. First, there are the vegetarians who avoid eating animal or animal products for religios, pseudo-religious, or deep-seated ethical reasons (not wanting to eat something “with a soul” or “a creature with a face”).  I will never change their mind. I have no desire to do so. Second, there are vegetarians who choose to eat this way for perceived health reasons. I have taken care of many vegetarians who are sickly and wasting away. I have taken care of many vegetarians who are extremely overweight. I have taken care of a few vegetarians who are very healthy. Eating vegan or vegetarian is not the whole key to health. Third, there are those who are eating vegetarian because they cannot stand the way animals are treated on modern farms. I can really understand and relate to this. From an ethical and a health stance, pasture-raised animals are vastly different than most modern-raised animals.

The argument for, or against, veganism or vegetarianism is much too big for this current conversation. I may elaborate on this topic in the future. I understand their arguments, but I simply disagree. I disagree with their historical perspective, their anthropological information and analysis, and much (but not all) of their health conclusions. I’ll leave it at that for now.

So then, how do I lose weight?
Frankly, I think our goal should be to eat healthy, not lose weight. If we focus on losing weight, then we will often eat unhealthy foods or eat in an unhealthy manner. If we focus on eating healthy, then we will often lose weight as a side effect. I have had numerous patients who have committed to eating the way I have outlined above. They have all had more energy, and they have all lost weight, some have lost substantial weight. I have had a number of patients with chronic issues (migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.) who have had a significant improvment in their symptoms. I have had a few patients with high blood pressure and newly diagnosed diabetes improve their health so much that they no longer require any medications. All of these people would have liked to lose weight (and they all did), but their goal was to be healthy first.

Now, if your goal really is just to lose weight, the healthiest way to do this is by eating more foods that have low energy density. Energy density is a simple idea. Foods with more calories for a smaller volume are energy dense – like meats, cheeses, nuts, dried fruits, olive oil, etc.. These foods are all healthy foods, but they pack more calories in a smaller volume. They all have high energy density. I like to give the following example: The meat from a double Whopper from Burger King contains 430 calories… just the 2 meat patties. I can easily eat just the meat patties alone and still be hungry which is why people eat the whole Double Whoper with cheese (almost 1,000 calories for the whole sandwich). Lets now consider plain iceberg lettuce. It would take close to 9 heads of iceberg lettuce to equal the calories in two Whopper patties alone and almost 19 heads of lettuce to equal the whole Double Whopper with cheese sandwich! There is no way on Earth I could eat 19 or 9 or even 2 heads of lettuce. Maybe, if I really tried, I could eat a whole head of lettuce… at just 53 calories. Lettuce has very low energy density.

If we want to lose weight fast and still be healthy, then we need to choose foods that are good for us but are low in energy density. In practical terms, this means loading up on vegetables and fruits and minimizing (not eliminating) meats and fats. This will allow us to feel full yet still be taking in fewer calories – which is what we need if we want to drop weight. I hate to feel hungry, and this is the key!

It is important to note that when we fill up on low energy density foods, we often get hungrier faster. These foods are often digested quicker which leads to feeling hungry again sooner. This is why I still recommend eating meats and fats. Proteins and fats give us longer periods of satiety (not feeling hungry). So sprinkle the vegetables with some olive oil. Cook the veggies in some rendered pasture-finished animal fats. Eat the fruit with a few thin slices of cheese.  This is how you will feel satisfied through the day while still taking in less calories. When we are not satisfied, we tend to snack on whatever is available, and this leads to unhealthy food choices.

There are a few other things to keep in mind, but I will get into that next time.


Dr. Permaculture’s Guide to Healthy Eating (Part 3) coming soon


Subscribe to and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

Photo References:



Dr. Permaculture’s Guide to Healthy Eating (Part 1)

You may wonder what an article on healthy eating is doing on a Permaculture website. Stick with me, and you will see at the end, but I need to build my case here at the beginning. Our health is intimately associated with our diet, and our diet is directly related to our land…. but I’ll get more into that later.


Eat this. Don’t eat that. Don’t eat fat. Eat fat. Eat only the “good fat”. Eat eggs. Don’t eat eggs. Eat eggs. Don’t eat eggs. Don’t salt your food. Use sea salt. Use Kosher salt. Just don’t use too much salt. Don’t eat meat. Eat chicken. Don’t eat pork. Eat pork, the other white meat. Don’t eat carbs. Don’t eat bad carbs. Don’t eat animal protein. Eat lean meat. Eat chicken. Don’t eat chicken. Blah, blah, blah!

Ughhh! This is information coming from “health professionals”.  And we wonder why everyone is so confused.

A few days ago, I walked into the living room while my wife was watching the news. There was a man telling the reporter about a new FDA decision about something. The man was a physician, and he was instructing people through the interview about what we should eat. I cannot remember what he was saying, but I can tell you what I do remember… He was fat! We can call it overweight, obese, morbid obesity, or whatever term is politically correct these days. I sometimes say, “he had a copious quantity of extraneous adiposity”, but it is just easier to say that he was fat.

So, seriously? We are going to take the advice of an significantly overweight person on how to be healthy? That is like taking the advice of an alcoholic with cirrhosis (liver disease), who is sipping from an open bottle of whiskey, on ways we can cut back on drinking. It’s absurd!

The reason I bring this up is that as a Family Medicine Physician I am asked almost every day about losing weight and being healthy. As a Permaculturist, I have a bit of a different take on this subject than many physicians. I want to share with you what I tell my patients.

Can you be healthy and be overweight?
Maybe. I don’t want to get into a lengthy discussion about definitions of health, but suffice it to say that health is way more than just the absence of disease. Overweight is defined as a BMI (body mass index) of greater than 24.9. A lot of people argue with the concept of BMI. “I am big boned,” they say. “I would look anorexic if I had a BMI of 24.9 or less.” I appreciate the criticism, but the BMI is a pretty darn good measurement of ideal body weight. It is not perfect. This is why I think a person can be in the “low overweight” range and still be fairly healthy. However, the vast majority of people should be in the “healthy weight” BMI category if they want to optimize their health.

Is it all about calories?
Well, yes, kind of. If we want to lose weight, then it is all about calories. It has to be. For our weight to stay the exact same (meaning we are not losing or gaining weight), then we must have the same energy coming in and going out. I cannot tell you how many times people tell me, “I am eating almost nothing, and I am still gaining weight!” So either they are the first person on Earth to break the first law of thermodynamics (they are creating matter out of nothing), or they are wrong. There are only two reasons for their error: they are either lying to me, or (most likely) they are lying to themselves… but not on purpose. Compared to what they used to eat, they have cut way back, but in comparison to what they should be eating to lose weight, they are not anywhere close.

I had a callous professor once say, “There were no fat people in concentration camps.” While I question his tact, he was correct. It is impossible to maintain, or gain, weight when we do not eat. We need to understand this basic truth if we are to move forward. It is scientifically impossible to gain weight when we are not taking in calories (please dismiss the argumentative statements… i.e. what if a person drank ten gallons of water?).

So again, energy in has to equal energy out for our weight to stay the same. We can only take in energy through food. We can only lose energy through exercise and through something called our basic metabolic rate (BMR). Our BMR is not difficult to understand. If you were knocked in the head and put into a coma, and you had IV’s giving you water, but no food (what we call parenteral nutrition), then over time you would lose weight. Your body burns energy (i.e. calories) just to keep your cells alive.

There are some people, who I rather dislike, who can eat whatever they want and not gain weight. These people have a high BMR. Then there are other people, like me, who have a normal or low-normal BMR. We gain weight easily. Too easily! Occasionally, there are those who have a BMR that is too high or too low, and these people usually have problems with their thyroid. However, this is very uncommon compared to the numbers of people who are overweight, so let’s just assume that we do not have thyroid issues for now.

Therefore, if we want to lose weight, then we have to take in fewer calories than we burn, or we have to burn more calories than we take in.

Can I exercise more to lose weight?
Yes, but not really. We used to be told that one pound (0.45 kg) is equal to 3,500 calories. Recent research (well, not that recent anymore) shows that this is an oversimplification. However, while it is not terribly accurate, we have no other good references for calories and weight loss. With that said, I still like to use this as a generalized rule of thumb. I know that if I run for 20 minutes at a bit faster than jogging pace, I will burn 200 calories. I would need to run for almost 6 hours to burn 3,500 calories. That is more running than most people do. That is really more running than I recommend as well. So unless you are training for a marathon or triathalon, we are not really going to lose much weight with moderate, regular exercise.

Do you recommend exercise?
Yes! Both cardiovascular exercise (walking fast, aerobics, etc.) and resistance exercise (weight lifting, shoveling, etc.) is good for our body. It reduces heart attack risk, stroke risk, cancer risk, depression risk, constipation, osteoporosis, and multiple other things. It improves overall health. It helps us maintain weight that we have lost, but there are very few studies that show moderate exercise alone will help you lose weight. I have many additional thoughts about exercise, but I will save that for another article.

So the key to losing weight is counting calories?
Technically, the key to losing weight is to take in less calories than we burn. That translates into eating less calories. I have never recommended counting calories to lose weight. I will never, ever recommend counting calories to be healthy.

You make it sound like losing weight and being healthy are two different things.
They are! If it is all about calories, then we could eat two candy bars a day and lose weight. One Snickers bar has 280 calories. So two bars would be 560 calories for the day. If that were all the calories we consumed each day, we would lose weight. Easy, right? Sure, but it would be very unhealthy. We would lose weight and be malnourished. It cannot just be about calories.

This disconnect between calories and being healthy is a big contributor to the poor health of our nation and our modern world. We are so concerned about eating “low calorie” that we consume things that are hardly capable of being called food, and we think we are being healthy.

Okay then, what is healthy food?
Now we come to the crux of the entire issue… What should we eat? I am not going to write a whole book on this. Heaven knows, we have enough books written about what we should (or should not eat). All these books are not getting us any healthier or skinnier, so let’s toss out the books. Let’s forget what all the doctors say. Let’s ignore all the conflicting health research. Let’s just examine some history. Let’s think about what people ate before all the books and doctors and health researchers. Let’s go back 10,000 years.

If you are a strict evolutionist, you can reason that what people were eating before modern civilization and modern agriculture is what humans evolved to eat through selection pressures. If you believe there is a God who created us, then we can say that what people ate before modern civilization is what were designed to eat. Either way you look at it, going back in time will give us a more clear idea of what humans are supposed to eat.

Ten thousand years ago, people were, by and large, hunter-gatherers. I am sure there are exceptions, as there are to everything in life, but in general, this is a very good place to start. What did hunter-gatherers eat? They ate fruits in season. They ate vegetables (herbaceous plant material that is not fruit) in season; but due to plants growing much of the year, they ate more vegetables than fruit. They ate nuts in season. They ate animals whenever they could; and it is important to note that animals would be available all year long in most climates. They probably ate tubers and other seeds and grains on occasion, but this was a small portion of their diet… it had to be. There were no improved grain varieties or mass cultivated fields to collect this food source. They also ate mushrooms on occasion if they knew how to identify them and did not have any cultural taboos to eating them (we know some paleolithic peoples ate mushrooms as we have found edible species on frozen people!). Some people in certain regions likely ate some dairy, and some people in certain regions likely ate more legumes (beans or peas and their kin).

When we make grains a regular and bulk part of our diet, as has been recommended by numerous government agencies and medical professionals, we have a very real chance of making ourselves unhealthy. Carbohydrates in general, and grains and starches in particular, cause our blood sugar (glucose) to shoot up. Our body releases insulin to counteract this elevated glucose. Insulin causes our glucose to drop. After a heavy load of carbohydrates, our insulin shoots up fast and high. Then our glucose drops fast and goes low. We feel tired at best and sick, shaky, and ill at worst. This yo-yo-ing through the day causes us to end up eating more to counteract the low glucose episodes. This is exactly what leads to diabetes (medically known as diabetes mellitus type 2). This is one of the reasons we take in more calories than we need, and we get fat.

The bottom line is that, in general, humans ate vegetables, meat, fruit, and nuts as their main food source with limited amounts of (if any) tubers, grains, other seeds, mushrooms, and dairy.

This sounds just like the Paleo Diet I keep hearing about.
There is a lot of historical, anthropological, and medical research to support eating in a way similar to the hunter-gatherers of paleolithic times. It is from this research that people have developed dietary guidelines and “diet plans”, and one of the most common iterations is the Paleo Diet. If I go to a book store to find a diet book that is most closely in line with what we should be eating, the Paleo Diet books are probably the closest. The information put out by the Weston A. Price Foundation is also very good. I will never agree entirely with one book or another when it comes to dietary recommendations. The Paleo Diet is no different. There are Paleo Diet books that give recipes for making “paleo pancakes” and “paleo ice cream” and who knows what else. If a person is trying to eat all the same foods as they did before, but they are going to “make it Paleo”, then they kind of missed the point.

Let me be clear. I am not endorsing a specific Paleo Diet. I am promoting a diet that resembles a hunter-gatherer diet from 10,000+ years ago. Because the concept of the Paleo Diet is so similar to what I recommend, it is often easier to just say “Paleo Diet”.

But I saw this TED Talk that said we should not eat the Paleo Diet.
Yes, I saw the same video. If you are going to watch it, please watch the entire video. Professor Christina Warinner’s initial attack of the “Paleo Diet” has some significant errors. I don’t have the desire to take her on point by point (I can, and maybe I will someday), but here is a link to a pretty good rebuttal. However, I will address a few of the major problems with this lecture.

One of the most glaring errors is that she states that humans have no adaptations to eat meat like a carnivore. But, she states, we have many anatomical adaptations similar to herbivores. I have seen variations of this argument for well over a decade. The thing that these agenda-driven people cannot understand is that it is not about carnivores vs. herbivores. There is a third entity… omnivores! Omnivores eat meat and plants. Omnivores don’t have short intestinal tracts like carnivores, and omnivores do not have rumens or chew cud like herbivores. Omnivores fall in between, and humans are omnivores!

Next, Professor Warinner states that the Paleo Diet of today is nothing like what the paleolithic people ate. Again, I think she misses the point. Of course, we are not going to go eat mastadon steaks today. Of course, the fruits and vegetables from back then are not the same ones we eat today; our modern fruits and vegetables were all selectively bred and developed over generations and rarely resemble their original form. The concept of the Paleo Diet, and the idea that I fully endorse, is that we need to be eating more vegetables, more fruit, more meat and fat (of the right kinds!), while decreasing or eliminating our grain, starch, and processed food consumption.

She also asserts that eating a Paleo Diet cannot be recommended on a large scale, because we cannot feed the world this way. This is entirely wrong! I will address this more later in the section on Permaculture, but please understand that this is just not true.

Finally, to be fair, I must add that the second half of her presentation is really quite good. It has some great information about plants and regionality, eating whole foods, eating in season, and preserving the good bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract.


Dr. Permaculture’s Guide to Healthy Eating (Part 2) coming soon


Subscribe to and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

Photo References:



Permaculture Plants: Black Locust

Common Name: Black Locust, False Acacia
Scientific Name: Robinia pseudoacacia
Family: Fabaceae (the Legume, Pea, or Bean family)

Black Locust trees during the seasons.

Black Locust trees during the seasons.

Black Locust is native to the southeastern United States, and is a great overstory tree as it allows a lot of light through to the understory. Black Locust is a prized as a timber tree, firewood tree, and honey plant (bees love them!). It is also well-known for fixing nitrogen into the soil. Black Locust is one of the most useful and ideal trees for a Temperate Climate farm or homestead.

Robinia pseudoacacia

Robinia pseudoacacia

Native to eastern North America it has been widely planted around the world and, despite its many benefits, is considered an invasive species in many locations. It is one of the world’s leading timber trees (just not in the U.S.). It remains a prime source of nectar for honeybees as well, especially in Europe.


  • Black Locust heartwood is very rot resistant – fence posts can last for 70-100 years in the ground without rotting!
  • Prime honey plant in Eastern Europe
  • Black Locust is one of the most widely grown timber trees in the world. The wood is strong and heavy. Said to be like oak.
  • The reason for the rot resistance is the presence of tyloses and extractives in the wood. Tyloses are bulges of plant tissue that make the wood water tight. Extractives are compounds found outside the cell wall of certain plants that can impart water resistance, and have antifungal properties.
Black Locust is famous as a very long-lasting post wood.

Black Locust is famous as a very long-lasting post wood.

The flowers are edible and can be made into fritters!

The flowers are edible and can be made into fritters!

Black Locust Fritter Recipe

A number of Black Locust recipes from 3 Foragers


Primary Uses:

  • Wood – fuelwood. Black Locust is fast growing, very hot burning, and very slow burning firewood – reported to be similar to anthracite coal. It can also burn when not seasoned well (i.e. still wet). Keep in mind that Black Locust wood can “spit” coals when burned, due to knots and beetle damage, so it is best to use young wood (with less beetle damage) in an open fireplace or use older wood in closed fireplaces and stoves.
  • Wood – stakes, poles, posts, ship building, boxes, crates, pegs, etc. (highly rot and water resistant!)
  • Wood – high quality, very hard timber (comparable to oak)
  • Edible Flowers – cooked. Used in fritters (flowers are battered and fried), pancakes, and floral jams. Can also be steeped to make tea or wine.
  • Nitrogen Fixing Plant – this plant creates its own nitrogen through a symbiotic relationship with microorganisms (bacteria) in its roots. It typically produces an excess of nitrogen that can be used by neighboring plants. This is a leguminous plant; Black Locust inoculation group.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Dynamic Accumulator – Nitrogen, Potassium, Calcium
  • Pioneer Plant – helps reestablish overused or damaged land
  • Drought Tolerant – once established
  • Coppice or Pollard Plant – Black Locust coppices well, but suckers more freely when it is coppiced. Frequency of coppicing varies on desired diameter of wood and local climate conditions
  • Biomass Plant – very fast growing plant can produce large amounts of organic matter in a short time.
  • Erosion Control Species – the fibrous root system helps stabilize soils prone to erosion, especially on banks
  • Wildlife Shelter Plant – mainly birds and small mammals
  • Hummingbird Plant – this plant has nectar that attracts Hummingbirds
  • Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on this plant’s leaves.
  • Parasitoid Wasps prefer to rest and hide in/on this plant.
  • Fodder/Forage Plant – leaves contain 23-24% protein and is comparable to alfalfa. Used in Korea, Bulgaria, Nepal, and India for cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, rabbits, etc.. There exists some controversy on this topic. Many people feed Black Locust to their livestock with no issues. Other avoid it due to reports of toxicity. I really am not sure where the truth lies, but I lean toward it being an ancillary forage. Most likely, if the animals have access to mixed forage, Black Locust should cause no problems. However, it is universally considered toxic to horses.
Black Locust coppices well.

Black Locust coppices well…

and grows fast!

…and grows fast!


USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 3-9
AHS Heat Zone: 9-3
Chill Requirement: not applicable

Plant Type: Large Tree
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available.

Pollination: Self-fertile. Pollinated by bees.
Flowering: Spring to Summer (April-June)

Life Span:

  • Years of Useful Life: No good information available; however, one reference stated Black Locust can live to 200 years of age. Considering that the tree is typically harvested for wood well before it reaches its maximum lifespan, this information may not be that important.
Black Locust trees blooming are beautiful...

Black Locust trees blooming are beautiful…

...and they are bee magnets!

…and they are bee magnets!


Size: 50-80 feet (15-24 meters) tall and 35-50 feet (11-15 meters) wide with trunk diameter of 30 inches (80 centimeters); however, Black Locusts have been known to grow to 170 feet (52 meters) tall with diameter of 5 feet (1.6 meters)!
Roots: Fibrous with suckers (sends up new plants from underground runners)
Growth Rate: Fast

Deeply furrowed wood is classic.

Deeply furrowed wood is common.

Black Locust comes with its own protection!

Black Locust comes with its own protection!

The classic leaves and pods of all legumes.

The classic leaves and pods of all legumes.


Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Grows well in dry to moderate moisture soils.
pH: 5.1-8.5 (tolerates a wide range of soil conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Black Locust are one of the few plants that tolerate juglone, a chemical produced by black walnuts that can poison other plants, so consider using these trees as a buffer plant between your black walnuts and your other forest garden plants.
  • Black Locust leaves are small and allow a lot of light through to the understory plantings. Consider growing sub-canopy and shrubs here that need more nitrogen and are less shade tolerant.
  • The Locust Borer (Megacyllene robiniae) is a beetle which is native to the southeastern U.S. where the Black Locust originates. The larvae riddle the trunk and branches with tunnels making the wood unfit for timber, and this pest was responsible for reducing the Black Locust’s significance as a commercial timber tree in the United States. Black Locust will grow well for many years, but rarely get large enough for timber due to this pest’s activity. Maintaining healthy, vigorous trees and promoting Locust Borer predators seem to significantly minimize borer damage, but this is uncommon. Insecticides seem to be the first choice and recommendation for dealing with Locust Borers. I am planning on living in Tennessee, right in the middle of Black Locust and Locust Borer territory. I am curious if an integrative farm, especially one that purposely attracts beneficial insects and birds (including Wheel Bugs (Arilus cristatus), Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), and Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) which prey on these larvae), would have better success in producing timber-quality trees. We will see…

Easily from seed (not dormant, but may have increased germination rates if cold stratified for a few weeks). Scarification is recommended – 48 hours in warm water. Suckers can be divided while the plant is dormant. Also easily propagated from root cuttings.

Will need to manage suckers, especially if the Black Locust is being coppiced.


  • Expansive – Black Locust can form a thicket from shoots arising from rootss
  • Dispersive – Black Locust seeds spread easily.
  • Thorny – Not as thorny as the Honey Locust (a distant relative)
  • Branches can be brittle and easily broken in strong winds.
  • Poisonous – Reports exist that bark, leaves, seeds can cause vomiting and diarrhea. There are some reports that the seeds and seedpods are edible, but there is too much conflicting information (and much better food sources) to experiment. Black Locust is poisonous to horses.
  • Allelopathic – Black Locust may release chemicals into the surrounding soil that inhibit the growth of other plants. Not a lot of information is available on this topic.
Black Locust... a beautiful tree...

Black Locust… a beautiful tree…

...with so many functions!

…with so many functions!


Here’s a video by Paul Wheaton (from



Subscribe to and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

Photo References:


Permaculture Projects: Chop and Drop Mulching

I almost chose not to write this quick article, but there are so many people that visit my site who are brand new to Permaculture, that I thought it would be worthwhile.

Chop and Drop Mulching could be considered a basic core skill for Permaculturists. It is a little complicated, so I will do my best to explain it in a step-wise manner:

  1. Find a plant which could be mulched.
  2. Chop the plant down, or chop the leaves off the plant.
  3. Drop the plant or leaves to the ground.
  4. Walk away.

I hope I did not make it too difficult.  (insert smiley face here!)

All joking aside, Chop and Drop Mulching really is this easy. Now there are some finer points one should understand, so I will elaborate a bit.

Chop and Drop Mulching can be done simply with hand tools or more aggressively with power tools.

Chop and Drop Mulching can be done simply with hand tools or more aggressively with power tools.

What plants do I use?
Almost any plant will do. Honest! The goal is for the plant to cover and smother less desirable plants (weeds), but we also want the mulch plant to rot fairly quickly and become part of the soil we are continuing to build. Woody plants will take longer in a Temperate Climate and are best avoided for mulch unless we only use the non-woody parts or chip the wood first. In a Humid Tropical Climate, woody material breaks down and rots so fast that it is a good choice for Chop and Drop Mulching. Herbaceous plants will work great in a Temperate Climate.

Are some plants “better” than others?
Sort of. Any plant that is considered a Dynamic Accumulator is a great mulch plant. These plants mine minerals and nutrients from deep in the soil and sub-soil. Mulching them allows these nutrients to become available to the more shallow-rooted plants. Nitrogen Fixing Plants are also great for Chop and Drop Mulching. As these plants rot, they will provide extra nitrogen to the surrounding plants. With that said, however, all plants will eventually rot and become soil.

Location matters! Woody plants are great for Tropical Climates and less ideal (but still functional) in most Temperate Climates.

Location matters! Woody plants are great for Tropical Climates and less ideal (but still functional) in most Temperate Climates.

When should I Chop and Drop?
Timing is vitally important. The general rule of thumb is to Chop and Drop Mulch when rainfall exceeds evaporation. This means we will chop plants right when the rainy season is about to start. Many places in the world have a “dry season” and a “wet season”. Some wet seasons are so wet it is called monsoon. In many Temperate Climates, even if there is not a vast difference in wet and dry seasons, there is a portion of the year where rainfall is more common. Just before  the wet or rainy season starts is the time to get out and Chop and Drop Mulch. The moisture will help keep the mulch in place and will speed the decomposition process. If we chop in the dry season, the plant material will dry up and blow away at best, and it can become a significant fire hazard at worst.

Another thing to consider with timing has to do with the plant itself. If the plant is one we are trying to minimize in our landscape, then we will want to chop and drop just as the plants begin to flower, but before they set seed. We will allow that plant to put all its energy into building the flower structures, and then we chop it to the ground. Many of the plants we are trying to disadvantage are early successional plants (i.e. “weeds” to the common person). These plants are growing well in an area, because the soil is so poor that nothing else will grow. These plants are often Nitrogen Fixers and/or Dynamic Accumulators. The Thistle plants (which is an umbrella name for many genera and species of plants) are a classic example. In a natural succession, Thistle will come in and colonize a site. Over many generations, as the soil builds from Thistles growing and dying and growing and dying, other plants can move it. With Chop and Drop Mulching, we are speeding up this process. We are helping the land and soil fast-forward in time. We are building soil, favoring desirable plants, and disadvantaging less-desirable plants.  That Thistle, which we chopped off at ground level, still has life left in it. It will put all its energy into growing again. Then, just before setting seed again, we chop it down. After this occurs a few times, the Thistle finally dies back. The deep roots rot in place which builds the soil even more and provides fast carbon pathways for other desirable plants’ roots and fungal/mycelial networks to expand.

So, if it is a non-desirable plant, we can Chop and Drop Mulch whenever (before!) the plant is about to set seeds. If it is any other plant, we want to Chop and Drop Mulch just before or right at the beginning of the rainy season or the period of time when rainfall is greater than evaporation.

Subscribe to and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

Photo References:



Permaculture Plants: Pine Trees for Pine Nuts

Common Name: Pine Tree, Pinion, Piñon, Pinyon, Stone Pine, Nut Pine
Scientific Name: Pinus species
Family: Pinaceae (the Pine family)

Colorado Pinyon - young

Colorado Pinyon – young

Colorado Pinyon - mature

Colorado Pinyon – mature

Common Species: there are about 115 Pine species, but only about 20 of them are useful for nut production. I have 16 of them listed below, and the most important Nut Pines (largest nuts, highest producers, easily found for planting, etc.) are in bold:

  • Chinese White Pine (Pinus armandii) – Asia
  • Lacebark Pine (Pinus bungeana) – Asia
  • Swiss Pine (Pinus cembra)
  • Mexican Pinyon, Mexican Pine Nut, Mexican Stone Pine (Pinus cembroides)
  • Coulter Pine (Pinus coulteri)
  • Colorado Pinion/Pinyon/Piñon, Rocky Mountain Piñon (Pinus edulis)
  • Chilgoza Pine (Pinus gerardiana) – Asia (western Himalayas)
  • Korean Nut Pine, Chinese Nut Pine (Pinus koraiensis)
  • Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana) – North America
  • Single-leaf Pinyon (Pinus monophylla) – North America
  • Italian Stone Pine, Umbrella Pine, Parasol Pine (Pinus pinea)
  • Siberian Dwarf Pine (Pinus pumila) – Asia
  • Parry Pinyon (Pinus quadrifolia) – North America
  • Gray Pine (Pinus sabineana) – North America
  • Siberian Pine (Pinus sibirica) – Asia
  • Torrey Pine (Pinus torreyana) – North America
These tasty little seeds are not easy to obtain, but they are worth it!

These tasty little seeds are not easy to obtain, but they are worth it!

Pine nuts are one of my favorite foods. I love to use them when I cook Mediterranean or Middle Eastern dishes. They also happen to be very expensive, so growing our own makes a lot of sense (cents!). While all Pine trees produce edible seed, most of the nuts are so small, they are not worth the trouble. There are about 20 species of Pine that produce nuts large enough, and in enough quantity, to be considered a good food source. I am going to give specific information about the top four nut producing Pines. As it turns out, these trees have many other functions, including being drought resistant, a windbreak,  and wood source to name a few. A very nice Permaculture plant.

Pinus koriensis and Pinus edulis

Pinus koraiensis and Pinus edulis

Native and widespread across the Northern Hemisphere from the subtropical through temperate regions. Pines have been introduced all over the world. They have been used for wood, medicine, and food by native peoples wherever Pines are found. In modern times, Pine trees are among the most important commercial trees in the world.


  • Pine Nuts contain 10-15% protein, 50-60% fat, and 15-20% carbohydrate.
  • The nut takes 18-36 months to mature.
Pine nuts (in shells) from female cones.

Pine nuts (in shells) from female cones.

Unshelled and shelled pine nuts.

Unshelled and shelled pine nuts.


Primary Uses:

  • Edible Nuts – raw or cooked. Considered a delicacy throughout the world!
  • Nut Butter
  • Flour – Seeds can be dried and ground into a flour; best when mixed with cereal flours.
  • Edible Cones – young, very small cones can be cooked and ground into a powder to be used as a flavoring or flour adjunct. If the cone is large enough the center can be eaten after cooking.
  • Edible Inner Bark – cooked. Can be cut into strips like spagheti. Can also be dried and ground into a powder/flour and mixed with grain flour for baking
  • Wood – fuel, posts, fencing, carpentry, furniture, etc.

Secondary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant
  • Windbreak Species – this plant can be used to block, or break the path, of wind.
  • Scaffolding for vines – Pines make great natural scaffolding to vining plants that can grow in the unique soil conditions created by the pine needles. The Pine tree does not bear every year, and the cones are often harvested by hand from the tree, so undergrowth should be tolerated well. Also, since many Pines take a number of years to start producing, a short lived vine can grow on the maturing Pine tree for a few years as needed.
  • Tea Plant – young needles can be steeped in hot water. This tea is high in vitamins A and C.
  • Wildlife shelter – mainly birds and small mammals
  • Wildlife food source – many animals will eat the seeds and fruit, especially birds and small mammals
  • Drought plant – Pines are tolerant of drought once established, due in part to their large taproot
  • Tan/green dye from the needles
  • Source of tar, pitch, rosin, turpentine, etc. I plan on writing an article detailing the production and uses of these products soon.
The female cones (strobili) bear nuts, but both male and female cones are needed for production.

The female cones (strobili) bear the tasty nuts/seed, but both male and female cones are both needed for their production.

The cones will ripen at various times according to the species (P. pinea ripens in April, P. koraiensis ripens in September, P. edulis and P. cembroides ripen in October). However, ripening times will vary greatly on species and local climate/enviroment.

Pine nuts are ready for harvest about 10 days before the green cones begin to open. The cones are harvested with either long poles (often bamboo), long-handled pruners, or long-handled saws which knock the cones down or by a person who climbs the tree and harvests each cone by hand (the “piñero”). The harvested cones are placed in a bag (burlap is most common) and then exposed to heat (sunlight is most common). In about 20 days, the drying process causes the cone to fully open and the nuts can be extracted, usually by swinging the bag into a hard surface causing the cones to shatter and release the seed. It is possible, but difficult to harvest the seed from the ground after the cone opens on its own. Conversely, animals are very good at harvesting fallen nuts as a food source.

The nuts will need to be shelled after collected from the cone. This can be time consuming if done by hand with a hammer. There are commercial shellers available which are rather expensive. There are also a number of plans for do-it-yourself shellers available online. I have not attempted making or using these, so I cannot speak to their efficacy; however, I hope to do some experiments with them in the future. I will share that information as I get it.

Yield: 10-20 lbs (5-10 kg) is a large crop from an average tree.
Storage: Pine nuts can be stored for many years after dried.

Mexican Pine Tree

Mexican Pinyon – young

Mexican Pinyon - old

Mexican Pinyon – old


USDA Hardiness Zone:

  • Mexican Pinyon (Pinus cembroides): Zone 5-8
  • Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis): Zone 5-8
  • Korean Nut Pine (Pinus koraiensis): Zone 3-7
  • Italian Stone Pine (Pinus pinea): Zone 7-11

AHS Heat Zone:

  • Mexican Pinyon (Pinus cembroides): Zone 9-1
  • Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis): Zone 8-5
  • Korean Nut Pine (Pinus koraiensis): Zone 7-1
  • Italian Stone Pine (Pinus pinea): Zone 12-9

Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Medium to Large Tree
Leaf Type: Evergreen
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a many species and cultivars available

Pollination: Most species are not self-fertile (they need to be fertilized from another tree), and most are monoecious. Pines typically have male and female flowers on the same tree. Pollinated by the wind.
Flowering: Typically in the Summer months

Life Span:

  • Years to Begin Bearing: 15-40 years (Korean Pine); 25-75 years (Colorado Pine). However, this really applies to the wild varieties. There are varieties of nut pines that start producing in 5-10 years (precocious varieties) that are starting to become more widely available.
  • Years Between Major Crops: 2-7 years. Many trees have “bumper” years when the conditions are perfect for nut production, and there can be a number of low production years in between large harvests.
  • Years of Useful Life: In general, Pine trees are long-lived trees. An Italian Stone Pine tree lives to be about 100 years old. A Mexican Pine Nut tree is just reaching maturity at 250-350 years. Many pines can live to well over 1,000 years of age.
Stone Pine Tree - young

Italian Stone Pine Tree – young

Italian Stone Pine Tree - middle aged (starting to lose the lower branches).

Italian Stone Pine Tree – middle-aged, starting to lose the lower branches.

Italian Stone Pine Tree - mature, with its classic umbrella shape.

Italian Stone Pine Tree – mature, with its classic umbrella shape.



  • Mexican Pinyon (Pinus cembroides): 26-66 feet (8-20 meters) tall and 15-25 feet (4.5-7.5 meters) wide with a 20 inch (50 centimeter) trunk diameter
  • Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis): 33-66 feet (10-20 meters) tall with a 31 inch (80 centimeter) trunk diameter
  • Korean Nut Pine (Pinus koraiensis): 130-160 feet (40-50 meters) tall with a 4.9-6.6 feet (1.5-2 meter) trunk diameter
  • Italian Stone Pine (Pinus pinea): 39-82 feet (12-25 meters) tall and 26 feet (8 meters) wide

Roots: Most species have taproots. Some are more fibrous than others.
Growth Rate: Very slow to medium growth rate

Korean Pine - young

Korean Nut Pine – young

Korean Nut Pine - mature

Korean Nut Pine – middle-aged


Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Does not tolerate shade

  • Mexican Pinyon (Pinus cembroides) – Prefers dry to moist soils
  • Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis) – Prefers rather dry soils, but tolerates moist soils
  • Korean Nut Pine (Pinus koraiensis) – Prefers dry to moist soils
  • Italian Stone Pine (Pinus pinea) – Prefers moist soils, but tolerates very dry soils once established


  • Mexican Pinyon (Pinus cembroides): 5.1-7.0
  • Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis): 6.1-7.0
  • Korean Nut Pine (Pinus koraiensis): 5.1-7.0
  • Italian Stone Pine (Pinus pinea): 5.1-7.5

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Pine roots really need to establish a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi to grow well. Innoculation is stronly recommended. This can be as simple as obtaining some soil from an established pine forest and mixing this into the compost in the hole the seedling is placed. There are places that sell specific innoculant for specific species of pines.
  • High elevation is considered a benefit for pine nut production as most Pine Nut trees are found between an elevation of 6,000-8,500 feet (1,800-2,600 meters) above sea level. It is thought that the higher elevation moderates ambient air moisture and maintains stable humidity. It appears that nut production can still be high at lower elevations if the tree has reatively constant through the Spring and Summer.

Typically from seed – 4-12 weeks of cold stratification improves germination rates. Due to their taproots, most pines are best planted into their permanent position as soon as possible (no more than 3 feet/90 centimeters). Some species can be propagate through cuttings.

Maintenance: Minimal.


  • Terpene is a chemical released from the needles during rain. This has an allelopathic effect; it inhibits the growth of some other plants.
  • “Pine Nut Syndrome” or “Pine Mouth” is a phenomenon where a person who eats pine nuts will develop a metallic taste in their mouth for a few days to a few weeks. This goes away on its own and has no lasting or harmful effects. No one is sure why this occurs, but it has been seem almost exclusively in Asian pine nuts. Some researchers believe it is due to only Asian pine nuts. Some believe it only occurs with nuts from a certain species, Pinus armandii. Others believe it has to do with the chemicals used in the shelling process in Asia. No one is really sure right now.



Subscribe to and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

Photo References:


  • Permalink Gallery

    10 Things a Permaculturists Needs to Know when Working with Local Government

10 Things a Permaculturists Needs to Know when Working with Local Government

Okay. We finally have our land. We have gathered data and made observations. We have developed our master plan. We are ready to start working on it. We shared some of our ideas with our neighbor… and he tells us that the city will not let us do it. “They have laws against it,” he says.

Our momentum comes to a screeching halt. We have been so excited to plan all the things we could and should be doing, that we never stopped to find out if we would actually be allowed to do it.

This is not an uncommon scenario for Permaculturists across many developed countries in the world. Governments have become so large and powerful that they often block projects that would benefit us and our communities, all because the government is trying to “protect and help” us. As a libertarian and a minarchist at heart, this statement really bothers me. However, it is what we have to deal with for now. There are three ways to proceed. We can do nothing, we can move forward with our plans without seeking approval, or we can ask permission from the part of the local government dealing with our concerns (zoning, building, etc.).

Doing nothing is unfortunately what too many people end up doing. They feel frustrated to the point of inaction. Please, don’t let that happen to you!

Next, there are many people who just move forward without gaining permission. I can’t blame them at all. I understand why they do it. While I do not advocate breaking the law, I honestly think this is a feasible plan for many people, depending on the project and their location, but we have to know there may be consequences. The local government may do nothing for years and years, and then decide to investigate and fine you or give you an ultimatum, “Change or remove this, or be fined daily until it is changed or removed!” There are many people who have “lost the farm”, literally, because of this. The areas that can cause significant, or even irrecoverable, set-backs to our endeavors fall into the categories of structures (i.e. houses), waste management (i.e. toilet systems), water management (i.e. water harvesting systems, ponds/dams, etc.), and invasive species (i.e. species that a local area has ruled should not be present in their area of control). There may be a few others I am not thinking of right now, but most other design elements in a Permaculture system will not cause much trouble with local codes or laws; however, anything is possible, so don’t be surprised.

In my situation, considering my future plans, I aim to be pretty “out there” in the public arena. I want to have an education center. I want to sell quality food to the local community. I want to be involved with the local government so that I can help promote sustainable and regenerative laws and codes. I want to help create an area that attracts people like me. I understand that I will be likely be the first one, the test case, and I welcome that. I know I can work well with the local government to achieve my goals without things turning into a battle. I cannot fly under the radar and be in the spotlight at the same time. For most of what I plan to do, I will need to work within the system. I will need to work with the local government as I develop my land.

I do know that there are a lot of Permaculturists who have no idea how to work with their local government. Some of it is not their fault. They have never worked with any local government, so they are just ignorant of what is needed. Other designers, developers, consultants, or Permaculturists are shooting themselves in the foot. They, themselves, are the biggest reason their interactions with local governments go bad. I hope this article will help both groups. While not all-inclucisve, the following 10 things will help make the process significantly easier.

1. Learn to Play the Game
This is quite possibly the hardest thing to grasp when dealing with local government, but it is the most important. We need to learn to play the game of navigating the process of governmental approval. This can be with any aspect of government for just about any project that we have in mind that requires approval or permits. I believe government is way too large and way too intrusive, but it is what we have right now. We should be actively trying to change it, but we still need to work within the system as it is instead of wishing it was another way and not getting anything accomplished. The rest of this article goes into the specifics, but it all starts with this concept. Keep in mind that we do not have to like the game to win it!

2. Understand that the “Government” consists of People, like You and Me
I have spent the last six years working in the government (military), and there are some sour people, but not that many. Almost everyone really does want to do a good job. They want to help people. However, if it is a matter of helping us and losing their job, or not helping us and keeping their job, they will chose the paycheck every time.

We often consider people in the government as “working for the Man” or having “sold out”, but in reality government employees, especially at the level most of us will be dealing, are just people trying to live their lives and keep a job and pay their bills and take care of their family. They are not the enemy. If we are trying to change the world (and I am!), then we need to see everyone as a potential student, a potential convert to Permaculture, a potential ally in our battle. I can’t tell you how many random people I have introduced to Permaculture who seem genuinely interested and want to learn more. They just don’t know about it.

We have to remember that it is not “us against them“. It is not really even “us against us“. It is “us against a system that is too scared to deviate from normal because the people working in the system are just trying to care for themselves and their children the best way they know how.”    Hmmm…. sound familiar? (Permaculture Prime Directive: The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children). We just need to show them we are all actually on the same side. We need to show them a better way to care for themselves and their families.

3. Understand the Power of the Gatekeeper.
This is true for just about any interaction with business, or families for that matter. There is a “gatekeeper” who guards the door to the person who will make a decision for or against us. That gatekeeper is often a secretary or personal assistant in business and government (it may be a parent or sibling in a family). If we treat that gatekeeper as an obstacle in our way to getting what we want, then we are way more likely to fail. However, if we can make that gatekeeper our ally… well, then if the decision-maker is trying to decide what to do with us, a gatekeeper who likes us may make drop in the right words and at the right time and make all the difference. Again, the gatekeeper is just another person and just another potential Permaculturist! Be kind to the gatekeeper. They often work very hard with little appreciation.

4. Monitor your Expectations
If we go anywhere looking for a fight or expecting a denial, then we will probably get it. I don’t buy into the “putting positive energy out into the universe” kind of thing that some celebrities advocate, but I do think that positive thinking and positive expectations are extremely helpful. We have to envision the end before we can start at the beginning. If our end vision is a denial and a long battle with a local government to fight for approval, then we will probably get just that.

5. Consider your Appearance
Yes, our appearance matters! Should it? Ideally, in a perfect world, our appearance should not matter. Of, course, we all say that. But we are not living in a perfect world. If we are being honest, no matter how “open” or “caring” or whatever it is that we claim to be, appearances matter. If not to us, because we are so “enlightened”, it matters to pretty much everyone else on earth.

Let’s be realistic. If we are walking at night in an area of a large city that we were told was dangerous, and we saw a large, hairy man in ripped clothing and smelling of body odor walking toward us… How would we feel? Now, what if, in that same scenario, a “clean-cut” man in a suit and tie approached us with a genuine smile?

This is the classic point that Permaculturists fail with local governments.

If we walk in to a building permit office, and we are wearing a 20 year-old t-shirt from the local Goodwill, stained jeans, dreadlocks, a ratty-looking beard, and smelling of body odor (because even natural deodorants are too “unnatural” for us, man), then we are already setting ourselves up for failure. That employee initially thinks we are homeless and looking for a handout, and we are shocked when they are not that helpful to us. Conversely, if we walk into that same office after a shower and a shave, wearing clean, casual-business clothing, we will be taken seriously from the start. First impressions are lasting impressions, and they matter!

6. Watch your Mouth
Avoiding profanity, racist, sexist, or any other off-color jokes should be obvious. Unfortunately, it is not. It is highly unprofessional to speak this way. Even if the government employee is speaking this way, we should avoid it. We should be above reproach. In addition, we should also try to avoid slang or other catchphrases. “Dude”, “Man”, “wicked”, “rad”, “far out”, or any other phrases associated with hippies or those who regularly partake of illegal substances (i.e. drugs), should be avoided. Is there really anything wrong with this? No, not at all. But it often gives the appearance that you are dumber than you are, or that you may not be all that trustworthy. I have my own set of catchphrases, but when I am being professional, I avoid using them. This is not being fake. This is not pretending to be something you are not. It is just reality. It is, as I said before, learning to play the game.

7. Check your Attitude
If we go into a permit office with a smile and a friendly attitude, we may still get a denial, but we may not. There are many “gray” areas in government, and these have to do with interpretation of sometimes vague ordinances and laws. If the person who is making that decision likes us, or is at least not annoyed by us, then we have a chance they will make a decision on those “gray” areas in our favor. Besides, having a good attitude is just the right way to live. If we are a grumpy Permaculturist, then maybe we don’t quite understand how Permaculture works. If we are an up-beat Permaculturist, who seems eager to do the right thing, then even if the government official denies our request, they may take the time to show us what we need to do to get an approval.

8. Share your Agenda
Government employees will often assume we are wanna-be hippies who are trying to get everyone to live in a commune and smoke marijuana. They will often see an approval of our request (whatever that may be) as a step in the wrong direction for their community, an invitation to a bunch of lazy, pot-smoking, navel-gazers to relocated to that employee’s neighborhood. However, if we present our request with an explanation of our agenda, we can circumvent the development of their fears. We need to explain that Permaculture is about creating a sustainable future of our children. I often use my one sentence definition of Permaculture as an introduction: Permaculture is the science uses nature as a model for designing sustainable agricultural systems. Obviously, Permaculture is way bigger than just this, but my explanation has opened the way to many long conversations. This is not a simple sentence, so I say is slowly. I want that person to understand what I am saying; I am not just saying it to make myself sound intelligent. I purposely use the term “science” which implies research and testing and validation – which Permaculture has! I purposely use the term “agriculture” which implies hard work and jobs and profit… things that local governments get excited about. I also purposely use the word “sustainable” which implies “being green” and steers away from the idea of a “crazy, tree-hugging, eco-terrorist”.  Most local governments want to be, or at least want it to appear that they are trying to be, “green” or environmentally friendly.

9. Know the Law
This has two advantages. If we understand what is or is not allowed, then we know where to start. I have heard both Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton say that with more restrictions come more elegant designs. They meant land, climate, and government restrictions. If we are living in an area that is zoned residential and not agricultural, we are not going to start with cattle. It would be a lot easier to start with rabbits. Maybe we are assuming that animals are not allowed, but in reality the area allows chickens and ducks already. This is part of the basic research needed when we are doing our initial design.

Secondly, if we know the laws, and a local administrator denies us unfairly, we can politely tell them that we are familiar with the current laws that allow (whatever it is). For instance, we may say, “Ma’am, I am so sorry to bother you, but somebody under you must have made a mistake. I was fined for having chickens, but according to City Code 145 paragraph 2, I am allowed to have no more than five chickens or ducks. I have three beautiful hens that produce eggs for my family. Oh, I see that from that photo on your desk that you have grandchildren. My chickens love kids. You should bring them by sometime, and they can meet my chickens and feed them if they want. So, how do I go about getting this fine reversed?”

Again, this is not being false. It is playing the game. It may even convert some more people to Permaculture!

10. Learn how to Take “No” for an Answer
This is a very important point. It is almost inevitable that we will get told no for something if we are doing things right. Common-sense, sustainable, Permaculture systems are often at odds with the status quo. Our modern system is failing us on so many levels, and it has been so knotted up in bureaucracy and special interest laws that we will be frequently fighting an uphill battle. We will prevail, but it will take time. Every battle matters, and a no is part of the battle, not the end.

If we are told no, we need to be gracious. We need to be polite. We cannot get angry and stomp out of the room shouting that they will be hearing from our lawyers. All that will do is guarantee a future denial (battle) and make it more difficult for any other Permaculturist in the future.

Most of the time, the person who says no will say no because they are trying to follow the law as they understand it. They don’t want to lose their job by approving something that is illegal or dangerous. If we are denied, we need to politely inquire why. Get it in writing if possible. Ask them to show us the city or county code or law. Ask them for their advice. Ask them what they would recommend. They may tell us something like, “Well, if you really wanted to get this done, you could add another support column here and here, and that should work,” or “You know, the city council has been talking about changing this, but no one ever attends the meetings. I bet if you went and stated your case, they may change that ordinance.” We will never know if we don’t ask.

If they give us a poor answer (e.g. “you should just stop trying”), then we should thank them for their time and leave. Then we will start working on a different approach. We should ask other people in the area how to handle it. We can then either try to find a work-around within the existing law, try to change the law, or, as a last resort, chose one of the nuclear options (see below).

The Nuclear Options
So what do we do if we have followed all the above advice, we have taken no over and over again, and there is no hope in site? There are three plans of action that I consider “nuclear options”. Once we choose to go with one of these options, there really is no going back. We have opened Pandora’s Box, and things cannot be the same afterwards.

Go Underground: We can kindly thank the local government for the help, or lack of, with our project. We admit defeat. We go back to our land and we do it anyway. This is a dangerous option, because we are now “on the radar” of the local government. We have shared our plans with them, and so they know what we desire to do. If we move fast, and our project is not glaringly obvious, we may get away with it. But then again, they may come and investigate at a later date, and we are stuck. This is an option that takes a lot of nerve, and it often does not work well for the land owner.

Media Blitz: The modern world is now one that is deeply influenced by social media. We can go the traditional route and try and get a local (or national!) news agency to let us tell our story. We may make a video or create a photo that goes viral and motivates people from around the world to email or call the local government, forcing the local government to change their minds. This has been successful many times. However, it is not always successful. For this to work, we need to be on the right side of the law. If a local government official make a decision on a gray area or makes a decision with no law to support it, then a media campaign can work very well. However, if we want to do something, no matter how noble, that is obviously against the law or against a clearly written city/county ordinance, then we will most likely fail. This option takes courage and a personality that will not mind getting a lot of hate mail, because this is bound to happen. A media blitz can also be very successful in changing laws that are in debate, for example when a city council is on the fence about changing a law. There is power in numbers. There is power in a well-crafted story.

Vote with your Feet: If we see no alternative, the final act of defiance may be to move. This is a very big decision. We can chose to leave an area under an oppressive local government and move to an area of more freedom. The more roots we put down in a location, the more difficult this option becomes. If we do choose to leave, I highly recommend letting the local government know that you are leaving and why. An “open letter” published by a local newspaper or picked up by a local blogger can have a big impact on what voters do during the next election. That won’t help us much, but it can make us feel a little better about the process.



Subscribe to and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

Photo References:



Permaculture Plants: Willow

Common Name: Willows, Sallows, Osiers
Scientific Name: Salix species
Family: Salicaceae (the Willow family)

Selected Species (there are over 400 species!):

  • White Willow (Salix alba)
  • Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)
  • Beaked Willow (Salix bebbiana)
  • Goat Willow (Salix caprea)
  • Coastal Plain or Carolina Willow (Salix caroliniana)
  • American or Pussy Willow (Salix discolor)
  • Gray Willow (Salix glauca)
  • Western Black or Goodding’s Willow (Salix gooddingii)
  • Pacific Willow (Salix lucida)
  • Yellow Willow (Salix lutea)
  • Chinese Willow (includes Corkscrew Willow) (Salix matsudana)
  • Black Willow (Salix nigra)
  • Laurel or Bay Willow (Salix pentandra)
  • Purple Osier or Purple Willow (Salix purpurea)
  • Common Osier or Basket Willow (Salix viminalis)
Willows can be shrubs or trees.

Willows can be shrubs or trees.
Salix nigra

There are over 400 species in the Salix genus that are commonly known as Willow or Osier. These are beautiful shrubs and trees that can be used to make baskets, crafts, fences, houses, tools, paper, string, charcoal, and medicine. It can be used to bioremediate soil and wetlands, control erosion, block the wind, and Willows can be coppiced over and over again. Willows are some of the most beneficial plants that can be used in Forest Gardening and Permaculture designs.


Goat Willow (Salix caprea) on left & Common Osier or Basket Willow (Salix viminalis) on right

The Willows are native to temperate and cold climates around the northern hemisphere and have been used for thousands of years for medicine, crafts, and building materials. Willows have been introduced all over the world and continues to be important plants.


  • Willow has been used for treating fever and pain from at least 2,000 BC as referenced on Egyptian paparyi. Likely it was used far earlier than that. Hippocrates referenced it in 400 BC. It was not until 1897 that Bayer first started producing Aspirin based on an extraction technique developed by the French chemist Charles Gerhardt.
  • There are a number of dwarf or creeping Willows species found around the world. Many of these plants are very low growing and capable of living in very cold climates… including artctic!
  • Cricket bats are traditionally made from a special variety of White Willow (Salix alba) called ‘Caerulea’.
  • Willow Water – There has been a lot written on using Willow stems/twigs to help root cuttings from other plants. There is some truth to this, but it is not a magic bullet. The reason for this is that Willow contains both salicylic acid and auxins. Salycylic acid reportedly prevents pathogen growth – meaning it will stop fungus and other microorganisms from attacking the cutting. Auxins are a family of plant hormones that stimualte root growth. The research shows that the most success is seen when using 50-100 six-inch new Willow stems or new Willow shoots and soaking them in 1 gallon (3.75 liters) of water for 4-6 weeks. The water is strained and used to soak cuttings from other plants to induce/speed rooting. Cuttings of other plants are placed in a container with the Willow water (like flowers in a vase).
Basketry and crafts are a common use for Willow

Basketry and crafts are a common use for Willow

Harvesting Willow for production.

Harvesting Willow for production.

Here is a great photoessay on Willow from The Guardian.


Primary Uses:

  • Branches – Willow branches can be woven for baskets, wicker, wattle, etc.
  • Wood – Willow wood can be used for boxes, brooms, furniture, crafts, tools, etc.
  • Fiber – a fiber from the wood can be used to make paper, string, rope, etc.
  • Ornamental Plant – many species (and varieties) are used around the world as ornamental plants
Willows are commonly used as ornamentals... it is easy to see why.

Willows are commonly used as ornamentals… it is easy to see why.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Coppice Plant – Willows can be coppiced often (as frequently as every 2-5 years). The frequency of coppicing will depend on the size of branch desired and the speed of growth.
  • Charcoal Plant – Willow is used for cooking and art charcoal
  • Erosion Control Species – the extensive root system helps stabilize soils prone to erosion
  • Pioneer Plant – helps reestablish overused or damaged land
  • Windbreak Species – this plant can be used to block, or break the path, of wind. Martin Crawford recommends using Willow as a windbreak on the eastern side of the property, because it leafs out early in the Spring and loses leaves early in Autumn.
  • Hedgerow Species
  • Bioremediation/Phytoremediation Plant – Willow is used as part of biological filtration systems to clean and purify contaminated water, often as part of a constructed wetland. This can be part of a home gray water system as well.
  • Biomass Plant – very fast growing plant can produce large amounts of organic matter in a short time. This has been used on a commercial level for energy production in Sweden and the U.K.
  • Wildlife Shelter – mainly birds and small mammals
  • Medicinal Plant – Willow has a long history of of medicinal uses, and is the origin of one of the first “modern” medicines, Aspirin
  • Food Plant – the inner bark can be dried, ground into a powder, and mixed with other flours. It is reportedly bitter with a poor flavor and is considered a famine food… but it is food. Young shoots can also be eaten… also a famine food.

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Willow branches are typically harvested when the plant is dormant and the leaves have fallen.

Willow has a long history of being coppiced.

Willow has a long history of being coppiced.

This coppiced hedge of Willow is a windbreak as well.

This coppiced hedge of Willow is a windbreak as well.


USDA Hardiness Zone:

  • White Willow (Salix alba): Zone 2-9
  • Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica): Zone 5-9
  • Beaked Willow (Salix bebbiana): Zone 3
  • Goat Willow (Salix caprea): Zone 5-9
  • Coastal Plain or Carolina Willow (Salix caroliniana): Zone 7
  • American or Pussy Willow (Salix discolor): Zone 4-8
  • Gray Willow (Salix glauca): Zone – Cool to cold climates
  • Western Black or Goodding’s Willow (Salix gooddingii): Zone 7
  • Pacific Willow (Salix lucida): Zone 2
  • Chinese Willow (includes Corkscrew Willow) (Salix matsudana): Zone 4-9
  • Black Willow (Salix nigra): Zone 4
  • Laurel or Bay Willow (Salix pentandra): Zone 5
  • Purple Osier or Purple Willow (Salix purpurea): Zone 4-7
  • Common Osier or Basket Willow (Salix viminalis): Zone 4

AHS Heat Zone:

  • White Willow (Salix alba): Zone 9-1
  • Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica): Zone 9-1
  • Goat Willow (Salix caprea): Zone 9-5
  • American or Pussy Willow (Salix discolor): Zone 8-2
  • Black Willow (Salix nigra): Zone 9-4 (maybe colder)
  • Purple Osier or Purple Willow (Salix purpurea): Zone 7-1

Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but as this is not really a food plant, so this is not that important for us… and yes, I know that this can be a famine food.

Plant Type: Small Shrub to Large Tree
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer, Sub-Canopy Layer, Shrub Layer, Aquatic/Wetland Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a large number of species and varieties available.

Pollination: Dioecious (there are male and female plants). Pollinated primarily by bees.
Flowering: April-May (as early as January in some climates!)

Life Span:

  • Years of Useful Life: 40-75 years on average. Coppicing will greatly increase the life span. If you have a large planting of Willow, an individual tree’s life span is not that important, because it easily sends up suckers.
Willow 09

Willow has male and female plants, each with their own flower.

Weeping W

Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica) on left and Black Willow ((Salix nigra) on right

Willow bark

Willow bark



  • White Willow (Salix alba): 82-100 feet (25-30 meters) tall and 32 feet (10 meters) wide
  • Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica): 39 feet (12 meters) tall and wide
  • Beaked Willow (Salix bebbiana): 23 feet (7 meters) tall
  • Goat Willow (Salix caprea): 32 feet (10 meters) tall and 26 feet (8 meters) wide
  • Coastal Plain or Carolina Willow (Salix caroliniana): 32 feet (10 meters) tall
  • American or Pussy Willow (Salix discolor): 20 feet (6 meters) tall and 15 feet (4 meters) wide
  • Gray Willow (Salix glauca): 4-20 feet (1.2-6 meters) tall
  • Western Black or Goodding’s Willow (Salix gooddingii): 32 feet (10 meters) tall
  • Pacific Willow (Salix lucida): 26 feet (8 meters) tall
  • Yellow Willow (Salix lutea): 82 feet (25 meters) tall and 32 feet (10 meters) wide
  • Chinese Willow (includes Corkscrew Willow) (Salix matsudana): 60 feet (18 meters) tall
  • Black Willow (Salix nigra): 39 feet (12 meters) tall
  • Laurel or Bay Willow (Salix pentandra): 32 feet (10 meters) tall
  • Purple Osier or Purple Willow (Salix purpurea): 16 feet (5 meters) tall and wide
  • Common Osier or Basket Willow (Salix viminalis): 19 feet (6 meters) tall and 13 feet (4 meters) wide

Roots: Fibrous, extensive on the surface and running deep. Readily sends up suckers.  UPDATE: While I have found a few sources that state Willow roots run deep, this information is in conflict with the “in the field” experience of reputable Permaculturists (like Geoff Lawton) who routinely recommend Willow and Bamboo for planting on dam/pond walls due to these plants having fibrous, stabilizing root systems that do NOT run deep. As you can see in the comments below, I think I will side with Geoff Lawton’s opinion on this.
Growth Rate: Fast

Willow loves the water's edge Black Willow (Salix nigra)

Willow loves the water’s edge and can tolerate periodic flooding with no problem.
Black Willow (Salix nigra)

Willow is one of the first trees to leaf out and flower in the Spring, making one of the main early food sources for bees.

Willow is one of the first trees to leaf out and flower in the Spring, making one of the main early food sources for bees.


Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates moderate shade
Moisture: Moist to very wet soils. Can tolerate intermitent standing water (flooding) and wetland areas.
pH: 4-7 (tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, but does not really like alkaline soils)

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Willow is fast growing and relatively short-lived.
  • It is recommended to avoid planting Willow too close to a building as the roots may spread and disturb the foundation.
  • Most species have relatively weak wood that is can break in strong winds, although because it is fast growing and forms a lot of branches and leaves quickly, it is still a good windbreak plant.

Most easily grown from cuttings taken at anytime of the year – just stick it in the ground! Very easy. Willow can also be propagated from seed. Willow seed has a short viability life.

Cutting back suckers to prevent spread is occasionally needed. Browsing animals (deer, goats, etc.) will eat these suckers if allowed.


  • Some people consider Willow invasive due to the suckers it puts up and the ease of producing a new tree from just a single twig that has been buried. This is also what makes it so good for site rehabilitation as a pioneer species.
  • The extensive root system can undermine foundations or underground lines/pipes, so only plant Willow in places that this is not going to be a problem.
A beautiful Willow in Autumn

A beautiful Willow in Autumn


Subscribe to and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

Photo References:






The Myth of the Perfect Job (Part 6)

Read Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 of this multipart series.

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
– Helen Keller

After writing about this topic for the last few weeks, it is finally time for me to outline my plans for the next 24 months. Even as I write this now, I know that my life will not turn out quite like I am planning. It never has, and it never will. Life has a way of changing us and changing our plans. That is just how it is. So, I will share what I see as an ideal at this point in time, but don’t get too upset if you see my life plans have changed five years from now.

My first goal is to be spiritually centered. Many people have various ways to do this, but a big part of it for me is to set aside a portion of each day to relax, meditate, pray, and study a spiritual topic. As it is now, this is often an afterthought or a thing I try to squeeze in to my busy life. That needs to change.

Next, I will be maintaining and continue to build my marriage. The last year has been particularly rough on my marriage due to my wife being pregnant and suffering from very significant morning sickness through the entire pregnancy. My youngest daughter is just two months old, and my wife is doing very well. But we still have a very busy life with raising four young children. This is a busy season, and we understand that; however, we need to focus on growing and working together, not just surviving this time.

In addition, I will be spending a lot more time with my children. I know I already spend more time with my kids than many fathers do (by choice or circumstances), but for me, it is not enough. I hate to say goodbye to my kids each day. It breaks me to see the fall of my son’s face when he realizes that the weekend is over and that I will be spending the majority of the next five days at work and not with him.

As far as medicine is concerned, I hope to always be practicing medicine in some aspect. I will be moving back to the U.S. in about eight months. I would like to work fairly full-time for about six months after I get back. This will allow us to save up some money and prepare for the next big phase in our life (see below). In the long-term, I would like to work 1-3 days a week as a family medicine, urgent care, or ER physician. When I decided to become a physician, I came very close to becoming a Naturopathic Doctor. I decided instead (and no offense is meant to any N.D. out there) to become as “legitimate” a physician as possible in the eyes of the general population. Then, after I earned my M.D., I would incorporate more holistic, alternative, and complimentary medicine into my practice. In the Air Force, I have been limited in what I have been able to do. It will be interesting to see where my career goes from here.

Permaculture… this already is a huge part of my life. To date, the vast majority of my activity in Permaculture has been in research and writing. To be honest, that doesn’t really cut it for me. I know that I am a very good researcher. I can glean a lot of  information from a lot of sources and condense it in a way to make it accessible to the average reader. But that is very different than getting out and doing it.

In my mind, I often compare myself to Heinrich Dorfmann. What? You don’t know who Heinrich Dorfmann is? Well, let me tell you. In 1965, Jimmy Stewart stared in a movied (based on a 1964 novel) called The Flight of the Phoenix. If you have never seen the movie, and you don’t want a spoiler, then skip ahead to the next paragraph. Jimmy Stewart plays Captain Frank Towns. His small passenger plane crashes in the Sahara Desert. Realizing that they are not going to be rescued and they will die if they do nothing, the survivors take the broken plane and build a new aircraft based on the designs of Heinrich Dorfmann (played by Hardy Krüger), an aeronautical engineer. Only when they are almost done with the construction do they find out that Heinrich designs model (“toy”) airplanes, not “real” planes. No matter how much Heinrich tries to explain that the principles and theory of flight are the exact same between model and full-sized planes, it is only out of desparation and fear of dying in the desert that they attempt to fly the new aircraft, dubbed the Phoenix.

So, while I know Permaculture works, I need to put it into practice. I need to get my hands in the soil. I need to be in the fields digging swales and ponds and planting food forests and raising animals. I have regenerated no land. I have not created a vibrant ecosystem. I have raised very little food for my family. I know how. I know the theories will work, but I have yet to put them into practice… and that is driving me crazy! I am planning to complete the 10-week internship at Zaytuna Farms in Australia with Geoff Lawton. I believe this internship, along with my years of study, will give me a solid foundation to go out and establish my Permaculture farm.

Part of making Permaculture a larger part of my life will include consultation and teaching as well. I plan to make my land a model site for the region I am living. I plan to hold regular Permaculture Design Certificate courses. I plan to hold specialty courses on all the major aspects of Permaculture, homesteading, horticulture, animal management, alternative building, and more. I plan to have a premier education center. Of course, this will take time to build. Fotunately, the demand for quality Permaculture education far exceeds the availability right now.

I have already discussed my plan for building an intentional community. This is still a very real plan for me, and I have full intention of moving forward with it. As I said above, I know that my plans may change when the time comes for implementation. I am sure the process of developing this community will be no different, but I am still very excited about.

There are a number of other projects/businesses that I hope to be more involved with as well. If any of you have been following this site for a few years, you’ll be familiar with AgriTrue. This website has been a long time in development for a number of reasons, but we are finally almost ready to “go live”. AgriTrue is all about transparency in food production, and it directly connects food producers with consumers. I’ll be sharing more about this in the next few months. Another project my wife and I started is Because of Isaac. This is a site that helps childless couples fund the costs of adoption.

I also hope to build other projects in time. I am planning on creating a Permaculture missions organization to help build sustainable agriculture systems in developing countries. I know there are a number of these organizations out there right now; however, my plan is a bit different. I desire to assist full-time Christian missionaries living abroad to train and teach local people in Permaculture. This is not meant to be a means of forced proselytization or spiritual manipulation; it is meant to be a community building tool, a service provided to local communities.

Another dream of mine is to have a brewery/winery. I have no specifics on this right now, but I think it would be a lot of fun (and, to be honest, a lot of work) to produce unique beers and wines using local products raised on my Permaculture farm.

So, there you have it. This is my plan. Yours will be different, of course. However, I hope that this series has provided some things for you to think about at the minimum. At best, maybe this will motivate you and/or help as you make some significant changes in your life. Please let me know what your plans are!

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”
– C. S. Lewis 



Subscribe to and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

Photo Reference:

“American Gothic” by Grant Wood: