Permaculture Design Elements

Book Review: The Bio-Integrated Farm

The Bio-Integrated Farm: A Revolutionary Permaculture-Based System Using Greenhouses, Ponds, Compost Piles, Aquaponics, Chickens, and More by Shawn Jadrnicek

Full Disclosure:
I was given a copy of this book by Chelsea Green Publishing in exchange for writing an honest review on my website.

Bottom Line Up Front:
I was really impressed with this book.

Shawn and

Shawn and Stephanie Jadrnicek

Full Review:
I’ll be honest. I went into evaluating this book with a pretty pessimistic attitude. I think my attitude was due to a few things. First, while I know there have been a number of very good Permaculture books published in the last few years, there have also been a number of redundant Permaculture books hitting the market at the same time… meaning, authors with little experience have tried to cash-in on the Permaculture wave and have written very basic books filled with information already found in other (better) books.  When I read the title, “The Bio-Integrated Farm”, I felt like this was just another repackage of the Permaculture basics in an attempt to sell another book.

Second, before accepting the book, and the subsequent writing assignment, I clearly told the publisher that I would only agree if I could write whatever I wanted… no strings attached. They told me that I could write an entirely honest review, and they felt I would “find Shawn’s work, though perhaps not unassailable, at least accessible and very innovative.” I know this was not meant as a challenge to find something wrong with the book, but I think I took it as such.

So, in all honesty, I started reading this book with a bad attitude and some pretty harsh pre-conceived ideas.

I did a quick skim of this book, and I begrudgingly thought I may have to change my mind. Then I read every page, cover to cover, and indeed, Shawn Jadrnicek won me over.

This book is not a rehash of basic Permaculture.
This book is not written by an inexperienced author.
This book is not written just to sell another book.

Shawn Jadrnicek has worked, according to the publisher’s website, “as an organic farmer, nursery grower, extension agent, arborist, and landscaper, and now as the manager of Clemson University’s Student Organic Farm.” He is not new to the world of Permaculture or sustainable agriculture.

Shawn states in the introduction, “I continuously run into an underlying rule or directive that, if done properly, accomplishes most of the other Permaculture principles. I believe it’s a unifying principle that underlies the heart of Permaculture and all good ecological designs. In the Permaculture community it’s known as stacking functions.”

This strongly resonated with my own thoughts and findings. Permaculture co-founder David Holmgren stated it as “Integrate rather than segregate.” And Permaculture’s other co-founder, Bill Mollison, stated it in two parts “Each element performs many functions” and “Each important function is supported by many elements.” Shawn Jadrnicek’s goal is to have each design to have at least seven useful functions. He states, “Once the magic odd number of seven is breached, the design takes on a life of its own. For a component to perform seven functions it must be so connected with the surrounding environment that it takes on a new autonomous, lifelike quality. I refer to this quality as bio-integration.”

Now, this is the point where most books would give a few examples of “stacking functions” and then move on, but not Shawn Jadrnicek.

Shawn's construction of a new greenhouse with a reflecting pond in the foreground.

Shawn’s construction of a new greenhouse with a reflecting pond in the foreground.

The Bio-Integrated Farm really surpasses many Permaculture books by not just sharing a lot of theory and ideas, but it actually provides tested example after tested example of those ideas put into practice. And not only did it have a lot of examples, but it had a lot of details as well. I have been frustrated many times in the past with numerous books and authors who share a brilliant idea, but then fail to explain it fully so that it can be reproduced. Shawn not only gives you the great idea (one that has been tested, redesigned, and perfected), but then he gives the details (sometimes a lot of them), so that anyone can reproduce what he has done.

Let me give you two examples:

In the chapter titled A Pool of Resources, The Bio-Integrated Pond, there is 1 table, 5 formulas, 9 diagrams, and 32 photographs. Shawn dives into pond construction covering functions, determining the best location based on distance to buildings and sun angles, evaporation, construction, size, shape, elevation in the landscape, excavation, proper slope angles and berm size, drainage and overflow (including installation of drainpipes), pumps, siphons, the use of pond liners, filling the pond, pond covers, stocking with fish, using and harvesting minnows, tadpoles, pond predators, details on 13 aquatic/wetland plants, floating transplant trays, and more.

One of the many photos giving details for rainwater collection.

One of the many photos giving details for rainwater collection.

In the chapter titled The Big Flush, Bio-Integrated Rainwater Harvesting, there is 1 diagram, 10 formulas, 11 photographs, and 15 tables/charts. Shawn goes through dry and wet systems, roof collection, sizing gutters and downspouts, filtration, storage ponds, storage tanks, tank foundation, burying tanks, installing the fittings on the tank, pond and tank safety, calculating and harvesting rainwater, water pressure and flow, gravity-flow toilets, using drip irrigation, installing and using pumps, calculating water usage, and planning for multiyear water storage.

Seriously, this is not a superficial read!

This book is a how-to guide for taking Permaculture principles and concepts and implementing them with practical and useful applications.
This book is written by a seasoned veteran of trials and failures and trials and successes.
This book truly offers something new to the Permaculture library.

I highly recommend this book!

 

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The Permaculture Wardrobe

Permaculturists frequently speak about the Permaculture Wardrobe. I first heard it from Geoff Lawton, but I am not sure if the concept originated with him. The wardrobe is an idea that describes the knowledge that can be drawn from and the skills that can be applied to a Permaculture project. I have seen the wardrobe in my head for years, and I finally decided to put pen to paper.

If we will have a chance of turning things around, everything we do must agree with Permaculture’s Three Ethics engraved at the top of the wardrobe.

I purposely do not have the doors opened all the way. This serves two purposes. First, it provides space for all the information, skills, design methods, etc. that I could never really fit in a drawing (especially that one topic that you think I left out!). Second, for me it represents that there will always be more to discover behind that door; how exciting that we never stop learning!

 

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The illustration at the top of this article is mine. Feel free to share it, but please don’t change it. If you would like to use it for a publication or project, please let me know!

 

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    Contour Gardening with Woody Beds (a.k.a. Micro-Hugelkultur)

Contour Gardening with Woody Beds (a.k.a. Micro-Hugelkultur)

Download the high-resolution image here:
Contour Gardening with Woody Beds

There has been a large interest in hugelkultur since Sepp Holzer brought the term to the Permaculture lexicon. Although it has been around for hundreds of years, hugelkultur is having a bit of a renaissance. If you are unfamiliar with the term, I have a brief article on Hugelkultur which you can read; however, it is basically a large garden bed with a wooden core. If you are familiar with the concept, then you will know that the original hugelkultur “bed” is sometimes over 6 feet (2 meters) tall! While this is a great element for a large plot of land, it is less practical for the average homeowner. Which is where today’s topic comes in to play. Americans have been scaling down hugelkultur for the last few years, so much so that maybe we need a new name… woody beds is one of the more popular alternate titles.

I’ll quote myself from another article of mine I will reference from Questions from Readers: What Trees to Use and Avoid in Hugelkultur Beds?:

The benefit of a hugelkultur bed is likely derived from numerous things. First, as the wood slowly breaks down, the rotting material acts like a sponge. This “sponge” holds on to water and slowly releases it over time. Any plants which are growing above it will be able to stay hydrated with deep roots during periods of little or no rainfall for much longer than other plants nearby. Great!

Second, as the tree rots, it will slowly be giving off nutrients, specifically nitrogen, which will act as a slow release fertilizer. Perfect!

Third, fungi are some of the key players in the rotting process. These organisms are also vital components to the underground network of soil life. When we place logs and branches underground (remember that they are already going to be inoculated with local fungus, and they will also welcome new fungi) we are jump-starting the intricate soil web of life. We are placing highways and tunnels all through the soil which will shoot these beneficial life forms under everything we grow. We are, in effect, helping to create an established forest soil in a matter of hours or days. Amazing!

There are likely many more benefits to hugelkultur and probably dozens of more things that are going on in wood and soil, but this is what we know for sure right now.

There is a growing amount written on hugelkultur that one can find if they desire, but the basics are outlined above. Now let’s get into actually using this in a practical Permaculture project!

First Step:
Download my illustration above, and use it to follow along with the videos and podcast below.

Second Step:
Watch these videos by Jack Spirko. Jack is a friend and business partner of mine, and he has been running The Survival Podcast for a number of years now. On top of that, he is really starting to become an established name in the Permaculture world. I think he has done a lot to introduce a whole new group of people to the amazing science of Permaculture. Earlier this year, he published these videos on creating woody beds for gardening. I am a very visual person, and I found these videos to be helpful. I think one day Jack will probably will get to the point where he is producing Geoff Lawton quality videos, but for now he using a small digital camera. I don’t really care… he is out there and teaching and spreading the word! With that said, I did feel this fantastic concept of contour gardening with woody beds could be better explained (and understood) if there was a good illustration. So I drew one.

Third Step:
Listen to this podcast: EPISODE-1074- CONTOUR GARDENING AND WOODY BEDS

Fourth Step:
Get outside and build your own Contour Garden with Woody Beds!

 

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Photo References: All photos/images in this article are mine. Please ask if you would like to use them for more than your own personal use!