Permaculture Projects

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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Permaculture Projects: A Moderately Large Chicken Brooder!

We have been very busy here at Bauernhof Kitsteiner (our new farm and homestead), but I wanted to take a few moments to share one of the many projects we have been working on during the last few weeks.

This is our new chicken brooder. I call it “moderately large” because size is always relative. We had some small brooders, and we are using them as nursing/hospital brooders. We will also be using our old brooders for small runs of poultry. But since we have decided, with strong encouragement from our intern Dan, to start raising broilers, we determined that a larger brooder was in order. Industrial brooders are massive, stackable, and extremely unnatural. We wanted to go with something that would be appropriate for our size, healthy for the birds, manageable by us, and within our budget to build. This is the result. It has a footprint of 8 feet x 10 feet (2.4 meters x 3 meters), and could house up to 300 chicks for their first few weeks. We are in the early experimentation stages of raising pastured chickens at our farm. It is a bit late in the season to be doing this, but we wanted to get a few batches under our belt to see if this is something we can expand upon next Spring. It is too early to give results, but we are doing well so far.

This brooder is strongly influenced by Joel Salatin’s original chicken brooder. He now uses a model similar to this as a hospital pen. Our design has taller walls and is a bit sturdier.

The taller walls (30 inches/76 cm) are to accommodate a deep litter bed. Our goal is to get to 18 inches (45 cm) of litter. We are currently using dried grass hay from our own yard (who says lawns have no place in Permaculture!). Ideally, a litter that is a bit more absorbent would be used, but this is what we have for now. It’s local and basically free. The deep litter has been shown time and again to be a healthier option for young chicks. The deep litter bed is composting, so there is a gentle warmth produced from the ground. The litter is alive with all sorts of macroscopic and microscopic life. The chicks peck away at this and gain numerous extra nutrients and probiotics. It also allows them to peck and scratch. As simple as this is, this natural behavior is often deprived of a young chick in the industrial chicken-raising systems. I firmly believe that when an animal is allowed to express its natural behaviors, it is a happier and healthier animal.


Pressure-treated wood was used as the base. Old pine planks were used for the rest of the structure.


The brooder footprint measures 8 feet x 10 feet (2.4 meters x 3 meters).

Next, we built this brooder from a mix of new and old material. Joel Salatin frequently recommends pressure-treated wood in his building projects. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t use any chemically treated wood products, but that is not where we live quite yet. In the future, I would love to use our local Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) or Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), both of which are naturally very rot resistant, but as I said, we are not quite there yet. Instead, we only used PT wood for the base. This is the wood that will be in contact with the ground, and very prone to rotting. The rest of the structure was built with old pine boards we removed from a renovation project on the farm.


We used a double collar for the center truss to keep it strong. That is, we used two short horizontal pieces of wood to support the diagonal pieces of wood that runs from the walls to the ridge beam.


Interior view of the ridge beam, a single horizontal 2×4 resting on two vertical 2×4’s, with the 1×4 trusses (diagonal pieces of wood).


For additional support on the sides, we attached another collar to the exterior trusses (after the 1-inch chicken wire was installed). This provides incredible additional support with minimal materials.


Another full image of the side wall.

We also found a 5-gallon bucket of old, exterior grade paint left behind by the prior owners of our farm. We slapped that on to give an even longer life to this structure. We also decided to move the brooder at this point. It was getter pretty heavy by now, and we still had quite a bit of wood left to add. This brooder is, technically, portable, but it is not something we will be moving often.


Planks being attached to the roof, after the brooder was moved to its “permanent” location.

Another variation to our brooder was the door system. Joel Salatin has his brooder doors hinged at the top. The door is lifted up and propped open while a person reaches inside. We changed this for a few reasons. First, our walls are significantly higher than Joel’s. We need to climb into the brooder for chick maintenance, and since the walls are higher, the door would be need to be held up significantly higher as well. Dan (our intern), my wife, and myself are not short people (we are all 6’3″ (190.5 cm) or taller), but the door would have to be propped quite high and have a very tall stick to prop it open. Plus, I really dislike things hitting me in the head, and a wooden door that slips off its support does not sound like fun. Again, since our walls are so high, the roof is also higher, so it is easier to walk around inside the brooder, even for us tall folk. We only needed a smaller access door to get in, so a lighter, side-hinged door seemed to be a better, safer option. I fashioned a simple handle with two holes drilled into the door, a rope, and a couple of knots.


The brooder with a single, side-opening door.

Next, we brought a weather-proof electrical cord to the brooder and attached it to the ceiling along the ridge beam. We hung three heat lamps to the ridge beam with some paracord. The lamps do not have light bulbs, but instead have ceramic heat emitters. These screw right in to a light bulb socket, but only produce heat. I don’t like lights on for 24 hours a day; it’s just not natural. Note that the ceramic heat emitters need a ceramic socket, not a plastic socket as the plastic may melt. The paracord, or any string or light rope, is adjustable and can be raised as the chicks grow taller. This set up is perfect for most of the “normal” times we will be raising chicks, but we are getting started with our “test batches” of chicks in late August/early September when the nightly temperatures have been dropping to the 50’60’s F (10-15 C). These small heat lamps were not quite strong enough, so we placed a cinder block in the middle of the brooder put a space heater on it. This has provided all the heat we need for now. As the chicks get older, they can handle colder temperatures, but day old chicks need a steady 90 F (32 C) temperature.


Our heat lamps with ceramic heat emitters.

You may also note the boards propped in the corners. This is to help prevent the birds from bunching in the corners and suffocating their brooder mates. We placed one board in each corner, and have not had an issue with corner suffocation.


View from the outside.


The finished brooder! (front)


The finished brooder! (back corner)

With the nighttime temperatures dropping, we also decided to staple a plastic screen over the chicken-wire walls. During the day, these are just rolled up and over the roof. At night, this prevents the warm air from escaping. We also added a corner piece of aluminum siding to the exterior ridge. This ensures no water will drip in and leak onto our electrical cords.


Plastic stapled to the walls for nighttime warmth and aluminum siding on the ridge to prevent water leaks.

Our 1 week old chicks enjoying their new home!

Our 1 week old chicks enjoying their new home! We currently have a mix of broilers and layers in the brooder.

The brooder in action!



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Photo References:

  • All photos in this article are mine. Please ask if you would like to use them.

New Permaculture Design Project!

I have just added another Permaculture Design to my page: Permaculture Design Projects

I want to remind all of my readers, both old and new, that I am always looking for more Permaculture designs.

I invite you to share your designs with me, and I will in turn post them on this page. I will remove any personal information if you would like. Some people will have amazing designs and fantastic illustrations or drawings. Others will have very basic pen and ink sketches. It doesn’t matter. Permaculture is not about presentation. It is about design! If you have photos of your design put into reality, I would love those as well. Please share your designs with the world. You may be the inspiration for another Bill Mollison or Geoff Lawton. You may have the design element someone was looking for. Please contribute to the Permaculture community!

If you are interested in contributing, please contact me!


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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.

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An Idealized Permaculture Story

I just had the 1,000th person sign up to my email list! I know, I know… for some of the larger sites this would be laughable, but for me, it is a big deal, and I am very happy! When I started this site, if someone asked me if I would have 1,000 people subscribed, to be honest, I would have said, “Yes! Of course.” I don’t think it because I am such an amazing writer. I do believe I do a good job, but I really think it is because of the subject. Permaculture is amazing! When I really began to understand Permaculture, I realized that there was a bit of a void within the subject of Permaculture. There was no central source for Permaculture information for a Temperate Climate. All I do now is share what I have been learning myself, and, as it turns out, there are a lot of other people hungry for this information, too.

With that said, I know there are a lot of new people coming to my site. It’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed with all the information available, especially between the Plant Index and the Article Index. So, I came up with an idea. What if I told a story? This story would follow a make-believe farm. We would follow its conversion from a neglected commercial farm into a thriving Permaculture system. Of course, this is not a real place, but it could be. This is a story that could happen over and over again all over the country and all over the world. Indeed, this type of story really is happening all over the world right now! That is what is so exciting to me about Permaculture.

Through this story, I will add a link to any topic that I have discussed in a prior article on this site. There are way too many articles for me to include all of them, so this story will just highlight the important concepts and popular articles I have written. You can read through it once to get the big picture and then take a break to read about a subject that interests you. This should be a great tool to introduce people to the ideas of Permaculture, so feel free to share this link with your friends.

Now, let us begin. Once upon a time…


… there was a small, traditional family farm. It was worked by the same family for four generations. About 40 years ago the original family died out. A neighboring farmer was able to buy this property in an auction, in addition to a few other neighboring properties, by going into a large amount of debt (he bought into the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz’s mantra of “Get big or get out” of farming from the 1970’s), so that he now owned close to 1,000 acres. This new farmer cleared most of the property and planted it to row crops of wheat, corn, and more recently genetically modified soy. None of the farmer’s children wanted to go into farming. His children live scattered across the country. They tried to bring the grandchildren to visit once a year, if they could, but since the farmer died two years ago, and his wife was moved into an assisted living home, no one has been to the property in quite some time. The children have been fighting over the land for the last two years, and finally, after they each got a lawyer, it was decided to subdivide the property and sell it off.

The property we bought is one of these subdivided blocks, and it is mostly the original family far. It is approximately 100 acres (40 hectares) of hills and gently sloping land. The land is almost all fields which were prior commercial annual crops, but now it is overgrown with thistle and weeds and a few woody shrubs. There are many bare patches of earth remaining and the soil is hard and compacted, with high red clay content, and very low organic matter. There is a ravine that splits the property running from north to south that used to be an all-season stream/creek years ago, but now only runs for a few days a year with heavy rains. This ravine does have quite a few mature willow trees, cottonwood, and a few oaks, as well as large stands of brambles and other weedy shrubs. The farmhouse had fallen into disrepair for the last 10 years, but has really become worse in the two years it has been empty. There are a few overgrown mature apple, European pear, and plum trees near the home and four large raised beds previously used for annual vegetables.

We started the restoration project with observation. We gathered as much information about the land and surrounding areas as we were able: slope, sun angle, wind direction, USDA Zone, AHA Heat Zone, average and maximum rainfall, etc. In an ideal scenario, we would observe the land for a year before doing any development. We considered all the information we had, and we identified the goals for the land (What do we want to do with the land?). Once we had the goals established, which were in line with Permaculture’s Prime Directive and Three Ethics, we could begin our initial framework design.  This consisted of our water systems (collection, harvesting, and slowing), our access (roads, trails, etc.), and our building areas (homes, green/glasshouses, garages, shops, etc.). We attempted to maximize edge between field and forest, road and vegetation, water and soil, etc. We then were able to identify our Permaculture Zones and Permaculture Sectors around our buildings.

With our framework design established, we could design the details (specific species and varieties of plants and seed, animal systems, energy systems, waste systems, etc.). The first major work we actually did on the property was the earthworks implementation. This involved bringing in a large excavator to perform “earth surgery”, as Geoff Lawton calls it.  If our budget or our property were small, we could do the earthworks by hand, but this would have been a lot of work and time for the size property we have. We placed swales and ponds on contour. Our design consisted of one large pond, that is almost five acres (2 hectares) in size, and eleven more ponds that are each one acre (0.4 hectares) or less in size. We planted the swales to cover crops and also planted the initial trees and shrubs for our perennial agriculture systems, including our food forests (all nine layers) and other tree crops (commercial nut and fruit crops, firewood, timber, etc.) some of which are being coppiced and pollarded. There was a focus on plants which have direct resources, but in order to create a vibrant and healthy ecosystem, we also added myriad other plants that were nitrogen fixing, pest confusing, dynamic accumulators, and attractors of beneficial insects. We also keyline plowed all the land between the swales to maximize water harvesting and soil building. We reseed as much as we could afford of the keylined pastures to a climate specific mix of pasture seed. We also create seed balls to reseed other areas of the property as time and conditions allowed. We managed our pseudo-primary succession to speed recovery and ecosystem regeneration. We also placed windbreak plants around our fields and buildings, and these plants also doubled as barriers to chemical overspray from the surrounding farmland.

We used moveable electric fencing to run about a dozen goats in the ravine that was overgrown with trees and shrubs; this was not old-growth forest. They ate down almost all the undergrowth in the first season. Most of these animals were processed on site and provide some income and a large part of our meat for that year. Other than the willows, oaks, a wild persimmon, and a few black cherry trees, most of the other trees were cut down. This opened the canopy and allowed us to plant some additional trees, shrubs, and understory plants (currants, gooseberries, elderberry, ramps, mint, ginseng, goldenseal, etc.). We obtained about ten cords of firewood (mostly ash trees but also a few box elder) that took a few years to burn through in this temperate Wintered location. We used a number of trees for growing oyster and shiitake mushrooms (delicious!), and we also set up a few mushroom patches (king stropharia, morels, etc.) in the moist conditions near the ravine.  The rest of the trees were used to build some traditional hugelkultur mounds.

After the first year, the ravine became a running stream for a few months in the Spring. After two years, the water flowed almost all the way through Summer. By the third year, the stream ran all year long (only the surface iced over in Winter). The riparian area (land along the stream) is now protected from our livestock, but the wildlife has returned to the area in force. There are deer and wild turkey that are very frequent visitors. We have also placed a number of bat houses in these trees and are continually placing mason bee homes all over the property as well. Over the years, we have had a massive increase in native bird, amphibian, reptile, and insect populations, included a few species that are threatened and endangered. The sterile, bare fields filled with corn stubble is just a memory.

We are now using mob grazing in paddock rotation with cattle, pigs, geese, and chickens in the pastures between the food forests and perennial crops. This is turning into a vibrant silvopasturing system where we will be able to feed our cattle and geese on pasture and tree forage, finish pigs on fallen nuts (chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, butternuts, etc.), and run our chickens (both broilers and egg layers) as well, but this is a multi-year process that develops as our pastures and trees mature. We are also experimenting with raising doves in dovecotes for ourselves and hope to increase the production in the next few years to start selling squab. There are six top-bar bee hives near the edge of the stream for now, and the honeybees are pollinating and producing good honey, some of which we are turning into mead.

We lived in a mobile home for a few years as we dismantled the original farmhouse that was falling apart. The basement was in good condition, so we built a hybrid straw-bale and cob home on that foundation. We are looking into constructing more alternative buildings, but we are still in the planning phase. All buildings will harvest rainwater from the roofs, and while this is just a fraction of water collected on the farm, and also just a fraction of water needed to support the farm, every little bit helps. The previous farmers’ raised beds have been removed, and we replaced them with woody annual garden beds on contour, a few planted compost circles, and a classic herb spiral. We were very fortunate (we were so excited about this!) to have found a melon living in the tangle under the overgrown plum trees. It was like nothing we had ever seen, but the flavor was sweet and fantastic. We think it had likely been an heirloom melon planted years ago that escaped, but we are not sure. We have been in contact with Seed Savers Exchange to determine if this is an already recognized variety or a brand new one. We have been growing it out for the last few seasons, and the kids love it.

Speaking of children, unlike the previous farm, our farm constantly has kids visiting. We run regular Permaculture courses and welcome families to stay as well. In addition, we have families stopping by to directly purchase meat and produce, and they often stay for an hour or more exploring the farm on trails we have established for visitors. We also have extended family living with us, which has worked out better than any of us expected. The variety of jobs we all have keep us from ever getting bored, but we have plenty of time to relax and enjoy the process of growing with the land, our family, and our friends. We are able to feel the sense of place we have here, and that is a beautiful part of this process.

We have built a thriving farm that continues to be profitable and supports many families. We are raising healthy food in a humane manner. We have restored ecosystems and native habitat. We have regenerated the land while providing for all its inhabitants. This is Permaculture!



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Photo Reference:

  • (the “after” photo is of New Forest Farm in Wisconsin. This permaculture farm is the product of Mark Shepard’s work. Learn more at: )


Permaculture Project: Harvesting and Using Wild Chicory



About a month ago, I noticed multiple Chicory plants popping up in my yard (please see my prior article on Permaculture Plants: Chicory). For those that don’t know, my family and I are currently renting a home in the Azores. The “yard” is a rather large, traditional English-like garden, but with more sub-tropical and maritime plants. It is not my ideal from a Permaculture perspective, but we do with what we have. Well, as I saw the Chicory spring up across the grass, I immediately thought of a few things:

First – the soil must be compacted. Chicory is a “weed” that grows in poor soils. It has a deep tap-root that can break through the hard soil and mine for water and nutrients. Chicory pops up where soil conditions do not allow many other plants to grow. Knowing what I do of the soil under the layer of grass in my yard, I would have to agree with the Chicory’s selection of this soil!

Second – the Chicory is mining nutrients. It is known as a “dynamic accumulator”. (please see my prior article on the subject of Dynamic Accumulators for more information on this topic.) I decided I would let it grow a bit and build up lots of nutrients before I cut them back.

Third – the root of the Chicory can be made into a coffee additive or substitute. The roasted and ground root was used by American colonists to stretch their meager coffee supplies. It was used as an additive or on its own during many points in history where politics deprived people from drinking their coffee. This was a common occurrence in France, and some continued the use of Chicory due to perceived health benefits and acquired taste. With such a strong French influence, New Orleans has continued to drink Chicory coffee for the last 200 years. I have never tried this drink. It appears the land was giving me this opportunity!

So this is what I did…


I pulled up the plant, root and all. If you grab the entire plant and pull straight up, steadily and slowly, you can get the entire root out of the ground… I had about an 80% success rate. Any plants where the root broke off at ground level, I just left in place. If it rots in place, that will help the soil. If it grows back, then I’ll just harvest it later!


Here is my collection of Chicory plants from my yard.


The tops were cut off and thrown into the compost pile.


I then scrubbed the roots to get all the soil off. This was the most time consuming part of the process. I ended up using a plastic bristle brush and that worked very well. I placed the quarter in there for size comparison. These are pretty deep roots for a small “weed” that has not been growing very long. What a great plant!


I chopped up the roots with a heavy, sharp knife so that the roasting would be more even.


The root pieces were roasted for about 90 minutes in a 350 F (180 C) oven.

A few comments first:

  • Raw Chicory root that has been cleaned has a very pleasant odor to it. Reminds me of a nutty fig wood or ficus sap. Fruity, woody, and nutty.
  • Raw Chicory root tastes awful! It is very, very bitter. I rarely spit food out, but I had to with this one. I kept chewing and chewing, hoping there would be some sweetness or other flavor come through. Nope! Just bitter! I don’t recommend doing this.
  • The smell of the Chicory roasting filled my house with an amazing nutty, coffee, chocolate smell. Hard to describe, but amazing.
  • Many sites recommend grinding the root before brewing, but a few said you need a strong grinder. Also, there were a number of sites that just used the roasted roots as they were. I have a good, but not strong coffee grinder I use for spices… a lot. I didn’t want to burn it out grinding up something that looked like pieces of wood. I went ahead I made the coffee with just the roasted chunks of Chicory root.

Chicory Coffee:

  • I poured about 12 ounces (350 ml) boiling water over 2 tablespoons of root.
  • The water turned brown almost immediately.
  • I left it to steep for about 12 minutes (10-15 minutes is most commonly recommended). The water was now very dark brown/black.
  • I divided this into four mugs.
    • First – plain/straight: great flavor, but a bit strong for me
    • Second – with about 1 teaspoon dark molasses (this is considered the traditional American colonist’s method): had a good flavor and had a good level of sweetness, but the molasses was too much for me.
    • Third – with about 1 teaspoon of local honey: very good
    • Fourth – with about 1 teaspoon of local honey and 2 tablespoons organic whole milk: my favorite! Tastes like a mix between a nutty coffee and a strong tea
  • My next batch will be mixed with regular coffee.

This was an easy project. It was fun, made the house smell great, and gave a great end product. Plus, I have quite a few servings left over stored in an airtight, glass jar in my pantry. I got rid of a “weed” which my landlord will like, and I added a bunch of nutrient-rich material to my compost pile. What a great, easy Permaculture Project! Cheers!


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Photo References:

  • All photos are mine. Please ask if you would like to use them. Thanks!


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    Making a Mushroom Patch: King Stropharia (Garden Giant) Mushrooms

Making a Mushroom Patch: King Stropharia (Garden Giant) Mushrooms

I wanted to write a quick article outlining how I created my new mushroom patch over the weekend. This is an experiment, for as far as I can tell, there has not been any mushroom cultivation on this island in the Azores. The Azoreans as a whole are fairly fungophobic (please see my article on Fighting Fungophobia for more details). If there has been mushroom cultivation on any of the Azorean islands, I am fairly certain it was not for edible, gourmet mushrooms, if you know what I mean.

For those of you who have never attempted growing your own mushrooms, the idea can seem a bit overwhelming. I will take you through how I set up my patch, step by step. It is really rather simple. In my opinion, there should be at least one Mushroom Patch in every garden around the world.

Before I begin, I want to explain two things. First, I ordered my mushroom spawn from Fungi Perfecti. This fantastic company has always had great customer service and quality products. I highly recommend them. Second, I plan on performing a number of experiments with a variety of mushroom species. I will share those projects as well. I chose to start with Stropharia rugosoannulata, also known as the King Stropharia, the Garden Giant, Wine Cap Stropharia, and Burgundy Mushroom. This mushroom is delicious, but not nearly well known as it should be. It reportedly can grow in a wide range of conditions which is one of the reasons I am starting my mushroom patch experiments with it.

So let me show you how easy this is…


This is the box shipped in from Fungi Perfecti.


Inisde the box was this plastic bag filled with wood chips and sawdust, white with King Stropharia mycelium!


Here is the location of the mushroom bed. Just next to my compost bin. Close enough for regular monitoring and watering (if needed), but out of the way.


I removed the grass and any sticks and large rocks from the area. It is 3 feet square (0.9 meters). I obtained one bucket (about 5 gallons or 19 L) of sawdust and two buckets of woodchips, all from the local Azorean Fire Tree (Myrica faya). The Myrica genus are contains the Bayberry, Wax-Myrtle, and Sweet Gale trees. This was the only source I could find that would not be tainted with the mycelium repellant wood of the cypress trees on this island. This project would not have been possible without the help of a fellow Permaculturist, Avelino, who has a small farm near my home.


Once the patch was cleared, one half of the woodchips were placed on the patch area.


Then one half of the sawdust was added to the patch.


Next, I crumbled the mushroom spawn (the white block in the photo above) over the patch and watered everything until it was wet to the soil underneath.


I then added the remaining woodchips and sawdust over the spawn.


Finally, I mixed all the layers together very well to evenly distribute the spawn, and then I watered it all again very well.


King Stropharia does not grow well in direct sunlight. You can see from the shadows, that at least half of the bed would receive significant light each day. I constructed a frame with a piece of metal tubing I found lying around and a few canes of Giant Reed growing near my house that I had saved and dried from last year.


The last step was to place an old tarp over the frame and lash it down. You can see that the whole patch is in shade. Now comes the waiting!

So that is it. I plan to keep the wood chips moist, but not wet for a few months. Hopefully, the Winter rains will be starting at about that time, so I will not need to do any significant watering to induce fruiting. A fairly easy project for an afternoon.

Why don’t you grow your own?


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Photo References:

  • All other photos are mine. Please ask if you would like to use them. Thanks!


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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:

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!


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    Why am I so passionate about Permaculture? A photo answer…

Why am I so passionate about Permaculture? A photo answer…

This was an image I put together last week. I posted it to Facebook, and in just over 3 days I have over 12,000 views. Pretty cool!

I’m not in the habit of quoting myself, but I thought I would provide a little of what prompted me to put it together in the first place, so I put the following statement with it:

Why am I so passionate about Permaculture?
History provides enough reasons.
Let us be intentional about our future.
–John Kitsteiner, 2013


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Happy Permaculture Day… Earn your PDC!


Today, 5 May 2013, is International Permaculture Day!

Please head over to  to see if there are any events near you. If you can’t make it to any local events, then please check out There will be events taking place around the world which will be broadcasted for 24 hours… and you can go back to the events that you missed.


Geoff Lawton, director of the Permaculture Research Institute.

So what, you may ask, will I be doing on International Permaculture Day? Starting an online Permaculture Design Course taught by Geoff Lawton! This course was just opened for the first time yesterday, and the enrollment is almost closed. If you have any interest in this, please check out

Happy Permaculture Day!

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