The Best Online Permaculture Design Course

When it comes to choosing the best online permaculture design course, quality design of the course structure is paramount, as the lack of a physical classroom can make it hard to get in the studying groove.

Take it from me- I was looking for an extremely detailed, top-notch course to take while working a 40+ hour per week job and maintaining a decent work-life-education balance.

After spending many hours reading reviews and course promotions, I finally settled on Geoff Lawton’s online permaculture design course 2.0. And boy did I make the right choice!

In order to help you make the decision to commit your hard-earned money and more importantly your time to a course, I decided to write up a testimonial and long-form review of Geoff’s course- what I liked, why I liked it, what I learned, and what I’m up to now.

I also filmed a short video testimonial if you’re more into brevity, which you can find below.

Here’s my video testimonial for Geoff Lawton’s online permaculture design course.

Geoff Lawton’s Online Permaculture Design Course


As I mentioned above, one of the most important things for me when looking for the best online permaculture design course (OPDC) was a well designed structure. With limited time in my busy life, each and every minute I commmited to the course had to be well spent to make it worth my time.

Geoff’s OPDC delivers on that front. The course is divided into 14 modules that follow the chapters of Bill Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual- the cornerstone and original manual on permaculture design. Geoff was actually one of Bill’s most dedicated students and uses Mollison’s work as the backbone for his course.

Permaculture Designer's Manual
The OG permaculture design education

Now, when I say the modules follow the permaculture designer’s manual (PDM), I mean it. Most of the chapter headings and subheadings within the book are used almost word for word (with permission!) in the course. Since Mollison’s PDM is still the foundation of most quality permaculture education, you know immediately that Geoff’s OPDC is legit.

If you’ve ever tried to read through Bill’s PDM, you’ll know that the level of detail within the text is daunting. Tiny print spread over almost 600 pages with somewhat dated language can make it a challenge to get through.

Well, Geoff takes all that material chapter by chapter and somehow makes it seem like obvious knowledge through filmed blackboard presentations and animations. His way of describing complex topics in simple ways makes it easy for anyone interested in permaculture to understand, whether you’re an amateur or complete novice.

But why take my word for it? Check out this lecture pulled straight from the course on one of the most complex topics in permaculture- pattern understanding.

This is one of my favorite lectures from the course!

Self-Paced Learning

Each module is released weekly over approximately 6 months according to a syllabus with strategic catch-up weeks included. If the module is particularly loaded, sometimes only a portion of the content is released so as not to overwhelm the students with the sheer volume of education.

Modules are usually released every Friday knowing that most people taking the course are also working a full time job during the week.

Once the content is released, students have the whole week to watch through the module, rewatch if desired, take notes, and come up with questions on their own schedule. Usually the content released equates to about 6–10 hours of lesson time including watch time, notes, questions, etc.

Questions & Answers

Below each section within the module is a comment section powered by Disqus where students can ask specific questions based on the video lesson or animation. These questions are answered remarkably quickly by a team of permaculture teaching assistants (TAs), allowing students to get quick answers to their questions no matter where they are in the course.

The comments section is often where I solidified my understanding of the content presented by reading through questions posed by other students, adding my own, and reading through the detailed responses by Geoff and the TA team. I would constantly be checking the comment sections whenever I had time to see what new knowledge was there to be gained.

Geoff Lawton's online permaculture design course is the best online permaculture design course
Thanks Geoff & crew for letting me use this image!

Any repeated questions or those that would be useful to overall student understanding are added to a list of questions that Geoff personally answers weekly through a separate q&a video. This video is released each Friday with the module release, giving students the opportunity to revisit past lessons to solidify understanding before moving onto the next module.

The q&a videos are sometimes longer than the actual video content of the module, showing how much care and attention the team puts into student understanding. The q&a recordings are also offered as downloadable audio files, allowing you to save them and listen to them during your commute or at your leisure throughout the week.

Solidifying Knowledge

At the end of each module are two extra sections to help students check in on their understanding.

The first of these is a knowledge check- basically a quiz that covers the content from the related module. These quizzes are not graded, but allow the student to see what topics may need a second viewing or review before moving on to the next module.

The second is a list of practical activites that help students to put into action the information gleaned from the relavant module. These can be as simple as an observation activity or more hands-on like building an a-frame level to measure contour aross a landscape.

Measuring contour should be easy here!
Practical activities include measuring landscape contours…which should be fairly easy here!

After going through the module, asking questions, hearing the responses, taking knowledge checks, and doing practical activities, I personally felt more and more comfotable with my understanding of permaculture as the course went on.

One suggestion I have if you are planning on taking this course is to watch each video in the module casually, perhaps while eating or in the background to wrap your head around everything covered that week. AFTER that, go back and watch through the videos a second time while taking detailed notes.

I found the first watch to be an introduction and the second viewing more like the actual lesson. This double watch really aided my understanding of the concepts being taught, as there is SO MUCH information being shared in the course that I found I was able to hear more details on the second watch through that I may have missed the first time.


One of the main reasons I believe that this is the best online permaculture design course is the level of community interaction that Geoff and the team are able to provide despite not being an in-person course.

I find it’s easier to learn new subjects when I have other students to bounce ideas off of and interact with.

Well, this is included in the design of the course via a private facebook group associated with the course. All registered students are able to join the private group and interact socially outside of the actual course platform.

Within the Facebook group, students share the projects they’re working on, questions they have that don’t pertain specifically to the lesson content, and helpful resources or articles found while moving along their permaculture journeys. I even managed to meet up with a few of the students from my cohort that lived in the same area as I did during the course!

the best online permaculture design course designs for community
The amount of community interaction was one of the main reasons I chose Geoff’s OPDC

A group of TAs also monitor the facebook group to give helpful hints and words of wisdom, though the group is primarily geared towards being a student-led discussion, knowledge share, and community interaction.

Within the course platform itself, the teaching assistants spend countless hours answering questions and interacting with students using the Disqus comment platform. Each and every comment within the course is read by a TA and responded to (if a response is warranted).

I found that the interactions with the TAs in the course took my level of understanding from the main lessons and amplified it, allowing me to understand concepts that I wouldn’t necessarily fully understand just by watching the module videos. I also became friends with quite a few of them!

Quality Content

The level of knolwedge that Geoff and the TAs bring to the table speaks to the quality of the content alone.

On top of that, the actual digital media content within the course is top notch. Filmed and edited by professional content producers, the audio and videos within the course are of the highest quality, making watching and listening to the lessons enjoyable instead of cringeworthy like a lot of online video content.

On top of that, each module contains supporting animations that cover topics within the lesson that are easier to show off-camera. The animations are beautiful and fun to watch while reinforcing the understanding of the course content in short, bite-sized pieces.

When filming the q&a videos, Geoff has a camera crew with him to be sure that even the unique course content is well produced and worth listening to.

Final Design Exercise

Once all 14 modules have been released and watched, the final step is to show your understanding of the course content through the Final Design Exercise (FDE).

Permaculture Design Drawings
One of my sketches for the FDE, a little worn! This was for a small portion of my overall design.

Developed over years of experience in permaculture design education and consultation, Geoff’s approach to design is neatly packaged into a PDF form that guides students step by step from initial client brief to a full fledged design.

The FDE form is divided into 4 main sections, and Geoff walks you through each in a video instruction just like the course content. If any questions remain, the comment section below these videos is monitored by the TAs throughout the 6 month window to complete and submit your final design exercise.

That’s right. Geoff and the team give you a full 6 months to complete your design, allowing pleny of time for reasearch, site visits, or anything else you need to get a grasp of the information needed to complete the design. During these 6 months, you still have access to all of the course material to revisit for inspiration or to review key concepts you’ll need to complete the FDE.

Within the final design exercise guidelines are examples of FDEs from previous students that received their permaculture design certification from Geoff. These resources are a boon when you’re trying to put together the requisite maps and detailed information before submitting your design.

House with lawn waiting for a permaculture design
Imagine the permaculture design possibilities for this common home! The FDE will guide you along the design process, transforming lawn in to production and roofs into water catchment.

If you’re stuck at any point or need some help along the way, Geoff and the TAs are available and committed to your success and are there to help guide you through the process.

Once you’ve submitted the final design exercise, the FDE review team thoroughly reviews your submission and assesses course understanding and soundness of design. If your design isn’t quite up to par, an email with feedback is delivered detailing what you missed or what needs to change in order to pass.

Once your design merits a pass, a digital permaculture design certificate is delievered to your email accredited by the Permaculture Research Institute, one of the most renowned permaculture organizations in the world. And thus continues your permaculture journey.

My Personal Course Outcomes

Now that I’ve given you my full review and testimonial, I wanted to share a bit about what I’ve gotten up to since taking Geoff Lawton’s online permaculture design course.

Backing up slightly, before taking the course, I worked onboard cruise ships as a theatrical technician and began to recognize the massive amount of waste and pollution these floating cities created. I needed a change, so my buddy and I took a backpacking trip through Africa in 2015. While work trading in South Africa on a small homestead, we learned of permaculture through our host who happened to have taken Geoff Lawton’s first online permaculture design course. This experience changed the trajectory of my life, and permaculture became a new obsession (aka passion).

I completed Geoff’s OPDC in 2017. The knowledge and practical skills I gleaned from the course helped me carry out my job at the time as lead grounds technician at a nonprofit organic farm. While there, I also helped form a local non-profit club dedicated to permaculture education within our city and county.

In September 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria slammed the island of Puerto Rico a decimated the island. Having ties to the island through childhood and the fact that my mom lives there, I took 3 weeks leave to visit and help with the recovery. While there, I recognized a need for permaculture thinking and a desire from people to learn more on the subject of self-reliance and food production.

When I returned home, I chatted with my partner Katy and we decided to move to Puerto Rico the following year! We’ve been on island since the beginning of 2019.

Katy and I exploring a coffee plantation
Exploring a coffee plantation with my love in Puerto Rico.

Now, I’m helping my family here develop food security through food production systems on their 6 acre tropical homestead. I also work with a local non-profit dedicated to teaching local communities how to grow their own food.

Geoff often says that a good permaculture teacher creates other permaculture teachers. Well I’m here to tell you that is certainly the case. Staring in 2019, I started serving as a teaching assistant for Geoff’s online permaculture design course. This is perhaps the most rewarding and educational roles I’ve played so far in my permaculture journey, and I hope to continue serving future students in the years to come.

I’ve also started this website, of course, and a youtube vlog where I’m sharing what I’m doing here in Puerto Rico, including growing my own food and raising chickens in my small backyard. You can check it out here.

Wrapping up- The Best Online Permaculture Design Course

I hope this review/testimonial has helped you with your decision process for which online permaculture design course is right for you. If you have any questions for me personally or want some more information about Geoff Lawton’s online permaculture design course, please feel free to comment below or head on over to my contact page.

If you’d like to sign up for the course, you can use my affiliate link (or any of the links to the course page in this post) to support this website and what I’m doing here and in the vlog.

Thanks for reading!

NOTE: As mentioned above, all of the links to the course used in this post are affiliate links. If you purchase the course using one of my links, I may receive a commission, which helps support running this site and my vlog. Thanks!

The Difference Between Compost and Fertilizer

A common queston for farmers and gardeners alike is what is the difference between compost and fertilizer.

To answer this question, we’ll first have to differentiate between inorganic and organic fertlizers and then explore what compost is in greater deatail. Let’s get started.


A fertilizer, in basic terms, is plant food. It’s a compound that is meant to help plants grow by providing macro- and micro-nutrients.

Fertilizers come in two main forms- inorganic and organic. Organic nutrients are generally derived from plants or animals, hence the name “organic” meaning derived from living matter. These fertilizers tend to deliver nutrients to plants in slow-release form because they depend on the soil life to help make their components plant-available.

Inorganic fertilzers are composed of chemicals or minerals that are not derived from living matter (“in” meaning not, organic defined above). Typically fast-acting, inorganic fertilizers can feed the plant directly because they come in water-soluble form. Once applied to the soil, the plant is able to absorb the nutrients through its roots.

At first glance, you may think fast-acting nutrient delivery would be ideal for your plants, but these inorganic fertlizers come with a few negative “side effects” for your soil.

Inorganic Fertlizers

The chemical makeup that allows inorganic fertilizers to be water soluble also causes quite a few problems for soil life. This is because soluble nutrients are in fact SALTS.

Salts are detrimental to your soil in many ways, but first and foremost, salts take water and make it unavailable for plants. This can be explained using the ocean as an example.

Soluble nutrients are salts
All soluble nutrients are salts (not all are table salt)

Despite being plentiful, ocean water is salty and unavailable to humans as drinking water unless desalinated. That’s because salts in excess quantities are toxic to humans, and the same is true of plants.

The main salt is oceans is sodium chloride (NaCl), also known as table salt. Without getting too deep into the chemistry, sodium chloride (and all salts) are readily available to bond with water molecules due to the charges associated with the bonds between the salt atoms. When salt is added to water (H2O), it bonds with the either the oxygen atom or the two hydrogen atoms of the water molecule and renders that water unavilable to humans and plants.

Well, the same thing happens in soils when soluble nutrients in the form of inorganic fertilizers are added to soil. The salts bind with the water in the soil and make it unavailable to the plants. Over time and with repeated applications, the soil becomes more and more salty, which can lead to desertification as water becomes unavailble to the plants despite being present in the soil.

The difference between compost and soil- tractor spreading inorganic fertilizer
Adding salts in the form of inorganic fertilizers decreases water availability

On top of that, the soluble nutrients now bonded to water molecules are able to be washed away in rain events, causing the inorganic nutrients to leech away from where they were applied into the local watersheds. Downstream, huge problems are created as excess nutrients can cause algal blooms, as evidenced in the Gulf of Mexico and along other great river basins where conventional agriculture is the norm.

Just this fact alone should be reason not to use inorganic fertlizers, as it does not follow the ethic of Earth Care as taught in permaculture design. But there’s more problems with inorganic fertilizers.

Side Effects on the Soil Food Web

The soil is a living organism made up of bacteria & fungi, their predators, their predator’s predators, and so on up to worms, ants, beetles, bugs, spiders and more. Together, these organisms are known as the soil food web and are responsible for making nutrients within the soil available to your plants.

Inorganic fertlizers cause major damage to the delicate structure of the soil and the organisms living within it.

Take Gypsum, a common soil additive/fertlizer used in agriculture. In chemical terms, gypsum is Calcium Sulphate (CaSO4). Sulphates are commonly used in industrial agriculture as a fungicide, or a chemical that kills fungi. By adding gypsum to your soil, you’re adding a fungicide that will have a very detrimental effect on the fungi population within the soil.

Gypsum contains sulphate, a fungicide that damages the soil food web
Sulphates are a fungicide and damage fungal networks

“So what?,” you might ask. Well, fungi, unlike bacteria, take longer to colonize soil but play a much larger role in long-term nutrient availability and carbon storage within the soil. Plus, fungi do a great job at building soil structure across large areas of land. By applying a fungicide (anything ending in -sulphate), you’re decreasing available nutrient in your soil, destroying soil structure, and decreasing your carbon sequestration potential.

This is one example of the side effects that one inorganic fertilizer has. Adding more would simply be repeating the same idea over and over. The general message is that inorganic fertilizers cause major damage to both the soil structure and the organisms that work hard to make sure your plants have what they need to grow abundantly.

“Green” Revolution

Most of today’s industrial conventional agriculture’s dependence on inorganic fertlizers dates back to the end of World War II.

Ammunitions manufacturers suddenly lost the majority of the demand for their product and were left with huge stockpiles of nitrogen-rich materials to make gunpowder, mainly in the forms of sulphur and potassium nitrate.

Being savvy business owners and with the help of the government, these companies recognized that their raw materials could provide the key macronutrients that plants need to grow: Nitrogen, Potassium, and Sulphur. And thus, the beginnings of the green revolution in agriculture.

the difference between compost and fertilizer- corn powered by chemicals
Corn production powered by inorganic fertilizers

Record production of corn and soy followed appications of the newly made fertilizers, and record profits began to be recorded in peacetime by the same companies that profited off of the wartime efforts.

Little did they know (or did they?) the new industrial food production boom would lead to the destruction of soils and environments throughout the United States and across the globe.

Organic Fertilizers

Put simply, organic fertilizers are nutrients derived from living organic matter, usually from plants or animals.

Organic fertlizers and soil ammendments depend on soil life to break down the component within the fertlizers, and thus are considered “slow release.” You can think of organic fertlizers essentially as concentrated organic matter high in essential plant nutrients.

So the focus here is still on feeding the plant, rather than the soil, but those nutrients need to be processed by the soil food web in order to become plant-available (Keep this point in mind as you continue reading).

While most organic fertilizers tend to be more beneficial than inorganic fertlizers, there are some things to note when considering whether to use them on your property.


Peat is one of the most common organic fertlizers/soil ammendments out there and is used abundantly. It doesn’t necesssarily add nutrients but it helps add organic material to the soil and increases its water holding capacity.

The problem with using peat is that it’s typically mined from peat bogs. These ecosystems are very fragile, unique, and take a very long time to develop, making them a limited resource similar to fossil fuels. Sure, we can mine them now and use it while it’s in abundance, but the degradation of these ecosystems will come at a cost.

Peat harvested from a peat bog
Peat bogs are fragile ecosystems that take a long time to develop

In general, if destroying ecosystems to mine a product that we can easily replace in our systems should be avoided. Adding organic matter sourced locally would work just as well and would have a much smaller ecological impact. If you happen to live on a peat bog and use the resource wisely, you may be the exception to the rule here!

Animal-based products

Many organic fertlizers are derived from animals, like feather, blood, and bone meals. There’s nothing inherently wrong with using these byproducts from animal processing, but it’s worth noting a few things.

Most (not all) animal-based organic fertilizers originate from industrial scale animal farming and processing facilities. These CAFOs and factory farms are ethically questionable and often have huge negative climate impacts.

Cows at a CAFO
A CAFO is a controlled animal feeding operation, often used on factory farms.

Buying products from these facilities indirectly supports the continuation of these practices and should be questioned. Sure, you’re keeping these products from going to a landfill and that’s commendable, but is it worth the global price we pay for continuing to support these facilties.

The same general idea goes for manure products. It’s up the buyer to choose where he or she stands on the spectrum. If you’re going to use an organic animal-based fertilizer, try to understand where it came from. Is there a small local farm that produces similar products that you can source from? Can you find farms that are practicing regenerative agriculture and are certified-humane instead? These are just questions to guide you through your decision making process on using these organic fertlizers.

Sewage Sludge

It may sound like the last thing you’d put on your garden, but the byproducts from wastewater facilities are high in organic material and are often available for free or very cheap and advertised as a fertilizer.

If your local wastewater facility is offering this product, they will (hopefully) have to prove that their product does not contain pathogens or negative chemicals in the mix. That being said, I personally would not use these products directly on my garden just knowing where it originated from.

I would, however, use it as a base material for a compost pile, which brings us at last to…

Compost and the Soil Food Web

By now, you’ve heard me mention the soil food web a few times. The reason behind this is that compost cannot exist without the soil food web.

So what is the soil food web? For the sake of this post I’ll simplify and say that the soil food web is the group of aerobic organisms that are responsible for primary nutrient cycling in soils.

Similar to the food webs you learned about in grade school, the soil food web consists of primary consumers (bacteria and fungi), secondary consumers (protozoa, nematodes, etc.), tertiary consumers (micro-arthropods, etc.), and so on.

Knowing that, we can move onto the definition of compost and at last find out the difference between compost and fertilizer.


Compost is the result of aerobic decomposition of a mix of organic material. Let’s break that down.

Aerobic means that oxygen is present in adequate amounts (greater than 6ppm). Decomposition means breaking down and is carried out by the microorganisms in the soil food web. These first two terms imply that the soil food web must an aerobic environment and does not function in anaerobic conditions.

A mix of organic material allows for a large diversity of foods for the soil food web to chow down on. The organic material is the food that the bacteria and fungi feed on within compost piles.

The bacteria and fungi are then consumed by their predators. When the predators eat their fill and digest, they need to release the waste material (much as we need to do after a big meal). The resulting waste, or “poop” to put it colloquially, is in the form or plant-available nutrients.

Active aerobic compost pile
Compost turns waste organic matter into garden gold

So compost is the result of an aerobic composting process where the organisms from the soil food web break down organic matter and turn it into plant-available nutrient.

What’s responsible for the breakdown of the organic material? Bacteria and Fungi. What’s responsible for making nutrients available for the plants? The predators of the bacteria and fungi. We call this process the “poop loop.”

So compost is really an inoculum of beneficial organisms plus organic material that will take your parent mineral material (sand/silt/clay) plus soil organic matter and turn it into plant food.

Soil Food Web

Based on the definition above, it should be apparent that in nature, the soil food web is what feeds your plants. They take the raw minerals from your soil and whatever organic material is present and turn it into plant-available nutrients.

And you don’t even need to pay them for their work! Once established, all they need is a regular input of organic material (mulch or leaves in the fall), enough water to keep things going, and plants to occupy the soil.

The Difference Between Compost and Fertilizer

By now, I expect you can begin to understand the difference between compost and fertilizer.

Fertlizer is plant food in organic or inorganic form. It focuses on feeding the PLANT, not the soil. Organic fertilizers add raw “food” to your soil for the organisms to break down, but it’s really the organisms themselves that are doing the work.

Compost is a product of aerobic decomposition of a mix of organic material that, when processed properly, serves as an inoculum of beneficial microbes from the soil food web coupled with organic matter.

Compost is the ULTIMATE “fertilizer” as it adds the microbes that create plant-available nutrients from the soil minerals and organic matter.

Focusing on the SOIL using the biological approach instead of focusing on the plants will increase production, minimize disease, improve soil structure and water retention, increase carbon storage, among other benefits.

Dr. Elaine Ingham's Soil Food Web School
Focusing on soil biology and the soil food web will benefit your garden for years to come.

If you’re interested in learning more, I would highly recommend Dr. Elaine Ingham’s course on the Soil Food Web. I took this course personally and found it to be the most valuable education I’ve ever received. Understaning the soil food web and its role in food production, mitigating cliamte change, and improving water quality is exactly what is needed in today’s climate.

If you have questions about the course or want more information, please reach out in the comments or on the contact page. Please note that I am an affiliate for Dr. Ingham’s course, and if you sign up through my link here or above, I’ll receive a kickback which helps support this site and the work I’m doing.

Wrapping up: The Difference Between Compost and Fertilizer

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s post and have a better understanding of the difference between compost and fertilizer.

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments or head on over to the contact page.

Thanks for reading!

Permaculture Ethics- Return of the Surplus

Today I’ll be discussing one of the permaculture ethics- return of the surplus. Check out the vlog post below and please like and subscribe to the channel if you like what you see!

Permaculture Ethics Overview

The permaculture design methodology is grounded by three main ethics that guide all decisions made during the design process- Earth Care, People Care, and Return of the Surplus. This final ethic is also known as Fair Share or Future Care and is often the one that most people have a hard time understanding.

The ethics are written in order of importance and must be followed as a set. Let’s take a look at the first two ethics before diving into the third more deeply.

Earth Care

The first ethic, Earth Care, has to do with taking care of the Earth both globally and locally. This ethic is paramount to all decisions made in permaculture design.

When designing or carrying out activities on your farm, homestead, or backyard, consider how your actions may be affecting the land- both positively and negatively. Not all actions can be considered positive (take plowing for example), but one negative action may lead to the potential of more positive actions. The goal is to have a net positive effect on the land based on the design choices you make.

Take the plowing example above- in general, plowing disturbs soil structure, killing soil life for the benefit of looser soil to plant into. If you plow on a regular basis and produce food using conventional agricultural methods, you’ll be constantly degrading soil quality and leaving behind a net negative effect on the land.

regular plowing does not permaculture ethics
Regular plowing and conventional agriculture destroys soil structure

However, using a plow once to prepare a compacted, degraded area for perennial food production may yield a net positive result on the land over the lifetime of that project. The fossil fuels burned to run the tractor to plow the land can be mitigated by a long term increase in soil health through carbon sequestration, nitrogen fixation, and fungal pathway development through perennial food production and holistic management.

Keeping the Earth care ethic in mind when designing a property helps you make informed choices over the lifetime of the project. If your primary goal is to leave the land you’re working on better than you found it, the actions you take will be following the ethic of Earth Care.

People Care

Permaculture is a human-centric design methodology. It recognizes that humans are the primary contributors to potential land and soil degradation while also understanding that we can be the biggest benefactors to the land.

The people care ethic teaches us to create systems that provide for all of human’s needs while still protecting the deliate balance of the ecosystems around us. Remember, the ethics are in order of importance- Earth first, people second.

It also guides our decision making processes for how to provide for all of our needs. If producing enough food for our population results in exploitation of humans through poor working conditions or inequality, we are not following the ethic of people care.

Using permaculture design methodolgies, we focus on how to provide an abundance of clean air, clean water, nutrient rich foods, sensible shelter, and perhaps most importantly a deep connection to other people through community.

Community supports the last of the permaculture ethics-return of the surplus
Life’s more fulfilling with a community to share it with

Taking care of your family and the community around you becomes very important when following the people care ethic. Permaculture is not an individualistic endeavor- it requires community

Sharing, instead of hoarding, becomes routine when following the people care ethic, which relates directly to the third permaculture ethic- return of the surplus.

Permaculture Ethics- Return of the Surplus

Now, let’s dive deep into the final ethic, known as return/redistribution of the surplus, fair share, or future care.

This is perhaps the least understood of the three permaculture ethics, as apparent by the various phrases its known by listed above.

To put it simply, the third ethic has to do with keeping our design systems running indefinitely. Let’s use banking as a metaphor to help explain.

Natural Capital

Say you have a savings account with a nice nest egg to support you in times of need. That resource (money) is stored in your bank and collects interest slowly over time.

One day, you decide to dip into that account because there’s a new product that you’ve been eyeing for some time and can’t wait to have, so you withraw some funds, make the purchase and carry on with life. Let’s say this happens a few times over a few months.

When you get your bank statement, you realize you’ve pulled out much more than you thought without adding back into that savings account, and your funds are dangerously low. Your balance decreases with each withdrawal, and without adding back to your account, there will be a net decrease in value.

return of the surplus metaphor- money growing on trees
Money doesn’t grow on trees, but the natural capital principle abides.

The same principles apply to permaculture design. When we harvest from the land, be it vegetables, fruits, eggs, meat, hay, or anything else, we are withdrawing from our natural capital. Mineral nutrients, carbon, water and other resources are used to produce those products and they all come originally from the soil.

The occasional harvest would likely result in very little change to the overall balance of your landscape. But over time, regular harvests begin to take a toll as you export material from the land to your plate or elsewhere. Your account begins to deplete until it can no longer support your needs, and the system fails.

Return of the Surplus

The third permaculture ethic requires that you continue adding into your natural capital savings account.

Say you’re growing corn. Once you’ve harvested your ears and have enjoyed them, shared some with your community, and saved some seeds for next year, all of the bulk organic material from the stalks should be returned to the soil. This can be as easy as chopping it into small pieces and leaving it on the ground or a little more complex by composting the stalks and returning the surplus as finished compost to your bed.

On my backyard homestead, I use my chicken compost system to do the work for me. All of the food scraps or excess food that we dont eat goes to the chickens. They’ll eat what they want to and scratch the rest of it into their deep bedding. I also add all the bulk organic material from weeding beds and doing yard cleanup into the chicken pen as food and extra bedding. Anything I take from the land ends up either in the kitchen or in the chicken pen.

Managing my Chicken Compost System
The chickens produce compost while I journal in the hammock

Eventually, I harvest this bedding and bulk organic matter and use it as a base material for a compost pile that I build within the chicken pen. As the compost matures, the chickens become more and more interested in it as any seeds present start to germinate and bugs start to make their way into the pile.

Once complete, the resulting compost is returned to the garden beds and around trees throughout the property, replacing the nutrients, biota, and organic matter that I took from the site. My compost applications serve as a deposit into my natural capital account, which keeps gaining interest as I take care of it.

Fair Share & Future Care

The third permaculture ethic is also known as fair share or future care by some. Both of these work just as well to describe the overall meaning of the ethic.

Fair share is a great way to loop back to the people care ethic. It’s about taking only what you need and sharing the surplus with your community or with the animals that coexist with you- both domestic and wild. Leaving enough fruit and veg for the animal populations on your site will yield amazing results as you see an increase in pollination and beauty as it returns to a more natural, “managed” wild state.

Future care pairs well with the Earth Care ethic, as we should be mindful of how our actions will affect future generations on the same site, both human and animal. If you take action to ensure a bountiful future for your community and return the surplus, you’ll also be following the Earth care AND people care ethics, creating a symbiotic relationship between all three.

Wrapping up: Permaculture Ethics- Return of the Surplus

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post focusing on the third permaculture ethic. You can’t understand one without understanding all three, so this general overview with a deep dive into “return of the surplus” should help you make the connections needed while designing your future.

If you like the post or have any comments or questions, please leave them in the comments or head on over to the contact page to get in touch.

Best of luck along your permaculture journey. Thanks for reading!

The Difference Between Dirt and Soil

When you dig into the ground, what do you call the material that you’re putting the shovel into? Some call it dirt. Others call it Soil. But what’s the difference between dirt and soil?


Let’s start with Dirt. What comes to mind when you think of Dirt? Maybe the word dirty- meaning unclean. Or perhaps you think of a large pile of fill at a contruction site. Either way, you’ve got the right idea.

Dirt is made up of three main mineral components: Sand, Silt, and Clay. Mixed together in different ratios, all of the world’s dirt is derived from these three components.

Sand, the biggest of the three, allows good drainage, has large pore spaces (the space between the particles), and is the most resistant to erosion. Silt sits between sand and clay in terms of size and is slightly more resistant to erosion.

Clay is the smallest, the most vulnerable to erosion, and has a the ability to pack together really tightly. When compacted, clay has such small pore spaces that water cannot pass through at all. That’s why clay is commonly used in dam and pond construction to hold water in place.

So, Sand + Silt + Clay in various ratios = Dirt. It is purely a collection of minerals that vary throughout the planet based on the parent material present locally.

Dirt lacks organic material- it’s purely minerals. It’s also devoid of life- it’s dead. No wonder we use the word dirty to mean unclean- dead mineral material that sticks to our skin and clothes- gross!

The difference between dirt and soil is evident in this image of dead, cracked clay soil
A cracked clay example of dirt- no biology means no nutrient cycling or water retention.

Perhaps one of the best historic examples of dirt in America is the Dust Bowl- the Great Plains in the 1930s. Devoid of life and structure, the dirt was prone to massive amounts of erosion and caused a major food crisis.

So what caused some of the most fertle soil in the world to become devoid of life and turn into dirt? Tillage. Destruction of soil ecosystems. Exploitation of the Earth.

If the soil became dirt, then what’s soil made of?

(Living) Soil

Soil starts as dirt. The same lifeless mineral material that is dirt is the foundation of soil. So how does it become soil?

Hans Jenny, known as the father of soil science, defines soil is containing 3 things:

  • Minerals (Sand, Silt, Clay)- aka dirt
  • Organic Matter
  • Organisms (Aerobic organisms, to be precise)

So, dirt + organic material + organisms = soil. How can organic material and organisms turn dead dirt in to living soil?

It’s all about LIFE.

The organisms in the soil are collectively known as the soil food web and are perhaps the most foundational elements to animals’ survival on Earth.

The soil food web mimics the trophic food webs we learn about in grade school- Insects eat plants; Birds eat insects; Those birds are eaten by bigger birds and predators like foxes and so on. As you go up the food chain, more complex relationships form, but all are dependent on the bottom of the food chain as the foundational elements.

a healthy soil food web promotes plant growth
An active soil food web promotes healthy plants

In the soil food web, bacteria and fungi are the primary feeders. They are able to break down the minerals in the soil (sand, silt, clay) and turn them into food. From there, higher level predators (flagellates, amoeba, ciliates, and nematodes) feed on the bacteria and fungi. These higher level predators exude waste in the form of plant-available nutrients in what is known as the “poop loop”.

It’s these interactions that actually feed plants. Bateria and fungi form mutualistic relationships with plant roots that allow an exhange of nutrients. The protozoa “poop” out nutrients (much like manure-high in nitrogen) that feeds the plants at the root level.

Organic material in the soil, such as dead plant matter, plant exudates, and other wastes found in the soil, help provide sheltr and food for the organisms within the soil. The more organic material that exists in the soil, the larger potential population of beneficial organisms.

The Difference Between Dirt and Soil

Soil = Dirt (sand, silt, clay) + Organic Matter + Organisms

You can’t have soil without dirt, but you CAN have dirt that’s not soil. Basically, if there’s no life or organic matter mixed in with the sand/silt/clay, then you’re working with Dirt.

Knowing this, it should start to become clear that any DIRT can become SOIL with the addition organic matter and the right organisms.

A 2003 study by Donald Sparks shows that the median elemental compositions of dirt/soil around the world contains more than enough mineral nutrients for plants to survive. The only problem we have is plant’s ability to access those minerals.

That’s where the soil life plays such an important role. The bacteria and fungi are able to take those mineral nutrients and break them down into plant-available forms and their predators (protozoa, nematodes, etc.) further condense those nutrients into plant-available forms.

Fungi growing shows the difference between dirt and soil: life
Fungi in the soil fruiting. Notice that the soil is covered by a deep layer of mulch.

Additionally, organisms in the soil provide the added benefits of creating soil structure by creating aggregates in the soil, holding nutrients in plant available form, and retaining water for longer within the soil.

Let’s compare that to dirt, which has no organisms to help. Dirt has no structure, causing nutrients to leech out. As water flows through dirt, there is no structure or organic matter to help hold the water, and it flows right through, likely taking the easily movable silt and clay particles with it, causing erosion. No benefits, lots of problems.

How to turn Dirt into Soil

At this point, you can probably guess the answer based on the simple equation above. Think about the difference between dirt and soil. Here it is again as a refresher:

Soil = Dirt (sand, silt, clay) + Organic Matter + Organisms

At this point I do want to specify that I am talking about aerobic organisms, or organisms that need oxygen to survive. These are the beneficial soil organisms you want in your soil.

These are the same organisms that are present in any high quality compost. Compost also includes high levels of organic matter.

So, Dirt + Compost + time -> Soil

Turn dirt into soil using compost
High quality compost can inoculate your dirt/soil with beneficial organisms and organic matter.

It’s not quite that simple, but that’s the gist of it, and it’s definitely all you need to get started. Adding high quality compost will innoculate your dirt (or poor soil) with beneficial microorganisms AND and organic matter. Simply placing the compost on top of the dirt/soil will suffice, but you may want to mix it in slightly if you’re truly working with dirt.

After adding compost, consider protecting and feeding the soil by adding a deep mulch layer like you’d find on a forest floor. There are huge varieties of mulch materials but the best is what’s available locally and (ideally) free. Try to avoid anything with seeds to avoid bringing in any unwanted plant species.

Learn More about the Soil Food Web

If this sort of thing interests you and you want to dive deeper into the science, check out Dr. Elaine Ingham’s work on the soil food web.

Dr. Ingham recently released a new set of courses called the Soil Food Web Foundation Course that can take you from the level of understanding from reading this article to a soil consultant level in just 6 weeks of dedidated study. You have a full year to access the course, so there’s no rush to get it done in that amount of time.

I took this course and can honestly say it improved my understanding of the soil 400% and gave me the knowledge and confidence to make high quality compost & compost liquid ammendments. The course also introduces microscopy and teaches you how to identify and quantify the organisms in your soil or compost to make sure you have the complete soil food web.

Full Disclosure- the link above is an affilitate link, and if you end up signing up for the course I’ll get small kickback for referring you, which helps support running this site and producing content for you.

Wrapping up

Thanks for reading this post on the difference between dirt and soil. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below or head over to the contact page.

Best of luck in your Dirt -> Soil journey!

Adding Chicken Compost to the Garden + Vlog Intro!

Introducing the Tierra Permaculture Vlog(video blog)! In today’s vlog, we’ll be adding chicken compost to the garden to inoculate beneficial microorganisms that will support young bell pepper seedlings.

On my homestead, I’m using a chicken compost system inspired by Geoff Lawton and Justin Rhodes. Creating compost piles within the chicken run itself allows the chickens to hunt for food within the pile, adding a “free” feed supply. If properly done, chickens can survive on compost alone!

They also turn the pile for me as they scratch around looking for seeds and bugs, assisting with aeration. This high quality chicken compost was created over 4-6 weeks with multiple turns.

At one point, I even added the remains from one of our roosters after we harvested! No bones or any part of the chicken remains in the pile, and the calcium from the bones will help with the Calcium:Magnesium ratio in my clay soil, adding pore space and structure in what could otherwise be a compacted, poor draining soil.

Adding Chicken Compost to the Garden starts with building compost piles within the chicken run
Before adding chicken compost to the garden, we need to make chicken compost! Here, the chickens are checking out a freshly build compost pile within their run, and a more mature pile can be seen in the background.

A little (high quality) compost goes a long way- I used about a gallon’s worth of compost from the pile for my small planting area. Before placing the compost, I removed the mulch layer. Then, I spread the compost around and transplanted my bell pepper seedlings ? from another garden where they weren’t getting enough sunlight. I didn’t water it (which I would normally recommend) because I knew there was rain coming shortly.

After transplanting, I replaced the mulch layer on my garden. Mulching is very important if you don’t have a perennial ground cover to protect the soil microorganisms from direct sunlight and the heavy pounding of raindrops. Just after this vlog was shot, we got a heavy rain that dumped 1/4- 1/2 inch in 20 minutes, so I’m glad I got things covered.

I use a variety of organic material from the property as mulch, including sugar cane leaves, which grow abundantly here and are high in silica, which causes them to break down slowly.

Adding mulch on the garden promotes a healthy soil food web.
Adding mulch to the garden protects the soil from harsh sunlight and heavy rain

I’m adding chicken compost to the garden to add biology using Dr. Elaine Ingham’s Soil Food Web approach. The soil food web consists of primary feeders- bacteria and fungi- that break down the parent material in the subsoil as well as organic material in the soil itself. These organisms are then consumed by second-level predators: protozoa including flagellates, amoeba, ciliates, and nematodes.

It’s actually the predators consuming the bacteria and fungi that release plant-available nutrients in the soil through their “poop” in what is known as the poop loop. That’s why it’s so important to take care of your soil- the biology in the soil is what feeds your plants.

Mulching protects these microorganisms from extreme weather and also adds organic material for them to feed on. If you nurture your soil and build up your biology, they will do the hard work of feeding your plants and protecting them against disease-causing organisms.

If you’re interested in learning more about the soil food web, check out Elaine Ingham’s work. She’s the world’s leading soil microbiologist and has released a new course on the soil food web. If you use my link to sign up for the course, I’ll actually get a kickback as an affiliate which helps support this website.

The Tierra Permaculture Vlog

In order to better serve this community, I’ve decided to start producing a regular vlog (video blog). Personally, I learn best by watching someone else do something and then trying it myself. That’s what I want to do for you!

My goal is to create high quality content that’s entertaining and educational- edutainment. I’ll be posting videos on a regular basis (trying to do 4-6 videos per week) showing what I’m doing in my backyard as well as the other properties I help manage here in Puerto Rico.

I want to give a shoutout to Justin Rhodes here, as he is one of my main inspirations for this vlog. When I started down my permaculture journey, I found Justin’s YouTube channel to be both educational and inspirational. To this day, I watch his vlog on a regular basis just for fun and learn something every single time.

If you enjoy the vlog, please like and subscribe to my Youtube Channel and share it with your friends! The more subscribers I get, the better reach I’ll have and with each new subscriber, new options are available to me on YouTube.

Thanks for reading- if you have a comment or question, feel free to leave it here or head on over to the contact page.

As a BONUS today, here’s yesterdays vlog (as yet unannounced) for your viewing pleasure. I hope you enjoy!

Tropical Permaculture Backyard Tour | April 2020

Join Nick for a Tropical Permaculture Backyard Tour:

In this video, I’ll take you on a tour of my backyard while discussing the key elements of the permaculture design being implemented on the property. Located in the foothills of El Yunque in Luquillo, Puerto Rico, this site is 400 feet above sea level and the yard is only about 1500 sq. ft. (150 sq m) in size.

Despite the small area, this backyard is home to 3 chickens who are essential to the fertility of the landscape. Their manure is high in phosphorous (usually lacking in the tropics) and nitrogen and makes a great addition to our composting program. The chicken run and coop can comfortably fit up to 8 hens and measures 6′ (2m) x 18′ (6m).

At the base of their run, a gate allows access to a small grassy area that we use as a pasture to supplement the chicken’s diet. They also have access to a large dust bath underneath the house through this pasture, and it is one of their favorite areas to relax in. The chickens are fed rooster feed, but they are more interested in the food scraps, weeds from the garden, and compost piles built within their chicken run.

Tropical Permaculture Backyard Tour: Chicken System
A view from the bottom of the chicken run. They love their compost pile!

The inspiration for this system is a combination of methods used by Geoff Lawton and Justin Rhodes. The location of the chickens next to the garden allows easy disposal of weeds right over the fence. Building compost piles within the chicken run gives the chickens plenty of bugs and organisms to forage for, and they love scratching through the most mature piles.

I’ll also go into some basics of permaculture design, discussing how the water flows on site were taken into account while designing the access and garden bed layout. Also mentioned are the three ethics of permaculture: Earth Care, People Care, and Return of the Surplus.

In the tropics, it’s often a benefit to have high shade over the garden to shield young plants from the intense midday sun. Here, we use papaya as a high shade tree that produces fruit while having no bulky branches to work around.

The design also includes a long clothesline in the middle of the gardens. This is a conscious design choice to reduce our carbon footprint by relying on the sun for drying instead of an electric dryer powered by burning fossil fuels.

Also heavily featured is our cat, Otto, who serves as our mice and rat deterrent/hunter while also being extremely adorable, despite causing a few problems in the garden itself.

Hopefully this tropical permaculture backyard tour gives you some inspiration and ideas for your own backyard, especially in the tropics. If you have any questions about anything within the video or general comments, please feel free to leave them here or on the contact page.

If you like what you saw, please be sure to like and subscribe within Youtube, and turn on notifications if you want to be updated about future videos. Thanks for watching!

How to find your Permaculture Community

When starting down your permaculture journey, it helps to have like-minded people surrounding you as often as possible.

As motivational speaker Jim Rohn said, “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If you can surround yourself with people who are doing the things you want to be doing, your success will be just that much easier.

That being said, finding a community of likeminded people in the permaculture and regenerative living world can be challenging.

Having gone through this struggle myself, I thought I’d share some tips and tricks to help you start engaging with like-minded communities both in person and online.

“Offline” Communities

Meetups is a platform for finding local community gatherings and events used all over the world. I’ve found it especially useful in finding my community of permaculturists.

A quick search on meetup’s website for permaculture lists over 500 permaculture meetups around the world. You could also broaden that search to green living, which has over 1800 meetup groups globally.

These meetups can be educational or just for fun. There’s also groups that are simply communities that meet on a regular basis to share ideas or help each other out. A great way to find a local permaculture community
Meetup is great for engaging with like-minded people near you.

If you can’t find a meetup group that has something to do with permaculture around you, it’s very easy to start one yourself.

Alternatively, if there’s an inactive group near you, you can start posting events to encourage people to engage, or even message the organizers to see if you can lend a hand. Most people will gladly welcome help with organizing, and it’s a great way to meet people in your community that have the same passions as you.

Permaculture Convergences

A permaculture convergence is exactly what it sounds like- a group of permaculturists getting together to network and share skills and ideas.

There’s not a single directory of convergences around the world, so the best way to find one near you is to do an online search for “permaculture convergence” and your city, state, or region. There’s local, regional, continental, and global convergences that happen on a regular basis.

I’ve attended the Northwest Permaculture Convergence in Washington and was amazed at how many people were there sharing knowledge and networking to build their local permaculture community.


One of the best ways to gain hands-on experience while supporting your community is to find volunteer opportunities near you.

Most places, especially non-profits, are ecstatic to have some extra help and will welcome you with open arms. There are many ways to find opportunities- I’ll share a few with you to get your mind going.

When I first moved to the Seattle region, I did a quick google search for “permaculture near me” and was able to find a few places locally that had active permaculture projects. From there, I reached out to the organizers to see if they host volunteers. Within a week, I was on a site getting my hands dirty. It’s that easy.

You could also look for local community gardens that have open work-party days and lend a hand. Community gardeners have a wealth of information on growing food, and often permaculturists find outlets for their passions in these settings.

Volunteers with shovels
Get your hands dirty and build community!

If you’re looking to take a little vacation or do some extended travel, check out online work-exchange websites like Workaway or WWOOF.

These two websites require a membership to access details and talk to hosts, but offer amazing opportunities to gain experience while getting to know the local culture wherever you end up.

There’s often listings in your hometown on these websites as well, so you may be able to find something close to home. Just search “permaculture” when looking through the listings to find projects that may interest you.

Online Communities


Social media has its positives and negatives, but one strong benefit is the ability to find a community from the comfort of your home.

Facebook groups offer an easy way to connect with like-minded people no matter your location. There are dozens of groups relating to permaculture full of experts and amateurs alike.

These groups vary in scope from very local (town/city groups) to global. I’d suggest doing a few searches and looking through the group members and discussions to find one that resonates with you.

One facebook group that I’m a member of an find value in is Regenerative Agriculture. This group has experts as moderators that are able to answer questions and has a regular flow of posts and discussion.

Permies is an online forum founded by Paul Wheaton. It’s community is full of self-proclaimed permaculture and homesteading goofballs.

This forum has been around for a long time and is full of useful information from experts and questions from novices. You’re sure to find some great (and funny) discussions among the pages at permies. logo: an online permaculture community
Permies- a great online permaculture community

You’ll also find products like e-books and micro-documentaries for sale in the forums at very affordable prices. These products are often created by members of the forum itself. This is a great way to support the wider permaculture community, and perhaps to share your products as well.

This website will feel like home especially if you hand out on other online forums like reddit.

The Permaculture Circle

The Permaculture Circle (TPC) is Geoff Lawton’s free online resource for permaculture education. While the main draw of this site is the video content, a large network of permaculturists hang out in the Disqus comment sections below each of the videos.

Many of the moderators in this forum are also teaching assistants for Geoff’s online course, so the knowledge base is solid.

Moderators and community members alike will answer questions, and Geoff himself will stop by occasionally to respond to comments.

At the time of writing this post, TPC is pretty new, but this community is growing at a rapid pace and is sure to become an amazing resource for education and idea exchange.

Permaculture & Community

The more you learn about permaculture and regenerative living, the more you’ll realize that community and permaculture go hand in hand.

Permaculture teaches us to integrate rather than segregate. Simply choosing to reach out to others and find community means you’re on the right track.

Who knows? You could be the next leader in your local permaculture community simply by reaching out and being of service.

I’m happy to help you find your community however I can, so please reach out in the comments or on the contact page. If you have any community resources you think would be helpful for others, please share it in the comments!

You are my community, and I’m thankful for your support.

Best of luck, and thanks for reading.

Getting Started in Permaculture: Video Resources for Beginners

When you’re getting started in permaculture, watching actual permaculture practitioners is a great way to learn.

If you type “permaculture videos” in a search engine, you’ll find thousands of results. But let’s be honest, nobody likes poor quality, shaky recordings. When it comes to video, quality is key.

Finding high quality video with useful content can be hard, I know from experience.

So I compiled my three favorite video resources that have helped or inspired me along the way. Each suggestion has lots of free, high quality content to watch, as well as some paid content if you’re looking to dive in a little more.


The Permaculture Circle

This an amazing free resource for beginners and permaculture enthusiasts alike.

Launched in 2017, The Permaculture Circle (TPC) is a collection of educational videos and farm tours by Geoff Lawton, a world-renowned permaculture designer based in Australia who studied under Bill Mollison (co-founder of Permaculture).

There’s a whole 9-video Permaculture Quick Start series containing over 6 hours of video showcasing Geoff’s Ted Talks, snippets from courses, and tours of systems he’s implemented. After gong through this series, you’ll have a much better understanding of what permaculture is and how it can be implemented in a variety of climates.

Getting Started in Permaculture: Geoff Lawton Online

At the time of writing this article, Geoff has made selections of his online Permaculture Design Course (PDC) available for free. There’s also an assortment of other useful course content as well as video Q&A sessions where Geoff answers questions from students asked throughout his online PDC.

Geoff is also uploading new videos on a regular basis covering topics including worm farming, compost toilets, chicken tractor systems, and much more.

On top of all that, the online community in TPC is great. If you post questions below the videos they are answered pretty quickly by either a moderator or another member, sometimes even Geoff himself!

Overall, The Permaculture Circle is a great resource that will only get better with time.

Justin Rhodes

Justin Rhodes of is a funny guy documenting his life on a permaculture homestead in North Carolina through vlogs and other online resources. If you want to be inspired and entertained while watching an amazing (and adorable) family, look no further.

I found Justin originally through his YouTube channel while looking for videos of real-life permaculture farms. At the time, they were documenting their first “100 days of growing food,” where they decided to see how much of their own food they could produce in 100 days while filming their experience.

After watching and seeing the quality videography and editing coupled with great storytelling and entertainment, I was hooked. I’ve been watching their daily vlog ever since.

What I love about Justin’s channel is that he isn’t scared to show the failures and shortcomings that most people would rather hide. This isn’t just a highlight reel- it’s the real thing.

While beginning your permaculture journey, seeing someone actually trying new things and sharing their honest experience is worth it’s weight in gold. Failure is OKAY when you’re taking action and trying new things.

Justin Rhodes and his family
Justin and his famiy

Justin and his family spent most of 2016 traveling around all 50 states in a converted bus visiting permaculture farms across the country and documenting the experience. The Great American Farm Tour was a huge success and showed off the people who are taking action and making a change in their lives and in their communities. Check it out here!

He recently started a paid membership area called DIY Abundance on his website that features more in-depth tutorials of the topics covered on the vlogs. I subscribed to this area for a while to test it out and found the videos to be very detailed and useful if you want to dive a little deeper and get the details of what he covers in his blog. As the name suggests, there’s a lot of DIY instructional videos in the membership area that cover a range of topics from livestock management to basic permaculture design.

Justin also has some free videos and courses on how to get started with chickens featured on his website. If you’re just looking for inspiration and some education, sticking with his free resources should work just fine for you.

Happen Films

If documentaries are your thing, I recommend checking out Happen Films. Founded by Jordan Osmond and Antoinette Wilson, Happen Films is a small production company focused on documenting regenerative solutions to global issues through feature-length and short films.

The videos cover a range of topics from permaculture farm tours to tiny houses. The short films are a great inspiration for those wondering what is possible from permaculture systems, as they feature the gamut from brand new projects to 20+ year old food forests. The stories of the people behind the projects are usually featured, which is a great change from just seeing permaculture installations alone.

Happen Films Logo
Happen Films Logo

The first feature length film, A Simpler Way, documents the ups and downs of working in community to develop a property over the course of a year. This is a great watch for anyone interested in communal living. The films doesn’t hide the hard times and gets perspectives from all members of the community. The film also contains excerpts from interviews with great minds like David Holmgren, co-founder of permaculture.

Most of the videos on their website are free to watch with a donation option to help support the work they’re doing.

The one exception is their most recent feature-length documentary, Living the Change, which costs $9.99. This documentary is also available to rent on amazon video and I highly recommend watching it. It’s an inspirational look at how everyday people are taking action to help be the change-makers in their local communities. The documentary covers local currencies, food forests, composting, and much more. It would be a great film to screen for your community.

Share your suggestions!

There you have it, my top 3 video resources for getting started in permaculture.

I know that’s not all that’s out there, so I’d love if you could add your favorite video resource to the comments so that everyone can share the wealth.

If you have any questions for me, please reach out on the contact page.

Have a great day and thanks for stopping by my site!

The Best Permaculture Books for Beginners

If you’ve found this post, you’re likely wanting to learn a little more about permaculture without spending lots of money on a permaculture design course or lots of time combing through the internet for the best articles on permaculture.

I’ve been there!

Well, I wanted to simplify that process for you and compile a short-list of books that I have found helpful while beginning my own journey into a permaculture lifestyle.

The following books are all in my own permaculture library and I have not been paid to advertise them. This list certainly does not represent everything that’s out there, and I know there’s plenty that I haven’t found time to read or even heard of.

Best Permaculture Books for beginners from my library
A selection from my permaculture library

I’d like to mention one thing before diving into my recommendations: information is a resource. In permaculture, we learn that resources in surplus can cause chaos. This is especially true of information. There’s so much information out there that you may feel like you need to absorb it all before starting anything on your own. Information-overload often leads to inaction.

But getting started in permaculture is all about taking action. So after reading through my recommendations below, I highly urge you to focus your energy on one book at a time and try to take some sort of action based on what you learn before you move onto the next.

By doing this, you will find that you’re slowly building upon what you learn over time and eventually will have adopted a regenerative lifestyle without even realizing it!

So without further ado…

The Best Permaculture Books for Beginners: My Recommendations

Gaia’s Garden
A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture

I recommend this book most often for people beginning their journey into permaculture. Written by  Toby Hemenway, this book guides you through the basics of permaculture in an approachable way.

The reason why I recommend this book so strongly is that it is a self-proclaimed guide to home scale permaculture. Often, people get so wrapped up in the large scope of permaculture that they don’t feel they can connect to it on a personal level. This book focuses on smaller systems that can be implemented even in small urban backyards, with a focus on forest-gardening.

Best Permaculture Books for Beginners: Gaia's Garden is at the top of my list

Gaia’s Garden is divided into 3 parts: The garden as an Ecosystem, The pieces of the Ecological Garden, and Assembling the Ecological Garden. Each section builds upon the last so that by the end, you understand not only the theory behind implementing a small system, but also how and why the system works so well. It also includes numerous tables full of plant recommendations for each layer of the garden. On top of that, the four-page bibliography is a great resource for further learning.

Hemenway was based in California and Oregon, so many of his recommendations are for temperate climate systems. But the information and how it is presented is useful for all beginners in the permaculture world, especially those that are coming in from a gardening background.

Side-note: I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, but I’ve heard great things about his second book, The Permaculture City, published in 2015. The book focuses more on urban and suburban environments and how permaculture thinking can be applied not just to gardens, but also to how we organize our cities and communities.

Practical Permaculture
for Home Landscapes, your Community, and the Whole Earth

Another great book for starters is Practical Permaculture by Jessi Bloom and Dave Boehnlein. Published in 2016, I found this book to be an excellent broad introduction to permaculture that’s easy to read with great illustrations.

Practical Permaculture Book Cover

Dave and Jessi give a clear overview of permaculture that covers everything that would be taught in an “intro to permaculture” course. They then provide a detailed blueprint for a design process that is appropriate for small to mid-scale installations, with a focus on home landscapes and small community projects. Just this part alone is well worth the time you put into reading it.

From there, the authors go a little further and give some practical (see what I did there?) information on permaculture systems like rainwater harvesting and animal systems. The drawings truly complement the text and help understand the concepts being talked about along the way.

To cap it all off, the book includes a listing of 50 useful plants for the permaculture garden for all types of climates, as well as a chapter on invisible structures: things like social and economic parts of society that are not physical parts of a permaculture design. Understanding invisible structures is very important for creating a design that will function well within your community.

Overall, this book is a great investment and will give you a great foundational understanding of permaculture.

Restoration Agriculture
Real-World Permaculture for Farmers

If you’re wondering how permaculture can be applied on a larger scale or come from an agricultural background, Mark Shepard’s book on “real-world permaculture for farmers” is the book for you.

In Restoration Agriculture, Shepard explores the challenges and shortcomings of our modern agricultural system and provides a model for how we can can convert farmland back to perennial ecosystems while providing the nutritional needs to feed the population. The book contains detailed nutritional analysis comparing corn/soybean farming to a polycultural system that includes trees, shrubs, and pasture for raising animals.

What I like about this book is that it describes how annual cropping systems have consistently failed over time and led to the collapse of civilizations, a reality that we need to hear. But instead of just pointing fingers and saying that it’s not working, Shepard is taking action on his own property to trial systems that have the potential to feed the population while building soil and mitigating climate change along the way.

This book is ideal for farmers or those in the agricultural industry that want to learn more about how permaculture can be applied to large scale systems that produce enough food to feed the population, all while reducing the  energy/chemical inputs needed in modern agriculture.

The One-Straw Revolution

This book is not about permaculture, but influenced the founders of permaculture at its inception. Masanobu Fukuoka’s manifesto on natural farming introduced a radical new way of thinking when it was published and has inspired permaculturists ever since.

Fukoka's manifesto on natural farming

Born and raised in Japan, Fukuoka trained as a scientist and worked in agricultural labs before rejecting the modern model of agriculture for a more nature-derived option. Based on his actual experiences, this book challenges all modern assumptions on farming and encourages a transition back to working more with nature.

In the book, the author (through a translator) describes his method of farming that uses no-till systems to produce an abundance of food year after year with only a few weeks of labor annually and minimal irrigation.

It’s a quick read that will make you think “Of course! Why aren’t we doing that now?”

I recommend this book if you’re looking to understand the thought processes and mindset behind permaculture.

Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability

While I’d label this book as more of an intermediate-level permaculture book, I wanted to mention it here because it serves as a great transition from basic to more advanced permaculture thinking.

Author David Holmgren, co-originator of permaculture, goes into detail about the twelve principles of permaculture. These principles, coupled with the ethics of Earth Care, People Care, and Future Care, provide a framework for how to take a basic understanding of permaculture and apply it more broadly to life. Principles like “Design from Pattern to Detail” and “Use Small and Slow Solutions” are commonly used in Permaculture Design Courses (PDCs) to help students make decisions while working on and implementing designs.

Book cover for Holmgren's book Permaculture: Principles and pathways beyond sustainabilty

This book is definitely more cerebral that the others I’ve listed so far and goes in depth about how each of the twelve principles can influence decisions made in permaculture designs on all scales. Understanding these principles and how to apply them can make the difference between a system that lasts for hundreds of years and one that fails after the initial excitement wears off.

I refer back to this book on a regular basis and highly recommend it. If you’ve already got a solid understanding of permaculture and want to take your permaculture practice to the next level, this book is definitely for you.

Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual

Okay, this is definitely not what most people would consider to be on the list of “best permaculture books for beginners.” But if you like reading the nitty gritty details and enjoy somewhat dated language, Bill Mollison’s original textbook on permaculture design is the perfect choice for you.

This book is literally THE cornerstone of permaculture design. It’s used in most reputable PDCs as the backbone of the course.

Book Cover for Bill Mollison's textbook Permaculture: A designer's manual

Now, I’m not going to lie. The book is thick. It has small print. It takes a long time to get through.

But a complete beginner can read through these 550+ pages and come out knowing more about the theory behind permaculture systems than many certified permaculture designers. It has detailed drawings and figures to illustrate the points within the text, and offers a complete education on permaculture.

Most people won’t want this level of detail when they are just starting, and it’s definitely is hard to get through it. But if you were going to buy only one book on permaculture, this is definitely the one to get.

Wrapping up…

Well there you have it- my recommendations of books to get you started down your permaculture journey. They truly have brought value to me during my beginnings in permaculture, and I hope they help you along the way as well.

Remember to take this journey one step at a time. Read one book and try to take some action based on what you’ve learned. There’s no need to go buy these books if you don’t have the means- I’ve found most of them in my local library system.

Have other permaculture book suggestions for beginners? Then please leave a comment to share with the community! If you have any questions for me directly about any of my book recommendations, head on over to the contact page and send me a message.

Thanks for checking out this post, and happy reading!

Regenerative Living Defined: Thinking Beyond Sustainability

Sustainability is a big buzz word these days. You see it all over the place, from news articles about the environment to marketing promotions selling eco-friendly products. There’s even full college majors dedicated to studying it.

But can humans really just sustain everything we’re doing now? We depend on a finite supply of fossil fuels. We rely on an agricultural system that requires massive amounts of chemical and energy input to feed us. We spend more money on drugs and healthcare than we do on nutrient-rich foods that keep us healthy in the first place.

Globe with recycling symbol

Now, I’m based in the United States, so these things may not be true where you live. And yes, I’m generalizing. But if you’re from a first world country, I’m betting that similar things are happening around you, if not to you.

We need to change, not sustain, our behavior. Our ethics. Our present.

Regenerative living aims to make conscious choices to help fix the problems humans have caused. To focus on restoration instead of degradation. To think “what can I do help?” instead of “this isn’t my fault.” It’s all about action, not just talk.

Permaculture as a model for change

Permaculture is a concept coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s. It’s a hard concept to define in a sentence, but I’ll give it a shot. Permaculture is a design methodology grounded by ethics that uses systems thinking and design principles to create landscapes that provide food, fiber, and energy for human use. That’s a mouthful!

Initially, permaculture focused mainly on creating landscapes that provide human’s needs by using nature as a model to create “permanent agriculture” (shortened to perma-culture). In this case, the word permanent is synonymous to sustainable.

Over time and with the development of the permaculture vision, it became apparent that humans are central to the permaculture vision. Thus, the amalgam “permaculture” shifted from “permanent agriculture” to “permanent culture.” That small change made a big difference in the potential for permaculture to help create a model for regenerative living.

Permaculture garden with flowers and cabbage
A permaculture garden in bloom

You might be thinking, “wait wait wait…You just said permanent was synonymous to sustainable. Aren’t you arguing against the term sustainable?”

Good point, reader! Let me clarify. The permaculture vision is synonymous to a sustainable culture. If we ever get to the point where everyone has adopted the ethics and principles that permaculture teaches, we will be at a point where we are actually living sustainably.

Until then, we need to focus on rebuilding and reorganizing our systems to fix the problems we have created. For now, we need to live a regenerative life so that future generations can live a sustainable one. And I argue that using permaculture as a model is the best way to do this.

Why? Because similar to traditional (and sustainable) societies, permaculture is grounded by three ethics: Earth Care, People Care, and Future Care.

The Permaculture Ethics

Earth Care

The first permaculture ethic is Earth Care. This ethic has to do with all parts of the planet that are not human: soil, plants, animals, etc. It encourages us to be stewards of the land and the animals that inhabit it.

A hand holding the Earth to symbolize the permaculture principle of Earth Care
Earth Care

Humans have mostly become disconnected from the natural world. This is understandable, considering we have developed technology and created systems that remove us from the day-to-day survival of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. That’s not to say that technology is evil! Quite the opposite: modern society has created some of the most amazing innovations that help not just humans, but the Earth as well.

But as technology has advanced leaps and bounds, humans have been able to remove themselves from the natural cycles. We have been able to inhabit any ecosystem, even the most desolate, and survive. But the mindset of “above nature” serves no one. We need to recognize that we are a part of Earth’s finite world and start caring for it again.

Natural systems on Earth need no external inputs to survive. In fact, healthy forest and grassland ecosystems actually build soil on an annual basis- with no help from humans. All while supporting a diverse ecosystem made up of countless species interacting to the benefit of the entire system.

We need use the natural systems on Earth as a model for how to begin living in a way that regenerates our local ecosystems. We need to reconnect to nature and become stewards of our local landscapes. And more than anything else, we need to make sure that the Earth stays healthy- it’s our home after all.

People Care

The second ethic, People Care, focuses on our human relationships. And not just our relationships with others!

Self care is likely the most important part of regenerative living. Personal well-being needs to be priority one in every person’s life. We need to reconnect to ourselves and take responsibility for our own mental and physical wellness. Everyone has a different way of doing this. Some examples include yoga, meditation, making gifts for others, cooking a delicious & nutritious meal, spending time in the garden, reading a book in the bath with a glass of wine. Whatever it is for you, make sure you do it!

Regenerative Living starts with Self Care. A person meditating overlooking a sunset
Self Care is the most important

After self, you can start focusing on your immediate family and friends, and expand outwards to your neighbors, town, county, etc. Spend your time with others consciously. Don’t pull out your phone and take pictures of the sunset- just hold your partner’s hand and talk about it’s beauty.

Living in community is a part of the human experience. As hunter gatherers, we depended on our community for sustenance and safety. In modern society, we instead depend on technology, corporations, and government. We’ve become too far removed from what really matters, and our overall health and wellness is suffering because of it.

We can change by accepting our individual roles in where we are, and then taking whatever action we can to start making it better. That might mean helping someone with bus fare, or introducing yourself to the neighbor you’ve waved at but never spoken to. Focus on the positives and the opportunities around you rather than the negatives that everybody loves to talk about. Be the change!

Future Care

The final ethic can be summed up as “Future Care.” It’s also known as “fair share,” or “Set limits to consumption & reproduction, and redistribute surplus.” To put it simply, this ethic has to do with planning for many generations of future humans.

We need to follow the wisdom of traditional societies when it comes to planning our future. The Iroquois have a philosophy called the seventh generation principle that says that decisions made today should take into account the outcomes seven generations into the future, or about 140 years. Funny enough, that’s about the length of time it takes a new forest to begin reaching it’s prime.

Future care is really about making conscious choices about our actions in the present to preserve the Earth for future generations. The key is, this has to start with the individual. There’s no sense in putting the blame on big corporations because they are simply responding to market demand to increase their profit margins. We choose our lifestyle, what we buy, and which businesses we support.

Businessman holding a tree seedling
Choose businesses committed to giving back to the Earth

So instead of thinking “there’s nothing I can do to stop big businesses from polluting and exploiting resources,” start finding ways to change your lifestyle to support companies with the same ethics that you have. Just like people care, you need to start with yourself, and then move outwards to influence change.

A great tool to help understand your individual impact is called the ecological footprint. There are many quick online quizzes that can give a very general overview of your impact. I’ve linked one here.

We need to start taking action to preserve our future on the planet. I’m not suggesting that we abolish fossil fuel use or go back to an age without electricity. Rather, we should use the limited amount of fossil fuel that we have left to create systems that will restore the earth. We should support the development of renewable energy technology. And most of all, we should be conscious consumers that support businesses that are taking action to reduce or eliminate their negative impact on our planet.

Regenerative Living: Our Path Forward

It’s time to take action. For us, for the earth, and for future generations.

Here’s the catch- we need to change slowly and deliberately, not in a rush. Why? Because we must use nature as a model for our actions.

Small, slow solutions are the ones that cause the greatest outcome, like the giant redwoods that take hundreds of years to reach their prime. Fast, rushed actions cause problems, like floods after an big rain event on bare, disturbed soils. Both of these examples are natural occurrences, but one builds soil while the other washes it away.

You don’t need to change your entire lifestyle in a day. It will probably take YEARS! The important part is taking action at your own pace in a way that works for you.

A great way to start down this journey is through food.

Regenerative Living: Supporting local food. A farmers market.
Farmers Markets are great resources for food and community

Try growing your own food in some containers or in your backyard.  If that’s too scary, buy produce locally and in season. If you eat meat, support farmers that raise animals on pasture or in the animal’s natural environment. Properly managed pastured meat operations can actually build soil faster than forests!

Need more reasons to start with food? I’ve got you covered.

Eating high quality, nutrient-rich local food is great for your health: Self Care. Eating locally supports the farmers who produce it: People Care. Good farmers build soil and take care of their land: Earth Care. Choosing local food reduces how far your food needs to travel, thereby reducing carbon emissions: Future Care.

It’s all interconnected, just like natural ecosystems. That’s because we are part of the ecosystem surrounding us. We affect change everywhere we go. Let’s make that change be positive, regenerative.


Thanks for reading! If you have questions or something to say, feel free to leave a comment or head on over to the contact page to send me a message. And remember: focus on the positives and the opportunities, not the negatives and the excuses.