The Perma-Curious Study Group

Howdy, I’m Calamity Jane. Mama, housewife, homesteader and occasionally copious blogger at Apron Stringz. Check out this recent post for an introduction to me and my place in the world.

The concept of ‘permaculture’ (Permanent agriculture) was created by an Australian named Bill Mollison back in the 70s. It’s about conscious design of functional landscapes; following absolute ecological principles, but keeping human needs as the end goal.

Perma-Curious is a study group for in-depth exploration of permaculture principles and design. Over the winter, we will be reading Mollison’s lengthy and very technical 570 page manual and following the standard Permaculture Design Course outline, as well as working towards a design for a real piece of land as our final project.

Please note that permaculture is not about ‘how to garden,’ it is about how to design a landscape for ecological food production, with the emphasis being SQUARELY on design. If you are new to gardening and just looking for a primer on how to plant food, you will probably be disappointed by the lack of practical how-to.

That said, anyone willing to commit to 3-4 hours a week of fairly technical reading and study time, for five months starting in November 2012, is welcome to join! Please note that the moderator of this group is a fellow student, who doesn’t know much more than jack shit about permaculture. All information shared will come from books and online resources by qualified folk.

Although all discussion will be open to view at our Homegrown page, commenting will be limited to participants.

    How Perma-Curious Came About and Whether You Should Join

Although I had dabbled in it before, I have only recently started serious exploration into permaculture. I am attracted by it’s depth. I’ve been doing and thinking ‘sustainably’ for long enough that I have fully exhausted all the classic beginner books.

Permaculture seems to me to take things to the next level. It’s all about design, and I am a designer, above all else. I am designed to design. I love to garden, and I love to read about gardening, but designing my garden has always been my favorite part of the process by a factor of 12. I have reams of plans for gardens I never even planted, I once designed a homestead for a piece of property I coveted but knew for a fact I would never own. Just for the shear joy of the brain-work. I can’t help myself, sometimes it’s actually a problem. Because, although I love the work, I love thinking about the work even more, and doesn’t that make me one of those dreaded ‘dreamers?’

But permaculture tells me it’s not so. Permaculture instructs me to spend 100 hours observing and thinking for every one hour of doing, thereby insuring my actions will be appropriate. Whether or not this is a truth for the world, it sure sounds attractive to my brain!

So, winter is coming on. The perfect time to do a lot of thinkering, and I am primed. I recently re-read the new edition of Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway, and I have been listening obsessively to a lecture series by Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton. For the uninitiated, permaculture is an international phenomenon with accredited Permaculture Design Courses offered all over the world. There was even one in Anchorage last summer!

They are a minimum of 72 hours, sometimes spread over a year, other times done all at once as a two or three week intensive. They’re a big damn deal, and priced accordingly– starting at $1,500 and going up considerably from there! Even the online courses range from $800-$1,600. I would LOVE to take a course, but 1. I’m poor, and 2. I live in the middle of nowhere. I started thinking about it, and realized this must be a boringly commonplace problem!

‘Surely there are other perma-curious folks out there who want to learn and are willing to spend the time, but not the money….’ I thought to myself. And after a little fishing around, I found some!

I set up a group at We will be reading the bible (Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by originator Bill Mollison) piece by piece and discussing it in an online study group. I’ve also found some good videos and lectures online for free, hopefully we will pull in more material as the winter progressed. Participants will all (individually) generate a permaculture design for a real piece of land, preferably our own land which we really live and work on, but those who don’t own land could make a theoretical design for a real piece of land such as their rental’s yard or a nearby park. As we go along, we will apply what we are learning towards these designs, sharing them often, bouncing ideas around and brainstorming together. The danger of a no-commitment study group like this would be in becoming too casual, unravelling into just a bunch of bullshitting or finding out in the end that no one actually has the time for it.

If the real course is 72 hours or more (better ones are more) then it ought to take us at least as many to cover all the material. This means that this study group will require 3-4 hours per week for 5 months, from November through March. Are you with me? Any interested participants should start out by generating a schematic of your property/project, noting everything that currently exists and where and in what relationships, etc, etc. Include observations about your wider ecosystem as well– weather, climate, seasons, etc– to introduce your place to us, as well as further familiarize yourself with it. This is an essential starting point for design, but also a good way to feel yourself out for whether or not you have the time and energy for the entire project.

You will also need to get hold of the Designer’s Manual, mentioned above, which costs $85. I was able to inter-library loan a 1980 edition, but I suspect I will be buying a copy soon. The library only lets me keep it for a few weeks, not nearly long enough, but it’s a good way to give it a thorough look over before forking over the cash.

Anyone willing to commit their time and the cost of the manual is welcome to join.


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