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Even though it was at or below freezing almost every day last week with the exception of one or two days a few degrees above freezing, the longer days and stronger sun have still managed to melt snow. A lot of melting remains before I can get out into the garden though. This means I continue to read gardening books to fuel my excitement which raises the temperature of my spring fever to dangerous levels. This week I browsed through two books on permaculture.

I keep hearing about permaculture and edible forests so I wanted to find out more about them. The Ultimate Guide to Permaculture and Food Not Lawns seemed like they would explain everything to me. Did they ever. It’s not gardening for the apocalypse, though the concepts are very much the same. The permaculture culture is more like a save the planet hippy commune all peace, love, and composting toilets. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything useful to be learned, there is, only that it is easy to slip from the practical and end up in the 1970s.

Permaculture philosophy was founded in 1978 by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison. Permaculture, permanent agriculture, is, in Bill Mollison’s words,

a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems in all their functions rather than asking only one yield of them.

It is green living and organic gardening taken to — ultimately — the extreme of creating a self-sustaining system.

I thought it was just about organic gardening, companion planting, creating microclimates of mutually beneficial plantings, composting, and saving rainwater in a barrel. It started off like that but has since grown far beyond gardening to a way of living that I doubt most people could or would follow. Not to say it isn’t worth the attempt, but not all of us can live in a place that has an acre of land for growing food, a barn for the goats, a chicken coop for the chickens, and someplace for ducks, a climate that allows one to build a sod, straw, or adobe house, zoning laws that make composting toilets legal, and someplace with enough space for enough solar panels to live off the grid (of course the idea is that with a proper eco house one does not need so much electricity for heating and cooling). If you live in such a place and lead such a life, I applaud you. I need to live in a city so I can earn a living. Though the author of Food Not Lawns suggests that after I’ve done everything to pare back my life and am growing all my food, I can quit my job because I won’t need the money from it any longer. Right.

Permaculture is about ethical living, about creating a clean and healthy life and a clean and healthy world. It’s about doing no harm to the environment and even reclaiming and improving the area in which you live. While both the books push toward the extreme, neither faults the reader for living in a city or an apartment. Food Not Lawns encourages readers to start where they are and do what they can and then start reaching out and build a community — turn a vacant lot into a garden, create a garden for children and/or volunteer at a school and teach kids how to grow things, become politically active, ditch the car and walk or ride a bike.

I read the books and found plenty to laugh at regarding how to live, but I was able to find some good ideas about gardening. I learned that planting daffodils under apple trees is a good idea because both bloom at the same time and daffodils help attract pollinating insects. Food Not Lawns has a weed chart that reveals what the weeds say about the soil. The Ultimate Guide to Permaculture has a fantastic and extensive companion planting chart as well as useful information on building good soil and storing and preserving the fruits of your harvest. I don’t need to know about beekeeping or how to build a grey water system for my house but I am glad the information is there for those who do want to know.

It seems Sundays have become a sort of talk about gardening day. If you all don’t mind I think I will try to keep that up into fall. Eventually I will be able to leave the gardening books behind and talk about my own garden. One of the books I read recently said I should keep a garden diary about what I plant, successes and failures, weather, etc. I’ve never done that before and I have no idea why. Writing about gardening on Sundays will help. I promise to not bore you with too many details, to make some good (I hope) stories, and share photos and maybe some recipes (Bookman allowing!). Books and gardens go well together, I think. I hope you think so too!