The Earth User's Guide To Permaculture by Rosemary Morrow is one of the two books that hugely influenced me and got me started on my path to permaculture.
I had read some of Bill Mollison's books before that, but although I was intrigued and could see the sense and potential of it, I could not see how it all applied to me.
Here was I, an average suburb dweller, with average knowledge about growing stuff (actually, zilch knowledge is a bit closer to the truth), and there was Bill Mollison with his huge ideas and involved explanations and examples of farms and villages and changing the world...
I just could not see how I was supposed to apply his ideas. I could not figure out if I could apply them at all!
Rosemary Morrow has taught hands on permaculture courses around the world for decades, and it shows. The book is simple to understand, but at the same time it has a lot of depth and substance. It focuses on the practical aspects, on what you can do, and then shows you exactly how to do it.
The Earth User's Guide To Permaculture is a permaculture course in book form, complete with tasks and exercises. It starts from scratch, explains everything and explains it well, and it will have you go outside and start implementing ideas as soon as you start reading.
This book is a must read for beginners who are serious about learning permaculture.
The book has five distinct parts. Let's step through them.
The first part (two chapters) is an introduction to the idea of permaculture. It explains where permaculture comes form and explains the motivation and the ethics of it.
This part is very theoretical, though at the end of every chapter you are asked to go outside and complete several tasks. The tasks have to do with observing and learning to understand your land and environment, a crucial first step in developing a permaculture design.
This list of exercises at the end of every chapter is a feature that continues through the whole book.
The second part is called "Ecological themes in permaculture". Over six chapters and nearly eighty pages Rosemary pulls permaculture apart and focuses on the individual components of it.
Food networks, water, climate and microclimate, soil, trees/forests/windbreaks, and plant and seed heritage, that are the main topics of the six chapters.
If this sounds somewhat theoretical, it is and it is not. Rosemary gives lots of practical examples, and at the end of every chapter you get your assignments, some exercises to carry out in your garden or on your notepad. The exercises will put the theory you just read into practice, and by completing them you are also already working on your own design.
You learn to assess and reduce your ecological footprint, and to carry out a water audit and find ways to reduce your water consumption.
You will also study the climate and microclimate on your site, and assess and understand the soil you are working with.
The fifth chapter talks about trees and windbreaks, their role in permaculture designs, and how they can be used to modify the microclimate.
The last chapter is all about food plants. You learn how to select suitable plant varieties, and also about their propagation and seed saving.
This part packs a huge wallop of information. I honestly thought while reading it, that these six chapters should be taught in school. This book will forever change the way you look at the world around you. Or rather, you will feel as if for the first time you actually notice the world around you... And you understand it.
Take your time working through it, do the exercises. At the end you will understand your particular bit of land in detail, and you will know exactly what you are working with. All the design components are there before you, and you can start putting them together in part three.
Part three is the real meat of the book. It's about putting it all together.
Eleven chapters and a hundred pages take you trough the step by step process of developing a permaculture design for your garden or farm.
There are plenty of drawings with examples of designs. Rosemary uses several real life examples. The two main examples are a small suburban block (Rob's place), and a medium sized farm (Rosy's farm). So no matter what size your place is, you will look at examples of the same scale and find plenty of inspiration.
Like any good permaculture designer Rosemary starts small, and starts at the door step. You first think about your house, then the garden bed on the door step, then the kitchen garden, the orchard, animals, and so on. You slowly expand, and every step is a new chapter.
As you expand, the design plans of Rob's and Rosy's places are slowly filled in. Hopefully your own design plan takes shape at the same time. If you do all the exercises, it will.
Several chapters will not apply to everyone. People on suburban blocks will not need the chapters that talk about the major crop growing areas of farms, or about the woodlands.
There is also a chapter about other cultures and places, which draws from Rosemary's experience teaching permaculture in both modern and developing regions across the world.
The last chapter is called "Permaculture at the office, shop and factory". Permaculture is viewed by some as something that hippies in the woods might practice. Guess what, it's not. It's as applicable in an urban setting as on Rosy's farm. This chapter addresses that and has lots of suggestions and ideas how city dwellers can reduce their ecological footprint with permaculture methods.
This short part of five chapters is called "Adding resilience to design". It deals with integrated pest management, weed control, attracting wildlife, aquaculture, and also with what permaculture calls "Design for disaster". Sounds terrifying, but it is something that will be more terrifying if we do not think about it, especially in these times.
The chapter, "Design for disaster", shows how a good permaculture design can protect from, or at least soften the impact of, bush fires, floods, droughts or cyclones.
Part Five is also very short, three chapters. It is called "Social permaculture", and deals with one important aspect that we haven't touched on yet: people.
People and the relations and interactions between them are as important in permaculture as the interactions between plants and/or animals.
Rosemary talks about money matters (wealth and livelihood, ethical use of money, socially responsible investment...), and about the issues of living together in general.
This part of the book is not so much about going outside and digging and planting food, it's rather food for thought.
With Rosemary Morrow's Earth User's Guide To Permaculture you get a whole permaculture course for the price of a book.
While the plants she uses in her examples are particularly relevant to Australians in temperate climates, the book applies to everyone anywhere. The plants are just examples, and not essential to what she explains.You will in the course of reading the book identify suitable plants for your area.
This is a book to study and work with. Don't be fooled by the fact that it's easy reading. Rosemary managed to put a huge amount of important information into very few, very concise words. It's fast to read, but it takes longer to put everything into practice. Putting things into practice is what the book is all about, and it's perfect for people who want to start actually "doing" permaculture.
The main focus is on developing a permaculture design for the reader's (your!) situation, and the largest part of the book is devoted to that purpose. However, there is plenty of entertaining reading, food for thought, and inspiration as well, that makes clear how much permaculture really is a global movement that can make difference in the world.
If I had anything to say, kids would study this book at school, and the world would be a better place for it.
The Earth User's Guide to Permaculture is available at Amazon in the US, but unfortunately only the first edition.
However, it was the first edition that I read originally. I read the second edition to write this review, and I can't even tell you what exactly has been changed or added. The older version may look outdated, but the content is as fresh as ever.
Australians have it much easier. We can order the freshly revised and updated second edition online at "Buy Australian".