Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Permaculture--Austrian Style

Permaculture is from Australia.  Sepp Holzer is a farmer in Austria, halfway around the globe.  He inherited his farm in 1962 and began experimenting and doing his work his own way.  In 1995, he was told that what he was doing was permaculture.  Herr Holzer said that when he then read a bunch of books on permaculture, he agreed with all the principles.  He was surprised to find out that what he had been doing was basically the same as the methods of a world-wide movement, a movement officially begun in 1978, sixteen years after he had started his experiments.

Sepp Holzer's Permaculture is a useful addition to a permaculture library, focusing on how a farmer in Austria independently discovered the same principles that Bill Mollison and David Holmgren came up with.  What's important is that, as Patrick Whitefield points out in his foreward to the book, is that just as each place on Earth has its own ecology, so must the application of permaculture be different in each place.  Whitefield says that "An important part of permaculture is getting to know your own individual place.  Every patch of the Earth has its unique personality and character, just as each person has."

Sepp Holzer developed his own take on permaculture, a version adapted to the Alpine region he lives in.  And he came up with some methods different from what other permaculture farmers were doing.  One thing that he is known for is the development of Hugelkultur, a technique that uses the idea of burying branches or logs to fertilize the soil, add carbon, and retain water.  I found it interesting that the word hugelkultur is not used in the book--I suspect that this is a case of overtranslating the book. (Originally in German, of course.)  However, the concepts behind hugelkultur are clearly spelled out in the section of the book on raised bed gardening.

While the book concentrates on land design, alternative agriculture, and gardening (permaculture mainstays), Holzer devotes one chapter to fruit trees and another to cultivating mushrooms.  There's lots of useful information in this book, especially if you're doing permaculture in a temperate landscape.  It's interesting to me that Holzer's farm, Krameterhof, is another place not included in Birnbaum and Fox's Sustainable [R]evolution (see my last post). Holzer also devotes a chapter to other projects that he's working with in Scotland, Thailand, and in a section of Austria almost two hours north of his farm.  He also mentions consulting on projects in Brazil, Columbia, and Montana (USA), which he says that he talked more about in his previous book The Rebel Farmer.  I think this book is worth reading if you want one more version of what is possible.

Quote of the Day: "You must see and understand this technique as a whole, so that it can be used profitably.  Only those who practice permaculture can also understand it and pass it on to others.  This is why it makes no sense to simply create a permaculture system just like mine.  You must learn it for yourself like learning the alphabet at school." - Sepp Holzer


vera said...

Sepp got too full for his britches, apparently. I've heard that he took on a farm that had been purchased by an idealistic mother daughter team. (Bavaria?) Mr. Holzer went a bit too heavy handed with the dozer when trying to create terraces. Different soil, different terrain -- a giant landslide, a suit on his hands, and a broken-hearted family.

That whole-hog recontouring of the land meme does not sit well with me, although I have seen it work (at least in pictures).

MoonRaven said...

Thanks for this info, Vera. All I know is what I've read in the books. That sounds horrible--among other things, it's a good reminder to do stuff like that a little bit at a time, testing as you go. Wholesale recontouring doesn't sound like permaculture to me.