Book Review: Permaculture by Jenni Blackmore

I met Jenni Blackmore in late summer 2015 at the Musquodoboit Farmer’s Market in Musquodoboit Harbour, NS. She had a vendor’s table next to mine. I was selling my homemade goat milk soap and novels I’ve published (several of which I had written), and she was selling, amongst other things, copies of her book, “Permaculture – for the rest of us” –  Abundant Living on Less Than an Acre.

As a long-time gardener who began learning about building a food forest and permaculture only a few years ago, Blackmore’s book intrigued me.

The reasons I bought the book after talking with Blackmore were:

  • I wanted to learn more about permaculture in general.
  • I wanted to learn what Blackmore experienced from growing food in similar weather conditions and climate zone as I grew in.
  • Although a long-time gardener, I wanted to see if she had general garden knowledge to share that I had yet to learn.
  • Speaking with the author provided an insight not available when buying the book online or in a store, and I got the sense that Blackmore not only had a passion for gardening, she knew what she was talking about. She not only wrote the book, I believed she had valuable hands-on experiences to share.
  • I wanted to support a local author.

I’ve been gardening since I was a child, playing beside my mother, watching her plant potatoes, beets and carrots, and listening to her explain the different methods of planting each vegetable. She learned her gardening skills from her parents in the 1920s in a small community on the shoreline of Newfoundland where if your crops failed, you went hungry.

blackmore-jenni-permacultureIn my mid-20s, I began working at a large garden centre. By this time, I had grown many things. My knowledge continued to increase as I listened to the experts (though not all advice was good advice for the organic gardener), read magazines and bought books to increase the size of my library.

Many years later, I have a large collection of printed material to keep me busy reading through long winter nights. Unfortunately, not all of it is garden friendly. Some of the material discusses herbicides, pesticides and other nasty things to introduce into the growing environment. The preferred method of gardening in some of these books is not what I practise now. I prefer to walk with nature, not stomp over it and conquer it.

I’ve passed on many books over the years. Some contain information I already know. Others contain gardening methods I no longer wish to use. But now and again, I find a book like Blackmore’s that fills a void on my library shelf, one that promises I will find something new and useful between its covers. I was not disappointed.

onions Diane Tibert

During the summer of 2011, I grew onions in a raised bed beside marigolds.

Blackmore opens the book by writing, “Permaculture is my passion and, as with all passions, it dominates my lifestyle here on this small island just east of Halifax, Nova Scotia.” She continued by voicing a concern many Canadians share, including me: “With the possibility of a food crisis looming in the near future, I believe it is essential to produce as much of our own food as possible.”
Even if there is never a food crisis, the price of real food is rising drastically while processed food is set at a lower cost. Besides price, there are other issues with real food sold at the grocery stores. Here are just a few:

  • The food may have been grown where herbicides and pesticides were sprayed.
  • The food may be the product of GMO seeds.
  • The food may have been picked before ripened and instead ripened during transport, which means it will lack taste. Food ripened on the vine has the best taste of all.
  • The food may have travelled thousands of miles to get here. This is fine for things we can’t grow here, such as bananas and oranges, but it is beyond reason why anyone would buy an apple, potato or blueberry grown outside the Maritimes.
  • The food may be old by the time it reaches store shelves. The nutritional value of plant food deteriorates rapidly once harvested. The shorter span of time between picking and consuming, the more vitamins and nutrients, which means picking from your garden and eating within the hour is better than buying food that may have been picked last week. More on eating ‘live food’ in a future post.

For our health’s sake, we need to grow a portion of our own food because many of us can’t afford to buy the required amount of healthy food to feed our families.

Indian Runner ducks

Where one Indian Runner goes, others will follow.

“My purpose here is to write an encouragement manual, an if we can do it then for certain you can kind of book,” writes Blackmore. “A book that might save others from getting bogged down by the same mistakes we made and which simplifies and elevates permaculture methodology to its rightful status.”

I believe Blackmore accomplished this. From the first page, people new to gardening will find useful information to guide them in planting their first garden bed. She talks about healthy soil, compost and pest control (such as slugs). The no-till concept is not new to me. I discovered its benefits a few years ago, but Blackmore explains it well for the homesteader’s garden.

Information on when to plant, how to grown, when to harvest and how to gather seeds for certain plants is discussed. It gives a launching point to learn more about other plants other gardeners may want to grow in their gardens.

One new (to me) and fascinating gardening technique Blackmore explains is hugelkultur. Hinted at by its name, this gardening method has an Austro-German origin. I won’t give away the details. You’ll have to read the book for that. Let’s just say, I’ll be trying this method in the near future.

Blackmore has a section on greenhouses, a structure I’m planning for my homestead. I’ve looked at many designs over the past few years, and although I’m satisfied with what I plan, it’s always good to read more on the subject. A greenhouse is a big commitment, one not to be taken lightly. It needs to be in the right spot, built the right size to accommodate the gardener, and thought must be given to alternate heat if the gardener plans to either extend the growing season or grow year-round.

Permaculture is about combining many systems in a natural way to ensure they work together smoothly. Few garden books I’ve read discussed the workings and melding together of the many intricate aspects of homesteading. This book does. Gardening is the focus, but Blackmore brings animals—goats, ducks, chickens, pigs—into the equation. Let’s face it, they are an important component in that equation and one supports the other. A pumpkin grown can be fed to the chickens who produce manure and soiled hay for the compost which in turn creates wonderful soil for the garden to grow those pumpkins.

Chantecler Chicken Rooster

Chantecler Rooster

Unless a gardener wants to import compost or manure from another site, they will have to create their own. If they don’t, the production of compost from kitchen waste, dry leaves and various other compostable items will be slow. Producing compost (in essence creating soil) is a must to create new gardens and to enrich old gardens. I’ve been doing this with the help of animals for five years, and I’ve been able to make soil instead of importing it. When you import soil, you may also introduction pests and weeds that don’t currently exist on your property. For obvious reasons, you want to avoid this.

Ultimately, I find this Blackmore a brave, innovative soul. Her story of surviving one of the coldest winters in Nova Scotia in decades, living in a make-shift shack with a leaky roof, no insulation and no indoor plumbing with three children is remarkable. It must have been through sheer determination that she endured to greet the spring. This type of spirit must be celebrated. It is the exact spirit that allowed our ancestors to settle this rugged coastline and thrive.

Too many people give up these days when the going gets a little rough and modern conveniences are missing. Bravo to Blackmore. She and those like her are true survivors.

“Permaculture – for the rest of us” – Abundant Living on Less Than an Acre can be purchased directly from the author if you catch her at the market. Or it can be purchased online at Chapters and Amazon.ca.

Jenni Blackmore operates Quackadoodle Farm – Permaculture Micro-farming Atlantic Style where she shares tips and insight to her homesteading.

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