Permaculture is an amazing set of principles to live life by – it’s resilient, productive, and kind to the environment. There is seemingly endless knowledge to absorb on the topic – techniques, plants, landscaping, case studies, principles, and more. We’ve found that books are the best way to learn about permaculture.
Below are our favorite books on permaculture that we’ve read and enjoyed. This list will continue to be updated as we read more books on the topic.
If you don’t know what permaculture is or are unsure if you’re ready to invest time and money into buying books, check out our short intro to permaculture here.
Our absolute favorite publisher, Chelsea Green Publishing has an amazing wealth of books on the topics of permaculture, sustainability, gardening, nature, off-grid living, and more. Most of the books on this list are in fact published by Chelsea Green. If you have any interest in these topics, it behooves you to check out their website to browse their book selection. You won’t regret it!
1. Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture
If you are just getting into permaculture, we recommend starting with this book. The author, Toby Hemenway, does an excellent job of explaining how to shift your mindset about gardening and having a productive property. Additionally, you’ll learn all of the basics of permaculture and its principles.
If you plan on reading more about permaculture, Gaia’s Garden is a great primer for certain concepts that may not be explained in more advanced books. For example, collecting rainwater, building healthy soil, guilds, and forest gardens are explained in detail, where these are considered assumed knowledge in other books below.
While this book focuses on implementing permaculture principles in a small quarter-acre backyard ecosystem, it is still helpful if you plan to garden on a bigger property. The same principles can be scaled up to accommodate whatever size property you have. We certainly, though, recommend combining knowledge in this book with other books in this list that focus on larger properties to gain a better perspective of all options available to you.
Even as your knowledge grows and you have a firm grasp on the basics, Gaia’s Garden is a great tool to refer back to. The extensive appendix and glossary provide easily accessible information in the back of the book, and the many tables throughout the book list useful plants and their benefits.
2. Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture
In this book, Josef “Sepp” Holzer, nicknamed “the agricultural rebel,” takes you on his journey of reshaping his monoculture mountainside Austrian property into a permaculture paradise. He gives you a tour of the intricate network of terraces, raised beds, ponds, and waterways, all well covered with fruit trees and other productive vegetation that he’s built on his land.
This book is a treasure trove of his knowledge and skill filled with colorful photographs and diagrams on almost every page. It contains plenty of detailed information, such as extensive lists of fruit varieties he recommends for permaculture, and details of how he manages water and microclimates on this steep and chilly mountain farm.
It’s important to note that this is set on the side of an Austrian mountain, so specific details of his methods may not work for you as they did for him. However, this is not to negate the value of the book for people who don’t live in Austria – far from it. Much of the detailed information is highly relevant in any temperate country.
Additionally, much of the value in this book comes from the attitudes it teaches. Sepp teaches you the proper way to think about how to do certain things, not just telling you how to do them. This is a great mindset primer to read before you get into more advanced design and implementation books, like the ones below.
3. The Resilient Farm and Homestead
If you’re ready to take the next step and either purchase a new property or redesign your current one, read this book. Ben Falk walks you all the way from the “looking at property” stage to the “upkeeping our now forever home and permaculture garden” stage. This is a wonderful general overview of how to transform a property into the best, most productive, and most natural version it can possibly be.
Falk expertly explains how to evaluate a property and its natural features. Since permaculture is all about incorporating and imitating as much of the natural environment into your property as possible, it’s important to understand what its truly natural state would be. He actually suggests taking an entire year to simply observe a property before making any changes to it to fully understand what happens on it throughout each season.
In addition to the knowledge of evaluating properties, this book will also teach you:
– important features to look out for when purchasing a property
– how to map and plan your permaculture homestead
– soil improvement techniques
– home-building suggestions
– gravity-fed water system tips
– human health and nutrient-dense food production strategies
– animal grazing and silvopasture techniques
– and much, much more
The Resilient Farm and Homestead explains some basic permaculture principles in the context of real-life examples. It is helpful to have a basic understanding of permaculture before reading this book. Additionally, we do not recommend this book for anyone exclusively working with a small yard or a micro-permaculture garden. Of course, you might glean some insight from Falk, but the major points of this book are intended for folks working with at least several acres.
4. Farming the Woods
If you’re familiar with permaculture, you most certainly know about the concept of food forests – a multilayered approach to creating the most productive food plots possible by mimicking and harnessing the natural layout of a forest. This is usually implemented on smaller plots and yards to yield as much as possible from the available space.
But, have you ever heard of forest farming? It’s a similar concept to food forests, but instead of building a “forest” from scratch, it involves actually growing food within an already established forest. Farming the Woods is an in-depth examination of everything you need to know to get started in forest farming.
The information in this book is meant to be used for temperate forests only, which, in the US, is almost fully in the East. Basically, for a rough idea, draw a line from the western border of Michigan down to the western border of Louisiana, and everything to the east of that is considered a temperate forest climate.
Farming the Woods has some incredibly detailed information regarding specific plants and trees. You’ll learn about cultivating both medicinal and food crops, creating a forest nursery, harvesting and utilizing wood products, how to implement animals into your forest farm, and how to design your forest farm. The book is riddled with diagrams, charts, maps, and illustrations that truly help you visualize the use of forest farming techniques on your own property.
We recommend this book to anyone that has wooded acreage on their property. Even if you don’t plan on designing a full-fledged forest farm, it will provide helpful information on how best to manage your forest to keep it productive and healthy.
5. Edible Forest Gardens
Now, it’s time to bring out the permaculture big guns – Edible Forest Gardens Vols. I and II. If you are dedicated to the permaculture lifestyle and want to learn as much as you can about plants, techniques, design, etc., then this set is for you.
Volume I lays out the idea of the forest garden and explains the basic ecological principles that make it work, which offers homeowners and gardeners a new way of viewing modern home landscaping and nature. This volume is an in-depth overview of concepts, underlying values and principles, and overall goals of forest gardening and permaculture. Learn why these methods are successful in creating healthy environments for plants, humans, insects, and wildlife.
Volume II is the practical guide of how to implement everything you learned in Volume I. You’ll learn concrete ways to design, establish, and maintain your own forest garden. Along the way, the authors present case studies and examples, as well as tables, illustrations, and a uniquely valuable “plant matrix” that lists hundreds of the best edible and useful species. This is a hands-on manual that you can follow along and adapt to your property as you design and create your very own forest garden.
Taken together, the two volumes of Edible Forest Gardens offer an advanced course in ecological gardening-one that will forever change the way you look at plants and your environment.