The Stockpot

Permaculture is all about getting the most out for the least in, and aiming for minimal energy usage and zero waste. Well and a whole load of other things too. I was lying awake in bed the other night thinking about things (as you do in the wee small hours) and the image of the stockpot came to me. Powerful symbols can be helpful in directing our thinking. At the end of the day permaculture is always about how we think.

I’ve got many cookbooks in my house (because what’s the point of growing all this food if you don’t eat it?). One of the favourite sentences out of all of these is from Sri Owen’s book: Indonesian Food and Cookery.

She says:
“Most Indonesians live in villages or small towns, or at least grew up there before they joined the rush to the big cities…” and then she talks about Moslem festivals. “Not all Indonesians are Moslems. The feasts of many religions are celebrated in parts of the archipelago. But everyone shares a common attitude, which I think can be described as a sort of informal piety towards every natural force.” A brilliant description of what we have come to call permaculture.

She continues:
“Respect is both felt and shown for the earth, the creatures and plants that live in it, the air and water that nourish it and the uncertain terror of volcano, earthquake and flood. This attachment to the processes of nature is not formalised or fussed over, because it does not need to be: it is taken for granted.”

She has lots of other wise things to say. The most profound of which for me is that Indonesian food is really the food of peasants. There isn’t a higher or lower class of food. Everyone aspires to the same celebration of sharing food if you can, using traditional recipes based on local product.

OK. So what’s the point of the title: The Stockpot. Well it’s one of those rich symbols as well as a reality. In our house there’s usually a stock pot on the go. A way of slow boiling up left overs to extract the last amount of goodness from the food that is available to us. So today I’ve processed cauliflowers, chard, peas and beans and onions. The good bits have all gone into tonight’s meal. But the leftovers have gone into the stockpot, boiling up to make stock to enhance tomorrow’s meal. After that the remains become compost. Nothing wasted.

Another route would be to feed the waste material to chickens before it became compost. Or if we killed and ate a chicken roasted, it’s bones would be used to make stock. OK you’re not going to do that if you are vegetarian or vegan in your diet.

It’s not what you actually do that counts. It’s the principle. The Stockpot principle says it’s not just about wasting nothing it’s about extracting as much as you can from every yield all along the way.

I’m just talking about food here. But there are many other ways we can capture energy and distil it down. The garden is always a great symbol of how to get the most out of life.

I’m off to enjoy vegetable soup now.

Graham Bell and his wife, Nancy Woodhead, welcome visitors to their forest garden by appointment. You can book on courses and open days, or make contact for other engagements via the website.

Sign up to the Red Shed Nursery on Facebook and @redshednursery on twitter to stay in touch.

You can see a short film of the garden here:

Graham Bell is the author of two books: The Permaculture Garden and The Permaculture Way, both available from:

Graham is teaching a Permaculture Design Course at Zaytuna Fram, home of the Permaculture Research Institute Australia from October 17 – 28 2016. Visit the course listing page here for more details and to book.


Graham Bell

I live and work in the Scottish Borders. My wife Nancy and I have created a Forest Garden which is approaching its twenty-fifth anniversary and provides a great deal of food, fuel and company (wildlife). Our children Ruby and Sandy (now in their twenties) have also been great contributors to developing our house and garden as an energy efficient home place. I have written two books on Permaculture, the Permaculture Way and the Permaculture Garden which thousands of people have enjoyed as easy introductions to what Permaculture means in a Northern temperate climate and the society that goes with it. I have taught Permaculture on four continents. After many years engaging with business and politicians in my work to get these essential principles understood and used by people who govern and direct the world's economies I have returned (2012)to teaching courses and restarted a North Hardy Plant Nursery specifically designed to support Forest Gardeners. We welcome invitations to teach elsewhere, and visitors here by arrangement. Full details can be found on my website.


  1. ‘At the end of the day permaculture is always about how we think’

    I reckon feelings and thoughts would be more accurate, as thoughts are a very masculinised concept and feelings often balance our thoughts in ways we would not anticipate if we were to merely think about feelings and not experience our feelings first hand. Hunger is a feeling that drives us to satisfy it and as you say our thoughts drive us to do so in such a manner that we do not waste anything. This is mediated by hunger as those of us who have less are more driven to waste less. One would not be sufficient without the other.
    Love the metaphor of the stockpot though, thanks for sharing
    jacqui lovell

    1. Wouldn’t disagree with your intent. On my PDC we explore Emotional Intelligence, ie the value of feelings as an intelligent response to the world around us and Edward de Bono’s six coloured thinking hats – red being for feelings. So for me feeling is one of the ways we think. And is not gender specific.

  2. By making stock from your leftover veg, then composting, are you depriving soil of nutrient that it would get if you just composted the waste raw. I like the idea of the stockpot, but keen to always focus on enriching the soil.

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