Why Permaculture?

The Power of Permaculture: An Enthusiastic Introduction

In this video, UMASS student Ryan Harb tells the TEDx audience in Utica, New York State, about the permaculture project he initiated back in 2010 which resulted in the first public university permaculture garden in the United States. During the talk he gives a very succinct definition of permaculture and how it can practically apply to “all people, not just those of us who are privileged”. If you are new to the concept of permaculture or would like a clear and simple explanation of it, this could be a very effective video to watch.

Much of the talk is about mulch. One of the main practical applications of permaculture Harb engages in is sheet mulching and he explains the process very simply with clear steps, even quizzing the audience at the end – so get your notebooks ready! One small thing I would add to his step-by-step guide is that although adding a layer of compost on top of the cardboard layer is great for helping to create very nutrient-rich soil, if one reason that you are sheet mulching is because you currently don’t have very nutrient-rich soil then it’s fine to skip this layer. A good mix of carbon and nitrogen in the mulch layer will break down into quality soil (1).

Harb is clearly very inspired by permaculture which comes out in his speaking. He is also inspired by President Obama and gives some interesting quotes from the nearly ex-president which seem quite timely. But what is the true power of permaculture? You might want to watch to find out…


1. Hemenway, Toby, 2009. Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. Chelsea Green Publishing, Vermont

Charlotte Ashwanden

Charlotte Ashwanden (nee Haworth). Born in London, I am very interested in peace and community and have a degree in Peace Studies. I got my Permaculture Design Certificate in 2011, from Treeyo at Permaship in Bulgaria, and my Permaculture Teaching Certificate in 2018 at Aranya in India. For me, permaculture is about so much more than garden design; I am mainly interested in applying ‘human permaculture’ as a complement to peace practices. In particular, I like to look at how human permaculture can be applied through psychology, communication and education techniques. In 2015 I got married in a pagan ceremony in a field to David Ashwanden and changed my surname to Ashwanden. With my husband, I’ve travelled a lot in Europe and Asia and encountered many permaculture and community projects. I have lived in various situations, from squatted land to intentional communities, as well as more ‘normal’ places, in the UK, Spain, Italy, Thailand and Vietnam. A professional dancer, I do fire and hula dance and sometimes run dance meditation workshops. Currently, I live in the Andalucian mountains.


  1. It’s only partly science based, more of a romantic belief system. Layers hinder free gas and water movement and sheet mulching isn’t recommended in a science based fb gardening group I follow. Wood chip mulching better. I made a hügelkultur bed myself and I wasn’t impressed. Hard work for poor results. The TED talk is all very lovely if you have no other information about it. The gardening world is so full of generally held myths. Still, I applaud their heart and their goals, just question the methods.

    1. Permaculture is site specific, meaning methods that work really well for some aren’t the best for all areas. I question your assertion that it is on partly based on science, because the basis of permaculture is: observation, research, hypothesis, experiment, gather results, repeat if necessary. Plainly put, the scientific method. No group has all the answers. Find what works for your area and share your results!

    2. The real myth it s when the science pretend to replace nature.
      Look about gmo, ploughing soil, slash and burn method, using agro-chemical.
      All these methods was promoted by “green revolution science” was totally wrong for 60 years. Now we should repair all the soil on the planet.

      I teaching permaculture in malaysia in the schools for 5 years and i really change something in good way.

      About your mention: “romantic belief system” try for a while a real permaculture or visit some permaculture place. You can comment after.

      best regards

  2. I agree with the comments about being site-specific. Here in my high-desert garden, at 6000 ft elevation, the only way I’ve been able to get gardens to really grow is to use deep sheet mulches, with all the layers, and topped with wood chips to reduce evaporation. Using this method on top of my nearly pure sand, I am actually starting to see topsoil developing. Where I just put down a few inches of woodchips, there is only an inch or so of soil, then I hit hard sand again. Yes, I have a very fine desert sand that is compacted just below the loose blowing sand, that is so hard it takes a pick to open it up–unless it is wet, which only happens after a very rare heavy rainstorm. The first year I tried the woodchip method, I ended up with L-shaped carrots because the roots couldn’t penetrate the hard sand. Putting woodchips on top of the sheet mulch layers, I finally got some decent, straight carrots this year.

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