Author Archive

European Permaculture Pioneers

Written by Caroline Aitken on . Posted in Uncategorized

When the concept of Permaculture arrived on our shores from Australia in the early eighties various converts, including Patrick went about adapting some of the techniques for our northern temperate climate. In Patrick’s case this resulted in The Earth Care Manual: A Permaculture Handbook for Britain and other Temperate Climates and others such as Martin Crawford (How To Create A Forest Garden), Graham Burnett (A beginners Guide to Permaculture) and Graham Bell (The Permaculture Garden) have made their own invaluable contributions.

European permaulture continues to evolve and grow as permaculturists experiment and share their discoveries via blogs, articles and books. Whatever form they take, these practitioners’ offerings contribute hugely to our collective wisdom and I am always grateful when teaching to be able to say: “here is a working example…”

permaculture market garden

Ferme du Bec Hellouin, Normandy

In April the book Miraculous Abundance by Perrine & Charles Herve-Gruyer will be released, adding another gem to the permaculture library. The authors run a market garden, Ferme du Bec Hellouin in Northern France, but not your usual market garden. They started their project with the intention of exploring ecologically sound food growing practices, despite neither of them having previous experience of farming. Untainted by knowledge of conventional western practices they took on the principles of permaculture and drew upon sources as varied as the practices of 19th century Parisian Market Gardener’s and Amazonian tribes people. Their faith in the principles carried them through the inevitable bumps of a new and ambitious project (while learning as they went and having the occasional baby!) and in the past 10 years they have created a garden so abundantly productive that they are now working with a French university to record and report their methods and yields. They have caught the attention of other institutions too, including European agencies responsible for planning food security strategies, and they have significantly raised interest in Permaculture in France.

Not only are their food yields incredibly high, but their garden is a haven of biodiversity and a place of real joy to live and work. Their exploration has led to something incredibly important for mankind – agriculture which is not just sustainable but restorative. This book chronicles their fascinating journey and unique approach.


Bob Mehew leading volunteers in planting the first trees at Huxhams Cross Farm.

Closer to home a new farm has been born close to Totnes in Devon. Huxhams Cross Farm was taken on by Marina Brown-O’Connell who, while running the Apricot Centre has acquired much experience of farming with a focus on local organic and biodynamic food, education and well-being. From her existing farm in Essex she now brings her expertise to Devon.

The farm was designed during a Permaculture Design Course laid on for the purpose at Dartington Hall last year. The group came up with a beautiful design which includes soil-building leys and windbreaks in phase one to be followed by agroforestry (fruit trees with alley rotations of grains, pulses and potatoes) and cows and turkeys grazed on green manure pastures. I look forward to seeing the design take shape and being able to refer to another great example of what is possible. I’m sure I will be writing more about Huxhams Cross in the future.

There are many more examples we can take inspiration and guidance from to enable all of us to put theory in the practice. Who knows, our own experimentation may lead to new breakthroughs in permaculture!

Here are some good blogs to check out:

Deano Martin’s The Sustainable Smallholding

Chris Smaje’s Small Farm Future

Kay Hebbourn’s This Week in The Garden

Charles Dowding’s No Dig Gardening Forum

Job Opportunity at Ragmans Lane Farm

Written by Caroline Aitken on . Posted in Uncategorized


Patrick Whitefield Associates has a long and happy history with Ragmans Lane Farm, and both have evolved and grown since the first Permaculture Design Course back in the 90’s. I have waxed lyrical about this history and the wonderful beneficial relationships that continue to thrive in previous posts, so I am happy now to be spreading the word about a new opportunity there.

As it has grown, like many other businesses and enterprises more people have come on board to see it run smoothly. In 2007 Freya became the Farm Manager and has been the architect of many positive changes since then. The farm has fluctuated from incredibly diverse with varied livestock and abundant vegetable gardens, to simplified teaching venue and grazing, back to a diverse and thriving permacuture venue with markets gardens, craft businesses, holistically managed orchards and pioneering agroecology methods. Now Freya will be moving into a more specialised management role and space has opened for someone to come and manage the more land-focussed parts of the business.

For anyone interested in permaculture, farming and land management this will be great chance to learn, practice and grow.

Exciting new job opportunity at
Ragmans Farm

Farm Manager

Salary: £25-28,000 pa

Hours: 37 hours per week with some weekend and evening work.
Location: Ragmans Lane Farm, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire

Do you have land management experience and want to work on an exciting and enterprising farm, committed to learning and developing sustainable solutions?

This new Farm Manager post will lead on the management and ‘hands on’ care of the land and land based enterprises, and contribute to the learning programme at the farm. This is an opportunity to shape the next phase of development on the farm.

Ragmans Lane Farm is a 60 acre farm based in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. Over the past 25 years we have developed a first-rate reputation and expertise on permaculture and sustainability. Our current enterprises include apple orchards and mushroom logs; hosting micro-enterprises; being a living classroom, for others and hosting individuals and groups to stay on the farm. We’re busy and we want to be even busier, so that we can share our learning with as many people as possible. For more information go to:

We are looking for a person with land management skills and experience. You will have a track record of project management, innovation and problem solving skills. You will be able to demonstrate a passion for our work and a willingness to be flexible. You will be a great motivator and able to build strong relationships with colleagues, visitors, students and partners. You will enjoy managing staff and volunteers and sharing your knowledge and skills. You will be able to see the big picture, able to plan, manage operations and also be happy to get your hands dirty. A creative, resourceful, entrepreneurial team player and all rounder will flourish in this role. A full driving licence is also required.

Deadline for applications: 10am Monday 1st February 2016

Please download the Candidate Information Pack here

To explore more of what Ragmans do, see their website:

Permaculture your plot- Perennial Vegetables

Written by Caroline Aitken on . Posted in Uncategorized

Mashua Rice 1

Autumn is here and as the growing season comes to an end we can reflect on our successes and failures and how we might do things next year. Each year in the annual veg garden there is some crop or other that doesn’t do well, perhaps because of the weather, a pest, or just the mysteries of gardening. But when a whole crop does poorly it can be at best disheartening and at worst disastrous.

As permaculturists we know that diversity gives us resilience in many different ways, not least by protecting us from relying upon a small number of crops each season. If we’re only growing 5 main crops, then if one fails we lose 20% of our harvest so it stands to reason that the more varieties we can grow the safer our store cupboard will be. We can expand on this premise by diversifying further and including perennials in our vegetable garden. Many people already grow popular perennials like rhubarb, asparagus and artichokes but there are many more perennial vegetables available and I would suggest that for the following reasons we should give them a little more space.

Ost Fern Side


Advantages of growing perennials

  • Less work than annuals – you don’t need to grow from scratch each year.
  • Crops fill the hungry gap – many perennial shoots, stems and leaves can be harvested before annuals are ready.
  • More resilient to pests and diseases – a mature root system makes them stronger and more resistant to attack.
  • Higher nutritional value – larger root systems give them access to parts of the soil annuals can’t reach.
  • Less soil disturbance – good for the soil and good on steeper ground which is hard to cultivate or prone to erosion.
  • Easy to grow in polycultures – once established they can thrive with minimal intervention.
  • Complement an annual garden due to seasonality


  • Less variety – although you still have plenty to choose from. See Martin Crawford’s How to Grow Perennial Vegetables
  • Harder to get hold of – but increasingly more available. See the Agroforestry Research Trust’s online catalogue.
  • Lower yield to area – the plant gets to it’s mature size which means that it starts to take up more space relative to it’s edible parts.
  • Can be slower to harvest –  edible parts are picked off rather than pulling the whole plant, although some can be cut to the ground and will regrow from the crown, Hostas for example.

So if you feel like branching out, here are a few top tips to get you started.


  • Solomons side 1Only grow what you like to eat
  • Grow in combination with annuals as they fill different parts of the season.
  • Grow edible ornamentals in your flower beds, eg. Solomon’s seal, columbine, day lily, hosta, violet, mallow & nasturtium.
  • Use plenty of leafy greens as they are so Purslane salad 2versatile and nutritious, eg. Daubentons Kale, Sea Beet, purslane.
  • Chop and drop throughout season to add organic matter to the soil – comfrey is very good for this.
  • Mulch well with compost in winter and cover any non-hardy herbaceous plants with straw or similar.
  • Skirret can be hard to get established, but is Skirret soup 2well worth it – like sweet creamy parsnip.
  • Oca is a great ground cover which spreads well and is a delicious winter root crop high in vitamin C.
  • Welsh onion and Egyptian onion are very useful and together cover most of the season.
  • Columbine leaves are delicious mild salad leaves which make an amazing gin liqueur made like sloe gin.
  • Ostrich fern shoots are delicious. The ferns get Hosta Soup 2pretty big, about 1m across, but are very shade tolerant.
  • Turkish rocket is a good stand-in for mustard greens in early summer and the flower buds are like peppery purple sprouting broccoli later in the summer.
  • Sweet cicely is a good pollinator plant and the leaves can be used as a herb. In late summer they produce sweet green seed pods which taste like aniseed balls – great snacks for kids and the Alex stems 1grazing gardener.
  • Mashua is related to nasturtiums and looks very similar. You can eat the flowers and leaves but also the tubers which make a great buttery mash in winter.


Pictures from top left:

Mashua tubers; Ostrich Fern shoots; Solomons Seal shoots; Siberian Purslane; Skirret roots; Hosta shoots; Alexanders leaves and stems.

Permaculture Design Course on Dartmoor