Sepp Holzer's Permaculture

Patrick Whitefield | Monday, 1st November 2010
The champion of farm-scale permaculture has set out his years of wisdom and experience in this fascinating new book
Author: Sepp Holzer
Publisher: Permanent Publications
Publication year: 2010
RRP: £19.95

I recently had an email asking me if I could recommend anyone successfully practising permaculture on a farm rather than on a domestic scale, or any books about the same. Without a moment’s hesitation I directed her to Sepp Holzer and to this book. As far as I know there’s no better example of farm-scale permaculture anywhere in Europe than his farm, the Krameterhof, high in the mountains of Austria.

While the surrounding mountain sides are covered in dark monocultures of spruce, the Krameterhof stands out like a beacon. It’s an intricate network of terraces, raised beds, ponds, waterways and tracks, well covered with fruit trees and other productive vegetation and with the farmhouse neatly nestling amongst them. The farm is not just and integrated part of the natural world, it’s also where Sepp Holzer and his wife Veronika make their living. It has taken a great deal of skill and knowledge to achieve this, and these things don’t come easily. Right from his childhood, when his mother gave him a small plot for his first garden, he has observed, questioned and experimented. After a lifetime of permaculture farming he knows the natural world like few other people do today.

This book is a treasure trove of his knowledge and skill with full of colour photographs and diagrams on 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. A word of warning here: what works for him on his Austrian mountain will not necessarily work for you on your own land. Here in Britain, for example, we have a cloudy maritime climate, in strong contrast to Austria’s continental climate. We lack the sunshine which is such a key element in the way he creates favourable microclimates.

This is not to negate the value of the book for people who live outside Austria. – far from it. Much of the detailed information is highly relevant in any temperate country. But even more valuable than the information the book contains are the attitudes it teaches. Its message is not ‘this is how you do it’ but ‘this is the way you think about how to do it.’ Sepp Holzer’s way is the way of the future. In the fossil fuel age we’ve been able to impose our will on the land by throwing cheap energy at every problem. In the future that option won’t be open to us any more. We’ll have to tread the more subtle path, the path which patiently observes nature and seeks to imitate it. That future may not be as far off as we think.

Patrick Whitefield is a permaculture author and teacher