Jonathon Engels

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The financially unfortunate combination of travel enthusiast, freelance writer, and vegan gardener, Jonathon Engels whittled and whistled himself into a life that gives him cause to continually scribble about it. He has lived as an expat for over a decade, worked in nearly a dozen countries, and visited dozens of others in the meantime, subjecting the planet to a fiery mix of permaculture, music, and plant-based cooking. More of his work can be found at Jonathon Engels: A Life About.

Plant-Based Sources of Protein

Any time I mention veganism, I feel the need to precursor the discussion with the fact that in no way am I suggesting that anyone is wrong for not practicing a plant-based diet or that it is necessarily healthier than an omnivorous one. Without a doubt, circumstances of food availability are different around the world, and regardless of our whereabouts, we all have personal versions of what we will and […]

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Black Locust, How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count the Ways: Hmm. At Least Seven.

In Belize, it sounds daft, but I used to find myself daydreaming about a tree called madre de cacao (Gliricidia sepium). It was a strapping type of tree: tall, quick-rooting, nitrogen-fixing. While living there, my wife Emma and I were doing a work-trade at a local cacao farm, and we discovered this specie, the “mother of cacao”, and instantly put it to work in our gardens. It made for great […]

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A Few Forays into Foraging from the Forest

Emma and I have been living as artists-in-residence at a farm — Snaggy Mountain — just north of Asheville for the last month. Snaggy Mountain isn’t necessarily a permaculture site, though there are certain shared commonalities. Jared, the owner/operator, certainly has interest in growing food, and he is no stranger perennial vegetables or the drive towards garden forestry. On our first full day here, he took us on a foraging […]

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Not Getting Burned Anymore

Sometimes I wonder if all of the modern ailments, which seem ever more numerous as the years pass, are really just the result of adopting chemicals as a regular component in nearly every part of our lives. Can it be that simple? The sudden outbreak of peanut allergies, the increase in chronic diseases, the fact that cancer now seems more the expectation than unpredictable tragedy—have we just become more aware […]

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A Mere 20 of the Roles Trees Can Play in Permaculture Design

While permaculture certainly pays mind to annual crops, by and large it is a system rooted in perennial plants and, in particular, trees. Permaculture, as the “perma” name suggests, is a movement towards permanent agricultural arrangements, ones which culturally value nutrition, systemic health, and sustainability over monetary wealth and materialism. Permaculture designs can be quite complex cycles for avoiding waste creation and maximizing productive efficiency, but they are fairly simple […]

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A Time-Sequencing Plan for Straw Bale Gardens

Something has never sat quite right with me about straw bale gardens in a place where soil is available. Like hydroponics, I can envision it for places that lack soil and ground space: rooftops, driveways, parking lots, and the like. Then, I’m not sure if it’s the purist in me, but the generally movement towards focusing on soil repair and permanence (my interpretation of what permaculture ideally does) rings much […]

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Using the Community as Part of Your Own Permaculture Design

When beginning with a permaculture design, when we get out our pencils and graph paper and start dreaming a little, we often do so with a rather insular perspective of what our systems can be. We think of how to be sustainable on our own quarter-acre. We think of how to go about doing it all by ourselves. For me, someone who rarely envisions more than a couple of acres […]

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Using Weeds to Read the Soil: Some Basic Concepts to Get Started

Weeds are becoming a more and more appreciated component of gardening. We have been reintroduced to eating the weeds, with things like dandelion leaves becoming a niche crop. Also, we are encouraging plants that, up until recently, were viewed as weeds (dynamic accumulators like comfrey and pioneering legumes) to revitalize our soils. And, many gardeners are once again celebrating weeds as a means of reading the soil. Geoff Lawton says […]

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3 Simple But Sustainable Ways to Build Tomato Cages

The fact of the matter is that tomatoes are, indeed, perennial plants when in their native tropics, but that is also beside the point because some foods, perennial or not, are just too damned tasty to fully wave goodbye to. There is a time and a place to play with tomatoes in the greenhouse, see how many years they might last. But, ultimately, when spring rolls around and temperatures start […]

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Why We Use Swales and How to Do It Appropriately

A swale is one of those permaculture terms that probably gets thrown around to readily (or inaccurately) and perhaps implemented irresponsibly. Only a few years into my permaculture career, I have certainly been guilty of this, and I have distinct memories of mistakes I made with regards to both attempting to construct swales and putting them in the wrong place. In my defense, and perhaps to my own credit, I […]

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How & Why We Are Going to Build a Mandala Garden

Let it be said from the outset that the following discussion of mandala gardens is based on a relatively large one, over 100 square meters, that a host of volunteers and I will soon be doing for the Garden of Hope in Guatemala. Our mandala garden, as most mandala gardens are, will be a series of keyhole beds, so in this article, we will be sure to discuss what exactly […]

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Quick and Simple Tips for Germinating Seeds Yourself

Growing crops, or any plant really, often begins with germinating seeds. Occasionally, we get a head start with plants that can be reproduced with cuttings or other propagation techniques, but by and large, it’s seed to soil that starts the garden. This can sometimes be a little frustrating, as seeds can be finicky and unwilling to cooperate. In other words, any advantage we can grab for germinating seeds is an […]

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