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.

A No-Straw Clay Pizza Oven

The inaugural use of the clay oven If you are into permaculture, eco-construction and/or just cool garden projects, then building your own pizza oven has undoubtedly made a blip on the radar at some point. For me, I first encountered them on Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua, where it seemed every other hostel, hotel or farm was hosting a weekly pizza night. I was volunteering at a small permaculture project […]

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Guerilla Gardening in Rural Panama

A gnome (the author) in the Communal Garden Make no mistake, the war is on. The commodity is food, the source needs to be sustainable, and the community needs to know about it. If you are already into permaculture, or just gaining an interest, then congratulations and welcome to the peace-loving yet active front lines. We call it guerilla gardening.

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What to Expect When Volunteering on Farms (and What Farms Expect from You)

My front garden on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua “WWOOFing” has become a very common form of budget travel these days. The concept is simple enough: Workers/Travelers volunteer a few hours of labor in exchange for room and board. In your free time, you can frolic on beaches or hike mountains just as any other tourist might. It’s a great deal. It’s particularly fantastic for those of us who aren’t particularly […]

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Accidental Propagation, For the Best in Gardening (Panama)

Many of the most successful gardens we’ve propagated have been as much luck and accident as they have been my astounding wits. We’ve made lots of special garden beds, no-till expressions of fertility and decomposition, but often times it’s the rogue plantings, the spots where seeds have fallen from a pocket or simply tossed away as compostable refuse, that turn out to be the most bountiful. Here are some of […]

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Oh, The Beds I’ve Made: No-Till Gardening in Tropical Panama

One of the most exciting parts of taking the reins to a hectare of lakeside land in Panama was planning just exactly what kind of experimenting was going to be on order. We knew there would be a food forest. We knew there’d be a vegetable garden, fresh herbs, and lots of very dense clay soil with which to contend. Much of the space was steep hillsides, but at the […]

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Attracting Wild Animals for the Good of the Garden: Which, Why, and How

A colony of bats in a mango tree Permaculture designs, especially on a large-scale, incorporate domesticated animals. For organic gardening, it just makes life a lot easier. Manure is key in growing anything. A timed circulation of grazing means the land gets cleared, fertilized and tilled by the animals’ natural patterns as opposed to the farmer’s sweat. Then, at some point, animals equate to food. The efficiency and logic are […]

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How to Steal from Your Neighbors and Have Them Love You For It (Panama)

Stolen leaves over yucca plants with banana circle backer The first time I did it I did so on the sly. I needed some mulch for a piece of dried up clay I was hoping to convert into a forest floor upon which I planned to grow a food forest. The piece of land next door was thick with leaves, and having seen the groundskeeper over there laboring with a […]

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New Trees in Guatemala That Are Not Just for Reforestation

Special bicycle for shelling coffee beans It sounds strange to speak of poverty as an exciting opportunity, but many of the projects in Guatemala make me do just that. I’m particularly impressed with those working with trees. Reforestation is often not so simple as just planting trees. Mass agriculture has created a need for serious reforestation efforts, but that need doesn’t override humanitarian concerns like malnutrition and poverty. A largely […]

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How the Whole Volunteers Thing Works

Where and how to get free labor, what to expect from volunteers, and why it’s totally worth it. A table full of happy volunteers It was less than a year ago that my wife Emma and I set out on journey through Central and South America, our plan being to volunteer on farms the whole way. We’d toyed with gardening here and there, spent some time running the hotel side […]

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The Tropical Salad: Leaves of a Different Cut (Panama)

Leaves of a different cut I love the tropics as a place for permaculture, specifically the ability to grow tropical fruits and the capability to plant stuff year round. I like the interplay between rainy and dry season, the way things get incredibly green and grow uncontrollably in the wettest of times, and all that fodder for composting when things get parched. Still, living here is not without its sacrifices. […]

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Herb Spirals and Herb Circles

Fresh herbs right outside the kitchen door The herb spiral is more or less an ubiquitous installment at the permaculture farm, so when we came to work on a property in Panama, building a spiral as near to the kitchen as possible was a top priority. Not only would it supply us with fresh and flavorful meals, but it wouldn’t take long to establish a useable system, a harvestable, sustainable […]

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The Victorian Stumpery Meets Hugelkultur: Timeless Matchmaking With Permaculture (Panama)

The Inspirational Stumpery by Jane-Ann Liddle I’m crazy about hugelkultur. I love the concept of burying old fallen and felled trees to provide years of slow-release compost for crops to come. I love using waste material for something useful. I love not having to turn or move compost about. I love the chance to sculpt a really raised bed, something behemoth — hulking if you will — that makes a […]

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