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 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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The Importance of Trees in the Garden

In permaculture, forest gardening is high on our list of priorities. While the production value of certain trees, specifically fruit and nut species, is an obvious positive, there are many more reasons trees should be featured often and prominently in our designs. When considering them carefully, we can find a bounty of benefits to enjoy. Trees play a vital role in eco-systems, in the planet’s atmosphere, in our water systems, […]

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Attracting Bees to the Garden and Keeping Them There without a Hive

People are in the fight for the rights of bees these days. After a couple of award-winning documentaries (Vanishing of the Bees, Colony) and some real worry in the headlines, the masses have shown up, at least in spirit. The kings of agrochemicals are being badgered, outlawed, and lampooned around every turnover of borders, all in the name of bees. Now, we mustn’t pretend like there are no other voices […]

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Volunteering for Volunteers: A Slow Evolution of Hosting Free Labor

Recently, I’ve been working with volunteers in two capacities. I oversee the daily, walk-in volunteer program at Caoba Farms, which is currently undergoing a massive organizational overhaul, an effort to make it more predictable and attentive. On the other end of the spectrum, I’m now working weekly as a volunteer for Garden of Hope, helping to physically implement a permaculture design that I’ve been voluntarily developing for the roughly one-acre […]

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5 Designs for Growing Food Vertically

Permaculture changes the way we look at space. For some of us, it opens up pathways to making the most of every inch we’re given. For others, it allows us to relax our demands on the land and ourselves, to put thoughtful design in place and let it play out as nature then sees fit. Whatever way we are moved, without a doubt, verticality becomes a part of how we […]

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