Permaculture Design and Advanced Homesteading in Cold Climates with Ben Falk (PVP027)

“Most people have more land than they can manage well. Moving down in acreage might be advantageous. It is better to manage 5 acres right than 100 acres wrong.”Ben Falk

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Ben Falk from Whole Systems Design, LLC joins me talk about permaculture design and what he has learned on his research site over the years.

He talks about how to break into the business as a design.  He touches on cold climate infrastructure and heating with wood.  And he goes into his thoughts on designing a property and why it’s important to understand the land’s capability and how you should relate that to your goals. We also spend some time talking about the mass selection of plant genetics for a site, stressing the importance of over stacking the system in the beginning to see what works and what doesn’t.

Key Takeaways:

  • Get some experience working with the land and systems before you start designing properties as “a designer.”
  • You can reduce your wood usage by 30-40% by drying wood well versus haphazardly drying it.
  • Cold humid climates have a low tolerance for bad moisture detailing in structures.  When designing a home detail carefully to keep the home dry and get water out.
  • Grow tree multi-purpose tree species for fuel wood.  Consider black locusts – fixes nitrogen, fast grower, rot resistant wood, good fuel wood, and makes great saw logs.
  • Have goals but understand the land’s capability so you can adjust those goals as needed.  Don’t fight against the land’s tendencies and capabilities, work with it, not against it.
  • Most people have more land than they can manage well.  Moving down in acreage might be advantageous.  It is better to manage 5 acres right than 100 acres wrong.
  • Most people can have most of their needs met on 5-10 acres.  Unless you have a commercial aspect or grazing component.
  • Have a good access plan for your site.  Don’t box yourself out.  Start and maintain a clear access pattern which is based on the water flow throughout the site.
  • For site selection general location and access are a quick way to filter down a list of a lot of properties.  Then look to the Keyline Scale of Permanance.  Consider water security and controlling as much of a watershed as you can.
  • Focus on manageability with regards to plantings.  Plant based on water access with on contour swales.
  • Not all permaculture techniques will work on all sites.  So don’t expect that.
  • Practice the mass selection of genetics.  Identify the best genetics from your site by growing trees from seed.  Plant as many tress as you can on a site, way closer than you would ever imagine, and cut out the ones that don’t do well.
  • Use the first 3-5 years on a site to learn what does well.  Years 5-10 are when you focus on plants and families that really want ot grow on your site – microclimate – aspect – soils.  And there is no way to know which ones will work unless you start putting a lot of plants in the ground.

Cold Climate Infrastructure, What to Consider:

  • Locate the building in the most appropriate spot.  Look for the warmest microclimate.
  • Have a small home.  Smaller is easier to heat than larger.
  • Insulate the home very well.
  • Make use of available sunlight.

New to Design?

  • Get experience before you start designing systems.
  • Try to get access to some land so you can work with your own design and systems.
  • Consult for neighbors for free.  They get the design work for free, you get the experience.
  • Learn how to design and communicate.  Working with clients is more than just designing a property.
  • Having some formal design training might be helpful.

Image: Whole Systems Design, LLC

Ben’s Homestead Site.   Image: Whole Systems Design, LLC

Ben's Homstead Site. Image: Whole Systems Design, LLC

Ben’s Homstead Site. Image: Whole Systems Design, LLC

10 Years In A Cold Climate: Resilience & Regeneration. Principles in Practice 

Whole Systems Design, LLC – An Overview

Ben Falk: The Resilient Farm and Homestead


The Resilient Farm and Homestead is a handbook for developing regenerative human habitat systems adaptive to drought, flooding, heat, power outage, price spikes, pest pressure, and the multitude of challenges brought by climate change, peak oil, food system contamination and economic decline. The book also details leading-edge strategies for regenerating soil, water systems and human health through the design and operations of the homestead and farm. 

“Ben Falk calls his book about reviving a wornout hill farm in Vermont an example of resilience and regeneration; I call it pure natural magic. Grow rice in New England? Yes. Heat water to 155 degrees F on cold winter days at a rate of gallon a minute by piping it through a compost pile? Yes. How about dinner tonight of your own rack of lamb garnished with homegrown mushrooms? Yes. Your choice of scores of different vegetables and fruits even in winter? Yes. Plus, your own dairy products from your own sheep. All the while, the soil producing this magic, on a site once thought little more than a wasteland, grows yearly more fertile and secure from natural calamity.” – Gene Logsdon

The book covers the groundbreaking systems Ben Falk, M.A.L.D. and his team have established at the Whole Systems Design research farm over the past decade. The book includes detailed information on earthworks, water systems, rice paddies (likely the first on the planet in such a cold climate), livestock, species composition, site design and management, fuelwood production and processing, human health-soil enhancement strategies, topsoil production and remineralization, nuts, perennial food and medicine crops, and high performance buildings.

You can purchase the book on

More information Ben Falk and Whole Systems Design:

Whole Systems Design

Whole Systems Design on Facebook

Whole Systems Design on YouTube



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