Geoff Lawton Talks Permaculture – The Past, The Future, and The Land. (PVP031)

“It should all be fun. If you’re having fun you’ve got the design right. If you’re not having fun you have the design wrong. Sit down, have a cup of tea and think about it.”Geoff Lawton

Geoff Lawton joins me today to talk about permaculture.  Geoff talks about his early days in permaculture, where we are in permaculture today, and where we need to go in the future.  He touches on what he has learned along the way and what he finds most valuable.

Geoff then goes on to answer a lot of audience questions about tree systems, water harvesting, his new chicken tractor for composting, and his upcoming online PDC.

To see all of Geoff’s great videos, be sure to check out

Geoff’s definition of permaculture:

A system of design that provides all of the needs for humanity in a way that benefits the environment. 




Key Takeaways:

  • Consider starting a community group. They provide a whole lot of support to keep things moving in the right direction.
  • Realize the ability of pioneer plants and succession to work for you.  One of Geoff’s early mistakes was not allowing plants to work more for him.  Later he embraced and accepted plant rampancy.
  • Don’t just do things in patterns for the sake of patterns.  Rationalize and legitimize every placement and connection you make.
  • So many people are stuck in the matrix.  They know things, they just don’t do anything. 
  • Permaculture  needs to focus on feeding people in urban and peri-urban areas.
  • Use chickens in your composting system.  There is a huge benefit to using chickens at the beginning of a composting cycle.
  • Consider aquaculture as a use for wetlands in temperate wetlands.  Whatever you dig in wetlands you gain in soil, so you intensify the water.  You get drier land and wetter water using a temperate climate chinampa.


  • “It should all be fun.  If you’re having fun you’ve got the design right.  If you’re not having fun, then you have the design wrong.  Sit down, have a cup of tea and think about it.”
  • “The wilderness can repair itself very well if we just leave it alone.”
  • “We can produce the same amount of nutrition on the equivalent area of about 4% of the area being used by industrial agriculture globally.”
  • “We’re stuck in a position of dumb down.  Fully informed, totally incapable and completely disturbed or scared.”
  • “We just need billions of people with the same intention moving in the same direction and making the same level of commitment.”
  • “We are the future on-ground universities of the world.  Universities are pretty well useless.  They don’t do anything except cost a lot of money and ruin people’s lives.  They never end up actually working in what they studied.  They just go and study and do something else and suffer for the rest of their life.”
  • “Let your system demonstrate it’s evolutions, then you dynamically adjust.”
  • “Water harvesting done the right way actually allows us to increase the diversity of life systems and soil creating systems.  And they can also be providers of all of our needs in every way, not just food.  All of our resources can come from living systems.  But you don’t really get that ability until you know how to harvest water.”



Dryland Planting Strategies:

Need to use every trick in the book as an anti-evaporation strategy to start a system in an arid environment.

  • Increased shade.
  • Increased wind buffering.
  • Increased soil organic matter.
  • Increased water infiltration.


GOOD TIMING.  “wrong time in drylands and it doesn’t work.”


Image: Geoff Lawton, Greening the Desert II

Image: Geoff Lawton, Greening the Desert II


Swales – Sizing the swale:

The size of the swale depends on the property size and amount of catchment, the depth of the soil, and the climate.

On slopes you can use the height of the trees planted on the swales to determine placement.  If you draw a horizontal line from the maximum height of the climax trees planted on your swale to the slope, then that is where the next upslope swale should be.

On windy flats the spacing of swales is determined based on the wind buffering effects of trees.

Arid Tropics – Nitrogen Fixing Trees:

Image: Werner Stur.

Gliricidia sepium.    Image: Werner Stur.

Geoff Lawton at TEDxAjman


How to Grow Chickens without Buying them Grain


How to Make a Food Forest Suburb

Image1Designing Sustainable Communities: Learning from Village Homes on Amazon


tumblr_ml0pdkn6SX1s9i7ymo1_400Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual on Amazon

More information Geoff Lawton:

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Comments 2

  1. My ears perked up when Geoff mentioned Chinampas for cold climate wetland areas. I have about 2 acres in S.E. MI that would be great for this, but I have not been able to find any information about it being done in higher latitudes. Does anyone know of anyplace this has been done?

  2. This was a great way to experience Geoff without the constraints of video. I’ve been into ‘growing organic’ since I did a small photo shoot for Rodale Press, way back in 1967. As time moved on, I neglected to plant anything yet I’ve been composting religiously.

    My composting question for Arkansas is what happens when summer arrives, and the microbes in the soil begin to literally eating themselves? These piles go from a foot deep, down to 3″ in less than a fortnight. Thinking I should maximize ‘volume,’ I can extend the potency by layering this into a new pile with plenty of bermuda grass. It heats very rapidly and this ends the insect-rich, wormy stage.

    This is Good, if you assume it needs to be applied directly to any food or flower beds, but Bad if you are attempting to maximize on the total endeavor. Note, chickens are impractical in our neighborhood and I’ve seen no difference when adding manure to our lightly meat-based kitchen wastes.

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