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April after a VERY snowy winter

Though we started the winter easily enough–with almost no snow through Dec. and January, Feb and March were off the charts for snowfall. If there is one safe generalization to make about climate change, it is that extremes are becoming/ will be(?) the norm. More or less of snow, rain, heat, cold–you name it.IMG_5815IMG_5797

Though our essential survival has not been threatened, which it  may have without machines to bail us out, it still  feels like a disaster to me–though as i suggested, we’ve weathered pretty well. It is not over yet however, and as of today-April 14–most of the ground still has about 12″ of snow plus all the much higher drifts and piles. Fortunately it is melting slowly–as a big rain would compound the run off difficulties. One effect will be that two months or so of spring work will need to be compressed into the early summer gardening, which in a normal year is a bit of a crush. So we shall see…

Our June/ July internship course if full up and we are looking forward to that, and the Sept/  Oct one as well. I am grateful there will be many hands for all the work.

Sunday, September 21ist extended tour & workshop/ date change

Greetings! We will be offering an extended tour of the Motheroak site on Sunday morning, September 21st from 8:30 to 11:30.

Alex will lead, explaining how what you will see here arises out of the permaculture design principles, and leads to further system resilience. Cost for the tour only is $20. For those interested in a deeper look and some discussion, we are offering a light lunch followed by talk and discussion of some of the conceptual framework for PC design, including pattern recognition, the role of ethics, and more. Tour plus afternoon is $35. Please Rsvp early as space is limited.

We will be re-offering our series of two 3 day workshops again in the fall. The first one is a distillation of the permaculture design course, and the second is an in depth look at the principles. Details will follow before long, and you could peruse the page at right on “details for weekend workshops” if you’re interested.

We are also accepting an intern or two for the fall season. Please contact alex. Thanks

The tour was originally scheduled for Aug. 24th

Summer growth & evolution

Much has happened around here since that last post, way back in March, and the doing of it has meant very little time spent on this website . High on the list happenings is the completion of the new barn “Phoenix,” which now sits precisely where the barn that burned last October sat. Although it has a smaller footprint(30’x32′), Phoenix will store more hay since it’s taller.  Sheathed mostly in used metal(yes, some of it is scorched, but it still does its job),the barn is built with a combination of some of our own milled boards, some reclaimed boards & beams from an older structure, and a good portion of new, locally cut and milled lumber. It is spacious, airy, and cool in the heat, and the goats seem to like their new stalls just fine, thank you. It was surprisingly inexpensive to build–less than 3k. Photos will follow soon.

Our March workshop went quite well, and we will be repeating the series later in the summer–timing still uncertain. Now that the new barn is mostly done, and we’re almost over the early summer hump, i’ll find time to conjure up another workshop too. Meanwhile, despite the much cooler than usual spring, most of our market gardens are planted or growing along pretty well. Already we have scapes on the fine looking garlic, and just around the corner is haying, which always seems to be a rather big deal, at least for me. Perhaps it is the tension around how many different things could go “wrong”– the old equipment, the weather, having enough help. Anyhow, it usually goes well, and we’ve had some quite good hay these last years.

Another significant change involves an aspect of the pattern of polarities(see around here, namely the masculine/ feminine balance–which has been somewhat imbalanced with mostly just me around for the past ten years. Next week Chalia, my new sweetheart and partner, will be moving here from Quebec– a big and welcome change indeed for Motheroak permaculture and its prospects for community.

As the  world and its economy continue gyrating down the spiral of what we call “modern civilization” towards some rather bleak prospects(to put it mildly),  the wisdom traditions, the principles of permaculture, the abundant growth of nature, both wild & domestic, and the collaboration and warmth of friends continue to make it all seem like a rich, especially in the sense of deeply textured, worthwhile journey. Cheers.DSC03860



March 26, 2014 Update

Our workshop series went well, despite the winter conditions, as we hosted about ten participants. We’ll be repeating the series with some adjustments of course, probably starting in late July–but do check in here occasionally if you’re interested, as we might do a one-day before then.

As we have a new barn to build(one burned last Oct.), this seasons internship program will take a second seat to that– but there is plenty to be learned here just from doing and helping and living, so if you’re interested in coming and can stay   for at least a few weeks, please write me.


One continually astonishing observation for me is how many people remain relatively clueless about what is happening to our larger economic, not to mention ecological systems. Many think the high fuel costs are due to “greedy corporations” (true but only partially) or the low Canadian dollar(also partially true). The mainstream media has been very successful in obscuring–mostly thru omission, that the cheap energy era is gone, over, kaput—and we are not, indeed cannot, go back(tar sands, fracking&deepwater drilling are not cheap!). The same media seems to remain largely clueless that as net energy inputs to the economy are reduced, the system must, by simple physics at the very least, contract–which is the big C word–not to be spoken. So we call it “slowed recovery” or “sluggish growth,”  and struggle and puzzle year after year now on how to “fix” it. Meanwhile systems & jobs continue to dissolve, and we don’t talk about why.  Permaculture design is most relevant in the context of energy descent(aka contraction)– so if you’re looking for an adaptation strategy(and a deeper understanding), well, you’ve come to the right place, so to speak. Cheers for now, alex

ps. we’re having a major blizzard todaywinter alder wall


biochar cooker stove insert
biochar cooker stove insert
biochar cache in greenhouse

Want to learn more in depth about Permaculture Design in real time and space? Read on!

Starting this December 7th and continuing through 2014, Motheroak Permaculture will be offering, at least twice, a two weekend(3 days each: Sat./Sun./Mon) workshop series on permaculture design. The first weekend will provide a distillation/overview of the Permaculture Design Course(PDC) “fundamentals” curriculum–toolkit strategies & techniques and more- and the second weekend(tentatively scheduled for late February 2014) will be an in depth look at core permaculture design principles i.e the “thinking tools” and more. In addition to “classroom” time, we will have outdoor activities as well as some hands-on ones. The weekend schedules and course outlines(see “weekend workshops detail.”) will be posted at

This series is not intended to substitute for the 72 hour/ two week PDC course, nor will there be any certificates offered.
However, if you are keen on learning about and seeing some Pc design ‘in action,’ this series may be just what you’re looking for. While weekend one is open to all, it will be a prerequisite (or equivalent experience) for weekend two. The cost for either weekend separately is $250, but if you register for both(with prepaid deposit) that will drop to $225ea or $450 for both. Because our cold weather accomodations are limited, the first weekends will be limited to 10 participants in house, so please register early. All meals, from lunch Saturday to lunch Monday are included, as well as indoor bed spaces.
Motheroak Permaculture, in conjunction with(and formerly part of) Highland Farm, has been under organic management for over 25 years. Our youngish(5yrs) permaculture design demonstration site, while still evolving, provides many clear examples of design principles and strategies at work on and integrated with a working organic market garden farm. Alex DeNicola, the primary presenter/ organizer , has been farming ecologically since the early nineties. For over the last ten he has been  increasingly incorporating permaculture onto the site, and has completed both the Permaculture Design Course and Permaculture Teacher training, as well as having hosted a fair share of tours and events.
Please register by contacting alex at
For more on what permaculture design is about, is an excellent resouce.


cooks as fast as propane!
cooks as fast as propane!

Just a short note here today, as i will be updating(about time!) soon. The 2014 plan is different than what i’ve offered the past three years–the teaching focus will be on weekend workshops covering the permaculture principes(Holmgren’s 12), which i’ve continued studying intensively and have come to see as the core of Pc design, as Holmgren himself states. Apprentices–limit 2–will learn by living and doing as well as helping to host the workshops. If someone is keen enough we could negotiate for PDC equivalence & certificate, though 4-5 months here will take you way beyond what can be learned in 2 weeks–this has been confirmed multiple times by grads who visit. Send email to alexdenicolaathotmaildotcom. cheers.

2013 Permaculture Internship Program & Design Course

Learn skills required for self-reliance, and you will become  much more helpful to yourself and others.

The program will run May through August this year, though we do have an opportunity for someone to come in April and stay through September. The program will be limited to five participants, so please apply early.

Live, work, play, and learn in a permaculture setting–surrounded by the design principles in action. What we do here is integrate the PC design course into the growing season for our small scale(1 acre) market garden, along with the regular chores and projects and maintenance of a working and evolving permaculture garden farm. Some of what you can learn here, besides PC Design, includes working with a draft horse, caring for livestock, milking goats/ making milk products, how to grow, harvest, process and store many vegetables & herbs; making hay and using hand and small power tools for diverse human scale projects, and much more.

Approximately half our time will be spent studying permaculture and implementing small projects, while the other half will be doing farm and market garden work, which includes turns cooking and keeping house. My aim is that you leave here confident enough to begin your own design projects, have a reasonably clear sense of what it takes to live on and run a homestead ecologically(and in a lower energy future), and having had a jolly good time.

We will also look into the “inner landscape” of our own minds a bit through simple sitting meditation(optional), and explore through discussion why that may be even more important than the “outer landscape.”

Fees— as you may know, two week Permaculture Design Courses generally cost around $1000( at least)–we are asking you pay $150 per month, the offset being your work in the market garden. This includes all meals and lodging, and some limited internet and phone time as well. Although we are open to flexible internship arrangements, Design Course Certificates are dependent upon your completion of the whole course, including a design project.

To apply, or for further info, write alex at

An Abundant 2012–early winter update

Despite some droughty spring and summer weather, and an excessively wet September(all record setting!), we’ve had a truly abundant year. Here is a list of some of what our site and our labor have yielded, though i won’t mention most of the market vegetables:

buckets of dry beans, both red and black, over a gallon of hulless pumpkin seeds, many herb teas, dried and frozen seabuckthorn berries, dried&crumbled kale leaves, pears&apples, an excellent garlic crop(which serves as a very tradable currency), plenty of root vegetables, squash, onions and leeks. A freezer full of goat meat and ducks(we still have beef from 2011),  a traded for organic turkey, as well as excellent breads we trade our garlic for. A number of hard goat cheese rounds, as well as kefir and yogurt–and of course eight months of daily milk supply. Buckets & jars of ferments: leeks, snap beans, saurkraut and pickles. Along with all this of course we got a lot of exercise and fresh air, as well as lots of new learning.

From our goats we also got a young buck, who after a good life and impregnating some does is now in the freezer. The ducks(khaki campbells) too, as i mentioned–and although the meat is excellent, i would say our most valued yield from them was slug control, and three remain(now foraging in the greenhouse) to carry on again next year, just as will the three goat does, who are now enjoying an excellent hay crop. Of course our market garden also brought us a not high but certainly sufficient amount of money–that funny yet still necessary stuff so many of us confuse with real wealth. Ah–i almost forgot to mention all the electric power that came in from the sun via our photovoltaic system, which then yielded lots of hot water and cooked food etc etc. Also a plentitude of firewood–all from here.  So that’s a fairly comprehensive view of many of the material yields we’ve obtained this year. The non-material yields are quite substantial too, and we can only be grateful that the conditions came together for all this to  happen, and of course the permaculture principles play a big part too.

Although the permaculture internship program did not come together this year, we did receive quite helpful and productive visits from some very interesting, youthful volunteers/woofers, and i was also able to get away to give a few talks and consultations. Anna, my daughter and a key collaborator here, also had a good first year with a CSA and her biggest and best garden effort yet. On a sadder note Scotty, our faithful Clydesdale drafthorse for almost twenty years passed on–but our Belgian horse Charlie remains, albeit a little lonely. A new addition is Belle, a trusty little “Parson’s Russell” terrier(4 yrs old)– our permaculture “solution” to our rat situation.

As there seems to be more “free” time these days, i’ll soon be updating a bit more, and will also be posting re the 2013 permaculture internship opportunities. Cheers, alex.

2012 Harvest time & update

Most of the year’s gone by and i haven’t written till now–sometimes certain tasks keep getting displaced by others, and this has been one of them. Anyhow, the planned 4 month PC internship program never really came together this year. There seemed plenty of interest early on, yet as the date drew near most folks drifted off–and so it didn’t happened. What did happen was a couple of keen interns showed up, one for two months and another for one(and a few volunteers in between). This helped immensely with the summer work, and though we did manage some smaller permaculture projects, it became very clear that without at least four interns there really isn’t enough time to look after the modest market garden and have sufficient time to do in depth PC study and some projects. Therefore, if we don’t have four solid signups by March, we will again have to improvise. It also seems clear that it is good to have varied options available in going forward–especially given the seemingly high levels of uncertainty many of us are facing. As the economy continues to unravel,  the climate continues becoming generally warmer and more unstable, and energy costs continue to increase, once thing that does seem certain is that transitioning into more resilient ways of taking care of ourselves is a really good idea! In that light the next workshop here–perhaps destined for late this October or early November, will focus on designing for resilience.

As drought has hit north america hard this year(and it ain’t over yet!), we also had a share of it early on here. Enough so that from my perspective, many of the crops as well as some trees settled into a draught response pattern, and then as the weather became increasingly wet, fruited well but also lost their energy quicker than usual. This pattern also seemed to create increased susceptability to molds, especially in the solanaceae and some of the alliums.  It was overall however, a pretty good growing season for us. The site stood up well to drought–we have lots of water redundancy and mulch–and it is also handling the excessive rains we are getting now well. What this means is that the runoff travels without doing damage or flooding, either to the land or buildings. Being on a slope however, i can’t honestly say i’ve avoided all erosion–there is some clearly evident(in beds newly cultivated and awaiting garlic), but this soil remains more or less in the garden itself, never entering waterways. What becomes clearer all the time is how challenging an unstable climate can be– unfortunately many folks remain relatively clueless in this regard(with the help of MS media), and CO2 emissions continue to rise. Some radical adaptation may be in order sooner rather than later–and in this regard i’ll take the opportunity to pitch Peter Bane’s (my main PC teacher) great new “The Permaculture Handbook.” Very accessible, practical and experienced based, with broad coverage and a very readable style. i wouldn’t say it’s the only PC book to have, but if it was, you’d probably do well enough. Thank you Peter.

I’ll close her by drawing your attention to a new page here(soon to be posted), listed as “consider joining us?” One sad but true reality here at Motheroak permaculture is that so far our community has been transient–mostly manifesting as interns in the summer. As community is so very important, we’re opening the doors wider, and inviting some yet to be identified youngish couple to join us–with very favorable terms. So please have a look, consider, and perhaps spread the word. i’m also intending to post a page before long describing this place in some detail–what we do, how we do it, and some characteristics of the site itself and how we inhabit it–or perhaps it inhabits us. Thanks, alex.