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.

2012 internships-apply now

Although our first year of PC internships(2011) went quite well at seven months, 2012 will see some adjustments. The PC Design course will be four months, mid-May to mid-September. This will allow for a full experience in the garden–seed sowing to harvest, as well as intensifying the permaculture study schedule.

The fee will be $1200. all inclusive, with half paid up front and half at the mid-way point. However one slices it up, the fee is relatively inexpensive, the idea being that your work(approx 20hrs week) around the farm, in the market garden, and at the Saturday farmer’s market will serve as trade against food and lodging(however, if you really want to do this and just can’t make the fee,there is some  flexibility…so contact me please). Our intention is to create a win/win situation: you get an intense four months of PC study, lots of real life hands on experience, lots of great food, good company, and a comfortable bed. We get our work done, projects accomplished, and a further year of experience and evolution for our permaculture teaching.

Our projects(each approached as a design solution) for 2012 vary from creating better drainage for certain areas, to small construction projects in and around the Longhouse(where we’ll be living). From goat care and milking, to carpentry, to earth plastering, to tincture and ferment making, you will have ample opportunities to learn new tools and new skills. Weekends will be free except for daily chores, but since we share these that’s not much. We will also take occasional field trips to other farms, and put on at least one workshop. More info will be forthcoming to those wishing to apply. To do so, write to Alex at alexdenicola(AT)

Please apply soon, as we’ll only be taking four or five folks. Thanks!

November-2011 Closing time

I’m delighted to report that our first year of an extended Permaculture Design Course via internships was quite successful. Running from mid-March to the first of October, we hosted five interns through late July and three to October, while one stayed into November to help out.  It has always been inspiring for me  to work with responsible, serious young people ; this group was always ready to learn and do whatever needed doing, and i feel  we all learned alot while getting much work done. From planting, tending, and harvesting for market, to hauling logs with the horse, to installing our cob floor, to a very well done design project(just to name a few)–2011 ends with a sense of appreciation by all. If you’re interested, please check out the intern blogs listed under that page to the right

For me personally, the opportunity to be in community here, even though temporary, is perhaps what i appreciate most. Relationships, if we are willing to really listen, and reflect on ourselves honestly, are a crucible for learning and even perhaps transformation. And heaven knows we need transformation–and with that said we can look at the Occupy movement and feel that maybe, just maybe– we can turn the larger collective towards sanity. One description of sanity i heard and find inspiring to remember is that it is a basic allegiance to non-ego. Easier said than done of course, but there it is–and i dare say in complete alignment with permaculture’s prime directive–to take full responsibility for our personal existence, as well as the ethics of care for planet and people. To follow a path that guides us towards non-ego seems essential, and fortunately there is an abundance of guidance in the wisdom traditions . My intention for Motheroak is that we can integrate such guidance into our permaculture curriculum for those who choose to pursue it. Please see the page on internships for more on this.

The weather pattern here this year has definitely been getting cooler and wetter, much wetter–just as climate models have predicted for this region. The impact on farming is huge: forcing later plantings in spring, more difficulty making hay & maturing certain crops, more molds all around, and in the long(and short) run, more soil compaction–just to name a few. And yet, given catastrophic weather events everywhere, the mainstream media seems to have solidified a taboo which prevents it from even uttering the words “climate change.”  This does not bode well for us, and adds weight to the imperative of designing for disaster–something we learned quite personally via our collapsed greenhouses(see Spring 2011 post). And then there are those lovely days,  when our planet, with all the serious problems we face,  seems so beautiful, and each moment a gift.

Functional and beautiful--reflecting light!
Functional and beautiful--reflecting light!

The photo above is the north wall of our common room–what you see is a design solution–a way to cover the wall, add thermal mass,increase light by reflection, and have a good time both learning and doing! Abundant yields indeed!

All in all 2011 was a rich year–the people, the plants,the animals, the projects, the food–literally much milk and honey–the designed site feeling natural and good. An abundance of dragon flies and frogs, of blossoms and tree growth, of opportunities for personal growth and learning–blessings all!


an alternative to money in the bank
an alternative to money in the bank

 Our seven month internship program is coming around to the home stretch. We’ve just begun our design process on what is now the goat pasture–it’s almost a blank slate from a buildings point of view, and could stand many trees and some garden, so it should be interesting.

We’ve also recently installed a pole mounted photovoltaic array–six 185watt solar panels, easily swiveled towards the sun. The grid power will be retained for awhile since it’s currenty necessary to run our 220v well pump and cooler compressor. We’ll attempt to transition away from this in the next couple years, but design and construction take time….meanwhile, we’re enjoying our solar power via our 24v battery and inverter system. Our enthusiastic interns have also been firing up both the cob oven for weekly bread making(some of the wheat is ours and freshly ground)etc, and the rocket stove works really well for quick cooking projects. Still hooked into our little propane burners though, and using our electric kettles when the sun shines.

We’re currently evolving our internship/workshop pogram for next year, and will soon publish the details. Several folks have signed up already, so if you’re considering it you may not want to wait too much longer. Most likely it will be a four month program at more or less $300 permonth all inclusive

easily turned by hand
easily turned by hand

, with 30-40% of time spent on farm work and the market garden.

JUNE 2011–spring planting and permaculture studies

agyalderfencepeas1The greenhouses are now all repaired and functional–have been for over a month now, and the new winbreaks are complete–so some good news! The spring has been extremely cold and wet, but now with June we are having some warmer days and nights, and some of our outdoor annuals are beginning to grow faster.

We are seven at this point, the five interns–Andrew, Shamus and Vanessa, Kyle, and LolaJean, then myself and Louise in our new partnership. The permaculture studies have been going quite well, but less intensive at the moment as we are focussing our energies on getting the market gardens planted. The site itself is looking abundant with alot of healthy growth–and soon we hope to see the dragonflies again. We also just brought in two young steers to pasture through the season, and our two female ducks are egg setting. In addition we have a second draft horse, a Belgian, recently purchased by Anna, my oldest daughter, and together we are collaborating on the market crops. There is also Colleen, who is working directly with Anna as an assistant/ intern, and teaches yoga some evenings.

There is alot going on: evolution wise with how we wish to navigate into the future–an ongoing process for sure; with the dynamics of our group at work and in study, and with new plantings from chestnuts to collard greens. It’s also late in the evening, and tomorrow is market harvest day, so i need to scoot. Will try to get back here a little sooner next time! the-motheroak

Please be sure to visit Kyle’s blog for a ringside account of all the goings on!

Spring 2011

Alot of action at Motheroak Permaculture. We are now in our second week of our first season of permaculture internships with five keen and enthusiastic young people–so good news! We will shortly include links to their two blog sites, and hopefully some of them will write here as well. Look to the right for a new page titled “Internships,”which if it isn’t there now, will be soon.

So the greenhouses are soon to be rebuilt with adjacent windbreaks, and planted with our first round of early market crops. Clearly, with the integration of permaculture teaching time–the evolution of market gardening here will shift a bit. We’ll see what happens.