How to Start in Permaculture and Create Your Forest Garden


John Musser, founder of Aquaponics and Earth

If you are a gardener, no doubt you have heard of the wonderful world of permaculture! If you haven’t yet, you’re in for a real treat.


I’m very fascinated by the subject and am preparing my own forest garden as we speak. Our own cycle of life farm on 1/10th of an acre is very productive, drawing world wide attention, but we want to expand our knowledge and our eco tourism with a permaculture garden area. Yet, even as a very experienced gardener and trainer, I have to admit that the systems we created are much simpler, thus learning permaculture has been a stretch for me. However, all my long time friends know that I’m a problem solver by nature. My goal is to make things easier to understand so that organic gardening systems can be duplicated by people just like you.


So how am I going about this? You should know my mantra:  “Always be on the lookout for good mentors with a history of success!”


The secret that I mention often rests in finding a good mentor with a history of success. For me, that means searching out one that has a good grasp on permaculture techniques. Very few people will succeed on books and tapes alone unless the content is simplified. That’s what we want to bring you today – simple, easy-to-understand content.


Permaculture was established by some very brilliant and gifted minds, and yet in all reality, it’s just a journey back to understanding what nature does best. It’s not simple gardening; it’s gardening at it’s best. Imitating nature through permaculture requires knowledge, sharpened skills, and wisdom. This is why I tell you what I know, then lead you to the experts.




If you neglect to study and understand the following two steps, you will have to redo a lot of things. I know this is the reason why most people never start. These two foundation stones are also the big hurdles you MUST conquer and mountains you must remove from your mind. So study them, get comfortable with this subject for a while, and you will start out right.




Installing Permaculture At the Aquaponics and Earth Farm in DeSoto, TX



First of all, you need land formation, tera sculpting, berms and swales. After a year of searching, we now have this step finished in our forest garden at AESL. This will provide the needed moisture, water and foundation for our garden of Eden, so to speak. I did not feel qualified to do this alone, although I build micro farms in my sleep. Due to the fact we are a training center, I wanted to do it right the first time.  So I waited and then found a local friend named Emory Richey who has been studying and practicing permaculture  for some years. He came and helped us with our land formation. I encourage you to seek local support groups that have a history of success, not wannabe’s. I researched online starting in Australia, which directed me to a person just a short ways from us. What a journey!



The second foundation stone is the understanding of plant guilds! Plant guilds also took a while to sink into my thinking, but what helped me is that I know a little about companion planting. This is advanced companion planting!


apple plant guild in permaculture

Experts have studied this for many years and it’s truly amazing how certain trees, crops, and veggies grow in perfect harmony together. They have such symbiosis, they are able to help one anther grow. In some instances, roots communicate with one another and warn one another about insect attack. The excretion of certain tree root chemicals tell another crop to prepare!  I have learned that trees do talk to one another!


A third area in all of this is tending this harmonious group of crops, but that’s another subject.

Let me expand on the second point in our subject today. The horticultural techniques used by permaculturists rely heavily on plant combinations!


A guild is a harmonious assembly of plants (but it could be plants and animals), the essential characteristic being a diverse mixture (polyculture) whose elements all have a purpose. The plants are chosen to be beneficial to each other, and so it is as I mentioned very similar to companion planting.



As with the forest garden, the design of guilds makes use of the advantages that nature provides such as the nitrogen fixation and mycorrhizal fungi, and the dynamic accumulators like comfrey.


Above ground are flowers and berries that attract insects and birds – our natural allies in pest control. The physical structure of the guild may also allow it to provide shelter from winds and frost. It may also throw shade that could serve a purpose.

In my knowledge base (my brain) right now, I also see two basic kinds of plant guilds: LINEAR GUILDS and ISLAND GUILDS.




Raised rectangular beds, separated by paths are used for vegetable growing similar to our AESL cycle of life farm.


linea guild in permaculture food forest




The second type of guild incorporates woody plants and either stands alone – as an island – or is part of a larger area of woody planting such as an orchard or forest garden.

island guild in permaculture



But now we will let the experts talk. The 36 page e-book from Bryce Ruddock of Midwest Permaculture is a fantastic find. I just found it after two years of research and really liked it. Most of what is out there is not simple enough for me to grasp, but this is very easy to understand. I’m all about making things simple for training and duplication. Enjoy the link below!


Click here to download the ebook on Permaculture Plant Guilds


A Huge Dill Plant Harvest from the Aquaponics and Earth Farm!

I trust you enjoyed the material in this post. Don’t forget to take a tour of our facility here in DeSoto, Texas. Our 1/10 acre Eco farm has many principles of permaculture in operation especially in the symbiotic relationship of small animals, beneficial insects, and the use of microbes in shallow bed gardening.

We did not realize how much we were practicing permaculture until some trainers came to visit our farm. This next year, we will have the beginning of our forest garden. Come and see us when you are in town.


Just check out our website for updates. If you are signed up on our rss feed and mailing list you will be notified when we have tours or you can always look right here.

Also, please let me know if you enjoyed this post. I worked hard on attempting to simplify some foundation stones of the act of permaculture. Did I achieve my goal? My time is well spent if did. Really permaculture has more foundation stones or guilding principles, but these are two to remember. Land preparation, formation, and the art of developing guilds.


Yours for “pure food”  sustainability,

John Musser


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1 Comment

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

November 16, 2013 at 04:11 AM

Great post guys….. keep up the good work.

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