On Permaculture

We need to work with nature.

Since humanity is but a subset of nature, the idea that we can work despite nature makes no sense.

Understand nature so that we can work cooperatively with nature.

This way what we do is not over in a relative blink of an eye due to our running out of topsoil, trees etc.

Permaculture farmers will tell you they grow grass and soil - in addition to chickens, cows, pigs, and whatever crops they have going.

So here's what Vertis and Gerry Bream have to say on permaculture from their many years of practicing it:

Hugel Kultur (hugel culture) is simply German for hill culture. The methods to create these mounds and beds is to use wood (green, dead, dry, rotten stumps, limbs, logs, brush, pallets, old lumber, or??) as the base. You can dig a trench and bury the wood debris with the soil that you dug out of the trench or lay the debris in a row and cover with soil from another locale. The buried wood takes 15-30 yrs to decay; depending on wood types, species, ground moisture, fungi web etc. storing up to 4X its volume as water which it slowly releases. A fungal web develops in/on and around the decay and filaments grow through the soil to the plant roots. A super symbiotic relationship ensues. Water and nutrients are fed to the roots and soil life. The decayed humus contains nutrients and minerals.

Not having a backhoe for trenching, we laid wood, brush and debris in a long row about 4-5’ wide and up to 3’ high. We did this over the course of about 2 yrs. Then we covered it all up with soil that we had dug out of a roadway/driveway ditch. Then we covered that with about 6” of wood chips. Comfrey was planted 2’ on center along the bottom edge of the hugel bed. This year we planted onion sets and potatoes on the mound sides and unstaked tomatoes on top which were allowed to droop down over the sides of the mound. A few peppers and ground cherries are interspersed in between. Originally we had one 5’ h x 7’ w x 100’ long hugel bed. It has since settled to about 3’ high. A lot of loose brush had settled.

I’ve developed another technique for the rest of our hugel mounds and beds. I use a tractor mounted post hole digger (pto powered auger) to auger holes 3’ deep. We then fill the holes with sawed log ends. The wood stands vertical vs. the traditional horizontal rendering, 12” holes are 24” oc allowing 12” of soil around each log(s). Besides the natural sponge of wood; the wood grain uses capillary action to move soil moisture from deep down up to the top of the bed. I’m also hoping that the soil/wood matrix will create a faster and more intense fungal web. The process is definitely cheaper and faster then back hoeing; without compacting the beds. We straddle the beds and mounds. We use 5’ bed mounds giving us 6’-7’ of actual growing surface. We use 5’x5’x3’h mounds between dwarf fruit trees with a 36” vertical 12” diameter log in the center of the mound. There is no need to water these small high mounds. We mulch all growing areas. Annuals have a 2” mulch depth and perennials have a 4-6” depth.

Permaculture and polyculture go hand in hand. A wide mix (more the merrier) of plants, shrubs, and trees in an intensive planting scheme. Roots, nuts, seeds, forage, berries and fruit grow together with mulch and fertility plants. Sun loving and shade tolerant; deep and shallow rooted plants all finding their niche. Deep tap roots and earthworms bring up minerals that have leached down or naturally occurring are brought to the surface. Topsoil is created and grown. Quarter acre plots can provide most of the substance for families. Sanctuaries can be created midst corporate farms.  Oases can be created in deserts. No irrigation required as long as there is 18” annual rainfall. Terraces and ponds help retain heavy rainfalls. 

                                                           Alternative Acres


Welcome to Alternative Acres, the homestead of Vertis & Gerry Bream consisting of two adjoining 4 acre parcels.

Our goal is to become as self-sustaining as possible using local and natural resources as much as possible.

Indoor living space is a 2500 sq. ft. passive solar earth sheltered owner built home/garage using high mass heat/coolth storage with design temps of 68-78 degrees. Back up wood heat is provided by approximately 1 ½ cord of wood per year.

Water needs are provided by rain catchment and a well with a solar powered pump.

Much of the mechanical equipment is powered by battery/electric (mowers, trimmers, garden tractor, etc.) with the rest by propane (back up generator) and a diesel tractor using home processed fuel.

Battery charging, partial house power and all of outside building(s) get electricity from PV (solar electric).

Food production is via 1500 sq. ft. of annual veggie hugel beds and 1500 sq. ft. of permaculture hugel culture and a small solar pit greenhouse.

We pasture raise broilers and beef for meat and laying hens & ducks for eggs; while guineas and turkeys have the run of the place.

We have 8 pasture paddocks of approximately ¼ acre each for our 3-4 pastured beef. Intensive grazing with long breaks (halting the parasite cycle) provides 2X more grass. We harvest one beef for ourselves and sell the rest to provide us with “free” meat. We do the same with pastured broilers (eat half/sell half).

We use both “chicken tractors” (portable coops) and rotated pasture paddocks.

The 5’ wide chicken tractors are moved daily on a 5’ wide grass/clover walk ways between our 5’ wide garden beds.

We are continually adding more permaculture beds and paddocks. Our goal is to grow as much of our food (people/livestock) as possible with as little work and minimal outside inputs.

The homestead parcel has ½ acre of flat stony silt loam land. The rest is rolling to steep.

We have 2 acres of Paulownia trees for future timber. Paulownia is a fast growing hardwood which is lightweight, yet strong; straight grained; easy to work and finish; with very low “swelling” characteristics. The paulownia plot is pastured (silviculture).

The adjoining parcel is a very steep, rocky, rugged mostly treed terrain. We’ve had a 1/3 acre shelf excavated and well drilled and a small pond catching runoff water.  A pit “solar” greenhouse will be built in the center surrounded by permaculture.

We do not use tillage or row cropping. We use annual mulched crop and pasture rotations. The permaculture plots are/will be an intensive mix of various height heavy feeders, legumes, deep and shallow root systems and fertility crops

(i.e. comfrey, sun hemp, etc.). Short trees, shrubs, climbers, vines and ground huggers will each have its domain, without too much competition.

Our evolved diet is based on the Paleo diet (see references). This perfectly complements our self-sustaining goals. We don’t do tillage; so, row cropping and grains are out. Grain and row cropping has been the #1 global destroyer of soil structure and fertility. See… the Fertile Crescent, Greece, and North Africa, deforestation of bush and rainforest of southern hemisphere…and remember, the American prairie had up to 10’ of top soil. The average topsoil depth is now down to 4-8”. Now, we know why the natives wept when the first plows began to “rape mother nature’s skin”.

We use comfrey everywhere. We use it in salads, in herbal concoctions, livestock feed, mulch and as a top soil maker. Its deep tap roots bring up minerals from deep in the sub soil/rocks to the surface. It has over 30% crude protein and high in the healing allantoin.

We do not do pile composting. Compost piles are not natural. They are a burning mechanism to create humus as quickly as possible. Much Co2 exits into the atmosphere. Natural sheet composting (mulching) allows a natural slow decaying (actually life enhancing) process involving livestock of the soil, such as microbes, fungi, earthworms, etc. The carbon is sequestered in the soil (soil carbon bank).

We do not use tillage. The only soil disturbance allowed is the initial terraforming (shelves, terraces, hugel beds, contouring, etc.) to establish a permanent growing forest garden. Ever after; roots and soil livestock do the tilling. Plants are not pulled out when harvested or when they die. They either die back or are eaten off or cut off and left in situ as mulch. Tillage destroys soil structure and soil; life. The rototiller is the worst offender. Aside from the polluting IC engine it pulverizes soil and sends prodigious amounts of Co2 into the atmosphere. All of the carbon (humus) that is destroyed must be replaced every year. Soil amendments must be added to “fertilize” each year. This type of “organic horticulture” is unsustainable and requires humongous amounts of organic matter. Most all types of chemical and organic agriculture are types of hydroponics. The only difference is that “soil” is used as a growing medium and anchor for roots. Amendments are added whether chemically, or “organically”. This ain’t natural folks.


I’m often asked how I “learned” or developed my mindset for what I do. I have over 200 related books in my personal library. So, here is a small fraction of some reference material that I have used over the years. Many of the authors were prolific so, I’m not listing all of their books or articles. I do not ascribe to all of the info provided by some of the authors; but they made great contributions of useful knowledge. Any listing proceeded by a (G) in parenthesis denotes specific to gardening.

I’ll begin with my own contact info. I do design and consulting for self sufficient off grid homesteads including housing, energy production/storage, food production, water needs and system mechanicals. We still do some selective building and installations.

Vertis Bream
1755 Coon Rd
Aspers, Pa 17304
Email- vmbream@embarqmail.com
Website- http://breamacres.com/

    Thomas Jefferson- His vision of freeman and small holdings
    Thoreau- Walden
    Ken Kern- The Owner Built Homestead
    Wendell Berry- The Unsettling of America
    (G)Ruth Stout- Permanent Mulched Gardens
    Joel Salatin- Pastured Poultry & Livestock Series
    (G)Lasagna Gardening- Patricia Lanza- No digging, No tilling
    Farmers of Forty Centuries- F. H. King
    One Straw Revolution- Masanoba Fukuoka- No digging: broadcasting/mulching
    Agriculture in Transition- Donald Schriefer

    The Albrecht Papers- Soil science
    The Soil & Health- Sir Albert Howard
    An Acres U.S.A. Primer- Charles Walters
    The Carbon Cycle & The Carbon Connection- Leonard Ridzon & C. Walters
    (G)The Ideal Soil: A handbook for the New Agriculture- Michael Astera- Why you need to soil test before planting

    Permaculture One- Mollison and Holmgren
    PermacultureTwo- Mollison and Holmgren
    Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual- Bill Mollison
    (G)Gaia’s Garden- Toby Hemenway
    Permaculture Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability
    Hugel Culture – Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture 

Tree crops:
    Tree Crops=- A Permanent Agriculture- J. Russell Smith
    Restoration Agriculture- Mark Shepard
    Edible Forest Gardens Vol. I- Vision & theory for temp. climates- Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier
    Edible Forest Gardens Vol. II- Design & practice- Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier
    This 2005 Vol. II $150 book set will become the bible of perma designers

    The Paleo Diet- The diet of man- Loren Cordain
    The Paleo Solution- Robb Wolf
    (G)Eating on the Wild Side- Jo Robinson- Nutrition info on best varieties of nuts, fruits, berries & veggies