Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sepp Holzer - The Ultimate Survivalist

A couple of months ago I stumbled across a goldmine.  Sifting through the standard gardening offerings at our local library I picked up a copy of "Sepp Holzer's Permaculture".  The subtitle "A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening" intrigued me and I brought the book home for further review.  I knew that Sepp Holzer was a kindred spirit before I had even finished the introduction.  His agricultural methods have garnered him the moniker "crazy", which at first bothered him greatly, but no longer offends him.  As Sepp puts it, "I have realized that many people find it difficult to accept when you do things in a way that is not so widely recognized.  This makes you difficult to predict and harder to control, which many people find threatening".  See?  A kindred spirit!

Mr. Holzer farms at at his family farm "Kramerterhof", which is in the "Arctic" region of Austria.  He is at 1500 meters (4500 feet) above sea level and grows everything from corn to kiwi, nuts, hops, cranberries, garden veggies and every kind of grain imaginable.  Along with his vast permaculture gardens he has a mass of 70 ponds, canals and waterways which create microclimates, water his agricultural interests and serve as breeding grounds for fish, snakes and frogs.  Not only does Kramerterhof support agricultural endeavors of every kind, it is also home to hardy, heritage breed animals.  Yaks, cows, horses, pigs, sheep and fowl of every kind call the Kramerterhof home and, in fact, do a majority of the fertilization and working of the soil. 

Permaculture sounds wonderful, right?  But to tell you the truth, I really had no idea what permaculture was.  It turns out that it is essentially organic gardening/livestock management on steroids.  The basic principles of permaculture are:

  • All of the elements within a system interact with each other.
  • Multifunctionality - every element fulfils multiple functions and every function is performed by multiple elements.
  • Uses energy practically and efficiently - works with renewable energy.
  • Uses natural resources.
  • Intensive systems in a small area.
  • Utilizes and shapes natural processes and cycles.
  • Supports and uses edge effects (creating highly productive small-scale structures).
  • Diversity instead of monoculture.
As I mentioned, I was enamored with this book from the first page, so enamored, in fact, that I had to order a copy for myself.  I wanted to be able to pour over the pages at my leisure and I knew that there was just too much valuable information to take in at one sitting.  I was right.  In the past few weeks, Holzer's Permaculture book has not left my side table.  Sir Knight and I have reviewed its pages seeking inspiration and direction. 

Although we are not able to immediately put into practice the myriad concepts in Holzer's book, we are making changes already.  Before adding soil to our garden beds we laid down ample "biomass" in the form of bark and branches.  We are planning more raised beds, but in a configuration encouraged by Holzer - something very different than what we currently have and, in my opinion, highly innovative.  We are looking at our little prairie with new eyes and a renewed vision.

Not able to stop at one Holzer book, I ordered his first book, "The Rebel Farmer".  The more I read, the harder it was to put down.  Holzer's opinions and theories are so like our own.  Not only does he want to farm the way he chooses, he believes that the government ought to just mind its own business.  It is his firmly held opinion we have become too dependent.  As Holzer puts it,  "What is regrettable is that others impose their will on farmers.  Farmers have to let theorists tell them how they should be farming their own land.  This dependence on public servants is a problem, since young farmers are brought up already to knock on the door of a public authority with their hat in their hand and to do what they are told to do".  Even in the heart of this Austrian farmer, freedom runs deep.

As far as I can tell, Sepp Holzer is the ultimate survivalist.  He grows or raises everything he and his family need to survive.  He relies on his water systems to provide power to his farm, his sheep to provide wool and his pigs to provide bacon.  He raises his own fish, his own fruit and his own firewood.  And he does these things with as little governmental interaction as possible. 

If you are striving to become more self-sufficient, Holzer's books are the books for you. If you want your animals and your gardens work for you instead of you working for them, Holzer's books are the books for you.  If you like to do things in a manner that is "not so widely recognized", Holzer's books are the books for you.

Check them out and let me know what you think.  I, personally, can't wait to get started!

Until next time....



  1. Thanks, I had read about hugelkultur in Mother Earth News magazine but didn't get the big picture of how the whole system works. I see we have a copy available at our local branch. Now I know what I'm doing tomorrow!

  2. Sepp will eventually fall afoul of the all controlling Eurosocialist government at some point. Better save him some room in the Redoubt. We have an extended Germany family close to us that got tired of fighting the rules and regulations so they sold out and moved to the States.

  3. We read Mr Holzer's Permaculture book a few years ago. He is indeed a kindred spirit to many of us. We have three huglkulture piles in our city backyard. I call them the hump garden ;-) . Our neighbors think we're crazy - yay! If I had to do it over again I would do what you did, Enola, and just make raised beds with biomass under the soil. We have had a terrible time keeping dirt / compost in place on the sides of the huglkultures. We get exposed branches all the time; add more soil and it washes away in the next heavy rain! This year we planted clover seed for a cover crop to hold the soil in place - guess what? The seed washed down the sides of the huglkulture!! Grrr! So goes our adventures in gardening.

  4. Sepp has run afoul of the government. He has been fined more than any other farmer in Europe. Also, they use the farm tours he gives as an excuse to tax him as an amusement park instead of a farm. He still turns a profit.

  5. Welcome to the wonderful world of permaculture! You will have many moments of enligtenment along the way. Some of it will make perfect sense, some of it you will probably already be doing. We spent three years developing five acres with traditional gardens, pasture (such as it is) until I found permaculture about two years ago. We are in our second year using huglebeds. You will love them -- especially in your more arid environment. Don't be afraid to experiment.

    There are many other "thought leaders" for lack of a better word in the permaculture world. Don't limit yourself to Sepp (although he is certainly a pioneer!). Check out Geoff Lawton from Australia among others. If you raise livestock, then read Joel Salatin's stuff. He isn't a permaculturest per se (and wouldn't call himself that either) but his rotational/mob grazing techniques are widely implemented in the permaculture world. Excellent stuff for those who are raising livestock.


  6. Another vital piece is his focus on perennial or self-seeding annuals. He does very little planting once an area is established.

  7. Thanks so much for the books. I had picked up one permaculture book (The Resilient Farm and Homestead, by Ben Falk) and been rather taken with it. I will have to look into these as well.

    As for the hoped-for move, dear one, you have no idea of how much I'd love to make an offer on your place and start packing up. It's a cherished fantasy of mine-- I get away from the rat race, and you get back to your parents. Just one snag-- I would have to drag my husband by the ear. I'm trying to get better about resisting the temptation to do that to him-- he is a good man and deserves better.