Episode-901- Learning From the Holzer – The Good and the Bad

Wheaton and Holzer on an Earlier Project

So I traveled about 2,000 miles to meet one of my absolute heroes in permaculture and sustainable agriculture.  The experience was not really what I expected.  The knowledge I gained was worth all the effort, planning and time away but the way I gained it was the more surprising part.

To sum it up, I learned a lot from what Sepp did but not much from what he said.  I also am very excited to be planning my own events in the future and have to say I learned a lot about what not to do by the organization “Place of Gathering” when I run my events.

Tune in today to hear…

  • What we are doing isn’t hugelkultur (sort of)
  • What hugelkultur really is and why it does and doesn’t matter
  • Why I think even most permaculture practitioners have “limited thinking”
    • The lesson of Vettezuki
    • The lesson of the rose hips
    • The lesson of Permaculturist A vs. Permaculturist B
  • The role of water on a farm, more than irrigation
  • The lesson of the excavators
  • The best seeds, you can’t get in America, yet
  • Polyculture to the max, you really don’t get it till you see it
  • Recipes vs. observation vs. common decency and strait answers
  • Teaching, doing or both, what are we good at
  • The dangers of “hero worship” and how to avoid it
  • The need to actually listen to those who have done it

Additional Resources for Today’s Show

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63 Responses to Episode-901- Learning From the Holzer – The Good and the Bad

  1. Glad you’re back! Just downloaded this to my phone and will be listening to it when I’m moving compost.

  2. Backwoods Engineer

    Ooohrah, been looking forward to this! Download COMMENCE!

  3. Matthew in Gooseneck Ga

    I’m glad you are back. Jack what are your recommendations for permaculture books?

  4. Jack,

    I get a lot from your podcasts. I’m sure your teaching skills will bring this material to life. As a teacher, I know teaching talent when I see it. Thanks for teaching great info to us, and thanks for teaching it well.

  5. Jack – How does Sepp stabilize 70 degree walls of soil? Its the only thing in his book that I don’t get – in most wet areas of the world a 70 degree mound would just slump down over time to be angle of repose – more like 50 degrees or so.

    • Modern Survival

      @Ben with good soil the plants do it, watch the video I posted for how to stabilize it in less them optimum conditions. You use trees and “nails” cut from surrounding brush.

      • As soon as I saw those “nails” in your video – my brain went *click*. What a brilliant idea to stabilize the surface.

  6. naturemom2boys

    Good show, Jack. Anxiously awaiting your TSP events 🙂

  7. TonyInMich

    Great show, I’ve had similar experience with workshops and such. I will gladly pay a premium to come to a PDC run by Jack Spirko, Lawton or no.

    • Moonvalleyprepper

      I 100% agree with that. I went to the urban farm tour in Detroit with Sepp yesterday. It was good, but could have been great with proper structure and planning.

      • Modern Survival

        @Moonvalleyprepper, my understanding was he didn’t even want to Detroit, apparently he isn’t big on small scale anything.

        • Moonvalleyprepper

          Ah, makes sense. It was weird they took Sepp Holzer on a urban farming tour. These urban farmers, while doing great things, were not students of permaculture and had never heard of Sepp. I made the analogy to my friend that this was kind of like taking Michelangelo to a museum of finger painting and asking him what he would do different. I don’t want that to come across as insulting to the farmers, but that’s how I viewed it. When we got home we planted one of my hugelbeds in my zone 1 garden. Afterwards we joked that we just put more plant diversity into that one bed than any of those farms had. It was however worth the 1/3 tank of gas and lunch to see him speak and get my book signed.

    • What does Sepp view as minimum scale, perhaps according to climate?

      • Modern Survival

        I have no idea, if you ever get a chance to talk to him ask and see if you get a strait answer but don’t bet on it.

      • Ha! Have to work on my German which was my H.S. language. After posting this I saw you mentioned in another post 100 acres+ (and up to thousands in Russia!!), so that’s your impression of the scales he’s working with I guess; the Permaculture verison of “Go Big or Go Home.” Lol.

  8. Roundabouts

    I can easily see how those large hugles would double your planting space. I can also understand that I would not dare build one like that in the heavy rainy season. I can see how you can plant it heavily too. What I am having a hard time visualizing is the shade that would be created on the neighboring mound? Is that really a big issue? Or are the beds place far enough apart that it won’t really matter. Living in the cloud cover of the PNW I do watch out for that sort of thing.

    The micro climate created sure could hold in the heat. That would be good. I can also see that putting them against the wind so the back side of one could act like a wind break most beneficial. Since we get 40 -60 mph winds as a light breeze. The humidity in-between the beds sure would be increased looks like?

    Main question I would have don’t laugh is how the heck do you harvest something like that? climb up? I am just barely 5′ tall those things seem so giant size. I am sure they shrink over time and the roots then hold things in place and firm it up. Until then a ladder type thing? Hey don’t laugh the world looks way different from down here. Scrunch down and you will see. LOL

    • The height and steepness of the beds is specifically designed to be harvestable without having to climb or bend over. Sepp even joked that Paul Wheaton’s beds would need to be 2 meters tall instead of 1.5 meters tall. So, the answer is to customize the bed height to your height.

  9. Hippiesteader

    Here’s a nice picture showing a cross section of a Holzer raised bed.


    ‘Hope this helps 🙂

    • What site is that on? Do you have more pictures to share? That one was very helpful to visualize what was being discussed.


  10. Thanks for the honest review. I know we have all been to events that are poorly planned. You bring good ideas and honest opinions. Look forward to what you have planned in the future.

  11. It’s funny how when we meet our Hero’s they fail to live up to what we have built them up to be in our minds.

    I’m blown away by the level of PolyCulture he instituted. It would be very easy listening to all of that to get stuck in analysis paralysis or being overwhelmed, when trying to adapt it to our own lands and project. Well worth the effort to reproduce in our specific climates though.

  12. I think Jack may have referred to my “chunks-of wood-in-soil” buckets project (I know it’s not “hugelkultur” wink) in the “what is working” section. If so, I just posted some pix on the forum regarding current growth. Just doin’ it! It is working.

  13. I visited Mt. Vernon (George Washington’s homestead) in March this year. In the gift shop, there were seeds from the gardens there at Mt. Vernon. Just a thought. When you visit places that have gardens check the gift shops and they may sell seeds from the plants growing there.

  14. Great Scot!

    Jack, I was really looking forward to your report and you came through – once again with some fascinating stuff! Thank you! You’ve given me an idea, I’m removing some trees to let more sunlight in on my property. Save some wood for heat, put in some hugelkultur beds, and now what to do with the stumps…? Cover them with good dirt, plant good stuff that we like to eat… Hugelmounds!

  15. Thanks Jack. Very nice report on the good, bad and ugly of the seminar and excellent suggestions for others who may be planning an event. Do you know if anyone will be publishing video of the overall event? Your iPhone videos were just a teaser. I’d love to see a more comprehensive record of the construction and results.

  16. I haven’t listened to the program yet but wondered if this works in any location. I live in the low desert of AZ and we get up to 120+ degrees at times during the summer. Our soil is a mixture of clay and sand.


    • Modern Survival

      @Susan yes any climate, Sepp has done designs like this from the deserts of Spain, to the Austrian Alps, to the tropics of Columbia.

    • Do you know what he might typically charge for a design?

      • Modern Survival

        My understanding is the minimum price to get him on site is 25K.

      • That seems quite reasonable to me considering what just regular landscape architects can cost.

  17. Thanks Jack. Your honesty, perception and information is why I’m happy to pay for my MSB.

  18. Thanks for the feedback from your trip … I am in Hungary and thinking about make a roadtrip to Krameterhof sometime. Here is a good example of Sepp’s beds (although on a smaller scale than what you have been doing), worth checking out for those who like drawing. http://www.krameterhof.at/pdf/presse/permaculture-pm68.pdf
    Interesting (in contrast to swales – which for a while I though were similar), on hillsides the ‘Hugelkultur’ beds shouldn’t be parallel to the slope because the lower beds won’t get enough water. They should be angled ‘optimally’ to stop erosion and conserve water.

    • Roundabouts

      jube thank you for this link. I get it now! Pics are worth a 1000 words for sure.

      • 2nd that! I was having a little trouble “picturing” how the curving around would go. That site helped immensely. Now I’m looking out the window at some downed tress & going “hmmm” Thanks jube (& Jack)

  19. It was nice having a new episode to listen to on my car ride into work. I cannot wait until the TSP Shop is back.

  20. Joe Harper

    Jack, when Sepp was building the hugo beds where did the wood and dirt come from? Did they bring it from off site? Was all the dirt from the ponds? Good show, thanks.

  21. @ Jack

    My brother-in-law just purchased property in Mulberry, Tx. which is in the North East part of Texas close to Dennison, and backs up against the Red River. I could not believe the size of some of the Pecan trees out there. It took three of us with linked arms to measure one of the tree’s trunks! He’s got some good water. I know you are looking for land. Maybe you should look in that area.

    Thanks for the honest review of the Sepp project.

  22. Moonvalleyprepper


    Thank you for the honest review. I went to the urban farming tour in Detroit yesterday with Sepp and had a similar experience. The event was OK, but could have been so much more meaningful for those involved. I don’t want to get to into it, but on the way home me and my friend were both discussing it pros/cons what we would have done different. Then I said hey lets listen to Jack’s review when we get home, hadn’t heard it yet. Needless to say we were both cracking up as you hashed out exactly what we had said on the way back.

    I also have to say that you are spot on about the teacher comments. Teaching is a skill, just like everything else. Some people are born great teachers, some get there through work and experience. In my experience it’s not the most knowledgeable person who makes the best teacher, but the one that can convey and relate the material to the audience. Along with this a great teacher is also one that can check for understanding, reinforce new concepts with multiple analogies, while remaining flexible and entertaining. When executed properly this appears seamless and effortless to the audience, but to the trained eye you see the technique beyond the content. This of course is my bias opinion being that I am a HS science / technology teacher. Based on what I have learned I would have no reservations saying that Lawton is an exceptional teacher, and Jack you are an absolute natural at it also. I would go to any event put on by you, no question.

    Keep on doing what you do.


  23. Jason from PA

    Great show today!

    Any chance you can post a photo of one of the 1-2 meter tall Hulu beds ?

  24. We have Hugelmounds, Hugles, Hugo beds, and Hulu beds.

    Anyone remember Officer “Hoppy” Hopkins from Sanford and son?

  25. OK call me slow, but how do you pick the harvest from plants on a 70 degree slope that is 6 feet high?

    • Moonvalleyprepper

      Just did a little drawing on sketchup to get some numbers. A bed 6′ tall with a 70 degree slope from the horizon, 20 degree from the verticle, would require a reach of ~2′ straight across to the peak if your toe was exactly at the base. Might be a problem for someone shorter or with short arms, but if your ~6′ you probably have arms over 2′ long 😉

  26. I really look forward to listening to this episode . . . .I think. 🙂

  27. Jack do you have a seed mix for Arkansas, and what did they do with all of the tree stumps.

  28. Lidia Seebeck

    “ask Nature”– Jack, he might be right. One of the things I have learned the hard way between California and Colorado is that some seeds that grow well in Colorado (Pueblo mirasol chile pepper) don’t do at all well in CA, and some things from CA may not do well in CO. I know I have artichoke seeds that may be basically useless to me now. The things that grow best here in southern CO are a little different than what’s best on my mom’s property in northern CO in the ‘burbs. She has a lot more moisture in the air and a lot less wind. That said, a little guidance on the idea behind the recipe would be interesting.

  29. I was at the event and I pretty much agree with everything Jack said. It was worth it to see it in action and to meet people and hang out, but by the 9th day of “Q & A” or should I say “Q and NOT A”, I found myself napping or skipping class. Even when we got him to actually lecture on topics, it was mostly stuff I already read in his books.

    Glad I got the early-bird discount on this class.

  30. I kept imagining Paul Wheaton screaming “Blasphemer” at the top of his lungs as he listened to this episode!

    • Modern Survival

      @Adam He may not like this episode but I think he would have to say it was factual.

  31. I don’t recognize this Vettezuki guy, must be an imposter. 😉 Otherwise bloody brilliant. Or should I say, Ausgezeichnet!

  32. PS If you get Lawton in a hot arid environment, I’m there within the maximum of my ability. I live in SoCal and have been scanning desert property for a while after watching his Greening the Desert.

  33. Homestead Prepper

    Count me (and my wife, depending on grandparents’ availability) in for your classes/seminars when you get it up and running. I was lamenting that I couldn’t make it to the Holzer seminar, but thanks to you, I feel like I still gained from it. Thanks, Jack.

  34. This may seem strange, but I think this is my favorite of your podcasts so far (I have been listening for about a year). Twice as good as the closest best.

  35. i attended this event. It was fun, relaxing and interesting to watch things unfold. After 2 days, before Jack arrived, I saw the directions that things were going to take and changed my return flight. Jack is very fair and accurate with his description of this event. People began leaving after a few days when it became apparent that this would be one big planting party. Some comments: A very ecclectic mix of people there. I was glad to see lots of people in their mid-20’s. Everyone I spoke to [from doctors to marijuana growers] were interested in liberty issues, from too much taxes to buying silver to self sufficiency.

    Katarina was completely overwhelmed by this project – that was clear from day 1. I do not think that this project will have the follow up and reach the potential that it could because of her expectations and desires.

    Sepp did say that he limits attendance at these seminars to 30 people, but allowed katarina to expand this due to the high interest, I think also that in order to finance it, she needed more money from participation

  36. Tyler Young

    I was strongly considering going to the event, but ended up not being able to. Thanks so much for your review, and it sounds like I’ll want to go to your events in Texas when you get them up and running.

  37. There’s nothing like building one of many traditional raised beds trying to maximize .6 acres of land while listening to this podcast and thinking “Am I doing this all wrong”? Haha, Thanks Jack 🙂

  38. Has Paul put out anything on what he thought of the event? I’ve looked at all his recent podcasts and don’t see anything.

  39. Hey Jack. I’m new to the site and having trouble finding pictures related to the permaculture workshop with Sepp. You mentioned on the podcast that you would be posting some pics of the giant hugelkultur beds. Also, I’m curious if while at the workshop you learned how to make ponds without liners?