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Permaculture - What Is It?

More and more people are awakening to the realization that the current system of living and providing food for our population is a tenuous and fragile system.  The demise of honey bee populations may be a visible sign of how our current monoculture mega farming techniques are not the best methods for a healthy eco system.  They are inherently dependent on large applications of petro-chemicals to produce yields of crops that are shipped vast distances on trucks to consumers that are thousands of miles away from their food source.  Bees are trucked thousands of miles and then placed in a virtual food desert where all they see for miles and miles is 1 type of plant on which to gather nectar and pollen.  Imagine how healthy you would be eating only oatmeal 3 times a day, for a month or more.  Regular yes, healthy no!

Permaculture is a growing trend not only herein the U.S., but worldwide.  Pioneers in this field like Geoff Lawton of Australia have been instrumental in teaching and developing and applying the developing principles of Permaculture throughout the world.  Through applications of reshaping and forming the land to enhance and utilize its contours, you can develop a method of conserving and utilizing water that eliminated the needs to use pumps for irrigation.  Permaculture strives to mimic the diversity found in a forest, where man is not required to annually apply fertilizer and spray trees with pesticides in order for a forest to grow.  Left to its own designs a forest will grow without man doing anything.

Permaculture farming strives to develop a sustainable and robust food forest system that once established will grow and improve without man continually applying petroleum based fertilizers or pesticides.  The living food forest will, over time, improve the water table, improve the soil fertility and allow a diverse array of food crops to grow together better and healthier than they do individually.  One of the tenants of Permaculture that really appeals to me is the fact that during feudal times, the only people that had lawns were the monarchs.  Peasants farmed what land they had to feed themselves.  Monarchs as an outward display of opulence could afford to use farmland for nothing more than growing grass.  On a small scale worldwide people are turning back and front yards from barren lawns to nutrient rich food forests where they can pick fresh fruits, nuts, berries and more and eat it right off the vine in their own yards, and never have to cut the grass again.

There are many good books on the subject of Permaculture.  I've read Practical Permaculture by Jessi Bloom & Dave Boehnlein as well as The Resilient Farm and Homestead by Ben Falk.  Ben's book details his homestead from the land purchase to building the home on a plot of undesirable land in Vermont.   He through the application of Permaculture techniques is even able to grow rice on his property in Vermont for his families use.  There are numerous websites and YouTube videos on the topic; in short Permaculture creates a more sustainable food source and lifestyle on our planet.  What's not to like about that?


  1. Rick Theriault on

    Colleen thank-you for your words regarding my recent post on the subject of permaculture. If you take a look at my bio on the United Country Lifestyle Properties of Maine site, you will see that my interest pretty closely mirror yours. Maine has what you are looking for. Our agency usually has several properties that would appeal to a person looking for sustainable living. Leaving the world a little better off by what we do as stewards of the land is something we all should strive to do. Feel free to contact me any time at the email address listed.

    A Maine Tiny House For Sale - It's In The Trees!

    Tiny homes are all the rage across the nation. I wonder if this is a trend driven by a desire to simplify our lives? No matter the reason a tiny home certainly has some upsides like reduced ownership cost from heating, electric, maintenance and property taxes.095

    For those interested in the tiny home concept, we have a newly listed property in Springfield, Maine you need to see. Not only is this home tiny, but it is built as a tree house. The multi-level home is perfect for a simplified primary residence or the ultimate get-away second home or sporting retreat.


    The 544 square foot tree house is perched in a pine grove on 23 +/- acres fronting for about 1,000 feet on babbling Wrights Mill Brook. The land for sale with this unique home is a mixture of forestland, fields, apple trees and meadows. The home is located on a secondary road and is the last home on the town maintained section of the road. Privacy should not be a problem here.FB_IMG_1444066599213_resized


    Springfield is located on the edge of large forestlands with lots of game and within a 10 minute drive to the boat launch of the Grand Lake chain of lakes. The lakes include Junior Lake, Sysladobsis Lake, Scraggly Lake, West Grand Lake as well as other lakes and ponds. For the outdoor enthusiast there is no better location. ATV/Snowmobile trails can be reached from the property.



    Call 800-286-6164 and ask for Traci Gauthier for a chance to see this one of a kind tiny home.




    Conservation Vs. Production in an Off-Grid Power System

    I've produced most of my homes electricity for several years now.  Seven years ago I installed a 10 Kw Bergey wind turbine and three years ago I added an additional 3000 watt solar array with battery storage and inverters.  At peak production with both devices I am producing 13,000 watts of power on a sunny and windy day.  On a monthly basis I have seen as much as 1200 kilowatt hours of production from my turbine and an additional 360 kilowatt hours of power from my solar array.  The average home uses 600 kilowatt hours of power on a monthly basis, so at times I am able to produce more power at my home than two average homes in the U.S. consume. This production ability came at a pretty steep upfront cost.  I have around $60,000 in my turbine and about $20,000 in my solar array with its associated inverters, batteries and top of pole mount.



    3 Kilowatt Solar Array


    I have read in various places studies showing the costs for energy conservation compared to the costs of energy production.  The number that I have seen is on the order of for every $1.00 spent in conservation, it would take about $8.00 spent to produce that amount of energy.  So what does this have to do in real life when thinking about building an alternative energy system?  Well quite simply the less energy you really need to produce to live comfortably, the smaller the investment you need to make to produce that energy.

    A well thought out off-grid home is going to be well insulated as well as well positioned to take advantage of passive solar heating, natural lighting and have efficient electrical appliances and lighting.  The lifestyle of the inhabitants of that home will be different as well.  They will turn off lights when not in the room.  If they watch television, they will turn it off when it is not being watched.  Pretty common sense items you would think, but not in reality.  It is amazing the people that I have had as guests in my home that leave the lights on, leave the television playing and just waste electricity.  I guess they either believe since I produce my own, it is free to waste it.  It just takes a second to turn off appliances not being used, and all that conservation adds up pretty fast when you figure it is an eight to one return.



    10 KW Wind Turbine


    The inhabitants of a well designed off-grid home will most likely heat with wood, cook with propane or natural gas, and use efficient LED lighting in the home.  The electrical appliances will be energy star rated and they will decide what is truly important to them.  The home will probably not have a dishwasher, although it could.  It depends on what they consider necessary for their lifestyle.  I have seen some pretty amazing properties that were built off-grid and produce all their own electricity.  I have also seen some pretty modest homes with modest energy production investments with above average energy consumption as well.  Utilizing a conservationists approach to living your life will yield large dividends in money saved and still living comfortably in an off-grid home.  Decide what is important to you, what you could use less of, what you can get by without entirely and have an appropriately sized system installed for your home.  A good friend of mine with hundreds of off-grid system installations under his belt has stated that he never tells anyone that it can't be done, what he says is "how large is your budget?"  Eight to one adds up pretty fast.

    New App for Woodland Owners

    At the annual meeting of SWOAM a discussion came up about a new app for smartphones called About My Woods.  I down loaded it immediately and have used it for the past few weeks. It has some great features.

    The mapping menu is cool. You will find terrain, satellite, soil, water shed and land cover mapping all showing your location on the earth.

    The app has a decent description of plants, trees, wildlife and invasive plants and insects. I like the quality photos and description making identification much easier.

    A "who can help" menu has contact information for district foresters, local mills and more.

    The app is from the North East State Foresters Association (NEFA) and the best part is it is free.

    To get the app go to

    Mapping Maine land with Google Earth

    If you now own Maine land or are looking for acres for sale, Google Earth can help make your ownership or investment search more productive. With the 3D views and the ability to zoom in our out at different angles of approach, you will gain new knowledge about how your land relates to the surrounding terrain.

    If you do not have Google Earth it is a free download and the link to it is HERE.

    A feature of Google Earth that can help you map your property is the polygon tool. The following is a quickstep by step process to get you started using this tool.

    Google Earth polygon tool

    First open Google Earth and locate the area of interest (AOI). If you are brand new to Google Earth you can type in the town you are looking for in the upper left corner of the screen under SEARCH. Zoom in on the location of your property. It helps to have a good idea of where the property is.

    Next, look for the tool bar on the top of the screen and locate the add polygon tool. Click on the tool and you can begin to draw lines around the approximate location of your piece of Maine. Begin by clicking your mouse on a known corner of your property. Move the cursor to the next corner and click the mouse. You will notice the lines are beginning to form the boundary, when finished selecting all corners you will have a shape of your lot.

    Screenshot 2015-01-06 17.27.19

    To make it easier to see select Google Earth - New Polygon box select style, color and change filled + outlined to outlined. You can also use this tool to change the line color, thickness and opacity.  Use the description tab to name the polygon and describe what it is.

    Once you have the polygon done you can right click on it and save it to your computer. File type can be a kml or a kmz, which is a zipped kml. This can be emailed and viewed by others with Google Earth on their computer.

    Update - Ban on Drones for Land Photography Continues

    As we suspected the FAA is not going to meet their goal for drafting drone (UAV) rules and regulations for Maine and the rest of the country. The agency has announced a delay until 2017. We discussed the topic of Drone Use last month. The following link with news of the update was sent to us by the Realtors Land Institute and provided by the National Association of Realtors.

    FAA Drone Rules Delayed to 2017


    I Want To Live Off Grid

    I can remember the tag line for FRAM oil filters, "Pay me now or pay me later".  The same line of reasoning can be applied to building an off grid power system.  Living off grid has many advantages, one of which is having no monthly electric utility bill.  Another benefit is your land purchase may be less expensive, because there is no utility power available.  A third is being able to live truly independently of the utilities wherever you want to.  A forth benefit is no unplanned power outages. The following paragraphs are just a beginner's sketch of the basics of deciding whether going off grid is truly what you want to do.

    Building an off grid electrical power system utilizing solar panels, wind turbines, or combinations of the two can be done anywhere the wind blows or the sun shines. There are costs that go along with building your own power system that is truly off grid.  The major components that go into having your own off grid system are the battery, charge controller, solar panels and/or wind turbine, an inverter system and a back-up generator.

    The battery for an off grid power system is used to store energy from the wind turbine or the solar panels.  The charge controller regulates the energy from the solar panels or wind turbine to the battery bank.  The inverter converts the power stored in the battery bank from DC power to AC power which most homes in the United States are wired to use.  The backup generator is used to charge the battery bank if the state of charge drops down too low where the battery bank can be damaged.  Today's alternative energy components are highly sophisticated and reliable devices that once installed and programmed will operate nearly independently of you for long periods of time.

    A well designed system closely matches the electrical needs of the off-grid home with the charge and storage capacity of the battery, solar panels and/or wind turbine and the average wind speed as well as the amount of sunshine available in your area.  When designed appropriately the back-up generator should run infrequently, and only to top off the batteries or if there is a repair being made to the system.

    In 2014 dollars, an off-grid solar system costs $10-$15 a watt installed for solar.  The smaller the system the higher the cost per watt will be.  The average home in the U.S. that is connected to the electrical utility uses 600 kwh of electricity per month.  To produce that amount of electricity with solar panels in Maine requires a system of approximately 6000 watts.  The installed costs of all the components in an off-grid home will run about $60,000-$75,000.  The system if well maintained should last for 20 years or more.

    The utility rate in my area of Maine is rapidly approaching $.20 per kwh.  Using that figure the average home in Maine pays $120 per month for electricity.  That brings us back to the FRAM filter.  "Pay me now, or pay me later", when building an off-grid home your electricity is purchased up front at a fixed cost for the life of the system.  Alternative energy is not free energy.  There are costs involved.  Living independently of the utility on a property located miles from the nearest power line can be done, and makes sense if that is what you want to do.

    There are currently federal income tax incentives that reimburse you 30% of the installed costs of your alternative energy power system.  In the example system described above, your tax credit would be $18,000-$22,500 reducing your true cost to $42,000-$52,500.  Living off-grid in a modern home built where you want to live regardless of whether there is power available can be done if you want to do it.

    When contemplating the possibility of living in the Maine woods miles from a utility line, realize that you can live comfortably with modern conveniences, but there are costs involved.  A future article will discuss energy conservation, versus energy production for an off-grid home power system design.  Until then I encourage anyone thinking about alternative energy to read some books on the topic.  A very good reference is The Renewable Energy Handbook by William Kemp.

    Innovative Maine Company Provides Dependable Drinking Water

    Are you looking to buy land in Maine to build an off grid, strategic location property?  Maine has some great properties for sale that will fit your needs.  There are a lot of criteria to consider but a few basics hit the top of the list.  Today, let's just look at the basic need of drinking water.

    After listening to the news about the California water shortage, I realize how blessed we are in Maine.  Being born and raised here, I do not remember a time we ever had to ration water.  The quality of drinking water in Maine is excellent.  Once in a while you may run into some higher mineral contents but nothing a filtration system can't fix.

    My home has a 160 foot deep drilled well with 20 feet of casing and produces 10 gallons per minute of some of the best drinking water you will find on earth.  Right out of the tap with no filtration!  The cost to drill is $12/foot for drilling and $12/foot of casing.  20' of casing is the minimum amount required by code.  Then factor in some excavation work and the well pump and that will add about another $1,300 to $2,000 depending on your location.

    My home is connected to the grid but what happens when you lose power?  That's were Bison Pumps enters the scene.  Their slogan "The Premier Hand Pump" and after having one installed at my home, I have no doubt that my drinking water needs will be met during my lifetime with or without power.   The design, engineering and quality of the working components are second to none.  I was not looking to buy the cheapest hand pump on the market but I wanted to be confident that no matter the season (Maine can get some extreme cold winter weather), I would be able to get drinking water when the need arises.

    Bison Pumps, was founded by David Harbison, Jr of Harbison Plumbing in Houlton Maine.  We've all heard the saying "necessity is the mother of invention", well (no pun intended), Bison Pumps is a true example of this old saying.  Maine's ice storm of 1998 left 1000's of people without power in the middle of winter, some for a few days and some for weeks.  After seeing so many people struggle to meet the need of basic drinking water, Bison Pumps was developed.

    I had the pleasure of meeting David and his son Jonathan (3rd generation plumber) this summer as they installed my pump.  They are first class people and hard working Mainers.  It was very interesting talking with David and his vision of how Bison Pumps could help around the globe with the world water crisis.

    Whether you are looking to build off grid or just looking to have a drinking water solution in case of power outages, Bison Pumps should be top of your list.

    Why We Don't Use Drones For Aerial Photography

    Unmanned aerial vehicles also known as drones are some amazing pieces of engineering. The photographic and videography capabilities of these units offer a unique view of our world. Real estate agents are naturally drawn to this technology as an exciting way to show a property, especially large acreages and expansive buildings. When these units first came out I immediately started shopping for a unit for our business.  However, we received very quick warnings from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) to not use them.

    Recently I have seen agents around the country and locally advertising and promoting the fact that they offer this service to prospective sellers. I sent an email to MAR legal counsel Linda Gifford, asking her if the FAA had lifted the ban. She told me without a doubt, as of this date the FAA prohibits the use of these vehicles for any commercial use, including the promotion of real estate. Linda advised me not to use them. As a Realtor, I am thankful for my affiliation with the Maine Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors. These two organizations keep its members up to date on rules and legislation both state and federal.

    The commercial use of UAV's  could draw the attention of the FAA with expensive fines for the real estate agent and their agency, but what kind of liability do their sellers have should an investigation take place? What if one of these agents accidentally crashes the UAV into a home, moving vehicle or another aircraft while using a tool that the federal government tells us not to use? I am no lawyer, but I would wager that the lawsuit the agent (and vicariously the property owner who hired them) would have filed against them would be a slam dunk for the plaintiff.

    So why is it that we are seeing blatant violations of FAA and NAR warnings? Non Realtor agencies and agents may have an excuse (though not a very good one) because they could be ignorant of the rules. But for the Realtors who are using the devices, shame on you. As Realtors we should be setting the example.

    United Country McPhail Realty will continue to get its aerial photography the old fashioned and legal way by hiring professional pilots and shooting photos from FAA approved aircraft. Once the FAA lifts the bans and approves the use, we will begin using this exciting tool.

    I welcome your comments.

    See the video from NAR explaining the FAA position and that of NAR.


    1. Tony Cesare on

      Very interesting article. I can imagine that at the pace the FAA works it could be a few years before they develop the rules for UAV's. Until that happens we will be happy to provide the flying your business needs to help with your marketing of properties.

      12 Great Apps for Maine Land Owners & Buyers

      phoneWe like technology that enhances our experience in the outdoors and ownership of our Maine land. Land owners may find a use for these and other smart phone apps. The list below are a few of our favorites. Keep in mind technology is great when it works, but as always, don't forget your compass!

      1. What tree is that?   Arbor Day tree identification guide for i-phone cost is $4.99 with mixed reviews. According to the reviews if the tree has leaves it works great. If it is fall or winter with no leaves the app is useless.
      2. Audubon Guides Box Set, Birds, Mammals, Wildflowers & Trees Cost $14.99 and received great reviews. Some of negative reviews was if no cell service is available, large app size.
      3. MyNature Animal Tracks.   Cost $6.99 with mixed reviews. Identifieds tracks and scat of 48 species.
      4. Backyard Scat & Tracks. Free. Identifies tracks and scat of 15 species. Paid version "Scat & Tracks of North America has more species.
      5. Soil Web for the iPhone
      6. Google Earth
      7. MotionX-GPS
      8. MilGPS Tactical GPS Navigation and Map. Cost is $7.99.
      9. GPS Compass for Ranger. Cost $1.99 with great reviews.
      10. Measure Your Land. Free. Received good reviews. Measures objects and distances on the ground.
      11. MyRadar Weather Radar. Free. Received good reviews. App displays animated weather radar around your current location, allowing you to see what weather is coming your way.
      12. Sunrise Sunset! By Brett Cato. Free app.