The Permaculture Student

A resilient, abundant future starts with permaculture education.

How to have an Epic Garden with a 9-5 Full-Time Job

Matt Powers3 Comments

Have you ever wondered how some people who wrk full time right alongside you have epic gardens with yields all summer long? 

How do they do that? They make it look effortless. Meanwhile you’re struggling to get things watered, to amend the soil, to prune, to harvest, to chop and drop, and it kind of steals the fun from you?

I was there! A lady up the hill grew 10,000 lbs of tomatoes on a 1/4 of an acre! What was she doing!? I actually have a video of what she was doing on my Facebook page and Youtube - I’ll link to it in the description - she was irrigating her gardens and orchards with her duck pond water - with duck manure! It fed those tomatoes superbly! I didn’t have the money, ducks, permission, or really mechanical know how to pull her system off on my land. Plus it was so dry where we were the debate over water was always always an issue. Perpetually pouring new water into a pond didn’t make sense for us. How could I get from point A to point B with no real money! 

Well I figured it out and did it while still a public school teacher struggling to make ends meet - I scaled up to a full 2 acre garden managed with nothing but a knife, a shovel, manure, animals, straw, pallets, some fencing (in the early stages before I stopped using them), and animal feed - it took a progression, one you can see on Powers Permaculture Family Farm on Facebook if you’d like to go back in time and see my trial and error! It took some tinkering and some places are more stubborn than others but I changed our barren decomposed granite into rich deep dark chocolate colored loam in only a few seasons and in some places within a season (due to placement in the landscape.) 

The Key is to Partner with nature & its cycles:

Small Animals - soil prep, manure, landscape prep, weed removal, old bedding for composting & mulch

  • Goats - whethers are usually sold cheap - these are fixed males, so they aren’t as aggressive and don't have that distinct stink! Goats can clear land for your chickens to get in there and finish what they started - you can follow, thin further if need be, and plant after them.
  • Chickens - roosters are sometimes free if you have friends hatching their own chickens. While they may not lay any eggs, they are hard workers and can till, scratch, shred, manure, and work the chicken tractor as well as any chicken. I find they do not fight without ladies around and the ceiling is too low for them to that classic jump spur pounce they love do as their opening move.
  • Rabbits - get two of the opposite and you’ll have plenty and they’ll provide amazing manure - like MAGIC MANURE - and they perform well as lawn mowers in a tractor but need the bottom fenced in for sure otherwise they’ll travel onward. 
  • Ducks - like chickens but different - they do well in humid wet conditions whereas chickens do better on the drier side - though there’s overlap for sure and you can make things work, this is a general rule of thumb that works well. Duck tractors in Hawaii work extremely well for instance but would be harder to use in Tucson AZ. 


  • Use Natives: chop & drop, compost, hardy edges, & hardy tree guilds
  • Seed Saving - Save Money & Get TONS of Seed
  • Mulch Plants (fertilizer/OM)
  • Legumes/Nitrogen Fixers (fertilizer)
  • Willow (rooting hormone)
  • Aloe, Lemon Balm, etc. (medicine replacement)

Partnering with the Soil Food Web

  • Fungi, Bacteria, pH & Nitrogen Cycle
  • Compost, Compost Tea, & Compost Extract
  • Mulch & Organic Matter (listen to Simple Soil Solutions)
  • Inoculating with Mycorrhizal Fungi: AMF temporary but so significant, 1 of many players (trees & plants)
  • Nitrogen fixing bacteria - inoculate your soil once with legumes & rhizobia bacteria (there’s other forms of Nfixing bacteria too that’s non-nodulating like azotobacter bacteria). 
  • Growing Mushrooms: shiitakes on small manageable sized logs
  • King Stropharia Paths
  • Using the birds to catch pests with attractant/distraction plants
  • Beneficial Insects: “Predator insects, with such fantastic names as minute pirate bug, assassin bug, soldier beetle, mealybug destroyer, and damsel bug, can be attracted to the garden. There are many others with less fantastic names as well: earwig, green lacewing, wasps, some flies, ladybugs, praying mantises, and more. These bugs are primarily attracted to plants in the Apiaceae family (carrot, fennel, parsley, celery, cilantro, etc.) and the Asteraceae family (sunflowers, daisies, lettuce, artichokes, calendula, dandelion, dahlias, yarrow, zinnias, etc.) Planting a diversity of plants and letting them go to seed is important for pollinators and all the cycles they support and that support them.” - The Permaculture Student 2

By Design: 

  • Zone Planning - How many steps to each activity? Design so the things that need the most attention are closest to home.
  • Earthworks - Water harvesting, water diverting, shade, windbreak, sound barrier, & more. Earthworks perform many functions, and can save you money, time, and effort if you put in the effort initially - I was able to install 2 acres of swales by myself over the course of 2 years (except there was one class where we installed the longest swale on the property, a shallow one on the lowest side of the hill), but it is possible for you to do it all DIY. 
  • Multiple layered canopies - this creates the shade and moisture holding capacity I needed in the central valley, and every food forest needs in general. 

Through Education:

  • Take a Course - there are many permaculture introductions offered free online as well as locally almost everywhere in the world with new advanced courses just starting to appear on the scene - we will be running a Kickstarter for our team’s advanced course in Sept. 
  • Read a Book - Permaculture, Holistic Management, Food Forestry, Agroforestry, Silviculture, or Agroecology - lots to choose from but I alway recommend going with the best to save you time and money. For the fastest way to understand and put into action the PDC information that everyone is paying 500-1000 for is The Permaculture Student 1 which is written at an 8th grade reading level so you can get all the high level concepts down pat in an afternoon or two of reading, and start building your homestead the way you want immediately. 
  • Visit a Local doing it Right - every region no matter their label or system or practice has someone doing something right that you can learn from - you might have to do some digging to find them but it will be worth it. 

I read everything I could, tested everything I read, watched all the Youtube videos I could, talked to anyone that would answer, finally took Geoff Lawton’s Online PDC, and everything took off from there to entirely new levels. The information isn’t rocket-science either! It’s stuff we should all be learning in elementary and middle school but we never had a chance - that’s why I make books at lower reading levels with what we call today ‘graduate school level information’ but someday we’ll call common sense.

I’m Matt Powers: grow abundantly, learn daily, and live regeneratively.