The title really says it all. For those unfamiliar with the concept, permaculture, as defined in this work, is "applied disturbance ecology". The fundamental idea being that working with the land allows an optimized native ecosystem which is productive, supports life, and requires minimal maintenance. The term was first proposed by Bill Mollison and Dave Holmgren and first published in book form in Permaculture One: A Perennial Agricultural System for Human Settlements, and more extensively fleshed out in Permaculture: A Designers' Manual, but these are the kinds of works which beg for explanation. They are full of practical advice, plans and drawings for homestead design, water usage, and crop selection, but for all their visionary qualities, Mollison and Holmgren are not as organized or easy to follow as many would like. Additionally, the practical examples, with before and after pictures, and case studies demonstrating effectiveness are minimal in those works. This, I think, is the reason for the explosion of works like Shephard's Restoration Agriculture, and Hemenway's Gaia's Garden. This work is very much in the same tradition, but I liked it better than either of those.
The first chapter is a "why permaculture?" discussion. It hits the high points of Mollison's idea, and though it doesn't say much you won't find elsewhere, it is clearly written and provides a solid foundation to the rest of the book. The second chapter discusses the design process, how to go about planning the transformation of a plot of land into a permacultured homestead. In this, it summarizes prior works, but does so every bit as extensively as the one dedicated work I've read on the subject: Permaculture Design: A Step-by-Step Guide. You do not need that book if you have this one. Chapter three is a summary of earth works and water planning, and while not as extensive as Yeoman's Water For Every Farm, it explains well enough that you could forgo that in the short term. It does not discuss contour plowing as extensively as Mark Shephard or Yeoman does. But it will give you the basic ideas behind the process. Chapter four discusses recycling of fertility, composting, and the how to use the cycle of decay and regeneration to benefit every living thing on your homestead. Chapter five discusses food crops, which centers around perennial crops and how to integrate grazing animals, poultry, and plant life to generate yields greater than the sum of the parts. Here again the discussion and the examples are better than in Restoration Agriculture, though some of the choices are tailored specifically to the northern temperate climate of Vermont. Enthusiasts in other climes will need to look elsewhere for specific choices. Intriguingly, the staple crop Mr. Falk grows is rice, and there is some good discussion of why this crop. Certainly unique in American agriculture, which has been solidly dominated by wheat and corn, but probably not as useful to permaculturists in more arid areas. Chapter six discusses fuel, and why wood burning, coupled with energy efficient housing design, is the most ecologically sound choice for a homestead. He also discusses building design, including how to plan for passive water conservation and use. Chapter seven is a "putting it all together" discussion. These chapters are followed with appendixes of tool lists, checklists, and design outlines.
Overall, probably the best introduction to the topic, in a practical sense with examples, that I have read. While the details are specific to his location, it could not be otherwise, and for homesteaders in that climate, it will be even more useful. For those in the Midwest, the practical examples in Restoration Agriculture will be better, but that work is not as clear, nor as good on topics outside crop selection and planting as this one is. Additionally, while details of some aspects of sustainable living are glossed over here, it does not purport to be a self-contained manual to every aspect. For those interested in this topic for the first time, I would recommend this work, followed by Introduction to Permaculture as a starting point. You probably don't need much else if you have imagination, helpful neighbors, some understanding of local ecology, and a desire to experiment. For those already widely read on the subject, this is a solid addition to a permaculture library, demonstrating the feasibility and success of these principles in well photographed detail. Highly recommended.