Reader Questions - You Ask, I Answer

Reader Questions – Plant varieties, Septic, Urban Homesteading

I receive a lot of questions, and I answer them here so everyone can benefit. After all, if you’re asking the question, there’s probably 10 more people who want the answer as well.

Today there are three questions. The first is on plant varieties, another on septic tanks and water harvesting, and the last on urban gardening.

Join me today as I answer your (my readers) questions. If you want your question answered, please see the summary at the end of the article.

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Plant varieties

Pozdravljen, zanima me vaš pogled glede starih sort rastlin
(zelenjave, sadja). Ali gre za evolucijo in je potrebno sprejemat tudi
nove, ali je težnja po starih rastlinah konstruktivna za samooskrbo?
lp Bojan

Dear Bojan,

I don’t speak Slovenian, but Google Translate says:
Hello, I am interested in your view of the old varieties of plants (vegetables, fruits). Is it evolution, and new ones also need to be accepted, is the tendency for old plants to be constructive for self-care? lp Bojan

I will respond to what I think you’re asking. 😉

I really prefer what are called “heirloom” plants. Generally the variety is known to be 100 years old or so.
This usually means their genetics are relatively stable over time, and will breed “true to type”, so that the next seed’s generation looks much like the parents.
It also means that you can save seeds to plant again the next year.
This idea is in opposition to “hybrid” seeds that won’t look like their parents.

Breeding plants to get improved varieties has been done for thousands of years.
Because this was usually done for better flavor and improved production, I think this is great.

Over the last 50 years, more and more varieties have been developed to support a global grocery system so that the produce travels well in a truck (or ship) and doesn’t break or bruise.
This usually means the flavor and nutrients are not as good.

As far as evolution goes, most plants don’t care anything about humans, and so they aren’t desirable or edible.
Pure survival is the prime factor in a plant’s ability to pass on its genes.

Now, if by “self-care” you mean the plant continuing to reproduce itself, yes, this is more common in older plants.
Some “modern” plants really only do well if planted and cared for my humans.

Vanilla orchids are a great example.

Human intervention is required to select for a different attribute than pure survival.

Otherwise, if by self-care you mean old plants being more useful for medicine, this is sometimes true, and sometimes not.
Breeding can improve any trait, and one of those traits are medicinal compounds.
If this has been done for the plant in question, the newer plant would be better. Otherwise the older plants have more medicinal value.

However, there are some notable exception to that “most plants” statement.
Some plants seems to have changed (or motivated humans to change them?) to benefit both the human and the plant.
Notable members of this group are Cannabis spp. (marajuana), and Malus spp. (the apple).
For lots more information on this see The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan.

Septic tank challenge

Reader Questions - You Ask, I Answer

I get the concept of permaculture I’d like to apply it to my half acre
or so but I have a great Challenge I have a septic tank over flow which runs through the middle of the property n is mounded up how do I over come this get water yo flow around the place n go where it’s most needed I know I can’t b the only one with this problem please help Colleen


I like the way you phrased that – “great challenge”!

To be honest, I’m wondering how much you can plant on your property without running into problems with the tank or leach field.

I would not suggest digging into your leach field. There’s too much potential for pathogens and sickness.
Most leach fields aren’t very deep, around 18″ to 2 feet.
You do NOT want swale water mixing with effluent water. It will stink and has disease-causing possibilities.

Beyond that, if the yard really is flat, swales aren’t the right technique. This is because the loose mound “spoil pile” goes on the downhill side.

You may want consider hugelkultur or similarly creating raised mounds of dirt to plant into.
You also probably don’t want to plant trees very close to the leach field.
If the roots get into it they will grow like crazy and probably break the leach field.
I’d bet that is why no one planted trees there.

According to both

…you have many options.
They suggest shallow-rooted herbaceous plants. See the links for more info, including fruit tree suggestions.

A longer-term idea is to get away from a septic system, if possible.
While I don’t know if the laws where you are will allow an alternative to septic, I suggest looking into it.
Their problems like cost of pumping out and repair, as well as the fact that all those nutrients (though somewhat gross to think about) are essentially lost, detract from their appeal.
I also talked about this in the article on waste in permaculture.

In the article, I suggested using a composting toilet. There are many commercial models, unless you want to go the 5-gallon bucket route.
You may not want to go this far, but at least consider doing a greywater system. This will make your septic system last longer and go further between pump-outs.

When you do put your trees in, I suggest a thick mulch of wood chips, along with some amendments. I go into more detail in this article about how to plant fruit trees.

If you’re doing raised beds, I really suggest looking at wicking beds. The frame construction is almost the same.
This will reduce your watering needs and should increase your plants happiness and production.
See for a DFW (Texas) area guy making wicking beds from a watering trough.

Urban homesteading

Right now, I am living in a condo, so cannot do any gardening. Still, I am interested in permaculture, amd learning more about it in general.
Thank you,

Hi Toni,

Thanks for replying back!
Yeah, not having land of your own can make it tough to garden, but here’s a few suggestions.
Not all of these may be available in your area, but many will.

If you have an outside patio/balcony, you can do container gardening.
It takes very little space, and you can still get lots of production.
You can even do a small aquaponics setup.

See if there are any community gardens or city co-op gardens in your area.
Many cities have them for just the reason you stated.
They usually don’t charge much if anything, and will sometimes do watering as well.
Some churches will also have a community garden.
They may also do a work exchange for produce.

Join a CSA (community supported agriculture) and do a work exchange. These usually fill up fast, and the sooner you can get in the better.
You get experience growing food, and get credit towards your produce from the CSA.

Garden space rental from a friend with a yard? You could just pay them in food. People like free stuff!

How about plants on a shelf/table with a grow light?
The Crew and I were talking about different ideas for urban gardening, and my son came up with this one.

Go to and find U-pick farms in your area. This is fun for kids and adults, and you don’t have to worry about growing the produce.
Plus farmers love to talk about growing, so you can usually pick their brain for ideas.

I have heard that some people keep bees or chickens/quail in the city, sometimes illegally. YMMV.

Please also see my article on urban homesteading.


I hope those answers help you or someone you know.

If you’d  like to get your question answered, just email me at info (at) thepermaculture (dot) life and ask away!


OK, that’s all folks! Do you have any questions or comments about sustainable homesteading, permaculture design or anything else? Ask your question down below and let’s talk! You can also use the contact form, or email me at info at thepermaculture dot life.

Thanks from TPL

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