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Drylands Permaculture Design Course (Updated 06-18-2021)

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Photo of drylands restored using permaculture

Drylands Permaculture Course

With Michael Pilarski, Penny Livingston & guest teachers!

October 4-13th, 2021

Skalitude Retreat Center

Methow Valley, Eastern Washington


Drylands occupy 40% of the world’s land surface and they are growing. Most of these dryland ecosystems have been degrading for hundreds to thousands of years.  Time to turn things around! Regeneration instead of degradation! The need is so great! This course explores how to regenerate the world’s drylands.  It will be useful for farmers, land-owners, land managers, policy-makers, restorationists and others keen on this topic.

This in-person Drylands Permaculture Course will include:

  • An overview of dryland strategies and techniques from arid and semi-arid regions around the world, from ancient to modern, with a particular focus on indigenous and traditional methods.

  • Permaculture design principles and methodology.

  • This is a specialized, advanced permaculture course.  PDC is not required to take this course.

  • There will be a variety of hands-on activities throughout the course.

  • Field trips: We will visit diverse dryland ecosystems and farms.

  • Students self-select into design teams for specific projects and give reports.

  • Each student is encouraged to read and review a pertinent book

  • An on-line course will be offered at a later date.

  • Course fee is $1,400.  This includes all classes, instructional materials, 3 great meals a day for 10 days and camping!

  • Worktrade and scholarships are available

  • Participants have the choice of indoor accommodations at an additional cost.





Michael Pilarski has lived and farmed in the semi-arid Inland Northwest since 1972.  He took his first Permaculture Design Course in 1982. In 1986 he helped organize and graduated from the 1st Drylands Permaculture Design Course taught by Bill Mollison who was one of the leading drylands experts in the world. In 1988, he published a Resource Guide to Sustainable Land Use in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands. 1988 was also the year he started teaching permaculture design courses. In the ensuing two decades he taught 40 permaculture design courses in various climates.  He has accumulated a lot of dryland knowledge over the years and wants to pass it on.

Penny Livingston has been teaching internationally and working professionally in the permaculture,  land management & regenerative design and sustainable development field for 30 years and has extensive experience in all phases of ecologically sound design and construction as well as the use of natural non-toxic building materials.  She specializes in site planning & design of resource rich landscapes integrating, rainwater collection, agroforestry systems, edible and medicinal planting, spring development, pond and water systems management, habitat development and watershed restoration for homes, farms, co-housing communities and businesses. She is currently teaching online courses with Ecoversity and the Permaculture Skills Center.

Guest Speakers:  We will bring in some of the world’s leading dryland experts via Zoom to give presentations and answer questions. More to be announced soon!



Permaculture Drylands Course Topics

Geography of the worlds drylands. Strategies and techniques for dry forests, thorn forests, shrub steppes, sand dunes, gibber/rock deserts, peneplains, salt flats, savannas,  rock cliffs and talus slopes dry land farms, irrigated farms, cities, towns and homesteads. Dryland settlement design. Permaculture Principles, Permaculture methodology, Zones, Sectors, Observation, Wildfire’s role in drylands, Fire risk mitigation. Wadi culture from the Middle East and North Africa. Crescent terraces. Qanats, Karez. Stone mulching, gravel mulch, litho-mulch. Grid Gardens. Barrow pit planting basins. Stone linear borders on contour. Floodwater farming. Cliff base fields. Soils, alkalinity, saline soils, flocculated soils, Mineral fertilizers, Caliches, Soil carbon sponge,. Cryptobiotic crust restoration. Swales, spreader banks, Interceptor banks, Diversion banks. Gabions. Check Dams. Net and pan. Sand dam. Nabatean runoff agriculture. Snow fence ponds. Nebkhas. Inselbergs/rock dome catchments. Zai holes and Yacouba Sawadogo. Kona Field System. Chris Reij, Tony Rinaudo and Farmer managed natural regeneration.. John Pollock on Maui. Species selection for dryland climates. Plant establishment. Shrub garlands. Keyline system of Soil and Water Management. Restoring summer monsoons. Wild and domestic animals in drylands. Subterranean growing. Subterranean housing. Agroforestry. Soil pitting. Dixon imprinter. Aga Khan Village Support Project. Curb cuts, street runoff. Designing/adapting roads for water catchment. Fog fences. Salted soils. Halophytes. Irrigation methods. Chaparral/Garigue/Maquis. Jean Pain. 12-foot borehole tree planting. Syntropic agriculture. Horticulture Surveys. Woody biomass in drylands. Waste-water, greywater. Windbreaks and hedgerows, Restoration forestry, Plant establishment through the zones, Seed pelletizing. Wild and domestic animals in drylands. Grazing, Food forests, Honeybees, Uses and management of weeds, Garden strategies, Pit Gardens, Hugelkulturs and subsurface hugelkulturs. Mulch, Bio-engineering, Vine trellises over houses and buildings. Erosion Control, Runoff factors. Slow, spread and sink, Ponds, dams, Roof water catchment. Tanks, ponds and water storage. – and much more.


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Agroforestry on Clearcuts in the Pacific Northwest

Photo of a clearcut forest.Hundreds of thousands of acres are clearcut every year in the Pacific Northwest.

On February 4, 2021, I visited a recent 80-acre clearcut above the Middle Fork Nooksack River.  It was typical of clearcuts in the region.  Yarding logs uphill had disturbed most of the forest soil.  Lots of bare dirt.  Most of the slash had been burned but there was some around along with charred logs and wood.  The site had been aerially sprayed with herbicide to kill off all vegetation after which it was planted with a monoculture of Douglas fir with a narrow genetic diversity.  There were some fingers of residual vegetation along the riparian corridors of seasonal streams, but no trees of any consequence were left on the 80 acres.  This is all perfectly legal of course.  

What will happen next will be relatively predictable.  There will be an explosion of non-native weeds. Already on the site I see bull thistle, St. John’s wort, yellow dock, horseweed, and butterfly bush. A lot of native plants will germinate in the next few years.  Typically the logging company might herbicide the site again after a few years to knock the deciduous vegetation and ground cover back to reduce competition on the Douglas fir.  After 7 to 10 years the Douglas fir will close canopy and shade everything else out.  Likely this would be followed by a pre-commercial thin and then possibly one commercial thin before the entire stand is clear-cut again.  Such are the current forest practices for the most part.  

How can we intervene in this process using agroforestry?  Read my full article.