Permaculture Guide to Reed Beds by Féidhlim Harty: Review

For his latest publication, Féidhlim Harty once again marries a wealth of scientific and regulatory knowledge with his depth of practical experience. However, in addition to these two aspects of his writing, he adds insights and approaches from the field of Permaculture.

The book is a follow-on from the author’s previous publications Get Rid of Your Bin and Save Money (a pocket guide to household waste minimisation), and Septic Tank – Options and Alternatives (a guide to conventional, natural and eco-friendly systems). As usual, Féidhlim manages to deal with a potentially tedious and mundane subject in his own customary expert but yet at times light-hearted style. The following quote gives perhaps an insight into his overall approach: ‘The sheer versatility of wetlands, reed beds, willows and ponds can sometimes be a bit overwhelming in terms of choices. But it also offers a diversity of opportunities as a permaculture designer, allowing you to derive multiple uses form what is generally regarded as a problematic waste.’

His Guide claims to be a ‘comprehensive overview of reed bed systems and treatment wetlands for household effluent treatment’ – nothing less than a complete ‘how-to’ manual from system selection and design to construction, planting and maintenance. As such, it is a valuable document not just for any home-owner considering building a reed bed system, but also will be of great interest to a range of professionals and public authorities involved in the challenges of low energy, low impact effluent treatment. Féidhlim is based in Ireland and the book reflects this, but the regulatory requirements in the UK are frequently referenced, and the scope of his approach generally covers temperate regions of the planet.

Following a brief, but insightful overview of Permaculture basics, the structure of the book is solid, moving from Site Assessment through Wastewater Treatment Basics and Settlement/Pretreatment Systems before getting to the heart of the subject – Reed Beds – Theory and Practice. The latter is complemented by a further chapter on Plants and Planting, with chapters on various topics to complete the manual. There is a comprehensive set of Appendices, Glossary and Index.

The links and parallels with Permaculture are to be found throughout the book with some of the principles gaining special attention. For example, the use of the principle of working from patterns to details is reflected in the overall design approach used, and indeed the flow of the book itself.

The attractive line-drawings by Féidhlim’s daughter Susie Harty add not just a personal touch, but provide enhanced clarity with numerous illustrations of various design details.

Overall the book is a rich and unique repository of information and expertise for anyone interested in any aspect of treatment wetland systems – and indeed a true reflection of the Permaculture principle ‘the problem is the solution’.

Seán Ó Conláin

This book is available at