Permaculture

permaculture Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and perennial agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in the natural ecologies. It was first developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and their associates during the 1970s in a series of publications. Some key principles include:

Patterns

Being aware of patterns that exist in nature and using them to your advantage is a key component of permaculture. Understanding things like erosion, mulching and evapotranspiration will help you identify what’s happening in your own garden and to make adjustments that allow you to work with nature rather than fighting it. For example, a low-lying boggy area will be better suited for water-loving plants, while a higher and drier area will be more appropriate for plants that prefer arrid conditions. Many people fight nature instead of working with it in the garden and that means a lot of work for a little yield.

Zones

Part of getting the most “bang for your buck” in the garden is also using permaculture zones to your advantage. Plant things you will use most close to your kitchen so that you don’t have to walk a long way to gather them. Things you use less frequently can be located further away.

Layers

Layering in your garden allows you to maximize space and leave no vacuum for weeds to pop up. It also allows you to “stack functions” so that the plants you choose can help each other thrive. For example, if you plant corn, beans and squash together, none of them will compete for space, but the beans can climb up the corn ands use it as a trellis. Potatoes and squash also work well in combination. The layers of a permaculture garden typcially include:

  1. The canopy
  2. Low tree layer (dwarf fruit trees)
  3. Shrubs
  4. Herbaceous
  5. Rhizosphere (root crops)
  6. Soil Surface (cover crops)
  7. Vertical Layer (climbers, vines)
  8. An eighth layer, Mycosphere (fungi), is often included.

Example of layering: Plant roots such as potatoes, onions, garlic and beets as well as mushrooms below the soil surface, herbs such as thyme and chamomile as a low ground cover, vegetables such as salad greens, kale, swiss chard, and pak choi as a third layer, vegetables that crawl such as zucchini and cuccumber as a fourth layer, herbaceous shrubs such as basil, oregano, lemon balm, and lavender as a fifth layer, taller plants such as tomato plants, bush beans, and artichokes as the sixth layer, vine plants such as green beans, kiwis, grapes, and peas as the seventh layer, and dwarf trees such as lemons, oranges, pears, plumbs, apples, nectarines and peaches as the final top layer. You can also include edible flowers to garnish your salads and give your garden some color.

Conserving Water

Deep mulching, berms and swales, and thick plantings are crucial to water conservation in a permaculture garden. By mulching deeply, you prevent evapotransiration of your soil (you keep it moist) and you also prevent run-off because water can percolate through mulch much more easily than it can percolate through soil. Digging swales and building berms allows you to control where the water goes in your garden so you can direct it towards the thirstiest plants while not overwatering more drought-resistent varieties. Planting thickly also prevents evaporation because larger plants will shade smaller ones, preventing scorching from the hot sun.

Many crops

Polyculture is agriculture using multiple crops in the same space, in imitation of the biodiversity of natural ecosystems, and avoiding large stands of single crops, or monoculture. Choosing rare plants for your garden helps to proliferate biodiversity among our food supply, which is quickly dimishing thanks to industrial agriculture. Crop rotation is diversity over time that gives the soil a rest and its most common form is using a cover crop in the winter to fix nitrogen in the soil. Fava beans, vetch and peas are some of the most common types of cover crops.

Margins

Permaculturists maintain that where vastly differing systems meet, there is an intense area of productivity and useful connections. The greatest example of this is the coast. Where the land and the sea meet there is a particularly rich area that meets a disproportionate percentage of human and animal needs. This is evidenced by the fact that the overwhelming majority of humankind lives within 100 km of the sea. So this idea is played out in permacultural designs by using spirals in the herb garden or creating ponds that have wavy undulating shorelines rather than a simple circle or oval because this creates a longer edge. Edges between woodland and open areas have been claimed to be the most productive.

Perennials

Perennial plants are often used in permaculture design as they do not need to be planted every year they require less maintenance and fertilizers. Choose berry bushes and fruit trees, as well as perrenial vegetables like asparagus, artichokes, and tree collards.