What Is Permaculture and How Does It Work?

We are all familiar with the finely manicured front yards, but would they look so nice without constant gardening and irrigation? Probably not. But what about those acres of corn you see growing on the side of the road? Would they grow naturally or are they dependent on gas-powered machines and fertilizers, soil and pesticides? Permaculture says there’s a more sustainable way of growing what we need from Mother Nature.

What is permaculture? Think of it in the following terms. These lawns and farms regularly deplete themselves of resources, which means they cannot survive without constant import of more resources. Instead of promoting unsustainable farming, permaculture encourages people to stick with what works. It suggests we take a leaf out of Earth’s book and learn from its thriving ecosystems, where nutrients constantly move in self-sustaining, permanent cycles.

What Is Permaculture?

Permaculture – a term coming from permanent agriculture – centers on the concept that food production systems shouldn’t artificially exist outside of natural ecological systems. A holistic approach in itself, permaculture views humans as a part of the larger ecological system and not as something that needs to make a separate stand.

Permaculture systems combine the best of natural landscaping and edible gardening in order to sustain both themselves and their caregivers. The ultimate goal of permaculture – a word coined by two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the mid-1970s – is to develop a lot of land until it meets the needs of its inhabitants, such as food, shelter, fuel and entertainment.

However, it’s rare for home gardeners to follow permaculture principles to the last letter. Most of them usually borrow ideas from the permaculture ethos by employing simple landscaping techniques based on usefulness and production. Permaculturists want integrated farming and ecological engineering. In theory, this would allow communities to pursue their own ends in a way that works with, not against, the environment.

Know Your Permaculture-recommended Plants

Like any other gardener, a permaculture enthusiast also loves plants for their beauty and fragrance. In addition, he or she also seek out the plants that offer practical benefits along with aesthetic aspect. For instance, a permaculture site would replace the border of flowering shrubs with a raspberry or blackberry border.

Therefore, permaculture focuses on the use of native plants or those that are well adapted to the local climate. The ultimate goal is to plant things you like, while also making sure they benefit the landscape in some way. Fruit trees, for example, provide food as well as shade. Similarly, a patch of bamboo could provide stakes for supporting vining plants.

Standard garden vegetables are a big favorite among permaculture gardeners. They also grow many types of perennial food plants, including arrowhead, chicory, sorrel, asparagus, and buckwheat. Head over to Temperature Climate Permaculture for a comprehensive index of the plants accepted in the “edible forest garden” of a permaculture site.

Know What Plants to Avoid

Disease-prone plants and plants that require a lot of water or pampering make for bad permaculture candidates. Instead of a high-upkeep peach tree, you should focus on native persimmon trees that don’t need pruning and spraying. One of the easiest principle is to consider the natural tendencies of the site, along with the needs of its inhabitants. This way, you will use as much of your site as possible. Instead of trucking in stone or topsoil, try to work with the materials already available. Most of all, remember that a permaculture design is never finished, because the plants are always changing.

Ethical Principles of Permaculture

Even though the term permaculture is less than a century old, the ideas behind the concept have been around for thousands of years. Even ancient civilizations practiced such growing strategies as forest farming, composting, planting multiple crops, and crop rotation. Environmentalism is just a logical modern step forward, not the origin. In this sense, permaculture isn’t so radical; it’s just a melding of traditional agricultural methods with modern ones.

The permaculture movement follows three basic ethics:

  • Care for the Earth: Recognize the importance of all living and non-living elements of our planet, from minerals and air to plants and animals. Caring for the Earth also entails a basic life ethic, which recognizes the value of every living being, assured it fulfills some basic role in the ecosystem.
  • Care for People: This principle advocates the importance of community involvement, as well as the idea that access to resources should be a basic human right.
  • Set Limits on Consumption: Recognize the importance of reinvesting surplus money, labor, energy, and information into care for the planet and the human populations that live on it.

Five Permaculture Practices to Start Following

Even though we don’t have a set formula for developing a permaculture garden design, there are indeed some permaculture best practices that you can employ:

  1. Get inspired by nature’s blueprint and enhance it with beneficial plants and animals. Use your plantings to mimic the structure of a forest. Setting a canopy of tall trees will make enough room for smaller ones. Flank it by large and small shrubs, and then add the smallest plants. Habitats where trees border open areas are perfect for currants and other fruiting shrubs, as well as a variety of useful native plants, such as beargrass. Permaculture mimics these natural patterns to provide the greatest diversity of plants.
  2. Stack plants into guilds. A guild refers to canopies and plants with compatible roots that could form an edge. As you learn more about your permaculture site, you’ll discover which groups of plants work better together. For instance, dogwoods, pines, and wild blueberries are the perfect guild for acid soil.
  3. Use native plants and others well adapted to the site. The permaculture principles encourage raising different crops and farm animals to prevent the inhabitants from becoming dependent on one product. This way, you’re less likely to suffer from breed-specific illnesses or fluctuating market prices.
  4. Divide your yard into zones based on use. Place the herb garden, for example, in the most accessible zones. Dividing a farm into zones means you will arrange your farm activities into a series of concentric rings starting out from the center. Zones that require higher human traffic will be the ones closest to the center.
  5. Identify and use the microclimates in your yard. There are plenty of specific opportunities coming with each of the microclimates you possess, whether cold and shady or windswept and in full sun.
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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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