I’m Often Asked, What Is Permaculture? If Permaculture Techniques Can Be Used In Gardening, To Define Permaculture, To Teach Permaculture Basics. Here’s my answer!
Permaculture is one of the 23 Gardening Techniques that successful gardeners use. In this article I’ll explain what permaculture is and how it can be used in the garden and allotment.
How to Define Permaculture
Defining anything ought to be easy, but seldom is. Simply put Permaculture is short for Permanent Agriculture … and that has nothing to do with gardening as such. But the ethos around Permaculture is everything to do with sustainable gardening. The Permaculture Ethos is at the centre of all we should be doing as gardeners.
Think of it this way. We are trying to grow food in our veg and fruit gardens and we want to do it as easily as possible, without it costing us or the planet a fortune. So if we can adopt a system that is sympathetic to those objectives that would be good.
That effectively is what permaculture does. It is a gardening system that is long term or even permanent in the sense that it is sustainable and works with nature (and science) rather than against it.
Mankind has destroyed, some would say modified, most natural growing systems around the world. There is very little natural habitat left. In the UK not even the highlands and so called wild places are untouched. But permaculture tries to copy what they would have been like within its ethos. It tries to be a net zero type of production where we leave the world as good, if not better, than when we used its resources.
Permaculture isn’t just about gardening and growing. It’s a way of life. Someone recently described it to me as a holistic, living-in-harmony-with-nature worldview that incorporates one’s total lifestyle.
But however defined, we can use permaculture’s 12 basic principles in the garden.
12 Permaculture Design Principles .. for the Garden
Permaculture has a number of basic principles applied to its use:
- Observe and interact
- It’s good practice to observe before taking action. For example what is currently growing on the plot. Knowing this is indicative of a lot factors that will affect our growing, such as pH, soil type, etc.
- Catch and store energy
- This covers a multitude of practices. From gathering water from streams and the roof of sheds to sequestering carbon in soils and harvesting crops and waste to produce compost.
- Obtain a yield
- For me, as a retired commercial grower, this means optimising the yield of our crops. Not necessarily getting the highest yield, but getting the best “economic” yield in the situation. And, in part, that leads to the second definition of yield. Its also about goodwill, health, exercise, sharing, and all the positive vibes that leads to a positive community.
- Apply self regulation and accept feedback
- Feedback comes from various quarters. Some of it comes from other people, and I learn a lot from people in Facebook Gardening groups, sometimes it’s their wisdom and sometimes their questions. But feedback also comes from nature. Plants and animals provide a lot of clues if we are prepared to read them. For example; plants start to wilt when they need water. Clearly that is an obvious one, but there are thousands of other clues if we look for them. Using this information to self regulate is then a given.
- Produce no waste
- One person’s waste is another’s resource. One of the simplest examples is how my neighbours grass mowings are their waste but become my resource when I use them for mulching or making compost.
- Use renewable resources and services
- Rainwater is a renewable resource. So is sunshine. So we need to harness them both. And when it is very hot, and we want to be cooled they can work together. Rather than use air conditioning I like to open windows and let the breeze blow through. And if we leave wet towels hanging in the airflow the evaporation of the water cools the breeze. Simple and renewable.
- Design from pattern to detail
- When I grew commercially I used monoculture. It’s hard not to when the supermarkets want all the crop to mature and be cut at the same time and to meet tight specification. But now I’m a gardener I mix a rich patchwork of plants into many of my beds. And I grow edimentals in my flower beds and flowers in my veg beds. This pattern type of culture provides many benefits, including a decrease in plant pests and diseases. All because I’m following nature’s pattern!
- Integrate rather than segregate
- The above example also fits this principle. Mixing crops has many benefits. On larger scale its about integrating food production in the community, growing locally, eating seasonally and processing locally. After I sold my market garden I became a marketing consultant and often worked in the food and farming industry. One client grew oilseed rape and we built a n oil extraction mill and bottling plant on the edge of the fields. Forget food miles, this was food feet. The crop could be harvested and the processing could start minutes later at the field edge. The final bottled product was sold in their farm shop less than half a mile away.
- Use small and slow solutions
- I love this principle. In winter I grow over 20 types of sale in a 10x8ft greenhouse. A few of this, a few of that, and we have a wonderful mixed diet of leaf, stem and root. In summer the principle extends to our outdoor beds and we always have a crop ready for harvest.
- Use and value diversity
- Diversity of crops is exactly what the above principle is about. And part of the strength of this is that not only do we get a diverse diet, but when one crop fails we have dozens of others to replace it.
- Use edges and value the marginal
- We grow lots of marginal crops. It’s what the handfuls of different things is all about. But being marginal goes further than that. Elsewhere I’ve written about the Plat Growers of the 18th century onwards. They grew crops on cliffside “plats” on the most marginal land. But because they did they enjoyed the microclimate it offered and had amongst the earliest crops in the UK each spring.
- Creatively use and respond to change
- Change is a challenge. But it is also an opportunity. My own example of this was moving from traditional gardening methods to No Dig. It was the challenge that has resulted in me having more crops than ever with less inputs of time, money and effort.
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