By Asha Kreiling:
So much of industrial agriculture and conventional home landscaping is about fighting the burdens of nature. How do we kill pests, produce more food, and have greener lawns and prettier roses? This type of thinking goes against the principles of the natural environment, and sustainability is often sacrificed for chemical- and water-intensive production.
Permaculture is an alternative way of thinking. In the 1970s, the term “permaculture” was coined by Bill Mollison, an Australian ecologist who wanted to find a solution to the destructiveness of industrial agriculture. He was inspired by natural ecosystems like forests and wetlands in which different factors and various organisms all perform important tasks. Energy is cyclical. Food, water, and waste is recycled. Plants and animals interact and work together in maintaining sustainable habitats. Mollison applied these elements to designing and creating sustainable agricultural systems and human settlements by practicing what he called permaculture.
Although best understood by reading books, permaculture can be essentially described as a philosophy for ecological design that works with nature instead of against it. It is a holistic approach to developing agricultural systems and backyard gardens modeled after natural ecosystems. Practicing permaculture allows us to view biotic factors (plants, animals, microbes) and non-living factors (soil, nutrients, climate) and our human selves as connected parts of a sustainable environmental system.
So, how can we apply these concepts to our own gardens? If you are an environmentally-conscious gardener, chances are you may already practice aspects of permaculture. The idea is to look at your garden as a whole system that mimics a natural ecosystem. I always imagine permaculture as the opposite of monoculture row crop fields, as this design would never occur naturally. Permaculture goes beyond organic gardening: it also uses design principles such as diversity, relative location, energy planning, and zones.
Diversity means creating a space for a variety of organisms. Growing a range of different plants will provide a stable environment for a various species of insects, birds, and other organisms. Diversity allows more food and herbs to be grown in a small space while attracting beneficial pollinators and reducing pests.
Energy planning means designing an area to minimize the use of human energy and fossil fuels. An example would be to utilize slopes and gravity to move water down to successive plants or to use earthworks to guide rainfall into certain plant beds.
Zones can be used to divide a garden into areas based on the need for human attention. So, plants that require a lot of attention could be in the middle or the most accessible part of the garden while plants requiring less attention can be placed on the outer edges of the garden.
More design principles and examples can be found here:
Permaculture is based on design principles, but it is also a mindset of viewing your garden space in a new and less stressful way. In Bill Mollison’s Permaculture, a Designers’ Manual, he provides several key ideas including:
“The problem is the solution” — For example, regard animal waste not as a problem to the garden, but as a useful resource for plant growth.
“Everything gardens” — All things, living and nonliving, have an effect on their surrounding environment and can be beneficial in different ways.
“Work with nature rather than against it” — Use strategies that encourage positive natural processes instead of treating the garden as separate or in conflict with nature.
Permaculture allows you not only to produce edible plants for yourself, but also to create a mini ecosystem in your own yard that you and herds of other creatures are a part of.
For more reads:
Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison
Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway