So, me writing a scholarly article on permaculture is absolutely ridiculous. I love reading books on the subject and applying it to my own homestead, but to speak intelligently about it is a whole other matter. What I really intend to do here is share my passion about this amazing idea and inspire you to do more research on your own.
I am always surprised at the number of people who haven’t heard of this concept. Even my dad, who has been a professor of environmental health and worked for years in our State Department of Agriculture in the food and dairy division had not heard of permaculture principles before I brought it up.
When I first came across this term, I had just started my very first raised bed garden and barely knew a thing. But the idea appealed to me instantly and I became obsessed with studying and applying as many of these concepts as possible. At first, everything I read was so overwhelming, I thought you needed to either be a Chemist, Biologist or Botanist to understand how to make it work. But there are so many simple ways to get started.
Basically, if you implement it correctly, permaculture principles can decrease your work load, make your garden more productive, make your animals healthier, and generally improve all the systems on your farm or homestead. But it doesn’t stop there . . . It also encompasses social, financial, spiritual and global environmental networks.
So what is it already?
Essentially the goal in permaculture is to create a mini ecosystem. Everything is connected to and supports everything else.
There are 12 principles of permaculture, I won’t go into detail but the outline is:
- Observe and interact (understanding your land, contour, water and local weather conditions)
- Catch and store energy (rainwater harvesting, passive solar heating, preserving your garden harvest, etc)
- Obtain a yield (seeds, produce, wood, knowledge, etc)
- Apply self-regulation and respond to feedback (plan for the future by improving soil, planting perennials, etc and learn from the past or correct past mistakes)
- Use renewable resources (save your own vegetable seeds, coppicing techniques and sustainable wood harvesting, using resources from your own land, recycling and reusing materials, hugelkulture)
- Produce no waste (compost, feed scraps to livestock, vermiculture)
- Design from pattern to details (get your design ideas from Mother Nature)
- Integrate rather than segregate (companion planting, three sisters, tree and plant guilds)
- Use small and slow solutions (have long term goals in mind and be patient, fruit trees can take a decade to start producing)
- Use and value diversity (don’t put all your eggs in one basket, if one crop fails, you will have plenty of backup)
- Use the edges (keyhole and mandala garden designs, silvopasture, etc)
- Creatively use and respond to change (be adaptable by working with what nature throws at you)
Tree and plant guilds are terms used to describe mini ecosystems that contain plants in the following categories:
- nitrogen fixers
- living mulches
- nutrient accumulators
- insect attractors
The guilds can be small or extremely large in scale. A larger system is referred to as a food forest and consists of 8 main layers:
- Large tree
- Small or dwarf trees
- Herbaceous plants
- Ground cover
To maximize efficiency on your homestead or farm, plan adjacencies based on zones. Putting most used areas closest to the dwelling and one another.
Zone 0 – The home, kitchen and any space you occupy many times in a day.
Zone 1 – The most used outdoor areas: veggie garden, barn, parking area.
Zone 2 – Areas used once or twice a day: chicken coop, annual crops, grazing areas.
Zone 3 – Areas visited a few times a week: aviary, orchards, mushroom yards, grazing areas.
Zone 4 – Least visited areas that need still need management: wooded areas, forest gardens.
Zone 5: Wild or unmanaged land, not used for resources in any way.
Ideas to get you started
One of my favorite permaculture ideas is integrating chickens with the garden, compost and greenhouse. Here are all the benefits:
- Chickens scratching activities can help turn your compost pile, eliminating a lot of manual labor.
- By integrating your chicken coop and greenhouse, you can help keep your chickens warm in the winter.
- Letting chickens out in your garden will allow them to eat up all the bugs that would otherwise go after your plants.
- Having the compost nearby the garden and greenhouse will make it more convenient to add green material and turn it when necessary.
- All of these have daily chores so having them located in one place will save you time.
Another of my favorite permaculture ideas is using your livestock for free garden fertilizer. I’ve done it with pigs, but really any animal will do.
Fence in a future garden area with cattle panel or other appropriate fencing and let your animals spend a year tilling and fertilizing the space. The garden and livestock pen can be rotated every year to keep the system going.
Pigs work well because they don’t require large grazing spaces and their rooting activities break up the hard soil and kill anything else that’s growing. After a winter, the manure will be well rotted and seeds can be planted. Yields will be much higher with the improved soil. To see an example of how we did this, check out Our Homesteading Story!
Alternatively, if you have a garden set up that you don’t want completely destroyed, let animals in to pick it over at the end of the growing season. Manure can be shoveled in, but the whole point of permaculture is to work smarter, not harder.
Interested in Learning More?
Here are some books I recommend on the subject:
If you are interested in implementing a full scale permaculture farm, don’t call me – I am not an expert. I just want to get the word out and hope to inspire others to learn more.