Permaculture is the practice of designing, building and maintaining productive systems that are as resilient as natural ecosystems but which provide more outputs (that are useful to humanity) than those same natural ecosystems. The basic philosophy behind permaculture centres on working with nature rather than trying to tame, control and subvert it.
The term is most often applied to systems that produce food and other agricultural products (in commercial and home garden settings) and indeed permaculture was developed as an agricultural technique, however, the philosophy can also be applied to other systems. For instance, the principles of permaculture design can be applied to house design.
Garden-based permaculture is the most relevant permaculture application to my blog so I’m only going to refer to that kind of permaculture in this post.
Permaculture is all about mutually beneficial interactions and designs that minimise waste and make gardening easier.
Every element in a permaculture garden should have at least three uses. As an example, a compost heap can produce heat to accelerate seed germination, provide fertiliser and act as a support for vines. As another example, bean plants can provide food, fix nitrogen (through their association with nitrogen-fixing bacteria) and then be used as a mulch.
Permaculture systems are laid out so that the most frequently visited and/or highest maintenance elements are closest to where people are based or where they will be used. In a garden situation, this generally means that cut-and-come-again vegetables and herbs are planted closest to the kitchen door while fruit trees are planted further away.
In permaculture systems, everything is used to its maximum potential and the most useful elements are included wherever possible. This means animals are often included in permaculture systems where gardeners might traditionally focus on growing plants. It also means that permaculture gardens are designed to take advantage of their locations as much as possible. For instance, slopes can be used to generate electricity and move water. Swales are a popular and highly valuable inclusion in many permaculture gardens.
Recycling of nutrients and energy, so that nothing is wasted and very little (ideally nothing) needs to be brought in, is another key part of permaculture.
Why choose permaculture?
An important part of permaculture is caring for natural ecosystems and reducing the negative impacts we humans have on our world. Even if that’s not something you feel strongly about, you can still obtain awesome benefits from permaculture because it can reduce the amount of time, effort and financial resources you need to devote to your garden. At the same time, permaculture can drastically increase your garden yields and help you grow a healthier garden to boot.
Permaculture is a big topic and there’s a lot involved in getting it right — there are whole courses you can take if you want to practice it to the best of your ability — but one of the best things about permaculture is that you can make small changes to incrementally improve your garden.
Many of my gardening blog posts touch on elements of permaculture and implementing the little tidbits of information in each post is a great way to get started with permaculture, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to devote to learning about and implementing it.
If you want to learn more about permaculture, take a look at David Holmgren’s website. He’s one of the co-originators of permaculture so provides quality, reliable information on the practice.