What is Permaculture?
If you’ve been around the organic homesteading community at all, you may have heard the term permaculture before. If you’re just diving in you’re probably wondering what on earth permaculture is, and why you should care. At it’s simplest, permaculture is permanent agriculture. It gets a lot more in depth than that, but the purpose is designing sustainable developments for all of us human to live on without mucking everything on the planet up. As you can imagine, there are a lot of elements that go into such a tremendous task!
Instead of a succinct list of how tos like you may find for a gardening method, permaculture is harder to pin down. It is guided by principles and ethics, and the on the ground details of how can be so variable depending on individual needs, and the details for your individual bit of land. At it’s heart it’s working WITH nature. I’ve found that the best way for me to get my feet wet with permaculture is to look at examples of other people. What are they doing that I can replicate that might work well? As I start doing more and more, the in depth texts such as Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual (affiliate link), by Bill Mollison or Edible Forest Gardens (affiliate link) by Dave Jacke become more valuable and useful to me. The principles and theories make the most sense after you’ve seen them put into practice!
Permaculture for Beginners
And excellent place to start if you are new to permaculture is by reading Permaculture for the Rest of Us (affiliate link) by Jenni Blackmore. As far as hands on examples, it’s fabulous. I knew that Jenni was a fellow soul of mine when I read the following excerpt discussing using ducks for slug control:
“Another plant I have noticed attracts slugs is the humble and unfairly maligned dandelion. Slugs will cluster in tight around the base of the dandelion stems and are easy to pick off and dispose of (i.e., feed to the ducks). Dandelion leaves are wonderful added to an early salad and they are a treat par excellence for the rabbits. You don’t have rabbits? Oh, but you will! (insert maniacal laughter here.)”
I knew this was the book for me considering I JUST purchased ducks, (mainly for slug control!) and I get a little bit of maniacal laughter going myself when it comes to talking about chickens and rabbits! Not to mention I LOVE my dandelions.
Her homestead is in a different climate than mine, but I could really relate to the struggles of us non-green thumb people who are committed to gardening. If you live in a cold area, you need this book! She is in Nova Scotia, which is QUITE a bit cooler than my zone 8b! There is an entire chapter devoted to growing in a greenhouse, something that is far from a necessity from us spoiled warmer people, and after reading how she builds her soil with seaweed I’m starting to wish I lived a lot closer to the ocean.
Jenni really breaks setting up a small(ish) permaculture garden down into an easy to follow format, and her suggestions of easy to grow crops are the ones that almost always succeed for me as well, such as potatoes and garlic. I also really appreciated the pictures of some of the simple details such as building different kinds of garden beds such as raised beds, straw bale, keyhole and hugelkulture. Once you’ve been walked through getting types of beds set up, building soil, there is a whole chapter about what to plant when. (I know that’s one of my incessant mistakes is planting the warm weather vegetables when it’s too cold, and trying to coax the cool weather ones to grow just a bit longer!)
Jenni also talks about how she used to be vegetarian, but now includes animals in her homestead. While you don’t HAVE to have animals, they can be useful, especially when you incorporate them in a strategic way and create a more closed system. (I.E. you produce your own fertilizer). In that chapter she also discusses a bit about making up a sector map, and while the concept of zones always made brilliant sense to me, the sector maps just didn’t quite click in my head until I understood it in more hands on, practical terms. For some reason the idea of deciding where to put your chicken run and greenhouse to create microclimates on your property just makes permaculture seem a lot more about common sense and a bit less about math and map making.
So, if you’ve ever thought you couldn’t practice permaculture because you don’t have a tropical food forest, hate math, and can’t draw a map to save your life, Permaculture for the Rest of Us will be your new, favorite permaculture book.
11 Reasons Why You Should Care about Permaculture
Now that I’ve probably completely scared you off of permaculture as something big, scary, and complicated (it really, actually isn’t when you start DOING it), here are eleven reasons why you need permaculture!
- It’s a highly creative way of life
- It ensures larger total yields from your property as a whole
- It can reduce your workload
- It teaches you the skills to design any land to it’s full potential
- You can quickly identify which particular animal husbandry or gardening methods will work best for your situation
- You can build new elements of your homestead with fewer possible errors (instead of moving your chicken coop 5 times like I did!)
- You can use the force of nature to your advantage instead of constantly fighting against it
- You reduce your environmental impact because verything you produce yourself lessons the damange you create elsewhere in the world
- You are more able to live within the ecological systems instead of exploiting them (protect the environtment!)
- You can reclaim already damaged areas
- It creates beautiful homesteads
Want to know more about permaculture? Here are some of my favorite resources:
Be prepared for your first flock
With a step by step checklist to walk you through.