Picture from Natural Ways
Permaculture, also known as "Permanent Agriculture" or "Permanent Culture" encompasses Seven functional components that act like a Forest: 1. The canopy (i.e. tall trees); 2. Understory layer (i.e. trees that revel in the dappled light under the canopy); 3. Shrubs (i.e. berry bushes); 4. Herbaceous Plants (i.e. annuals, biennials or perennial culinary and medicinal herbs); 5. Ground cover (i.e. Cover crops such as clover or any Plants that grow dense and closer to the ground); 6. Rhizosphere (i.e. Root layers within the soil like fungi); 7. Vertical layer (i.e. "runners" and Vining plants like beans).
According to Holmgren, the Twelve Permaculture design principles include:
- Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
- Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.
- Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
- Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
- Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
- Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
- Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
- Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
- Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
- Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
- Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
- Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.
Some Permaculture practices use animals like chickens or ducks to eat pests while fertilizing the garden with their scat. Also some people that practice permaculture will have chickens to eat their eggs or to eat the chicken. Obviously I am not promoting this type of Permaculture practice. I am specifically speaking for Vegan Permaculture practices where no animals are involved in the process. The use of animals may be "natural" to some, but I see nothing natural about domesticating an animal. Perhaps going into the woods and reclaiming deer scat isn't unethical and maybe this is a "Vegan" way to utilize manure. But again, we can use our own human waste for compost/nitrogen.
Overall, Permaculture is an ethical, ecological, and science based gardening design that practices sustainability, avoids chemicals, and machinery (that runs on petroleum oil). This philosophy extends to avoiding the exploitation of land and animals. The idea is to recreate the aspects of a self-healing, self-working food forest. Fruit and nut trees and fruit bushes maintain themselves. In fact they continually add loads of seeds to the ground every year, creating more fruit and nut trees. Fruit and nut trees provide pounds of food for years and even decades. Perennial flowers and herbs also grow year after years providing and aesthetically pleasing garden/yard. As many Perennial flowers you can add to your garden the better. As long as you can keep many bees around, you will be able to pollinate your fruits and vegetables.
In Permaculture design, tillers and other machinery are not used because they are absolutely not necessary and they do more harm than good. In fact, No-till gardening allows for natural aeration of the soil, promotes natural drainage, saves water, reduces the need to weed, reduces soil erosion, saves time and physical exertion, retains life, and eliminates the use of petroleum oil.
The beauty of this philosophy is that there is hardly any money or work involved, especially if you're using materials on your land to create a food forest.
No-till gardening allows us to build up an existing ecosystem by layering the soil with carbon ingredients (i.e. cardboard, leaves, pine needles, straw, newspaper), and nitrogen ingredients (i.e. compost, weeds, urine, humanure). Instead of tilling (which damages ecosystems and does not build up soil), layering of "ingredients" perfects the nutrition, aeration, drainage all while retaining enough moisture to save water.
picture from Eco Films
Also, cutting your grass with a lawn mower is unnecessary if you're utilizing every space of your property (or yard). Mowing a lawn does not create a beneficial habitat for insects and animals. Not only that, but there is a reason a Forest is dense and the ground is shaded. A shaded ground will compost material faster, holding nutrients in, while a shaved lawn will expose the ground to the Sun taking away nutrients from the soil. However with a Knife or clippers, pruning dead or over-grown weeds can be used as mulch.
Going back to the Forest, you notice there is hardly any grass growing, perhaps in patches. But a Forest floor has been taken over with abundance of Trees, shrubs, leaves, Flowers, rocks, moss, Fungi. All of these aspects create a self-healing (self-working) mechanism which you can benefit from. It only takes you to mimic the rules of the Forest, and plant these things.
There is no such thing as a Pest in Permaculture. All insects and animals have their place, and it is up to us to know the beneficial insects. For example, Praying mantis, Wasps, Granddaddy long-legs, lady bugs eat harmful bugs. Instead of spraying Brassicas with repellants, add sawdust (which slugs and caterpillars hate) around susceptible plants like Cabbage. Any Cabbage loopers or worms can be relocated onto their own Cabbage plant (separated from the garden).
Permaculturists have noticed that young or weak plants are more susceptible to insects eating an entire plant; it seems that the nutrition from the soil which produces large and healthy plants, will not be susceptible to insects.
Sometimes it's a matter of adding a native plant for the insects to eat. Many insects will avoid eating your food if you provide them with an alternative like a native plants (ild Mustard and Plantain weed). Marigolds are also beneficial in the garden. Growing Peppers, onions, garlic, and herbs around susceptible plants will also ward off harmful bugs.
The intention in choosing natives, medicinal herbs, and other plants is to grow those that serve many purposes. Many Permaculture gardens contain Moringa Oleifera-- known as the most nutrient rich plant in the world. The Moringa can be made into a compost tea to feed plants, or the cuttings can be used to mulch the garden which will still add nutrients. You can even make a tea out of the leaves for yourself. Fruit trees or usually serve many purposes, not to mention producing pounds of food, but provides shade for plants growing below.
Beans also serve many purposes, adding nitrogen into the soil for surrounding plants. For example in the Three Sisters method, growing Corn, Beans, and Squash in close proximity. The beans will act as Fertilize to the Corn while the Squash will smother out other intruding plants. The Corn acts as a pole for the Beans to crawl up as well.
Choosing plants that serve many purposes is similar to Companion planting. For instance, Carrots love Tomatoes, Roses love Garlic.
Picture from Two Little Men and a Farm
I have recently posted videos of other gardeners who transformed their backyard into a Food Forest, which you can see here: Val and Eli and Permaculture Trio. I highly recommend watching those videos because they will allow you to visualize some of the details I have outlined so far.
Another video I recommend (see below) discusses types/aspects of Permaculture, for example, Hugelkultur, Straw bale, Sheet Mulching, soil/compost bombing, Ruth Stout Method/Composting in Place, and living mulch systems:
As mentioned, recreating a layering system like a Forest provides much more benefits. For example smothering/preventing undesirable weeds and bugs, while retaining moisture and heat, including adding natural nutrition.
This layering (Sheet mulching) system mimics the leaf cover found on forest floors. By layering carbon and nitrogen material and other minerals, you are encouraging better nutrition as well as encouraging worms to thrive. Worms till and fertilize the soil for you.
picture of Hugelkultur method
During Fall and Winter, many plants are dying and Trees have overgrown which need to be pruned. Permaculurists call this process "Chop and Drop". If you watch the 'Val and Eli" video I provided in one of the links, you'll see the process of "Chop and Drop".
Any branches from a tree, or weeds, or dying plants can be chopped then used to mulch, giving back nutrition to a Tree or garden. Of course dead logs, sticks, and other plant cuttings can be used to make Hugelkultur beds. As the wood decomposes, the wood will feed and retain moisture for your plants in the dry season.
Also, these Hugelkultur mounds are making use of vertical space which saves garden area for more plants, trees, or bushes.
To see the Hugelkultur beds I started, watch the video here:
Another aspect of Permaculture design is diversity. A Forest maintains a wide diversity of plants in close proximity, like a polyculture system. For example, growing a Fruit tree, fruit bush, herb, flower, and Vining plant in a small area. Although in gardening, we tend to plant vegetables uniformly in single rows, like a monoculture of twenty rows of Corn or beans.
Many Permaculturists avoid tilling and mowing their garden. Not only is the equipment expensive, but also the energy needed to run those machines. It's an expense on your wallet and the environment. It's so easy to be reliant on this society for goods and services, but there has come a time we must create our own energy and abundance.
This method of gardening tends to re-seed itself. Growing fruit trees, fruit bushes, nut trees, herbs, and flowers will come back every year. There is no need in purchasing seeds as long as save seeds from fruits and vegetables to grow the following year. You could also add your food scraps to a compost heap while adding leaves throughout the Fall and Winter, then the seeds will germinate in the Spring and grow throughout the Summer.
As stated earlier, to have a thriving Perennial garden and healthy fruits and vegetables, you must mimic the Layering system like a Forest.
First start by continually adding mulch, compost, carbon and nitrogen material, and rock dust on your garden. Around your Fruit trees and bushes, add mulch, compost, and rock dust to keep the plants thriving-- adding nutrition in your food thus providing you more nutrients. It is no wonder our closest ancestors eat a plant based diet--they are genetically and physiologically meant to eat fruit, but also because these foods re-seed themselves without our assistance. Fruit, nuts, and wild greens are the most natural and ethical diet on the planet. That should be lineage enough to eat raw vegan.
Other aspects of Permaculture include Rainwater Harvesting and Natural building. For rainwater harvesting, dig out a small dip for a pond. With this, you'll be able to water plants all year. Having a pond will also encourage frogs to create a habitat and birds will be encouraged to take baths. Both of which will help you control harmful bugs.
Next, Natural building, refers to Housing built with readily available or recycled materials, specifically natural ingredients such as Clay soil, straw, sand, sod, rocks. A natural housing structure represents the land from which the materials were provided. This type of housing allows you to design with the curvature of the land, or build your house around a tree. These houses are nearly Free.
Cob houses are simply the most beautiful and useful piece of artwork. The picture below is a good example of natural housing made inexpensive, quick, and less materials.
Of course I am not a great resource to explain the details of Permaculture. I am ready to learn and put these practices to the test. After several years of Conventional gardening (i.e. tilling, plowing, shoveling, etc), I am reinventing my garden to create a Food Forest. My vision for the growing spaces I work on, is to continually plant Fruit trees and other Perennial fruits and flowers. You can see my current collection of Fruit trees in the post here Fruit trees and Fruit bushes we are currently growing. My goal is to harvest seed from fruit trees and berries which I will spread all over the yard.
So far I have the typical Fruit trees which you can grow for my area. Considering I live in a cold climate, I intend to invest in other cold tolerant Fruit trees and Fruit bushes like, Mulberries, Gooseberry, Persimmons, Elderberry, Raspberries, Huckleberries, Jostaberry, Currants, Chokeberry, Paw Paw. And I would like to add rare types Tropical fruit that has been bred to be Cold Hardy. I have so far bought Cold Hardy Fig Trees (known as the Chicago Fig), and I am growing Cold Hardy Kiwi vines. Another I would like to invest in is The Russian Pomegranate.
For more information about Permaculture, visit the Permies.com website where you will find an array of information on gardening, homesteading, natural housing, natural heating, frugal living, and more.
If you would like to add anything to this post, please leave a comment below.
Original post @ No money, work, or tilling involved: Permaculture
-Cassie K, Vegans Living Off the Land