In a nutshell permaculture is smart design. Life doesn’t happen in a vacuum. My life, your life, your chickens life, your rutabagas life. We all depend on other things to make us grow and thrive. Permaculture is simply, observing how things interact with one another and using the “talents” each of us has to it’s fullest.
Ok, what does that all mean. Let’s take the chicken for example. I could put a chicken in a pen, buy it food and collect the eggs she lays. Or, applying permaculture principles, we might try to see a more symbiotic solution. How can I put plants and animals to work together for a better outcome. How about putting the chicken in an electric fence over a future garden area. She can then eat the weeds and the bugs and till in the fertilizer she is producing. When you are ready to plant the garden, you move her on to another future garden plot and the area she was in is ready to receive plants or seeds, some of which will be fed back to her. That chicken, while helping “earn her keep”, is making your life easier. Besides I dare say that her life is happier and more fulfilled by using here “talents” and doing what a chicken is designed to do.
In the book “The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs” Joel Salatin affirms that animals need to express their uniqueness. To live a life that they were created to live. And we can benefit from this uniqueness too.
It’s important to think of things as systems. How do things work together. How can we make things work better together. By using the systems that already exist in nature we can make our lives so much easier. How do plants and animals interact with one another. Where is the best place to put a building, a pond, a garden, a beehive. How does one effect the other. How can you use gravity to help you. Can planting a certain plant bring in pollinators? How can you use animals to reduce pests. An example of this is moving chickens in after cows are moved out. The chicken will dig through the cow dung spreading it out and eating the fly larva, drastically reducing the fly population. This mimics the way birds follow cows on the plain. How can you appreciate and use an animals natural abilities?
Every component can fulfill more than one function. Take a fence for example. What is it’s use? To keep animals in or predictors out? To make a wind or snow break? To be movable for rotational grazing, to be a trellis for a vining crop or maybe to keep out prying neighbors eyes. Can it fill more than one purpose or can you utilize many different types of fences to solve multiple problems. Can you use a living fence such as a blackberry bramble to keep out predictors and provide food for you and animals.
Maybe you have a hoop house to get a head start on your seedlings for the spring. Think about your design. You could hang racks of seedlings and put chickens underneath to till the soil to get ready for that garden.
Instead of just an annual vegetable garden, think long term and start planting perennials. Even if you don’t have a homestead there may be a place for a few perennials. Think edible landscaping. A fruit tree or a berry bush hedge could even fit right into your HOA approved landscape or put a grapevine over your pagoda. How about a few herbs in the flower garden. Maybe an espaliered fruit tree against the house.
And if you do have a little more land, or maybe a lot more land, consider a food forest. You can start small and continue to add to it thinking about what grows well in your area, what you like to eat and what will work well together. This type of design will provide you will years of food with minimal additional work.
Composting doesn’t have to be big and messy. Try vermacomposting (raising worms). You can have a small vermacompost that will eat all the kitchen scraps one household will produce and keep it in the garage, basement or even the laundry room. No mess, no smell and the best fertilizer your garden or house plants will ever get.
What will permaculture look like for you? Every situation will be different. But it can be applied anywhere. First asses your land, create a master plan and start small. Design for maximum output with minimal input. Using permaculture principles, your garden will be more profitable and more enjoyable. Now that’s my kind of garden!