There was a quote written on the whiteboard of one of the places I worked at saying “Gardening is man wrestling with nature.” This seems rather counter-intuitive though, to me. If we are gardening, aren’t we trying to add more nature to the nature that’s already in place? Shouldn’t we work with it not against it?
That’s pretty much what permaculture is. Permaculture is creating an agriculture (or garden) system that, once established, is meant to be sustainable. In order to be self-sufficient, the garden area needs to work with nature, not against it!
The philosophy of permaculture is that you are caring for the planet and the people in it, and that you are returning surplus back to nature. How might one do this? Fortunately, there are 12 design principles of permaculture to help us out.
- Observe and Interact – Take the time to get to know your site before starting your garden! How much sun does the area get? How does water naturally flow? What wildlife species may visit your site already? Once you have observed the site, then interact with it! You don’t want to plant a beautiful row of ferns only to discover that they are all getting sunburned in your full-sun site.
- Catch and store energy – What energy or resources can you capture and use for the benefit of your site? Can you use solar power? Can you use a rain barrel to catch and store water to be used later?
- Obtain a purpose – This is the WHY of the site. Are you trying to enjoy fresh fruits and veggies all season long? If that’s the case, you may not want to plant a whole bunch of beautiful flowers that produce berries that are great for birds, but toxic to people.Once you know WHY you are gardening, you can design with that goal in mind.
- Accept feedback – Listen to your space! The plants will tell you what they need. Is the soil poor and needs more nutrients? Check out this plant deficiency guide to figure out what your plant might be telling you!
- Use renewable resources – Use bamboo or wooden stakes instead of metal or plastic ones to support your tomatoes or grape vines. Compost and use rain barrels.
- Produce no waste – This ties hand in hand with the previous one. Be eco-friendly! What are you going to do with all of those little black and white plastic pots from the garden center? Can you take them back to the garden center to recycle them or start plants from seed in biodegradable, organic peat pots? Are you producing too much and can’t eat your harvest quickly enough? Try to freeze the goods, share with neighbors and friends, and make some fun recipes for wildlife! Can you save seeds or encourage reseeding so you don’t have to purchase new plants next year?
- Design from natural patterns – Observe how plants grow in wild areas. Can you replicate those patterns in your own site?
- Integrate, don’t segregate – Tying with the previous one, plants don’t typically grow in cute little rows or lines. Spread plants out and mix and match in your area!
- Small Solutions – If you’re listening to your garden when it’s installed, you’re likely going to need to make some adjustments. Instead of making drastic changes (ripping up plants), make little changes over time. Think smarter, not harder.
- Value diversity – Just like humans, plants like diversity! This prevents a wipe-out if a pest/disease comes through. This also encourages more wildlife like birds and pollinators to come and visit!
- Use Edges – There’s a lot of biodiversity and productivity on edges. Look at a forest edge or even on road sides! Many plants are more productive and can get good nutrients by living on the edge. The best pattern for creating edge space is a spiral.
- Respond to Change – Don’t just watch your garden wither away! Make changes when needed, but be sure to make them slow and simple. Don’t get discouraged! Until your site is established it’ll take a little bit of tweaking and maintenance to help it grow strong.
By doing these things, you can maximize your sites productivity and happiness all while decreasing the effort you have to put into it! After a bit, you’ll get to sit back and enjoy your space without the work of wrestling with nature!
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