These Permaculture Principles Will Get You Started on Your Great Garden
I think of Permaculture as the practice of gardening smarter, not harder, and what gardener isn’t looking for that. I’m just beginning to learn the 12 permaculture principles and these four are the first ones I’m striving to incorporate and put them to work on the new homestead.
What Is Permaculture?
Permaculture was developed in Australia and comes from the concept of “permanent agriculture.” It combines sustainable agriculture, landscape design and ecology to grow more food, in less time, and for less money. A permaculture is an approach to designing perennial agricultural systems and human settlements that imitate the relationships found in natural systems and ecologies.
Permaculture has many branches such as ecological design and engineering, environmental design, and construction. It also includes integrated water resources management, self-maintained, and regenerative habitat, and agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems. In simple terms, permaculture is all about working with nature.
The term permaculture was coined by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison in 1978. David Holmgren first described the 12 principles of permaculture in the book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.
What Are the Principles of Permaculture?
The use of permaculture design principles are guided by three ethics: care for people, care for the earth, and fair share. The focus of permaculture isn’t on each separate element, but on relationships created among elements through the way they are placed together.
The permaculture design principles were derived from systems ecology and sustainable land use. Permaculture design aims to minimize waste, energy input, and human labor while producing the maximum possible yield from trees, fruit trees, and plants.
There are several things that I like about the concept of permaculture:
- It’s easy to begin implementing on a small scale
- It greatly improves your food production
- Your soil will continue to be nourished
- Most concepts require little maintenance once they are established.
Aren’t gardeners always looking for a way to improve their soil and yield? These beginning permaculture principles will help you accomplish it.
Principle #1 – Produce No Waste
One nice thing about a permaculture garden is that nothing is wasted. You actively look for ways to re-use the leftovers from your garden. Here are some ideas:
- Start by composting your kitchen scraps, yard trimmings, animal manure, and other organic matter. Remember that all manure is fair game except cats and dogs, which contains pathogens.
- Begin a vermicomposting system. Red wiggler worms are your friend. Garden creatures and soil micro-organisms convert organic waste and vegetable scraps into amazing soil amendments. The digestive tracts of worms convert food scraps into castings which enhance the soil food web.
- Make compost and manure tea to give your vegetable garden the nutrients it needs.
- Start a straw bale garden and when it’s finished, using the straw as mulch in your garden.
Principle #2 – Use the Edges
If you want to follow permaculture principles, you should know how to make use of all the possible space you have for growing plants; no area is insignificant.
- Design your herb, vegetable and flower beds in unusual shapes.
- Use the spaces closest to your house to grow the most used vegetables. Planting in pots and on decks and patios.
- Make a keyhole bed to conserve water and space. One of the basic ideas is that it provides easy access with minimum path-to-bed ratio – a “least path” design. The horseshoe-shaped beds are sized so you can easily reach the entire area standing in the keyhole. The beds can be situated near the house for quick access, or along your main pathway. Here is a fantastic article about creating a 6-foot keyhole garden from recycled paper and cardboard. It incorporates a compost bin in the middle.
- Grow heat-loving vines like beans, grapes, kiwi, melons, and squash on the side of a stucco or brick wall to benefit from stored thermal heat.
- Grandma had it right. Her herb garden was always outside the kitchen door!
Principle #3 – Incorporate Perennial Crops in Your Landscape
Perennial crops don’t need to be replanted every year, so they conserve energy and the soil is not disturbed as much. That means less work for a busy gardener. Your yields might be slow at first, but these perennial edibles will produce for years in your garden. If you plant and properly manage an asparagus patch, it can produce for 15 to 20 years. That certainly conserves my energy!
Some perennial plants to consider:
- Sweet potato
- Walking onion
- Jerusalem artichoke (Sunchoke)
- Purple Tree Collards
- Fruit trees
- Berries (black, red, blue, straw)
Principle #4 – Harvest Water in the Garden
In permaculture systems, people think of ways how to utilize renewable resources like sun, wind, and water. How much water does your garden need each season? Plants need water for cell division, cell enlargement, and even for holding themselves up. If the cells don’t have enough water in them, the result is a wilted plant.
In hot weather, your vegetables will need at least 1/2 an inch of water per week, so plan accordingly.
- Build your soil so it can retain maximum water. If your soil allows water to rush off of your property, then it is likely that it can become more absorbent.
- Consider a roof catchment system when possible. Even in low rainfall areas, you can lose hundreds of gallons of rainwater when you don’t have a plan for catching it. The water can be channeled through downspouts and then collected in cisterns or barrels for use in your garden. I’m going to place a rain barrel on my chicken coop this year.
- Utilize compost and mulch, sheet mulching and cover crops.
- Water only the root zones – have you ever placed a PVC pipe or upside down the pop bottle with holes next to your tomato plants roots?
By learning and using these four permaculture principles – harvest the water, plant perennial food, using the edges and producing no waste – you are well on your way to increasing your yield and having your best garden yet. It is said that permaculture isn’t a quick fix. The objective is to design a garden in small parts that over time will function together.
Resources to Bring It All Together
The ideas in this post come from the book: The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture: Creating an Edible Ecosystem by Christopher Shein. There are so many wonderful Permaculture design ideas, tips, and tricks in this book! I’ve added it to my gardening resource library to use as I continue to study Permaculture. Christopher’s website is a great place to stop if you are looking for more information and don’t miss the resources page.
Other books that will give you information about the principles of Permaculture:
Getting Started in Permaculture by Ross and Jenny Mars
Perennial Vegetables –A Gardeners Guide to Over 100 Delicious, Easy-to-Grow Edibles by Eric Toensmeier. This is one of my favorite books. It encourages me to be self-reliant. I love the way she brings it all together – I find it magical and I read it every year. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver.
Composting is where it’s at! Organic Gardener’s Composting by Steve Solomon is free on Amazon as I write this, but well worth it even if you have to pay. I refer to it frequently. Another standby in my gardening library is Let it Rot!: The Gardener’s Guide to Composting by Stu Campbell.
Grey Water Action is a collaborative of educators who teach residents and tradespeople about affordable and simple household water systems that dramatically reduce water use and foster sustainable cultures of water. Permaculture Principles has a selection of resources available with free downloads, videos, and educational articles. Harvesting Rainwater has information about how to calculate harvest totals and how to set up a system. Open Permaculture School has a free design course that I really like.
Happy Gardening! Have you tried using any Permaculture principles in your yard? What are you waiting for? Join the permaculture movement now!
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