Ever heard the word “permaculture”, had an inkling as to what it meant but never quite knew the details? This week, Daisy Dukes is here to give you the lowdown on one of sustainable gardening’s most important movements.
Simply put, permaculture is about design.
Permaculturalists model gardens based on processes found in nature. In essence, they are agriculturalists, farmers and gardeners that farm and garden in a way that best harnesses, utilizes and disposes of natural resources, just as nature does itself.
Permaculture takes into account the natural resources we have at hand – water, earth, air, the sun, and geothermal energy – and determines how one can design their landscape to use these elements as productively and harmoniously as possible. Through good design you can reduce waste, limit energy consumption and maximize sustainability.
Look at the size of that motherfucking cabbage (note mulch to right.)
There are a few words essential to this philosophy…
Waste and Productivity
The principal tenant of permaculture is to reduce waste. Nature is seen as non-waste producing since everything produced by it is eventually used and done so over and over again. The most basic example of this would be the leaves of a tree. A tree produces leaves in spring, sheds them in autumn where they then decompose and are used to nourish saplings in spring. These saplings grow into summer, produce leaves of their own and shed leaves in fall to nourish themselves and new saplings the following year.
In this way, a permaculturalist can say that nature is the most productive element on earth. It wastes nothing and uses its own forces to replenish itself and feed and nourish all living creatures on earth.
Reducing waste in permaculture can be seen in composting and rainwater barrels. Composting utilizes what would otherwise be considered a waste product as a fertilizer and nutrient giver to next years gardens. Instead of pumping water through pipes from afar and needlessly draining watersheds, the natural system of rainfall is harnessed to collect and store water to sustainably irrigate crops and gardens.
By observing nature and mimicking the way it manages itself, we can reduce waste and know efficient productivity.
An attractive rain barrel for collecting rain water
Energy and Sustainability
Limiting energy consumption not only has to do with your heating bill or electricity usage. It also has to do with a person’s own energy and physical labor. Permaculturalists find ways to reduce a person’s load of labor through sustainable practices that in the end may end up being more productive.
If you find yourself in the garden toiling tirelessly against weeds and pests, you may be doing something wrong. A permaculturalist would quickly assert that we can look to nature for a better way. In this instance, the easiest solution would to be place a layer of mulch on your garden. This can drown out weeds and also protect the soil from nutrient depletion through sun and rain.
You could also plant companion plants that do not compete with crops but fix nitrogen into the soil, shade the soil so that weedier plants cannot grow beneath them, repel pests and help with pollination. Nasturtiums deter pests from lettuce plants, horseradish keeps potato pests away, onions repel carrot flies and peppermint deters aphids. These are just a few examples.
Marigolds planted among swiss chard to ward off pests
Because all these methods are completely natural, they are also infinitely sustainable.
These gardens consume less in order to grow. Water consumption is lowered by using rainwater, the dependency on fertilizers and pesticides is reduced through on-site composts and mulch from vegetable or farm animal waste, less energy is then spent revitalizing soils.
Homes are made energy-efficient through conscious design. This could include the height of your ceilings, which was your home is facing and where your windows are placed. This affects solar harvesting, minimizing the reliance on artificial heating and promoting natural cooling by understanding airflow through your house. If interested, a person could also find natural sources of power such as a local waterway or though home wind turbines and solar panels.
Zones and Layers
Zones are an intelligent way to design a permaculture area. The zones run 0 though 5 and exist in a permaculture design to better a person’s understanding of their relationship to the natural places they interact with.
Permaculture garden with rain barrel in center, definitely a zone 2.
Zone 0 is your home. Here you can harvest sunlight. This can be for yourself and your personal happiness or maybe for your houseplants. As an idea, you could have solar panels to harvest energy for home appliances, heating and so on in this zone.
Zone 1 is the zone closest to the home zone and where you should plant things that require daily attention and watering. This reduces the energy that you spend trekking yourself and resources to and fro, for example carrying water or compost across a yard to an area you put them daily . You wouldn’t want to have to go far do these things, especially since you might lose interest and discontinue to do so.
Zone 2 is for perennials, larger garden areas and compost bins, zone 3 main crop areas, zone 4 semi-wild areas and zone 5 completely wild areas. The zones are organized according to the frequency of maintenance required and level of cultivation.
Permaculture also analyzes the layers of how humans, nature and animals connect and interact in order to better efficiency, productivity and harmony. Nature is layered with canopies, lower tree layers, shrubs, herbaceous plants, rhizospheres, vertical growing plants and the soil’s surface. One can observe how these various layers interact with one another to subsist, grow and perpetuate indefinitely.
Animals in permaculture are an interesting layer. Chickens for example are not just an egg producer limited to a coop. In permaculture, what energy a chicken consumes, what productivity it will then yield, and how to best structure its life to exercise its assets while allowing it live naturally are all assessed.
Bet you never knew a chicken was so layered.
An interesting example of this are mobile chicken coops. When I was farming in the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia, Canada, the couple who owned the land where I stayed built a strange chicken cage with this very purpose. It was made of wire, arched, with a roof for shade and no floor. When they were in the field they would put chickens into it and place it in between the rows of vegetables, advancing it every so often. The chickens would pick at the ground, eating pests and insects and till the top soil with their constant scratching and pecking. What they ate came out as fresh manure. They were also quite happy to be outside of course. It was a win-win situation for all, as innovative and strange as it was!
The relevance this has to all of us and especially food production is that it is all possible. Permaculture in its essence strives to be simple. It may not be feasible to convert all of your energy to solar or have chickens run through your rooftop garden but a lot can be achieved in little ways. This could include collecting a little rainwater to use for gardens in addition to city water supplies or simply using a Bio bin. For industry especially, waste reduction is not only in their best interest in terms of efficiency but reusing resources could potentially maximize profitability.
If you are interested in finding out ways to integrate permaculture into your life, Berlin has a very active permaculture community which can be accessed through the links below.
Calendar of events:
Permakultur Zentrum Berlin
Permakultur Projekte (seminars and outdoor training from Nino Permakultur)
Schierker Straße 9 a