Permaculture. What is it? What is its importance in today’s world? How is it relevant to the yard gardener?
To answer these questions, the term must first be defined:
“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labour; of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.” (Bill Mollison, Permaculture.net)
That may not be the simplest explanation, though. This is Dictionary.com’s definition, to explain it in simpler terms…
“a system of cultivation intended to maintain permanent agriculture or horticulture by relying on renewable resources and a self-sustaining ecosystem”
“the practice of producing food, energy, etc, using ways that do not deplete the earth’s natural resources”
In still much-simpler words, it’s eco-friendly agriculture.
The Permaculture History
Permaculture means “permanent” + “agriculture” + “culture”. It’s “permanent agriculture” or “permanent culture”, however one prefers to call it. It was Australian ecologist and University of Tasmania professor Bill Mollison who developed and coined the term back in 1978 together with then-graduate student David Holmgren.
In the early ‘70s, Mollison was a wildlife biologist observing how natural systems worked and he didn’t like what he saw over the years. He became very distressed by the increasing environmental destruction he witnessed. Mollison, therefore, decided to do something about it and create a solution by observing nature and gathering insights.
He realized that everything in nature does useful work that is environmentally beneficial. For instance:
- Natural systems are sustainable, recycling and creating their own energy.
- Each part of a natural ecosystem performs specific tasks helpful to the surroundings.
Having then become Nature’s student, Mollison applied what he learned. He built sustainable agricultural systems. He worked with Holmgren in the ‘70s and published a few books regarding his ideas. In the ‘80s, his design manual was published. He also began teaching permaculture to others.
In the ‘90s, the permaculture philosophy started spreading as a global grassroots movement. It remains to spread to this day as people learn permaculture in and generally outside the academia.
Permaculture continues to evolve as others find more ideas to integrate into the framework. But the core ideas are growing food, building houses and creating communities with the least, if not without any, negative effect on the environment. It uses the ecological, sustainable, and applied ecology or green designs, as well as other approaches, in order to be most effective.
The Culture of Permaculture
Not everyone attends design courses and workshops. However, the philosophy of permaculture is already widespread around the globe that people are not exactly aware of practicing it. They are people like the environmentalists, conservationists, land-use planners, urban activists, recyclers, indigenous peoples and, YES, organic gardeners.
The ecologically sound way of living is very much possible even in one’s household, garden or community. Permaculture can be used anywhere:
- City flats, yards and window boxes
- Allotments and smallholdings
- Farms and estates
- Commercial and industrial premises
- Waste ground
- Suburban and country houses/garden
- Community spaces
- Countryside and conservation areas
- Educational establishments
It is evident that even a simple yard gardening hobbyist can do his/her part to positively contribute.
How to Do Backyard Permaculture
Here are a few tips for a gardener interested in permaculture. Always keep in mind the location of the garden:
- Decide on how much of the permaculture principle to allow or would be possible for the intended space(s).
- What is the size — that of a balcony container garden, an actual backyard, or a forest?
- Which principle should be used in the design?
- How much permaculture should be incorporated in it?
- Be wise and resourceful, like design smart water systems or harvest natural energy using solar panels, wood stands and windmills.Focus on these points:
- How to do soil preservation
- Soil-building activities to consider should problems arise
- Vertical-stacking to utilize space and improve productivity
- Succession-planting for extended cropping
- The Edge Effect Principle
- Keeping similar plants together based on microclimate
- Vertical-gardening to maximize space better
- Use of aquatic ecosystems
- Biodiversity can increase growth and productivity, not to mention attract birds and pollinators.
- Find ways to work around existing physical structures. Examples:
- Grow mushrooms and shade-tolerant plants instead of vegetables and fruits if the yard is covered with trees.
- Build fences and slopes for climbing plants and plants needing well-drained soil.
- Maximize space.
- For tight spaces, plant smaller fruit and nut trees.
- Focus on trees, shrubs, rhizomes and vines found in mid-canopy and understory layers.
- Be prepared to make changes. Observe. If something does not work, like a plant not thriving well in the space provided or under current temperature, remove it and change plans. Permaculture is dynamic, never forget.
- Do it NOW. With permaculture, there is always no better time than today. It is not too late to practice it, but delaying may someday render it too late.
There are still so much to learn about permaculture. To be an effective permaculturist, one has to be committed to the practice. Research more. Study courses and take workshops, if needed.
Remember, when it comes to the environment, no effort will ever go to waste. Everything matters.