Everything About Permaculture Garden Life

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While this might seem like a post we should have on our garden site, it really belongs on THIS site as a permaculture garden helps you create a sustainable food source when grocery stores are not an option. It is a long-term emergency food source.

Everything About Permaculture Garden Life article cover image with a great garden

It is necessary to know how to feed yourself – and your family in a SHTF situation. It doesn’t matter if you are planning to can food for storage, or eat as you go, but the concept of a permaculture garden is great to wrap your head around

What Is Permaculture?

We live in an increasingly industrially reliant culture.  A culture that relies on fast food, disposable goods, and cheap gasoline.  A culture that is fast eating itself up.  Enter Permaculture. 

Permaculture is another way to look at the world and its resources.  We’ll look at just what is meant by permaculture, the history of this conservation movement, and meet some of its originators and the future of Permaculture.  You may find that you are already applying some of the basic tenants of this small but growing movement.

Permaculture, as you may have guessed, is a contraction of the words permanent culture.  The idea is that we rely more on sustainable agriculture not dependant on fossil fuels. 

What does permaculture use?

It will use local resources, smaller more diverse crop planning, non-chemically dependant fertilizing, for example.  Permaculture is a movement away from anything big and industrial to the smaller and sustainable farms, encouraging more interdependence with community members.

It all began in the ‘70s by a wildlife biologist and ecologist named Bill Mollison of Australia.  He saw the growing monster of the Industrial Revolution and its impact on our culture. 

How this kind of culture was bound to eventually cave in due to its monstrous appetite.  Rather than reacting in a negative way to this, he instead decided to take a more positive approach. 

By studying nature, he came to several conclusions about how nature goes through sustainable cycles without the benefit of man.  Bill began to live and then to teach his philosophy.

Another man who has silently built up a following in this movement is Masanobu Fukuoka.  He believes that you should disturb the soil to an absolute minimum.  Seeds are planted right on the soil’s surface and then lightly covered with straw or other light mulch. 

Weeds are trimmed before the flowering stage and allowed to become part of the mulch.  This kills unwanted vegetation without poison and gives a favorable soil in which to plant.  In time the soil becomes healthy and weeds and pests become less of a concern.

Ruth Stout is another voice in this community.  Her ideas about “no-till” gardening have caused many to change their views about weeds and weeding.  Similar to Fukuoka, she purported to never need to weed but allowed plants to grow together. 

All vegetation, both “good” and “bad,” builds the soil which leads to healthy crops which means fewer pests.  Once the soil is built weeding becomes as simple as flicking out the weed.  All without chemicals and pesticides.

A practical example, of permaculture design, in use. The sheep graze around the bee boxes, and the chickens break up the pest cycle.

From its small, quiet revolutionary beginnings, it is apparent that permaculture will have to be embraced to a greater or lesser degree.  Pollution due to industrial waste and mass transportation systems are on their way down memory lane.  It will cost too much to ship in food from across the country so it makes more and more sense to buy food grown locally or grow it yourself.

Permaculture as a basic philosophy has grown and spread its less intrusive approach to living on and using the earth.  While nowadays it seems to be associated with second and third generation “hippies,” even Urbanites practice it by growing a garden for vegetables and tossing the trimmings back on the beds.  Yes, permaculture, in all its varied philosophies will impact our lives – for the good.

The Core Concepts of Permaculture Garden Design

Understanding any subject that’s new to us, helps to dig into its key concepts. Understanding permaculture in its basic sense will help people to perhaps see how some of its elements can be applied in their own life. 

Specifically, we will deal with, sustainability, minimal disruption of soil conditions, and interdependence with our neighbors.  Let’s begin by talking about how permaculture contributes to the sustainability of the earth’s ecosystems.

David Holmgren’s 12 principle version which are used to help guide every Permaculture design.

It isn’t by accident that permanent is part of the term permaculture.  Here we have a way to work with the way nature works not in a forced, mechanized way of modern times.  When you use hand tools and human labor, you don’t need to depend on fossil fuels. 

Naturally built-up soils don’t support disease and pests so you don’t need petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers.  When you don’t remove the unused part of the plant but just lay it back down on the soil to mulch you reduce labor and eliminate the need to amend the soil.  Mulching aids water retention and thus reduces the need for water. 

The ultimate in sustainability is when the end of year harvest comes, you allow several plants to go to seed.  Then you can cut down the dying foliage and seed heads and lay this on the ground with the mulch which will go on to seed for next year’s crops.  This like the other core concepts is the hallmark of permaculture – giving back to the land everything but the fruits you consume.

Another core concept of a permaculture garden is the idea of soil conservation and minimally disturbing the soils in which we plant.  Permaculturists will use hand tools rather than tillers and tractors, which does several things to harm the soil.  Heavier equipment compacts the soil, which makes the ground more difficult to use. 

It is a fact that intensive gardening increases crop production 10 fold when soil is not compacted and the soil is left loose and friable.  This way we can get 10 times more production out of the same amount of land – which translates to 10 times more food available to feed the population of the world.  No more food shortages.  It may be hard to believe that we can get more production out of less land by eliminating machinery, but permaculture has proved this time and again.

A final key concept of permaculture is rebuilding the community.  Because of our industrialized society, we have become detached from each other not just as a family but also as a community.

This causes us to turn to government and corporations to fill our needs, which causes lower quality food because of the need for mass production, as well as diminishing the local job base, and creating more of a need for outside energy input.

If you buy raw milk from the dairy down the road, beef from your neighbor, and vegetables from the local organic farmer, you not only provide work for them, you also get higher quality food, with less fossil fuel input. This creates a sustainable loop of profitable work, quality products that we actually need, and utilizes local sources.

In an increasingly global economy suffering from constant disruptions in the job market and food chain, this is the future we must work toward for our children and grandchildren. To create a “permanent” culture, we must strive for sustainability, minimal disruption of the soil, and interdependence, and shared resources. 

How to Grow a Permaculture Garden

While we may not be able to make large changes, a whole lot of little changes can add up to a revolution.   A small way to make a big change is to grow a garden using permaculture techniques. 

What makes a garden small permaculture?  You can learn about garden preparation tools and techniques, how to plant and tend to a garden that is raised sustainably.  It takes far less time to garden in this way than you may think.

The idea behind permaculture gardening is to use only hand tools and minimal human labor.  The only tools you’ll need are a shovel, rake, and small trowel.   The idea here is to not disturb the soil any more than necessary. 

Tilling the soil will introduce too much oxygen, which acts to kill the soil organisms that live on and around plant roots.  This allows for weeds, which are less “picky” about the soil in which they grow. 

Plot preparation can be as simple as layering a mat of cardboard or thick layers of newsprint where you plan to plant.  If the weeds are well established, cut them down before you layer the cardboard. 

There’s no concern here about existing vegetation as the thick cardboard mulch will kill the weeds.  So, we have eliminated dubious chemicals and poisons from your garden shed. 

On top of this, you will layer 6 to 12 inches of straw laid out in rows so you can walk between hills.  Here the idea is to keep the rows no wider than you can comfortably reach from both sides.  Notice we didn’t till, dig or poison the garden plot.  It is so much simpler to use permaculture garden techniques in your garden.

Everything About Permaculture Garden Life

To plant seeds, you can sprinkle them right on the soil’s surface in most cases.  Then pull any mulch over this.  The mulch acts to help the soil retain moisture so you don’t have to water as often.  The mulch gradually breaks down and adds to the soil, as the seeds germinate and grow.

Planting starts like lettuce is easy as pulling back the straw, poking a hole in the cardboard, placing the little plant in, and pushing back the straw.  This works even in heavy soils.  Allow the greenery of the plant starts to barely come above the mulch, even gently pulling off an older leaf to stimulate growth.

When it comes to weeding, it is a simple matter of snipping the emerging greenery and leaving it to add to the mulch.  The idea is to not let the weeds go to the flowering stage where they would quickly go to seed. 

At the time of harvest, you take a head of lettuce, for example, and would just cut the head off and leave the roots.  The lettuce will continue to produce some leaves till the first frost that you may continue to harvest and use. 

Over winter the roots will die and add to the soil.  When harvesting beans or tomatoes, you take the fruit; pull the greens and leave to break down with the mulch.  No composting this way and no waste.

Learning permaculture is possibly one of the most responsible skills any homeowner and gardener could learn and as you can see it isn’t like learning rocket science.  Take a strong back and a rake to the garden next spring.

Increase Your Insight With Permaculture Courses

Anyone desiring to educate themselves in skills in how to “go green” would want to add one more course to their roster: permaculture.   Here you will learn the world-altering techniques of how we can change the course of mankind just by a few simple changes in how we work in the landscape. 

By taking classes on permaculture you would benefit from lessons learned from nature, the ecosystem, and how we humans act to work with it all.  You can avail yourself of books, community college courses, and on-site laboratory type classes.  Any way you look at it, you can learn just how you can become part of the solution.

Starting a garden that is efficient and uses no artificial inputs and chemicals can be challenging. We speak to those challenges here.

Many books have been written on the subject of permaculture and its variations.  “The One-Straw Revolution” by Masanobu Fukuoka, is a “bible” to many students of permaculture.  This man, like his peers, quietly went about doing or mimicking what he saw in nature.

Ruth Stout wrote the “No-work Garden Book” an amazing look at how one woman proved how simple and sensible permaculture gardening is.  While her neighbor’s plants died of frosts, hers survived due to the insulated type of mulching she practiced in her garden.

From time to time, local colleges offer non-credit courses on topics of interest to the members of the community.  Permaculture is fast becoming a popular evening and weekend course offering.  Just check your local community college to see if yours has anything along those lines.

Yet another choice for the more “physically inclined” is to participate in a hands-on internship type program sponsored by one of many eco-village type co-ops.  Here you are instructed by those knowledgeable in their field and you get to get practical, hands-on experience. 

You can choose to stay a week or a month or more as you volunteer on the land.  Often you will work side by side with veterans and activists from all over the world. Here, you will be part of whatever process is going on at the time you participate – from plot planning, soil prep, and planting, to ongoing garden maintenance and harvest. 

It’s very likely you’ll eat of the produce of your labors and even participate in its preparation.  You will be part of a group that has the satisfaction of knowing they’re keeping the seeds of change alive. Take a look on the Internet for permaculture communities and co-ops to see what choices are available to you.

The Benefits of Being a Permaculture Activist

When you know something is a good thing to do, it’s hard not to take an active part in the process and promotion of it.  Permaculture, while a very quiet and rather peaceful group of people, has its voice too.  Take a look through the following list to get an idea of what benefits there are to participating as a permaculture activist:

  • Knowing that you are part of important work – something bigger than yourself.  Taking care to work with the intelligence of nature and the built-in wisdom of the earth, we can affect positive changes a little at a time.
  • Knowing you are providing a sustainable future for your children and grandchildren—instead of living in a short-sighted way for today and now, we can be a part of our children’s future by low impact living, gardening, and responsible use of resources.
  • Being part of a group that stands for less dependence on foreign oil and using domestic oil in a more responsible way—no need for the expensive fossil fuel-guzzling trucks and machinery when you use permaculture garden techniques.  
  • Encourages less pollution due to less dependence on trucks used in the transportation of food as well as equipment that uses fuel.
  • Being a voice in your community and eventually, your state government can have a ripple effect once people realize it is not just an odd movement by “earth muffins” but a true and sensible way to live.
  • Allows you to participate in a true revolution that positively affects the community and the world —growing your own food is a satisfying pursuit and gives real power into your hand knowing that you can look out your back window and see your family’s food source right in your own yard.
  • Actively striving for better quality food—it makes sense that the food you grow on your own land will have better quality nutrition not to mention taste.  You have more control over what goes on and in your soil.
  • Being ready to take a lead in your community when difficult times do come.  Your knowledge of permaculture will be at the very core of the survival of whole neighborhoods and surrounding communities.

While permaculture won’t rock the world, it can quietly infuse and give hope to those who have so long lived in a selfish, push-button, disposable world.  You can be part of the biggest little movement in modern times.  And when the time comes, you and your children will be part of raising human awareness and education of men and women that survive the fall of the Industrial Era.

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