Traci Knight – Staff Writer
Permaculture is a movement whereby permanent agriculture is incorporated into personal landscapes through careful designs that mimic patterns in nature. A minimalist approach to land management is adopted, after the implementation of careful planning – usually with mass plantings of fruit and nut trees where land and space allow. The idea is to create a self sustaining, viable food system along with recycling resources and utilizing energy.
This incredible movement was founded through the ideals of a number of unique visionaries who have practiced and promoted permaculture design for nearly 30 years. These permaculture experts have compiled a host of wisdom, and through exploring their teachings we see common themes emerge.
Much inspiration can be found in the dramatic transformation of Maddy and Tim Harland’s marginal property in Hampshire, England. Starting with just ⅓ of an acre, the Harland’s were eventually able to expand upon 55 acres of adjacent, unused land. Using permaculture techniques they created an edible garden of delights on what was initially dry and damaged land, amazing the world with their ability to enhance the landscape and obtain sustainability. Maddy Harland’s list of 7 simple tips for permaculture polycultures are helpful to those working in a small patch.
1. Plant self-seeding salads and build soil with green manure. Add crops to the mix.
2. Sow in drills when necessary or propagate under glass so you can fill the spaces as they appear.
3. Move plants around if they become too squashed but have as little bare soil as possible. Consolidate your spaces by thinning and transplanting.
4. Stack time by planting for winter in August and adding areas of Spring sowings from March onwards.
5. Welcome volunteers – salads and flowers.
6. Don’t be afraid to clear unproductive areas once the crop has peaked but allow for self-seeding and bee forage too.
7. Sit back and enjoy the solitary and honey bees whilst planning your supper.
From the Austrian mountains came Sepp Holzer. His form of agroecology has allowed him to
produce high yields at low temps, on steep mountainsides that are 1500 meters above sea level. He works tirelessly, travelling and teaching permaculture techniques around the world. Five of his favorite tips are as follows.
1. Try Sheet Mulching
2. Build Permaculture Guilds – layers of vegetation/food forests
3. Rethink Your Gardening Space – raised beds/straw bale gardening
4. Go Solar!
5. Grow the Organic Farming Community – Host a WWOOFer – World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming
No history of permaculture would be complete without a study of Bill Mollison. Widely credited to be the father of permaculture, Mollison started as a field biologist from Australia where he was able to watch and learn about the ecosystems in Tasmanian forests. He is renown in his native country for his ideas and work. He teaches people self reliance through growing their own food. Conversations with Mollison reveal definite opinions about the ways people manage their land.
1. Harvest Rainwater from your roof.
2. Lawns are a waste of space, time, and resources.
3. Supports no till methods of farming and gardening. Don’t dig in the dirt.
Another Australian, David Holmgren began as a student of Bill Mollison. David Holmgren propagated the principles of permaculture and helped build it into a growing movement. Holmgren is the founder of the 12 permaculture design principles.
1. Observe and Interact – Engage with nature to find solutions
2. Catch and Store Energy – Collect resources while they are abundant
3. Obtain a yield – Build functionality into your design
4. Apply self regulation and accept feedback – Self maintaining systems require ethics
5. Use and value renewable resources and services – Reduce consumption/Use nature
6. Produce no waste – Connecting inputs and outputs
7. Design from Patterns to Details – Using patterns from nature
8. Integrate rather than Segregate – Find connections
9. Use Small and Slow Solutions – Local over global
10. Use and Value Diversity – Zone 5 area to let nature have it’s will
11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal – Look for where ecosystems meet
12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change – Plan and design for known changes
Masanobu Fukuoka is Japan’s permaculture guru. He has become known worldwide for his form of natural ecology, even as he leads a reclusive lifestyle. Author of the One Straw Revolution, he has also been the recipient of many honors for his work on the permaculture front. From a wealthy family, he was reduced to ⅓ acre at one point, and built up his revolution from a small plot of land. He believes in a form of attentive inattention and that doing nothing to the land is best. As a result he has obtained higher yields with natural growth over row crops and tidiness and has allowed an unkept exuberance to permeate his farms. Not a fan of scientific farming, he has developed 4 principles of natural farming.
1. The Earth cultivates itself, no plowing or turning
2. Growth and decay fertilize the soil without any help from people. Adding chemicals helps the crops but not the soil – prefers cover crops even over natural compost.
3. Plowing increases weeds – Tillage and chemicals are not the answer to weeds. Spread straw over freshly sown fields and plant cover crops.
4. No dependence on chemical pesticides, allow animals and insects to create their own balance – use the benefits of natural selection of blighted or weakened strains.
5. Plant orchards without the intention of pruning and compare consistent yields.
Permaculture is a relatively new movement that brings it’s message during a time of agricultural crisis. By working within natural systems, soil health is maintained, water is conserved, personal energy is gained, and people become self reliant. These permaculture pioneers have helped us to see that another way is possible, one that forgoes “scientific” agribusiness and instead favors nature as teacher and mother of life.