Have you ever heard about the permaculture garden concept? If you are a garden enthusiast, you may have come across this concept that started in the 70’s and continues to gain popularity today. Or, you may not even be aware of exactly what it is, yet you are already practicing some of its principles.
What is permaculture? Authorities define it as a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, and environmental design that develops sustainable architecture and self-maintained agriculture systems modeled from natural ecosystems. It has as its core tenets that care for the earth, care for people and return of surplus. Now add the word garden, and then what you have is a type of gardening that puts in place these principles. Confused? Don’t be. Here’s another perspective… Permaculture is working with nature rather than against it. Instead of handling an area as a single-product system, it promotes extended and thoughtful observation of plants and animals in all their functions. The term is a contraction of three words… “permanent”, “agriculture”, and “culture”. Its original emphasis was sustainable food production but has now evolved into other economic and social systems following the same philosophy. It now continues to expand and is dynamic.
But you might say, what has this got to do with gardening? Put simply, a permaculture garden is a type of gardening that consciously practices the principles of the system.
Permaculture Garden Key Principles
1. Conservation – use only what is needed
When designing your garden, include only what is needed. Never waste the resources you have. For instance, you may conserve water by using a well calibrated sprinkler or better yet a hand-held watering can with small punctured holes. It makes you conscious of how much water you are using. It is like using a water-saving shower head instead of a regular shower head in your home – a small difference can have a dramatic effect.
2. Stacking functions – permaculture gardens get several outputs from one element in the system.
For example, a trellis can be used for climbing plants but at the same time become a shade for plants that don’t need a lot of sunshine or a wind breaker to shield your sensitive flowering crops. Multi-functionality of elements is the idea.
3. Repeating functions – Your goal is meeting every need with multiple solutions.
For example, your permaculture garden water needs is supplied in multiple ways. You may have a spring, but during the dry season the water level becomes very low or even dries up. Hence a backup is needed like a shed with rooftop water catchment system that collects rain water running off. This now can be utilized for other domestic uses as well.
4. Reciprocity – a concept in the permaculture garden that utilizes the production or yield of one element to cater to the needs of other segments in the system.
This is the principle of give and take between elements. Simply put, the output of one element will be the input of another. One good example is composting. The output of scraps from our kitchen will then be an input for your compost pile which will eventually turn into valuable organic fertilizer that can then be used by your growing plants. When these plants become robust and yield a bountiful harvest, it then becomes the supply you need in the kitchen to cook your meals. Observe that there is a circular movement of inputs and outputs working in the system.
5. Appropriate scale – Design your permaculture garden in a way that fits human scale and is doable with your available time, skills and resources.
One very relevant example is the size of your raised-bed garden plots. If you construct it too long and too wide, then it can be very difficult for you to move around with ease thereby creating other problems.
6. Diversity – Create resilience by using various elements.
Design your garden with a variety of plants instead of mono cropping. It safeguards plants against pests and increases the chance of a good harvest even in changing weather conditions. You can’t go wrong with this system as plants have different susceptibilities to pest and tolerance to weather.
7. Give away the surplus – Create abundance then share it.
If you have planted more than enough seedlings for you to use, do not throw away the excess. Instead, donate it to your neighbor who might be interested in gardening also. You can then share the concepts of a permaculture garden and increase the knowledge and exposure to others.
As you can see, the concepts that are used in permaculture gardening are commonly used by many. But there is always room for improvement to make our gardening practices more sustainable, and by building our knowledge we can help others to understand and improve their own gardens.
What are your experiences with permaculture gardening? What tips and suggestions can you share with those looking to start their own? Please share your permaculture garden thoughts in the comments box below…