What is permaculture?
Think about a forest. No one fertilizes it, no one rakes the leaves, no one hauls out the dead trees or plants new ones, no one brings in food for the animals, no one waters. Yet, this forest provides us with abundant benefits such as cleaning the air and water, building soil, and supporting the animals and plants that we use for food.
What if we could create systems to meet our basic needs for food, shelter, water, and materials that mimicked the way a forest works. These systems would require much less labor and fewer inputs than traditional agriculture. And, they would replenish, rather than harm, the natural systems and habitats upon which all life depends.
To see how this might work, let’s turn to the chicken. In traditional agriculture, a chicken provides eggs and/or meat. In exchange, people must labor to purchase food, provide clean water, clean out coops, deal with manure, and provide bedding.
In a permaculture system, the chicken still provides the eggs and meat. But it can also provide a remarkable range of other services, while meeting more of its own needs.
It can weed and fertilize garden beds by scratching around established plants. It can reduce the need for pesticides by eating other critters such as slugs and snails. It can lower the incidence of plant diseases by eating fallen fruit. It can help create compost by shredding yard waste. Let a few chickens out on a lawn for a season and they can convert the space to fertile, tilled garden beds.
Even better, the chicken can harvest much of its own food if given the right types of plants and a steady supply of beetles, slugs, snails and grubs. Plus, they are cute.
A functioning permaculture system looks at all the services that each element can provide, and then places them in such a way to maximize their potential and minimize any harm.
This radical departure from conventional agricultural methods can result in less labor, better yields, less cost, deeper topsoil, and a healthier environment.
Interested about learning more?
I’ve barely scratched the surface here. To explore further, “Gaia’s Garden” is a great introductory book, or consider taking a permaculture course (read on).
Permaculture in your garden
I would love to talk to you about how you might apply permaculture ideas to your garden. Whether you are thinking about adding more edible food plants, making better use of water, improving the health of your soil, or integrating animals into your landscape, permaculture offers powerful methods for creating a healthy, sustainable, functioning ecosystem in your own yard.
Over the winter of 2013-2014 I attended a certification course in Permaculture Design. This fabulous course was run by Lisa Fernandes through the Resilience Hub, in Portland, Maine. I can't say enough about this experience; please ask me about it.
Sarah Wolpow * (207) 721-0941 * SweetFernGarden@comcast.net * 45 Page St., Brunswick, ME 04011