Permaculture was introduced in the 1970s as a sustainable alternative to industrial agriculture. Since then, it has been developing and growing in popularity. It offers more sustainable living and versatile agricultural job opportunities for people around the world. In this article, you’ll learn about the philosophy and methods of Permaculture, along with its sustainable practices.
What is Permaculture?
It is a holistic gardening and management philosophy established by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison. The name comes from two words – “permanent” and “agriculture”. It was created as an alternative to industrial agriculture as the last one has a multitude of cons.
Industrial agriculture pollutes huge areas of soil with different fertilizers. It also doesn’t take local climate, weather, and biodiversity into consideration. It can lead to the extinction of specific species and harmful changes in the soil. And it is unsustainable in terms of resources.
Permaculture is all about sustainability, minimum waste, and the adoption of natural cycles. The idea is to imitate nature in its diversity and design to create long-term ecosystems. Another core principle is to use as little of resources as possible including power and labor. Everything needs to be preserved and used economically and ecologically.
The core values of this philosophy are:
- Earth care
- People care
- Fair share.
So it applies not only to gardening. It works for other areas as well, like architecture or urban planning.
The Difference Between Organic Gardens and Permaculture
At first, the difference might not seem a big deal. But it is actually pretty big. The first thing to notice is that in Permaculture, there are no neat rows of plants. Different plants grow together in one ecosystem. Weeds can also be a valuable part of such a garden.
It is more like a food forest that takes care of itself in many ways. For example, different types of plants inter-planted can repel insects that would harm the crops.
Another important distinction is that in Permaculture, you work from the location of your garden. The plants have to suit it in terms of weather and climate. In this case, the amount of gardening will reduce dramatically. For instance, if you plant a fruit tree that is not suitable for the dry climate, you’ll use a lot of water to make it grow and produce food. This is wasteful and unsustainable. Instead, it is better to opt for native trees and plants that will naturally grow with fewer resources.
Permaculture gardens differ in terms of design and planning as well. Herbs you use commonly will grow near the kitchen. And cultures that do not enjoy direct sunlight will grow under fruit trees. The goal is not to create a neat and picturesque garden but to imitate nature as close as possible.
There is no need to replant the beds every year, the snails and mice are naturally repelled. It is a combination of addressing your needs in terms of the garden and specifics on the location and natural resources (wind, sunlight, and water).
Why Gardening and Permaculture Are Essential for Sustainability
Gardening and Permaculture are all about using what we have without causing any damage to nature. It allows growing foods that you can use in your daily life without waste. And the best part is that people do not have to own a lot of land to create such a garden.
It is a great way to get self-grown foods all year round. In Permaculture, all the resources are collected and stored so that you can use them besides the season. For example, you can dry herbs and use them in winter or make jam out of fruits for the winter. People that have such gardens enjoy ecological food that requires no transportation or plastic packaging.
There are Permaculture gardens designed for balconies and even apartments. What makes them essential for sustainability? Let’s cover the core factors.
No Polluting Chemicals and Fertilizers
Chemical pollution is one of the core problems of industrial agriculture. It releases harmful elements into nature and causes long-term damage. It is detrimental to ecosystems and harmful to people who consume foods grown in such a way.
Instead, Permaculture is all about designing a system that will repel insects, snails, and mice naturally, without chemicals. For instance, a lot of such gardens also have chickens that can turn over the soil and eat pests. Also, they provide nutrition-rich natural fertilizer for the soil. And they lay eggs, which is another great benefit for farmers.
No Damage to Local Ecosystem
Planting different cultures without regard to local flora and fauna can have detrimental effects. Some of the exotic for this location plants can drive useful insects, birds, or animals away. They can also overpower indigenous cultures. That’s why considering local specifics is essential for sustainability. It only enhances the local flora and fauna without any unexpected results.
Little to No Waste
Producing no waste is the core value of Permaculture. Everything needs to be reused and repurposed. The resources on Earth are finite so we need to be very careful with them. Industrial agriculture wastes a lot of resources and products that could be otherwise saved and put to good use.
Waste reduction is at the center of sustainable living. In gardening, it means using compost and worm farms. It also means the usage of multipurpose and perennial plants. A great example of comfrey – it can be used as fertilizer, chicken fodder, and compost tea. Also, it has medical qualities as well.
The usage of diverse plants in one Permaculture garden is another wonderful sustainable practice. Instead of planting only one or two cultures exclusively, here many of them exist and grow together. This allows for minimizing disease spread and prevents various pests.
Also, it is hugely beneficial for the soil. Often, the practice of growing copious amounts of one plant causes permanent soil damage. But with Permaculture gardening, this problem is eliminated.
A mix of various flowers, herbs, and edibles creates an attractive space for bees, which is a huge benefit.
Usage of Natural Energy
Among sustainable practices in this philosophy is catching and storing natural energy. Farmers can use rainwater tanks and solar panels for this matter. It also means preserving food and using all of it. For instance, sweet potatoes are great because all parts of it are edible.
People can also use solar ovens to utilize all available passive energy. It can be used not only for the garden but for the house, water heating, and cooking. Natural energy is the most sustainable source of power and it is important to use it wisely as well.
12 Principles of Permaculture
As mentioned above, it is more than just a set of gardening methods. Permaculture is a philosophy with twelve principles:
- Observe and interact (observe nature and its ecosystems to adopt these insights into your practice);
- Catch and store energy (gather rainwater during a rainy season to use during a dry one);
- Obtain a yield (get rewards for your effort, and make sure your garden suits your needs);
- Apply self-regulation and accept feedback (it is all about accountability and being open to new approaches and suggestions);
- Use and value renewable resources and services (put renewable resources as the top priority. This might be harder or more time-consuming but the sustainability is worth it);
- Produce no waste;
- Design from patterns to details (use natural patterns in your designs like beehives or snail shell organization);
- Integrate rather than segregate (inter-plant cultures so that they support each other and grow harmonically instead of separating them into specific areas);
- Use small and slow solutions (be slow and steady and introduce changes step by step).
- Use and value diversity (industrial and traditional farming is monocultural but Permaculture is the opposite – everything grows together);
- Use edges and value the marginal
- Creatively use and respond to change.
These principles serve not only gardening but sustainable living as a whole. For example, the zero waste movement started in Permaculture. And now it is all over the place, which is a positive change.
Pros and Cons of Permaculture
This philosophy comes with a significant number of advantages that make it attractive to many people, whether they are long-time farmers or just starting their gardening journey. The main pros of Permaculture are:
- Less water is used;
- It is more affordable as you do not have to buy pesticides and fertilizers;
- It is low maintenance, which also makes it affordable in terms of labor costs;
- It significantly reduces waste;
- The garden takes care of itself. A good design of such an ecosystem makes sure that most of the work is done by nature;
- It causes less pollution and such farms rarely use motorized machinery;
- All the fertilizers are natural, which means no chemicals are released in nature;
- It is an ethical and positive philosophy that is all about sustainability;
- Production of clear air energy and reduction of air pollution;
- It protects wildlife and endangered species;
- It can be applied to existing farms and gardens to turn them into neutral ecosystems.
However, like with any other practice, it comes with some disadvantages and limitations. The main cons of Permaculture are:
- It can be costly to start with if you need to adjust existing processes;
- It is focused on long-term benefits, which means lower yield in the short term;
- It is generally slower than traditional farming;
- The changes and benefits do not happen overnight;
- It requires a lot of learning and relevant education to design an efficient system;
- The products tend to be more costly and have shorter shelf-life because no chemicals are used;
- The compost might produce an unpleasant smell.
Some of these cons are more significant to farmers than people with small gardens for individual needs. Yet, there are many successful Permaculture projects of all sizes, from farms to ecovillages.
Permaculture gardening is an ethical and sustainable practice that comes with huge benefits for humans and the planet. It reduces the harmful impacts of industrial and traditional agriculture. Although it might take some time to transition to it, the long-term advantages are tremendous.