How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
I had a fellow gardener bring his sceptical father-in-law over to our farm one day in the hopes that I could convince him to allow some organic ag on some of his property. Our friend was hoping that our shared background in conventional ag would cause the venerable older gent to consider a different perspective. The first thing he asked me as we started our walk around the property was, “What is permaculture?” I know he was thinking I was going to explain a specific method of growing food but that doesn’t work for permaculture.
Permaculture is a view, formally founded by Bill Mollison, that strives to work with nature instead of against it. It is a way of approaching design, not just in the garden, but everywhere. Inherently sustainable, permaculture is the goal. It is design intensive. (You can go to classes and get certificate called a PDC or permaculture design certificate.) When well implemented, permaculture mimics natural processes.
You can spend all day reading about permaculture online. You can spend a thousand dollars on books about it and you can go earn your PDC. You don’t need me for any of that so here are examples of how it plays out on our humble farm:
Now that we have moved past NPK fertilizers from Lowe’s, what is best for this growing space? Should we add worm castings or actually add worms?
What about horse manure? Compost?
Do we mow these weeds and till them in or pull them out and try and suppress further growth?
Why aren’t we catching all this rain water that runs off so quickly we end up running irrigation a week later?
Can we get enough hardwood mulch to regulate water in the beds so we don’t need to irrigate?
What grows naturally here that we can plant all over and ignore?
Should we nurse these fruit trees along or just let the strongest survive?
Where can we put swales to manage our excess water?
You do not have to be a prepper or attempting self-sufficiency to garden with this in mind. When we grow food, we are striving for maximum output of the highest possible quality with minimal inputs (unless you are a martyr, in which case, knock yourself out.) In learning how best to grow food in our current location, we failed on many levels. We had no idea you could work with nature or mimic it to reduce your workload. We had no clue what was possible or even advisable from a health perspective. Learn from our mistakes. Start wearing the correct glasses. If you are fighting against a natural process, you should reconsider what you are doing. Nature will win the moment you turn your back, and sometimes before that. If you have to constantly bring in outside inputs, it is not sustainable. If you could no longer leave your property to purchase things, could you still grow food? If the answer is no, keep working on it.
We still aren’t there. I’m not even sure I know what there will look like but we keep getting closer. We keep getting more right. There are moments that remind us we are on the right track. It sounds a little existential, and it can feel that way, but it is also tangible, concrete and visible.
I don’t foresee the day that I will not start my seeds in the house in January to lengthen the season but I have learned that sometimes you use worm castings and sometimes you just dump worms in the plant bed. I’ve learned to rotate certain crops so the bugs don’t find them as easily. I’ve learned that certain insects flourish certain times of year and sometimes you can plant to avoid them. The list goes on and we will go through all of it.
Chew on this
This report is long but I encourage you to at least read the introduction: http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/ditcted2012d3_en.pdf
If you really want to geek out about permaculture and sustainability, I recommend the book Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shepard. It is in depth and eye opening. If you want anything more than a small hobby garden, this perspective is invaluable.
If you would like to listen to interviews with people in the permaculture community, this is a good place to start:
The second is aimed at people trying to make a living but the interviews can be really valuable for the home grower. I recommend sorting through them for subjects that appeal to you.
Happy eating, Katy