2011- The Year of the Vegetable? and Permaculture

‘Create a self-sustaining environment in any situation,
from the farm to the city… by planning your lifestyle
to increase resources, conserve energy and reduce
or eliminate pollution or waste.’ Bill Mollison

Steve Fry's demonstration patch for chemical-free, low weed and low water vegetable gardening, supports the growth of kale and other leafy vegetables over the winter months

Winter is a time for warm drinks, cozy fires, and daydreaming about warm weather.  That said, most of us in colder climates don’t harvest our food from a winter gardens.  Permaculture gardens are places of abundant life throughout the year, and with little to no effort, you could eat fresh kale everyday!

What is permaculture? Permanent agriculture or sustainable food producing systems.  Permaculture advocates a mutually beneficial arrangement: the Earth
provides nourishment for us, and we in turn provide nourishment for it.   According to Mollison, if farming practices were truly sustainable we would require less than 10% of the Earth to feed all the people of the world. This can happen if we modify our consumption and become more responsible with our waste.  Through Permaculture we can reduce waste, leading to fulfilling, sustainable and responsible lifestyles.  Permaculture is different from organic gardening in a few subtle ways.  In permaculture we: 

• Observe and imitate nature. Lots of inter-planting for pest control, using mulch to conserve soil and water, allowing plants to self-seed, and most importantly, attempting to put back into the
soil whatever is taken out.

Utilize effective design that minimizes energy for maintenance.

Are responsible for all ‘waste’ produced on the property.
Waste contributes to enriching the soil rather than contributing to pollution and landfill.

• Produce as much of our own food as possible. This minimizes the energy used transporting the food to them and also means that what comes out of the soil is returned to it.

• Attempt to provide nutritious food and shelter for ourselves, and native birds and animals as well.

• Always looking to make the best use of the energy and resources, rather than importing them onto the property. (These might include water, sun, wind, leaves, bird droppings, seaweed, eggshells, lawn clippings, kitchen scraps etc).

We want to design for minimum waste.  Natural systems waste very little energy, time, water, and other resources.  If we imitate nature and its complexity in our design systems, we will develop systems where co-operation between elements is inbuilt, resulting in harmony and sustainability (meaning less work for us!)

When the waste of one is fuel for the next – there is no waste.

Bantam chicks are sweet and friendly!

So basically, we are creating a micro version of world peace (er… peas?)  Where do we start?
First off, with your soil.  Add nutrients to your soil with compost and mulch from your land (see last years blog on sheet mulch).  Check your soil’s pH.
Second, develop water management systems.  Ideally 15% of your total space should be dedicated to water storage.  Learn to use water as many times as possible before it leaves your property and try
to ensure that it leaves in a drinkable condition. This will take some practice!
Third, develop systems to deal with pests. We don’t use pesticides, of course, but rather create ecosystems for native animals that will take care of them.  Attract native birds, frogs, lizards,…
Fourth, companion plant.  In nature, things that grow together have similar needs and symbiotic relationships…
Fifth, grow lots of perennials and save your seeds or buy non-hybridized seeds…. Hybrid species cannot be collected for propagation the following year, as they do not reproduce ‘true to type’.  Heirloom seeds from your area have stood the test of time, and are a great bet.

Some of our favorite animal friends in the permaculture garden?
1. Cute little bantam chickens, ducks and geese  “A chicken’s need for water comes automatically from a tank off the hen house. Its need for greens are created by rotations in the orchard and vegetable beds; its need for insects meet the gardens needs for pest control. It also supplies direct fertilizer where it walks and tractoring where it scratches. Most importantly, it supplies us with feathers, eggs and meat.” Permaculture Visions, PDC
2. Worms, worms, and more worms
3. Birds
4. Bees (plant thyme, lemon balm, catnip, marjoram, hyssop, sweet basil, and mint)
5. Lizards and frogs help eat all the nasty insects that like your food!
6. Rabbits and guinea pigs are great for weed and grass control, plus have great manure! (you do need a good movable cage…)

Well, that was a lot of information, and yet it’s barely enough to get started…
I got a lot of information from from the Introduction to Permaculture pamphlet by Faith Thomas. Living Schools offers a Permaculture Design Certificate, as well as a wealth of information on their website.
There are many good books available including:
• Permaculture – An Introduction by Bill Mollison
• The Earth Users Guide to Permaculture by Rosemary Morrow
• The Permaculture Home Garden by Linda Woodrow
And for those who are really keen…
• Permaculture: A Designers Manual by Bill Mollison
…is the definitive guide.


About the Author

yurtmanI live in a little sustainable minded yurt village in western NC near AshevilleView all posts by yurtman →