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What is a Permaculture Garden?

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what is a permaculture garden?

Permaculture is a word that has become more commonplace just in the last few years. It is derived from the words “permanent” and “agriculture”, which fit well together in describing how mother nature grows with regenerative systems. I first learned about the concept while watching gardening videos on YouTube. You know how it is when you let YouTube suggest videos based on your viewing history? It’s fun sometimes when you just follow the rabbit trail…you end up learning about things like “Permaculture”. But, what is a permaculture garden?

Permaculture played a large role in shaping the regenerative agriculture movement. Permaculture is a complementary approach within the regenerative gardening philosophy. It shares core principles and goals focused on sustainability and the regeneration of natural systems, particularly the soil.

Permaculture, a term coined by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the late 1970s, has an interesting story from the late 1900s. It’s a way of planning and taking care of nature to make places where people live more sustainable and last a long time. It’s like copying how nature works to make things better for people and the environment.

A Short History of Permaculture

Permaculture emerged because people were worried about how regular farming was hurting the environment. Bill Mollison and David Holmgren came up with the idea by looking at how nature works and using those ideas for how people can do things.

In 1978, Bill Mollison published the “Permaculture One: A Perennial Agriculture for Human Settlements,” which laid the groundwork for permaculture principles and practices. This marked the formal beginning of the permaculture movement. During the 80’s and 90’s it gained recognition and spread internationally. So, it really is a modern movement that promotes ancient natural systems.

What is a Permaculture Garden?

Permaculture is guided by three core ethics – Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share. These ethics are supported by twelve design principles that help growers create sustainable growing systems. The systems in nature can be copied and creatively applied to our own farms and gardens.

Earth Care

“Earth Care” emphasizes the importance of taking care of the Earth’s ecosystems and natural resources. This ethic encourages gardeners to see the soil as a living system. Did you know that in one tablespoon of healthy garden soil, there can be billions of microscopic life forms. These include various types of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, and other microorganisms that contribute to soil health and fertility. Permaculture practices seek to protect and nurture not only the soil, but all the systems in nature.

People Care

“People Care” sounds like exactly what it is. This ethic is all about making sure that everyone is taken care of and treated fairly in our communities and systems. This means giving everyone a chance to have what they need and work together. It helps communities become strong and able to make good decisions on their own. It also emphasizes that gardening or farming should produce a yield. People need to be fed, that is the purpose of growing food. Permaculture seeks to do that in ways that also care for the earth.

Fair Share

I think the “Fair Share” concept is probably the most recognizable for most people. We see many stores in America adopting the concept of “fair trade” by adding products from around the world that are sold in such a way as to provide living wages to the people who grow and create the products. In permaculture, this ethic encourages responsible stewardship of resources and an understanding that we have a collective responsibility to see that resources are available for current and future generations.

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12 Permaculture Principles

The 12 permaculture principles are a set of guidelines that help practitioners design and create sustainable systems.

  • Observe and Interact: Take the time to closely observe your environment and its patterns before making decisions or taking action.
  • Catch and Store Energy: Capture and store resources such as water, sunlight, and nutrients to use efficiently in your system.
  • Obtain a Yield: Ensure that your efforts result in tangible benefits, whether it’s food, energy, or other valuable outputs.
  • Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback: Continuously monitor and adjust your system, learning from feedback and adapting to changing conditions.
  • Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services: Prioritize the use of renewable resources and services to reduce the environmental impact.
  • Produce No Waste: Strive for efficient use of resources and minimize waste by reusing and recycling materials.
  • Design from Patterns to Details: Begin your design with the broader patterns and then work out the specifics, ensuring that the details fit within the overall system. This is fundamental for working with nature instead of against nature.
  • Integrate Rather than Segregate: Encourage beneficial relationships and connections between elements in your system to enhance overall resilience. Companion planting is a simple example of this concept. Both plants benefit each other.
  • Use Small and Slow Solutions: It’s better to make small, easy changes over time, rather than big, fast ones that might disrupt the system.
  • Value Diversity: Embrace diversity in plants, animals, and functions to increase system stability and productivity.
  • Use Edges and Value the Marginal: Recognize that the borders where different things meet in a system can be unique and useful. For example, in a garden, the place where your lawn meets the flowerbed can be a unique area. It might have different types of plants that attract helpful insects, like bees and butterflies, which can benefit your garden.
  • Creatively Use and Respond to Change: Be flexible and creative in adapting to change, because we all know that change is inevitable. Use change as an opportunity for growth and improvement.

These principles guide permaculture gardeners and farmers in designing systems that are not only sustainable, but regenerative. As such, they contribute positively to the environment and the well-being of people.

Permaculture Aligns with Regenerative Gardening

Permaculture and regenerative gardening share a common thread in their commitment to sustainable and holistic practices. Both approaches prioritize soil health, biodiversity, and minimizing environmental impact, making them powerful allies in nurturing vibrant, resilient, and productive gardens.

Designing with Nature:

Both permaculture and regenerative gardening emphasize the importance of observing and working with nature. Permaculture encourages gardeners to design their spaces in harmony with the local environment, considering factors like climate, topography, and existing ecosystems. This aligns perfectly with the regenerative approach of mimicking natural systems.

The Three Sisters – Corn, Beans and Squash

Diverse Plantings:

Permaculture encourages the planting of diverse, multi-functional species that provide food, habitat, and other benefits. This mirrors the regenerative gardening principle of biodiversity, where a variety of plants are used to support a complex web of life in the garden.

Our traditional agricultural method of “monoculture” has found it’s way into the garden. We usually plant one type of plant in the entire bed. Permaculture utilizes “polyculture”, planting multiple plants together.

“The Three Sisters” may be a familiar example of a polyculture. Native Americans planted corn, beans and squash together. The corn was a support for the beans. The squash leaves covered the soil and protected the shallow roots of the corn.

no-waste approach:

Permaculture places a strong emphasis on minimizing waste and maximizing resource efficiency. Techniques such as mulching, composting, and using organic matter to feed the soil align with regenerative gardening practices that prioritize soil health and minimize the use of synthetic inputs.

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Ecosystem mimicry:

Permaculture designs often incorporate elements like swales, ponds, and food forests to mimic natural ecosystems. No-dig gardening methods, for example, mimic the forest floor, where Mother Nature never tills, but constantly covers the earth with leaves and other biomass. These features help conserve water, create habitat, and enhance the overall resilience of the garden.

ethical framework:

The three main principles, Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share, fit well with the idea of regenerative gardening. They stress taking good care of the land, looking out for people and communities, and sharing extra resources.

Long-term sustainability:

Permaculture design principles help ensure that gardens and landscapes continue to thrive and regenerate over time, reducing the need for continual intervention and maintenance.

Basically, permaculture is a way of gardening and using land that works very well with regenerative gardening. When you use permaculture ideas and values together with regenerative methods, you can make gardens that don’t just grow a lot of food, but also last a long time, take care of the environment, and fit in well with nature.

Gardeners Can Learn From Permaculture

Sometimes these concepts like permaculture can sound grandiose to a humble gardener. While we can’t do much about the state of agriculture in the world today, we can do something about our little piece of land. Whether we garden in containers or a small yard, or whether we have an acre to play with, we can adopt a permaculture mindset. We can practice regenerative methods of gardening right where we are.

If you would like to learn more about permaculture, click on over to the Permaculture Institute website, What is Permaculture, and dig in. Yes, pun intended.

By incorporating these permaculture practices into your small yard or garden, you can create a sustainable and regenerative space that produces food, conserves resources, and supports local biodiversity. Chance are, you probably are already using some of these principles, like using mulch or straw to cover the soil. Maybe you have tried companion planting, like planting basil with tomatoes, and had some good results. Seed saving is a great way to maintain the local genetic diversity of your crops. There are many ways that permaculture principles can be applied to our humble gardens. But that’s a topic for another blog post!

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