If you’re looking for a way to produce food while working with nature instead of against it, permaculture is your answer.
What is permaculture farming?
Permaculture gives farmers a way to achieve high yields and productivity while doing it in a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly way than conventional farming methods. It applies a more holistic approach to farming crops and livestocks.
What Is Permaculture?
Permaculture is an approach to agricultural design that focuses on whole systems thinking, as well as using or simulating patterns from nature.
Permaculture has 3 core tenants:
· Care for the earth. In other words, help all life systems continue to exist and multiply. Because if we don’t have a healthy planet, humans can’t exist at all.
· Care for the people. Allow people to access resources they need to survive.
· Fair share. You should only take what you need, and reinvest any surplus. Any extra can go forward to helping fulfill the two other core tenants. This includes returning waste products back into the system so it can be made useful again.
By using principles of permaculture, you’re working with nature, instead of against it. That means that you can let nature do most of the work for you.
The 12 Principles of Permaculture
Permaculture can be broken down into twelve design principles.
1. Observe and Interact
Take time to observe nature before making any decisions or changes. Often just by observing, we can get a lot of insight into how to design our farm or garden to suit what’s already there.
2. Catch and Store Energy
In nature, resources tend to come in peak periods. We get a lot of sunlight in the summer, but much less in the winter. In some places there are rainy seasons some of the time, and droughts other parts of the time.
Permaculture is big on capturing resources like rainwater or solar electricity so they can be used later as needed.
3. Obtain a Yield
Make sure you’re being rewarded for the work that you’re putting in. After all, you probably aren’t farming just for a hobby. You want to get food, an income, or something else in return. You can’t work on an empty stomach.
4. Apply Self-regulation and Accept Feedback
Hold yourself accountable, and also be open to suggestions and critiques from others. If there is something you’re doing that’s inappropriate for your situation, you want to know about it, so your systems can function well.
5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
Nature has an abundance of renewable resources that we can make use of. We should prioritize those, and try to reduce the consumption of non-renewable resources.
6. Produce No Waste
Being “zero waste” is a big trend right now, but really it all started with permaculture. If we value all of the resources that we have available and use a bit of ingenuity, we can make sure that nothing goes to waste.
7. Design From Patterns to Details
Take a look at nature and society. You can usually observe patterns in things like how beehives are organized, the design on a snail shell, or other things to give inspiration for your designs.
You can borrow from these designs and add some details and flair of your own.
8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate
Permaculture is all about having things support each other and work together, instead of having everything exist as an island unto itself.
9. Use Small and Slow Solutions
Permaculture isn’t about making big changes overnight. Making gradual changes and working with slow systems makes them much easier to maintain.
Plus they tend to have a more sustainable outcome. When it comes to permaculture, slow and steady wins the race.
10. Use and Value Diversity
Where conventional farming is all about monoculture and many farmers traditionally only grow one or two crops, permaculture is big on diversity.
A diverse system is much less vulnerable to threats like pests, diseases, and other problems than a homogeneous one. Don’t put your eggs all in one basket.
11. Use Edges and Value The Marginal
Where two different things meet is usually where the most interesting stuff happens. It’s usually the most productive and diverse part of the whole system.
12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change
Change is inevitable. By making careful observations and then stepping in at the right time, we can make a positive outcome based on changes instead of negative ones.
The Benefits of Permaculture
Permaculture has a bunch of benefits that make it an attractive choice for anyone who has land and is looking to grow food, from farmers all the way down to backyard gardeners. Some of the benefits include:
Reduced water usage
You can save on water bills by making use of wastewater and rainwater. Even for homeowners this is worthwhile, but for larger farms it really becomes a more cost effective and efficient way of watering your crops.
It costs less
Permaculture is more cost-effective than growing plants conventionally. You don’t have to spend money on things like pesticides or fertilizers.
Since permaculture systems require less maintenance, usually all you need to do is water crops and occasionally mulch, they also save money in terms of labor.
If you’re using a permaculture system, nothing goes to waste. Garden waste, leaves, table scraps, and other waste products get turned into fertilizer or food for livestock.
Some permaculture enthusiasts take this further and even make use of things like compost toilets to truly live a zero waste lifestyle. Making use of byproducts is what really makes permaculture sustainable.
Nature does most of the work
Once everything is correctly set up in your permaculture garden, it will take care of itself much more than a conventional one.
Water can be stored in human-made water features to attract birds, frogs, and other beneficial wildlife that will help remove pests as well. Companion planting similarly helps to keep insect problems to a minimum.
Permaculture gardens require a lot less maintenance overall.
Permaculture is a more natural way of growing food and the use of any motorized farm equipment like tractors is rare.
Permaculture uses natural fertilizers and pest control methods and is usually considered organic, so you’re not getting exposed to all of the chemicals you might be if you’re using pesticides and other artificial products on your crops.
By practicing permaculture, you’ll naturally develop more ethical and positive values like wasting less, only using as much as you need, reducing pollution, and helping others.
You’ll promote green living through use of only natural fertilizers and pesticides.
Permaculture allows a farmer or gardener to have a wider array of crops on their land. It gives you the self-reliance of being able to grow whatever you want or need to eat.
If there’s extras leftover, you can always learn how to preserve it for later use.
Applicable to existing systems
Existing agricultural systems and land can be transitioned over to the principles of permaculture. Anywhere that you can typically grow food can be used for permaculture on a large or small scale.
Common Permaculture Practices
Here are some of the more common subcategories of permaculture.
These two seemingly separate fields work together to create more sustainable, healthy, profitable, and productive systems.
Under the heading of agroforestry, you have forest farming, which is really an entire permaculture topic unto itself.
Alley cropping is another agroforestry technique that involves cultivating food, specialty crops, or forage in between wide rows of trees.
As you might imagine, there is a lot of overlap between these different types of agroforestry and they have a lot in common, so the lines aren’t always perfectly clear
What all types of agroforestry have in common is that they can help to improve crop production, diversify farm income, and provide protection and other benefits to crops.
The trees provide protection from the wind, rain and other elements for livestock and reduce the risk of mortality. And animals produce waste as they forge which in turn fertilises the trees and boosts their production capacity.
Hügelkultur is German meaning “hill culture.” It’s a technique whereby large amounts of wood are buried to improve the water retention abilities of the soil.
This decaying wood acts like a sponge to hold onto water that seeps into the ground. Often compostable plant materials are planted on top of the mound and eventually composted into the soil as well.
A Hügelkultur is a great way to follow the permaculture principle of catching and storing energy.
Water during rainy times of year gets trapped in the underground wood, which can often hold enough volume to help keep plants alive even through an extended dry season.
This practice is a great alternative to burning wooden debris and other unwanted wood. Instead of releasing carbon into the atmosphere when it’s burned, the wood’s carbon gets sequestered back into the ground.
3) Harvesting Rainwater and Greywater
Instead of just letting rainwater run off your land, you can accumulate and store it to use later on. This is embodying the permaculture principle of “catch and store energy.”
Most rainwater is collected from roofs. Homes, barns, and other structures on your farm likely already have eavestroughs that collect and move water away from the buildings.
To harvest rainwater, all you need to do is hook up a large tank to your downspout collect this water, instead of simply letting it soak into the ground and go to waste.
Rainwater can be used for a variety of applications, including water for irrigation and livestock, as well as even drinking water if properly treated first.
What the water will be used for determines the extent to which it needs to be treated. The water would need to be screened, disinfected, and filtered before it’s potable for humans.
One final source of reusable water on the farm is greywater. This is water that comes from activities in the home or around the farm like taking a bath, washing dishes, or doing the laundry.
This water is different and kept separate from the blackwater of toilets or septic systems, which is difficult to reuse.
Greywater can’t be reused for drinking water since it contains soaps and detergents, but can be used for landscape irrigation and other purposes.
Human waste can be repurposed, although the process is harder and less practical. The two most common approaches are composting or using the material to create biogas.
4) Cell Grazing
Grazing is usually seen as a negative activity that has the ability to destroy the environment if not practiced responsibly. And it’s true that allowing livestock to overgraze an area can have negative consequences.
Under permaculture, cell grazing (also called rotational grazing) is the preferred method. This involves moving groups of livestock regularly between different fields, pastures, or forests.
Either ruminant animals (like cows, goats, and sheep) or non-ruminant animals (like pigs, rabbits, or flocks of geese) can be used effectively for cell grazing.
When done responsibly, the disturbances caused by grazing animals can actually prompt a better ecology and allow plants to regrow more quickly.
Cell grazing involves closely monitoring and monitoring livestock and how they’re interacting with the land.
Farmers can ensure their livestock are getting sufficient quality and quantity of water, and their nutrition can be managed and supplementation provided as needed.
5) Sheet Mulching
Many farmers and gardeners already make use of mulching, which is just any kind of protective cover placed on top of the soil to retain water and prevent weed growth.
Wood chips, cardboard, plastic, stones, and other materials are all commonly used.
Sheet mulching is an organic no-dig technique that tries to mimic the soil buildup that happens naturally in forests, namely how leaves cover the ground.
6) Natural Building
Natural building is a more sustainable approach to construction than going down to your local hardware store or lumber yard for materials.
In a permaculture system, you should strive to use as many recycled or salvaged materials as is practical.
There are plenty of renewable resources on the land that you might be able to make use of in your next building projects
7) No-Till or Minimum-Till Farming
Minimum-till or no-till farming aims to leave soil undisturbed. Instead of breaking up the soil before planting, it’s simply left undisturbed.
This helps retain water, prevents carbon from leaving the soil, improves soil quality, and reduces the amount of weed seeds being brought closer to the surface to germinate
8) Intercropping and Companion Planting
Intercropping is the combining of two or more plant species into an area which have beneficial effects on one another.
One example is companion planting, where strong-smelling plants and herbs like basil, oregano, chives, or garlic alongside main crops like tomatoes, carrots, or cabbage.
The Importance of Permaculture Farm Design
Permaculture is crucial, because right now, it’s the only food production system we have that’s beyond sustainable.
Conventional agriculture tends not to be sustainable at all, so it’s not really something to measure against. Really we should set the bar at sustainability because that’s what’s necessary for humanity to survive in the long term.
But really we strive for food production systems that will give a net positive result. Otherwise, the human population won’t be able to grow and still have all of its food needs met.
So the goal of permaculture is to design a system where more energy gets extracted from the system over its lifetime than what you have to put in.
Usually, this involves working with a closed-loop system that incorporates waste products back into the system.
Permaculture is adaptable. It’s constantly under development and permaculture farmers are constantly trying to find better and more efficient ways of doing things, and to have a better understanding of nature.
Biodiversity thrives under permaculture. We don’t have to make the tradeoff of destroying forests and other habitats for wild plants and animals, just to produce our food or earn an income.
It’s a way of people living more symbiotically and sustainably, and being better stewards of the environment while still getting our own needs met
Permaculture is a great way to continue generating high yields and maintain your current level of productivity, even if you’re switching away from a more conventional farming model or system.
It gives a more environmentally-friendly and sustainable system for agriculture by taking a more holistic approach to managing livestock and crops.
Not only can permaculture be just as profitable as conventional farming, it’s often easier and less labor-intensive as well.
This is because using the 12 principles of permaculture, you allow nature to work for you, instead of trying to work against it.
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