When Bill Mollison coined the phrase back in 1978, he described it as “a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor.”
Regardless of whether you have acres of fruit trees at your disposal, or a small, suburban garden, you can start working towards a permaculture paradise of your own by following these simple tips:
1. Harvest Your Rain Water
You don’t need to be an expert plumber to set up a permaculture rainwater collection system. An 80-liter barrel will do the trick nicely, and you could even add a tray of water-loving perennials at the bottom for an extra yield or just for decoration.
Watercress will do well in such soggy conditions, giving you a constant supply of superfood vitamins, or you could opt for the more eye-catching but inedible, Siberian Iris. Don’t forget – rainwater is free, and seedlings thrive on it.
2. Plant Perennials, Not Annuals
Whether this is the beginning of a food forest or a stand-alone permaculture project, planting perennial vegetables is crucial.
From a permaculture point of view, the best perennial vegetables to start with include asparagus and the weird yet wonderful Jerusalem artichoke. In some climates, kale does well as a perennial, as do some types of spinach, including New Zealand and Caucasian Mountain varieties.
Other great, low-maintenance plants to include in your permaculture farm are trees. Many trees have edible leaves that are surprisingly tasty, and incredibly good for you. Some of the best varieties include the Spruce, the small-leaved linden, and white mulberry.
3. Dig Up Your Lawn
Lawns can be time-consuming and demanding so why not get rid of it? Or, at least, some of it? Plants (and weeds) love edges, so create more edges with kitchen garden picking beds along pathways instead of a lawn.
There are many plants that can be grown as lawn alternatives. If you don’t want to give up on a lawn, you can combine the best of both worlds by replacing it with grass look-a-like edible species.
Nasturtiums, alpine strawberries, mint, chamomile, lemongrass, and oregano are all edible alternatives to grass that will mean you can keep your green space while growing your own food and helping the environment.
Before you dig, make sure you know what, exactly, you are getting rid off. Many “weeds” are actually incredibly useful medicinal or culinary plants!
4. Raise Your Beds
Raised beds are a cornerstone of permaculture and ideal for a small suburban garden or backyard. Each bed is a mini-ecosystem in its own right and, by practicing natural pest control, succession sowing, and companion planting, can be productive all year round.
I recently established two raised beds in a greenhouse area where I’ve since planted sweet potatoes and peanuts that wouldn’t survive the onslaught of moles if planted directly into the ground. You can build a cheap raised bed yourself, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot at all.
5. Use Pot Plants for Pollinators
A permaculture garden has little chance of survival without a healthy population of beneficial bugs and pollinators. Herbs and flowers are great for attracting these insects to your garden but not always easy to grow through the winter months.
Hedge your bets by planting culinary herbs, such as basil, mint, and rosemary, and medicinal flowers, like lavender and St. John’s Wort, in pots instead. That way, you can move them to warmer climes when the outdoor temperature drops.
From Scarcity to Abundance
You don’t need an enormous piece of land to start practicing the principles of permaculture – just a little imagination. Permaculture is as much a way of thought as it is a way of life.
Not only will it increase your garden’s edible and medicinal yield, but it will also set you on a new path – one that promises to take you away “from a culture of fear and scarcity to one of love and abundance.” That’s according to the author of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, Tom Hemenway.
By Elle Meager. Elle is a permaculture teacher, usually found in her food forest with her 4 dogs and surrounded by cattle, horses, chickens, and other wildlife. She enjoys growing weird and wonderful medicinal herbs, making everything from scratch, and sharing it on her blog, Outdoor Happens.