What exactly is permaculture?
It’s important to start with the question on most people’s minds on reading the title of this blog.
Permaculture gardening is based on the concept of designing your garden around your local environment. It aims to make food production easier and more sustainable by mimicking the permanent, regenerative systems that can be found in nature. It is the act of working with nature rather than against it. Permaculture gardening focuses heavily on gradually building up your soil’s integrity with nutrients, essentially constantly rejuvenating the earth as your plants become stronger.
The core idea is that in the wild, ecosystems require no external assistance from human beings to thrive; they regenerate all on their own. Being surrounded by natural systems as we are here at Londolozi, incorporating permaculture into our food growing systems was the obvious next step in our journey toward full sustainability. Permaculture is an incredibly practical way to design your homestead in order to live an easier, more cost effective life. Once you have initially set your permaculture system up, the benefits are numerous, and the system mostly manages itself.
The framework of permaculture can be used anywhere and by anyone, to the benefit of individuals and the environment. There are 12 permaculture design principles that we can delve into to understand permaculture a little better. Whilst you don’t have to follow every principle in order to implement permaculture design on your own property, the more of them you understand and incorporate, the more sustainable, efficient and self-sustaining your homestead (and your life) will be!
In this blog, we will cover the first 6:
1. Observe and Interact with Nature
Stop, take a moment to observe the land and the systems that are already working naturally in order to decide where and how to implement new systems. Take note of your space, the climate, weather, areas of sunlight/shade and where and how water travels in your system. Familiarise yourself with the native plants, insects, and predators that inhabit your region and planting area. Observe which parts of the garden get the most sun. Identify slopes in the landscape that could cause rainwater to pool. Are there any unique features of your garden area that could be beneficial? For example, you may have tall native plants that can act as a living trellis for a new plant in your permaculture system. If you live in an apartment, look for the best windowsill with the perfect light for herbs for teas or cooking.
Catch and Store Energy
Collect natural forms of energy when and where they are available to use when needed.
This could also be translated as catching and storing resources – meaning finding a way to harness and utilise natural energy resources such as solar, wind or rain. This could mean implementing solar panels or even simply collecting rainwater. Diverting runoff water from the gutters of your roof to the garden is a brilliant way to ensure you are not wasting a drop.
Obtain a Yield
The goal of permaculture is ultimately to produce as much food and as many useful resources as possible from your land.
When we think of a yield in the traditional sense, we tend to think of the annual yield from garden crops. But in permaculture, a yield can be anything that is in some way useful, such as fruits, vegetables, firewood and flowers. Even weeds and pests that are typically seen as a nuisance can produce yields of food and medicine (weeds such as dandelion have fantastic health benefits), food for livestock (chickens love weeds and insects), and organic matter for your compost pile.
In our urban lifestyles, we end up buying a great deal of what we consume. For those of us without a space in which to grow food, think of other ways to create a yield. This could be in the form of fermenting, cooking, sewing, drawing, connecting, constructing – anything that allows us to take on a slower pace and to create. My favourite pastime is cooking, especially when most of the ingredients have just come from my back garden. Being able to create nourishing food from simple ingredients is a valuable life skill. It also allows you to avoid excess packaging and unnecessary, unhealthy ingredients.
Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback
Always assess and reassess what is and isn’t working and make necessary adjustments.
Feedback can come from several sources, some being our own reflection on our gardening practices, our successes and failures or from advice from experts. Permaculture teaches that we need to listen and be open to receiving feedback from all sources; to learn from our mistakes and most importantly we need to be willing to make changes when necessary.
Use and Value Renewable Resources
Try to use resources that are renewable over those that aren’t. Don’t take too much, use only your fair share and allow these resources the time they need to regenerate.
The backbone of permaculture is sustainability, so we should always be looking for ways to use and value renewable resources whenever possible. There are many easy and inexpensive ways to do this.
Your property essentially produces food (both garden vegetables and weeds) that can feed your chickens and your compost pile, and then your chickens and your compost pile produce fertilizer which then feeds the garden. Soil is a gardener’s most valuable asset. Healthy soil contains organic matter and beneficial organisms. It manages nutrients and water efficiently, resists erosion, pests, and disease, and generally provides a happy home for your crops.
Rather than considering what a crop needs to be happy, expand your viewpoint to consider what the soil needs in order to be a healthy, thriving foundation for growing crops. Creativity and resourcefulness can help understand the unique conditions of your garden so it can thrive. A simple way of letting this specific principle direct our behaviour in the bigger picture could be taking public transport more often, cycling, or turning off the heating and using warmer blankets. We need to assess if there are small changes that can be made in our existing lifestyles which may have passed under our radar.
Produce No Waste
While it is difficult not to produce any waste at all, try to make use of the waste you do create.
This may include composting food scraps and weeds, by setting up a compost bin in your backyard. It keeps organic material out of the landfill and allows you to reuse nutrients in your garden. At Londolozi, when the vegetables are harvested for use in the kitchens, only what is needed is taken. Any excess green waste is fed back into our systems as compost and in the worm farms to continue the cycle of sustainable food production.
Other ways to reduce waste consist of bringing reusable bags to the shops, buying goods without plastic packaging and trying your hand at fixing something rather than throwing something away when broken. Purchasing local food helps support small farmers and reduces the environmental cost of your food. When you purchase food produced in your area, less fossil fuels are used to refrigerate and transport goods than if they are imported from far away.
Be mindful of any and all waste and let your imagination provide solutions.
I find each of these principles tugs at some part of me, at a deep-rooted connection to our only planet, a connection that has dwindled somewhat in our recent history but the coals of which are there, ready to burst into flame with only the gentlest of breaths. It is a journey that is only beginning for me but one that I am so excited to continue. I’d love to hear your thoughts on which of these ideas touches you in some way.