what is permaculture all about

What Is Permaculture – A Layman’s Guide

Permaculture is the new cool in agriculture and gardening. It is a combination of two words – permanent and agriculture. It utilizes the patterns and principles of nature to get the best out of farms for long term.

To practice Permaculture, one works with plants after observing and understanding the patterns of nature. It is not just about living sustainably, but about producing more than we destroy.

Where did Permaculture come from?

Bill Mollison, also known as the father of permaculture, was the pioneer of the Permaculture concept. He was a researcher, biologist, and teacher at the University of Tasmania in Australia. 

He came up with the concept of Permaculture in the 1970s after spending several years observing nature as a biologist. 

He wrote two books on his research – Permaculture One and Permaculture Two. His books were translated into 8 languages and sold more than 100,000 copies.

Permaculture understands the patterns of nature and consciously designs productive agricultural ecosystems. The term Permaculture was first coined by David Holmgren. Its basis lies in cooperation, as opposed to competition

The 3 foundational ethics

1. Caring for the earth; letting all life multiply and grow naturally.

Every natural process has benefits that are beyond the exclusive human benefit. Permaculture respects independent processes and integrates them keeping in mind long-term sustainability.

2. Caring for people; taking into account the basic needs of people.

It takes into account social justice and meeting the basic needs of people. People are expected to treat all living beings with respect. Permaculture puts that if people’s needs are met, their surrounding environment will progress.

3. Governing our consumption; setting limits to the human population and food share.

This simply means taking from nature only as much as we need. The third ethic has lately been modified to “fair share”, which may not convey the exact meaning.

How to practice Permaculture?

Practicing Permaculture may sound intimidating to anyone who is not a biologist, or has little knowledge about agriculture.

We can begin by taking small steps and changing the way we think. Become conscious consumers and become responsible for how much trash we produce.

You function as an independent system. When your needs are not met by yourself, you go out to purchase them, which consumes energy and causes pollution.

It means that either you grow your own food or produce your own energy or buy them from someone who produces them responsibly.

An average person can practice permaculture by these basic first steps:

  1. Building efficient homes that receive good ventilation and sunlight. This saves energy.
  2. Use biodegradable material.
  3. Follow, reduce, reuse, and recycle. Prefer reduce and reuse over recycle because recycling consumes energy.
  4. Grow your own organic food or buy it from responsible producers.

7 layers of Permaculture forest

Natural forests self-regulate and have interrelated processes going on at all times. Permaculture is motivated by this model of the ecosystem. Here, 7 layers of edible trees and plants have been defined that grow together just like in a forest.

These 7 layers are:

Layer 1: Taller trees, also called “Canopy”

This consists of large tall trees that do not over dominate the area. Since they block at least 75% of the sunlight from reaching below them, they must grow in patches and not devoid other plants of sunlight.

These plants will have to survive lots of direct sunlight (high temperature), fast-blowing winds, hail, snow, or rain. These are at least 30 feet in height.

It may contain trees like rubber, almond nut, avocado, oak or teak trees.

Layer 2: Lower trees, also called “Dwarf fruit trees”

Medium sized trees would come in this layer.

These trees will grow between 10 – 30 feet tall and do well under dappled light coming through the canopy layer.

These will include majorly fruit trees like apple, apricot, pomegranate, banana, pear or dwarf varieties of avocado trees. 

Layer 3: Bushes,  also called “Shrubs”

Bushes look like young trees with relatively thin stems. Their height is 1.5 to 5 meters. They prefer shade and require little water.

Usually berries and currants are grown in the shrub layer.

Layer 4: Small plants with no hard trunk, also called “Herbaceous” 

Herbaceous layer is made of non-woody plants with soft green stems. 

A number of medicinal as well as edible plants fall into this layer. These include basil, coriander, mint, rosemary and tomato.

Layer 5: Above the surface crops, also called “Soil surface (cover crops)”

They are almost the size of the Herbaceous layer. They cover the ground, increase nitrogen content in soil and prevent soil erosion due to rain or wind. Further, they help protect other plants from harsh winter temperatures.

Layer 6: Plants with edible roots, also called “Rhizosphere”

These are small plants whose edible part is found in the roots. Also, this layer can survive in shade easily.

Example plants of the Rhizosphere layer are potatoes and carrots.

Layer 7: Vertical layer, also called “climbing plants (vines)”

As evident, these are climbing plants that need the support of trees. You can choose to guide them or let them find their own way.

These include grapes, gourds, and kiwi.

Some possible layers one can include in their permaculture forest are fungal layer and aquatic layer.

The twelve design principles

1. Observe and interact

When people interact with nature, they can come up with design solutions suitable for their situations.

2. Capture and save energy

To save energy and produce when they are available in abundance and use them during the times of scarcity.

3. Get results

It is important to get results of the effort you are putting in. For that people should direct their energy towards fruitful activities.

4. Self-regulation and feedback

Both ensure that non-useful activities do not consume excess resources.

5. Value resources

To rely more on renewable natural resources and less on non-renewable resources.

6. Stop producing waste

This is done by making sure none of the produce or resources go waste but are used to benefit the environment in any way possible.

7. Design from nature’s patterns

We can create forests that benefit us by observing nature’s patterns and adding more details to them as we develop them further.

8. Integrate rather than segregate

Several parts of nature are dependent on each other. Instead of separating them, integrate them to make the process of growth efficient.

9. Use slow and small systems

Slow and small are easy to maintain and use. This implies, people should use local resources over far ones to make the environment sustainable.

10. Use and value diversity

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. By adding diversity to our ecosystem, we make it unique and mitigate the risks.

11. Use the edges and value the marginal

If something is beyond our understanding, it is not necessarily non-significant. Watching it and observing it can help us utilize the fruits it has to offer.

12. Respond creatively to change

Nothing stays the same. It is required for humans to take changes positively and adapt to them creatively.

International day of Permaculture

On May 6, 2012, the International Day of Permaculture began to be celebrated. From that day on, the International Day of Permaculture is celebrated on the first Sunday of May each year. 

On this day, people inspire people to get involved in Permaculture, introduce courses, build local communities of people interested in Permaculture and grow these communities.

Permaculture is not just about living sustainably, but about producing more than we destroy.

Sources:

  1. Holmgren Design – Permaculture Innovation and Vision | Permaculture Principles, Courses & Tours | Sustainable Living
  2. Sciencing: What Plants Live in the Canopy Layer?
  3. Deep Green Permaculture

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