What is Permaculture?
Permaculture is a systems thinking approach to agriculture which utilizes and mimics natural ecosystem patterns.
Think of a forest, a wooded area or even a grassland. There are numerous layers of plants, each occupying a space that allows for adequate sunlight, water, nutrients and shelter. The plants interact with each other, perhaps even communicating. They symbiotically coexist with sub-soil living networks, which process nutrients from decaying matter, and from tiny creatures such as worms or nematodes, insects or arthropods, mycorrhizal or saprophytic fungi and bacteria. Each of these directly contribute to or feed higher level organisms, all of which provide plants with fertilizer and pest protection.
By mimicking nature, agriculturists and gardeners are able to adopt methods which naturally promote land management, soil health and water retention.
Bill Mollison and David Homgren on permaculture
Permaculture foundations and principles
Care for the Earth, its people, and adequately governing production, access and consumption amongst natural and human populations, form the basis for permaculture thinking.
David Holmgren (author of Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability) and Bill Mollison (author of Introduction to Permaculture) outline key design principles which enable permaculture thinking. These include taking the time to personally engage with nature, undertake resource (like energy) capture and retention, reap abundant yields, engage in self-regulation, shift toward renewable resources, aim for a zero-waste circular economy model, detail every system and integrate them with others, keep every system small and manageable, propagate diversity to ensure systems do not collapse, productively use edge systems and innovatively adapt to changes.
Permaculture design principles
Importance of layers
Detailed systems design is vital to ensuring an efficient permaculture plot, which should require minimal interventions over time. The Permaculture Design: A Step-by-Step Guide by Aranya is a good place to start. It covers most design and layering concepts in detail, while keeping the language simple.
To ensure long-term survival and self-sufficient permaculture systems, it’s important to plan the initial layers like the canopy, the understory, shrubs and herbaceous layers. Building in groundcover, and the root layer or rhizosphere is vital. To maximize potential, its ideal to place compatible climbers or vines where they fit in.
The video above shows a good example of permaculture principles in action at Goeff Lawton's 66-acre Zaytuna Farm. It shows effective use of swales, a developed food forest, intensive chop and drop mulching, integration of chinampas, use of chicken within systems, worm farming, composting, cell grazing and using wilderness support.
Sepp Holzer farms steep mountainsides in Austria. He uses terraces, raised beds and integrated water systems which support fruit trees and vegetable systems. His book Sepp Holzer's Permaculture outlines his life's work, learning and practical examples of developing a permaculture farm.
The Water Retention Landscape of Tamera