Life Lessons in Permaculture

I work the rich soil, spreading it over the garden like luscious ganache over a chocolate cake. I know the organisms working their unseen magic underneath my feet are helping the plants grow strong and bountiful. The smell of spring planting fills the air. Growing my family’s food in our own backyard garden is one way I can control our nutrition and help our environment.

We have all become increasingly aware of how the food we feed our family is produced, grown, sourced and packaged. We forgo pesticides and instead let our chicken children do the job. They get a meal and we get natural pest control. We take the chickens nitrogen bombs and add them to potato peels and coffee grounds to brew a batch of compost gold. We read labels for GMOs, sustainable sourcing and humane farming practices. All of these elements are important to the health and longevity of the soil we grow our food in and the air we breathe.

Unless you have had your head under the proverbial rock, you have heard of organic farming and sustainable farming practices.

A design principle known as Permaculture  integrates the best of organic, humane and sustainable farming practices. Permaculture is a term coined by Bill Mollison in the 70s. It is a combination of two words, “permanent” and “agriculture”.  Permaculture is as much a philosophy as it is an agricultural design principle. Mollison wanted a design that would ensure “the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems.”

At its core is the fundamental life lesson that life is cyclical – every part affects every other part. Or as we commonly know it ; “what goes around, comes around.”

For example, the introduction of organic matter into the garden starts a cycle of actions and reactions. The newly introduced organic matter will alter the health of the soil, attract beneficial insects, affect moisture retention, ph balance and become more productive. On the flip side, if negative actions are imposed on the soil such as rampant pesticide spraying and over-production of mono crops it will deplete the life from the land.

Another key principle of Permaculture is self-regulating design. The idea is that each element in the landscape of your garden areas can accept and benefit from the other elements.  One example of this would be Chicken Tractors. Backyard chickens have become very popular lately. Many of us have discovered the fun and rewards of having a few hens scratching around the yard. I could never have imagined that I would enjoy their companionship so much. They come running (literally running) when I walk out to the gardens. They expectantly wait for me to till and hoe the earth which will expose their favorite treats – beetles and bugs. I only have 5 hens so they are able to run freely around the yard. But, for some, the chickens need to be kept housed for their own safety. One option is Chicken Tractors. Chicken Tractors are chicken coops on wheels. The coop is wheeled around the acreage as needed. If an area needs to be cleared of vegetation in order to create a new garden or just to remove undesired plant growth, the coop is moved to that spot. The chickens, happy to have fresh grass and weeds to scratch around, go to work. Their natural behaviors kick in and they scratch and peck the area bare. They remove unwanted vegetation and insects. The chickens benefit and the soil benefits. This , in turn, benefits the landowner and her endeavors. Each element accepts and benefits from the other elements. Another life lesson that we would be wise to remember. Every time we add a new element to our lives, it is important to be cognizant of its effect on the other elements of our lives.

The principle of “Life Intervention” is another intriguing life lesson. The idea is that in the face of chaos, we have an opportunity to create order. Mollison says, “… if we want pleasure then we should preserve the life around us.”  The “Law of Return” reminds us that for every resource we use , we need to replace the same or greater amount. Mollison includes many detailed sketches in his book, “Permaculture.  A Designers’ Manual” of ways to use water storage. He details methods  to capture and reuse rain water and gray water. In addition to his thoughtful and creative sketches on water usage and storage he also details the importance of shelter breaks and windbreaks. Mollison breaks down different climate and topography situations and the best practices to be used in those areas.  Herein lies another parallel to the human condition. When we are confronted by difficult situations, we can choose to see it as a chance to design creative order rather than succumbing to its chaos. We can choose to use our resources carefully which allows for everyone to benefit.

Permaculture is a comprehensive agricultural design principle. It is a recognized course in University. “Permaculture. A Designers’ Manual” is over 500 pages of thought-provoking information. It looks at every aspect of agriculture from a life affirming standpoint. It always stresses the importance of the ethical and moral importance in the choices we make regarding our planet. This is also a tool we can use in our everyday lives.

I have laid out just a couple of the main principles of Permaculture. There are so many intricate details and important ideas involved with Permaculture. It is definitely a subject worth taking a long look at.

So, the next time you are looking for a new way to look at gardening, take a look at a concept from the 70s. Hey, the 70s are all the rage right now! Along with your 70s haircuts and aviator glasses, you can add Permaculture to your repertoire.

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