In The Beginning…There Was Permaculture – Part 1
Unless you’re a seasoned gardener, you’ve probably never heard the term “permaculture” before. Until about a year ago, I hadn’t either. But please allow me to introduce you to this revolutionary (yet ancient) method of growing your own food.
Before we dive in, there are many terms used to reference permaculture. Food forests, guilds, companion planting, and “do-nothing” gardening are among the most common names. I prefer to think of it as the ultimate example of “back to basics” living. After all, permaculture is just a fancy description for gardening the way God designed the world “In the beginning…”
Permaculture simply put, is the art of grouping plants together in specific patterns so that the results are self sustaining, high yielding, and nutrient dense. The science behind this method is rock solid! But every minute I spend researching the complexity of nature’s design, I just can’t help feeling in awe of God’s creation. By the end of this post, it’s my hope that you feel the same way!
Basic Permaculture Principles
The book “The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide To Permaculture” written by Chistopher Shein and Julie Thompson (get your copy on my Amazon Store Page), does a great job of breaking permaculture down into bite sized pieces. According to the authors, successful permaculture requires intentional observation, planning, design, a central focal point (usually a fruit or nut tree), and 5 chosen types of supporting plants… we’ll dive deeper into those momentarily!
Observation, Planning, and Design
First things first. How successful you are highly depends on how much effort you put into the observation, design, and planning process. For example, if you choose not to observe your land prior to planting, you may not know the location you chose is too wet to support your chosen crops. Likewise, if you don’t design your plot well, you will have crops that don’t like each other planted next to one another. This can severely hinder your plant’s yields or invite pests in that will destroy your whole garden.
Other important questions to ask yourself are “what are your plants sun requirements? Does your plant need consistent watering? Does your plant like sandy or loamy soil?” Though these are the most commonly asked questions by customers looking to build a garden, there are so many more questions to ask before jumping in…
- What foods do your family eat?
- How many of each variety you’ll need to last your family a full year?
- When is harvesting season?
- What kind of pests or diseases attack this plant?
- What are those pests’ natural predators?
- Are there companion plants that I can place close by to deter those pests and diseases?
The amount of time and effort spent during this phase can be super overwhelming! I know first hand how taxing this step can be as I am currently working through it myself. However, the benefit of going through it first, is that I get to share my journey with all of you in the hopes of making your journey a little easier. Before diving into my experience in part 2 of my “In The Beginning…There Was Permaculture” series, let’s continue to learn more about the basics so we’re all on the same page.
The Leading Lady And The Supporting Actors
The easiest way to start a permaculture garden is by starting with smaller guilds. A guild is a group of plants that work together to form it’s own self-sustaining ecosystem. Simply, choose a tree focal point and surround it with plant friends. Follow these 2 steps to get started.
2 Steps To Build Your Guild
- Step 1 – Assuming you’ve already completed the observation, planning and design step, it’s time to chose the fruit or nut tree that will be the central focal point of your guild (the leading lady). In this case, I choose an apple tree.
- Step 2 – Choose at least one plant from each of these five categories of supporting plants (the supporting actors) to plant around the base of your focal point tree.
- Nitrogen Fixers
- These plants absorb nitrogen from the air and release it into the soil where the other plants can use it. I’m going to choose green beans.
- These plants shield the soil and deposit leaves and other mulching materials. Not only does the cover naturally reduce weeds, but the decaying material helps build soil health for next season by depositing it’s nutrients back into the earth. I pick squash.
- Nutrient Catchers
- These plants have deep roots that collect the untapped, denser nutrients that the other guild mates can’t reach. Then, when the leaves die off and fall to the ground, the nutrients return back to the soil, but shallow enough where other plants can reach. I choose strawberries.
- Pest Repellants
- This category is pretty clear cut. These plants are usually fragrant and help deter bugs, deer, or other pests that will be attracted to other guild mates. Marigolds are a great option as they fall into multiple categories.
- Pollinator Attractors
- Again, this category is self explanatory. In order for produce to form, there needs to be pollination. Attracting more pollinators ensures heavier, more flavorful crop yields. I choose nasturtiums.
- Nitrogen Fixers
You Did It!
Congratulations! You just built a guild with me! The apple tree surrounded with green beans, squash, strawberries, marigolds, and nasturtiums (or nasties as I like to call them because it’s easier to say…LOL) is it’s own self sustaining ecosystem. Now, you will be able to enjoy the fruits without all the labor! No weeding, no mulching, no fertilizing, no pest control that comes back year after year (providing you choose perennials)…That’s my kind of garden!
If you want to learn more, head to Create A Permaculture Fruit Tree Guild for even more guild ideas.
The beauty of permaculture is that you can get as crazy with it as you’d like. You can choose to create a simple, stand-alone guild. Or, you could amass together multiple guilds to create a whole food forest. You can even create micro guilds for balconies and patios by choosing smaller focal point plants instead of trees. Once you know the basics, the options are endless!
Let me leave you with one final thought. In the beginning, God created a perfectly balanced world. For every pest, there is a predator that preys on it. He created plants that fix soil and prevents weeds so others can thrive. For every problem, there is already a natural solution…if you’re willing to look hard enough.
By stripping top soil, adding chemicals, and producing mass batches of produce we are messing with the integrity of the soil, the produce, and inviting unwanted problems into our yards. We trigger a snowball effect since the increase in problems creates an increase in intervention.
The practice of permaculture reminds us that nature is perfect just the way it is. If we choose to spend extra time planning and designing around what God has already created, we end up creating a beautiful, bountiful Eden right outside our homes. A literal piece of Heaven, right here on Earth!
Don’t forget to stay tuned for “In The Beginning…There Was Permaculture – Part 2” coming out Monday, July 25th!
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Permaculture Is Only The Beginning!
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