What is Permaculture?

Posted by Cygnus Team
12 August, 2010

The term permaculture is a combination of the words permanent and agriculture, or permanent and culture. The difference between permaculture and normal agricultural methods is the diversity of organisms in the permaculture system.

Many plants and animals are incorporated in the design; each complementing others, and each having several functions to perform. For example, a pond can be used as an aquaculture centre, a source of water for human consumption or gardens, emergency water for fire control, and for cooling hot winds as part of a climate control method.

Similarly, chickens in a permaculture design might be used for control of pests in the vegetable patch, fruit fly control in an orchard, a source of manure for the garden or methane generator, and for meat and eggs.

Permaculture is an integrated design process where structures, plants and animals are placed in specific areas. It can be applied to both urban and rural properties, from inner city flats to broad acres. Most urban backyards are small and the main activity would be to grow a range of quality, healthy food.

Designs for rural properties are different. Larger-scale permaculture development would include the use of fodder trees for stock, water harvesting methods and water storage, windbreak and shelter areas for animals, agroforestry and alley cropping techniques, land car planting, and commercial food production, such as organic vegetables, nut and fruit trees.

For many people, permaculture is a philosophy and a way of life. It is about taking responsibility for your own life and doing the things you feel are important for your own well being, for the wel being of others and the well being of our planet.

There are three main ethics which are universally accepted by permaculture practitioners.

Earth Care. This involves taking action to maintain biodiversity, restore damaged and degraded land, conserve natural environments and use resources ethically.

People Care. People’s basic needs have to be met in the system. People have to be considered and consulted whenever permaculture systems are designed.

Surplus Share. This involves the contribution of surplus time, money and energy to achieve the above two aims of earth and people care. Here, after we have set up our own system and met our own needs and the needs of our family, we can start to help others to achieve their goals.

One of the principles of permaculture is to use the least possible space to produce the greatest amount of food. Food can be grown in and around homes, street verges, parks, schools and vacant land.

Good food leads to good health. Everyone has the ability to produce quality food, in abundance, even in small areas. All you need are the right materials and the right knowledge.

The condition of the soil is crucial to growing good food and everyone knows that working with the soil is good therapy. Compost and earthworms are two ways in which the soil is conditioned to maximise productivity. Earthworms are natures own ploughs.

Permaculturists usually build no-dig gardens, which means that the ground is not turned over or tilled. Instead, composted materials are placed on the ground and shrubs are planted in this mulch. Earthworms are introduced to aerate the soil, break down the mulch, improve the soil’s fertility and enhance micro-organism activity.

Permaculture advocates the use of organic gardening methods; artificial chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides are not recommended. Pest control is achieved by companion planting, organic repellents and other strategies.

Permaculture-designed gardens are based on the natural ecosystems found around the world. We observe the interaction between plants and animals, and of these organisms with their environment, and we strive to design sustainable agricultural systems which are productive, but still in harmony with nature and the land. The design of the system is such that the maximum use of space is made with a complex planting of trees, understorey, shrubs, herbs, underground tuber and root plants and climbers. Plantings that are arranged to use every microclimate availabla, such as the heat that radiates off walls or the humidity and temperature changes near pond edges and hill slopes. You can create your own microclimates for even greater diversity.

External factors such as wind, fire, temperature extremes and light are regulated or utilised by the careful placement of roads, dams, buildings, fences and plants. For example, plants may be used to deflect cold winder winds or hot summer breezes, or to reflect sunlight onto buildings to warm them.

Low maintenance of the system is essential. The amount of human effort and energy expenditure is kept to a minimum. A permaculture design incorporates energy-efficient systems. Energy is stored in matter recycles on site and less external energy is needed and consumed by the system.

A permaculture system might use a variety of fruit and nut trees which produce year after year, a variety of animals to restore and nurture the land, and a variety of plants which are self-seeding and which can be used as a source of green manure, shade, or to filter and clean water.

What should be stressed is that each permaculture design is unique: there is no one design for all people, properties, soil and land types, or climate. What works in some designs may be inappropriate for others. Plant and animal species are chosen to suit the local conditions as much as possible.

Permaculture designs do take time to establish, but once they are implemented they

become more and more productive. As a larger range of useful products becomes available, the level of maintenance decreases and the system becomes more complex.

Permaculture uses practical techniques to allow you to grow enough food for yourselfand family, and even possibly to give away to neighbours. Permaculture employs methods which will help you toward self-sufficiency. However, it does take time. Be patient, and if you need help, you only have to look at Permaculture Magazine or contact a Permaculture Association or organisation in our country for details on what courses are available.

We know you are keen to get started, so good luck and remember to have lots of fun.

Extracted from Getting Started in Permaculture, available from Cygnus Books

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