To put it simply, Perma-culture is living and gardening in harmony with nature.
Permaculture is a practical set of ecological design principles and methods for human settlement. A term coined in the 1970s by Australian Bill Mollison, it has evolved over time to refer to the harmonious integration of landscape, people and appropriate technologies, providing shelter, energy and other needs in a sustainable way. Permaculture integrates biology, ecology, geography, agriculture, architecture, technology, gardening and community building.
There are three guiding principles for permaculture design:
Each element of the system performs multiple functionsEach desired function is supported by multiple elementsEverything in the system is interconnected to everything else
Applying Permaculture Design to Your Garden
Elements of permaculture that can be applied in a backyard garden include such things as water catchment, sheet mulching, companion planting and chicken tractors:
Water catchment – The average roof receives over 22,000 gallons of rainwater. From rain barrels to a complex system of large water storage containers, a garden can be irrigated entirely, or in part, with rainwater. An aqueduct system can transport water from a cistern down to specific areas, such as a vegetable garden, that would benefit from a natural irrigation system.
Working with the existing topography - The permaculture approach uses the existing topography, its naturally established drainage patterns, existing slopes, etc. and employs such things as swales and terraces to maximize the land’s usefulness.
Sheet mulching - This involves laying on newspapers, cardboard and straw, watering thoroughly and then making planting holes in the mulch, inserting soil and seedlings and letting the worms, bugs, fungus, micro-organisms and roots do the rest.
Companion planting - Planting two or more species of certain plants near one another can result in such benefits as attracting beneficial insects, repelling harmful nematodes (roundworms) or increasing yield or taste of edibles. Examples include planting tomatoes (shallow-rooted) next to carrots (deep-rooted), so they are not competing for nutrients from the same soil level. Planting Monarda near tomatoes helps improve the taste, attracts beneficial insects and bees, as well as butterflies. Planting petunias repels leaf hoppers, certain types of aphids and tomato worms.
Chicken tractors - Chickens are a perfect example of multiple functionality. A chicken eats insect pests and weeds, provides food, tills the soil with its scratching, and provides fertilizer. A chicken tractor is a small, portable enclosure that the chicken lives in that is placed over an area to be readied for planting. The chicken prepares the soil and eliminates pests from the area covered by the “tractor,” which is then moved from spot to spot until an entire plot is ready for planting. Permaculture is an environmentally responsible approach to sustainable living in an age of ecological crisis. It is a vision of cooperation and interconnectedness that can be applied to our own back yards as well as to the larger community. Local permaculture gardens worth visiting include the Bullock Permaculture Homestead on Orcas Island and Wild Thyme Farm near Olympia.
For more information about permaculture, visit the following websites: