Combining the best of natural landscaping and edible landscaping, Permaculture aims for a garden that sustains itself and the gardener.
What is Permaculture Gardening?
Don’t get stumped by the name ‘Permaculture’. It is a simple and vital tool for food growers and gardeners alike. In contrast to many modern agricultural methods, a Permaculture garden is one that is designed to mimic the natural growth and interaction between species so that minimum external human intervention is required.
Typically relying on native plants and designed in such a way as to exploit sunlight and water patterns, Permaculture gardens are often used to grow vegetables and herbs. They tend to be smaller than other gardens, with all fertilizing needs (usually compost) contained within its parameters. The Permaculture principle of not disturbing the ecosystem and of relying on nature’s course, often leads to extremely varied, healthy gardens that require minimal care.
Tips for designing a Permaculture Gardening:
Below is a trivial 10-step procedure to guide you in setting your own Permaculture garden:
- Familiarize yourself with the native plants, predators, and pests in your area.
- Observe how the sun strikes the site of your garden.
- Draw up a list of desired plants and group them according to sun and water needs and pest concerns.
- Create one or more beds for your smaller plants.
- Start with your biggest plants and place them so they provide shade for smaller, sun-sensitive plants.
- Place plants requiring the most care closest to your home.
- Place plants requiring similar amounts of sun and water in the same bed.
- Lay mulch down on your beds.
- Create a composting system.
- Implement a low-waste watering system such drip irrigation and rainwater-harvesting.
The design of a Permaculture garden will depend on the types of plants you wish to grow. In general, you should fit as many plants as possible into each bed and focus on plant diversity so that resources are conserved and plants can beneficially interact with one another.
One popular design is the keyhole or horseshoe, in which raised beds are arranged in a ring (called zones) around a central area in which the gardener works. This design maximizes the use of space and encourages interaction among the plants. Zones are numbered from 0 to 5.
House or Settlement
Here permaculture principles would be applied in terms of aiming to reduce energy and water needs, harnessing natural resources such as sunlight, and generally creating a harmonious, sustainable environment in which to live and work.
Frequently visited: kitchen garden, microclimate
The zone nearest to the house, the location for those elements in the system that require frequent attention, or that need to be visited often, such as salad crops, herbs, a soft fruit like strawberries or raspberries and propagation area like worm compost bin for kitchen waste etc. Raised beds are often used in zone 1 in urban areas.
Semi-intensely cultivated: Food production, market crops, Greenhouses
This area is used for perennial plants that require less frequent maintenance, such as orchards, pumpkins, sweet potato, etc. This would also be a good place for beehives and larger scale composting bins.
Occasionally visited: large fruit and nut trees, pasture, cash crops
This is the area where main-crops are grown, both for domestic use and for trade purposes. After establishment, care and maintenance required are fairly minimal.
Minimal care: Wild food gathering, pasture, wood cutting for fuel and timber
This is a semi-wild area. This zone is mainly used for forage and collecting wild food as well as production of timber for construction or firewood.
Unmanaged: Wilderness zone, foraging, meditation
Being a wilderness area, there is no human intervention in zone 5 apart from the observation of natural ecosystems and cycles. Through this zone we build up a natural reserve of birds, butterflies, bacteria, moulds and insects that can aid the zones above it.
Few additional tips:
Try introducing hanging plants into your garden. These methods help you take advantage of your space while providing shade to plants that need it and attracting certain bugs or pests away from the plants below.
Consider the growth cycle of plants when creating your garden. If you plant late-growing species next to plants that have already bloomed or are dying, you can take advantage of the nutrient-rich soil created by the previous plant. Don’t reserve beds or large areas of soil for a specific time of year; try to have all areas of your garden in use as much as possible.
Finally, break down the task of building your own Permaculture garden from scratch into small, manageable pieces, a garden bed at a time, with a complete overall design to guide your efforts. This will make it far less daunting than it initially appears. Once you have successfully completed building your own Permaculture garden, you will look back and be glad you made the effort. After all, we learn best by doing!