About 4 years ago Danielle and I stumbled upon the word permaculture among a seemingly never ending search stream in Google. Honestly I don’t even remember how exactly we came across it, or what exactly we were searching for. But upon closer examination, this term, or concept rather, seemed to bring many of our interests together.
You see, as our home garden expanded from a container garden on our patio, to a couple raised garden beds, we seemed to collect many other ideas we thought we needed to do. Perhaps this was a result of a new subscription to Mother Earth News Magazine or maybe it was a result of our first attendance at the Mother Earth News Fair.
Regardless, we had ideas for rain barrels, mushroom cultivation, medicinal herb gardens, hydroponics, aquaponics, chickens, honeybees, starting our own business, removing our lawn, companion gardening, solar panels, solar hot water, worm composting, bokashi composting, kombucha, and more. You name it. If it was gardening related or eco-related we thought we needed to do it. All of it. Immediately.
We did experiment with many of these, and some are still on the radar. Thankfully we came across the concept of permaculture soon after these ideas amassed. While this initially introduced even more ideas that peaked our interest, it also provided principles and strategies we could use to determine which ideas were worth exploring.
So, like many other things Danielle and I both become obsessively interested in (like yoga, herbalism, and aromatherapy to name a few), we each pursued a Permaculture Design Certification. This was probably the best investment in my education I have ever made (yes, actually better than my bachelor’s degree in chemistry). Danielle would opt for her mindfulness education.
What is permaculture?
Permaculture is a concept that was developed in the late 1970’s by a couple Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. The concept is that by observing and mimicking the patterns of productive natural ecological systems, we can design agricultural systems and human environments that go far beyond sustainable. They went on to develop several principles and strategies that form the basis for this design process.
Of course this is an oversimplification. Suffice it to say, permaculture helps me determine, among the many tools, ideas, and technologies out there, which ones are worth implementing to fulfill my specific lifestyle needs.
One principle of permaculture is the idea of designing and perfecting intensive systems before scaling up. Take time to develop a method of growing vegetables in a way that considers all of the needs and potential problems that may arise. Think about the soil and the fertility, the water requirements, the weeds, the pests and disease potential, and the harvest. And the idea is to perfect and maximize this method in a small space before increasing the size.
Permaculture has helped me pare down my vegetable garden this year as I take a step back from constantly trying to do more. I missed a key idea the first time around and misinterpreted the true meaning of scale. I thought if I wanted to harvest more veggies from my garden, I needed to plant more, grow more, have more space, and that ultimately I needed to do more.
But, really what I want is to increase my yield, without actually doing any more work. This means I need to take the time to understand the soil biology, fertility, water, pest and weeds. And it is easier to do this in five raised beds than it is to do in 14.
Don’t get me wrong. I love working the garden. But I definitely do not look forward to weeding the garden in the middle of July. And it seems silly that every year I need to apply multiple yards of mulch.
This means I need to think about the design and the plan for what I am doing. I have to think about the responsibilities I have and the energy I physically need to put into the system. I need to evaluate appropriate tools and technology that might make this significantly easier for me or save me significant time.
Permaculture exists outside of the garden.
Another principle is that a function in a system is served in several ways. Let’s step out of the garden and think about our life as the system we are designing. And a function of this system might be be investing. And perhaps we are investing to increase, or to have, security. Maybe saving money towards retirement is the first thing that comes to mind. But, investing in our health via exercise, diet and food choices, and investing in our education are just as important. And maybe this seems obvious, but are you actively investing in these parts of your lifestyle right now?
A key purpose of permaculture is designing for resilience. If we only focus on investing in the stock market for a financial return, we may be disappointed in the future. But, if we invest in stocks, in fruit and nut trees for our yards, and perhaps in the education to grow our own vegetables and medicine, now we have hedged our bets. If we invest in our health by exercising, and eating high quality whole foods, and if we invest in our education and knowledge (which can never be taken away), our lives become more resilient in economic downturns and life changes. We build more flexibility into our lives because we are healthy, and have valuable skills. We have security because there is food right in our backyard.
My initial reaction to permaculture was that I needed to buy more land, start a farm, or an orchard, a food forest, raise animals, live off the grid, and be self sufficient. Thankfully I realized that was exactly not what I needed to do. What I actually needed to do was to strip my life down the essence of what I want and design my life in a way that achieves those goals.
As Danielle and I continue to simplify our lifestyle, our finances, our home, our work, and our health, permaculture proves to be valuable in countless ways.
Interested in learning more about permaculture?
If this concept of permaculture is new to you and sounds interesting, I am offering an Introduction to Permaculture 10 Week Course that starts March 19th, 2017. This email based course will introduce you to the 10 (or so, probably more) permaculture principles that I have truly connected with and will provide you with ideas and strategies to implement these principles in your life and in your garden. Learn more about the course here.