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What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is at the heart and soul of a natural living lifestyle. It is defined as a branch of ecological and environmental design which develops sustainable architecture and self-maintained agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems. This involves both taking care of the earth and people but guards against over use and over consumption of our natural resources by mimicking nature and recycling resources.

The commercial agriculture methods we currently use are depleting both the soil and our natural resources. We need to adapt a healthier way to produce healthy food that is kinder to the earth and our own health.

Permaculture fits the bill nicely. What permaculture strives to do is to use natural and local materials to build necessary structures that are both beautiful and sustainable. It encourages the use of recycled materials reducing our waste. Through permaculture techniques waste is transformed from pollution to a resource; wastewater is collected and returned to the earth for future use. Using the sun to heat and a pond to reflect light indoors, using vegetation as shade and breezes to cool reduces the need for energy consumption. Nature gives us all we need to survive quite well if we know how to use what is available to us. Permaculture is the answer to a sustainable future.

Permaculture design is extremely important for the ecosystem to operate at optimum levels. The plants are arranged in seven or eight layers. Each layer plays a vital role in the overall efficiency of the permaculture ecosystem, each component has an important role to play but is interrelated and would be ineffective without the other.

These layers are the tools that make this type of ecosystem sustainable, practical and extremely productive for the space it occupies. Traditional agriculture only utilizes one layer, the soil surface layer leaving the plants vulnerable to prey, the elements, insects and temperature fluctuations leading to crop failure or overuse of pesticides and herbicides.

Zones are created and used to place plants and animals into the design in a fashion that is most convenient to the person or community using it. What is used most often is placed closest to the home and this area is the one that requires the most attention. Each additional zone requires less and less attention. Once established the permaculture ecosystem becomes easier and easier to maintain. There is little or no weeding needed; mulching will become unnecessary over time because it will happen naturally and automatically.

The use of heirloom plants and perennial vegetables are preferred instead of relying on shallow rooted annual plants exclusively. Because of their long tap roots perennial plants are both richer in minerals and vitamins than annual plants. They grow back every year without replanting and can better handle the stresses of insects, disease and temperature variations without the aid of toxic chemicals that the weaker annual plants need to survive. Using heirloom plants ensures a sustainable garden because we can collect the seeds to reuse the following year eliminating the need to purchase more.

Water collection is always incorporated into a permaculture design to help retain the moisture of the soil and eliminate erosion especially in arid locations. Collecting rainwater into a pond can create a microclimate for tender plants or a habitat for fish, frogs and beneficial insects. Each component in the system serves multiple functions.

Permaculture also incorporates animals to help keep human labor to a minimum. They forage keeping weeds down, eat pests and cycle nutrients, without them the system loses some integrity. Allowing the animals to breed also eliminates the need to rely on outside suppliers making them a sustainable resource also.

Permaculture is a self-sustaining ecosystem that gives the most production from the smallest space than any other method of farming. I will continue to explore this topic in greater detail in future articles here at the Natural Living site.

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