Friday, June 17, 2011

The Mystery of Permaculture, Part 1

What is this permaculture I keep hearing about?

Permaculture: the development of agriculture ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self sufficient.

To clear it up even more, I dove further.

The ecological processes of plants, animals, their nutrient cycles, waste, climatic factors and weather cycles are all an integrated part of permaculture.
The output of one element becomes the input of another. Chicken manure gets composted to put back onto the land and improve soil. Garden trimmings, vegetable peelings and coffee grounds are also used in the same way. Viewed this way, work is minimized, "waste" is now a resource, productivity and yields increase and our environment is restored.

The first step, say the experts is observation. Wherever you want to put your garden, whether in the ground raised beds or a garden of pots and planters, watch the space for a few months first. A year is recommended. Take note of how much sun that space gets. Six hours or two? Full sun or dappled by a nearby tree? Is it in a breezeway or does it get no air movement at all? All of thee elements and more come into play. Observation also tells us what kind of soil there is in a neglected patch. White clover tells us that the soil lacks nitrogen, while the presence of dandelion, mullein and/or wild strawberries point to an acidic soil. Mullein alone is a good indicator of poor soil fertility. On the other hand, and extremely fertile soil will sprout red clover, chickweed and lamb's quarters.

Diversity is also integral to the permaculture system. Companion planting is beginner friendly, forgiving and easy to learn about. There's a wealth of information on the internet, in library books and at nurseries and even more reputable hardware stores that sell plants.
While you're still in the planning stage, think about the areas you'll be visiting most often and what plants you'll need more frequently. Obviously a balcony or patio garden has a different usage pattern than a yard, but bear with me for a minute longer. Herbs will likely be kept closer to the door. The less you use a plant, or animal, or waterer or any other part of your yard, the further from the door. The yard is segregated into zones to save steps, labour and make maximum use of the space available.

Another element is the capture and storage of energy. This can be demonstrated by the collection of rainwater, re-use of grey water, and even preserving your bounty by canning, freezing, or dehydrating. Those that have root cellars store their fruits and veggies using the earth, although there are folks out there that have turned spare rooms into "root cellars". Now before you tell me that onions and tomatoes are not a form of energy, think about it. Food gives us energy, therefore it IS energy. Solar power, hydro power, wind power,; all of these can be harnessed and stored.

Yet another part of permaculture is the value and use of renewable resources and services. A renewable resource might be a compost bin/bucket/pile. Waste goes in, soil additive comes out. Chickens, goats and rabbits are all renewable services. They all eat trimmings, the chickens love to forage for pests and in return contribute back to the overall system. Before you know it, you have more contribution in the forms of eggs, milk and fiber. They are renewable too! Chicks, kids and kits will grow to be the next generation of yard helpers, or meat, depending on how you feel about that sort of thing.

I've learned a lot more than these few basic principles, but it's too much for one post. Come back tomorrow and we'll talk about waste, integration, design, change and positive impacts.

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