Today, I want to try giving a thousand foot overview/introduction to what exactly it is and how you can implement simple permaculture design into your homestead garden!
I feel like permaculture has been the new, big thing among homesteading and gardening circles alike in recent years. From permaculture design, to permaculture layout and food forest gardening, it just seems to have weaseled its way into every aspect of gardening/landscaping there is!
What is Permaculture?
To start, what even is permaculture anyway?
PermacultureThe development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.
There are two things in this definition that stand out and are the reason permaculture design has become so prevalent within homesteading circles specifically: sustainable and self-sufficient.
Aren’t those two of the goals of homesteading as well? As homesteaders we are constantly working towards increased self-sufficiency, but always keeping at the forefront of our minds doing it in a sustainable manner.
We are all painfully aware of the toll modern consumerism and industriliazation has taken on our society and our world. Which, for some of us, is one of the reasons we are trying to take a step back from it all and return to a more responsible stewardship of the land God entrusted to us.
Not only that, but by utilizing permaculture and creating natural ecosystems within your homestead, you will substantially cut down on the ‘busy work’ that comes with a conventional gardening system. Essentially, with permaculture, you are encouraging your garden to take care of itself.
Now you might be thinking that this is all well and good, but how exactly does permaculture work? What are practical steps you can take to implement permaculture design into your homestead?
Permaculture Design Principles:
Implementing permaculture design on your homestead requires first understanding the overarching principles behind permaculture itself. What are they?
- Observe and interact
- Catch and store energy
- Obtain a yield
- Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
- Use and value renewable resources and services
- Produce no waste
- Design from patterns to details
- Integrate rather than segregate
- Use small, slow solutions
- Utilize diversity
- Utilize marginal spaces and edges
- Use change to your advantage
I know, it’s a lot! But really, it can all be boiled down into a couple simple steps:
- Observe the environment around you and use the patterns and edges you observe to help build your permaculture garden.
- Utilize energy and resources from the natural world while recycling as much as you can back into the permaculture garden.
- Work slowly and diversely, always having your plans be malleable to change when it inevitably comes.
Breaking your permaculture design into zones:
Once you understand the principles behind permaculture, it helps to have an idea of where and how to use them. And thus, we have permaculture zones!
Zone 1 – This zone consists of the most frequently visited/used spaces of your property (generally the places closest to the house).
Zone 2 – While still frequented multiple (usually 2-3) times a day, it isn’t going to get as much traffic as zone 1.
Zone 3 – This zone is one that, while not necessarily checked on everyday, is still close enough to the house that it is usually visited several times a week. Generally close pastures and orchards fall into this zone.
Zone 4 – This zone is where we start to see less frequent visits, and more natural reclamation so to speak. While still managed occasionally, this land is not worked very often.
Zone 5 – This zone is going to be your wild or naturalized zone. It is not worked at all, and is left for wildlife to inhabit and wild plants to grow as they please.
So what does all of this look like practically speaking?
To begin, it looks like a lot of observation in the initial stages. If you don’t take the time to really observe and take notes on what is happening throughout each season on your property, you are going to have a hard time making permaculture work for you.
It truly does hinge on making accurate and thorough observations before ever starting work on design and implementation.
That said, once you have spent adequate time observing your property throughout each season, it is time to start planning!
As mentioned previously, the idea is to start small and keep things manageable for you, whatever your situation might be. This will look different for everyone. Don’t feel bad if you see someone else starting with more than you!
In the end it’s all about doing what’s best for our own situation! In most cases, starting with your zone 1 areas is advisable. Not only are you visiting this zone frequently throughout the day, but due to it’s close proximity to your house, it makes it easier to stay motivated on upkeep!
So what would one put in zone 1?
Some things that can commonly be found in zone 1 are:
- Kitchen gardens
- Potted plants
- Flower beds (medicinal and cut)
- Small animals (chickens, rabbits, etc.)
- Bushes and shrubs
While these are just a few ideas, the possibilities are as endless as your imagination! What I find myself using everyday you might only want to utilize once or twice a week, and vice versa.
For me personally, zone 1 consists of a patio, some potted herbs and flowers, as well as a small cottage garden.
And zone 2 is where I keep my chickens and main vegetable garden as well as my berry bushes and a few other herbs and plants.
Permaculture design in a food forest:
To me, food forests are the ultimate goal of setting up a permaculture design on my homestead, specifically in my garden. I love the wild, untamed feel and the lavish abundance is provides.
That said, it is definitely not the end all be all of a permaculture garden. The concept of a food forest maintains that you work in layers.
What do these layers look like?
The first two layers are going to consist of trees. A mixture of tall, “overstory” trees and the slightly shorter “understory” trees. For example, a pecan tree (first layer) and an apple or other fruit tree (second layer).
Layer three consists of your shrubby, woody plants like berry bushes.
The fourth layer will consist of more herbaceous plants like herbs, flowers, and some vegetables (especially brassicas).
Layer five will be the root layer. As the name implies, this is where your root vegetables and plants will go. Think carrots, fennel, potatoes, etc.
The sixth and seventh layers can sometimes overlap, with the sixth being ground cover and the seventh vines.
While the idea of the seventh layer is to have plants climb the trunks of the trees, sometimes you will find that a plant can act as a vertical layer as well as the ground cover layer. But for the sake of distinction, they are, in fact, two separate layers.
As you spend more time working with your land and environment, it becomes easier to play with and tweak different parts of your permaculture design.
One of my favorite intro books to home-scale permaculture is Gaia’s Garden, if you want to dig deeper into methodology and practical application.
We’d love to hear what you are doing in your homestead garden with permaculture!
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