NB Naturalist Feature: Permaculture Gardening: A Checklist Toward Success
By: Irene Doucet
Are you tired of tilling, of crop rotation, and using commercial fertilizer to build healthy soil in order to get better produce yields? Is your heart set on being more self-reliant by growing your own food? Do you dream of a space that will require less work and energy to maintain over time? Does helping to reverse climate change, helping pollinators, or restoring parts of your natural areas that have been in need of land healing appeal to you? Adapting permaculture gardening principles is one method to solving all these needs and more. (Refer to Annex for a checklist on how to get started.)
Permaculture design in gardening is based on principles found in nature. Its purpose is to create living environments that are harmonious, productive, and sustainable while greatly reducing the work and energy required in maintaining them over time.
According to Earthways Reconnecting People, Land and Nature (i) this means that how you design your garden will depend on what makes the most sense for your particular piece of land while considering the climate and ecosystems found there along with your needs.
By working with the natural ecosystems, plants and wildlife in our yards, we eliminate constant battles with nature. This means that the problem areas become the solutions by growing things that thrive in the conditions we are met with and by using natural resources to heal and amend the soil in order to match our desired outcomes then gradually expanding from there.
| Photo: Garden design with stones and new plantings
Additional benefits of introducing permaculture to our gardens include:
- Improved biodiversity with plant companions, plant protectors, food forests, and guilds
- Less pests due to polyculture and plant protectors
- Weed suppression with the help of a variety of mulches
- Protection of natural habitats and endangered species
- Working with available resources
- Increasing sustainability
- Less pollution given the elimination of chemicals
- Less structured design that looks more natural by planting on contour lines
- Ethical components: Taking care of the earth, caring for people, and taking our fair share (returning waste to nature and sharing our surplus with others)
- Using the 12 principles which form the foundation for the design developed by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison in the 1970s
There are a few potential difficulties to the implementation of a permaculture garden; however, with better understanding, it is possible to proceed with fewer difficulties and reap its benefits. One setback you may face is a shorter shelf life of the harvest. This can be expected without the use of commercial GMO seeds, insecticides and fertilizers. Some food storage methods to maintain freshness used in the past are making a comeback such as salting, fermentation, canning, and freezing produce.
| Photo: Dehydrated mint leaves
A major problem encountered by many is the time involved in establishing healthy soil using natural ways in order to prevent erosion, weeds, and compaction. It requires work, attention and dedication to build up soil and restore land. This is especially true during the initial phase of implementation of the design principles.
The four major challenges that we face when beginning a permaculture garden are time, time, time and time. Time for observation and goal planning. Time for learning about soil, companion planting, and guilds, etc. Time for implementation by readjusting to change and time to rethink how we garden to include wildlife and ecosystems. By taking small steps each season, it is possible to reach these goals. Based on efficient, sustainable, and ethical principles applied to people and the earth, permaculture provides for our needs while considering natural systems. It is not an overnight solution but each year will bring improvements and new design concepts to add such as water harvesting, berms, swales, chop and drop mulching, coppicing and pollarding, potential for perennial plants, weeds as food and more.
(i) What is Permaculture? Earthways Reconnecting People, Land & Nature (1) earth-ways.co.uk Rubba Phoil
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