Permaculture & Sustainable Horticulture
Permaculture is a ‘coined’ word – it comes from both permanent agriculture and permanent culture. It combines a set of ethics with a set of design principles which, together, can help us design and create our own sustainable environments. Permaculture can be applied in your own backyard, your balcony, your farm or anywhere you live or work.
Permaculture was developed in the 1970s by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holgren. It is one specific approach to the more general issue of sustainable design. Sustainability is the goal, and permaculture is one of the many ways in which we can achieve that goal.
The central message of permaculture is that the most sustainable artificial systems are those that successfully mimic the patterns found in natural ecosystems. Since natural ecosystems tend to be made up of varied and interdependent parts, it follows that the most sustainable artificial systems are also made of varied and interdependent parts. Sustainable gardens therefore feature many different types of plants and animals performing many important functions. This approach to design is quite different to modern agriculture, where large areas of a single crop are grown and all the important functions are performed by humans.
Principles of Permaculture
Studying natural ecosystems such as ancient forests, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren identified a number of principles that worked together to create stable, self-sustaining systems. They developed a system of design which uses these principles to create sustainable environments:
– Small-scale intensive systems: Careful planning and intensive design can significantly increase the efficiency of a garden system, which means that more productivity can be had from a smaller garden.
– Putting things in the right place: Permaculture design is about making connections between things. It puts plants and animals in the right places so that the work they each do provides for the needs of another. For example, chickens can be placed on a garden bed after it has been harvested. The chickens are fed and the garden bed is tilled.
– Diversity: Forest ecosystems are made up of millions of interlocking ‘elements’ (plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and non-living materials) and this diversity is essential for the survival of the entire ecosystem.
– Using plants and animals to do work: Plants and animals (such as chickens, bees and other insects) provide fertiliser, weed control, the recycling of nutrients, insect control and pollination. By using these ‘biological’ resources we are reducing the need to used manufactured, imported or transported materials.
– Everything serves more than one purpose: every plant, animal, and insect does more than one job in the garden. Plants are not just chosen for food production but also for their role in the whole system For example, large trees provide shelter, leaves for compost, and nesting places for birds, which themselves provide fertilizer, insect control and seed dispersal.
– Zero waste: Pollution is simply ‘waste’ that we haven’t been able to use for something else. In natural ecosystems, there is no such thing as ‘waste’ Rather, there is a continual cycling of matter. Permaculturists copy this through mulching, composting, and making their own liquid manure.
– Succession: laying the groundwork for the next phase. A sustainable garden is designed for the long term. For example, planting green manure such as lupins prepares the soil for future crops.