12 permaculture principles for your garden

The folks over at Greenpop asked Matthew to write up an article for their blog on how we can easily use permaculture principles at home. Read on for 12 easy principles for the home gardener.

Permaculture is a design process and international movement that aims to achieve harmony between human and natural systems. The concept has been around since the 1960s and was originated by two Australians – Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Permaculture is most commonly used as a design philosophy which accommodates a wide range of disciplines and practices to generate systems that are beneficial to human kind while also having benefit to natural systems.

It has been used as a framework for designing or developing human habitation, agriculture, ecological building, education and even economics. Permaculture can also be considered as a movement – permaculture principles and ethics connect a wide range of communities around the world who share a common value system and vision for a world where humans exist in collaboration, not competition, with nature.

12 Permaculture Design Principles for Your Garden

At the core of Permaculture are the permaculture ethics – Care for the earth, Care for People, and return the surplus to the earth. These ethics then determine 12 key permaculture design principles. Below are some brief ideas based on the 12 permaculture principles for how you can incorporate permaculture into your own garden (or life!)

1. Observe and interact

A gardener’s most useful tools is his eyes, ears and nose. By being observant, and trying things (interacting) we can learn more about how our garden system functions, this is vital to noticing dis-ease in your plants and animals and reacting in time.

2. Catch and store energy

Develop systems that collect resources while they’re plentiful, for times of scarcity. Think rainwater catchment, solar drying of excess produce, composting and solar powered water pumps

3. Obtain a yield

Make sure that you’re getting something out of your efforts – aim to obtain short, medium and long term yields in your garden system.

4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback

This is a nice bit of theory borrowed from systems-thinking. Natural systems consist of positive (reinforcement) and negative (balancing) forces which keep things in check and ‘regulate’ systems. In your garden, be aware that increasing one thing (eg. fertiliser) may lead to a decrease in another (long term soil fertility) which may require increasing the first thing even more (more fertiliser!). Try and install checks and balances to keep the natural system in order – think habitat for beneficial predators; choosing tough, local varieties of plants; self-watering containers etc. For more on self-regulating systems – check this.

5. Use and value renewable resources and services

Put your attention into using things that grow and last for a long time over things that are synthesised and break quickly

6. Produce no waste

Nature doesn’t have waste, it’s a human created term for things we aren’t certain how to deal with. Install grey water systems, create compost, make a composting toilet, scavenge resource from your local dump!

7. Design from patterns to details

Step back and view the patterns of nature/your garden/your life before going into detail. Patterns determine function and the social and physical patterns around you will influence your garden hugely.

8. Integrate rather than segregate

In life we often tend to split things apart, to keep things separated and to view things individualistically. By combining elements within a whole system we often open up opportunities for new relationships and resilience. Think companion planting, multi-functional ponds, diverse crop rotations and so on.

9. Use small and slow solutions

Don’t rip out your entire lawn in one go and plant a massive, uncontrollable vegetable patch in it’s place, take your time and allow things to grow at their own pace. Biting off more than you can chew can often cause more harm than good…

10. Use and value diversity

Diversity reduces vulnerability and increases resilience. Having more than one crop growing means you will not starve if one crop fails. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Also, certain things will thrive in certain contexts, so planning to incorporate diversity means you can make sure the right element is in the right place. This principle ties in closely with principle 1 – observation is key to identifying valuable opportunities.

11. Use edges and value the marginal

The space between things is often that which is the most diverse, productive or resilient. Make use of the edges of your garden- the sides of your beds, the bank of a pond, the shade of a tree to increase diversity and maximise resilience.

12. Creatively use and respond to change

Change is inevitable- by being observant and getting our timing right, we can respond to change in ways that lead us towards our goals. Be observant of passing seasons, weather patterns and change in your garden- don’t resist change, flow with it.


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