Oso and I were introduced to permaculture last year. At first I dismissed it because of its silly name, given by some of its earlier advocates who merged the words permanent and agriculture. But it kept coming up and finally we looked into it. Permaculture relies heavily on perennial plants. It entails becoming more self sufficient and using natural systems to do so. A lot of its ideas, like thriftiness, have simply been forgotten by our society but some of its wisdom comes to us from other cultures or from observation of the natural world.
Many permaculturists are urban gardeners because the philosophy encourages intensive use of space. It’s trendy now for city dwellers to have raised beds and chickens and this movement is a part of that. But if you have several acres you could have orchards and aquaculture and larger livestock. The study of permaculture has something to offer almost everyone.*
For my family, we are fascinated by the way the natural world works and intrigued with the idea of self sufficiency. The biggest driving factor may be the price of groceries.** We see raspberries, blueberries, kiwis, and other tasty edibles for sale, and we want them. We want the antioxidants and we want to eat organic. We also notice the prices, and we see that we could have some of these foods cheaper, fresher, and healthier if we planted them in our own yard.
The basic premise of permaculture seems to be that if you have room for a privet bush in your yard you ought to have a blueberry bush instead; grow something that is going to feed you in return for your care. Hardcore permaculturists believe that municipalities should use fruit trees in their landscaping endeavors. I like this idea and I feel a certain sympathy toward the legendary permaculture vandal who grafts real fruiting pear branches onto the Bradford pears along the streets of his city.***
Permaculture advocates the use of natural systems to deal with pests. I prefer this approach over the use of chemicals but I didn’t have the strength to wait for the natural predators to appear when May beetles were feasting on my baby persimmon.**** I may get a cat to deal with the voles that are attacking my sweet potato plants. I think a real permaculturist would wait for a predator to appear from the natural world, rather than introducing one, but I don’t like seeing my sweet potatoes devoured from below while I wait.
Permaculture promotes seeing adversity in your landscape as opportunity. Using prevailing winds. Using the sun’s rays. Making use of the slope of the land. Building a rain catchment system to take advantage of the rains. Turning your household food scraps into valuable compost that will feed your plants. (Oso practices vermiculture and turns our veggie scraps into worm castings.)
Permaculture involves thinking through problems as thoroughly as possible before attacking them. Placing the elements of your garden so that they may be most easily tended and, as much as possible, may take care of themselves. Maybe one of your systems can help you with another. I’ve read that chickens enjoy being stationed under a peach tree if someone goes out and shakes the japanese beetles off into their waiting beaks. Chickens happy? yes. Tree happy? yes. Beetle happy? well, no, but it got what it deserved. Agrichemical manufacuter happily inserting itself into your budget, diet, and ecosystem? !NO!
I’m sure I won’t use permaculture solutions for all of my gardening/landscaping problems. Maybe I will use an herbicide on my poison ivy patch because I have not had success with the “natural” solutions. But I hope to be able to write a few blog articles in the future about how good our strawberries are and how many pounds of fruit we are getting from our blueberry bush.
Here’s my disclaimer: There are radical and consdescending environmentalists. But there are also smart and innovative people who have authored some good books. Read up on it. I bet you will quickly see a problem in your landscape turn into an opportunity to be more self sufficient.
*People are starting to really recognize that food affects their health. Government agencies who regulate such things are allowing more chemicals and higher levels of chemicals to be used on food and it makes some of us nervous. People are becoming more aware of the inhumane treatment of animals in our food chain and don’t want to be a part of that. Many people are skeptical of the substantial equivalence of GMO foods. Some people want to be more self sufficient in case inflation causes future grid collapse. Some people want to have access to things they like at the end of peak oil.
**From 2006 through 2009 I did all the shopping for the groceries I consumed. I have now given that task to my husband and have been absent from the grocery store for several years. Now when I occasionally enter a grocery store I am appalled to see that many things cost almost double what they did back when I did the shopping. I feel the big drivers are the price of gas and the effect of inflation and I feel that these costs are going to continue to worsen. It makes me uncomfortable as a participant in the food chain and the overall American economy.
***Those annoying pollen factories with which city planners torment their allergenic constituents. The trees make bushels of blossoms but nothing edible ever results.
****Instead I went out after they emerged at dark and picked them off myself. Yes, I saw that there was a toad at the base of the tree waiting to devour the stragglers but I just couldn’t wait for him to do the deed.