- Rainwater harvesting and distribution
- Lasagna mulching
- Rotational grazing
- Building with natural materials.
Applying ecological principlesHealthy forest ecosystems have layers of plant life. The canopy consists of tall trees that provide shade. Below that is the under story—trees that do well in light shade. The shrub layer is made up of woody perennials. The lowest layers are herbaceous, and die back every winter. Then it's the soil and its ground covers, and finally the rhizosphere, or root layer. There is also a vertical layer of vines and climbing plants. You can easily incorporate layers into your landscape. Canopy trees provide building materials and firewood. The under story and shrub layer are good places for fruit trees and berries. Perennial crops and culinary and medicinal herbs could comprise the herbaceous layer. Annual and perennial cover crops could be used as the soil layer. Foods like beets, turnips, and carrots could comprise the root layer. While poles beans could be your vertical layer. Water distribution determines where growing areas are placed. Harvested rainwater is gravity fed into built swales and ditches that follow the contours of the land. Irrigation water naturally flows to crops and livestock, and storm water and snow melt follow this route. Collected rainwater is used in the house for cooking and cleaning, too. Permaculture zones are determined from its proximity to the house. This is based on how often they are worked. Vegetable and herb gardens are closest to the house, because they are tended daily. While the farthest zone is wild and untouched. In between are areas for an orchard and a greenhouse, fields for livestock, and a woodlot. Each zone has a purpose for supporting the entire landscape. There are food and shelter for people, animals, and wildlife. Two contrasting environments coming together is called a transition area. Think of a pasture that is adjacent to a forest, or an ocean that laps against a cliff. Biodiversity is rich at the edge, which you can recreate in your garden. You can create that edge effect by putting a border around a raised bed or building a water feature. Guilds are mutually beneficial organisms that work together to support each other. This is a natural occurrence in a wild ecosystem. In the home garden, this is akin to companion planting, grouping plants that support other plants, the soil, and wildlife. A Three Sisters planting of beans, corn, and squash is a good example of a guild.
ResourcesPermaculture is a vast topic with many facets, but you don’t have to apply it in its entirety. Create a complete plan for a homestead and build it a little at a time. Or choose one or two aspects aimed at self-sufficiency and a smaller carbon footprint. There is no one way to practice permaculture, but your goal should be to build a sustainable environment that fulfills your personal needs. Simplicity and low-impact are at the core of a permaculture lifestyle. Some resources include:
- Permaculture Research Institute is a wealth of information. They offer classes, articles, and books, and host online forums for support.
- Introduction to Permaculture and Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison.
- Geoff Lawton is a permaculture farmer with an educational Facebook page that is full of videos, photos, and clear explanations.
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