What is permaculture, and why is it the new buzzword when we think of sustainability? Permaculture means ‘permanent agiculture’ or ‘permanent culture’. Permaculture is a way of designing your environment for sustainability. This may mean growing your own food, mulching and composting, using alternative energy sources and natural building materials.
There are three ethics of permaculture: Earthcare, People Care, and Fair Share. Care for the earth, care for and feed the people, and practice an equitable share of resources. Create abundance and share it. Avoid poisonous substances and relationships. Regenerate the soil. Reduce, reuse and recycle everything. Create no waste. Be aware of the wealth of resources around us. Have gratitude.
Permaculture is how our ancestors lived for centuries in their farms and villages, crafted their own tools, and grew their own food. It is working with nature to cultivate plants, animals and people on the land and to create beneficial relationships among them.
The word permaculture was coined by Australian Bill Mollison in the 1970’s after he had worked with the ideas for a few years. In 1959, Bill Mollison was observing marsupials in the Tasmanian rainforests. He observed such richness in life-sustaining plants, animals and ecosystems, that he was inspired to write in his journal,’ I believe we could build systems that would function as well as this one does.’ He had observed systems that were totally self sustaining, with no outside inputs, much as we see in any natural forest anywhere. No one brings water, seeds, soil or fertilizer. This happens in the oceans too, and has developed over the millennia to be self-supporting and incredibly diverse.
Bill Mollison teamed up with David Holmgren and they began designing environments to be ecologically sound, productive of food, and sustainable in water and nutrients, without adding fossil fuels. This was the beginning of permacultural design, which thoughtfully observes and plans for diversity and productivity over the long term.
Mollison and Holmgren began articulating the principles that would enable the creation of farms and gardens that could imitate nature and be as self-sufficient as any rainforest that has stood for millennia, providing for all its plant and animal inhabitants without outside input. This is no mean task, and we will be hard pressed to be totally successful. But we can make many changes small and large to go in that direction. Some of the principles are:
Observe - Look at the garden in all seasons, and make long and thoughtful observations, rather than hurried and thoughtless actions.
Connect- Make connections between many elements of your design.
Catch and Store Energy
Multiple Functions – have many functions for each element in the garden
Start small, start somewhere -start at your back door and move outward
Turn problems into solutions
Learn from your mistakes. In this climate, after the hard winter frosts and heavy snow, we get to start again each spring!