In planning my yard, I’m using permaculture principles. People are often familiar with the term “permaculture” but don’t understand what it means. Here is my explanation.
Imagine an acre of corn. What do you get from it?
Who does it feed?
Humans, who only want to eat corn.
Now imagine that acre planted with fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, and perennial vegetables, like asparagus or perennial leafy greens. Throw in some flowers to attract bees and some chickens to forage dropped fruit. What do you get from it?
A varied and healthy diet.
Who does it feed?
Humans, insects, spiders, birds, rabbits, mice, foxes—basically anything that lives in the ecosystem.
This is the idea behind food forests, a basic principle of permaculture. You get maximum food output from crops that come back every year, without the intense work and fertility that must go into an annual vegetable garden. I think it is a viable solution for many of our environmental problems. Bill Mollison, the founder of permaculture, says that humans must return all land not necessary to food production to wildlife. With intense cropping like this, we could let a lot of land grow wild.
The other major part of permaculture is designing buildings to be efficient and work with natural forces. A few examples: siting buildings properly according to climate, harvesting rainwater, and placing gardens near the home so that maintaining them is easier. As far as the buildings go, we would have to retrofit our house, and we are thinking about doing that for rainwater harvesting. Big project. It is on the back burner.
Good design makes life easy and uses minimal energy. Buildings should be constructed to use energy efficiently, and your yard should be laid out to use your energy efficiently.
For example—a vegetable garden is a high maintenance operation, so don’t put it, say, in the town you used to live in. You won’t take good care of it. (But you planted flowers, which fools everyone into thinking it looks great). Put a vegetable garden right outside your front door, where you can tend it briefly as you go in and out. I always think about the proverb that I saw somewhere: “The best fertilizer is the gardener’s footsteps”.
Those are the basics. If you want to get more in depth, here are some recommendations:
A Designer’s Manual, Bill Mollison—I ordered it on inter library loan, and I’m pretty sure the librarian watched my face fall as he handed me what looked exactly like a high school science textbook. Probably 40% of this book went over my head, but the rest made me write “woooaahhh” in the margins in pencil. I was late returning it because I had to erase them all. He shares ideas on how our lives on this planet should look, and gives us some guidance on how to get there.
Practical Permaculture, Jessi Bloom—This is the book that I read years ago when I decided to find an answer for the question “what is permaculture?” Does a pretty good job answering it, and is easier to read and implement than Bill Mollison’s book.
Youtube tours of food forests—I like Rob Avis’s videos. There’s also one called something like “Tour of a Temperate Climate Food Forest” with a lady who does a good job explaining her plants. Lots of videos are stupid. Like, 9 in 10 are stupid. So be careful.
And the book I’m reading now is called Creating a Forest Garden by Martin Crawford. It tells you exactly how to do everything, and I’m loving it. A great practical guide to help you avoid mistakes and to steer you towards success.