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What is Permaculture?

WHAT IS PERMACULTURE? AND HOW TO APPLY IT TO YOUR GARDEN

Posted under  by Nan Fischer on 

Permaculture is a philosophy for a sustainable, holistic lifestyle. Ecological researcher and writer, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren coined the term in 1978. They combined the words permanent and agriculture to create permaculture as a system of ecological farming. They later changed it to permanent and culture to include the social needs of people and their housing as well.

To put it simply, permaculture works with nature instead of against it. In the wild, ecosystems regenerate on their own and are self-maintaining. Permaculture practitioners observe these natural processes and recreate them on their farms or in their backyards.

Permaculture draws from concepts of agro-forestry, applied ecology, organic farming, and sustainable development. Ways to build regenerative systems with that knowledge include:

Ecological principles influence the design of sustainable and permanent growing areas. Once you establish the gardens, it needs little to no interference to be productive, which means you won’t have to work as hard.

Structures are sustainably designed and built of natural materials produced on the property. Forests provide trees, and dirt can be transformed into cob or adobe bricks, for example.

APPLYING ECOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES

Healthy 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.

Resources

Permaculture 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:

As always, start small. If you get overwhelmed, you’ll lose interest and abandon the project. Educate yourself and get support to stay excited about building a permaculture environment.


Nan Fischer

Nan FischerNan Fischer is the founder of the Taos NM Seed Exchange, a free community service for home gardeners to trade seed. She has been working with plants for 40 years as farmer, landscaper, home gardener, and nursery owner. She holds a degree in Plant Science from the University of New Hampshire, and shares her knowledge by teaching others how to grow their own food. She is a home and garden writer who takes time out for reading, hiking, gardening, and experimenting in the kitchen.

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What is Non-GMO?

What does Non-GMO Mean?

Non-GMO means non-genetically modified organisms. GMOs (genetically modified organisms), are novel organisms created in a laboratory using genetic modification/engineering techniques. Scientists and consumer and environmental groups have cited many health and environmental risks with foods containing GMOs.

As a result of the risks, many people in the United States and around the world are demanding “non-GMO” foods. We have created an ebook offering our top 13 tips for buying organic food to help keep your family safe and healthy. Download it for free HERE.

What are Genetically Modified Foods?

In genetic modification (or engineering) of food plants, scientists remove one or more genes from the DNA of another organism, such as a bacterium, virus, animal, or plant and “recombine” them into the DNA of the plant they want to alter. By adding these new genes, genetic engineers hope the plant will express the traits associated with the genes. For example, genetic engineers have transferred genes from a bacterium known as Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt into the DNA of corn. Bt genes express a protein that kills insects, and transferring the genes allows the corn to produce its own pesticide.

Genetic modification/engineering is a potentially dangerous technology

One of the main problems with genetic engineering is that the process of inserting genes into the DNA of a food plant is random; scientists have no idea where the genes go. This can disrupt the functioning of other genes and create novel proteins that have never been in the food supply and could create toxins and allergens in foods.

Genetic modification is a radical technology

Supporters of genetic modification say that the technology is simply an extension of traditional plant breeding. The reality is that genetic engineering is radically different. Traditional plant breeders work with plants of the same or related species to create new plant varieties. Genetic engineers break down nature’s genetic barriers by allowing transfers of genes from bacteria, viruses, and even animals—with unforeseen consequences.

Genetic modification is based on an obsolete scientific theory

Genetic modification is based on a theory called the Central Dogma, which asserts that one gene will express one protein. However, scientists working with the United States National Human Genome Research Institute discovered that this wasn’t true, that genes operate in a complex network in ways that are not fully understood. This finding undermines the entire basis for genetic engineering.

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What is Sustainability?

Sustainability is the ability to exist constantly. In the 21st century, it refers generally to the capacity for the biosphere and human civilization to coexist. Wikipedia

The definition of “sustainability” is how natural systems function, remain diverse and produce everything it needs for the ecology of an area to remain in balance. It acknowledges that human civilization takes resources to sustain a modern way of life. Sustainability takes into account how we might live in harmony with the natural world around us, protecting it from damage and destruction.

Throughout the world, people want the same things: access to clean air and water; economic opportunities; a safe and healthy place to raise their kids; shelter; lifelong learning; a sense of community; and the ability to have a say in the decisions that affect their lives.

A sustainable community takes into account human needs, not just one at the exclusion of all others.  It takes a long-term perspective – focusing on anticipating and adapting to change in both the present and future.

What are the Primary Goals of Sustainability?

We all know what we need to do to protect the environment, whether it is recycling, reducing power consumption by switching electronic devices off rather than using standby, by walking short journeys instead of taking the bus. It also includes the following:

  • reduction in carbon emission
  • protection of eco-systems
  • protection of air quality
  • protection of water quality
  • protection of natural resources
  • technology for a greener future

How to Create a Smaller and Greener Footprint?

For many individuals sustainability is about making changes that create a smaller and more greener footprint.  Many of these concepts can be implemented quite easily and quickly into our everyday lives.  Other means of sustainability incorporate major changes to lifestyle, building construction, etc. 

  • recycle, reduce, reuse, repair
  • become a conscious consumer
  • reduce the need to shop (consumerism) and support more natural choices
  • eliminate the use of plastics and the purchase of plastics
  • cook at home instead of eating out
  • compost - make healthy soil
  • garden - grow your own food
  • shop locally - support local farming - join a CSA
  • make and/or use items made of biodegradable materials such as cotton, hemp, etc.
  • utilize natural building and construction materials whenever possible
  • implement solar and wind energy solutions
  • implement alternative fuel solutions such as biochar, ethanol, etc.
  • earthships; tiny homes; hobbit homes; cobwood, hemp, straw bale home construction
     
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What is Regenerative Agriculture?

Regenerative agriculture is a conservation and rehabilitation approach to food and farming systems. It focuses on topsoil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, enhancing ... Wikipedia

"If you’ve never heard about the amazing potential of regenerative agriculture and land use practices to naturally sequester a critical mass of CO2 in the soil and forests, you’re not alone. One of the best-kept secrets in the world today is that the solution to global warming and the climate crisis (as well as poverty and deteriorating public health) lies right under our feet, and at the end of our knives and forks." -Ronnie Cummins, Regeneration International Steering Committee Member

WHY REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE?

Transitioning to more sustainable forms of agriculture remains critical, as many current agriculture practices have serious consequences including deforestation and soil degradation. But despite agriculture’s enormous potential to hurt the environment, it also has enormous potential to heal it. Realizing this, many organizations are promoting regenerative agriculture as a way to not just grow food but to progressively improve ecosystems.

Drawing from decades of research, regenerative agriculture uses farming principles designed to mimic nature. To build healthy soils and fertile, thriving agro-ecosystems, this approach incorporates a range of practices like agro-forestry and well-managed grazing. Benefits of these practices include richer soil, healthier water systems, increased biodiversity, climate change resilience, and stronger farming communities.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

The key to regenerative agriculture is that it not only “does no harm” to the land but actually improves it, using technologies that regenerate and revitalize the soil and the environment. Regenerative agriculture leads to healthy soil, capable of producing high quality, nutrient dense food while simultaneously improving, rather than degrading land, and ultimately leading to productive farms and healthy communities and economies. It is a dynamic and holistic, incorporating permaculture and organic farming practices, including conservation tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, composting, mobile animal shelters and pasture cropping, to increase food production, farmers’ income and especially, topsoil.

Links to Regenerative Agriculture

Aranya Agricultural Alternatives

Carbon Underground

Ecological Farming Association (EcoFarm)

Grounded

Kiss the Ground

Land Institute

RegenAG

Regeneration International

Rodale Institute

Savory Network

Soil Capital

Soils, Food, and Healthy Communities

Soil Foodweb Institute

Sustainable Harvest International

Terra Genesis International

Timbaktu Collective

Traditional Native American Farmers Association

 

 

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