Have you heard the term “permaculture” but aren’t sure what it means? What does permaculture have to do with growing your own food and becoming more self-sufficient? Here are all the questions to your basic permaculture questions.
If you read this article and would like to know more about how to implement permaculture in your garden or on your homestead, please check out the permaculture section of The Homestead Garden chapter of our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead. Don’t have your own copy? No worries, we wrote one just for you – get your copy here. To learn more about the book, click below.
Today, Homestead Lady welcomes Mr. Levi Meeuwenberg from Realeyes Homestead! Levi has graciously consented to give us an introduction to permaculture, which is part art, part science. Without further ado, here’s Mr. Levi and an Introduction to Permaculture!
What Is Permaculture?
Permaculture is a term that gets thrown around in foodie/homesteading circles a lot so I thought I’d share a bit of what I’ve learned about it. Firstly, for those not in the know, the textbook definition of permaculture is:
“…a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, and environmental design that develops sustainable architecture and self-maintained agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems.
“The term permaculture (as a systematic method) was first coined by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1978. The word permaculture originally referred to “permanent agriculture”  but was expanded to stand also for “permanent culture,” as it was seen that social aspects were integral to a truly sustainable system…” [Wikipedia]
When I discovered Permaculture, it totally altered the direction in my life. It opened my eyes to see how damaging the modern way of life is to the living ecosystems of the earth. That’s what inspired our farm, Realeyes Homestead, in Northern Michigan where we’re putting all these lessons into practice.
Permaculture in Action
Our aim is to cultivate a more responsible and harmonious relationship with the natural world around us. We still drive a car almost every day, but our lifelong dream is to be able to ditch it and meet our needs from the land, and neighbors around us.
Permaculture is one of those topics you can study and study and study and still not feel like you’ve scratched the surface. That’s because it incorporates so many fields of expertise:
- animal husbandry
- large scale earthworks
- natural building
- tool use and repair
- soil biology
- plant ecology
- food preparation and preservation
- and more!
But after reading a dozen books on it, watching hours of videos, and visiting many permaculture demonstration sites, I think I got a pretty good gist. Here are a few different ways of describing what it is.
- Working with, rather than against nature, by observing and coming to understand the patterns and cycles of the landscape.
- Thinking not only in terms of individual elements at your homestead, (Ex: tree, compost pile, cat) but focusing on the relationships between elements. Ex: tree shades house, house eave shelters compost bin, cat climbs tree, rock stores heat
- Designing a human-centric ecosystem to live within.
- Meeting our needs in a way that is not only sustainable, but actually restores healthy, abundant ecosystems.
“Perhaps we seek to recreate the Garden of Eden, and why not? We believe that a low-energy, high-yield agriculture is a possible aim for the whole world, and that it needs only human energy and intellect to achieve this.” – Bill Mollison
Make Your Own Mulch
Mulch is a huge benefit to have, whether your mulching your garden beds, or your perennials and herbs. The mulch (typically leaves, woodchips, or straw) is a thick layer of dead organic matter used to cover the bare soil.
This helps to hold in moisture, suppress weed growth, and reduce erosion from the impacts of rain and wind.
Living near cities will usually provide you an abundance of mulch materials for free. Often tree-service companies will drop off huge loads of woodchips if you can get the arrangement.
Or drive around neighborhoods in the fall and collect the bags of leaves people place on the sides of the roads.
Grow Your Own Mulch Materials
But permaculturists are always seeking to reduce the outside inputs to their site, so why not grow your own mulch!
- You can grow your own mulch by planting dense beds of plants that produce huge amounts of organic matter and regrow when cut.
- It’s best to use plants that are nutrient accumulators; one’s that mine for nutrients deep in the soil and pull them up into their leaves like Comfrey, or nitrogen fixing plants that build nitrogen in the soil, such as Goumi.
- These plants will slowly release their nutrients and fertility as they decay.
- Really any plant that regrows after being cut will work. Got an annoying plant that just wont go away? Use it for mulch!
As for placement, it’s smart to plant a dense bed of these specifically for mulch purposes around your compost bin, downslope of manure piles, or between your neighbors yard who sprays toxic chemicals on their lawn.
The mulch bed will even filter these out! Just be careful of where you plant them, because they’ll probably be there for a few lifetimes!
Chop N Drop
The best time to “Chop-N-Drop” as it’s called, is at the end of the dry season, entering the rainy season. This is to prevent the mulch from drying out and blowing away, prevent fire hazard, and the mulch helps hold in the moisture that accumulates.
The water also speeds the decomposition of the mulch.
Realeyes Permaculture Homestead
Cover image gratefully attributed to this Wikimedia Commons user.