“You don’t have an excess of slugs, you have a duck deficiency.” Bill Mollison
Appropriate for an Oregon girl, don’tcha know.
What the heck is Permaculture?
On Saturday, I had the fun of taking a Permaculture class from Jeremy O’Leary through Portland Community College. This community education class introduced principles of permaculture, which is cultivating natural systems on whatever land we have available to produce the most benefit to humans, ecosystems, and the community as a whole.
I love the primary permaculture values that have developed over the last couple decades-
- Care for people
- Care for the earth
- Fair share- share the surplus
The class excited me to get going on my back yard plan. Yes, I hope to have some acreage to work with at some point, but the cool thing is that a food forest (permaculture lingo here) can be small. Once it’s established there is not a lot of maintenance, and can provide more edibles than a family can use- hence the ability to share surplus.
There’s much more to the class than covered here, but I hope to whet your appetite to explore the ideas. A beautiful website for temperate climate (Pacific Northwest climate) permaculture ideas and articles is tcpermaculture.com.
Twelve principles of Permaculture as taught by Jeremy
(and only a sampling of the gems available):
- Observe and interact- The first tool of permaculture is a hammock. :o) Meaning that it’s helpful to see where the summer and winter sun shines on your property. Where the seasonal winds blow. Where water accumulates and flows. Where the views are. Generally take time to engage with nature. Then solutions can be created to address individual goals and situations.
- Catch and store energy– Means to catch and store water, electricity, calories, warmth when elements or things are abundant. I just saw the coolest water catchment system being used in Africa. Could we use something like that here? The Hunger Site Probably more for the preparedness part of ASPEN Living, because ponds and natural water direction would be the norm for permaculture. Note to self to look into it.
- Obtain a yield– We want to ensure we’re getting useful rewards for all the work we’re putting into our systems, right from the start. That may mean veggies this year, berries next year, fruit from trees in 5 years.
- Apply self-regulation and accept feedback– In other words, “discouraging inappropriate activity to ensure systems continue to function well.” Translation? Examples include keeping the food forest area in the center of the yard so dogs running around the periphery don’t ruin it. Or only putting large piles of hay where rats are acceptable. Or penning the chickens where the grass and weeds need to be cleared out.
- Use and value renewable resources and services– Let nature take it’s course. The whole point of permaculture is to use the same balancing systems that work so well in nature. We can use the non-renewable resources (oil, engines) to put renewable on line.
- Produce no waste– Jeremy: “Waste is basically a resource out of place.” Broken pottery can be used for mosaic or plant signs. Pallets can be used on end as planters. Grey water (not potable but uncontaminated) can water trees. The list goes on and on and is only limited by our creativity.
- Design from patterns to details– Step back, observe patterns in nature and society. These form the backbone of design; fill in details as you go. Again, the hammock tool. Adjust as you see what works and what doesn’t.
- Integrate rather than segregate– Jeremy again- “By putting things together in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.” The classic garden guild example is the three sisters, used for hundreds of years. That means growing corn, pole beans, and squash together to form partnerships that helps each plant thrive. The corn stalk is climbing support for the beans, the beans give nitrogen to the soil, and the squash is living mulch that prevents weeds and conserves water in the ground. Beautifully synergistic beings.
Use small and slow solutions– Jeremy once more- “Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.” Example is “chop and drop;” growing comfrey for medicine, then using the leaves around fruit trees as mulch.
- Use and value diversity– Mono crops don’t occur in nature. The huge variety of plants in a forest reduces each member’s vulnerability to threats, and the uniqueness of each plays a role in the strength of the whole. Trees shade small plants, fungus enriches the soil, and the list could go on for a long time.
- Use edges and value the marginal– Often the most valuable things are happening at the edges of gardens, yards, ponds, fields. It’s where plant types transition from dry to wet or vice versa. Where beneficial wildlife is found, where we can see variations in the climate patterns.
- Creatively use and respond to change– Sometimes, I’d like to just put something in place and the have it work forever. Life, and especially plant life, doesn’t work like that, and constant change rules. Best to observe it early and see the possibilities or intervene to make it better than it was before. There are also the predictable seasonal changes to work with. Jeremy designed his yard so that he can go outside and pick fruit to eat any given day all summer. Nice.
This is a whole lot of information in a bunch of words. To get practical guidance and experiences, check out the book “Gaia’s Garden,” by Toby Hemenway. And I admit it, I’m a shameless collector of books in any area I want to know about.
Coming this spring from Jeremy O’Leary – Sustainable Disaster Preparedness
To Amazing Life!