Permaculture...

....where problems are seen as the solutions ! What do problems such as low rainfall, poor soil quality and increasing fertiliser costs have...

....where problems are seen as the solutions !

What do problems such as low rainfall, poor soil quality and increasing fertiliser costs have in common? They are all opportunities for a healthy thriving garden. How? Well it all depends upon how you design your garden.

Since its inception in 1974 in Australia, Permaculture Design has become well known amongst those interested in sustainability and green living as one of the most rounded and fully developed design systems available. Often described in error as a whole movement, or philosophy, it is purely a method of design with ethical principles. It can be applied to small and large scale developments and is most frequently applied on integrated landscape and building designs. The result is an increasing number of people living with less or no dependency upon irrigation, fertilisers, supermarkets and costly utilities.

Permaculture design has several ‘design principles’ which must be adhered to - simply summarised as follows:
  • Everything is connected to everything else
  • Every function is supported by many elements
  • Every element should serve many functions
  • Observe and interact
  • No waste
  • Observe and replicate natural patterns
  • Diversity over mono-cultures
Within a system designed using Permaculture there would be no ‘waste’ and a lot of ‘co-operation’ by the design elements. For example, when reviewing all of the individual elements (the physical things within the design, e.g. people, plants, landscape, house, chickens etc.) of a design you review how every element can interlink with another through inputs and outputs for each element.

Production on permaculture principles
By promoting positive interactions in your garden, you create a lower maintenance design. Permaculture challenges the current methods of design; "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein 

This all sounds lovely, but what does this actually mean in practice?

Take a typical house and garden design; within such a design you will have an element called a human being which requires inputs of food, shelter, heat and water. They also produce outputs of urine and feces. These outputs can be safely and easily collected and returned to use within the system through composting toilets, where after a year of ‘hot’ composting you are left with a rich, safe, organic matter that can be used around fruit trees. Thus closing the circle and needing less external inputs (soil, fertilisers, etc.) whilst providing humus, increasing water retention in the soil and ultimately increasing productivity.

After designing within these principles, Permaculture then uses techniques (e.g. companion planting in gardening) to fill out the design further.
Harvesting rain water with swales 
Permaculture design can be applied in the smallest of scales, for example, by merely choosing climate appropriate plants that provide many different functions. Within the Mediterranean these could include:
  • Carob - Ceratonia siliqua: tolerates poor soil, low rainfall, nitrogen fixing, edible seeds, timber.
  • Olive – Olea europea: very drought tolerant, tolerates strong winds, oil, edible fruit, timber, firewood.
  • Tree Lupin – Lupinus arboreus: ground cover, evergreen, perennial nitrogen fixing, bee fodder.
As you can see from the above list Permaculture also provides a link to understanding the importance of traditional practices as well as how to engage with newer science.

There are many great examples of how effective Permaculture design is in real life situations. Forest gardens provide perennial foods that are very low maintenance, and very productive. The Transition Towns movement was based on Permaculture design, and is now Global. The greenest homes on the planet, Earth Ships, use Permaculture design and have been built and lived in now for decades. Deserts in Jordan are being made into viable crop growing areas without draining the precious aquifers of ancient, limited, fresh water in ‘Greening the desert’, a particularly amazing project by Geoff Lawton of the Australian Permaculture Institute.

For the challenging climate here, Permaculture design offers solutions. How? With good design, a shift of perspective, and lateral thinking, anything is possible. For example, placing large raised vegetable beds close to your back door, fed by grey water from your house, means you can more efficiently harvest home grown food, and reduce irrigation.

Permaculture always advocates the choice of plants and trees which individually serve as many functions as possible; such as being edible, medicinal, timber, wind break, shade, nitrogen fixing, etc. To this end the Carob tree is a brilliant choice for longer term planning, and we can now begin to better understand its role in traditional Algarve agriculture.
Harvesting rain water and a garden

Capturing water as high on your site as possible, before run-off, means that it can be as useful to you as possible whilst also storing it in the cheapest place possible on site; in your soil! The ideal Permaculture design is one where you can just sit back and watch it work for you, using natural systems.

Permaculture Design offers a viable methodology for one planet living. Your local Permaculture practitioner will be able to help with any questions you may have about applying Permaculture Design. If you are very interested in learning more, the first step for many people is a 72 hour ‘PDC’, Permaculture Design Course. This provides the basic understanding required for applying the design.

The world wide home of Permaculture can be found here at the Permaculture Research Institute Australia: http://www.permaculturenews.org

You can find your nearest practitioner through searching on this world wide database: http://www.permacultureglobal.com/

Enjoy the journey towards a more sustainable and better design for living !


Douglas Peddle - 2012

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