Permaculture & Its Application
Agriculture is such a branch where the most important thing is to utilise the available resources to the fullest and make it sustainable and self-sufficient. But many of the resources often get wasted if they are not used properly. The resources need to flourish the natural ecosystem in such a way that every resource could benefit the cycle of Agriculture.
Quoting the lines of Geoff Lawton, “You can fix all the world’s problems in a garden. You can solve them all in a garden. You can solve all your pollution problems, and all your supply needs in a garden. And most people today actually don’t know that, and that makes most people very insecure.”
What does this mean?
Nature has already developed a solution to every problem that we can encounter in our garden. It is an ultimate recycler. Everything goes round like a chain and thus nothing goes to waste. Everything can be utilised as a resource for something else. Like we know, we often sow and dig or add fertilisers to the plants in our garden but who does all these chores in forests.
No one. Right ? But still these chores are taken care of somehow there. This means that if there is something unpleasant, as in unpleasant chores in a garden then there is surely some other way to do it that we are unaware of, and we can also eliminate that chores as well.
The most important thing behind all this concept is that Nature is self sustainable and we just need to put/design all the resources in such a way that it itself does all the work, such that it processes in the long run and do not require such inputs which could run off or produce wastes and problems to upset the ecological system.
Today we are going to study about one such design system that will create a self-sufficient and sustainable ecosystem – Permaculture.
What is Permaculture?
According to Rosemary Morrow, “Permaculture has, in many people’s minds, come to represent a sustainable, organic, home vegetable garden.”
The word Permaculture was originally coined in the mid 70s by two Australians, David Holmgren and Bill Mollison from the words, PERMAnent agriCULTURE. The most particular and appropriate definition for it might be – “Creating sustainable human habitats by following nature’s patterns.”
Bill Mollison being a wildlife biologist witnessed the destruction of natural systems by the humans, but then he also observed how these natural ecosystems worked and what kept them in balance. Permaculture design is a result of his observations and he has written in one of his books, Introduction to Permaculture – “The aim is to create systems that are ecologically sound and economically viable, which provide for their own needs, do not exploit or pollute and are therefore sustainable in the long-term.”
“Permaculture uses the inherent qualities of plants and animals combined with the natural characteristics of landscapes and structures to produce a life supporting system for city and country, using the smallest practical area.”
Permaculture is a holistic approach to land management which includes a set of design principles which assembles conceptual, material and strategic components in such a pattern that functions for the benefit of life in all its forms. It gives the farmers a way to achieve high yields and productivity in a more sustainable and environment friendly way. It has many branches including ecological design, ecological engineering, regenerative design, environmental design and construction, and integrated water resource management.
Conventional agricultural systems contribute to many problems such as:
- depletion of topsoil
- groundwater contamination
- plants and animal species endangerment
- pesticide resistance
- poor social/economic conditions
- climate change/global warming
But Permaculture works with nature and limits the needs of outside influencers and synthetic chemicals. It helps with important causes such as:
- Recycling, Renewal and Repairing of resources/materials to limit the waste
- Replenishing the soil content
- Hydration & cut down the use of water
- Maintenance of Diversity of species
- Creating resilience to withstand changes in the environment
- Adaptable to Change
Ethics & Principles of Permaculture
Permaculture has 3 core tenants which are the foundation of its design. They are:
- Care for Earth – The health of our planet makes the humans healthy and caring of the forests, waterways and other forms of nature would benefit us and without a healthy planet, humans can’t exist.
- Care for the people – The people should be allowed to get access to the resources they need to survive. It also includes caring for our own selves and our households and when we take up our own responsibility then we start producing more and consuming less.
- Reinvest Surplus – Take Only what you need and reinvest any surplus to fulfil the other two core tenants. This includes returning the waste products back into the system so it can again come to use and create a self maintaining ecosystem that requires fewer inputs from the off site sources.
Permaculture teaches us to observe nature, to understand and become more ecologically aware and responsible. These 3 ethics do not convey the main focus of agriculture, but the main focus always remains on the production of sustainable food. The design of permaculture makes the growing of fruits and vegetables easier and in a more sustainable way, reducing the work involved in it and producing a bigger and healthier harvest, and these are the things with which the permaculture principles deal with.
The 12 Principles of Permaculture are:
- Observe and Interact with nature before making any decisions or changes and then get insight on how to design your farm or garden to suit what’s already there in your garden.
- Catch and Store Energy like rainwater or solar electricity for future needs.
- Obtain a Yield for the work that you are putting in your farm.
- Apply Self regulation and Accept Feedback from others.
- Use and value Renewable Resources and Services and try to reduce the use of Non renewable resources.
- Produce No Waste with your available resources.
- Design from Patterns to details like beehives or snail shells to get inspirations for your design.
- Integrate rather than Segregate to take advantage of one another.
- Use Small and Slow solutions to maintain them easily.
- Use and Value Diversity as a diverse system is resistant to pests and diseases.
- Use Edges and Value the Marginal to create a productive and diverse system.
- Creatively Use and respond to Change to ensure a positive outcome because change is inevitable.
Benefits Of Permaculture
Permaculture has numerous benefits which make it an attractive choice for everyone who has a land and wants to grow some food. Some of the benefits are mentioned below:
- Reduced water usage
- Cost effective
- Reduced Waste
- Less Pollution
- Self sufficient & self supporting ( Nature does most of the work)
- Less harmful
- Improved ethical and positive values
- Can be applied to an existing system
- Fresh foods can be produced
- Increased Carbon dioxide Sequestration
- Decreases long term disturbance of soil
- Decreases the Carbon footprint
- Creates a Stable habitat for wildlife
- Improves the relationship between human and their Land
The growth of species in a Permaculture depends on the type of soil, local weather and climate conditions, and shade presence or absence. Some species to consider with a Permaculture design can be:
- Moringa (Moringa oleifera)
- Pineapples (Ananas comosus)
- Blackberries & Raspberries ( Rubus spp.)
- Blueberries (Vaccinium sect. Cyanococcus)
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
- Hibiscus (Hibiscus spp.)
- Bamboo (Bambusa spp.)
- Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
Permaculture can be applied to the existing agricultural systems and the food can be grown in small and large scales both.
Some common Permaculture practises are:
Agroforestry – Agroforestry is such an approach in which the trees or shrubs are combined with livestocks or crops. It creates a more sustainable, healthy, profitable and a productive system. The trees provide protection from wind, rain and other elements for the livestock and the animals in return produce waste which is used as fertilisers for the trees.
- Hügelkultur (Hill culture) – It is a technique in which large amounts of wood are buried to improve the water retention abilities of the soil and it helps in catching and storing energy. By burning the woods, carbon gets sequestered back into the ground instead of releasing carbon into the atmosphere.
- Harvesting Rainwater and greywater – The rainwater is collected in roofs in a large tank placed on the roofs to collect the rainwater instead of simply letting it soak into the ground and become a waste. It follows the permaculture principle of ‘catch and store energy’. Another method is ‘stormwater harvesting’ which deals with the collection of stormwater from the creeks, drains and other waterways instead of roofs by making a cistern or water reservoirs at the base of a hill.
- Cell/Rotational Grazing – It involves moving groups of livestock regularly between different fields, pastures or forests like cows, goats and sheep with pigs, rabbits or flock of geese, so that they can prompt a better ecology and help the plants in growing more quickly. The livestock can be easily monitored as well.
- Sheet Mulching – It is an organic no-dig technique that tries to mimic the soil build up using alternating layers of green materials such as manure, grass clippings, worm castings, vegetable scraps, hay, coffee grounds and compost; and brown materials such as fallen leaves, shredded paper and cardboard, pine needles, wood chips and straw. It helps in adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil, suppressing weed growth, moderate the temperatures & protecting it against frost, also reducing erosion and evaporation and absorbing rainfall.
- Natural Building – It is a sustainable approach to construction, using recycled and salvaged materials because there are plenty of renewable resources on the land that can be used in the next building project, like clay, rocks, wood, reeds, straw and sand. For example: The mixture of subsoil, water, straw and lime can create a cob which is very cost-effective and is fireproof and is also resistant to seismic activities and is strong enough to build an entire house.
- No till Farming – No till farming aims to leave the soil undisturbed and helps in retaining water, prevents carbon from leaving the soil, improves the quality of the soil, and reduces the amount of weed seeds that can be brought closer to the surface to germinate. It also prevents erosion and nutrient runoff.
- Intercropping and Companion planting – Intercropping deals with the combination of two or more plant species in the same area which have beneficial effects on one another. For example, as in companion planting, strong smelling plants and herbs like Basil, Oregano or Garlic are planted alongside the main crops like Tomato, Carrots or Cabbage. Pests hate the smell of these smelling companion plants and it also helps in improving the growth and flavour of the plants they are paired with.
- Market Gardening – As the name suggests, it is used to sell the produce at farmers markets, restaurants and grocery stores directly. It is practised on large tracts of land far out in the country, or in smaller plots of land to the urban environment as well. It can earn higher returns as well.
- Suburban & Urban Permaculture – Transforming the vacant lots or parking areas in the suburban or urban settings is one of the common practises of creating community managed Agriculture Farm sites. It is a perfect example of utilisation of available space efficiently.
- Vermicomposting – It is a common practice in permaculture involving earthworms such as red wigglers, to break down green and brown wastes. These worms produce worm castings which can be used to organically fertilise the garden, thereby increasing plant growth and decreasing the heavy metals in the soil. It also helps in aerating the soil and improving water retention.
- Domesticated animal – An ecosystem cannot become sustainable without the contribution of animals because they tend to do activities such as foraging to cycle nutrients, clearing fallen fruit, weed maintenance, spreading seeds, and pest maintenance, which helps the nature and ecosystem benefitting plants growing there.
- Marine systems – Permaculture is also applied to mariculture, particularly Seaweed farming wherein artificial upwelling of cold, deep ocean water is induced. Marine forest habitat is beneficial for many fishes species, kelp being a renewable resource for food, animal feeds, medicines and many other commercial products. It is also important for Carbon fixation.
There are numerous Permaculture species that can be used, but it is important to check if the species chosen for planting is compatible with the geographic and the climatic location or not. Permaculture mimics natural systems but it still requires learning and practice to become successful in your strategies without creating any waste.
It is important to remember that permaculture is a Holistic approach beyond any technical specification and every designed system relies on the conservation of existing habitats and biodiversity and allows all of us to live keeping the planet in balance.
It also requires us to oppose the future disturbance of natural habitats and ecosystems protecting and cultivating the threatened species, also using less land when using these systems for human use. It is only then that we can succeed in the work we are doing rather than trying to dominate the natural system.