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Learning about Permaculture

 
John Smithington
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When comparing conventional agriculture (farms and gardens) with permaculture, it seems like the latter is much more complicated since it requires and understanding of how species interact with each other. Wheras its very easy to just plant your favorite things in a row next to each other and replant them again next year instead of taking the time to create an ecosystem with symbiotic relationships. With this in mind, how would somebody whom knows very little about permaculture realistically begin learning about it and begin practicing. It doesn't seem like something you could do in your backyard. From what I've seen you would require a large amount of land and a great deal of resources and knowledge to set up a permaculture system. Thoughts?
 
John Polk
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For those on city/suburban lots, I highly recommend "gaia's garden" by Toby Hemenway.
While his book offers information that is useful for large farms/plots, it is geared more for the home gardener who wants to develop a sustainable system of an edible yard.

He gives detailed information about creating systems, rather than merely "planting a tree".
He shows how that tree needs companions to reach its maximum yields and benefits.
Besides the single tree, we need plants that feed nitrogen into the soil, plants that accumulate nutrients from the soil that can be shared with the tree via mulch, plants to attract pollinators, and plants to repel pests, as well as plants that attract beneficial insects.

Even a home owner with a 10' x 10' summer vegetable garden can gain insight into how to improve the yields, while making long term improvements to his/her plot. Regardless of garden/plot size, he demonstrates, in easy to follow text, how to make it better, while reducing the work and inputs in future years. I feel that it should be required reading for anybody wishing to grow a portion of their food. It changes the way we think about 'raising a garden'.
 
Jimmy Manning
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John,
I'm still new to this so take what I say with a grain of salt until someone more experienced chimes in.

When comparing conventional agriculture (farms and gardens) with permaculture, it seems like the latter is much more complicated since it requires and understanding of how species interact with each other.


Agriculture period is complicated once you get to the "root" of the matter which is the soil, I think often it just varies in how we approach it. When you start looking at soil composition and structure, cation exchange, pH and nutrient or mineral levels it's all complicated. Conventional agriculture just takes a more narrow, industrial approach to understanding it by adjusting and compensating for these various complexities with methods that in the long term are detrimental, even if short term they are "productive". Conventional ag addresses deficiencies with commercial fertilizers and off farm inputs whereas permaculture seeks to supply the deficiencies in a natural, successive way.

Wheras its very easy to just plant your favorite things in a row next to each other and replant them again next year instead of taking the time to create an ecosystem with symbiotic relationships.


This may be initially true for the short term but in the long term you end up bringing in offsite inputs which increase expense and labor (fertilizer, sometimes commercial compost, lime, etc). So while the backyard garden may produce year after year with truckloads of new topsoil and fertilizer you invariably progress towards some sort of depletion. Permaculture may be looked at as a short term slow starter and labor intensive initially but as natural processes take over and the system produces for itself your workload is lighter, your inputs are minimum to zero (the system provides the needs), and your yield (as compared to the backyard garden when all things are taken into account) ends up being higher.


how would somebody whom knows very little about permaculture realistically begin learning about it and begin practicing.


I started by reading and watching whatever I could find. If you have the dollars to plunk down you could always do a PDC. Alot of understanding comes from observation, good old trial and error. I sat in a chair in my yard and listed out observations. I walked around outside while it was downpouring to observe the water flow. After stuff like that it's researching and planning. I've simplified it obviously but that's the approach I've been able to take without being able to afford a PDC



It doesn't seem like something you could do in your backyard. From what I've seen you would require a large amount of land and a great deal of resources and knowledge to set up a permaculture system. Thoughts?


geoff lawton has a video of one of his students with a small backyard that is producing tons of fruit and veg and he has over 30 fruit trees on the site. Permaculture uses a technique called stacking which in some cases is just a functional stacking and in others it mimics the forest canopy...canopy, then trees, shrubs, herbaceous layer, and ground cover, etc. By stacking you load so much more into a small site. Stacking also lets you take advantage of vertical surfaces such as walls, trellises, fences, etc to "stack" your growth vertically instead of horizontally.

I think if permaculture only worked for large sites it would have to just qualify as another "method", it could not answer or help all those urban dwellers without the space. But I have seen many instances where the principles of permaculture were applied to small spaces to great advantage. Remember too, if you've gotten as far as looking at zone and sector analysis, you don't need to implement all 5 zones. A small urban lot may only have 2 zones to it.


Hope it helps, I'll yield the floor to someone with more experience and wisdom
 
John Smithington
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John Polk wrote:For those on city/suburban lots, I highly recommend "Gaia's Garden" by Toby Hemenway.


Interesting, thanks for sharing.
 
John Smithington
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Jimmy Manning wrote:
Hope it helps, I'll yield the floor to someone with more experience and wisdom


Thanks for the detailed reply, and yes it certainly did help. Its encouraging to know that you can use permaculture methods without a huge amount of land. I'll be doing some research into it and seeing what I can come up with using the space I've got here.
 
John Smithington
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Jimmy Manning wrote:
Wheras its very easy to just plant your favorite things in a row next to each other and replant them again next year instead of taking the time to create an ecosystem with symbiotic relationships.


This may be initially true for the short term but in the long term you end up bringing in offsite inputs which increase expense and labor (fertilizer, sometimes commercial compost, lime, etc). So while the backyard garden may produce year after year with truckloads of new topsoil and fertilizer you invariably progress towards some sort of depletion. Permaculture may be looked at as a short term slow starter and labor intensive initially but as natural processes take over and the system produces for itself your workload is lighter, your inputs are minimum to zero (the system provides the needs), and your yield (as compared to the backyard garden when all things are taken into account) ends up being higher.


Its kinda funny, the whole reason I found out about permaculture is because I'm a bit lazy when it comes to garden maintenance. I remember thinking something along the lines of "How do these plants survive in nature if nobody weeds, waters, or fertilizes them?" I definetly agree with you here, conventional gardening is constant work and maintenance, and permaculture is quite attractive in this regard since it just takes care of itself like it would in nature. Reminds me of a saying, "Work with mother nature, not against her". When you think about it like that permaculture is very simple, as its just letting things work the way they would in nature. I guess the complicated part is understanding how nature works and recreating it.
 
John Polk
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A huge part of the permaculture mindset is in planting perennials rather than annuals.
The beauty of this is that once that fruit/nut tree, or other perennial begins producing, they will continue doing so for many years. You do not need to replant each spring. Perhaps a little off-season pruning and minor maintenance, but nothing like the annuals which often fail because you had to delay a chore for a day or two. With slow growing plants, timing fits a wide window. Plants that go from seed to food in a matter of weeks need their maintenance on a much stricter schedule. Perennials are much more forgiving. (As in 'I'll get around to it sometime after the leaves drop, but before the first heavy frost.')

You can still have your annuals (heck, it wouldn't be summer without tomatoes,peppers, cucumbers, etc.), but you are also producing foods from your perennials. Plants that don't tolerate the pounding summer sun can be extended with plantings under the canopy of the trees/shrubs - give them morning sun, which they need to grow and fruit, but protect them from the scorching afternoon sun.
 
John Smithington
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John Polk wrote:A huge part of the permaculture mindset is in planting perennials rather than annuals.


Yes, I've noticed this. It makes sense since perennials seem much better at surviving on their own. I had some blackberry bushes growing in an area, and I was amazed at how well they were at surviving harsh weather year after year and spreading to other parts of the property. They have the resilience of most weeds, except they are a great food source. I would assume annuals still have a place in a permaculture ecosystem. It just wouldn't look like a garden. That brings up an interesting question: how would domesticated plants like tomatoes and carrots survive without human care? My guess is that they would probably look alot different, and rely more on seed carriers to be a successful species.
 
Lorenzo Costa
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Hi John if you have an urban setting, or even just the curiosity of trying how compnaionship, and soil fertility, and a yield for you can work together I guess you could even give a look at a
Anni kelseys Edible Perennial Gardening http://www.permies.com/t/39198/books/Edible-Perennial-Gardening-Anni-Kelsey
or otherwise Toby' Hemenway's new book http://www.permies.com/t/48497/books/Permaculture-City-Toby-Hemenway
depends on if you want to concentrate on global design or look into the aspect of food production in a designed permacultural way.
it is true that industrial agriculture seems easier, but you have to start from one question: easier is not better, easier is quicker, we're so used to run nowadays it seems normal, we want results, yields all in one month, one week. Life is not that way, permaculture is not difficult its just slower because it gains strength from the energy that is around us in nature, in ecosystems. permaculture is about giving back energy, industrial agriculture is about taking it, in the long run who do you think will have earned most?
then we have to think about what goes with industrial agriculture all the machinery and carbon footprint, make things easier? on the short run one could think yes, but its about resilience and permanence not about stealing earths energy, its about sharing with the ecosystem not only taking.
thanks you made me think at some good things, sometimes a simple question can open saga of thoughts
 
John Smithington
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Lorenzo Costa wrote:Hi John if you have an urban setting, or even just the curiosity of trying how compnaionship, and soil fertility, and a yield for you can work together I guess you could even give a look at a
Anni kelseys Edible Perennial Gardening http://www.permies.com/t/39198/books/Edible-Perennial-Gardening-Anni-Kelsey
or otherwise Toby' Hemenway's new book http://www.permies.com/t/48497/books/Permaculture-City-Toby-Hemenway


First of all, thanks for the links, I'll certainly take a look at those.

I think I agree with you, permaculture in the long run is much better than normal farming as its goal seems to be to work with nature and not against it. I've grown standard gardens since I was a kid, but there always seemed to be something out of place. Having to weed out certain plants, kill certain bugs/pests, water at specific times...ect. The question "If this is the right way then why doesn't this happen in nature" was something I thought about. I've always liked the idea of producing your own food, and overall it seems like permaculture is the correct way to do this as it is more self sufficient and harmonious with ecosystems.
 
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