What does this permaculture that everyone is talking about actually mean? This is exactly the question we want to answer in this article. It is mainly about the sustainable use of nature in gardening. Through sensible planning of the garden, enormous successes and harvests can be achieved. Gardening with brains is in demand. Why mulch and pitchfork as practical tools can make life easier for every gardener, you will learn here.
Here are the main goals of permaculture:
- Planning instead of chaos = sensible use of plants in the places to which they fit
- Creation of sites that prefer certain plants (through ponds, terraces, stone walls)
- Creation of a natural ecosystem that can be used by humans
- Planning according to natural models = long-term facilitation of gardening work
- Stability through diversity
What is permaculture?
Permaculture is derived from the two English words “permanent agriculture”, so it has nothing to do with permafrost or the like. Translated, it means to be able to do agriculture permanently. The Australian Bill Mollison is considered the father of the principle, together with his student David Holmgren.
Permaculture is primarily about producing food in a sustainable and sensible way, and the whole principle is based on natural systems. Natural ecosystems are therefore closely observed and imitated.
The three basic principles of permaculture are “Earthcare”, “Peoplecare” and “Fairshare”. “Earthcare” here means caring for the well-being of the earth and the living beings on it. “Peoplecare” covers the social aspect of permaculture, namely fair access to livelihoods. Fairtrade is included, so to speak. “Fairshare” refers to the fair use of resources and end products. In this context, surplus materials, such as compost residues, are to be returned to nature. More detailed information on this will be mentioned later in the topic “Nutrient Cycle”. But also the sharing of surplus food with other people is meant. Permaculture is therefore already an attitude towards life.
Sensible planning with nature
Mound beds or herb snails create special niches that fit individual fruits or vegetables. On the south side of the raised bed, for example, a sun-loving plant receives significantly more light and warmth and can also be protected from wind by the hill shape. Windbreaks can also provide hedges or shrubs. These also provide shade in summer for plants that do not benefit from direct sunlight.
Ponds can be used as a source of water and heat storage, even sometimes providing sites for more exotic plant varieties. It is important here to recognize what given characteristics a garden has. If the soil is very moist, a pond would make sense. If it is very dry, you might first choose plants that do better with little water. However, it is also possible to change the environment so that it is more suited to the desired conditions. In very dry, sunny areas, it is worthwhile to use raised beds or shade plants. Adding organic material such as compost or clippings to the soil will also allow the soil to absorb and retain more water.
In cooler, wetter areas, stone mounds can serve as heat stores. Sensible planning therefore plays a central role in creating a permaculture garden. Not only does it make it easier for the plants to grow, but it also reduces the amount of work required of the gardener. This effort arises, in fact, mainly when farming contrary to natural conditions. Thus, when a naturally stable system is created, nature does most of the work by itself.
Since harvesting constantly removes nutrients from the system, it is important to return them. This is done, for example, through perennial plants, which provide mulch through their foliage or pruning residues. Decomposing soil organisms such as bacteria or fungi can break down the plant material and make it available again to the living plants in the form of nutrients (mineralization).
In addition to mineralization, this natural mulch, as well as additionally applied material such as straw, also serves to suppress weeds. Indeed, weeds cannot grow in the first place if the mulch layer makes it difficult for them to access light.
You can think of uncovered soil as an open wound; if there is no covering protection, unwanted invaders can take root. In the case of the wound, these are pathogens that can lead to inflammation. In the garden, it’s seeds from weeds that steal light and nutrients from cultivated plants. So mulch offers many benefits to cultivated plants: More available water and nutrients and less competition from weeds. The gardener also has less work weeding. This facilitating principle is what makes permaculture so popular right now. It mimics natural systems, so it works with the given conditions rather than against them. Not everything can grow everywhere, but you can purposefully change the natural environment to make many things possible.
Pitchfork instead of shovel
Due to its natural structure, the soil has various niches. These provide perfectly adapted habitats for organisms living in them, such as bacteria and fungi. Some like more light and oxygen, others prefer low-oxygen (anaerobic) conditions. To avoid disturbing these habitats too much, the soil is loosened with a pitchfork. In fact, shoveling or spading would cause redistribution of soil layers. As a result, the microclimates and habitats of the organisms would be destroyed.
The organisms would be lost and with them their positive properties for plant growth.
In the best case, the soil would not be dug up or disturbed at all. Dead plant parts are therefore not simply pulled out after harvesting, but cut off at the surface. The root then dies and the dead root tissue can be decomposed by soil organisms into biofertilizer. In addition, small air channels form where the roots were, supplying deeper soil layers with sufficient oxygen.
Classification according to priority
In addition, the garden is divided into different zones. This is to make it easier for the gardener or grower to regularly care for plants that are particularly labor intensive. Plants requiring care should be located in close proximity to daily staging areas (such as the home) and thus more likely to catch the eye of the person in charge. Less demanding plants/cultures will find their place further away from the daily pathways. The gardener thus has the most important thing in view.
Diversity instead of simplicity
Last but not least, permaculture uses the principle of mixed culture. Diversity instead of simplicity is the guiding principle here. A broad spectrum of species and varieties is intended to guarantee a stable supply, even in the event of disease infestation or unfavorable weather conditions. Permaculture is therefore not about maximizing yields, but about optimization. Plants that have a positive influence on each other are planted next to each other, while unfavorable combinations are avoided. In addition, natural stratified systems such as forests serve as inspiration. Large trees shade smaller bushes, which in turn provide shade for creeping plants such as strawberries or lemon balm. In this way, new small ecosystems, also called microclimates, are constantly being created. These habitats provide new niches for the special requirements of various plants and animals. The great diversity of species also attracts various insects, which can protect against diseases and pests. Species diversity thus ensures a more stable overall system.