What is Permaculture?

Building Chakra

Building my straw bale house at Anahata Retreat, New Zealand.

As a Permaculture teacher I’m often asked the question, “What is Permaculture”. The name Permaculture is derived from the words Permanent Agriculture. Permaculture is the development of systems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. Bill Mollison and David Holmgren developed the philosophy of Permaculture approximately thirty years ago. They introduced a “design system for creating sustainable human environments” based on their observations of natural eco systems and maintaining a balance within these systems. Permaculture is a system that, if applied correctly saves energy, eliminates waste, leaves a miniscule carbon footprint, requires minimal work and is cost and eco friendly.

Many people today are under the impression that Permaculture is only the development of organic gardens. The keyword here is “DESIGN”. Permaculture is about how to design a property so that it flows with nature and all systems are interconnected and support each other. It is not limited to plant and animal production, but also includes community planning and development as well as sustainable, ecological philosophies for integrated systems. These systems may include aquaculture, agroforestry, windbreaks, swales, solar, hydro, composting toilets, ecological grey water systems and earth building. Permaculture gardens can include no-dig gardens, sheet mulching, companion planting, chicken tractors, solar greenhouses, worm farms, composting and organic pest control methods. The quality of the soil is very important in a Permaculture garden and many of these techniques are designed to achieve a pH-balanced soil and produce healthy, high volume fruit and vegetable yields.

A Permaculture property can be small or large acreage or a suburban block. Permaculture principles can be adjusted accordingly, however the basic principles apply for all size properties. The property is divided up into different growing zones. These zones are numbered from 0 to 5 with the main house being 0 and going outwards from there.

Zone 1: This is the area that is visited most often and is closest to the house. Zone 1 would include the main veggie and herb garden needing daily attention.

Zone 2: This is an area that requires some attention but can be irrigated and contains small fruit trees, berries, veggies like pumpkins, squash, corn and potatoes that have a long growing season, take up more room and require nominal attention. Zone 2 is also a good place for chickens and a milking goat…a little away from the house but within observation distance.

Zone 3: This would be a larger area or pasture that may include a main crop requiring minimal input, e.g. corn or a grain. It would also be an appropriate place for orchards and other larger animals.

Zone 4: This can be utilized for the growing of coppicing or timber trees for building or as a cash crop.

Zone 5: This area is generally along the lines of a wildlife corridor…felt to be important in Permaculture.

This is Permaculture in an organic nutshell!!!