Sunday, 6 March 2011

What is permaculture?

Permaculture is a philosophy which says that people should live with as little impact on the natural world as possible, that cultures should be as sustainable as possible, and that people should minimize their use of things like oil, aluminum and other non-renewable resources as well as their use of energy.

It is a movement that started in the 60’s, and probably peeked in the 70’s with the oil crises. Since then it has simmered away beneath the surface.

Now, I don’t live the full permaculture lifestyle, but many of the basic principles of permaculture – trying to live with low impact on the environment, trying to use as few non-renewable resources as possible, while still living a great quality of life do appeal to me.

In many ways the last couple of centuries have been a disaster for the environment. We are losing species at the fastest rate since the last great extinction, huge swathes of Africa have become deserts, and both water resources and material resources are being depleted at a very fast rate.

Our entire economy depends on people becoming richer all the time, and in the occasions when this stops happening such as recessions there is huge personal suffering.

Human societies has never really been designed with the principals of becoming more self sustaining, and while we would all like to think our society will continue to thrive after our deaths, there are very many examples of societies that used all their resources and eventually died out. Rather than following the societies down the same path we should start to look at how we can reduce our impact on the environment.
Where I sometimes disagree with the permaculture books is that the solutions they offer are not very practical, requiring widespread changes, and I think people are more likely to follow through if we make smaller changes to society.

Now, I don’t intend this blog to be a philosophy blog, or even a permaculture blog, but how people garden can make a huge impact on the environment around them.

Taking a few steps right now could improve your gardens diversity a lot. Now, here is one radical change you can make without spending a fortune. Is your garden immaculate? Start looking for a little imperfection. A simple pile of wood rotting away can house over a thousand insects. And it doesn’t have to be ugly. You could use ferns, and woodland plants to make shady corner of the garden into something that is good looking while at the same time also provides a little ecosystem of diversity in your garden. By attracting insects you will also attract birds, which will give you something to listen to when you are doing the washing up.

Compost bins are another source of life in the garden. I know they are not always appealing but if you have a garden with a shed, and there is an out of the way spot you can dedicate to them you will have started to improve the quality of your garden as well as save money on compost.

Peat free compost offers another solution.

With a lot of gardening other than seedlings, you can mix topsoil or your own home made compost with peat free compost to provide a reasonable experience when making the plants. Now, this is much less of an option for commercial growers who need every plant to be identical. But for a home gardener, who cares? It will give marginally different plants each time, but within a few weeks of having them out in the garden you won’t notice the difference.

There is another aspect of your garden design that the principals of permaculture can affect. One of these is to make the garden as easy to maintain as possible, put garden tools near the back door, and garden features you need to maintain regularly as near the house as possible. 

Try to make the garden as easy on yourself as possible.

Don’t get me wrong, not everyone wants to make radical changes to their lifestyle, but by looking at where you waste time when gardening... and solving that regularly... you will eventually be able to get the very best out of your time in the garden.

I hope all this doesn’t sound like preaching – I still use petrol tools, and live a pretty ordinary life. I just try to make small improvements where I can. I generally leave the big philosophy to authors, and try to improve the environment around me one small step at a time.

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