Permaculture is a kind of ecological design system engineered to build sustainability into human enterprise. As Scott Pittman, founder of the Permaculture Institute, writes on the Permaculture Institute website, permaculture “teaches us how to build natural homes, grow our own food, restore diminished landscapes and ecosystems, catch rainwater, build communities and much more.”
Permaculture has been adapted for urban environments, single-family homes, and gardens of all shapes and sizes. It is perhaps best suited to farming environments where the entire landscape can be designed to yield healthy products with a minimum of waste. In permaculture, waste is not pollution but a resource to be utilized. Compost containers, methane catchment projects, and water reclamation systems help farmers use free local resources to grow healthy plants and animals. Manure is composted and turned into gardens and fields; crop output helps feed the animals; cleaned waste water from the house irrigates flower beds or crops.
It can sound like an untenable amount of work to create the kind of structure permaculture encourages. Here are five ways to keep permaculture manageable, even at the scale of a whole farming operation.
Take time to envision your landscape as a fully operational permaculture project – your own little ecosystem, so to speak. Think about creating each component of the landscape for multiple, mutually beneficial uses. Position composters and gardens to minimize the amount of time you have to spend moving animal waste. If you plan on building water features, position them where they’ll reflect sunlight for added warmth in summer and be in position to move water downhill to irrigate fields or water animals. Use drip irrigation, self-feeders, and self-filling watering systems. Put a little extra effort into landscape design, and you’ll be expending less effort on farm chores each day.
Think about how each component you add to your farm will impact the whole. As you add animals and crops to the mix on your farm, choose resources that work together well. With a little research, you can design a feeding schedule for your animals based on corn, wheat, sorghum, soybeans, and other crops you can grow yourself. Design your spaces to protect your resources from one another as well – keeping the pigs and chickens out of the growing garden is just as important as designing the garden’s contents to meet the hogs’ feed requirements.
You don’t want all your crops to come in at once or all your animals to have babies at the same time. Know your animals’ gestation periods and crops’ time to harvest. Factor in other necessary activities, like shearing sheep. Take time in the slower winter months to plan the years’ activities. You’ll be more likely to get enough sleep and enjoy your work with a little advance organization.
No matter how well we plan, sometimes big projects just need doing, too many things happen at once, or we need more resources than we have money to buy. When those days come, don’t despair – reach out to your community. Many projects have been completed among friends sharing a workload followed by pizza and a bonfire – it’s a long and hallowed tradition. Barter for food, swap seeds, share your skills and talents. Consider hosting an intern or four through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) during those times when you just need extra hands.
Planning can only take you so far. At the end of the day, farming – however you do it – is hard work. Swinging a pitchfork full of manure is never wonderfully pleasant, but it is necessary. Accept that there’s a certain amount of slogging involved, focus on doing a job well, and you’ll be able to whistle while you work.
Keep in mind that permaculture can never work on a monocropping system. A farm that only grows chickens – hundreds or thousands packed into rooms – will generate an unmanageable amount of waste and have nowhere to put it. To create a sustainable system, one must keep the emphasis on balancing a variety of inputs and outputs, so plant and animal operations aid and assist one another. When all the parts of your landscape function as an organic whole, you are practicing permaculture as its founders, Holmgren and Mollison, first intended.
Michelle Gordon is a natural living advocate and sleep expert. Find her on Google Plus.