How to Use Small-Scale Permaculture Design in the Garden

Permaculture in nature
An example of permaculture in nature

Permaculture is simplistically looking at gardening from nature’s larger perspective. Look at how nature does things, how everything fits together in a forest or grassland area. Then apply the operating principles you see on a smaller scale to your garden, or even to your landscaping.

Permaculture Ethics and Principles

The foundational ethics of permaculture are:

  1. Earth Care
  2. People Care
  3. Fair share

These ethics lead to the 12 principles of permaculture:

  1. Observe and interact
  2. Catch and store energy
  3. Obtain a yield
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns to details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use small and slow solutions
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use and respond to change

You can get an free PDF booklet, Essence of Permaculture from that explains in brief, these 12 principles. You can study as deep as you want into each of these 12 principles.

I am just beginning to learn about permaculture, and applying it to small gardens. I am focused on principles 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 8 right now.

Observe and Interact Watch your garden environment. How dos water flow across the garden? Where are the areas of sunlight and shade throughout the day? How does plant height affect light and shade around it? What about wind flow? How can we cooperate with these factors to help our garden?

Catch and Store Energy Energy is all around us in the garden, from wind, water and sunlight. How can we design our garden to capture this energy, store it and use it in the bet possible manner? The more free energy we utilize, the less energy we have to pay for. Think about your water, fertilizer, and pesticide bills; these can be reduced or eliminated by using the free resources around us.

Obtain a yield This is the gardener’s goal. We plant, so we can harvest later in the season, or later in years. More broadly, we obtain a yield so we can do it again later. We harvest seeds to replant. Nature does this automatically; we can discover and emulate her methods.

Use and value renewable resources and services Think recycling and reusing items, like compost materials, water runoff or using chickens or pigs to turn and fertilize the ground. These items are naturally renewed, and are valuable resources that can be used continually without being used up.

Produce no waste Humans produce a lot of waste products. Recycling, reusing and composting reduce this waste, and, in the case of composting, can improve soil fertility.

Integrate rather than segregate Instead of growing rows of a single crop, grow many crops together, utilizing the synergistic relationships between the plants to best advantage. I have written in earlier posts about companion planting and succession planting, and will post on different subjects later on in the year. The connections between things are as important as the things themselves. Think relationships between the parts of your garden.

In my garden, I have heat and sunlight traps as well as water traps. I have plants growing together that strengthen and defend each other. Frogs and other animals are made welcome by including their habitats. Proper use of this principle will result in decreased effort in your part (think watering, weeding, pest control) in the garden.

Permaculture is a very broad and deep subject, and is essential to our future. I have barely scratched the surface of the few principles I am concentrating on right now. I encourage you to study permaculture and apply what you learn to your garden and general area. Download the free PDF for further study and more resources.

If you are already using permaculture practices, take a moment to comment and share your experiences below:

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