I mentioned some time ago that I was getting increasingly interested in the concept of permaculture. Since then, I have read a book on the subject (the wonderful Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway), subscribed to the Permaculture Magazine and watched many, many videos and documentaries on it. It's absolutely fascinating.
The way I understand it, permaculture is creating systems and connections that work together and support each other in a similar way to what can be found in nature. Without going into technical details of the design principles, some of the ideas I found most fascinating and relevant are:
- Nature doesn't like bare, unprotected ground. If we don't cover the ground with something want to grow in our garden, nature will. She will sow weeds to protect the ground from excess heat, moisture loss, help bring nutrients from deep in the soil to the surface and provide food and habitat for micro- and macro organisms. That's why it is important to plant groundcover plants among our main crops.
- Diversity is key. Rather than rows of a single crop (which you wouldn't find naturally occurring anywhere), it is important to plant several different types of fruit, vegetables, shrubs or trees. They will likely protect one another (companion planting) and create more diverse habitats and microclimates.
- Food is not the only useful yield. The main purpose of my garden is and always will be to grow my own fruit and vegetables, but first of all these plants can have many other functions, and secondly, inedible plants can be useful too. An apple tree, for example, will not only provide apples for me, but also shelter for birds and flowers for pollinators; it will also create microclimate for smaller plants growing directly underneath it, provide shade, act as a wind barrier and provide privacy from neighbours. Comfrey, another example, although inedible, has many uses in the garden. It's a nitrogen fixer, can be used as an excellent liquid fertiliser (''comfrey tea''), nutritious mulch or just added to the compost heap to add nitrogen.
This is just a small handful of concepts from the incredible wealth of knowledge I am slowly discovering.
I am currently doing an online course - Intro to Permaculture Design, delivered by Oregon State University. I cannot recommend it highly enough. First of all, it's completely FREE. But more importantly, it provides loads of practical, usable information, tools and resources to understand permaculture and its principles, and create your own design. I would love to do a full PDC (Permaculture Design Course) one day, but they aren't cheap, so that won't be happening for a few years. This free online course however is a great starting point, and helped me decide that this is definitely something I want to do. The course can be found HERE.