Permaculture at Home – 6 Steps to Starting a Sustainable Garden
Permaculture – a term coined by Bill Mollinson – is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems that have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural systems. Whether one already has a garden, recently started one, or is looking to begin growing food at home, the principles of permaculture can be applied anywhere – no matter if one lives in an apartment with just a small balcony or else a house with a lawn.
Here are six principles to keep in mind:
1. Acquaint oneself with one’s environment.
No matter the setting in which one lives, understanding one’s environment is an important first step before beginning to plant.
Go outside and take time to observe. What is the area in which one intends to plant like? Which part of the balcony or of the lawn receives the most direct sunlight, and for how long? Where do the winds normally come from, and how strong do they tend to be? How much rain usually falls? Does it pool anywhere? What natural plants or animals already exist in the area? If in an apartment, how much weight could the balcony take?
If you don’t have a balcony and intend to plant inside, which part of one’s living spaces receives the most light?
2. Choose plants.
Now it’s time to do some research. Based on one’s available environment, what plants would be most suitable? Does the balcony receive hardly any direct sunlight?
Consider planting leafy greens or other plants that can grow in the shade. Does an area of the lawn receive direct sunlight the entire day? Consider planting tomatoes or other plants that need more heat.
What plants go well together, counterbalancing nutrients and common pests or else assisting in cross pollination (polyculture is important)? When will you be planting, and thus, when should you expect to harvest?
It is important to choose plants that will be in season. Buying seeds instead of plants already germinated is a lower-cost option, and future seeds can be harvested from the grown crops (or else from already grown vegetables and fruit bought from the store).
Lastly, consider how much time does one want to invest in creating and maintaining the garden? If not a lot, consider low maintenance plants.
3. Plan the design or layout.
A pre-step before beginning this step is to decide on one’s budget. How much does one want to spend and invest? That may change how and what one plants. No matter the space, design a layout (on paper). Will one utilize raised beds (and if so, will one build them)? If on a balcony, how can one layer built beds to take advantage of available space? What pots and plants may weigh less or be more environmentally friendly?
To maximize space, one could consider planting a space-occupying, slow-growing plant next to a plant that grows and is harvested quickly (thus leaving the remaining space once it is picked for the other plant). How will one water the garden?
Will there be an irrigation system? How will one water wisely (in the morning, before the heat of the day, using recycled water, etc.). Lastly, consider how the garden in itself will create microclimates, and how this could affect what one decides to plant.
4. Build the garden.
Now that one has a plan and knows which plants one will choose, it is time to build! In this step it is important to invest in high-quality soil especially. Remember that soil is also living, and healthy soil requires nutrients and care just as the plants do.
Research well on how to create the best environment possible for both. In this step, especially if one plans on harvesting in the spring or early summer but the chosen plants need to germinate in the winter, one could begin the process inside while one builds.
5. Watch one’s plants grow and enjoy the harvest!
Maintain the garden over the months. Remember – it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. Some plants might not produce – take it all in as information for the next time.
Placing mulch on the topsoil helps protect from the environment as well, and one can consider maintaining soil health by investing in composting. Seeds can be gathered from what does grow for the next year’s crop.
6. Yearly maintenance.
As one maintains the garden throughout the years, it is important to remember to rotate the crops. That is to say, each year make sure to not plant something of the same family in the same bed as the year before.
Research which plants use which nutrients from the soil, and try to plant a different crop that needs different nutrients, or – better yet – returns those said nutrients into the bed. Consider what worked and what didn’t, and learn for next time.
Permaculture and sustainability are very important to Green Pedal. If you want to help us to continue developing projects that help people to get out of hunger through sustainable agriculture just click here and collaborate with Green Pedal. Thank you very much.
Author: Shannon Leigh O’Brien