The 3 things that make Permaculture different:
- It has an ethical core. The test is: if it isn’t good for the earth and good for people in a fair share, then don’t use it.
- Imitate Natural Systems. Permaculture uses biological resources and natural energies and observes the clever ways nature responds and adapts. Nature cycles the energy resulting in now waste. Efficiency is Natural.
- Permaculture uses a set of Principles, Strategies and Techniques
Integration is Key
Permaculture uses organic gardening practices but it goes beyond. It integrates the garden and home to create a lifestyle that impacts less on the environment.
The Permaculture garden is more than an organic garden. Although organic food production often has many innovative elements, a Permaculture designed garden joins each of the elements into functional relationships.
Permaculture design is mindful of our relationship with our environment. We see we are living in a period of energy resource limits. And we acknowledge that emissions are contributing to the heating the planet. Many of us are feeling the changes and seeing our environments polluted. Whilst a few wealthy people have the resources to ignore climate change, most of the world’s people cannot. Rich people can relocate, get air-conditioning, and import truck-loads of water. But even the wealthy cannot fix nitrous oxide build-up or save their beach homes from collapse.
Big, Little, and More
Permaculture thinking can be applied to many physical and social structures. It is energy-wise and collaborative to minimise the impact of a culture on the surrounding environment. A good permaculture design has great potential. It can connect neighbours. The biggest Permaculture site in the world, The Chikukwa Project, has helped the whole community.
Permaculture design has:
- Focus on closing the nutrient and water loop by using waste, and reducing the dependence on inputs.
- Creation of healthier soil and diversity of produce.
- Responsibility for waste. There is an aim to eliminate waste. i.e. no excess nitrogen nor weed seed, released.
- Variety keeps residents engaged and excited about growing their food.
- Imitating nature by conserving the soil and water, and genetic capital. There is an intensive use of space. Plants are allowed to set seed and are inter-planted for pest control. You are unlikely to see food plants in rows. The permaculture site will look more like a food-forest with some open glades full of herbs and perennials.
- Optimisation of natural energies, e.g. wind, dust, leaves, bird droppings.
- Nutritious food and habitat for people AND native animals and birds.
- Dependence on observation. Permaculture design is a mixed technology. Bill Mollison (co-founder of permaculture movement) said that permaculture, like a bicycle, it is adaptable and has great potential but is only as good as the user.
- Minimal risk. If we fail at permaculture, nature simply takes over. The soil will continue to heal, the forests grow and someone else can step in to rebuild our efforts.
What’s the difference between Organic Farming and Permaculture?
Closed and Open Nutrient Cycling
There is a significant difference between closed and open food-production systems. In a truly closed system (one in vacuum or in space) energy is not lost it is simply transferred from one being or element to another. In a permaculture system, (which can never be fully closed), energy is ideally used by one element effectively and passed on for the benefit of the next before it leaves the system.
Organic Farming promotes the use of natural fertilisers, making use of the natural carbon cycle so that waste from plants becomes the food (fertiliser) of another. In organic farming however, as with ALL farming, minerals are being lost from the farm every time a truck load of produce is carted to market.
The Ideal Permaculture ‘Farm’ brings production of food closer to consumers and the consumer’s wastes back into the cycle. It also reduces the energy wasted in transporting the foods by producing the foods where the people are. In permaculture, the people contribute in their daily life toward the production of their food and other needs.
When is Permaculture not Organic?
There will be times when a permaculture system is not strictly organic:
- when we use local resources rather than imported certified organic resources
- When we want to increase diversity by bringing in unusual plants/seeds from a non-organic plant supplier
- Permaculture is capable of enhancing a supply and converting it to organic. for example: when we grow food-plants along polluted river or roadsides to filter out toxins and break them down to safer levels. We know we may not be able to eat these plants but we can keep them as our ‘catastrophe’ backup.
Essentially Permaculture is trying to close the energy loop by optimising what we have.
Fostering A Culture of Community Recycling
This is not usually due to an intentional use of pesticides, but often due to the use of a by-product that would otherwise be wasted. We could use old shoes as pots for plants, an old truck tyre/tire to hold the edges of a pond. Sometimes the choices are difficult and we have to do a quick cost/benefit analysis. For example: At Silk Farm we use recycled oil (to make fire starters) and the oil cans (for our simple worm-farm towers) from a non-certified organic restaurant who sometimes uses leaves and fruits from our garden. This ‘trade’ stimulates our local relationship and fosters a culture of resourcefulness.
Permaculture Can Actively Convert Resources
We would need to weigh the benefit of a using a free local waste (ie. horse manure) versus supporting a good organic supplier who may be in another country. When we design well, the permaculture system can act as a cleanser or processing agent. Sometimes, we can transform then utilise a polluted waste (within what is realistic achievable). In the case of the horse manure, we could ask the owner about their anti-worming medication, check that it can be broken down by high-temperature composting then go about re mediating it before using it. Good permaculture design will aim to have a better output than input. Organic gardening may not have checks to reduce the system’s impact on the wider natural system.
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