Heres a handy list of useful beginner permaculture plants for you to include in your food forest:
Emergent Trees can be existing tall trees on the property, nut trees, and other plants that drop fruit. Select tall trees very carefully because you will not want to climb up to collect the bounty. Good tall species include the rare Davidson plum. Avoid big trees on small sites or in areas where the falling nuts such as a Bunya nut or Eucalpyt branches can be dangerous.
Canopy plants positioned on the sunny side of your home need to be deciduous. Choose fruit and nut trees that don’t block light in winter. They will provide frost deflection and structural support to vines and understory plants below.
Epiphytes include dragon fruit, monstera, and bromeliads such as pineapples. Whilst these are not parasitic, they can weigh a tree down. These provide fruit, trap moisture, and keep the soil organisms fed and watered.
Perennial vines include heavy Grapevine and Kiwi fruit whereas short-lived vines include melons, pumpkins, Choko (Chayote), Basella, and Passionfruit.
Understory trees enjoy shade or the edge of the food forest. Small food trees are less well known in the western world. They include hazelnut, dwarf varieties of apples and citrus, Tamarillo and Coffee. But there is a wide range of lesser know foods such as jabuticaba and walking-stick palm.
Shrubs include perennial Chilli bushes, Blueberries, Raspberries, Tea and a wide range of herb bushes such as sage or verbena.
Herbs and vegetables are well known in the culinary world of the west. They are valuable in reducing soil erosion.
Grasses include asparagus, lemongrass but even banana and bamboo are grasses.
Tubers include potato, kumara (sweet potato), ginger, turmeric and much more.
Fungi include a wide range of mushrooms.
Starting from scratch?
To get the most joy for your effort, plant a mix of annual and perennial plants. Annual plants will give you joy soon and Perennial plants will surprise you in years to come. Choose foods you know you like and you have seen growing in your neighbour’s gardens. Once you have good water management and some growing skills, branch out into rare food plants.
The most valuable asset is your permaculture design and staging plan. This is created specifically for your food preferences, climate, site aspect, and soil type.
Enhance everything you’ve got. Modifying the landscape to capitalise on natural assets such as rainwater, mulch, and fertiliser will speed up the transition to a food forest. Also, convert all your organic waste into a productive resource.
Did you know? A lot of valuable food plants such as ginger can be grown indoors or in large wicking containers until the soil is improved. Some foods, such as mung bean sprouts, will even grow in a cupboard.
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Growing food indoors is easy, costs very little and gives us immediate health benefits.
Like most things we do in Permaculture, there are multiple benefits to every action. Growing food indoors cuts our waste and supplies nutritious food. And indoor permaculture also provides opportunities for design practice, mindfulness, and self-reliance. And we can surround ourselves with naturally cleaned air.
Quick Design Tools For Indoor Food Production
Indoor food growing benefits from a these permaculture design principles: Zoning, Stacking and Mindfulness through Observation.
Indoor Food Zones
When we design a Permaculture project, we set aside zones according to how often we will use something. Items that need a lot of care or provide us with lots of interaction and reward go into Zone 1. The items that don’t need much attention or prefer we ignore them go into the furthest recesses of our space.
Zone 1 – Your Nursery
Rooms with sunlight deserve to be decorated with young plants. The indoor garden ‘nursery’ houses your new seedlings and chitting off-cuts. Growing food indoors is easy if you simply buy plants. However, you can raise a lot of plants without expense by propagating from the foods you buy at the grocery store.
Zone 2 – Shrubbery
Smaller plants include Aloe Vera, spring onions, Peppermint, Ginger, Turmeric, KangKong, Thai Basil, tiny Tomatoes, Chives, Garlic chives (essential for savoury pancakes) and Sweet Potato. Medium size plants include Taro, Monstera Deliciosa and Sugarcane. The easiest plants to grow are those that thrive in muddy water. Sugarcane, Peppermint and spring onions will grow in water.
Position each plant according to how much sunlight it needs. As a general rule, the lighter the leaf of a plant then the more sunlight it needs. Those plants with dark-coloured leaves tolerate shade.
Zone 3 – ‘Canopy’ Trees
There are some larger plants that thrive indoors. These include Fig, Coffee bushes, Lime tree, Mulberry, Curry Leaf, Banana and Bamboo. Banana plants are quick growing and the leaves are useful to wrap foods. Bamboo is a delightful tea rich in Silicone to make your hair shine. Zone 3 plants need to be back from the window, allowing the littler shrubbery and nursery sufficient access.
Big plants need big pots otherwise the tall plants fall over. However, big pots don’t have to be dragged into the home. Here’s a lighter trick you can use. Keep your larger potted plants in a snug bucket of water and drill a hole in the side of the bucket at the level of the bottom of the pot. There are varieties of wicking pots to try. Wicking pots are heavy because they hold water underneath the suspended potted plant. Additionally, closed wicking pots conserve water and because the water is not open to the air, they do not encourage mosquitos.
Zone 4 – Productive Dark Pockets
Areas in the home that are dark are ideal for ferments, sprouts and mushrooms. South Korea still has tunnels that were used during the war. Each soldier was issued with bean seeds to sprouts whilst they were underground. Luckily, sprouts are more nutritious than the seed by itself.
Dark areas can also include an indoor worm farm. However, for good hygiene practices, keep food products such as the mushroom farm in a separate room from waste processing such as Bokashi or worm-farm.
Zone 5 – Keeping a Healthy Wilderness
Dust balls, insects and fungi will still reside in your home. You can still keep the home clean as well as keeping it green. The easiest way to remove bugs is by vacuuming. If you need to spray pests, use Methylated spirits. On the whole, there are fewer pests on indoor plants than outdoors plants. The key to good pest control is diversity. Have a wide variety of plants and avoid monocropping.
Stacking your potted plants is a great way to save space and water. Simply put small pots on the surface of larger pots. The smaller pots can drain into the bigger pot, and provide some cooling mulch. The little pots will also enjoy the lift, getting closer to any natural light. If you only have a high window, you can hang pots. As the plant grows you slowly lower the pot. This is particularly useful for growing vines such as grapevine.
Stacking is a utilised in our indoor worm-farm. The upper level is a potted herb, the next level down contains the worm farm. At the bottom is a reservoir holding the fertilised water.
We have unprecedented fires raging across Australia. So, we are pioneering new methods of disaster preparation and re-discovering the wisdom of the elders.
Our first priority is to redesign communities and their gardens for safer shelter for all living creatures. Secondly, design to retard embers, absorb the radiation and protect water supplies. Thirdly, find ways to quickly restore food, water and habitat. Ultimately, we create a better design.
If you are planning to build a new home, stop everything now. Above all, design it to be disaster-proof. Set it well into the landscape, have a safe bunker and angle the roofline so embers can fly over and not get trapped.
Re-design your garden to withstand drought, repel heat and store water. Naturally hydrated soils are more resilient to disasters such as drought, flood and fire.
Past catastrophes have taught us some methods of preparedness, but not everything. Last year was the hottest year on record for many countries. We are playing by new rules. This is not the new normal, this is a rude start to a big climate shift.
Recent wildfires have set new design rules. These wildfires didn’t come from one direction like a wave of flames. They behaved more like storm clouds: tilting trees, turning them into flame throwers hotter than 1200k. Moreover, fire tornadoes known as Pyrocumulonimbus, shot live embers more than 30km ahead.
Combination of Threats
Ember attack, strong winds, thick smoke, severe heat and deafening noise combine to limit responses during a catastrophic wildfire. Burning roads and fallen trees trap people as they try to leave. In past years, some people have saved their homes by staying to put out the embers after the fire has passed. The intensity of recent fires has shown this to be dangerous unless you have a fire-proof bunker that meets the standard. In addition to the bunker you need enough oxygen, water, masks, food and the nerve to stay.
In fact, you will need food and water for days. The power will be down and you will probably have wildlife to tend and feed on your limited supplies. Best of all, be ready to share your limited resources with that neighbour who rarely talked to you.
Pebbles, a family cat in Buchan Victoria, sheltered in the outdoor pizza oven. His whiskers burnt, but he survived.
Prepare Then Go
The traditional firebreak is not enough. At a minimum, we need to seal the building completely so no embers can get in. Firstly, the weakest points of a building are the roof and cavities underneath, especially under a wooden verandah. Secondly, shield the house from the intense radiation of the fire using either dense materials (big standing stones), rock walls or reflective shields (foil).
Fireproof materials include simple materials such as earth. Fire proof homes fit the landscape to hide from the fire.
Putting this knowledge together, we see a recurring theme: design with knowledge of the landscape.
There is design link between passive housing, earthship technology and permaculture design practice. Passive housing insulates the home completely. Earthships connect with the dependable underground earth temperature.
Smart design looks different. It is possible to have a safe home. Fire safe homes fit the landscape, and positioned for good natural insulation and winter warmth.
Re-Design or Retrofit Your Shelter
There are excellent designs by architects to reduce or deflect threats . These designs create homes with a smaller impact on the environment, and lower costs to build and use. Above all, they are durable and resilient.
But during extreme fire threats, many people think if we remove the forests, we remove the threat. The common reaction is to increase back-burning, pull out shrubs and clear land with machinery.
But the truth is, the forest is one of the most important
tools we have to fight heat, hold water in the landscape and fight climate
change. Getting rid of the garden is not going to help keep the temperature
down or maintain moisture. People who had only grass around their homes had it
burst into flames. A home surrounded only by rock may be more fire-proof but it
will also be extremely hot, devoid of wildlife. Jane Goodall warns about the
dangers of humanity being
divorced from nature.
Australian aboriginal people have specialised fire management techniques called cool burning where the fire extinguishes itself, and the grasses and trees are not structurally damaged. Not all the area is burned at once, it is burnt in small strips at a time. Even insects can escape the burn.
What Plant is Truly Fire-Retardant?
For years people have talked of ‘fire-retardant’ plants. But, anything that was once alive, will burn in extreme temperatures. As the fire intensity rises we need to re-design food gardens, add radiant heat blocks (these can be mud-brick or cobb walls). We also need more areas for wetlands. Surprisingly, wetlands and boggy soils sequester greater amounts of carbon than forests.
Can succulents and living ground covers help extinguish embers? Lets explore further how deciduous trees with low oil content absorb radiant heat at these unprecedented temperatures.
Involve Your Community
Members of your community doesn’t have to understand the likeliness of a catastrophe for you to help to prepare for them. Consultation builds better preparation. Help your community to find ways to prepare that are simple and effective. For some people, this means trailing ideas, for others it means facilitating conversation. For researchers, it means building the body of knowledge for survival.
Coordinate a working group to help prepare homes helps the elderly and less-abled. Prepare to act when others are busy elsewhere. Some preparatory works, when booked by a neighbourhood, cost less than for individual home call-outs. Furthermore, community consultation enables us to develop strategies for local adaptation
During a disaster, a resilient community is able to:
reduce the negative effects of hazards on people, ecosystems and property
Establish coping mechanisms in stages (safe zones, evacuation centers, temporary accommodation and long term recovery support
After a disaster, a resilient community is able to:
recover from the hazard with minimal disturbance to the health (including mental health) of the people and animals
rebuild a functioning community system, including power, water, food, fuel, health and education provisions
develop from experience
design with experts and in consultation with community
Design builds security for a community and the natural world that supports them.
Permaculture designer, Cecilia Macaulay helps people make space and time for creativity through the use of zones. Using Zones has always been a strong part of Permaculture design. Typically, we zone a garden into areas. Starting with spaces that require the most attention through to a wilderness out in Zone 5. But Zoning isn’t exclusive to Permaculture. It is a universal strategy. Having seen Zoning applied to large factories such as Toyota, Cecilia applies zones to all workspaces. Including the kitchen sink!
How Cecilia Applies Zoning at Home
Cecilia explains Zone 1 may contain library books to return, supplements, lunchbox, water bottle, hat, sunglasses, phone, keys. They sit in the high-motivation zone and easy to see. You want Zone 1 items to tell you what to do next. When you put these things in your Zone 1 [your current zone], they will communicate with you. As a result, they sit at the top of your mind. Like a freshwater current.
Zone 2 has things you use often but you don’t need them reminding you. Having storage within view dilutes your ability to see those items that need to talk to you. Cecilia reminds us to limit what demands attention because our attention is precious.
Although Zone 3 is similar to zone 2, it is a little harder to get to. Zone 3 lies in the back of the cupboard, up high or underneath. These are things you use only every few weeks. Note, this is a spectrum of choices, not a hard and fast rule. As a result, you are the best person to decide what is useful. So, it is you who decides with honesty.
“Zone 4 has the things you may use only use once a year. Maybe that is stuff for making holiday cakes. So, she gave her cake making equipment to your sister so they could enjoy making cakes together. But, if you truly love something, then keep it. It’s yours. Just remember that anywhere can be your Zone 4.” says Cecilia.
Similarly, your local hire shop is also great alternative storage space for Zone 4. The hire shop will store, mend, sharpen and clean the equipment you use only seasonally. As a result, you get more creative time.
Further afield, Zone 5 doesn’t need to be closeby. “Your absence may be all that is required for a pre-existing Zone 5. When you live in a share house you are protecting the wilderness by removing pressure from the outskirts of the city on the wilderness. Furthermore, when you can’t see something – it escapes into a ‘twilight’ zone.”
Key Advantages of Zoning
Decisions are easier
Zoning facilitates creative energy because clutter and misplaced or lost tools don’t block the creative energy flow. “Zone 1 is where you create things – it should always be flowing. There is no storage in Zone 1. Everything in the zone is being processed. Stuff may only be there because it is in use. Eg, the cloth and spray at hand, the vase holding a flower, the compost bin waiting. This is a zone of beauty and love and always pristine.” By everything having a home, we save decision-making time. “Decision-making is a finite resource. Don’t spend decision making power on low-value things like ‘where does this cup go?’
Motivation Triggered by Zones
Both motivation and demotivation are triggered by Zoning. People may argue: ‘I want to put this nearby so I can reach it easily’. Do you really want to use more of that? I put things away from the convenient zone to discourage undesirable actions. For example, I put the toaster away so I eat less toast. What you should do becomes what you want to do. Permaculture is a design system. It is a way to facilitate what you really want to do. Have all the healthy food ready to use. Using zoning motivates and liberates us. Because it frees from petty decision making and provides a canvas for creativity.”
Good Systems Pay Off
“Durability is the ultimate test,” says Cecilia. “If my house isn’t good enough for someone else to run, then it isn’t good enough for me. You can be blind in my kitchen to set up and cook. I need that because I’m very distractable”.
How to Start Zoning to Your Space
Cecilia has a couple of tricks to get the Zoning done. She uses fractal thinking, grouping things into families and a 2/3rds full rule.
Simply put, fractal zoning is like boxes inside boxes. Inside each compartment are more zones. “Zoning helps us and anyone who wants to help us. Eg, the kitchen has its own zones and the bathroom has its own zones”. Your office desk can have zones.
By bundling resources into groups or families, we compare their usefulness. In addition, we will see if we have too much. “Put all the cups in one place,” says Cecilia. And keep only what you need. Keep only the best tool for the task. Defective tools are immediately tagged, then sent to a repair shop or recycling bay. This way, we are not tricked into using shoddy tools.
The 2/3rds Full Rule
Keep the spaces only 2/3rds full. This ensures less distraction. Growth and focus accelerate in open spaces.
Cecilia tackles overcrowding of spaces through hoarding because “hoarding can cause isolation. We have less room for people and then fewer people to share the stuff with – it creates a downward spiral. We need to find a healthy environment for creative play.” Would you prefer a house full of stuff or a house full of friends?