6 Permaculture Techniques Beyond Gardening

Permaculture isn’t just regulated to the realm of growing food. Here’s how you can make it a life-long practice.

by Rachel Tayse
PHOTO: Brian Boucheron/Flickr

So you’ve started a permaculture garden and planted some powerhouse plants. Did you know that permaculture goes beyond the yard?

“Permaculture isn’t the garden, though gardening is certainly part of the big picture,” says Mari Keating, permaculture practitioner. “It’s the integration of the many separate elements involved in creating a sustainable and non-exploitive homestead.”

Further your commitment to sustainability by beginning or expand these permaculture techniques to model nature, which is, after all, at the heart of what permaculture is all about.

1. Conserve Resources

Conservation is the root of many ecologically minded practices. Permaculture design often involves mapping the available resources, which may include water, space, people and materials, then estimating what uses are best for each existing resource and what resources can be generated with minimal input.

Conservation can start by changing small habits. Turn off lights when you leave a room and the water when you brush your teeth. Wash clothes in cold water and hang them to dry. Compost food and lawn scraps rather than contributing to the landfill. Many permaculture homesteads also include solar power, gray water reclamation and rocket stoves to make best use of resources. While large projects might be your goal, you can always start smaller with a single rain barrel or solar dehydrator.

2. Reuse Materials

Sustainable systems must minimize inputs, but rather than focus on what you don’t want to buy new, see the abundance of unused materials around you. Craigslist and local Freecycle groups are full of amazing resources.

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Think outside the box and communicate your needs to your network—you’ll be surprised what might turn up. In my community, friends have made poultry pluckers from trash-picked washing machines, paid nothing for tons of patio sand offered on Craigslist, and created everything from garden beds to chicken coops to furniture from discarded pallets.

3. Build Interdependence

For many people who want to develop self-reliance, it is tempting to “gear up” and make sure you have every tool you could ever need, but this only increases strain on yourself and the Earth. Instead, focus on building a community of folks you can rely on for skilled services and tools. Consider what skills you have to barter with for the tools and services you need. I own and share a cider press, for instance, while I borrow a friend’s meat slicer. Not only does sharing make the best use of expensive tools, the act of working together creates a deeper sense of purpose and connection in a sometimes defeating world.

4. Work With The Seasons

Because permaculture is about restoring and mimicking nature, practitioners consider the seasons of nature in planning and executing projects. Outdoors, the spring is for preparing, the summer for planting, the fall for harvesting and the winter for planning. Whenever possible, time projects to work with seasonal temperatures and weather. It’s much easier to tackle building during the spring and fall, for instance. Avoid digging in winter because disturbing frozen soil is difficult if even possible.

Throughout the seasons, nature finds time to create beauty and rest. Be sure to do the same in your life too.

5. Respond With Creativity

Neighbors, Mother Earth, government officials and mistakes can form bumps in the road to your permaculture dream. No one likes to have their path diverted, but such is the nature of living authentically. Permaculture calls for you to respond with creativity and compassion.

When faced with a potential problem, consider all the alternatives that might meet the needs of the parties involved. Try one of the possible solutions and be ready to try something else if that doesn’t work. Sometimes life works in such a way that what seemed like a roadblock leads to a more beautiful solution than the original vision.

6. Invest In What Matters

Not all of us desire or are able to create a typical permaculture homestead. If you still want to encourage the permaculture lifestyle, do so by investing in other ways. Buy food from farmers practicing restoration agriculture. Contribute to microloan and crowd-funding permaculture projects. Reject economic systems that are divisive and extractive, choosing socially conscious mutual funds and banks instead.

All of us, regardless of resources, have the ability to read, write, speak and create art that spreads the word about permaculture. Conversation by conversation, this is how good ideas spread.


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