What is ‘Permaculture’?

Introduction

Hi, I’m Kim and this is my permaculture journey.

This website comes with a small warning: I could talk the ears off a donkey about all the different aspects of permaculture that are utterly fascinating to me but I understand that not everyone is equally interested or passionate about everything like I am, so I will try to give as brief a summary as I can, so I don’t bore you all to death, and instead encourage you to research, research, research! Because I do :) And don’t be scared to try! If you give it a go, and it doesn’t work out, you’ve still learnt something; you won’t learn anything by doing nothing, so above all, have a go! And start small! Starting small, with just a few pots of herbs, for example, will produce a much higher rate of success than starting big and getting overwhelmed. Also, there is a huge network of ‘gurus’ out there, and I’m here to help too, so don’t be afraid to ask :)

Another disclaimer: I am not an expert. I don’t proclaim to be and I probably won’t ever proclaim to be one because I still learn new things every single day: by continually reading and researching, talking to people, asking questions, following through on this research by making my own little ‘experiments’ or trial-and-error; there is always something new to learn and I hope that I never stop learning. That’s one of the things that I like best about permaculture: there is always more to learn and absolutely no opportunity to get bored! Another thing that I like about permaculture is that everything that you build or plant on your lot, has to be multi-functional. Absolutely everything. It’s a constant puzzle to figure out, and I find that kind of problem-solving challenging and fascinating. As such, I would also love to hear from you, about your experiences, because they will inevitably be different to mine, so please feel free to drop me a line (kim(at)myrtlefarm.com.au) if you have any questions, queries, comments, suggestions or experiences that you’d like to share.

This first page will be a bit of verbal diarrhoea, but please bear with me – eventually I will be organising the different topics into their own pages, and also have a page with a history of my journey , the different gardens I’ve had, the challenges I’ve encountered, the things I’ve learnt and what I would do differently next time, so that everyone who’s interested can also learn from my experiences.

Why a website?

In April 2015, I finally completed my Permaculture Design Course, and was encouraged to create a website with my ‘permacultury exploits’ so that everyone could keep up with what I was doing, including a few who aren’t on Facebook. So here it is!

When I returned from the course, I was asked by one person – who, now that he has his own place, is interested in growing some herbs and vegies and having a few chooks – what ‘permaculture’ is, because he’d gotten a few mixed messages. And I actually had a real problem trying to summarise it for him (as I said, I could talk all day on this topic).

You may have heard principles like ‘Care for the Earth, Care for People, Share the Surplus’, but this doesn’t necessarily mean anything to most people, so here goes; this is my summary …

What is ‘Permaculture’?

To me, permaculture is everything.

It does include organic gardening, vegies, fruit trees, backyard chickens, and compost bins, but it is also far, far more than this. Permaculture is, literally, everything:

On a personal/backyard scale, permaculture includes:

Growing your own food, including vegies, herbs, fruit, meat, eggs and honey. If you choose to have livestock, growing some of their food and natural remedies is a good idea, and money-saver, too.

Learning to live sustainably, by making what you can from scratch, including making your own meals (ie reducing the amount pre-packaged goods consumed – the ‘Slow Food Movement/Diet’), baked goods, bread, preserves, dried fruit, skin products, shampoos and conditioners, soaps, natural remedies and household cleaning products, to name a few. You may also learn other skills such as basic carpentry, basic vehicle/tractor maintenance or plumbing, so these tasks don’t need to be outsourced either.

Mindful consumerism, for when you can’t make-your-own (everyone needs loo paper afterall! And no one, realistically, can supply all of their family’s meat needs (assuming that’s part of your diet) or flour needs). You may have heard the phrases ‘eat local’, ‘locavore’ or ‘100 mile diet’ (or ‘150km’ here in Australia)? I, personally, try to support local before others, so have a good look at the labels! ShopEthical is a great website that allows you to look up who owns what products, so you can work out where your dollar will be going (within Australia or off-shore) and how ethical that company is (ie whether they deserve your dollar). ‘Mindfulness’ could also include buying clothes, furniture, etc second-hand rather than new, or purchasing clothes, etc from companies that ‘give back’ to the communities producing them (refer my Mindful (or Ethical) consumerism article for more details). Back when we were building a deck onto the back of our last house, we specifically requested, much to the builder’s angst at the time, that we use Australian farmed timber. That builder has since admitted that we started a trend, with several other clients after us, requesting the same thing. Unbeknownst to him, we had; we’d told all our friends who were also planning building projects to request Aust-grown, and in so doing, created a market for such products and convinced this builder to support/sell Aust-grown alternatives. (See, you can make a difference!) Likewise, I also keep an eye out for any wooden products/furniture with FSA certification, or seed packets with the spiral-hand organic symbol, because supporting these products will encourage other people to take them on – you create a market for it.

Learning to make your own clothes, winter woollies, sheets, pillow cases, curtains, etc by learning to knit, crochet and sew may be the latest craze but it was something that came naturally to previous generations with phrases like ‘mend and make do’ being often referred to. Learning to do so again could be considered to be both ‘living sustainably’ and ‘mindful consumerism’.

On the house scale, permaculture includes:

Sustainable building design, with considerations towards passive solar, orientation, sustainable materials, size (smaller rather than bigger – you may have heard about ‘The Tiny House Movement’?), energy efficient design and usage, and water efficient design and usage. Don’t forget usage! Installing a water-efficient shower head is kind of pointless if you continue to have 30min showers.

Minimising waste by reusing/upcycling, recycling, worm farming or composting as well as being consciously aware of where everything that you buy is going to end up, and choosing those things that will avoid putting single-use packaging straight to landfill.

On a landscape scale, permaculture includes:

Water management, waste management, wastewater management, energy conservation and management, nutrient retention and cycling, soil conservation and management, and overall landscape management.

It also includes the bigger-scale environment, with wildlife management and habitat management considerations.

On a broader-scale human environment, permaculture includes:

Communities coming together, and supporting local businesses/enterprises (leading back to ‘mindful consumerism’).

It also includes education, business management and economics.

And the biggest of all overarching factor: ethics, on a personal, local, national and global scale. For instance, to satisfy my own personally ethics, I choose to eat only free-range (properly free-range! Not this measly 1m2 per chicken nonsense!) eggs and meat, or go without. I also choose to avoid products that contain palm oil or have a history of animal abuse or other unethical (in my view) practices (ShopEthical is a god-send, but POI (Palm Oil Investigators) have also released an app to help with this).

And it is the interactions between all of these things.

So in short, permaculture is everything.

I hope that made sense, and didn’t bore/overwhelm you too much.

Permaculture is a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean that you, as one individual, have to be a master of all. You may choose to specialise in just a few areas, but by teaming up with others with complementary skills/products, and bartering, you can trade your knowledge, experience, produce or just a helping hand, for someone else’s, and in so doing share ideas, continue to learn and educate each other, and ultimately help to bring people and communities together and keep our society as a whole moving forward in a more positive and less destructive (to both the planet and to ourselves) way.

And lastly, ENJOY THE JOURNEY! :D

If you’d like a better summary, but can’t be bothered reading Bill Mollison’s and David Holmgren’s ‘Permaculture One’ and ‘Permaculture Two’, grab a copy of ‘Permacultre in a Nutshell’ by Patrick Whitefield. Although written for the UK, its a great summary of all the different aspects of permaculture. The first edition of Australia’s Pip Magazine and Garden Australia’s ‘Essential Guide to Permaculture’ also have really good summaries at the beginning of the magazine.

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