What is ‘Permaculture’?

To me, permaculture is everything.

It does include organic gardening, growing your own fruit and vegies, keeping backyard chickens, and utilising 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 and other products from companies that ‘give back’ to the communities producing them (refer to my Mindful (or Ethical) consumerism page for more details). For example, 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 by supporting these products you are creating a market for them and this will encourage other businesses to offer, and continue offering, those products.
  • 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 being consciously aware of where everything you buy will end up, and refusing (choosing products that will avoid putting single-use packaging straight to landfill), reusing/upcycling, worm farming, composting and recycling, as much as you can.

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, both on your property and beyond, including 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 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.

If you’d like a more-indepth-but-still-shortish summary, grab a copy of ‘Permaculture 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.

Tips for Starting Out

A few quick tips before you venture forth into the world of permaculture, sustainability and growing your own food:

As you will have gathered from reading through the rest of this page, permaculture is BIG, and should not be taken on all at once – that is a sure-fire way of overwhelming yourself with information and giving up because you don’t know where to begin. So pick just one topic, eg growing a few herbs or vegies that you use regularly (only grow what you eat! It takes a lot of time investment to get a plant from seed or seedling to harvest, so don’t waste that time and energy on something you don’t like eating), and do as much research as possible before even thinking about planning a vegie patch. Lots of herbs, vegies and fruit have slightly different requirements – some like more water, some like less; some like full sun, others prefer part-shade; etc – so do your research and start small. By starting with just a few plants, in a small plot or even just a group of pots (great for starting out because you can move them around as you learn what likes full sun and what doesn’t; or just so you can move them into the sun during winter and out of it during summer) you’ll have a much higher rate of success than starting big, getting overwhelmed and giving up.

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 at the very least, have a go!

And above all, enjoy yourself! :D

And don’t forget, there is a huge network of people out there who are also venturing forth so don’t be afraid to ask questions!

I still learn new things every single day by continually reading and researching, talking to people, asking questions, and following through on this research by making my own little ‘experiments’ to see if some new technique will work for me. 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 challenge about permaculture is that everything that you build or plant on your lot, has to be multi-functional. Absolutely everything has to have multiple uses, eg the chook run fence not only keeps the chooks contained and safe from predators (we have foxes in our area), it also provides a frame to grow vines up; the vines, in turn, not only produce food for us (in this case passionfruit), they also provide shade for the chooks during summer and mulch when they drop their leaves in winter. It’s a constant puzzle to figure out. I find that kind of problem-solving challenging and fascinating, and I hope you do to :) 

Enjoy the journey!

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