As the term indicates, permaculture is a practice of establishment of a sustainable, self-sufficient agricultural ecosystem that is advantageous for all kinds of life. Restoration of biodiversity, enhancement of depleted resources, and food security are the aims of permaculture. It is a way of integrated farming and ecological engineering to allow the farms and communities to work for the healthiest environment.
History of Permaculture:
The word permaculture derived from the concept “permanent culturing” taken from Masanobu Fukuoka’s natural farming. In 1929, Joseph Smith wrote a book “Permanent Agriculture”, based on his own experience of agriculture farming. According to him, Permaculture gives the concepts of rewilding and regenerative agriculture for a sustainable ecosystem.
The concept was later re-introduced by Bill Mollison. He designed various projects and developed ideas for practical performance Permaculture. He wrote various books, conducted seminars, and lectured in over 80 countries to promote the concept of “Permanent Agriculture”. (J. R. Smith, 2013)
The movement spread out throughout Central America and Asia. To promote sustainable agriculture, various institutions have been established to focus on promoting nature, Mesoamerican Permanent Institute is an example. (C. Smith, 2015)
Principles of permaculture:
There are twelve basic principles of permaculture listed below:
1. Observe and Interact:
Linda K. Burton says that “First observe, then Serve” i.e. carefully observe the weaknesses in a system and try to find out the hidden opportunities. There is always space for betterment. For example, enhancement in the recycling of everyday waste could bring big change with little effort. (Mannen, Hinton, Kuijper, & Porter, 2012)
2. Catch and Store Energy:
The proverb “Make hay when the sun shines” perfectly describes the catch and store energy principle of permaculture. It describes the saving of resources during peak abundance and then using them when a shortage occurs or where they are in shortage.
3. Obtain a Yield:
Obtain a yield means that you must get the full reward for what you are doing. The element of competition is always present while obtaining the yield because “you cannot work on an empty stomach”. Emphasize the projects that benefit both the server and the environment.
4. Self-regulation and Acceptance Feedback:
The effects of inappropriate activities in the ecosystem emerge slowly but lasts longer as future generations suffer consequences from the previous generations. Always discourage the ecosystem damaging actions and implement self-regulation and acceptance feedback.
5. Utilize and value renewable resources:
Reuse, Renew, Recycle the resources is the key to obtain sustainability. Make the best use of renewable resources, try to produce zero waste, and reduce dependence on non-renewable resources.
6. No-waste Production:
Permaculturists represent the sixth principle of permaculture with a “Worm” because the earthworms are one of the most efficient recyclers of waste, converting waste into useful products. It’s advisable to conserve the resources when in abundance than to be wasteful in times of maximum availability.
7. Design from patterns to detail:
Just like "Every spider's web is unique to its place", Permaculture encourages to design, observe the patterns in society, use, and reuse the naturally available resources, especially water. Once the patterns are in place, the opportunities and possibilities for integration with other systems will be endless.
8. Integration instead of Segregation:
“We are more powerful when we empower each other”, is the proverb that correctly indicates the eighth principle of permaculture. For example, one individual or one family cannot grow 100 plants at a time in their place but 100 individuals or families in a community can grow 1 plant and that collective effort could bring massive change in the climate.
9. Use small and slow solutions:
You can take the example of Snail here, it is small, slow, carrying its home on its back and can withdraw to protect itself whenever in danger. Grow your food in your garden, conserve as much water as you can, make compost of house waste, and encourage the production of indigenous plants are all small and slow steps towards a sustainable ecosystem.
10. Encourage Diversity:
“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” conveys that having options and variety will ensure that the possible variations in the system would not be a threat to its sustainability. For example, growing several different vegetables, fruits, and ornamentals would not only be a source of nutritious food but also provide habitat for diverse insects and wildlife in your garden.
11. Use edges and value the marginal:
One method or thing that the majority is using does not necessarily mean it’s the most useful. The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. If an old technique giving the solution to a problem, don't go necessarily for the latest. The aim of permaculture should be "adopting the methods and strategies that are the most productive, valuable, and diverse”.
12. Creatively utilize and respond to the Change:
The need of the time is to intelligently and positively adapt yourself to the change. The proverb “Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be”, reminds us that if we have no control over something, we should mold ourselves according to the circumstances. If we intelligently cope with the change that may be climate change, global warming, deforestation, etc., we may overcome that (of course slowly ) with a better output.
Common Practices of Permaculture:
Agroforestry is a practice of incorporation of trees and shrubs in common commercial crop cultivation and livestock production. The aim is to create a more productive, diverse, profitable, and sustainable land-use system. Agroforestry benefits both the humans (provide food, income, shelter, etc.) and the environment (absorb carbon dioxide, emit Oxygen, and suppress pollution).
Vermicomposting is an important practice in permaculture in which the earthworms are utilized to break down the brown and green wastes. The end product is a nutrient-rich crop fertilizer that when added into the soil enhances crop production, restores soil fertility, and prevents soil-borne diseases. Vermicomposting is a great initiative towards the control of environmental degradation due to uncontrollable waste production. (Pathma & Sakthivel, 2012)
Best Utilization of Space:
The major issue in urban and suburban areas is the shortage of space for growing crops and raising domestic animals. These areas can efficiently contribute to the Permaculture by transforming the recreational centers, parks, schools, streets, vacant lots, front yards, and backyards, into greener and productive places, and oxygen-producing sites.
Hugelkultur is an old practice of burying the wood into the soil, leave it to decompose, and then plant vegetables and other ornamental flowers on it. The wood becomes porous (absorbs sufficient rain or irrigation water), increases the water holding capacity of soil, aeration, and gradually adds nutrients into the soil. Hugelkultur can be established in the form of raised garden beds or building mounds. (Chalker-Scott, 2017)
The harvesting and storage of rainwater to be later used for irrigation, drinking water for livestock, before it runs off, could increase urban greenery and supplement the water table. Ground water decline, over-harvesting of ground water, and water pollution are becoming the major challenges for agriculture and food industries. There is a need to conserve as much water as we can.
Mulching or sheet mulching is a practice of spreading an organic or inorganic layer of material to prevent the loss of water through evaporation, to control weed growth, and maintaining the soil temperature (mostly used in tunnel farming and forced vegetation). Organic mulch may be of well-rotten FYM, wheat straw, rice straw, wood chips, leaves, etc. These materials gradually add nutrients into the soil as they decompose and improves the physicochemical properties of soil.
Domesticated animals are a major contributor in restoring ecological integrity, nutrients cycling, pest maintenance, the spread of seeds, and clearing fallen fruits. However, the timing and habits of domesticated animals are critical and need more attention than plants.
Well-designed permaculture possesses a significant relationship among its various constituents like trees, shrubs, ground cover, animals, etc. Layers are the design tools to properly adjust each constituent at the predetermined place. (Cassel & Cousineau, 2018)
· The Canopy Layer: it contains large trees, such as apple, cherry, flame tree, etc.
· Understory Layer: small trees require partial shade, flourish under the canopy layer.
· Shrub Layer: medium height (5-6 ft.), woody perennials, mostly berry plants.
· Herbaceous Layer: annuals and biennials, that are annuals or biennials (die after completing their flowering and fruiting stage in one and two seasons respectively), are categorized in this layer.
· Ground-covers: are the grasses and low-growing plants that densely fill bare patches, grow near the ground, and need frequent maintenance (fertilizers, mowing, etc.).
· Rhizosphere Layer: root crops, corms, rhizomes, bulbs, plant roots, and soil microbes come under this layer.
· Vertical Layer: vines and lianas, that need support to grow.
Zones are the intelligently allocated areas and spaces keeping in view the plants, and animal’s needs in an environment built by Humans. Permaculturists numbered these zones from 0 to 5 based on the positioning:
· Zone 0: the House or Home Center zone. In this zone, Permaculturists aims to build a highly maintained home, utilizing solar energy at the maximum, and a comfortable environment to live and work.
· Zone 1: describes the area, nearest to the home. The elements in this zone are those that require daily visits, frequent maintenance, and irrigation. Kitchen gardens, ornamental gardens are the examples of elements preferred in zone 1.
· Zone 2: semi-intensely managed zone. Perennial plants (orchards, forest garden), biennial vegetables (require occasional weeding and mulching), and managed livestock, beehives, large compost bins, etc. are placed in this zone.
· Zone 3: named as the Farming zone. Domestic and market use crops that require less maintenance once established, will be grown here. These crops require weekly hoeing, irrigation, multiple harvesting, etc.
· Zone 4: moving further away from the zone 0, zone 4 is a semi-wild area where timber, medicinal herbs, and forage crops are grown. This is a self-sustained, in between cultivated and wilderness area.
• Zone 5: a naturally maintained, wild area for micro fauna, wild animals, and plants. Humans do not intervene in this area, typically not present in an urban setting.
Cassel, J. B., & Cousineau, S. V. (2018). Permaculture as a systemic design practice Systemic Design (pp. 293-318): Springer.
Chalker-Scott, L. (2017). Hugelkultur: what is it, and should it be used in home gardens?
Mannen, D., Hinton, S., Kuijper, T., & Porter, T. (2012). Sustainable organizing: A multiparadigm perspective of organizational development and permaculture gardening. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 19(3), 355-368.
Pathma, J., & Sakthivel, N. (2012). Microbial diversity of vermicompost bacteria that exhibit useful agricultural traits and waste management potential. SpringerPlus, 1(1), 1-19.
Smith, C. (2015). Permaculture–History and Futures. Foresight International, 1-6.
Smith, J. R. (2013). Tree crops: A permanent agriculture: Island Press.