Self-sufficiency involves different levels of commitment: towards ourselves, our family and community, and above all toward our planet.
In that vein, permaculture is one of the most accessible and ethical ways to accomplish our purpose of being 100% self-sufficient and providing ourselves what we actually need.
This is even more significant when SHTF and the access to supermarkets could be restricted by circumstances which are outside of our control. Having the chance to create your sustainable garden and orchard based on permacultural principles is, no doubt, the best way to benefit from your work with the land.
The Story Behind Permaculture
“The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter.”
― Bill Mollison
Any human culture cannot face long-term survival without the fundamentals of sustainable agriculture and ethical management of the earth. We, as preppers, know very well how totally we rely on that.
Moved by a brilliant intuition, Bill Mollison, an Australian researcher, author, scientist, and biologist, developed a synthesis of theory and practice which uses and systematizes the elements of different ecological sciences. His aim was to open new horizons inside traditional agriculture.
Bill Mollison and David Holmgren introduced the word “permaculture” in the mid-1970s. With it, they started to describe an integrated and evolutionary system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species, useful to humans as well as to local flora and fauna.
Adding People to the Design
“Animals are the messengers of the tree, and trees the gardens of animals. Life depends upon life. All forces, all elements, all life forms are the biomass of the tree.”
― Bill Mollison
David Holmgren defined permaculture as such:
“Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature while yielding an abundance of food, fiber and energy for provision of local needs.”
In this perspective, people and the way they live are central to permaculture. Thus the permacultural view of permanent or sustainable agriculture has evolved into a permanent or sustainable culture.
Permaculture can also be defined as an integrated design process that results in a sustainable, balanced and aesthetic environment—a successful synthesis of ecology, geography, anthropology, sociology and design. By applying ecological principles and strategies, the equilibrium of those systems—the basis of life—can be restored.
Permaculture is actually both the design and the conscious and ethical conservation of productive ecosystems that maintain the diversity, stability and flexibility of natural ecosystems. It applies equally to economic strategies and social structures—social ecosystems.
Why You Should Start Permaculture
“Sitting at our back doorsteps, all we need to live a good life lies about us. Sun, wind, people, buildings, stones, sea, birds and plants surround us. Cooperation with all these things brings harmony, opposition to them brings disaster and chaos.”
― Bill Mollison
Self-sufficiency, independence, resilience—these are all concepts you can practice anytime, anywhere.
It is no different with permaculture. As we will see, you don’t actually need to have plenty of acreage to start your sustainable garden, as the model developed by Mollison and Holmgren can be successfully applied on very different kinds of terrains, with various geographical features.
Your current living space is the ideal place to start. Trying things out, getting results, and learning from mistakes will allow you to refine your abilities and to successfully apply your permaculture techniques elsewhere.
From a prepping perspective, permaculture represents a remarkable knowledge base you can always rely on, especially in a long-term bug out situation. Besides that, taking care of a system founded on the basis of permaculture is quite easy and extraordinarily less pricey than you may think.
What You Need to Start with Permaculture
“The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves.”
― Bill Mollison
In case you don’t have a garden or a field, even just a balcony can be enough in order to be productive and help the planet. On a personal level, it also helps you to maintain a connection with nature.
If you don’t even have a balcony available, there is always the option to acquire your own space in a community garden. Another possibility is to help design and maintain the garden of a friend who is not interested in gardening or horticulture.
The core of permaculture is design, as it is essentially a multidisciplinary design system.
The first step in creating a permaculture garden is to understand the purpose it will serve for you and what you want to accomplish. In other words, define your goals. Having a defined, structured project means turning your ideas into functional reality.
The size of the space available obviously affects the project. It can range from a vegetable garden to a bathtub on the balcony to an entire acre covered with a food forest.
You also need to decide on the degree of adherence to the principles of permaculture you would like in your garden—whether it will resemble a traditional vegetable garden with some features of permaculture design, or whether it is a multi-level food forest project with no restrictions of any kind. It is absolutely up to you.
Once you have your plan, the first part of the garden to work on, and the topic of part one of this series on permaculture, is soil.
Soil Protection (mulch, ground cover, etc.)
“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.“
– Wendell Berry
Trying to keep the soil “uncovered” in a garden is a practice that works against nature. In fact, nature tends to fill all the spaces available in order to protect the soil. This is what pioneer plants do and are best at. Bare soil is constantly compressed and kept compacted by rain, degrading the soil structure and washing away the top layer.
Plowing, sewing, or constantly working the land does not actually protect it. Working and turning the soil destroys its structure and, simultaneously, exposes the deeper layers to UV rays and heat that kill the biocoenosis (the micro flora and fauna contained in it).
The use of raised beds or hugelkultur beds, which can be made with pallets, can be a great aid to keep the soil healthy as long as their size allows you to reach all parts of it and you never walk on it.
Stepping on the soil, in fact, has several cons:
- It destroys the soil structure.
- It makes it even more compact.
- It prevents air and water from penetrating and reaching the roots.
- It affects the health of plants, by limiting their growth and productivity.
Rebuilding the Soil
“Land is not merely soil, it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals.“
– Aldo Leopold
If your soil appears to be “dead” (little presence of organic matter and humus) or if it is damaged or ecologically compromised in some way, it is mandatory to heal it through some specific soil reconstruction activities.
Tap root plants such as fenugreek or dandelion can be useful to break up the soil. If absolutely necessary, you can resort to digging the soil to loosen it and then covering it with mulch to protect it.
Compost can be used to give the soil a new life. We can accomplish this through hugelkultur beds or more quickly through layered mulching.
By using vegetable fertilizer (i.e. growing and mowing plants), we can generate a large amount of biomass which will be useful to mulch the soil. Other plants’ remains will end up creating humus. Beans are a choice suitable for cold climates, and they also contribute nitrogen to the soil, like all other plants in the family Fabaceae (legumes).
By not walking on our beds, we allow earthworms to dig the earth more efficiently and quickly than any man or machine could ever do.
In the next article, we will see how to put all these principles into effective use.