Discover how learning permaculture for beginners could transform your gardening experience and help you grow in a more eco-friendly manner.
Permaculture for beginners – what is permaculture?
If you’re interested in more environmental ways of gardening, then you may have come across the term ‘permaculture’. The name is a contraction of ‘permanent culture’ and it involves working with nature rather than against it.
The name ‘permaculture is used to describe a lifestyle and ethos rather than a specific method of gardening or farming. It includes many different elements including agriculture, architecture, philosophy and design, and can even mean different things to different people! You could broadly define it as ‘living in harmony with nature’.
The idea of permaculture was developed in 1978 by Australian ecologist David Holmgren and Bill Mollison, a professor of environmental psychology.
Permaculture for beginners – key principles
Some of the key principles of permaculture for beginners to learn are the ideas that you should care for earth, care for people and only take your fair share and return any surplus.
Part of permaculture is ‘closed systems’ that don’t rely on outside elements. For example, if you kept your own chickens you could use the manure to fertilise the field where you grow the corn that feeds the chickens, in a sustainable loop.
Another idea is that every feature on your land should fulfil at least two different functions – for example, a fence could be both a barrier and a support for climbing plants, and a water feature could provide both water for livestock and irrigation for plants. Water conservation is a key principle of permaculture (which was invented in Australia, after all!), so putting barrels to catch rain water and use it for watering would help to reduce waste.
You can apply the principles to your own garden, even if you’re not farming or keeping chickens! Recycle, reduce waste, reuse and work in harmony with nature – and you might end up with an outdoor space that’s more productive for less time and money. You’re probably already applying some of the principles without even thinking about it, but formalising what you do could help your garden flourish.
Permaculture planting guide
Permaculture for beginners is best started at the start of the growing season (i.e. March / April), but you can plan your permaculture garden out in advance at any time of the year and decide what you’re going to do.
Start by considering the natural features of your garden and how you can make them work for you. If you are starting completely from scratch you can create a really efficient design, but most of us will have to incorporate some existing elements and plants into the new culture.
The whole point of permaculture is that you should work in harmony with nature, so if you have to work very hard to keep a plant going (i.e. moving it in and out of shade, pruning it very carefully, sheltering it from frost), then it’s probably not suitable for the environment.
Putting plants that grow well in the local soil and in your particular garden means they’ll be easy to maintain and should grow well without too much intervention. Any ‘difficult’ bits of garden can be left to go wild, providing a wildlife haven. Add in some bee-friendly plants, some logs and a couple of big stones as garden shelter ideas for different species. Or have a go at making your own bee-friendly hotel.
Use raised beds for a permaculture garden
Raised beds are ideal to use for permaculture for beginners. As well as being useful for containing plants, the soil doesn’t need to be tilled in the same way that an allotment plot in the ground would. This helps to ensure that the key nutrients remain in the soil.
Plants that have similar watering or sun requirements can then be planted together in raised beds. It help to plant taller plants first as these can then serve as offering shade or partial light to smaller shade-loving plants.
Growing vegetables the permaculture way
Vegetables grow well in raised beds and are the perfect addition for beginners permaculture. Choose which vegetables you want to grow and use a space stacking method to arrange them. For example, add taller plants first, then medium sized and smaller plants underneath,
Make use of the space you have available by growing vertically – train vegetables such as peas, beans, tomatoes and even some courgette varieties to grow up wooden poles or trellis. This will help provide you with more room underneath for additional plants, such as radishes, salad greens or beetroot.
If you don’t have room for a formal vegetable garden, experiment with putting vegetables in among the main flowerbeds here and there. Once harvested, anything left over can go into the compost heap or be dug straight into the soil. Plants that produce easy-to-harvest seeds such as sweet peas or poppies work well, as you can keep on growing your own.
Collect all your seeds ready to sow them again next year. Look out for seed swapping networks where you can trade your seeds.
Top tips for permaculture for beginners
- Avoid using chemicals or pesticides. Make your own natural compost with manure or natural food waste, or choose a good organic compost to start with.
- Add a layer of mulch to your raised beds after planting to help keep the soil nice and moist and deter weeds. Good examples of natural mulch include straw, bark, leaves, grass cuttings or newspaper.
- Get to know your garden and identify the areas that get the most sun or shade, so you can plant them accordingly.
- Spend time getting to know the plants and insects that are native to your local area too, so you can incorporate relevant insect-friendly plants into your garden.
- Use a plant stacking approach in all areas of your permaculture garden to make the most of the space you have available. For example, use trees as a top layer, shrubs as a middle layer and plant your herbaceous plants for ground cover.
- Use as many natural materials in your permaculture garden as you can, recycling and reusing where possible.
- Be efficient with how you water your permaculture garden. Collect rainwater in various containers and aim to use the minimum amount you need to help everything grow well. Experiment with irrigation systems to drip-feed your crops.
- Grow vegetable crops in succession, as this helps lengthen your productive yield.
- Make use of vertical space, by planting in containers or using tall plants as a form of natural trellis. For example, climbing fruits such as raspberries can be planted up tree trunks.
- Be prepared to adapt what you’re growing if certain plants don’t thrive in your environment.
If you’re not quite ready to fully embrace permaculture growing methods, you don’t have to go the whole hog and manage your entire garden with permaculture, but incorporating some of the ideology where convenient will help you produce a more environmentally friendly space that’s easier to manage, too.
Happy permaculture gardening!
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