I used to be addicted to going to the grocery store. When we lived in the city, we just went to the store. I never thought about WHERE our food came from at all.
The shift in my view came pretty suddenly when I was pregnant with my third child, facing ANOTHER job loss. I started panicking and prepping began. It wasn't logical, nor healthy! I still have some of those canned goods, like Dinty Moore beef stew, that I bought during that time, sitting in my pantry. Not a good way to increase our food security beyond the short term.
Luckily, my better half is very logical and we started looking at how we could move back to Maine with a real plan to have perpetual food in our own backyard. Enter Permaculture and the proponents like Sepp Holzer, Mark Shepard and Geoff Lawton who have generously shared their hard earned information about agroforestry, permaculture and other variations of a Permanent Agriculture System.
PERMACULTURE as an answer to local food supply
I was intrigued the first time I heard that word, Permaculture. The term combines the word permanent and agriculture, utilizing the permanent nature of tree crops as the basis of an agricultural system.
Permaculture is, in its most basic form, is working with nature, not against it.
It is a design of systems utilizing what is found in nature. It focuses on local production of all the materials each individual requires, the exact opposite of the current world-wide agricultural system in place today. It is the ultimate Locally Grown!
How does it work?
Permaculture utilizes the systems found in nature which most adherents break down into five zones. The zones are divided up based on usage, the lower the number, the more it’s frequented or used.
- Zone 1 is the most used, includes the residence and areas visited multiple times a day such as your kitchen garden.
- Zone 2 is where one still needs to visit at least once a day, such as animals requiring daily attention and high-maintenance fruit crops.
- Zone 3 is less visited and set up, normally, for animals with self-feeders/waterers as well as less intensive crops like apples.
- Zone 4 would be areas that are managed lightly, a wood lot or no-maintenance yearly crops like black walnuts.
- Zone 5 is an undisturbed area of nature.
How to Mimic Nature
- Diversify your species: Don't plant only one or two items, plant many! A healthy forest doesn't have just one type of tree, it has multiple species of trees, shrubs, vines, plants, ferns, fungis and lichen which draw in all sorts of birds, insects, mammals, reptiles and more.
- Create Symbiotic Relationships: Many plants and animals grow better with each other. The 3 Sisters method of planting corn, beans and squash are a wonderful example of this. Companion plantings are beneficial in many ways to each party in the relationship
- Ensure Balance: In nature, if something gets out of balance, another species comes in to take advantage of this. Currently, in Maine, we hear about the Spruce Budworm and White Pine Blister which kill profitable forests that were planted without the balance of multiple species. The result of a monoculture is another species can easily move through it to take advantage of this.
- Resiliency: Simply put, grow many different types of the same species. If one does not flourish, another may. When it comes to food, we ensure a longer season and a good harvest with growing many of the same.
- Go Vertical: Nature is not one dimension, utilize the variations of height you see in the forest to take advantage of the land you have. Add trees, vines, shrubs, herbaceous plants, ground cover and fungi.
- Mimic Nature: Know your soil, shade and moisture levels, find plants that like them and plants lots of them.
- Succession: In different seasons you will see different plants growing and taking up space in natural ecologies. Emulate this by planning to have no dead space, ever. Plant annuals to take up land space where your new perennials are growing. Plan plants to put in when early, mid and late season ones are finished. Cover your garden with mulch to mimic the forest floor.
- Regenerate: Utilize all "waste" product right on your own property. Compost, animal manure, grass cuttings and tree cuttings are all used to increase fertility and do not need to be thrown out.
- Stop tilling: Utilize mulching, compost, cover crops, lasagna gardening, hugelkulture. Basically, lay down organic matter and allow the earth's own organisms to do the work for you.
Benefits of Permaculture for You
- Costs Lowered: It reduces your costs by utilizing all the natural components of the local environments such as composting food wastes and spilled feeds into useful organic matter saving money from buying compost or fertilizers.
- Waste Reduced: It reduces waste and pollution as we recycle, which also reduces costs. Utilizing items, such as recycled pallets and upcycled roofing, lowers your costs and keeps the items out of the waste cycle.
- Zoning: An important part of Permaculture is zoning. Zoning means arranging the usage depending on what ripens first and what needs more attention. Following this way, the ripe fruits and vegetables are plucked first and the latter ones, as and when they ripen.
- Sustainable: Growing what one needs by utilizing what we have on hand, such as making compost from scraps and growing an abundance in it. If there is surplus, we preserve it or feed it to animals that then provide more food or compostable manure.
- Adaptability: We can apply the principles to existing systems and change them to better function. It’s systems will adapt to utilize non-traditional farmlands into productive systems, such as forest farming.
What Permaculture isn’t
Permaculture is NOT a tree-hugging, hippie, religion of earth worshiping. Permaculture is not living in a mud hut or making herb spirals.
What Permaculture IS
It is a sustainable and practical design plan based on where YOU live, what YOU need, what YOUR land presents to you. We look at it as following the Designer’s plan, and recreating a small piece of Eden, right in your back yard in order to have more abundance with less doing.
It is a scientific and well-researched practice of agriculture and living that works with systems, not feelings, where profit and sustainability can actually co-exist.
If you’re looking to find a way to increase your yields, lower your output, and live a simpler, more abundant life, stay tuned for more information on our beginnings with our little acres in Winterport. We’ll be sharing what we’ve learned, how we’ve done it on a shoe string budget (sometimes feels like a cobweb budget) and the stuff that actually is working for us.