10 Ways to Use Permaculture Principles in Your Garden

Odds are you’ve probably heard of permaculture but do you really understand what it is? Often thought of as merely gardening methods, permaculture actually reaches beyond techniques like hugelkultur beds and fruit tree guilds. Bill Mollison one of the founders of permaculture defined it as, 

“The conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.”

Permaculture may not be the perfect solution for everyone but its teachings certainly have value. A great way to get started with permaculture is to learn about the principles and ethics of permaculture and try to apply them to your garden. 

Permaculture Principles

  1. Observe and interact
  2. Catch and store energy
  3. Obtain a yield
  4. Apply self regulation and accept feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns to details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use slow and small solutions
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use and respond to change

Permaculture Ethics

There are also three ethics: earth care, people care, and fair share. These ethics can be kept in mind when making decisions to create a sustainable garden.

Here are a few ways you can use permaculture principles and ethics in your garden.

Save Seeds

Seed saving is a great way to take your gardening a step further. It increases your self-reliance and the resiliency of your garden. It allows you to play a role in preserving heirlooms and biodiversity for future generations. 

When you save seeds you deepen your understanding of the natural world. You learn that beets are biennial, melon varieties have to isolated at least 1/8 mile for home use, and that garlic must be properly cured. You’ll get to know your plants better and appreciate your garden all the more. 

If you’re nearby, SESE’s Ira Wallace will be at the Allegheny Mountain Institute hosting a seed saving workshop on July 3rd.

Compost

No matter where you live you can compost. If you live in an apartment you can look into vermicomposting or you might be able to join a community composting organization. If you have a yard you can set up your own compost bin. There are many easy DIY tutorials online.

Composting can significantly reduce the amount of waste headed for landfills and help add nutrients back to your garden. If you live rurally and are feeling extra adventurous you can try using a composting toilet which helps save water too!

Reduce Plastic

If you pay attention to environmental news or science you’re probably bombarded with the rather frightening statistics about plastic. Scientists have discovered micro-plastics in Arctic ice and according to National Geographic approximately 18 billion pounds of plastic ends up in the ocean every year!

You might be wondering what this has to do with gardening but somewhat surprisingly agriculture is now heavily dependent on disposable plastic. From seed trays to hoop-house covers and product packaging, it has become so prevalent there’s a name for it: plasticulture. 

Growing food at home can help reduce food packaging especially if you opt to preserve you harvest in re-usable containers, canning jars, or silicone bags. Take it a step further and take plastic out of your garden too. Check out our post 7 Ways to Start Seeds Without Plastic, to learn about alternatives to plastic seed trays.

Create an Efficient Property

Using permaculture zones to design your property, even if you just have a small suburban backyard, can help you make the most of your space. Check out Property Planning with Permaculture Zones.

Feed Some Friends

Throw a garden party this summer! Share your harvest or get together for some harvesting, shelling, or canning. Put down your phones and connect with people. Sow the seeds (pun intended) of gardening and love for fresh meals in others. 

Install a Rain Barrel

Catching and storing water improves your self-reliance and helps the environment. If you have a filter or are willing to install a rainwater system you can use rainwater for household use. Even if you just want to set up a simple DIY barrel you can use rainwater to water your garden.

Collecting and using this water prevents stormwater run-off that otherwise can lead to excessive nutrient loads in local watersheds. These nutrients can cause algae blooms, harmful to both human and marine life. 

Be sure to check local regulations before installing a rain barrel. 

Grow Storage/Staple Crops

Even many small plots have room for a few storage crops like flour corn, dry beans, and sweet potatoes. Growing these simple foods can keep your pantry full and reduce your reliance on the grocery store. You’ll learn about the bounty your land can produce and how to create from scratch meals with staples. You’ll reduce your food miles, bills, and might get a little healthier too.

Teach Others

If you have the opportunity, pass on your skills. Get your children, grandchildren, or nephews and nieces involved in the garden. Share seeds and wisdom with a curious neighbor. Offer to teach a class at a community center or school. These moments will connect you with your community and inspire others. 

Learn Something New

No one is too old or too good at gardening to learn something new. Consider signing up for a local gardening, preserving, or permaculture class. You can also watch a documentary or read a book. Facebook can wait!

Plant Perennials

Perennial crops like asparagus, rhubarb, berry bushes, and fruit and nut trees all require a larger up-front investment than annual plants. Almost all perennials require a least a year or two to get established (if not more) before you’ll see any harvest. They also frequently cost more to purchase. However, perennials are worth the wait. 

Many will thrive in areas ill-suited for annual crops and help you achieve a larger harvest. Perennials are also an excellent way to diversify your crops and land use. Many like will also create habitat for local wildlife as well.  

 

These simple steps can have a big impact. As you work on your garden consider the permaculture principles and ethics to live a more sustainable life closer to nature.

 

The Case for Storage Crops

Jacob’s Cattle (Trout) Bush Dry Bean

You don’t need to be a “prepper” to grow storage crops. In fact, there are many reasons anyone with room should add a few storage crops to their garden. Storage crops can help you cut down on your grocery bill, eat a more local diet (which is better for the environment), and even eat a little healthier too. They’re also a great way to connect with history. Not long ago all of our ancestors relied on storage crops to help them make it through the year. Today we may not depend on them but growing some can be a worthwhile pursuit.

Dry Beans

They’re wonderfully easy to grow and a great source of protein. Beans are also a nitrogen-fixing legume perfect for growing after or in combination with heavy-feeders like corn. Dry bean varieties are either pole or bush type so consider your space before choosing a variety.

Dry beans should be allowed to fully mature and if possible dry before harvest. If frost or wet weather threatens you can pull the entire plant and hang them under cover to dry. An easy way to thresh dry beans is to take the beans still in pods and pour them into an old pillowcase. Then you can beat the pillowcase against a hard surface to break up the pods. You can then winnow the pods out.

Potatoes

While we often associate potatoes with the Irish they’re actually indigenous to the Andes in what’s now southern Peru and northwestern Bolivia. They’ve been cultivated for over 10,000 years!

Potatoes need to be cured before storage. Once harvested potatoes should be cured in a single layer somewhere dark and dry. Avoid washing them. You can gently brush off any dirt as they dry. After 7-10 days they can be placed in cardboard boxes and stored somewhere cool and dry. Around 55°F is ideal.

Sweet Potatoes

Don’t think sweet potatoes are only for Thanksgiving! This super versatile vegetable is nutritious and easy to grow at home. Unlike store bought sweet potatoes, varieties available for home cultivation range from starchy to sweet with a variety of colors including purple and white!

If cured and stored properly, sweet potatoes will keep for months with little effort. Check out the link above for everything you need to know about growing, harvesting, and storing sweet potatoes.

Winter Squash & Pumpkins

These awesome plants were developed by Native Americans and were an important dietary staple. Most have a sprawling nature so they require quite a bit of garden space but they can be grown beneath taller crops like in the “three sisters” method. Once established their vines will shade the soil reducing the need for watering and weeding.

Like sweet potatoes, winter squash must be harvested, cured, and stored properly to maximize their storage potential. However, this process is fairly straightforward and simple and squash can keep through the winter.

Floriani Red Flint Corn

Flour Corn

Also called maize, corn is still a staple crop in much of the world. Originally cultivated by Native Americans, flour corn is nothing like the sweet corn most of us are accustomed to eating at summer cookouts today.

Check out the link about to learn how to process your own flour corn for making food like grits, tortillas, and cornbread.

Root Vegetables

There are a variety of root vegetables that make excellent winter storage crops. Depending on your family’s preferences consider growing extra carrots, beets, turnips, or rutabagas.

If you live in a fairly mild climate one of the best ways to store root vegetables is right in the ground. Simply mound some mulch over them like hay or stray and harvest them as needed. Alternatively, you can harvest them, remove the tops and store them in layers in boxes of damp sand or shredded newspaper. Make sure they’re not touching and check them every week or so for spoilage.

Cabbage

When many people picture storing cabbage they often think of sauerkraut. While this is a fine and delicious way to preserve a cabbage harvest, you can also keep cabbage fresh. If you have a root cellar or cool damp space you can hang heads of cabbage upside down by their roots. Cabbage stored this way can keep for 3-4 months.

Garlic

While garlic may not be a staple crop it does provide a lot of flavor for little effort. Many believe that garlic may also have health benefits and historically has been used to treat a variety of ailments.

Garlic is started in the fall from cloves. There are two types hardneck and softneck garlic. Hardneck produces scapes and handles cold temperatures well but softneck typically stores longer, though both will store for several months. Both types should be cured before storage.

Onions

At SESE we carry both bulb and perennial onions which are ideal for winter storage. Like most other storage vegetables, onions must be cured. Then they can be stored at room temperature and bring flavor to meals for months to come. They’re also a great crop for small gardens because they take up little space and are ideal for companion planting with many other vegetables.

Storage Tomatoes

While you can preserve any variety of tomatoes some varieties can be stored fresh! They’re harvested green in the fall and brought inside to ripen. All you need is a place to lay out your tomatoes with air space in between each one at room temperature. They can provide fresh tomatoes up to three months after harvest. Check out the link above to learn about three storage tomato varieties.

All of these wonderful vegetables can be stored for winter use without any electricity or complicated preservation techniques required. Having these on hand can help you make and eat healthier meals from home which is better for your budget and the planet.

5 Tips to Help Your Garden Survive Your Vacation

Gardening is a great summertime hobby. You get to spend time in nature, lower your grocery bill, and for those with children, it’s a great learning opportunity. Unfortunately, it’s not a hobby you can pursue whenever you feel like. Like any living thing, a garden requires attention on mother nature’s schedule. A big garden can compete with other summer activities for your attention, particularly with vacations. Here are a few tips to help you keep a garden alive and still take a summer getaway.

Plan and plant accordingly. 

If you know ahead of time you’ll be taking summer vacations you can plan your planting to better fit your needs. There are three key things to think about when planning your vacation tolerant garden.

Drought Tolerance

The first feature to look for is drought tolerance. Crops like flint and dent corn, sweet potatoes, and peppers will all probably tolerate missing a week of watering while you’re away. Many perennials like asparagus and rhubarb can also handle a bit of neglect once they’re established. 

Weed Tolerance

You can also select plants that will outcompete weeds. Most crops need to be kept weed-free in the spring when they’re young but certain crops will keep themselves fairly weed free once they’re established. Vining crops like cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash are ideal for this and can be used under taller crops like sunflowers, corn, or pole beans. Thick plantings of greens like kale can also keep out weeds once they’ve gotten started. 

The Three Sisters Garden Guide

Harvest Dates

Lastly, if you know exactly when your vacation will be you can try to time harvests around that date with certain crops. While there are no guarantees in gardening, many plants provide fairly reliable harvest dates allowing you to plan when you’ll be home to harvest. Try this with crops like sweet corn, dry beans, and onions. Root crops are also ideal because they can be left in the ground for long periods and harvest when you get home.

Use mulch.

Another great way to make any plant more drought and weed tolerant is to use mulch. A layer of cardboard or newspaper covered with grass clippings, straw, hay, wood chips, or old leaves will keep weeds down for a large portion of the gardening season. Also by covering and insulating the soil, it will help keep it cool and moist even when you’re not home to water. 

Install drip irrigation. 

If you’re able, installing drip irrigation can make life a lot easier. Drip irrigation delivers water right to the base of the plant decreasing loss to evaporation so you lose less water. It’s also easy to set your system up on a timer making it perfect for those times when you’re out of town.

Weed, harvest, water.

It won’t be the most fun way to start a vacation but if you have time put in the work to thoroughly weed, harvest, and water your garden before heading out on vacation. You may still have some work to do when you get back but not nearly as much catch-up as you would otherwise. 

Get a Garden Sitter

Many people hire pet sitters when they go away but few think about hiring a garden sitter. If you have a large garden hiring someone to harvest, water, and maybe even pull a few weeds while you’re away might be worth it. You may even be able to trade them some vegetables for their efforts. 

Recommended Varieties

There are many varieties that will tolerate a vacation or two but here are a few we recommend.

Summer is a busy time for everyone. Use these tips to maintain a productive garden while still enjoying a few summer getaways. 

Saving the Past for the Future