This article is a guide to using the principals of permaculture in your garden. The principals of permaculture aim to create systems in gardening and farming that mimic nature and are as self-sufficient as possible. They try to achieve the maximum output through a minimum input, and create harmony among the various parts of the system.
To learn more, check out this article on the principals of permaculture.
Now let’s look at how these principals can be applied to your garden.
MAINTAINING AND IMPROVING THE SOIL
The first step in have a great organic, permaculture-inspired garden is having a system for maintaining and improving the soil. Plants take nutrients out of the soil, and you should have a way for restoring these nutrients. The most effective way of doing this is through using composted material.
Adding composted material to the soil has a host of benefits. Besides returning most of the key nutrients to the soil (Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium being the big three), it also improves water retention, improves aeration (the movement of air through the soil), and increases the presence of helpful microorganisms.
To learn more about the subject, check out these articles:
USING MULCH TO PREVENT WEEDS
Another great idea is using a mulch to prevent the growth of weeds. Mulch is any material, organic or otherwise, that creates a protective layer over the soil. It both prevents weed spores for taking hold in the soil, and prevents sunlight from reaching the soil, starving weeds.
After your plants have grown to a decent size, knock down any weeds that have grown in your garden. Put a layer of shredded cardboard or newspaper over the soil, and then cover it with a few inches of soil or composted material. You can add a final layer of straw, grass clippings or stones for aesthetics.
If you use compost or organic material, mulch has the added benefit of slowly returning nutrients to the soil.
You can learn more about the subject in this article on creating mulch.
A common theme in permaculture gardening is that of companion planting. This is where two plants are grown together, and they benefit each other in such a way they are more productive together than they would have been alone.
For example, one plant may deter a pest that preys on another (growing marigolds near tomatoes will help deter eel worms from feasting on the latter), or may attract a predator that will feed on the pest (lovage and sweet cicely will attract predators that feed on aphids). Or, a plant may return nutrients to the soil that another one needs (planting garlic and onions under corn stalks will help return nitrogen to the soil that the corn uses up).
For more information on the subject, check out this article on companion planting.
Another common theme in permaculture is that of having layers. Layers offer a protective barrier for smaller plants; supply a variety of nutrients; and prevent water loss and erosion.
For example, you may have tall, fruiting trees providing a canopy over your garden. Underneath will be medium-sized plants and bushes, and on the bottom will be herbs and vegetables, with their roots in the ground.
ANIMALS AND CRITTERS
Often having the right animals and insects in your garden to reduce pests and improve productivity. Some helpful buddies:
Having chickens will improve your garden in two ways. First, chicken manure is high in nitrogen, and makes a great fertilizer. Using straw bedding in your chicken shack will collect the droppings and can later be used as great mulch.
Second, chickens will feed on certain pests in your garden, acting as a natural pest control.
To learn more, check out this article on raising chickens.
Worms are another great critter to have in your garden. They break down organic material, and produce a fantastic fertilizer. You can add worms to you garden, or create a separate compost heap that utilizes them. To learn more about the latter, check out this article on worm composting.
While there can be a time and a place for pesticides, one has to remember that they have a downside should be used as a last resort. The problem is, pesticides usually kill both the pests you want to kill, and their predators. But the pests, being lower on the food chain, tend to reproduce faster, leaving you in a worse spot down the road and being even more dependent on pesticides.
Organic methods create a balanced equilibrium with plants, animals and insects. To learn more on the subject, check out this article on organic pest control.
Lastly, consider having places for natural predators to hide. Things like rocks and logs will give cover for lizards, frogs, snakes and spiders, which will keep your garden free of pests.
Good luck and stay prepared!