In permaculture, land, resources, and people work synergistically. The goal of a well-designed system will include no waste and will mimic the closed-loop aspect of natural systems. It is an interdisciplinary approach to ecosystem management and creation. Agriculture, water harvesting, hydrology, energy, natural building, forestry, waste management, animal systems, aquaculture, technology, economics, and community development are all called upon when creating permanent agriculture.
The philosophy behind permaculture is one of working with, rather than against, nature. There is also the idea of considerate observation versus mindless repetitive action that has been normalized in our more common ecosystem management strategies. One main benefit of using permaculture to integrate food supply and settlement is that the wild areas need not be counted upon to provide survival for humanity. We can lessen the impact on the wild areas of our world by catching water from our roof areas, maintaining a small fuelwood forest, and raising animals for consumption.
This idea of differentiating between cultivated ecosystems and wild ecosystems is very native to permaculture. All sites can be divided into five zones. Zones will take into account the human energy use and flows within a system to optimize the movement throughout a specific location. Early on in developing a site, it is essential to complete a zone analysis to better understand how human movement within a space will take place. Once understood, a permaculture design will optimize for the placement of components and how they will interact with each other. A brief overview of each of the five zones is provided below.
Zone 1 is the area nearest to the home or area of the most traffic, it will require the highest maintenance of plants and/or structures. Zone 2 is semi-intensely managed and may include areas of heavy traffic. Zone 3 is the farming zone and includes crops that require minimal maintenance and attention once established. Zone 4 is a semi-managed area full of self-sustaining forests and woodlots that require very little care or attention. Zone 5 is the unmanaged wilderness that requires no intervention.
“The designer becomes the recliner” is a favorite quip in summarizing the ideas from permaculture. Rather than work against nature by using chemical fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides, permaculture seeks to work in partnership with nature. Chemical fertilizers are replaced by natural fertilizers, like animal manure, compost, and plants that pull nutrients from the air and deep bedrock. Pesticides aren’t needed when habitats are created for the predators of the pests you are seeking to remove. Herbicides aren’t required when selective weeding can leave behind the desired volunteer plants. Another method for reducing the need for herbicides can be found in companion planting or planting in guilds. Guilds are a mixture of plantings that serve one another in a stable co-existence.
As you can understand from this brief explanation of permaculture, there is a lot more thoughtful consideration in how you observe, design, and care for a landscape. Permaculture is a natural and conscious approach to land management that learns from primitive peoples’ use of land while simultaneously integrating certain aspects of technology in land care. With permaculture as our guide, we can not only produce what we need to thrive from our land but we can also improve the land and ecosystem that we receive from. In this way, permaculture is itself a closed-loop system for the long-term sustainability of humans and the ecosystems we live within.