What the Hell is Permaculture?

Permaculture continues to fascinate me. Bill and Becky Wilson from Midwest Permaculture delivered several workshops at the Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s Energy Fair, and I attended nearly all of them. So what the hell is permaculture? You can find a complete description here, but my short version is this: permaculture is a design system that integrates sustainable agriculture and sustainable building to produce sustainable human culture. Permaculture practices heal the earth, and provide sufficient resources for living today, while not taking from future generations.

One example: creating a “food forest.” Build a swale to catch and hold water so the soil moisture is abundant. Then you can plant a variety of food-producing trees and shrubs, such as hickory, oak, hazelnut, apple, and walnut. Next work in smaller plants like blueberries, grapes, and gooseberries. This food forest will produce an abundance of food each year with no planting and minimal work. It’s also a resource for lumber, supports the honeybee population, and may provide meat from game and/or domestic animals. It’s a productive, robust, and sustaining system. And after you get it going, you reap the harvest without planting.

Bill’s own rain garden is another great example. His house has no basement and sits on a flat lot, so clearly this project is easier than one dealing with a basement or a steeply sloped lot. He directed the flow from the home’s gutters to the front yard, where he contoured the land into a slight swale or channel so the water flows slowly through the front yard, across the side yard and next to a substantial berm that directs the flow, and out to the back yard. All along this path the water is seeping into the ground, maintaining soil moisture, and recharging the ground water. This is treating rainwater as a resource, and not waste. And by planting perennials near the swale, the plants rarely need supplemental watering.

These are some tenets of permaculture that bear repeating:

  • wastes become resources
  • productivity and yields increase
  • work is minimized
  • the environment is restored.

Bill also talked about hugelkultur, which is a German method of burying logs to create a highly fertile area. After a few months, the bacteria growth explodes as the wood decomposes, and they produce an abundance of nitrogen, which feed the roots of the plants you plant there. Here’s a video of hugelkultur construction.

This is just a fraction of the workshops I attended at the Energy Fair, but is a good example of all you can learn.

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably with

  • green building
  • permaculture
  • green cities