Permaculture design principles are tools that, when used together, allow us to creatively design our environment with less energy and resources. Permaculture mimics the efficiency of nature – the input equals the output – and because of this, it is the strongest model we have for sustainability. Permaculture principles can be applied to all areas of our lives, culture, economy, agriculture and government, but here we’re going to focus on local small agriculture. In other words, our backyard gardens. Permaculture practitioners have identified 12 encompassing principles, but we are going to focus five basic principles that will best apply to a small garden.
1. Conservation – Use only what you need
This is a simple concept that we hear often. Don’t waste precious resources. If you live in a semi-arid climate, focus on drought-tolerant plant species to help conserve water.
2. Stacking functions – any single element in your system may have many functions.
For example, a tree might be an element in your system. A tree can provide shade, shelter wildlife, produce mulch and building materials, be a wind break, fertilize the soil, prevent erosion, raise the water table, etc. A tree can do a lot of different work for us in our system, and that’s what we mean by stacking functions.
3. Reciprocity – Utilize the yield of each element in the garden system to meet the needs of other elements in the system.
This means there is a give and a take between elements. The output from one element can be an input for another element. A good example of this is composting. Kitchen scraps are the output from our kitchen which becomes input to our compost pile. It will turn into valuable fertilizer which we can then input to our garden. Then our garden outputs food which would again be an input into the kitchen. The elements support each other.
4. Diversity – Create resilience by utilizing many elements.
We can contrast diversity with planting a single crop (monocropping). If you have a drought year or a wet year or if you have a certain kind of pest, one crop will probably be susceptible to that weather condition or pest and you might lose your whole crop. But if you have a system that’s mixed, with a variety of crops or plants, they might not all be susceptible. You might have some plants that are drought tolerant, others that do better in wetter conditions.┬á So, by varying your garden’s elements, you give the whole garden a better chance for survival.
5. Give away the surplus
At the heart of permaculture is the maxim that we should support and care for each other. Create systems that are abundant and share the abundance rather than hoarding it for ourselves.
Permculture is making a resurgence in local landscaping markets. If you live in Colorado, check out Backyard Revolutions to see how you can integrate permaculture into your landscaping and into your life.