Sunday, August 03, 2008

Permaculture garden...

Permaculture is a topic I don't write nearly enough about, and one of which people around the world are not nearly aware enough. Below is a quick teaser for a video from the Permaculture Institute of Australia. It just shows an example of a small working permaculture garden, and talks about how massively productive it is - without chemical inputs or fertilizers, and with low-water inputs. Permaculture is extremely compatible with SSD - it is principle-based, meaning that it isn't prescriptive and can be applied anywhere, in harmony with site-specific conditions. It takes a whole-system approach, in that it take into consideration direct and indirect impacts of activities, both now and in the future, and it recognizes the importance of the relationships between components of the system, and not just the components themselves. It's a set of design principles typically applied to small home and food production systems, but are just as relevant at all scales and in all applications. In 1997 I earned a permaculture design certificate in New Zealand and got to see all kinds of amazing applications in practice. Seeing these sustainable systems produce huge outputs with low-inputs, using often simple techniques, and mostly just relying on good design, was incredibly inspiring. It's also been a source of frustration in that most of us here in the US just can't imagine the possibility of producing large amounts of food and energy crops in a sustainable way. From food prices to ethanol debates, the trade-off mentality persists and most in the debate on all sides assume for a fact that increasing outputs means increasing the amount of land under cultivation and the amount of fossil fuel and chemical inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, farm machinery, transportation). There are better ways!

We are working on implementing a permaculture design at our new place - starting off by watching the sun arch through the sky over the year, and standing out in rain storms to see how the water flows. We've started putting in some berms by hand to get the contours right and slow down the water during storms. Another first step was setting up a good composting system to catch all of the nutrients we can that come through our household system. I've started chipping away at the lawn and putting in some 'experimental' crops - a tiny wheat field that is sort of growing... Fruit and nut trees are another short term step that will need a few years before really paying off, but a great way to diversify the harvest and maximize the use of perennial crops. Even a small plot can get overwhelming, but by just immersing yourself and observing, you can learn a lot, and enjoy the experimentation. The beauty of the diversity is that when a few things just flop, you've got a few dozen more things that will probably do well. If we can imagine a world where everyone does this - in their backyards, apartment balconies, and windowsills - and we get creative with public spaces, parks, highway medians, sidewalk plantings, and the like - we can start to imagine significant shifts in the global food system, and the possibility of sustainable production for 9+ billion. Stay going.