Sunday, September 26, 2010

Planning on Permaculture?

One of the things I like about Permaculture is that it is largely conceptual and adaptable to every biome. It can be difficult getting to know your biome and understand what kind of problems you might be willing and have the resources to tackle. There isn’t one book that I know of that would answer anyone’s question about how to design a one size fits all Permaculture scheme since biomes can vary in so many ways.

I have taken an approach that marries the best of organic agriculture, ala Eliot Coleman , with Permaculture principles which look at permanent agriculture systems from an engineering viewpoint. Permaculture concepts are nothing new. Farmers and other people that lived closely with the land have been practicing what would seem like to them the obvious for thousands of years. Placing your home near water and light, planting trees to cool and warm the house and yard, arranging the garden space so that things that need the same level of care were concentrated in the same area a few basic permaculture principles that fit into this category. The books and the concepts mostly became necessary to discuss because we today are so far removed from having to live in the real world that we are no longer aware of it.

I am asked for resources and I have posted links to many fine books on my blog/website to suggest some that I feel are original sources that other books are derived from. Other than that you should make use of all the sources of information at your disposal. In the United States I would contact the local extension office and Master Gardeners associated with the land grant university in the state for a list of trees and edible and useful plants that will do well in your area. Prior to planting you can refer to Permaculture resources to see if they can help with the implementation. One common feature is building swales either to trap water, guide water to a storage area, or drain it away depending on your need. You might want to consider planting without irrigation if you can design a system that can largely do without it.

Extension offices often can point to other resources such as small farm educational programs and water and manure management information and sometimes even grants to help you pay for projects. The US Department of Agriculture works with conservation districts that promote the sustainable use of the land and conservation of clean water resources, a concern for any land owner. Conservation districts often have free or almost free plants and trees that are native to the area. The one in our area also has a manure spreader that can be borrowed for free.

If your focus is on forestry then you will have to become an expert on managing forest resources and you should get to know everyone in your area that is doing the same thing you are so you can learn from their experience. Get to know the fruit and vegetable farmers. Find out which varieties do well and what kind of cultural practices are common to your area. Find out what works for sure and why before you start to experiment on your own. The same goes with livestock. Get to know someone who seems to be doing things well, perhaps by being one of their customers at first, before you decide to buy a bunch of stuff only to find that you don’t like doing it or you were unprepared to care for the project or see it through to the end. The best piece of advice I can give you is to be patient.

You might want to start living solely off of your own resources right away but that takes time and you and your land will have to transition to that goal. Pick a small number of project areas and start building them out. To get started add a few fruit trees, bushes and some livestock, even if it is just a few chickens that you raise for eggs, to create your first community. Learn to think about the things you plant and raise as communities, because they are and understanding how they can work together will help you more than anything. The richer and more diverse the community the less work you will have to do to protect and nurture it otherwise. Start planting and building the infrastructure for your food forest a bit at a time, maybe a thousand square feet, and care well for it the first few years until it seems like it can take care of itself. When that seems like it is working well for you then do more or try a bigger plot. You might be in transition for 20 years but do it in such a way that the next person to come along can see the value of it and will be able carry on with your project.