For homesteaders looking to increase the sustainable productivity of non-mono cropped land, it is hard to discount the numerous benefits of permaculture design. Like many things, the core concepts are not new and have been around for ages. The modern resurgence and subsequent title and definition of Permaculture includes what has become known as the 12 Design Principles. The layout of land is broken in 5 potential “zones” that extend out from the main housing structure. These zones are planted specific to the energy and land layout based on elements of optimal production with zone 1 encompassing the area closest to the living area working out to zone 5 which is left to natural woodland habitat.. I won’t go into detail here because I am by no means an expert, and a fast read of the links provided or a Wikipedia search will bring anyone who has not heard about this tried and true method up to speed. I will say that the culmination of all or even most of the design principles of Permaculure should result in a sustainable system which produces more energy than it consumes. The ideology, correctly implemented and established, should produce a food forest type environment that maintains it’s vigor as it matures by providing enough in surplus to maintain and replace the system over its lifetime.
To the self-sufficient homesteader preparing for the future there can be no greater goal. Like most things, when preparing for the future we have to look no only at the short term, but also at long term sustainability. Permaculture design does a very good job at focusing on both immediate and generational returns of surplus. While there is some production value in the beginning, the main emphasis is on a long term establishment of a sustainable system.
One of the ideas that I really like is encouraged by, among others, Permaculture Guru Geoff Lawton. This is the idea of rotational grazing of poultry through an undeveloped area in order to suppress weeds and invigorate the soil with fresh manure. Once the area is cleared, the birds are moved to the next area, usually using electric net fencing, where they start the process over. The first area can them be planted with a nitrogen fixing green cover crop that will later be chopped and dropped into place to further enrich the soil. Fruit trees and bushes can be planted as over-story “forest” trees that once established will be the backbone of the edible forest. Companion plantings of shrubs,vines and perennial cash and cover crops for continued mulching value are strategically placed to create beneficial environments which promote self regulation of water and nutrients to facilitate long term production without the aid of pesticides and chemicals.
It is an art form really. You need an eye for design and imagination to visualize the end result. Changes in landscape as well as water features might be necessary to take full advantage of a property. Like any design, the actual layout and plant combination create a palate that lends to creating unique systems with common, repeatable results A few of these “Permaculture Artists” I like are Bill Mollison, considered the Father of Permaculture by many. His student and protege’ Geoff Lawton who established the Permaculture Research Institute and has consulted and taught all over the world, continues to produce outstanding free instructional videos to educate the public on this method. Sepp Holtzer, has created a virtual micro climate within his region of Austria and like Lawton has numerous projects under his belt including a new book that I thoroughly enjoy. There are numerous podcasts including one by Paul Wheaton of permies.com, and most recently by Jack Spirko of The Survival Podcast who has started implementing this design concept on his new property.
So give it a try. You don’t have to go all nuts with the idea or over complicate it. It is not necessary to take a Permaculture Design Course in order to create and edible food forest of your own. It would probably be a great learning experience to go to a PDC course with one of the greats, but for now I just want to get started with something. Stay tuned for my continued amateur efforts to incorporate these principles into my own homestead as I am able.