What, exactly is permaculture?

Just what is permaculture? According to Bill Mollison, who coined the phrase in 1978, permaculture is:“The conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.” Now, in simple terms, that means that a piece of property is self-sustaining without extra water, plant food or pesticides. It also supplies the owner with food crops for themselves and whatever livestock they choose to raise. In turn, the livestock supplies fertilizer for the plants and in the case of poultry, excellent insect and slug control. You would be working in harmony with nature instead of against it.

man in garden

Food plants help form a permaculture garden

This could be something as simple as planting fruiting shrubs in place of simply decorative ones. Blueberries, gooseberries, currants or grapes all make fine garden plantings and supply the home with fresh fruit. They also attract birds and wildlife that will keep the insect population down. Plum trees, cherries, apples or pears are all fine trees that do double duty as shade or food. Perennial vegetables like asparagus, rhubarb, garlic or horseradish are also attractive plants that serve a culinary purpose as do mints, thyme, oregano and sage. The herbs attract pollinators to the garden as well. Even in the smallest of properties, a few of these plants could provide some sustainability. Annual vegetables and flowers are also good for a permaculture garden. By composting the spent plants after harvest, you are feeding the soil and returning nutrients back where they will be used by the next crop.

compost and seedling

Things you can do this Earth Day

Saving the environment has been the main focus of Earth Day since its inception in 1970. We can all do our part this year by making our own properties more environmentally sustainable and healthier for us and the planet. Even if we are still not gathering in crowds, we can begin to change our own gardens while we are at home. We can replace non-native plants and shrubs with native ones that provide food. Add a purple martin or bat house, or a mason bee shelter. Plant an herb garden for your kitchen and the pollinators. If you live in an area where you can collect rainwater, fix a rain barrel to your gutters. Or, don't plant trees and shrubs that require more moisture than the climate where you live can give them. Plant a vegetable garden if you have the space. Even if you don't, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers grow well in containers. If you have the space, a few hens provide fresh eggs while feasting on vegetable scraps and insects. If you can't have hens, start a compost pile. If you have the room, do both. You don't have to turn your property into a complete farm, however any little sustainable improvement is change for the better.

free chickens in the garden

Restore our Earth

The theme of the 2021 Earth Day is Restore Our Earth. This is an excellent starting point for your own personal Earth Day. It could be something as simple as picking up trash in your own local park or beach with some friends, to creating a sustainable community garden. At home, take note of your energy, water and food usage. Can you create a more sustainable lifestyle by adjusting how you use your resources? Change your light bulbs to CFL or LED units. Grow some of your own food or herbs, using compost from your own compost pile. Plant a tree. Even if you live in an apartment, you can still offer to plant a tree at a school, workplace, park, or place of worship. Make sure the tree is native to your area and supplies shelter to wildlife and food for animals and humans alike. Encourage a company-wide recycling effort at your workplace. Limit your use of plastics. One-time use items such as beverage containers and shopping bags are easily replaced with sustainable options. And also, plastics are a product of the petrochemical industry, and we all know that reducing our dependence on that is very good for the environment.

Small things make big changes

If all of this is new for you, start small and work your way up to sustainability. Even modest changes will affect your garden's health. If your goal is a huge permaculture garden, tackle it with a group of manageable projects. Create a checklist of what you wish to accomplish and break it down into several tasks. Once you've finished one, go to the next. You can overwhelm yourself if you try to do the whole thing at once and learning as you go in smaller units gives you the talent and tools to proceed to the next phase. Every positive change has an effect on the environment.