There’s a learning curve to every new skill, and the transition from gardening to permaculture is no different. Permaculture is the concept of “permanent agriculture,” and it involves creating small ecosystems in gardens where plants can grow and thrive using the plants around them. It’s growing in popularity as it is an intricate skill for avid gardeners who want to build relationships within their plants to help them flourish. It may be tough to get started but once you figure it out, you’ll be working smarter, not harder. Here are a few steps to help you get started.
#1 Map Out Your Garden
The first step to a permaculture garden is to analyze the space you’ll be using. Permaculture is all about following nature’s blueprint, which means cultivating a garden environment that is natural enough to sustain itself. This means mapping out the layout of your garden so that your plants maintain relationships with each other and can share the soil in a way that help each other thrive. This involves creating microclimates within plant bunches, such as by using the shade from a bushel to help a plant that’s less receptive to sunlight thrive, and by putting plants that need less water on higher ground and ones that need more water on lower ground.
#2 Consider Winter Plants
The next step is to consider which plants to keep and use as your permaculture foundations. Because you are essentially building a small ecosystem, it helps to use plants that can survive through the winter. Depending on where you live, some plants can grow through the winter, especially if you’re using cold frames to keep your plants warm. However, if you’ve never done year-round gardening, there are few steps to caring for your plants in the winter, such as keeping a frost cloth handy, watering regularly on sunny days and pruning with caution.
#3 Plant Perennials
There are specific plants that do better in permaculture than others, so when you start turning your garden into permaculture, you’ll want to be sure to keep these in your garden: asparagus, rhubarb, walking onion, berries, horseradish, artichoke, fruit trees and nuts. Pick your favorites and plant them accordingly; spinach, beets and blueberries do well in the shade, so consider planting them under your fruit trees. While the idea is to grow plants that will coexist, it’s important to make sure you continue gardening upkeep by removing dead leaves and rotten vegetables as they will disrupt plant growth.
#4 Build Guilds
A keystone of permaculture is the use of guilds to help plants prosper. Using plants that work with each other and have similar soil and water requirements helps ensure their survival through the seasons. This involves grouping plants that need the same kind of environment. This part of permaculture is where gardeners take some notes from farmers in thinking about the long-term use of soil for plants. However, once you get a small ecosystem started, it’s important to leave the soil alone, as digging it up can ruin the mineral relationships created under the surface.
#5 Care for Your Soil
Depending on how much space you have, you may want to consider rotating your crops to keep your soil viable. If you have a small garden, your garden is probably not large enough for this to be a concern; just take standard steps to keep your soil nourished. However, if your garden is a growing project, you’ll want to take care to balance your soil’s nutrients by changing the category of crop you’re planting in each place, such as roots or leafy plants. Continuous planting of tomatoes, lettuce and other leafy plants will remove the nitrogen from your soil and eventually make it not viable for those plants. Growing native plants and creating your own compost is a good way to make your garden greener.
Permaculture can be tricky to figure out. It requires a lot of thoughtfulness as you map out your garden, and consider the plants you’ll grow and how to grow them. Botany is complex and requires a lot of examination but understanding how plants work is the basis of permaculture. It’s a whole new skill to learn, and it may take some trial and error, but pretty soon your garden will be running itself.
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