What is permaculture and what are its benefits?
Permaculture is a method of farming that is very different from traditional farming. It is more complex and environmentally friendly than traditional farming and it is very long lasting. These include crop diversification, growing multiple crops together in one area, and using more perennial plants.
Although the term permaculture is relatively new, the term permanent agriculture first originated in 1929. Many of the methods used in this type of farming are very old and traditional and can be found in many indigenous cultures around the world.
To understand permaculture and what makes it different from traditional farming, it helps to look at traditional western farming and bring awareness to what we assume.
Modern Western agriculture
Modern western agriculture is characterized by crop monoculture. Typically, the land is cleared and different parcels of land are dedicated to growing different crops. Crops can be rotated over the years or divided into patches or strips, but are usually prevented somehow in space or time. Many crops grown in this way are annual crops, grown only in one season. In western agriculture, farmland or arable land is spread over most of the miles, with only small buffers of forest area in crop lands.
Permaculture violates all these assumptions or standard practices. In permaculture, many crops are often grown in a single plot in such a way as to increase the total productivity and reduce the problems of pests and weeds.
Environmental principles that inform permaculture
The difference between permaculture and mainstream western agriculture can be seen as the difference between the environmental approach to agriculture and the mechanical method. While Western agriculture seeks to control or control nature, permaculture is based on working with nature.
Thus permaculture requires an in-depth knowledge of plants, animals and their relationship to each other, but they can potentially yield great benefits.
Advantages and benefits of permaculture
The most immediate and attractive advantage of permaculture is the huge increased yield of crops. Although Western monoculture farming is the most productive way of yielding a single crop per acre, in permaculture, combining multiple crops on the same land, the total yield of all combined crops can be very high. For commercial farmers, this means higher incomes and for homeowners, it can mean a larger amount of total food production.
It also reduces the need for inputs like permaculture fertilizers and often eliminates the need for herbicides and pesticides completely. Although the labor for the initial setup for a variety of permaculture methods can be very high, long-term maintenance can be greatly reduced, especially the need for weed removal. By recycling chemical inputs and organic waste products from plants and animals, using them as fertilizer, permaculture also reduces pollution.
The result is an epic victory for both sustainability and financial output.
Flexibility and adaptability
Permaculture is also more flexible in unusual weather conditions such as unusually dry, wet, hot or cold. The increased variety of crops provides a buffer or safety measure, as different plants have different levels of resistance to different types of adverse conditions. But the increased total biomass, which is consistent with more stored water, more buffer against the wind and the ability to cool more in hot weather, also translates to increased flexibility of the farming system with extreme weather events.
Crop diversity is also an economic buffer, which helps protect farmers from price fluctuations, such as the gluten of a particular crop can lead to lower prices for that year.
The result is a system that is not only more productive but also more flexible, stable and predictable in the long run.
Examples of traditional permaculture
Native Americans in North America used a method of growing three seedlings in the same area, called three sisters, beans, corn, and squash. These crops complement each other in terms of environment as well as nutrition. The corn will grow straight and provide a pillar for the beans to climb. Corn needed more nitrogen, but beans were a nitrogen fixer. Squash, which has a habit of planting vines, but is more widespread, covers the ground and removes weeds. Squash also covers the soil by retaining moisture. Crop harvesting produces more complete protein for the human diet than just beans or corn will provide.
Three parts to the permaculture design process