Understanding the Core Values of Permaculture: 3 Key Principles

What is permaculture? The word permaculture may seem like a new buzzword in gardening circles, but in reality, it’s so much more. If your interest is in homesteading, self-sufficiency, and gardening, understanding the core concepts of permaculture could be a real game-changer. Permaculture is a way of viewing the world and its resources from a different perspective. This small but growing movement may already be influencing some of your habits.

Young woman harvesting in sunny permaculture garden Photo 170233484 / Permaculture © Sue Wetjen | Dreamstime.com

Photo 170233484 / Permaculture © Sue Wetjen | Dreamstime.com

The word permaculture is derived from the words permanent culture. In other words, we need to rely more on sustainable agriculture instead of relying on fossil fuels. It encourages interdependence between community members and the environment by moving away from big and industrial farms to smaller and more sustainable ones. You can probably see why this method of growing food appeals to me, as someone who lives by the need to be one with nature as much as possible

Permaculture and Survival

If you are interested in survival gardening, permaculture is something you will want to learn more about. Once you understand the key concepts and implementation methods, you’ll see that this method of producing food can provide food security in a world that feels less and less secure with each passing day.

When you learn how to work with Nature, you’ll feel better prepared to survive regardless of what happens with the supply chain and without worry of skyrocketing food prices, among other things. Recently, I find that I keep saying, “if we want to survive, we have to get back to the old ways of doing things.” Learning ways of becoming one with the land is just one of many ways to accomplish this.

How Permaculture Got Its Start

Initially, it was a wildlife biologist and ecologist from Australia named Bill Mollison who pioneered the idea. As he observed the growing monster of the Industrial revolution and its impact on our culture, he concluded that such a culture would eventually cave in due to its monstrous appetite. Instead of reacting negatively to this, he took a more positive view and looked for a solution. After studying nature, he came to a number of conclusions about how nature follows sustainable cycles without man’s help. Bill began living and then teaching his philosophy.

Masanobu Fukuoka has also quietly gained a following in this movement. In his opinion, you should disturb the soil as little as possible. With his method, seeds are planted directly on the surface of the soil, then lightly covered with straw or other light mulches. Weeds are trimmed before they bloom and then mulched. With this method, unwanted vegetation can be eliminated without poisonous chemicals, and enriched soil is created for planting. Over time, the soil becomes healthy, and weeds and pests are less of a problem.

Other Voices in Permaculture

Another voice in this community is Ruth Stout. Her ideas about “no-till” gardening have changed how many people look at weeds and the process of weeding. Her gardening method was similar to Fukuoka’s, in that she allowed plants to grow together without weeding. 

With Ruth’s method, the soil is built by all vegetation, whether it is “good” or “bad.” Healthy crops lead to fewer pests. As soon as the soil is built, it becomes easy to remove weeds by flicking them out with no need for chemicals and pesticides. 

Other names in permaculture I admire today include Morage Gamble, Matt Powers, Heather Jo Flores, and Paul Wheaton, though I’m sure there are many more.

As a philosophy, permaculture has gained popularity due to its less intrusive approach to living on and using the earth. These days, permaculture seems to be associated with second and third-generation hippies. Still, even urbanites practice it, growing vegetables and returning the trimmings to the soil so they can break down and enrich the soil. 

Permaculture: Core Concepts

Permaculture is about sustainability, minimal disruption of soil conditions, and interdependence with our neighbors. To better understand the concept, you must understand how permaculture contributes to the sustainability of the earth’s ecosystems.

Three core values in permaculture are caring for the Earth, caring for people and our communities, and creating food security.

Caring for the Earth

Caring for the Earth goes beyond eliminating sources of pollution, though that is still critical. An important concept in permaculture is understanding how nature works. This means you must observe Nature and see what lessons you can learn from her. How does a forest grow, for example? Look at the layers within that ecosystem and think about how you can replicate them to produce food.

When you observe and replicate what Nature is already doing, you can begin to work with her to sustain your own life and that of your community. You take your place as part of Nature instead of an opposing force. This is perhaps the most critical concept to understand as you progress on your permaculture journey.

Caring for People

Taking care of your community is another important concept of permaculture because our community is the larger ecosystem we must support. When you buy raw milk from a dairy down the road, beef from your neighbor, and vegetables from the local organic farmer, you support their economy and get better food with a lower carbon footprint. By using local sources and profitable work, we create a sustainable loop that produces quality products.

In a global economy plagued by constant disruptions in the job market and food chain, this is the future we must prepare for our children and grandchildren. Sustainable development, soil conservation, interdependence, and resource sharing are all key components of a “permanent” culture. 

Food Security

The idea of permaculture is to work with nature instead of forcing it to work in a mechanized way. For example, by laying the unused part of the plant back down on the soil to mulch, you reduce labor and eliminate soil amendments. 

Water retention is enhanced by mulching, reducing the need to water. In naturally healthy soils, diseases and pests don’t thrive, so you don’t need petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers. But don’t make the mistake of thinking a healthy garden means no bugs. Insects are the sign of a healthy ecosystem, and a few “pests” ensure that there are plenty of beneficial insects.

Food security also requires that we understand what plants grow well together to support their own needs as well as our own. For example, you may plant in “guilds” or groupings of plants that attract beneficial insects, repel predatory animals, improve soil quality, and produce food for your family and friends. This requires carefully selecting the plants for each grouping, which can often be a trial-and-error process. But learning is a vital part of the process.

Move Ever Forward

I’d like to wrap up by saying that I am NOT an expert on permaculture by any means. However, I find that the main concepts connect with my own core values. For that reason, I am working on learning as much as I can so I can educate others. My hope is that you’ll also find the idea of permaculture one that you want to embrace, and we can go on this exciting journey together.

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