What Is Permaculture Farming? 7 Things (2021) You Should Know

If you’re a farmer hoping to transition to a more eco-friendly, ethical, and sustainable method of caring for your land, permaculture farming is for you!

The term was coined in 1978 by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren as they combined the words permanent and agriculture to create a system of ecological farming: permaculture.

The philosophy is intended to work with nature instead of against it and encourage wild ecosystems to regenerate on their own.

In this blog, we’ll discuss what you need to know about permaculture farming if you intend to practice it.

Let’s get started.

1. What is permaculture?

Permaculture is defined as “an approach to land management and philosophy that adopts arrangements observed in flourishing natural ecosystems.”

The design principles used in permaculture originate from whole systems thinking, including regenerative agriculture, rewilding, and community resilience.

The term was first used by David Holmgren in 1978, but the practices of permaculture date back much further.

Its three core principles include:

bulletCare for the Earth: This system makes it essential that we help all life continue to exist and multiply because, without a healthy planet, humans cannot exist at all.

bulletCare for the people: This system allows people to access the resources that they need to survive.

bulletPromotes fair share: This system deems that you only take what you need and reinvest any surplus.

Any surplus should go toward helping to fulfill the two other core tenants above.

Waste products should be returned to the system so that they can be made useful again.

Permaculture has a variety of branches including ecological design, ecological engineering, regenerative design, environmental design, and construction.

It’s gained ground throughout the world as an agricultural design system and guiding life principle or philosophy.

In the next section, we’ll discuss how it specifically applies to farming.

2. What is permaculture farming?

Permaculture farming and its principles provide a way for farmers to achieve high yields and productivity in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way.

The philosophy applies a more holistic approach to farming crops and livestock.

3. What are the 12 principles of permaculture?

Permaculture strives to work with nature instead of against it.

Instead of tearing up the natural ecosystem and turning it into a blank slate so that we can plant crops or raise livestock, we should use the 12 principles of permaculture.

Here’s what you should keep in mind if you’re interested in using permaculture farming on your land.

bulletObserve and interact: Before making any decisions, take time to observe nature and gain insight on how to farm, garden, or ranch.

This will ensure that whatever decisions you make suit what’s already there.

bulletCatch and store energy: Permaculture relies on capturing resources like rainwater or solar electricity so it can be used as needed.

Be sure to note when your area will get a lot of sunlight (summer) or rain (rainy seasons).

This way, you’ll always have resources when necessary.

bulletObtain and yield: Farming is unlikely to be just a hobby.

You’ll want food production, income, or something else in return.

Make sure you’re getting something for all the work that you’re putting in.

bulletApply self-regulation and accept feedback: Hold yourself accountable and be open to suggestions from others as well.

Permaculture requires that you know how to self-regulate and adjust if something isn’t working well for your land.

bullet Use and value renewable resources and services: Nature provides lots of renewable resources that are available for us to use.

By prioritizing these, we should be able to reduce the consumption of non-renewable resources.

bulletProduce no waste: “Zero waste” is a trend that started with permaculture.

By placing value on our natural resources and using them wisely, we can ensure that nothing goes to waste.

bulletDesign from natural patterns: Use nature to inspire your own designs.

For example, a snail shell or beehive are beautifully desired by nature, and you can use these to spark your own creativity.

bulletIntegrate rather than segregate: Permaculture strives to make things work together and relate to one another.

This helps your whole system work.

By pairing different plants, livestock, and other objects together correctly, you’ll be able to take advantage of the relationships they have with each other.

bulletUse small and slow solutions: Permaculture works to make gradual changes and create a more sustainable outcome.

It isn’t about making changes overnight, but rather about making changes that are easy to maintain.

Permaculture’s motto is “slow and steady wins the race.”

bulletUse and value diversity: While conventional farming emphasizes monoculture (growing only one or two crops), permaculture values diversity.

A diversity system is less vulnerable to pests, diseases, and other general issues than a homogenous one.

bulletUse edges and value the marginal: Permaculture says that where two different things meet, the most interesting stuff happens.

This is the most productive and diverse part of the whole system.

bullet Creatively use and respond to change: Change is inevitable in any system.

Making careful observations and anticipations about what that change will be can help you to respond accordingly in a permaculture system when it occurs.

4. What are the benefits of permaculture farming?

Are you wondering why someone may switch to permaculture farming when conventional practices are so widely used?

Here are some of the top benefits and why you should consider switching.

bullet Reduced water usage: Are you looking to save on your water bills?

Permaculture farming is the way to do it!

This is worthwhile for small and large farms alike.

bullet Cost-effective: Permaculture is a cost-effective alternative to growing plants or crops.

Due to its zero-waste philosophy, you won’t need to spend money on things like pesticides or fertilizers.

You’ll also save money on water, mulch, and labor because of how low maintenance it is.

bullet Reduced waste: In a system using permaculture farming, nothing goes to waste.

You’ll be able to use garden waste, leaves, table scraps, and other waste products as fertilizer or food for livestock.

Depending on how motivated you are by the permaculture farming principles, you may strive to live a truly zero waste lifestyle and make use of all your waste products.

bullet Self-sustaining system: In permaculture, nature does most of the work.

Modifying your current conventional system to make it more natural allows it to become a self-sustaining system.

This is beneficial to you because it will require less maintenance overall.

bullet Less pollution: Overall, permaculture is more natural than traditional farming as it rarely utilizes any motorized farm equipment.

bullet Fewer toxins: Because permaculture farming employs natural fertilizers and pest control methods, you aren’t exposed to all the chemicals that you otherwise would be with traditional pesticides and other artificial products.

bullet More self-sufficiency: Permaculture allows for greater diversity on any given plot of land.

This means that farmers and gardens can raise different types of crops and grow whatever they want to or need to eat.

You’ll be able to either sell what you don’t need or learn how to preserve your crops for later use.

bullet Applicable to existing systems: If you have an existing system that you’d like to transition to permaculture farming, it’s absolutely possible!

Anywhere you grow food can be used for permaculture whether it’s small scale or large scale.

5. What are common permaculture practices?

Permaculture farming can be practiced through a variety of techniques.

Here are some of the common subcategories of permaculture that you should learn about while you’re exploring the topic.

bullet Agroforestry
bullet Hügelkultur
bullet Harvesting rainwater and greywater
bullet Cell grazing
bullet Sheet mulching
bullet Natural building
bullet No-till or minimum-till farming

6. What are permaculture design principles?

The following permaculture design principles are intended to keep modern farming methods streamlined with nature.

bullet Zones: This design principle involves the division of areas on a farm based on both the movement and the amount of human attention required for different areas.

For example, if a permaculture farm was a circle and the farm was in the middle, you would divide the farm into zones of concentric rings moving out from the center.

The higher the human traffic required from the activity, the closer the zone would need to be to the center.

bullet Sectors: This design principle is another method of arranging the location of farming activities.

This time, you base the flow of necessary energies and resources from a given point (ex: a farmhouse).

If the farm was shaped like a pizza, then each triangular slice is a sector radiating from the center.

Permaculturists attempt to arrange farm activities so that each area has easy access to the center.

bullet Relative location: This design principle involves thoughtfully planning both zones and sectors based on where they are in relation to each other.

While planning, permaculturists will aim to position these elements in a way to maximize energy usage and minimize waste.

For example, they may plant downhill from a pond which will allow easy irrigation without the need for a pumping system.

bullet Single element with multiple functions: This design principle seeks to maximize efficiency by placing farm elements in a way that encourages the performance of multiple functions.

For example, a properly positioned pond can supply both irrigation and fencing in livestock.

bullet Single functions from multiple elements: This design principle is focused on function and making sure multiple elements supply it.

It’s the “backup plan” built into different farming procedures.

For example, you may back up feed crops with edible food forests or fruit trees, or use a pond to help irrigate during the drought.

bullet Energy efficiency: Permaculture, as a philosophy, calls for the input of as little energy as necessary from outside of the farm.

Thus, the more energy-efficient you can make your design the better.

Including any solar or wind power in the design of your farm is preferable as it helps ensure that very little is wasted.

bullet Biological resources: This design element promotes more efficient, non-human elements; for example, the use of animals for tasks, weed control, pest control, and fertilizer production.

bullet Plant succession: This design principle states that plant populations develop over time and transform from fields and weeds to progressively larger plants.

Eventually, they will develop into a forest, and permaculturists should plant a variety of perennial crops and cover crops to accommodate this.

bullet Nutrient recycling: This design principle uses the ecosystem within the farm to replenish nutrients instead of relying on imports.

For example, composting organic matter and using manure as fertilizer would be an example of nutrient recycling in permaculture farming.

bullet Diversity: This design principle encourages a variety of different crops and farm animals to prevent farmers from becoming dependent on a single product.

Should the market or prices fluctuate or there be a breed-specific illness, there’s less likely to be a catastrophic result.

7. What’s the difference between organic gardening and permaculture farming?

As you begin to hear about permaculture gardening, your first thought may be, “That sounds like you’re just farming organically.”

Yet, permaculture gardening is a lot more than just an organic garden.

In the following points, we’ll explain just some of the key ways that organic gardening and permaculture farming differ.

bullet Permaculture uses organic gardening and farming practices, but goes beyond these practices.

The garden and home are integrated into everyday life, which ultimately creates less of an impact on the environment.

bullet Permaculture farming is not always strictly organic because it prioritizes using local resources rather than importing certified organic resources.

There may be instances where the designer will want to increase the diversity and bring in unusual plants/seeds from another source that are not organic.

bullet Permaculture farming aims to close the fertilizer loop by using waste products that are already within the system.

By doing this, it also reduces the dependence on inputs, creates healthy soil, and diversifies the products of the system.

bullet Permaculture farming is responsible for its waste.

It avoids releasing excess nitrogen into water systems and weed seed into natural systems.

By not polluting the natural environment, it’s an overall much healthier system.

bullet Permaculture farming uses design principles to minimize gardener chores and energy input.

Permaculturists do not go out of their way to work hard, but instead, they are motivated by the ability to reduce their ecological footprint and develop a varied healthy lifestyle.

bullet Permaculture farming aims to imitate nature, and visually, this is the most noticeable difference between organic gardening and permaculture.

In permaculture, there is a more complex use of space as there is rarely bare soil or plants in rows.

bullet Permaculture aims to harvest and maximize water, sun, and other energies.

You’ll often see permaculturists use wind, dust, leaves, and bird droppings.

Final thoughts

Permaculture farming is an intentional system of agriculture and settlement that’s often seen as a contrast to intensive agriculture.

If you want to avoid leaving your land unfit for farming or human habitation, then this could be the perfect fit for your land.

The permaculture ethic is a combination of several disciplines, including organic farming, agroforestry, integrated farming, sustainable development, and applied ecology.

Additional Resources

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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.

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