Permaculture in the Home Garden

, written by Jeremy Dore gb flag


Last week I blogged about how my perception of permaculture was challenged when I took another look at it. Rather than being a complex system for self-sufficient rural types, I was surprised to find how applicable it was to the average home garden. So this week I thought I would turn my attention to some of the practical implications of taking a permaculture approach to your own vegetable patch.

One of the things about permaculture is that there are no fixed solutions – it is primarily a design method, a way of approaching problems and this inherent creativity is one of its most appealing features. But for beginners like me it is also useful to look at some practical examples of how a garden might change when considering it from a permaculture perspective.

First to go are all those unproductive, high maintenance spaces. We’re not talking about replacing them with lots of paving and garden landscaping – that kind of solution might be low-maintenance but it certainly doesn’t fit with the idea of gardens being productive. Instead we might look at turning a high-maintenance lawn into an orchard, perhaps with an area left to ‘go wild’ or sown with meadow-flowers to attract beneficial wildlife and insects. This could be maintained and roughly cut a few times a year to provide a source of mulch to keep in moisture round thirsty plants.

Phacelia green manure

Next are all those traditional vegetable beds, double-dug each year to incorporate lots of manure. Permaculture takes a different approach – quite similar to the ‘no-dig’ system and often less regimented than rows of the same crop. The ‘maximum output, minimum input’ mantra means that we should try and emulate nature a bit more – you don’t see large patches of bare soil naturally and digging over soil is well known to bring up weed seeds. Instead, green-manures are going to be planted alongside vegetables so that when the plant has cropped the green manure will be ready to give some coverage over winter, eventually to be incorporated into the soil by hoeing. Where this isn’t practical, or the vegetables need no competition then mulches are used. These can range from grass clippings to compost and well rotted leaf mould, so systems for producing good quality mulch are also part of the garden design. If, like me, you struggle to produce enough organic matter from your own garden, then sheet cardboard is preferable to leaving the topsoil bare and is a great weed suppressant.

Frog in a pond

Also on the list of improvements is the general placement of plants – to make the garden more efficient. Herbs and salad should be near the kitchen. Less accessible areas (and I would include allotments in this category) are reserved for lower maintenance plants. At the furthest extremes we site areas that are homes for wildlife and beneficial creatures where they can be undisturbed. A pond for frogs, bird- and bat-boxes, places for ladybirds to over-winter etc are all going to work to keep the numbers of unwelcome pests down come summer-time.

Finally, I really like the permaculture principle that ‘the problem is often the solution.’ It’s one that forces us to question why we are fighting against nature instead of working with it. For example, dandelions are considered prime enemies for a traditional lawn but have many edible uses. A problem with lack of space may lead us to a solution of beautiful vertically-trained beans and squashes, giving a small garden the illusion of being bigger.

Clearly, none of these examples are quick fixes. Permaculture is a different to the traditional approach to planning a vegetable patch and, as such, it is going to take time to implement. But the long-term payoff should be a lower-maintenance, more productive use of space achieved by working with nature rather than against it and that can only be good.

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Show Comments


"I may have entered into permaculture unwittingly without knowing it. I have recently moved my vegetable plot from a traditional allotment site at the far end of our garden up nearer to the house. The reason was an infestation of horsetail which was causing a lot of maintenance. Using the software, I have redesigned my new plot into raised beds with flagged paths between. The area of horsetail is to become part of a new jungle garden."
Alan Parkin-Coates on Monday 3 March 2008
"Having grown veggies in a fairly traditional allotment for many years I am changing some of my area over to a bed system this year, in the hope that, if it's successful, we might change over completely in due course. I have had the area that had spud in last year covered in cardboard covered with a think layer of straw over the winter. The soil underneath is absolutely lovely, even this weekend (snow, rain, cold winds...). However, if we're to do less digging and more mulching to protect the soil structure, I'll need much more organic mulch of some sort or other. 2006 compost ended up just covering three beds and last year's green 'waste' has today been turned to become one (admittedly large) compost heap- on which I'll grow a pumpkin during 2008. I need more compost!"
Peter Samsom on Sunday 23 March 2008
"Alan - a jungle garden sounds very interesting. Good design is at the heart of permaculture so, as you say, you're well on the way!"
Jeremy Dore on Monday 24 March 2008
"Peter - I agree with you 100% that the need for good organic mulch is one of the biggest challenges with implementing permaculture. I produce bin-loads of leafmould and compost but it never seems to go very far. This is something I want to work on, so all ideas will be gratefully accepted!"
Jeremy Dore on Monday 24 March 2008
"COMPOST. One of my neighbours gets local lawnmowing people(businesses) to drop off their clippings on his front garden, he then takes them out the back, adds some horse poo if he has some, and in a short while, hey presto, compost! loads of it, and the lawnmowing people are happy to offload their 'waste' product. Our local tip also sells trailer loads of mulch( all the green 'waste', shredded)for $15 a load. If i leave this in pile, in a few months it is lovely compost. Um, apart from that, a worm farm is great, we feed them all our toilet paper/tissues/and receipts-any paper with only black ink on is ok. I usd to ride around the neighbourhood after a good rain and collect weeds for my compost, but everyone in this country is obsessed with mowing, so there really aren't that many. I think I may copy my neighbour this year. Hope this is helpful. PS Permaculture ROCKS! and doing it a suburban garden works well."
Charlotte on Thursday 22 January 2009
"I am unemployed, and brainstorming some ideas for selfemployment. I have gardened a little in Australia, growing veggies and herbs, and I have completed a permaculture design course in Australia (many years ago). I am in Granada, Spain, and I am thinking to perhaps advertise to create small no dig, raised bed, veggie gardens for locals who want them. I am a little nervous about this, as I am not familiar yet with local soil types, the weather, etc, but I´m quite excited about this as an idea to develop in this time of économic crisis .... what better than to reduce your veggie costs, by growing your own! Any suggestions are welcome. I will be doing a lot of research on the net now, and I am very happy to have found this website. Happy gardening! Bring back the bees!"
Tansy on Friday 30 January 2009
"I love our raised beds! After the beef goes to the locker in the fall, we put the manure on and turn it under in the spring. We have 14 of them close to the house. They are either 4x4 or 4x10. Four of them have a trellis down the middle of them for tomatoes or cucumbers and the trellis' get moved to different beds every 2 years. I can plant alot more in these beds,they are less work,and easier to care for. I sit on a 5 gallon pail next to them and cultivate with a 3 prong hand cultivator. However, we still have the traditional garden in the "BACK 40" for corn, squash, melons, potatoes, and pumpkins!"
linda beach on Saturday 7 February 2009
"I am pleased to find you. I want to apply permaculture method to a fairly boggy site. A soil test has shown the soil to be fairly acid. my main crop is gorse, any ideas?"
denis ryan on Wednesday 30 December 2009
"Hi Denis, sounds like some challenging conditions you have there. My first thoughts would be to look at edible perennials and trees - permaculture often encourages the use of more permanent plantings and they can be very good for more tricky sites. Blueberries do well in acidic soils and you could add some lime to other areas to help get the pH to nearer 6.5 - 7. Then some fruit trees and perhaps nuts (though these will need to be well netted if you don't want squirrels to take them all). You may wish to think about how drainage solutions could make the soil less boggy while providing something useful, such as a pond that will encourage wildlife such as frogs which naturally eat slugs. Raised beds could also help with drainage. Finally, remember to introduce things gradually - trees can cost a lot of money and you don't want to buy lots of them only to find they won't grow well in the ground you have."
Jeremy Dore on Saturday 2 January 2010
"Denis, you could look into what grows natively in your area, and see if any of them are edible. What is the climate like there? Is it hot, cold, temperate? Eleaocharis dulcis, Water Chestnut is an edible rooted plant growing naturally in boggy areas ( China, Australia). Also Saggitaria latifolia, Duck Potatoes (North America) with edible tubers. Taro, Kang kong, ( Hot areas), Watercress, (cool areas). Once you start researching edible plants on the net, there are heaps of them, and it is very interesting. GRASS. The biggest weed in my garden is grass. It growa to over half a metre high, and invades all my plants. I do try mulching, but if I go away for a few weeks, when I come back it has taken over. I live in a subtropical climate. If anyone has any solutions I would be grateful. Thanks."
Charlotte on Saturday 16 January 2010
"I pull up weeds and use them as mulch around the plants and to cover all of the soil, in addition to added straw to retain moisture in our hot, hot summers which get over 100 degrees. Does the carbon from the weeds/straw draw nutrients away from the plants?"
Brenda on Friday 18 June 2010
"Brenda - my experience is that as long as the mulch doesn't turn 'sour' (anerobic - decomposing without air) then the benefits of doing this far outweigh any negatives - see my article on this here:"
Jeremy Dore on Saturday 19 June 2010
"I watched a documentary on the internet about permaculture that was produced in Australia. I loved that they built a chicken house with a common courtyard and two separate outdoor runs. One run had a small orchard in it and the other run had a wood pile. Along with planting the fruit trees, which the chickens cleaned up the fallen fruit and insects attracted, they also planted herbs to repel lice and other pests that are attracted to chickens as well as fresh greens for the chickens to eat. They used chicken wire to arch over the row to allow the chickens to eat, but not kill the plant. The chickens tended to the bugs drawn to the wood piles and by rotating the chickens between the two runs they were able to keep grass growing for the chickens to eat too. I hope to plant an orchard for my 6 chickens this summer. I love to see chickens grazing on grass!"
Julie Taylor on Thursday 3 March 2011
"We are planning on having our chicken coop/run inside a fenced orchard and I would like to hear from anyone who has done this before. Specifically regarding the chickens getting into the trees and free ranging on the fruit, does this happen or do they stay on the ground and get dropped fruit/grubs? Thanks"
Brenda on Thursday 3 March 2011
"I have some very young fruit trees in my hen run and have had no trouble with them getting in the trees. So long as you accept them grazing anything below 3 ft, it's not a problem."
Bella on Wednesday 16 March 2011
"Thank you Bella. Guess we'll need to keep the chickens away from the trees until they are at least 3' tall. We had decided to keep the grapes out of that area since they are shorter and based on your advice I'm glad we did."
Brenda on Friday 18 March 2011
"@Julie Taylor - what a wonderful idea, I don't suppose you have the link for the video? I'm getting SO many fabulous ideas from this site!"
webwahm on Monday 18 April 2011
"This is for Tansy who lives in Granada, she posted her comments on 30th jan'09. We have just bought a an old flour mill on the outskirts of Montefrio about 20 mins from Granada which we are renovating. We have an acre of ground that needs clearing for sectioning off into swimming pool area, formal lawn, veggie plot and chicken coup....we want them to have as much freedom as possible. We have a natural well and border a stream. We are interested in permaculture and being self sufficient. We have a project manager who specialises in eco friendly homes but I do not think he knows about permaculture as he's about to bring in JCB digger to clear the land. Tansy if you are still out there and would like to help with this exciting project please get in contact"
Beverley blandford on Sunday 24 June 2012
"Linda Chalker Scott has a nice article about using cardboard and paper as sheet mulch. She does not speak highly of it. (She of the Garden Professors page)"
Bonny on Friday 19 February 2016

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