Whether you are a beginning farmer or someone who has been farming for a lifetime, incorporating key permaculture principles into the mission of your farm will help you become more sustainable in your farming practices, more responsible in your stewardship of Mother Earth and more efficient in your production. By imitating nature’s own ecological processes and embracing foundational permaculture principles, you can create and maintain your own cultivated ecosystems which have the diversity, harmony, resilience, productivity and aesthetic beauty seen in the natural landscape.
7 Permaculture Principles You Need to Know About
1. Observe and Imitate Nature
When you are making decisions about the framework and production system of your farm, step back and take some time to observe the structure of the natural eco-structure around you. How do the wind, weather and slope of the hillside influence frost pockets and future plant germination? How does the natural connection between field and forest impact where you place your fence line? What patterns do you notice in the relationships of the native species of plants and animals that you could model in your own farm life? By working with nature instead of against it, you will be more likely to find wholesome solutions that will benefit your own farming goals as well as the natural ecosystems around you.
2. Utilize Renewable and Sustainable Resources
This essential permaculture principle has been largely lost in today’s industrial model. In an effort to become bigger, faster and cheaper, most large-scale farms rely heavily on outside resources in order to remain viable. By choosing to use renewable resources and following sustainable practices such as soil conservation, seed saving, reliance on animal species that can reproduce (as opposed to non-reproducing hybrids) and utilization of renewable energy sources, you will be able to reduce your dependence external purchases and take major steps toward greater self-sufficiency on your farm.
3. Reduce Waste
One of the greatest aspects of a permaculture system is that there is no waste. Instead, farmers who have adopted permaculture principles on their establishments seek to re-use leftovers to benefit other efforts on their farm. One good example of this is the art of composting. Kitchen scraps, garden surplus, animal manure and other remains can be composted to conserve nutrients for use in future gardens. By valuing all of the resources available to you on your farm, you can ensure that nothing goes to waste.
4. Integrate Symbiotic Relationships on Your Farm
By putting the right things in the right place, you can support mutually beneficial relationships between plants and animals. We have a cultural tendency to compartmentalize our goals and separate our projects, but when this habit infiltrates our farming practices, it can greatly decrease our productivity. When living things are allowed to grow in cooperation with each other rather than in competition, the whole ecosystem can become greater than the sum of its parts. In companion gardening, certain plants benefit from each other and by placing these in the same area, the overall yield of the garden will increase. This permaculture principle can also apply to animal husbandry as you allow animals to mutually benefit each other and save you time on the farm. For example, chickens can eat the parasites from larger animal manure, pigs can help you turn up compost or a llama can live with and protect your flock of sheep. Through utilizing the integration of species, you can greatly increase the overall efficiency of your farm.
5. Focus on Small and Slow Solutions
Systems that are small and slow are much more manageable than larger systems. When this principle of permaculture is used in a farm setting, it allows farmers to make better use of local resources and become more sustainable for the long run. In permaculture, the aim is not to find the quick fix or instantaneous reward, but to compose a system of many small parts that contribute to the overall function of the whole. The use of cover crops is a good example of this. Instead of spending money on artificial fertilizers, many organic farmers use a variety of cover crops to fix the nutrients in the soil, add biomass, and preserve the natural micro-organisms living among the roots. It may take several years to amend the soil this way, but it will be more advantageous to the farmer’s long term goals than the quick fix of a chemical fertilizer.
6. Value Diversification
Biodiversity fosters wholesome ecosystems. Diversity in crops, energy sources, livestock species and farm products make for greater sustainability and a more profitable farm business. The unbalanced system of monoculture is never found in nature and is much more susceptible to disease and pests. Diversity minimizes vulnerability to a variety of threats and helps to establish resiliency to climate change and other ecological challenges. The saying rings true, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
7. Embrace and Respond to Change
Change is inevitable in nature as well as in the cultivated ecosystems created on our farms. What works well one year may completely fail the next. By attentively observing the natural changes in your ecosystem, you can appropriately intervene and avoid potentially disastrous results when changes occur. This permaculture principle seeks to work with nature rather than try to control it. The challenge of a permaculture farmer is to understand how the different facets of their ecosystem interact with each other in a given landscape and plan accordingly. The more we learn how to create a strong beneficial partnership with the earth, the more we will see a robust and profitable farm enterprise in our cultivated ecosystem.
Permaculture seeks to mimic nature’s own ecological processes in our own created ecosystems on our farms. When we seek to incorporate key permaculture principles in our farming practices, we will begin to see the many small parts of our farm working together harmoniously to cultivate a sustainable whole. What permaculture principles have you incorporated in your own farm goals and how has that affected your farming experience? What advice can you share about how to better embrace these permaculture principles in our small farms?